Tag Archives: ISIS

The Orbán media on the U.S. air strikes in Syria

The reaction of the Hungarian government and its media to the U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian air base manifests its pro-Russian bias and its disappointment in President Trump.

Magyar Hírlap published a lengthy article, “Act of War or a Clear Message?,” on the international reception of the American move in which the dominant theme was the rejoinders of Russian politicians. The article started with quotations from President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and ended with Russian Foreign Minister Spokeswoman Mariia Zacharova’s detailed description of the Russian position on the issue. In between, the paper summarized the attitudes of the more important countries in Europe and Asia.

In the Central and East European region, the article covered only Poland and Hungary. Poland approves the move because it considers “the United States the guarantor of world peace and order. There are times when one must react and when actual steps must be taken.” By contrast, this was one of the few times that Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó struck a pessimistic note. Although “a U.S.-Russian agreement on Syria is not only in the interest of Hungary and Europe but the whole world … we have never been farther from such an understanding.” Judging from this statement, the Orbán government must be deeply disappointed with the way in which the Trump administration’s Russia policy is evolving. As for the use of chemical warfare, Hungary naturally “condemns it and hopes that it will not be repeated.” Szijjártó, unlike most of the journalists writing for the government press, didn’t question the Syrian government’s likely role in the chemical attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, resulting in the deaths of 87 people. Even Viktor Orbán said a few meaningless words that carefully avoided any judgment on the attack one way or the other. He simply stressed the need for security and order.

As for the government media, news from Russia dominated the reporting. 888.hu even has a man in Moscow who reported straight from the Russian capital. He attended the press conference of the spokesman for the ministry of defense, who gave details on the American attack which, according to him, was not effective. He also reported from the foreign ministry and described Russian naval movement on the Black Sea.

The bias in Magyar Idők’s reporting in Russia’s favor is evident even in simple news articles. For starters, the author talked about an “alleged chemical attack” when by today, when the article was published, there can be no question that such a chemical attack did in fact take place. The article used the verb “to accuse” in connection with Assad’s role in the attack instead of “to maintain” or “to assert.” After reporting on the so-called events, the paper turned to a U.S. expert who works for an institute attached to the Hungarian foreign ministry. He is known to sympathize with the politics and ideology of the Republican Party. He noted the “great changes that have taken place in the policies of the American president,” policies that run counter to Russian interests.

Of course, from our point of view, the most interesting articles are the opinion pieces that allow us to gauge the views of pro-government, right-wing members of the media. I will start with a journalist whose op-ed articles often appear in Magyar Idők, Levente Sitkei. The piece’s title is “Sirens.” Sitkei compares the accusation that Bashar el-Assad waged chemical war against his citizens to allegations that Saddam Hussein stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Since the latter claim turned out to be untrue, the implication is that the charge against Assad is similarly untrue. “In those days, he [Saddam Hussein] was the bad boy who could hear at least twenty times a day that accusation about himself until [the Americans] toppled his statue and hanged him.” Bashar al-Assad will not end his life this way because “he is only a pawn, a minor character.”

Sitkei claims that a photo of an ISIS fighter crying over the fate of the children in Aleppo is accepted as truth by CNN viewers, but when the same man on Russia Today tramples on a cross, it is labelled Russian propaganda. “Syria is not a state but a wretched, blood-soaked stage … where every move is carefully calculated by experts of a far-away country.” We all know whom he is talking about. As far as the chemical attack is concerned, Sitkei has his doubts about the veracity of the event because it was reported by activists of a civic organization with headquarters in Great Britain. So, it might be nothing more than simple deception. It might never have happened. Or, if it did happen, it might have been done by a rebel group. “The usefulness is what matters, not the truth.” In brief, the western world, and Americans in particular, lie.

The second opinion piece, which also appeared in Magyar Idők, was written by László Szőcs, formerly the Washington correspondent of Népszabadság. He portrays the civil war in Syria as a “proxy war” in which “the Syrian people have only a minor role to play.” The key actors in this fight are the United States and Russia, “the two most important factors of world politics.” I doubt that too many military experts or political commentators would agree with Szőcs on this score.  His conclusion is that no peace can be achieved in Syria “without a reconciliation between Washington and Moscow.”

