Tag Archives: Gergely Gulyás

The Hungarian parliament “debates” the anti-NGO bill

It’s becoming really hot in the Hungarian parliament, where the opposition is waging a heroic fight against an increasingly aggressive and unscrupulous Fidesz majority. Members of the opposition are feeling increasingly frustrated by their impotence within the walls of parliament. They are desperate as they watch the Fidesz bulldozer grind on with escalating force.

One would think that the international scandal that ensued after the Hungarian parliament passed legislation aimed at driving the American-Hungarian Central European University out of the country would temper Viktor Orbán’s zeal and that he would conveniently forget about the bill against those civic organizations that are partially financed from abroad. But no, he is forging ahead.

Tempers are flaring in parliament. Lately I have noticed growing impatience on the part of the Fidesz majority, which often prompts the president or his deputies to forcibly prevent discussion of pending legislation. One would think that with such a large majority, the government party would show some magnanimity, but this was never true of Fidesz and it is especially not true of late. Perhaps because Fidesz parliamentary leaders are feeling the pressure of the streets they take their anger out on the members of the opposition. In turn, some opposition members seem buoyed by those tens of thousands who have demonstrated in the past week. The result is shouting matches and fines ordered by either László Kövér or one of his Fidesz or KDNP deputies.

About two weeks ago commentators predicted that the Orbán government will consider their bill on the NGOs even more important than their law on higher education, the one that affected CEU. And indeed, top Fidesz representatives were lined up for the debate, among them Gergely Gulyás, whom I consider especially dangerous because he seems to be an unusually clever lawyer with the verbal skills to match. He acted as if the proposed bill wasn’t a big deal, just a simple amendment of little consequence. As for the issue of branding NGOs by demanding that they label themselves “foreign-supported” organizations, Gulyás’s answer was that some people consider such support a positive fact, others don’t. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with the bill. He accused the opposition of “hysteria” stemming from frustration.

The Christian Democrats have recently discovered an able spokesman, István Hollik, who was not as restrained as Gulyás and spelled out in detail what the government’s problem is with the NGOs. According to him, “there are people who would like their political views to become reality and who want to have a say in the events of the world without seeking the trust of the electorate. This is what George Soros does in Europe and in America.” It is through these NGOs that Soros wants to influence politics.

MSZP’s spokesman was Gergely Bárándy who, I’m afraid, doesn’t set the world on fire. LMP’s Bernadett Szél, however, is another matter. In her view, the country shouldn’t be shielded from the civic groups but from “the Russian agents who sit here today in parliament.” She continued: “You are a government financed from abroad; you are politicians who are financed from abroad; you are supposed to do this dirty work. It is unacceptable.” As for Hollik’s references to George Soros, Szél said “You people make me sick!” Szél was well prepared for this speech because she had hundreds of cards printed on a black background saying “I’m a foreign funded politician.” She placed them on the desks of Fidesz MPs. Tímea Szabó of Párbeszéd didn’t mince words either when she announced that “all decent people want to vomit” when Fidesz members vote against civic groups that help the disadvantaged and the disabled. Finally, Együtt’s Szabolcs Szabó compared the bill to the one introduced in Putin’s Russia. He charged that Viktor Orbán simply lifted a Russian piece of legislation and transplanted it into Hungarian law. “Even Mátyás Rákosi would have been proud of this achievement,” he concluded.

Bernadett Szél hard at work

But that wasn’t all. It was inevitable that the pro-government civic organization called Civil Összefogás (CÖF) would come up. CÖF is clearly a government-financed pseudo organization which spends millions if not billions on pro-government propaganda. Naturally, CÖF is unable to produce any proof of donations received. Bernadett Szél held up two pieces of paper to show that CÖF left all the questions concerning its finances blank. At that very moment, Sándor Lezsák, the Fidesz deputy president of the House, turned Szél’s microphone off. He accused her of using “demonstrative methods” for which she was supposed to have permission. Such an infraction means a fine. When Szél managed to continue, she said: “Take my whole salary, but I will still tell you that CÖF has a blank report. So, let’s not joke around. How much do my human rights cost? Tell me an amount. We will throw it together. I’m serious.” This is, by the way, not the first threat of a fine against opposition members. MSZP members were doubly fined because they called President Áder “János.” The spokesman of Párbeszéd “was banned forever from parliament” because he put up signs: “traitor” on the door leading to the prime minister’s study.

Speaking of CÖF. Today László Csizmadia, chairman of CÖF, launched an attack against Michael Ignatieff in Magyar Hírlap. He described Ignatieff as “Goodfriend II on the left.” The reference is to the capable chargé d’affaires of the United States Embassy during the second half of 2016 when American-Hungarian relations were at the lowest possible ebb.

And one more small item. Index discovered that the parliamentary guards, a force created by László Kövér in 2012 (about which I wrote twice, first in 2012 and again in 2013, will get new weapons and ammunition:

  • 45-caliber pistols
  • 56 mm (.223 caliber) submachine guns
  • 62x51mm sniper rifles using NATO ammunition
  • .306 caliber rifles
  • manual grenade launcher for 40mm grenades
  • intercepting nets
  • a variety of ammunition for new types of firearms
  • universal (fired, thrown) tear gas grenades with artificial or natural active ingredients
  • hand-operated teardrop grenades working with natural or artificial substances

So, they will be well prepared for all eventualities.

April 19, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s next victims: The civic organizations

The Orbán government, at least on the surface, is not intimidated by the growing criticism of and demonstrations against its hurriedly accepted amendments to the law on higher education, which makes Central European University’s life in Hungary impossible. On the contrary, Zoltán Kovács, spokesman for the Hungarian government, attacked those who raised their voices in defense of the university. For example, when Ulrike Demmer, deputy spokesman of the German government, expressed her government’s concern over the amendments, Kovács fired back, saying that it looks as if George Soros can mislead even the German government with his lies. He also called it regrettable that a serious and responsible government such as the government of Germany would make such a statement.

