Tag Archives: Béla Kovács

That’s one way to win an election–Eliminate the opposition

Two months ago, on October 7, I wrote a lengthy post about “another attempt to silence Jobbik.” In that article I explained in great detail the manner in which the Állami Számvevőszék (State Accounting Office/ÁSZ) normally audits political parties and that 2017 is the year that the most recent audits would take place, with ÁSZ checking the books for 2015-2016. The deadline for submitting the paperwork was October 3. However, on September 28, Jobbik was informed that ÁSZ is also interested in the financial affairs of the party during the first six months of 2017. This was an unheard-of demand in the 27-year history of ÁSZ. Jobbik was told that the auditors would arrive the next day, a Friday, although Jobbik informed them that the office would be not open that day. Jobbik asked for a postponement until October 2. The request was not granted, although the date was before the October 3 deadline. All attempts to file the documentation failed. The documents couldn’t be sent electronically, and when Jobbik officials hand-delivered them, ÁSZ refused to accept them. There were numerous signs indicating that the whole scenario had been carefully orchestrated from above. The head of ÁSZ is a former Fidesz member of parliament. His appointment on July 5, 2010 was one of the first to signal that all allegedly independent organs will be led by former Fidesz politicians.

At that time it was only LMP that came to Jobbik’s rescue. The party issued a statement deploring “the campaign against representative democracy,” and it also announced that it will ask TASZ, Hungary’s Civil Liberties Union, to provide legal aid to Jobbik. I don’t know whether anything came of TASZ’s legal assistance because I haven’t seen any public discussion of the case in the last two months.

Fidesz’s gift to Jobbik was delivered yesterday, the day when good children are supposed to get presents from Santa Claus. I wouldn’t be surprised if this whole rotten affair was cynically planned this way. Viktor Orbán and his loyal criminals are capable of such a sick “joke.”

The billboard responsible for the present predicament of Jobbik

Jobbik was fined 331 million forints, and it will be docked another 331 million from the funds that the party is supposed to get from the budget this year. That amounts to over $2.4 million. The reason? Jobbik is charged with acquiring surfaces for its billboards below “market price,” which is the price either Fidesz or Viktor Orbán decided was the market price. In a true market economy, the price of goods is arrived at through negotiations between seller and buyer. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that ÁSZ didn’t look at the actual documentation on the basis of which it arrived at its verdict.

Jobbik has no 331 million forints in its bank account, and therefore it claims that under these circumstances it simply cannot compete fairly or perhaps not at all in the election campaign that will be officially launched very soon. Even if Jobbik asked for backing from its supporters, the money it received would go straight to ÁSZ. The government’s goal is clear: to cripple Jobbik, which at the moment is the largest opposition party. If Viktor Orbán manages to get rid of Jobbik, he will have to face only the highly fractured left-of-center parties, which are still negotiating about how to face Fidesz in the coming election. Although at the moment these parties have no intention of cooperating with Jobbik, Viktor Orbán is likely still worried about the possibility that such a collaboration might materialize, which could be a serious threat to his electoral chances. If Fidesz gets rid of Jobbik, however, it can kill two birds with one stone. The party removes a serious rival while abroad it can explain that Fidesz, which is a “conservative,” “right-of-center” party, managed to eliminate a far-right and dangerous group. Few people are aware of the fact that by now Fidesz is farther to the right than Jobbik and, what is more important, that Jobbik poses less of a threat to Hungarian democracy than the governing party, with all the political, economic, and military might at its disposal.

Jobbik’s internet newspaper, Alfahír, made an emotional appeal to the citizens of the country. First, the party turned to those liberal and leftist voters who consider Jobbik a far-right, racist, Nazi party. The author of the article claims that he understands their feelings because he himself felt the same kind of antagonism toward Soros and his supporters. But once he saw what the government did to Central European University and asked himself who the next victim will be, he changed his mind. What will happen if all opposing views are silenced? The author repeated this message for former Fidesz voters who, he states, surely didn’t vote in 2010 or 2014 for a one-party system.

The left-of-center parties more or less lined up in their condemnation of Fidesz’s attempt to annihilate Jobbik. Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt even filed charges against Fidesz, targeting its own advertising budget during the 2010 and 2014 election campaigns. The only exception seems to be Momentum, which will stand by Jobbik only if it receives answers to several questions. Momentum’s first concern seems to be the person of Béla Kovács. The case against him for alleged espionage has been in limbo for four years. Somewhat suspiciously, it was a couple of days ago that at last the prosecutors decided to charge him with espionage. Momentum inquired why Jobbik didn’t investigate Kovács’s case in the last four years. Momentum’s leaders also want to know whether Jobbik received any money from Russia through Béla Kovács. Finally, how did Jobbik have enough money to lease and later purchase several thousand billboard spaces? While the first two questions are legitimate, with the question about the billboards Momentum is essentially siding with Fidesz.

