Tag Archives: István Simicskó

The latest brainstorm: military sports centers to popularize a military career

The other day I came across a Hungarian-language article about a speech delivered by Antoni Macierewicz, the Polish minister of defense. The article claimed that the minister talked at length about the necessity of having an army that would be strong enough to defend Poland’s independence without outside help. His assessment of Poland’s military strength, both now and in the future, sounded far too optimistic to me, so I visited the Polish site where the information came from. There I learned that, according to Macierewicz, if there is national unity and a national government, there is also a strong army. “We hear voices that the Territorial Defense Force is not needed, but it is the Polish army that binds the nation together.” A unitary Polish nation means an invincible army.

The current Hungarian government has been thinking along the same lines. The debate over the military has been going on for years. It has become evident that the kind of professional army the United States and some other countries have doesn’t satisfy Fidesz politicians’ somewhat old-fashioned military ideas. While in 2003 the socialist-liberal government was envisaging “an army for the 21st century,” the present leadership in many ways would like to build a much more traditional defense force. Viktor Orbán and his comrades know that returning to conscription is out of the question because a few days after such an announcement the Orbán government would be a thing of the past. So they have been trying to expand the numbers of recruits. Given the low pay and prestige of the military in Hungary, this project never got off the ground. Then came the idea of building up a force of reservists who, somewhat like the National Guard in the United States, would serve as part-time soldiers. Interest in the program was meager. Even the training of the so-called “border hunters” was intended to serve as a kind of introduction to army life. Just yesterday, however, the Hungarian media reported that a whole class of a police academy was ordered to the border because the number of “border hunters” was insufficient.

In the last year or so the ministry of defense has been looking for ways to make military service more attractive to young men and women. First, we heard that shooting galleries would be attached to schools, and several school principals reported receiving inquiries from KLIK, the center in charge of all state schools. But a few days later the ministry of human resources, which deals with matters related to education, issued a denial. Although there will be more emphasis on “patriotic” education, the talk about the “militarization” of Hungarian schools was nothing but an unfounded rumor. If there was, at one point, some thought of using schools as sources of future military personnel, this idea had been scrapped.

Meanwhile, the ministry of defense was working on a new idea. On February 11 the ministry announced the formation of the National Defense Sports Association (Honvédelmi Sportszövetség/HS) under its auspices. HS’s president is István Kun Szabó, a major general and assistant undersecretary in the ministry of defense. According to the initial announcement, “the task of HS is to renew the relationship between society and the Hungarian Army and at the same time to promote the establishment of a voluntary reserve system on new foundations through leisure sports.” As I suspected, this new military sports association is a backdoor way to try to enlarge the Hungarian Army. There will be plenty of enticements. In the sports centers that will be built, people can learn to shoot, fence, engage in martial arts and strength athletics, even joust. In addition, they can learn to drive and apply basic first aid. The Sports Association will also organize military summer camps. “Ultimately, the goal is to attract as many young people as possible who want to play a role in defending the country by applying for either reserve or professional service.”

The news came on September 6 that the government had set aside 17.5 billion forints (57.1 million euros) to build 40 sports centers. In a second round, another 67 such centers will be established. They will be constructed on land owned by the Hungarian state, and the structures will also be state-owned. The amount of money to be spent on the first 40 centers is considered by commentators to be extravagant. But these centers must be relatively large to accommodate all the different sports offered. In addition, each of the facilities must have a staff. All in all, operating these centers will not be cheap. Moreover, there is no guarantee that those who benefited from the sports facilities will actually enter the armed services. This will most likely be a mighty expensive way of recruiting military personnel.

At one of the military summer camps

Criticism of the plan to establish more than 100 shooting galleries was immediate. Apparently, 98 shooting galleries exist in Hungary now, and all of them are in terrible shape. Some people argue that the renovation of the existing galleries should be the first priority, not building new ones.

There are objections about the overall course of the Hungarian Army from military experts as well. Gyula Kovács, a retired lieutenant colonel and expert of the Magyar Hadtudományi Társaság (Hungarian Association of Military Science), wrote an opinion peace in Népszava on August 18, 2017 in which he described the Orbán government’s military plans under the title “On the road to the 20th century.” Kovács doesn’t believe that István Simicskó, minister of defense, is the right person to lead the Hungarian military. After years of funding shortages, now at last the ministry is getting a sizable infusion of money, which should be spent on reform. The Hungarian Army is still organized according to the old Soviet structure, which by now even the Russian Army has abandoned. When at the moment there are only 38.6 billion forints for development, spending 17.5 billion on sports centers seems a terrible waste of money. Kovács points out that “the main goal of the program is the formation of a territorial defense force of 20,000.” But he doubts that 20,000 young people will be ready to join the army any time soon. Moreover, one wouldn’t need a larger force if the leadership got rid of the bloated bureaucracy (about 20,000-21,000 men and women) when only 6,000-7,000 people are actively engaged in the military. If the army’s structure were at last changed, 12,000-14,000 men and women could produce, given modern equipment, a division of American quality. In short, the whole project is a waste of money. A modern army cannot be built by recruiting youngsters who like to shoot and enjoy martial arts, he claims.

