Tag Archives: Ildikó Lendvai

László Botka is on the campaign trail, with some hiccups

Although in the last few weeks László Botka, MSZP’s candidate for premiership, has begun to campaign with greater vigor, neither his own popularity nor the approval rating of his party has improved. In fact, according to Závecz Research (August 23, 2017), MSZP’s active voters dropped by three percentage points in three months. The loss was continuous and steady. Publicus Intézet (August 27, 2017), which also measured the popularity of politicians, registered a three percentage point drop in Botka’s popularity in one month. Support for DK in the last three months remained steady. Thus there is plenty to worry about in MSZP circles.

Earlier I wrote about the controversy between Zsolt Molnár, an influential MSZP politician, and László Botka, which showed a cleavage within the party leadership over MSZP’s relationship with the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK). One must keep in mind that DK began as a socialist splinter party, and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s decision to leave MSZP and create a new party left MSZP in a much weakened position. Therefore, one shouldn’t be surprised by the resentment some MSZP politicians feel toward DK and its leader. It is hard to judge the size of the group in the top leadership which under no circumstances would sit down to negotiate with the politicians of DK, but even though their number might be small, they are determined to go ahead alone, without the second largest party on the left. In this group are István Ujhelyi, EU parliamentary member, and Tamás Harangozó. On the other hand, Attila Mesterházy, former party chairman and candidate for the premiership of the united democratic opposition in 2014, seems to be on the side of those who sympathize with Zsolt Molnár’s position. His recent interview at least points in this direction. In this interview he revealed his pragmatic side when he suggested cooperation with Lajos Simicska, because “the removal of Viktor Orbán’s regime is a common goal.” He also defended Gyurcsány against Botka’s accusation that the former prime minister is not a democrat. Although Ágnes Kunhalmi is quiet, I suspect that she also has her doubts about Botka’s strategy. So, Zsolt Molnár is not alone.

MSZP old-timers complain that 15-20 years ago the party had the support of the leading professionals of the country, but by now they have left the socialists because the party leadership didn’t cultivate a working relationship with them. Perhaps Botka also realized that for a party to develop a program and make preparations for governing one needs experts in various fields. Legal experts, men and women with expertise in education, healthcare, public administration, etc. So, Botka sent out 200 invitations to a meeting in Szeged on August 26, where he was hoping to receive the common wisdom of the experts gathered there. When I first read the news as it was presented in Népszava, I had the distinct feeling that the turnout was low and that the largest group present were the big names in MSZP, past and present. Although Népszava, being a social democratic paper, was unwilling to say it outright, it was pretty obvious that there were very few well-known experts present. Népszava somewhat sarcastically noted that Botka announced that he didn’t want to give a speech but proceeded to give a very long one. Besides outlining ten important goals of MSZP once it forms a government, he again spent an inordinate amount of time on Ferenc Gyurcsány, which Népszava discreetly left out of its summary. In order to read that part of the speech one has to go to Index.

This gathering had one bright side, which had nothing to do with collecting professionals to assist the party program and possible future governance. Gergely Karácsony, chairman of Párbeszéd (Dialogue) and his party’s candidate for the premiership, promised his cooperation with László Botka. I chose the word “cooperation” carefully because I don’t think that “support” would properly describe Karácsony’s message. In his speech he said that those who would attempt to remove Botka cannot count on him because he is “willing to struggle alongside László Botka for a just and fair Hungary.” Considering Párbeszéd’s 1% support, Karácsony’s offer of cooperation will not bring too many new voters to MSZP. Still, this gesture should give a psychological lift to the disheartened democratic opposition. Botka also received the support of Zoltán Komáromi, a family physician, who has been a constant fixture in the media. He claims to have worked out an effective reform of the ailing healthcare system that would yield immediate, tangible results. Komáromi’s abandonment of Együtt is a blow to that small party, which has said that it will not cooperate with any other political group.

László Botka (MSZP) and Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd) / Photo Ádám Molnár

After these positive developments I must turn to the less bright aspects of Botka’s campaign activities. Botka was supposed to come up with 106 candidates by September, but to date he has managed to name only two. After visiting Gyöngyös, he declared that there can be no better candidate in that district than György Hiesz, the MSZP mayor of the town. Hiesz is one of the founders of MSZP. He was a member of parliament between 1990 and 1994 and again between 2010 and 2014. He was mayor between 2002 and 2010 and again from 2014 on. Then a few days later, while campaigning in the town of Makó, Botka had the bright idea of asking István Rója, who had been the principal of the local gymnasium, to be MSZP’s candidate in the coming election campaign. Rója’s appointment was not renewed despite wide support by teachers, students, and parents. Rója is not an MSZP member. While Hiesz is an experienced politician, Rója has never been involved in politics. These two people might be excellent candidates, but the way Botka single-handedly and in a somewhat haphazard manner is picking his candidates doesn’t appeal to some people within the party, especially since compiling the party list is supposed to be the leadership’s joint decision.

