Tag Archives: György Bolgár

Election predictions and fallout from the Botka-Molnár controversy

You may recall that after Viktor Orbán’s performance in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad I wrote that my “overarching impression” was that Viktor Orbán is afraid. I based this opinion on his “extended and continuous self-aggrandizing,” which made me suspicious that he is not as self-assured as he would have us believe. Therefore I was somewhat surprised that a few days later Ildikó Csuhaj of ATV and András Stumpf of Válasz, who rarely see eye to eye on anything, agreed that Viktor Orbán’s self-confidence has never been greater. He was genuinely relaxed and justifiably satisfied with his accomplishments.

Lately two well-known political scientists came out with their assessment of the current political situation, with special attention to possible outcomes of the 2018 national election. Somewhat surprisingly, both Gábor Török, someone who maintained fairly good relations with Fidesz until recently, and Csaba Tóth of the liberal Republikon Intézet described the mood in Fidesz as apprehension concerning the forthcoming election. Viktor Orbán is afraid that Fidesz may not have an absolute majority, preventing it from forming a government.

I’m sure that readers of Hungarian Spectrum would view the scenario described by the two political scientists as outright impossible. After all, we have been doing practically nothing else but bemoaning the sad state of the left-liberal opposition, whose chances were further reduced after László Botka’s intemperate attack on Zsolt Molnár. But Török and Tóth approach the issue from the other end of the political spectrum. They have been paying attention to the changes that have taken place in Jobbik.

Török’s interview with Magyar Narancs is still not available. Magyar Narancs, which is a weekly, comes out on Thursday, but it published a short excerpt from which we can glean the main outline of his thinking. His claim is that the political situation today cannot be compared to 2014 when the so-called “center field of force” (centrális erőtér) still existed. This center field of force meant that Fidesz positioned itself in the center of the political scene between two irreconcilable political forces, a left-liberal and a far-right one. This political combination could assure Fidesz an absolute majority, even with 35-40% of the votes. Now that Jobbik has moved toward the center, Jobbik voters are more likely to vote for a left-liberal candidate and vice versa as long as they manage to defeat the present government. Opinion polls corroborate such a willingness for cross voting. Consequently, as things stand now, Török explains that Fidesz may lose 40 electoral districts, which would mean that it would come up short of the necessary 100 seats for an absolute majority. In that case, Orbán will try “to buy” some members of parliament, try to find a coalition partner, or, most likely, have a snap election within three months.

Tóth also concentrates on Jobbik. As opposed to the left, Jobbik “is capable of strategic thinking” and, unlike MSZP, is unified and speaks with one voice. He also stresses that it is a misconception to think that in order to defeat Fidesz one needs a single strong opposition force because of the possibility of cross voters in the new circumstances. In Tóth’s scheme, opinion polls indicate that the left-liberal opposition in Budapest is stronger than Fidesz and that 10-15 electoral districts could be won just in Budapest. Jobbik could easily win 10 districts nationally, and the liberal-left opposition could add another 10 districts in the larger cities. That would be enough for Fidesz not to have an absolute majority.

Tóth also talked about the Botka-Molnár controversy as far as the liberal-socialist opposition’s chances in Budapest are concerned. Keep in mind that Republikon Intézet is also a polling organization, and therefore Tóth has been looking at polling data as well as voting patterns in the past. The conclusion Republikon Intézet drew was that the left-of-center opposition can win only in individual districts where DK is strong and therefore the cooperation of MSZP and DK is a must in Budapest. As far as the person of Ferenc Gyurcsány is concerned, it is true that he is the most unpopular politician on the left, but even if Botka succeeded and excluded Gyurcsány from participation, “Fidesz would place Gyurcsány” behind any cooperation between DK and MSZP, even if on the local level. His conclusion is that “making the democratic forces free of Gyurcsány is impossible,” and therefore Botka’s efforts in this direction are misguided. Moreover, the numbers don’t support Botka’s strategy, because it was MSZP that lost voters and not the Demokratikus Koalíció.

Since my piece on the Botka-Molnár controversy was published yesterday I had the opportunity to listen to a couple of interviews relevant to the subject. One was by László Botka himself on Olga Kálmán’s “Egyenesen” on HírTV. In my opinion, it was a disappointing performance. Botka has only three or four sentences, which he keeps repeating over and over, even within the same interview. Otherwise, he is devoid of any vision. Anyone who’s interested in the interview should visit HírTV’s website.

Here I only want to point out something I found amusing, I guess because I have an interest in questions relating to language. Botka desperately tried to wiggle out of accusing Molnár of betrayal (árulás). After all, ‘betrayal’ is a strong word, and Botka’s use of it is widely considered to be politically damaging. Added to his discomfort was Kálmán’s disapproving tone while questioning him on this point. How did he try to get out of this sticky situation? This is the relevant passage: “After democratic discussions on political strategy a decision was reached and a few weeks later a socialist politician questions that decision. One cannot really find another word but betrayal because he divulged a common decision.” The poor man must have been desperate because, although it is true that “elárul” means both “to divulge” and “to betray,” “árulás,” the noun he used, can mean only one thing–“betrayal.”

