Tag Archives: István Nyakó

László Botka has taken things into his own hands in MSZP

Yesterday I ended my post saying that, because only a few hours had passed since MSZP submitted its own proposal for a new bill that would regulate political advertising, I was unable to gauge the reaction of the other smaller parties on the left. I suspected that their reception of MSZP’s very questionable political move was not going to be favorably viewed. A couple of hours later, I had the chance to listen to a television interview with Csaba Molnár, one of the deputy chairmen of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), who promised that the party leadership would take a good look at MSZP’s proposal but hinted that one has to be very careful when negotiating with Fidesz. The government party’s surprising readiness to negotiate was suspicious.

By this morning it became clear that no opposition party was ready to discuss the MSZP proposal. If the socialists go ahead with it, it will be a private deal between Fidesz and MSZP. But no opposition party can afford the stigma of making a deal with the devil. Only “political illiterates” could come up with such an idea unless, as many people suspect, certain members of the MSZP leadership are ready to cozy up to Fidesz for one nefarious reason or another. In this particular case, I think “political illiterates” were at work.

MSZP’s candidate for the premiership, László Botka, had been left in total darkness about the leadership’s decision to submit a “poster bill” of their own. That such a thing can happen gives you an idea of the chaos and confusion that must exist in the Hungarian socialist party. The most important officeholders in MSZP must have approved the proposal and its submission for consideration because it was Gyula Molnár, party chairman, and Bertalan Tóth, leader of MSZP’s parliamentary delegation, who announced the move at a joint press conference on Friday. Fidesz-KDNP jumped at the opportunity and secretly indicated they were game. When Jobbik got the wind of the pending deal, János Volner, Jobbik parliamentary leader, made it public.

Bertalan Tóth and Gyula Molnár at a press conference

It was at this point that Botka decided to intervene. He explained that any negotiations and any joint action, like voting with Fidesz, would discredit the party and himself personally since he had stressed on several occasions that any collaboration with Fidesz was out of the question. He apparently argued that if an election advertising bill were to pass, MSZP might be in a better position vis-à-vis Jobbik as far as political advertisement is concerned, i.e., both parties would receive the same rate from the providers of advertising surfaces. But MSZP “would lose its character as an opposition party.” Jobbik would be Fidesz’s primary opponent at the next election.

Today MSZP also created a new body called the “national election committee” (Országos Választási Bizottság/OVB), which will be in charge of the election campaign. According to Index, OVB will consist of five people: László Botka; Gyula Molnár, party chairman; József Tóbiás, campaign manager; György Kerényi, director of communications; and Bálint Ruff, Botka’s political adviser. I suspect that readers of Hungarian Spectrum may not be familiar with the names of György Kerényi and Bálint Ruff. Kerényi is a highly respected journalist who worked for Magyar Narancs, Tilos Rádió, and Roma Sajtóközpont and was one of the founders of vs.hu. He was known for his independence, and therefore his colleagues were greatly surprised that he accepted a party position. His decision was based on his conviction that MSZP is the only party that has a chance to unseat Viktor Orbán, who in his opinion must go. And he must personally do everything he can to make that happen. As for Bálint Ruff, he is a young man, a law school graduate, who is a managing partner of Invisible Hand Coaching and Consulting.

Most likely not independently from the blunder committed by the party leadership behind Botka’s back, the composition of OVB changed significantly in the last two days. Index reported on June 18 that Botka had named József Tóbiás’s campaign manager, who in turn named Zsolt Molnár, campaign manager in 2014, Ferenc Baja, a really old socialist politician who served in high positions both in the party and in the socialist-liberal governments between 1994 and 2010, and Bertalan Tóth, the most important man in the party’s parliamentary group, to the body. These three people have since disappeared from OVB, and I suspect that Gyula Molnár remained only because he is, after all, chairman of the party. Keep in mind that it was Molnár and Tóth who came forth with the announcement of an independent MSZP proposal for the “poster law.” In fact, we have evidence that Tóth’s removal is connected to this political miscalculation. István Nyakó, MSZP’s spokesman, said at today’s press conference that Bertalan Tóth represented the interests of the party to the best of his knowledge in negotiating with the other parties concerning the “poster law,” but with the appearance of Botka a “new political calendar” has begun. I wonder how long Tóth will remain the leader of the Fidesz caucus in parliament. As for Zsolt Molnár, he is a controversial character who has been the subject of long-standing criticism for his cozy relations with Fidesz politicians. As for Baja, perhaps Botka objected to his very high positions in the party for almost twenty years when Botka didn’t want to have anyone associated with the campaign who had had “substantial responsibility” for the political situation in which Fidesz could win a two-thirds majority in 2010. I might add that I for one don’t share Botka’s assessment of the guilt of the socialist-liberal governments for the overwhelming victory of Fidesz in 2010, but Ferenc Baja was never one of my favorites.

