Tag Archives: Gergely Gulyás

Foreign responses to the Hungarian handling of the refugee crisis

On August 27 an article by Jean-Claude Juncker was published in Népszabadság titled “Together, courageously.” In it, Juncker declared that the European Union “will never turn those people away who need our assistance.” However, he continued, it is worrisome that the populist statements of certain politicians merely arouse passions without offering solutions. Hate speech and ill-considered announcements endanger the union’s greatest achievement, the abolition of internal borders. This is not the world he wants to live in, he said. The real Europe is personified in “those Hungarian volunteers who give food and toys to hungry, exhausted refugee children.” Europe is “those students in Siegen who opened the door of their dormitory to the refugees.” Europe is “the baker on the island of Kos who distributes bread to hungry and weary people. This is the Europe where I want to live.” Finally, he added that “by hiding behind fences we can’t barricade ourselves from all fears and sufferings.”

This article was written before 71 people suffocated in a human trafficker truck with a Hungarian license plate not far from the Hungarian border. It was written before it became known that the Orbán government was planning to introduce modifications to the criminal code that will create what has been described as a state of martial law. It was written before the contents of a parliamentary resolution were published, in which nine members of the Hungarian parliament blamed European politicians: their “irresponsible policies are responsible for the death of people.”

Viktor Orbán, the man who is, we can safely say, responsible for everything that happens in the country, says not a word. He has, as is his wont, disappeared, just as he vanishes from the chamber when he forces his minions to vote for controversial pieces of legislation he wouldn’t like to be held responsible for at a later date. I can’t imagine that any statesman would remain silent in a situation that government officials and politicians describe as a state of emergency. Orbán instead gets his henchmen to sign the odious document.

Foreign criticism of Viktor Orbán has been growing, especially since the tragedy that befell the Syrians on their way to Germany in that truck. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave an interview today in which he called the attitude of some countries in Eastern Europe “scandalous.” He criticized them for “not complying with the common values of Europe.” Fabius wants to dismantle the fence the Hungarian government erected as the first demand, after which the “European Union should have a serious and tough discussion with the Hungarian leaders.” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also condemned the Hungarian “solution” to the crisis when he told a gathering in La Rochelle that “those who flee wars, persecution, torture, must be welcomed with dignity.” Look around the Hungarian train stations where families have to lie on the cement floor in designated areas.

Mourning the death of the refugees at the Keleti Station in Budapest

Mourning the death of the refugees at the Keleti Station in Budapest

On the other side, the Orbán government tries to justify its actions by claiming that they are actually defending the interests of Western Europe. Gergely Gulyás, one of the cleverest and therefore most dangerous of the Fidesz lot, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, told the German readers of the paper that in fact Hungary’s tough stand serves German interests. They should be grateful because fewer people will reach Germany as a result of Hungary not allowing the refugees to step onto Hungarian soil. “One could say,” he continued, “that Hungary is closing its borders for Germany’s sake.” Perhaps it would be time for the German government to tell the Hungarians that it doesn’t want their help. I don’t think that Angela Merkel would like to be held responsible for more deaths of refugees who feel that they must pay smugglers because the Hungarian authorities, for Germany’s sake, don’t let them board trains for which they already have tickets. Let’s leave that responsibility to Viktor Orbán.

Reuters‘s Krisztina Than talked at length with Ahmed, a twenty-seven-year-old Syrian school teacher, and his wife at one of the Budapest railway stations. He told her about their harrowing ten-day trip from Ariha in northern Syria to Budapest. They are heading to Germany, he said. He described their journey as “a trip from death to death.” He said that if he finds a smuggler, he will go with him. “It’s better than sitting here.” Indeed, the next day “there was no sign of Ahmed and his wife at the railway station.” The family who camped out next to them indicated that “they had already moved on.” The chaos that has been the result of the incompetence and perhaps even ill will of the authorities and the fear that they will have to stay in Hungary compel these people to flee, if necessary with the help of smugglers.

Just yesterday the Austrian police checked a suspicious-looking truck near Sankt Peter am Hart in Upper Austria in which they found 26 refugees, among them two five-year-old girls and a six-year-old boy who, due to severe dehydration, were close to death. The driver of the vehicle was a Romanian citizen. It is only a question of time before another tragedy happens. This one was a close call.

Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, on tumblr.com, blamed Viktor Orbán for the death of the 71 people who suffocated in the refrigerated truck because “if these people didn’t also have to escape from the Hungarians, they would still be alive.” Szanyi can say hair-raising things, but this time I’m not sure that István Dévényi of Válasz is correct when he claims that “Tibor Szanyi has simply lost his mind.” It was not only the right-wing Válasz that condemned Szanyi’s short note but also János Széki, a columnist of Élet és Irodalom. He is outraged that instead of mourning the victims, the first thing that comes to someone’s mind is that “Orbán will have to answer for the death of these people.” (Actually, Szanyi used the Hungarian expression “Orbán lelkén szárad” [it is on Orbán’s conscience].)