I can only concur. I simply cannot believe that this trick will produce a large number of recruits. And Gyula Kovács is most likely also right in saying that Hungary doesn’t need such a large force. A smaller and more modern one would suffice, but that would require serious changes, which the big brass would undoubtedly be loath to implement.

September 10, 2017

A few gems from Viktor Orbán’s “strong and proud” Hungary

There are just too many topics that have piled up in the last few weeks that deserve at least a mention. So I decided that today’s post would be a potpourri.

Lex Felcsút

Hungarians like to use the Latin “lex” for “law” when a piece of legislation proposed by the Orbán government is specifically designed to circumvent already existing legal constraints or has been enacted for the specific benefit or disadvantage of individuals. Here are a couple of examples. When Viktor Orbán wanted György Szapáry, who was over the age of 70, to be Hungary’s ambassador to Washington, he simply changed the law, raising the upper age limit for diplomats. When he wanted Zsolt Borkai, an Olympic champion and former lieutenant colonel in the Hungarian Army, to become a Fidesz member of parliament, the five-year moratorium on members of the armed forces for political office was lowered to three. Thus, Lex Borkai.

In 2015 the Demokratikus Koalíció sued FUNA, the foundation that runs the Felcsút football academy, after the foundation refused to release all the documents between January 2013 and November 2015 that pertained to the billions of tax-deductible forints the foundation received from large corporations. The foundation’s position was that the money certain sports clubs receive this way is not considered to be “public money.” The Székesfehérvár court didn’t agree. It ruled that the so-called TAO money in support of sports facilities (Corporate Tax Program) is considered to be public money and instructed FUNA to provide documentation of their finances. FUNA appealed, but in February the Budapest Appellate Court ruled that the books of the foundation for the required period should be made public. The ruling this time was based not on the public nature of the TAO support but on FUNA’s designation as “a publicly useful nonprofit” (közhasznú) organization. Within 15 days FUNA was supposed to deliver the documents to DK.

Those who had been distressed over this murky set-up full of opportunities for corruption were thrilled. “Here is the end,” said Magyar Narancs in February 2017. But not so fast. Nothing is that simple in Orbán’s Hungary. First of all, 15 days came, 15 days went, and no documents arrived. At that point the Demokratikus Koalíció sued. And the case was moved to the Kúria, Hungary’s highest court, for a final decision. There is no decision yet, but the government doesn’t leave anything to chance. On June 27 Magyar Nemzet noticed a small change in the TAO law enacted by parliament a few days earlier. Sports organizations are henceforth no longer designated as “publicly useful nonprofit” entities. If the appellate court decided that the documents must be released because FUNA is a publicly useful organization, the way to deal with this problem is simply to abolish the designation. That’s why this latest fiddling with the law is called Lex Felcsút.

The Poster War

Another perfect example of Fidesz inventiveness when it comes to legislation is the recent law nicknamed Lex Simicska. After a couple of abortive attempts, the Fidesz majority pushed through a law that should have required a two-thirds majority by amending a piece of existing legislation that needed only a simple majority. President János Áder dutifully signed a clearly unconstitutional law. You may recall that these Jobbik billboards, the target of the law change, featured not only Orbán but also Lőrinc Mészáros and Árpád Habony. Jobbik made the right decision when it included these two on their posters. Only yesterday Iránytű Intézet (Compass Institute) released a poll on the popularity of Habony and Mészáros, in addition to that of politicians. These two are at the very bottom of the heap. Habony is most likely seen as the symbol of Fidesz’s very aggressive method of communication, while Mészáros is the symbol of corruption. Clearly the Hungarian people like neither.

A 2010 Fidesz poster right next to Hungária Circus in Hatvan / Source: 24.hu

Lajos Simicska’s firm, Mahír, gave a substantial discount to Jobbik, which Fidesz tried to portray as concealed party financing. But selling advertising spots is like any other business venture where there are no fixed prices. Sometimes they are cheaper–for example during winter. Sometimes they are more expensive–for example, at election time. And, I assume that in certain circumstances personal preferences may play a role. For example, in Jobbik’s case, Simicska’s by now intense hatred of Viktor Orbán must be taken into consideration. Or, conversely, when Simicska worked hand in hand with Viktor Orbán for the good of Fidesz, he gave, as we all suspected, a very good price to his own party. In fact, at the very beginning of the 1990s Simicska purchased Mahír for that very purpose.

Now we know how good a price Fidesz got from Simicska in 2010 when the whole country was plastered with Fidesz posters. Someone made sure that 24.hu got all the documentation covering Fidesz’s deal. Fidesz paid 63% less than Jobbik did for its recent billboards. One billion forints worth of advertising was purchased for 23 million! That’s a real bargain, all right. But that’s not all. Fidesz ordered 4,700 billboards for 23.2 million forints, and they got an additional 1,300 posters gratis. Thus, Fidesz had 6,000 billboards and posters as opposed to MSZP’s 2,000 posters and Jobbik’s fewer than 500 during the 2010 election campaign. But, of course, these parties didn’t have such a generous benefactor. Nor did they have such well-funded party treasuries.

