Tag Archives: György Balavány

People on the margins of Hungarian society: Szentegát and Szigetvár

A few days ago György Balavány published a fairly lengthy report in 24.hu about some poverty-stricken spots in and around Szigetvár in Baranya County. This is the region where Cserdi is located, the village made famous by the enterprising Mayor László Bogdán, whose effective but controversial methods considerably improved the quality of life of the village. According to Balavány, four of the ten poorest villages in Hungary can be found in this region, yet one hears relatively little about the hopelessness of the situation of the people who live there.

First a few words about György Balavány, who for many years prior to 2010 worked for Magyar Nemzet. Balavány, who describes himself as a conservative man with strong ties to the Hungarian Reformed Church, identified with the steadfast anti-government bias of the paper before 2010. But shortly after Fidesz won the election in 2010, when Lajos Simicska’s paper came to be in the service of Fidesz, Balavány left Magyar Nemzet. If I recall properly, he couldn’t imagine being part of a staff that from here on would have to sing the praises of a government. Any government. In the last eight years Balavány has become one of the severest critics of the Orbán regime.

Balavány and a camerman visited a village just south of Szigetvár called Szentegát and a section of Szigetvár named after Ferenc Móra, a twentieth-century Hungarian writer. What Ferenc Móra has to do with Szigetvár I have no idea, because as far as I know he spent practically his whole life in Szeged.

Let’s first take a look at Szentegát, a cul-de-sac village. There is a road to the village from Szigetvár, but from there one cannot travel any further. Once upon a time it was a retreat for the rich and famous. It was there that members of the Baron Biedermann family built their mansion, surrounded by forest, which today is a 235-hectare nature preserve.

It is in these idyllic surroundings that one can find 371 people who live in miserable circumstances. One of the more entrepreneurial women started a small general store and a “presszó,” a coffee shop, but the people of the village couldn’t maintain it. Nowadays, a mobile store makes occasional appearances. No doctor from Szigetvár visits the place. The sick can take a bus to town, 10 km away.

The former general store, pub, and “presszó” in Szentegát

From the conversations one can sense the hopelessness of the place. Those residents with whom Balavány talked don’t see a way out of their situation. Most of the people earn their miserable wages as public workers. They are bused to Szigetvár, where they clean streets.

One man, after 11 years, started his own business. He and his “employees” hire themselves out as earthworkers (kubikosok), but during the winter when the ground is frozen they cannot work. He admitted by the end of the conversation that “if you want to know, I am dissatisfied with this whole country. I left for England for a while, but it didn’t work out.”

And yet, he and his wife and mother-in-law will vote for Fidesz. As the wife put it, they will follow Orbán “because we don’t want migrants even if Soros wants to send them here. They would get apartments while we live in this hovel. We have enough trouble; we don’t want to support others. Especially not terrorists.” Her husband refuses to believe that the “migrants” are refugees. He added: “You must understand that it is about our lives, about our children. There shouldn’t be any mixing here. There are Gypsies, Hungarians, all kinds. We don’t need blacks and Arabs. And what incredible filth they left behind. In Germany God knows how many women they raped. Our girls will be going to school in Pécs. You must understand that I fear for them.”

Among the people who live in the part of Szigetvár that strikes me as a Roma ghetto, the level of dissatisfaction is even higher than in Szentegát and so is the desire to get out of this situation. Perhaps the most moving conversation was with a relatively young woman with a cancer-ridden husband and an eleven-year-old child. The husband receives 24,500 forints from the city and she takes home 64,000. “I don’t know how to escape from here, but I don’t want my child to sweep the streets of Szigetvár in a yellow vest.”

An older woman offered to speak on behalf of her neighbor: “My neighbor receives 22,000 Ft a month. I would like to see Viktor Orbán buying food, paying for electricity and water on that money. I wouldn’t mind telling him what I think of him straight into his face.” But she is not planning to vote because the representative for whom she voted last time pays absolutely no attention to them, refusing even to meet with them.

The parting words came from a man who didn’t mind if his name appeared in the newspaper. He sent the message to Viktor Orbán that “we have had enough of promises.”

An apartment house in the Ferenc Móra project in Szigetvár

From the report we don’t learn much about these people’s backgrounds, but we can safely assume that their educational attainment is extremely low. Among them, the anti-migrant and anti-Soros propaganda has obviously been extremely effective.

The openly anti-government sentiment in the Ferenc Móra project, or, as the Brits call it, “estate,” surprised me. But it was discouraging to hear that people who are most aware of the government’s total lack of interest in their fate will probably not bother to vote because “all politicians steal and cheat.”

György Balavány in an earlier article reported that even in “the poverty-stricken villages near Szigetvár” Fidesz will win more than 50% of the vote. According to recent polls, in Baranya’s electoral district 4, where these villages are situated, a Fidesz candidate would get 58% of the votes, Jobbik 15%, MSZP 10%, LMP 7%, DK 7%, and Együtt, Momentum, and Two-Tailed Dog 1% each.

But I don’t want to spread doom and gloom here, so I will end by quoting Gábor Török, a political scientist, who still believes that if Fidesz loses 20 districts out of 106 the party will not have a two-thirds majority and if Orbán loses 40 districts Fidesz will not have an absolute majority. Moreover, neither alternative is outside the realm of possibility, says Török. I hope he is right because four more years of the thinly veiled dictatorship of Viktor Orbán would be devastating for the country and its people.