According to Zoltán Kovács, the government spokesman, the victims themselves are responsible for their own deaths. In the opinion of the leading politicians of Fidesz, it is the irresponsible European politicians who are guilty. And now Szanyi comes forward with a new culprit, Viktor Orbán himself. Of these three, I’m afraid, Orbán is the best candidate because after all he is the prime minister of the country that seems unable and/or unwilling to handle the crisis and whose government is determined not to allow these refugees to continue their journey in a legal and organized fashion. Under these circumstances, after such an arduous and dangerous journey, these people feel that they have no choice but to turn to smugglers. The more stringent border patrolling and more severe restrictions produce more smugglers and more possible tragedies. A rapid change in policy is in order. The tough talking-to Fabius proposed shouldn’t be postponed.

The new media landscape: Magyar Nemzet versus Napi Gazdaság

Back in 2010 I devoted a post to a comparison of the domestic news reporting of two Hungarian dailies: Magyar Nemzet, then a government mouthpiece, and Népszabadság, a paper close to the Magyar Szocialista Párt (MSZP). All the articles appeared on the same day, and the results were startling. As I said then, “Two papers, two worlds.” Nowadays, when the print and online Hungarian media world is in turmoil, I thought it might be useful to take a look at the contents of the new Magyar Nemzet and the paper that took its ideological place, Napi Gazdaság.

In 2010 the most obvious difference between the two newspapers was which news items the editors picked from the offerings of MTI, the Hungarian news agency. Magyar Nemzet neglected to report on news that was unfavorable to the government while it picked up items of perhaps lesser importance if they showed the Orbán government in a good light. Népszabadság, on the whole, covered the events of the day more accurately, but there was a tendency to overemphasize matters that reflected badly on the government.

napi gazdasag2

Fast forward to 2015. Let’s start with Napi Gazdaság. If you recall, Viktor Orbán in his interview claimed that the reason for his government’s problem is the loss of the media that in the past explained the policies of his administration and directed public opinion “appropriately.” Looking at today’s Napi Gazdaság, one finds at least one article that aims to explain the government’s position on what it considers to be an important issue: the objections of the European Commission to certain provisions of the law on the use of agricultural lands, something I wrote about yesterday. Although other papers, including Magyar Nemzet and Népszabadság, didn’t consider the announcement of the chairman of the parliamentary commission on agricultural matters concerning the issue important enough to cover, Napi Gazdaság found it newsworthy. The message the paper wants to convey is that “the Hungarian law doesn’t contain anything that cannot be found in some other, older member states,” and therefore the Hungarian government finds the EU objections discriminatory.

There is another important task Napi Gazdaság must perform–anti-Gyurcsány propaganda. Although the news that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s consulting firm received the job of supervising an international team to improve the quality of decisions on contracts subsidized by the EU is old, Napi Gazdaság decided to include an article on the opinion of Ildikó Pelcz (née Gáll), who thinks that “the case is still full of question marks.” For good measure, the paper ran an editorial titled “Pinocchio.” The editorial combats Ferenc Gyurcsány’s newly announced program on utility prices. More than half of the editorial is designed to show the superiority of the government’s earlier decreases in utility prices over Gyurcsány’s suggestions.

One must always keep alive anti-communism, even if it takes some ingenuity to find a reason for talking about it. Gergely Gulyás made a speech at a conference held in the parliament building in which he called attention to the sufferings of the people on “this side of the iron curtain.” He also charged that “no one ever asked for forgiveness for the sins of communism” but immediately added that “those who maintained that regime can never be forgiven.”

A good government paper must also include some cheerful news, which is hard to come by of late. Therefore, a misleading headline always comes in handy. For example, one of the articles claims that “85% of Hungarian youth believe that they will be successful in life.” The other results of the survey, however, are not so rosy. That these young people believe that “to be successful one needs connections” should make readers wonder about the true state of affairs in Hungary when it comes to job opportunities. Or that over 40% of them would like to work abroad. On the other hand, we ought to rejoice at learning that the Raoul Wallenberg School, after so much tribulation, will be able to move, although “the final decision” will be reached by Zoltán Balog only at the end of May. But then why the announcement now? 

And finally, one ought to hit the opposition hard and, if possible, accuse them of dishonesty and possible fraud. Ferenc Papcsák, former mayor of Zugló, accuses the new administration of Gergely Karácsony of PM (who was supported by all the democratic opposition parties) of wasting the 2.5 billion forints he left behind. According to him, the salaries of employees haven’t been paid, certain projects had to be shelved, and the local paper, for the first time in 19 years, cannot appear because of a lack of funds.

