Tag Archives: Egypt

A quick look at three recent events in Hungary

Medián’s latest opinion poll on parties and politicians

Today I will again cover several topics, all of which, I believe, deserve attention. I will start with Medián’s latest opinion poll, which shows a slight uptick in Fidesz support while the opposition parties’ positions remain fairly constant. I will not burden you with too many details and will provide figures only for those voters who claim they will certainly vote at the next election. In this group Fidesz leads with 53%, followed by Jobbik at 21%, while MSZP, which looks upon itself as the leading party on the left, currently garners only 12%. DK stands at 6% and LMP at 3%, which means that it wouldn’t meet the 5% threshold for representation in parliament. The smaller parties like Momentum, Együtt, Two-tailed Dog, and MoMa each have a 1% share of the active voters while the Hungarian Liberal Party and Párbeszéd have even less support. As it stands, about 10% of votes would be absolutely wasted if all these parties decided to run on their own. Given the fractured state of the left-of-center opposition, it is not at all surprising that 33% of the likely voters have no idea at the moment for which party they will vote at next year’s election.

Medián also asked people’s opinion of politicians. Hungarians have a very low opinion of politicians in general. Usually, János Áder heads the list, but his rank is due only to his office. People feel they must respect the president of the country. But even Áder’s “popularity” is only 49%. Viktor Orbán trails at 44%. The most popular opposition politician is Gergely Karácsony, mayor of Zugló (District XIV), with 39%. Currently he is Párbeszéd’s candidate for the premiership, which might be responsible for an 8% jump in his popularity in the last two months. On the other hand, MSZP’s László Botka hasn’t captured the imagination of the electorate. On the contrary, between April and June he has lost 8%. His current standing is a mere 26%. There are only two politicians who are less popular than Botka: Lajos Bokros and Ferenc Gyurcsány. Given Botka’s lack of popularity and the stagnating low support for MSZP, the socialist party’s prospects don’t seem too bright. I must say that I’m not surprised.

Egypt and Hungary are political neighbors

At least this is what Viktor Orbán claimed yesterday when Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visited Hungary to confer with the prime ministers of the Visegrád 4 and to have bilateral talks with Viktor Orbán.

El-Sisi arrived in Budapest in secrecy late Sunday night. MTI reported his presence in the Hungarian capital only after his meeting with Viktor Orbán yesterday. The Egyptian press was much more forthcoming. They announced the impending visit to Budapest already on July 1. As 168 Óra said of the strange circumstances of el-Sisi’s arrival, “the Orbán government first wanted to hide the dictator but at the end he was greeted with open arms.” Indeed, just as in the case of Erdoğan, Orbán went out of his way to flatter the dictator. He again came forth with some strange comments. Orbán, who likes to speak in the name of all Hungarians, claimed that when Hungarians look at other countries their first inquiry is “how much they are in love with their own independence.” I’m sure that this odd comment comes as a surprise to most Hungarians. But, the most incredible sentence was: “Egypt is not only a country close by but also politically speaking a neighbor.”

In addition to political matters there was again a lot of talk about the great economic opportunities and the prospects of more intensive trade relations in the future. All the talk about trade with Turkey a couple of days ago and now with Egypt prompted Bálint Ablonczy of Válasz to write an opinion piece titled “Wouldn’t it be time for a western opening?” He rightly pointed out that seven years after the announcement of the Eastern Opening the diversification of Hungarian trade relations hasn’t changed at all. In fact, in 2010 77% percent of Hungarian exports went to the countries of the European Union. Today that figure is 80%. This is so despite bilateral talks with leaders of countries east of Hungary. Meanwhile, Orbán meets European politicians only at EU summits. Perhaps, says Ablonczy, it would be time to turn toward the west. What Ablonczy doesn’t say but I’m sure he knows is that at present there are not too many European politicians who would like to be chummy with Viktor Orbán, friend of Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Abel Fattah el-Sisi, Nursultan Nazarbayev, Ilham Aliyev, and other unsavory leaders.

Trade schools versus gymnasiums

I once wrote a post with the title “Hungarian politicians and learning: Not a good mix,” in which I listed a few truly harmful people in and around Hungarian education, starting with Rózsa Hoffmann, KDNP undersecretary of education between 2010 and 2014, László Palkovics, her successor, and László Parragh, president of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The fact that a businessman might have such an outsize influence on public education might surprise most people, but the fact is that for one reason or another Parragh managed to convince Orbán that his ideas reflect the way Hungarian education should be structured for maximum economic benefit. Unfortunately, his ideas are totally misguided. He sees Hungary as a huge factory floor where blue-color workers toil on assembly lines. In his opinion, these workers don’t need a broad liberal arts education before embarking on a trade or profession. After eight years of general public education, they should be sent to trade schools. Orbán’s educational establishment has begun to promote trade schools over traditional high school education.

