Tag Archives: ATV

Olga Kálmán is leaving ATV for Lajos Simicska’s Hír TV

The news of Olga Kálmán’s departure from ATV and her move to Lajos Simicska’s Hír TV has spread like wildfire. This unexpected event prompted scores of negative comments on the Assembly of Faith, the fundamentalist sect that owns ATV. Columnists also bemoaned the sad state of the Hungarian media, which leaves someone like Kálmán with only two choices: either ATV or Hír TV. They reminded their readers that only a couple of years ago Hír TV was part of the Fidesz media empire. Its journalists made it their mission to hunt down all those liberals whom they considered Viktor Orbán’s enemies. Since the Simicska-Orbán fallout two years ago, however, quite a few newcomers joined the staff and its most vicious mud-slingers left. They will find a congenial home in Lőrinc Mészáros’s new acquisition, Echo TV.

It is an anomaly that a basically conservative or even right-wing sect like the Assembly of Faith keeps up a liberal television station. So the clash of cultures within the walls of ATV should have been expected. Critics claim that Sándor Németh, the leader of the Assembly of Faith, made a deal with the devil in 2012 when, they suspect, he agreed to some level of cooperation with the government in return for his sect’s “recognized” status. The Assembly of Faith is certainly the odd man out among the 26 accepted churches.

The first program that ATV scrapped was the Újságíró Klub with György Bolgár, Tamás Mészáros, and János Avar. Every Monday night the three seasoned reporters, with the assistance of a moderator, discussed the main political events of the previous week. In June 2014, after 14 years of great popularity, ATV did not renew their contracts, allegedly because of lack of interest in the program. Its replacement was a flop and died after a single season.

In May 2016 Sándor Friderikusz got the boot, ostensibly because his excellent conversations with intellectuals were deemed to be too serious for the station’s audience. Friderikusz’s liberal outlook was most likely the real reason. In October Friderikusz gave a lengthy interview to Index in which he described the state of affairs in the studios of ATV under the direction of Sándor Németh’s son, Szilárd. Friderikusz recounted a conversation in which Sándor Németh inquired from him whether he was purposely working for the downfall of Viktor Orbán.

And about a month ago we learned that András Bánó, the long-time director of ATV’s excellent news, is leaving the station. Most people doubt that his departure is voluntary. The pressure is on to get rid of certain people.

Meanwhile, there have been signs that the Assembly of Faith, under the leadership of Sándor Németh, is supporting the government’s views on the migrant issue. ATV, for example, agreed to air the government’s anti-migrant ads, which many faithful ATV viewers strenuously objected to. As we learned lately, Sándor Németh is also an admirer of Donald Trump, as you can see from the photo he posted on his Facebook page.

Sándor Németh, leader of Assembly of Faith, is a very happy man

While serious programs have disappeared one by one, a few “light” programs have been introduced. I can’t imagine that ATV’s viewers like Péter Hajdú’s Frisbee or Zsuzsa Csisztu’s Csisztus24. These programs simply don’t belong on a television station that has until now functioned as a quasi public television station. Today I took a look at both: they are dreadful.

Another “lighthearted” program is Judit Péterfi’s Magánszféra, which is supposed to let us in on politicians’ private lives. I described the program after the first episode as “an extended flirtation between the reporter and the politician, initiated primarily by Judit Péterfi.” Another new program, this one for women, seems to be superior to the other new shows–as long, that is, as one can tolerate Henrik Havas’s constant bragging.

I have no idea how these new programs are faring, but I doubt that they are hits. Friderikusz characterized Szilárd Németh’s leadership of the station as “amateurish,” and the latest changes in programming seem to justify his opinion. If Szilárd Németh, who is apparently under the thumb of his father, keeps going in this direction, ATV will soon disappear. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if by next season most of the new programs are scrapped. It was time for Kálmán to leave. It’s just too bad that the only television station that it is still independent belongs to Lajos Simicska. At least this is the opinion of Kálmán’s fans.

On a brighter note, ATV announced that Egyenes beszéd will continue but Szabad szemmel (With Open Eyes) with Antónia Mészáros on Friday evenings will be discontinued. My hunch is that Mészáros, who is a fine reporter, will take over Egyenes beszéd.

The Fidesz media was shocked by the news of Kálmán’s departure for Hír TV. They immediately went into attack mode. According to Magyar Idők, “the employees of Hír TV were perplexed when they received the news that Olga Kálmán was joining their station.” It’s not just the old hands at the station who are worried about their jobs but even those who joined Hír TV in the last couple of years. Magyar Idők learned that “the leadership of ATV has been worried for some time that Hír TV wants to compete with them by espousing a political view farther to the left than ATV is at the moment.”

Origo seems to be worried about Simicska, who allegedly will be overpaying Olga Kálmán. According to Blikk and other right-wing tabloids, like Ripost and 888.hu, Kálmán’s Egyenes beszéd (Straight Talk) is not at all popular. They seem to know that ATV’s “most often watched program is ATV Start, an early morning show.” Moreover, Kálmán’s presence seems to be immaterial to viewers. There was no appreciable difference in the size of viewership when in her absence someone else was before the cameras. So, concludes Origo, “the departure of Olga Kálmán is not an irreplaceable loss to ATV.”

