Tag Archives: Gábor Vona

A town council on the Serb-Hungarian border takes care of Muslims and gays

At the end of November a bizarre news item appeared: the council of Ásotthalom, a village of 4,000 inhabitants adjacent to the Serb-Hungarian border, passed a series of ordinances that forbade building mosques, wearing the burka, all activities of muezzins and, for good measure, the “propagation of gay marriage” and any publicity given to “opinions about the family different from the definition in the constitution.” Just to remind readers, the so-called “Fundamental law”–that is, the new Fidesz constitution–states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.”

The mayor of Ásotthalom is the infamous László Toroczkai, who ten years ago led the assault against the headquarters of MTV, Hungary’s public television station. He even has a brief English-language Wikipedia entry in which he is described as “the founder of the far-right 64 Counties Youth Movement (HVIM).” He is, as the name of his organization demonstrates, a Hungarian irredentist, who as a result of his activities in the neighboring countries has been banned from Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia. I wrote several times about Toroczkai and his involvement in a host of far-right, neo-Nazi organizations. His affiliations and activities were obviously not viewed as a political liability in the village, however. He was elected mayor of Ásotthalom in a by-election in 2013.

Once the liberal media recovered from the shock that this man could become a mayor with over 70% of the votes, his name pretty much disappeared from the national press. But then came Toroczkai’s chance for renewed fame/infamy: the arrival of the refugees, whose escape route went through Ásotthalom. Toroczkai was in his element, organizing civic groups that were supposed to help the police and later the military in guarding the fence. I suspect that some of the atrocities against the refugees were actually committed by Toroczkai and his men.

The immediate reaction of the liberal media to Toroczkai’s ban was hilarity. A local ordinance against mosques and gays? One doesn’t have to be a legal expert to know that Ásotthalom’s ordinance is unconstitutional. Article VII of the constitution states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” Moreover, “this right shall include the freedom to choose or change one’s religion or other belief, and the freedom of everyone to manifest, abstain from manifesting, practice or teach his or her religion or other belief through religious acts, rites, or otherwise, either individually or jointly with others, either in public or in private life.” It seems that of the six members of the village council two had the good sense to abstain while one had a valid reason to be absent. Thus only three council members voted for the resolution.

The locals learned about the decision from the papers and television and eventually came to the conclusion that these steps had been taken only as preventive measures in case the European Union forces Ásotthalom to accept Muslim migrants. As for the mosques, on TV they can see all those mosques in western cities; it is perhaps a good idea to spell out that no mosque will ever be built in their village. After all, as Toroczkai told Olga Kálmán on ATV the other day, “practically next door there is a mosque already.” It turned out that he was talking about Subotica in Serbia where there has been a mosque since 2007 to serve a community of 22 Muslims, all Serbian nationals.

Interestingly enough, there might actually be two Muslims living in Ásotthalom. One is a man from Kuwait who is married to a Hungarian Christian. After living in Kuwait for a while, they returned to Hungary 16 years ago. When asked, Toroczkai claimed that the ordinance is not directed against this man and his four children, who are Christians. He seemed to be more worried about a shadowy young woman no one really knows who apparently studied abroad and converted to Islam as the result of a romance with an Algerian man.

This incident created quite a headache for Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, who in a surprise move had recently asked Toroczkai to be one of his deputies. Toroczkai’s appointment followed the removal of Előd Novák, a far-right member of the Jobbik leadership who became an unwelcome burden with his radicalism and anti-Semitism. Vona has been trying to transform Jobbik into a right-of-center party that can be seriously considered to lead the country either alone or in a coalition. What no one could understand is why Vona thought that Toroczkai was less of an extremist than Novák. They are cut from the same cloth. When Novák learned about Toroczkai’s ordinance, he wrote on his Facebook page: “Hats off!” But otherwise, the Jobbik leadership didn’t appreciate Toroczkai’s move, about which he hadn’t notified his party. As Toroczkai complained, he had expected severe criticism from Muslims and gays but what surprised him was that “the most vehement attacks came from my own camp, the so-called national (radical) side.”

Gábor Vona, soon after the news of Ásotthalom’s ordinance reached the national media, paid a visit to the border town and had a long conversation with Toroczkai, which apparently led nowhere. Vona told N1 TV, an internet television station with ties to Jobbik, that he considers “the ordinance stigmatizing Muslims and gays irresponsible and unnecessary. Jobbik will guarantee freedom of religion to everyone” once in power.

László Toroczkai and Gábor Vona in Ásotthalom

Meanwhile, two gay organizations, Budapest Pride and the Hungarian LGBT Association, began organizing a trip to Ásotthalom for this afternoon to test Toroczkai’s ordinance. Toroczkai considered the demonstration a “provocation.” The homophobic elements of Toroczkai were considering a counter-demonstration, but the mayor wisely decided against it. He was, however, well prepared. He asked the Szeged police force to be on hand for the occasion and had one of the town employees standing by with a video camera. Toroczkai promised a careful examination of the video to ascertain whether anyone in the group of about a dozen men and women had “propagated gay marriage,” for example. There is the possibility that Toroczkai will consider the poster with the message “egy papa meg egy papa plusz egy gyerek” (one daddy and one daddy plus one child) a violation of the ordinance. If so, Toroczkai wants to fine the owner of the poster 150,000 forints. That’s unlikely ever to happen.

A few locals gathered to look at the spectacle. A yellow van normally used to take workers to the fields came by three times, and its passengers yelled through the open windows “filthy faggots.” One has the feeling that the locals are more preoccupied with gays than with Muslims. Interestingly enough, although the people of Ásotthalom encountered several thousand migrants last year, fewer people voted on the day of the referendum in the village than in the region as a whole.