I should also call attention to another perhaps not so small blunder. Yesterday Botka essentially promised the job of minister of education to István Hiller, who had held this post between 2006 and 2010. About a year ago Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of MSZP, suggested creating a so-called shadow cabinet, a popular political instrument in Great Britain, which consists of senior members of the opposition parties who scrutinize their corresponding government ministers and develop alternative policies. Such a body could develop a coherent set of goals and policies for a party. However, for some strange reason, László Botka doesn’t like the concept. As he keeps repeating, he wants to have a real cabinet, not a shadow one. Therefore, he said that he wasn’t going to name names. Yet yesterday, standing next to István Hiller, Botka announced that Hiller was once minister of education and he is very much hoping that he will be so again. It doesn’t matter how you slice it, this means that he has Hiller in mind for the post. There’s a major problem here, however. Botka in the last eight months talked about nothing else but those guilty MSZP and SZDSZ politicians who are responsible for the electoral disaster of 2010 when Fidesz won a two-thirds majority in parliament. They must retire and shouldn’t even be on the party list, meaning that they cannot even be ordinary backbenchers in parliament. That was allegedly his reason for insisting on Gyurcsány’s disappearance from politics. And now, he publicly indicates that his choice for minister of education is a former cabinet member in the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments. This inconsistency doesn’t look good.

All in all, Botka’s performance to date leaves a great deal to be desired. I wonder when the day will come that he is told to change course or else.

August 30, 2017

István Hiller, MSZP, and the fence

I know that most likely everybody will want to talk about the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks in Paris, but I see no point in adding to the guessing game about the identities of the eight men involved. Of course, I’m also very curious whether the Syrian passport actually belonged to one of the terrorists, and I’m sure that the discussion of the details of the attack will continue in the comments. Today, however, I would like to talk about something else, though it is not unrelated to the refugee crisis and terrorism. It is the surprise announcement by István Hiller (MSZP) that, although he doesn’t like the fence, he doesn’t know “a better solution for the refugee crisis,” a statement that goes against the position of his party.

First, perhaps I should say a few words about István Hiller. He is currently one of the most important active politicians in MSZP. He was one of the founding members of MSZP as a young man of 25 and became chairman of the party in 2004. Two years later he was named minister of education and culture. In the last few months he has indicated his desire to head MSZP, which is in serious decline. I gather he believes that under his leadership MSZP can again become a large, influential party. Otherwise, he is a historian whose main field is sixteenth-century Austrian diplomacy.

One is always suspicious when Viktor Orbán praises someone from the opposite camp, and that is what he did in the case of István Hiller. During his conversations with students of his old dormitory, after dismissing the current political leaders of the opposition parties who are unable to formulate a “national strategy” (nemzetpolitika), Orbán announced that “interestingly there is someone who can at least theoretically achieve that goal and that is the former chairman of the party, ‘a professzor úr,’ Hiller…. He is a man whose heart is in the right place, and this is difficult for someone from the left.”

MSZP politicians were stunned at Hiller’s announcement. Some of them were aware of his opinion, but they didn’t expect him to announce it publicly against the wishes of his party. Some of his colleagues tried to look upon his indiscretion as a well-meaning response to the public opinion polls showing that the overwhelming majority of MSZP voters believe that the fence is necessary to stem the flow of asylum seekers. After all, a party must be responsive to its voting base’s wishes.

But soon enough it was noticed that several former associates of Hiller had quietly received important government jobs in the Orbán administration, and Hiller himself admitted that János Lázár had asked his advice in connection with the Esterházy Center to be set up in Fertőd. Hiller noted that there was nothing unusual about the request because, after all, it was during his tenure that the bulk of the restoration work on the Esterházy Palace had taken place.

Nonetheless, suspicions have solidified: Hiller is planning to make peace with Fidesz and Viktor Orbán. Of course, Hiller denies the charge. Yet there is a danger that Hiller might end up like Katalin Szily, who first kept criticizing her party, later established a party of her own that flopped, and now is an adviser to Viktor Orbán on “national issues” for a million forints a month. As a witty headline said, “If Hiller is clever he won’t become silly.”