Lokál, a free paper owned by the mysterious Árpád Habony, a right-hand man of Viktor Orbán, portrays Kálmán as a workaholic who was still in the studio four days before her son’s birth and, “as soon as she delivered, she was immediately on the phone on a work-related matter.” The impression these publications are trying to convey is that Kálmán is not only an unpopular TV personality but is also a bad mother. Simicska is wasting his money. All this sounds like sour grapes to me.

When it comes to the offerings of ATV, we must keep in mind that during the day the station airs two-and-a-half hours’ worth of infomercials in addition to the dubbed 700 Club with Pat Robertson, lasting 30 minutes twice a day. On Sundays, one has the pleasure of listening to Sándor Németh’s sermon Vidám Vasárnap (Joyful Sunday). Of course, this is also repeated later. ATV receives quite a bit of money from the Orbán government for airing a documentary series called Hazahúzó (Drawing you home), which depicts different regions of the country. These programs are supposed to be magnets for Hungarians living and working abroad. As we know, all these efforts have been singularly ineffective. This daily program is 40 minutes long and is aired twice a day. So, as you can see, there is a lot of filler here.

During the day I also took the time to check out Hír TV’s fare and found quite a few good programs, including their newscast, which was thorough and professional. At first glance it seems that Hír TV has more substantive programming than ATV. They have only 30 minutes of infomercials, they don’t have to air government propaganda for expats, and they don’t have to show such programs as the 700 Club or Németh’s sermons. On the basis of my sampling, it is definitely worth taking a look at Simicska’s station, quite independently from Olga Kálmán’s joining its staff.

December 18, 2016

ATV’s Judit Péterfi is looking for the real Gábor Vona

Every year TV stations cull programs with low ratings and introduce shows they think will attract viewers and hence advertisers. Hungary’s ATV is no exception. Most of its shows deal with politics: interviews in the morning, interviews in the evening, and a lot of newscasts in between. There is, of course, filler, including movies and a dubbed version of the American “700 Club” that tells how finding God has changed people’s lives. In addition, there are documentary films about Hungarian regions and cities intended to make Hungarians living abroad homesick and to nudge them to return home.

This year the staff at ATV responsible for programming decided to “lighten up” the offerings. ATV introduced four new shows that are supposed to appeal to an audience not excited by politics. We’ll see whether they did a better job this time around than in the past. For instance, years ago the management decided to scrap the excellent Monday night program Újságíró Klub with János Avar, György Bolgár, János Dési (later Péter Németh), and Tamás Mészáros. They replaced it with a similar program that lasted maybe a year. This year Sándor Friderikusz’s quality program of in-depth interviews, not just on politics, was deemed too intellectual. It didn’t attract large enough audiences, so it was dropped.

Three of the four new programs have already made their debut. In time I will take a look at all four, but here I would like to focus on the most controversial one: “Magánszféra” (Private sphere) with Judit Péterfi. Each week Péterfi spends hours with politicians in search of their private selves.

Judit Péterfi, who used to work at RTL Klub, moved over to ATV last year to be one of the lead reporters for the new program “Esti Start” (Evening Start), which didn’t exactly turn out to be a blockbuster. Thus Péterfi needed a new program. The decision was made to create an “up close and personal” program that would reveal the real person behind the public persona of politicians. The very first politician whose personal life was laid bare was Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik. The second show will be with Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Jobbik used to be taboo at ATV. No Jobbik politician was invited to the studio before 2014, when it was decided that it was impossible to ignore a party that received 20% of the votes in the elections. Thus, Gábor Vona has been a frequent visitor at ATV in the last couple of years, along with other better known Jobbik MPs. The kind of program ATV had in mind when it came up with “Magánszféra” is a bonanza for politicians, giving them a chance to show the world their “real selves.” I assume most politicians are eager to take advantage of the opportunity. But there’s a caveat.

I’m trying to find the right words to describe “Magánszféra.” Most of the program is an extended flirtation between the reporter and the politician, initiated primarily by Judit Péterfi. Szabolcs Dull of Index described it somewhat differently but in a similar vein when he said that this first episode reminded him of “an awkward date in which the girl tries to find out the secrets of the boy while the boy carefully avoids revealing them.” I think Dull is too kind. Some of the program was outright tasteless, venturing for instance into whether Vona is naked or not while in the sauna. We also have the pleasure of seeing the two of them doing push-ups and watching Vona being tattooed. The tattoo is enormous and elaborate.

peterfi-and-vona

Otherwise, we learned some trivial facts about Vona as a child, which wouldn’t help anyone understand him as a politician today. However, here and there, though not too often, a couple of sentences reveal something important about the man. One is that he is quite preoccupied with his looks and his body in general. He calls himself an introvert, which he admits is not the best recommendation for a political career. He seems to be sensitive to criticism. He avoids visiting places where he can be recognized by people who are highly critical of his politics. For example, he avoids going to the theater. He prefers movies where he can hide in the dark.