Equally amusing was István Ujhelyi’s interview on ATV’s “Egyenes beszéd” yesterday. He also had a fairly lengthy conversation with György Bolgár on “Megbeszéljük,” a call-in show on KlubRádió, on Friday. Bolgár stressed the seriousness of Botka’s accusations and said that he hoped that Botka has proof to support his contention. Ujhelyi, who is perhaps the strongest supporter of Botka in the party, assured Bolgár that Botka is a man who doesn’t talk through his hat. He must have tangible proof. What about the others Botka alluded to, asked Bolgár? Ujhelyi answered that he was certain that after Botka returns from his vacation he will make public the “background information” about other possible traitors in MSZP.

By Monday this conversation, which took place a couple of days before, had become an embarrassment because it turned out that there was no hard proof of any “betrayal.” Moreover, the party bigwigs decided that all that talk about betrayal was damaging to MSZP. So, now Ujhelyi had to explain his words away. Luckily for him, András Sváby, one of the new anchors of “Egyenes beszéd,” was pretty clueless when confronted with Ujhelyi’s revised version of his conversation with Bolgár. Ujhelyi insisted that the only thing he said in the Bolgár interview was that “if there are people [in the party] who hold notions different from the official decision concerning electoral strategy Botka will put an end to their games.” It was really pitiful to watch the man, especially since I used to think highly of him as a hard-working member of the European Parliament. He is a decent man caught in a party machinery that has lost its way.

August 2, 2017

Does Putin have something on Orbán? Suspicion lingers

Just as House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi wants to know what the Russians have on Donald Trump, many Hungarians would like to know what Vladimir Putin has on Viktor Orbán. A couple of days ago a Russian journalist, Anastasia Kirilenko, published a lengthy article for The Insider, which is actually a Russian-language site, titled “Suitcase from Solntsevo: Does Putin have a video-kompromat of the Hungarian leader?” Kirilenko’s story takes us back to the 1990s when Budapest was a hotbed of Russian mafia bosses and other shady characters from all over the world.

The story is not entirely new, but this is the first time that Viktor Orbán is named as the possible beneficiary of a suitcase full of illicit money from the most important man in the Russian mafia, the Ukrainian Semion Mogilevich, who lived in Budapest at the time. Mogilevich has been described by the FBI as “the most dangerous mobster in the world.” He has been accused of “weapons trafficking, contract murders, extortion, drug trafficking, and prostitution on an international scale.” After it looked as if he might get in trouble with the law in Hungary, he left for Russia where he lives in a suburb of Moscow called Solntsevo. Hence the title of Kirilenko’s article.

Another famous mafia chief and a friend of “Szeva bácsi” (Uncle Seva), as he was called by his friends in Budapest, was the German Dietmar Clodo, who in the 1980s was arrested for bank robbery at least twice in Germany. Eventually, he was also arrested in Hungary and received a ten-year sentence, which he was able to serve in Germany. He was released in 2011 and since then has been heading a security firm.

I wrote a post in 2013 about Mogilevich and Clodo in Budapest in which I looked into the role of Sándor Pintér, minister of interior, in the affairs of the Russian mafia bosses. There is good reason to believe that Clodo and Mogilevich were paying Pintér protection money. Several times a year large sums of money were sent by Mogilevich via Clodo to Pintér. But that’s not all. There is a good possibility that Pintér was aware of something about Orbán’s past that he was/is using against him. In 1998, at the time of the formation of the first Orbán government, the young prime minister insisted on naming Pintér minister of interior, an appointment that even his colleagues disapproved of. A former police chief as minister of interior? But Orbán insisted. In fact, Orbán is so attached to Pintér that he appointed him minister of interior in both the second and the third Orbán governments. The fellow must be the very best minister of interior in the whole world. People suspect that Pintér has a stranglehold on Orbán as a result of some earlier action by the prime minister of a sinister or perhaps even criminal nature. And this may have to do with Mogilevich and Clodo.

Jürgen Roth, a well-known German investigative journalist specializing in organized crime, especially in Eastern Europe, interviewed Clodo in June 2016 in Regensburg. Roth incorporated the written testimony of Clodo in his 2016 book, Schmutzige Demokratie: Ausgehölt—Ausgenutzt—Ausgelöscht? According to this document, Clodo was entrusted by Mogilevich to deliver sums of money to various officials, “among whom was Sándor Pintér.” In the spring of 1994, just before the national election, “Mogilevich’s interpreter brought [Clodo] a suitcase with approximately one million deutschmarks.” Clodo was told that the suitcase must be handed to the young man in Clodo’s study and that he was supposed to open the suitcase right there because behind the books was a hidden camera which recorded the exchange. But the young man was extremely reluctant to enter the house. As Clodo recalls in his written testimony, “this man didn’t want to come into my house. I told him, ‘Listen to me, I have that damned money in a suitcase. I don’t want to go out on the street with this suitcase. I don’t care. If you refuse to come in, I will give it back to Mr. Mogilevich. I don’t care.’ I wasn’t interested in who this man was. It was only after the elections that I understood that this young man was Viktor Orbán from Fidesz.”