But there is one serious problem. Hungarian parents are smarter than László Parragh and want to have their children go through 12 years of academic learning. Interest in gymnasiums is still as high as ever. A furious Parragh blamed the municipalities for not shuttering gymnasiums. So, if the people don’t do something he and his fellow politicians want, the only way to remedy the situation is to force people to obey. A few days ago Magyar Nemzet received a copy of a background study on the subject which advocates “the introduction of an entrance exam to be taken in grade eight” that would determine the future of 14-year-olds. In addition, the authors of the study suggest “a gradual restriction on the number of gymnasiums.” Let’s kill children’s opportunities after a single test. Because once children are forced into these trade schools there is no way they will ever end up in college or university.

Let me include here a couple of recent photos taken in these “szakközépiskolák.”

My favorite is the one below that accompanies Magyar Nemzet’s article on the so-called educators’ plan for ruining a whole generation.

What in the world will these two guys do with what they are allegedly learning here?

July 4, 2017

Anti-refugee hysteria in Hungary

The “real” referendum campaign began only after September 4, when Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz parliamentary delegation met for the weekend in Balatonfüred to discuss the political tasks ahead. Of course, the most urgent job is to whip up sentiment against the “migrants,” thus making sure that enough people vote, preferably “no” to the question “Do you want the European Union, without the consent of Parliament, to order the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?” I’d wager to say that the majority of citizens who are ready to participate in this hoax believe that what they are voting for is “No, we don’t want to have a single migrant in our midst.”

After three weeks of intense campaigning, with government and party officials on the road day in and day out, a veritable hysteria has enveloped the country. It is a frightening reminder of how an unscrupulous demagogue can take basically decent people and instill in them the worst possible instincts about people they know close to nothing about (and the little they think they know comes from dubious sources).

A year ago 64% of Hungarians thought that “it is our duty to help the refugees” and 52% believed that the refugees should be treated more humanely than the Hungarian government was doing at the time. Today the second number has decreased to 38%, and only 35% think it is their duty to help the refugees at all. These are the results of the hate campaign the Orbán government has waged for months. This kind of propaganda blitz can be carried out only in dictatorships where all power is concentrated in the hands of the government and where there is no effective opposition, which by now is pretty much the case in Hungary. The fractured Hungarian opposition has no means by which to combat this one-sided onslaught.

So, let’s see what kinds of tricks the Orbán government is using to achieve its desired end. The most brutal words came from György Nógrádi, the government’s favorite “expert” on national security, who worked as an agent for the internal security establishment during the 1980s. He is apparently very popular as a speaker at the “town meetings” organized by the local authorities. He says that these migrants cannot be integrated, and if Hungarians don’t want “no-go” zones in Hungary they will have to go and vote. In one town the audience was in a total frenzy by the time Nógrádi finished with his stories about the horrid possibilities awaiting them. An older woman rose to speak, clutching the photos of her two granddaughters who will be raped by migrants unless Viktor Orbán saves them. At the end of the lecture Nógrádi suggested that the only way to stop the inflow of migrants is to shoot them as they are crossing the sea.

Zsolt Bayer frightens people by telling them that 2 billion people will be coming to Europe from Africa, even though the population of the continent is only 1.2 billion. Fidesz MPs have been going from town to town, terrifying people with the prospect that migrants will be forcibly settled in their town. In Gödöllő the Fidesz MP of the district told his audience that 1,500 migrants will be settled in the town, which means 220 families. Moreover, in time that number will be much higher because these people’s relatives will join them. The mayor of the town is suing the MP for scare-mongering. In Csepel the Fidesz deputy mayor announced that the residents “wouldn’t be happy if [the government] had to evict the tenants” living in municipal housing in order to make room for the migrants. Moreover, the district now spends 192 million forints on financial assistance for its citizens, and it would be sad if that money ended up in the hands of the migrants. Two lawyers decided to sue the deputy mayor, again for scare-mongering.