Mandiner, a site run by younger conservatives but read mostly by hard-core right-wingers, is not convinced by the American claim that the chemical attack was carried out by the Assad regime. They found a brief note on Facebook from Jakob Augstein, a well-known German journalist, in which he criticizes journalists who praise Trump for his attack on Syria while at the same time talk about “the possibility of the use of chemical weapons.” Either we are sure or we’re not.

In the independent Hungarian media there is silence for the most part. Of course, they reported the events and covered Russian as well as American reactions, but no one wanted to express an opinion on the matter.

The pro-government media is largely anti-American and pro-Russian while the government is sitting on the fence, advocating a Russian-American understanding which Orbán and Szijjártó no longer believe is possible. I suspect that Viktor Orbán is starting to suffer from buyer’s remorse. Yes, the candidate he (and Russia) backed became president of the United States, but it seems that no pro-Russian policy will be forthcoming from Washington.

April 8, 2017

László Földi, “security expert” in the service of the Orbán government

This is not the first time that I’ve written about László Földi, one of the handful of national security “experts” who serve the Orbán government. In October 2015 I devoted about four paragraphs to his background and some of his strongly held beliefs about the world which, I believe, have mighty little to do with reality. The media, however, offers plenty of opportunity for this soft-spoken former intelligence officer from the secret service apparatus of the Kádár regime to spread his outlandish views, not just on the refugee question but also on Hungary’s security in general. In Földi’s view the world is full of spies, internal as well as foreign, who are trying to undermine the present government of the country.

Only recently I commented on those features of the first Orbán government (1998-2002) that show a suspicious resemblance to the present practices of Fidesz. One of these was the fattening up of enterprises run by people who in the past were useful players in Viktor Orbán’s power game. László Földi is one of these people.

With the help of Péter Boross, minister of interior in the Antall government, some high officials of Kádár’s intelligence team, including Földi, continued to work for the first democratically elected government. In the old regime he was in charge of intelligence against the United States, but he didn’t seem to have any difficulty adjusting to the new political environment, although his background indicates an attachment to Marxist-Leninist ideas. His father studied philosophy in the Soviet Union, and he himself was an enthusiastic KISZ member and later party secretary in the ministry of interior’s intelligence department. Despite this background, he seems to have developed a strong working relationship with the Fidesz leadership, and after 1994 he was most likely involved in intelligence gathering not against foreign foes but against some members of the Horn government. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the information gathering was for Fidesz’s benefit. At least the first Orbán government’s generous support for Földi’s fledgling security business called “Defend” during the 1998-2002 period would indicate that much.

spies2

Today Földi, officially at least, has no connection with the government, but it is hard to imagine that he is not consulted by the present leaders of the intelligence and anti-terrorist community. Lately, he made several remarks that would point to a working relationship between him and TEK, the anti-terrorist center.

In the last few days a number of very critical articles have appeared about TEK’s amateurish activities, which are more or less restricted to commando operations instead of intelligence gathering. Of the 1,200 employees of TEK, only 120 are involved in intelligence work. We also know that their technological preparedness is woefully inadequate.

Reading some of Földi’s earlier pronouncements on intelligence gathering, he seemed to be of the school that considered technological gizmos of little use and that preferred old-fashioned personal spying. But now that Orbán announced that TEK will be equipped with the latest and the best equipment, Földi suddenly discovered the benefits of technology. In his most recent remarks he has been emphasizing the introduction of modern electronic equipment.

His ideas on the current refugee crisis are simple enough. Europe is at war and “Europe must be defended.” Angela Merkel is unfit for the job because she is a woman, and “no woman has ever won a war,” a comment that prompted guffawing in the media community over the ignorance of the former history major at Ho Chi Minh Teachers’ College in Eger. This simplistic view gets garbled when Földi tries to explain the nature of this war. For example, I find it difficult to decipher the following sentence: “ISIS was created by military leaders who because of NATO became unemployed and who haven’t given up the fight, only moved the military operations to Europe.” Any suggestions about its meaning?

