Tag Archives: Fidesz parliamentary delegation

Fidesz communication went astray. Total chaos and confusion

One of the headlines I encountered this morning, which appeared in 444, declared that the Orbán government’s anti-migrant propaganda, on which Fidesz’s whole election campaign rests, is “in tatters.” The embarrassment that began with Assistant Undersecretary Kristóf Altusz’s admission that in the last year 1,292 people received either refugee or subsidiary protection status has proved to be a major source of discomfort for the Orbán government, which swore that not one refugee will ever be admitted inside the borders of Hungary. It insisted that Hungary will remain “migrant free” and its culture unadulterated by an alien religion and a foreign culture. And now the hot topic of conversation is the number of refugees who have been more less settled by the ferociously anti-migrant government. That is bad enough in itself, but that all this was done in secret while the Orbán government spent billions on anti-migrant posters and conducted one of the most virulent hate campaigns was more than even some Fidesz supporters could swallow.

The government wasn’t expecting the upheaval that followed the discovery of the Altusz interview with The Times of Malta because these numbers were available on the website of the Immigration and Asylum Office, which I can recommend visiting. After seeing the smiling faces of black girls and boys, an attractive Muslim girl in traditional garb, a lovely young Chinese couple with a cute baby, one gets the impression that Hungary is a welcoming paradise for immigrants. But although all that information was readily available amid the incredible anti-immigrant noise the government created, few people bothered to check the statistics. I was among the few who called attention to the steady stream of refugees arriving in my November 2017 post “Beware, the refugees are coming!”

So, the information was there, but the vast majority of Hungarians believed that the Orbán government actually meant it when it said that no “illegal migrant” will ever reach Hungarian soil and, if they do, they will be immediately returned to wherever they came from. By now, most Hungarians are convinced that all migrants are dangerous and that they should be avoided at all costs. It was within this artificially created atmosphere that they learned that what the government had told them was merely empty propaganda. “Migrants” are coming and most likely will be coming in the future as well.

The government has to devise some clever way to change the communication adopted in 2015, to explain somehow to the folks in Őcsény that those “migrants” whom they refused to accept in their village for a weekend are actually the “guests” of the Orbán government. One of the tricks the Orbán government used to mislead the population was to conflate refugees and economic migrants. In the last few days government spokesmen are talking more about the Geneva Convention and Hungary’s obligation to give refugees shelter, but concurrently with this softer tone the hate campaign against the European Union’s refugee policy and those NGOs that allegedly support illegal migrants continues.

Still, confusion reigns regarding the direction of the “migrant” propaganda. According to Sándor Pintér, George Soros doesn’t support illegal migration. A day later, however, Viktor Orbán said in his Friday morning interview on Kossuth Rádió that “George Soros can decide what to do: he will cease to organize and support illegal migration.”

While the government is struggling to come up with a coherent, believable explanation of its refugee policy, more details are emerging about the sizable financial assistance that joint EU-government sources have given to NGOs that belong to the “Soros network” and whose activities are closely tied to assisting arriving refugees. A few days ago Szilárd Németh, defending his decision to ban LMP’s co-chair Bernadett Szél from attending certain sessions of the parliamentary committee on national security, found her guilty of working at one point for Menedék (“Asylum” in Hungarian), an organization dealing with migrant issues. But it turned out that the same Menedék received substantial grants from the Hungarian government and the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), so it is hard to argue that Szél’s short employment there in 2002 constitutes a seditious act. All told, since 2015 Menedék has received at least 150 million forints for projects like “Let’s Cooperate!” and “Welcoming kindergartens and schools.” AMIF provides 75% of the assistance, but the rest comes straight from the Hungarian government.

“I’m teaching Hungarian to refugees from Somalia” / Source: Párbeszéd Háza

 

Soon enough Magyar Nemzet found another NGO, “ Wheel of Fortune” (Jövőkerék), which had received millions of forints over the last few years for its work with newly arrived refugees. Earlier, the same NGO had received $48,000 from George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The Hungarian branch of the United Nation’s International Migration Organization won three grants amounting to more than 100 million forints. The largest amount of money went to the Immigration and Asylum Office for projects like “We are all different,” “The beginning of a new life,” and “Travels along a long road.”

The latest piece of news on the “migrant” front came from Brussels and was reported today. The European Parliament, including the majority of the Fidesz MEPs, voted for a document that contained a request to the European Commission to facilitate cooperation with NGOs to ensure the human rights of refugees, especially those of defenseless women and girls. The text of the document, which is available on the website of the European Parliament, contains two crucial points. First, it calls on the Commission to work together with civil society and human rights organizations to ensure that the human rights of refugees and displaced persons in reception centers are upheld, particularly with respect to vulnerable women and girls. And second, it recognizes the possibilities for the integration of climate change mitigation and adaptation and women’s economic empowerment goals, particularly in developing countries; calls on the Commission and the Member States to explore in relevant projects and mechanisms, such as the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (UN-REDD) program, how women could be offered paid employment opportunities to carry out the environmental services that they currently provide on a voluntary basis, for example reforestation, afforestation of cleared land, and the conservation of natural resources.

Whether the Fidesz MEPs knew exactly what they signed is hard to say. George Schöpflin admitted that he didn’t know what he voted for; he simply followed the instructions of Lívia Járóka, the newly appointed vice-president of the European Union. Járóka, who is of partly Roma origin, seems to be more sensitive to refugee issues than her comrades in Fidesz. Earlier I called attention to an interview she gave to Magyar Idők in which she refused to engage in any anti-migrant talk. Instead, she emphasized the necessity of integration. As she put it, “we would like it if they [the refugees] would understand that we find it important that, after a rapid and effective integration, armed with European knowledge, they would be able to return to their own homelands.” This was a new voice, which I duly noted at the time. In any case, Járóka managed to get the majority of Fidesz MEPs to vote for a document which, at least on the level of government communication, is not part of the Orbán government’s agenda.