In addition to its legislation against CEU, the Orbán government decided to proceed with its long-planned move against those civic organizations that receive financial assistance from abroad. I began collecting information on this issue sometime in February when I spotted a statement by László Trócsányi, minister of justice. He accused the NGOs of being political actors without any legitimacy as opposed to parliament, which is elected by the people. Soon enough Viktor Orbán himself attacked them. By late March the situation seemed grave enough for a group of scholars from the United States and Great Britain to sign a statement, “No to NGO crackdown in Hungary.” What was remarkable about this statement was that a fair number of the signatories came from decidedly conservative organizations and think tanks, like the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, the Atlantic Council, and the Adam Smith Institute. Their concern didn’t impress Viktor Orbán, who in Warsaw at the summit of the Visegrád Four countries accused the NGOs of being in the “migrant business,” which would require new regulations to ensure the “transparency” of their finances.

One didn’t have to wait long for follow-up action. On April 2, 444.hu obtained a copy of a proposal that would regulate all NGOs that receive foreign financial support. The reason given was long-winded and confused. Basically, the government was afraid that foreign interest groups might be able to influence Hungarian civic organizations to perform tasks that don’t serve the interests of the community but only the selfish interests of these foreign groups. Foreign-funded NGOs thus “endanger the political and economic interests … sovereignty and national security of Hungary.” For good measure, the proposed bill cited the danger of money laundering, financing extremist groups, and lending a helping hand to terrorists. The complete text of the draft can be read here.

HVG, with the help of its legal experts, took a quick look at the draft and decided that the bill in its present form doesn’t make the affected NGOs’ existence impossible. It is just nasty and humiliating. One of the humiliating items is that every time associates of these NGOs make a statement, give an interview, or provide informational material they must identify themselves as representing “an organization supported from abroad.” The experts decided that this is not as bad as the original idea, which apparently would have called the associates of these organizations “foreign agents.”

Spokesmen for these organizations were not as optimistic as HVG’s legal experts. According to Amnesty International, this new law can have the same devastating effect as the Russian law had after its introduction. Áron Demeter, Amnesty International’s human rights expert, considers the proposed bill a serious violation of the right of association and freedom of expression. Márta Pardavi of the Helsinki Commission regards the notion of “foreign subsidy” far too vague. It looks as if even EU grants are considered to be foreign subsidies and would thus be viewed as “foreign interference” that endangers Hungary’s national security. Or, there is a fund that was created from the budgets of the foreign ministers of the Visegrád Four countries. Is this also considered to be “foreign money”? She noted that churches and sports clubs are exempt from any such restrictions. Political think tanks and media outlets that also receive sizable amounts of money from abroad are exempt as well, although, as Pardavi rightly points out, they have a more direct influence on politics than, for example, the Helsinki Commission.

As it stands now, any civic organization that receives more than 7.2 million forints (about $25,000) a year from outside of Hungary must describe itself as an “organization supported from abroad.” Each time an organization receives any money from abroad, it must report the transaction to the courts within 15 days. The details of each organization’s finances will be listed on a new website called Civil Információs Portál. If an organization misses this deadline it can be fined and, in certain cases, can be taken off the list, which means that it will be shut down for at least five years.

Gergely Gulyás, one of the deputy leaders of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, invited all those parties that have individual caucuses for a discussion of the bill. At the meeting, held this afternoon, it became clear that none of the opposition parties wants anything to do with the bill, which will be submitted to parliament this week. Even Jobbik said “no” to the proposal. As Gulyás Gergely said after the meeting, “George Soros’s hands even reached as far as Jobbik.” As the Fidesz statement insisted, “every Hungarian must know who George Soros’s men are; what kind of money and what kinds of interests are behind these organizations supported from abroad.” The bill will be voted into law before the week is out.

But, as 444.hu pointed out, by attacking the NGOs the Orbán government is treading on dangerous ground because Hungary in 1999, during the first Orbán government, signed the Charter for European Security of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. In the charter we find the following: “We pledge ourselves to enhance the ability of NGOs to make their full contribution to the further development of civil society and respect for human rights and fundamental freedom.” 444.hu predicts that this piece of legislation, if passed, will prompt even greater protest in Europe and the United States than the Hungarian government’s action against CEU.

Given Hungarian political developments in the last seven years, I assume it doesn’t come as a great surprise that one of the key findings of Freedom House’s “Nations in Transit 2017” is that, with regard to democracy, “Hungary now has the lowest ranking in the Central European region,” behind Bulgaria and Romania. The trajectory of Hungary’s fall from grace is shown below.

April 5, 2017

Are the bureaucrats of Brussels afraid of Orbán as the Devil is of incense?

The pro-government Hungarian media triumphantly announced today that Martin Schulz, president of the European Union, who had been described earlier as the greatest enemy of Viktor Orbán, has finally come to the conclusion that the Hungarian prime minister represents the majority opinion within the European Union and therefore must be handled with kid gloves. At least this is what MTI reported from Passau, where Jens Stoltenberg, Donald Tusk, and Martin Schulz participated in a debate on “Menschen in Europa.”

One must understand that for years the right-wing media has been after Martin Schulz as well as, more generally, all those EU parliamentary caucuses on the left that are not exactly friends of Viktor Orbán’s illiberal democracy. One of the ugliest portraits of Schulz appeared in 888.hu, combining bits and pieces of half-truths about his career. And Pestisrácok.hu discovered at the end of September that a number of liberal and green delegates led by Barbara Spinelli of Italy on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group suggested a parliamentary discussion on the situation in Hungary regarding the anti-immigrant propaganda campaign. “The left wing of the European Parliament thirsts for revenge because of the forthcoming referendum,” pestisrácok.hu concluded.