There are several important pieces of news that Napi Gazdaság simply ignores. One is that Béla Turi-Kovács, a Fidesz member of parliament, is turning in a request to re-examine the abandonment of the M4 project. Turi-Kovács began his political career in the Smallholders party and served as minister of the environment in the first Orbán government between 2000 and 2002. This piece of news was reported by Magyar Nemzet, but the abandoned M4 is not something that should be talked about in a government paper.

The other significant news of the day that Napi Gazdaság failed to report on is that the head of Lombard Kézizálog Zrt., a financial institution that went bankrupt back in April, was arrested. Eight banks suffered a loss of about four billion forints. Perhaps even more interesting is another piece of news, this time about Lombard Lízing Zrt., a company being sued by a former customer who received a loan of 3.5 million forints in Swiss francs. Without going into the very complicated details of the case, the Hungarian National Bank and the government are siding with Lombard Lízing Zrt. against the customer. Fidesz seems to be so interested in the case that a Fidesz member of parliament between 2010 and 2014 will represent Lombard in the suit. That piece of news was discussed in a lengthy article in Magyar Nemzet but not in Napi Gazdaság.

Another topic that Magyar Nemzet, like other dailies, spends time on is the question of capital punishment. After all, there will be a discussion of Viktor Orbán’s reference to the death penalty tomorrow in the European Parliament. Magyar Nemzet actually has two interviews on the subject. One with Tamás Lattmann, a professor of international law, and another with Dóra Duró of Jobbik. Lattmann explains that no referendum can be held on the subject, while Duró tells about a debate within the party. The interviews were conducted by Lánchíd Rádió, another Simicska concern.

It is again not surprising that news that the association of history teachers and historians called on the government to condemn the 1915 genocide of Armenians did not appear in Napi Gazdaság. On the other hand, Magyar Nemzet is sympathetic to the cause of the Armenians, and the paper had a number of articles on the subject in the middle of April. Napi Gazdaság would never report on the historians’ request because, first of all, the historians involved are not exactly favorites of this government. Second, the Orbán government has exceedingly good relations with Turkey. Finally, Armenia broke off diplomatic relations with Hungary after the Orbán government sent an Azeri national who murdered an Armenian in Hungary back to Kazakhstan as a friendly gesture to the Azeri dictator.

Magyar Nemzet nowadays provides space for opposition members to express their views. For example, in today’s paper they reported on the opinion of Bernadett Szél, an LMP member of parliament, that the taxpayers will be responsible for the cost of taking care of atomic waste that will accrue at Paks.

The latest news about Vladimir Putin’s remarks on Hungary’s economic interest and the Paks II nuclear power plant naturally appeared in both papers. But there is an important difference. The Magyar Nemzet article consists of four sentences. It is restricted to the bare facts. Napi Gazdaság, on the other hand, spends considerable time on the issue, adding details about the size and the nature of the Russian loan.

Magyar Nemzet can no longer be considered a “government mouthpiece.” That role was taken over by Napi Gazdaság. The question is whether the new Magyar Nemzet will be able to retain its readership. Moreover, for the last month or so, we’ve heard about more and more Magyar Nemzet employees abandoning the paper and joining Napi Gazdaság. I assume they are offered higher salaries. And most likely the journalists who switch believe they will have better job security since the future of Napi Gazdaság, given its favored position, is assured, at least for three more years, while this might not be the case with Magyar Nemzet.

Viktor Orbán drags Ferenc Gyurcsány onto the podium

Yesterday the prime minister called a marathon meeting of the cabinet. The members of the government were closeted in all day, with only a short break for lunch. In preparation for this meeting, the executive board of Fidesz most likely worked out a plan to revive the reputation of the party and the government. The remedy seems to be massive new infrastructure investment on European Union money. The M4 highway construction project has been abandoned, but we are now being told that 600 billion forints will be spent in the next two and a half years on road construction other than M4. Whether a new package of promises will turn around the negative political trend of the last year is hard to tell. Perhaps voters who have abandoned Fidesz will eventually return to the fold, but “eventually” probably won’t be in time for Sunday’s Tapolca-Ajka-Sümeg election.

Viktor Orbán’s magic touch?

In the past a personal appearance by Viktor Orbán in an electoral district could work miracles. In 2002, when after the first round of voting Fidesz was languishing, the prime minister visited 22 electoral districts where MSZP was leading. He managed to reverse the results in 14 of them. The question is whether Viktor Orbán still has that magic touch. Perhaps not. First of all, he is so afraid of anti-government demonstrations that his schedule is kept secret until the last minute. His itineraries are also secret, and therefore supportive crowds can’t be organized, even if fans were eager to meet and cheer him. Moreover, the old fire seems to have gone out. The reporter for 168 Óra thought that “the prime minister was a shadow of his former self [whose] words were hollow, short of ideas, and spiritless.” He came to the conclusion that Orbán’s presence, instead of helping the Fidesz candidate, worked against him.

