Tag Archives: György Rubovszky

Viktor Orbán’s answer to the Jobbik campaign against him and his regime

On April 1 thousands of stark black-and-white billboards appeared all over the country. On the left, on a white background, is a single short sentence: “You work.” On the right are photos of either Viktor Orbán and Lőrinc Mészáros or Antal Rogán and Árpád Habony with an equally short message: “They steal.” For good measure, the consequences of the political elite’s corruption–poor healthcare and education plus low wages–appear on an orange background. “Jobbik for the People” is in the lower left corner.

The Fidesz-KDNP leadership didn’t find the April’s Fool Day surprise very amusing. In fact, they were infuriated because they realized the incredible impact these posters make. Everybody understands their simple, damning sentences. The appearance of such bold anti-government posters signaled to Fidesz and the Orbán government that the opposition is becoming increasingly daring and most likely also increasingly effective. They are tapping into a general dissatisfaction with the government that has been expressed recently in large-scale demonstrations. Fidesz came to the conclusion that a new, radical solution must be found to the problem. The old methods of discrediting their opponents no longer work.

Fidesz propaganda over the past few months has been directed mostly against Jobbik. Only recently has the government’s propaganda minister also paid attention to László Botka, MSZP’s likely candidate for the premiership. Disparaging Gábor Vona, the Jobbik party chairman, has been continuous and vicious. Among its many charges, Fidesz claims that Vona is being supported by Viktor Orbán’s arch-enemy, Lajos Simicska. And so it was predictable that Fidesz’s first reaction to Jobbik’s billboard campaign would be to reiterate that Vona is a puppet of Simicska while the left is financed by George Soros. Szilárd Németh, one of the deputies of Viktor Orbán, called Jobbik the party of billionaires and accused Vona of selling the “soul of Jobbik” for this media campaign. Perhaps, Németh continued, Vona swore allegiance to Simicska, promising him special financial deals after Jobbik wins the election.

The Jobbik-Simicska connection has been the topic of political debate for some time. Both Simicska and Jobbik deny any financial arrangement between the billionaire and the party. On the other hand, Simicska and his son have both made pro-Jobbik statements, and Vona admitted that he and Simicska have met at least twice at public events. Moreover, all the recent Jobbik messages appeared on the billboards of two companies, Publimont Kft. and Mahir Cityposter Kft., both owned by Lajos Simicska. Fidesz argues that this is proof of Simicska’s hidden financing of Jobbik.

Of course, it is possible that Jobbik received a special deal from Simicska, but hidden campaign financing would be difficult to prove. Although Simicska’s two companies are among the strongest billboard providers, altogether about 100 companies are involved in this competitive business. A couple of years ago Demokratikus Koalíció’s billboards appeared on Simicska’s properties. When Ferenc Gyurcsány was questioned about the arrangement, he said that Simicska’s firm offered the best deal. Simply capitalism at work.

Fidesz also came to the conclusion that “the constitutional court, led by László Sólyom, developed such an extremely liberal practice regarding freedom of speech” that the government has no way of fighting Jobbik’s messaging in court. At least this is the conclusion Zoltán Lomnici, a right-wing constitutional lawyer, came to. Moreover, he added, even if a Hungarian court ruled in favor of the government, one of the NGOs financed by George Soros would take the case to Strasbourg.

So, as a stopgap measure, Fidesz came up with a billboard of its own showing George Soros and Lajos Simicska as the puppeteers and László Botka and Gábor Vona the puppets. In addition, the personal secretary of Lajos Kósa organized a team of Fidesz activists to systematically deface Jobbik’s billboards all over the country. Unfortunately, he said, they couldn’t be burned because that would have destroyed the billboard structures, so they had to be satisfied with painting them over. That method is actually quite widespread in Hungary. Activists of Momentum, for example, suggest changing the “Stop Brussels” billboards to “Stop Moscow.” But these methods weren’t radical enough to solve the Orbán government’s problem with the the kinds of posters Jobbik put up.

On April 27 Index noticed in the Official Gazette that Lajos Kósa, former leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, and János Halász, undersecretary for culture in the ministry of human resources, had submitted a proposal to re-regulate posters and billboards. If the provider of advertising surfaces sells spaces at a price lower than the “current market value,” such an action would be considered to be hidden and forbidden party financing. This regulation would be applicable at times outside of the three months officially designated as the “campaign period.” Owners of poster surfaces must turn in a price list to the State Account Office and will be obliged to make their prices available on their websites.

In addition, and much more worrisome, a government decree signed by Viktor Orbán stipulates that starting June 1, 2017, local government permission will be needed to place new advertising spots anywhere. The decree also introduces other new regulations. For example, the size of the billboards will have to be reduced from 12m2 to 9m2 and the frame size must be changed from 14m2 to 11m2. An additional burden on the companies. But that is the least of the problems. The appendix to the decree stipulates that in the future one will be able to advertise only on properties owned by the state or the municipality. As it stands now, 90% of the advertising surfaces are in private hands and only 10% belong to the municipalities. This decree turns the billboard market totally upside down and will institute a state monopoly over political advertising.

Jobbik doesn’t seem to be too frightened for the time being because they came out with a variation of their original billboards. The color scheme is the same. The billboard pictures Viktor Orbán and Lőrinc Mészáros. The text is: “They steal. We will take it back and use it to raise wages.”

The opposition is up in arms over this government crackdown on campaign advertising. In the parliamentary committee on justice, where the Kósa-Halász bill is being considered, there was quite a ruckus. The opposition is convinced, not without reason, that the bill was written specifically to target Jobbik and Lajos Simicska. The Fidesz opposition tried to limit discussion of the matter, and the chairman, György Rubovszky (KDNP), refused to allow Márta Demeter (independent) and Ákos Hadházy (LMP) to take part in the discussion. In turn, the opposition members called the government party cowardly and the procedure shameful. Rubovszky at this point ordered the opposition members to leave the room, which they refused to do. Hadházy suggested that Rubovszky call the Parliamentary Guard to remove them forcibly. The chairman wisely refrained from making an ass of himself.

