Tag Archives: György Schöpflin

In the service of the Orbán regime: György Schöpflin and the pig heads

I would advise György Schöpflin, Fidesz member of the European Parliament ever since 2004, to stay away from Twitter. It is a dangerous instrument in the hands of politicians, especially politicians who can’t keep their mouths shut. And it seems that he can’t. Two weeks ago his name came up in connection with one of his unfortunate tweets about a Hungarian journalist “and his ilk” who in a dictatorship would already be “in the jug.”

But that was nothing in comparison to what happened yesterday when several English-language papers reported that Schöpflin on Twitter suggested placing pig heads on the fence built by the Orbán government. They would be a deterrent and might keep out hundreds of refugees trying to cross into Hungary.

A week earlier HVG published an article about an anti-immigrant group that calls itself “Magyar Rendőrök és Katonák, vele-TEK vagyunk”(Hungarian policemen and soldiers, we are with you). It included photos of frightening-looking masks, apparently carved from sugar beets, that appeared on Facebook. These masks were most likely put up by self-appointed border guards who occasionally make side trips “to hunt” for illegal migrants. The “vele-TEK” group claims that the masks are effective. Perhaps that’s why Hungarian authorities haven’t made any effort to remove them.

Repafejek

The Twitter exchange in which Schöpflin played such an inglorious role began with a remark by Human Rights Watch director Andrew Stroehlein, who wrote: “Refugees are fleeing war & torture, Hungary. Your root vegetable heads will not deter them.” Schöpflin reacted: “Human images are haram. But agree pig’s head would deter more effectively.” Stroehlein retweeted: “Pig heads an ugly idea. Worse is reality of Hungary border abuses with violence against kids.”

I hate to disappoint György Schöpflin, but his idea was not very original. On the Facebook page with the photos of the carved heads, several people suggested the same thing. Here are a couple of the recommendations: “Pigs’ heads cut off would also work” and “Pig’s intestines and heads or huge pictures of pigs with the caption: THIS IS WHAT’S WAITING FOR YOU. YOU EAT IT.” Yes, György Schöpflin, you sank to that level. But at least these people are not university professors as you are.

schopflin2

It seems to me that György Schöpflin must lack emotional intelligence because, as it turned out, he sees nothing wrong, demeaning, or humiliating in his suggestion. In an interview with András Stumpf of Mandiner.hu, which Magyar Narancs described as “the repugnant mixture of stupidity and cynicism,” Schöpflin insisted that he didn’t humiliate anyone. When he “noted in reaction to a raised question that pigs’ heads would be more effective than masks carved from sugar beets, it was a small thought experiment, nothing else.” It was a simple statement of fact as far as he is concerned. And, as is his wont, Schöpflin immediately launched into one of his annoying mini-lectures. This time on the phenomenon of pork consumption. “This is a very interesting question from the anthropological perspective. That for so many people the eating of pork is a sensitive issue while in Europe it is considered to be normal.” He seemed to be surprised that he received at least 150 antagonistic responses, but as far as he is concerned, all that it is just a storm in a teacup. Or, even better, he would use the title of one of the books of his grandfather, Aladár Schöpflin, “Storm in the Aquarium.”

I’m so glad that he mentioned his grandfather because that gives me the opportunity to say something about this important figure in Hungarian literature. Yes, Aladár Schöpflin wrote several novels, but he was best known as a literary critic and literary historian. He supported and promoted modern literature. He worked for the progressive Huszadik Század, edited by Oszkár Jászi. He was involved with the famed literary review Nyugat. He was one of the organizers of the Hungarian PEN Club and co-editor alongside Gyula Illyés of Magyar Csillag. Right after the birth of the Second Hungarian Republic in 1946, he was made a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He died in 1950. He certainly didn’t belong to the official cultural establishment of the Horthy regime. On the contrary. He was highly regarded even during the Kádár regime. It is enough to check the account of his accomplishments in the Magyar Irodalmi Lexikon, published in 1965. The accolades go on for pages. I really wonder what he would think of his grandson’s working for a regime that emulates the Horthy regime, which was not at all to his liking.

