Tag Archives: Brussels

Viktor Orbán in the wake of Brexit

As I’m following commentaries on “life after Brexit,” I’m struck by the huge divergence of opinions. There are those who are certain that one Euroskeptic country after the other will hold a referendum on membership and that the entire European edifice that has been built slowly and methodically since the 1950s will simply collapse. One Hungarian commentator, former SZDSZ chairman Mátyás Eörsi, thinks a European war is almost inevitable. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that the British exit is actually a blessing in disguise. At last the countries of the Continent will be free to deepen integration which, in their opinion, will strengthen the European Union and ensure its political and economic importance in world affairs.

Opinions on the effect of Brexit on the political fortunes of Viktor Orbán also differ widely. A few think the event will be a useful tool in the Hungarian prime minister’s hand, which he can use to force the powerful core states to make concessions to the Visegrád 4 countries and a couple of other Euroskeptic nations in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The reasoning is that without concessions, the contagion may spread through other member states at a time of right radical ascendancy. After all, these commentators point out, several right-wing groups have already announced plans to force through similar referendums.

I don’t believe in this scenario. The result of the British referendum is having such devastating consequences in both political and economic terms that I doubt too many countries would willingly sign up for such a suicidal undertaking. After all, it seems that the pro-exit Conservatives themselves were not quite prepared for a pro-leave majority and have no idea of what to do next. There are signs that they wouldn’t mind undoing the awful mess they created. Moreover, the first attempt at holding a similar referendum, the Dutch Geert Wilders’ Nexit initiative, has already failed. Yesterday, out of the 75 MPs present Nexit received only 14 votes.

Since the spread of anti-EU referendums is unlikely, Brexit didn’t strengthen Orbán’s position in Brussels. On the contrary. He lost a powerful ally in David Cameron, on whom he relied time and again in resisting every move that, as he saw it, trampled on the sovereignty of the nation states. Now he can only hope that the Visegrád 4 countries, if they remain united, will be strong enough to stand up against likely pressure in the direction of integration. There is a good possibility that Orbán and his fellow prime ministers of the former Soviet bloc countries will have to choose between cooperation and some kind of inferior status that would place them outside “an ever closer union.” That second-tier status would mean turning off the spigot from which billions of euros have flowed to these countries.

Until now one had the impression that Orbán was the leader of the Visegrád 4 group, but this impression might be misleading because news about V4 meetings arrives through the filter of Hungarian government propaganda. A couple of days ago the Polish government announced that it wants to hold “an alternative meeting of EU foreign ministers,” those who weren’t invited to the meeting of the six founding members of the European Union on Saturday. Yesterday, according to the Polish public television, eight foreign ministers–from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia–had accepted the invitation. The United Kingdom will be represented by an undersecretary.

Poland is taking the lead among countries that have issues with the European Union. The Polish initiative is perfectly understandable. Poland is a large country with almost 40 million inhabitants, and therefore its government feels that it should spearhead the movement of those who resist EU “encroachment.” How Orbán feels about this Polish initiative one can only guess. In any case, if this Polish invitation to 22 countries yielded such a small gathering, the prospect of the Poles forging a strong counterweight to the pro-integration forces looks slim to me.

Nonetheless, in Budapest there is hope that with the departure of the United Kingdom the Visegrád countries “will gain much more influence within the European Union.” At least this is what Gergely Prőhle, former Hungarian ambassador to Berlin, believes. He expressed his hope to Boris Kálnoky, Budapest correspondent of Die Welt, that Austria and the Netherlands may also support the program of a Visegrád 4 coalition. But Prőhle is far too optimistic and, as Kálnoky points out, the Hungarian government is nervous about the prospect of a more integrated Europe and “a sharper attack on the Euroskeptic and nationalist governments.”

David Cameron arrives today in Brussels / Reuters / Photo: Francois Lenoir

David Cameron arrives in Brussels / Reuters / Photo: Francois Lenoir

Of course, Viktor Orbán would never acknowledge that Great Britain’s likely exit from the European Union may decrease his effectiveness in Brussels. But László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, freely admitted that with Great Britain inside the European Union Hungary would have had an easier time of it in Brussels. Moreover, he acknowledged that “the political strength of those who oppose the formation of some kind of united states of Europe has diminished.”

Many Hungarian commentators actually rejoice over Brexit for the very reason Kálnoky and others point out. The absence of Great Britain from the negotiating table will weaken Viktor Orbán. Moreover, these people are strong believers in a federated Europe and look upon Great Britain as an impediment to that ideal. These commentators argue that the United Kingdom from the very beginning was a reluctant member and that, being an island nation, it is a very different place from the countries of the Continent. The strongest Hungarian criticism I read appeared in Index. Its author, M.T., accused Britain of blackmailing the European Union for years.

Viktor Orbán, who is by now in Brussels, has been talking about “the lessons” to be learned from Brexit. Of course, for him the lessons are that the politicians of the EU must listen to the “voice of the people” who are fed up with Brussels’ handling of the “migrant crisis.” From the moment the results of the British referendum became known, Orbán has been trying to convince his voters that the reason for Brexit was the 1.5 million migrants who have arrived in Europe in the last year and a half. But I wonder how long this myth can be maintained once Hungarians learn that, since last Thursday, more than 100 incidents have taken place in the United Kingdom, mostly against Poles.

