Tag Archives: George Soros

Viktor Orbán is playing with fire with those itchy Christian palms

It was only a couple of weeks ago that Zsolt Bayer reacted to a series of demonstrations with the following threatening words: “We will also be on the streets to protect what is important and sacred for us. And we will be very angry. So, for a while you can rant and rave, you can try to tear the parliament apart, the ministries, the Fidesz headquarters, the president’s office, you can attack the policemen, assault journalists—for a while. But then no longer. Then you will experience what it feels like to be persecuted and threatened. I’m telling you we are very angry. Is it clear?” LMP’s Bernadett Szél decided to file charges against Zsolt Bayer for “public incitement.”

Bayer is not the kind of guy who, once he has a “cause,” abandons it easily. He promptly answered his critics in an article published in Magyar Idők in which he recalled all the questionable actions of socialist politicians in 2002, as if they had anything to do with the issue at hand. Then, he continued, today’s demonstrators bellow “You will hang!” “To jail!” And they attack journalists. This is what can be called “incitement,” not his answer to all these provocations, which simply states “we will also go out to the streets.” Naturally, they will be peaceful as they always were in the past. His response to the “sniveling” Bernadett Szél is that they will not create a Hungarian Maidan. “I can promise you, and you can call this promise a threat.”

Zsolt Bayer was one of the organizers of those peace marches (békemenetek) which, according to Viktor Orbán, saved him when foreign powers tried to topple his government in 2012. In the past three years or so the organizers haven’t tried to stage a mega-demonstration because the last couple of times they tried, their efforts were flops. Therefore, I consider it highly unlikely that Bayer and his friends in CÖF, the government-sponsored NGO, will try to organize a large demonstration for their beloved leader, Viktor Orbán.

On the other hand, there are groups of people who are not so “peaceful” as the older recruits of the peace marches. These less than savory characters, some from the fan club of the Ferencváros football team, have a very bad reputation when it comes to exercising physical force on the streets of Budapest and elsewhere. They were the ones who attacked the building of the Hungarian public television station in September 2006. This was the first time that Fidesz used these football hooligans for political purposes, but they also showed up on other occasions, the most notorious being the time they prevented István Nyakó (MSZP) from submitting his application for a referendum on Sunday store closings.

Bayer is not the only one who is providing ideological ammunition to these groups. A relative newcomer is a certain János Somogyi, who describes himself as a “retired lawyer” and who is a regular commentator at Magyar Idők. His opinion pieces are viciously anti-American, anti-capitalist, and anti-globalist. He is a great supporter of Vladimir Putin and everything Russian. A few weeks ago he was still a supporter of Donald Trump, but who knows what will happen if Trump doesn’t fulfill his and Orbán’s expectations. His tone is aggressive and bears an uncanny resemblance to the articles published in the communist party’s official daily newspaper, Szabad Nép, before 1956. As far as he is concerned, the demonstrators are “pitiful characters.” Most of them are only misled, though others are “provocateurs in the pay of foreign powers.” They are a nuisance, and “many of us are running out of patience.” The demonstrations are getting to a point where retaliation can be expected. In order to describe his and others’ waning patience, he used the Hungarian equivalent of the word for a carnival strength tester, the high striker– “pofozógép,” punching machine. Actually, he uses the word “pofonosláda” (punching box), which I couldn’t find in the Magyar Értelmező Szótár. But what is important is the word “pofozó” or “pofonos”(punching, slapping) because, as we will see, János Somogyi’s inspiration for dredging up such a rarely used Hungarian word came from none other than Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary.

Three days before Somogyi’s article about the punching machine/box Viktor Orbán gave an interview to Kossuth Rádió’s Vasárnapi Újság. It was during this interview, while discussing the demonstrations, that Orbán talked about people’s hankering to strike out. The reporter, Katalin Nagy, told Orbán that some well-known provocateurs were planning to disturb the Easter procession around the Basilica. Although she is a “peaceful Calvinist,” hearing about such a barbarity was like a punch in the gut. How long must one endure all this, she asked. It was at that point that Orbán said that “many people’s palms are itching. Even the palms of those who otherwise are peaceful and upright Christians.” As I explained in an earlier post, an itchy palm for Orbán means a yen to hit someone or slap someone around.

And that takes us back to a bunch of skinheads and football hooligans who already made a brief appearance at one of the demonstrations but were soon removed by police. Now, these people are organizing a counter-demonstration, scheduled for tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. in “downtown Budapest :)” (I keep wondering what this smiley really means.) The organizers got a lot of requests for such a demonstration because people are fed up with the pseudo-civilians, George Soros, CEU (which is a janissary school), and with the demonstrations in general, which in their opinion are a combination of a pre-Pride march and Woodstock. They don’t want see either an Arab Spring or a Ukrainian Maidan in Hungary. They don’t want an army under the EU flag to influence Hungary’s domestic affairs. “Let’s retake the streets, so Hungary and Budapest can again belong to Hungarians.” Retaking the streets of Budapest sounds pretty frightening to me. The last time I looked, 226 people had indicated that they would attend and 674 are interested.