State support of parochial schools

I just read that the Orbán government spends 200,000 forints on children who attend parochial schools and only 54,000 on those who attend public schools. If all children were considered equal, public schools should receive 112.5 billion forints more than they get now. I feel very strongly about this issue, and I find the trend of passing public schools gratis to various churches unacceptable. The kind of education children receive in parochial schools, given the extremely conservative nature of Hungarian churches, may have an adverse effect on Hungarian society as a whole. Moreover, how can the Orbán government justify that kind of discrimination against most of its own young citizens?

Shooting galleries for school children

I left the best for last. Even the Associated Press reported about two weeks ago that Hungarian educational authorities are currently evaluating the installation of shooting galleries in schools to increase the variety of sports available to students. Officials of the Klebelsberg Center insist that the idea has absolutely “nothing to do with aggression and violence.” I saw a high-ranking official of the Center talk about this plan with great fervor in a TV interview, but about two weeks later came the denial. Márta Demeter, formerly an MSZP member of parliament, asked István Simicskó, minister of defense, about the veracity of the news. He flatly denied any such plans. He claimed that the Klebelsberg Center’s inquiries from school principals about appropriate locations for shooting ranges have nothing whatsoever to do with “the long-range defense development program” of his ministry. I’m sure that the Center’s inquiry and Simicskó’s earlier plans of building shooting ranges all over the country are connected. I also suspect that reactions to the notion of putting firearms into the hands of 13-14-year-olds were so negative that the great plan had to be abandoned.

Conclusion

That’s all for today, but I think these few examples are enough to demonstrate that something is very wrong in Viktor Orbán’s “strong and proud” Hungary.

July 2, 2017

Physical force used against Hungarian journalists

We have seen signs of nervousness and even some fear in Fidesz circles despite all the polls that show the party leading with a comfortable margin. Fidesz politicians should be superbly self-confident, but instead they increasingly act like besieged soldiers in a fortress. Perhaps the clearest expression of that feeling came from Viktor Orbán himself when, during a recent visit in Győr, he asked the 50 or so admiring elderly ladies to root for him because he “at times is encircled and has the feeling some people want him to perish” (időnként be van kerítve, és úgy érzi, el akarják veszejteni). Enemies inside and outside the country have been making every effort to put an end to the splendid experiment that has made Hungary the most successful country in Europe and if possible to remove him and his party from power. I believe that it is this fear that has been making Fidesz politicians increasingly belligerent in the last couple of years.

Of course, these so-called enemies are largely creatures of their own making, but the fear may not be totally unfounded. At the moment the Orbán regime is the victim of its own mistaken policies. Although the regime, under internal and external pressure, is acting aggressively, this doesn’t mean that its actions are based on self-assurance. On the contrary, aggressiveness is often the manifestation of desperation and insecurity.

Verbal aggressiveness against foreign and domestic adversaries has always been the hallmark of Fidesz discourse, but lately it has often been accompanied by physical force. In the last few months the victims of Fidesz frustration were journalists, who more often than not happened to be women.

Let me start with the non-violent case of Katalin Halmai, who used to be the Brussels correspondent for the by now defunct Népszabadság. In December 2016 Halmai, working as a freelancer with a valid press pass, was told to leave Orbán’s press conference in Brussels. Halmai meekly followed instructions and left the press conference. After her departure one of the journalists asked Orbán about George Soros, to which he received the following answer: “A man of proper upbringing doesn’t like talking about people who are not present. Especially not if the journalist who represents them is also absent,” referring to Katalin Halmai.

This vicious remark was something new and unexpected, but by now I think we can say with some certainty that it was not an off-the-cuff quip but an indication that members of the critical press are viewed as agents of foreign powers and thus are to be eliminated one way or the other. Fidesz Deputy Chairman Szilárd Németh, in his primitive brutality, said: “I don’t consider the men and women of the media empire supported by Soros real journalists just as I don’t regard the pseudo-civic groups supported by Soros civic activists. They tend to provoke, and their activities amount to being mere agents” for foreign interests. Journalists whose media outlet receives any money from abroad are enemies of the nation. From here it is but a single step, which at times has already been taken, to conclude that all journalists who are critical of the government are also agents. In the last few days we heard several times that George Soros wants to overthrow the Hungarian government. Anyone who with his or her critical writings assists this effort is equally guilty. Unless someone stops Viktor Orbán, the fate of critical journalists may be similar to that of the journalists who languish in Turkish jails for treason.

Recently there have been three occasions when physical force was used against female journalists. The macho Fidesz guys usually don’t take on other men. They prefer women, who can be intimidated or easily overpowered by sheer strength. Halmai in Brussels, instead of refusing to leave the premises where she had every right to be, walked out. Moreover, a few minutes later when Viktor Orbán, wanting to sound magnanimous, called her back for a friendly chat not as a journalist but as a Hungarian citizen, she even obliged. Women don’t want to create a scene. I think she made a huge mistake when she left the press conference and an even greater mistake when she accepted Orbán’s qualified invitation for a friendly conversation.