Clodo told the same story to Antónia Rádi in 2013, who was then working for HVG. She published the story in HVG at the time but, after consulting with the magazine’s lawyers, decided to withhold the politician’s name. When the story, without mentioning Orbán’s name, came out, few people showed any interest in her story. It was only György Bolgár who decided to interview Rádai on his show on Klub Rádió. He correctly noted that if this story is true, whoever the politician is can’t feel safe. After all, that video might still be in the possession of Uncle Seva in Moscow.

So, let’s return to Mogilevich who, after the FBI, the Italian police, and the Swiss national security office were after him, fled to Moscow in 2003. Although the Russian authorities were fully aware of his criminal past, he was allowed to settle in Moscow in great comfort, apparently because of “his close relationship to Putin from the Leningrad days,” meaning the years prior to 1996 when Putin was working for the City of Saint Petersburg.

Anastasia Kirilenko points out that Orbán was fiercely anti-Russian until 2009, when he did an about-face and became a great friend of Vladimir Putin and Russia. What happened? Her answer is: “There is a good possibility that the reason for Orbán’s sudden pro-Russian attitude has something to with Semion Mogilevich’s arrest in Moscow for tax evasion and his subsequent clearance on all charges.”

Clodo, who was interviewed by The Insider, described Orbán today as Putin’s puppet. He is certain that, for his freedom, Mogilevich handed Putin the video-kompromat that showed Orbán receiving the suitcase full of money. Whatever the case, Orbán by now seems to fulfill all “orders” coming from Moscow. For example, Orbán went so far in 2015 as to agree to the refurbishing of a memorial which included a marble obelisk referring to the Soviet soldiers who died during the “Hungarian counterrevolution.”

Memorial to the victims of the 1956 “counterrevolution”

Of course, Clodo’s story about the Orbán incident may be the figment of his imagination, but there is a good likelihood that he is telling the truth about the kickbacks Pintér received from Mogilevich through Clodo. And we have to ask why Sándor Pintér has had a sinecure as minister of interior in all of the Orbán governments, spanning almost twenty years. One can’t help wondering about that, just as one must ponder the reasons for the unnatural sudden change of Orbán’s attitude toward Russia.

February 5, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s faithful professors criticized but then quickly retreated

As I was collecting data for today’s topic–the Batthyány Circle of Professors (BCP), I was astonished to see how often I had written about this group of full professors who are blind supporters of Viktor Orbán and his regime. Over the years it has become obvious that nothing can shake these people’s devotion to the regime and its leader.

The members of BCP come almost exclusively from the natural sciences and medicine and, as a result, they have little knowledge of the social sciences, including politics. Yet they are bent on expressing their rather primitive ideas about the world. Consider, for example, the case of Gábor Náray-Szabó, secretary of BCP, professor of chemistry and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who here and there dabbles as an “amateur” political philosopher. I found an article that he wrote titled “Evolution and Conservatism.” One didn’t have to go beyond the first few sentences to assess his political prowess. He “came to the conclusion” that the essence of “the conservative point of view” cannot be summarized in one sentence, unlike Christianity or liberalism. Christianity boils down to “love thy neighbor as thyself” and liberalism can be reduced to a single tenet, “one can do anything freely as long as one does no harm to others.” There was no reason to read further. Since that time I have had the pleasure of hearing several interviews with Náray-Szabó, and he has given me no reason to change my mind: his intellectual horizons are severely limited.

I should also note that most members of BCP are not really conservatives but instead are outright right-wingers, a fact that became clear at the time of the second Orbán government’s attack on a group of liberal philosophers. Members of the group have an online discussion forum, which is closed to the public. One of the members, the provost of St. Stephen University, vented his hatred against liberals in general. Unfortunately for the professors, there was a “traitor” in the group who passed the provost’s comments on to one of the online news sites. The man talked about “the deadly enemies of the nation who leave no stone unturned” to blacken the good name of Hungary. He asked his fellow members to ostracize these enemies. “When we meet them and their ilk we should look them in the eye but we shouldn’t say hello to them. When they sit down next to us, we should get up because this is the only way to handle their hatred and this is the only way to express our silent and complete contempt.” I assume that gives you a sense of the people we are talking about.

Gábor Náray-Szabó, secretary of the Batthyány Circle of Professors

Given the BCP’s far-right political views and its hatred of liberalism, the Hungarian media was shocked a few days ago when the group published its assessment of the current state of the country. Magyar Nemzet’s article noted that “Viktor Orbán received criticism from unexpected quarters.” The paper found the criticism surprisingly harsh. It looked as if the professors had suddenly discovered that there are problems with the economy, with education, and with healthcare. One of their first claims was that recently “reality and appearance have been getting confused” and “naturally appearance dominates.” This is a polite way of saying that the government’s claims about the state of the economy and society are outright lies. The professors no longer seem to be blind and deaf; they noticed dissatisfaction with the government even among right-wing supporters.