Tamás Poszpischek, organizer of the demonstration to retake the streets of Budapest

Who will take responsibility for the itchy palms of these good Christians? The extremist organizers, already at the Sunday demonstration, got into a heated discussion with some of the protesters while abusing Soros and Jews in general. Five or six people posed no threat then, but what if several hundred gather tomorrow in “downtown Budapest” for a “medicinal walk”?

Mária M. Kovács, a history professor at CEU, wrote about the itchy palms of good Christians on her Facebook page: “If István Bethlen in 1928 had said that the palms of the Christians are itching, there would have been a national scandal. The parliamentary opposition would have screamed, newspapers would have carried the news on their front pages, and most likely there would have been fist fights at the universities. But István Bethlen didn’t say such a thing.” Yes, this is how far Viktor Orbán has moved to the right. With his coded anti-Semitic remarks that no one even notices, the prime minister himself is leading the troops toward a possible physical confrontation.

April 21, 2017

Mária Schmidt on George Soros, the grave digger of the left, Part II

Yesterday I began dissecting Mária Schmidt’s latest propaganda piece,“The Grave Digger of the Left,” which offers up second-hand conspiracy theories about George Soros’s philanthropic endeavors. In the second part of my analysis I will concentrate on the “Hungarian experience” with “Sorosism,” as she calls Soros’s “ideology mix.”

In Schmidt’s view, Hungary was a guinea pig for Soros, who learned the tools of his evil trade in the country of his birth. It was in Hungary that he figured out the kinds of organizations worth investing in, organizations that would then “serve his interests.” He quickly discovered that Prime Minister József Antall and his successor, Péter Boross, both of MDF, were not willing to be partners in his shady schemes. So, Soros had to concentrate on liberal intellectuals in the social sciences and in the cultural sphere in general. He used decoys like programs for the Roma and providing medical supplies to hospitals to lure people into his camp.

He was so successful that by today “left” in Hungary equals “Soros.” All of his pet projects have been adopted by the Hungarian liberals and socialists: political correctness, the environment, feminism, same sex marriage, support of migrants, legalization of prostitution, etc.

Schmidt, who begins her essay with a quotation from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” further exhibits her familiarity with Western pop culture by comparing Soros to “the evil but super intelligent Silva” in the Bond film Skyfall, who “with obsessive and missionary zeal aims at world domination.” Soros’s results, she admits, have been spectacular. For example, “as everybody knows, the network of Soros’s civilians was behind the colorful revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and the Arab spring.” In fact, at one point Schmidt charges that Soros himself boasted about his success in creating “a Soros Empire out of the Soviet Union.” I don’t know how we all missed the “fact” that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the handiwork of George Soros. Now, according to Schmidt, Soros’s target is the European Union itself.

Mária Schmidt’s “evil but super intelligent Silva”

At this point we get to the real reason Schmidt wrote this essay. Viktor Orbán’s vicious anti-migrant rhetoric has been extremely effective, with the overwhelming majority of Hungarians now the most xenophobic group in all of Europe. The hatred Orbán planted in Hungarian souls has taken root. The challenge for the Hungarian government is how to keep nurturing this hatred. By now there are no migrants around, and there is fear in government circles that this hatred may wither over time. And if it withers, support for Orbán may wither as well.

The government has therefore begun to personalize the migrant crisis, coming up with enemies who can in one way or another be tied to it. Soros, of course, tops the list. Time and again Orbán has blamed “the migrant crisis” on George Soros. Since Central European University was founded by George Soros and some of the NGOs receive small amounts of money from the Hungarian-American financier, they can be targeted. And Brussels is an old stand-by. Whatever the problem, Brussels is always at fault.

To xenophobic Hungarians the very mention of outside influence or pressure on the country makes them flock to Orbán as their only defense against this “foreign invasion.” And since Viktor Orbán has as his overarching goal to remain in power regardless of the cost to the country and its people, this goal is well served by calling attention in every way possible to the dangers foreigners (migrants as well as international capitalists) pose to the Hungarian way of life.

Central European University is in the government’s crosshairs because, as Schmidt puts it, the university is Soros’s “replenishing base” for liberal cadres in Hungary and elsewhere. An illiberal state, one would think, cannot allow such a place to exist within its borders. But Schmidt doesn’t go that far, most likely because she knows that the tug of war between the Orbán government and CEU won’t end with closing the university in Budapest. So she is satisfied to state the lie that the government, by insisting that the same rules apply to CEU as to other Hungarian universities, only wants to send the message that George Soros “isn’t omnipotent and invulnerable.”