♦ ♦ ♦

Finally, here is something that might cheer you up. You may recall that in my post on the PISA results I quoted Árpád W. Tóta, who said in his opinion piece that Orbán had managed to create “a school system for sheep.” That reminded Henk, who lives in Hungary and learned Hungarian very well, of a poem by Sándor Weöres (1913-1989) from his volume of poetry for children titled Bóbita (Tuft). Henk translated it into English. I’m very pleased to share his translation with the readers of Hungarian Spectrum.

A birka-iskola

Egyszer volt egy nagy csoda,
Neve: birka-iskola.
Ki nem szólt, csak bégetett,
Az kapott dicséretet.

Ki oda se ballagott,
Még jutalmat is kapott,
Így hát egy se ment oda,
Meg is szűnt az iskola.

The School for Sheep

Once there was a marvel great;
it was called: a school for sheep.
Who didn’t talk, but only bleat,
he was highly praised indeed.

Whoever refused to go,
was rewarded even more.
So, no one went to school of course,
and it had to close its doors.

December 10, 2016

Jobbik and the U.S. presidential election

The latest on Ghaith Pharaon

First, I think I should say a few words about the latest developments in the Ghaith Pharaon case. Heti Válasz, a conservative weekly, learned that in January 2014 Pharaon received not only a Hungarian visa but also a residency permit “for the purpose of business and investment activities.” It was the Jordanian honorary consul in Budapest—who by the way was Viktor Orbán’s host at that by now infamous dinner in Pharaon’s honor—who requested the visa, and it was the Hungarian consulate in Beirut that issued it. By the look of things, the Hungarian authorities ignored all the rules and regulations to make Pharaon’s life in Hungary trouble free. For a residency permit the applicant’s fingerprints must be taken but, when pressed, the ministry of interior admitted that Pharaon wasn’t even required to have an official photograph. For almost three years Pharaon had the right to travel to and from Hungary at will. He could also, if he chose, travel anywhere in the European Union. All national security precautions were dispensed with in this case. He most likely enjoyed the protection of Viktor Orbán himself.

Jobbik on the U.S. presidential elections

The government’s rejoicing over Donald Trump’s victory knows no bounds. The pro-government media is full of stories of the “liberal rabble” on the streets who have been aroused against the president-elect by people like George Soros. Relentless attacks on the Obama government and Hillary Clinton can be found daily in all the right-wing papers.

Interestingly enough, Jobbik’s reaction is a lot more tempered and, I must admit, more realistic. The government-financed 888.hu was outraged when it found that Ádám Mirkóczki, Jobbik’s spokesman, in response to a question from a reporter of HVG, called Trump “an unfit and poor candidate” who is “an unpredictable madman.” Otherwise, he said, the choice was difficult because neither candidate was inspiring.

A few days later, in an interview with Magyar Nemzet, Mirkóczki was more restrained in the sense that he didn’t repeat his one-liner about Trump’s state of mind, but he further elaborated on Jobbik’s position that the presidential choice this year was poor. The interviewer assumed that Jobbik “is as satisfied with the results of the American election” as Fidesz is, but he didn’t get the answer he was expecting. Mirkóczki said he feels for the American people, who had to choose between two poor candidates. He shares the government’s opinion that Clinton “would have been a disaster for Hungary” and in that sense between the two “catastrophic candidates, the less bad won.” Jobbik only “hopes that Trump’s policies will coalesce with Hungary’s interests.” But Mirkóczki was more than cautious on that score because “we don’t know anything about [Trump’s] political ideas.” If we can believe the Jobbik spokesman, the party hopes that Trump will mellow in time because “a radical leading the United States is not in Hungary’s interest.”

Ádám Mirkóczki, Jobbik spokesman

Ádám Mirkóczki, Jobbik spokesman

Jobbik doesn’t think that with Trump’s victory U.S.-Hungarian relations will be much better. Orbán will remind the American diplomats of his early support for Trump, but such messages are “irrelevant as far as economic, political, or military relations are concerned between two countries.” In plain English, as long the present government continues on the same path it has followed in the last six years, change of presidency or not, U.S.-Hungarian relations will not improve.

About a year ago Gábor Vona delivered a speech in which he talked about his party’s intention to develop direct relations with politicians in Washington. As far as I know, several Jobbik politicians visited Washington and other larger cities. Jobbik is no longer an outcast, so its politicians had the opportunity to meet with several ambassadors in Budapest, including U.S. Ambassador Colleen Bell. Mirkóczki thinks that Orbán’s diplomatic approach to the United States has been counterproductive. Jobbik would strive for consensus, a style void of the “arrogant, lecturing, and negative style” that Fidesz has chosen in its dealings with the United States.

Of course, it is difficult to tell how much of this is merely for show. Recently BBC’s Nick Thorpe wrote an article about the metamorphosis of Jobbik “from a radical nationalist party … to a moderate ‘conservative people’s party’” and said that Vona “now promises to restore the checks and balances lost under Orbán.” He quotes Vona, who nowadays tries to avoid political labeling, who said that “if [he] lived in Greece [he] would probably vote for Syriza, though they are supposed to be on the left.” He also adopted Bálint Magyar’s characterization of Orbán’s regime and called it “a mafia-type state.”

Given Jobbik’s past, it is probably wise to take much of this with a grain of salt. But Jobbik’s cautious attitude toward the impending Trump presidency is much more statesmanlike than the Orbán government’s uncritical admiration of Trump’s radicalism. In this respect at least, Jobbik sounds more like a conservative party; Fidesz, the radical one.