With the passage of time Földi’s pronouncements have become more and more extreme. On March 1 on state television’s M1 he advocated an “order to shoot” because the simple sight of weaponry is not enough of a deterrent. One has to use the weapons. If the European leaders would admit that what’s going on is war, then “one could announce that the human traffickers are saboteurs who are attacking the defense of the hinterland.” So, you can shoot them on sight.

Or, here is Földi’s interpretation of the deficiencies of democracy. A few days ago he announced that there is something very wrong with Europe, especially in a war situation with ISIS where the rules of war as we know them are not applicable. Europe is at a severe disadvantage when “the criminal is not arrested as long as there is no proof. Moreover, they almost have as many rights as other people.” Elsewhere he insisted that all members of the families of the terrorists should immediately be evicted regardless of their involvement in any crime.

The refugees are not the only enemies Földi sees. He has been convinced for some time that domestic dissatisfaction is fueled by foreign enemies of the Orbán government. Already in November 2014 he was convinced that the impressive internet demonstration was not organized on Facebook by civic activists but that “it was a well-organized and well-financed operation.” He added that those “who for financial gain serve foreign interests” are traitors.

Földi’s latest is an op/ed piece in the March 23 issue of Magyar Idők, which is devoted to his theories about domestic spies at work in Hungary. The article is very confused, but it looks as if Földi discovered that recently Hungary was put on a list of countries that are important to certain interest groups. “The attacking army” works like people who are engaged in “business intelligence.” Since he immediately moves on to propaganda coming from Hollywood, I assume he sees the United States behind these civilian spies. What he considers spying is so broadly interpreted that, for example, the articles and comments that appear in Hungarian Spectrum could be considered to be civilian spying. After all, we gather information on the basis of which we draw certain conclusions, and that according to Földi is civilian espionage. The information thus obtained can then be used to apply political pressure. In Földi’s opinion, Hungary was put on this list because its government was capable of defending its own interests against the will of great powers. As a result “every (!) inhabitant of the country in the crosshairs becomes a victim.”

György Bolgár wanted to learn more about Földi’s “unique” vision of the world after Viktor Orbán’s successes against the “great powers.” Unfortunately, he didn’t have the opportunity to be enlightened by the national security expert. After he asked a few questions about Földi’s solution to the refugee crisis, Földi began to get agitated. When Földi insisted that Angela Merkel had sent agents to Turkey to invite the refugees to escape to Germany, Bolgár asked for proof. At this point he simply hung up the telephone. He is not accustomed to being challenged. Journalists in the government-friendly media listen admiringly to all the nonsense he spouts. And so Földi and some of the other experts continue to spread their disinformation. The ignorant public is misled by charlatans masquerading as experts.

March 28, 2016

Viktor Orbán: Hungary is at war

Viktor Orbán is in his element. At last we are at war with ISIS. François Hollande said so, and a few hours later French planes bombed important targets in ISIS-held Raqqa in northern Syria. And since in Viktor Orbán’s interpretation it was not only France that was attacked but the whole European Union and thus also Hungary, the prime minister could triumphantly announce that Hungary is also at war. That pronouncement must have buoyed Orbán, who feels best when he imagines himself in a warlike situation.

Right after the terrorist attack in Paris Orbán cancelled a scheduled trip to Montenegro. Instead, he decided to stay at home and deliver a speech today in the Hungarian parliament that he promised would be tempered given the tragic events that took place in Paris on Friday night. Well, the speech didn’t turn out to be low-keyed. On the contrary, most commentators consider it his most brutal attack against the asylum seekers. Or, as András Jámbor of kettosmerce.hu said,”Orbán is waging war not against the terrorists but the refugees.” The speech that was posted with record speed on the prime minister’s website has practically nothing to do with the terrorist attack in Paris or its victims. After announcing that “the European Union was attacked and we are also in danger,” he immediately launched into outlining the nature of this danger. It is not that one day some tourist-filled sections of Budapest will suffer the same fate as Paris. Rather, the real danger is allowing asylum seekers into Europe.