The opposition has a powerful weapon against this bill. To pass, the measure needs a two-thirds majority which, as we know, Fidesz doesn’t have at the moment. If the opposition, the left as well as the right, hangs together, it can win this battle. If it succeeds, this would be the second time that Fidesz is unable to force its will on the opposition.

As for the heinous governmental decree, I assume that some of those Soros-supported NGOs will start legal proceedings against it.

May 2, 2017

Roland Mengyi, the Fidesz Voldemort: from billionaire’s front man to politician

This is the story of Roland Mengyi’s sudden appearance, out of total obscurity, in high politics. The original article titled “Egy milliárdos táskahordójából lett politikus a fideszes Voldemort” (The Fidesz Voldemort went from being the bag carrier of a billionaire to a politician) originally appeared in index.hu and was translated by the staff of The Budapest Sentinel.

Earlier I reported on the findings of Attila Rajnai, an investigative journalist, who in two installments published details of the scandal in the weekly 168 Óra. Since then another installment has appeared, which strongly suggests that officers of the Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal (National Tax and Customs Administration/NAV) were ready to arrest Mengyi when he was negotiating with the two tender applicants from Tiszaújvár about a year ago. The officers’ superior, however, wouldn’t give them permission to act. Rajnai suspects that it was either András Tállai, president of NAV, or Péter Polt, the country’s chief prosecutor, who, for a while at least, saved Mengyi’s skin.

Tállai is a member of parliament, undersecretary in the ministry of interior, and, in his spare time, head of NAV, a huge organization. For one reason or other, Tállai’s appointment was of special importance to Viktor Orbán. But, at the same time, he didn’t want Tállai to relinquish his parliamentary seat in case Fidesz loses a third seat at a by-election. Hence Tállai’s multitasking challenge.

Another development in the case is a unique move by Péter Polt. He asked László Kövér, president of parliament, to initiate proceedings which might lead to the suspension of Ronald Mengyi’s immunity. In the past, the Fidesz majority of the parliamentary committee in charge of immunity cases always denied requests to suspend Fidesz members. This time, I believe, they will oblige. Tomorrow I will outline one possible way Fidesz might handle the case.

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Mengyi2

Official résumé: We know almost nothing about what the Fidesz parliamentary representative Roland Mengyi did prior to becoming a politician in 2010. He is not answering any questions about his earlier life. Nor is he talking about an ugly corruption scandal to which he has been connected. For this reason we looked into his past. It turns out that, while it does not appear on his résumé, he worked first for the Republican Guard, later as a driver for the front man of a billionaire entrepreneur.

Apart from his enterprising wife, an influential Fidesz city politician may have played an important part in his suddenly becoming a politician.

A typical political entrepreneur—based on his previous life this would be the best way to characterize Roland Mengyi, although his previous life is the thing about which it is possible to know virtually nothing, at least on the basis of what the politician has disclosed about himself.

When Mengyi became a Fidesz member of parliament in 2009, he wasn’t only completely unknown to voters but also within his party as well. He just appeared out of nowhere. As to what Mengyi did prior to 2010, the only thing appearing on his official résumé uploaded to parlament.hu is that, and we quote, “Public administration, free market. Former president of a public foundation, (sic).

Although we tried to ask Mengyi about the period before his career in politics, he was not willing to say anything. The Fidesz press office wasn’t able to help us learn anything about his past. For this reason we had no choice but to investigate where the Fidesz politician came from and whom he has to thank for his political career. We spoke with those who knew him from the past and had either a business or personal relationship with him. Finally the picture became clear. Mengyi was born in Tiszaújváros in 1975. He was still a child when his parents moved to neighboring Sajóörös. He attended school in Tiszaújváros where he obtained his high school diploma. He liked to do sports and in 1994 placed 10th in the junior body building tournament in the 90 kg category where he represented Tiszaújváros. Later he moved to Budapest.

His résumé doesn’t mention this either, but we know from other sources that at the end of the 1990s during the first Orbán government he worked in parliament as a member of the Republican Guard. Mengyi did not answer questions relating to this. The Ministry of the Interior, on the other hand, indicated that it could not release information about this.

One of his former colleagues told Index that he served as a security guard, and we spoke with another acquaintance of his who said he was a personal bodyguard.

One source close to him told us that he was in fact with the Republican Guard and later became the personal bodyguard of Pál Solt, then president of the Hungarian Supreme Court. At that time he was proud of the fact that he appeared in the background of a photograph of Viktor Orbán and Pál Solt.

How the driver became a lawyer

The turning point in Mengyi’s career came when he got together with the daughter of a famous Budapest veterinarian. His acquaintances at that time believe that through his girlfriend he entered an intellectual world previously unknown to him and that this influenced his future career: the simple, less intellectual, country bumpkin began studying law at the Pázmány Péter Catholic College. However, a terrible tragedy turned his family life upside down. When he was down on his luck, the veterinarian’s cousin, the billionaire entrepreneur István Petrás, took Mengyi under his wing.

Those in the billionaire’s circle say that at the beginning Petrás did not especially like Mengyi. The persons in question recollect that those belonging to the circle felt the guy of humble origins was using the intellectual medical family as a kind of springboard. “Roland was a clever guy, he learned fast, and studied law at night, he was hard working,” says an old acquaintance. Another person says precisely the opposite. A person belonging to Petrás’s circle says he doesn’t remember Mengyi for his brilliant mind.

In any event, in time Mengyi became Petrás’s confidante.