Her final shots are directed not just at Central European University but also at the kinds of universities that exist in English-speaking countries and that are so highly valued worldwide. She tells us how enthusiastic she was when CEU moved to Budapest. Many people, herself included, looked upon it as a sign of the end of the old university system. Soon enough, however, they realized that CEU didn’t contribute to pluralism within the social sciences. On the contrary, it became a supporter of “post-communists.” Instead of employing the old Hungarian Marxists, the university imported western ones. “Discarded American, Canadian, Israeli, Western European Marxists found secure positions for a few pleasant years in the departments of CEU,” she charges. And just as they became disillusioned with CEU, over the years Schmidt and her ideological comrades became disillusioned with Anglo-Saxon type universities in general. Now that she and her comrades speak English and are well informed about the world, unlike in the Kádár years, they know about the intolerance in American and British universities where they don’t want to listen to voices contrary to their liberal tenets. Hungarians “don’t want to have ‘safe spaces’ for those at CEU who don’t want to listen to others.”

Schmidt’s blanket labeling of all those who teach at CEU as “discarded Marxists” shows an ideological blindness that is appalling, especially from someone who has academic pretensions. And her reference to the “safe spaces” inside the walls of CEU is outright frightening. If Orbán, Schmidt, and their ideological partners keep going down the road they embarked on in 2010, the Hungarian younger generation who, according to Schmidt’s own admission, has been poisoned by Soros, will find “safe spaces” outside the country. We are getting close to this point.

April 17, 2017

Mária Schmidt on George Soros, the grave digger of the left, part i

The Orbán regime must consider Mária Schmidt’s essay “The Grave Digger of the Left,” which appeared on her government-sponsored blog Látószög (viewing angle), a critically important piece of writing. It was promoted on MTV1, the state propaganda television network, even before it was published.

The essay is, as you might have guessed from its title, about George Soros. Schmidt contends that Soros is singlehandedly orchestrating world events to bring about a world he has been cunningly building for decades. He is a puppeteer, a “wizard/double agent,” as a Russian source called him.

Schmidt’s piece is the result of shockingly bad research. Admittedly, a blog post is not an academic treatise, but one would expect a historian to check her facts. At the very least, one would hope that a historian doesn’t blindly take the conclusions of highly questionable sources at face value. Schmidt’s one-sided interpretation of events with which George Soros has been connected over the years leads me to believe that she first has a theory and then looks for anything that could possibly pass as evidence. It doesn’t seem to bother her that her stories make no sense or that they sound more like fantasy than fact.

Here is one example. At the very beginning of the article Schmidt mentions two organizations in connection with the closing of the Trepca (Kosovo) lead mines: the International Crisis Group (ICG) and Doctors Without Borders. She claims that both are “generously” supported by George Soros. Schmidt is correct in pointing out that both George Soros and his son Alexander are on the board of ICG. What she neglects to say is that the board has 43 members from 33 countries and that ICG’s budget comes largely from governments and corporations and to a smaller extent from foundations and individuals. Her other claim is that Doctors Without Borders, which is also “financed” (Soros pénzel) by Soros, was responsible for closing the Trepca mines, which did unspeakable harm to the people of the area. A quick look at the list of organizations funded by George Soros and his Open Society Foundations would have revealed that Doctors Without Borders is not a recipient of Soros money. And this is a serious problem because, as a result, the whole conspiracy story of Soros’s involvement with the mines collapses.

As Mária Schmidt sees Soros and the world

If there is a problem with the Trepca story, there is also something very wrong with the conclusion of the blog post. Because that story from 2000 is supposed to be the prototype of George Soros’s predatory remaking of the world bit by bit. First, this shrewd and unscrupulous financier finds a project that makes good business sense. Then, he sends his civilians there to destabilize a region. Subsequently, he pays off the media, creates chaos and once the whole area is physically destroyed he offers assistance for the reconstruction. Meanwhile he cherry-picks the best business opportunities. Soon after that comes breaking down borders, abolishing national sovereignty, paying off the experts with scholarships, prizes, fame, calling them independent and democrats. This is what happened in Kosovo, where the “Soros-financed Doctors Without Borders” were called in to do the dirty work for him. They convinced the UN forces that the mines were having a deadly effect on the people working and living there. If, of course, Doctors Without Borders were not the henchmen of Soros, Schmidt’s prototypical example collapses.

This is a pretty embarrassing beginning, and I’m afraid the rest is no better. For instance, Mária Schmidt claims that George Soros was solely responsible for the 1998 Russian financial crisis. It is worth quoting her summary of what happened. “George Soros talked the ruble down, something which also caused significant hardship for Hungary, when he published an op-ed piece in The Financial Times in which he called for the devaluation of the ruble by 15-20%. As a result of this [article] the ruble collapsed and lost 60% of its value. The salaries, pensions, and of course savings of people were gone, just as five years later were those of the Brits.”