In the speech Orbán justified his decision to close Hungary’s borders in light of the French terrorist attack and criticized the politicians of the European Union who didn’t listen to him. Instead of coming up with practical solutions, “the leaders of some countries to this day are trying to contrive ways of importing masses of immigrants” into Europe. In Brussels the politicians still insist that immigration is “a good thing” while there is more and more proof every day that it is “a bad thing.” Brussels sends “invitations to the migrants” instead of sending the honest message that life here is not at all what they expect.

What kinds of dangers does Europe face with the arrival of these asylum seekers? First, their presence increases the danger of terror attacks, “just as we learned Friday night.” Thus, way before we know much about the people who committed the crime, Orbán draws a direct correlation between the current flow of refugees and the terrorist attack in Paris. Second, this mass migration adds to “the growth of criminal activities” in countries with large immigrant populations. Statistics and opinions vary on that score, but as far as the United States is concerned, immigrants commit fewer crimes than their American-born counterparts. Studies in the United Kingdom showed that the presence of immigrants made no appreciable difference in crime statistics. However, it is true that in some other countries this is not the case. By this evening, Orbán was frightening his listeners on state television with the specter of rape that is awaiting Hungarian women if immigrants are allowed to settle in the country. Third, immigration poses a danger to “our culture, life style, customs and traditions.”

Among Orbán’s objections to immigration from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria there is a curious item that needs further elucidation. After calling attention to the hundreds of thousands of people who arrive without identification and “without knowing what they want,” he said: “They are coming from territories where military action is going on. Such a thing has never happened before. We allow, nay transport, into Europe people from places that are at war with the European Union.” The only way I can interpret these sentences is that he considers the asylum seekers active belligerents who, instead of being given shelter, should be put into prisoner-of-war camps. Certainly a unique interpretation of the situation.

The next item he addressed was the quota system. As we know, the Hungarian government is dead against any quotas. Viktor Orbán has made that eminently clear. Critics of Orbán’s steadfast refusal to admit even one asylum seeker consider his stance dangerous because the majority of the member states might punish Hungary by excluding it from the Schengen zone, with all the adverse consequences of such a move. Orbán himself sees the danger of this possibility, but he arrives at this conclusion in a circuitous way. He argues that compulsory quotas will not “decrease the pressure of immigration” but will instead increase it. “And if it goes on much longer, this pressure will result in the end of the Schengen system and borders will be reintroduced within the Union.” So, it is not his refusal to cooperate that might lead to the breakup of the Schengen zone but the pressure the immigrants put on the member states.

Finally, Orbán announced that there is no use tinkering with the present political system of the Union. “There is a need for a new European political system.” When it came to specific suggestions, Orbán was unable to provide any practical solutions to the ills of the current setup. Yes, we must defend the borders, culture, and economic interests of the European Union. That’s all the wisdom he could offer. He certainly doesn’t seem to have any ideas about what to do with the almost one million people who are already within the European Union.

Lajos Kósa: "How many people have to die before Juncker resigns?"

Lajos Kósa: “How many people have to die before Juncker resigns?”

Some of the most outlandish comments by Viktor Orbán and Lajos Kósa, the newly elected leader of the Fidesz caucus, came during the discussion period after the speech. For example, Orbán compared dismantling nation states to Nazism. To quote him verbatim: “Yes, we need intellectual originality. This is true. But racial theory and Stalinism came from the madness of European intellectuals. Today the undoing of the nation states, which is the current mad and dangerous idea [of intellectuals], is similar to national socialism or communism.”

