Tag Archives: József Szájer

Situation report on the fight for Central European University

Yesterday Diana Ürge-Vorsatz, director of the Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Policy at Central European University who as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote a bitter letter on her Facebook page. She said that she and her husband left the United States in 2001 at considerable financial sacrifice in order for her to return to Hungary and join the faculty of CEU as an associate professor. It was a dream come true until April 4, 2017. As of that date, she finds herself part of an institution that “meddles in the internal affairs of Hungary and represents foreign interests.” What she finds most disappointing is that “colleagues, friends, and family don’t stand by her wholeheartedly.” They keep saying “the laws must be observed, and their glances indicate disapproval. Or, ‘I’m sorry; I don’t dare because I may be blacklisted.’”

Honest words, an honest description of what’s going on in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, but one must ask: Dear Diana, how is it possible that you haven’t noticed that something is very wrong with the party you dutifully voted for every four years? How is it that you as a proud Christian who gave birth to seven children and who, as you feel necessary to mention, “all attend parochial schools,” haven’t realized that this government’s alleged Christianity is hollow? Is it only now, when your own job is at stake, that you discover that something is wrong with the government you helped keep in power? Her statement ends with a whimper: “I am grateful for the support of those who dared to speak, dared to demonstrate, dared to share. Many of them are government-honoring [kormánytisztelő] Christian citizens, who for the first time said that this shouldn’t have been done.”

Fortunately most members of CEU’s administration, beginning with its president, Michael Ignatieff, are determined to fight and win. The contrast between the timid Hungarian academics and the international administration and faculty of CEU couldn’t be greater. Although President Ignatieff and Provost Liviu Matei have emphasized the support they have received from Hungarian colleagues and other Hungarian institutions of higher learning, the truth is that few have stood by CEU. Most of them have been quiet, but there was one “chancellor”—a newly appointed government watchdog over and above the university president and the senate—who outright welcomed the move of the government against CEU. The chancellor of the University of Debrecen pointed out that other Hungarian universities are at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting foreign students because of CEU’s ability to grant American degrees. The administration of Corvinus University was not exactly supportive either. President András Lánczi, the man who got the job as president of the university at the express wish of Viktor Orbán, also stressed the need for “a level legal playing field” for all Hungarian universities. It is true that 250 students and members of Corvinus University’s faculty published a supporting statement, but András Lánczi immediately fired off an e-mail reminding them of the university’s “ethical code,” which obliges members of the university community to maintain the good name of the university in their communications with the world.

Meanwhile the government is doing its best to mislead and intimidate. Two days ago an incredible number of policemen surrounded the parliament building on the occasion of the second demonstration in support of CEU. What was most disturbing was that in front of the row of policemen were apparent civilian strongmen who, as a video shows, provoked some members of the crowd. As it turned out, they were plainclothes policemen. While the uniformed police stood by motionless, these characters were belligerent. Almost as if they wanted to create a reason to arrest a few of the demonstrators. After a while they were recalled by a man in civilian clothes standing behind the police lines.

Last night two organizers of the demonstrations, a Hungarian and a foreigner, received unexpected visits from the police. Government papers want the public to believe that the demonstrators were almost exclusively foreigners. Magyar Hírlap­ reported that the government, as a result of the protest against the treatment of CEU, will be able to uncover the whole Soros network, which engages in such activities as “destabilization efforts by CEU graduates in states along the migration route, for example in Macedonia and Albania.”

The “parrot commando” keeps repeating the same false accusations against CEU, which they persist in calling Soros University. Until recently, László Palkovics, who is in charge of higher education, was given the task of explaining how eminently rational the Hungarian government’s position on CEU is. He steadfastly refused to admit that the amendments’ real purpose was to drive CEU out of the country. On the other hand, his boss, Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, at last told the truth in a radio interview. “There is no need to beat around the bush. There is no need to hide. We ought to say straight out that we don’t want Central European University to function in its present form.” He added that if the United States and CEU want to continue in the present legal framework, “they have to invest.” That is, build a brand new campus in the United States.

The outcome envisaged by Balog is unlikely to materialize. President Michael Ignatieff is in the United States at present and, according to the latest news, has already conferred with Thomas A. Shannon, undersecretary of state for political affairs in the State Department, and Hoyt Brian Yee, deputy assistant secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. (Ignatieff was certainly more successful at the State Department than Hungary’s foreign minister, who visited Washington about two weeks ago and couldn’t meet with anyone at the Foggy Bottom.) He also talked with Fiona Hill, a member of the White House’s National Security Council who advises the president on European and Russian affairs. Next, Ignatieff is off to Berlin and, I trust, to Brussels as well. Angela Merkel’s spokesman already articulated the German government’s position on the matter.