A double interview with László Kovács and Ildikó Lendvai, both former party chairmen and people whose personal integrity is beyond reproach, shows what a hopeless party MSZP has become since 2010 when its leadership hatched the idea of “renewal.” Renewal meant getting rid of all the experienced politicians and replacing them with entirely new young faces whom nobody knew and who were not up to the task of renewing anything.

Kovács and Lendvai are top-notch politicians and excellent democrats. They were among the “old guard” booted out from their leadership positions. Kovács made a name for himself already in the last days of the Kádár regime when he, together with Gyula Horn, were largely responsible for the decision to allow the East German refugees to cross over to Austria. He was a successful foreign minister and served as EU commissioner for five years. Lendvai for many years was the leader of the large MSZP delegation of olden days. She is an eloquent, quick-witted speaker and one of the most honest politicians I have encountered.

Kovacs-Lendvai

The interview with these two people appeared in Origo. The headline was taken from something László Kovács said: “at that price I don’t want to win an election.” The discussion that preceded that sentence was about popularity and political strategy. If it is clear that Viktor Orbán’s reaction to the refugee crisis is popular even among MSZP voters, isn’t the correct strategy to move in the direction of popular demands? At this point the following conversation took place:

László Kovács: There are two possible choices for political parties. One is that they follow what is popular and brings more votes. But if MSZP wants to win the election this way, it would have to stand for things that are very far from European values.

Ildikó Lendvai: We might as well revile the Gypsies.

László Kovács: Or we can come up with the reinstatement of capital punishment because a lot of people would support it and thus we would be popular. But I don’t want to win at such a price. If we can win only with offering such inhumane solutions alien to European culture, then I would rather stay in opposition. A responsible politician should not only serve but also influence public opinion.

Those people who can read the whole interview should definitely do so. Both severely criticized István Hiller who, by the way, is planning to run for the chairmanship of the party, and they complained about MSZP’s lack of a clear alternative to Fidesz. MSZP’s platform should not be, to use Lendvai’s words, “Fidesz-light” or, as she said a few sentences later, “the same thing as Fidesz but not in a major but in a minor chord.”

It is hard to tell what will happen to MSZP, but I am convinced that the current leadership should pack up and leave. Otherwise, soon enough there will be no MSZP, and the leadership of the opposition will come from one of the smaller parties or a coalition (or unification) of these parties to replace MSZP.

Toward a police state?

It’s time to take a quick look at the amendments to existing laws on the army and the police that, in Viktor Orbán’s words, will start a new era in Hungary. The projected date of this new beginning is September 15–that is, if Fidesz-KDNP has its way and four-fifths of MPs present vote for the extended use of the army and the police in the border regions and elsewhere. The amendments, following the usual course in the Orbán era, were proposed by individual parliamentary members. Not surprisingly, they were the same nine Fidesz-KDNP MPs who were the framers of a message, in the form of a parliamentary resolution, to the “irresponsible” western politicians whom they blamed for the immigration crisis: Antal Rogán (Fidesz), Péter Harrach (KDNP), Gergely Gulyás (Fidesz), Bence Tuzson (Fidesz), Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), Sándor Font (Fidesz), Pál Völner (Fidesz), Erik Bánki (Fidesz), and József Attila Móring (KDNP).

These amendments, in the opinion of those legal scholars whom I consulted, “not only violate the principles of constitutionality but transgress new legal limits that may mean the elimination of constitutional boundaries.” At least this is the opinion of the highly respected think tank of legal scholars at the Eötvös Károly Institute.  These amendments introduce a new legal concept under the rubric of “special legal orders” which are specified in the Fundamental Law (constitution) of 2011. The introduction of this new concept, the government incorrectly maintains, does not require an amendment of the constitution itself.

According to the document, there are “common rules for the state of national crisis and the state of emergency” (Articles 48-49), which focus on external or internal military emergencies. Article 50 deals with the circumstances under which the army may be deployed–national disasters, for instance. Article 51 specifies a situation described as “the state of preventive defense,” which might occur if Hungary’s army has to be deployed as a result of her obligations as a NATO ally. Finally, Article 52 deals with a situation that arises as a result of an unexpected attack. These are the only defined cases in which the country’s armed forces can be deployed inside the country’s borders and/or certain laws can be suspended. The Orbán government is introducing a new reason for declaring a state of emergency, linked to the number of asylum seekers present in the country.

The amendment refers to a state of emergency induced by “massive immigration.” What does it mean by “massive immigration”? Answer: if more than 500 would-be immigrants ask to be considered for refugee status per month. In August that number was well over 1,000. Or, if more than a thousand transient migrants are in one of the transit zones. Finally, if disturbances break out in any of the camps. By these criteria Hungary has been in a state of emergency caused by massive immigration for quite some time.

