Tag Archives: István Hollik

The sorry state of the Hungarian opposition

In the last three days the government propaganda machine has been busy churning out gory stories about the domestic affairs of Péter Juhász, chairman of Együtt. In a way, these latest accusations against Juhász should not have been unexpected. He is a controversial man whose life has been under scrutiny for a long time. Since he was at one point a vocal proponent of legalizing marijuana, he was accused of being a regular drug user. There have also been questions about his finances. His political enemies, who are numerous, found his lifestyle far too lavish in view of his extremely modest income. A father of three small children with a non-working partner, he claimed to live more or less on charity.

One of the problems with Juhász as a politician is that he comes from a civic activist background, and his transformation has not been seamless. He has always been attracted to unusual methods of protest, which I personally found politically futile. A small group of people armed with whistles may make Viktor Orbán uncomfortable for a few minutes, but it is not the most effective way of protesting the increasingly oppressive regime of Viktor Orbán. And Juhász’s efforts to call attention to the incredible corruption in District V (downtown Budapest) were worthy, but I questioned his tactic of staging less than successful anti-corruption demonstrations. These anemic mini-demonstrations only reinforced the perception of the opposition’s powerlessness and lack of followers.

Juhász also has the bad habit of talking too much about himself and his problems. Unfortunately, he is simply unable to refrain from engaging in a dialogue or an argument. Now that the government media got hold of some court records in connection with Juhász’s parting with his girlfriend of nine years and his fight over visitation rights for his children, he couldn’t stop himself from telling the world the exact nature of his encounter with the mother of his children. The case is still pending, and admitting details that may not serve his interest is outright foolish. A give and take between these former partners on the pages of Facebook is also not the smartest move.

The right-wing government media accuses opposition papers of simply ignoring the case because the events described in the court documents reflect badly on one of their own. After all, Juhász, whose party took a stand against domestic violence, is now being accused of physically and psychologically abusing the mother of his children. It is true that relatively few opposition papers ran stories about Juhász. Even Alfahír, the online news site of Jobbik, ignored the story. In fact, János Volner, Jobbik’s deputy chairman who was himself the object a somewhat similar attack, expressed his sympathy for the beleaguered Juhász. One reason for the left-of-center media’s reluctance to cover the story is that they were disinclined to rely on the reporting of government propaganda outlets like 888, Pesti Srácok, and Ripost. They know from experience that their stories are pieced together from half-truths and under scrutiny don’t stand up.

But it is not true that all respectable left-of-center papers ignored the story. Both HVG and Index devoted a couple of articles to the Juhász case. Index’s article is balanced. It quotes Juhász’s own defense on his blog but at the same time reports that Juhász admitted to Index that he and his girlfriend had a scuffle in which the woman could have been hurt. HVG takes a much stronger position in an article by Judit Windisch. It is immaterial whether the accusations are well founded or not, says Windisch. “Juhász lost the political match; from here on he can fight only for his children.” This assessment may be harsh, but I’m afraid it is an accurate description of the situation.

Juhász’s problem is certainly not good news for Együtt, which under his joint stewardship with Viktor Szigetvári has become totally isolated. Gergely Karácsony and Párbeszéd left them and joined MSZP, and in the last year or so a lot of people have abandoned the party. The last person of note to jump ship was Zsuzsa Szelényi, Együtt’s only member of parliament, who left the party partly because Juhász and Szigetvári were ready to strike a deal with Fidesz during the debate over advertising surfaces and partly because she disapproved of Együtt’s inflexibility during the inter-party negotiations.

Today’s papers reported that Együtt is starting a “telephone campaign” next week. Juhász and the Együtt candidate in each electoral district will phone people and urge them to support their party. Whom are these people kidding? Yes, the party will receive financial support from the budget, but they should keep in mind that if they don’t garner at least 1% of the popular vote that money will have to be paid back. In the interim, they only splinter the already terribly fragmented opposition.

Originally, during the MSZP-DK negotiations, two Budapest electoral districts were left open for Együtt and Párbeszéd: District I and District XXI. The assumption all along was that it would be Péter Juhász who would stand against István Hollik (KDNP) in District I, who had replaced the terribly unpopular Antal Rogánas Fidesz’s candidate. Winning the seat in this very conservative district would be a long shot under the best of circumstances, but with this new baggage Juhász’s chances are nil. And there is no one else who can successfully challenge Hollik. The hopelessness of the situation became clear this evening when five contenders for the District I seat gathered for a debate. Hollik didn’t show. His excuse was that these opposition figures are George Soros’s agents.