In addition, Botka tightened the reins on communication and finance. Without the knowledge of Kerényi, no MSZP politician can issue any statement or express any opinion different from the official one. I must say that this decision has been long overdue. MSZP is a notoriously undisciplined party where party leaders regularly contradict one another and voice their personal opinions about accepted party policies in public. István Nyakó, MSZP’s spokesman, also said that anyone who in any way collaborates with Fidesz will be expelled from the party.

Indeed, MSZP is shaping up to be a different party. Perhaps in the long run this botched-up political move will have a beneficial effect on MSZP. This incident might have prompted Botka to take a more active role in the everyday running of party affairs which, if he makes good decisions, might improve the party’s acceptance by the public. At the same time, if those socialist politicians who are the most visible public representatives of MSZP are not better able to convey the party’s messages and if the party leadership is unable to mobilize its supporters, no amount of firmness, tenacity, and determination on the part of László Botka can revive the Hungarian socialist party.

June 20, 2017

Boycotting the media is counterproductive

Until now it was only certain high-level Fidesz party and government officials who refused to give interviews to certain left-of-center newspapers, radio, and television stations. Then, two years ago, after the breakup of the long-lasting and financially fruitful friendship between Viktor Orbán and his old friend-turned-oligarch Lajos Simicska, the boycott was extended to Simicska’s newspaper, television, and radio outlets as well. Simicska’s media holdings include a weekly, Heti Válasz, which initially refused the follow the road his daily, Magyar Nemzet, chose. It remained surprisingly loyal to Viktor Orbán. One reason for this loyalty might have been the person of the weekly’s editor-in-chief, Gábor Borókai, who, after all, was the spokesman for the first Orbán government. Unlike the others since 2010, he served throughout the entire 1998-2002 period. Moreover, it is likely that the two men already knew each other while they were law students. In 2013 Viktor Orbán made sure that Borókai received a high decoration (Magyar Érdemrend tisztikeresztje).

Lately, however, even Borókai has become quite critical of the government. In November 2016 he warned that all the lying and misinformation disseminated by the government will lead to its downfall if Fidesz politicians don’t wake up. Last month Borókai wrote a critical editorial about the government’s handling of the Central European University case and even complained about the state of democracy and freedom in Hungary. The old friendship between Orbán and Borókai was coming to an end.

András Lánczi, Orbán’s favorite philosopher and president of Corvinus University, had written regularly in Heti Válasz for ten years, but when Borókai’s weekly published an interview with Ron Werber, who devised the strategy that assured MSZP’s victory in 2002, he decided to make a clean break with the publication. As he told 888.hu, he had indicated to Borókai earlier that he didn’t approve of “the new direction,” but that interview was the last straw.

Meanwhile, the output of government-paid journalists is of such low quality that serious journalists no longer consider them colleagues. Indeed, most of the young people who staff internet propaganda tabloids like 888.hu and ripost.hu don’t deserve to be called reporters, journalists, or media workers. Even so, I’m not convinced that MSZP’s decision to boycott Echo TV, M1, TV2, Origo, Pestisrácok.hu, 888.hu, Magyar Idők, Lokál, Ripost, and Magyar Hírlap is a good idea. The party’s rationale, according to party spokesman István Nyakó, is that these publications distort the opposition politicians’ answers to their questions. Moreover, these media outlets describe a nonexistent world. “We are not going to assist them in creating manipulated material.” Nyakó told the reporter of Echo TV who happened to be at the press conference that he doesn’t consider him a journalist but a paid spokesman of Fidesz. This may all be true, but I’m not sure how these politicians’ boycott will change the editorial policies of the client media of Fidesz.