Two prominent lawyers offered their opinions about what Jobbik can do under the circumstances. Jobbik’s room to maneuver is small. There is no opportunity to appeal the verdict. András Schiffer looks at the government’s attack on Jobbik as “the beginning of the end of the multi-party system in Hungary.” The government was able to use this “trick” because the law on party financing, written 28 years ago, is most likely unconstitutional. “Nowhere [in the law] are there any procedural safeguards or the possibility of redress when the validation of fundamental rights and one of the elements of democratic governance is violated.” According to Schiffer, one possibility is for Jobbik to immediately turn to the constitutional court for an opinion. The other is for all opposition parliamentary delegations, in a joint action, to do the same. György Magyar, who by the way recently served as Lajos Simicska’s lawyer, suggests a slightly different route. Jobbik should ask for a suspension of enforcement from the courts, which in turn could go to the constitutional court.

Otherwise, after temporary gloom in Jobbik circles, by tonight Vona regained his composure and made a fiery announcement on Hír TV. The party will try to collect money, and he doesn’t preclude the possibility of asking Jobbik’s supporters to go out on the streets. He sees “a storm of indignation” in all walks of life, not just among the party faithful. In his opinion, there are only two possibilities: either Orbán wins, and that’s the end of democracy in Hungary, or Jobbik “in alliance with people” who want to remove the government from power “will sweep this government away.” He then directly addressed Viktor Orbán: “Listen Viktor, you corrupt dictator. If you think that I or we are afraid of you, you are wrong. I am not afraid of you, and Jobbik is not afraid of Fidesz, and I see that the people are not afraid either. You’re the one who should be afraid. You thought that 2017 would be the year of insurgence, but you were wrong. 2018 will be the year of rebellion that will drive you away and will make you accountable. Be prepared!”

Jobbik has a large following, and the government’s dirty trick might backfire. It might turn out to be dangerous to the health of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán.

December 7, 2017

Russian support for far-right groups in Hungary?

A lengthy article by Andrew Higgins appeared in The New York Times a few days ago under the headline “Intent on Unsettling E.U., Russia Taps Foot Soldiers from the Fringe.” As the accompanying photo, showing supporters of Jobbik demonstrating in Budapest in 2014, indicates, the larger part of the piece is devoted to Russian support of the Hungarian far-right. It pays special attention to Jobbik and the Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front), which got a lot of negative press recently as a result of the murder of a police officer by the group’s leader, István Győrkös.

Most of the information in the article comes from a March 2015 study by Political Capital, a Hungarian think tank that has published a number of pamphlets on Hungarian extreme right-wing organizations and their relations with Russia. Political Capital’s English-language study “’I am Eurasian’: The Kremlin connections of the Hungarian far-right” is the joint effort of Attila Juhász, Lóránt Győri, Péter Krekó, and András Dezső. The first three authors are political scientists working for Political Capital. András Dezső is an investigative journalist for Index. He did most of the work unearthing Béla Kovács’s Russian ties.

The study on which The New York Times article is based is 53 pages long. It is useful because it covers topics not normally reported on anywhere else. For example, the Russian media’s views of Jobbik and Béla Kovács’s role as a possible Russian agent. For me, at least, this was new information. The copious footnotes, which include a fair amount of English-language material, are also helpful.

The major problem with the study is that it is already out of date. Over the past two years much of the Hungarian political scene has turned upside down. Jobbik is no longer the Jobbik it was in February-March 2015. Its emphasis on friendship with Iran and Russia has shifted somewhat, in line with the thinking of Jobbik supporters who still prefer the West to the East. Moreover, Gábor Vona, the party’s chairman, has opted to move away from extremism in the hope of being accepted as a moderate right-of-center party. Magyar Nemzet, often quoted in the study as a pro-Russian government mouthpiece, is now, as a result of the falling out between its owner and Viktor Orbán, independent and frequently critical of the government. In early 2015 Béla Kovács’s immunity case was still pending, but since then the European Parliament decided to lift his immunity. And, finally, even as Jobbik began drifting away from Russia, Fidesz more than filled the void. Although Fidesz has had close ties to Russia ever since 2011, it was somewhat constrained by the European Union. With the election of Donald Trump, however, it is now confident that it is on the winning side.

According to the Political Capital study, “Russian military intelligence officers, masquerading as diplomats, staged regular mock combat exercises using plastic guns with neo-Nazi activists.” They carried out these exercises even though Hungarian intelligence was ostensibly keeping an eye on Győrkös’s “network of extremists linked to and encouraged by Russia.”

The analysts of Political Capital admit that support for these fringe groups rarely pans out, but “reaching out to those on the margins costs little and sometimes hits pay dirt. That happened with Jobbik,” claims András Rácz, a Russian expert at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. I heartily disagree with Rácz. Jobbik didn’t become an important party because of Russian financial support. They “hit pay dirt” with their anti-Gypsy rhetoric in a country where over 80% of the population is strongly anti-Roma. Their anti-Semitism also added to their popularity in certain circles.