The Hungarian government was undoubtedly irritated that Schulz refused to take the referendum seriously. He rightly considered it a domestic issue with little or no bearing on European affairs. He warned Budapest that “it should take seriously that it was not a majority” that voted at the referendum–that is, that the referendum was not valid. So it was with a certain amount of glee that MTI reported from Passau that Schulz had become a dove as far as his attitude toward Orbán is concerned.

The topic of the debate was the relationship between NATO and the European Union, specifically the defense of the borders. Donald Tusk also emphasized the necessity of defending “the last liberal democracy” that exists in Europe. But MTI, not surprisingly, concentrated on an answer Martin Schulz gave to a question from the floor: “When will the patience of Europe run out vis-à-vis Hungary, whose government in an indirect manner is responsible for the closing of the last opposition paper?” According to the MTI report, Schulz said that Viktor Orbán’s opinion that “the European Union wants to substitute a European cultural amalgam for national identities” is in his opinion wrong, but it must be taken seriously because by now it has become a majority opinion within Europe. One must find opportunities for a dialogue with the people whom Orbán represents instead of punishing them, which would only result in giving them an opportunity to feel that they are being victimized. He suggested “an open debate on the question of what kind of cultural identity nations possess within the united Europe.” The worst possible solution would be “to label all those who ask this question outcasts.”

This MTI report from Passau was greeted with jubilation in the pro-government press. Magyar Idők recalled Barbara Spinelli’s September 26 call for a debate on Hungary at the full session of the European Union, but after the referendum they scrapped the idea because “they didn’t want to give the Hungarian prime minister an opportunity to express his views on the subject.” But new winds are blowing now in Brussels. Schulz admitted that Viktor Orbán represents the opinion of the majority on the migrant issue. “If Schulz is not careful he will be considered a supporter of Orbán.” Magyar Idők is certain that the bureaucrats in Brussels “have recognized that when Viktor Orbán appears with the 3.3 million ‘no’ votes in his satchel a very unfavorable turn of events will take place from their point of view.” And “they dread the moment when the Hungarian prime minister says in the European Parliament what people think. Not only the Hungarians but—to quote Schulz—the majority of Europeans.” The title of the article is “They are afraid of him as the Devil is of incense.” So much for Schulz’s dialogue.

incense

Today, Gergely Gulyás responded to Schulz’s soothing words, which he considered “an important step forward.” But he lamented the fact that the European Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, where the left and liberal members are “in a depressing majority,” still want compulsory quotas without any upper limit. The Hungarian government appreciates Schulz’s call for dialogue, but “we would find it helpful if the socialist president of the European Parliament would try to curb the political extremism espoused by the majority of representatives in his own delegation.”

Government critics are not at all pleased with Schulz’s statements, especially in light of recent developments at home. Most people on the democratic side are convinced that no dialogue can be conducted with a dictator, and they consider Viktor Orbán a man who by now for all practical purposes is an autocrat with unlimited power. Nothing can happen in the country without his approval, and if the courts find some of the acts of the government illegal, in no time the laws are changed. According to them, Hungary is no longer a democracy and the European Union should recognize this fact.

More and more people are coming to the conclusion that in the last six years Viktor Orbán has created a political system that cannot legally be replaced. No opposition, no matter how well prepared, intelligent, and diligent, can remove Viktor Orbán from power. He might remain in office for the next twenty years unless something drastic happens. Can the European Union allow such a rogue state to remain within its borders? What if other countries in the region with weak democratic traditions follow Orbán’s example? Should the leading politicians in the EU worry about Orbán’s sensitivities when at home he mercilessly crushes his opposition? I don’t think so.

October 12, 2016

György Matolcsy, a headache for Viktor Orbán

In the last few weeks György Matolcsy, chairman of Hungary’s central bank, appeared before parliament twice, and his performances there have been the butt of jokes.

The Hungarian National Bank is supposed to be an independent entity in the sense that its chairman cannot be instructed either by the government or by parliament as far as its monetary policy is concerned. Parliament can, however, exercise a supervisory function over the bank’s activities. Given the recent scandals surrounding the Hungarian National Bank, Matolcsy was required to answer questions from the floor.

On both May 17 and June 13 Matolcsy was asked about the details of the bank’s foundations and the billions these foundations either lent or gave away to Matolcsy’s friends and family members. On both occasions, MSZP’s Gergely Bárándy posed the questions, questions that Matolcsy either couldn’t answer or refused to answer. He simply brushed them aside and repeated three times: “Sham! Sham! Sham!” He declared that anyone who attacks him and the National Bank is doing great harm to the Hungarian currency. In return, Bárándy called him a liar. A few days later the Hungarian National Bank’s press department announced that Chairman Matolcsy is suing Bárándy for slander.

György Matolcsy at his appearance in the parliament on May 17 / MTI / Photo: Tibor Illyés

György Matolcsy at his appearance in parliament on May 17 / MTI / Photo: Tibor Illyés

This first performance was followed by a second, when again the opposition pressed Matolcsy regarding the money that was passed to the small bank of Tamás Szemerey, who happens to be Matolcsy’s first cousin. MSZP members of parliament also wanted to know what Szemerey’s wife was doing on the board of one the central bank’s foundations.

Matolcsy’s answer was curious to say the least. He has many cousins who have not received any money from the Hungarian National Bank. For example, László Trócsányi, the current minister of justice, is also a cousin through the Darányi and Héjjas families. Moreover, Márton Kasnyik, a journalist at 444.hu who is very critical of him, is also a cousin. Trócsányi, “although he greatly admires the bank chairman,” rushed to correct the record. He is in no way related to Matolcsy, he said, although Matolcsy had earlier claimed that the information about the family ties came from Trócsányi himself. As for Kasnyik, Matolcsy’s claim is far-fetched. Their last common ancestor lived sometime in the eighteenth century.