I don’t think one has to know much about economics to be suspicious of Schmidt’s interpretation of the 1998 Russian financial crisis. An op-ed piece in The Financial Times cannot be responsible for such a financial calamity. So, let’s see what an associate of the CFA Institute had to say about it. “The Russian crisis of 1998 was really an extension of the Asian Currency Crisis of 1997 (the ‘Asian flu’). The combination of declining economic output, falling oil prices, enormous budget deficits, and a currency pegged to the rising US dollar overwhelmed the fledgling Russian government. To maintain its peg to the dollar, Russia used its foreign exchange reserves to buy rubles. But as the country gradually depleted its foreign exchange reserves, it became clear that Russia would soon run out of reserves. At that point, the Russian government would no longer be able to maintain the ruble’s peg to the US dollar. Upon exhausting its reserves, Russia defaulted on its debt and revalued the ruble on foreign exchange markets.” Not a word about George Soros.

These two examples will suffice to demonstrate that Schmidt is offering up “alternative historical facts.” We can therefore move on to her other charge: Soros’s “capture of the left not just in the United States but also in Europe, including Hungary.” In her reading, by now Soros and the left are one and the same. People who are inclined to support social democratic, green, or liberal parties in reality “unscrupulously serve the interests of large global corporations and global financial actors.” How does Schmidt know this? Simple. She noticed that heading leftist parties are “businessmen, bankers, corporate managers, or politicians who will become sooner or later lobbyists for big business.” For example, Clinton, Schröder, Blair, Kern, Macron, Schulz, Gyurcsány, and Bajnai.

For Soros to buy the left and liberalism, he first had to buy the Democratic Party. Her evidence: Saturday Night Live. No, this is not a joke. But what follows is outright breathtaking. Somehow Soros managed to get the McCain-Feingold Reform Act of 2002 enacted, which, according to Schmidt’s interpretation, financially ruined the Democratic Party. The party subsequently became entirely dependent on Soros’s financial support. After that, everything went smoothly, Schmidt concludes.

Schmidt next turns to a dissection of Soros’s influence on current Hungarian society, especially on the youth. But this deserves another post tomorrow.

April 16, 2017

Closing statements of activists Márton Gulyás and Gergő Varga

The following article and translation of the closing statements of Márton Gulyás and Gergő Varga, two arrested activists, originally appeared in the Budapest Sentinel. It is reprinted here with the permission of the news site’s editorial staff.

♦ ♦ ♦

The following are the closing statements made by Márton Gulyás and Gergő Varga at their trial on Thursday of April 13th, 2017.  The civil activists were arrested Monday night for throwing open bottles of orange paint at the Sándor Palace, the official residence and office of the President of Hungary, János Áder.

Earlier that day President Áder had signed the modified law on higher education adopted the previous week by the Fidesz-controlled parliament with virtually no debate, ignoring the advice of numerous constitutional experts and the wishes of some 70,000 demonstrators who had taken to the streets of Budapest in protest the previous evening.

“Lex CEU” contains provisions that would essentially force Budapest’s Central European University to close its doors.  The law was widely seen not so much as an attack on American financier and philanthropist George Soros, who founded CEU 25 years ago, but as an attack on academic freedom, prompting thousands to protest before the presidential palace Monday evening.

Gulyás was taken into custody at the demonstration, Varga at his home several hours later.  The two protestors were detained by police for 72 hours pending an accelerated trial ordered by the prosecutors. Charged with conspiring to “breach the peace” and “vandalize a landmark building” the two faced up to three years imprisonment if convicted.

Gulyás and Varga were sentenced to 300 and 200 hours of public work, respectively.  The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union called the verdict “absurd.”

Márton Gulyás

I’ll be brief because everyone is very tired. I would like to thank the members of the press for being here in such large numbers covering my case. Which is obviously not only my case, but without the press far fewer people would know what is happening in this country. I would like to thank my defense counsel for the speech he gave in my defense. Even I could not have said it better. Thank you. And I would also like to thank the prosecution for expressing so succinctly the charges against me, claiming that my actions amounted to disturbing the peace and public order in a defiantly anti-social and violent manner.

And now the court must decide whether this is what, in fact, happened. This is a question of legal interpretation. Though I am not a lawyer, allow me to address this as the question fundamentally is to what extent must the judicial authorities correlate or in some way coincide with society’s general sense of justice.  I am now of the view that it is not a bad thing if some correlation exists between the two. And I must say that in the event my actions really constituted disturbing the peace and public order in a defiant anti-social, violent manner, then I agree with the prosecutor that it is necessary to bring the provisions of criminal law to bear on my action. But in that case I would ask what society should do with its sense of justice which, for many years or even decades, has been continuously violated or when members of society continuously see various groups and individuals who in a provocative, anti-social manner abuse their power and misappropriate public property and other assets entrusted to them. And we can see that in these cases prosecutors never show the kind of proactive behavior that they did in my case.

I would like to emphasize that I am not saying that–in the event the court convicts me–my case can be compared to any other kinds of legal proceedings. That is not what I mean. I regard my case as different from those. I am merely saying that today’s event, and forgive me for the immodesty on my part, but I think that if I am convicted today and given a suspended sentence as proposed by the prosecutor and the court upholds it, it is a verdict on the whole judicial system. What will happen then? Will society’s sense of justice be satisfied with this decision? I dare say, and forgive me for my immodesty, that I don’t think that society’s sense of justice will be restored. It would be nice if it would be. If this sentence were enough to restore society’s sense of justice, then I would head for the Gyorskocsi Street or Markó Street jails and I would promise to stay there for the rest of my life in order for society’s sense of justice to be revived. If this is not going to happen, and I think it is not going to happen, what precedent is the prosecution setting by this judgment? The prosecution, I’ll say it again, that refuses even to investigate the various abuses of criminal organizations.