The other topic The New York Times article treats at some length is the case of Béla Kovács, who is “widely mocked as KGBela.” I have written many times about the Russian financing of Jobbik and the role Béla Kovács played in the relationship between Jobbik and the Kremlin. But I don’t think I reported that in June 2015 the European Parliament lifted his immunity, thereby allowing a Hungarian investigation of his case. As The New York Times article admits, “authorities in Hungary have so far shown little real interest in pursuing the matter.” Just as “the government has shown similar reluctance to probe too deeply into Russia’s links” to István Győrkös’s neo-Nazi activities. This reluctance is worrisome. But even more worrisome is that when Bernadett Szél of LMP proposed a parliamentary investigation into Russian interference in Hungarian affairs, the move was blocked by Fidesz.

I’m Béla Rabbit. And I’m the Russian bear.

The official Jobbik news site alfarhir.hu is no more pro-Russian than Magyar Idők or Magyar Hírlap. Any Russian “financial aid” given to Hungarian fringe groups or to Jobbik is by now a complete waste of money since the ruling party and the Hungarian government are fully committed to a pro-Russian foreign policy. Why throw away good money on fringe groups, especially on Jobbik, which at the moment is considered to be the chief enemy of the Orbán government? Russian money to “unsettle the E.U.” is going straight to the Hungarian government in the form of billions of euros for the Paks Nuclear Power Plant enlargement. The real threat is not Jobbik or the neo-Nazi fringe groups financed by Russia but Viktor Orbán, who is doing Vladimir Putin’s bidding.

December 28, 2016

Is the Hungarian far-right Jobbik party financed by Russia?

It’s amusing to watch an old piece of news reemerge and be heralded as an important discovery. This is exactly what happened a few days ago when the British conservative paper, The Telegraph, published an article with the title “Russia accused of clandestine funding of European parties as US conducts major review of Vladimir Putin’s strategy.”

Suspicions of Russian financial assistance to far-right parties in both Eastern and Western Europe are not new. For instance, ever since Jobbik surfaced as a substantial political force in Hungary, people have questioned the source of the party’s financing. How was it able to spend so lavishly on its 2010 political campaign?

Suspicions were further aroused when articles appeared in Index and elsewhere about Béla Kovács, a Jobbik member of the European Parliament, who was accused of spying for Russia. He is also thought to be the man through whom Russian financial contributions reached Jobbik. Those of you who are unfamiliar with Kovács’s shady activities should check out two of my posts about him, one from April and the other from May 2014. At that time the Hungarian chief prosecutor, Péter Polt, expressed his intention to start an investigation of the case, but for such an action to take place the European Parliament had to lift Kovács’s parliamentary immunity. The European Parliament took its sweet time but finally, more than a year and a half later, on October 15, 2015, the European Parliament acted. Since then Polt has been free to investigate and to question Kovács. To this day, however, nothing has happened.

In December 2014 newspapers were also full of stories about a €9.4 million loan from the First Czech-Russian bank in Moscow to the French National Front. Putin’s goal, it seemed evident, was “to undermine the European Union.” The Guardian called on Europe “to wake up to [Russia’s] insidious means of funding, or risk seeing its own institutions subverted.”

Even the U.S. decision to investigate the funding of far-right parties isn’t exactly new. It was on June 17, 2015 that the Senate authorized “appropriations for fiscal year 2016 for intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the Unites States Government.” Among the long list of “duties” was an “assessment of funding of political parties and nongovernmental organizations by the Russian Federation … in [the] former Soviet states and countries in Europe” since January 1, 2006.

What is new, however, is that The Telegraph’s reporter had the opportunity to see a “dossier of Russian influence activity” which identified Russian operations running in France, the Netherlands, and Hungary as well as in Austria and the Czech Republic.

US Intelligence Community

The Telegraph article was naturally met with great interest in Hungary. Most of the articles simply summarized the story, but there were a few that went beyond Jobbik-Russian relations and focused on Putin’s designs on Europe. For example, Propeller published an article on the subject with the headline: “It is because of Putin that the American secret service is investigating us.” The article talks about Hungary as a “danger zone” of Putin’s designs.

Fidesz is delighted. The party doesn’t even mind that the so-often maligned U.S. intelligence service has extended its activities to the sovereign Hungarian state. According to Szilárd Németh, one of the newly elected vice-chairmen of the party, Gábor Vona, Jobbik’s chairman, “must avow the party’s relations with Russia not only to the people of Europe and of Hungary but also to the American authorities.” Suddenly Viktor Orbán and his party are worried about the future safety of Europe and even care what the “American authorities” think.

The government paper, Magyar Idők, has published two articles on the topic in two days, even though it is ideologically conflicted. On the one hand, the pro-government journalists working for the paper are delighted that Jobbik might be in trouble but, on the other hand, they don’t quite know how to handle the involvement of Putin’s Russia and the United States in such an investigation. Magyar Idők, just as its predecessor Magyar Nemzet, is pro-Russian and anti-American. It must be quite a challenge to combine joy over Jobbik’s troubles with an adoration of Russia and hatred of the United States. In the paper’s second article they solved the problem:

The widening of the Russian sphere of interest is obviously a thorn in the side of the United States and that’s why it is important for the American intelligence services to investigate the activities of the European parties with strong eastern ties. At the same time one ought to note that U.S. authorities haven’t moved a finger against kuruc.info, which uses a server operating from the United States. … It is not the radicalism of Jobbik that worries the leaders of the United States but the possibility of Russia’s European expansion.