Kósa is known for his outrageous statements, some of which have had outsize consequences. It’s enough to remember his irresponsible words on the state of the Hungarian economy during the summer of 2010 when he managed to create a mini financial crisis in the international markets. This time he called upon all European Union leaders to resign. “How many dead people do we need for Juncker to resign,” he asked. And if that were not enough, he also suggested Greece’s expulsion from the Union. I have the feeling that in this new setup it will be Kósa who says what Orbán either can’t or doesn’t want to say.

At the moment Orbán is riding high. The question is for how long.

Hungary is preparing for a possible terrorist attack

Naturally today’s topic must be the horrific terrorist attack carried out at three locations in Paris, which so far have resulted in 129 dead and 350 injured. We still know few of the details, but according to the latest intelligence the attack was carried out by three teams of terrorists. One team may have included a man with a Syrian passport who arrived in Greece in early October. His identity should be easy to ascertain since, according the Greek minister of interior, local authorities fingerprinted him on the island of Leros. Evidence indicates that among the accomplices there might be some men in Brussels. And the German police are investigating the case of a man who was arrested last week with weapons in his car and his GPS set for Paris. (Modern technology can be dangerous.)

President François Hollande declared three days of official mourning. The flags of the European Union will be lowered and black flags will fly next to them. High officials of countries from all over the world sent condolences to President Hollande.

France is in a state of emergency, and military troops are patrolling the capital. This is understandable since the French government considers the assault on its citizens “an act of war.” The attack is most likely a response to France’s military involvement against ISIS and other terrorist groups in Africa.

What is less understandable is the Hungarian government’s reaction to what happened 1,500 km away. The Orbán government is acting as if the terrorist attack occurred in Budapest. Just like in Paris, soldiers were ordered into the capital where they are patrolling downtown streets with machine guns at the ready. At the government’s prodding the Hungarian Football Association tried to cancel the Norwegian-Hungarian match in Budapest tomorrow, but FIFA vetoed the idea, claiming that the crowded schedule would make rescheduling the game very difficult. Thus, the game is being held, but extraordinary precautions will be taken. Tickets will be checked against IDs, and packages will be opened and inspected.

Heavily armed Hungarian soldiers patrolling the streets of Budapest

Heavily armed Hungarian soldiers patrolling the streets of Budapest

It may not have been possible to cancel the soccer match, but Fidesz postponed its congress originally scheduled for tomorrow because the government declared a day of national mourning. I checked whether any other country declared an official day of mourning for the French victims but didn’t find any that followed Hungary’s example. Which suggests that Viktor Orbán is making as much political hay out of the tragedy in Paris as he possibly can. Not that the Hungarian public needs more incitement against the refugees. At the same time, Orbán had to admit that there is no data suggesting any direct threat to Hungary.

Condolences were offered by Viktor Orbán, President János Áder, Fidesz, and the Christian Democratic Party. They all assured the French people of their sympathy. Among the opposition parties two responses were less boilerplate: Jobbik’s and DK’s. Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, felt it important to add to his soothing words that “what happened is what we have been afraid of.” At the other end of the political spectrum was Ferenc Gyurcsány, chairman of DK, who told his followers that “it is almost impossible not to respond to such hatred with hatred. Yet we must attempt to maintain our humanity.”

The Hungarian government hasn’t yet begun blaming European politicians for the terrorist attack, but I suspect that it will soon. For the time being only a pro-government national security expert and former intelligence man considers the attack “the responsibility of the politicians of the European Union.” But even on the right there are some sane voices. For example, György Pápay in Magyar Nemzet warned readers not to fall for either of two extreme positions: to accept all newcomers or to turn inward and exclude everybody. The golden mean must be found. “We can only hope that what happened in Paris will make the leaders of the continent realize that Europe must show unity.” This sounds like a call for Viktor Orbán to stop his destructive activities and to help solve the problems facing the European Union. Unfortunately, I have little hope that Pápay’s wish will be fulfilled any time soon. I suspect that the tragedy in Paris will only fortify Orbán’s conviction that his strategy is the correct one.

Jobbik as a challenger of Fidesz?