Representatives of newspapers are sitting here who write about these cases. Today we know about them because there is still a small group of independent journalists who write about the instances of VAT fraud amounting to billions, about the public tenders that are actually deceitful robberies which take place in broad daylight, and we could go on, but I do not want to continue because everybody knows what I’m talking about. People do read the media and learn about these cases.

So, my question is: Is it the court’s intention to prevent such things from happening? I agree with the prosecutors that it is not a good situation when citizens feel compelled to throw bottles of paint as a way of expressing their political opinions. We can agree that it is a bad situation. But will the situation be rectified, and will a dialogue-based, more democratic order result by convicting Gergő Varga and me, or by prosecutors doing their jobs and going after the really serious crimes which today limit the ability of citizens to exercise their basic rights? Those cases should be prosecuted which paralyze this state, paralyze this government, and render the most important public institutions the subject of public ridicule. But instead of ridicule one should feel despair.

So, I ask the court to consider very seriously when it comes to a decision on my case whether a conviction will really satisfy society’s sense of justice or whether a serious investigation by the prosecution of the real offenders will, as I assume, arrest the terrible dissatisfaction which exists among a broad segment of society. Because it is not by accident that 70,000 people take to the streets. You can make people believe on Echo TV, and on M1, even TV2 that the demonstrators were flown in from Prague, because the people have been misled, and obviously European public opinion, even American public opinion, as well as the various Nobel Prize winners and so on and so forth are all misled. You can make people believe this for a short time, but society is not an assembly of stupid people. They know perfectly well that today the power of the state does not serve their interests but propagates its own enrichment and power by robbing the people. And so I very politely ask the court and the prosecutors to rise to the seriousness and loftiness of their authority and kindly initiate the kinds of legal proceedings that will really eliminate what is harming the Hungarian people. That will bring the oppressors and exploiters of the Hungarian people here, where I am standing now. Because unfortunately I am not the one who constitutes a real threat to Hungarian society. The reason I say “unfortunately” is because if the restoration of public opinion really only depended on my case, then, believe me, I would be the happiest person around. But you know perfectly well that this is not the case. Thank you for listening.

Gergő Varga

I am not a lawyer. I would just like to say that I think that in a democracy our rights and freedoms do not exist merely because some etheric force guarantees them or because they are written down in the fundamental law, which in our case changes rather frequently especially considering it was carved in granite. In this way the freedom of speech is only guaranteed if we use it and if we test its limits. It is not free speech if we say it exists but we don’t use it. It’s like saying “you can be furious but don’t be furious.” In such exceptional cases, like the current one, the two of us, in addition to a third phantom demonstrator, felt that we needed to test the limits of free speech because public life has sunken to a level that can no longer be tolerated.

But all right, let’s accept the arguments of the prosecutor that our action was simply a breach of peace and vandalism, as though thousands of other people weren’t there and hundreds of policemen weren’t standing there that day, and as though tens of thousands of hitherto politically inactive protestors and police hadn’t been staring each other in the eye for the past week. The police would rather have gone home to their families to relax, but instead they were afraid that the crowd might attack them. I’m curious whether under such circumstances this was really just a simple breach of peace, or a simple act of vandalism, which to my knowledge does not generally merit locking up people for 72 hours who, for example, scribble “Russians go home” on landmark buildings, or whatever. Such people are not locked up for 72 hours or given an accelerated trial. The fact that prosecutors forcibly detained us has antagonized so many people that there were two sympathy demonstrations on our behalf. There are so many people present at this hearing that perhaps you are in breach of the peace, except that you are a state organization.

So far it has not been allowed to say that this country is a dictatorship. But what if it really is? Then what will we call it? They say that the expression of my political opinion was a breach of the peace. What will we call what comes later? If what we did is a breach of the peace and vandalism, and every other context does not count, then the basic tone of political expression in the future will be a breach of the peace, and everything else will only be worse. I do not mean that people will be afraid, but that if we criminalize the act of speaking out, then what will be next? Next week they will break up a demonstration because loud noise after 10 pm is not permissible? Will we use violence against a community to sentence Roma? Wait a minute, that has already happened. What is happening to this country? If this court convicts me here today, I will bear this proudly. What kinds of people observe laws that are passed against them?