The first town Viktor Orbán visited was Ajka, a socialist stronghold where the MSZP-DK candidate, Ferenc Pad, will most likely win. According to the reporter for Magyar Nemzet, only Pad’s posters are still intact. Even Orbán had to admit that Ajka is a “success story” where unemployment is only around 3%, even if the town is governed by a socialist mayor and the majority of council members are also socialists. Of course, the prime minister didn’t dwell on the party preferences of the inhabitants of Ajka. He simply said that his government also has a great deal to do with the relative well-being of the town. Surely, he concluded, people of Ajka cannot have adverse feelings about his government. Media descriptions of the public mood in the city contradict Orbán’s assessment.

From Ajka he moved on to Sümeg, where he promised the completion of the Sümeg Castle, built in the 13th century. Since this town, which lives off of tourism, is pretty solidly behind Fidesz, his stay there was short and to the point.

Anti-government demonstrations

However short his Sümeg visit, Orbán managed to be two hours late arriving in Tapolca. He still couldn’t avoid a small anti-government demonstration whose members had waited patiently for hours, keeping up their spirits by singing the anthem of the European Union and some protest songs from the 1970s. His speech was less than 10 minutes long and was addressed primarily to those activists whose job it is to rouse the less than enthusiastic Fidesz voters.

Orbán seemed to be bothered by the presence of the demonstrators and even mentioned them in his speech: “There are two kinds of people present. Those who are curious about how they can support the candidate of Fidesz-KDNP and those who came here to ruin our day. There is democracy and freedom, therefore it is their business; ours is that we should not allow that.”

Patiently waiting for Viktor Orbán in Tapolca / Photo: János Bődey

Patiently waiting for Viktor Orbán in Tapolca / Photo: János Bődey

Those cursed demonstrators! There may have been only a few dozen people, but the Fidesz leadership just couldn’t get over their gall. The current spokesman of Fidesz, Bence Tuzson, discovered that the organizer of the demonstration was Csaba Czeglédy, the former lawyer of Ferenc Gyurcsány, who was “a tax criminal of the socialists.”  The gathering wasn’t just an ordinary demonstration, according to Tuzson, but a “left-wing provocation,” and they “shouldn’t submit to such aggression.” He called on the left to recall their provocateurs.

Dragging Gyurcsány to the podium

This was not the first reference to Gyurcsány during today’s campaign trip. In Ajka, when Orbán was still in a jolly good mood and kept cracking jokes, he complained that lately he has been the only one “in the limelight” and therefore he has to bear the burden of every wrong decision. He feels so lonely that “soon, [he] will have to drag Gyurcsány to the podium,” he said jokingly, to the audience’s great satisfaction. And in a way, Orbán did drag the former prime minister onto the podium. First, a Nézőpont Intézet study prepared for Magyar Nemzet brought up the possibility that if Ferenc Pad, the MSZP-DK candidate, wins, he may decide to join the four DK members of parliament. That would hand Gyurcsány a parliamentary caucus, which would entitle his party to government funding and a great deal more flexibility in parliament debates.

By today this hypothesis became a perceived threat to the right. According to Gergely Gulyás, a win by Ferenc Pad may “result in the formation of a far-left parliamentary caucus,” which would have a serious effect on the work of the parliament. After all, this new caucus would be led by Ferenc Gyurcsány. Gulyás is not a stupid man. Far from it. He is one of the more intelligent Fidesz leaders, so I can only assume that Fidesz decided it was time for scare tactics. Calling DK a far-left party is, of course, a joke. Some commentators who find the socialist component in Hungarian political thinking practically nonexistent would call DK a neoliberal party, at least as far as its economic policies are concerned. Trying to frighten the electorate with the spectre of Ferenc Gyurcsány, whose party’s support in the population as a whole stands at 6%, seems like an act of desperation. The work of the Hungarian parliament, where Fidesz holds just shy of two-thirds of the seats, will never be disrupted in the event that Ferenc Gyurcsány becomes the leader of a DK caucus.

And that was not the end of “dragging Gyurcsány to the podium.” KEHI (Kormányzati Ellenőrzési Hivatal/Government Control Office) announced that it is pressing charges against Magyar Fejlesztési Bank/Hungarian Development Bank, which in 2005 extended a 17 billion forint loan for the construction of the Győr ETO stadium and ETO Park. As 444.hu jokingly said in the title of its article on the subject: “KEHI presses charges because during the time of the Gyurcsány goverment the Gyurcsányist MFB gave a Gyurcsányist loan to the Gyurcsányist ETO Park.” Soon enough we will have another endless court case that is a crass political ploy without the slightest legal merit.