Aladár’s son, Gyula Schöpflin, György’s father, was also a writer and translator who as a student joined the illegal communist party and spent some time in jail. Therefore, not surprisingly, he became part of the communist establishment after 1945. First, he worked at the Hungarian Radio and, after the communist takeover in 1948, he was appointed Hungarian ambassador to Stockholm, Oslo, and Copenhagen. But then came 1949 and the show trial of László Rajk when he turned his back on the communist regime and moved to Great Britain with his family in 1950. György was 11 years old at the time.

And with this background György Schöpflin became a Fidesz lackey, lacquering over the regime’s boorishness in Brussels with his impeccable British pronunciation and demeanor. He is the British-educated gentleman who lends an elegant touch to the less than distinguished group of people Orbán sent to Brussels. Every time he is interviewed on some issue that reflects badly on the regime he serves, he is honey-tongued and appears on the surface so very reasonable, but in the end he always manages to defend all the rotten stuff that oozes out of the Orbán regime. I’m afraid that the person who said that he brings shame to the Schöpflin name is right. He squandered the name of his family and whatever reputation he himself had as a scholar.

August 23, 2016

George Soros before the European Parliament and the Hungarian government’s reaction

Every time George Soros makes a public statement, which he does frequently, the Hungarian political right launches a frenzied attack against him. Interestingly, the Hungarian media didn’t spend much time on an article that appeared in The New York Review of Books (April 9, 2016). In it he explained that European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans had invited an open debate on the refugee crisis, to which he was responding in his article. The solution, according to Soros, is “at least €30 billion ($34 billion) a year [which] will be needed for the EU to carry out a comprehensive plan.” He suggested that “Europe has the financial and economic capacity to raise €30 billion a year, [which] is less than one-quarter of one percent of the EU’s combined annual GDP of €14.9 trillion, and less than one-half of one percent of total spending by its twenty-eight member governments.”

Soros, however, realized that some members would vehemently object, especially Germany. So, instead, he offered all sorts of financial arrangements that would yield the necessary money without triggering the opposition of Germany and others. The task is urgent because “the refugee crisis poses an existential threat to Europe.”

On June 30 Soros delivered a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels, which was a revised version of the ideas he had spelled out in his New York Review of Books article. The result of the British referendum had a shocking effect on Soros who, upon hearing of the calamitous vote for Brexit, was certain that the disintegration of the European Union was “practically inevitable.” And since, in his opinion, “the refugee crisis … played a crucial role” in the British decision, the EU must act in one way or the other to raise money to solve the crisis and at the same time save the European Union.

I believe he is wrong in thinking that the refugee crisis per se had a substantial influence on the outcome of the referendum. In fact, a quick poll conducted after June 23 showed that “the question of sovereignty was the determining factor for the majority that voted for exit from the European Union.” Unlimited immigration from EU countries was also an important consideration.

George Soros in the European Parliament. Left of him Péter Niedermüller, DK EP MP

George Soros in the European Parliament. To his left, Péter Niedermüller, DK EP MP / Photo: European Parliament

But Soros’s linkage of the refugee crisis and Brexit strengthened his argument that the refugee crisis must be solved as soon as possible. In his fairly lengthy speech he talked about the necessity of “profound restructuring” and “fundamental reform of the EU.” He lashed out at “the orthodoxy of the German policymakers,” specifically Angela Merkel, who “ignored the pull factor” created by her initial acceptance of the refugees. Soros also severely criticized her for “her ill-fated deal with Erdoğan” and for her “imposed quotas that many member states opposed and [that] required refugees to take up residence in countries where they were not welcome.”

One would think that Viktor Orbán would have been happy to find an ally in George Soros, but it seems that there is nothing Soros can say or do that would please the Hungarian governing coalition. In fact, they launched a new campaign against him after he addressed the European Parliament. The reason for the government outcry was three sentences he uttered in the course of outlining ways in which the EU could raise the requisite €30 billion yearly. He said,“Finally, I come to the legacy expenditures that have crippled the EU budget. Two items stand out: cohesion policy, with 32% of expenditures, and agriculture with 38%. These will need to be sharply reduced in the next budget cycle starting in 2021.”