Meeting with Thomas A. Shannon, undersecretary for political affairs

The European Parliament is also responding. Five of the eight political formations have condemned the Hungarian government’s attack on CEU. Even within the caucus of the European People’s Party (EPP), to which the 12-member Fidesz delegation belongs, a storm is brewing. It was the leader of the Fidesz group, József Szájer, who provoked the storm by writing an e-mail to the other members of the EPP caucus in which the Fidesz members contended that critics of the law have been “gravely mislead (sic) by the propaganda and private agenda of the American billionaire Soros” and are fighting with a “virtual reality.” They added that “as in the world of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, there are the equals and there are some more equals (sic) than others.” This e-mail apparently prompted an angry reaction. EPP’s leader, Manfred Weber, tweeted that “Freedom of thinking, research and speech are essential for our European identity. EPP group will defend this at any cost.” Frank Engel, a member of the EPP from Luxembourg, was less polite. He replied in an e-mail: “Forget the crap. We know what is happening, and why. Why don’t you leave both the EPP and the EU on your own terms? … You’re practically and factually out anyway. So go. Please go.”

Time and again the European People’s Party caucus has saved Viktor Orbán’s skin in Brussels. It has been reluctant to expel its Fidesz members, who really don’t belong in this group. The Fidesz delegation would feel much more at home in the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists of Europe, joining their Polish and euroskeptic British friends. But the EPP doesn’t want to lose 12 members from its caucus. Although it is the largest in the European Parliament, its lead is not overwhelming. Still, even without Fidesz it would remain the largest caucus, with 205 members. The Socialists and Democrats have 189 members. To shield a dictatorial regime for the sake of a few votes is too high a price to pay.

April 6, 2017

Signs of internal divisions within the Hungarian governing party

In the last few months, as the popularity of Fidesz has been steadily declining, signs of serious internal divisions within the party have been proliferating. Ever since November one opinion poll after the other has reported serious losses in popularity for both Viktor Orbán and his party. Fidesz still leads, but the parties on the left are gaining ground. In fact, for the first time, the number of voters favoring all the democratic opposition parties combined is slightly higher than that favoring Fidesz.

It was almost inevitable that Fidesz’s political leadership would start looking for explanations for the waning popularity. Of course, the most obvious target should be Viktor Orbán himself. After all, Fidesz is a monolithic party where, according to grumbling party leaders, all decisions are made by the prime minister, who is also the head of the party.

His confidants nowadays are not the grand old men of Fidesz but upstarts like Antal Rogán, János Lázár, or the mysterious Árpád Habony who allegedly has no position either in the party or in the government yet is privy to the most confidential information if not state secrets. The old Fidesz leaders who joined the party twenty-five years ago either left a long time ago or Viktor Orbán set them aside. The less important characters had to be satisfied with positions inside state companies or insignificant administrative offices; the more important ones were either given positions that have clout on paper only, for example János Áder and László Kövér, or were shipped off to Brussels. Zoltán Pokorni, who at one point was chairman of Fidesz, had to be satisfied with a humble district mayoralty.

Until last November Fidesz spoke more or less with one voice, the voice of Viktor Orbán. If there were doubting Thomases, they became convinced by the cleverly orchestrated elections that, after all, “Viktor was right.” In fact, he is a political genius who can overcome all obstacles and lead the party to victory not just for the next four or eight years but for a very long time. Now, however, it looks as if Orbán has lost his touch. Instead of being able to correct his mistakes, he piles new ones on top of earlier ones. Moreover, several times in the last few months he had to retreat, which must have shaken the confidence of his closest associates.

I suspect that we are still not at a point that we will hear open criticism of Viktor Orbán himself. Instead, the criticism is directed against the men around him. The first public quarrel occurred in December when Zoltán Pokorni said a few disapproving words about the extravagant lifestyle of János Lázár. Kövér chimed in, taking Pokorni’s side. It is a well known fact that Kövér is no friend of Lázár, who runs the government’s daily business, serving as de facto prime minister, while Orbán himself acts like its all-mighty president, moving effortlessly on the stage of world politics. The quarrel didn’t end there. Lázár shot back and told Kövér that “a political veteran should think twice before he attacks us out of personal resentment or for political gain because he not only weakens us but also weakens or even executes himself.” I guess in this instance “execution” means the end of this veteran’s political career. This is not an idle threat. When after the lost 2006 election Orbán found out that some of his political friends at a party had discussed the desirability of replacing him because of his mistaken election strategy, they were promptly sent into political exile. The most prominent victim was János Áder. More recently, Tibor Navracsics, who as minister of justice criticized the legislative practices introduced by the prime minister’s office, soon enough found himself in Brussels.

arrows

In January we learned that József Szájer and János Kövér also have their disagreements, primarily over Hungary’s relations with the European Union. Szájer is an old timer all right. He was one of the founders of Fidesz but, as opposed to the provincial Kövér, is now serving his third five-year term as MEP in Brussels. In his case, Brussels is not a political exile. He is still a very close associate of Orbán. In fact, Szájer’s wife is perhaps the most important person in the Hungarian judicial system today. In any case, the two old friends from college don’t see eye to eye on the European Union. Kövér belongs to the right wing of Fidesz, a Euro-skeptic who ordered the removal of the EU flag from the parliament building and instead put up a newly-designed flag of the Szeklers living in Romania. About three weeks ago Kövér in an interview expressed his dislike of the European Union and said that it might not be a bad idea to think about leaving. Szájer openly expressed his dissatisfaction with Kövér’s ill-considered statement in an interview on ATV.