MSZP’s decision to boycott Fidesz media is most likely the result of an encounter László Botka, the party’s candidate for the premiership and mayor of Szeged, had with the staff of a weekly program on Echo TV called “Informátor.” According to Botka, the Echo TV people arrived unannounced, cameras in hand, wanting to have an interview with him. Botka already had a scheduled conference, but the Echo TV staff refused to budge, and they even wanted to enter Botka’s room by force. Or at least this is what Botka claims. Apparently, at that point Botka called the police. Of course, Echo TV’s story of the encounter sounds very different from Botka’s version. In any case, Botka seems to be convinced that “the government falsification factory is trying to provoke him.” In his opinion, the journalists who work for government outlets are simple provocateurs. He knows that the goal was not to conduct an interview but to create a scandal. I fully agree with Botka, but then why did he fall for the provocation? Because by calling the police on them Botka managed to fulfill the goal of Echo TV. It might have been better to give them a short dignified interview. If their sole objective was to create a scandal, they would have traveled 300 some kilometers for nothing.

Mutual boycotting will lead nowhere, although I sympathize with those who find the output of the government propaganda close to unreadable and disgusting. Moreover, I can’t believe that such obvious propaganda, rivaling the output of the Rákosi regime, can possibly be effective from the point of view of the government. Just as eight solid years of communist propaganda between 1948 and 1956 failed to convince people that they lived in a socialist paradise, Fidesz propaganda will not achieve its aims either. In fact, it might turn people off.

In a similar vein, the latest “national consultation” seems to be a flop. Of the 8.5 million people who received questionnaires, only 1.3 million have returned them thus far. Kósa is already “asking the government” to extend the deadline from May 20 to May 31 because the post office was late in delivering some of them. Of course, the post office story is bogus. The real explanation is the stupid questions posed and the even stupider answers provided.

It’s time for Viktor Orbán to rethink his communication strategy. His massive pro-government media network may not be the panacea he anticipated.

May 16, 2017

A new chapter in Hungarian politics?

I will try to cover two topics today, although practically every time I decide to do that I discover about half way through that I was too ambitious. This time, however, I really would like to talk to about two new developments. The first is the announcement by Piroska Galló that negotiations between her union and the government broke down and so a nationwide one-day strike will take place on April 20. The other astonishing news is that István Nyakó’s referendum question sailed through the Kúria. MSZP can begin collecting the necessary 200,000 signatures to enable them to hold a referendum on the question of Sunday closings.

Since I have followed the teachers’ revolt very closely and often have engaged in discussions with commenters, I think it is clear to all regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum that I consider this movement much more than a run-of-the-mill teachers’ strike of the kind that flare up in communities worldwide. As I have repeated often enough, the goal of the Orbán government’s educational policy is to transform the new generation into cogs in the wheel of the “illiberal state.” Just as the Bolsheviks wanted to create a new Soviet man, so Viktor Orbán wants a certain type of citizen. The school system introduced in 2013 feeds into Viktor Orbán’s system of “national cooperation.” Revolt against it is insurgency against the world Orbán has forced on the Hungarians.

In the last few days we have seen a concerted effort on the part of the government to set the two trade unions, PSZ and PDSZ, against each other, with not much success. Undersecretary László Palkovics went so far as to invite László Mendrey to the ministry for a discussion on the impending strike, but when he and his team got there they discovered that instead of one-to-one strike negotiations the complete membership of the round table was waiting for them. The attempt failed. So tonight PDSZ, PSZ’s strike committee, the Tanítanék Mozgalom, and the Civil Public Education Platform will hold a joint meeting. It looks as if all the organizations involved in the movement are cooperating and will support the strike. According to Piroska Galló, support for the strike among teachers is substantial. The only question is how effective the strike will be and, even more important, how much outside help the teachers will receive. If dissatisfaction spreads to other groups and public support is overwhelming, the government will have to offer substantial concessions, which can undermine the very foundation of the system.

The other important topic is MSZP’s referendum question–“Do you agree that parliament should annul Law CII of 2014 that forbade performing work on Sundays in the retail sector?”–was approved by the Kúria, the supreme court of the land. This decision was totally unexpected. Even the MSZP leadership, whose members kept repeating that the case was so clear cut that the Kúria couldn’t do anything else, were deep down not at all sure. They were ready for rejection. For the last three days MSZP representatives stood in front of the National Election Office to prevent a repeat of what happened last time when about a dozen skinheads prevented István Nyakó, an MSZP politician, from handing in his referendum question.