The first Hungarian politician to respond to Soros’s suggestion was György Hölvényi, KDNP member of the European People’s Party, followed by György Schöpflin, Fidesz EP member, who accused Soros of trying to make money on his financial advice to the European Union. Magyar Hírlap announced the news of Soros’s speech with this headline: “There are already signs of Soros’s latest speculations.” Naturally, János Lázár also had a few words to say about Soros’s speech in Brussels. He described him as someone who “presents himself as the voluntary savior of Europe” and who “wants to implement wholesale immigration.” Soros has no mandate from the European voters to offer any kinds of proposals, and it is not at all clear who invited him to the European Parliament. An editorial in Magyar Idők portrayed Soros as an emissary of the Clintons: “the face of Washington shows a striking similarity to that of George Soros.” The author added that if Hillary Clinton wins the election, this unfortunate situation will remain in place. Soros’s disapproval of compulsory quotas was dismissed as nothing more than a queen’s gambit.

The spokesman of Fidesz-KDNP on the issue was István Hollik, a member of parliament who was practically unknown until recently. He expressed the governing party’s strong objections to all of Soros’s suggestions, especially cutting back the cohesion funds and the agricultural subsidies “in the interest of the immigrants.” Fidesz-KDNP “expressly calls on the European Union to reject the proposals of the financial Forex speculator.” Naturally, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó also commented on Soros’s “totally astonishing ideas.”

None of the Hungarian politicians, or for that matter commentators, spent any time on Soros’s other suggestions, some of which merit consideration. They were fixated on the two items–cohesion funds and agricultural subsidies–that would really hurt the Hungarian government and its coterie of oligarchs. Can you imagine the plight of those who are the beneficiaries of the money pouring in from the European Union? And what will happen to the new landed gentry who purchased agricultural property for the express purpose of getting free money for every hectare from Brussels? Indeed, that would be a calamity.

And then there was the reaction of László Csizmadia, president of Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF), a phony NGO most likely financed by the government. In his scenario Hillary Clinton sent her number one scout to the European Union to test her future policies and their reception. Behind global capitalism there is “the financial hidden power,” without which no one can overthrow a political system. Soros has been banned in many countries, and Csizmadia knows that “some kind of Hungarian measure is under consideration that would be similar to a ban.” I do hope that Csizmadia’s information is only a figment of his imagination.

July 5, 2016

How did the Hungarian government fare in the European Parliament today?

Today I would like to concentrate on two topics: Fidesz’s relation to the European People’s Party, an umbrella organization of right of center parties in Europe, and the Orbán government’s current situation within the European Union. Let me state at the very beginning that I’m more upbeat about today’s hour-long discussion in the European Parliament on the Hungarian situation than some of the people who commented right after the event on Hungarian Spectrum. Let me also add that I consider  Fidesz’s status within “the family” of the European People’s Party less secure than most people are inclined to believe.

Let’s start with the parliamentary debate. György Schöpflin, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, predicted a couple of days ago that this debate would be “a third-rate affair” and therefore it was wise of Viktor Orbán not to do attend the session. Subsequently we learned that no invitation was extended to either Orbán or any member of his government. Enikő Győry, undersecretary in charge of European affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was present in observer status only.

Schöpflin seemed to know that neither the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, nor any of the leaders of the parliamentary caucuses would be present. Well, Schöpflin was wrong. Martin Schulz  presided over the session, and for the most part the heads of the parliamentary delegations were present and delivered speeches. The notable exception was Joseph Daul of EPP, who only a year ago fiercely defended Viktor Orbán during the last grilling of the Hungarian government in the European Parliament. In his place Frank Engel, a member of  the EPP caucus, spoke; his defense of the Orbán government was muted. He basically asked his fellow parliamentarians to delay their judgment until the legal analysis of the Hungarian constitution is completed by the European Commission.

Viviane Redings delivering her speech in the European Parliament  MTI  / Photo Patrick Seeger

Viviane Redings delivering her speech in the European Parliament
MTI / Photo Patrick Seeger

Viviane Reding gave a brief talk in which she outlined the European Commission’s position on the issue of Hungarian compliance with EU law. At the very beginning she made it clear that she represents President Barroso and the opinion of the European Commission. She emphasized that the Commission has been closely monitoring developments related to the Hungarian Constitution ever since 2011. The Commission “has played a very active role as guardian of the Treaties” and “is currently conducting a detailed legal analysis of the amendments.”