In January of this year the spokesman for the ministry of national economy grabbed the microphone out of the hand of HírTV’s reporter when she dared to ask a question which Undersecretary András Tállai didn’t like. On May 3 another reporter of HírTV was prevented from conducting an interview. The brave Fidesz politician twisted the arm of a female journalist when she asked a couple of questions the official didn’t like. But these were trivial matters in comparison to what happened to a female reporter for 444 two days ago.

The government decided to have a campaign to explain the real meaning of the questions and answers of the notorious “Stop Brussels!” national consultation. One hundred and twenty meetings will be held all over the country for the further enlightenment of the population. Although the government announced that 900,000 questionnaires have already been returned, this number (real or invented) is nothing to brag about considering that over eight million questionnaires were sent out. High government officials were instructed to hit the road. Mihály Varga, minister of the national economy, and István Simicskó, minister of defense, held the first such gathering in the Buda Cistercian Saint Imre Gymnasium in District XI. It was a public gathering, and 444 sent a female reporter to cover the event. She was planning to video the gathering but was told she had no permission to do so. She obliged, which again in my opinion was a mistake. No such restriction had been announced earlier. After the speeches were over, she received a telephone call, so she left the room to go into the corridor. When she wanted to return to gather her equipment, she was prevented from doing so. The local Fidesz organizer of the event, who turned out to be the program director of the ministry of defense, grabbed her telephone, deleted the couple of pictures she took, forcibly dragged her down the staircase, and threw her out on the street. Once outside, she phoned the police. When they arrived they couldn’t find the culprit, who apparently had split as soon as he realized that he might be in trouble. The reporter filed charges with the local police.

Fidesz embraces the adage that the best defense is a strong offense. It took them a few hours, but the District XI Fidesz headquarters eventually came out with a statement that accused 444 of sending out reporters to Fidesz events to provoke the members of the audience and disturb the proceedings. The organizers suddenly decided that the gathering was a private forum to which 444 didn’t receive an invitation. They are outraged at the journalist’s description of what happened, which included such words as “jostle,” “intimidate,” and “attack,” none of which is true. Therefore the Fidesz group in Újbuda will file charges against her for defamation.

Soon enough a demonstration was organized on the internet, and yesterday about one thousand people gathered in front of the District XI Fidesz office. Media-related associations are outraged because of the uptick in incidents of this sort. There is a concerted effort on the part of the government to obstruct the work of the independent media. Reporters are excluded from public events and are boycotted by state institutions.

Amerikai Népszava published an editorial yesterday which summarized the situation very well. “Orbán by now is irritated not only by the independent journalists’ activity but their sheer existence.” If Viktor Orbán keeps up his constant attacks on “foreign powers and their agents,” we may see physical attacks on journalists by Fidesz loyalists who blindly follow the instructions of their leader. Back in the fall of 2006 Fidesz employed such tactics, and later it used football hooligans to prevent MSZP from filing a referendum question that was not to its liking. But the mood of the country is different today, and I would advise caution.

May 7, 2017

The latest plan: The militarization of Hungary’s youth

A few days before the October referendum Viktor Orbán gave an interview to Katolikus Rádió in which he painted an unusually grim picture of the Hungarian military. He pointed out that Hungary’s neighbors have been expanding their military capabilities lately, but “Hungary is way behind.” “A serious country has its own army, an effective force,” he insisted. Of course, what Orbán neglected to tell his audience was that for the current absolutely deplorable state of the Hungarian army his own administration is largely responsible.

The Hungarian Army was never much to brag about, but at least earlier governments allocated more money to the military. In 2006 the government spent 283 billion forints for defense, which was 1.24% of the GDP. Today defense spending is 0.79% of the GDP. The MSZP-SZDSZ governments steadily, if modestly, raised military expenditures while the Fidesz government has consistently shrunk military spending. The current plan is to increase the military budget by 0.1% each year. That means that the country will reach the level of military spending during Gyurcsány’s last year in office only in 2022.

This is at least the second time the Orbán government has announced its intention to do something with the Hungarian army. In 2014 they promised the modernization of equipment, but without adequate resources it is hard to replace all the antiquated and often unusable tanks, helicopters, and artillery. According to a 2014 article, Hungary had 15 tanks, 12 howitzers, and 0 helicopters. At that time there was talk about purchasing Italian-made helicopters, but so far nothing has come of it. Although at the military base at Tata there were about 50 Soviet T-72 tanks manufactured in the 1970s, half of these were good only for parts. The 12 guns are also Soviet made, D20s. At that time experts estimated that the Hungarian army’s arsenal was 20 to 30 years behind the times.

And don’t think the situation was better when it came to uniforms. Hungarian soldiers serving in Afghanistan, for example, had to return in their old uniforms so they could be used by the soldiers taking their place. As for fighter planes, I assume the readers remember the two Gripens that were practically destroyed in accidents due to inexperienced pilots. Apparently, there isn’t enough money for fuel for extended flights. Hence pilots are inadequately trained.

The state of the Hungarian army nothing like what this photo suggests

The state of the Hungarian army is nothing like what this photo suggests

Then there is the problem of personnel. The Hungarian Army consists of about 25,000 men and women, but “under the best of circumstances only 4-5,000 of them could be sent to a fighting unit.” Recruiting hasn’t been successful. As a source told Index, “today only those come who have no other opportunities. The mother of numerous children in the hope of 80-90,000 forints a month.” Those who have technical skills would rather work for one of the auto manufacturers where they make a great deal more money.

