Tag Archives: János Lázár

All eyes on Hódmezővásárhely: Brutal campaign in a Fidesz stronghold

I decided that we must take a trip to János Lázár’s Hódmezővásárhely, where an election campaign is being waged with incredible intensity. The Fidesz leadership of the city acts as if the party’s future was hanging in the balance. As if the defeat of Zoltán Hegedűs, the Fidesz contender for the post of mayor, against the independent Péter Márki-Zay would mean the end of the Fidesz era, not just in Hódmezővásárhely but in the country at large.

Some people call this local election a “dress rehearsal” for what’s coming on April 8, the day of the national election — if, that is, by some miracle the opposition parties could coordinate their strategies and have a single candidate running against the Fidesz hopeful in all 106 electoral districts. This is more or less what happened in Hódmezővásárhely. Both Jobbik and the left-of-center parties refrained from putting up their own candidates. Whether this was just a coincidence or there was some kind of tacit understanding among the parties to test the waters with a conservative candidate whom even the left-of-center parties could support, I don’t know. In any case, Márki-Zay has already been accused both of being a candidate of Jobbik and of being an agent of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The latter is a cardinal sin in Hódmezővásárhely. As János Lázár put it, “Fidesz in Vásárhely can work with anyone, we are open to all new suggestions, and we are ready to cooperate with everybody. There is one exception. We cannot work with somebody who sold his soul to Ferenc Gyurcsány.” (Márki-Zay is supported by both DK and MSZP.)

The palpable fear on the part of Fidesz, which one can sense in the descriptions of the mood of the city, would seem to be utterly unwarranted. Based on the results of the last municipal election, Fidesz shouldn’t have anything to worry about. In 2014 the Fidesz mayor received over 61% of the votes against Jobbik’s 17%, MSZP-DK-Együtt’s 15%, and a radical left party’s 7%. And yet, from the intensity of the campaign it looks as if both the local and the national Fidesz leadership are genuinely worried about the outcome. The campaign has been relentlessly waged for almost two months, and it is getting uglier by the minute.

Here are a few of Fidesz’s campaign tricks. Lajos Kósa, who was recently demoted to be in charge of the Modern Cities Program, announced that Hódmezővásárhely will receive 12 billion forints, the equivalent of half of the city’s annual budget, before the national election. A day later Defense Minister István Simicskó arrived in town to take a look at the army barracks that are being renovated to the tune of 5.2 billion forints. The next day the prime minister invited the Fidesz mayoral candidate for a cup of coffee, where the candidate asked Orbán for extra money for the renovation of the city’s churches. A few days later city hall announced that the Elizabeth cards worth 10,000 forints (about $40), which the town was supposed give to pensioners before Easter, will be distributed before the local election this Sunday.

As for the interest of the voters in the local election, Index found one town hall meeting that was practically deserted, although János Lázár was there to campaign on behalf of the Fidesz candidate. But a local paper called Promenád reported a huge gathering in the “garden city” section of town.

A speech given by the chairwoman of the local KDNP is indicative of the state of democracy in Hungary. She reassured her audience that “having multiple candidates is not a bad thing” because, after all, there is democracy in Hungary. The trouble is that behind Márki-Zay “an opportunistic coalition” stands. For her, there is something very wrong with democracy as it is being practiced in Hódmezővásárhely. And the local Fidesz chairwoman expressed her disgust that the independent candidate had besmirched the good name of the city by talking about a local dictatorship and comparing Hódmezővásárhely’s political system today to that of the Rákosi regime.

To help ensure a Fidesz victory, László Kiss-Rigó, the bishop of Szeged-Csanád, announced that a new Catholic church will be erected in the town thanks to the largess of the Orbán government. The city also quickly signed a contract with a company that will build a bypass, which will lessen traffic in the city. The Fidesz line is that thanks to the Orbán government the future of the town is assured. “At stake in the election is whether Hódmezővásárhely will be a winner or a loser.” That is a line from an interview the Fidesz mayoral candidate gave to Magyar Idők. Of course, the threat is real. Voters have to ask themselves whether it is worth replacing Fidesz’s autocratic rule in the city with uncertainty at best or outright discrimination against the city at worst.

Now that we are getting closer to the day of the election, János Lázár has become involved practically full time in the campaign in Hódmezővásárhely. He is having a relatively easy time of it because of the political inexperience of Márki-Zay, who in one of his speeches bemoaned the fact that Hungarians are easily intimidated. Other nations are not so patient; they stand together; they fight for their rights. He is not going to say what would happen in Ireland, in Scotland, or in France to this government because then he would be labelled an aggressive agitator. “Thus I don’t want to say what lampposts can be used for, in addition to putting posters on them.  … This government is very lucky that the Hungarian people are so sheep-like. This terribly lovable and tolerant Hungarian people even accept this [government].” Of course, Márki-Zay was intimating here that Fidesz politicians in other countries would be hanged from lampposts but was adding that it is not something he recommends. This isn’t the first time that unfortunate statements like this one are used against the candidate. Something like that happened to László Kövér in 2002 when he lashed out at those who don’t have enough self-confidence. If Hungarians believe that they are an untalented people who are incapable of achieving great things, they should go down to the cellar and commit suicide because life isn’t worth living with this kind of attitude. This so-called “rope speech” (köteles beszéd) contributed to Fidesz’s unexpected electoral loss.

