Tag Archives: George Soros

“Observer”: The Stop Soros bills–Hopefully only propaganda and nonsense

On 18 January the Hungarian government revealed its “Stop Soros​”’ package of three bills (SSB) targeting civil organizations “supporting illegal immigration:

–  Law on the social responsibility of organizations supporting illegal migration;
–  Law on immigration financing duty;
–  Law on immigration restraint order.

The disgraceful act made news around the world and sparked wide spread criticism from Al Jazeera and Bloomberg to Reuters and Yahoo and the alphabet in between.

There have been many bits of news and comments, which I would like to summarize for Hungarian Spectrum  here, including some parts of the SSB itself (in the unofficial English translation) and in Hungarian.

The Propaganda

The SSB package was tabled by the Interior Minister, but contrary to constitutional law, the so-called public debate is being managed by Antal Rogán’s “propaganda ministry,” which in the meantime is flooding the country with another tsunami of Stop Soros posters.

The preambles, descriptions, and justifications of the SSB repeat many of the government propaganda panels, the language of the preamble is uncannily reminiscent of the 1960s communist one: “The state has a duty to ensure the survival of the nation and to create a solid basis for future generations. It is the primary obligation and also the right of the Hungarian state to protect its citizens and our national culture. Recognizing the emergency, the Hungarian government has spent HUF 270 billion* from the budget to stop immigration.” ( The original budget for the fence was set at 20 billion.)

“Soros would resettle millions from Africa and the Middle East”

That is followed by another communist turn – the listing of the nefarious and damaging activities carried out by “the enemies within,” to use the old cliché, against the state, including “propaganda,” as any dissenting opinion or fact-finding report is labeled. “Any activity intended to promote illegal immigration and to intensify the migratory pressure is against Hungarian state interest and also causes quantifiable damage to the budget. The migration propaganda assists smuggling organizations and puts illegal border-crossers … at risk. Therefore a regulation is needed that identifies organizations that support migration and takes action against persons who jeopardize national security.”

The government of course claims that it is responding to the call by the people, all the people, one is led to believe: “The creation of the legislative package has been authorized by the citizens of Hungary: 98% of participants in the referendum clearly rejected the mandatory quota and 2.3 million people expressed their clear opinion in the national consultation on the Soros Plan.”

The numbers are coming from the government “consultation” process, which, as with most acts of the Orbán regime, is non-transparent and without outside control or scrutiny. Even access to the returned forms was denied, save for the one-hour-for-three-sites granted to Ákos Hadházy, who came out convinced that the numbers were grossly exaggerated. The government stalled for weeks before coming up with a figure close to that of the Fid voters’ number, yet “based on these results, Hungarians unanimously demand strong action against illegal immigration and promote strengthened protection of the borders instead of settling [migrants in the country].”

For those who know the Stalinist times, the language is pretty poignant – i.e. the government obliged “the people” with the SSB, but according to Antal Rogán the people are actually calling for even stronger measures, as it transpires from the more than 400 suggestions his office has received.

The Legal Nonsense

Both the text and the provisions of the SSB exhibit signs of a slapdash job hatched at the “Propaganda Ministry,” where only the desired effects are clear.

Act on the social responsibility of organizations supporting illegal migration*

Sec.1: “… an association and foundation seated and registered in Hungary that sponsors the illegal entry, relocation and residence of a third-country national … directly or indirectly from financial or property benefits originating from abroad shall be qualified as an organization supporting illegal migration.” [OSIM]

There are some fundamental legal problems from the very start here – who and at which point in time an entity qualifies as an OSIM, what is the redress/appeal against such a designation. It’s a gaping legal hole which leaves the whole SSB hanging in the air.

Sec.2.1 stipulates an OSIM “is obliged to notify” the court, but this is after the entity has been qualified as an OSIM. In view of this, the widespread criticism of the act for obliging entities to report their own violations of the law is on shaky grounds, which I’m not going to pursue.

The fact that only associations and foundations are included, but not companies or other legal entities, indicates the intention to target the NGOs, violating the principle of equality before the law. The other issue is the bizarre category of entity supporting an illegal activity. Under western law illegal activities are prevented and restricted, offending entities are punished, e.g. by fines, placing the entity under management or liquidation, but there is no example of classifying them as functioning law breakers.

Sec. 2 uses phrases like “OSIM that supports in any other way,” “to facilitate the unlawful,” “sponsors or otherwise supports” which make for an extremely broad scope, allowing for the incrimination of an entity for one of its members handing out a bottle of water; note the interpretation of the preamble that “The migration propaganda assists smuggling organizations,” making all participants accomplices.

Sec. 3  stipulates that if a foreign funded organization supports in any way other Hungarian entities, such support “shall be qualified as indirect financial or property benefits deriving from abroad” i.e., making the local organization also foreign funded. Since there are no limits on how far eventual assistance will carry the “curse,” numerous entities co-operating in other matters can be drawn into the foreign-funded NGOs category with its implications under the earlier law on these.

How about Sec 2.4 prescribing that an OSIM post “ its notification pursuant to Section (1) on the website pursuant to Section 2(5)-(6) of the Transparency Act and [illetve] in the media” ?! This unique, ham-fisted attempt to force NGOs to publicly “humiliate” themselves leaves numerous questions open: in what media, in what format, for how long, at whose expense, etc. (The Hungarian “illetve” can only mean “and” here.)

According to Sec 5.2, “If the OSIM fails to meet its obligations contained in the prosecutor’s notice, the prosecutor may initiate at the registration court that a fine be imposed in double the amount of the financial benefit originating from abroad.” This provision mixes the criminal law under which the prosecution office operates with the administrative law regulating the Registration Court.