Under these circumstances it is hard to imagine that the Orbán government will be able to attract 20,000 people as reservists in the near future. Because this is the plan. Moreover, it looks as if these additional men and women will be part of a kind of alternate army, organized along the lines of the National Guard in the United States. This idea has been kicking around for a while. István Simicskó, minister of defense, who was undersecretary of defense in the first Orbán government (1998-2002), has been smitten with the idea for some time. At first he wanted to call it Magyar Gárda, but then came the far-right paramilitary formation that usurped that name. In 2007, while in opposition, he pushed for the establishment of a Honi Gárda (Home Guard). Now as minister he is in the position to implement his plans, and it looks as if he has convinced Viktor Orbán to endorse them.

Orbán outlined the plan for a territorial Honi Gárda, if they settle for that name, which will consist of at least one company of reservists for every “járás.” Currently there are 174 “járások” in Hungary. A Hungarian company (század) consists of 3-5 platoons (szakaszok), which consist of 30 men and women. Therefore, even if we assume only 3 platoons to a company, we are talking about 15,750 new recruits who will have to be trained, armed, and paid. However, I assume that the companies will consist of four platoons because Orbán specifically talked about 20,000 men and women. This plan, under the present circumstances and given the limited funds available, sounds like a pipe dream to me. But Orbán indicated that the ministry will begin the organization of these territorial units on January 1, 2017. These territorial companies will be attached to the ten already existing garrisons.

Some military experts might be skeptical about the viability of setting up such an ambitious alternative army, but the government has already approved the plan. Only the details remain to be worked out. Apparently by setting up such local units the government “would like to strengthen the patriotic commitment and generosity of the population.”

A network of military sports clubs will also be established through which the army will try to reach youngsters at a very early age. Simicskó was talking about seven-year-olds.

The government also wants more school children to acquire basic military knowledge. Simicskó claims that they don’t intend to introduce militarism into the educational system. Rather, they would like to instill “a value system, a cast of mind that is based on patriotism.” As he said, “our task is difficult because in a sense we represent a counterculture.” He complained about “children sitting in front of the computer whose social responsibility is minimal.”

Some people, including me, would call Simicskó’s plan brainwashing. Instead of beefing up the army, which at the moment couldn’t resist an invading force even for the short period required before the arrival of NATO forces, the government will now spend who knows how much money on the indoctrination of the youth. Everything is subordinated to political considerations by the Orbán government. Even the security of the country. Under the guise of military preparedness the government will be spreading the “values” of the illiberal state to a new generation of cadres. Another shameful move on the part of Viktor Orbán.

October 17, 2016

Valiant efforts to sell Viktor Orbán’s version of 1956

Let me start with a brief summary of some events that will take place in Budapest and Washington on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the outbreak of the Hungarian revolution of 1956. I’m certain that Viktor Orbán can never forgive fate that he was not the prime minister of Hungary on the fiftieth anniversary of that important event in the history of the international communist movement. After all, a fiftieth anniversary carries a great deal more weight than a sixtieth. Ten years later, Orbán is trying to compensate for that missed opportunity. Mind you, he was certainly not inactive on October 23, 2006, when he orchestrated a demonstration that eventually became a large-scale struggle between the inexperienced and ill-equipped police force and the rabble that had been egged on by Fidesz politicians for weeks. They had a second revolution in mind.

Now he is basking in glory, as if he and his kind had a legitimate right to speak about those days. The Orbán government has spent an inordinate amount of money both at home and abroad on the celebrations, but as far as I can see the results are meager. One of the Hungarian papers triumphantly announced that Hungary will have a very important visitor for the anniversary in the person of Polish President Andrzej Duda, who will appear alongside Orbán as he delivers his speech in front of the parliament building. The article made it clear that Duda will be the only foreign visitor in Budapest on that day. A rather interesting situation. Is it possible that the Hungarian government didn’t invite any foreign dignitaries for fear of being rebuffed and therefore settled for a show of Polish-Hungarian friendship that has an important message to convey to the rest of the world today? In any case, given the hype surrounding this not so significant anniversary, the absence of foreign visitors is glaring.

The Washington events are not faring any better as far as I know. The Hungarian government originally wanted to organize a conference on the significance of the 1956 revolution at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, but the Center refused to hold the event. Of course, it is hard to know what the management of the Center had in mind when it declined the request of the Hungarian government. There are a couple of possibilities. One is that the participants were mostly members of the government instead of scholars. The second complaint of the Center might have been the lopsidedness of political views of the participants presented to them. Well-known scholars of 1956 were most likely left out on ideological grounds. At the end, the conference had to be moved to the National Defense University, where it was held on August 12.

The theme of the conference was “1956: The Freedom Fight that Changed the Cold War—Geopolitics and Defense Policy.”  Donald Yamamoto, senior vice president of the National Defense University, and Réka Szemerkényi, ambassador of Hungary, welcomed the audience. The keynote speaker was István Simicskó, minister of defense. In connection with Simicskó it is perhaps worth remembering that he was the only member of parliament who voted “no” to Hungary’s joining the European Union in 2003.