A year and a half ago Gábor Vona, the leader of the Jobbik party, paid a quick visit to London to meet with his party’s supporters among Hungarians working in Great Britain. The trip turned out to be a huge embarrassment for Vona. He and his followers were forced to move to another location after they were confronted with protesters waving signs saying “No Nazis, no Golden Dawn, no Jobbik, no BNP.” A few days before his arrival The Guardian had a piece on Jobbik and Vona and came to the conclusion that the “fascist Hungarian Gábor Vona is not the sort of immigrant we want in the UK.”

The same Gábor Vona at a camp organized by EMI (Erdélyi Magyar Fiatalok / Transylvanian Hungarian Youth) said the other day that “Nazis have no place in Jobbik. If anyone is attracted to the Nazi ideology he should go and establish a party of his own.”

In the last six  months, in the wake of a sudden surge in the party’s popularity in the late fall and winter of 2014, Vona decided on a new strategy. With the precipitous fall in Fidesz’s popularity at the same time, Jobbik became the second largest party in the country. The leaders of Jobbik thought that their party might be the one that could be the foremost challenger of Fidesz at the next national election in 2018. Vona also realized that with the party’s current ideology its chances of appealing to a wider audience was practically nil. There will always be 15-20% of the electorate who will vote for a party espousing anti-Semitism and anti-Roma views, but that is not enough to defeat a party whose supporters come from all walks of life. So came a new slogan: Jobbik must become a “néppárt” (people’s party). That in Hungarian political parlance means a party whose support is not restricted to a narrow segment of society but recruits its followers from all socio-economic segments of society.

Since the announcement of the new strategy the Hungarian media has been preoccupied with Jobbik and its future, most of which I find rather tiresome. According to some analysts, Vona’s new strategy has been so successful that Vona can easily become the next prime minister of Hungary. The best example of this kind of alarmist sentiment appeared in Index, from which we learn that indeed “Jobbik has followers from the richest to the poorest strata of Hungarian society, and their program preordains them to be the most popular party in Hungary unless Fidesz figures out something by the end of the year.” And that is not all. According to Tamás Fábián, the author of the article, Vona has been more successful than Péter Szijjártó when it comes to acquiring friends in the East. He carefully lists those embassies in Budapest which sent representatives to Jobbik’s last congress and adds that today even “Putin would gladly meet Vona.” The only problem with all this is that Jobbik’s popularity, after an initial upsurge, has been stagnating and in fact, according some of the polls, in the last two months the party even lost support.

There might also be another strategy change in the offing in Jobbik. In 2010 Gábor Vona published an article in Barikád, the party’s weekly, which since has resurfaced as a topic for discussion. In it we read about Jobbik’s warm relations to the Muslim world. Why? Because “there is only one culture left which seeks to preserve its tradition: it is the Islamic world.” Vona considered Islam “mankind’s last remaining bastion of traditional culture…. If Islam fails, the light will go out completely…. History will really come to an end and there will be no happy ending.”

Three years later in Morocco Vona declared that “Islam is the last hope for humanity in the darkness of globalism and liberalism.” In April of this year during a trip to Turkey he fiercely defended Turkey in the face of international criticism over its unwillingness to take responsibility for the Armenian massacre. He even criticized the pope for calling the events of 1915 “the first genocide of the twentieth century,” a remark he found “inappropriate.”

Jobbik also made its position clear on Hungarian participation in the international effort against ISIS. Márton Gyöngyösi, the party’s foreign policy expert, said at a press conference that “although Jobbik looked on the rampage of ISIS with utmost pain, the party could not support any action that could expose Hungary’s security to danger.” He reminded his listeners of an interview given to CNN by Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, in which “Clark acknowledged that Muslim fundamentalists of the Middle East were recruited with the support of the United States of America and its friends in order to fight against Hezbollah.”

The love affair between Jobbik and the Hungarian Muslim community, however, is now over. One of the three imams of the Magyar Iszlám Közösség (Hungarian Islamic Community), Ahmed Miklós Kovács, declared fatva against Jobbik and forbade any communication between Muslims and Jobbik or any other extremist groups. He admitted that in the past many Hungarian Muslims voted for Jobbik and some of them joined para-military groups or the party itself. But this is now over because “these organizations have become enemies of the Muslims.”