From left to right: Pál Losonczy (Jobbik), Márta V. Naszály (MSZP-Párbeszéd), Antal Csárdi (LMP), Péter Juhász (Együtt), and András Fekete-Győr (Momentum), Electoral District #1

The interest in the debate was considerable, and not surprisingly most of the questions centered on the candidates’ opinion about the chances of winning, given the fractured opposition, which the gathering amply demonstrated. Jobbik was represented by Pál Losonczy, who is currently a member of the district council. András Győr-Fekete of Momentum would like to win in this district, as would Antal Csárdi of LMP, who in 2014 was LMP’s candidate for mayor and received 5.69% of the votes. Naturally, Péter Juhász was also present, but because MSZP-Párbeszéd couldn’t agree with Együtt about coordinated candidacies, MSZP has its own candidate, Márta V. Naszály (Párbeszéd). Thus, currently there are six candidates, counting Fidesz-KDNP’s István Hollik, to represent the district in the next parliament. This gathering, if nothing else, gives us an accurate picture of the total chaos that exists in opposition forces.

The audience apparently urged them to unite, but only MSZP-Párbeszéd’s Naszály asked everybody to stand behind one candidate who would represent the democratic opposition. LMP’s Csárdi was the most inflexible, and he was met with disapproval from the audience. The overwhelming desire to have a united front is obvious at public gatherings and call-in-shows on Klub Rádió and ATV’s Fórum. If nothing happens between now and April 8, a Fidesz win is inevitable. The only question is just how large a win.

February 13, 2018

Viktor Orbán’s favorite Jews: Slomó Köves and his tiny Chabad congregation

It often happens that topics that catch my imagination at first seem simple and straightforward, capable of being adequately covered in a blog post. But then the unpleasant recognition comes that the subject is actually hellishly complicated and cannot be dealt with in its initially conceived form. This is what happened today when I decided to write about the political endorsement of István Hollik, the Christian Democratic People’s Party’s candidate in District #5 in downtown Pest by, of all people, Rabbi Slomó Köves, the founder of the United Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH).

On the surface the story is uncomplicated. István Vágó, the popular television “quizmaster” of the Hungarian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” turned politician, discovered a Hollik campaign flyer with the following endorsement: “Jewish cultural and religious life in downtown Budapest has been revived. For the continuation of this renewal and for the preservation of the Jewish communities’ peaceful life and security we need help. In the person of István Hollik I see a guarantee of all the necessary assistance for our cultural and religious attainment” — Slomó Köves, leader of the United Hungarian Jewish Congregation. Vágó without any comment posted the flyer on his Facebook page. The comments that followed were uniformly negative.

Viktor Orbán’s “favored” Jewish group is Köves’s congregation, which is allied with the Chabad movement. Many people suspect that he uses it against Mazsihisz, the mainstream umbrella organization of Jewish communities. Köves’s group has been the recipient of considerable amounts of money, grants and loans, although it is hard to tell just how much money it has received from the Orbán government because EMIH refuses to reveal its secrets. Only recently Átlátszó, a group of investigative journalists, tried to force Köves to give account of the public money his organization has received in the last seven years, but after six months of “hiding, delaying, and prevarication,” which included going to court, the congregation announced that it would supply the information, but it would cost Átlátszó 2,346,960 forints.

Last summer I wrote a post about a joint business venture of the Orbán government and EMIH, a kosher slaughterhouse that specializes in slaughtering geese. At the opening, Agriculture Minister Sándor Fazekas said that making food from water birds is a centuries-old tradition in Hungary, and therefore it is a “Hungaricum” which deserves financial support. EMIH received a 1.75 billion forint loan for construction, and the government will cover 15% of the cost of the planned enlargement of the slaughterhouse.

Mainstream Jewish groups and secular Jews are not the Orbán government’s favorites because they are not supporters of the regime. This small group of fundamentalists, however, is quite ready to cut deals with the powers that be. For instance, Köves supported the government when he declared that the anti-Soros campaign had nothing to do with anti-Semitism. During Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest last July, Köves was invited to meet the Israeli prime minister and his wife, while the leader of Mazsihisz wasn’t.

More recently the Orbán government sold the Zsigmond Király Főiskola (King Sigismund College) to EMIH, which Köves and Co. renamed Milton Friedman University. The Magyar Fejlesztési Bank (Hungarian Development Bank) provided a 1.1 billion forint loan for the purchase. Highlighting the close relationship between the Orbán government and EMIH, the Milton Friedman University is starting a course for future managers of sports facilities, including football stadiums. The sponsors are Defense Minister István Simicskó, Tünde Szabó, undersecretary in charge of sports, and Balázs Fürjes, the man who was in charge of the World Aquatic Championships held in Budapest last summer.