A state of emergency can also be declared if the authorities deem that circumstances endanger the security of a given settlement. So, the situation that developed at the Keleti Station would have given the authorities ample cause to declare a state of emergency. By the way, if a state of emergency is declared, it can last for six months or even longer if the authorities consider it desirable.

police kerites

In a state of emergency the general regulations of legal order are suspended. In this case the MPs who submitted the amendments would give additional legal powers to the army and the police. For instance, a policeman would be able to enter private property without a warrant. An order from a superior officer would suffice to search for immigrants suspected of being lodged on the premises. And many more actions on the part of either the refugees or of “complicit” Hungarians would now be crimes. The military would also have new rights. It would participate in the defense and protection of the borders and in the handling of large masses of migrants. In carrying out these duties, a soldier “will have the right to fire at specific individuals.”

What the Eötvös Károly Institute is stressing is that while “the crisis situation caused by massive immigration” may resemble the situation addressed by other special legal orders, it is not itself specifically covered by the constitution. Therefore, these amendments are not constitutional. Jobbik’s proposal to amend the constitution was “at least more honest.” The Jobbik amendment would have added the concept of humanitarian catastrophe, which would have permitted the deployment of the army for the defense of the borders. Of course, the associates of the Eötvös Károly Institute find both ways of introducing a state of emergency and suspending the normal legal order equally abhorrent. So much so that they consider “anyone–be he a member of the government, member of parliament, president of the republic, member of the Constitutional Court, ombudsman, professional soldier, judge, policeman–anyone who does not try to prevent the introduction and exercise of a quasi-extraordinary legal order or the perfidious malignity of the use of weapons against the weaponless  is responsible for the consequences.”

I must say that relatively few analyses have appeared on this frighting piece of legislation. As if all those journalists with law degrees don’t quite grasp the dangers lurking in these amendments–and there are far more dangers than I could cover here. Ildikó Lendvai, who has retired from active political life, though not herself a law school graduate, is keenly aware of the problem. She wrote two op/ed pieces in Népszava on the subject. In her latest, she points out that although these new pieces of legislation are allegedly about the refugees, Hungarian citizens are just as much victims of the state of emergency in the case of massive immigration as are those hapless asylum seekers. It is hard to imagine, she writes, that the people who put those amendments together would be so heartless as to consider rescuing a small child from under the barbed wire fence such a heinous crime that the person who gave assistance deserves a jail term of a minimum of two and a maximum of eight years. There must be some hidden reason behind it. Surely this law, says Lendvai, is also meant to frighten and subdue the citizens of Hungary.

Foreign responses to the Hungarian handling of the refugee crisis

On August 27 an article by Jean-Claude Juncker was published in Népszabadság titled “Together, courageously.” In it, Juncker declared that the European Union “will never turn those people away who need our assistance.” However, he continued, it is worrisome that the populist statements of certain politicians merely arouse passions without offering solutions. Hate speech and ill-considered announcements endanger the union’s greatest achievement, the abolition of internal borders. This is not the world he wants to live in, he said. The real Europe is personified in “those Hungarian volunteers who give food and toys to hungry, exhausted refugee children.” Europe is “those students in Siegen who opened the door of their dormitory to the refugees.” Europe is “the baker on the island of Kos who distributes bread to hungry and weary people. This is the Europe where I want to live.” Finally, he added that “by hiding behind fences we can’t barricade ourselves from all fears and sufferings.”

This article was written before 71 people suffocated in a human trafficker truck with a Hungarian license plate not far from the Hungarian border. It was written before it became known that the Orbán government was planning to introduce modifications to the criminal code that will create what has been described as a state of martial law. It was written before the contents of a parliamentary resolution were published, in which nine members of the Hungarian parliament blamed European politicians: their “irresponsible policies are responsible for the death of people.”

Viktor Orbán, the man who is, we can safely say, responsible for everything that happens in the country, says not a word. He has, as is his wont, disappeared, just as he vanishes from the chamber when he forces his minions to vote for controversial pieces of legislation he wouldn’t like to be held responsible for at a later date. I can’t imagine that any statesman would remain silent in a situation that government officials and politicians describe as a state of emergency. Orbán instead gets his henchmen to sign the odious document.