Although the professors profusely praised the economic policies of the government, they noted that individuals haven’t reaped the benefits of these achievements, creating “dissatisfaction in many.” They pointed to the ever-widening gap between rich and poor. They even had the temerity to suggest a change in economic policy: instead of lowering taxes, there is a need “for a quick improvement of the human sphere.” They complained about the government’s decision-making processes, which are often “based on a superficial assessment of facts and exclude rightful objections.” They even criticized the “quality of public information” coming from M1 of MTV. They dared to say that some of the newly passed laws “serve only a small group’s interests.” They criticized the hate campaign which, according to the professors, created repugnance. They called attention to the growing number of government officials and the influence of wealthy businessmen. And they called corruption a “systemic problem.” Finally, they spent a considerable amount of time on the woes of healthcare, education, and research and development.

The liberal press was stunned. So was Viktor Orbán, who surely didn’t expect such strong criticism from these faithful supporters. He immediately responded, thanking the professors for their assessment of the performance of the government in the last year. At the same time he decided to enlighten them by sending them a 54-page, 25-point list that included data that had served as a point of departure for some of the government decisions. In the letter he emphasized that he is ready for “a substantive discussion which is not for propaganda purposes.” The poor professors, it seems, are victims of propaganda disseminated by the opposition parties.

Orbán’s response must have put the fear of God into the not too brave professors because two days later Náray-Szabó backpedaled in an interview with György Bolgár on Klub Rádió. A blogger expressed his enjoyment in listening to Náray-Szabó’s struggle to sound like a still faithful follower of Viktor Orbán. It was a difficult task. The great political thinker came up with the following: “Yes, the report was critical, but it was about the country of which the government is only a part—a smaller part—and the greater part of the criticism was leveled at us. The problem is with the behavior of the citizens and attitudes that have been part of Hungarian society for centuries, which in many cases hinder the country’s development.”

At this point Bolgár interjected that surely it is not Hungarian society that is responsible for the current state of the country. In response, Náray-Szabó pointed to the Hungarian reluctance to begin start-up enterprises because Hungarians are reluctant to take risks. Bolgár said that the trouble is that the government assists only institutional plunderers, so the innovative, entrepreneurial people leave the country. Náray-Szabó’s brilliant answer was: “This is not a problem of the last few years. This has been a problem for centuries. Perhaps it started with Mohács.” The blogger who transcribed this radio conversation called our esteemed professor “this intellectual superiority,” a reference to BCP’s claim that “the right-wing coalition whose tenets are close to our own dominates the political playing field with its intellectual superiority.” But even a sympathetic, conservative commentator, who wrote a book about “the conservative renaissance” in the United States, criticized the professors for “not only being unable to give honest criticism, but even being incapable of drawing the most cautious conclusions” from that criticism.

To make sure that his explanation of the “real” intent of BCP’s criticism gets to a wider audience Náray-Szabó gave an interview to Magyar Hírlap. During the interview he said that he was pleasantly surprised that “despite our criticism, we received a decidedly kind letter from the prime minister, who expressed his appreciation of the work we have done in the past.” Orbán’s 54-page attachment managed to correct some of the professors’ misconceptions. For example, they had stated that 4% of the GDP was spent on healthcare, which was lower than in the neighboring countries. Orbán corrected this misconception and proved with numbers that “this is not the situation in every case.” As for corruption, they were happy to hear from him that although “we are not as good as the Swedes,” the Hungarian situation is better than that in Italy or in some of the neighboring countries, including Austria. The professors are eagerly awaiting a personal meeting, which “fills them with special delight.” I’m sure that by the end of that meeting the professors will be completely satisfied with the performance of the Orbán government. The prime minister will explain, or explain away, everything.

January 24, 2017

Political action and the critical mass

For over a week György Bolgár has been conducting a series of conversations with politicians, political commentators, and regular listeners on his popular “Let’s Talk It Over!” call-in show on Klubrádió. The topic is “What is to be done?” given the present political situation. How can the opposition dislodge the political system Viktor Orbán masterfully put in place in the last six years?

Many well-known people were invited to share their ideas, but only a couple of these ideas struck me as workable or promising. There were some who want to send all politicians into retirement and to find new faces, but they neglect to tell us where to find these talented young people with all the attributes of a good politician. Then there are those who have lost faith in politicians altogether and think in terms of civil society exclusively. But again, without parties and leaders it is impossible to imagine a functioning parliamentary system and a modern democratic regime. Still others are split on whether the existing democratic parties should unite as soon as possible to create a new party because, without unity, the splintered opposition cannot possibly win at a national election that was tailored to benefit the government party. Then there are some who are dead against forming a unity party since at the last election this strategy failed spectacularly. These people suggest competition among the five or six opposition parties on the left, the idea being that sooner or later one of them will rise to the top. Almost all people severely criticize the current opposition leaders for their incompetence or for simply being too soft on the government.

I would be hesitant to offer a recipe to the current Hungarian opposition even if I had one. The only thing I know is what cannot or should not be done. I know that without parties and without a strong charismatic leader the prospects of the opposition are slim. I also know that without massive public support behind that party leader there will be no possibility of regime change. In brief, as long as there is no widespread dissatisfaction with the Orbán government, no politician, no matter how talented he is, can wage a successful campaign against the present regime. I also know that at the moment the four or five opposition parties (I leave LMP out of the calculations) cannot possibly unite, even though they agree on most of the political fundamentals. Personalities trump politics. Therefore, I believe that they should carry on for a while on their own, with the expectation that sooner or later one of them will come to dominate the field. According to Medián, in November 7% of the electorate would have voted for MSZP (Magyar Szocialista Párt) led by József Tóbiás and 6% for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s DK (Demokratikus Koalíció). Each of the other opposition parties–Együtt (Together), PM (Dialogue for Hungary), and MLP (Magyar Liberális Párt)–has only 1% support. So at the moment the race for the lead is between MSZP and DK.