At that time Petrás was doing well. With assets amounting to many billions of forints, he was listed as one of the 100 most affluent Hungarians. There must have been real trust between the two because, between 2006 and 2008, Mengyi was listed as an owner of one of the billionaire’s companies. However, Petrás’ acquaintances believe that the future politician was needed only as a kind of front man (stróman) for the wealthy entrepreneur, who was dealing primarily in real estate and who characteristically avoided the spotlight. In other words, although Petrás paid him well, he used Mengyi as a simple errand boy and bagman. This explains how Mengyi became the chairman of the board of trustees for the Biatorbágy Health House Foundation founded by Petrás in 2006. The foundation was created for a project belonging to a public private partnership (PPP) in which Petrás was interested along with the Biatorbágy local government. The health house was eventually christened in 2009 by Gordon Bajnai’s Minister for Health, Tamás Székely. According to the minutes that can be downloaded over the internet, by then Mengyi was already a Fidesz member of parliament and thus represented the foundation in the negotiations with the local government.

It wasn’t Petrás who played a key role in Mengyi’s political career but his wife, who dealt in real estate in the 2000s and who later developed a close working relationship with Petrás. In fact, the two met through the billionaire businessman. The woman belonged to a group of businessmen whose success was largely due to their political connections. The defining individual of this circle was Róbert Juharos, who had a joint company with Mengyi’s future wife in the 2000s.

Juharos, who at one time worked at the law firm of KDNP MP György Rubovszky, was one of the founders of the Budapest 8th district chapter of Fidesz and was a member of parliament between 1998 and 2002. But his real career took place in the 8th district. Everything having to do with district development or related to property development went through his hands. Many credit him with the fact that over time a rundown district became a more secure place attractive to investors. Mengyi’s wife also benefited from being connected to Juharos, since one of her real estate companies, for example, specialized in the property of the district government. Furthermore, she, alongside her former husband, had a stake in Juharos’ law office.

Mengyi’s wife was not a simple dealer in real estate. Earlier she worked together with her lawyer husband on the sale of industrial property and on re-zoning, and she dealt with municipal properties, including those slated for demolition. That was the time when companies and private individuals of dubious reputation were able to acquire real estate very inexpensively by promising phantom projects and improvements, even guaranteeing them, which never materialized. In many cases the real estate was sold based on loose interpretations of the terms of the public tender. Juharos did so well that, in time, his name was mentioned as one of the future Fidesz hotshots, although he severely jeopardized his party career when in the middle of the 2000s Lajos Simicska became upset with him. Regardless, to this day he has been able to preserve his influence in the district under Máté Kocsis, Fidesz mayor. He is the president of the district chapter of Fidesz, is Kocsis’ adviser, and his law office contracted with the district government between 2011 and 2014.

Took up politics in secrecy

Not long after Mengyi and his future wife got together, Petrás and Mengyi had a falling out. According to acquaintances, Petrás had a very ugly quarrel with Mengyi because Mengyi concealed things from him which the billionaire believed he should have known. For example, that his protégé was getting into big politics. He only found out when Mengyi wanted to quit. “Roland wanted to leave Petrás. He asked from him his money and the promised percentages, to which Petrás reacted by telling him he was not entitled to them because the projects were not yet completed and money had yet to come in. They had an ugly quarrel, but I believe that since then they’ve patched up their relationship,” a source with a vantage point on both individuals told Index.

Those close to Mengyi believe that Juharos did a lot to help him go from being an errand boy to a politician. Many believe it was the president of the District 8 chapter of Fidesz who introduced Mengyi to how things worked in the party, and how to advance. This helped Mengyi obtain a position even though he was completely unknown within Fidesz.

It was not only Juharos who helped him, but also the lawyer who introduced him to Petrás in the first place. The lawyer personally knew one of the leading Fidesz politicians who had the final word on nominating candidates. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Mengyi became the Fidesz candidate for parliament for Tiszaújváros even though he did not reside there and played no role in the life of the party in Borsod County. Apart from the fact that he was born there and went to school there, he had nothing to do with Tiszaújváros. As we wrote in an earlier article, after the 2010 parliamentary elections, the political career of the previously unknown Mengyi began to rise. By summer it was decided that he would be the Fidesz candidate for chairman of the Borsod County Assembly in the autumn election after it was determined that the current president, Ferenc Ódor, was leaving. Mengyi was nominated by the head of the Fidesz delegation, Dezső Török, to be Ódor’s successor. We tried to ask Török about Mengyi, but he was on vacation. At the same time he indicated that, in his opinion, he was not qualified to speak about his fellow politicians.

After becoming a politician, Mengyi’s self-confidence grew. According to his acquaintances, it is entirely believable that Mengyi referred to himself as Lord Voldemort according to the wiretap records leaked by 168 Óra, because at a family event held in Tiszaújváros in 2010 the waiters called him “My Lord Lieutenant” (“Főispán uram”), and those in attendance said that wasn’t supposed to be a joke.

Poor rich people

If we look at Mengyi’s declaration of assets, the politician does not rank among the more affluent Hungarians. According to his 2011 financial statement, he already had HUF 10 million ($40,000) in savings, that is he was able to put aside 9.2 million in under a year, which means that he must have made an average of HUF 760,000 a month at minimum. One year later he inherited a house and a flat (he became the half owner), but he was no longer an owner in his company, and his savings had decreased by half. According to his most recent financial statement (2015), he bought neither a car nor a flat last year, and his savings do not amount to even HUF 4 million ($12,000). His children don’t have their own assets either. Nevertheless, his acquaintances believe that his wife owned many Budapest properties when they met her. Moreover, one of the politician’s previous companies, Park Consulting, lets out property that it owns. According to them, the Mengyi family purchased a number of pieces of property since 2010 that are not registered in the politician’s name.