Bárándy didn’t stop at family ties. He also asked the bank chairman about numerology. He wanted to know whether it is true that Matolcsy has something against the number 8, and whether it is true that he banished the offending number both inside and outside of the bank. No more Room 8 inside. And the official address of the bank was changed from Szabadság tér 8-9 to Szabadság tér 9. Also, Bárándy wanted to know whether it is true that only people who were born on August 20, 1984 can work in the secretariat of the bank. Matolcsy’s reaction was one of great indignation. But instead of denying the rumors, he simply insisted that his antagonists are concocting conspiracy theories against him.

It was at this point that people began to question the mental competence of the bank chairman, including Gergely Bárándy himself who expressed his doubts about Matolcsy’s mental state on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd (Straight Talk).

Before I return to Matolcsy’s more serious problems, let me insert a bit of family history here. The Matolcsy genealogy was thoroughly researched by a relative, and the almost 100-page family tree is quite impressive. Students of history know the Matolcsy name mainly because of Mátyás Matolcsy (1905-1953), apparently a brilliant economist who ended up as a far-right politician in the 1930s and 1940s. He became a member of the Arrow Cross party and in 1946 received a ten-year jail sentence. He died in jail. Mátyás is only a distant relative of György.

It is a mystery why Matolcsy felt compelled to bring up the Darányi and Héjjas families. Kálmán Darányi, prime minister of Hungary between 1936 and 1938, is associated with the radical right in Hungarian politics, especially during the second half of his premiership when he appointed Germanophile politicians to his cabinet and had a hand in the preparation of the First Anti-Jewish Law. As for the Héjjas family, Iván Héjjas is synonymous with the White Terror. While Pál Prónay was in charge of the summary executions in Transdanubia, Héjjas was at the helm in the territories between the Danube and the Tisza rivers. Search me why a sane man would brag about such a lineage in connection with an alleged relative who turned out not to be a relative at all.

Turning back to the pressure being brought to bear on Matolcsy. After two years of wrangling in court, the Hungarian National Bank was ordered to release a study Századvég did for the bank for the modest sum of 1.8 billion forints. It turned out that the study the bank received had nothing whatsoever to do with the topic Századvég was supposed to analyze. It was, it seems, just another instance of money being laundered through Századvég with the assistance, in this case, of the National Bank.

Yesterday Matolcsy received a letter from Mario Draghi, chairman of the European Central Bank, who explained again that “Article 123 TFEU prohibits the ECB and national central banks from purchasing public debt instruments directly on the primary market.” In brief, the Hungarian central bank cannot invest in government bonds even if they are purchased on the primary market by its foundations.

And one final note. There are people of some importance in the Fidesz ranks who have reservations about Matolcsy’s activities. One is Gergely Gulyás, one of Orbán’s deputies, who is usually an eloquent defender of everything the Orbán government does. So when he says that “there have been some questionable financial decisions by the foundations,” it must mean that not all the Fidesz bigwigs support Matolcsy, that they are worried about the troubles his activities have brought to the party. Further proof that Gulyás must have reservations about the increasingly shady affairs of the government and other Fidesz-controlled institutions like the prosecutor’s office or the National Bank is that in a recent interview he admitted that several times he had toyed with the idea of leaving politics altogether. Indeed, this articulate, smart, always impeccably dressed “young gentleman,” coming from the upper middle class of the Buda bourgeoisie (budai úri fiú), simply doesn’t fit in with the likes of the brutish Szilárd Németh, his fellow deputy chairman of Fidesz. He comes across as someone who, in a different setting, would be a traditional conservative, and a conservative could never feel entirely at home in Fidesz.

June 16, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s “veto” turned out to be a hoax

The Hungarian media was abuzz for a few hours late last night with Viktor Orbán’s “veto” of the agreement between Turkey and the European Union at the March 7 summit in Brussels. If you visit the official site of the Hungarian telegraphic agency, MTI, you will find that its reporter learned from “sources in Brussels” that the summit was abruptly cancelled as a result of Viktor Orbán’s veto of the direct transfer of refugees from Turkey to the European Union. The report was filed at 20:06.

If MTI’s inaccurate reporting had remained the only source of the news, it wouldn’t have spread so fast as it did, all over the world. But Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman, decided to write on Twitter at 20:44: “Orban has vetoed EU-Turkey plan to relocate asylum seekers directly from Turkey.”

Less than an hour later, at 21:18, MTI returned to the subject of the veto. This second MTI report, written in Budapest, followed an interview with Zoltán Kovács on Channel M1 of the Hungarian state television. Here, the abrupt cancellation of the summit was changed to “cessation of the negotiations on the direct transfer of refugees from the Turkish refugee camps.”

Right-wing papers were singing the praises of Hungary’s great diplomat and statesman who had the courage to say no to the powerful heads of state of the European Union. But it didn’t take long before Hungarian reporters found out that there was in fact no decision that Orbán had the opportunity to veto. What happened was that during the discussion of the Turkish suggestion to transfer Syrian refugees directly to the European Union several member states objected to the details of the plan: Greece, Italy, Cyprus, France, and Hungary. Most likely, as Kovács indicated, the Turkish suggestion will have to be reworked to be acceptable to these countries. And indeed, discussions will take place in the next week or so between Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, and Ahmet Davutoğlu, the Turkish prime minister, to modify and fine tune the proposal.

European leaders hailed the summit as a breakthrough because Turkey offered to take back all migrants who cross into Greece in the future. Of course, the deal comes at a price: doubling EU subsidies to care for the refugees from 3 to 6 billion euros and “a commitment to take one Syrian refugee directly from Turkey for each one returned from Greece’s Aegean islands.” In addition, Turkey asked the EU to speed up visa free travel for Turkish citizens and to open negotiations about EU accession for Turkey.