Signs of internal divisions within the Hungarian governing party

In the last few months, as the popularity of Fidesz has been steadily declining, signs of serious internal divisions within the party have been proliferating. Ever since November one opinion poll after the other has reported serious losses in popularity for both Viktor Orbán and his party. Fidesz still leads, but the parties on the left are gaining ground. In fact, for the first time, the number of voters favoring all the democratic opposition parties combined is slightly higher than that favoring Fidesz.

It was almost inevitable that Fidesz’s political leadership would start looking for explanations for the waning popularity. Of course, the most obvious target should be Viktor Orbán himself. After all, Fidesz is a monolithic party where, according to grumbling party leaders, all decisions are made by the prime minister, who is also the head of the party.

His confidants nowadays are not the grand old men of Fidesz but upstarts like Antal Rogán, János Lázár, or the mysterious Árpád Habony who allegedly has no position either in the party or in the government yet is privy to the most confidential information if not state secrets. The old Fidesz leaders who joined the party twenty-five years ago either left a long time ago or Viktor Orbán set them aside. The less important characters had to be satisfied with positions inside state companies or insignificant administrative offices; the more important ones were either given positions that have clout on paper only, for example János Áder and László Kövér, or were shipped off to Brussels. Zoltán Pokorni, who at one point was chairman of Fidesz, had to be satisfied with a humble district mayoralty.

Until last November Fidesz spoke more or less with one voice, the voice of Viktor Orbán. If there were doubting Thomases, they became convinced by the cleverly orchestrated elections that, after all, “Viktor was right.” In fact, he is a political genius who can overcome all obstacles and lead the party to victory not just for the next four or eight years but for a very long time. Now, however, it looks as if Orbán has lost his touch. Instead of being able to correct his mistakes, he piles new ones on top of earlier ones. Moreover, several times in the last few months he had to retreat, which must have shaken the confidence of his closest associates.

I suspect that we are still not at a point that we will hear open criticism of Viktor Orbán himself. Instead, the criticism is directed against the men around him. The first public quarrel occurred in December when Zoltán Pokorni said a few disapproving words about the extravagant lifestyle of János Lázár. Kövér chimed in, taking Pokorni’s side. It is a well known fact that Kövér is no friend of Lázár, who runs the government’s daily business, serving as de facto prime minister, while Orbán himself acts like its all-mighty president, moving effortlessly on the stage of world politics. The quarrel didn’t end there. Lázár shot back and told Kövér that “a political veteran should think twice before he attacks us out of personal resentment or for political gain because he not only weakens us but also weakens or even executes himself.” I guess in this instance “execution” means the end of this veteran’s political career. This is not an idle threat. When after the lost 2006 election Orbán found out that some of his political friends at a party had discussed the desirability of replacing him because of his mistaken election strategy, they were promptly sent into political exile. The most prominent victim was János Áder. More recently, Tibor Navracsics, who as minister of justice criticized the legislative practices introduced by the prime minister’s office, soon enough found himself in Brussels.

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In January we learned that József Szájer and János Kövér also have their disagreements, primarily over Hungary’s relations with the European Union. Szájer is an old timer all right. He was one of the founders of Fidesz but, as opposed to the provincial Kövér, is now serving his third five-year term as MEP in Brussels. In his case, Brussels is not a political exile. He is still a very close associate of Orbán. In fact, Szájer’s wife is perhaps the most important person in the Hungarian judicial system today. In any case, the two old friends from college don’t see eye to eye on the European Union. Kövér belongs to the right wing of Fidesz, a Euro-skeptic who ordered the removal of the EU flag from the parliament building and instead put up a newly-designed flag of the Szeklers living in Romania. About three weeks ago Kövér in an interview expressed his dislike of the European Union and said that it might not be a bad idea to think about leaving. Szájer openly expressed his dissatisfaction with Kövér’s ill-considered statement in an interview on ATV.

Then came another open disagreement, this time between László L. Simon, undersecretary of János Lázár in the prime minister’s office, and Gergely Gulyás, the right-hand of László Kövér and head of a parliament commission dealing with legislative matters, who talked about the likelihood of modifying the law on freedom of assembly. This announcement was unfortunate. It looked as if the Orbán government was planning to restrict the current law and was thereby intending to limit the kinds of demonstrations that took place recently on the streets of Budapest. L. Simon immediately announced that the idea was Gulyás’s private opinion. The government has no intention of revisiting the law on assembly. A very wise move on the part of the government.