Foreign criticism of Viktor Orbán has been growing, especially since the tragedy that befell the Syrians on their way to Germany in that truck. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave an interview today in which he called the attitude of some countries in Eastern Europe “scandalous.” He criticized them for “not complying with the common values of Europe.” Fabius wants to dismantle the fence the Hungarian government erected as the first demand, after which the “European Union should have a serious and tough discussion with the Hungarian leaders.” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also condemned the Hungarian “solution” to the crisis when he told a gathering in La Rochelle that “those who flee wars, persecution, torture, must be welcomed with dignity.” Look around the Hungarian train stations where families have to lie on the cement floor in designated areas.

Mourning the death of the refugees at the Keleti Station in Budapest

Mourning the death of the refugees at the Keleti Station in Budapest

On the other side, the Orbán government tries to justify its actions by claiming that they are actually defending the interests of Western Europe. Gergely Gulyás, one of the cleverest and therefore most dangerous of the Fidesz lot, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, told the German readers of the paper that in fact Hungary’s tough stand serves German interests. They should be grateful because fewer people will reach Germany as a result of Hungary not allowing the refugees to step onto Hungarian soil. “One could say,” he continued, “that Hungary is closing its borders for Germany’s sake.” Perhaps it would be time for the German government to tell the Hungarians that it doesn’t want their help. I don’t think that Angela Merkel would like to be held responsible for more deaths of refugees who feel that they must pay smugglers because the Hungarian authorities, for Germany’s sake, don’t let them board trains for which they already have tickets. Let’s leave that responsibility to Viktor Orbán.

Reuters‘s Krisztina Than talked at length with Ahmed, a twenty-seven-year-old Syrian school teacher, and his wife at one of the Budapest railway stations. He told her about their harrowing ten-day trip from Ariha in northern Syria to Budapest. They are heading to Germany, he said. He described their journey as “a trip from death to death.” He said that if he finds a smuggler, he will go with him. “It’s better than sitting here.” Indeed, the next day “there was no sign of Ahmed and his wife at the railway station.” The family who camped out next to them indicated that “they had already moved on.” The chaos that has been the result of the incompetence and perhaps even ill will of the authorities and the fear that they will have to stay in Hungary compel these people to flee, if necessary with the help of smugglers.

Just yesterday the Austrian police checked a suspicious-looking truck near Sankt Peter am Hart in Upper Austria in which they found 26 refugees, among them two five-year-old girls and a six-year-old boy who, due to severe dehydration, were close to death. The driver of the vehicle was a Romanian citizen. It is only a question of time before another tragedy happens. This one was a close call.

Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, on tumblr.com, blamed Viktor Orbán for the death of the 71 people who suffocated in the refrigerated truck because “if these people didn’t also have to escape from the Hungarians, they would still be alive.” Szanyi can say hair-raising things, but this time I’m not sure that István Dévényi of Válasz is correct when he claims that “Tibor Szanyi has simply lost his mind.” It was not only the right-wing Válasz that condemned Szanyi’s short note but also János Széki, a columnist of Élet és Irodalom. He is outraged that instead of mourning the victims, the first thing that comes to someone’s mind is that “Orbán will have to answer for the death of these people.” (Actually, Szanyi used the Hungarian expression “Orbán lelkén szárad” [it is on Orbán’s conscience].)

According to Zoltán Kovács, the government spokesman, the victims themselves are responsible for their own deaths. In the opinion of the leading politicians of Fidesz, it is the irresponsible European politicians who are guilty. And now Szanyi comes forward with a new culprit, Viktor Orbán himself. Of these three, I’m afraid, Orbán is the best candidate because after all he is the prime minister of the country that seems unable and/or unwilling to handle the crisis and whose government is determined not to allow these refugees to continue their journey in a legal and organized fashion. Under these circumstances, after such an arduous and dangerous journey, these people feel that they have no choice but to turn to smugglers. The more stringent border patrolling and more severe restrictions produce more smugglers and more possible tragedies. A rapid change in policy is in order. The tough talking-to Fabius proposed shouldn’t be postponed.

Viktor Orbán and Charles De Gaulle: The dwarf and the giant

Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, a “political scientist” known for his unwavering loyalty to Viktor Orbán, published an analysis of the prime minister’s speech in Tasnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad. Most commentators found Orbán’s performance there of little interest because this time he was very careful not to repeat the kind of mistake he made a year earlier when international reaction to his “illiberal” speech was extremely negative. Mráz, on the other hand, discovered great, not-so-hidden meanings in Orbán’s latest speech. According to Mráz, Orbán’s speech offers “a right-wing alternative” to the current ideas of the left concerning the future of Europe. Surely, after this speech no one can accuse the Hungarian prime minister of being anti-European Union. By calling for vigorous defense of “European culture” and “European nations,” he outlined the essence of a future European policy: “A strong Union” and the “defense of national sovereignty.” This policy, Mráz added, bears a strong resemblance to Charles De Gaulle’s vision of Europe. “De Gaulle is the model,” “Orbán is the new De Gaulle.”