November 16, 2016

Vona, under vicious attack, may yet outfox Orbán

Viktor Orbán is bent on the destruction of Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, and with him the whole party. I know it was only two weeks ago that I wrote a post titled “Power struggle on the Hungarian right?” but I think that recent political developments warrant a second look.

By now I believe that this struggle is more than a turf war between two right-wing parties. Since Jobbik succeeded in foiling Viktor Orbán’s plan to amend the constitution, Fidesz has put Jobbik and its chairman squarely into the enemy camp, along with the parties on the left. Before the confrontation over the amendments Viktor Orbán viewed Jobbik not only as his competition on the right but also as an ally on whom he could call in time of need. Therefore, Fidesz criticism of Jobbik was always muted. But by now these relatively amicable relations have frayed to such an extent that Lajos Kósa, head of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, declared two days ago that even Ferenc Gyurcsány was a more decent politician than Gábor Vona. In Fidesz vocabulary one cannot find a more damning description of a political opponent.

Viktor Orbán has come to realize that Jobbik is behaving like a full-fledged opposition party, which from the look of things seems to have surprised him. And he is hitting back hard, which makes the Jobbik leadership fight back even harder. The result is that there are more and more signs of a commonality of interests among all opposition parties. For the time being both sides deny that they have any plans for even limited cooperation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they changed their minds in the not too distant future. Because, let’s face it, without some cooperation between the left- and right-wing opposition parties Viktor Orbán cannot be unseated in 2018. In fact, if nothing changes, Orbán might die in office. After all, he is only 55 years old.

Viktor Orbán, who had taken Jobbik for granted, feels double-crossed. And we know that in such circumstances Orbán goes into attack mode. The first move was to launch a media campaign against Jobbik. The Fidesz propaganda machine dredged up all of Jobbik’s past sins, real and invented. Ripost.hu found “shocking evidence” that Jobbik is behind the murder of a policeman by an armed right-winger, which is a fabrication. On the other hand, Jobbik does have plenty to hide, including murky relations with Russia and contacts with far-right organizations in Hungary. The Hungarian security offices surely have plenty of incriminating evidence, including photos. Some of this material is being given to Fidesz-friendly media outlets to embarrass the party.

But everywhere they turn they encounter common skeletons in the closet. Ripost.hu made a big deal of the fact that Adrien Szaniszló, who works for Jobbik’s “foreign affairs cabinet,” was born in Moscow, which seems to be an indelible stain on one’s pedigree. The problem is that she is the daughter of Ferenc Szaniszló, a controversial commentator on the right-wing Echo TV, whose high decoration from Zoltán Balog a few years back was greeted with such an outcry that Balog had to ask Szaniszló to return the award. As for Adrien Szaniszló birthplace, it is something she couldn’t help. Her father was Magyar Televízió’s correspondent in Moscow.

It seems that the propaganda ministry didn’t think that warming up these old stories had been effective enough. So they recycled Terry Black’s 2013 story of Vona’s alleged homosexuality. Such stories make a huge splash in Hungary. In 2015 Klára Ungár, a former SZDSZ member of parliament who is openly gay, wrote on her Facebook page: “Viktor blabbers about those members of the gay community who do not provoke and explains why this is a good thing. What do Máté Kocsis and Szájer say to that? Surely they agree and that’s why they are hiding.” Viktor’s blabbering refers to a speech he gave in which he explained that one can live peacefully with gays as long as they don’t make too much noise. He added that gays are different, and therefore they don’t deserve the same rights as heterosexuals. He was referring to the marriage of same sex couples. That’s what got Ungár’s goat. Szájer had the good sense to remain quiet, but Kocsis sued Ungár and lost the case on appeal.

Fidesz was in an uproar over Ungár’s accusations and made a big deal about the immorality of resorting to such methods in order to discredit someone. But now that the government and its servile media are doing the same thing, Fidesz leaders no longer have such compunctions. In fact, Ungár’s little note on Facebook cannot be compared to the onslaught against Vona. I have no idea how successful the smear campaign will be, but the pro-Fidesz media is convinced that it’s working. For example, Ripost.hu claims that Vona finds this accusation so damaging that Jobbik created a special “crisis center” to handle the fallout. It’s no wonder, Riport.hu continues, since in the past Jobbik was a homophobic party that “on several occasions sharply condemned any homosexual relations and, in fact, demanded harsher penalties than are in the existing criminal code.”

I don’t know about the crisis center, but Vona’s wife posted an open letter to Anikó Lévai, wife of Viktor Orbán, asking her to intercede with her husband to put an end to these ad hominem attacks on her husband. She understands that there is “confusion, resentfulness, and vindictiveness” because of the failed constitutional amendments, but political fights should remain within the realm of politics. “I suspect that you are the last person he perhaps still listens to.” To which the website Kolozsvári Szalonna responded: “I want to warn you not to expect miracles from Anikó Lévai, who has as much say in this affair as in her own shitty little life.”

Gábor Vona and his wife, Krisztina Szabó

Gábor Vona and his wife, Krisztina Szabó

If Magyar Nemzet’s information is correct, Gábor Vona is not retreating. In fact, he is ready for a second round with Viktor Orbán. Fidesz already announced that it is abandoning the constitutional amendments and that by the end of the year the sale of residency bonds will also come to an end. Apparently, Jobbik is planning to resubmit the Fidesz bill on the amendments as its own. Only half a sentence will be added to the original text: “settlement requests for financial compensation” cannot be considered.

Such a move would put Viktor Orbán in a very awkward situation. I assume he would not agree to allow Jobbik’s, or any other opposition party’s, bill to reach the floor. Every proposed bill first has to go to committee, where it will probably die. But how will Viktor Orbán explain that his precious bill is not important enough to be discussed and voted on? Even the extra half sentence should be acceptable to Fidesz because the government has already decided to stop the sale of residency bonds. So why should it be dead on arrival?