Scandalous affairs

Since entering politics in 2010, his name has come up in connection with two scandals. The most memorable one was when Blikk published a list of Fidesz politicians who spent a few pleasant days in the Azores on the occasion of the European Regional Assembly. Mengyi’s name appeared on this list. In fact, it turned out that he played a central role in the scandal because the Fidesz politicians taking part in the holiday on the islands justified their trip on the basis of Mengyi’s being the county chairman of the Roma strategy.

He was once again in the spotlight in the fall of 2013 in connection with an unusual matter involving the tendering of state lands, which was uncovered by Népszabadság. The 2011 land tender was interesting because the tender was withdrawn after the deadline due to pressure from above so that the land could be awarded to people close to Fidesz.

At the time Népszabadság wrote that Mengyi played a role in the revocation of the tender. Allegedly, he was the one who ordered the head of the Bükki National Park Directorate to withdraw the tender. Among those who won the land was Mengyi’s former campaign manager, who had absolutely no previous experience cultivating land.

The biggest scandal of Mengyi’s political career, one that might even cost him his freedom, was revealed recently by 168 Óra. The crux of the matter is that social cooperatives wanted to apply last year for EU money. They claim that Mengyi would have helped in the disbursement if they gave back at first 50 percent and finally 90 percent of the money won. Instead of offering to help with an existing tender, a separate HUF 500 million ($1.8 million) tender was written for the cooperative that sought Mengyi’s help. Mengyi asked for a bribe which he referred to as “constitutional costs” (“alkotmányos költségek”) and, according to the wiretape transcripts, received HUF 5 million ($18,000), referring to himself as Lord Voldemort throughout. Roland Mengyi denies the whole Voldemort story and said he is prepared to undergo any investigation. Barnabás Futó, Mengyi’s lawyer, claims that the transcripts only refer to Mengyi, but that he himself never spoke. However, according to 168 Óra’s latest article, Mengyi participated in one of the telephone conversations.

August 18, 2016

Property swindle in Budapest’s District V

The revelations that surfaced about NET Holding in the last few days, thanks to 444.hu, exposed an intricate network of affiliated companies and described the complicated international trading in natural gas. The corruption case I will be talking about today is a lot simpler. Admittedly, the loss to the taxpayers is also a lot less, about four to ten billion forints over the last eight years. Small potatoes, you might say. But keep in mind that we are talking about the sale of one-third of all real estate owned by the municipality of District V, where property prices are the highest in the country. Moreover, these shady deals occurred during the mayoralty of Antal Rogán, considered to be the third most important politician in Hungary after Viktor Orbán and János Lázár.

Stories of corruption in District V, downtown Budapest, have been circulating for almost a year. Népszava learned in April 2014 that a city official demanded a bribe from a businessman who had just successfully competed for a site to open a restaurant. The brave man refused and went straight to the police, naming names. As is typical in Fidesz country, the deputy mayor who was most likely implicated in the affair did not end up in court but was simply removed from the scene and transferred to the ministry of foreign affairs where an “urgent” job was waiting for him. His replacement was Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi, who became the district mayor last October. Soon enough it became known that Szentgyörgyvölgyi himself was a beneficiary of the shady real estate deals of the past few years. Under pressure, he decided to give his apartment back because “he just got tired of all the attacks against him.” Details of these revelations can be found in a post I wrote in December.

The force behind the investigations is Péter Juhász (Együtt), who was Szentgyörgyvölgyi’s opponent in the municipal election and who subsequently became a member of the city council of District V. He thus has access to documents that shed light on the means by which expensive apartments or business sites were passed on to political friends for a fraction of their real value. Juhász is a former human rights activist with vast experience as an investigator of corruption cases.

So, how was it done? The key concept in these transactions is preemption, the right of a tenant to purchase something, especially public property, ahead of anyone else. Ever since the 1990s a law has been on the books that allows the state or the municipality to sell its properties to tenants at a reduced price. The rationale behind this practice was that every year the tenants of these public properties were obligated to pay higher and higher rents and received no equity in return. The price abatement thus assumed a long-standing contract between owners and tenants. Moreover, as Antónia Rádi of Átlátszó.hu pointed out, three persons are needed for such a transaction: the owner, the person who intends to buy the property, and the current tenant. Apparently, in practice this particular rule is often dispensed with. That is, no outside buyer is necessary for the transaction. What happened in District V, however, went beyond both the law as it was written and the law as it was practiced. The transactions were, quite simply, illegal.

Let’s say an apartment or store front became vacant. The city officials notified their friends, political or otherwise, that these sites were available for rent. After a few months the happy tenants announced their desire to buy the property. The price was determined by two “independent” appraisers. One of the appraisal firms was owned in part by György Rubovszky, a Christian Democratic member of parliament and father of Csilla Rubovszky, deputy mayor of District V. In addition, Rubovszky, a lawyer, was employed by the district as an “expert” assisting the committee in dealing with properties owned by the district. The assessed prices were very low. They always agreed with the prices on the district’s books, most likely thanks to inside information by Rubovszky. Then came the bonus: a 30% reduction in the price.

Among the many cases Péter Juhász is pursuing, he found a tenant turned owner who within a few months sold his newly acquired property for double what he had paid for it.

Juhász is not only digging through property files. He also organized a walk through the streets where most of the questionable property transfers took place.

And how much did Fidesz steal from you? Péter Juhász leading the walk in District V

“And how much did Fidesz steal from you?” Péter Juhász leading the walk in District V

Rubovszky is just one of several people with Fidesz or government connections to surface in these real estate swindles. Péter Heim also handled some of the deals. He is now head of Századvég and as such may be on the list of individuals banned from entering the United States because of their involvement in corruption cases affecting U.S. businesses operating in Hungary. András Giró-Szász, undersecretary in the prime minister’s office, is also indirectly involved through his brother-in-law and business partner, Péter Serfőző.