Aat today's press conference Angela Merkel looks very satisfied with herself

At today’s press conference Angela Merkel seemed happy with the results

So, let’s return briefly to the issue of the direct transfer of Syrians from Turkey to the European Union, which Orbán didn’t veto but only objected to along with several other member states. What is it all about? Is it really bad for the European Union countries?

First of all, let’s see what the plan would actually entail. Let’s say that in the future, after the agreement takes effect, a boat arrives in Greece from Turkey with twenty illegal immigrants, ten of whom are Syrians, five are Afghans, and five are Iranians. All twenty will be sent back to Turkey, according to the plan, but for the ten illegal Syrians, one of the European countries could choose ten Syrians currently in Turkish refugee camps. They would already have been vetted. Moreover, the host countries could make their choices based on the professional background of the asylum seekers or on any other criteria, like educational attainment, marital status, or age. Amnesty International considers this selection process immoral, inhuman, and shortsighted.

As far as Viktor Orbán is concerned, he repeatedly stated that Hungary will never accept quotas, compulsory or otherwise. In fact, in the most recent Friday morning interview he said that in Hungary “there will be no breaking through the fence, no revolts in refugee camps, no bandits hunting for Hungarian women…. We will not create a Europe out of Hungary, which will remain a safe place.”

The impression in Turkey is that Orbán doesn’t want any Muslims in his country, period. The Turkish Gazette Vatan quoted an Orbán statement at length, where he exhibited his anti-Muslim prejudices. According to the paper, Orbán at the summit said: “In our view, countries can accept a large number of Muslim immigrants. It’s their choice, but we do not want to…. [The direct transfer plan] doesn’t apply to all EU countries. If I gave approval to this plan, people would hang me from a lamp post in Budapest.” If it is indeed the case that not all EU countries will be required to take Syrians straight from Turkey, Orbán’s “veto” becomes especially ridiculous.

Fidesz’s official assessment came this afternoon. The spokesman for the party was Deputy Chairman Gergely Gulyás, who stressed that “at last the leaders of the European Union accepted the same position that Hungary has always represented, meaning that the borders of the European Union must be defended.” This is an incredible statement because we remember only too well that Orbán first demanded that Greece defend its 10,000 km. of coastline by force and later suggested amassing an international contingent to intercept boats carrying refugees. This deal with Turkey bears no resemblance to Orbán’s plans. But such discrepancies have never bothered any of the high-level Fidesz politicians.

Gulyás stressed, however, that the Hungarian government considers the agreement as it now stands “not in Hungary’s interest,” and therefore “in its present form it cannot be signed.” The government mouthpiece, Magyar Idők, followed suit and collected a host of negative opinions about the results of the summit, mostly from French papers. Magyar Nemzet, on the other hand, criticized MTI, Zoltán Kovács, and the state television for misinforming the public.

At the end, Angela Merkel herself set things straight when this morning she gave a press conference, during which a reporter asked her about Viktor Orbán’s “veto.” “There was no talk about a veto but about some disputed questions. You are familiar with the Hungarian point of view concerning quotas. They even went to court on this issue. This standpoint hasn’t changed. We still have to find answers for a score of questions or have to discuss them in the different parliaments. That’s why we said that we welcome the Turkish proposal but we haven’t given the nod yet.”

Orbán may have strenuously objected, but he still approved the final statement, which contained the provision for compulsory quotas. That’s why Zsolt Gréczy, spokesman of the Democratic Coalition (DK), said that the only thing Orbán is doing at the moment is trying to divert attention from the fact that within two weeks he twice voted for the compulsory quotas. Gréczy pointed out that the final document specifically mentions the necessity of speeding up the dispersion of refugees in order to lighten Greece’s burden. I am really looking forward to that final nod, to which Merkel referred. I’m sure that, despite all the theatrics, Viktor Orbán will be one of the signatories.

March 8, 2016

The Orbán government is determined: it alone will decide on the state of terror threat

At the moment the Orbán government has two serious challenges. One is its absolute determination to introduce an amendment to the constitution that would authorize the government to unilaterally declare a “state of terror threat” that would lead to draconian limitations of the basic rights of citizens for sixty days and that could be extended indefinitely. Since the governing party, Fidesz-KDNP, doesn’t have the requisite two-thirds majority in parliament to pass a constitutional amendment, it would need the cooperation of the opposition parties. Most are, however, suspicious of the real intent of this amendment.

The other headache for the government is the unexpected outburst of discontent among the nation’s teachers, who are being supported by students and parents. Demonstrations and strikes may be forthcoming, not just by the teachers but also by the railroad workers and bus drivers.

Today Viktor Orbán devoted the lion’s share of his usual Friday morning interview to these two challenges.

In a way, the constitutional amendment issue is the easier of the two to solve. Only a few members of parliament need to be persuaded or bribed to vote with the Fidesz majority and the problem will go away. Dealing with tens of thousands of teachers and other dissatisfied state employees is a much more difficult proposition. So it’s no wonder that Viktor Orbán began his interview with the teachers’ demand to undo the fundamental changes the government has made in the educational system since 2010.

Yet here I would like to talk about the amendment, because from the point of view of Hungarian democracy it is a potential threat to the very structure of governance as well as to human rights. I detailed its key provisions earlier.

So, let’s see where things stand with the amendment, whose passage seems to be of tremendous importance to the government. Its rigid insistence on the exclusive right of the government to declare a state of terror threat is frightening to those who are suspicious of the government’s intentions, especially since the word “terrorism” has been bandied about by government spokesmen without any justification. Yet Viktor Orbán refuses to yield any say in the matter to parliament. In the last few days various Fidesz politicians have declared that the government will submit the proposal unaltered.