This is shaping up to be the third major political embarrassment for the infallible political genius. Gábor Vona is obviously a talented politician who has managed to do something no other opposition party has: score a major victory over Viktor Orbán’s government not just once but perhaps twice.

And that’s not all. Vona seems to have something else up his sleeve. In connection with the clearly dirty business of residency bonds the opposition parties suggested setting up a special parliamentary committee to investigate the matter. Naturally, the Fidesz majority voted the proposal down. Jobbik called a meeting of opposition parties, to which representatives of LMP, Együtt, and the Liberals showed up. They decided that the four parties should form an extra-parliamentary “shadow committee” to investigate the affairs of Antal Rogán’s off-shore middlemen active in the residency bond business. The parties’ bigwigs still have to give their blessing to the idea, but the comments of LMP’s Bernadett Szél were promising. In her opinion, alternative political instruments are necessary because no meaningful work can take place in the Fidesz-ruled parliament. Such an extra-parliamentary body can be as effective as an official one, she said.

The work of a shadow committee might have an invigorating effect on the opposition. I must say that I find the idea attractive.

November 12, 2016

The constitutional amendments failed: Another blow to Orbán

As soon as I turned my computer on this morning, a desk-top notification from a Hungarian internet news site informed me that the vote on Viktor Orbán’s amendments to the constitution had failed. He needed 133 votes and came up two short. Those opposition parties that have recognized delegations abstained, and three of the ten independent members voted “no.” I must admit I was surprised because, in the last few days when I repeatedly heard from Fidesz politicians that they would go ahead with the vote on November 8 as planned, I was certain that Viktor Orbán had already secured the two extra votes necessary for another Fidesz parliamentary success.

I was even more surprised when I read the article, which claimed that this defeat was actually a great victory for Viktor Orbán in the long run. And it wasn’t only this media outlet that seemed to be convinced that no matter what happens, Fidesz always wins. But that’s just not the case. It’s high time to abandon this increasingly unfounded assumption. Over the last few months Viktor Orbán’s strategy has suffered several serious setbacks. This last one is perhaps the worst.

All along Orbán had argued that his government needs a valid referendum, which would strengthen his position in his negotiations with Brussels. If the European Union is confronted with the fact that more than 50% of the Hungarian electorate stands fast behind him, he will have a much easier time defending Hungary’s strongly anti-migrant position in the European Council. But the referendum was not valid. Far from it. The opposition parties’ call for a boycott was effective. Only 39% of the electorate showed up. Admittedly, 98% of those who went to the polls supported Orbán’s purposely misleading and meaningless question. No, they didn’t want to have compulsory quotas unless parliament approves them. Who could say “yes” to that? Not too many people.

Orbán and his closest associates who gathered after the result became known looked as if they were attending a funeral. But by the next day Orbán was ready to give a positive spin to the outcome. The overwhelming number of “no” votes proves that his support is larger than ever before. In 2014, 2.2 million people voted for Fidesz, but 3.3 million people supported Fidesz’s referendum. A new unity, he said, has emerged behind his party. This large mandate means that the government party can amend the constitution regardless of its failure to secure a valid referendum.

But the failure of the referendum undercut Viktor Orbán’s clout in the European Union’s community. Many EU officials and members of the European Parliament expressed their relief that the referendum was not valid. The Hungarian people are wiser than their government, Martin Schulz said.

Then came the proposed amendments. Some people judged them to be totally unnecessary and meaningless. Others believed that certain sections of the amendments might be useful in attacking the very constitution of the European Union.

Initially, passing the proposed amendments seemed foolproof. The government assumed it would have the support of Jobbik, the party that used to be a radical right party but by now is practically indistinguishable from Fidesz. Jobbik supported the referendum because its followers are against immigration at least as much as, if not more than, Fidesz voters. But the Jobbik leadership saw an opportunity. Since Fidesz needed the Jobbik votes in parliament, the party decided to demand a price for its support: the immediate cessation of the sale of so-called residency bonds. The program is a fantastic deal for those who have 300 million euros to purchase a five-year bond in exchange for a residency permit and free movement within the European Union. And a good deal as well for those who benefit from the corruption that permeates the program.

Some politicians on the left were convinced that Gábor Vona either didn’t issue an ultimatum or that, if he did, he wouldn’t follow through on it. Well, they were wrong on both counts. Vona did deliver an ultimatum, and he meant every word of it.

Initially Orbán opted to oblige. It seemed that these amendments were so important to him that he would swallow a huge one and stop selling residency bonds to mostly Chinese and Russian businessmen. But then he changed his mind.

Fidesz announced that it would go ahead as scheduled, putting the amendments to a vote on November 8. Jobbik politicians swore that their 24-member delegation would not vote for the amendments. And so, if the opposition members on the left remained steadfast, the package of amendments was doomed. They did, and it was.

With this defeat Orbán can no longer go to Brussels and say that his hands are tied not only by 3.3 million Hungarian patriots but also by a two-thirds majority of the parliament. And that even if he wanted to, he couldn’t agree to accept any quotas. Today’s vote is a huge failure. Months of political maneuvering by Orbán have led nowhere.

A couple of foreign commentators concur. They note that this defeat will most likely weaken him “in his long-running fight with Brussels.” It is a personal blow to the prime minister. BBC’s Nick Thorpe described it as the second blow in a month, the first, of course, being the referendum itself. No constitutional amendment has ever been defeated since 1990, the beginning of the Third Republic. Since 2011 Fidesz easily pushed through six amendments. Well, things have changed.