Where Orbán is planning to go from here is hard to tell. The opposition parties collected enough signatures to force László Kövér, president of the parliament, to convene a special session of parliament on the issue of the “secret” admission of refugees to the country. Kövér cleverly set January 30th as the date, thereby saving Viktor Orbán from the embarrassment of being forced to attend. That day he will be meeting with Sebastian Kurz, the new chancellor of Austria.

January 24, 2018

Fair election? Not a chance

I think it’s time to talk again about the forthcoming election. Or, to be more precise, about the possibility that the current laws and rules and regulations will preclude a fair election. Senator John McCain might talk about international monitoring and Viktor Orbán might gladly agree: no observers will ever find anything wrong in and around the voting stations. The government prepared everything way ahead of time to ensure an almost certain victory for Fidesz. This election, as things now stand, cannot be fair.

One can start with the redrawing of the boundaries of the electoral districts which made sure that earlier socialist strongholds were diluted with areas that vote overwhelmingly for Fidesz. The new electoral system favors the monolithic, highly centralized Fidesz as opposed to the smaller parties of divergent political views that were forced to cooperate in order to have a chance. Then there is the generous government support for any candidate who collects a few hundred signatures to run in the next election. At last count there are 45 such parties already registered with the National Election Committee. Admittedly, these phony parties will take away only a few hundred votes, but in districts where the election is close between Fidesz and Összefogás (Unity) they may help the governing party.

And let’s not forget about the “foreign” vote, especially from Transylvania and Serbia. These new citizens can easily cast their ballots even by mail while the half a million Hungarian citizens by birth who are living abroad cannot do the same. The former are mostly Fidesz supporters while the recent emigrants are a more varied lot politically. Perhaps even the majority  of emigrants would vote against the current government because of their experiences at home which prompted them to leave. And let’s not forget about the Roma population which the government is planning to disenfranchise by urging them to register as members of a minority, an option that would allow them to vote only for the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (National Gypsy Self-government), an arm of Fidesz.

But this list is nothing in comparison to some of the amendments and local ordinances that seem to be issued every time one turns around. From the start, campaigning was severely limited. For example, commercial television stations couldn’t  show political ads and on the public television stations they were greatly restricted. After pressure from the European Union, the Orbán government “generously” changed the rules: commercial stations could air ads but couldn’t charge for them. The European Union was satisfied. This is one of those occasions when one understands Victoria Nuland’s sentiments. How could they ever agree to this “compromise”? I don’t think that it will come as a great surprise that the commercial stations are not exactly rushing to offer their services. Why should they? Not only would they receive nothing for airing these ads but they would incur the wrath of a vengeful Fidesz.

Then came more restrictions on advertising on streets. In previous years smaller posters carrying the pictures and slogans of candidates could be affixed to electric poles, but now that practice is forbidden. Candidates can still put up huge billboards but again the number of surfaces has been greatly reduced, especially in Budapest where the Fidesz-dominated leadership approved a new ordinance regulating the posting of ads. Even if the opposition parties have the money they will have difficulty making themselves visible. As someone jokingly said, perhaps Összefogás (Unity) will put up posters in apartment staircases because the government and the Budapest city council haven’t yet thought about making them off limits.

And now comes the really clever move. While “political parties” find that their opportunities to advertise their program and their candidates are severely restricted, none of the restrictions apply to “civic organizations.” In reality, we should really talk about only one such organization: CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fóruma). Earlier I wrote about CÖF, an organization that came into prominence about a year ago when the first Peace March took place. The organization of these peace marches must have cost an incredible amount of money, which CÖF cannot account for. It is almost 100% certain that CÖF, through some intermediary, receives its entire budget of millions if not billions from the government. Civic organizations can advertise anywhere at any time. Even before the official election campaign begins, when theoretically at least no campaigning is permitted. In the last few months CÖF has launched two large campaigns. First, against Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány and, second, against Unity. They put up huge display ads everywhere, including the sides of city buses. Their latest move is campaign literature mailed to every Hungarian household (4 million) in which CÖF tells the voters why the “Gyurcsány coalition” shouldn’t have a second chance.

CÖF is certainly not short of funds

CÖF is certainly not short of funds

The final straw in this series of discriminatory practices was the news yesterday that the government’s slogan “Magyarország jobban teljesít” (Hungary is performing better), with which they plastered the whole country, from here on will be the slogan of Fidesz. The Hungarian government generously allowed the governing party to use its own campaign slogan. Actually, by today the story changed somewhat. According to the latest information, the Fidesz parliamentary delegation paid 200,000 forints (650 euros) for the right to use the slogan in an agreement with the Prime Minister’s Office signed in August 2013. In October the Prime Minister’s Office made a similar deal with Fidesz as a party, but the party didn’t have to pay anything. “Unity” is planning to go to court over this arrangement.

All in all, Fidesz will not have to pay much for its election campaign this year. The taxpayers will foot the bill for CÖF as well as for the slogan by which the Orbán government advertised its own fantastic accomplishments. The slogan, logo, and poster cost the taxpayers 150 million. This figure doesn’t include the fees the government paid for placing the self-congratulatory ad in newspapers and on Internet sites.

So, this is the situation at the moment. The reader can decide how fair an election we can expect on April 6.