Juhász is convinced that the city officials undertook these real estate deals as part of a private business venture and did so in a conspiratorial manner. Between 2008 and 2013 277 pieces of real estate changed hands in District V. The appraisers low-balled the value of these properties at a half or a third of their real worth. On top of that came the 30% abatement. If Juhász, who since then pressed charges against District V, can prove his claim, the people involved might end up in jail for years. Or, they should but, judging from other earlier cases, they most likely won’t.

The first sign of opposition in the Fidesz parliamentary caucus: No compulsory urine tests

The furor over John McCain’s harsh words about Hungary’s “neo-fascist dictator” and his “illiberal state” hadn’t subsided when a new Hungarian bombshell exploded: Máté Kocsis, a two-bit district mayor in Budapest, had a great idea which he immediately made public on his Facebook page last Friday. Given the widespread use of drugs, it would be a good idea, he claimed, to introduce compulsory yearly drug tests for teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 as well as for elected politicians and journalists. Why politicians and journalists? Politicians’ decisions have a lasting impact on the citizens while journalists have the power to influence public opinion. He promised that he would suggest to the Fidesz parliamentary delegation that they discuss the idea and prepare a legislative proposal to this end.

From what we have learned about this latest brainstorm of Kocsis, it looks as if the idea did not originate with the mayor of District VIII (at least not in his role as mayor) but with Viktor Orbán’s communication staff. It was, it seems, part of a desperate effort to devise a strategy that could neutralize the growing public dissatisfaction with Viktor Orbán and his government.

Directly after the election Orbán talked about creating a “new communication team” headed by the chief communication adviser, Árpád Habony. I wrote about Habony earlier. He’s a shadowy figure with enormous influence within the party and the government but without an official title or an official salary. This new group apparently meets every Friday to discuss some of the issues that cropped up during the previous week. Máté Kocsis, who is no longer a member of parliament but besides being mayor of District VIII is communication director of Fidesz, is an ex officio member of the staff. So it’s no wonder, claim investigative journalists, that Kocsis’s bright idea was published on Facebook on Friday night.

Reports of this crazy idea spread like wildfire. The Associated Press immediately picked up the story. Scores of newspapers and television stations carried the news because journalists find such bizarre items outright delicious.

By now the general consensus is that, with this whacky idea, communication strategists were trying to divert the public’s attention from the corruption case of Ildikó Vida and five unnamed others. Apparently, Viktor Orbán himself thought that the idea of yearly drug tests was a capital idea and decided to support it. And of course we know from past experience that if the Hungarian prime minister supports something it will be law in no time. The members of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation will automatically vote for it even if some MPs consider the idea to be of dubious value and/or legally questionable. By Monday, the Fidesz parliamentary caucus decided with some major changes to consider the proposal.

The idea of mandating regular drug tests for politicians and journalists was dropped by the caucus because such a law would clearly be unconstitutional. Even the Fidesz-dominated fake “constitutional court” couldn’t close their eyes to such a law. As for children’s screening, the Fidesz legislators opted to support only voluntary tests initiated by the children themselves or by their parents. This is certainly nothing like what the “communication staff” cooked up last Friday.

I wonder how Viktor Orbán will react to this unheard-of “revolt” of the Fidesz caucus. After all, the Sunday closing of stores will most likely be approved unaltered although the Fidesz delegation was deeply split on the issue. But now it looks as if Fidesz MPs finally balked at orders from above. If I were Viktor Orbán I would ponder the significance of this earlier unimaginable event.

The way Népszava sees Máté Kocsis's proposition

The way Népszava sees Máté Kocsis’s proposition

But let’s go back to the Habony-led communication staff’s activities. It is rumored that leaking the U.S. decision to bar six Hungarian citizens from entering the United States because of charges of corruption was the idea of Árpád Habony. Again, naturally, with Viktor Orbán’s blessing. We who look at events from the outside think that this was a singularly bad idea that created serious tensions between the United States and Hungary. Ever since mid-October major newspapers all over the world have been talking about the Orbán government’s systemic corruption. The leak resulted in massive anti-corruption demonstrations which in turn added to the growing dissatisfaction with the government. A huge drop in popularity followed. In brief, most independent observers would consider this particular idea of Habony outright injurious to Viktor Orbán and his government. Yet not only has Habony not been fired; his position as chief communication adviser has been strengthened. Moreover, his advice about mandatory drug tests was heeded by the prime minister.

How can we explain this seeming contradiction? In my opinion only one way: Viktor Orbán still thinks that leaking the news of the American ban was a good idea. It was a clever communication ploy. Why? Because Hungary’s position in world affairs is a great deal less important to him than his domestic standing with the electorate. And obviously he must think that the contentious American-Hungarian relations actually work in his favor at home. Fidesz supporters who lately have become disenchanted will perhaps return to the flock because of hurt national pride. He thinks that the risk is worth the gamble. After all, it seems to be working in Russia.

So far so good, but there is the growing dissatisfaction of some members of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation as demonstrated during the “stormy debates” that accompanied discussions on the Sunday closing of stores and the compulsory yearly drug test. In yesterday’s debate on drug testing Viktor Orbán came out the loser. What will happen next?

Let me bring up something that might further demonstrate intra-party dissatisfaction with Fidesz directives coming from above. You will recall that the former Fidesz mayor of Ózd, a very poor town in northeastern Hungary, was so unpopular that the citizens went out in hordes to vote for the only electable opponent, a young Jobbik candidate, who was elected with a two-thirds majority. But in the city council Fidesz was in the majority. The members of the caucus were obviously instructed from above to follow the strategy of Fidesz in Esztergom where the Fidesz majority refused to cooperate with the independent mayor and as a result nothing whatsoever could be accomplished for four long years. Within a few days it became obvious that Ózd had become ungovernable due to the refusal of the Fidesz council members to cooperate. But this time some of the Fidesz city fathers revolted. Three of the eight decided to quit the Fidesz caucus and serve as independents. Fidesz’s majority collapsed. I think we can expect more such events to take place on the local level. A certain erosion has begun that will be very difficult to stop.