The defense of “the rights of Hungarians working and studying in the United Kingdom” is Orbán’s self-stated top priority during the negotiations over Brexit. Of course, these negotiations are still far away, but Orbán can show that he is concerned about the fate of his people. It’s too bad that when it came to allowing Hungarian citizens living in Western European countries to have the same voting rights as Hungarians living in the neighboring countries he was not such a staunch supporter of them.

In Brussels this afternoon Orbán gave a press conference in which he placed the “migrant crisis” at the epicenter of all the current ills of the European Union. If it isn’t solved along the lines he suggested, the crisis the EU is experiencing now will only deepen. He emphasized the necessity of holding a Hungarian referendum on the “compulsory quotas,” which we know don’t even exist. This referendum “is necessary in order to represent the Hungarian position clearly and forcefully.” Of course, the Hungarian referendum is totally off topic. The negotiations in Brussels are not about the refugees, but about Great Britain’s likely exit and the future of the European Union.

June 28, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s interpretation of the Brexit referendum

In the wake of the stunning Brexit referendum outcome, pro-government papers wisely waited for word from the boss before they dared express any opinion on the subject. They didn’t have to wait long. At 8:00 a.m. Viktor Orbán began his regular fortnightly Friday morning interview on the state radio station.

The first topic was of course the British referendum, something the Hungarian prime minister was not at all eager to talk about. The little he said had more to do with his own referendum, to be held sometime in the fall, on the European Union’s right to set “compulsory quotas” of asylum seekers in Hungary. One could ask what these two referendums have to do with one other.  Of course, nothing. What is important for him is his own referendum, and he exploits the opportunity presented by the Brexit referendum.

Brexit1

Source: spectator.co.uk

According to his own version of the story, the whole unfortunate referendum on Brexit was largely the result of the refugee crisis that hit Europe in the last year and a half. He claims that the British people revolted against Brussels because the European Union couldn’t handle the migration crisis. They punished Brussels for its incompetence. Orbán as usual is twisting the truth to fit his own agenda. What the majority of British voters were worried about, in addition to being subordinated to an outside power, was not so much the refugees and migrants who have reached the Continent but those “economic migrants” from East Central Europe who have settled in the British Isles in the last few years.  The 350,000 Poles and the 150,000 Hungarians, for example. At least these are the official figures, though most likely the real numbers are higher.

He was particularly unwilling to talk about the future except to state that “Hungary is in the European Union because we believe in a strong Europe,” a totally meaningless statement, only to return to his main message –the immigration issue. “But Europe can be strong only if it finds answers to such important questions as immigration. Many people, in the case of Great Britain the majority, consider the decisions [on the refugee issue] to be creating not a stronger but a weaker Europe.” So this, in his opinion, is what led to the “leave” vote.

Orbán indicated that he had been in touch with the prime ministers of the Visegrád countries. Robert Fico’s interpretation of the referendum result is almost identical to that of Orbán: “Great numbers of EU citizens reject the migrant policy,” which should obviously be changed. Jarosław Kaczyński went further. He would like to see an entirely new EU constitution which would include “reforms,” after which the EU “could make an offer” to Great Britain. What would these “reforms” include? Among other things, a new definition of the relationship between the EU and the member states, naturally in favor of the nation states. I’m certain that for the Euroskeptic Visegrád countries Kaczyński’s scheme would be a bonanza. Loosen European integration and keep a strong ally, the also Euroskeptic Great Britain, in the fold. This is a totally unacceptable response to the Brexit vote.

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó regurgitated Viktor Orbán’s wise words about a strong Europe, adding that “the time of honest politics has arrived in Europe” because the EU has for some time been following hypocritical and politically correct policies that have led to wrong answers to the migrant crisis. Lajos Kósa, representing Fidesz as a party, claimed that the majority of the Brits voted to exit from the Union because Brussels couldn’t defend them from the migrants. “It is an impossible situation that the socialist-liberal elite is pro-immigration while the decisive majority of European citizens is not.” Kósa added that “we can agree with the man who came up with the bon mot that Europe for the sake of a few million migrants lost 64 million citizens and the second strongest economy.”

Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság usually uses her contacts with Fidesz politicians to get a sense of their attitudes on particular issues. According to her, the consensus in the party is that with Brexit Orbán lost an important ally. But in the future Orbán’s voice will become more audible in the EU. Her informants also believe that with the departure of anti-Russian Great Britain Orbán will have an easier time convincing the EU to put an end to the anti-Russian sanctions. The couple of Fidesz EP representatives she interviewed emphasized the importance of the unity of the Visegrád 4 countries, which should be used as a counterweight to French-German dominance. One of the EP representatives, György Schöpflin, is convinced that the European left wants to punish the exiting Brits. He had to admit, however, that it is not only the left that wants immediate negotiations but also the Christian-conservative parties in the European People’s Party (EPP). If that is the case, the Fidesz members of EPP have little choice but to go with the flow.