Jobbik’s has not publicly announced any policy change toward Islam, but the imam is obviously aware of a change of attitude. Indeed, Jobbik’s internet site, Alfahír, makes it abundantly clear practically every day that Jobbik has zero tolerance toward the refugees, most of whom come from Muslim countries. Jobbik organized several rallies against the refugees, and the latest gathering in Pécs against building a refugee camp near the city had Jobbik support. A message from Krisztina Morvai, a Jobbik member of the European Parliament, was greeted with great delight and approval. The same Krisztina Morvai is planning to produce a documentary film on the “illegal migrants” crossing the Serb-Hungarian border at Ásotthalom, where László Toroczkai, the far-right leader of the 64 Counties Youth Movement in Hungary, is the mayor. He has done a lot to poison the atmosphere in the region by inciting the population against the refugees. All in all, Jobbik, sensing the growing anti-Muslim attitude in Hungary, will most likely quietly drop its pro-Islam stance.

Finally, I would like to quote from Cas Mudde’s recent article on the nature of the Orbán regime.

Misguided emphasis on the most extreme and photogenic radical right groups also plays out in Hungary. As the international media continues to give little or no attention to the increasingly radical right rhetoric of prime minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party, they continue to publish alarmist articles and op-eds about the rise of the radical right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) – despite the fact that Fidesz probably has a more radical discourse (though not ideology) than Jobbik.

János Dési, a journalist who currently works for KlubRádió, wrote a book with the title Melyik a Jobbik? (Which one is Jobbik?) The book’s cover says it all.

desi

It would be better to worry about the Fidesz that “Orbán has transformed … into a party that seems increasingly driven by a combination of nativism, authoritarianism, and populism–hallmarks of radical right ideology,” to quote Mudde.

Hungarian mission in the fight against ISIS: Fidesz needed the help of the opposition

This morning the Hungarian parliament approved the country’s participation in the international effort against ISIS forces in northern Iraq and Syria. But before I break down today’s vote, I must go back a bit to set the stage.

In 2014 Viktor Orbán made some fleeting remarks about Hungary’s joining forces with other nations in fighting terrorism, a decision that requires a two-thirds majority vote in parliament. At that point, I’m sure, the Fidesz leadership never imagined that its candidate might be defeated in the Veszprém by-election. But the government had something else to worry about. Apparently at this juncture not all members of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation were ready to back the proposal, which the government deemed necessary for bettering U.S.-Hungarian relations.

With the Veszprém election in February Fidesz’s two-thirds majority evaporated. Even if the leaders of the two government parties managed to convince all of their parliamentary members to vote for the proposal, without support from the opposition it would have gone down in defeat. The numbers were simply not there. It was at this point that Viktor Orbán called together the opposition parties to convince them to support the government on this issue.

A few days later, in early March, the press department of the Demokratikus Koalicíó (DK) announced that their members in parliament (four in all) would most likely support the government and thus secure the necessary two-thirds majority. The party spokesman explained that although DK is deeply opposed to the present government, they consider “ISIS a threat to Europe and our western democratic world. To stand against such a threat is our basic human and moral obligation. We cannot watch idly the destruction and mass murders” committed by the ISIS rebels. DK also announced, however, that the party would not send a representative to discuss the details of the mission with Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó because “of their strenuous opposition to the political system of Orbán.” The only thing they insisted on was being well informed on the preparedness of the Hungarian military for the task.

The other opposition parties did meet with the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs and trade, but unlike DK they were less than sanguine about the mission, a force of 150 Hungarian men to defend army bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. LMP said that its five-member parliamentary delegation would vote against such a proposal. András Schiffer, the party’s co-chairman, explained that ever since 2010 LMP had never supported the military participation of Hungarian troops in foreign missions unless the country was compelled to do so by international treaties. Since Hungary’s NATO membership does not demand that the country take part in this particular mission, LMP would vote against the bill. In fact, Schiffer said that he, as the leader of the group, would insist on party discipline and hence a compulsory “nay” vote.