But, continued Reding, the Hungarian constitution, quite aside from not being compatible with European laws, has serious flaws as far as the rule of law in general is concerned. And then she added:  ” Hungary will also need to take due account of the opinion that the Council of Europe/Venice Commission will deliver in June, in full accordance with both European Union and Council of Europe principles, rules and values. The Commission expects a responsible answer from Hungary to this opinion.” In addition, there is the work of Rui Tavares (Portugal), an independent member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) of the European Parliament who has been preparing a resolution “on the situation of Fundamental Rights in Hungary: standards and practices.” (I might add here that Frank Engel, who delivered the EPP’s message on the Hungarian situation today, is also a member of  LIBE and, like Reding, a Luxembourgian.) Reding said that “the Commission expects the Hungarian authorities to engage in a political dialogue with this House.”

So, this is just the beginning. As things stand now, the legal experts of the European Commission are studying the Hungarian constitution and its amendments, as is the Venice Commission. And the LIBE resolution will be ready by early summer. So, it looks as if by June there will be a concerted effort on the part of organizations of the European Union and the Council of Europe to take up the issue of Hungarian non-compliance with European law and the Orbán government’s transgression of democratic principles and the rule of law in general.

The criticism from the socialists, the liberals, and the greens was naturally hard-hitting, but the general consensus was that ¶7, which could deprive Hungary of its voting rights, shouldn’t be the first step. Lucia Creighton of Ireland, the country currently serving as president of the Union, emphasized that Ireland supports the point of view of the Commission. Moreover, she thought that it might be worthwhile to discuss a possible “new mechanism” that would be entrusted with the enforcement of union law in member states. She suggested putting the topic on the agenda of the meeting of the foreign ministers next Monday.

All in all, I’m satisfied with the results. Since the final analyses of the Commission, the Venice Commission, and LIBE were not ready, nothing more could have been done.

The other topic I would like to cover, however briefly, is Fidesz’s position vis-à-vis the European People’s Party. The Romanian Hungarian-language paper isn’t backing down on its story of a discussion between Joseph Daul and Viviane Reding about the possible removal of Fidesz from the EPP caucus. First, the spokesman of the EPP caucus denied the “rumor,” but a day later Joseph Daul himself wrote a letter to the Új Magyar Szó. He claimed that the “articles in question are both distorted and without foundation.” I would suggest that it would have been wiser to say that they were either distorted or without foundation, not both. And if one wants to deny that the topic of the conversation was Fidesz, one doesn’t claim that “the main topic of the conversation was Croatia and not Hungary” because that doesn’t preclude the possibility that Hungary was discussed. In brief, it looks more and more as if Daul did initiate a talk with Reding in Dubrovnik and that the fate of Fidesz was discussed there. The spokeswoman of Redding didn’t deny the existence of a  private conversation between the two politicians. She only said to Magyar Nemzet that she is not at liberty to reveal the contents of the conversation.

There are signs that Orbán’s appearance before the EPP caucus wasn’t as jolly as Viktor Orbán tried to make out. In his usual fashion he cast it as a huge victory. He claimed that “it was good to be Hungarian tonight.” It turned out, however, that after a fifteen-minute talk he received about twenty questions. Apparently, most of the questions came from German and Polish members of the delegation, which leads me to believe that Új Magyar Szó’s information that it was the Polish delegation that informed EPP about Fidesz’s exploratory talks with another caucus was most likely correct.

As for the exploratory talks, the EPP members of parliament asked Orbán about this rumor, but he refused to answer it directly. Instead, his answer was formulated as a question: “EPP is the best place, so why should [I] leave it?” And the 50-50 split within the EPP caucus also seems to be on target. Even József Szájer admitted that “not everybody supports Hungary” in the body. According to an EPP member, earlier there was a fairly large group of people within the caucus who tried to mediate between supporters and critics of Viktor Orbán. By now the EPP is much more divided on the issue. You are either for or against Orbán and his government. There is no longer a middle ground. I predict that EPP will not vote en bloc against whatever resolution the European Parliament adopts later this year.