The leaders of the opposition parties naturally see the situation differently. Csaba Molnár, DK EP member, accused the British conservatives of a 20-year-long anti-EU campaign, which resulted in the disastrous outcome of the referendum. Viktor Orbán has been doing the same thing for years, and if he doesn’t stop eventually Hungary too will leave the EU. He therefore implored Orbán to call off the referendum.  Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt also asked Orbán “to stop his mendacious anti-EU campaign and his anti-European provocations.”

István Szent-Iványi, the foreign policy expert of the Magyar Liberális Párt, looks upon the outcome of the referendum as the result of “the British government party’s two-faced, ambiguous policies regarding the European Union.” The same attitude is present in Hungary and, given the lesson of the British decision, he called on the Hungarian government to make its relationship to Europe unambiguous, to stop its campaign against Brussels, and to cancel the referendum on compulsory quotas. At present, neither Hungary nor Europe needs this referendum, which is no longer about refugees but about Hungary’s relations with Europe.

Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP EP member, called David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum irresponsible and selfish since he placed his own political survival ahead of the future of his country. But perhaps Cameron’s political sins will have a beneficial effect on Orbán. One possible outcome of the British decision might be that European politicians will have had enough of the selfish, nationalist members’ behavior and  will continue European integration without them. At the moment, Hungary still has a chance to be part of this work, but only if Orbán drastically changes course. He added that Brexit will have the most negative effect on the Central and East European countries because the leading demand of those who campaigned for Great Britain’s exit was that citizens of the European Union should not take work away from British citizens.

Given the official Fidesz interpretation of the British referendum, the great majority of the Hungarian people, as is often the case, will be misinformed and misled. I suspect that Orbán will go on campaigning against the EU and will hold the referendum. Otherwise, it is hard to predict how serious a handicap the absence of British support for the Visegrád 4 will be in the coming months. I suspect that from here on Orbán will have a more difficult time in Brussels.

June 24, 2016

Viktor Orbán, the “great supporter” of European common action

A couple of days ago we pondered the true meaning of the Kohl-Orbán joint communiqué, which emphasized a coordinated European response to the refugee crisis. What could have transpired during the hour Viktor Orbán spent with the ailing Helmut Kohl? What did the former chancellor tell the Hungarian prime minister to entice him to sign a document that emphasizes common action in the face of one of the greatest challenges the European Union has confronted in its existence? We now have the answer.

Today Viktor Orbán gave his customary, carefully choreographed Friday morning interview on Kossuth Rádió. About three-quarters of the conversation was devoted to Orbán’s views on the migration issue. His message was unequivocal. It matters not what he signed after his meeting with Kohl, he hasn’t budged an inch. He totally rejects a common European solution to the refugee problem–unless, of course, the rest of Europe accepts his solution. One could ask why he signed a document that goes against his deeply held beliefs. Because such a gesture at the moment was to his political advantage. For him it was only a scrap of paper without legal consequences.

Today’s interview began with a “little white lie.” Orbán claimed that “every time I visit the southern regions of Germany I visit Chancellor Kohl.” Sure thing, he just calls the Kohl residence announcing that he is somewhere nearby and the next thing we know he is sitting in Kohl’s living room.

He continued the interview by systematically misrepresenting the current German position on the refugee question. He claimed that although it is true that in the past there was “a significant difference between Germany and Hungary on the handling of the migrant crisis,” by now “the Germans have changed their position.” They recognized that Viktor Orbán was right all along, although “Europe doesn’t want to admit that.”

Viktor Orbán in the studio / MTI

Viktor Orbán in the studio / MTI

It was inevitable that the issue of compulsory quotas would surface in this particular Friday session. After all, the Orbán government is already hard at work preparing the ground for a referendum on the question of quotas. The Hungarian people are supposed to refuse, through a democratic process, to allow any refugees to be settled in Hungary. Orbán is adamant on the issue. His view is that if Angela Merkel “made a decision to accept migrants without any control, then she should take full responsibility for that decision.” Since other member countries, including Hungary, were not consulted, they are not obliged to take responsibility for the consequences of this action.

The reporter, who is of course carefully trained and never asks embarrassing questions, did venture to inquire whether Orbán doesn’t see a contradiction between the Kohl-Orbán communiqué’s reference to common action and Orbán’s emphasis on national sovereignty. The answer is worth translating verbatim.

No, because stronger cooperation means Schengen. My suggestion is that if a country is a member of the Schengen system and therefore enjoys its benefits, which means that its citizens can move freely within the borders, it must also accept the concomitant commitments, which include the defense of the Schengen borders. If a country refuses this obligation, the European Union should take away this country’s right to defend the borders. Well, actually, since we are talking about sovereign states, one cannot force them, but the EU should ask them to hand over the right of defense. If that country refuses to oblige, it should be expelled or its membership in the Schengen zone should be suspended.

I find it interesting that Orbán’s first thought was to use force against a truant state and that it was only a second later that he caught himself offering a solution that disregards the sanctity of sovereignty he so fiercely defends.