György Rubovszky, a Christian Democrat member of parliament and a most faithful supporter of the Orbán government, found the drug test proposal “legally indefensible.” But he also had a personal story that he shared with a journalist of Népszabadság. His twelve-year-old granddaughter phoned him crying bitterly. “Grandpa, I must leave this country because I am not willing to pee in front of strangers.” I must say Rubovszky, who is not my favorite, has a smart granddaughter. Válasz, a pro-government site, wrote yesterday that this latest idea of Fidesz is a sure way to lose all the first-time voters in 2018. Even the party faithful recognize that some of these maneuvers may backfire.

Meanwhile those opposing the proposal are busily collecting urine and leaving it in a large bottle outside the city hall of District VIII. One really wonders whether Viktor Orbán has lost his touch–or, as some might claim, whether he is touched.

Hungarian public discourse: Gloves off

We have been so preoccupied with Viktor Orbán’s ideas on the illiberal state that we have paid scant attention to some other important utterances of the Hungarian prime minister. Here I think of his many references to “honest” public discourse replacing what is “politically correct.” “Honest” public discourse often seems to encompass verbal abuse, including in some segments of Hungarian society racist and antisemitic expletives.

Right-wing politicians are pioneers of the art of “honest” discourse. While in opposition Viktor Orbán was a master of the craft. He used his skills to undertake a character assassination of his political foe, Ferenc Gyurcsány. Now that he is prime minister he refrains from the kind of language that was his trademark. He no longer calls his political opponents clowns, no-goods, idiots, adventurers, regents of eastern despotism, and similar epithets; he lets others to do the dirty work. For example, CÖF, the pro-government civil group. Or his old friend, Zsolt Bayer. But topping them is his close friend, László Kövér, president of the parliament, who has inherited his mantle; he is a master of finding the most abusive words when talking about the opposition.

Here are a few choice sentences from the latest Kövér special. On September 26 Kövér gave a pep talk to the Fidesz faithful in Budapest’s District XX. First he talked about the weak and confused opposition whose “members don’t know whether they are boys or girls, often in the strictest sense of the word.” (“Nem tudja,  fiú vagy lány” is an expression that means being confused.) One did not have to be there to know that this “witticism” must have been a real hit with the audience. After accusing the owners of utility companies of “stealing money out of people’s pockets,” he moved on to the arch-enemy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is “the total bankruptcy and nadir of Hungarian democracy.” After piling one accusation after the other on the former prime minister, Kövér compared him to “the politicians of the Entente” [after World War I] responsible for Trianon. “In comparison to him Mátyás Rákosi was an altar boy.” And if that wasn’t enough, he called him “the reincarnation of Ernő Gerő,” Rákosi’s right-hand man.

gloves off

What can come after such verbal abuse? As often happens, physical abuse. This morning Ferenc Gyurcsány was campaigning in Csepel where the opposition actually has a good chance of defeating the current mayor, Szilárd Németh, the face of the utility rate decreases. A man started screaming at Gyurcsány and set out to attack him physically; fortunately the people around the former prime minister managed to restrain the would-be assailant.

The right-wing media naturally follow the “stylistic” lead of the politicians. Heti Válasz (nowadays only Válasz in the online version) decided to transform their formerly stodgy style into one that is more sensational. The articles in its new column called “Rosta” (sieve) have begun to resemble some of the opinion pieces of the far-right Magyar Hírlap. The leading Fidesz paper, Magyar Nemzet, also likes to pile abuse on political opponents. The latest victim of the paper is István Vágó, earlier a television personality, who decided to run for a seat on his district’s city council. Vágó’s program includes a suggestion to convert an empty piece of real estate into a children’s center. This particular building had earlier belonged to the district but was given back to the Catholic Church some time ago. Well, this suggestion was a cardinal sin in the eyes of the editors of the newspaper. Vágó was accused of a Rákosi-like harassment of the Church.

Unfortunately the verbal infection is spreading to opposition circles. An MSZP politician, Tibor Szanyi, who is often described as the enfant terrible of the party, decided some time ago to imitate the right-wing politicians. Recently Szanyi, a member of the European Parliament, got himself into a terrible jam when, as a result of a foolish bet he made, he had to invite a number of “goy bikers” to Brussels. Worse, he did that not on his own money but with funds provided by the European Union for the purpose of acquainting citizens with the workings of the European Union. The media, after learning about the event from one of the goy bikers, ran the story. Szanyi’s answer? He called the journalists rats! Szanyi is currently the leader of the four-member socialist-DK caucus. But not for long. The goy bikers story was too much for DK, and it seems MSZP concurs.

And now we come to the language of a well-known poet turned politician, Géza Szőcs. He started his career in Cluj/Kolozsvár, then worked as a journalist in Switzerland, returned to Romania where he became a politician, and finally ended up in Budapest where he joined the government of Viktor Orbán as assistant secretary in charge of culture. Here is this cultured gentleman’s letter to Hannu Launonen, a Finnish translator of Hungarian literature, who was awarded the Janus Pannonius Prize, a relatively new international award given jointly by the Hungarian government and the Hungarian PEN Club. Szőcs is currently the president of PEN.

In the last minute Launonen turned down the prize. He was not the first one to do so. In 2012 Lawrence Ferlinghetti was awarded the prize but, after learning that the Hungarian government was a partial sponsor of the award, did not accept it. In declining, Ferlinghetti cited his opposition to the right wing regime of Viktor Orbán which curtails civil liberties and freedom of speech. Szőcs was infuriated with Launonen’s decision. And so he wrote an open letter to Launonen.