János Lázár on the local television station

In the last few days Lázár threw himself into the campaign with his usual gusto. He first gave an interview to the local Vásárhely 24 in which he accused Márki-Zay not only of conducting a hate campaign but also of undermining the reputation of Hódmezővásárhely. He accused him of acting for selfish reasons. When he settled in town, Márki-Zay offered his services to city hall but was ignored. “Personal failure cannot be remedied by politics,” said Lázár. If Márki-Zay is elected, the city will not be governable because Fidesz is in the majority on the city council. “I doubt that stigmatization and whipping up hatred are the right means to effect change. I want to live in a country where such methods cannot be successful. We count on the sober majority.” On the same day Lázár also showed up at the local television station where he used stronger language. “The people of Vásárhely shouldn’t elect a madman! I suggest voting for a man who is of sound mind.”

There are so many questions for which at the moment we have no answers. Did Márki-Zay with his limited opportunities to spread his message convince dissatisfied voters to go to the polls? Are the people of Vásárhely angry enough at what goes on in Lázár’s city? Will total unity among the opposition, left and right, be enough to remove the top Fidesz officeholder in the city? One thing is sure. The Fidesz leadership seems to be anxious. Even a close election could be a warning sign to Viktor Orbán who, by the way, is furiously campaigning himself.

February 21, 2018

The Tiborcz scandal is not “a mosquito bite”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus launched what promised to be a glorious path to victory. Everything was prepared. After propaganda campaigns against George Soros and the migrants in the last two years, Fidesz was in the midst of a new assault on those NGOs that receive financial assistance from abroad, claiming that they pose a national security risk through their active promotion of immigration. Fidesz’s election law, which favors Orbán’s party, coupled with limits imposed on the opposition parties’ ability to wage an effective campaign, ensured an easy victory on April 8.

But then came a worrisome message from the European Commission’s European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). After two years of thorough investigation, OLAF found such serious “irregularities” in the business practices of Elios Innovatív Zrt. that it is suggesting the return of €40 million to the European Union, money that it claims was illegally obtained. Unfortunately for the government and for Viktor Orbán, this is not one of those run-of-the-mill corruption cases that are far too numerous in Hungary. It is special since Elios Innovatív Zrt.’s co-owner was István Tiborcz, the prime minister’s son-in-law.

Although many who follow Hungarian politics are of the view that not even this super-scandal can shake the Orbán government, I’m beginning to think that this time really might be different. No, I’m not suggesting that Fidesz will lose the election, but I believe that this scandal will not just disappear into the thin air without leaving serious scars on Hungary’s governing party.

Although I can put together a logical argument for my hypothesis, I actually arrived at it in a flash of insight. Today I watched an interview with Gergely Gulyás, the latest leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation. It was a terrific interview, the kind one can see in Western Europe and the Anglo-Saxon countries. Egon Rónai of ATV was in great form. He was hard-hitting and refused to let go. Gulyás, who is articulate, smooth, and able to talk himself out of any situation, crumbled in front of our eyes. It became obvious that he had no good way to communicate Fidesz’s message.

There are already signs that Viktor Orbán has ordered a retreat. Let’s start with the infamous “Stop Soros” legislative package against the NGOs. The original plan was to put the proposal before parliament in a great hurry and to vote on it in typical Fidesz manner, that is, within a few days. But first the laws were amended on the recommendation of loyal citizens who were invited to comment on the draft proposal. As a result, certain parts of the bill that previously needed only a simple majority now require a two-thirds majority. Gergely Gulyás appealed to the opposition to support the bill in the interest of national security.

Commentators critical of the government were certain that this move was a trap. Fidesz wants to show its followers that the opposition parties are not good patriots and that deep down they want to fill the country with African and Middle Eastern immigrants. That explanation made no sense to me then and makes no sense to me now.

Last night we learned that Fidesz is not going to bring the bill forward for a vote before the election. The way Gulyás explained it, the opposition parties will not vote for the bill and therefore it is not worth even trying. After the election, when, according to our optimistic Gulyás, Fidesz will have the necessary two-thirds majority, the bill will pass easily. I might add here that Viktor Orbán, in his pep talk to the members of Fidesz MPs during a recent two-day retreat of the parliamentary delegation, told the troops that he isn’t counting on a two-thirds majority.

Well, let’s take a closer look at the issue. If it took Fidesz only a day to discover that they don’t have enough votes, why did they introduce those amendments that made its passage more difficult in the first place? I suggest that the addition of the last-minute amendments was designed not to shame the opposition but to serve as a pretext for “postponing” the vote. Why? One reason is what Gulyás himself admitted — that the pressure from abroad was too great. The German government specifically expressed its disapproval of the bill. The United Nations and the Council of Europe also protested. And we have no idea what kinds of telephone calls came from Brussels and what kinds of warnings Viktor Orbán received. It had to be something pretty weighty if the vote is “postponed.”