Then came another open disagreement, this time between László L. Simon, undersecretary of János Lázár in the prime minister’s office, and Gergely Gulyás, the right-hand of László Kövér and head of a parliament commission dealing with legislative matters, who talked about the likelihood of modifying the law on freedom of assembly. This announcement was unfortunate. It looked as if the Orbán government was planning to restrict the current law and was thereby intending to limit the kinds of demonstrations that took place recently on the streets of Budapest. L. Simon immediately announced that the idea was Gulyás’s private opinion. The government has no intention of revisiting the law on assembly. A very wise move on the part of the government.

Then about ten days ago Zoltán Illés, earlier undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture in charge of the environment, decided to go public with his criticism of the Orbán government’s nonexistent environmental policies. Illés is a committed environmentalist and was useful to Viktor Orbán when Fidesz was in opposition as he attacked the socialist-liberal governments for their neglect of environmental issues. Illés was everywhere a tree was cut down. He organized demonstrations and blocked several projects because of environmental considerations. In 2010 he most likely saw himself as the next minister of the environment and must have been taken back when the ministry was abolished and he became only an undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture. But, as he explained recently, he still hoped that even in this position he could be effective. That turned out not to be the case. His position was stripped of practically everything that used to belong to the minister of the environment. Between 2010 and 2014, while in office, the formerly vocal Illés was quiet as a mouse for example when hundreds of trees were cut out overnight around the parliament building. Eventually he no longer could stand it. He was the only Fidesz member of parliament to vote against building a new reactor at the Paks nuclear power plant. That sealed his fate. Not only is he no longer an undersecretary, he didn’t even receive a cushy job. Now he “tells all” everywhere he has the opportunity.

In the last few days there have apparently been open disagreements between Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán on immigration; between Zoltán Balog and Károly Czibere, his undersecretary, on the segregation of Roma children; between Antal Rogán and László Trócsányi, minister of justice, on the necessity of new legislation in defense of religions.

Finally, newspapers reported yesterday that János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament, published a long critique of his party and the government on his own website.

The parrots are starting to learn words of their own.

Two narratives of the impending Budapest visit of Angela Merkel

As Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Budapest nears, there is conflicting speculation about the purpose of her visit. Merkel will spend five hours in Budapest, apparently on February 2. This short stint will include a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and a visit to Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization representing the Jewish religious community. Why is Merkel traveling to Hungary? According to critics, the trip is ill-advised because, with a visit to Budapest, she is implicitly endorsing the illiberal regime of Viktor Orbán. A few days ago one of the leading MSZP politicians announced that the party expects Merkel “to signal to Viktor Orbán in unambiguous terms that he has no place in the community of democratic European politicians.”

Others seem to be convinced that Merkel is going to Budapest to ensure that Viktor Orbán will vote together with the rest of the European prime ministers to extend the sanctions currently in force against Russia. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the German chancellor made it clear that sanctions can be lifted only after the agreement reached in Minsk is fulfilled. And nothing of the sort has happened. In fact, just this morning Kiev announced that 700 Russian troops had crossed into Ukraine to aid the rebels fighting for control of the eastern provinces.

Attila Ara-Kovács, the foreign policy expert of Demokratikus Koalíció, is one of those who believe that the trip’s main purpose is to convince Viktor Orbán of the necessity of extending the sanctions. But he goes even further when he hypothesizes that Merkel has another message for Orbán in light of the recent demonstrations: he should end the political conflict at home. Somewhat similarly, Stratfor, an American geopolitical intelligence and advisory firm, is convinced that Merkel’s visit is part and parcel of a U.S. “diplomatic offensive” in the region and can be viewed as putting joint U.S.-German pressure on Viktor Orbán. The aim is to stop the spread of Russian influence in the region.

Is this the truth?

Is this the truth?

Or that?

Or this?

The other narrative of the impending Merkel visit comes straight from Fidesz. It is well summarized in the headline of an article by Zsolt Hazafi: “Is Merkel Orbán’s guardian angel?” It is true that the journalist turned the Fidesz message into a question, but the answer is “yes.” The story line goes as follows: Hungary and Germany are very close allies who synchronize all their diplomatic moves. More than that, Orbán’s Hungary is doing Germany’s bidding. Or at least this is what József Szájer, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, intimated in his interview with Antónia Mészáros of ATV yesterday. As he put it: “Germany sent us ahead” to test the ground vis-à-vis Russia. Berlin, according to him, is just as much against sanctions as Budapest is, but Merkel is constrained, presumably by the United States. Therefore, she secretly welcomes Hungary’s position on the sanctions.