Roland Mengyi, the MP whose immunity was just lifted because of the corruption case unearthed by Attila Rajnai of 168 Óra, was asked to campaign for the referendum. No hiding in shame for him. At one of his meetings Gabriella Selmeczi, formerly a Fidesz spokeswoman, told the people of Borsod County that migrants will be settled there and that the “white people” will soon find out what it’s like having “no-go zones” if they don’t vote no. A gypsy in the crowd told the audience that “ten years ago at Olaszliszka these people would have killed not only Lajos Szögi but his daughters as well. Everybody.” In 2006 in Olaszliszka a group of gypsies beat to death a man whom they accused of killing a girl who ran in front of his car. More about the story here.

hysteria by s.butterfy / flickr.com

hysteria by s.butterfy / flickr.com

The official referendum booklet claims that the so-called “no-go” zones are areas of cities that the authorities are unable to keep under their control. Here the society’s written or unwritten norms do not apply. Saying that in those European cities where large numbers of immigrants live several hundred “no-go” zones exist got the Hungarian government into trouble. Not only was Szijjártó asked some hard-hitting questions in an interview with the BBC, but the British, French, German, and Swedish ambassadors together demanded a meeting in the Hungarian foreign ministry about this obviously false claim of the Hungarian government.

Meanwhile, others resort to violence. The Two-tailed Dog Party (KKP), which has collected about 20 million forints and printed several funny “counter-posters,” has several young activists who put them up on advertising surfaces. Pro-government individuals systematically tear them down or cover them with other advertisements. The following incident gives an idea of what’s going on nowadays in the country. Activists were in the middle of putting up KKP posters in Szentendre when a taxi driver went up to them and yelled “A zsidó kurva anyátokat” (Your f..ing Jewish mother). At that point the taxi driver tore down the posters one by one and, when an activist starting taking a video, the man hit him. The activist ended up on the ground. To everybody’s great surprise the police on its own laid charges against the man, who has since been identified as Béla P (63). He is being accused of battery.

The chief culprit is of course Viktor Orbán himself, who just today announced at a press conference in Vienna that in Egypt 5.5 million migrants are waiting to move on and that the EU-Turkish agreement might easily be broken. In this case the EU needs a new “script for the impending disaster” (vészforgatókönyv). I was especially intrigued by the 5.5 million migrants in Egypt since that is an enormous number of people about whom we should have heard sometime, somewhere. So I decided to investigate. I found the following information about the number of refugees in Egypt, as provided by the UN Refugee Agency: “As of 31 August [2016], 187,838 refugees and asylum-seekers have been registered with UNHCR in Egypt, with 116,175 Syrian (62%) followed by 31,200 Sudanese, 10,941 Ethiopians, 7,254 Somalis, and 7,000 Iraqis, among others.”

What can we expect from a government whose the prime minister so brazenly lies about facts that can be easily verified? Not much. The result is a moral disaster.

September 24, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s civilian weaklings versus assertive soldiers: El-Sisi and Horthy

Viktor Orbán, although he tries to act as if all were well, is in a political fix. He desperately wants to regain his lost voters but doesn’t know how. He is still casting about for a viable method.

A couple of months ago he indicated that from here on Fidesz will focus on the hard-working ordinary Joe (a keményen dolgozó kisember) only to change his tune when he decided that, after all, Fidesz wants to return to the original idea of a “bourgeois” Hungary.

Then came the immigrant issue, which looked like a sure-fire thing, but since most Hungarians don’t encounter immigrants from far-away places the initial hate campaign fell flat. But Fidesz strategists think that the issue of immigration still offers great benefits; it just needs re-enforcement. Soon enough huge billboards will be scattered around the country to make sure that Hungarians will be fired up against foreigners in general. As Magyar Narancs aptly put it: “Orbán’s message is ‘hate and be afraid, so I can defend you.'”

Two days ago Viktor Orbán gave an interview to Napi Gazdaság in which there were a few sentences that caught the eye of the Budapest reporters of Reuters, and because so many papers subscribe to this wire service the news appeared in almost all the larger foreign newspapers. Here I give my own translation of the passage.

Multiculturalism is finished, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel was the first to announce. Multiculturalism is the intermingling of different civilizations. It is a different thing when a country is composed of different nationality groups and cultures. That is not multiculturalism. Multiculturalism means the coexistence of people of different cultural backgrounds: Islam, Asian religions, and Christianity. We will do everything for Hungary to avoid this. We welcome investors, artists, and scientists from non-Christian countries, but we don’t want to mix with them on a large scale.