Finally, a few words about the possible ramifications of the Tiborcz scandal. What we hear from Fidesz sources is that many leading Fidesz leaders think that OLAF’s unveiling of the massive fraud committed in a crime syndicate of sorts “might be no more than a mosquito bite, but it can also shake the very foundations of Fidesz because, if these accusations are true, they are indefensible.” Some people who were present remarked that Orbán, despite his decades in politics and all his political cunning, is stunned by the assault on him and his family.

Viktor Orbán is not the only one who is stunned and perhaps on edge. Gergely Gulyás’s miserable performance last night is indicative of the jitteriness of Fidesz bigwigs. He was caught lying when he tried to convince Egon Rónai and ATV’s audience that the Orbán government learned about the OLAF report only this week. But how could that be, he was asked, when the MSZP member of the Szolnok city council received an OLAF document from the government that was dated October 2017? Gulyás had no ready answer. And that document is not the only proof that the Orbán government has been sitting on this report for about four months. There are other less direct clues for the approximate date of the arrival of the report.

I would like to point to two instances which, given this timeline, now make a great deal more sense. One is the complicated story János Lázár told on October 9, 2017, about which I wrote yesterday. I have the feeling that by that time Lázár knew the contents of the OLAF report and that’s why he spent so much time dissecting the exact relationship between the Orbán family and István Tiborcz. My second clue is an interview conducted by Origo, which by then was a government mouthpiece. Tiborcz, who I don’t think had ever given an interview in his life, offered the internet site a lengthy interview about his business activities. The interview appeared on October 30, 2017. In it he told the sad tale of a man whose real calling is business but who is restricted in his financial dealings by the fact that he is now related to the prime minister. This arranged interview was most likely one of the preemptive measures taken at the urging of Viktor Orbán himself.

Meanwhile, Gergely Gulyás wrote a brief note to all Fidesz politicians outlining the official line of communication concerning the Tiborcz scandal. Here are the three simple points. (1) The Olaf report is a “Brussels campaign report and thus an interference in the Hungarian election campaign.”(2) “In 2014, they also timed news concerning the case to come out just before the election. The case was investigated once, but now they are repeating the accusations.” (3) “They try to attack Viktor Orbán despite the fact that during much of the period under investigation the majority owner of the company was Lajos Simicska’s Közgép.”

This is, I’m afraid, a feeble attempt on the part of whoever is in charge of official government lying because right off the bat we can counter that: (1) The report was released in October, not just before the election. (2) The news concerning Tiborcz’s firm didn’t become public until December 2014, while the election took place months earlier, on April 6, 2014. (3) Of the 35 contracts called into question by OLAF, only three were negotiated and signed while Simicska held a majority stake in the company. Moreover, the CEO of the company all along was István Tiborcz.

In brief, Fidesz is floundering. Soon enough, I suspect, Gulyás will have to come up with a new set of instructions.

February 16, 2018

Could János Lázár be the sacrificial lamb of the Elios affair?

The other day, while discussing Péter Juhász’s indiscretions, I noted that a politician must choose his words carefully and be mindful of what information he shares with the public. Overly talkative politicians are normally found in MSZP, where party discipline is lax and individual party leaders often espouse views that contradict official policy. Such speaking out of turn is practically unknown in Fidesz with its stringent party discipline. Spokesmen for the party get their orders, and they faithfully repeat whatever the current slogan is that comes from the propaganda and communication gurus. The monotony that results might be very dull for journalists and political junkies, but it is effective.

One high-ranking Fidesz politician who is something of an exception is János Lázár, who has been in charge of the huge prime minister’s office ever since 2012. From the outside it may look as if Lázár is the person who is actually running the show, but no one should be misled. Viktor Orbán might be gallivanting around and delivering deep “philosophical” lectures to his captive audiences, but practically all decisions, large and small, come from him.

This is also true about decisions regarding the individuals with whom he works. Whether one describes the relationship between Viktor Orbán and his associates as akin to the bond that exists between the godfather and his subordinates in the family or the bond that existed between the seigneur and his vassals, Orbán can move his people around as if they were pieces on a chessboard. János Áder, currently the president of the country, had no intention of leaving the European Parliament, but in the end he reluctantly took the job, and by now there is no way out. Antal Rogán was quite happy as the leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary caucus, but in 2015 he was ordered to head the newly created propaganda ministry. Lázár’s move to the prime minister’s office was very much the same story. He had to quit his job as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely halfway through his term, a job he loved, to oversee the prime minister’s office.

János Lázár might not enjoy his current job all that much because, in the last year or so, he has been talking about his desire to return to the life of an ordinary member of parliament, representing electoral district #4 in Csongrád County. He likes to talk to his constituents. Despite his arduous job in Budapest, he still lives in Hódmezővásárhely. And according to those in the know, nothing can happen in town without Lázár’s nod. Talking about personal preferences is unheard of in Fidesz circles, and therefore I can’t help thinking that Lázár’s departure from the prime minister’s office might be in Viktor Orbán’s playbook. It is possible that Lázár has already been told that after the election there will be a personnel shakeup and his place will be occupied by someone else.