Although, as I noted earlier, a few newspapers looked at the parliamentary vote as a success for a politician who is unbeatable, several others saw it quite differently, as a defeat that will hurt Fidesz both in the short and the long run. Jobbik’s strategy was praised by such until recently pro-Fidesz media as Válasz. Jobbik’s position is very simple: “neither poor nor rich migrants” should come to Hungary. Gábor Török, the well-known political commentator, called Jobbik the clear winner of this game. Until recently, Jobbik wasn’t a distinct political actor because the parties on the left conflated it with Fidesz. But in the last two weeks Jobbik was the leading force in the opposition’s attack on Fidesz. The left was nowhere.

Bálint Molnár, one of the editors of Kolozsvári Szalonna (Bacon à la Kolozsvár), and I seem to agree on the significance of what happened this morning in parliament. Let me quote: “I don’t agree with those who claim that Fidesz-KDNP, headed by someone named Orbán, won the match even if he was worsted. In my opinion, no one won here. On his own playing field, according to his own rules, he has burned an incredible amount of money and yet the seventh amendment of the Orbán all-mighty basic botchery has failed badly. The Young Democrats managed to bungle the all-time most expensive public opinion poll. That’s the essence of it. That is the situation. The hero, the martyr, the knight of a border fortress [végvári vitéz], the general of all Hungarians fell on his face…. For the first time since 2010 Orbán has tumbled and sunk to his knees.”

amendment-vote

Photo: Attila Kisbenedek / AFP

That pretty well sums it up. After this it will be difficult for Orbán to play the strong man who flexes his muscles.

I would like to call special attention to the photo Kolozsvári Szalonna attached to their piece on today’s vote in parliament. As soon as it became known that the government proposal had failed, Orbán got up and darted toward the exit. Gergely Gulyás, his eyes cast downward, may well be afraid of what’s waiting for him as the man responsible for legislative acts. He was full of self-confidence about easy sailing for this piece of legislation. Péter Harrach is scratching his head as if doesn’t know what to make of the situation.

Orbán is no longer accustomed to defeat. I’m sure he will take it very hard. And lash out.

November 8, 2016

Power struggle on the Hungarian right?

It was only a few days ago that I posed the question: “who will win this political game?” Gábor Vona or Viktor Orbán? The occasion was Gábor Vona’s decision to demand a price for his party’s support of the constitutional amendments, which for political reasons were an important issue for the Hungarian prime minister. Orbán obviously didn’t expect his right-wing opposition, Jobbik, which had actually preferred an amendment to the referendum, to object to the “unwanted settlement” of refugees in Hungary. In that he was correct, but in exchange for its votes Jobbik demanded an end to the sale of the so-called “residency bonds,” a program that has been fraught with corruption in addition to being financially disadvantageous to the country (except in the very short term).

Orbán was furious. It was bad enough that the referendum into which he had poured so much money and energy turned out to be invalid. But now he was faced with Jobbik’s “blackmail,” as he called it. He was in a bind. Fidesz no longer has a two-thirds majority, without which no amendment to the constitution can be passed.

What followed was communication chaos. János Lázár announced that no more residency bonds will be sold, a statement that was later corrected by Viktor Orbán. He claimed that although Hungary’s financial situation is a great deal better than it was three or four years ago when the residency bond program began, the country still needs the incredible amount of money that is flowing into the budget from Chinese and Russian businessmen.

There was similar confusion over whether the vote on the amendments, originally scheduled for November 8, will be held on that day or whether the vote will be postponed. As it stands now, Fidesz has decided to go ahead, hoping they will be able to find two non-Fidesz people who will vote for the amendments. These votes, according to Vona, will not be coming from Jobbik.

Perhaps Viktor Orbán suspected after the failed referendum that Vona might give him a hard time. The very next day, on October 3, he launched into an ad hominem attack against Vona in parliament. Válasz, which until very recently was the most pro-Fidesz publication of Lajos Simicska’s media holdings, came to the conclusion that “Fidesz began the liquidation of Jobbik.” 888.hu immediately understood what was expected of them. On October 4 this caricature appeared on 888’s internet site.

Ï recognize myself" Jobbik is changing

“I recognize myself!” Jobbik is changing 😀

This is serious business because there is no greater public enemy as far as Orbán is concerned than Ferenc Gyurcsány. Underlying this direct assault, at least according to talking heads, is Orbán’s intention to attract the more radical Jobbik voters by offering them an alternative in Fidesz. Fidesz should be more attractive to them than a moderate Jobbik that, according to Fidesz propaganda, is being led by an alter ego of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Boris Kálnoky in an article in the Austrian Die Presse called the October 3 attack on Vona the first sign of “a power struggle in the Hungarian right.” The prime minister is attacking the party leader but is courting Jobbik’s voters, Kálnoky believes.

A few days ago Paul Lendvai, who just published a new book titled Orbáns Ungarn/Orbán Magyarországa, claimed that Orbán’s honeymoon is over. And Zoltán Lakner, an astute political commentator, considered the possible failure of the constitutional amendment “the end of Orbán’s game, which will cause him a serious loss of prestige.” (Unfortunately, I’m unable to provide a link to Lakner’s article because it appeared in Népszabadság and therefore is no longer available on the internet.) So, Orbán’s ire is understandable. And his vengeance against Vona is going to be brutal. No effort will be spared to discredit Vona.

The attack, after Orbán’s initial volley, is now coming largely from the recently established Fidesz internet sites. For example, ripost.hu, a tabloid of sorts, dredged up an old story from 2013, forgotten by most people. Vona was accused of marital infidelity and of visiting brothels and gay bars by “Terry Black,” whose real name is Károly Rácz and who for 30 years worked as a gay porn actor in Germany. Vona denied that he went to gay bars or brothels, but he did admit that he was unfaithful to his wife. Now riport.hu revived this old story with the title “Vona’s sexually supercharged private letters are being circulating in Jobbik.” Vona’s “liberal attitude toward sex” is being reinforced with stories about other Jobbik politicians, where “one sex scandal follows the other.”