He is “self-monitoring,” as he called his constant watching of himself. For example, he is aware of the fact that he doesn’t smile enough, so when he writes outlines of his speeches he writes notes for himself like: “smile” or “slow down.” It was difficult to tell whether he considers it a plus or a minus that in his opinion his eyes are too large, but he is certainly preoccupied with them.

Very little was said about politics during the forty minutes of “Magánszféra,” with two exceptions. He said that Turkey is a wonderful tourist destination, which he reinforced by wearing a T-shirt with Istanbul written on it. He added that he considers Erdoğan “a good leader” although lately “he is making a lot of mistakes.” The second political reference was to his relationship with Viktor Orbán. It is well known that when Vona was still a university student, heading Jobbik as a student movement, Viktor Orbán invited him to become a member of his own “polgári kör,” a group of like-minded people, forming a kind of political cell. Orbán’s own group was naturally full of “important” people from inside and outside of Fidesz. Vona recalled during the show that, naturally, he was greatly honored by the invitation, but he was less enamored with the great Viktor Orbán than some of the revered politicians and public figures present.

It is a commonplace by now that Viktor Orbán is far too often inspired by Jobbik when making political decisions. He tries to take the wind out of the sails of the extreme right in order to retain Fidesz’s voting base. Vona did talk about this, adding that he was the one who first called attention to the extreme danger of the migrants to European civilization.

I don’t know whether I should recommend taking a look at this program or not. It is certainly an unusual experience. Some of Vona’s followers have been very critical of his appearance on this kind of show, but he himself loved the finished product. He thinks he came off well.

September 26, 2016

Decoding Fidesz’s coded anti-Semitism: the Németh-Szigetvári “debate”

Friday night Antónia Mészáros hosted a political “discussion” on her program, “Szabad szemmel.” Mészáros is a very able young reporter who has the ability to attract politicians who normally wouldn’t get close to ATV, both for interviews and for discussions with their political opponents. They agree to appear despite the fact that Mészáros is a hard-nosed journalist who doesn’t let her guests off the hook easily.

When two Hungarian politicians of opposite political views get together, the task of the moderator becomes impossible. No Hungarian journalist ever manages to keep order, and these encounters usually turn into shouting matches. This is what happened Friday night when Viktor Szigetvári, chairman of Együtt, and Szilárd Németh, the latest favorite of Viktor Orbán, got together for a friendly chat.

For half an hour one had to listen to parallel monologues about the pros and cons of the referendum on the “compulsory quota” issue. In that verbal pankration, as one of the newspapers called the encounter, Németh was the winner in the sense that he managed to outshout his opponent. Early in the conversation Szigetvári tried to interrupt Németh’s monologue, but it was hopeless. Once this man opens his mouth, it is hard to stop him. Mind you, it is not impossible, as another performance of his on the very same program a few months ago demonstrated. But more about that later.

Szilárd Németh decides to leave

Szilárd Németh decides to leave

The program would have been a total bust, just inarticulate screaming on Németh’s part, but for the fact that in the last few moments Mészáros introduced a different topic, I guess in the hope of moving the conversation along. She brought up a brand new article that appeared in Politico according to which it is hard to be a Hungarian in Brussels. For one thing, people both inside and outside the offices of the European Union are suspicious of Hungarian officials. For another, non-Hungarians–Belgians as well as people from other countries living in Brussels–look upon Hungarians as a heartless people who should be ashamed of themselves. Mészáros wanted to know what Németh thought of this.

Németh responded: “This is simply a lie. The situation is that they will try anything to minimize the importance of the referendum. This is what I’m talking about: they will use everything … including their Hungarian politicians, their domestic economic enterprises, they will….” At which point Szigetvári chimed in: “And surely, also the Jews, isn’t it so?” A few seconds later, after Szigetvári had refused to take back his words, Németh got up and left in a huff.

Szilárd Németh, close and personal

Szilárd Németh, up close and personal

Naturally, opinions on the incident differ greatly, depending on one’s political views. The right-wing media accuse Szigetvári of calling Németh an anti-Semite, which they consider totally unwarranted. After all, he didn’t utter a word about Jews. András Schiffer, who tries to be an independent political player, took Németh’s side by saying that “just because someone is a boor and a slanderer he is not necessarily an anti-Semite. Just because someone is an automatic speaking machine he is not an anti-Semite. If we call someone an anti-Semite just because he seems to have discovered the geopolitical chess games played in Hungary, we only help the arguments of the anti-Semites.”

On the other side are Viktor Szigetvári and his supporters. Coded anti-Semitism has been going on for years in Fidesz circles, and it is time “to decode” the mantra of clandestine powers, foreign agents, and opposition politicians serving foreign interests. As Szigetvári wrote on his Facebook page after the incident, he is sick and tired of this practice. It is time for Fidesz politicians to say whom they actually mean when they refer to banker government, representatives of foreign interests, George Soros, colonizers, clandestine powers, people with foreign hearts in their bosoms (idegenszívűek), etc.