In any case, there are signs that Lázár is preparing for another role. He, who used to jealously guard his family’s private life, just started a professional-looking internet site on which one can see touching family scenes and where his wife describes life in the Lázár household and her husband as the father of her children. Lázár is extremely popular in his district. He easily won all the elections since 2002, and therefore he doesn’t need this kind of advertising. People suspect that Lázár wants to attract national attention, perhaps even as someone who could replace Viktor Orbán if and when the time comes. Such ambitions, if they are too obvious, are hazardous to one’s health in Orbán’s Hungary. As it is, Lázár might be in trouble over his role as István Tiborcz’s first customer as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely.

Source: lazarjanos.hu

The spectacular business career of Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law began in Hódmezővásárhely, most likely at the request of the prime minister himself. Last November the overly talkative Lázár, replying to a question, admitted that he and Tiborcz “together figured out how to solve the public lighting problem” in his city. At that time, he spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain that in 2010, when the two met, Tiborcz had no connection whatsoever with the Orbán family. Unfortunately for Lázár, no amount of protestation will change the fact that the romantic relationship between Tiborcz and Ráhel Orbán began in 2008, and by 2010 Tiborcz was considered to be practically one of the family. Or, at least he was part of the post-election celebration, standing alongside the members of the Orbán clan.

I doubt that Orbán is happy with the way Lázár is handling the situation, but there is no good way of downplaying this well documented fraud case. The line that Tiborcz had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the firm cannot be maintained for long. First of all, there is Lázár’s own admission of his collaboration with Tiborcz. Second, there is an interview with Bálint Erdei, Tiborcz’s partner in Elios, from 2015 in which he stated that there was a division of labor between them as far as running the business was concerned. He did the “operative” work and Tiborcz was in charge of “the strategic fine-tuning.” Maintaining that it was Lajos Simicska who was responsible for what happened is not a viable option for the government, especially since only three of the 35 contracts in question were signed while Simicska was involved with the firm.

And so, Orbán will have to find someone else to take the fall for this affair. Government propagandists like Gergely Huth of Pesti Srácok only a couple of days ago accused Lázár of trying to drag Tiborcz into the Elios affair and thereby involving Viktor Orbán himself in the scandal. Alfahír, Jobbik’s official news site, heard that some people could see a way out of this sticky situation if they could blame Lázár for the whole thing. EU subsidies are handled exclusively by the prime minister’s office, after all. Will he be the sacrificial lamb?, asks Magyar Nemzet, because stories to that effect have reached the paper.

Today János Lázár held his regular press conference at which Ildikó Csuhaj of ATV asked him whether it is true that to some of his closer friends he complained that “some people want to shove him into the epicenter of the Elios affair.” He called the story “rubbish” (marhaság). It does sound far-fetched, but it may be one way of both stifling Lázár’s political ambitions and shielding the prime minister’s son-in-law.

February 15, 2018

The way the world is beginning to see Viktor Orbán’s Hungary

In the last three days three articles have appeared in two leading English-language newspapers, The New York Times and The Guardian, about the systemic corruption in the Orbán government. The word is out at last: a crime ring, run by Viktor Orbán himself, has taken hold of the Hungarian economy. The beneficiaries are the prime minister and his family as well as a few friends and political cronies.

The foreign press’s new-found interest in the criminal activities of Viktor Orbán was ignited by a short article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal exactly a month ago. It reported that OLAF, the European Commission’s Anti-Fraud Office, had sent a report to the Hungarian government recommending that the authorities take legal action over “serious irregularities” in projects carried out by a company that was controlled by the son-in-law of Viktor Orbán. The very fact that Hungarians had to learn about this damning report from a foreign source says a lot about the lack of transparency in Hungary.

It seems that after almost eight years of brazenly embezzling public funds, 80% of which come from the European Union, the friends and family of the Hungarian prime minister are finally coming under scrutiny. Detailed analyses are starting to plumb the depths of the systemic corruption that has made a small group of people very rich in record time. On the basis of calculations by responsible and usually accurate investigative journalists, Viktor Orbán’s hidden wealth may amount to 300 billion forints, more than a billion dollars.

One of the two Guardian articles by Jennifer Rankin neatly lists all the corruption cases that directly involve the Orbán family, including the growing wealth of Lőrinc Mészáros, which may be only partially his own. The list Rankin came up with is most likely incomplete because sub-contractors do not appear in the databases. Since most of these riches come from the European Union, Viktor Orbán’s anti-Brussels rhetoric is especially jarring. The conclusion is that, as Miklós Ligeti, head of legal affairs at Transparency International, put it, “Hungary is now in the grip of party state capture.”