May I add that the editors of kuruc.info, an openly anti-Semitic neo-Nazi site, write their articles in Hungary. The Hungarian authorities know full well who they are and could start proceedings against them at any time, but they choose not to.

How did Russia react to the news published in The Telegraph? Finian Cunningham, in a fairly lengthy article titled “Russian Red Scare No Longer Works” in Sputnik International, lashed out at the American and British governments, accusing them of a media campaign to demonize Russia. During the Cold War, “in the good old days,” they could control their public with scare stories about the “Red menace” or the “Evil Empire,” but these old formulas don’t work anymore. So now the U.S. and Great Britain are adopting different tactics. They are portraying Vladimir Putin “as a malign specter trying to break up European unity by funding political parties.” There is “not a scrap of evidence … to substantiate the story of alleged Russian conspiracy to destabilize European politics.” The problem is not Putin but the “massive numbers of ordinary citizens who have become disillusioned with the undemocratic monstrosity,” meaning the European Union.

But the real “problem is that the EU has shown no independence from Washington. The European governments under the harness of the American-led NATO military alliance have blindly joined the US in its disastrous, illegal wars for regime change.” It is clear that “Washington wants to isolate Russia for its own self-interest of displacing Russia as a major energy supplier to the continent. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.” Cunningham’s article didn’t forget about Poland either. According to him, “Europe’s pathetically servile deference to Washington’s economic and foreign policies is manifesting in forms of protest and dissent towards the entire EU project. The rise of Poland’s rightwing, nationalist ruling party is another sign of the times.” The similarities in style and content between Sputnik International and Magyar Idők are striking.

For the time being, Jobbik is facing the attacks with confidence. An English-language communiqué was issued by the party today:

Fidesz welcomes the news that the US Congress has instructed James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, to conduct an investigation into any Russian influence operations or funding of political parties in EU member states…. Jobbik requests the US authorities to reveal the findings of their investigation as soon as possible since the public has the right to know which political parties are funded by external powers. In the meantime, we request Russia to also disclose the findings of its own intelligence services regarding the potential US funding of European political parties. European citizens deserve to see a clear picture.

We attribute a special significance to the US Congress’ initiative in light of the ongoing political farce which was launched by Fidesz against MEP Béla Kovács, a representative of Hungary’s strongest opposition party one and half years ago, and so far has been unable to produce any evidence to support the allegations. We hope that the earliest possible disclosure of the report will reveal the truth and unveil Fidesz’ vicious political game solely designed to divert public attention from the rampant corruption of the government party.

January 20, 2016

Jobbik won the by-election in Tapolca

Although I watched two political commentators’ analyses of the results of the Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg election, my reactions here are only first impressions. Perhaps my greatest surprise was the relatively strong showing of Zoltán Fenyvesi, the Fidesz candidate, who, as things now stand, lost the election by only 261 votes out of approximately 30,000 votes cast. It was also something of a surprise how poorly the socialist Ferenc Pad did, although after seeing the candidates debate last Friday I strongly suspected that it would not be the MSZP-DK candidate who would win this election.

According to the official statistics, Lajos Rig (Jobbik) received 35.27%, Zoltán Fenyvesi (Fidesz) 34.38%, Ferenc Pad (MSZP-DK) 26.27%, and Barbara Sallee (LMP) 2.05% of the votes. As the votes were coming in, it was apparent that voter turnout in Tapolca, a Jobbik stronghold, was higher than in Ajka, where MSZP is the dominant party.

Jobbik took this election very seriously. For example, Gábor Vona, the party chairman, moved to Tapolca for a good two weeks and campaigned all day long. Although about 600 MSZP activists descended on the electoral district, they campaigned only in the last two days. That is not an effective way to campaign. By point of comparison, on May 6–I know it’s an odd date–the town in which I live will have local elections, and the campaign is already on. In fact, half an hour ago two Republican activists appeared at the door with a complimentary copy of the local service directory and a flyer touting the party’s accomplishments in 2014 and its plans for 2015. I assume the Democrats will follow soon enough, although they usually arrive empty-handed.

Lajos Rig campaigned to the last minute / Origo/ Photo Attila Polyák

Lajos Rig campaigned to the last minute / Origo/ Photo Attila Polyák

People familiar with modern campaign techniques increasingly comment on the inability of the left-of-center parties to wage an effective campaign. Fidesz was a pioneer in the field by borrowing the American practice of door-to-door campaigning. What they also borrowed was something that according to Hungarian law is illegal: keeping lists of potential supporters. MSZP, by not following in Fidesz’s footsteps, lost the “campaign game” some time ago.