After talking with several high-level government officials, Hazafi gained the impression that in the last few years a Russian-German-Hungarian triangle came into being, a three-way relationship that includes an understanding about building a second reactor at the Paks nuclear power plant. Why would the German chancellor agree to the secret Russian-Hungarian deal on Paks? According to this narrative, Germany, where soon enough there will be no nuclear power plants, will be able to get inexpensive energy from Paks. Fidesz informants pointed out that a German firm was instrumental in making the Russian loan to Hungary possible. They added as proof of the understanding between Germany and Hungary on Paks that Günther Oettinger, former European commissioner for energy matters and a German, raised no objection to the Putin-Orbán deal. Members of the Hungarian government and leading Fidesz leaders consider both visits–Merkel’s and Putin’s–diplomatic triumphs. “Hungary is back on the map,” Orbán allegedly said.

Népszabadság also had its own Fidesz informants. They claim that Germany didn’t object to the Orbán-Putin meeting since Germany and Hungary work hand in hand when it comes to Russia. Some of the more embarrassing statements of Viktor Orbán are no more than trial balloons. One example is the question of sanctions. According to other Fidesz politicians, those who see a connection between the visits of Merkel and Putin “are not far from the truth.” Insiders also claim that the relationship between Merkel and Orbán is close. According to them, the two became closer after their hour-long meeting in Milan last year. Government officials, when claiming close German-Russian-Hungarian cooperation, usually bring up the fact that Klaus Mangold, former CEO of Daimler-Chrysler, was the middleman between Orbán and Putin throughout the negotiations. The informers seem to be pretty certain that “it is no longer in the interest of Germany to talk seriously about the lack of democracy in Hungary.” The author of the article (we don’t know who he/she is because there was no by-line) added that Merkel might have to resort to more serious criticism after “the prime minister’s crude anti-immigration theses” in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris.

So, here we have two irreconcilable narratives. I find the Fidesz version of close German-Hungarian relations hard to believe. There are just too many signs that contradict it. Unless, of course, we assume duplicity on the part of Angela Merkel. After all, time and again she expressed her misgivings about Russian aggression and her support of the sanctions, including additional ones if Russia refused to cooperate. Such a double game would make no sense, especially now that Russia is in serious economic and political trouble. Thus, my hunch is that the sudden talkativeness of Fidesz potentates is a concerted effort on the part of the Orbán regime to burnish the prime minister’s image, to point to his diplomatic importance and genius, and to portray him as one of the most important leaders in Europe.

I am inclined to believe that the main reason for the Merkel visit is indeed the question of the sanctions and Hungary’s overly chummy relations with Putin. I am also convinced that Merkel will talk about what Hungarians call “the democracy deficit,” which is something that is hard to ignore given the wide coverage of Orbán’s illiberal state and the latest demonstrations. In brief, I consider this latest tsunami of leaks by Fidesz politicians to be a part of a disinformation campaign.

The Hungarian government on immigration and emigration

Anyone who bothers to look for figures on immigration into European countries is not going to find much data on Hungary for the simple reason that the number of foreigners living in the country is minuscule. Of course, we all know about large immigrant populations in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, but there is significant immigration even to countries like Finland or Slovenia. In Sweden, to give but a single example, 32,000 people applied for asylum in 2010.

Until very recently both Hungarian immigration and emigration were of low intensity. Foreign-born inhabitants constitute only 4% of the labor force and about 1% of the population as a whole. These foreign-born individuals are almost exclusively of Hungarian ethnicity. They immigrated from the neighboring countries in the last twenty years or so. Lately, however, the number of emigrants to Western Europe from Hungary has grown enormously. Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and the Netherlands are the favorite destinations. At the same time, especially since Croatia became part of the European Union, the immigration routes from the Balkans and the Middle East have changed, and Hungary has become one of the favorite “transit countries” for immigrants wanting to reach countries where economic opportunities are greater. As Péter Mihályi, a well-known Hungarian economist, said the other day, only rich countries have “immigration problems.” Very few immigrants from outside the European Union ever receive permission to settle in Hungary, and the few lucky ones who do immediately pack up and move westward.

According to Hetekthe weekly of the Assembly of Faith (Hitgyülekezet), between 2000 and 2012 only 2,000 to 3,000 people arrived a year, legally or illegally, in Hungary, and as soon as they could, they moved on. But in the last two years these numbers have grown exponentially. Apparently there are days when along the border with Serbia the police arrest 800-1,000 illegals. As for those legally seeking to move to Hungary, in 2013 19,000 immigration applications were received; a year later that number was 43,000. Of these 43,000 potential immigrants only 500 received refugee status.