Magyar Idők, Magyar Hírlap, and sadly by now also Origo, are full of attacks against Vona’s Jobbik. There was an article in Magyar Idők with the intriguing title “A Jobbik girl with American flag,” which says a lot about Fidesz. The American flag was on a ski cap the girl wore to Jobbik’s rally on October 23. This was considered to be such a stigma that Magyar Idők published a picture of the obviously odious item which, I guess, was supposed to demonstrate that Jobbik has become the agent of American imperialism.

Fidesz is even capable of creating anti-Jobbik demonstrations to discredit the party. Due to journalistic incompetence, however, their efforts turned into a farce. Origo reported at 17:05 on October 23 that “a group of 20-30 people had to be separated by the police at Jobbik’s 1956 commemoration” because they tried to disrupt Gábor Vona’s speech. The only trouble was that Vona didn’t even start his speech until 17:15. There can be only one explanation for what happened. Fidesz planned to send 20-30 people to disturb Vona’s speech, but Origo, 888.hu, Lokál, and others were too much in haste in writing their reports. Origo has since completely rewritten the article. When n1tv.hu, an internet television with ties to Jobbik, inquired about their “time machine,” the so-called journalists refused to respond. Even András Stumpf, a journalist who works for mandiner.hu, not exactly a liberal internet site, was horrified by Origo’s stunt of reporting an event that hadn’t yet taken place.

Fidesz in its recent attacks on Jobbik benefited greatly from the murder of a policeman by a far-right Hungarist, István Győrkös, a couple of days ago. During the early days of Jobbik, in the summer of 2009, the party signed a “cooperation contract” with some far-right groups, like Betyársereg (Outlaws) and the Hatvanhét Vármegye. the number of counties of Greater Hungary. These ties have now returned to haunt Jobbik. Origo wrote an article in which it claimed that over the years Jobbik has had a close relationship with the Hungarian National Front of István Győrkös, which is not the case. As HVG said, “reading the pro-government media we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Vona is actually a member of a notorious Turkish terrorist organization.”

But these accusations stick, and Fidesz is doing everything in its power to perpetuate these stories. For example, Lajos Kósa, the leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, already indicated that the government should start an investigation to find out whether any political parties had ties to Győrkös’s Hungarist organization. Jobbik tried to publish several public announcements showing that these attacks lack any credible foundation, but MTVA, the super media authority above MTI that was supposed to publish their statements, simply refused to accept them. Jobbik is planning “to take the necessary steps,” which in Hungary means to sue MTI.

No question, it’s war, a very serious one, but will it achieve Viktor Orbán’s goal of annihilating Jobbik? Moreover, is it a smart political move to destroy the party? Orbán’s genius was to establish a political system inspired by a formula that worked beautifully between the two world wars. The party that remained in power throughout the period, though it bore different names, had two weak opponents: one on the left and one on the right. They were so far from each other ideologically that cooperation between them was unimaginable. Therefore, the government party was never seriously threatened. This is exactly what Viktor Orbán had in mind, and it has worked beautifully until now. But what will happen if Jobbik is pushed up against the wall and turns against Fidesz? What if it starts to cooperate with the opposition parties on the left? It could happen if Orbán goes too far in his zealous pursuit of his prey.

October 30, 2016

A possible opposition election strategy for 2018

Celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary of the Hungarian revolution against the Rákosi regime and the Soviet occupying forces have already begun, with apparently thousands of young people, torches in hand, marching along the bank of the Danube on the Buda side. This march has become something of a symbol of the revolution. As a participant, I must admit, I viewed this event as a rather insignificant episode in the revolution with practically no tangible consequences for the course of events that followed. The real celebration will take place tomorrow which, I’m sure, will be lavish. How historically accurate is another matter.

Although the topic of today’s post is the current state of the opposition and my views on what the opposition parties should do under the circumstances, I first want to mention that if one goes to hirvonal.hu, my favorite search program for Hungarian news, there are at least as many articles on October 23, 2006 as on the events of October 1956. Almost all of the articles about the prime minister who gave orders to shoot at grandmothers (?) have appeared in pro-government publications. Distortion of the events of the fiftieth anniversary seems to be just as important for this government as the systematic falsification of 1956.

Two months ago György Bolgár invited me to join his program “Megbeszéljük” on KlubRádió. He wanted my opinion on “what should be done” to get rid of Viktor Orbán’s illiberal, oppressive, highly undemocratic regime. I began by saying that first I would like to note what I think the opposition parties shouldn’t be doing. Of course, what I was talking about was the constant bickering and attacking each other in public instead of closing ranks against the governing powers. I added that it is useless to wait for some unknown person to surface and save the nation from Viktor Orbán. Nor can one rely on civic group leaders who have no political experience. For better or worse, one must work with the existing politicians. Ideally, the really small parties (Együtt, PM, MLP) should disappear as separate entities and they and their often quite able leaders (Gergely Karácsony, Tímea Szabó, Benedek Jávor, and Péter Juhász, for example) should join the other two larger parties in order to form an entirely new party. One single party with one party leader. I haven’t changed my mind on that score, with one possible exception. Today I can imagine temporary cooperation with Gábor Vona’s Jobbik because I’m more and more convinced that without them there is no way to remove the Fidesz regime. I think that Gábor Vona is a great deal less dangerous than Viktor Orbán.