Relatively little time was spent on his Schengen 2.0 action plan, but the little there was is interesting. He gave the impression of such staunch German support for his plans that the interviewer summarized her understanding, saying that “there is then strong German support for your ten points.” Well, at that point Orbán had correct her and admit that “not quite, because Brussels in the meantime published its own proposals … [which are] absurd.” According to this “ridiculous idea,” Europe’s demographic situation is so grave that only immigration can solve the problem. This is a totally unacceptable idea according to Orbán, who finds it “unchristian and objectionable from the national point of view.”

The government has already prepared the ground for a forceful campaign for the totally superfluous referendum against compulsory refugee quotas. They dug up an old study the Gyurcsány government commissioned back in 2007 on the demographic problems facing Hungary. Magyar Idők, the government paper, dutifully printed a long article about the evil intentions of the socialist-liberal government. Even the headline is telling: “The left has been waiting for the migrants for the last ten years.”

Magyar Idők’s summary of the document shows it to be a well-reasoned analysis. The study maintains that, with globalization, migration is inevitable and Hungarians, especially highly qualified professionals such as doctors, will leave the country to accept better paid positions elsewhere. This exodus might be lessened by certain government policies, but selective immigration will undoubtedly be necessary to maintain the healthy demographic balance essential for a thriving economy. Natural reproduction cannot solve the demographic problems of the country, and therefore a selective immigration policy should be implemented. It is possible that by 2050 10% of the population might be of foreign origin, the study predicted.

Orbán is now using this study commissioned by the socialist-liberal government as a weapon against the opposition. The highly xenophobic population now can blame not only Brussels for its egregious refugee policies but also the Hungarian socialist and liberal politicians who wanted and most likely still want to flood the country with foreigners. “We must prevent this at all costs. We must stop not only Brussels but also the Hungarian allies of Brussels. We must stop the left because by now anybody can read what kinds of plans they were entertaining.”

This from the mouth of Viktor Orbán, who told us only a couple of days ago that he wants to have a common European solution to the refugee question.

April 22, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s latest attempt to introduce “martial law” under the pretext of terrorism

Let’s start with the Hungarian regime’s latest outrage. Viktor Orbán, under the pretext of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, is trying to push through his controversial amendments to the constitution that would create a new category of emergency called “state of terror threat” (terrorveszélyhelyzet).

I wrote twice about the proposed amendments, which were uniformly rejected by the opposition parties. Once right after István Simicskó, minister of defense, called for a “five-party” discussion on security measures that would involve amendments to the constitution. At that point only bits and pieces of information were available, but even from the little that was known it sounded truly frightening. The emergency measures would have been introduced for thirty days and could have been extended without limit. Moreover, only “a threat of terrorism” would have been necessary to declare such a state of emergency.

A few days later, when all the details of the proposed amendments became available, I wrote another piece in which I listed thirty restrictions, including eviction of people from their homes, prohibition of the entry of foreigners, limitation or prohibition of contact and communication with foreigners and foreign organizations, prohibition of demonstrations, control of the internet, etc. I could go on and on. All that without parliamentary approval. These draconian measures could be announced by the government without any parliamentary oversight. No opposition party could possibly have voted for these amendments, and I was happy to see that none of them did. Not even Jobbik. It was clear to everyone that the “state of terror threat” was not so much about terror as about domestic dissatisfaction with the government. The only thing that was needed to quell anti-government protest was a so-called “terror threat.”

The terrorist attacks in Brussels came in handy for Viktor Orbán’s diabolical plans. At the time of the explosions in the Belgian capital Hungary was already under a state of emergency #3. As soon as the news of the Brussels atrocities was received in Hungary, the terror alert was upgraded to state of emergency #2.

Anyone who’s unfamiliar with Hungarian regulations might well think that under the circumstances such a move was justifiable. Those of us who know the rules, however, became suspicious that Orbán was not worried about an actual terrorist attack on Budapest but was simply raising the ante. A #2 state of emergency can currently be declared only if a “verifiable terror threat exists against the country.” And, as it turns out, the Hungarian security services have not received any such information. After many attempts, Olga Kálmán of ATV finally managed to get the truth out of György Bakondi, the government commissioner who is supposed to be an expert on emergency matters: Hungarian authorities haven’t received any verifiable terror threat. The security forces are simply wondering whether the arrest of Salah Abdeslam might trigger an attack on Budapest because Abdeslam traveled to Hungary twice to get some of his comrades out of the country back in September 2015. A rather far-fetched hypothesis.

A few hours after Bakondi’s admission about the lack of evidence of a verifiable terror threat, the security services managed to convince even the opposition members of the parliamentary commission on national security that raising the level of the state of emergency was justified. Bernadett Szél of LMP announced that the information received from the security services “was convincing.” Knowing this government, I suspect that the officers of the national security forces are just about as truthful as the other members of the government, including Viktor Orbán. Therefore, I for one don’t believe that Hungary received a credible threat, but I understand that members of the opposition are reluctant to stick their necks out.

Even before the meeting of the committee, Viktor Orbán announced that the #2 state of emergency will remain in force, and it might even be changed to #1 at the borders. Yesterday Sándor Pintér, minister of interior, said at a press conference that the #2 state of emergency would remain in effect “until it becomes clear exactly what happened in Brussels and what is expected in other countries of Europe.”

