Tag Archives: Gabriella Selmeczi

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

“Unless blood flows”: Human Rights Watch’s report on Hungary

Lately I have been struck by the high number of incidents, often resulting in death, involving relatives or people living in the same household. A daughter kills her mother, an 85-year-old former high-ranking police officer kills his 79-year-old wife, a professional soccer player kills his partner and her son in a family dispute. These are only three cases I remember from the last two weeks or so.

In addition, it was only yesterday that the public at last learned that it was not the blind komondor that knocked over “Terike,” the domestic partner–since then wife–of József Balogh, mayor and member of parliament (Fidesz). Balogh admitted that he hit her in the face several times, grabbed her by the hair, and hit her head on the porch railing.

domestic violence2I’ve dealt with the subject of domestic violence, a very serious problem in Hungary, several times. The first reference I found on Hungarian Spectrum is from January 2009 when a bill was adopted by parliament which introduced the widely used practice outside of Hungary of a restraining or protective order. At that time President László Sólyom refused to sign it and instead sent it to the Constitutional Court. His objection was based on a section in the Constitution [58. § (1)] that guaranteed the right to choose one’s place of residence. I guess that needs no additional comment. The Constitutional Court naturally found the president’s legal opinion brilliant. After all, he was the chief justice of the court between 1990 and 1998.

In September 2012 the question came up again after Fidesz initially refused even to consider the issue. When public opinion forced the government party to act, they tried to make the law as weak as possible. Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources and in his former life a Protestant minister, was upset about the opposition’s “bluestockings attitude” and objected to talking about “violence within the family” because the family is sacred. Instead of family, the government insisted on “violence within the confines of partnership or relations.”

Eventually, after a long and rather fruitless discussion, the bill became law in July 2013, but it has serious shortcomings. For example, an assault against an intimate partner will be classified as an instance of domestic violence only if there are at least two separate occasions of abuse. Moreover, the new legislation does not cover non-cohabitating partners.

All in all, the Hungarian situation was considered to be so serious that Human Rights Watch (HRW) decided to issue its findings in a lengthy situation report. It was written by Lydia Gall, researcher on the Balkans/Eastern Europe in the Europe and Central Asia Division of the organization. Those who are interested in the details should read the report itself. Here I will concentrate on the official Hungarian reaction to it.

First, it is evident that the Hungarian government received a copy of the report before November 6, the official release date, because they were prepared to combat HRW’s “allegations” within hours after the appearance of the report. The very first reaction, a legal rebuttal, came from the Hungarian police. In my opinion it is almost certain that the author of the rebuttal is not a policeman. I rather suspect that it is the work of some government lawyer in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. In it the Hungarian government complains about “the several factual errors” and “the lack of sources.” From the document it becomes clear that the representatives of HRW did pay a visit to the Hungarian police headquarters, but it seems they were not convinced by the assurances of the policemen they met. The police’s “Communication Service” spent the rest of its document listing all the government resolutions to battle domestic violence, starting in 2003. Even this glowing report on the excellence of the Hungarian law, however, had to admit that charges against someone who commits domestic violence can be brought only by the victim.

The Hungarian police are especially sensitive about the issue of their officers’ preparedness in cases of domestic violence. The document states that there are “several forums” where a victim can complain in case the policeman refuses to act in the manner expected, but it doesn’t identify any of these forums by name.

A couple of hours after the release of the police communiqué, Zoltán Balog’s ministry also raised its voice against HRW’s claims that the Hungarian government’s system of handling domestic violence “simply doesn’t work.” The HRW report contends that because of police inaction and the lack of legal safeguards, women who are victims of domestic violence don’t get proper protection. Naturally, the Hungarian government doesn’t accept this verdict. Moreover, the ministry spokesman pointed out that too little time has passed since the law took effect and therefore no meaningful evaluation of the system can be undertaken. The ministry also said that the representatives of Human Rights Watch had assured the ministry earlier that the report would not be a comprehensive picture of the Hungarian situation but would only mention the most flagrant cases in order to inspire the Hungarian government to take further steps. I might add that throughout its reply, Balog’s ministry refused to refer to domestic violence by its common name (in Hungarian családon belüli erőszak) but instead used “kapcsolati erőszak,” a word combination cooked up by Balog in order to avoid the word “család” (family).

Then came the official spokeswoman of Fidesz, Gabriella Selmeczi, who charged that the criticism of Human Rights Watch is not really about the shortcomings of Hungary’s handling of domestic violence. In this case, as usual, Selmeczi continued, “we are witnessing an artificially generated international pressure” on Hungary. She can’t help thinking of the relationship between HRW and George Soros, the American financier with Hungarian roots. After all, last year Soros gave 20 million dollars to the organization. Selmeczi also added that the same Soros “has given millions to Gordon Bajnai’s foundation and has business dealings with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s firms.”

It doesn’t seem to matter to the Fidesz propagandists that Gyurcsány’s firms have nothing to do with the finances of the party. Moreover, the so-called millions given to Bajnai’s foundation turned out to be a small grant for a few thousand dollars from one of Soros’s foundations. The same is true about the money Gyurcsány’s firm got. Soros has been since 2010 financing projects aimed at Roma integration throughout Europe. Altus, Gyurcsány’s firm, is involved with such projects in the Balkan region and this received $13,800 toward the financing of the project.

So this was yet another Fidesz attempt to discredit a respectable NGO, this time Human Rights Watch, by claiming that it is an instrument of George Soros aimed at bolstering the political chances of the opposition. Gabriella Selmeczi most likely forgot that in 2010 George Soros and Viktor Orbán actually, after many years, met again to discuss his Roma integration project. At this meeting Soros offered one million dollars to the Hungarian government after the red sludge accident in 2010. Soros apparently also offered financial assistance for the Orbán government’s efforts at Roma integration. I don’t know what happened afterward. It is possible that Soros changed his mind once he realized that Roma integration was transformed into Roma school segregation with the active assistance of Zoltán Balog.