Act on the immigration financing duty

The same problem of mixing different kinds of law arises in this act as well, where the tax office is to collect (Sec.6) a duty on the basis of Sec. 2:  “The  organization supporting illegal migration is obliged to pay an immigration financing duty if…” Here we also have the absurd concept of an entity being categorized as an OSIM and then punished by a regular duty instead of being punished for the particular illegal act. And only if the entity received benefits from abroad, which again violates the principle of equality before the law.

Act on immigration restraining orders

There is some misunderstanding of this act, I’m afraid,  since it has been widely condemned for introducing an administrative provision to restrict the movement of Hungarians as well, e.g., illustrated by the example of an absurd 8 km zone around the Vigadó border entry point on the Danube in the center of Budapest. (The misinterpretation may have come from  Sec.2.a which refers to “ a member of Parliament” in the Hungarian text without specifying which parliament.)

All of the elements of the act consistently refer only to “aliens…[or] third country nationals,” presumably non-EU citizens:

According to sec. 1 regarding “third-country nationals, in order to conduct alien police procedures in an unhindered manner, the minister in charge of immigration and refugee affairs … may ban any person whose residence in Hungary is contrary to Hungary’s national security interests or who poses a danger to the public interest, from the frontiers or from within an 8-kilometer zone of the frontier marks of the external borders.”

The above would still include people with resident status in Hungary, like NGO employees or representatives, journalists, activists or tourists who otherwise would be difficult to handle or intimidate (unlike the local ones, as the government may have assumed).

There are some drastic provisions restricting the appeal/judicial recourse in sec. 5.3.  “An immigration restraining order may be challenged on account of a breach of the essential rules of the procedure in a public administrative lawsuit within eight days.”  That is, the material facts and the judgment of the minister are incontestable. It should be recalled that the Orbán government has been pushing for the creation of a separate administrative courts system. On top of this there is the provision that “provisional measures of legal protection are not available in the lawsuit,” i.e. the judge cannot change the detention, confiscation, etc. measures taken until the end of the process.

It is almost laughable to read Sec. 3 mentioning “the period of the crisis situation caused by mass migration,” which the government still keeps in force even though there have been almost no migrants at the borders for a year now.

Impact on the NGO sector

The SSB follows on the heels of the 2017 Act LXXVI NGO Law on foreign-funded  organizations, which the European Commission recently contested in the European Court of Justice, and emphasizes the general strategy to eliminate all independent  institutions, in this case the NGOs –the real goal of the huge and hysterical government campaign, along with the scare mongering – vote winning double whammy.

The TASZ (Civic Liberties Union) has summarized the expected impact very well:  “Following up on the 2017 NGO Law on foreign-funded organizations, the latest draft laws are potentially lethal blows to civil society in Hungary: their novelty is that the threat is now existential and also targets individuals. Should the proposals be adopted in spring 2018 without major changes, they will cause grave and irreparable damage to Hungarian civil society. By the end of 2018, a number of NGOs will be unable to function or carry out core work due to five direct and imminent threats to their mission.

I. Funding for essential services will be cut and driven away

  1. All foreign donors who directly or indirectly give funds to targeted Hungarian NGOs should calculate losses, as their funds will be partly (25% tax) or fully (200% fine) seized by the government;
  2. The risk of the government taxing funding in an arbitrary manner could make yet unaffected donors pull away from funding civil society in Hungary;
  3. Domestic funding for the work of the civil sector is largely available from public funds administered by national or local government agencies, which is already politically conditioned and discourages public advocacy or exposing faulty or inefficient public services.

II. Trust in civil society and willingness to seek assistance will decline

  1. Smear-campaigns, compliance procedures and investigations will further stigmatize and discredit NGOs by accusing them of performing illegal activities;
  2. Authorities would gain access to the data of all persons working for, contracted by or receiving assistance from NGOs, thus intimidating individuals from supporting, working for or seeking help from them;
  3. An estimated 80-85% of about 900-1,000 prominent NGOs risk losing public benefit status, i.e. tax-free status and other advantages. This will dramatically raise costs for NGOs and for clients, who will have to pay taxes after the value of free services/assistance (15% personal income tax + 19.5% health care tax).

III. Sanction procedures and targeted tax investigations drain and divert NGO resources

  1. NGOs that have refused to register under the 2017 Law on foreign-funded NGOs can expect to face legal procedures for non-compliance once they publish their annual financial reports at the end of May 2018. These procedures are likely to roll out during the summer and will further aggravate the pressure.
  2. Politically-motivated tax investigations could pave the way for repressive criminal prosecutions against NGO leaders and human rights defenders.

IV. Threatened by enhanced government surveillance measures, NGOs will be effectively silenced

  1. Human rights defenders who work with targeted organizations could be declared a national security risk and be subjected to arbitrary and unlawful restrictions on their freedom of movement;
  2. NGOs will have to assume their work and staff are being monitored by intelligence services, pressuring them into self-censorship and impacting their families;
  3. Stigmatizing civic groups and individuals as national security risks will have a chilling effect on other groups, supporters and clients by sending a clear message that at any point in time they could become targets as well.

V. Serious risk of ‘mimicry effect’ by potential Europe-wide copying of worst practices related to shrinking civic space l. The proposed laws could serve as a model within the EU to thwart the valuable work of civil society organizations that fight for the respect of human rights in the European Union, a danger that the EU Fundamental Rights Agency has recently underlined.”

The conclusion is not difficult to arrive at: “The recently announced anti-civil organization bill is deceitful, arbitrary and harmful. It is deceitful because it creates the appearance that its purpose is to stop illegal immigration, while in reality it wants to crush the entire civil society. It is arbitrary because the government seeks to determine what would constitute a problem for the people and who is entitled to solve it. In a democracy, this kind of restriction is unacceptable. Finally, the new act is harmful because removing public-interest status from  organizations that receive a majority of foreign support could result in all Hungarian citizens being deprived of free civil assistance.”