Of course, lists are not enough if prospective supporters don’t actually go to the polls, and in the last year or so Fidesz hasn’t managed to get out the vote. Admittedly, turnout in by-elections is usually low. This time only 41.6% of the eligible voters cast their votes, as opposed to 59.9% a year ago. A large number of Fidesz and MSZP voters stayed away, while Jobbik, which got 10,110 votes or 23.49% in 2014, got 10, 354 votes or 35.27% this time around. I guess we will have to wait a bit for a deeper analysis of the figures to find out where the Jobbik votes came from. The detailed data from all the towns and villages should give us some answers.

As I said, I watched the three candidates debate on Friday’s Egyenes beszéd (Straight Talk) on ATV. You may recall that in an earlier post I reported that the Fidesz candidate had initially been ready to participate in a debate scheduled for Thursday but in the last minute he retreated and the event was cancelled. The Fidesz leadership then changed its mind and agreed to a debate, which was broadcast on Friday. I guess they decided that avoiding a face-to-face meeting with their adversaries would give the impression that the party was afraid of its opponents.

Watching the three candidates was an interesting experience. First of all, Lajos Rig, the Jobbik candidate whom I had seen only once before, on a video where reporters confronted him about his tattoo, made a better impression than I expected. On the earlier video he handled the situation very badly and came across as not too bright and painfully inarticulate. This time, by contrast, he was well-spoken. He was also quite aggressive. For example, he was the first candidate to respond to the reporter’s initial question. No hesitation, his message was clear and intelligent.

Zoltán Fenyvesi was too much of a government candidate. His answers sounded as if they had been written by the official spokesman of the party. Given Viktor Orbán’s problems, Fenyvesi might have positioned himself as just a bit more independent. He did, however, deliver the only “where’s the beef” message to the electorate: “If you vote for me, the district will get favorable treatment from the government.” It’s possible that this message resonated with some of the voters. I should, in passing, point out another negative in his debate performance, which probably made no difference in the outcome of the election. He claimed that he met all the mayors of the 60 towns and villages in the district. This claim turned out to be untrue.

Ferenc Pad is soft-spoken and mild-mannered. In the free-wheeling conversation he was usually the last to speak on any given subject. He may have been a successful trade union leader, but I doubt that he was the best choice for a political candidate. Moreover, even though we heard how hard he and his team worked and that he visited every village in the district, it’s difficult to assess how effective all this effort was. I got the impression that on a typical day in the campaign the candidate would arrive alone in a village and settle down in the pub where he would talk to the customers. And that he would strike up conversations with passers-by. That’s not a winning strategy in the twenty-first century.

After today’s election Fidesz will have to pay more attention to the party to its right. Until very recently the Fidesz leadership didn’t seem to be worried about Jobbik. In fact, they often adopted Jobbik’s ideas and presented them as their own, hoping to attract Jobbik voters to their party. It was only about a week ago that Zoltán Balog and János Lázár began referring to Jobbik as a “Nazi party.”  It will be interesting to see what Fidesz comes up in this new situation.

As for MSZP, finishing third in this election most likely won’t help the party find a way out of its present morass. MSZP’s popularity hasn’t moved up one whit since the last election. DK is slowly edging up in the polls, and I suspect that at the moment the DK leadership is not at all happy that they decided to support MSZP’s choice. Whether this defeat will have an effect on future cooperation between these two parties remains to be seen.

The Hungarian far right and Russia

There has been a lot of discussion about the Russian sympathies of the extreme right parties in Europe. I have written extensively about Jobbik’s close ties with Russia. I’m sure that many readers remember the strange story of Béla Kovács, Jobbik EP MP, who, by the way, was just barred from the territory of Ukraine by the Ukrainian government. The reason? Most likely Kovács’s participation in the group that found everything in perfect order in the Crimean elections. Gábor Vona also visited Moscow, accompanied by Béla Kovács, and met important Russian political leaders.

The same affinity for Russia holds for France’s National Front, whose leader, Marine Le Pen, visited Moscow last summer and met similarly high-ranking politicians of the Russian Duma. Golden Dawn, the Greek fascist party, also has close connections to Moscow from where it receives financial assistance. When the Greek government imprisoned Nikos Michaloliakos, the party’s leader, Alexander Dugin, the author of Putin’s “Eurasian” ideology, actually sent him a letter in prison. Just to remind people: Gábor Vona also met Dugin in Moscow. And then there is Bulgaria’s far-right party, Ataka, that also has links to the Russian embassy.

All these parties and other right-wing fringe organizations support Russia’s annexation of Crimea and stand by Russia in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. They are all against the European Union and the United States. Most of them are also anti-Semitic, definitely anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian and Iranian.

A previously lesser-known right-wing portal in Hungary, Hídfő (Bridgehead), has recently come into prominence. It was this site that first broke the story that Hungary is secretly supplying tanks to the Ukrainian army. One of their readers saw a tank being transported by train toward Debrecen, which the editors of the portal found suspicious. Soon enough word spread that the tanks were destined for Ukraine. The Hungarian ministry of defense explained that the tanks had been sold to a Czech businessman who deals in used military equipment.