At the moment the situation among the opposition parties is far from ideal. Take the demonstration organized by Péter Juhász (Együtt), Ákos Hadházy (LMP), and Benedek Jávor (PM). They didn’t work with the other parties to organize a massive demonstration for freedom of the press. Not surprisingly, the crowd was much smaller than expected. But that was not enough. Péter Juhász, on the spot, announced a demonstration for tomorrow morning to disrupt Viktor Orbán’s speech in front of the parliament. He said he had already purchased 1,000 whistles, which he plans to use throughout the speech. That’s bad enough, but his demonstration coincides with the large demonstration organized by the other left-of-center opposition parties to be held on Lujza Blaha tér. Isn’t it funny that a party whose name Együtt means “together” is the only one, apart from the always go-it-alone LMP, that refuses to join the others? Együtt has the support of perhaps 1% of the electorate. Where will that lead? Nowhere, of course.

Moreover, what followed from LMP was beyond the pale. I am more or less accustomed to the intransigence of LMP’s Bernadett Szél, but her latest statement was more than I could swallow. On ATV’s Start program the other day she said, “If the people have to choose between the return of the world before 2010 and the present situation, on the basis of the two earlier elections they will vote for the latter. On the left, the same people say the same thing, and the emblematic character of that side is Ferenc Gyurcsány. It is not our fault that the opposition hasn’t been able to get renewed in six years.” Egon Rónay of ATV was stunned. Since then, Szél made it clear that her party is unwilling to sit down with the others to discuss the possibility of primaries, as promoted by PM. And naturally LMP, which at the moment doesn’t have enough followers to get into parliament, will run alone against the gigantic Fidesz political machine. Good luck.

szel2

Bernadett Szél

I foresee the possibility of yet another split in LMP. It is all very well that András Schiffer, whose unbending attitude on LMP’s election strategy already ruptured the party once, is gone. But Szél is just as rigid as Schiffer was. Taking Schiffer’s place in the hierarchy as co-chairman is Ákos Hadházy, a moderate who considers the removal of the Orbán regime his foremost task. I can’t see him going along with the insane ideas of Bernadett Szél.

Meanwhile, the pro-government publications are having a jolly good time watching the fights in opposition ranks. Lokál, the latest Fidesz-financed free newspaper available at metro stations, called Szél’s attack on Gyurcsány a “catfight.”

Magyar Nemzet only yesterday devoted an article to the attempts of the opposition parties to organize themselves into a coherent political force. György Zsombor, the author of the article, noted that PM, the only party which is gung-ho on primaries, also demands a guaranteed income and four-day work weeks, ideas that will not meet with the approval of the other parties. The consultations in which, with the exception of LMP, all “democratic” parties will be represented, including the so-called Balpárt (Left party, a kind of Hungarian Linke), will take place on October 24.

In advance of that consultation Demokratikus Koalíció celebrated the fifth anniversary of its founding. Ferenc Gyurcsány gave a speech in which he outlined one way to solve the predicament of the opposition parties. The speech itself can be viewed on ATV’s website. What he described strongly resembles my ideal scenario. The smaller parties should give up their independence and their able leaders should find positions within a new united party. For example, he specifically mentioned Gergely Karácsony, currently mayor of Zugló (District XIV), as a possible mayoral candidate at the next municipal election in Budapest. The thrust of his argument is that the paramount consideration today is the removal of Viktor Orbán. To achieve that goal differences must temporarily be set aside. Once democracy is restored there will be plenty of opportunity to debate inside and outside of parliament. Just as in 1956 Sándor Rácz, chairman of the Greater Budapest Workers’ Council, and Cardinal József Mindszenty were on the same side because the main task was the overthrow of the dictatorship. On all other issues they most likely held diametrically opposed views.

In theory this is a logical description of what should happen, but in practice it will be very difficult to achieve. One of the biggest hurdles is the conflicted state of MSZP. I don’t know much about the inner workings of the party, but I suspect that some members of the leadership still believe that MSZP can take on Fidesz alone or at least that their party should be the leading force in any future coalition. Then there are those who cannot forgive Ferenc Gyurcsány for leaving MSZP and establishing his own rival party. So they don’t want to work with him for the common good.

And finally, a few words about the way I see Jobbik’s position at the moment. I’m not the only commentator who thinks that Fidesz as a government party of practically unlimited powers is far more dangerous than Jobbik, which has shed its far-right rhetoric and is in opposition. Apparently, followers of Jobbik hate Fidesz just as much as the voters of MSZP and DK do. Jobbik followers boycotted the referendum on October 2 in just as great numbers as others did. At the moment, Viktor Orbán calls Jobbik and its leaders traitors and accuses them of blackmail. I don’t think it is in Vona’s interest to play second-fiddle to Fidesz in the forthcoming months. In my opinion, it would not be a total waste of time to put out feelers for a chat with Gábor Vona. I know that this is sacrilege as far as some of the opposition parties are concerned. I think of DK especially. But I still believe that creating a temporary alliance for the sake of toppling Viktor Orbán might be justified.

October 22, 2016

Gábor Vona and Viktor Orbán: Who will win this political game?

At the end of yesterday’s post I indicated that Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, had just announced his party’s refusal to support the government party’s quest for another round of amendments to the constitution that would introduce a number of changes related to the settlement of foreigners in Hungary. Earlier I wrote an analysis of the notion of constitutional identity, which is the linchpin of the otherwise meaningless constitutional amendments, and published an English translation of the amendments themselves.

The government considers these amendments vital to Viktor Orbán’s impending battle with Brussels over a possibly mandatory distribution of refugees. But changing the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, which Fidesz-KDNP currently doesn’t have. The government party had been counting on the support of Jobbik, the only opposition party that was wholeheartedly behind the amendments. In fact, it was Jobbik that, from the beginning, championed for constitutional amendments instead of a referendum. Fidesz, however, rejected the proposal and embarked on an expensive, divisive referendum that in the end turned out to be invalid.