*The quoted passages are taken from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s unofficial translation of the Stop Soros laws.

January 9, 2018

The Orbán government defeated in Luxembourg: Will it retaliate?

On January 25 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on a case that the Hungarian Helsinki Committee had brought to it in April 2015 on behalf of a Nigerian man seeking political asylum because of his homosexuality. In Nigeria’s 12 northern states that have adopted Shari’a law, the maximum penalty for homosexuality is death by stoning. The Hungarian authorities, on the basis of psychological tests, turned down his request. With the help of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, he appealed to the Szeged Administrative and Labor Court, where one of the judges decided to ask the opinion of the ECJ. He apparently had doubts about Hungarian law as it applied in cases like the Nigerian asylum seeker. As it turned out, not without reason.

Now, almost two years later, the court in Luxembourg ruled that “an asylum seeker may not be subjected to a psychological test in order to determine his sexual orientation” because “the performance of such a test amounts to a disproportionate interference in the private life of the asylum seeker.” This ruling is a great victory for the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which was an early opponent of psychological testing. In fact, the organization received a 120 million-forint grant from EU sources to put together a training manual titled Credibility Assessment in Asylum Procedures, which was published in 2013. It is a 140-page, extremely thorough guide for those who have to decide the fate of refugees or migrants. The staff of the Helsinki Committee argued that these psychological tests, especially the ones used by the Hungarian authorities, are of no help; in fact, they can easily lead to unfair assessments of individual cases. If well-trained professionals do the questioning, the veracity of the asylum seeker can be ascertained in most cases without any psychological testing, the Helsinki Committee contended. Although there were earlier ECJ rulings on similar cases, this decision is especially significant because it is applicable in all 28 member states of the European Union. Moreover, the Hungarian court cannot appeal, which makes the Nigerian refugee’s chances for asylum much stronger.

The Hungarian authorities’ decision was based on a psychologist’s report that included an exploratory examination, an examination of the applicant’s personality, and the results of three personality tests: Draw-a-Person-in-the-Rain, Rorschach, and Szondi. The Rorschach test was developed almost 100 years ago in the 1920s; Lipót Szondi’s test is not much more recent. It first appeared in 1935. According to current opinion, “when interpreted as a projective test, results [of the Rorschach test] are poorly verifiable.” There is some evidence that it is still good for detecting such conditions as schizophrenia and psychotic and/or personality disorders, but I found nothing that said the test is good at proving or disproving homosexuality. When it comes to the Szondi test, it is not widely used in modern clinical psychology “because its psychometric properties are weak.” Both the Rorschach and the Szondi tests are available online. The third test is positively amusing. The subject is asked to draw a person in the rain, on the basis of which far-fetched conclusions are drawn. These conclusions are so bizarre that I urge everybody to pay a visit to the site, which explains the significance of every aspect of this drawing, starting with the position of the person on the paper to the handle of the umbrella.

Naturally, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee is delighted with the ruling, which “is the result of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s decade-long struggle to put an end to the humiliating and stigmatizing psychological testing of asylum-seekers’ sexual-emotional orientation in asylum procedures.” For Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, this is yet another blow from an NGO that he perceives as part of a centrally ordered and organized attack on his political system with a view to his removal from office. In opposition circles most people express their disbelief that Viktor Orbán can seriously think that George Soros, like a puppeteer, pulls all the strings that result in his repeated humiliation. I might be mistaken, but I think that Orbán’s repeated attacks on George Soros and his activities through the NGOs is more than a campaign stratagem. I suspect it is a reaction to what he perceives as a genuine threat to his power.

This latest defeat was answered by a plethora of belligerent articles and editorials in the government media. In Magyar Idők two relevant articles and one editorial appeared on the day following the release of the ECJ’s verdict. All three emphasize that the court opted to share “the point of view of the Soros-financed Helsinki Committee.” Calling the lawyers working for these civil rights organizations “human rights fundamentalists,” one of the articles accuses them of “removing the administrative barriers which hamper the admission of migrants to the European Union.” An article titled “According to the EU the immigrants are always right” is mostly concerned about the exclusion of psychologists. It charges that “in the future lay people will decide whether those who claim to be homosexuals are really ‘different’ or not.” Misinterpreting the Helsinki Committee’s handbook, the author accuses the organization and the European Court of Justice, which agrees with it, of always believing the words of the asylum seekers, even if their stories are confused and contain contradictory statements. These opinions reflect the judgment of the Hungarian ministry of justice. Undersecretary Pál Völner considers the ECJ verdict unprofessional because the judges failed to consult “the experts on the subject,” the psychologists. They are the ones who can pass judgment on the tests the Hungarian psychologists have been administering to asylum seekers.

Magyar Idők’s editorial titled “An absurd verdict” is frightening. According to the unsigned opinion piece, as a result of this new development the “Stop Soros action plan is not only justified and urgently needed but it is presumably insufficient against the systematic undermining of traditional European societies.” It continues: “to defend against the activities of the Soros organizations and to counter migration pressure further changes in the law will presumably be necessary.” Does this mean that attacks against the “Soros network” will intensify? Unfortunately, the government media’s predictions more often than not turn out to be an announcement of government policy. There is therefore a good likelihood that the answer to the Helsinki Committee’s success in Luxembourg will be another round of attacks on them and the other civil rights groups.