In brief, the Orbán government’s commitment to seriously combating domestic violence is lukewarm at best. I highly doubt that the government will try to improve the existing ineffectual laws as a result of Human Rights Watch’s indictment of their shortcomings. I also doubt that the police’s reluctance to interfere in domestic disputes will change any time soon.

Attila Mesterházy’s official visit to Washington

Surprisingly little appeared in the Hungarian media about Attila Mesterházy’s official visit to Washington. I found mention of it only in Népszava a few days ago, and today a short article appeared in Népszabadság that summarized the seven-member MSZP delegation’s week in the United States.

On the other hand, Magyar Nemzet is always vigilant. On January 24 it picked up MTI’s interview with Mesterházy and described the trip this way: “Attila Mesterházy again ran to Washington.” Gabriella Selmeczi, the Fidesz spokeswoman, woke up a bit late, only after Attila Mesterházy’s interview had appeared in The Wall Street Journal the day before. Her comments were predictable: Mesterházy is again trying to discredit  Hungary abroad. In addition, according to her, the socialists favor banks over their own citizens and foreign companies over Hungarian ones. Such accusations almost always resonate with the nationalist Hungarian right.

Interestingly enough, I could find no other mention of this trip to Washington and New York although the available information indicates that it was a very successful visit for MSZP’s party leader.

On the first day, January 22, the Hungarian delegation, made up of younger socialists in their thirties, had a meeting with Madeleine Albright, U.S. secretary of state between 1993 and 1997, and two ranking members of the National Democratic Institute. NDI is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that has supported democratic institutions  all over the world in the last twenty-five years. Specifically, they want to strengthen political and civic organizations, safeguard elections, and promote citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. Albright is the chair of NDI. Kenneth D. Wollack, president, and Robert Benjamin, senior associate and regional director of Central and East European programs, were also present at the meeting that lasted more than an hour.

The next day Mesterházy gave a lecture in the headquarters of the German Marshall Fund. According to the MSZP press release (a biased source, naturally) there was great interest in what Mesterházy had to say. Among those who attended were members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of various U.S. government departments, businessmen, university professors, and Hungarian Americans. Mesterházy concentrated on MSZP’s plans for the future. There were many questions about the economy and the new electoral law. One of the members of the delegation was Csaba Kákosy, former minister of economics and transportation, who was actually nominated for the job in 2007 by SZDSZ but who is now economic adviser to MSZP. The title of the MSZP press release was “Washington is looking forward to a new beginning.” Surely, an optimistic reaction to a couple of days that the participants felt were a success.

Attila Mesterházy's lecture in the headquarters of the German Marshall Fund

Attila Mesterházy’s lecture in the headquarters of the German Marshall Fund

On the day of the American inauguration, the socialists had extensive discussions with some campaign advisers to the Democratic Party. MTI reported this piece of news, but I found no broader coverage of  it in the Hungarian media. The discussions centered around Internet communication, data-base building, opinion polls, and mobilization of the electorate. The release indicates that the socialists will not rely exclusively on Ron Werber but most likely will also hire advisers who were active in the Obama campaign.

In addition, Mesterházy and his fellow socialists met with the staff of the State Department who have a special interest in Hungary and the region in general, including Tomicah Tillemann, special adviser to the secretary of state, who is the grandson of the late Tom Lantos. Mesterházy also had a long conversation with Charles Gati, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. And the delegation had talks with the appropriate officials of the United States Holocaust Museum.

After leaving Washington, the socialist delegation visited New York where they had a meeting with the top officials of Freedom House, which was set up to support human rights and democracy, promote open government, defend human rights, strengthen civil society, and facilitate the free flow of information and ideas. Hungarians know Freedom House best for its yearly reports on media freedom.

After all of the official meetings, the socialist delegation “kicked back” with a group of about twenty Hungarian-Americans who have been getting together for dinner and conversation in the same restaurant for the past twenty-five years. The place used to serve Hungarian food but by now it is a Chinese restaurant. Included in the group were university professors, researchers, and managers. For more than two hours they discussed the economy, the student demonstrations, and the electoral law. The hosts were especially interested in the renewal of MSZP.

And now a few words about Mesterházy’s interview with The Wall Street Journal. From it we can glean more details of the socialist party chief’s conversations with officials in Washington and New York. Mesterházy apparently told the Americans that the socialists want to bring “the country back to a path of sustainable development.” He emphasized that “the party wants to clarify the separation of powers among the legislature, executive and judicial branches; restore authority removed from the Constitutional Court; ensure the independence of the central bank; expand press freedoms; and strengthen the country’s budget watchdog agency.” He pledged while in the United States that the socialists would “act swiftly and decisively to restore international trust in [Hungary’s] economy.” He also emphasized his intention to work together with former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai as well as other “democratic” opposition groups. “I now see an almost 100% chance for an alliance to be formed.”

Mesterházy also pledged that the socialists would reduce the heavy banking-sector taxes levied by the Orbán government and thus free banks from their onerous financial burden so they could lend more readily. He also stated that “the war against foreign-owned companies must cease.” These are the remarks that prompted Gabriella Selmeczi to accuse the socialists of putting the interests of banks above those of ordinary citizens.

From what I heard from friends who met the socialists in Washington and New York, Mesterházy’s trip to the United States was a great success. Too bad that so little was said about it in the Hungarian media.