But let’s return to the most important ingredient of success: widespread, strong public support. What is going on in Hungarian education is a perfect formula for political action. A school with an apparently young, forward-looking teaching staff has the guts to put into writing things that have been bothering thousands and thousands of teachers who were afraid to stand up against their boss, the almighty state. After all, brave individuals standing alone are vulnerable. One needs a “critical mass” to be safe.

There comes a moment when everything falls into place. It starts with the few who initiate a move against the powers that be, and then the thousands who are ready to follow join the cause. Once the movement has grown to a certain size, its growth will gain speed. At that point others, who are in one way or the other affected by the initial cause of dissatisfaction, will join. The growing protest emboldens organizations, for example trade unions, that up to that point couldn’t move because their leaders knew that the membership wouldn’t follow them. The time was not ripe.

crowd1

Once a movement is successful and the government must retreat, others who are in a similar situation within their own profession will be encouraged and will imitate these successful strategies. There will be a chain reaction. If the time is ripe, there is simply no way of stopping it.

Pessimists, and there are many among us, will counter that the teachers’ rebellion will come to naught just as the very promising revolt against the internet tax did once the government retreated. The tens of thousands who went out on the streets, once they got what they wanted, returned home never to resurface. But I suggest that the two situations are radically different. The internet tax was only announced as something to be introduced in the future. So, the demonstrations were of a preventive nature. The teachers’ revolt is something very different. They want to abolish practices that were forced upon them more than three years ago, practices that they find injurious to Hungarian education. What they want is to undo the crazy system Viktor Orbán came up with, which turned out to be unworkable and bad for students as well as teachers. The teachers, supported by their unions and even by their professional association forced upon them by the government, are not satisfied with small concessions. They want to negotiate. Otherwise they will strike. As of now 17,659 people and 207 schools have signed the manifesto published by the staff of the Ottó Herman Gymnasium, and their numbers are growing rapidly.

Admittedly, these are just first steps, but, given the oppressive nature of the regime, I believe the time will come when the majority of the population will realize that the whole system is rotten to the core and that the vast majority of the population are its victims. I don’t know when this realization will arrive, but I’m sure that it will happen. The corruption, the incompetence, the arrogance of this regime will not be tolerated indefinitely. How long will people put up with empty stadiums for billions or an airport for Felcsút, the village where Viktor Orbán spent his childhood, while millions live in poverty? And once there is an awakening, there must be a party and a leader who can gather the dissatisfied troops. The opposition has its work cut out for it.

January 21, 2016

Ferenc Gyurcsány, the mafia state, and the future of MSZP

Today Ferenc Gyurcsány, the former prime minister of Hungary and chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), released a 20-page political pamphlet, gave a few interviews, and delivered a 45-minute speech, shown live on ATV. Instead of trying to summarize his political program, titled “Hungary of Many” (Sokak Magyarországa), I will focus on a couple of points that struck me as significant.

The title of the pamphlet is telling. Gyurcsány is convinced that people didn’t vote for Fidesz because they wanted to live under a regime of “Eastern despotism” but because they saw strength in Fidesz as opposed to the left, which proved to be weak. Gyurcsány would like to bring together liberals, social democrats, and moderate conservatives because all these people have something in common: a desire to put an end to Orbán’s regime and to live in a country with an effective government that would serve the majority of the people instead of the select few.

This is not a new message. What is new is that, after a lot of hesitation, Gyurcsány seems to have accepted Bálint Magyar’s description of the Orbán regime as a “mafia state.” As far as I know, he is the only opposition politician who has fully embraced Magyar’s concept. But that is not the only common thread in their thinking. Gyurcsány’s ideas on education also seem to echo Magyar’s. He cracked a few jokes about Orbán’s stuffing sausage while he doesn’t know what a “password” is. He elaborated on the essential role of computers in education, which would be a return to Magyar’s reforms between 2002 and 2006. Of course, one could ask why he buckled under MSZP pressure to relieve Magyar of his post and name István Hiller as his successor. Hiller, by the way, was praised by Orbán in his chat with the students of his former dormitory as the only talented politician on the left.

Gyurcsány offered an assessment of MSZP’s situation. As anyone who follows the Hungarian media knows, MSZP is in a serious crisis. Something of a palace revolution is underway. From what one can piece together from interviews with MSZP politicians who have pretty well disappeared from active politics, it looks as if under Attila Mesterházy’s chairmanship a conscious decision was made to push all the leading members of the older generation out of the party. I guess the new, younger politicians around Mesterházy believed that the older greats of MSZP were responsible for the party’s loss of popularity. Support for the party, they hoped, would soar once people saw all new faces running MSZP. Well, it didn’t work out that way. In fact, the party’s popularity has fallen. The MSZP parliamentary caucus, with very few exceptions, is comprised of inexperienced and unknown members whose performance, admittedly under adverse circumstances, is substandard.