Later the Russian foreign ministry published an official statement stating that “weapons supplied to Ukraine by the EU member-countries … violate legally binding obligations–the Arms Trade Treaty.” The Russian foreign ministry was fairly well-informed on the details: “Hungary’s Defense Ministry is supplying Ukraine with armored vehicles, including T-72 tanks, through a ‘proxy agency.'” The Hungarian Foreign Ministry denied the Russian claim as “groundless.”

As a result of its revelation Hídfő, which apparently has a readership of 3,000/day, became internationally known.  And naturally that aroused the interest of investigative journalists in Atlatszo.hu, one of those NGOs that receive financial support from the Norwegian Civic Fund. They discovered a few interesting items about the organization that is likely behind Hídfő–Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal, a Hungarist organization that came into being in 1989. Originally it was called Magyar Nemzetiszocialista Akciócsoportok (National Socialist Action Groups) . It considers itself to be the legitimate successor to Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross Party.

Hídfő, as far as I could ascertain, was established on September 25, 2012, or at least that is the date when the first article appeared. The portal is full of anti-Israeli, anti-American, anti-European Union articles while it is fiercely pro-Russian, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Iranian. Their Russian connections must be substantial. While internet sites normally invite readers to express their satisfaction on Twitter and Facebook, Hídfő has only Vkontakte, a kind of Russian Facebook.

Hídfő is well informed on the exact military situation in Eastern Ukraine

Hídfő is well informed on the precise military situation in “New Russia”

An interesting article, originally published on tarsadalmivirtus.lapunk.hu, appeared in Hídfő in 2013. If one can believe the introduction, a single person writes all the articles; he sees himself as a great observer and analyst of international affairs. He also looks upon the European Union as an enemy that until now has been unable to grab only two countries: Ukraine and Belarus.  But the EU has plans concerning Ukraine. If it manages to get hold of Ukraine, its influence in Europe would be complete while “Russia would be squeezed into the Asian region.” European pressure is great on Ukraine and in case of a civil war “it is possible that Moscow will try to save the Russian population and the country will fall into several pieces.” This, however, will not satisfy the European Union. The final step of the evil European Union will be “the execution of Russia.” Romania will incorporate Moldova while the West will incite the Muslims of Russia to revolt. Eventually Russia will fall apart without any outside military action. Our man seems to know that “the Russian military leadership” has already worked out a strategy to prevent such an outcome. It includes the support of Russia nationalists in Ukraine, to be followed by “tremendous pressure on the Baltic states.” Whoever our man is, he predicted the events on the Russian-Ukrainian border fairly accurately.

Another far-right site is “Jövőnk” (Our Future). This Hungarist site has been in existence since January 2009. It would be fascinating to learn more about this group because the site suggests that they have plenty of money. They publish articles not only in Hungarian but also in English, French, German, Russian, Romanian, Slovak, and Serbian, which is a very expensive undertaking. The people behind Jövőnk are so enthusiastically pro-Russian that their articles could have been written in some Russian government office in Moscow and translated into Hungarian. This particular page will give you an idea about the editors’ infatuation with Vladimir Putin. In one of the articles there are enthusiastic lines about Putin building a Eurasian Empire, and not for a moment does the author worry about the implications of such an empire for his own country, Hungary.

A strange, inscrutable world about which we still know very little. We especially know very little about the nature of these groups’ ties to Russia and Iran. One can only hope that the Hungarian secret service is keeping an eye on these people, although I have my doubts about both the talent and the will of the security agents. When one reads articles in these extremist websites about the decline of the West and glowing descriptions of the East, one has the awful feeling that Viktor Orbán has quite a bit in common with these fellows. A rather frightening thought.

Evidence is presented in the Jobbik espionage case

Shortly after the news broke on May 14 that Péter Polt, the Hungarian chief prosecutor, had asked Martin Schulz, president of the European Union, to suspend the parliamentary immunity of Béla Kovács (Jobbik), Fidesz moved to convene the Hungarian parliamentary committee on national security. The committee is chaired by Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), whose plate is full of his own problems. Two weeks ago a picture from 1992 of the 18-year-old hooded Molnár was made public. Magyar Nemzet accused the socialist politician of being a skinhead in his youth. I guess it was just tit for tat: the opposition was outraged over Fidesz’s support of a Jobbik candidate for the post of deputy president of the House.

A couple of days ago I expressed doubts about the charge of espionage in the case of the Jobbik MEP. First of all, we know only too well the Fidesz practice of accusing their political opponents of some serious crime that years later turns out to be bogus. The acquittal comes far too late; the political damage is instantaneous. After the 2010 election wholesale accusations were launched against socialist politicians and now, four years later, most of the accused have been acquitted. Among those court cases one dealt with espionage, but because the case was considered to belong to the rather large realm of state secrets we still have no idea about the charges or the evidence. Early reactions from Ágnes Vadai (DK), who at that point was a member of the parliamentary committee, indicated that both bordered on the ludicrous.