To read all this into the speech is an exercise in fantasy because, although it is true that Orbán made a fleeting reference to Gaullism when he said that “looking at our continent from this perspective, we Hungarians are Europe’s Gaullists,” it is far-fetched to assume that Orbán was offering “a right-wing alternative” in any shape or form to current thinking on the future of the Union. Most of this, I’m afraid, is only in Mráz’s imagination.

Every time that Fidesz loyalists compare their idol to a politician who is considered to be a truly important historical figure, as Charles De Gaulle certainly was, critics have a field day. Even the more moderate right, Ákos Balogh of Mandiner for example, found the comparison “a strong and tasteless exaggeration.” A more detailed analysis by Péter Techet accused Mráz of misunderstanding Gaullism and suggested a better comparison: Napoleon III, who “relying on the majority destroyed the parliamentary republic in order to introduce a plebeian dictatorship.” Or a comparison to Mussolini, whose”vision” was limited to holding on to power at any cost, would have been more apt.

It wasn’t only Mráz who noticed the sentence in which Viktor Orbán uttered De Gaulle’s name. Attila Seres, a journalist who wrote an op/ed piece in Népszabadság a few days after the speech was delivered, was also struck by the phrase, but his reaction was very different from that of Mráz. Seres noted that in Orbán’s speeches the turn of phrase “we Hungarians” usually means “I, Viktor Orbán,” and therefore the comparison is really between himself and Charles De Gaulle. The first thought that popped into Seres’s head was a comparison between a mouse and an elephant. De Gaulle was certainly a French nationalist with a huge ego who at times made the other members of the European Union miserable, but he had great faith in a “Europe from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains which will determine the future of the world.” Compare that, said Seres, to Viktor Orbán’s description of Europe. De Gaulle also kept equal distance from the United States and the Soviet Union. Compare that to Orbán’s foreign policy toward Russia.

mouse and elephant

Tibor Várkonyi, the grand old man of Hungarian journalism and a lover of everything French, was naturally outraged at the very idea of comparing Orbán, “a political manipulator,” to De Gaulle, the creator of the Fifth Republic. Viktor Orbán is only trying to appropriate sole responsibility for the Hungarian Third Republic. De Gaulle was the real creator of a new order. The title of his piece is “Őrmester úr” (Monsieur le caporal), who is being compared by Mráz to the general.

Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of MSZP and nowadays a witty commentator on the political scene, in addition to the usual objections to a comparison between the two men, also called attention to the fact that “De Gaulle during his political career did not increase his wealth…. After his resignation he didn’t accept benefits he was entitled to as president and as general. He lived modestly and the family eventually was forced to sell his estate where no football stations or train tracks were built.”

The funny thing is that it looks as if most people seem to have forgotten that this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán was compared to Charles De Gaulle in the media. It was in April 2013 that Yves-Michel Riols, a highly respected French journalist, wrote an article in Le Monde titled “La posture gaullienne de Viktor Orban.” According to Riols, “all the ingredients of Gaullism are present [in Orbán’s career], including resistance to occupiers, triumphant return to power, and ambition to break with the discredited old order.”

This admiring article was not left unanswered. A few days later an article appeared in Causeur titled “Viktor Orbán, un nouveau De Gaulle? Un nain face à un géant.” Not nice: a dwarf facing a giant in a moral sense, according to the author. In his opinion, De Gaulle must be turning over in his grave. The obviously left-leaning anonymous author lists a host of Orbán’s sins, from the rehabilitation of Admiral Horthy to the introduction of a flat tax that is hard on the poorer strata of society. Orbán, unlike De Gaulle, does not respect the rule of law. In brief, the comparison is outrageous.

Soon enough letters to the editor written by outraged readers appeared in Le Monde itself. There were letters in which Orbán was compared to Ceausescu. Others simply called him an autocrat. One letter described him as a right-wing Chavez in the middle of Europe. A Frenchman who wrote from Hungary, where he had been living for years, said that “as a Frenchman I’m ashamed of this article.”

Hungarian commentators were not really surprised about the appearance of Riols’ article. After all, Orbán called De Gaulle his model already in 2012 in Brussels after a session of the European Parliament that dealt with the Hungarian situation. So, I suspect that the original source of the comparison is Viktor Orbán himself. We have always known that he is a very humble man. After all, he himself told us so.