Yesterday I watched an interview with a particularly obnoxious talking head, who went on and on about the pettiness of Hungarian politics. This came up in the middle of a conversation about the tenth anniversary of the famous Gyurcsány-Orbán debate, which was such a fiasco for Orbán that from that moment on he refused to yield to any demand for a debate. Our talking head asserted that today there would be no topic for a meaningful debate. What would the candidates talk about? Sunday closings? Something that trivial?

I would rather side with the editorial of Magyar Narancs titled “Hungarian politics revived.” The author defines politics as “competition between different modes of management of public affairs.” He claims that politics in this sense came to a halt in 2010. Now it looks as if there might be a change. After this decision “we have reason to be happy” was the last sentence of the article.

The happiest of all are the MSZP politicians, who scored a huge victory. They showed themselves to be so dogged that eventually the government ran out of steam. After the skinheads it was difficult to come up with yet another obstacle. I would be very surprised if MSZP’s popularity would not rise substantially in the coming months. All the criticism of the party’s hesitancy and its political ineptitude will fade if MSZP politicians manage to keep up their present energy and political finesse. At last here is an opposition party that managed to defeat the state machinery, which was bent on preventing a referendum that would question a decision of the government.

MSZP’s victory might also improve the generally lethargic mood of the population: the situation is not hopeless after all. Today’s triumph will most likely help the mood in opposition circles in general. Jobbik already announced that they will join MSZP and will assist in the collection of signatures, and they will encourage their followers to support the cause. DK will do the same. Zsolt Gréczy, spokesman of DK, called the Kúria’s decision “another deep fissure in the Orbán regime.”

István Nyakó and Sándor Lukács / Photo: Miklós Szabó, Népszabadság

MSZP MPs István Nyakó and Sándor Lukács / Photo: Miklós Szabó, Népszabadság

As things now stand, MSZP is planning a repeat of the Fidesz “referendum of the three yeses,” as the 2008 referendum is called. In that case, on Fidesz’s insistence, citizens had to vote on whether they don’t want to pay tuition fees, don’t want a €1 co-pay at doctors’ visits, and don’t want to pay €1 a day during hospital stays. Not surprising, by an overwhelming majority they said “yes, we don’t want to pay” to all three questions. The result of the referendum was interpreted at the time as a rejection of the Gyurcsány government and directly led to the prime minister’s resignation a few months later.

What József Tóbiás, MSZP chairman, is now talking about is another “referendum of the three yeses” because, in addition to Nyakó’s question on Sunday closings, Zoltán Gőgös (MSZP PM) submitted a question on the fate of the agricultural lands currently owned by the state, and Zoltán Kész, an independent MP, submitted a question on the remuneration of business leaders of state enterprises. Yes, says Tóbiás, people should say yes to all these questions: the stores should be open on Sunday, the sale of state lands should come to a halt, and no state business leader should receive more than 2 million forints a month. Indeed, these questions should be very popular with the electorate. Gőgös and Kész collected 50,000 signatures in a single day, and therefore I have no doubt that collecting another 200,000 will be a cinch. Meeting the requirement of about 4 million valid votes, however, might be another matter. The Orbán administration changed the law on referendums. Instead of requiring a turnout of 25% to have a valid referendum, they raised the requirement to 50%, which makes the task almost impossible.

According to some commentators Fidesz has only two options. Either it encourages its followers not to vote or it tries to take the wind out of the sails of the opposition by repealing the law on Sunday closings. The second option would mean a loss of prestige for Orbán, which would be tough for the prime minister to swallow.

Gábor Vona of Jobbik suggested that Viktor Orbán’s own referendum on compulsory quotas should be added to the three current questions. Would that help or hinder the cause of the opposition leaders? We know that the government has overwhelming support for its anti-refugee stance, so the administration might be able to convince large numbers of people to go to the polls to cast their ballot in favor of its referendum question. Would that boost the chances of the three questions submitted by Nyakó, Gőgös, and Kész? And if it does, would Fidesz want that outcome? I’m really curious what Fidesz’s next step will be.