Since then Viktor Orbán decided that Hungary needs more than these terror alert levels. He instructed Pintér to return to the amendments to the constitution, which fell by the wayside “because of political quarrels.” He will try to push through this unacceptable change in the constitution, justifying it by appealing to the tragic events in Brussels.

Viktor Orbán today posed as an ardent supporter of a united Europe when he said: “The target of the explosions was not Belgium but Europe, and therefore we have to look upon this attack as if it was also against Hungary.” I wonder what he will say in a few days when the ministers of interior are told about plans for closer cooperation on security, which may involve setting up a European border guard whose members could be sent even to those member countries that do not want their assistance. This way the European borders could be better secured. I doubt that Orbán would be thrilled if that plan was approved by a “qualified majority.” As for Hungary’s preparedness for a terrorist attack he said little, but he did admit that “Hungary must obtain certain technological equipment that will make the country’s secret service equal to the best equipped ones. We will buy the latest technology, we will introduce training programs,” he promised.

MSZP came to the conclusion that Orbán’s announcement was an admission that Hungarian security forces are not up to snuff. A few hours later both Fidesz and the government condemned MSZP because, as far as they are concerned, “the opposition party in the last few months has stood by the migrants and has tried to hinder the government’s measures.” They have no right to say anything about the government’s lack of preparedness.

24.hu published a picture of the meeting Orbán held with those officials most closely involved with national security, saying that “it shows everything about Hungarian national security.”

The picture had been posted on Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page. On the picture one can see:

torzs

  • 0 computers
  • 0 smart phones
  • 2 nonfunctioning live streams
  • 9 notebooks with notations
  • 1 TV on which M1 can be seen
  • 1 monitor on which a building can be seen

A rather good description of what’s going on in Hungary. Hungary may have a fence, but it’s ill-prepared for a real terror threat. The government has been battling the refugees and inciting the people against them but has done practically nothing to develop a decent counter-terrorism task force.

Conclusion. Most likely there is no terror threat against Hungary at the moment, which is a blessing because these guys are totally incompetent. And constitutional amendments that infringe on human rights won’t help that situation.

March 23, 2016

Viktor Orbán in full armor: a knight or a liar?

Before I begin this post on the Brussels summit and Viktor Orbán’s role in the proceedings, I would like to call attention to a story I read in HVG about a little girl and her ethics teacher. It encapsulates what’s wrong with the present system of education in Hungary.

Beginning in September 2013 every child was required to take either a religion or an ethics class one hour a week. Originally about half of the parents opted for religion, although only about 12% of Hungarians consider themselves religious or attend church. The original enthusiasm for religious education undoubtedly stemmed from parents’ belief that taking religion instead of ethics would be a plus in the eyes of the Fidesz loyalist school officials. I understand that since then religion classes have become less popular. Mind you, as you will see from this story, ethics classes have their own problems.

The girl, along with her classmates, had to write a short essay on her attitude toward March 15th, Hungary’s national holiday. She was honest and wrote: “For me it is a day like any other; it doesn’t really touch me.” The teacher gave her an F.

If that had happened in history class, I would understand the failing grade because presumably the class had already covered the 1848 revolution and its significance in Hungarian history. But in ethics class? What was expected of the pupil? Surely, wild patriotic enthusiasm. Since this particular child didn’t deliver the expected answer, she got punished.

This story illustrates what’s wrong not only with the Hungarian education system but with the whole Orbán regime. First of all, what does this question have to do with ethics, which is “the study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by a person”? One commonly recognized moral principle is truthfulness, which in this case wasn’t appreciated by the “ethics teacher.” In fact, by giving her class an assignment about their personal feelings toward a state holiday she was practically inviting them to lie. The students knew full well what was expected of them. The teacher in this case was encouraging conformity and punishing those whose opinions differed from the expected values of the state.

This story reminded me a personal experience at a Catholic parochial school in grade five. Christmas was approaching and our homeroom teacher, a nun, made us cut out from a folded piece of paper “little Jesus’s shirt.” Every time we did a good deed we were supposed to draw a little cross in red. If we were bad the cross was drawn in black. For emphasis, we were told that every time there is a black cross on that shirt, little Jesus cries. At the beginning we all tried to be honest, but when the black crosses started to far outnumber the red ones, each of us cheated madly. The only thing these pious creatures managed to achieve was to make liars out of us.

And let’s move on to other kinds of lies, the ones Viktor Orbán concocts before and after every European Council summit. This time was no different. I already touched on Orbán’s attempts before his departure to give the impression that at the summit he will have to fight against the compulsory quotas like St. George against the dragon. In fact, János Lázár’s regular press conference was largely spent on this topic, so the official government site appropriately gave the title to the announcement of the press conference: “Viktor Orbán enters the battle against compulsory quotas in Brussels.” As I pointed out, compulsory quotas weren’t even on the agenda.