Gyurcsány’s essay and speech were timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the founding of the Demokratikus Koalíció, but I’m sure that MSZP’s sorry state was also a serious consideration when it came to timing. In his essay Gyurcsány buried MSZP in its present form. As we know, the current thinking of the MSZP leaders is that the road to success lies in returning to truly “left” policies. Gyurcsány is convinced that they are wrong. A turn further to the left is not what Hungarians want. He also doubts MSZP’s ability to provide a candidate for the premiership who has any hope of winning because, as he put it, “ever since 2002 all successful prime ministers came from the world outside of MSZP.” In the last 15 years the socialists have been unable to attract or to produce a politically mature, suitable candidate for the post of prime minister. The appearance of PM, Együtt, and DK offered real competition, which will “make the transformation of our side more intensive. The final goal is unification, and the party of the future will barely resemble the MSZP we know.”

And now let me move on to a pretty dramatic conversation between Ferenc Gyurcsány and György Bolgár on Klubrádió’s “Let’s Talk It Over.” Bolgár began the 15-minute conversation by questioning the wisdom of Gyurcsány’s forceful call for unity. It might turn the other politicians on the left against him, warned Bolgár. After all, he is such a controversial character. Wouldn’t it have been better to remain quiet? he asked. Gyurcsány, who has been asked this kind of question many times before, even by Bolgár himself, normally answers in a measured way. But not this time. He lashed out at Bolgár. In his opinion, a democrat cannot possibly question the right of a politician to express his thoughts. He is the leader of a party that has about half a million voters. His followers want him to talk about the ideas that motivate them. When Bolgár brought up politicians like Viktor Szigetvári and Gergely Karácsony, who might be turned off by the hyperactive Gyurcsány’s latest political move, Gyurcsány responded that he didn’t care what Szigetvári or Karácsony think or say. He accused Bolgár of joining those who are sowing discord among the politicians of the left. In his opinion, this is a sin because with such an attitude they only lend a helping hand to Viktor Orbán’s regime.

I don’t know the reasons for this outburst, but I suspect that Gyurcsány believes that this is the right time to reassert himself publicly, either because of the discord within MSZP or perhaps because he has been getting closer to an understanding with some of the opposition politicians. If the latter, Bolgár’s criticism was not well timed.

What MSZP’s leading politicians will think of “Many for Hungary” I can well imagine. However, the party is in bad shape, and even the staunchest socialists have to admit that Gyurcsány’s decision to leave MSZP and establish DK was a terrible blow to the party. MSZP has to rethink its shrinking place among the opposition parties.

MSZP and the Hungarian bid to host the Olympics in 2024

A new poll was published today, this time by the Nézőpont Intézet. It reaffirmed an earlier poll showing that Fidesz’s popularity is on the rise again, most likely due to the government’s misleading propaganda about the asylum seekers. The parties of the democratic opposition haven’t gained any new followers. The only surprise in the poll was that among potential voters MSZP and DK are neck to neck.

Of course, Nézőpont is not known for its political neutrality and therefore its results are suspect, but this time I wouldn’t be at all surprised if its finding that only 12% of potential voters support MSZP was accurate. The party is in disarray and the incompetence of its leadership is staggering.

By way of illustration, today I’m going to look at MSZP’s position on the Hungarian bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

It was just question of time: the idea of a Hungarian Olympics was bound to resurface. In 2001-2002 the first Orbán government eagerly supported the idea. A considerable amount of money was spent on feasibility studies, which naturally confirmed that nothing stood in the way of holding the games in Hungary. Luckily, Viktor Orbán lost the 2002 election, and with his defeat the idea died.

After Orbán’s victory in 2010, when the Fidesz leadership claimed that the country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and that its economy was comparable to that of Greece, even the sports-crazed prime minister knew better than to float the idea of hosting the Olympic Games again. But as soon as there was one good year, which saw a growth rate of 3.6%, Orbán moved into action. A so-called non-political group, the Budapest Olympic Movement, was formed to promote the economic benefits of such an event. The people in this group all have ties to the government party. The president of the group is Attila Szalay-Berzeviczy, an economist and avid sportsman, whose great grandfather was the founder and the first president of the Hungarian Olympic Committee between 1895 and 1904. Szalay-Berzeviczy played a similar role in the 2001-2002 attempt to bring the Olympics to Hungary.

Unfortunately, most people have mighty little knowledge of the cost of hosting an Olympics. And their national pride swells at the very thought of being in the international spotlight for a couple of weeks. I suspect that the majority of the people, if asked, would support the idea.

Olympics 2024

Since most of the events would take place in Budapest, the city council had to vote on whether they would stand behind the games. Given the composition of the city council, it was not surprising that the final vote was 25 to 1 with one abstention. Antal Csárdi, the single LMP member of the council, voted against it, while DK’s Erzsébet Gy. Nagy abstained. That meant that the MSZP members of the council and Gergely Karácsony, the sole PM mayor in Budapest, voted with Fidesz for the Olympics. I heard Csaba Horváth’s feeble explanation of his decision, in which he called attention to the long overdue infrastructure projects that the games would bring to the capital. I haven’t seen Karácsony anywhere since.