Viktor Szigetvári is right of course. Viktor Orbán and his fellow Fidesz politicians have sent coded messages of this sort for at least 20 years. Indeed, it is time to ask outright: Who are these awful people, lurking in the background, who want to ruin Hungary and who use Hungarian opposition politicians for their evil plans? Fidesz supporters are perfectly aware of the identity of these foreigners. They can easily decode those words. It is enough to read some of the comments following the articles on the Szigetvári-Németh affair.

At the beginning of this post I referred to another political discussion that took place on the same program a few months ago. Antónia Mészáros invited three politicians to discuss the government’s plan to introduce emergency powers in case of a “danger of terror.” The guests were Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), Tamás Harangozó (MSZP), and András Schiffer (LMP). I’m no fan of András Schiffer, but I must say that the sight of Németh, sitting speechless, unable to utter one word against Schiffer’s barrage of facts, was a pleasant experience. The “speaking machine,” as Schiffer called Németh, can be stopped, but few people are up to it.

May 15, 2016

Inventing a scandal at the Körmend refugee camp

Just because we haven’t heard about refugees arriving in Hungary lately doesn’t mean they don’t exist. In fact, if one combs through the Hungarian media’s articles on any given Monday one can often read that “over the weekend” several hundred migrants made it again. According to the best estimates, since January 1 about 12,000 men, women, and children reached Hungary. And, it seems, at least ten thousand have miraculously disappeared since. Officials at the Hungarian Immigration Office claim they have no idea where the refugees are. The best bet is that they are already in Austria or maybe even farther west.

The Hungarian authorities are not exactly heartbroken about the disappearance of these people. In fact, they seem to be facilitating their departure by moving refugees who are in camps close to the Serb-Hungarian border or in the center of the country to a newly designated site only a few hundred meters from the Austro-Hungarian border in Körmend. The Austrians aren’t stupid. A couple of days ago the Burgenland police reinforced its supervision of the border around the city. Hungarian intentions are so obvious that even the German conservative paper Die Welt published a long article about the Körmend camp. The author of the article is Boris Kálnoky, who speaks Hungarian and was on the spot when the first group of refugees arrived. As he says, the Hungarian decision to establish a camp in Körmend “suggests that Hungary discreetly wants to get rid of these people.”

Because of the government hysteria created around the refugee issue no community wants to see a refugee camp in its vicinity. Everywhere the government announced its intention to establish such a camp there was such opposition that the idea had to be abandoned. This time the plan was kept secret. It was only a few days ago that people found out that a camp capable of housing 300 migrants will be created in Körmend. After the first 12 migrants arrived, one could hardly find any pepper spray, costing 2,000 forints, anywhere in Körmend. The management of the local Tesco “asked their employees to dress conservatively. ” Blikk reported that “the women of Körmend are afraid to go out alone because of the migrants.” What really worries them is that the refugees can freely move about in the town. A few hours later 888.hu, Gábor G. Fodor’s internet rag, ran an article with the following title: “If you dress provocatively, you may be raped.”

It was in this atmosphere that a journalist of Hetek, a magazine established by Sándor Németh, head of a Pentecostal Christian sect called Assembly of Faith, published two articles. These articles led to great embarrassment for ATV, on whose website they appeared. And the Hungarian government was far too eager to jump in and condemn the events which, as it turned out, never happened.

Hetek is described in Wikipedia as an anti-Muslim publication, which is certainly true, but I don’t agree with the author of the Wikipedia article who describes the magazine as an example of yellow journalism. In general, articles in Hetek are reliable sources of information. It’s just that any article dealing with Islam and the Middle East should be viewed cautiously or skeptically. ATV, my favorite television station, is unfortunately owned by the Assembly of Faith, and the articles that appear on ATV’s website often come from Hetek journalists.

Two articles about the situation in Körmend, written by Zoltán Szobota, who reported from the scene, appeared early this morning. The first piece was a background story about how the camp was established in Körmend behind the backs and against the wishes of the people of the city. He said that nothing was prepared for the arrival of 300 people. The hospital will not be able to handle the migrants’ needs. The association of citizens who are willing to help the police don’t have enough money for 24-hour dispatcher service, police dogs, extra VW Passat cars, etc. Moreover, what an idea to place the camp right next to a high school. It is also unacceptable that the camp is close to the stadium where they hold practices and sporting events. For good measure Szobota added that earlier, when a large number of migrants went through Körmend on their way to Austria, “they robbed a tobacco shop which thanks to the local authorities didn’t become national news,” thus accusing the local police of covering up a crime.