At first it looked as if the opposition was united in opposing the measure, but two days ago Ádám Mirkóczki, Jobbik’s spokesman, casually remarked at a press conference that his party would agree to allow the government to declare a state of emergency for three days. After three days, he said, Jobbik would insist on parliamentary approval for its extension by a fourth-fifths majority of parliament.

Mirkóczki’s remarks must have sounded encouraging, so the Orbán government decided to pursue the possibility of shortening the duration of a state of emergency as a promising basis for negotiations. In an interview with Die Presse Gergely Gulyás, the Fidesz politician in charge of shepherding the amendment through parliament, stated that as far as the government is concerned even fifteen days may be enough. Or, if necessary, Jobbik and Fidesz could agree on something between these two lengths of time. Gulyás also revealed in the same interview that the government has most likely been having private conversations with András Schiffer, co-chair of LMP. In fact, he expressed his belief that if there is an agreement it will be between the government and LMP.

So I suspect that the government will have the necessary votes to pass the odious bill, not for a sixty-day duration but for a shorter length of time which, I assume, could be extended if necessary. This is very bad news for Hungarian democracy.

This morning the Hungarian media was in turmoil when MTVA’s Híradó and Magyar Idők, two government publications, came out with the following headline, accompanying their articles on Viktor Orbán’s interview this morning: “Orbán: Preparation is underway for an attack against the Hungarian people.” In no time dozens of publications asserted that Hungary is under a terror threat at this very moment. About an hour later the journalists discovered their mistake. What Orbán actually said was that the “state of terror threat” can be declared “if there is credible information about the preparation of a terror attack.” As Népszabadság rightly pointed out, this is the first time that anyone from the government had “attempted to define the state of terror threat.”

Magyar Idők misinforms public about alleged terror threat

Magyar Idők misinforms public about an alleged terror threat

As we know from opposition members of the parliamentary committee on national security, at no time did Terrorelhárítási Központ (TEK), the police, or the intelligence services ever report any terror threat. When asked, they always answered that they have no such information. Now, the MSZP chairman of the committee, Zsolt Molnár, will specifically ask the services whether the terror threat has grown lately or not. If it has, why didn’t they inform the members of the committee?

I think the question is a legitimate one: why does the Orbán government find this amendment so crucial? Rumors are flying in Budapest about possible reasons that have nothing to do with terrorism. One provision currently in the amendment might be of some importance to the government: “the prohibition of organizing events and demonstrations in public spaces.” Nothing could stop the government from declaring a state of terror threat if it was itself challenged by mass demonstrations or strikes. Imposing a curfew could also come in handy in case of disturbances. Closing the borders might be useful. Or contact with foreign journalists in case of trouble. I know some people might say that such a scenario is unlikely. Maybe, but this government is paranoid. So, I wouldn’t put it past Viktor Orbán and his minions to resort to extreme measures if they felt threatened. After all, we just heard that the chairman of the central bank, in addition to his protection by the ordinary police force, just created a new guard and ordered 112 weapons and 200,000 rounds of ammunition.

February 5, 2016

The Orbán government’s proposed amendments

A few days ago I wrote at some length about the Orbán government’s attempt to limit democratic freedoms under the guise of an unspecified terrorist threat that can be declared unilaterally by the government whenever it feels that such a move is warranted.

To introduce such “a state of terror threat,” the constitution must be amended, for which the government party needs a two-thirds majority in parliament, which it no longer has. Therefore, on January 12 István Simicskó, minister of defense, called a meeting of all five parliamentary parties, which the socialists boycotted. LMP and Jobbik did attend, however. András Schiffer expressed his misgivings about the proposed law, his greatest objection being that the declaration of a state of terror threat would depend exclusively on the will of the government. On the other hand, Előd Novák, whom Jobbik delegated to represent the party, was enthusiastic. When Origo’s reporter asked him about the extraordinary powers granted to the government in the amendments, he lightheartedly remarked that in a state of emergency “one cannot be too squeamish. That is the natural order of things.”

police state2

Between January 12 and January 19, however, something happened. It looks as if the Jobbik leadership was less elated about the proposed amendments than Novák initially was. Indeed, Novák dramatically announced on his Facebook page that although the document he received from the ministry of defense has been made secret for thirty years, he is ready to face three years of jail time. He cannot remain quiet. Here is proof that the government is planning to introduce a police state any time it claims the need for such measures.

This morning Ádám Mirkóczki, the spokesman for Jobbik, announced on Hír TV that his party agrees that the government should have wider powers in case of a terror threat, but it cannot accept the present proposal that gives the cabinet the exclusive right to identify the existence of a terror threat. They will not support governance by decree. They will not sign a blank check. Moreover, they insist on a four-fifths majority to pass the amendments. Both Népszabadság and Magyar Nemzet triumphantly announced that “the government’s proposal failed.” Indeed, even with Jobbik support, Fidesz would not have a four-fifths majority.

According to Gergely Gulyás, Fidesz stands by its original proposals, but its representatives are ready to negotiate a possible decrease in the duration of the state of terror threat.

Here is the English translation of the document that was officially made public by Előd Novák. It contains both the wording of the amendments and a detailed exposition of what the vague words in the constitution actually mean in reality.

♦ ♦ ♦

Sixth modification of the Hungarian Fundamental Law

 

Article 1.

The following subheadings and the following 51/A. Article are inserted into the Fundamental Law:

Terror threat-situation

Article 51/A.

 (1) The Government can proclaim terror threat-situation in an event of significant terror threat or in the case of a terrorist attack, and it can introduce extraordinary measures defined in cardinal law.

(2) The Government can issue decrees in a terror threat-situation that  according to regulations defined by cardinal laws – can suspend the application of certain laws, deviate from certain legal provisions, and it may take other extraordinary measures.

(3) The Government regulation (1) and (2) shall remain in force for sixty days, unless the Government – under the authorization of the National Assembly – extends the scope of the regulation.