January 27, 2018

A new job for OLAF? Győző Orbán, the father of Viktor Orbán

Today’s Financial Times carries a lengthy portrait of Viktor Orbán by Neil Buckley, FT’s East European editor, and Andrew Byrne, the paper’s correspondent for Hungary, Romania, and Western Balkans. In this overview of the political career of Hungary’s maverick prime minister, the authors quote George Soros, who said that Orbán “started really going wrong when he made his father rich by giving him a quasi-monopoly on road-building materials, which was a big source of wealth. That’s when [he] started building a mafia state. It’s really when he actually gained power.”

As a matter of fact, immoral financial dealings have been part and parcel of Orbán’s whole career. In 1990 the new democratic parties were penniless and, in order to conduct their activities, they all received a large amount of seed money. Fidesz’s share was half of a very valuable downtown building, which the party sold for cash. Out of this money, quite fraudulently, a few million forints was given to Viktor Orbán’s father, Győző Orbán, who was short of the cash he needed to purchase a stone quarry owned by the state, of which he was the manager at the time.

As time went by, Orbán’s financial appetite grew. After he became prime minister in 1998, he was in the perfect position to work on fattening himself, his friends, and his family through inside information. He was especially interested in agricultural land because he knew that the landowners would receive considerable EU subsidies in the future.

His father’s quarry, just as George Soros remembered, became practically the sole supplier of crushed stone to state-owned companies involved in government-funded road construction. Once all this was discovered, there was an outcry, especially after the 2000 publication of a book on the shady affairs of the “first family.” Orbán, who in those days was a great deal less brazen, had a talk with his father which, according to the prime minister, wasn’t pleasant. His father couldn’t understand why he couldn’t continue supplying crushed rock for government projects.

Father and son

Although there has been less talk about Győző Orbán’s business activities since his son’s return to power, some investigative journalists are convinced that Orbán’s father still has his finger in the “government project” pie. The journalists who are most curious about the business affairs of the extended Orbán family work for Direkt36. It is a center for investigative journalists who work hand in hand with 444, the internet news site. Direct36 has a separate column called “business concerns of the Orbán family.” Two journalists, András Pethő and Blanka Zöldi, are especially busy collecting data on the elder Győző Orbán and his two sons, Győző, Jr., and Áron. Many of their articles can be found here. (As a point of linguistic and psychological curiosity: Győző is the Hungarian equivalent of Victor/Viktor. So Elder Győző named two of his sons after himself.)

In May of last year the journalists of Direkt36 reported that Győző’s crushed rock and concrete building materials were being transported to government projects, most of which are financed by European Union funds, like sewage systems and railroad construction in Érd, Budapest, Jászberény, and Püspökladány. While visiting these sites, the journalists noticed trucks with the name “Nehéz Kő” (Heavy Stone) delivering large amounts of crushed rock and building materials to the government projects. The journalists found out that the trucking company belonged to Áron Orbán (subsequently, it seems, Győző Orbán became the owner), and they suspected that the material Nehéz Kő was carrying came from Dolomit Kft., Győző Orbán’s company.

Dolomit was active throughout the country, but the journalists were especially interested in a mega-project, the construction of a 53 km  railroad line between Szántód and Balatonszentgyörgy with an estimated cost of 72.4 billion forints. The work is being done by a consortium of three firms: R-Kord Építőipari Kft., V-Híd Zrt., and Swietelsky Vasúttechnikai Kft. R-Kord is owned by (who else?) Lőrinc Mészáros.

Direkt36 suspected that they had just encountered a tightly-knit family business, but the reporters were unable to get hold of the documentation necessary to show that the elder Orbán was actually doing business with the government. Today, after months of litigation, Direkt36 received proof that, despite the denial by the prime minister, Nehéz Kő is one of the subcontractors of this EU-funded government project. By setting up a trucking company that doesn’t display the Dolomit name, the Orbáns presumably wanted to hide the fact that the material comes from the family company.

Last summer Blanka Zöldi of Direct36 confronted the prime minister with her findings that Győző Orbán is the supplier of stone and building material to important government projects. Viktor Orbán, during that Q&A session, made a distinction between general contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers. Hungarian law forbids, he claimed, the participation of close relatives of important political figures from being general and subcontractors, but not from being suppliers. Clearly, he said, his father and brother have no business dealings with the government. They have a contract with one of the general contractors. But the documents received today show that Nehéz Kő was a subcontractor on the southern Balaton railroad project to the tune of 300 million forints or $1.2 million.

The Demokratikus Koalíció, which helped call attention to the shady business dealings of Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law, István Tiborcz, is ready to turn to OLAF again. The party’s spokesman declared that “there is no civilized, democratic country where, after such a revelation, the prime minister remains in office. … The money coming from [Brussels] goes toward the enrichment of his family.”

This may be the case (although Trump stretches the limits of what it means to personally benefit from political office), but Hungary at the moment doesn’t belong to the group of civilized and democratic countries. In a mafia state, a designation popularized by Bálint Magyar, earlier minister of education, like-minded people in high political office work together for their own and their families’ enrichment. Here we have the quarry business of Győző Orbán, whose initial capital came from his son’s newly-formed party. His company, Dolomit, supplies stone and cement products to government projects, which are being trucked by his company, Nehéz Kő. The goods are taken to the work site of the firm owned by Lőrinc Mészáros, who is suspected of being the stróman or front man of Viktor Orbán. All in the family.

January 25, 2018

Who poses a danger to Hungary’s national security? Anyone who lends a helping hand to a refugee

It is hard to describe the hysteria the Orbán government has whipped up over the nonexistent migrant invasion of Hungary. Day after day, they bombard Hungarians with a relentless campaign of fear mongering. Just when I think that perhaps they have finally spent themselves, they come up with yet another salvo. The latest is their decision to ban Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, from attending the parliamentary committee on national security, of which she is a bona fide member.