April 6, 2016

Government conspiracy to prevent a referendum

Critics of the democratic opposition in Hungary often charge both journalists and politicians with abandoning stories about the corrupt Orbán government. A huge scandal surfaces and is on the front page of every newspaper, but a few days later the whole thing is forgotten. The dogged perseverance so necessary for both reporters and politicians seems to be missing from Hungarian political life, although in the few cases where it was at work the administration had to retreat.

The most spectacular success of that kind of investigative journalism was the resignation of President Pál Schmidt after it became known that his so-called doctoral dissertation was a Hungarian translation of a book originally written in French. HVG, the paper that received the original scoop, simply didn’t let the issue die. They kept at it. Although it took four months, eventually Schmidt was told to retire quietly. I’ll bet that Viktor Orbán has regretted that decision ever since. In fact, in the last couple of years he has smuggled Schmidt back into the government circle. Schmidt received government assignments in connection with Hungary’s bid for the 2024 Olympic games.

It seems that this same ability to stay with a project and see it through to completion is now being exhibited by MSZP’s István Nyakó, the man who was prevented from submitting his referendum question on Sunday retail store closings to the National Election Office (NVH). Of course, he needed the assistance of the media. Both HVG and Index have been giving ample coverage to the story. Today, after a month of back and forth, both NVH and the National Election Committee (NVB) finally decided to ask the police to investigate the skinheads’ role in the events that allowed Mrs. Erdősi, wife of Herceghalom’s mayor and a devoted admirer of Viktor Orbán, to turn in her question about the Sunday closings while the hired heavies prevented Nyakó from submitting his question. The very fact that the case has gotten this far is an unexpected success, which says a lot about the state of democracy in Hungary. Or, rather the lack thereof. A dictatorial regime like Viktor Orbán’s does not tolerate dissent and will do everything in its power to stifle it.

István Nyakó in front of the National Election Office / 24per7

István Nyakó in front of the National Election Office / 24per7

I devoted several posts to the topic of the seemingly hopeless task of submitting a referendum question on the Sunday closings issue. Sunday closings are very unpopular, and if such a referendum were actually held it is quite possible that the closings would be overwhelmingly rejected, which could be interpreted as a rejection of Viktor Orbán’s whole political system. Thus, a variety of tricks have been employed to prevent such an outcome. This cat and mouse game has now been going on for about a year. Thanks to Nyakó’s insistence and the media’s help, today we have some evidence that there was a joint effort between Fidesz and individuals allegedly representing independent agencies, like NVH and NVB and the National Data Protection and Freedom of Information Authority (NAIH), to prevent something that is against the wishes of the government. Such a concerted effort is less kindly called a “conspiracy,” which is a very serious crime.

The alleged crime took place on February 23. Within a few hours important information emerged, including the identity of Mrs. Erdősi and the connection between the skinheads of the Ferencváros (Fradi) Football Association, and Gábor Kubatov, president of Fradi, vice-chairman of Fidesz, and the maverick election campaign manager of the party. A few days later I followed up my initial post with more facts. Since then even more details have emerged. I’m pretty certain that by now we have a very good idea of how the ruse was conceived and executed. The only thing missing is definite proof, which can be obtained only if the police take the investigation seriously.

What we know now is that the chairmen of both NVH and NVB hid an important piece of evidence: a seven-hour surveillance video from outside the building of NVH. Members of the election committee today claim that they would have immediately launched an investigation if they had had the opportunity to see the video, which shows the arrival of the skinheads and the distribution of copies of Mrs. Erdősi’s referendum question enclosed in plastic folders. Thus, Mrs. Erdősi and the skinheads worked together. They were one team. Initially, however, Ilona Pálffy of NVH and Sándor Patyi, chairman of NVB, convinced members of the committee that there was nothing interesting on the video. Only the lone MSZP representative on the committee insisted on looking at it, but he was voted down by the Fidesz-Jobbik majority. Moreover, Pálffy and Patyi also “forgot” to submit the video along with other documents when the Kúria wanted to take a second look at the case. So, from what we know now there is a good likelihood of Pálffy’s and Patyi’s involvement in the conspiracy.