Most people who consider the whole idea suicidal could barely recover from their surprise that MSZP would lend its name to the project. But in the next few days the number of MSZP politicians supporting Orbán’s megalomaniac idea multiplied. László Botka, MSZP mayor of Szeged, opted to follow the lead of the Budapest socialist leaders who by then included Ágnes Kunhalmi, the Budapest chairman. I used to think highly of Kunhalmi, until I heard her say that “the concept of a profitable Olympics is not well known” because the government hasn’t publicized it. A profitable Olympics? Surely, Kunhalmi didn’t spend any time reading up on the subject. The truth is that even a cursory look at economic analyses of the Olympic Games shows that, with one possible exception, they were losing propositions.

At this point, most people figured that MSZP would support the government party and vote for the bill in parliament to empower the country to proceed with its application. But then came the bombshell. Zoltán Gőgös, deputy chairman of the party, announced that the socialists would refuse to support the bill. Total chaos. Obviously, party discipline is not a socialist strength. Even members of the top leadership don’t seem to talk to each other before they speak publicly or vote on issues. When Gőgös was asked by György Bolgár how such a situation could possibly develop, Gőgös’s only answer was that no decision was made by the leadership until the issue reached parliament. Again, a feeble answer to a botched up affair. How can such a party possibly compete against a disciplined Orbán-led Fidesz?

I have neither time nor space to reproduce the government’s propaganda list of the benefits of holding the games in Hungary. But no matter what the government argues, the reality is that Olympic Games are not money-makers. Even Szalay-Berzeviczy is hard pressed to come up with an economically profitable Olympics. The one exception may be the 2012 London Olympics. Common wisdom holds that the games boosted the UK economy by £9.9bn, but not everybody agrees with this assessment. Sports economist Stefan Szymanski said that coming up with exact figures is “almost like a bit of creative accounting.” Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Resarch, said that attributing the economic growth to the Olympics was “a little far-fetched to say the least.”

The New York Times published an article titled “Does Hosting the Olympics Actually Pay Off?” The answer is no. According to the article, “there is strikingly little evidence that such events increase tourism or draw new investment. Spending lavishly on a short-lived event is, economically speaking, a dubious long-term strategy. Stadiums, which cost a lot and produce minimal economic benefits, are a particularly lousy line of business. (This is why they are usually built by taxpayers rather than by corporations.)”  The author quotes an economist who has studied the impact of sporting events, who said: “the bottom line is every time we’ve looked–dozens of scholars, dozens of times–we find no real change in economic activity.”

Another article’s author asks, “Do the Olympic Games generate profits?” And the answer: “No. Unfortunately, they do not.” And who said that? Robert Barney, head of the International Center for Olympic Studies. According to him, “no city has profited in the long run from its hosting role in a purely bottom-line sense.”

Nonetheless, there are at least three MSZP members of parliament who feel so strongly about the issue that they received exemptions from voting against the bill: Ágnes Kunhalmi, László Varga (Miskolc), and Sándor Szabó (Szeged). I wish they would spend a little time learning about the economics of the Olympic Games.

Orbán’s Hungary under attack by its enemies, and they are many

While Viktor Orbán is battling the European Union and defending the country against the invading conquerors from Africa and the Middle East, the rest of the gang is not idle either.

János Lázár and enemies all around

Once upon a time, naturally before Viktor Orbán began work on the “renewal” of Hungary, there was a cabinet post to oversee the Hungarian intelligence network. Usually, the occupant of that post was a minister without portfolio. Now, however, like so many other matters, it is supervised by János Lázár, the all-powerful minister of the prime minister’s office. Orbán’s “chancellery,” as the prime minister’s office is often called, is a huge organization. The number of people employed in this particular office is close to 1,400. Of this number almost 650 people work for intelligence and information (i.e., propaganda).

On June 23 the parliamentary committee on national security, chaired by Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), asked Lázár to report on the current situation. It began as a routine affair, most likely prompted by the arrival of thousands of refugees at Hungary’s southern border. But as time went by, the hearing turned into something that I can only describe as an accusatory tirade against Hungary’s neighbors and indirectly against the United States. Naturally, the “internal enemy,” the opposition, is also charged with actively ruining their own country’s future.

The countries who were accused of anti-Hungarian policies are Ukraine, Romania, and Croatia. The Ukrainian government is guilty of impeding the Hungarian government’s efforts to assist the Hungarian minorities living in Ukraine. Lázár indicated that this attitude of the Ukrainian authorities keeps the Hungarian intelligence service busy. He also admitted that, as a result, diplomatic relations between the two countries are somewhat rocky.

enemies

In Romania, the government conducts an outright anti-Hungarian policy “under the guise of transparency and justice.” For some background, you might want to read my post on recent Hungarian-Romanian relations and the active Romanian Anticorruption Directorate (Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie/DNA). Only recently Prime Minister Victor Ponta himself was accused of corruption by the DNA. In fact, Ponta just announced that for reasons of ill health he will retire for a couple of months and his deputy will take over the reins of government. Hundreds if not thousands of cases are pending, so the couple of Hungarian politicians accused of corruption cannot be interpreted as a deliberate attack on ethnic Hungarians or an unfriendly gesture toward Hungary.