Szobota’s first article was bad enough, but it was the second one that really set the Hungarian media and political sphere ablaze. This story involved the sports stadium he had been worried about already in his first article. He records the “growing aggressiveness” of the migrants as their numbers have grown. Only three days have gone by, and here is the first serious incident. A group of migrants were watching girls playing handball through a window when someone from the school came and told them to leave the premises. One got so mad that he kicked the window. Szobota heard all this from András Faragó, president of the local handball association, who allegedly added that the practice had to be interrupted and the “girls had to be moved to a safe place.” Parents, he said, are outraged that the police aren’t protecting their children. About 100 teenagers visit the stadium every day, and what will happen to their championship games if these girls can’t practice? Faragó himself is worried about his two girls, aged 10 and 13.

You can imagine what happened after the appearance of this article on ATV’s website. Here are some headlines: “Scandal, migrants attack girls playing handball.” “Dread has taken hold of Körmend.” “Because of migrants practices had to be suspended.” “Scandal, migrants harassed female handball team.” Well, one could say that journalists love sensational stories and, after all, ATV’s website gave credible-sounding details of the events. But Hungary’s prime minister also jumped the gun without verifying the story. The government undoubtedly found the story useful in its anti-immigrant campaign preceding the upcoming referendum against “compulsory quotas.” On the government website the following short announcement was made at 14:26. “Because migrants harassed girls playing handball Prime Minister Viktor Orbán instructed Interior Minister Sándor Pintér to take the necessary steps.” A few minutes later one could read on Fidesz’s Facebook page that “We will not have another Cologne here!”

However, less than an hour after Viktor Orbán gave those stern instructions to Sándor Pintér, János Tiborcz, the chief-of-police of Vas County, held a press conference. From it we learned that in Szobota’s entire story there was only one fact that was true: a window in the high school was broken. Otherwise no official of the school talked to the refugees; no one saw who broke the window; the girls didn’t have to be evacuated; the window had been cracked earlier; no one could see anything through the window because, first, the view is obstructed by two large radiators and, second, the window was covered with curtains. As Tiborcz said, “the objective of the article’s author was not a search for truth.” During the press conference one of the journalists asked the police chief about the alleged robbery of a tobacco shop during the fall exodus of refugees to Austria through Körmend. Tiborcz said that he had never heard of such a robbery. And “surely, we would have noticed such an event.”

At this point an unnamed article appeared on ATV’s website in which the management of the station defended the original story of Zoltán Szobota and basically accused the chief-of-police of lying. At almost the same time nyugat.hu got hold of András Faragó, who was Szobota’s chief source of information. After a fairly lengthy telephone conversation the journalist found out that Faragó wasn’t on the scene at all. He had left earlier. When the reporter inquired about the details of the evacuation, Faragó admitted that his own daughter had told him that the team simply went home. A parent nyugat.hu interviewed said the same thing.

In the hysteria created by the Orbán government, the gullible Hungarian public is ready to accept any story that reflects badly on the refugees. This latest piece of fiction should be a major embarrassment to both ATV and the Hungarian government. But we’ve seen before how the government stands by its misinformation and goes against anyone who dares challenge it. I wonder what will happen to that very decent and honest chief-of-police of Vas County.

May 5, 2016

Introducing two young civic leaders: Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss

At this moment another demonstration is taking place in Budapest. Again thousands are out on the streets. This time they’re demonstrating against the Orbán government’s effort to steal the private pension savings of those 60,000 people who four years ago when the government decided to “nationalize” the accumulated savings of 3 million people opted to leave their savings in private funds despite all sorts of threats.  As it turned out, their decision was wise. These funds did well over the years and by now the average investor has 3.5 million forints in his account. According to estimates, if the government manages to get hold of the savings in these pension funds, it will reap another 200 billion forints. Admittedly, this is a great deal less than the 3 trillion that was brazenly expropriated in 2010, but it looks as if the Hungarian budget is in desperate need of new sources of revenue.

Although it is too early to write anything meaningful about this latest demonstration, it offers an opportunity to say something about the recent demonstrations in general and to acquaint readers with two of their organizers. First, rumor has it that, appearances notwithstanding, the Fidesz leadership is worried about the long-term effects of the demonstrations on Fidesz’s support and image. Apparently, next week the party’s top brass will get together to discuss the situation.

Early on, Fidesz politicians thought that if they retreated on the question of an internet tax the demonstrations would disappear. They were also happy to hear that the organizers of some of the demonstrations don’t want anything to do with politics. Yet there are signs of grave trouble because dissatisfaction with the government is widespread. “Today we don’t really know whom we should appease.”

Here I would like to introduce the organizers of the Facebook group “We will not be silent!” To focus on this group is especially timely because I just learned that one of the speakers of the November 17 gathering in front of the parliament building, Balázs Nemes, who was asked to speak at today’s demonstration, refused to participate because not only a civic group but a political party, Együtt, is involved. And this group doesn’t want to cooperate with any existing parties. In their eyes, the parties are all the same. This group was the one that immediately rejected “the advances of Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK.”

