Tag Archives: Célpont

Ghostly Ukrainian citizens on Hungarian pensions

On December 2 Hír TV’s “Célpont” (Target) focused on the mysterious population growth in certain sections of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County situated in northeastern Hungary, bordering on Slovakia, Ukraine, and Romania. According to the 2011 census, the population of the county is about 560,000. The county is one of the poorest in the country, and, thus not surprisingly, between 2001 and 2011 it lost almost 4% of its population, or about 23,000 people. But since 2013, when parliament passed the law on dual citizenship, the trend has dramatically reversed. In the last four to five years the county has gained 26,000 new inhabitants.

In certain villages close to the Ukrainian border, the official population has doubled or almost tripled, and the trend is gaining momentum. For the most part the new inhabitants live in these villages only in spirit, so to speak. They are registered with the appropriate authorities, but in fact they live on the other side of the border.

What is the reason for this phantom immigration? Back in 1962 the Soviet Union and Hungary reached a bilateral agreement concerning the mutual obligation of the two countries to provide pensions to people who for one reason or another change domicile. So, a Soviet citizen who worked all his life in a Soviet factory or office or on a collective farm could, upon retirement, move to Hungary and get his pension there, as provided for in the existing laws of Hungary, as long as the person forsakes his Soviet, by now Ukrainian, pension. That law has never been abrogated.

Under the present circumstances, the law is a windfall for Ukrainian-Hungarian dual citizens whose average pension in Ukraine is the equivalent of about 25,000 Ft while the average Hungarian pension is 75,000. Moreover, since it is difficult if not impossible to check the work history of the applicants, these new Hungarian citizens often provide false figures to the Hungarian authorities. Thus, in this particularly poor region of the country where pensions are very low, the Ukrainian-Hungarians can easily get two or three times higher pensions than the locals.

The deal is even more attractive if the Ukrainian pensioner remains in his home country, where 100,000 Ft is a considerable amount of money (10,600 hryvnia) since the average pension is less than 2,000 hryvnia. And indeed, most of the pensioners opt for that alternative. It may take some effort and money, but eventually it can be arranged with the help of corrupt officials and corrupt Hungarian citizens.

Magyar Nemzet and Hír TV’s “Célpont” concentrated on the village of Kispalád which, according to Magyar Nemzet, in 2010 had 536 inhabitants but by now has a population of 1,347. But Kispalád is not unique. Apparently there are about 30 villages in the region with a noticeable population growth–as we will see, on paper only.

Kispalád has only three streets: Fő utca, Új utca, and Újabb utca (Main Street, New Street, and Newer Street). The most “popular” of the three is Newer Street, where József Sankó lives. At his address he provides a “home” for 93 Ukrainians, as he consistently calls the phantom inhabitants, whom he hasn’t set eyes on in his life. The man claims that this arrangement was approved, even encouraged, by the mayor of the village, Mrs. Sándor Magyar, shortly before the national election of 2014. She assured the villagers that registering multiple Ukrainians was legal, citing the approval of the officials at the district’s police station. Part of the bargain was that these “ghost” inhabitants would vote for her at the municipal election. It is also possible that Attila Tilki, a Fidesz member of parliament, is also involved, or at least this is what the locals claim. Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County has two electoral districts, and apparently the number of phantom inhabitants is considerably higher in his district than in the other. I should add that it is possible that these new pensioners are not even ethnic Hungarians. At least the locals always refer to them as “the Ukrainians,” and one man who actually settled in the village could barely speak Hungarian, although he has been living in Kispalád for at least two years.

József Sankó with 93 national consultations received by his “tenants”

Of course, bribing the inhabitants and possibly the officials costs the prospective Hungarian pensioners money. Some potential “landlords” actually advertise on the internet and list their fees at 40,000-50,000 Ft per person. Some people have amassed several million forints from their “tenants” this way.

As soon as the TV program was broadcast, Balázs Hidvéghi, communication director of Fidesz, called it nothing more than an attempt to “influence public opinion ahead of the electoral campaign.” He claimed that this whole endeavor is the work of Ferenc Gyurcsány, who “incites Hungarian against Hungarian by attacking the voting rights of Hungarians from beyond the borders.” Hidvéghi was certain that Hír TV and Gyurcsány’s party are in cahoots in service of DK’s campaign against the voting rights of dual citizens.

Pension fraud and electoral fraud are linked here. The ghost pensioners are registered to vote in Hungary, helping to assure Fidesz victory in the district, but, since most of them live in Ukraine, do they also cast ballots as non-resident dual citizens? I don’t know, but I suspect it could be pulled off pretty easily.

This is not the first time that Fidesz has been accused of electoral fraud. On April 4, 2014, two days before the national election, Gergely Karácsony and Gergely Bárándy reported that in 12 districts where a Fidesz victory was in doubt suspicious new inhabitants and voters had showed up. It is a well-known fact that the population of Hungary is steadily shrinking, but in these 12 districts the population grew by several thousand. One example was the Budapest district of Zugló, where Gergely Karácsony was running against Ferenc Papcsák (Fidesz). In the two months prior to the election 700 new adult inhabitants were registered in Zugló, while during that same time period Kemecse, population 22,000, in Szabolcs-Szatmár Bereg County, lost about the same number. It turned out that Kemecse’s mayor was the campaign manager of Ferenc Papcsák. The complaint by the two politicians was not only rejected, but they were forbidden by the National Election Office to talk about the matter in the absence of evidence. Something similar happened in Baja before a by-election in 2013. While Baja had been losing a few hundred people every year, in 2013 its population miraculously grew by 1,400 people. By the beginning of 2015 these mystery voters simply disappeared from the books.