There is also the possibility that one or more employees of the National Data Protection and Freedom of Information Authority (NAIH) are also involved. What does this office have to do with referendums? Anyone who wants to submit a referendum question has to start at NAIH in order to receive permission to collect the necessary 20-30 supporting signatures. MSZP members in the past received these permissions after a fairly lengthy waiting period. MSZP’s Zoltán Lukács, who submitted a referendum question earlier, asked for permission on January 27 and received the answer on February 18. Nyakó’s request was submitted on February 12, and he had to wait 10 days for an answer. Behold, Mrs. Erdősi’s application arrived on February 21, a Sunday, and a day later permission was granted. The deadline to submit a referendum question was February 23, Tuesday. Someone at NAIH clearly wanted to expedite matters to make sure that Mrs. Erdősi would be able to turn in her referendum question in time.

Now it is up to the police and the prosecutors to handle the case. Odds are, if recent history is any guide, that the case will never be solved.

March 31, 2016

The continuing saga of the referendum question

Earlier I described February 23 as a “day of infamy” in the life of the Orbán government. It was on that day that István Nyakó, a former MSZP member of parliament, was prevented from reaching the time clock that registers the exact arrival of an intended referendum question at the National Election Office. Approximately twenty skinheads stood in his way. His question was thus clocked four seconds after a young man handed in the meaningless referendum question of Mrs. Erdősi, the wife of the mayor of Herceghalom, a small hamlet not far from Budapest. The lady seems to be a fanatical admirer of Viktor Orbán.

The Orbán regime obviously dreads a referendum on the question of Sunday store closings, which would be overwhelmingly rejected by the voters. Since the passage of the bill that greatly inconvenienced the majority of the population this was the thirteenth attempt to reverse the 2014 decision, which has been in force since March 15, 2015. Most of the referendum questions that reached the National Election Committee and the Kúria were formulated in such a way as to be ruled invalid, delaying the submission of any other question on the issue. The National Election Office in cahoots with the National Election Commission used all the tricks in the book to prevent the submission of any question that had the slightest chance of approval. But they seem to have run out of tricks, hence the 200-kg skinheads. An optimistic MSZP politician described the event as “the last flurry of a hapless dictatorship.”

I’m not sure of that, but in the last few days the government and Fidesz have retreated on a host of issues. One doesn’t have to search very hard to see cracks in the edifice. Several high-ranking Fidesz politicians openly criticized the party’s handling of the referendum question. It looks as if László Kövér disapproves of the bill that György Matolcsy, chairman of the Hungarian National Bank, and Viktor Orbán pushed through parliament to allow the profits of the bank—which are naturally public money—to be transferred into private funds established by the bank. According to rumor, President Áder may not sign the bill. János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, already talked yesterday about a possible compromise on the issue. There is also a general retreat on the education front as well, but so far the compromises the government is offering don’t satisfy the educators. The government will have to go much further than it ever intended.

And it looks as if the government will have to retreat on the issue of the referendum as well. After the head of the National Election Office, Ilona Pálffy, determined that everything was in perfect order because no one had prevented Nyakó from reaching the clock, Mrs. Erdősi’s question was sent on to the National Election Commission. But then, something must have happened behind the scenes because, after some hesitation, she decided to pass on Nyakó’s question as well.

That was the first crack in the Fidesz defense. The second crack came when the National Election Commission, after looking at the existing videos, split on the merit of Nyakó’s complaint. Above is the crucial 26 seconds that shows the situation at the  National Election Office. The chairman of the commission, Szabolcs Patyi, sided with the delegates of the opposition against the Fidesz-KDNP delegates. Still, the vote was 7 to 5 in favor of Mrs. Erdősi’s claim. Thus, it was her question that was sent to the Kúria for final approval. But high-ranking members of Fidesz were not at all satisfied with Ilona Pálffy’s handling of the affair. Both László Kövér and Gergely Gulyás urged an investigation of the case, and apparently some members of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation were up in arms, blaming Gábor Kubatov, deputy chairman of Fidesz and head of the Ferencváros FTC, for the debacle. After all, some of the skinheads were the club’s security guards.