April 15, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s plans foiled: The U.S. government won’t negotiate

Today Viktor Orbán named Kristóf Altusz, deputy undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to be the prime minister’s representative at the forthcoming “diplomatic negotiations” concerning the status of the “international universities” in Hungary. Considering that, among the international universities, only CEU’s status is being attacked, that would leave Altusz with a single task: to conduct “diplomatic negotiations” with the government of the United States. There is, however, a serious hitch here. Almost simultaneously with the announcement of Altusz’s new job, Hoyt Brian Yee, deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department, announced in Budapest that any negotiations that might take place in the future will have to be between the Hungarian government and the administration of Central European University. The U.S. government is not going to negotiate with the Hungarian government over the fate of CEU.

Assistant Secretary Yee was generous with his time and gave interviews to Index, Magyar Nemzet, and Magyar Idők. The first two are already available online, but I assume Magyar Idők is still contemplating how to package Yee’s messages for its faithful readers. Yee’s first message was that the Trump administration “fully supports” the university, which the Orbán government might not have expected. The second was equally important. He told Index that “although [he] can’t speak on behalf of the Hungarian government, [he] thinks, on the basis of his conversations, that they understand what is at stake.”

Yee’s claim that the university is “the success story of the partnership between Hungary and the United States” was a somewhat more subtle reference to the importance of the issue. Equally pointed was his claim that Budapest was chosen as the venue for CEU because, at the time of the founding of the university (1992), there was great hope that “this city might be the leader of the whole region’s development and that Hungary as a democratic, prosperous, successful country will be the model for others.” For many years that was actually the case, and now “the challenge is to keep this dynamic alive or, in other words, the city, the country should stand up for democracy, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, including freedom of education.” The message here: the demonstrations are performing a vital task in defense of the future of Hungary.

While government officials behind closed doors are contemplating how to get out of a sticky situation, Fidesz’s radical right has been hard at work. István Lovas, whose favorite pastime is reading Sputnik News from cover to cover, charged that George Soros is trying to make sure that Viktor Orbán’s name will be on the list of dictators. He quoted Sputnik News: “the representatives of the [Hungarian] government believe that his fund receives money for ‘serving the interests of global capitalists’ which contradicts with [sic] Hungary’s national interests.” Lovas also quoted the Daily Caller, which claims that “leaked documents” from Soros’s Open Society Foundations reveal how Soros works “to defeat populist candidates and movements in Europe.” Naturally, Soros uses “a network of nonprofits and partner organizations across Europe to try and affect the outcomes in foreign countries.” And, in a longer piece written for Magyar Hírlap, Lovas tore into Donald Trump, who, he said, committed a war crime by ordering an airstrike after the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces. That piece of writing inspired a short note by Zsolt Bayer, the viciously anti-Semitic friend of Viktor Orbán who only recently received a high state decoration. He republished Lovas’s article, to which he added:

We are republishing here an important article by my friend István because, after reading it, it becomes clear why the U.S. State Department is sending thunderous warnings to the Hungarian government on account of CEU.

Why? Because in the U.S. State Department the old guard still serves, and there (also) Soros is the boss.

Let’s hope this will change very soon.

We can also point out that very soon we will also be on the streets to protect what is important and sacred for us. And we will be very angry. So, for a while you can rant and rave, you can try to tear the parliament apart, the ministries, the Fidesz headquarters, the president’s office, you can attack the policemen, assault journalists—for a while.

But then no longer.

Then you will experience what it feels like to be persecuted and threatened.

I’m telling you we are very angry. Is it clear?

Keep in mind that up to this point the demonstrations have been peaceful, and let’s hope they will remain so. But no one can guarantee that the protesters will remain patient and disciplined, especially in light of the government propaganda against their efforts, especially the cruder type that was the brainchild of Árpád Habony, Viktor Orbán’s mysterious adviser. They come out with “fake news” that even Donald Trump’s favorite rags would be proud of. For example, they said that George Soros personally paid for airline tickets for people all over the world to attend the rally in Budapest. And the propaganda tabloid 888.hu came up with headlines like “Soros’s men employ anarchists.” People, especially those who were among the 80,000 who demonstrated on Sunday, do get annoyed when they think the Hungarian government and its media take them for fools.

In closing, I would like to call attention to an article written by Péter Pető, formerly deputy editor-in-chief of Népszabadság and now managing editor of 24.hu. The piece was written after a few hundred demonstrators spontaneously gathered in front of Sándor Palace, the office of the president, after János Áder signed the bill into law. They threw white tulips that had been growing in front of the building at the police. The title was “Rebels with white tulips send a message to Orbán: Anything can happen.” Indeed. Anything can happen.

April 11, 2017

President János Áder signed the anti-CEU law despite worldwide protests and massive demonstrations

President János Áder signed the changes to the higher education bill that the Hungarian parliament passed in 48 hours. His decision to do so didn’t come as a total surprise because Magyar Nemzet learned a couple of days ago that Áder found no legal reasons to reject the proposed law and either send it back to parliament for reconsideration or to the Constitutional Court for review. Still, I hoped that Áder would have the courage to make a symbolic gesture, thereby manifesting a modicum of independence, but he didn’t even dare to do that much. I suspect that the pressure on him coming from Viktor Orbán was considerable. Orbán is so obsessed with his crusade against the liberal, democratic worldview, to him symbolized by George Soros and, by extension, the university he founded, that he is throwing caution to the wind.