By tradition, the chairman of national security committee is always a member of the opposition. In this case, the position has been filled in the last eight years by Zsolt Molnár of MSZP. Since 2014 Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), known for his verbal attacks and boorish behavior, has served as deputy chair. On January 15 Németh announced that “those politicians who lie about the national consultation campaign and have been supporting the Soros Plan all along, as LMP politicians do, cannot take part in the discussions of the national security committee, whose task is the prevention of the implementation of the Soros Plan.” Németh charged that in the past Szél worked in a Soros-financed organization that was supportive of migrants. So, Szél was in fact a paid agent of Soros. But that’s not the only sin of  LMP’s candidate for prime minister. She had the temerity to meet with EU Commissioner Věra Jourová in Brussels, who spoke highly of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. When asked by journalists how a member of the committee can be barred, Németh claimed that “she will not be barred,” but “in those sessions where the Soros Plan is discussed, the LMP member will not be able to participate because she holds views on the subject which are not in the interest of the nation.” I hope you understand why Németh is ridiculed for his rational deficiencies.

A few hours later Szél announced on her Facebook page that “the great thinker of Fidesz just admitted that everything I said about the Soros network is true and everything they say about it is a lie.” In an interview with 444 she claimed that the material presented by the secret services was information anyone could have picked up from the internet. Yet this material is declared to be secret. She was trying to convince the Alkotmányvédelmi Hivatal (AH / Office in the Defense of the Constitution) to allow it to be made public. Hungarians ought to know the truth, not the kind of reality Fidesz wants to present.

Since all the opposition parties, including Jobbik, announced that “this is madness,” it was thought that this particular stupidity would die a quiet death. So, when a day later, Balázs Hidvéghi, communication director of Fidesz, said that Németh’s utterance was a “political opinion,” people breathed a sigh of relief. At least László Kövér, the president of parliament, would not enlist the parliamentary guard to prevent Szél from entering the committee room. That reaction, however, was premature. Hidvéghi is a young, civilized-looking fellow whose IQ must be a great deal higher than Németh’s, but he is not allowed to utter an opinion that in any way differs from the ukase that comes from above. So, by the end, he basically supported Németh when he said that “we will see whether we will have a session [on the Soros Plan] and then we will see. This is our political opinion.” In effect, though in a mealy-mouthed way, Hidvéghi reasserted Németh’s threat. If there is a session about Soros and his nonexistent plan, “we will see” whether Szél can join the discussion.

If it wasn’t clear after Hidvéghi’s press conference that the government was squarely behind Szilárd Németh, whom Viktor Orbán finds extraordinarily useful in his propaganda campaigns, Híradó’s article yesterday, “Bernadett Szél’s expert failed his security clearance,” left no room for doubt. According to this most official government publication, “in the middle of the migration crisis” Szél nominated an expert to testify before the committee who failed vetting. The expert was born in Kabul, and before he began working for LMP, he had worked for MigSzol, “which is the most pro-migrant organization of Soros.” He was deemed to be a national security risk. Apparently, Szél appealed the decision, but Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, refused to reconsider the decision.

After this introduction came a laundry list of MigSzol’s activities, which obviously the Orbán government considers to be illegal. Here are some of them: MigSzol organized a demonstration in support of Ahmed H., the man who was sentenced to ten years for “terrorism” for throwing a rock (no one knows whether it hit anyone). During the demonstration protesters chanted slogans like “Freedom for Ahmed!” and “Ahmed today, tomorrow you.” MigSzol activists protested against the national consultation by launching boats into the Danube made out of national consultation questionnaires. During the chaos created by migrants at the Eastern Station in 2015 these activists encouraged Hungarians to give money to feed the migrants. The activists of MigSzol have been attending the trial of Ahmed H.; they inform people about the details of the court proceedings on their website; they try to defend Ahmed H. in opposition to the Hungarian authorities; they don’t hide their goal of attaining freedom for the leader of the disturbances at the Serbian border in September 2015. After all that, Híradó adds: “it is now obvious why Szilárd Németh does not want to see Bernadett Szél in the committee.”

Source: Index / Photo: István Huszti

Híradó’s article also claimed that Bernadett Szél was herself at one point in the pay of George Soros when, in 2002, she was the program director of Menedék—Mingránsokat Segítő Egyesület (Shelter—Association of Migrant Assistance. In an interview yesterday Szél told her audience that at the age of 16 she received a Soros Foundation scholarship to spend six months in the United States. That’s her only connection with George Soros and his organizations. She said that she did work as an activist for the Humanist Movement, which is an international volunteer organization that promotes nonviolence and non-discrimination. She sarcastically added that “it seems that Fidesz at the moment considers it a Soros organization.”

Today Szél gave a press conference in which she labelled press reports on the vetting of LMP’s expert an unlawful disclosure of a state secret. Szél stressed that none of LMP’s experts performs work that is not legitimate. She also said that all the employees of the party are Hungarian citizens who cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their ethnic origin.

This story is a perfect example of how easily the Hungarian authorities can label charitable organizations and protesters threats to national security. It also demonstrates that the Orbán government’s first instinct is to declare people suspect or even guilty on the basis of their national origin. Anyone—and I’m afraid there are many in Hungary—who thinks that the Orbán government’s latest “Stop Soros” campaign is not meant seriously is dead wrong. If that package of new laws is enacted, the MigSzol people who chanted “Today Ahmed, you tomorrow” were unfortunately right.