St. George on Horseback. Meister des Döbelner Hochaltars 1511-1513

St. George on Horseback. Meister des Döbelner Hochaltars 1511-1513  / Hamburger Kunsthalle

Upon their arrival each prime minister said a few words to reporters in English. Orbán, however, decided to speak in Hungarian This was in sharp contrast to the press conference he gave a few weeks ago when he was the toast of the town, surrounded by a large crowd of reporters from all over the world. The Hungarian reporter on the spot noted that Orbán’s choice of Hungarian disappointed the foreign reporters. Here Orbán repeated that for days he has been working hard to safeguard Hungarian interests, and perhaps today he will be able to convince the European Commission to discard this proposal for mandatory quotas. No wonder that he didn’t want to say that in a language that non-Hungarians could understand. Otherwise, only the state television station was allowed to ask Orbán a question.

On March 18 the head of the press department of the prime minister’s office told MTI that the prime minister and the members of the Hungarian delegation had assessed the results of the summit and admitted that “the European Commission for the time being hasn’t put forth its proposal for the compulsory settlement quotas. That plan will be discussed later, in April or May.” Whether this statement is true or not is hard to say. In general, Orbán expressed his satisfaction with the results of the summit, which he first described as “a success from the Hungarian point of view” but later corrected to “promising.” “The decisive battle” must still be fought in May, he added.

Orbán’s own story became more and more elaborate. In a Hungarian-language press conference in Brussels at the end of the summit he told the reporters that the Hungarian delegation went to the summit “to make sure that a modern-day mass migration doesn’t break the course of Hungary’s development.” He elaborated on another goal he wanted to achieve in Brussels: Hungary’s financial obligations in connection with the crisis mustn’t be “unbearably high.” He was happy to report that Hungary’s share of the six billion euros going to Turkey is manageable, especially since it serves the security of the Hungarian people. He also indicated that Hungary is not ready to take any refugees, even on a voluntary basis. In brief, Hungary is off the hook. Finally, he repeated that “as of Monday we must already prepare for another battle in full armament.”

The problem with liars that, time and again, they misspeak. After all the talk about battles that brought great success to him and, through him, to Hungary, he also uttered a sentence that contradicted the official story. He admitted that “we were lucky to be able to avoid (kibekkeltük) the compulsory quotas for the time being.” Well, one either fights or avoids the fight and hopes for the best.

And finally one more slip of the tongue. According to people who live nearby the Budapest home of the Orbán family, members of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ), often described as Orbán’s Praetorian guard, have not been seen lately. No one is guarding the house, and Anikó Lévai, wife of the prime minister, using a small white car, goes in and out with the smaller children without any protection. These neighbors are convinced that Orbán himself no longer lives there.

And that brings us to the Habsburg estate in Alcsút where the by now internationally famous kuvasz Nárcisz (Daffodil) guards the property. Not surprisingly, Orbán tried to make sure that no one knew anything about his newly acquired spacious manor house in the middle of a 13 hectare park that once belonged to the Hungarian branch of the Habsburg family. Officially, we still don’t know that this is the case. Recently, however, he indicated while in Fejér County that he lives “only 12 km from here,” which from the location could only be Alcsút. So, we can be pretty sure that Viktor Orbán, most likely without wife and the smaller children, actually lives on the old Habsburg estate.

Meanwhile Lőrinc Mészáros continues to acquire land around the estate, undoubtedly acting as a front man for Orbán. Orbán’s son-in-law also managed to get hundreds of hectares of land in the last few days, all nearby. Orbán’s political opponents are convinced that he is enormously wealthy. They swear that one day he will stand trial on corruption charges. I fear that will not be an easy job. He is an exceedingly cunning man who has most likely taken care of even the most minute detail. It will be difficult to catch him.

March 19, 2016

Teachers’ revolt, Nazi speech, and Orbán’s “battle” in Brussels

Hungarian public discourse at the moment revolves around three topics. The first two, about which I’ve already written, require updates. The third topic is new: today’s summit in Brussels and Viktor Orbán’s latest stunt.

First, the aftermath of the large anti-government demonstration of teachers and sympathizers on March 15, at which the organizers demanded an apology from Viktor Orbán. The prime minister’s response was that he considered the demand nothing more than a joke. János Lázár couldn’t even comprehend what István Pukli and his colleagues had in mind. As for their demand for his presence at the negotiations, he invited them to one of the town meetings Hungarian politicians attend to answer questions from the local folks. Zoltán Balog didn’t react to the organizers’ demand for his resignation. László Palkovics did, and said that he will remain at the head of the round table discussion. The leaders of the teachers’ revolt can come and join him.

Pukli was not intimidated by the predictable response. He did what no ordinary subject of the almighty Viktor Orbán has dared to do. He spoke back. “Here is the opportunity, dear Viktor Orbán, to take the teachers seriously, and instead of condescension and disdainful jokes, to take the problem itself seriously.” And he added that members of the government “secretly hope that the whole thing was no more than a bad dream and once they wake up everything will be the same as before. But their real awakening will be painful.” Pukli seems very sure of himself, and I do hope the teachers are ready to follow him.

I might also add that the two trade unions are still in conversation with László Palkovics and Bence Rétvári, who made it clear that the declaration of a strike is restricted to unions and that Pukli’s call for a walk-out is considered to be illegal. There might, however, be a clever legal loophole, as indicated by László Mendrey, leader of the Pedagógusok Demokratikus Szövetsége (PDSZ), this afternoon.