If it depended on Viktor Orbán, no so-called “economic immigrant” could ever receive permission to settle in Hungary. In fact, if it were up to him, he would stop immigration to Europe altogether. József Szájer, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament for the last ten years, summarized Fidesz’s position in a recent interview on ATV. The argument goes something like this. Western Europeans in the past fifty years or so became too pampered. They didn’t want to do all the dirty work and therefore either imported guest workers like the Germans or relied on immigration from their former colonies like France and the United Kingdom. And look at the result: terrorism in Europe. This must be stopped.

butterflies

Orbán and his colleagues in Fidesz grossly oversimplify the issue of immigration into the EU. Most economists are convinced that without the Turkish and later Yugoslav guest workers the German economic miracle couldn’t have happened. It is a generally accepted theory that without immigration there can be no economic growth in the western world. This is especially true of Europe where the low birthrate practically mandates a relatively generous immigration policy. Otherwise, soon enough there will be only two wage earners for every retiree. Most European leaders and academics, with the notable exception of Viktor Orbán, maintain that without young immigrants European demographic trends cannot be reversed.

Therefore, the European Union’s current position is that immigration from third-world countries, even if it causes social friction, has great benefits in the long run. According to Péter Mihályi, whom I quoted earlier, “Europe has no future without immigration.” So, if Fidesz were to succeed in stopping all immigration to the country, Hungary’s future would be sealed. The few immigrants accepted into Hungary leave while almost half a million people born in Hungary are currently working abroad, almost exclusively in Western Europe. It is a vicious circle. Hungary is not an attractive country for immigrants, but without immigrants an aging society that cannot reproduce itself is doomed. The problem is only made worse by the large emigration to the West.

A few years back Viktor Orbán himself seemed to have realized this dilemma and went so far as to suggest that ethnic Hungarians should be encouraged to leave Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and Ukraine and move over to Hungary en masse. Since then, he gave up the idea. It is hard to tell why. Most likely for nationalistic reasons.

There is one more aspect of Viktor Orbán’s ideas on immigration which he himself did not elaborate on but which József Szájer talked about more explicitly. Orbán mentioned briefly that there are unemployed Gypsies who need jobs. As long as they don’t have employment, Europe should not import people from abroad. Some commentators interpreted this fleeting mention of the Roma as suggesting a possible export of Gypsies from Hungary and other Eastern European countries to the West. Judging from what Szájer said, this is exactly what Orbán has in mind. Szájer pointed out that there are 10 million Gypsies in Europe who could do some of the menial jobs that Western Europeans no longer want to do. If the Roma population of Hungary could be exported to Western Europe, the major socioeconomic problem the Orbán government can’t solve, the integration of the Roma, would disappear. Poof! When the reporter noted that the Roma lack skills necessary for some of the available jobs, Szájer made light of the problem by saying that “they will take care of that.” I guess the “they” are the governments of the countries where these migrants would move.

Finally, I would like to call attention to an interview with Viktor Orbán on Magyar Rádió today in which he explained that those Hungarians who could not find jobs in Hungary and moved to the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, and other countries in Western Europe are “not economic immigrants.” They are proud Europeans who have free movement within the boundaries of the European Union. There is no such thing as immigration or emigration within the borders of the European Union. Oh, the duplicity of the man! He has been fiercely defending the sovereignty of nation states for years, but now he is a champion of a single Europe. Of course, strictly speaking he is right: a citizen of an EU country has the right to settle in any of the twenty-eight member states. But when David Cameron complains about too many immigrants, he also has in mind immigrants from the East European countries, including the great number of Hungarians in Great Britain.

The Orbán formula seems to be: we will send our economic migrants to Western Europe while we will not allow anyone into our country because we want to keep Hungary Hungarian.  As for the Hungarian Roma, Western Europe can take care of them. A perfect solution all around.

Viktor Orbán: The brave prime minister who is not a communist

On October 28 József Szájer, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, gave an interview to Inforádió, a station close to the government party. To long-time readers of Hungarian Spectrum or those who have been following Hungarian politics in the last twenty-five years Szájer is a familiar figure. However, since we have a lot of new subscribers who might be less familiar with the leading figures of Hungarian political life, I should say a few words about this man.

Szájer is a real old-timer in Fidesz. He was there from the very beginning, living in the dormitory where Fidesz was born. He held important positions in parliament and in Fidesz between 1988 and 2004, when he was sent to Brussels as the leader of the Fidesz delegation. He is also one of  deputy chairmen of the European People’s Party. Since Hungarian politicians don’t consider the job of MEP a particularly important one, it is hard to fathom why the decision was made to remove Szájer from direct involvement in Hungarian politics. He is supposed to be brilliant although, at least in my opinion, he does not put his brain power to the best use.