January 20, 2018

Launching a new action plan, “Stop Soros”

In an article that was written yesterday but appeared only today in the early morning edition of Magyar Idők, the well-informed government paper reported that “an action plan is being formulated against George Soros and his network.” This action plan necessitates amendments to already existing laws. The paper got wind of two such impending legal changes. One would allow the assessment of dues or levies on nonprofit organizations that “support migration.” The other action that needed a legal basis was banning George Soros’s entry into Hungary. According to Magyar Idők, the government sought a way to ban dual citizens who pose a national security risk to the country. Zoltán Lomnici, Jr., a far-right so-called constitutional lawyer whose opinions are almost always legal nonsense, suggested a solution that would allow the expulsion of dangerous dual citizens who live abroad on a permanent basis. The other expert to whom Magyar Idők turned for his opinion was Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, director of the pro-government Nézőpont Institute. Mráz is a great deal more intelligent than Lomnici. He opined that the proposed law is “only a symbolic defense instrument.” In brief, it is a propaganda ploy serving domestic political purposes in preparation for the election to be held on April 8.

If Mráz is correct, I’m afraid the Orbán government is assuming a great deal of risk in the international arena with this proposed piece of legislation. After a cabinet meeting this afternoon, the Hungarian government released an article in English on the official website of the Prime Minister’s Office, About Hungary. Here are the most important provisions of these bills:

  1. Every organization that supports illegal immigration by using foreign financial resources would be registered and obliged to report on its activity.
  2. A tax would be imposed on the foreign funding of organizations supporting illegal immigration. This public income would be invested in border protection.
  3. It would be possible to issue restraining orders against those who take part in organizing illegal immigration. In essence, such restraining orders would apply in any area that is within 8 kilometers of the Schengen border. In special cases, a third-country citizen would be subject to a restraining order anywhere within Hungary. This measure would remain in force until the end of the migration crisis.

It is instructive to compare this English text, obviously intended for foreign consumption, with the one Index published in Hungarian.

  1. Every organization that supports illegal immigration by using foreign financial resources would be registered and obliged to report on its activity.
  2. Over and above the registration, those organizations that receive more money from abroad than from Hungary will be obliged to pay 25% of their support as a levy. The money will be collected by the National Tax Authority. If the organizations don’t fulfill their duties, the prosecutor’s office must take action against them. If the prosecutor’s office finds unauthorized activity, it will appeal to the court.
  3. A new kind of restraining order will be introduced: implicated foreign nationals will be barred from Hungary while Hungarian citizens will not be able cross an eight-kilometer border zone next to the Schengen borders.

During a joint interview given by Interior Minister Sándor Pintér and Undersecretary Zoltán Kovács, who is in charge of communication, a few more bits of information were dropped. For example, to my astonishment I discovered that those NGOs that are guilty of assisting illegal migrants will have to “acknowledge their complicity on their own.” If they fail to do so, they will be sanctioned. So, if I understand it correctly, the whole scheme is based on self-incrimination. I’m therefore not surprised that some people believe that the government has no intention of actually adopting these measures.

As far as the banning of George Soros from Hungary is concerned, it seems that the government thought the better of it. In fact, to my great surprise, Pintér announced that “George Soros doesn’t carry out illegal migration activities,” and therefore he has nothing to fear. However, Kovács added that if he ever does so, the law will apply to him just as it does to everyone else. The report published by Eurobserver claimed that “UN personnel and diplomats would not fall under the possible restraining order, and MPs who have reason to be in the area will also not be excluded from the border zone.”

The targeted NGOs, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, charged that these proposals are not only confusing but also most likely unconstitutional. They go against past rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. I’m no lawyer, but Orbán’s own Basic Law guarantees the free movement of citizens anywhere in the country.

I know that Orbán and his minions are too young to have lived through the Rákosi era, when Hungary had so-called “border zone” (határsáv) along the Yugoslav and Austrian borders, but still they ought to know that the comparison will be inevitable. In those days a special permit was required to enter this restricted zone. Most of the peasants who were forcibly removed from their villages, stripped of all their possessions, and deported to the Hortobágy region of the Great Plains came from villages inside the zone. The word “határsáv” has a very bad ring to it.

In the opinion of the spokesman of TASZ, it is also illegal to impose dues on money received from abroad because one cannot make a distinction between monies from domestic and non-domestic sources. I’m also sure that as the proposals are put into more final form, legal experts will offer even more criticism.

Some commentators think that Assistant Undersecretary Kristóf Altusz’s embarrassing revelation to the Times of Malta and the subsequent fallout at home prompted this latest “Stop Soros” action. The new action is, they argue, an attempt to divert attention from what someone called “the Orbán government’s Őszöd,” referring to Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech to the MSZP parliamentary caucus in 2006 in which he admitted that, although they knew about the sad state of the economy, they kept it a secret because of the forthcoming national election.

Altusz, in response to insistent questioning about Hungary’s refusal to admit any refugees,  blurted out that “last year alone Hungary took about 1,300 refugees, but, very often, such cases were not publicized by the government as it could put the beneficiaries in danger.” For more than two years the Orbán government sought to convince the Hungarian people that it wouldn’t allow a single migrant to settle in Hungary, and now it turns out that 1,300 “Muslim invaders,” to use Viktor Orbán’s words from his recent interview with Das Bild, have received shelter in Hungary.

One family among those who received asylum in Hungary

The Orbán government is building its entire election campaign on the migrant issue, and now it seems that, after all, there is a difference between illegal migrants and refugees, as Altusz explained. Moreover, the argument that a refugee must settle in the closest safe country is now in tatters. The government just admitted in an indirect way that Hungary is obliged by the Geneva Convention to give shelter to refugees, even from faraway Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan.