Finlay Lewis, a journalist from CQ Now and CQ Roll Call, was the moderator of the morning session, during which Brigadier General Peter B. Zwack from the Institute for National Strategic Studies and the National Defense University, László Borhi, a historian from Indiana University, and Áron Máthé, vice chairman of the Committee of National Remembrance, Budapest discussed “Cold War Geopolitics and the Broader Context to the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.” Peter Zwack’s only connection to Hungary is that he is the son of Péter Zwack of Unicum fame. He doesn’t speak Hungarian. László Borhi has written several books on U.S.-Hungarian diplomatic relations, but apparently he is far too close to Mária Schmidt. Áron Máthé is a fairly young historian who so far has published one book about a court case against a number of Arrow Cross men in 1967, which has nothing to do with 1956.

After a coffee break an hour was devoted to “the memory of the 1956 revolution and freedom fight,” during which “Time Capsule 1956—Revolt in Hungary” was screened and Imre Tóth, a member of the revolutionary government of 1956, spoke briefly. I didn’t manage to find anything about Imre Tóth’s precise role in 1956, but I heard from a friend that he might have been an employee of the ministry of foreign affairs, which was in utter chaos during October-November 1956.

After lunch were four more speeches, including one by Tamás Magyarics from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Magyarics’s specialty is U.S.-Hungarian relations.

On the same day the ribbon cutting ceremony of the “1956 Hungarian Freedom Fighters Exhibit” took place at the Pentagon. Present were U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense James J. Townsend, Ambassador Colleen Bell, Defense Minister István Simicskó, and Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi. Ambassador Bell delivered this short speech:

Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to be here today at such a special event. Ambassador Szemerkényi, Minister Simicskó, special guests and friends of Hungary, I am honored to be here.

As many of you may know, I serve as the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary and I have the honor of representing the United States and President Obama in Budapest. During the past two years, I have grown to love the Hungarian people and their devotion to freedom. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Minister Simicskó and greatly appreciate all he and the Hungarian Defense Forces do to make Europe a more free and democratic continent. Thank you for your contributions to NATO, as well as all of the other bilateral and multilateral exercises you participate in on a continual basis. The Hungarian military has deployed – and currently remains deployed – in Afghanistan, Iraq, Africa, the Balkans, and the Baltics. Even if our countries don’t always see eye to eye on all issues, our troops still stand shoulder to shoulder. Hungarian forces’ contributions to democracy and freedom help to make the world a freer place in which to live.

As friends and allies, the United States and Hungary share a faith in democracy. We share a common heritage, cherishing our rights not as subjects or vassals, not as dependents or followers, but as citizens.  We are citizens bound together by our love of liberty, and our willingness to serve.

That is why we are here today – to honor those very brave men and women who sixty years ago attempted to throw off the yoke of communism. Today, in a free Hungary, in the United States, and in many other places around the world, we honor their memory and sacrifices.

Thank you so much for joining us here today. Köszönöm szépen.

Finally, a controversial bronze statue depicting a young boy, a “Budapest Lad/Pesti srác,” will be unveiled on October 16 in Washington.

"The Budapest Lad" in Washington I guess they don't dare to show the rest

“The Budapest Lad” in Washington

The Budapest version of the statue "Pesti srác

The Budapest version of the statue “Pesti srác”

I must say that the Budapest version is a great deal better from an artistic point of view, but as the photo of the model for the statue demonstrates, these kids couldn’t possibly have known what the revolution was all about.

pesti-srac3I really should devote a post to the interpretations of the Hungarian Revolution put forth by Fidesz over the years. Initially, the party viewed the event as a “bourgeois democratic revolution.” But then the Fidesz leadership found their real idols, about 200-300 street fighters who were mostly working class youngsters and whose leaders as time went by became far-right spokesmen for those revolutionary times. They claimed that the real heroes and leaders came from their ranks, as opposed to those anti-Stalinist communists who were responsible, in the final analysis, for the outbreak of an armed revolt. Members of Fidesz have never been admirers of Imre Nagy. As Orbán said years ago, “Imre Nagy is not our hero.” For a while, they even contemplated removing his bust from a site near the parliament building.

These young street fighters did have a role to play in forcing the Nagy government to transform itself into a coalition government of sorts. But had the revolution been successful and had it ushered in a period of consolidation, these unruly groups would most likely have been quietly disarmed and eliminated. For Orbán and Fidesz, however, these kids and their intransigent leaders are the embodiment of 1956.

Of course, there will be speakers from Hungary at the unveiling: Miklós Seszták, minister of national development, Zsolt Németh, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Hungarian parliament, and János Horváth, former doyen of parliament. Horváth was born in 1921 and left Hungary in 1956 for the United States. In 1992 he was the Republican candidate for Indiana’s 10th congressional district, which was a fairly hopeless undertaking against the Democrat Andrew Jacobs, Jr., who held the seat between 1983 and 1997.

Colleen Bell will also give a speech, which is somewhat strange since, to the best of my knowledge, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and Thomas Melia, USAID’s assistant administrator for Europe and Eurasia, declined invitations to the reception organized by Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi. Keep in mind that both of them have been and still are heavily involved in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Hungary. Their refusal to attend is not a good sign.