January 3, 2018

Hate campaigns and their consequences

President János Áder, who had been reelected for another five-year term already in March, delivered his inaugural address on May 8. If we can believe him, his original intent was to talk about all the work that still lies ahead for the nation. “Looking at the political discourse of the past months,” however, he came to the conclusion that “if things go on like this, we will destroy everything we have managed to build together since 1990. We question everything. We completely disregard every—even tacit—agreement we have made. We go beyond all limits.” So, what is the remedy? According to Áder, the simple answer is “reconciliation.”

In his speech I found only two sentences that deserve closer scrutiny. One was a Ferenc Deák quotation, the third in the short speech, which can be construed as a criticism of the governance of the Orbán government. Deák, the architect of the 1867 Compromise with the Crown, warned that “Hungary should not be loved with inciting thoughts unsettling it, but with a series of everyday, useful deeds that promote prosperity.” The second sentence came from the section on the quality of public discourse, which has deteriorated dramatically over the years. “I don’t want to dwell on responsibilities and on who is to blame. However, political numbers and majority status dictate that the responsibility of government parties is greater,” Áder admitted.

Skeptics are certain that Áder’s words were approved by Viktor Orbán himself, who needs to cool the overheated political atmosphere. Others, like György Csepeli, a social psychologist, consider the speech a perfect example of hypocrisy. After all, Áder signed the bill that threatens the very existence of Central European University, which added fuel to the fire, but the same man now wants a world in which people of different political persuasions live in harmony. If I may add another observation. Áder admits that the larger share of the responsibility falls on Fidesz, but simply because it is the governing party with a large majority. He is wrong. The reason for this state of affairs is not political arithmetic but the militaristic style of Fidesz, which leads to both verbal and physical violence. There was a time when Áder himself, as the leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, practiced the same kind of verbal coercion he now decries.

Zsolt Bayer, about whom I have written 13 posts since the beginning of 2011, is certainly not helping to tone down Hungarian political discourse. Bayer, one of the founding members of Fidesz who still has the full support of Viktor Orbán and his party, is notorious for his anti-Semitism and his vile writing. This time he ranted about the handful of NGO leaders who appeared at a parliamentary hearing to silently protest a pending bill that would discriminate against those NGOs that receive financial aid from abroad. When asked his opinion of their silent demonstration, Bayer said: “If people like this show up in the parliament building again and disrupt their work, then they need to be thrown out like shitting cats. If they need to be pulled out through their snot and blood, then they should be pulled out through their snot and blood….Their faces should be beaten to smithereens, if need be.”

The objects of Zsolt Bayer’s ire

As György Balavány, a conservative journalist, pointed out, Bayer is not a lone overly active pitbull. “He is the voice of the party” which, despite all pro-government opinion polls, is afraid. Facing widespread opposition, the Orbán government has “no other strategy than the intimidation of the public and the incitement of its own followers. Both of them can serve as preliminaries to physical force.” Meanwhile, Fidesz acts as if the increasingly frequent physical encounters simply didn’t exist. Orbán, for example, said that “it is not his job” to comment on claims of that sort. Among those Fidesz members who had an opinion on Bayer’s latest, some found his remarks perfectly acceptable. For example, according to Fidesz spokesman Balázs Hidvéghi, Bayer didn’t cross the line between free speech and incitement. The spokesman of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation said that Bayer is like that, “and this is how many of us like him.”

At this point TASZ’s two lawyers, who took part in the silent demonstration at the hearing, decided to offer Bayer an opportunity to discuss their differences over a cup of coffee. Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, said she would join them. The naïve souls. First of all, any rational exchange with Bayer is a hopeless task. Worse, TASZ’s invitation was a tactical mistake because Bayer countered, saying he wants to extend the invitation to individuals on the anti-government side who, in his opinion, were either violent or who incited others to violence. Bayer suggested that the following individuals should be invited: Márton Gulyás and Gergő Varga, the two activists who were stopped from throwing washable orange paint on the president’s office, and two journalists from 24.hu who, according to Bayer, wanted him to hang on the first lamp post. He also thinks a pro-government female journalist should be present, who could tell how frightened she was among the “liberal” and “European” crowd at one of the demonstrations. Perhaps the editor-in-chief of a regional paper could also attend, who said that he is afraid that Orbán can be disposed of only in the way the Romanians managed to get rid of Ceaușescu. “If you think that I will take responsibility for the current state of public discourse alone, then you are mistaken.” Since then, others have indicated that they will attend and suggested more people who have been verbally abused by Bayer. One of these people was András Hont of HVG, who responded on Facebook: “Thank you, but I don’t want any coffee.”

Meanwhile fear and hatred have reached dangerous proportions in the country. The following incident in the heart of Budapest tells a lot about the impact of the government’s hate campaign against the European Union and the migrants. An employee of a pizza parlor on Kálvin tér, a bona fide Hungarian, thinking that one of his customers was a tourist, addressed the man in English. In turn, the customer called him a “filthy migrant.” And he kept yelling that Hungary belongs to the Hungarians and that he is not a tourist in his own country. He called the waiter “a cockroach.” When a young woman asked him to stop insulting the waiter who mistook him for a tourist, he hit the woman on the head, knocked her glasses off, and called her a stupid woman whose brain is filled with urine. Her bitter reaction after the incident was: “Long live the politics of hate, the brainwashing, and the incitement.”

Szilárd Németh, the embodiment of Fidesz primitiveness who is a deputy to Viktor Orbán, when asked about the incident, expressed his belief that the whole thing was nothing more than a “damned provocation” because anything can happen here “since George Soros set foot in this country and his provocateurs do what he tells them to do.” He added that this kind of incident has absolutely nothing to do with the Orbán government’s communication tactics because the government has never attacked the migrants. It has only defended Hungary and Europe. Poor Hungary, poor Europe.

May 14, 2017