The article ends with a question: will the European Union have the courage to do something about this theft of EU funds? Between 2014 and 2021 Hungary will have received €25 billion from the European Union, which makes the country one of the largest per capita recipients of the EU’s economic development funds. EU politicians are aware of the wholesale robbery that goes in Orbán’s Hungary, but for political reasons they are avoiding tackling the problem. Ingeborg Gräßle, head of the European Parliament’s budgetary committee who visited Hungary a few months ago to take a ride on Viktor Orbán’s rather expensive choo-choo train, merely says that a new kind of “semi-legal” irregularity is emerging in these post-communist countries, including Hungary. Otherwise, she estimates that in 36% of the cases there is only one bidder for EU-financed government projects, and, let me add, the remainder is most likely fixed. But that’s not all. According to András Inotai, a Hungarian economist, in 2017 5% of the country’s GDP came from EU funding while Hungary’s economic growth during the same period was about 4%. So, all that money is doing mighty little good.


Düsseldorf Carnival 2018

On February 10 an in-depth article appeared in The New York Times by Patrick Kingsley titled “As West Fears the Rise of Autocrats, Hungary Shows What’s Possible.” Hungary is described as “a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party political culture.” What follows is a detailed description of the process by which Viktor Orbán has managed to achieve his goal of an illiberal state. A former Fidesz official described the present Hungarian situation the following way: “sometimes I feel like I’m traveling in a time machine and going back to the ’60s…. All the characteristics and features on the surface are of democracy, but behind it there is only one party and only one truth.” Viktor Orbán is described as one of the strongmen of the age, alongside Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Donald Trump. “Although Mr. Orbán lacks the global profile of those leaders, what he is doing in Europe is seen as part of a broader decline of democracy in the world.”

This is what Hungary looks like from New York and London. But what has been happening since the OLAF report detailing István Tiborcz’s alleged criminal activities was released? First of all, the government has come up with a strategy to divert responsibility from Orbán’s son-in-law to Lajos Simicska, Orbán’s old friend-in-crime, now enemy. This strategy may work on the propaganda level but it will not be sufficient to save Tiborcz from prosecution. But we ought not worry about the future of Ráhel Orbán and her husband. The Hungarian prosecutor’s office has already announced that its investigation of the case will be long and arduous. I have no doubt that after an inordinately long investigation Tiborcz will be found innocent of any wrongdoing. The government propaganda machinery also concocted the story that the European Union’s anti-Orbán forces timed the release of the report to coincide with the national election. It is with OLAF’s help that Soros’s men in Brussels want to remove Viktor Orbán from the seat of power.

Otherwise, all eyes are on Hódmezővásárhely, where István Tiborcz’s business career began. To recap the story: Orbán’s future son-in-law needed money and a contract to establish his business credentials, which he didn’t have. Both were provided through the good offices of the prime minister. Orbán convinced his favorite oligarch at the time, Lajos Simicska, to put some money into the young man’s firm. As collateral, Simicska demanded a share of the business. After two years, Tiborcz and his business partner paid the loan back and Simicska retired from this business venture, which he had never actually run. As for the needed contract, János Lázár, today chief-of-staff of Viktor Orbán but then still mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, suddenly had a burning desire to install new public lighting.

The sleepy little town is now all over the media as a result of the details of the project, which came to light thanks to 24.hu. So, Lázár felt that he had to give a press conference right on the spot. After a general denial of any wrongdoing, he offered a description of the town’s business venture with István Tiborcz. Lázár’s fairy tale about the bidding process and the details of what happened afterward is especially amusing if one reads old articles on the town’s internet news site called Vásárhely Hírek. While there, I also decided to read up on the special election campaign for mayor, which is in full swing at the moment.

The election will take place on February 25. Of course, the scandal around István Tiborcz also touches on the town and the election. There seems to be some anxiety in Fidesz circles about the outcome, although a couple of weeks ago I was certain that the independent candidate, Péter Márki-Zay, who lost his job after he declared his candidacy and was so maligned by his pro-Fidesz parish priest, had not the slightest chance of making a decent showing. But in the last few days commentators have pointed out that the Hódmezővásárhely election is a unique case in the sense that neither Jobbik nor the left-of-center parties have put up candidates and therefore Márki-Zay is facing the Fidesz candidate, Deputy-Mayor Zoltán Hegedűs, alone.

The town was planning to distribute 10,000 forint vouchers to pensioners sometime in March, just before Easter, but, behold, the decision was made to disburse them before the election. The prime minister also invited Hegedűs for a cup of coffee in his office in the parliament, and Defense Minister István Simicskó paid a visit to town to make sure that everybody knows that the old military barracks will be renovated and the Hódmezővásárhely shooting gallery will be the very first one to open in the whole country.

Political observers often complain about Hungarians’ indifference to corruption, which they tend to view as a fact of life. Perhaps there is hope. If Márki-Zay makes a good showing in a town where the deceased Fidesz mayor received 61% of the votes, followed by Jobbik with 17.1% and MSZP-DK-Együtt with 15%, it will give us a clue about public sentiment. A Márki-Zay win could have a measurable effect on the national election on April 8.

February 12, 2018

To run against Fidesz might be injurious to your health: The case of Péter Márki-Zay

While we await the fallout from the opposition parties’ refusal to pay the fines the State Accounting Office meted out to them, I thought we ought to visit Hódmezővásárhely, a Fidesz city par excellence.