The letter was described by 168 Óra as “primitive.” But how primitive? Among other things, Szőcs wonders what would have happened if Launonen had decided to decline the prize after he received the €3,000 that went with it, intimating that he might have pocketed the money anyway. He accuses Launonen of “aping Ferlinghetti” and adds that his “gesture’s weight is truly relative.” At the end he claims that any exchange between the two of them is “superfluous and pointless” because on the basis of his behavior Szőcs considers him a man “of infirm character.” What can one say? If Szőcs hadn’t written this “superfluous” letter he could have saved himself the embarrassment of being called a boor.

Péter Szijjártó bought a luxurious house from gifts and loans

Over the last four days the Hungarian media have been having a heyday with Péter Szijjártó’s real estate purchase in Dunakeszi, a town northeast of Budapest on the left bank of the Danube, right across from Szentendre Island. It was RTL Klub that broke the news that the young couple with two small children had just purchased a house for 167 million forints or $680,000. Just for comparison, the average Hungarian employee earns 2,850,000 forints a year. The news broke on the very day that Szijjártó was sworn in as foreign minister, but interest in his finances have been the subject of scrutiny before. It turned out that according to his most recent financial statement he saved more money in 2013 than he earned. Demokratikus Koalíció and Együtt-PM turned to the chairman of the parliamentary committee in charge of possible corruption cases among members of parliament and asked for an investigation. Since such efforts have failed earlier, György Rubovszky (KDNP), who by the way thinks that the Orbán administration’s mandate empowers it to introduce “the dictatorship of the majority,” will undoubtedly turn their request down. For Rubovszky, Szijjártó’s word is enough. And Szijjártó told him that the money came from investments.

In May Szijjártó had 82 million forints in addition to three houses he owned in Győr, his hometown; at Lake Balaton; and in Dunakeszi where he has been living since 2006, first as a bachelor and later with his wife. In 2011 the first child arrived and this year the second. That means that his wife’s only income in the last three years has been the child support every mother receives who decides to stay at home with the baby. The first Dunakeszi property, a duplex, was not cheap either. It cost 27.5 million forints. However, as we learned, in the last three years they have been thinking about moving because of the growing family. Well, they found their house. It is not exactly tiny: 700 m². It is a three-level house. The ground floor is 200 m² with a seven-meter cathedral ceiling. The house has a five-car garage with its own car-wash system. Naturally it has a swimming pool, which can be used even in winter because it is covered. It also has a fitness room with a jacuzzi and sauna.  As far as the number of bathrooms is concerned, apparently it has currently three but, according to some accounts, the Szijjártós would like to have five.

The question is how Péter Szijjártó managed to buy this house when he did not take out a mortgage and he had only 82 million forints on hand in May when he purchased the house. Well, Szijjártó presented the public with two versions. The first was that he put in 80 million forints, his wife came up with 10 million, and so did her parents. His own parents gave him 33 million as a gift and lent him 34 million. A day later, he changed these figures. In the new version he paid out only 67 million forints while his parents lent him not 34 but 45 million. I guess the correction was necessary because if the young Szijjártós were left with only 2 million forints to their names he couldn’t explain how he is paying for the very extensive renovations that have been going on ever since May and will continue for several more months. Szijjártó hopes that perhaps by Christmas they will be able to move in.

MTI / Szilárd Koszticsák

MTI / Szilárd Koszticsák

The house, in my opinion, is hideous. The inside is no better, but I understand that the furniture does not come with the property, so perhaps there is hope. For more pictures of this monstrosity built for some Hungarian nouveau riche I suggest looking at the ad the real estate agent placed online in September 2013. It has about 20 photographs of the interior of the house. The original price was 189 million forints. So, just as Szijjártó said, it was a bargain. He managed to “save” 37 million forints.

This is not the first unusually rapid financial success of a Fidesz politician, including Szijjártó’s idol Viktor Orbán, who could never quite explain where the money came from for his family’s extensive landholdings and the purchase and enlargement of a house in a very elegant and expensive part of Buda. Or, there is Antal Rogán, whose several real estate purchases couldn’t possibly have been paid for out of his stated income. Perhaps the most mysterious story is that of Lőrinc Mészáros, the humble pipe fitter from Felcsút who in four years became a billionaire. All that while Viktor Orbán promised a “puritanic” and “plebeian” government.

Here, instead of playing detective, I would rather talk about the generosity of Szijjártó’s parents. His parents are very well-off people, and it looks as if ever since his late teens and early twenties they have been coddling him. He is perhaps even financially dependent on them. Here are a few facts. When Szijjártó was eighteen years old, his parents bought him a house in Győr. When he became a university student in Budapest, they bought him an apartment there. They were the ones who bought him the Dunakeszi house he and his wife currently live in. In that year, at the age of 28, he had three pieces of property and 43 million forints in savings. So, I am inclined to believe that the purchase of his new house was largely facilitated by Szijjártó’s parents.

Not long ago we talked about how Hungarian parents dote on their children, especially on their boys who as a result never really grow up and are completely dependent on their mothers and eventually on their wives. I remember that one of our commenters from Great Britain remarked that single Hungarian males are pretty hopeless as immigrants because they are unable to look after themselves. The situation in Szijjártó’s case is extreme because the parents seem to have more money than they know what to do with. The result? The man achieved almost nothing on his own. His early political career was made possible by his financial independence, while it was Viktor Orbán who elevated him to serve as his spokesman, most likely because he was flattered by young Szijjártó’s devotion. At the age of seventeen he decided that his goal in life was to serve the great man.