Actually, Orbán’s rather primitive description of multiculturalism is misleading. The United States has taken in an incredible number of immigrants over the years, but by the second or third generation these people are assimilated without the government making any serious efforts in this direction. In fact, bilingual schools had very mixed results and since have been largely abandoned. Assimilation is inevitable unless the central government fosters separation. Orbán seems to be talking about the policies of Germany, which indeed turned out to be a disaster. But, surely, there is a happy medium. Hungary needs immigrants, and the “intermingling” of ethnic groups with different cultural backgrounds has enormous benefits in the long run. Hungary’s history is full of such examples.

This interview about the evils of multiculturalism took place two days ago. Today, at a press conference held after his meeting with visiting Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Orbán declared that his government believes in cultural diversity and that “the variegation of our cultures is a gift of God.” I guess it would have been impolite to repeat that we don’t want “your kind” in our country.

Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi and Viktor Orbán / Photo Zoltán Máthé ?MTI

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Viktor Orbán / Photo Zoltán Máthé / MTI

Unfortunately that was not the only thing he said. Since he obviously wants to please certain politicians, he praises them and their country lavishly, quite independently of whether such praise is in order or whether it is, diplomatically speaking, proper. To call el-Sisi “the extraordinary leader of an extraordinary country” is over the top. El-Sisi was, in turn, taken with Viktor Orbán and congratulated the Hungarian people who were so wise as to elect such a man to lead the country. A mutual admiration society.

It is apparent from Ahram-Online, an Egyptian paper, that Orbán succeeded in his courting of the visitor. The Egyptians were impressed. They were happy to hear that “Cairo does not have to follow the western version of democracy” despite international concerns over Egypt’s human rights record. El-Sisi, who visited Germany earlier, encountered demonstrations there, and Angela Merkel was critical of the large number of death sentences handed out in Egypt since 2013. “In contrast, Prime Minister Victor Orban, who caused a furor recently by saying the death penalty, banned in the EU, needed to be ‘kept on the agenda’ … said Western ideals were not necessarily suited for everyone.” He stressed that “we are not professors of democracy … [and] we are glad that the Egyptian people are travelling down their own path,” adding that he hoped for their success.

Well, this was bad enough, but Orbán had a little surprise for the Hungarians as well. For some strange reason he felt compelled to make an allusion to el-Sisi’s military past and the military coup that removed the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi. But what he had to say was strange in more than one way. Here is the passage in question: “We are not averse to military men turned political leaders” because, he said, he remembers those times when “assertive soldiers took over power from us, civilian weaklings, in order to save the country.” He expressed his hope that Egypt will have as good an experience with soldiers as Hungary did.

The soldier Orbán had in mind cannot be anyone else but Admiral Miklós Horthy, governor of the autocratic regime during the interwar period. This was his first public admission that he and his regime find Horthy the savior of Hungary. Until now it was only Jobbik that wanted to “rehabilitate” Horthy. Every November 16 Jobbik celebrates the anniversary of Horthy’s entrance into Budapest in 1919. Perhaps from here on it can be Viktor Orbán who leads the white horse, an animal closely associated with the governor, along Béla Bartók Road, which bore the name of Horthy before 1945.

Jobbik scored again. Orbán, it seems, accepted another demand of Jobbik: the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy.

Barack Obama on the threat to civil society in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Hungary

American presidents are lining up against the Hungarian prime minister and his illiberal state. On The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Bill Clinton said that “there’s the authoritarian capitalism model which is Russia and in a different way China, and it has some appeal. Like the Hungarian Prime Minister – they owe a lot to America; he just said he liked authoritarian capitalism, just saying ‘I don’t ever want to have to leave power’ – usually those guys want to stay forever and make money. And there’s the democracy model …” This was not an off-the-cuff remark. A few days earlier he said essentially the same thing in an interview with James Bennet in the Atlantic Magazine. He talked about different political models, among which “there is a contest here in the world today…. There’s autocratic governments trying to take advantage of market opportunities—what [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán embraced the other day.” Clinton was obviously familiar with the Hungarian prime minister’s by now infamous speech, which was described in a footnote as “a headline-grabbing speech” calling for Hungary to abandon its “liberal methods and principles of organizing a society, as well as the liberal way to look at the world.”

The official Hungarian reaction to Clinton’s remarks was predictable. Péter Szijjártó, who at the time was not yet minister of foreign affairs and trade (which he now is), said that the former president “was conned.” It’s been a long time since Bill Clinton visited Hungary and therefore, I assume it follows, he is ignorant. Period.