Since I consider the national security office an arm of the Orbán government that is often used for political purposes, my first reaction was to be very skeptical of the charges leveled against Kovács. Until now, Viktor Orbán concentrated on the left (MSZP, DK, E14-PM) and ignored Jobbik. Now that everybody predicts a resounding success for the extremist Jobbik party at the polls on Sunday, it seems that Orbán decided to turn his attention to his adversaries on the right. After all, he has the magic two-thirds majority in parliament and doesn’t need Jobbik.

There is no question of Kovács’s pro-Russian sentiments. He spent the larger part of his life in that country, and he is an ardent supporter of Vladimir Putin and his vision of Russia and the world. In Brussels he is considered to be a “Russian lobbyist,” and I’m sure that he represented Russia more than Hungary in the EP. At least some of his speeches indicate that much. But espionage is something different from making propaganda at the behest of a country.

Viktor Orbán, never known to worry about linguistic niceties, is capitalizing on the situation. On Friday night on MTV he equated espionage against the European Union with treason. He claimed that “the Hungarian public is familiar with the treasonous activities of internationalists who don’t consider the nation important, but that a party that considers itself national (nemzeti) would want to send such people to Brussels where they are supposed to represent Hungarian interests is really unprecedented.”

Let’s analyze this sentence. First of all, he is accusing some (actually, probably most) left-wing politicians of being traitors, while suggesting that there might be more spies among the proposed representatives of Jobbik to the European Parliament. I’m sure that Viktor Orbán means every word he says in this sentence. He is convinced that everyone who disagrees with him and criticizes him is not only unpatriotic but also a traitor; if it depended on him, he would gladly jail all of them. Also, there are signs that Béla Kovács might be only the first target. Perhaps the grand prize would be Gábor Vona himself.  As it is, Lajos Pősze, a disillusioned former Jobbik member, claimed on HírTV that Vona is Moscow’s agent.

In any case, the parliamentary committee on national security was called together this morning. Both Béla Kovács and Gábor Vona were obliged to appear before the committee. It seems that everyone who was present, with the exception of Jobbik member Ádám Mirkóczki, is convinced on the basis of the evidence presented by the national security office that Béla Kovács committed espionage.

Gábor Vona, Ádám Mirkóczy, and Béla Kovács Source: Index / Photo; Szabolcs Barakonyi

Gábor Vona, Ádám Mirkóczki, and Béla Kovács after the hearing
Source: Index / Photo; Szabolcs Barakonyi

What did we learn about the proceedings? Not much, because the information will be classified for a number of years. We do know that the Hungarian national security office has been investigating Kovács ever since 2009 and that they have pictures and recordings of conversations. Chairman Zsolt Molnár (MSZP) found the evidence convincing but added, “there is espionage but no James Bond.” Apparently, what he means is that the case is not like espionage concerning military secrets but “an activity that can be more widely defined.” Bernadett Szél (LMP) was also impressed, but she added that “a person can commit espionage even if he is not a professional spy.” These two comments lead me to believe that we are faced here not so much with espionage as with “influence peddling.” On the other hand, Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), deputy chairman of the committee, was more explicit and more damaging. He indicated that “Kovács had connections to the Russian secret service and these connections were organized and conspiratorial.” Attila Mesterházy, who was not present, also seems to accept the story at face value. The liberal-socialist politicians all appear to have lined up. Interestingly enough, not one of them seems to remember similar Fidesz attacks on people on their side that turned out to be bogus. Yes, I understand that Jobbik is a despicable party, but that’s not a sufficient reason to call Kovács a spy if he is no more than a zealous promoter of Putin’s cause.

Ágnes Vadai (DK) used to be the chair of the committee when she was still a member of MSZP and thus has the necessary clearance to attend the sessions. Since she had to retire from the chairmanship due to her change of political allegiance, she asked admission to some of the more important meetings of the committee. Normally, she receives permission. But not this time. Her reaction was:  “We always suspected that Jobbik has reasons to be secretive but it seems that Fidesz does also.” She promised to ask the Ministry of Interior to supply her with documents connected to the case. I doubt that she will receive anything.

Gáspár Miklós Tamás, the political philosopher whose views I normally don’t share, wrote an opinion piece that pretty well echoes what I had to say about the case three days ago. He calls attention to a double standard. The liberal journalists view Fidesz’s attack on the left-liberal political side with healthy skepticism, but this time they seemed to have swallowed the espionage story hook, line, and sinker. Kovács is most likely an agent d’influence but no more than that. TGM–as everybody calls him–considers the “criminalization of political opponents the overture to dictatorship,” which should be rejected regardless of whether it is directed against the right or the left.

Interestingly, Jobbik’s pro-Russian bias finds many adherents in Hungary. Apparently, whereas in most of the Eastern European countries the public is anti-Russian, especially after the Ukrainian crisis, Hungarian public opinion is divided. And the right-wingers, including some of the Fidesz voters, consider Putin’s intervention in Ukraine at the behest of the ethnic Russians justified. This sympathy most likely has a lot to do with the existence of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

How will Orbán achieve both of his goals–to ruin Jobbik with a Russian espionage case and at the same time defend Russia’s support of autonomy in Ukraine? He may well succeed. His track record when it comes to threading the needle is very good.