What followed was a typical Viktor Orbán move: regardless of the failure of his referendum he decided to go ahead with the amendments to the constitution. But there was a rub. Jobbik demanded a price for its members’ votes, which Gábor Vona set forth early in the game.

For starters, Vona said that he wanted to meet with the prime minister in private. In the last six years, however, it has never happened that the ruler of Hungary sat down alone with an opposition leader. Granting such a privilege to Vona was too demeaning, so Orbán organized a series of “consultations,” starting with Zsolt Semjén of the Christian Democratic Party and his own deputy, which everybody thought was a joke. Then he sent a message to Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, who foolishly accepted the invitation, which he kept secret from the rest of the leading politicians of his party. Once the meeting became known, Molnár tried to explain himself away by saying that the consultation was not about the amendments but about the summit that is taking place at this very moment in Brussels. Since when does Viktor Orbán have consultations with opposition party chiefs about summits?

The long-awaited meeting between Vona and Orbán took place on October 18. In the days leading up to the meeting, Jobbik spokesmen repeatedly indicated that the party would support Orbán and that the Jobbik delegation would cast its votes with Fidesz-KDNP, guaranteeing an easy passage of the amendments. After all, this is what they wanted all along. Yes, but Jobbik was in a perfect position to demand something in exchange for its support of the government party. Vona’s demand was that the government cease selling residency bonds to wealthy Chinese, Russian, and Arab businessmen.

The residency bond sale, which I described as a “colossal swindle,” is the brainchild of Árpád Habony and Antal Rogán. Habony is safely deposited in London. Rogán, on the other hand, has been under incredible pressure, mostly because of Népszabadság’s revelations about his most likely ill-gotten wealth. The residency bond scheme has been severely criticized not only by the opposition but by some higher-up Fidesz leaders as well. In fact, in the last few weeks there were indications that the scheme would be modified. But I very much doubt that Orbán had the total cessation of the program in mind. And this is what Vona demands. If poor immigrants can’t settle in Hungary, rich ones shouldn’t be able to either.

The outcry against the Jobbik demand was not restricted to the government party. Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, also condemned it in almost identical words. Bence Tuzson, one of the many spokesmen of the prime minister’s office, called it “kufárkodás” (profiteering) while Molnár considered it “seftelés” (conducting business in a dishonorable way). The two words are practically synonymous. For good measure Molnár added that Vona’s behavior is “political prostitution” pure and simple.

I am amazed at these reactions. In the world of politics this kind of give and take is perfectly normal. If Viktor Orbán needs the help of Gábor Vona’s party, it is natural that Jobbik will want something in return. After the meeting, Vona talked to the press and announced that Viktor Orbán had rejected his proposal, but a few minutes later Orbán sent a message via Tuzson saying that “he will consider the request of Vona.”

The Hungarian media started speculating about whether Orbán would meet Vona’s demands. Szabolcs Dull of Index simply could not imagine that it will be Viktor Orbán who has to knuckle under. After all, Orbán has convinced the Hungarian public that he is always the one who comes out on top. He is always the winner. In fact, Dull suggested, Orbán wants to get rid of the troublesome residency bonds anyway, and therefore he will readily concede to Vona’s demands. In fact, “he will kill two birds with one stone: he will be able to restructure the residency bond scheme and will receive Jobbik’s endorsement.”

Dull’s theory collapsed less than ten hours later when the government indicated that it has no intention of scrapping the residency bond program. Yesterday, around noon, Lajos Kósa, leader of the Fidesz caucus, announced that in their opinion the two issues, the bonds and the settlement of foreigners, have nothing to do with one another and suggested that Fidesz isn’t counting on the votes of Jobbik. They hope to get the necessary two votes from the “independent” members of parliament. Who these “independent” members would be is not entirely clear, but some Fidesz politicians indicated that they think a few “patriotic” Jobbik members could be found who would turn against Vona. By this afternoon most Hungarian journalists were convinced that Fidesz will put the amendments to a vote on November 8 even if they are not assured of Jobbik’s support.

Antal Rogán, carrying Viktor Orbán's briefcase in Maastricht, October 20, 2016

Antal Rogán, carrying Viktor Orbán’s briefcase in Maastricht today

In trying to win concessions from Orbán, did Vona sow the seeds of his own destruction? Today Magyar Nemzet speculated about why a Fidesz defeat would actually be good for Fidesz and bad for Jobbik. If the amendments are not passed and if Brussels insists on compulsory quotas, Fidesz can blame Jobbik.

Tamás Fábián of Index found this hypothesis compelling, adding that from information he received from people close to Orbán, “Brussels cannot be stopped and within months the compulsory quotas will be forthcoming.” If that is the case, “Jobbik politicians will never be able to get rid of the label of being traitors,” which Lajos Kósa already pinned on them. Fábián is convinced that Vona made a fatal mistake by presenting Orbán with an ultimatum. “He started on a narrow path and will suffer heavy blows along the way.”

Fábián also predicted that the sale of residency bonds will be continued, even if with some adjustments. Although in the last few days Fidesz spokesmen did talk about fundamental changes, two weeks ago Orbán called the program “a successful construction.”

I might add that despite all the dirt that was unearthed about Antal Rogán, he seems to have nothing to fear. Orbán will not let him go. I was astonished to see Rogán in Brussels, walking right behind Orbán. Since when do propaganda ministers go to summits in Brussels? I guess the government is sending a message that he is still under the protection of the prime minister.

October 20, 2016