Some of the more seasoned politicians of the democratic parties, for example, Gábor Kuncze, reacted to Balázs Nemes’s November 17 speech rather heatedly on television. He objected to the speaker’s condemnation of the entire period between 1989 and 2014. ATV decided to have Kuncze meet Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss, another organizer of the group. On Sunday the three appeared on Antónia Mészáros’s “Szabad szemmel” program. It was a very informative twenty minutes. My conclusion was that it is unlikely that these particular young people will be the catalysts of regime change in Hungary.

My problem with them was not that they are inexperienced and somewhat ignorant of the political events of the last twenty-five years, but that they didn’t grasp Kuncze’s simple, logical explanation of why their ideas were fallacious. Although the conversation was about 20 minutes long, here I will concentrate on two points that Kuncze made. The first was his description of the difference between the first twenty and the last five years. The second was his emphasis on the necessity of parties and politicians.

The position of Nemes and Kiss was that the earlier governments did something so terribly wrong that it inevitably led to Fidesz’s illiberal governance. Kuncze’s position, on the other hand, was–which he tried to explain at least two different ways to no avail–that yes, past governments didn’t do a good job and the electorate punished them for their bad governance. They lost the election. The problem is not the two-thirds majority but what Fidesz did with it in parliament. In 1994 the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition had more than a two-thirds majority, but the Horn-Kuncze government did not change the constitution or the electoral law, did not appoint party hacks to the constitutional court, and did not build an illiberal state. When the people of Hungary voted for Fidesz, they did not anticipate what was coming. After all, Fidesz did not have a party program. In fact, Viktor Orbán said not a word about his plans. So, the present government’s governing style is not the necessary and inevitable result of the bad governance of earlier governments.

I kept watching the faces of these two young people, and it seemed that they didn’t understand what Kuncze was getting at. Nemes muttered something about a “qualitative” difference between the earlier governments and the one today, but he didn’t grasp the essential difference between them. As for Petra Kiss, she, in my opinion, is even more hostile to everything that happened before 2010. She is also more naive about what one can achieve without parties and politicians. As Kuncze pointed out, if they want to remain involved then sooner or later either they will have to make peace with the present democratic opposition or they themselves will have to create parties. Kiss dreamily announced that for the time being they don’t want to do anything concrete. They just want young people to remain engaged. This is a fine idea, but surely it is not enough if these people are serious about sending the Orbán government packing. She also stressed that “there should be many, many parties,” as if she were totally ignorant of the current electoral law that precludes the existence of many small parties against the Fidesz monolith. All in all, I doubt that these two new stars of the November 17th demonstration will be ready by either 2016 or 2018 for serious roles in a new political constellation.

As for cooperation among the various groups, the prospects are not auspicious. The organizers of the demonstration against the internet tax refused to cooperate with the “We will not be silent!” group. Balázs Nemes was invited by the organizers of today’s demonstration but refused to participate. Meanwhile, their Facebook page is full of criticism of their position. Most of the comments talk about the necessity of cooperation between civic movements and parties. Some accuse the organizers of “not hearing the voice of the masses.” Or, “in my opinion this party neutrality is going in the wrong direction.” Critical comments don’t seem to make a dent on this group’s leaders.

I still think that these demonstrations are important and I’m also sure that some of these Young Turks will have political roles in the future, but I don’t think that Balázs Nemes and Petra Sára Kiss will be among them.

Rearrangement on the Hungarian left? It looks like it

Although there are many topics we could discuss today, I would like to return to party politics. I’m interested in the analysis of intra-party developments because of my fascination with personalities and their interactions. My other reason for taking up the topic is that in my opinion we will most likely witness major changes within the democratic opposition soon.

I don’t think that I ever hid the fact that I consider the arrangement that was sealed by Attila Mesterházy of MSZP and Gordon Bajnai of Együtt14-PM unsatisfactory. And, it seems, the potential supporters of this “electoral association” feel the same way as I do. Admittedly, how we feel about a certain occurrence is always influenced by our own likes or dislikes, and therefore it is not the best barometer of the effectiveness of a political action. The real problem, however, with the agreement between E14 and MSZP is that it didn’t bring the expected results. That is a fact that is hard to deny. Surely, the signatories hoped that even a loose coalition would rally the anti-Fidesz forces. It didn’t happen. On the contrary, E14 effectively lost about half of its potential voters.

Looking back on the events of the last half year, I’m actually surprised that the politicians of these two parties ever thought that the arrangement that was achieved only with great difficulty would ever work. You may recall that E14 refused to negotiate until they had their nationwide campaign. E14 politicians were obviously hoping to sit down to negotiate with MSZP from a position of strength. You may also recall that this hoped-for outcome didn’t materialize. Between March and October E14 support  hovered between 3 and 5% in the electorate as a whole. No amount of campaigning helped. Mind you, MSZP didn’t fare any better. The party was stuck between 14 and 15% among all eligible voters. Meanwhile valuable months were wasted.

After the debacle of the October 23 opposition rally and the phony Baja video scandal I hate to think what the next opinion polls will tell us about the state of these two parties. One doesn’t have to be a political genius to see that something went terribly wrong. But it seems that neither Bajnai nor Mesterházy has been willing to admit his mistake. They keep sticking to an untenable position: no renegotiation, no compromise. Everything is peachy-pie as is.