The other event of March 15 that continues to resonate is Viktor Orbán’s speech. People from opposing political backgrounds, including a former Fidesz propagandist, came to the conclusion that Orbán’s oration was a “Nazi speech.” The epithet spread first on Facebook. Yesterday I cited a Facebook post that compared the crucial part of the speech about the host animal and its parasites to a similar passage from the 1942 edition of Mein Kampf. The speech reminded Gábor Kuncze, former chairman of SZDSZ and minister of interior in the Horn government, of Adolf Hitler’s speech delivered on November 10, 1933.

Zsolt Gréczy, spokesman of Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), wrote in his blog that “what Orbán said is a perfect copy of Adolf Hitler’s speeches.” As an example, he quoted the following sentence from Orbán’s speech: “It is written in the book of fate that hidden, faceless world powers will eliminate everything that is unique, autonomous, age-old, and national,” adding that only the mustache was missing from under his nose. Sándor Csintalan, who for the last ten years or maybe longer was a devoted supporter of Fidesz, finally broke with Orbán because the “parasites” metaphor was too much for him. Although he hates “drawing these kinds of historical comparisons, it was in the 1930s in Nazi Germany that political rivals were compared to animals who sponge off a host animal.”

The most thorough assessment came from historian Mária M. Kovács, who is well known among our readers from her articles that appeared in Hungarian Spectrum. Yesterday morning, in an interview on Klubrádió, she summarized the German historical and rhetorical heritage that began with Johann Gottfried Herder and Eugen Dühring and eventually blossomed during the Nazi period in the language of Adolf Hitler and other leading characters of the Third Reich. That tradition included labeling members of the political opposition as members of the animal world, especially its least attractive members. “Parasite” was one of the favorite words, as well as “pack,” i.e. a pack of wolves or wild dogs. She added that this is not really new in Orbán’s vocabulary. But it has taken quite a bit of time for people first to recognize the similarity and then to be courageous enough to compare Orbán to Hitler.

I may add here that László Bartus, editor-in-chief of Amerikai Népszava, who is usually considered to be too extreme in his criticism of Orbán, has been describing the prime minister’s speeches as “Nazi talk” for a long time. For example, after Orbán’s “illiberal speech” on July 28, 2014. But even earlier, Bartus wrote an article after Orbán’s October 23, 2013 speech, which he called “Orbán’s Nazi speech.”

Viktor Orbán arrives at the summit in Brussels

Viktor Orbán arrives at the summit in Brussels

Finally, a few words about the summit that began today and will continue tomorrow. János Lázár devoted a significant part of his weekly government.info to the subject. He announced that today Orbán will be part of a huge battle in Brussels where the debate will center on the quota issue. Will it be compulsory to take a certain number of refugees? If so, then the referendum the government is currently planning will have to be held.

Naturally, all Hungarian news sites picked up the story of Hungary’s battling prime minister. If these journalists had followed the news a little more closely, news that was reported even in the Hungarian media, they would have known that Viktor Orbán was fabricating a phony battle to show his people that the European Union is at his mercy and that all decisions are dependent on his image of the future of Europe. The fact is that yesterday at a press conference held in the Bundestag Angela Merkel already announced that the question of compulsory quotas would not be put on the table. So, like a fortuneteller who predicts the past, Orbán announced today in Brussels that “there is a good chance” that his views would be accepted at the summit. Csaba Molnár, one of DK’s two members of the European Parliament, declared today that “it is a shame that the Hungarian prime minister week after week tries to mislead the Hungarians with his lies.” There will be no fight “because during the negotiations there will be not a word about compulsory quotas.”

Unfortunately Orbán is doing a splendid job of misleading the Hungarian public. Indeed, week after week he returns from Brussels as the victorious defender of European and Hungarian freedom. Even the better informed public and members of the opposition media lap it up. Another thing that needs to change.

March 17, 2016

Recruiting terrorists in Budapest among the refugees: The Hungarian version

Those of you who subscribe to Google Alerts must have noticed that practically all English, German, and French articles on Hungary in the last few days dealt with a trip that Salah Abdeslam, the suspected organizer of the Paris terrorist attacks, made to Budapest. There he picked up two men who later had a role to play in the Paris bloodbath. The revelation of the Hungarian connection made headlines because it “put the spotlight on the question of whether jihadist militants have concealed themselves in a huge flow of asylum seekers passing through Eastern Europe.”

What do we know about this trip with a fair amount of certainty? The Belgian federal prosecutor announced on Friday that Salah Abdeslam had made two trips to the Hungarian capital in a rented Mercedes Benz, but only one trip is mentioned in the articles dealing with this particular part of the investigation. According to the reconstructed story, Abdeslam traveled to Budapest sometime before September 9, where he picked up two men whom he supplied with fake Belgian IDs in the names of Samir Bouzid and Soufiane Kayal. We know that at on September 9, at the Austro-Hungarian border, the Austrian police checked their travel documents, but it was a routine affair: after all, on the basis of their papers they were all EU citizens. We also know that the three men headed toward Brussels because on November 17, at the Western Union office in Brussels, “Bouzid” transferred 740 euros to Hasna Aitboulahcen, the French woman who was killed by security forces in St.-Denis. “Kayal” was also in Belgium because his ID card was used to rent a house in Auvelais, a town south of Brussels.