Hungarians have heard nothing else in the last two or three years but how dangerous these people are; they are terrorists who will kill them and rape their daughters. Just recently, Orbán ordered mayors to organize resistance to settling nonexistent migrants in their cities. And now we learn that the government, behind the frightened people’s backs, allowed 1,300 of these dangerous people to settle in their country. The overeager Kristóf Altusz delivered a serious blow to a carefully crafted political construct and rallying cry.

If Viktor Orbán decided to launch the “Stop Soros” campaign in order to divert attention from this uncomfortable slip by a junior diplomat, I think he is making a mistake. These issues touch upon the very essence of European Union values. To flout them for the sake of an electoral victory, which everybody predicts will be his, is foolhardy.

January 17, 2018

The far-right Orbán government’s attack on György Konrád

It has been going on by now for a whole week, and there is no end in sight. I’m talking about the incredible onslaught against György Konrád, the internationally renowned Hungarian writer, recipient of numerous prestigious prizes, and the president of the International PEN Club between 1990 and 1993. Abroad his best known work is The Case Worker, which made a deep impression on me. He is a wise man whom I admire.

Although Konrád is tolerant, he finds Viktor Orbán dangerous and harmful. On the basis of a recent interview, I suspect that Konrád’s dislike of Orbán goes back a long way, maybe even as far as 1989 when the young firebrand demanded the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops despite an earlier agreement with the organizers of the reburial of Imre Nagy and his comrades. Konrád doesn’t hide his true feelings about the Hungarian prime minister. Last April, at the time the Orbán government was trying its best to shutter Central European University, he wrote an open letter to Orbán in which he listed the prime minister’s sins. Konrád ended his letter with these words: “The most valiant patriotic act on your part, Sir, would be to resign. In your retirement, you could amuse yourself with your toy train and your little stadium (stadionka) where you could kick the ball into the empty gate.”

The theme of Orbán’s retirement returned in a somewhat stronger form in an interview with HVG that appeared on January 4. The occasion was the appearance of Konrád’s last book, Falevelek szélben (Leaves in the Wind). The conversation was mostly about his life because the book is part of a trilogy on Konrád’s past. However, at the very end he answered a few questions about recent political events. He told the reporter that he could see the end of the Kádár regime and the fall of the Berlin Wall ahead of time. The reporter wanted to know what “his prediction is in the present situation.” He wished for unity of the opposition and was pleased that “a great force pulls Hungarians to the European Union and not to their dictators.” And then came the final sentences, which has caused incredible upheaval in right-wing circles. Konrád said that “mysterious movements one day can take such a turn that the prime minister, if he doesn’t want to share the fate of Nicolae Ceaușescu, will voluntarily go somewhere. As a benevolent man, I want him to go to Felcsút.”

György Konrád / Source: HVG / Photo: István Fazekas

That sentence sent the government propaganda machine into high gear. The first government financed publication that took notice was Pesti Srácok, which published a short article titled “György Konrád is dreaming of the execution of Viktor Orbán by firing squad.” Clearly, Konrád has become senile, says the author. After all, not long  ago “he told tales” about the anti-Soros campaign being “anti-Semitic.” He would find it “reasonable” if Hungary were punished because of the laws enacted by the Orbán government against NGOs and Central European University. And a year ago “he was gushing over Soros” who, in his opinion, “is as great a benefactor of Hungary as István Széchenyi was in the 1830s and 1840s.” Surely, comparing George Soros to Széchenyi is blatant blasphemy for the staff of Pesti Srácok.

This article obviously got under the skin of the editor-in-chief of HVG, who “hysterically threatened our site with a lawsuit,” arguing that the Pesti Srácok article was “a lie from beginning to end.” That prompted the far-right site to write another article. Here three authors sat down to outdo each other. This time Konrád was accused of Jim Crow justice. As if that weren’t enough, the authors decided that Konrád “would have no mercy even on Orbán’s wife. After all, the Romanians also executed Ceaușescu’s wife.”

It took Magyar Idők four days to come up with its first opinion piece on the Konrád quotation, written by János Dénes Orbán. His article is somewhat more sophisticated than the primitive pieces of Pesti Srácok. The bulk of the article is about the Twilight Zone the liberals have built, which bears no resemblance to reality. In their world there is dictatorship, poverty, a lack of media freedom. Then he tries to decode Konrád’s closing sentences. What really excited his imagination was the reference to “mysterious movements.” Perhaps Konrád knows about some hidden forces, which Charles Gati talked about in 2012 when he outlined the possible ways the Orbán regime could end. Of course, this namesake of the prime minister twisted Gati’s words beyond recognition, just as is now doing with Konrád’s. Konrád, he charges, is plagiarizing. About a year ago Gáspár Miklós Tamás brought up the example of Ceaușescu in connection with the possible end of a dictatorship.

Once Magyar Idők discovered the topic, it had difficulty letting it go. A few hours after the first opinion piece came the second, with the intriguing title “Bolshevism kicked down the door.” Bálint Botond, apparently a sociologist, once thought that Konrád was a good writer, but that was before 1990. When as a young man he read a new Konrád book titled The melancholy of rebirth, he discovered that the book was nothing but “a dastardly diatribe of a pathologically extreme man written in a somewhat acceptable style.”

Perhaps the most interesting part of the opinion piece is his interpretation of the 1970s and 1980s and the role of Konrád and his friends, who were victims of the Kádár regime. One way that Kádár handled pesky writers, philosophers, and sociologists, he writes, was actually quite ingenious. He forced them out of the country. This is what happened to Iván Szelényi, Ágnes Heller, and, of course, Konrád himself. According to this great anti-Bolshevik author, Kádár was smart because if he let them stay in Hungary, they might have gotten the upper hand in intraparty fights. And “these extreme liberal groups could toss the strongest dictatorship into chaos.”