Then about ten days ago Zoltán Illés, earlier undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture in charge of the environment, decided to go public with his criticism of the Orbán government’s nonexistent environmental policies. Illés is a committed environmentalist and was useful to Viktor Orbán when Fidesz was in opposition as he attacked the socialist-liberal governments for their neglect of environmental issues. Illés was everywhere a tree was cut down. He organized demonstrations and blocked several projects because of environmental considerations. In 2010 he most likely saw himself as the next minister of the environment and must have been taken back when the ministry was abolished and he became only an undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture. But, as he explained recently, he still hoped that even in this position he could be effective. That turned out not to be the case. His position was stripped of practically everything that used to belong to the minister of the environment. Between 2010 and 2014, while in office, the formerly vocal Illés was quiet as a mouse for example when hundreds of trees were cut out overnight around the parliament building. Eventually he no longer could stand it. He was the only Fidesz member of parliament to vote against building a new reactor at the Paks nuclear power plant. That sealed his fate. Not only is he no longer an undersecretary, he didn’t even receive a cushy job. Now he “tells all” everywhere he has the opportunity.

In the last few days there have apparently been open disagreements between Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán on immigration; between Zoltán Balog and Károly Czibere, his undersecretary, on the segregation of Roma children; between Antal Rogán and László Trócsányi, minister of justice, on the necessity of new legislation in defense of religions.

Finally, newspapers reported yesterday that János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament, published a long critique of his party and the government on his own website.

The parrots are starting to learn words of their own.

What evil forces lurk behind the Hungarian demonstrations?

On December 29, 2014 Antal Rogán, whip of the Fidesz caucus, announced a new program called the “National Defense Action Plan” which, he claimed, was needed because the country is under siege. Details were not revealed at the time, but I suspected that it was intended to take the wind out of anti-government sails. “Action plan”–it sounds so manly, Ildikó Lendvai sarcastically remarked in an opinion piece that appeared in Népszava on January 3. She found the whole thing ridiculous until she read an interview with Gergely Gulyás, chairman of a newly created parliamentary committee on legislative activities. In this interview Gulyás said that it was time to make the law on free assembly more restrictive. “I immediately stopped laughing,” Lendvai wrote. This new action plan–because this is not the first in the history of the Orbán regime–should really be called the “Government Defense Action Plan.” The goal is to put an end to anti-government demonstrations.

A sharp-eyed reader of Népszava also became suspicious even before the appearance of the Gulyás interview. What does the government have in mind when it talks about a “National Defense Action Plan”? “Is this perhaps the beginning of limiting our basic human and political rights?” He found the whole idea “frightening.”

Within a week after the Gulyás interview, Viktor Orbán must have realized that he went too far. With all the international attention on the demonstrations and anti-government sentiment, tightening the law on free assembly might be seen as overreach. László L. Simon, undersecretary in the prime minister’s office who lately has been close to Orbán, was given the task of discrediting Gulyás. On January 7 he announced that “the government is not contemplating any changes in the law on assembly.” Gulyás simply expressed his own private opinion. Oh, sure!

Although Viktor Orbán abandoned the idea of changing the law, he is still bent on “dealing” with the anti-government forces. The Fidesz brain trust came up with another idea–putting pressure on the organizers of the demonstrations. Last Friday Rogán was the guest of HírTV’s P8 where he wondered “who is financing these more and more expensive demonstrations and for what reason?” And, he continued, “if someone for political reasons or because of economic interest finances such events, he should reveal his identity in order for us to see who is behind these demonstrations.” In his opinion, the organizers are trying to convince the public that the demonstrations are the handiwork of civic groups alone, “but they are not.” Unmasking the forces behind these demonstrations “might be part of the ‘National Defense Action Plan.'”

Since the Orbán government and its supporting media equate the government with the nation and the country, Magyar Nemzet argued that any support of the demonstrations by the democratic opposition parties is more than suspect. If opposition parties stand behind the demonstrations–as they don’t at the moment–it is a mortal sin, bordering on treason, from their point of view.

The truth is that the organizers ask for donations from the participants on the spot, and each time they manage to collect a few million forints. They have also made their financial records public on Facebook.

The anti-Semitic caricature sent by a student which Tényi found so hilarious

The anti-Semitic caricature sent by a student, which István Tényi found so hilarious

Antal Rogán made only veiled references to taking the case of financing the demonstrations to court if necessary, but a young teacher of Hungarian literature, István Tényi, decided to act. He filed a complaint against the organizers of the recent mass demonstrations on suspicion of fraud.

Tényi has a lot of experience in filing charges. He was the one who filed a complaint against Ökotárs, also for fraud, in connection with the group’s handling of the Norwegian Civic Funds. While he was at it, he filed a complaint against HVG because of its cover story showing Fidesz politicians gathering around the NAV chairwoman, Ildikó Vida, as if around Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus.

What I found out about Tényi isn’t pretty. He was fired from his first job because he sent threatening e-mails to his students indicating that the school will meet the same fate as Baghdad under the massive American bombing. Currently he teaches at the Károly Than Ökoiskola. A writer of a micro-blog found a “disgusting” item–his adjective–on Tényi’s Facebook page. One of his students sent him an anti-Semitic caricature of Gyurcsány. The former prime minister was depicted with the body of a cockroach and a Star of David on his face. The message was “the Israeli Gyurcsány should be crushed” just like a cockroach. Tényi must have enjoyed the caricature because he was one of the five who “liked” it. The other four, I suspect, are his students.