Initial media reports claimed that the two men had been killed in the police raids in St.-Denis, but the information was incorrect. They are on the run and “believed to be armed and dangerous.” The Belgian police have released the two men’s pictures.

So, let’s see how this bare bones story was transformed in Budapest thanks to the combined efforts of the Hungarian secret services (which may include TEK, the anti-terrorist force), the incompetent MSZP head of the parliamentary committee on national security, and the members of the Hungarian government.

Pesti Srácok, the strongly right-wing mouthpiece of Fidesz, was the first to discover the story, and its reporters got in touch with Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), chairman of the committee on national security. People who are unfamiliar with the Hungarian parliamentary structure may wonder why an opposition MP is chairing a parliamentary committee. By tradition the head of this particular committee always comes from the opposition. Unfortunately, Molnár is not the sharpest knife in the drawer; moreover, there is some suspicion about his relations with Fidesz.

Here is the story that emerged from Pesti Srácok‘s description of the interview with Molnár, who naturally only repeated what he had heard from representatives of the secret services. Molnár found the timing of Abdeslam’s trip to Budapest no coincidence. “It was at the time when Germany and Austria opened their borders to the refugees, who could thus cross the borders without any control. It was this situation that Abdeslam and his two companions took advantage of.”

Let’s stop right here for a second. First, we ought to note the implicit accusation that the culprits are Germany and Austria, the two countries that opened their borders. Perhaps if they hadn’t, we wouldn’t have had a terror attack in Paris. Second, Abdeslam, Bouzid, and Kayal didn’t have to register. Abdeslam had a valid Belgian passport and the other two had fake Belgian IDs that it seems no one questioned. So they weren’t taking advantage of the opening of the borders to refugees. Molnár also informed Pesti Srácok that the Austrians had registered them, which “could have happened easily since they didn’t have to show any identification.” Of course, no one registered them. The Austrians stopped the car at the border crossing and, after seeing the Belgian documents, let them continue their journey undisturbed. “The whole affair points to the weakness of the Schengen border defenses, the lack of registration, and the absence of a common European anti-terrorist service.” Yes, the third is a problem, but the first two alleged weaknesses are irrelevant to this case.

Molnár also revealed that TEK, which only learned about Abdeslam’s visit to Budapest from western sources, suddenly discovered that “Abdeslam had been recognized at the Keleti Station.” I assume this is not what Molnár actually wanted to say. Rather, in the last few days some aid workers who were at the Keleti Station seemed to remember him once they were shown his picture. Such identifications are always suspect. Thousands and thousands went through the Keleti Station, and it is highly unlikely that anyone actually remembered him. Moreover, as you will see, I doubt that Abdeslam hung around for any length of time at the station, if he was there at all.

The official Hungarian government version came from János Lázár on Thursday, December 3. The first thing that caught my eye was the following sentence: “The chief organizer of the Paris terror attacks according to our knowledge and supposition did visit the Keleti Station, and there he recruited a team from among those who refused to be registered. He left the country with them.” For starters, we either know something or simply suppose something, not both at the same time. Second, the very idea that Abdeslam went to the crowd that camped out at the station and “recruited” would-be assassins is too bizarre for words. Only a few days ago a story surfaced about two migrants in Germany who turned out to be fighting on the side of ISIS and who were caught because their fellow asylum seekers reported them to the authorities. So, I can well imagine what would have happened to Abdeslam if he stood in the middle of the crowd in Budapest trying to entice people to blow themselves up in Paris. Third, by that time Lázár had to know that Abdeslam left Hungary with only two men, yet he talked about “a team.”

Zoltán Kovács and János Lázár announcing the government version of the recruitment of terrorists in Budapest

Zoltán Kovács and János Lázár announcing the recruitment of terrorists in Budapest

The Associated Press picked up Lázár’s description of Abdeslam’s trip to Budapest, which naturally included his presence at the railroad station. However, the AP chronology doesn’t seem to support TEK’s and Lázár’s claim about Abdeslam’s presence at the station. Let me quote the appropriate passages:

Thousands of refugees had congregated at Keleti over the summer, seeking to board trains bound for Austria and Germany. The situation escalated after Sept. 1, when Hungarian authorities temporarily shut down the station as the flow of migrants grew difficult to control.

This led to protests by migrants, many of whom had valid tickets, demanding to be let on the trains. On Sept. 4, thousands began walking on a highway to Vienna. The Hungarian government then began sending migrants at the station and those on the highway to the Austrian border by bus.

May I remind everybody that Abdeslam and his two companions crossed the border on September 9. By that time trains regularly took asylum seekers to the Austro-Hungarian border where Austrian buses were waiting for them.

Perhaps one day we will learn about this trip in greater detail, but I suspect that the real story went something like this: the two men, perhaps Belgian nationals returning from Syria, got in touch with Abdeslam as soon as they arrived in an EU country, in this case Hungary. Abdeslam showed up in Budapest with the fake IDs and picked them up. And from there it was an easy trip to Belgium. The chain of events was most likely that simple.