Magyar Hírlap couldn’t miss the opportunity to publish an opinion piece by Dániel Galsai, a frequent contributor to this far-right paper. He asks: “Will the world be more beautiful, better, more truthful, and more humane when György Konrád is no longer alive? A Christian can give only an embarrassing answer to this embarrassing question: Yes.” By the way, the title of this masterpiece is “Letter to a peddler of souls.”

Although I’ve shared only snippets from these articles, I believe that even this much gives readers a sense of the tone of the Orbán government’s propaganda machine.

January 11, 2018

The European Parliament rapporteur on Hungary pays a visit to Budapest

The Hungarian right-wing press is buzzing with indignation. Judith Sargentini, a Greens/EFA member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, arrived in Hungary yesterday as part of her work as rapporteur for the parliament’s investigation into whether Hungary is in breach of the values of the European Union. Her report will recommend what steps should be taken against Hungary for curbing freedom of the press, failing to uphold the rights of refugees and minorities, and taking steps against universities and NGOs.

After her appointment on July 11, 2017, Sargentini expressed her strong disapproval of the current Hungarian government. She believes that “time and time again, Orbán has gone against the norms and values of the European Union. When a country is no longer prepared to uphold our common values, it’s a logical step to take away its voting rights.” Indeed, at the end of the road, if Parliament approves her report, it may recommend that the European Commission invoke Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which can deprive the country in question of its voting rights.

After Judith Sargentini met Levente Magyar, political undersecretary and deputy minister of foreign affairs, MTI published a short statement in which Magyar, instead of addressing the issues of Hungary’s disregard of “the norms and values of the European Union,” dwelt on the “sharp conflict between certain Brussels institutions and politicians and Hungary with regard to immigration. The Hungarian people want to decide for themselves who they live with and have stated this on several occasions. This is what irritates certain Brussels politicians.” He added that the talks with the rapporteur were amicable but that the MEP had no knowledge of certain basic facts, in view of which her Hungarian negotiating partners offered Ms. Sargentini their assistance. What else is new? The Orbán government’s answer to criticism from the European Union is invariably a two-pronged charge of ignorance and bias. Magyar failed to inform the public about the specifics of Sargentini’s incompetence.

The right-wing media was on high alert and ready to discredit Sargentini ahead of her arrival. Pesti Srácok and several other news outlets portrayed her as “Soros’s man” who has been associated with Soros-financed NGOs for ten years. Recently, she had several meetings with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union. She is “one of the trusted allies of George Soros.” Fidesz also released a statement upon Sargentini’s arrival in Hungary, according to which “the real goal [of Sargentini’s report] is to force Hungary to carry out the Soros Plan.” Ahead of Sargentini’s arrival, Péter Szijjártó gave an interview to Kossuth Rádió’s morning program, 180 Minutes, in which he described LIBE, the committee which entrusted Sargentini to be the rapporteur on Hungary, as “nothing more than a theater” where the condemnatory report has already been written.

While Sargentini was in Budapest, in Brussels there was a book launch for a new work by NGOs from Hungary, Croatia, Poland, and Serbia on the “sick democracies” of Europe. At the gathering several MEPs spoke critically of the Orbán government’s hate campaigns and its disregard of the basic values of the European Union. Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch Liberal member of parliament, brought up Orbán’s claim from an interview in Das Bild a few days ago that the Syrian refugees are part of a Muslim invasion of Europe. She suggested that the Hungarian prime minister refresh his memory on the basic values of the European Union, which he will find in Article II of the EU Constitution.

The reference to Article II was especially apt since in Budapest one of the “legal experts” of the Center for Basic Laws (Alapjogokért Központ), a government subsidized organization, announced today that it is unlikely that Judith Sargentini will get anywhere with her report on the absence of the rule of law in Hungary since there is no definition of the concept anywhere in the Union’s constitution. So, he continued, any assertion of a lack of constitutional order is arbitrary. In this particular case, the LIBE investigation is a purely political exercise. According to one of the many spokesmen of Fidesz, the conversation between Magyar and Sargentini is just part of the “compulsory rounds,” which in no way will influence the message of the report. It is one of those things diplomats in the ministry have to do now and again.

A couple of journalists from the state television’s M1 channel and from Pesti Srácok were on hand after Sargentini left the building of the Foreign Ministry, trying to have an interview with her. I don’t know what she thought of Hungarian journalists after this encounter, but I fear it couldn’t have been complimentary. M1’s reporter didn’t seem to understand that the MEP was in Budapest to ask questions and learn about the country and its government. She was not ready to give interviews. The fellow from Pesti Srácok entertained Sargentini with questions like “If it depended on you, what kind of a future would you wish for Hungary?” And when he got no answer, he wanted to know what she thought of Viktor Orbán as a person. The video of the encounter can be seen here. Pesti Srácok’s headline for the article describing the scene was “Soros’s man came to call Budapest to account and she left post-haste.”

The Hungarian government is not backing down in the face of more intense EU scrutiny. It looks as if the decision was already made to launch a new “action plan” to thwart the execution of the Soros Plan.

István Hollik (KDNP), who has become the fiercest and most extreme spokesman for the government, called Sargentini “one of the most important allies of George Soros.” The report she is working on is actually a “Soros Report.” While the Soros NGOs speak of “sick democracies,” what is really sick is the European Union’s attacks on Hungary.

So, the mood is belligerent and unyielding, though this may change as a consequence of the new Polish prime minister’s housecleaning that resulted in the departure of eight ministers from the far right and their replacement by centrists. The move is most likely in preparation for a reset of Polish-EU relations. In that case, Viktor Orbán would remain virtually alone with his “action plan,” something I don’t believe he would relish.

January 10, 2018