After the National Election Committee’s decision, Nyakó didn’t give up. On March 2 he submitted a request for a review of the case to the Kúria. Yesterday the Kúria made its decision public: it partially annulled the decision of the National Election Committee. After taking a look at the video, the judges reached the conclusion that Nyakó had after all been prevented from exercising his constitutional rights. But the Kúria didn’t agree with Nyakó’s position that there was a conspiracy between Mrs. Erdősi and the skinheads, although it is blatantly obvious that Mrs. Erdősi and the skinheads acted together according to a well-executed plan. Each of the men held a translucent folder with a copy of Mrs. Erdősi’s referendum question together with her signature. They were photocopies of the original. The enlarged picture of the folder is clear proof of collusion. The Kúria obviously didn’t want to rule on the charge of collusion, which would lead straight to Gábor Kubatov, who, by the way, happened to be in the United States at the time, learning the secrets of the Republican Party’s campaign strategies.

Mrs. Erdősi's signature is clearly visible

Mrs. Erdősi’s signature is clearly visible

But Kubatov didn’t have to be present to prevent MSZP from turning in a referendum question. Kubatov filled all the important positions at the Ferencváros club with people who have strong ties to Fidesz. One such man is Kubatov’s secretary, Máté Kindlovits, who is actually the managing director of the club’s affairs due to Kubatov’s many duties in the party. The club’s spokesman is Bence Sipos, who just happens to be Kindlovits’s old classmate at the Pál Apostol Katolikus Gimnázium. And Ádám Varró, the young man who actually handed Mrs. Erdősi’s referendum question to the authorities, was a classmate of Kindlovits and Sipos. (For those unfamiliar with the Hungarian educational system, friendships made in high school can mean life-long associations. Thirty or forty students spend four years together in the same classroom, often sitting at the same desks and having the same homeroom teacher, who in this case happened to be a man who today is the Fidesz mayor of District XVII.)

I assume that in Kubatov’s absence it was Kindlovits who arranged the meeting between Mrs. Erdősi and the Fradi hooligans. How did Mrs. Erdősi enter the scene? A few years ago she was pictured on one of the billboards advertising the decrease in utility prices. Today (in the second picture) she is a few years older, a little grayer, but still willing to serve Fidesz. Most likely Kindlovits recruited her for the job, promising the assistance of his men and assuring her that she doesn’t have to do anything, just be there, because his old high school friend Ádám Varró will take care of everything.

erdosine billboard

erdosine today

I don’t have much hope that the police investigation which is now underway will ever get as far as my imagined scenario. But I’m not so sure that the earlier obstructionist practices will continue unabated. Fidesz and Viktor Orbán are feeling the pinch.

March 4, 2016

Water and politics: The case of the Roma in Ózd

There are times, though not too often, when Fidesz and the Orbán government retreat and give up positions earlier thought to be sacrosanct. This usually happens when there is a big stink. Not just nationally but internationally. This is what happened with the public faucets in Ózd.

Ózd, a town with a population of 34,000, fell on hard economic times when the heavy metallurgical industry collapsed in the 1990s. Ózdi Kohászatai Üzemek had employed more than 10,000 workers. In 1975 67.3% of the men between the ages of 18 and 65 were gainfully employed. Now the unemployment in Ózd is extremely high. Ózd also has a large Roma population. Officially only 7% of the population declared themselves to be of Roma ethnicity, but according to some estimates one-third of Ózd’s population might be of Gypsy origin.

The Gypsies live in several ghetto-like sections of the town. Most of their houses don’t have running water, so these people must carry  water in buckets from public faucets. Apparently there are 123 faucets that serve about 8,000 people. Some of these people live in areas where city water was never hooked up; others don’t have service because they couldn’t pay their water bill. A family of four or five needs at least 100 liters of water a day and, especially in the areas where a lot of people live without city water, there might be as many as 100 people who use one faucet.

Since the city must provide water to the inhabitants, these people receive their water free of charge. The Fidesz-led town hall found the 13 million forints the city had to pay for the water used on roadsides too high. They claimed that the families living in those parts waste water. They use it for washing cars, watering their gardens, and for the children to splash around in. The city fathers, including the sole MSZP member, voted to restrict access to water at public faucets. They completely closed 28 of the 123 faucets and set the water pressure in another 61 very low to discourage the use of too much water.