Otherwise, Tényi is 32 years old and graduated from ELTE’s Faculty of Arts in 2006. He is a member of the presidium of Fidelitas in Terézváros (District VI) where he functions as a coordinator. His favorite film is Star Wars IV-VI and his “ideal” is Sándor Petőfi. His favorite drink is mineral water. Most important, he enjoys filing charges against people who don’t agree with his party and the Orbán government. This man, if one can believe the messages on his Facebook page, is quite popular among his students. Imagine the education they are getting from this man. And unfortunately, there are far too many István Tényis among the followers of Viktor Orbán.

In Viktor Orbán’s absence anti-regime forces are gathering

The Hungarian media is full of articles and opinion pieces about Viktor Orbán’s disappearance since Christmas Eve, when he posted a silly selfie peering from behind a Christmas tree. He missed his customary New Year greetings and was not spotted anywhere getting in or out of his Volkswagen minibus. Given the less than friendly domestic atmosphere, the media and the public suspect that he’s in one of his alleged depression cycles that usually happen when things aren’t going well for him. When asked, the chief of the prime minister’s press department claimed that he is not on vacation. He is working as usual, but from home. And those Hungarians who can scarcely wait for one of his Friday morning monologues will be happy to know that the prime minister will deliver his pearls of wisdom tomorrow.

Orban 2014 karacsony

In Hungary everything revolves around Viktor Orbán. If he disappears for over two weeks, the domestic news flow shrinks to practically nothing. Issues that are currently making waves are the results of earlier bad decisions, like the law on Sunday closings and the introduction of tolls on roads that were until now free.

Since nothing is happening on the government front, I’ll turn to a recent article by András Bruck, one of my favorite political commentators. About this time of the year, a day after Christmas in 2013, I wrote a fairly lengthy summary of one of  his essays entitled “The Sign” that appeared in Élet és Irodalom. Unfortunately, the essay is not available for non-subscribers to ÉS, and therefore I suggest that you read my post, “András Bruck’s new encounter with George Orwell’s 1984.” In brief, Bruck recalls that in the early 1980s, when he was first able to read 1984, he was disappointed. The book was about “a different bad world” from the one in which he lived. While making love he felt neither fear nor hatred. He didn’t consider the three famous slogans of Ingsoc, WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH appropriate for Kádár’s Hungary. However, re-reading the book, he came to the conclusion that “every word of that book from the first to the last is about this sick, deformed regime in which, just like in the novel, the binding agent of power is lying.” His conclusion is that Hungary is a dictatorship pure and simple and that those who claim that Hungary is still a kind of democracy are kidding themselves.

Lately, András Bruck’s essays no longer appear in ÉS but in HVG, perhaps because he would like to reach a wider audience. Earlier he wrote infrequently, but since early November he has published two articles and gave an interview to Sándor Friderikusz on ATV. This radical critic of the Orbán regime seems to be optimistic for the first time in the past five years. The title of his November 7 article is “Before newer demonstrations.” He correctly anticipated that the first large demonstration would be only the first of many. As he said in the interview, he had enough of “a regime in which a well-developed socialism came into being for the rich minority and an underdeveloped capitalism for the majority.” This rich minority receives undeserved benefits without competition while the majority gets only the burdens of a poorly developed capitalism.

It is this deformed political system which at last is meeting resistance, not only by those who went out to demonstrate but also by those hundreds of thousands who are by now openly critical of the regime and want to put an end to it.

Bruck maintains that although a lot of people charge that Orbán’s political decisions are ad hoc, the truth is different: “Here everything happens according to a master plan.” It all started with two concepts cunningly devised: (1) a centralized political field of power that ensures permanent governing with a weak opposition and (2) the introduction of unorthodox economic planning. These two concepts, once put into reality, “enabled Viktor Orbán to establish a one-party system and his own personal rule.” His “illiberal confession” last summer merely marked the finished job.

Just as the socialist one-party system was impossible to reform, the Orbán regime cannot be “corrected” either. But the good news is that “this sick, deformed regime … has as much chance of survival as all its similar predecessors.” And “this new mass on the streets last week sent a clear and understandable message and for a moment the government took notice.” But only for a moment because they are convinced that they will be lucky and “there will never be a last straw.” In dictatorships it is quite often the case that there is a “total lack of any sense of danger” among the perpetrators. The people who have been serving this regime believe that they have nothing to worry about. It doesn’t occur to them that one day a new parliament may declare the present system a dictatorship and hence illegitimate. They think that their clever lawyers will save them and that their wealth will be safe stashed away somewhere outside of the country. But this time these sins shouldn’t go unpunished. Only unblemished individuals should sit in judgment. Some opposition politicians are not worthy of the task.