Campaign strategies against Jobbik: Tapolca-Ajka

Now that the by-election in Tapolca-Ajka is approaching, it is time to think about how the candidate of MSZP-DK, Ferenc Pad, could defeat his two opponents. Just the other day he announced that he will not conduct a negative campaign. As I indicated earlier, Fidesz has already mounted a two-pronged attack. It called attention to Pad’s alleged wealth, accumulated when he was a trade union leader who acted as if he truly cared about the well-being of hard-working people. At the same time the Fidesz publication, pestisrácok.hu, began an attack on the Jobbik candidate, Lajos Rig, by calling attention to his alleged tattoo depicting the Nazi SS’s slogan “My Honor Is Loyalty.” Should the MSZP-DK candidate remain quiet or should he try to undermine the credibility of his opponents?

Admittedly, it is not an easy task to devise an effective campaign in a three-way race, but I still think that a totally defensive campaign from Ferenc Pad would be a mistake, especially since in the past two weeks Jobbik’s newly created and carefully nurtured reputation has suffered several setbacks. The party’s strategists decided that if Jobbik wants to become a force that could one day gain the confidence of the majority of the voters, it must conceal its true nature. After all, all experts say that one can win an election only from the middle. If Jobbik brands itself as an extremist racist party, it will always remain on the fringe. So came what Hungarians call the “cuki” campaign. A charm offensive. Sweetness and light. Instead of spewing anti-Roma and anti-Semitic remarks, Gábor Vona, the party chairman, posed with vizsla puppies to promote the humane treatment of animals.

The problem with these phony metamorphoses is that sooner or later the truth usually emerges. This is what has been happening lately to Jobbik.

On March 5 vigyazo.blog.hu released an audio tape on which Tamás Sneider, the Jobbik deputy president of parliament, can be heard telling his audience that the “cuki campaign” isn’t real. The party hasn’t changed, but they had to temper their message because they don’t want to frighten away the more moderate voters, especially the large crowd of pensioners. However, the Betyársereg (The Army of Outlaws), a group of extremists, since they are not a parliamentary party, can deliver the real message of Jobbik. The two groups complement each other well and have developed a working relationship based on a division of labor. The Betyársereg is an outright Nazi party, which I wrote about in an earlier post. In addition, Sneider talked at some length about “Islam being the last hope of mankind.” He described Islamic extremism as “anti-Western feelings for which the West is responsible.” Sneider has a personal secretary who became a Muslim which, according to his boss, “is much better than if he had converted to Judaism.” The personal secretary is a full-fledged member of Betyársereg, an organization Sneider claimed to know nothing about in a later interview with Olga Kálmán on ATV.

Party chief Gábor Vona with members of Betyársereg / http://betyarsereg.hu/

Party chief Gábor Vona with members of Betyársereg / betyarsereg.hu

Surely, given these embarrassing revelations, those who oppose Lajos Rig, the Jobbik candidate in the Tapolca-Ajka by-election, should concentrate on the duplicity of the “cuki campaign” instead of wasting their time on the man’s tattoos. And yes, even the MSZP-DK candidate should call attention to the real nature of Jobbik, as former MSZP chairman Ildikó Lendvai suggests in an opinion piece that appeared in Népszava. But instead of giving history lessons about events that took place more than 80 years ago in Germany, about which ordinary folks know darned little, she argues that MSZP-DK should talk about those Islamic extremists who burn people alive. After all, people see atrocities committed by these people practically every day on their television screens and they’re horrified. In her opinion, that would bring home the danger of Jobbik’s racist, extremist message much more effectively than anything else.

But if the MSZP-DK candidate confronts Jobbik openly and discredits its candidate, wouldn’t such a strategy only strengthen the other opponent, Fidesz? Let’s assume that large numbers of would-be Jobbik voters see the light and decide that after all they don’t want to vote for such an extremist party. Wouldn’t they embrace Fidesz as the lesser evil? Perhaps not–if a sophisticated strategy could be devised that would, on the one hand, emphasize the incompetence and corruption of the present government and, on the other, stress that Fidesz and Jobbik are kindred ideological souls.

I doubt that any serious strategy has been worked out so far. And yet this is an important election. If Jobbik wins, it will give an incredible boost to this extremist party that has been steadily gaining adherents. Moreover, until now Jobbik was not strong enough in any electoral district to win a seat outright. If this barely literate Lajos Rig manages to gain a seat on his own, it would be a first. I do hope that the MSZP-DK candidate and the people around him realize the importance of this election and act accordingly.

What evil forces lurk behind the Hungarian demonstrations?