Yesterday we learned that the police are investigating the Kispalád case. One should ask why they are only looking into Kispalád when, according to the report, there are at least 30 villages where local officials are most likely similarly involved in the fraudulent practice.

But beyond the 30 villages, why has the Fidesz government allowed this pension fraud to continue when, according to Bence Rétvári, undersecretary in the ministry of human resources, the arrangement costs 1.2 billion forints a year? We all know why, don’t we?

December 23, 2017

Linguistic misunderstandings in a Hungarian context

On a Sunday in the middle of the summer not much is going on, and therefore I’m free to move away from everyday politics and venture into something I find equally exciting. Some history and some linguistics. Well, it is not very high level linguistics I’m talking about but rather the difficulties of understanding the true meanings of words, especially in a foreign language.

By way of background I should mention that Rui Tavares is the latest target of the Orbán government and its satellite media. He is right up there near Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai. I happen to think that he’s in pretty good company since I view both Gyurcsány and Bajnai as among the best Hungarian politics has to offer today. Ignorance and bias are the charges most frequently leveled against Tavares. A reporter for HírTV thought that he could unequivocally prove in a single stroke that Tavares is both ignorant and biased.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Breughel

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Breughel

Magyar Nemzet triumphantly announced that, interestingly enough, “the discriminatory” Dutch constitution doesn’t seem to bother Rui Tavares even as he tries to find fault with the Hungarian Basic Laws. It turned out that this information about the allegedly faulty Dutch constitution came from a HírTV  reporter. Armed with this “damaging” passage, the reporter went off to Brussels to confront Rui Tavares, who didn’t have a ready “yes or no” answer about the passage in question. The reporter was convinced that he now had proof positive that Tavares, in his zeal to condemn the Hungarian constitution, had turned a blind eye to the discriminatory Dutch constitution. Both Magyar Nemzet and HírTV were elated.

There was one very serious problem with this discovery. Our reporter’s English left something to be desired. The sentence in question in the Dutch constitution reads in English translation: “The right of every Dutch national to a free choice of work shall be recognized.” The Hungarian reporter thought that the word “national” here referred to “those of Dutch nationality” and after all, he argued, there are citizens of the Netherlands who are not of Dutch extraction. But “national” as a noun in English means “citizen” or “subject.”

By the way, the title of  this particular episode of  his TV show “Célpont” was “Tavaris és Tavares,” a stupid pun on “tovarish” or “comrade” in Russian. I don’t think that HírTV ever corrected the false statements about the Dutch constitution. Those who want to take the trouble to watch this episode will have a fair idea of the quality and tone of HírTV.

Well, this was an error committed by a Hungarian interpreting the meaning of a non-Hungarian word. But it can happen the other way around as well. Here is a good example from 1989.

This time we have to go back to the career of Zoltán Bíró, the anti-Semitic literary historian who was just named to head a new research institute that is supposed to rewrite the history of regime change in Hungary. A few days ago I mentioned him and dwelt briefly on his political career. At this point I quoted Zoltán Ripp who wrote an excellent book on the change of regime covering the years between 1987 and 1990. In it he mentions that Bïró had a significant role to play in reviving the old cleavage and enmity between the “népi-nemzeti” and “urbanista” traditions. As I’ve often said, rendering “népi-nemzeti” into English is well-nigh impossible. In any case, the New York Times article which I couldn’t find translated these two troublesome words as “populist-nationalist.” And with it came a huge misunderstanding.

János Avar, the well-known journalist and an expert on U.S. politics and history, e-mailed me right after the appearance of my post on Bíró. He called my attention to an article he wrote on this very subject in 2007. He did find The New York Times article, but because Bíró and others at the time gave the date as September 28 I never suspected that the article in question actually appeared only on October 25. Avar had more patience and was more thorough than yours truly.

The American reporter for the NYT in Budapest at the time gave a fair description of the by-now famous gathering in Lakitelek in September 1987 and mentioned that those who gathered there were “népiesek” and “nemzetiek,” which he rendered as “populists and nationalists.” The Hungarians on the spot had to be the ones who tried to explain to the American the correct meaning of these words.  According to Avar, “népies” is a mirror translation of the German “völkisch” which recently has taken on a fairly sinister meaning. My favorite German on-line dictionary says that “völkisch” means nationalist, nationalistic, ethnic, racist, voelkisch. However, it is certainly not “populist,” which we use to mean appealing to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people.

The völkisch/narodnik/népies Hungarians were up in arms and immediately suspected that the article was the result of some kind of Jewish conspiracy of the urbanists who were trying to blacken their names in the West. They suspected that the article was not really written by the reporter for The New York Times but was “dictated” by one of the Jewish members of the Democratic Opposition. They were convinced that the words “populist” and “nationalist” were code words for anti-Semites.

As János Avar rightly points out in his 2007 article,  neither “Jewish” nor “anti-Semitism” was, as in Hungary, a taboo word in the United States. If the reporter had been told that there was an anti-Semitic tinge to the gathering, he would not have hesitated to say so.

Don’t think that this was just a fleeting episode that is not worth bothering about today. Bíró as well as other right-wing and anti-Semitic nationalists continue to bring up the allegedly unpatriotic and antagonistic behavior of the Democratic Opposition toward themselves, the true patriots. In their eyes the urbanists were not true Hungarians. They wanted to imitate the West instead of returning to true Hungarian roots. Since there were a fair number of urbanists who were of Jewish extraction, the völkisch crowd found its domestic enemies. It was perhaps Bíró’s and some of his cohorts’ bad conscience that assigned unintended meanings to the words “populist” and “nationalist.”