But Lázár didn’t stop there. He, in fact, practically accused the United States of being behind the Romanians’ anti-Hungarian policies when he said that “at the moment we cannot ascertain whether these actions have anything to do with the close cooperation between the United States and the Romanian government.” I guess the hundreds of intelligence officers attached to the prime minister’s office are now madly trying to find out whether it is Washington that is encouraging the Romanians “to destabilize the financial foundations of the Hungarian historic churches [in Romania] and to limit the freedom of religion there.” The evil United States was also mentioned as being behind the bad German press.

Croatia is no friend either. Its government is bent on “discrediting the whole Hungarian business elite” through the MOL-INA affair. This is a long story about which I wrote at least twice, once in 2012 and again in 2013. Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, is being accused of bribery in connection with MOL’s purchase and management of the Croatian oil refinery, INA. Through a clever legal maneuver Hernádi has so far successfully avoided appearing before the Croatian authorities. But he cannot leave the territory of Hungary because he is still on Interpol’s wanted list.

Lázár further claimed that they have “unambiguous information” that certain business groups “intentionally boycott the completion of the pipelines coming from Romania and Croatia.”

All in all, incredible charges against Hungary’s neighbors from the second most powerful politician in Budapest.

György Matolcsy found an enemy in The Economist

It is not only governments that want to discredit and ruin Hungary. For example, the editors of The Economist decided to bury the economic achievements of the Hungarian government, as Matolcsy complained in a letter-to-the-editor. Here we learn that Matolcsy, who is a regular reader of the magazine, found the weekly tables presenting macroeconomic and financial market developments in certain countries and regions extremely helpful. He was, however, surprised to see that, “contrary to your former practice, since your 25 April issue the macroeconomic indicators related to Hungary have been omitted.”

After devoting a long paragraph to the spectacular achievements of his unorthodox economic policies Matolcsy comes to the point:

The omission of the data is detrimental to perceptions about the Hungarian economy. Moreover, its timing gives the impression as if The Economist was keen on presenting those data to its readers that confirmed the problems of the Hungarian economy, which indeed did exist in the past, while it would rather hide the data demonstrating the successes achieved in recent years. The deletion of information related to Hungary hinders readers with a general interest in economic developments from making an educated assessment, while it reduces the opportunity of investors with a presence in Hungary or considering future investments in the country to monitor the most important developments in the Hungarian economy in one of the world’s most widely read economic weeklies.

In brief, Matolcsy is certain that even the editors of The Economist are conspiring against Hungary by refusing to share the good economic news coming from the country. Surely, it is madness but, I’m afraid, quite typical. Otherwise, I just learned from György Bolgár’s column in 168 Óra, which functions as a kind of Hungarian “fact check,” that Hungary was replaced by the Philippines on the list of 42 countries, but only in the print edition. Online, Hungary is still there. Bolgár noted that Portugal, whose territory is practically the same as that of Hungary, is not listed either, although its economy is larger than Hungary’s. But, Bolgár added ironically, “they don’t have a Matolcsy who would indignantly complain.”

Freedom House is also an enemy of Hungary

Complaining at every instance about perceived unfair criticism is part of the central directive coming straight from Viktor Orbán, who repeatedly instructs Hungarian ambassadors to raise their voices every time Hungary is “unfairly” criticized. And the fact is that, as far Hungary’s current political regime is concerned, all criticism is unfair. For example, the latest Freedom House report, which degraded Hungary to a “semi-consolidated democracy” from “consolidated democracy.” What does that mean? Where does that put Hungary among the former socialist countries? Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and the Baltic states are consolidated democracies. As of 2014 Hungary joined Romania, Bulgaria, and Serbia as a semi-consolidated democracy.

A day after the report became public, the ministry of justice published an announcement titled “Freedom House paints a false picture of Hungarian democracy.” The arguments that are supposed to show that Freedom House’s criticisms are unfounded are weak. For example, on the electoral system’s failings, the ministry of justice can say only that “last year’s elections prove that our electoral system works well and reflects voters’ will.” What they neglect to say is that with less than 50% of the votes Fidesz managed to have a two-thirds majority in parliament. The only answer to the criticism of the justice system is that Freedom House should take a look at the European Union’s Justice Scoreboard, which “showcases the quality, independence and efficiency of the justice system.”

Freedom House is also wrong when it accuses the Hungarian government of not supporting disadvantaged social groups when in fact the government’s “main tools of these efforts are triggering economic growth, stopping inflation, creating jobs and public catering for children.” Clearly, this is no answer to the absolute neglect of the poorest segment of society. Otherwise, “the Government of Hungary is ready and open to all discussions concerning democracy and human rights, and accordingly to contribute to the development of a true picture of the country.”

One must admit that the present leaders of the country are unbeatable when it comes to misleading unsuspecting and trusting foreigners. Luckily, their numbers are diminishing.