Ever since 1990 Vásárhely, as the locals call their city, has never had a mayor who was not a member of Fidesz. In 1990, at the first municipal election, András Rapcsák, an engineer, became mayor and was reelected in 1994, 1998, and 2002. In December of 2002 he died suddenly, and his young personal secretary, János Lázár (Fidesz), ran in a by-election and won. Lázár remained Vásárhely’s very popular mayor until 2012, when Viktor Orbán recruited him to be his chief-of-staff. In 2012 one of the deputy mayors, István Almási (Fidesz), ran and won with 52% of the votes. In 2014 he received strong support from the party and got 61.03% of the votes. Just to give you a sense of the strength of the opposition at the last election, Jobbik’s candidate got 17.11% and MSZP-DK-Együtt, 14.99%.

It was under these circumstances that a political novice, Péter Márki-Zay, decided to try his luck as an independent candidate. Márki-Zay is a conservative man with strong ties to the Catholic Church. He and his wife Felicia have seven children, which by itself is remarkable in a country of small families. The other remarkable thing about them is that they spent five years in Canada and the United States and returned to Hungary only in 2009. The apparent reason for their return was their patriotism; they wanted their children to receive a Hungarian education.

I don’t know when Márki-Zay discovered that he may have made a mistake, but shortly after his arrival in Hungary he made some critical observations, according to an article Délmagyar wrote about the family. How is it possible that, despite the international economic crisis, he sees more BMWs in Hungary than in the United States? He told the journalist that “Americans don’t expect help from above. They are not more talented than Hungarians, but their outlook on life is different.” He was impressed with the American habit of doing volunteer work, and he and his wife were planning to do the same in Vásárhely.

The five years in North America most likely contributed to his dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in Vásárhely. And so, after the unexpected death of Mayor István Almási in November 2017, he decided to enter the race against the Fidesz candidate, Zoltán Hegedűs.

Péter Mári-Zay / Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: Béla Nagy

On December 29 Vásárhely24, the internet news site of the municipality, reported that Márki-Zay will be the common candidate of Jobbik and MSZP, which turned out to be untrue. The candidate thinks that the fake news was concocted in order to discredit him. It looks as if the very idea of possible united front against the Fidesz candidate in Vásárhely worried the government party, which quickly moved into action against the candidate.

Two days after he announced his candidacy, he was informed that the company for which he has been working for years no longer has any need for him. The municipality placed four or five cameras along the street where he lives, which the city claimed has nothing to do with Márki-Zay, but the timing is suspicious. As an answer to the fierce attack on the independent candidate, all opposition parties decided to support the disillusioned former Fidesz voter who is convinced that “Orbán’s regime is already a failure in the moral sense.” What he sees in Hungary is no longer democracy.

The local Fidesz leadership moved into high gear. Katalin Havasi, the local party chairman, rang the alarm bell and asked “God to save the city from a mayor who is being supported by Gyula Molnár and Ferenc Gyurcsány, people who wanted to close the hospital in Hódmezővásárhely.” The city needs a mayor “who is being supported by Viktor Orbán and who will defend the hospital.” On his Facebook page Márki-Zay expressed his puzzlement over being seen as a threat to the hospital. Why the hospital? Perhaps if he had been in Hungary in 2007 he wouldn’t be so surprised. In that year Mayor János Lázár created total panic over the death of an old drunkard, well-known in the hospital, who died while being transported from one hospital to another. Lázár blamed the healthcare reforms introduced by the Gyurcsány government for the man’s death.

It seems that the Fidesz locals asked János Lázár to take an active part in the campaign. Lázár still lives in Hódmezővásárhely and commutes daily to Budapest. Those close to the scene claim that nothing happens in the city without Viktor Orbán’s chief-of-staff knowing about it. So, János Lázár showed up and offered to work for Zoltán Hegedűs’s campaign. He brought along some promises too. He told residents that the government is planning a very large “industrial program” and that Vásárhely will be one of the beneficiaries.

Meanwhile both Magyar Nemzet and Index sent reporters to the city, hoping to learn more about the mood in Vásárhely. The former reported total apathy. The few people who were willing to talk would vote for the Fidesz candidate, but they were less than happy with the current situation. As one woman said, she was only hoping that “things will not become worse.” People complained about the lack of job opportunities, but they added that without a Fidesz mayor very little money would come from Budapest. Index also found mostly Fidesz supporters, including a man who spoke glowingly about all the development in the city but at the end admitted that he is planning to leave his job that pays 100,000 Ft. and settle in Germany to wash dishes for 1,200 euros. He also added that he had heard Márki-Zay speak, “and he said a few good things.” The reporter found one person who admitted that she doesn’t know for whom she will vote and had a fairly critical view of Fidesz’s migrant policy, complaining about 1,200 refugees but allowing 20,000 Arabs, Chinese, and Russians.

The pro-Fidesz papers, from Origo to Magyar Idők and Pest Srácok, continue their smear campaign against Márki-Zay, calling the candidate a liar with a persecution complex. Unfortunately, we are not dealing with a psychological disorder. Márki-Zay is not alone in reporting abuse because of his political activities. Just the other day a Fidesz local representative in Budapest’s District XV shared the travails she underwent because she didn’t follow the political orders from above to the letter. That’s not a pretty story either.