On December 29, 2014 Antal Rogán, whip of the Fidesz caucus, announced a new program called the “National Defense Action Plan” which, he claimed, was needed because the country is under siege. Details were not revealed at the time, but I suspected that it was intended to take the wind out of anti-government sails. “Action plan”–it sounds so manly, Ildikó Lendvai sarcastically remarked in an opinion piece that appeared in Népszava on January 3. She found the whole thing ridiculous until she read an interview with Gergely Gulyás, chairman of a newly created parliamentary committee on legislative activities. In this interview Gulyás said that it was time to make the law on free assembly more restrictive. “I immediately stopped laughing,” Lendvai wrote. This new action plan–because this is not the first in the history of the Orbán regime–should really be called the “Government Defense Action Plan.” The goal is to put an end to anti-government demonstrations.

A sharp-eyed reader of Népszava also became suspicious even before the appearance of the Gulyás interview. What does the government have in mind when it talks about a “National Defense Action Plan”? “Is this perhaps the beginning of limiting our basic human and political rights?” He found the whole idea “frightening.”

Within a week after the Gulyás interview, Viktor Orbán must have realized that he went too far. With all the international attention on the demonstrations and anti-government sentiment, tightening the law on free assembly might be seen as overreach. László L. Simon, undersecretary in the prime minister’s office who lately has been close to Orbán, was given the task of discrediting Gulyás. On January 7 he announced that “the government is not contemplating any changes in the law on assembly.” Gulyás simply expressed his own private opinion. Oh, sure!

Although Viktor Orbán abandoned the idea of changing the law, he is still bent on “dealing” with the anti-government forces. The Fidesz brain trust came up with another idea–putting pressure on the organizers of the demonstrations. Last Friday Rogán was the guest of HírTV’s P8 where he wondered “who is financing these more and more expensive demonstrations and for what reason?” And, he continued, “if someone for political reasons or because of economic interest finances such events, he should reveal his identity in order for us to see who is behind these demonstrations.” In his opinion, the organizers are trying to convince the public that the demonstrations are the handiwork of civic groups alone, “but they are not.” Unmasking the forces behind these demonstrations “might be part of the ‘National Defense Action Plan.'”

Since the Orbán government and its supporting media equate the government with the nation and the country, Magyar Nemzet argued that any support of the demonstrations by the democratic opposition parties is more than suspect. If opposition parties stand behind the demonstrations–as they don’t at the moment–it is a mortal sin, bordering on treason, from their point of view.

The truth is that the organizers ask for donations from the participants on the spot, and each time they manage to collect a few million forints. They have also made their financial records public on Facebook.

The anti-Semitic caricature sent by a student which Tényi found so hilarious

The anti-Semitic caricature sent by a student, which István Tényi found so hilarious

Antal Rogán made only veiled references to taking the case of financing the demonstrations to court if necessary, but a young teacher of Hungarian literature, István Tényi, decided to act. He filed a complaint against the organizers of the recent mass demonstrations on suspicion of fraud.

Tényi has a lot of experience in filing charges. He was the one who filed a complaint against Ökotárs, also for fraud, in connection with the group’s handling of the Norwegian Civic Funds. While he was at it, he filed a complaint against HVG because of its cover story showing Fidesz politicians gathering around the NAV chairwoman, Ildikó Vida, as if around Joseph and Mary with the baby Jesus.

What I found out about Tényi isn’t pretty. He was fired from his first job because he sent threatening e-mails to his students indicating that the school will meet the same fate as Baghdad under the massive American bombing. Currently he teaches at the Károly Than Ökoiskola. A writer of a micro-blog found a “disgusting” item–his adjective–on Tényi’s Facebook page. One of his students sent him an anti-Semitic caricature of Gyurcsány. The former prime minister was depicted with the body of a cockroach and a Star of David on his face. The message was “the Israeli Gyurcsány should be crushed” just like a cockroach. Tényi must have enjoyed the caricature because he was one of the five who “liked” it. The other four, I suspect, are his students.

Otherwise, Tényi is 32 years old and graduated from ELTE’s Faculty of Arts in 2006. He is a member of the presidium of Fidelitas in Terézváros (District VI) where he functions as a coordinator. His favorite film is Star Wars IV-VI and his “ideal” is Sándor Petőfi. His favorite drink is mineral water. Most important, he enjoys filing charges against people who don’t agree with his party and the Orbán government. This man, if one can believe the messages on his Facebook page, is quite popular among his students. Imagine the education they are getting from this man. And unfortunately, there are far too many István Tényis among the followers of Viktor Orbán.