A Szombat editorial in eloquent philosophical terms pointed out the differences between EMIH and Mazsihisz’s affiliated congregations. “They represent two different worlds. Mazsihisz has its roots in the Hungarian Jewish past; its legitimacy comes from the saintly forefathers whose memories are guarded by today’s descendants…. Chabad is looking toward a messianic future.The relics of the past and the political actors of the present are merely instruments in the struggle for the desired Advent.”

However noble all this may sound, opponents of Slomó Köves’s close association with the Orbán government don’t appreciate Chabad’s yearning for the coming of the Messiah. What they see is an overly friendly relation with a regime that tries to whitewash the Horthy regime, which was complicit in the death of over 400,000 Jewish Hungarians. They don’t appreciate Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz-KDNP officials, including Hollik, praising Miklós Horthy as an “outstanding statesman,” and they are not convinced that Köves didn’t know that his statement was solicited for the sole purpose of the election campaign. They are not moved by Köves’s insistence that he would be glad to give the same endorsement to all those running for office, regardless of party affiliation. Föld S. Péter (actually Péter Földes) wrote a funny piece on the subject. “The democratic parties will most likely not rush to get endorsements from Rabbi Köves, although it would be decidedly amusing to read, right next to Rabbi Köves’s photo, the following in the leaflets of all opposition parties: ‘I see a guarantee of the assistance to Jewish religious and cultural life only in MSZP, DK, LMP, Együtt, Párbeszéd—the correct one should be underlined.’”

This Hollik-Köves encounter brought back old memories about Hollik, who has become in the last year perhaps the most vocal apologist of the Orbán government. He was one of those who emphatically denied any sign of anti-Semitism in Hungary in the midst of the anti-Soros campaign, which pretty much coincided with Netanyahu’s visit. Ildikó Lendvai, former MSZP chairman, wrote an amusing little article titled “István Hollik, the walking Jewish list.” Hungary was safe for Jews, Hollik maintained. He himself saw three weeks earlier, while driving, “two Jewish children, a boy and a girl, happily out for a stroll.” You can imagine what fun Lendvai had with this sentence.

Péter Juhász, who is hoping to run against Hollik in the district, wrote a letter to the rabbi, which includes the following: “In case on April 8 I get elected parliamentary representative of downtown Budapest, one of my first duties will be the removal of the shameful memorial erected [on Viktor Orbán’s insistence] on Freedom Square. It is regarding this matter that I would like to have a conversation with you as a rabbi, representing a section of the Jewish community. I would like to ask your support for the memorial’s dismantling. Please indicate a time when we can meet on Freedom Square.”

During several interviews Köves repeatedly stated that he would support the removal of the memorial dedicated to the victims of the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. He also promised to speak to Hollik and tell him that he disagrees with him about the statesmanship of Admiral Horthy. He was warned by his opponents that he then might as well talk to Viktor Orbán himself.

Here we see a clash of opposing worldviews. Chabad-affiliated EMIH doesn’t care about the source of its money as long as that money goes to a cause that it considers  essential to its mission. The majority of Hungarian Jews, however, look upon the Chabad movement as something totally alien to Hungarian Jewish tradition, and they regard its close connection with the Orbán government, whose views on the Hungarian Holocaust are ambivalent at best, with growing apprehension.

February 8, 2018

The European Parliament rapporteur on Hungary pays a visit to Budapest

The Hungarian right-wing press is buzzing with indignation. Judith Sargentini, a Greens/EFA member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands, arrived in Hungary yesterday as part of her work as rapporteur for the parliament’s investigation into whether Hungary is in breach of the values of the European Union. Her report will recommend what steps should be taken against Hungary for curbing freedom of the press, failing to uphold the rights of refugees and minorities, and taking steps against universities and NGOs.

After her appointment on July 11, 2017, Sargentini expressed her strong disapproval of the current Hungarian government. She believes that “time and time again, Orbán has gone against the norms and values of the European Union. When a country is no longer prepared to uphold our common values, it’s a logical step to take away its voting rights.” Indeed, at the end of the road, if Parliament approves her report, it may recommend that the European Commission invoke Article 7 of the EU Treaty, which can deprive the country in question of its voting rights.

After Judith Sargentini met Levente Magyar, political undersecretary and deputy minister of foreign affairs, MTI published a short statement in which Magyar, instead of addressing the issues of Hungary’s disregard of “the norms and values of the European Union,” dwelt on the “sharp conflict between certain Brussels institutions and politicians and Hungary with regard to immigration. The Hungarian people want to decide for themselves who they live with and have stated this on several occasions. This is what irritates certain Brussels politicians.” He added that the talks with the rapporteur were amicable but that the MEP had no knowledge of certain basic facts, in view of which her Hungarian negotiating partners offered Ms. Sargentini their assistance. What else is new? The Orbán government’s answer to criticism from the European Union is invariably a two-pronged charge of ignorance and bias. Magyar failed to inform the public about the specifics of Sargentini’s incompetence.