(4) For the National Assembly’s (3) paragraph decision, two-thirds vote of the present Members of Parliament is needed.

(5) The Government informs continuously the President of Republic and the National Assembly standing committees that have relevant responsibilities and powers about the measures taken in the time of terror threat situation.

(6) The Hungarian Defense Force may be used during the terror threat-situation, if the use of the police and national security agencies are not enough.

(7) The Government’s decree is repealed if the terror threat situation ceases to exist.

Article 2.

 (1) This modification of the Fundamental Law shall enter into force on the first day of the month following its promulgation.

(2) This modification of the Fundamental Law is accepted according to the Fundamental Law’s Article 1. Paragraph (2) Point (a) S) article Paragraph (2) by the National Assembly.

(3) The consolidated text of the Fundamental Law after this modification of the Fundamental Law entered into force shall be published immediately in the Official Gazette.

General Explanation

The security environment of the transatlantic region, including Europe and Hungary has fundamentally changed since the creation of the Fundamental Law. New type of security challenges have appeared in the world that cannot be answered by the previous same special legal answers given to classical interstate threats sufficiently and in accordance with the requirement of necessity-proportionality. The special legal order rules of the Fundamental Law create a logically closed system for the classical challenges. In this system the state of national crisis answers the classical war threat, the state of emergency answers the fundamental threat of the state or social order from inside, the state of preventive defense ensures the preparation of a coming war, the unexpected attack situation answers a situation when an external armed force attacks the country. This system provides more and more authority to the government according to the severity of each situation. The new type of security challenges cannot be implemented fully into this system.

Taking into account the security situation nowadays, this modification serves the goal of supplementing the special legal authority for the prevention and management of the new type of security challenges of terrorism, given that these types of – armed and unarmed – threats have intensified in Europe.

Detailed Explanation

For Article 1.

The purpose of the amendment is to give the government powers to immediate action in the case of terror threat – including armed or cyber threats as well – with the National Assembly’s post factum confirmation. With this amendment the prevention or elimination of these new types of security challenges does not require the introduction of the state of preventive defense that was designed for war time emergency or the introduction of state of emergency that was designed for managing an internal crisis. The latter two special laws include the systematic modification of governmental operations and the ordinary life of a citizen; which in a state of emergency situation involves fundamental legal order changes as well.

The terror threat and certain attacks do not require the introduction of state of emergency, because the immediate management of these problems could be handled by the Government with the option of extraordinary measures. In contrast, the introduction of the state of emergency is needed, if more serious attacks happen that massively threaten the life and property safety, or the constitutional order of the state is endangered fundamentally. In the case of these types of extended threats the state of emergency seems to be justified, where the President of the Republic has the decision-making powers, and the operation of the state has system-wide changes, it opens a broader extraordinary executive power in order to ward off the threats.

The regulation of terror threat-situation follows technically the regulation of emergency, with an additional overhead warranty. For the prolongation of the Government’s regulations, the Fundamental Law requires a qualified majority, and regards to the nature of the situation the Government has a permanent obligation to provide information to the President of the Republic and to the National Assembly.

The promulgation of terror threat-situation provides for the Government quick intervention opportunity to deviate from the regulations concerning the public administration, Hungarian Defense Force, law enforcement, national security agencies. In addition, it provides opportunities for the Government to introduce measures that have an effect on the everyday life of an ordinary citizen proportionately to immediate threats, with providing continuous information to the President of the Republic and to the National Assembly at the same time. The terror threat-situation does not necessary require the use of the Hungarian Defense Force, but it provides an opportunity for that. The Government can decide on the usage of Hungarian Defense Force at the same time, when it promulgates the terror threat-situation. Additional warranty condition is that the deployment of Hungarian Defense Force can be used if the Government evaluates the usage of the police and civil national security services are not sufficient to handle the situation.

For Article 2.

It includes the enacting regulation.

 

  1. year…law

Terror threat-situation modification of certain laws

  1. §

The XXXIV. law on Police from the year 1994.;  1. § Paragraph (2) Point 9. is replaced by the following:

[The police in the Fundamental Law, in this law and based on an act in other regulations among defined crime prevention, public administration and law enforcement responsibilities]

            “9. Shall carry out the law enforcement tasks delegated to it in time of state of national crisis, state of emergency, state of preventive defense, terror threat-situation, unexpected attack and in time of emergency, furthermore in time of state of national crisis and in case of unexpected attack participate in capturing and unarming the people who crossed the state border armed or with weapons,”

 

  1. §

The CXXV. Law on national security services from the year 1995.; 9. § Point b) is replaced by the following:

[The national security services]

            “b) shall carry out the tasks delegated to them in time of state of national crisis, state of emergency,  state of preventive defense, terror threat-situation, unexpected attack and in time of emergency;”

 

  1. §

The CXIII. Law (hereinafter: Hvt.) 36. § Paragraph (1) Point f) which is connected to homeland defense and Hungarian Defense Force and measures in time of special legal order is replaced by the following:

(The Hungarian Defense Force shall carry out the following tasks with the right to use weapons)

            “f) application,”

  1. §

(1) The Hvt. 64. § Paragraph (1) is replaced by the following:

“(1) The operational regulations and measures are defined by this chapter in time of state of national crisis, the state of emergency, state of preventive defense, terror threat-situation. The national measures in accordance with the NATO Crisis Response System can be used independently, and in consort with other extraordinary measures. “

(2) The Hvt. 64. § Paragraph (4) is complemented by the following:

(The Government can introduce)

            “c) in terror threat-situation measures according to the 78/A. §

(3) The Hvt. 64. § Paragraph (5) is replaced by the following:

“(5) Where this part mentions regulations, it means extraordinary measures introduced by the Hungarian Defense Council in time of state of national crisis; the President of Republic in time of state of emergency; the Government in time of state of preventive defense, terror threat-situation and unexpected attack. Any conflicting legislation with these does not apply.