Just because Szájer officially holds no position doesn’t mean that he plays no role in the party behind the scenes. For example, Szájer himself proudly announced that he wrote the text of the new Hungarian constitution on his iPad. When the Orbán government is criticized in the European Parliament, it is Szájer who leads the troops in defense of the Orbán regime. And when in March 2013 there was a U.S. Senate hearing on the state of democracy in Hungary it was József Szájer who was dispatched to explain the Hungarian position.

During the interview on Inforádió Szájer defended the introduction of the internet tax with his usual vehemence. A government that dares to tax internet usage is a brave one, he said. “There are times,” he claimed, “when one has to speak in the language of strength.” Such a tax is “no attack on the internet.” After all, we have to pay for our food, but that doesn’t mean that it is an attack against the freedom of eating. The very fact that I had a heck of a time translating this sentence means that the comparison is outright idiotic. I consider the example Olga Kálmán used more apt. Let’s say that we buy a book but we still have to pay extra for being able to read it. Indeed, that is exactly what the internet tax is. Internet subscribers pay for their service, which includes a 27% tax, but in addition the government wants to tax their right to use the material offered by the provider whom they’ve already paid.

The reason that I quoted Szájer’s belligerent words on the brave government that dares to tax the internet is because it took no more than three days for the government to decide not to be so brave. The reason? Apparently, a quick poll was ordered which showed that the people who were at the demonstrations had been apolitical until now. They seemed to have awakened from their long slumber, and that truly frightened Viktor Orbán. Many of the people chanting slogans never even bothered to vote and claimed that they are not interested in politics. Suddenly they became active. This is the last thing Viktor Orbán wants. Among them might be future political leaders who will force this authoritarian government to resign one day.

A typical Fidesz warrior: József Szájer in the European Parliament

A typical Fidesz warrior: József Szájer in the European Parliament

In Viktor Orbán’s interview last Friday there was one sentence that I found especially revealing. He decided to shelve the internet tax because his government listens to the people, and they certainly don’t want to do anything that is unacceptable to the people. After all, they are not “communists.” But the problem is that the governing style of the Orbán government closely resembles that of the Kádár regime. For all practical purposes there is a one-party system in Hungary today.

During the communist period it was the Politburo that made the decisions. The size of that body varied from eight to thirteen members. They met weekly and discussed the day-to-day running of the country. Today the situation is actually worse. As far as we know, there are no weekly meetings of the Fidesz executive board. Decisions are not made by the ministers either because cabinet meetings are exceedingly short and there are practically no discussions. Everything is decided by Viktor Orbán and until he speaks, as someone wittily remarked, no one knows what to think. The people started to see the strong resemblance between the two regimes.

I watched Henrik Havas’s Saturday political program on ATV where the older participants recalled that in the last parliament of the Kádár regime there was a discussion about the Czechoslovak-Hungarian dam to be built on the Danube. The population opposed it, but the government was determined that it be built. The president of parliament called on those who were against the dam to stand up. Twenty some people did. And that was during a communist regime. Today it would be unimaginable for Fidesz MPs to stand up in a similar situation. Or to dare vote against a bill they don’t agree with. This is illiberal democracy in action.

Viktor Orbán is up to something and that something is nothing good

Index came out with it first. It seems that feelers are being put out, most likely indirectly by the prime minister’s office, about people’s opinion of changing the Hungarian governmental structure from a parliamentary to a semi-presidential system. The client who ordered the survey seems to be specifically interested in whom people would like to see in the post of president.

A few months ago Péter Hack, a former member of parliament and a constitutional lawyer, called the topic of Viktor Orbán as the next president “an evergreen subject” which has been around for at least twenty-five years. Indeed, the topic was hotly debated during the discussions of the opposition in 1989. If it had depended on MDF, a right of center party, the president would have been directly elected by the voters, and they even had their favorite candidate, former member of the Politburo Imre Pozsgay. Fidesz and SZDSZ managed to thwart that plan and Hungary remained a purely parliamentary system in which the president has little power and is elected by the parliament.

After the 1989-1990 debate no one brought up the desirability of changing the constitutional order until 2004 when István Stumpf talked about the advantages of such a system. Four years later in a television interview he specifically spoke of the possibility that Viktor Orbán could become president one day, but naturally only if “the presidency would be reinforced.” Surely, a mostly ceremonial role would not suit Viktor Orbán’s temperament and political ambitions.

As usual, Viktor Orbán changed his mind on the subject frequently. In the fall of 2009 he declared that he is a devotee of the parliamentary system, which has a long tradition in Hungary. Yet when in 2010, after the election, a preliminary committee was assembled to write a new constitution, a change to a semi-presidential system was envisaged. As you may recall, that preliminary constitutional draft was thrown out the window so to speak, and instead the final text was written by József Szájer on his iPad on the train between Budapest and Brussels.

