Tag Archives: Gergely Gulyás

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

 

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.

arrows

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.