 

  1. §

The Hvt. is complemented with the following 46/A. sub-heading:

“46/A. Extraordinary measures that can be introduced in time of a terror threat situation.

 

78/A. § The Government may order in compliance with the Fundamental Law Article 51/A Paragraph (2)

  1. obligatory publication of agreed and coordinated information, official resolutions for public service broadcasters
  2. stockpiling, regulating and restricting the circulation of  products, energy sources, consumer goods that are important for the protection of the country
  3. the replenishment – with simplified procedure – and overwork of  important positions in public administration, defense management, the Hungarian Defense Force and law enforcement organizations
  4. the simplification of management system in certain sectors of public administration, the modification of regulations – administration period, authority, jurisdiction and scope of cooperation – of public administrative institution’s work schedule, and public proceedings.
  5. restrictive regulations on frequency management and broadcasting, and order introduction of special modes
  6. necessary restriction of air traffic in the Hungarian air space and airports
  7. the employment of the Hungarian Defense Force, and  law enforcement forces and equipment to protect the country and the critical infrastructure of public services
  8. the limitation of ownership rights and locking interests of other states, natural persons, legal persons, and organizations without legal persons that threatens the security of the country
  9. cumulating special reserves, speeding up purchases of imported goods, export restrictions, introduction of commercial quotas, suspension of public procurement
  10. introduction of special counter terrorism measures
  11. tightening the traffic control on state borders regardless of any international regulations and conventions
  12. the use of alert levels for citizens as well
  13. the use of special access control procedures and technical control in public institutions and public places
  14. the tightening rules, introducing conditions or denying,   personal or vehicle entry into buildings and facilities of public administration, Hungarian Defense Force, law enforcement and other organizations that contribute to defense. The traffic’s evacuation, limitation or diversion on their approach routes’
  15. the searching of individuals or vehicles in the above mentioned objects and approach routes, in addition finding and destroying unattended things with unknown origins
  16. making rules for service time – differently than the procedure in time of peace – concerning the Hungarian Defense Force’s operative military units and official cadres of law enforcement agencies
  17. increased control of the internet, letters, baggage and mail traffic
  18. the restriction of residence in certain parts of the country, and subjection it to a permit
  19. curfew in the affected settlements with determination of the exact time period
  20. prohibition of organizing events and demonstrations in public spaces
  21. the use of rooms, studios, broadcasting stations, equipment,  and facilities of radios, TV-s and other mass communication institutes, unbundling or ignoring them for use.
  22. the suspension, limitation and controlling of postal and electronic communication services, furthermore the use of telecommunication and information technology networks and equipment, and the unbundling or ignoring the use of electronic communication equipment
  23. the limitation of road, rail, water or air vehicles in certain parts of the day and in certain places (routes), or prohibiting their transport temporarily in all over- or some parts of the country
  24. requisition or limitation of the usage of repair capabilities, stations, airports and storage units  in order to ensure the road, rail, water and air transports, and perform transport services in expenses of the vehicle owner
  25. the limitation or prohibition of entry of foreigners
  26. the limitation or prohibition of contact and communication with foreigners and foreign organizations, institutions
  27. an obligation to non-Hungarian citizens that stay in Hungary to report themselves to authorities, and the Government may introduce limitations on their stay
  28. that traveling to, across, or out of certain parts of the country is possible only with a permit
  29.  that the population in certain part of the country has to evacuate for a necessary time, and at the same time the Government appoints a new place of residence for them
  30. the use of regulations different from the rules on public finances, implementation of appropriation transfers between budget categories, suspension of execution of certain expenditure appropriation, fulfillment of expenditure not included in the law on the central budget, requirement of extraordinary payment obligations, establishment new type of fines, changing the rate of payment and fine obligations, elimination of exemptions and discounts.”
  1. §

The Hvt. 80. § is complemented with the w) point:

(In the application of this act and legislation concerning national defense)

“w) application: participation in time of state of emergency and terror threat-situation in elimination of violence.”

  1. §

This Act shall take effect on the first day of the month following its publication.

  1. §

This Act considered being a cardinal law based on the Fundamental Law Article T) Paragraph (1), Article 45. Paragraph (5), Article 46. Paragraph (6) and Article 54. Paragraph (4).

 

GENERAL EXPLANATION

The act is aimed to implement the sixth amendment of the Fundamental Law about homeland defense and the Hungarian Armed Force, in addition to implement the modification of the CXIII. Law (hereinafter: Hvt) on measures in special legal order from 2011. The regulation expands to the XXXIV. Law on police, from the year 1994. (hereinafter: Rtv.), and to the CXXV. law on national security services (Hereinafter: Nbtv.) and supplements them.

 

DETAILED EXPLANATION

For the 1. §

The constitutional appearance of the terror threat-situation made necessary the supplementation of Rtv. concerning special legal order. The amendment serves this purpose.

For the 2. §

The constitutional appearance of the terror threat-situation made necessary the supplementation of Nbtv. concerning special legal order. The amendment serves this purpose.

For the 3-6. §

For the Hungarian Defense Force, the sixth amendment of the Fundamental Law is necessary to carry out tasks in a terror threat-situation. The deployment of the Hungarian Defense Force has to be expanded to this special legal order besides the state of emergency, in favor of making every other regulation concerning the national defense interpretable.

The Proposal contains the Hvt. 46/A. sub-heading supplementation with the terror threat-situation. The Hvt. new 78/A. § contains in detail – within the cardinal law regulation framework of the Fundamental Law – what kind of measures are in the scope of the Government’s authority.

For the 7. §

The section contains a giving effect provision

For the 8. §

The section contains a cardinal clause.

January 22, 2016