An article in gepnarancs.hu appeared today with the following title: “Why on earth are you envious of Szijjártó’s house in Dunakeszi?” After all, he was put into a position he knows nothing about. His boss managed to maneuver Hungary into a position of isolation. “Almost everybody hates us. Name me one country where Hungary is thought of with love and esteem. There is not one but, don’t worry, the Szijjártó family will take care of it.” Or, what about an editorial by Gábor Horváth of Népszabadság who is convinced that it is totally irrelevant who the next minister of foreign affairs of Hungary is? “Old or young, an expert or a bungler, a moderate or a hawk, a diplomat with a distinguished career or a spineless official from the ministry of justice, or, as it is from here on, a football player with gelled hair…. According to a historical anecdote, Caligula wanted to appoint his horse consul. The noble animal was called Incitatus and surely it was an excellent horse. But isn’t it all the same?”

The new Fidesz target: László Székely, Hungary’s ombudsman

In May I wrote a post about László Székely, the ombudsman newly appointed by the Orbán administration. In it I suggested that Székely’s appointment might have been a mistake on the part of Viktor Orbán. I noted that the prime minister had erred earlier in naming Máté Szabó as the new sole ombudsman. Szabó turned out to be a steadfast defender of human rights and the rule of law. I added that “it may happen again, but Viktor Orbán rarely makes mistakes on personnel choices.” Well, it did happen. Székely has been an independent ombudsman whose recommendations have rarely met with government approval. Now it seems that he may lose his job. Moreover, the case is an opportunity for a fresh attack against the Hungarian NGOs which receive Norwegian funds because the case involves TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, one of the recipients.

TASZ represents the Kék Pont Alapítvány (Blue Dot Foundation), which is involved in the prevention of drug abuse. It provides an ambulance service for drug addicts and serves as a drug consultation center. The Foundation also runs a number of centers where addicts can exchange their used needles for sterile ones. One of these centers is in District VIII, a rather seedy part of Pest. Máté Kocsis, the Fidesz mayor of the district, is a brash young man without much compassion for the downtrodden. His efforts “to clean up” the place usually employ inhumane methods. Recently he turned against Kék Pont’s needle exchange center. The staff was told that they have to stop their activities. TASZ, representing the foundation, appealed to the ombudsman’s office for a judgment last November. Their argument rested on the right to health. Used needles spread disease not only among drug users but also in the population at large. Moreover, TASZ stressed that needle exchange programs are recommended by the European Union. All in all, they had a strong case, and the ombudsman’s office agreed with them. The mayor, however, contended that the ombudsman’s office simply parroted TASZ’s arguments. He was also convinced that the ombudsman himself never read the verdict; he just signed his name to it.

How did we get to this stage? Well, it would be nice to know how Fidesz and its on-again-off-again mouthpiece, Magyar Nemzet, collude. Does Magyar Nemzet receive orders and documentation from Fidesz politicians or is it the other way around? I suspect that the former is the more likely scenario. My hunch is that Kocsis was infuriated by the recommendation of the ombudsman that he received on September 8. He managed to get hold of some e-mails from the ombudsman’s office that could be interpreted in a way that would serve the young mayor’s purpose. Magyar Nemzet is also not shy at presenting material it receives in a false light. Once the staff considers a story juicy and politically damaging it is ready to churn out one article or opinion piece after the other. That was definitely the case here. Since yesterday morning Magyar Nemzet published nine articles about the horrid collusion between László Székely’s office and TASZ. They seized the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: Székely did not turn out to be a willing tool and TASZ–well, it is one of those anti-government, anti-Hungarian NGOs.

The Fidesz steam roller / Source: ataszjelenti.blog.hu

The Fidesz steamroller / Source: ataszjelenti.blog.hu

It all started with a falsification of facts. The paper published a facsimile of an e-mail which was not an exchange between TASZ and one of the associates of the ombudsman’s office, as Magyar Nemzet intimated, but an internal memo between two officials in the ombudsman’s office. This e-mail, dated May 28, was an answer to a question from another official concerning the time of the decision’s release. The answer indicated that the text was more or less ready but that they would make an inquiry at the ministry and at the city hall of District VIII before its release. The appropriate officials will have 15 days to answer. Moreover, since both people will be on summer holidays, the decision can be released only after their return.

Immediately after the publication of this e-mail, Székely ordered an in-house investigation and found out within a couple of hours that it had nothing to do with TASZ.

Then came Magyar Nemzet’s second article, published after János Lázár had already announced that if the story about the e-mail was true, Székely must resign. From this second article it became clear that whoever lifted the documents from the ombudsman’s office had a number of e-mails concerning the Kék Pont case. This time the paper published an exchange between Péter Sárosi, the man who handled the case at TASZ, and Beáta Borza, one of the department heads in the ombudsman’s office. In his letter Sárosi inquired about the date of the release of the verdict because Kék Point already had a shortage of needles and in September they must close their doors. Moreover, he said, he himself will be going on vacation and he would like to be around when the decision is released. TASZ would like to make sure that the story gets into the media. The department head promised to talk to the lawyer who was handling the case and expressed her hope that they can help as far as the date is concerned. From that letter both Magyar Nemzet and Kocsis came to the conclusion that there was collusion between the two over when the document will become public. In his usual parlance Kocsis announced that “the drug lobby has already entrenched itself in the ombudsman’s office.”

This case is being taken extremely seriously in government circles. György Rubovszky (KDNP), chairman of the judicial committee, announced that on Monday László Székely must appear before them. It seems that Rubovszky has pretty much made up his mind. He released the following statement: “According to recent news, the office of the ombudsman, disregarding the expectation of its objective and independent inquiry, prejudicially cooperated with the organization that initiated the inquiry in the preparation of its content and the timing of its publication.” I don’t think Székely will be Hungary’s ombudsman for long.