At this point, I was just waiting for the palace revolutions. I didn’t have to wait for long. Two days ago Péter Kónya, leader of Solidarity, was the guest of Olga Kálmán where the careful listener could discern deep trouble within E14.

Solidarity is part of E14-PM, but Kónya hasn’t been given much exposure despite Solidarity’s fairly extensive nationwide base. You may recall that it was Kónya who came up with the idea of an Orbán styrofoam statue imitating the Stalin statue that met its maker on the very first day of the October Revolution. Both Bajnai and Mesterházy timidly repudiated the action, which only gave further ammunition to the hypocritical outrage on the right. At this point I tried to imagine myself in Kónya’s shoes, who steadfastly refuses admit his “mistake.” I would have been furious as I believe Kónya was. Right now, he might be facing a charge of disorderly conduct. Yet he refuses to back down and told Kálmán that he was ready to go to jail if necessary.

Changing leaves

Changing leaves

It was at the end of the conversation that the really important piece of information could be heard. Yes, said Kónya, there are internal disputes concerning strategy in E14. Although at the top of the hierarchy the party leaders refuse to negotiate with Ferenc Gyurcsány, on the local level Solidarity activists are working hand in hand with DK members.  Concurrently with this interview Népszabadság ran an article with the title “Solidarity demands greater influence: Sharp criticisms.” From the article it became clear that Kónya wants a closer working relationship with the Demokratikus Koalíció.

And what one cannot read in the newspapers or hear from the politicians themselves: apparently local E14 members have been leaving the party in droves and joining DK. Apparently there are localities where E14 centers no longer exist. Surely, something must be done.

The situation is not much better in MSZP, although we know less about the inner workings of the party. The first inkling that not all’s well at Mesterházy’s headquarters came from Ildikó Lendvai, legendary whip of MSZP and later chair of the party who decided not to run as a candidate. Her decision, as we learned today, was based on her belief that she was considered one of those old timers the new leadership wants to see disappear. Mind you, Lendvai is one of the most sympathetic and smartest politicians in MSZP, and her quick mind and wit made her one of the best leaders of the MSZP parliamentary group. László Kovács, another old timer, was also on his way out. Their places were taken by second-rates.  One such lightweight was interviewed on ATV two days ago. Olga Kálmán managed to make him look like a fool.

In any case, about a week ago Lendvai gave an interview to Heti Válasz from which we could learn that she holds different views on party strategy from those of the chairman. Very diplomatically but clearly, she indicated that given the strengthening of the Demokratikus Koalíció and the weakening of E14 some kind of renegotiation of the terms of the agreement between MSZP and E14 will have to take place. She suggested that one of the problems standing in the way of a mutual understanding between MSZP and DK is that MSZP couldn’t decide on its attitude toward the party’s record during the Gyurcsány era. The way I read the abbreviated version of the interview online, Lendvai indicated that MSZP should have proudly embraced some of the accomplishments of the period between 2004 and 2009.

And then came the bungled video case. I’m sure that there were already rebels within the party who were not too pleased that Mesterházy was unable to handle the situation at the October 23 rally. An experienced politician would have been able to respond to those who demanded “unity.” Instead, Mesterházy stubbornly stuck to his prepared text just as now he stubbornly holds to the view that the agreement works splendidly when it is obvious that it doesn’t. The handling of the video was, I think, the last straw. By now it looks as if Mesterházy isn’t the master of his own house.

Yesterday came the news that some MSZP leaders, for example Gergely Bárándy and Zsolt Molnár, tried to deny that Ildikó Lendvai and László Kovács will be “advisers” to Attila Mesterházy. Today Lendvai was interviewed by György Bolgár* where she candidly shared her own views as to what strategy MSZP should pursue for participation in a unified democratic opposition. She added that this is her own private opinion that many people within the party don’t share. Clearly, she stands on the side of those who think that MSZP cannot stick with a mistaken agreement that has led nowhere. It was a mistake at the moment of its signing and since then it has become what looks like a blunder. Somehow the wrong must be righted. Now the question is: will Attila Mesterházy listen to the “oldies”?  I have the feeling he has no choice.

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*For those of you who understand the language I highly recommend listening to the Lendvai interview with György Bolgár available here: http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20131106-155854.mp3 The interview begins at 27:32 in the first part and continues in the second part: http://www.klubradio.hu/klubmp3/klub20131106-162853.mp3

“Talking heads” of Hungary

After a brief foray into foreign policy and history it’s time to return to domestic politics. Today’s post was inspired by a television program and its viewers’ reactions to what was said there by young so-called political scientists, and, more importantly, by a thoughtful article written by Vera Lánczos, a member of the Galamus Group, who doesn’t make a secret of her support for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció. I should also mention that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech at the II. Congress of DK (January 26, 2013) was made available today both on DK’s website and on Galamus.