So, in the new constitution that was adopted in 2011 there was no mention of enlarged presidential powers. Yet we know that Orbán preferred the semi-presidential system, as he made clear in a speech delivered in the same year. There was a simple reason he did not agree to the change in the constitution: the timing was not right. No wonder that he vetoed the text of the preliminary committee working on the constitution. Viktor Orbán is no fool. He certainly did not want the immediate introduction of a strong presidency over and above himself.

But the future was something else. In 2012 he gave an interview to the German Handelsblatt in which he praised the advantages of the semi-presidential system which “is more suited for the introduction of difficult reforms.” He added that he is a devotee  of democracy, but the question should be asked whether the management structures of democracy are best for periods of crisis.

It looks as if Orbán now finds the time ripe for making a move toward a presidential system. On May 21 Népszabadság reported that Orbán discussed the possibility of occupying the post of presidency after János Áder leaves in 2017. But he emphasized that he would do so only if the president had real power. As we know, under the present circumstances, changing the constitution and declaring the president head of the government as well as head of the state is a question of only a couple of hours of phony debate in parliament and the deed is done. For that matter, if Viktor Orbán decided to transform Hungary into a constitutional monarchy he would have no difficulty with his super majority of mindless followers.

Viktor Orbán's mask in the Institute for the Blind

Viktor Orbán’s mask in the Institute for the Blind

So, what is a semi-presidential system? There are several countries where such a governmental structure exists, but perhaps the best known is post-1958 France. In this system the government is not only responsible to parliament but also to the president. It is the president who appoints the prime minister, so he is the most important political player in the land. The president’s choice of prime minister, however, depends on the composition of the parliament. It can easily happen that the prime minister belongs to one party and the president to another. In this case they split responsibilities. Normally, the president is responsible for foreign policy and the prime minister for domestic policy. This “division of labor” is not spelled out in the constitution; it simply evolved this way. But often the system does not work. There can be bitter and tense stonewalling, depending on the attitudes of the two leaders and the ideologies of their parties. Just think what would happen if Viktor Orbán were president and Ferenc Gyurcsány prime minister.

How do we know that Viktor Orbán is seriously contemplating changing the constitution in order to move over to the Sándor palota, the office of the president? A few weeks ago ATV, the only television station that represents the views of the opposition, learned that Forsense Institute, a polling company that receives many government orders, conducted a survey on the Hungarian people’s attitudes on the subject. It was a telephone survey lasting about 10-15 minutes. On June 26 the station inquired whether such a survey had taken place. At that time Forsense denied the existence of such a poll. Yesterday, however, Forsense fessed up and admitted the existence of the survey to a journalist from Index. They refused to divulge the name of the client who ordered it, but they insisted that it was not the prime minister’s office. I tend to agree. Hungary’s prime minister is far too clever to get involved directly with such an enterprise. Most likely the job was “outsourced” to someone else.

What did the pollsters want to know? Index learned that the subjects were asked very specific questions. For example, what kind of a president they would prefer if they had a choice: Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, or Silvio Berlusconi? Whom would they prefer? Viktor Orbán, János Áder, László Sólyom, or Gordon Bajnai? They wanted their opinion on whether the president’s tenure should be seven or nine years. The pollsters were especially interested in people’s political and religious views: the subjects had to divulge for which party they voted at the national and the EP elections.

It is alarming that decisions might be made on the basis of such a survey. The Hungarian voters’ knowledge of politics is frighteningly limited. How many people know the differences between the German, the Russian, the American, or the Italian system of government? How can they decide?

But the most frightening part of this latest news is that Viktor Orbán seems to be contemplating a radical change in Hungary’s constitutional order and placing himself, most likely for nine years, at the head of the government hierarchy. More than scary.

Homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Hungary

György Bolgár’s Let’s Talk It Over is a liberal talk show with a huge fan club. I myself rarely miss it. Bolgár comes up with topics that he finds interesting or important and usually adds a comment with a question mark at the end. Today I learned that Ferenc Gyurcsány visited Viktor Orbán’s old dormitory, the István Bibó Kollégium, yesterday. Only students of the college could attend the informal talk. Soon enough a recording of the talk was in the hands of Magyar NemzetThe paper made sure that at least one minute of Gyurcsány’s talk was shared with the readers and presented it as a second Balatonőszöd speech.

What was it that, according to Magyar Nemzet, was such a sin that it can only be compared to the speech that effectively ended Gyurcsány’s premiership? The former prime minister told his audience that his views on cultural matters, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, and choice of identity are extremely liberal. “Just to shock you, we are the only party that supports the marriage of same-sex couples and their right to adopt children.” He added that the only reason DK didn’t propose a bill to this effect was because “the socialists would have had hiccups” if they did. The conclusion of Magyar Nemzet was that just as Gyurcsány didn’t reveal the whole truth about the state of the economy before the 2006 election he isn’t revealing the whole truth about the opposition’s position today. If they win the election the Unity coalition will introduce an outrageous bill on same-sex marriage and will have the majority to pass it.