It matters not how many billions the Orbán government is ready to spend on this sixtieth anniversary extravaganza as long as the whole democratic world is watching what’s going on in Hungary with horror. As long as foreign observers and politicians look upon Viktor Orbán as an ally of Vladimir Putin and someone who wants to destroy the European Union. No amount of paint or bronze can cover the grime that has accumulated in Hungary in the last six years.

October 14, 2016

The Hungarian army will soon receive its marching orders

It looks as if the Orbán government will introduce a state of emergency on September 15, when a new era will begin, at least according to Viktor Orbán.

I wouldn’t venture to predict what exactly that state of emergency will entail because the Hungarian government doesn’t seem to be in control of the situation. A decision that was made yesterday is often scrapped today.

The idea of having transit zones on Hungarian territory that are open toward Serbia but impassable toward Hungary was considered to be a capital idea. The great legal wizard of Fidesz, Gergely Gulyás, in a lengthy interview assured the public that this plan couldn’t possibly be challenged by the present laws of the European Union. But then someone with more legal acumen came to the conclusion that since these transit zones will be built on Hungarian soil, they cannot be considered extraterritorial areas as another great legal expert, László Trócsányi, the minister of justice, claimed.

The picture that is emerging of Viktor Orbán not just in Hungary but in the world

He brought shame to the country: The failed immigration policy of Viktor Orbán

So, no more transit zones, only the fence where the thousands who arrive every day will be stopped by Hungarian police and, from September 15 on, by the Hungarian army. The refugees will, I guess, ask for asylum across the fence. The Hungarian authorities will then decline their requests within three days. There will be no exceptions because none of those who are trying to enter Hungary from Serbia are considered to be refugees. Serbia is, according to the Hungarian government, a safe country that could provide them asylum. There is no need for them to cross into Hungary. The whole thing will be a charade. The scenes the world can watch online of Hungarian police chasing refugees around the refugee camp don’t bode well for the future. But the government hopes that the army’s presence will achieve miracles.

And that brings me back to the sudden resignation of Csaba Hende, who had served as minister of defense since 2010. In the past he was often the butt of jokes because of his less than military physique and his lack of knowledge about military matters in general. His critics considered him incompetent. They were certain that he would not be reappointed when Viktor Orbán formed his third government last year. But Hende remained in his post. Orbán couldn’t have been that dissatisfied with him. But then why the decision to resign? It happened right after a meeting of the ministers directly involved with national security issues.

There are at least three stories circulating in Budapest about the circumstances of Hende’s resignation. The first is that Viktor Orbán fired him because the fence that was supposed to keep the refugees out of the country was not ready by August 15. The second story goes something like this: during the meeting Hende received a lot of criticism of his handling of the crisis and, after a heated debate, Hende decided that he had had enough. The third explanation is that Hende, being a lawyer by training, objected to the use of the army for domestic purposes without amending the Hungarian constitution. In addition, his generals also objected to the government’s plans. Hence, the resignation. My hunch is that there is a kernel of truth in all three versions.

So now Hungary has a new minister of defense, István Simicskó, whose encounter with Celeste A. Wallander, currently special assistant to President Obama and senior director for Russia and Eurasia on the National Security Council, I recalled two days ago.

Simicskó, I’m sure, feels on top of the world at the moment. I don’t know how long he has been dreaming about this job, but at least since 2002. In 2010 he was sure that his dream would be fulfilled, but then he ended up as the second man under Csaba Hende. The two of them didn’t get along, and after two years Simicskó resigned and became undersecretary in charge of sports in the ministry of human resources. He is an avid practitioner of martial arts.

In Simicskó Hungary will have a minister of defense who is very taken with the military. Although his college degree was in hotel management, he subsequently got a degree in economics and finally a Ph.D. in military science. So, he seems well prepared for the job, at least on paper.

There are, however, a couple of things in his bio that should give us pause. Simicskó was the only member of parliament of the 365 present who voted against Hungary’s joining the European Union. Mind you, Viktor Orbán simply didn’t show up that day.

For years Simicskó has been a dogged promoter of a Hungarian equivalent of the U.S. National Guard. Originally, he proposed calling it “Magyar Gárda,” but that name was subsequently taken by Jobbik’s paramilitary organization, which was eventually banned. In 2004, after compulsory military service was abolished, he campaigned for summer military training for eighteen-year-old boys. In 2007 he changed the name of his proposed organization to Honi Gárda (Home Guard), which he wanted to employ in the fight against terrorism. It is possible that now, as minister of defense, Simicskó will be able to achieve his goal.

Last year journalists noted that not all was well with the figures in Simicskó’s financial statements. According to journalists who pay attention to such matters, among Hungarian politicians Simicskó is the sloppiest. When they inquired from him about the discrepancies, he was rude. He accused them of besmearching his good name and of taking instructions from above–that is, from politicians of the opposition.

Simicskó was also accused of buying votes by distributing 10 kg sacks of inexpensive potatoes. And he was caught handing out orange-colored gym socks with bars of chocolate in them. All in all, he is considered by many to be a shady character.