The right-wing media was on high alert and ready to discredit Sargentini ahead of her arrival. Pesti Srácok and several other news outlets portrayed her as “Soros’s man” who has been associated with Soros-financed NGOs for ten years. Recently, she had several meetings with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union. She is “one of the trusted allies of George Soros.” Fidesz also released a statement upon Sargentini’s arrival in Hungary, according to which “the real goal [of Sargentini’s report] is to force Hungary to carry out the Soros Plan.” Ahead of Sargentini’s arrival, Péter Szijjártó gave an interview to Kossuth Rádió’s morning program, 180 Minutes, in which he described LIBE, the committee which entrusted Sargentini to be the rapporteur on Hungary, as “nothing more than a theater” where the condemnatory report has already been written.

While Sargentini was in Budapest, in Brussels there was a book launch for a new work by NGOs from Hungary, Croatia, Poland, and Serbia on the “sick democracies” of Europe. At the gathering several MEPs spoke critically of the Orbán government’s hate campaigns and its disregard of the basic values of the European Union. Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch Liberal member of parliament, brought up Orbán’s claim from an interview in Das Bild a few days ago that the Syrian refugees are part of a Muslim invasion of Europe. She suggested that the Hungarian prime minister refresh his memory on the basic values of the European Union, which he will find in Article II of the EU Constitution.

The reference to Article II was especially apt since in Budapest one of the “legal experts” of the Center for Basic Laws (Alapjogokért Központ), a government subsidized organization, announced today that it is unlikely that Judith Sargentini will get anywhere with her report on the absence of the rule of law in Hungary since there is no definition of the concept anywhere in the Union’s constitution. So, he continued, any assertion of a lack of constitutional order is arbitrary. In this particular case, the LIBE investigation is a purely political exercise. According to one of the many spokesmen of Fidesz, the conversation between Magyar and Sargentini is just part of the “compulsory rounds,” which in no way will influence the message of the report. It is one of those things diplomats in the ministry have to do now and again.

A couple of journalists from the state television’s M1 channel and from Pesti Srácok were on hand after Sargentini left the building of the Foreign Ministry, trying to have an interview with her. I don’t know what she thought of Hungarian journalists after this encounter, but I fear it couldn’t have been complimentary. M1’s reporter didn’t seem to understand that the MEP was in Budapest to ask questions and learn about the country and its government. She was not ready to give interviews. The fellow from Pesti Srácok entertained Sargentini with questions like “If it depended on you, what kind of a future would you wish for Hungary?” And when he got no answer, he wanted to know what she thought of Viktor Orbán as a person. The video of the encounter can be seen here. Pesti Srácok’s headline for the article describing the scene was “Soros’s man came to call Budapest to account and she left post-haste.”

The Hungarian government is not backing down in the face of more intense EU scrutiny. It looks as if the decision was already made to launch a new “action plan” to thwart the execution of the Soros Plan.

István Hollik (KDNP), who has become the fiercest and most extreme spokesman for the government, called Sargentini “one of the most important allies of George Soros.” The report she is working on is actually a “Soros Report.” While the Soros NGOs speak of “sick democracies,” what is really sick is the European Union’s attacks on Hungary.

So, the mood is belligerent and unyielding, though this may change as a consequence of the new Polish prime minister’s housecleaning that resulted in the departure of eight ministers from the far right and their replacement by centrists. The move is most likely in preparation for a reset of Polish-EU relations. In that case, Viktor Orbán would remain virtually alone with his “action plan,” something I don’t believe he would relish.

January 10, 2018

The Hungarian parliament “debates” the anti-NGO bill

It’s becoming really hot in the Hungarian parliament, where the opposition is waging a heroic fight against an increasingly aggressive and unscrupulous Fidesz majority. Members of the opposition are feeling increasingly frustrated by their impotence within the walls of parliament. They are desperate as they watch the Fidesz bulldozer grind on with escalating force.

One would think that the international scandal that ensued after the Hungarian parliament passed legislation aimed at driving the American-Hungarian Central European University out of the country would temper Viktor Orbán’s zeal and that he would conveniently forget about the bill against those civic organizations that are partially financed from abroad. But no, he is forging ahead.