And the latest is that Momentum Chairman András Fekete-Győr’s father lost his job as executive director of the National Deposit Insurance Fund of Hungary. He was deputy director between 1993 and 2010, when he was appointed executive director for five years. Two years ago his appointment was renewed for another five years — that is, until 2020, when he reaches retirement age.

This is how life goes in Hungary for those who don’t walk in lockstep with Viktor Orbán.

January 9, 2018

One of the favorite businessmen of the Orbán government: András Lénárd of Real Csíki Beer

Last March I entertained the readers of Hungarian Spectrum with a bizarre story about a court case involving the Romanian subsidiary of Heineken and a mini-brewery owned by András Lénárd, a Romanian-Hungarian businessman, and Lixid Holding BV, a Dutch company. Among the products sold by the Romanian Heineken was one the company called Miercurea Ciuc–Ciuc Premium, which the local Hungarians just called Csíki Sör. Lénárd’s company decided to name their product “Igazi Csíki Sör,” or “Real Csíki Beer.” Heineken sued for trademark infringement and won.

What followed was unreal. Shortly after the verdict was handed down in the spring of 2017, the Hungarian government devised a strategy to make Heineken’s life in Hungary miserable. János Lázár and Zsolt Semjén suggested a modification of the law on the use of totalitarian symbols for commercial purposes and, as we all know, Heineken proudly displays a red star on its bottles. Soon enough, the government’s antagonism to Heineken was extended to all foreign-owned breweries. People were urged to boycott Heineken products, and for a while people were ready to pay twice as much for “Igazi Csíki Sör” as for other beer. That didn’t last long, and by August I reported that supermarkets had stopped stocking it. The company even tried offering it at half price for home delivery, but that strategy also proved futile. Two days ago Lénárd’s Székely Bolt (Szekler Store) in Budapest was shuttered.

On the very same day Magyar Nemzet came out with a story about Lénárd, for whom the Hungarian government was ready to wage a huge fight with a world-famous multi-national company. The story isn’t pretty.

According to documents that reached the paper, Lénárd, as an eighteen-year-old, visited the United States on a tourist visa in 1995, but his true intention was to stay permanently. He worked as an illegal for a small company, got married to an American woman 17 years his senior, and bought a house in Plymouth, Connecticut. Everything went smoothly until he got involved in smuggling people into the United States from Canada. There is good reason to believe that his smuggling activity was quite extensive and that his girlfriend/wife was also involved in the “business.” There is documentation of several run-ins that she had with the law for the illegal transportation of aliens within the United States. In any case, on January 21, 2001, he and three Hungarian women were arrested two miles from the U.S.-Canadian border, close to Champlain, New York. As investigative journalists discovered, the three women were planning to work in a striptease joint in the United States.

He was charged with “bringing in and harboring aliens,” which is considered a felony. He was freed on $50,000 bail, which was paid by his girlfriend/wife. But in June of the same year his lawyer from Albany reported to the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York that his client was currently in Canada and “he doesn’t wish to appear before the judge either now or in the future.” The judge immediately issued an arrest warrant, which is most likely still in effect.

But the story doesn’t end here. Once the couple arrived in Romania, Lénárd used money from the pension plan of the Hungarian Reformed Church in Transylvania to start a business, building a series of mini-hydroelectric power plants, which didn’t turn out to be a financial success. In 2015, however, he convinced the state-owned Magyar Villamos Művek (MVM) to buy his mini-power plants for 30 million euros. Lénárd must have had extremely close relations with the Orbán government to pull off this deal. According to available business information, MVM is doing poorly in Romania. Lénárd’s business ventures usually end badly, it seems.

Naturally, Lénárd is trying to explain away his serious problems with the law in the United States. He produced a video that he made public on YouTube. During this ten-minute so-called interview he wants us to believe that he was not arrested for a crime because the charge was not a felony but only a misdemeanor on account of his illegal overstay in the United States, which is a minor offense. At the same time, he accuses Magyar Nemzet of being in the pay of his multinational competitors who want to ruin his business.

Lénárd already has another business in mind. He and some of his friends will be introducing a crypto-currency called “korona” (crown), which they hope will be the bitcoin of East-Central Europe. As Lénárd explained, their crypto-korona will follow the concept of DigiCash Inc., an electronic money corporation found in 1989. But I would be careful if I were Lénárd because, after all, DigiCash went bankrupt nine years later. Lénárd claims that DigiCash’s problem was that its technology was too advanced for the time. In any case, the korona’s ICO (initial coin offering) will take place in Switzerland on February 26.

Lénárd proudly announced that “an expert from NASA” and “a member of the staff responsible for the development of Apollo-11” is heading the “korona” project. His name is Attila Bustya, and he is also a Csíkszereda native. He is the “co-founder and CEO of Spider Drone Security,” which upon closer observation turns out to be one of András Lénárd’s companies. Bustya is also involved with a firm called Swiss Message Bank, a rather bizarre internet application that can store voice messages for 100 years. What for? One can record “messages from the elderly and ill to loved ones and friends”  and share them years later, after the people are no more. Or, one can store and later reveal secrets. I made a valiant effort to find Attila Bustya’s connection to NASA but failed.