Erbil. This is where the Hungarians troops going

Erbil. This is where the Hungarians troops are going

Jobbik also strenuously objected. The only support the party could imagine giving to anti-ISIS forces was humanitarian aid. Márton Gyöngyösi, Jobbik’s foreign policy expert, wouldn’t even agree to supply weapons and ammunition to those fighting this terrorist group. I might add here that, already in August 2014, Hungary sent weapons to the Peshmerga forces. According to Gyöngyösi, “although Jobbik condemns the violence against Christians and non-extremist Muslims, the size and preparedness of the country are not sufficient for undertaking such a mission which, in addition, would increase the threat of terrorism against our homeland.” Moreover, the United States shouldn’t try to rely on its allies when “it is the United States that is responsible for the destabilization of Iraq and Syria.”

MSZP as usual sat on the fence. First they wanted to know whether the other parliamentary delegations would support the mission. They also wanted to ascertain before deciding whether the Fidesz and KDNP delegations’ vote would be unanimous. Their final word was that they would discuss the matter informally.

If I recall, DK’s offer was initially received with ridicule in the pro-government media. What can the government do with four extra votes? The group is too small to make a difference. But today, when the Fidesz-KDNP delegation is short two votes, four votes from opposition politicians make a big difference. And, in the end, DK members were not the only ones who supported the government.

This morning in parliament the bill passed by a vote of 137 to 57. So, 194 members of parliament were present out of 199. Viktor Orbán was absent because he had some urgent business in Zalaegerszeg. The Jobbik parliamentary delegation voted against the mission to a man. The MSZP vote was mixed. Two members, István Hiller and Ágnes Kunhalmi, most likely flouting party discipline, simply didn’t vote, thus expressing their disagreement with the final MSZP decision. Apparently a huge debate preceded the actual voting, where many argued that voting with Jobbik on this issue might not do much for MSZP’s image, but at the end the leadership decided “not to assist Viktor Orbán in his peacock dance.” They believe that Orbán’s sudden interest in the ISIS mission is only a cheap tool for improving U.S.-Hungarian relations, while the government continues to paper over other outstanding issues like the still pending corruption cases under U.S. scrutiny.

As expected, all five members of the LMP caucus voted against the bill. In addition, the sole parliamentary member of PM, Tímea Szabó, joined Jobbik, MSZP, and LMP and cast her vote against sending the mission to Iraq. That vote was also somewhat anticipated. After all, PM came into existence after their members deserted Schiffer’s LMP. Finally, Péter Kónya, an independent member but previously chairman of Solidarity, also was among the nays.

So, who were the people from the Hungarian democratic opposition who voted for the bill? All four members of DK–Ferenc Gyurcsány, Lajos Oláh, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju; Zsuzsanna Szelényi and Szabolcs Szabó from Együtt; Gábor Fodor, founder of the Magyar Liberális Párt; and Zoltán Kész, the newly elected independent member of parliament representing Veszprém County’s #1 electoral district.

I’m fairly certain that the majority of Hungarians are against sending soldiers to Iraq, so it took a certain amount of courage on the part of the smaller democratic parties to vote with Fidesz. Yet they took the risk. Ágnes Vadai, in the name of DK, stressed the party’s commitment to “the trans-atlantic alliance, European values, and universal human rights.” Zsuzsanna Szelényi, on behalf of Együtt, said that “Hungary must be present in the world.” Fodor also emphasized the necessity of good relations between Hungary and the United States.

As for István Hiller and Ágnes Kunhalmi, I wasn’t surprised that they were the ones who just couldn’t vote against the mission. They are members of the so-called social-democratic platform of the party, which I consider the most progressive wing of MSZP. It will be worth keeping an eye on them to see whether they can help shape the future of MSZP and its relations with the other smaller democratic parties.