His work is cut out for him. One just hopes that no tragedy will befall the frustrated asylum seekers at the hands of the armed military.

István Simicskó’s encounter with Celeste A. Wallander, 2002

Viktor Orbán doesn’t like to waste time. Yesterday afternoon Csaba Hende, minister of defense, resigned, and lickety-split the prime minister named his replacement, István Simicskó, who as of this afternoon could occupy’s Hende’s empty office in the ministry.

I suspect that not too many people are familiar with Simicskó, although he has been a member of parliament since 1998 and off and on has been a member of various Fidesz governments. The name will resonate in the White House, however, with Celeste A. Wallander, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia and Eurasia on the National Security Council. How on earth, you might ask, would Celeste Wallander know who István Simicskó is? Here in a nutshell is the story.

Back in November 2002, when Wallander was a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, she wrote a study on NATO in Foreign Affairs with the title “Shape Up or Ship Out.” In it she pointed out how the new NATO countries were failing to fulfill their obligations:

Unfortunately, the evidence is that other new members are already falling behind on their commitments. Recently, a senior figure in European security remarked that “Hungary has won the prize for most disappointing new member of NATO, and against some competition,” citing the previous Hungarian government’s antisemitism, extraterritorial claims against its neighbors, and failure to play a constructive role in Balkan security. Indeed, Hungary seems to have accepted this dubious distinction. The new Hungarian defense minister, Ferenc Juhasz, even admitted on local radio after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson that Hungary has failed to meet its NATO commitments over the past four years to such an extent that the alliance has unofficially told him that Hungary would already have been expelled if an expulsion were possible.

Hungary appears to be back on the right path after the defeat of Victor Orban’s nationalist government in elections earlier this year.

This article appeared in a highly respected journal, and normally it would not have prompted an incident. Not unless the criticism was directed against anything connected with Viktor Orbán’s government or party. Simicskó, who after the fall of the Orbán government, became the deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on defense, created a storm over the article. Not only did he point a finger at the Horn government as being responsible for the sorry state of the Hungarian army but he also began working on a conspiracy theory. Celeste Wallander was accused of being in cahoots with members of the Medgyessy government, then in power. Simicskó was convinced that “such critical remarks and articles appearing about Hungary prepare the ground for Hungarian participation in a possible war against Iraq and sending soldiers to Afghanistan.” In plain English, Celeste Wallander the political scientist was pictured as an agent of American military circles in addition to working with the Medgyessy government because “the picture becomes complete when we consider that [the article] came out in preparation for Prime Minister Medgyessy’s visit to Washington.”

A few days later Simicskó wrote a letter to the political scientist and told her off for including the quotation that “Hungary has won the prize for most disappointing new member of NATO, and against some competition.”

I don’t remember all the details, but I believe Celeste Wallander answered Simicskó’s letter. That wasn’t the end of Wallander’s woes, however. She was also attacked by the internet group known as the Hungarian Lobby, which is actually a Fidesz lobby. The group was founded by Béla Lipták, who left Hungary as an engineering student after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and who is the author of several highly technical books on such topics as process measurement and analysis, hazardous waste, and air pollution. Every time a newspaper article critical of Orbán’s Hungary appears, Lipták writes to the thousands of people who receive the Lobby’s newsletter and asks them to bombard the editors of the paper or in this case Celester Wallander herself with letters of complaint. He provides a sample letter but tells the members to change the sentence structure a bit and make sure they add their own name; that is, don’t send the form letter with Lipták’s signature. As soon as Lipták got wind of the Simicskó-Wallander exchange, the Hungarian Lobby machinery moved into action and the poor woman was inundated with hundreds of letters.

I, who out of curiosity receive Lipták’s newsletters, decided to write a letter to Celeste Wallander and express my sympathy. I wanted to show that there are people who don’t share the ideas of Simicskó or those of Lipták’s indefatigable letter writers. We subsequently exchanged a number of letters about the incident.

Lajos Kósa, chairman of the parliamentary committee on military affairs, and István Simicskó after the committee approved Simicskó's appointment for the post of minister of defense

Lajos Kósa, chairman of the parliamentary committee on military affairs, and István Simicskó after the committee approved Simicskó’s appointment to the post of minister of defense

In 2010 the consensus was that the most likely candidate for the post of minister of defense would be István Simicskó, but on April 27 the word came down that Csaba Hende would be appointed and that Simicskó would have to be satisfied with the post of undersecretary. The next day I wrote an article about the 2002 incident in Galamus titled “Simicskó István esete Celeste A. Wallanderrrel” (István Simicskó’s encounter with Celeste A. Wallander). By that time Celeste Wallander was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. In that article I mused over the possibility that if Orbán had appointed Simicskó minister of defense sooner or later he would have had to encounter, perhaps even in person, Celeste Wallander.

Since then Wallander has moved even higher up on the U.S. governmental ladder. Somehow I doubt that Simicskó will ever have to face Celeste Wallander because is unlikely that he will have occasion to pay a visit to the White House. I’m certain, however, that Wallander will remember, and not too fondly, the name of the new Hungarian minister of defense.