There are conflicting claims about how slow these faucets became after the town hired a company to lower the pressure from 100% to 60%. The mayor and other Fidesz officials in town claim that lowering the pressure made little difference. (Then why do it?) One of the city fathers declared that the difference between full pressure and reduced pressure is negligible, but others figured that it now takes at least ten minutes to fill a ten-liter bucket with water. A family of five that needs 100 liters of water a day would have to stand for an hour and a half to fill the requisite number of buckets. The men are not around at this time of the year because they managed to get some seasonal work in agriculture, so it’s mostly women and children who carry these buckets. Ten liters of water is terribly heavy, especially for a skinny eight-year-old whom I saw on one of the photos. And he must make at least ten trips. Sometimes quite far. There are cases where they have to walk at least half a kilometer each way.

The water is barely trickling / Népszabadság Photo by István Konyhás

The water is barely trickling / Népszabadság photo by István Konyhás

It’s easy to blame everything on the Gypsies, but one of the city fathers admitted that it’s not the inhabitants of the “segregatums,” as one journalist called these Gypsy ghettos, who steal the city’s water but owners of weekend places outside of Ózd. They come by car and take away 200-300 liters of water. In fact, 444.hu received an e-mail from someone who called attention to a 2011 Google Earth video of a hose that led from a city faucet to a well appointed house in one of the wealthiest sections in town. You can see it on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1msthmIB3o

It was inevitable that the decision of the Ózd City Council would become a national issue. Although the city fathers never mentioned the word “Roma” or “Gypsy,” it became a Roma issue. It couldn’t have been otherwise when it is the Roma population’s neighborhood that is without running water and when it is mostly the dirt poor Roma who can’t pay their water bills.

Opposition politicians were on hand, led by István Nyakó (MSZP) who is from these parts. László Varju (DK) arrived as did Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist. There were all sorts of useless negotiations between Nyakó and Pál Fürjes, the Fidesz mayor of Ózd. I don’t know in what language they tried to converse, but the two gave entirely different reports of their conversation. Nyakó understood that Fürjes promised to restore the standard pressure in the faucets while Fürjes claimed that there was no such agreement. Moreover, he made it crystal clear that the city will not move an inch. It is not fair that the majority of the city’s population has to pay for water while others don’t. As he put it, “perhaps the majority of people feel good when they steal, but someone has to pay for the water.” He neglected to mention that these people have no choice because they have no water hook-up.

Fürjes’s claim is especially distasteful in light of the fact that Ózd received 1.75 billion forints from the Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program for the express purpose of providing running water to the Roma ghettos. Opposition politician Péter Juhász of Milla and Együtt 2014-PM demanded to know the fate of this money. According to the website of the town of Ózd, work on the modernization of the whole system will be done between 2013 and 2017. Well, more than half of 2013 is gone and there is no sign of any work on the pipes. Fürjes immediately rebuked Juhász, saying that the Ózd Fidesz government is not like the Gyurcsány-Bajnai government which stole the country blind and was corrupt to the core. The money is there and work will begin in November. I must say November’s not the best time of the year to start such a project.

Negotiations between Nyakó and Fürjes led nowhere;  the city was ready to open only one faucet. Nyakó then said that he was going to call on Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, to force the town of Ózd to restore all the faucets that had served the town’s Roma population.

I must say that yesterday I wasn’t very optimistic that Pintér would intervene, especially after the  Fidesz spokesman Róbert Zsigó threw the party’s weight behind Pál Fürjes. Since yesterday, however, a few things happened that changed the situation.  Zoltán Balog, whose ministry is responsible for Roma integration, announced that he considered limiting water to the Roma ghettos inhumane. Then came the bad publicity from BBC, Deutsche Welle, Der Spiegel, and a very long and detailed article in the Swiss Tages Anzeiger. After all, a lot of Swiss money was given to Ózd specifically for the purpose of making running water available in the Roma ghettos and now the mayor of the town limits water for them even at the roadside faucets!

In any case, Pintér gave a friendly or perhaps not so friendly telephone call to Pál Fürjes, who suddenly saw the light. In order to save face he repeated that the town’s action was entirely legal. But the extended heat wave that hit Hungary after the town council made its decision led him to revoke it. Tages Anzeiger immediately reported the good news. It would be interesting to know whether the Swiss, directly or indirectly, put pressure on the Hungarian government to change its mind on the issue of water supply in Ózd.