György Bolgár tacked on his usual question to this piece of news, asking his audience whether it was a wise move of Gyurcsány to touch on this “delicate” subject in the middle of the election campaign. The current constitution states that “Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of the survival of the nation.”

The discussion of the subject even in the relatively moderate right-wing press, for example Heti Válasz, shows such a combination of ignorance, antagonism, and false information that one is inclined to think that bringing up the subject was anything but wise politically. Only yesterday Heti Válasz came out with an article headlined “Two Fidesz EU members voted for the proposal of the gay lobbyists.” One can sense surprise or perhaps even outrage that such a scandalous vote could occur in the EU’s Fidesz caucus. The story is a bit old since it was on February 14 that the proposal was endorsed by a large majority of the European Parliament, but I guess better later than never. In the article, according to the short description of it available on the Internet, the proposal among other things “would make it compulsory to spread the popularity of homosexuality already in kindergartens and the member states would be forced to adopt same-sex marriage.” The article mentions that a most likely homophobic civil group, CitizenGO, was collecting signatures to make sure that the proposal would never be adopted. They failed. The rapporteur of the proposal was Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green EP, who is a lesbian activist. Heti Válasz revealed the names of the two Fidesz renegades who voted for the bill. They turned out to be József Szájer and Lívia Járóka. I’m not surprised. Although Szájer is  married, it seems to be widely known that he is actually gay. And Járóka, who is of Roma origin, might be more sensitive to discrimination than the average Fidesz EP.

Source: www.algbtical.org

Source: www.algbtical.org

If the so-called moderate Fidesz outlet, Heti Válasz, takes the unfounded rumors about the propagation of homosexuality and compulsory introduction of gay marriage in the member states at face value, you can imagine what the other right-wing publications say on the subject. But when you actually look at the “Report on the EU Roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” it is a moderate document designed to have easy passage. It simply opposes discrimination and wants to ensure the equality of gays, lesbians, and transsexuals. Heti Válasz‘s reporter obviously didn’t even bother to read the document.

So, Bolgár’s question was justified. Was it wise for Ferenc Gyurcsány to bring the topic up at all? Was he again careless and rash? After all, he is now a member of a team that is supposed to show unity. And one of the problems of “Összefogás” is that voters don’t see the kind of unity its name implies. So, I would say, no, it was not a wise thing to do. Not that I don’t sympathize with his position. I do, but with this statement he is opening himself up for another attack from Magyar Nemzet. One can say that it really doesn’t matter what he says or doesn’t, his opponents shower the most outrageous attacks on him anyway. One could say that politicians don’t always have to cater to public sentiment. But there’s a reason that most politicians try to align themselves with the views of their potential voters.

In the United States where state governments and courts as well as the federal government and the Supreme Court are moving to extend rights to the LGBT community, the majority supports the idea of same-sex marriage (54% in 2013). In Hungary according to the latest poll (2007) it is only 30%. If I had to guess, due to Fidesz and Christian Democratic propaganda that number may be lower by now. For instance, anti-gay propaganda can be heard on M1 (Kossuth Rádió) where a long conversation took place about whether homosexuality is a sin. Heti Válasz severely criticized the United States for launching a campaign aimed at Putin’s anti-gay Russia It was no more than hysterics, the paper claimed. An innocent sporting event became the victim of politics. Heti Válasz was on solid political ground on two fronts. It could support the conservative religious position advocated by the government and, now that Hungary and Russia are such good friends, it could come out squarely on the side of Putin’s discriminatory laws against gays.

In any case, Gyurcsány felt that he had to explain himself more fully and therefore gave a press conference today. He didn’t retreat. He repeated that his party is in favor of same-sex marriage but they are in the minority within Összefogás. Just as they are in the minority on the issues of dual citizenship and Hungary’s current arrangement with the Vatican. He added that, if Összefogás wins, DK will not put in a draft bill on the issue of same-sex marriage because they disapprove of the Fidesz practice of legislation by individual MP’s proposals. The government will prepare draft bills to be discussed in parliament and DK there will be in the minority. On the other hand, he added, if Fidesz wins DK in opposition following their heartfelt conviction will put in a such a proposal.

As for the callers to Bolgár’s program, there was one who disapproved of Gyurcsány’s comments and not just for political reasons. He thought that children who are brought up in same-sex households will become homosexuals themselves. On the other hand, a father phoned in who told his family’s story. They found out when their son was 18 years old that he is gay. He has been living with his partner. A friend of theirs, a woman, was left high and dry by the man who impregnated her. It was his son who was present at the birth and the two of them are something of father substitutes for the little boy. He almost wept, and when Bolgár suggested that gay people are just as good as heterosexuals, he said, “No, they are better.”