Let’s start with the television program on ATV called “A tét” (The stake). Its host is András Bánó, formerly of MTV, who received the Hungarian version of the Pulitzer Prize a few years back. By and large I like the program, but some of the young  “political scientists” often irritate me. Political commentators should take their job seriously, and that means in-depth and more or less impartial analysis of current political events. Instead, some of the regular guests only vent their political prejudices. There is one young guy whose superciliousness and flippancy are more than I can tolerate.

Well, it seems that I’m not alone. The show aired last Wednesday and György Bolgár’s call-in show “Let’s talk about it!” was full of angry callers condemning our young man’s attitude toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK. Naturally, Vera Lánczos’s criticism is much more reasoned and therefore more weighty. But she also objected to the tone these fellows use in connection with such an important issue as the current state of the opposition and the need for a united stand against Orbán’s regime.

Talking heads

Talking heads

Because right now the opposition is in disarray. New formations appear, old ones reappear, and LMP just fell apart. The way things look, the LMP caucus will be gone by the time parliament convenes in February because the two factions cannot agree on how to keep the LMP delegation together. Separately neither group has enough members to form a caucus. The main sticking point is LMP’s course of action. The position of the Schiffer faction is utterly unrealistic. Although they keep insisting that their main goal is to defeat Viktor Orbán in 2014, they are planning to achieve this alone even as LMP’s share of the electorate hovers around 3%. It is clear that  for Schiffer and the party leaders supporting him, the party’s future is more important at the moment than a united front in which LMP most likely wouldn’t carry much weight. The Jávor faction, on the other hand, is to my mind a great deal more patriotic. It is a shame that the only thing one of the young political scientists had to say about the LMP split was that “the sole difference between the two factions is that one of them likes Bajnai while the other one doesn’t.”

Gordon Bajnai’s E14 is not doing well. In mid-November the enthusiasm for an umbrella organization under the leadership of Gordon Bajnai surged after the October 23 mass meeting. Since then support has slowly dissipated and the number of  undecided voters has begun to grow again. According to some observers, the problem is that Bajnai entered the political arena too early. I disagree. After all, the campaign season has already begun, and to hammer out a common platform takes a long time. A year is barely enough, especially given the uncertainties of the present political situation. No, the problem is not timing. The problem is Milla and Péter Juhász. E14, a movement at the moment, initially announced that it would start proceedings to establish a party. After all, only parties can enter the race. A few days later we learned from Péter Juhász that Milla “isn’t ready to lend its name to the formation of a political party” and E14 pulled back, at least temporarily. Milla is a mysterious and amorphous organization–if you can call it that–about which we know practically nothing. For the longest time Juhász seemed to be the only embodiment of Milla, although lately one can also hear references to Péter Molnár, a member of parliament between 1990 and 1998 (Fidesz and later SZDSZ). Juhász’s latest is that he will never cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. I also doubt that he would cooperate with MSZP. All in all, Bajnai picked the wrong “civic organization” to launch his attempt to bring together the various opposition parties and forces.

After the discussion about LMP, the young political scientists moved on to Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party is described by its politicians as “the party of unity.” Indeed, it is this party that most consistently and without any reservation supports a joint effort to dislodge Viktor Orbán. Gyurcsány has given up personal political ambition, at least for the time being. He realizes that his party will not be able to capture millions of votes. Therefore he is not forced to make compromises for fear of a mass exodus of followers. He advocates unpopular measures that in his opinion are necessary to turn Hungary’s faltering economy around. Those 100-200,000 people who today would vote for DK will not abandon Gyurcsány because they agree with the details of the party program.

At the II Congress 2,000 people gathered to hear the speeches and vote on the program. I understand that there was only one dissenting vote. The party has 7,000 members with local chapters in 750 cities, towns, and villages. All that without any outside financial assistance. A DK party member won the mayoral race in a smaller town, and DK took second place ahead of MSZP in another.

“A tét” showed a clip from Gyurcsány’s speech at the party congress in which he emphasized the necessity of a common stand. He considers this “a patriotic duty” and argues that those who refuse to cooperate only strengthen the regime of Viktor Orbán. According to our flippant “political scientist,” that means that “everybody should embrace Ferenc Gyurcsány” who wants to force everyone into one big unified opposition that would also include his own party. But what is wrong with this? Isn’t Gyurcsány’s party democratic? The other Young Turk on the program announced that the only reason DK wants a unified opposition is because otherwise DK couldn’t be represented in parliament. Total nonsense. As things stand now, a maximum of three parties could get into parliament if the opposition forces don’t manage to build an electoral coalition–Fidesz, MSZP, and Jobbik. And most likely Fidesz would win.

This kind of irresponsible talk doesn’t help anyone. It only confuses the already confused and disappointed electorate. As Vera Lánczos wrote, “The electorate doesn’t want the opposition parties to compete with each other but to come to an agreement for their sake.” To fan the distrust of parties in general and add to the division of the opposition is not the job of political commentators. It’s no wonder that so many people who truly want Viktor Orbán out of office are outraged.