Those people who think that, with Áder’s signature, the case of Central European University is closed are, of course, wrong. This is just the beginning of something that may end very badly for Viktor Orbán. Yesterday 80,000 people went out to demonstrate. About half way through the demonstration it became obvious that the participants weren’t just fighting for the continued existence of a university or for the academic freedom of Hungarian universities in general. They were speaking out against the regime and what it represents.

This is a clash of two worlds: a nationalistic, xenophobic society hamstrung by an autocrat whose whims may lead the country into a diplomatic no man’s land as well as economic ruin and a free society governed by laws informed by the liberal principles of democracy. Orbán’s attack on Central European University, George Soros, and the civic organization is all about this struggle. For Orbán it is imperative to win this war. Even if his dream of transforming Europe into segmented little nation states led by far-right political groups does not materialize, as he hoped last year, he will at least stop the evil forces of liberalism at the borders of Hungary.

Orbán is confident in his own popularity and the strength of the regime he has managed to build in the last seven years. He thinks he is invincible. And why not? He sees the opposition as small, weak, and powerless. It seems that even the immense crowd on the streets of Budapest didn’t persuade him otherwise, despite the fact that the composition of this crowd was very different from earlier gatherings of mostly retirees.

Some people compare yesterday’s demonstration to the one organized against the internet tax in the fall of 2015, but the comparison doesn’t stand up. First of all, the participants in the 2015 demonstration were exclusively young internet users. Second, the demonstration was organized, in the final analysis, for grubby reasons. Third, it didn’t morph into a general political demonstration. Yesterday’s demonstration, by contrast, included young, middle-aged, and old people. They went out to show their support for ideals: free university, free thought, freedom in general, the European Union. And, finally, at one point, the gathering became a political demonstration against the regime. They sent both Orbán and the Russians straight to hell. The old 1956 slogan resurfaced: “Ruszkik haza!”

This is serious stuff that may end very badly for Viktor Orbán, but there is no way that he will abandon his holy war against the very notion of an open society. To him, this is a struggle for survival. Today’s Magyar Idők called the enemies of Viktor Orbán “the fifth column,” which obviously must be eliminated. János Somogyi, a retired lawyer and a frequent op-ed contributor, targeted the Helsinki Commission but in passing wove into his story the European Court of Human Rights and its Hungarian judge, András Sajó, who taught at Central European University before his appointment to the court. Somogyi described the situation at the moment this way: “War rages between the penniless [nincstelen] democratic forces, the will of the people, and the aggressive minority of immensely wealthy liberal imperialistic forces. Behind the Helsinki Commission there is the immensely wealthy liberal empire while the strength of the popular will is in the truth. In wartime, the rules of war must be applied because this is the only way to bring the truth to victory.” It is this war that Viktor Orbán is leading. It is a war in which enemies must be eliminated, according to the rules of war.

The world is looking at what’s going on in Hungary with growing concern, and in the past few months Germany has been translating its concern into action. Magyar Nemzet reported today that a meeting scheduled for May 5 between German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and his Hungarian counterpart, Péter Szijjártó, has been cancelled. In February Angela Merkel celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of Germany’s signing ties of friendship with Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but only with the prime ministers of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Viktor Orbán was not invited. According to Magyar Nemzet, Szijjártó at the end of last year and the beginning of this year tried four times to initiate talks with the former German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to no avail. It is also unlikely that Angela Merkel will visit Hungary this year as was originally planned.

Hungary’s relations with Germany are just as bad as they are with the United States, but at least Orbán never aspired to close relations with the United States–not, that is, until Donald Trump became president. But Germany is another matter. Orbán announced on several occasions that he considers Germany the most important pillar of Hungarian foreign policy.

German cooperation is not the only critical pillar of the Orbán regime that is in danger of collapsing. If they start to fall, so will Viktor Orbán.

April 10, 2017

Central European University in Viktor Orbán’s crosshairs

It was on February 11 that I wrote a post titled “Viktor Orbán’s next target: Central European University in Budapest.” What prompted my post was an article “Can the Soros-School Stay?” that appeared in Figyelő, a once respectable financial paper acquired by Mária Schmidt, Viktor Orbán’s adviser on matters of history. This opening salvo was followed by at least four articles in Magyar Idők, the semi-official paper of the Orbán government, all aimed at discrediting the university. It seemed that the government had decided that the time was ripe to do what it had been contemplating for quite a while: get rid of CEU once and for all. I ended my post with these words: “What happens to CEU may depend, at least in part, on how successful Donald Trump is at implementing his plans at home and abroad. If he moves American democracy toward an illiberal state and if his followers keep bashing Soros, most likely Viktor Orbán will feel free to banish CEU from Hungary. But if he fails because of internal opposition and foreign resistance, perhaps these attacks will subside. Let’s hope so.”