Viktor Orbán’s “headline-grabbing speech” reached a lot of people, including the current president of the United States, who addressed the 2014 annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. His speech concentrated on the importance of civil society. He pointed out that “it was citizens here in America who worked to abolish slavery, who marched for women’s rights and workers’ rights and civil rights. They are the reason I can stand here today as President of the United Sates.” Moreover, support of civic groups is in the interest of the United States. “Countries that respect human rights–including freedom of association–happen to be our closest partners. That is not an accident. Conversely, when these rights are suppressed, it fuels grievances and a sense of injustice that over time can fuel instability or extremism.  So I believe America’s support for civil society is a matter of national security.”

Which countries suppress human rights?

From Russia to China to Venezuela, you are seeing relentless crackdowns, vilifying legitimate dissent as subversive.  In places like Azerbaijan, laws make it incredibly difficult for NGOs even to operate.  From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society.  And around the world, brave men and women who dare raise their voices are harassed and attacked and even killed.

Obama Clinton Global Initiative

A Hungarian blogger who happens to be a conservative took the president’s words seriously. He entitled his post “Hungary at a crossroads” and added, “Obama said that Hungary had decided already: it fixed its place next to Russia, China, Kenya, Egypt, Burma, Azerbaijan, etc.”  Moreover, he wrote, Obama made it clear in his speech that “there is no gray zone, there is no Hungarian trickery, there is no double talk. We either stand next to Burma or next to the United States.”

In his address Obama announced a series of new steps that the United States will take to strengthen civil society where there is need. Yesterday he issued a presidential memorandum in which he instructed federal departments and agencies to pay close attention to civil society groups. Specifically, the United States “will oppose efforts by foreign governments to restrict freedoms of peaceful assembly and association and expression.” The United States will create “new innovation centers to empower civil society groups around the world.” NGOs will be able to use these centers “to network and access knowledge and technology and funding that they need to put their ideas into action.” Finally, the United States will increase “support to society groups across the board [and] will increase emergency assistance to embattled NGOs.” The Treasury Department will be instructed to “finalize regulations so it’s even easier and less costly for your foundations to make grants overseas.”

All that is good news for the embattled Hungarian NGOs and the four distribution centers currently under attack. Norway will no longer have to stand alone in its defense of Hungarian civil society. It also may mean that more funding will be forthcoming from American sources to Hungary. After all, Hungary is a unique case. The other countries Obama referred to are in Latin America, in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East, and in Asia. Hungary is the odd man out in this company, and that might attract the attention of donors in the United States. The importation of Putin’s methods into the European Union would be a dangerous precedent which, especially given the current international situation, should not be tolerated.

Obama spoke and Hungary’s shaky reputation abroad received yet another blow. How did Hungarian politicians react to the news that Hungary was compared to some of the worst dictatorships in the world? The usual way. Szijjártó basically called the American president a liar because the president’s remark about “the Hungarian government’s placing any restriction on Hungarian civil society lacks all foundation … because the Hungarians are freedom-loving people.” When Lajos Kósa, one of the deputy chairmen of Fidesz, was asked to comment on Obama’s inclusion of Hungary on a list of countries that harass NGOs, his answer was that “Obama is most likely not entirely familiar with current Hungarian affairs.” For example, it is unlikely that he knows what the third largest city of Hungary is. Then he turned to the reporter from Klubrádió and asked him whether he knows which city it is. The reporter gave the wrong answer when he said it was Miskolc. (Actually it is Szeged.)  Kósa triumphantly exclaimed, “You see!” I assume that means that he did not know the correct answer either. The botched moral of the story: if you don’t know which city is third largest in Hungary you are most likely totally ignorant of everything that goes on under Viktor Orbán’s rule.

Magyar Nemzet is silent. So is Magyar Hírlap. But the Orbán government’s new so-called English-language online paper added these sentences to the news about the speech itself. “Obama has criticized Hungary because of the recent scandal of the Foundation ‘Ökotárs’…. Barack Obama could have the opportunity to share his concerns with János Áder, since the Hungarian president is on official visit in New York this week.” The fault lies with Obama; he should have consulted with Hungary’s president to learn the truth about the Hungarian government’s treatment of the civil groups before he spoke. One could laugh at all these pitiful reactions if the situation weren’t so terribly serious.