Bruck finishes his essay by quoting Gergely Gulyás, whom he describes as “the young star of Fidesz’s good cop department,” who said in Berlin recently: “Hungarians know very well the difference between democracy and a one-party system, the rule of  law and dictatorship.” Bruck added, “He said that well. Yes, we know it.”

The Orbán government’s latest “unorthodox solution”: A unique toll system

The Hungarian public is fixated on everything related to cars and driving, especially when it’s a question of money. Announcements about gasoline prices are daily fare in Hungary. If the price of gasoline goes up or down a couple of forints, it’s big news. Hungary is a poor country, we must not forget. Perhaps the most serious crisis since the change of regime occurred when it was announced that gasoline prices would have to be raised substantially. A blockade of all roads nationwide by taxi drivers paralyzed the country for three days and forced a government retreat.

Therefore it’s mighty strange that the Orbán government, already under considerable domestic and foreign pressure, decided to introduce a new toll system–and a badly designed one at that, which is bound to encounter serious opposition.

The system is geographically based. Each county, and there are nineteen of them in Hungary, is a separate toll unit. A driver who plans to drive on a toll road but strictly within the confines of his county need purchase only a single “matrica/vignette.” A few decades ago that might have been reasonable. A trip from Pécs to Harkány was considered to be quite a journey, and going to Hosszúhetény was an outright adventure. But these days, even with lower gasoline prices, people with cars are a lot more mobile.

The maps the government provided to make car owners’ lives easier are confusing. Some of them even had mistakes. If I figure it right, a person driving from Budapest to Pécs on the relatively new superhighway will need four matricas. Admittedly, the new county matricas are a great deal cheaper (5,000 Ft. each) than the former pass that was good for the whole country at 42,980 Ft/year. But what a hassle to figure out what counties you’re going through each time you plan a trip and which passes you’ll have to buy before you venture outside your own county. Even worse, think about those occasions when you have to get somewhere quickly–a family illness, a business emergency, the funeral of a colleague. You don’t just gas up the car and go. You also have to make sure you have the appropriate passes.

Let’s take a not too far-fetched example. A businessman who travels frequently from Pécs to Budapest will have to buy three or four matricas. And let’s say his family also wants to visit an aunt in Somogy or in Zala. The expenses start adding up.

The suspicion is that the government eventually wants to stop issuing those matricas that are good for a limited period of time. They are handy when the family goes on holiday to Lake Balaton or the Mátra Mountains. For ten days they pay only 2,975 Ft.; for a month, 4,789 Ft.

Drivers had to purchase their matricas by January 1, but as of December 29 no matricas were yet available. The new system was introduced in a great hurry without adequate preparation, as even Gergely Gulyás, the honey-tongued Fidesz politician, had to admit. By Friday (January 2) the computer system handling the issuance of matricas at gas stations crashed. There were long lines of people standing in the cold and rain in front of the headquarters of the office that takes care of the country’s roads. Purchasing passes online was not any easier because the site couldn’t handle the traffic.

And confusion reigns. Csaba Hende, the minister of defense and a member of parliament for Vas County, is furious. Based on the information he received, he promised his constituents that M86, a road between Szombathely and Vát, was going to be toll free. Came the surprise the following day: anyone using this new road will have to get a county matrica.

Utpalyak

There are bits and pieces of roads–because this is what we are talking about–where the introduction of tolls makes no sense. Perhaps the most egregious example is the road to the Budapest Airport. A single trip a year to and from the airport would require a Budapester to buy a county matrica.

The attached map gives some idea of what I’m talking about. As you can see, M1 and M0 serve a very important function: to save Budapest from heavy thru traffic, mainly the thousands and thousands of trucks that cross the country toward the north, the east, and the south. It is hard not to notice that certain parts of a single highway are free while other parts are toll roads. The reason is that those sections marked in green were built with EU support, for the specific purpose of ridding Budapest of the heavy truck traffic that is environmentally harmful. The European Union demanded that these roads remain toll free. Well, on the map they are marked free, but the roads leading to these free sections are toll roads, so, contrary to EU intentions, truckers don’t get a free ride around Budapest. You may ask what the orange-colored sections signify. These three short sections are still within the limits of Pest County, but if you drive onto them, you must have a county matrica for Fejér County in the case of M1 and M7 or Nógrád County in the case of M3. The distances are small. The trip from Törökbálint to Pusztazámor, for instance, is only 17.3 km or 10.7 miles.

A civic group that already blocked the M1 and M7 superhighways for a minute in December is threatening the government with an ultimatum. They now promise a total blockade of all roads if the government does not withdraw the new county toll system by the end of February. They will also demand the resignation of the Orbán government. The organizer is Zoltán Büki, a businessman and Együtt-PM activist in the county of Nógrád.