Obviously, Viktor Orbán thinks that Donald Trump is doing splendidly and that his own move against George Soros, who after all supported Hillary Clinton, and Soros’s Budapest university is not only timely but has every promise of success. Well, Trump isn’t doing so splendidly, and bashing Soros wouldn’t do much to move the needle on his 35% approval rating. But, as the Hungarian government has formulated its proposed legislation against CEU, that’s really not the problem. What the Orbán government is demanding for the continued existence of CEU cannot be satisfied. Washington has nothing to do with a university accredited in the State of New York.

I don’t know, of course, what was in Orbán’s head when, in the middle of the night, the amendments to the Law on Higher Education were posted on the website of the Hungarian Parliament. I assume he hoped, at the very least, that there would be no response from a more sympathetic United States government. But he was wrong. The U.S. Embassy in Budapest released a strongly worded statement:

The United States is very concerned about the legislation proposed by the Hungarian Government yesterday that would severely impact the operations of the Central European University in Budapest…. The University is an important success story in the U.S.-Hungarian relationship, and it enjoys strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Government. The United States opposes any effort to compromise the operations or independence of the University.

Such a statement cannot be issued without the approval of the State Department.

I should add that if the Hungarian government wants to negotiate with the U.S., it will have to negotiate not with the Secretary of Education but with the governor of New York, Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat. Moreover, George Pataki, the former Republican governor of the state, is on the board of trustees of CEU. All in all, Orbán will have a hard time realizing his plans.

Large crowd at Michael Ignatieff’s press conference

This afternoon Michal Ignatieff gave a press conference which was attended by hundreds, including diplomats of the U.S., Canadian, German, Swedish, Dutch, and Romanian embassies. I am personally grateful to the Romanians, the only country from the region, for standing up for the academic freedom of a U.S.-Hungarian university.

Ignatieff, who is a very measured man, was visibly angry. He announced that Viktor Orbán is mistaken if he thinks that there will be a Trump-Orbán summit about the fate of CEU because he will be the one who will negotiate about the future of his university. He added that earlier the university’s administration demanded only the withdrawal of the amendments but now, after the Hungarian state violated their trust, they expect a new bilateral agreement that will guarantee the independence of the university. Earlier, in an interview he revealed that the university “plans to show [the Hungarian government] over the next week or so that messing with us comes with costs.” The university administration also announced that it is contemplating legal action against Origo, the latest acquisition of the government’s propaganda machine, because of the internet site’s falsification of facts in connection with the operation of CEU.

As far as the Hungarian government is concerned, the usual double talk reigns. László Palkovics, undersecretary in charge of education, whose rapid-fire explanations are hard to follow, tried to convince his audience at a press conference this morning that the amendments to the law on higher education have nothing to do with CEU. It is just one of the 28 foreign universities that operate in Hungary. It apparently took about 20 questions from journalists before he admitted that CEU is the only institution among the 28 that has no campus abroad and thus cannot operate in the future.

Szilárd Németh, one of Viktor Orbán’s deputies in Fidesz, usually gets the nastiest messages to deliver. In this case, he was surprised that this whole case caused such an altercation. It is just a routine affair: there are many universities that don’t function as working universities abroad, and this is considered to be fraud by Hungarian law. He sanctimoniously announced that “all educational enterprises must obey the laws of the country.” What he forgot to add was that this law hasn’t been enacted yet. He announced that this is “not a Soros problem” yet said that “all of those [in the Hungarian parliament] who rose to defend the Soros university made it clear that they actually serve the interests of George Soros.”

The university had important defenders. The slavishly servile Batthyány Circle of Professors, as usual, was silent at a time when they should be defending the integrity of academic freedom. On the other hand, László Lovász, president of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, stood by CEU and even offered himself as a possible middleman in future negotiations between the government and the university. He declared that “CEU is a very significant research center and international educational institution. It is good that it is situated in Budapest.”

Even a Fidesz-supported deputy mayor of District XV in Budapest, Zoltán Balázs, spoke out in defense of the university. But he is not a run-of-the-mill Fidesz politician. He happens to be a professor of political science at Corvinus University who also taught off and on at CEU. Balázs is a true conservative. Earlier he was often a guest in political discussion groups at ATV. He wasn’t my favorite, not so much because of his conservative ideas but rather because of his mannered and stilted style. But this time I was pleased that he sat down and wrote an article that was published in HVG titled “CEU and the freedom of conscience.” In it, he pointed out that “there is no sane person who wouldn’t consider the quality of American universities in general to be the standard anywhere in the world.” He added that “the University is one of Hungary’s doors to the world.” At the end of the article Balázs shared his disappointment with the Hungarian government, writing: “I have given up all hope” that the current political climate will change for the better.

As far as the European Union is concerned, Frans Timmermans did bring up the issue at today’s meeting of the European Commission. Tibor Navracsics, commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport, is studying the matter. I wrote to him to remind him of his academic past. I urge all of you to write to him as well. His e-mail address is cab-navracsics-contact@ec.europa.eu

March 29, 2017