A Russian spy allegedly found in Jobbik’s European parliamentary delegation

It was about a month ago that I wrote a post on “Jobbik and the Russian connection: The role of Béla Kovács.” I suggest taking a look at that piece by way of background to today’s post. I ended it with the following sentence: “I assume that, given his background, the Hungarian national security office is keeping an eye on Kovács.” Well, as it turned out, only a few days before I wrote this sentence the office turned to Chief Prosecutor Peter Polt to instigate proceedings against Kovács on charges of espionage for Russia. But being an ardent supporter of Russia in the European parliament where he represented Jobbik does not necessarily mean that he was a spy. In fact, the more I read about the case the less I think that Kovács is guilty of the crime he is charged with.

As usual, Fidesz’s timing is impeccable. As we all know, the European parliamentary election will be held on May 25, and Jobbik is positioned to do extremely well at the polls. But Magyar Nemzet‘s revelation of the espionage charge may siphon off some Jobbik support.

It seems that the Fidesz top brass has known for months that the national security office was looking into Béla Kovács’s activities in Brussels. Several government actions support this hypothesis. For instance, last fall there was a belated addition to the new Criminal Code that extended the scope of espionage to include EU institutions. Prior to that, the charge of espionage could be leveled only against those who committed such a crime either against Hungary or NATO. As of January 1, if Kovács spied on the European Union he could be sentenced to a jail term of between two and eight years. One can’t help thinking that this change in the Criminal Code was not a coincidence.

More recently, on May 11, Peter Polt asked the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, to revoke Kovács’s parliamentary immunity. Péter Polt should have known that the current parliamentary session had already ended and that there will be no meeting of the European Parliament between now and May 25, the day of the election. Therefore, Kovács’s case couldn’t be investigated by the European Union’s legal affairs committee and voted on by the members of the parliament before the election.

Moreover, Fidesz was well apprised of what was going on in the prosecutor’s office. On May 11, the same day Polt wrote to Schulz, Antal Rogán referred to a Jobbik MEP “who spends more time in Russia than in Budapest or in Brussels.” As usual, Fidesz and the prosecutor’s office worked hand in hand.

Kovács himself made no secret of his Russian sympathies. In fact, he made several speeches in the parliament scolding the European Union for not wanting to have closer relations with Russia and for not embracing Putin’s idea of a Eurasian Union. He repeatedly urged closer cooperation with Russia, which led his colleagues in Brussels to call him “the Russian lobbyist.” Such open crusading would be strange behavior from a cloak-and-dagger spy.

Béla Kovács who according to Jobbik is so important that Vice President Joe Biden himself asked Viktor Orbán to prevent his work in the European Parliament Source jobbik18.hu

Béla Kovács, who according to Jobbik is so important that Vice President Joe Biden himself asked Viktor Orbán to prevent his work in the European Parliament
Source: jobbik18.hu

It would also be utterly foolish of a Russian spy to use Russian citizens as parliamentary aides, but this is exactly what he did when he hired two Russian youngsters to work for him. Apparently, they were  rarely seen but received a monthly salary of 1,400 euros. One of them was a nephew of his wife who is a Russian-Austrian citizen.

The Orbán government has a penchant for using the national security office for political purposes. Let us not forget the charges of espionage leveled against Lajos Galambos, former head of the national security office, and György Szilvásy, minister in charge of the secret service. We know very little about the exact charges because the proceedings were held in camera and were declared to be a state secret. But what we learned about them unofficially indicates that the charges were trumped up. A Népszabadság editorial put it this way: “We will never learn the truth about Béla Kovács. But we know all about the methods of Fidesz.” They seize every opportunity without a moment’s hesitation and use the theoretically neutral police, secret service, and prosecutor’s office. The “cases” are lined up, waiting for an order from above: we now want a picture of the hooded Zsolt Molnár or some real estate fraudster. “Oh, espionage and not for the United States but Russia? Too bad, but it will do.” Of course, Kovács still might be a spy, but “it is more and more difficult to believe the national shepherd when he cries wolf.”

Béla Kovács naturally denies the charges: “I have never been a member of any secret service, Hungarian or foreign. I never cooperated with them, nor have there been attempts to recruit me on their part.” By now, all kinds of stories are circulating, including that his Russian-born wife, Svetlana Istoshin, worked for the KGB. Something he also denies.

Fidesz naturally cast a wide net. The parliamentary committee on national security will be convened and, according to the chairman, the socialist Zsolt Molnár, they want to question Gábor Vona as well.

How much this will hurt Jobbik’s chances at the polls no one knows. Index yesterday ran an article with the title “Kágébéla might be Jobbik’s undoing.” The “Kágébéla” of course refers to his alleged ties with the KGB. Or at least this is what some of his colleagues in the party called him. In Jobbik he was mostly valued for the amount of money he managed to get for the party. Whether this money came from Russia or not, we have no idea. Without a doubt, there are many questions concerning Kovács’s past, but I am not at all sure that spying is one of his sins.