Tempers are flaring in parliament. Lately I have noticed growing impatience on the part of the Fidesz majority, which often prompts the president or his deputies to forcibly prevent discussion of pending legislation. One would think that with such a large majority, the government party would show some magnanimity, but this was never true of Fidesz and it is especially not true of late. Perhaps because Fidesz parliamentary leaders are feeling the pressure of the streets they take their anger out on the members of the opposition. In turn, some opposition members seem buoyed by those tens of thousands who have demonstrated in the past week. The result is shouting matches and fines ordered by either László Kövér or one of his Fidesz or KDNP deputies.

About two weeks ago commentators predicted that the Orbán government will consider their bill on the NGOs even more important than their law on higher education, the one that affected CEU. And indeed, top Fidesz representatives were lined up for the debate, among them Gergely Gulyás, whom I consider especially dangerous because he seems to be an unusually clever lawyer with the verbal skills to match. He acted as if the proposed bill wasn’t a big deal, just a simple amendment of little consequence. As for the issue of branding NGOs by demanding that they label themselves “foreign-supported” organizations, Gulyás’s answer was that some people consider such support a positive fact, others don’t. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with the bill. He accused the opposition of “hysteria” stemming from frustration.

The Christian Democrats have recently discovered an able spokesman, István Hollik, who was not as restrained as Gulyás and spelled out in detail what the government’s problem is with the NGOs. According to him, “there are people who would like their political views to become reality and who want to have a say in the events of the world without seeking the trust of the electorate. This is what George Soros does in Europe and in America.” It is through these NGOs that Soros wants to influence politics.

MSZP’s spokesman was Gergely Bárándy who, I’m afraid, doesn’t set the world on fire. LMP’s Bernadett Szél, however, is another matter. In her view, the country shouldn’t be shielded from the civic groups but from “the Russian agents who sit here today in parliament.” She continued: “You are a government financed from abroad; you are politicians who are financed from abroad; you are supposed to do this dirty work. It is unacceptable.” As for Hollik’s references to George Soros, Szél said “You people make me sick!” Szél was well prepared for this speech because she had hundreds of cards printed on a black background saying “I’m a foreign funded politician.” She placed them on the desks of Fidesz MPs. Tímea Szabó of Párbeszéd didn’t mince words either when she announced that “all decent people want to vomit” when Fidesz members vote against civic groups that help the disadvantaged and the disabled. Finally, Együtt’s Szabolcs Szabó compared the bill to the one introduced in Putin’s Russia. He charged that Viktor Orbán simply lifted a Russian piece of legislation and transplanted it into Hungarian law. “Even Mátyás Rákosi would have been proud of this achievement,” he concluded.

Bernadett Szél hard at work

But that wasn’t all. It was inevitable that the pro-government civic organization called Civil Összefogás (CÖF) would come up. CÖF is clearly a government-financed pseudo organization which spends millions if not billions on pro-government propaganda. Naturally, CÖF is unable to produce any proof of donations received. Bernadett Szél held up two pieces of paper to show that CÖF left all the questions concerning its finances blank. At that very moment, Sándor Lezsák, the Fidesz deputy president of the House, turned Szél’s microphone off. He accused her of using “demonstrative methods” for which she was supposed to have permission. Such an infraction means a fine. When Szél managed to continue, she said: “Take my whole salary, but I will still tell you that CÖF has a blank report. So, let’s not joke around. How much do my human rights cost? Tell me an amount. We will throw it together. I’m serious.” This is, by the way, not the first threat of a fine against opposition members. MSZP members were doubly fined because they called President Áder “János.” The spokesman of Párbeszéd “was banned forever from parliament” because he put up signs: “traitor” on the door leading to the prime minister’s study.

Speaking of CÖF. Today László Csizmadia, chairman of CÖF, launched an attack against Michael Ignatieff in Magyar Hírlap. He described Ignatieff as “Goodfriend II on the left.” The reference is to the capable chargé d’affaires of the United States Embassy during the second half of 2016 when American-Hungarian relations were at the lowest possible ebb.

And one more small item. Index discovered that the parliamentary guards, a force created by László Kövér in 2012 (about which I wrote twice, first in 2012 and again in 2013, will get new weapons and ammunition:

  • 45-caliber pistols
  • 56 mm (.223 caliber) submachine guns
  • 62x51mm sniper rifles using NATO ammunition
  • .306 caliber rifles
  • manual grenade launcher for 40mm grenades
  • intercepting nets
  • a variety of ammunition for new types of firearms
  • universal (fired, thrown) tear gas grenades with artificial or natural active ingredients
  • hand-operated teardrop grenades working with natural or artificial substances

So, they will be well prepared for all eventualities.

April 19, 2017