The pro-government media is rather quiet. Only Mandiner published an interview with Lénárd today, but the conversation took place at the end of December, before the news broke about his smuggling of striptease dancers to the United States. Origo meekly commented on Lénárd’s video message in which the conclusion was that “he was not a smuggler, only a rascal” (csibész, de nem csempész). I have the feeling that just as the Orbán government has conveniently forgotten about modifying the law on totalitarian symbols, it will similarly omit any mention of its favorite brewer’s unfortunate American escapade. I also suspect that his beer will soon disappear, especially since just before Christmas Romania’s State Office for Inventions and Trademarks (OSIM) refused to register “Igazi Csíki Sör.” Lénárd decided not to appeal.

January 5, 2018

Orbán’s struggle will continue, but there might be a new enemy: Martin Schulz

Viktor Orbán has never been fond of answering questions. When accosted by journalists at home, he either says nothing or comes up with some flippant answer. Until recently, however, he was quite ready to talk to journalists while abroad. He has always been willing to give long interviews, mostly to German papers, and to hold press conferences after European Council summits. On these occasions he normally bragged about the important role he played during the negotiations, often claiming that he “vetoed” certain otherwise unanimous decisions. But on the last two occasions, he skipped his customary appearance before the journalists altogether.

This was the case this time as well, but the Hungarian prime minister, perhaps imitating Donald Trump, decided to communicate directly with “his people.” The only difference is that he uses Facebook instead of Twitter, which is a great deal less popular in Hungary than in the United States. Short videos are available on Orbán’s Facebook page, with English subtitles provided.

Yesterday I summarized his messages, but since then three more Orbán announcements were posted. The first was recorded right after the working dinner of the prime ministers/chancellors at which the question of migration was discussed. He described the meeting as a “political hand-to-hand combat” in which “the Poles, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Slovenes, and we managed to defend our positions.” The military theme is even more obvious in the Hungarian original, in which he used the word “hadállás,” which signifies a military position. No one argued against the necessity of secure borders, he continued, but “the great and strong ones want to bring the migrants into Europe and distribute them on a compulsory basis.” In his final video, he thanked those who had expressed their opposition to placing migrants in Hungary, which helped him “to repel the assaults that nearly managed to violate the sovereignty of Hungary again.”

Orbán’s description of the meeting conjures up a noisy, passionate verbal fight between two antagonistic sides, but other participants called the discussion dispassionate and calm. No charge against the military flanks at all. If I interpret the majority view on the matter of distribution of refugees correctly, the best the Visegrád Four can hope for is a slight modification, not an abrogation of the decision that had been accepted by the European Council earlier. It is possible that “qualified majority rule” will suffice for approval, which would mean defeat for the Visegrád Four’s position.

Viktor Orbán might not like to expound in front of local journalists, but János Lázár, his chief-of-staff, is quite happy to go on for a couple of hours every week to entertain the troops. Lázár is known for his brashness and his hyperbole. He might be amusing at times, but a few hours after these meetings one usually learns that what Lázár claimed was simply untrue or at best misleading. The Budapest correspondent for the Associated Press, who speaks Hungarian, is usually on hand for these Thursday afternoon press conferences. He immediately sent out the news that János Lázár and László Surján, the former vice-president of the European Parliament, had compared Martin Schulz, former president of the European Parliament and currently head of the German Social Democratic party, to Adolf Hitler. It didn’t take more than an hour for me to be able read this juicy story on ABC’s news site.

What happened that prompted this outrageous comparison? On December 7 Schulz wrote the following message on Twitter: “I want a new constitutional treaty to establish the United States of Europe. A Europe that is no threat to its member states, but a beneficial addition. A convention shall draft this treaty in close cooperation with the civil society and the people. Its results will then be submitted to all member states. Any state that won’t ratify this treaty will automatically leave the EU.” This tweet was discovered a week later by two members of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Party–Péter Harrach, the whip of the KDNP parliamentary delegation, and László Surján, who, as far as I know, by now plays no official political role. Péter Harrach, who is anything but flamboyant, compared Schulz to Ferenc Gyurcsány. Both men are “lots of talk without substantial achievement.” Surján said that Schulz’s voice “reminded him of Adolf Hitler,” which he “found unacceptable.” The two held a press conference to announce their disapproval of Schulz and his United States of Europe.

It seems that Lázár especially liked Surján’s comment and decided to use the comparison at his press conference a few hours later. He added a few extra words. He not only heard “Hitler’s voice” but claimed that “the last time Hungary received such an ultimatum was from Adolf Hitler.” Of course, such a comparison is ridiculous, and we must assume that the sudden interest in Schulz is not independent from the likelihood that a grand coalition will be formed in Germany and that Schulz will be part of the cabinet in some important position. Schulz is known to be a very harsh critic of Viktor Orbán. Perhaps after Soros the new devil will be Schulz and his plans for a United States of Europe.

December 15, 2017