Tag Archives: Kötcse

How far is Kötcse from Brussels? Very far

Fidesz public relations gurus discovered early in the game that a party needs certain fixed points or anchors in order to radiate an aura of continuity, steadiness, and stability. Once they hit upon the idea of spending a long weekend with young Hungarians in Romania, where they were supposed to discuss their common problems and hopes, they faithfully kept returning, year after year. Admittedly, over the last 28 years the youthful and perhaps even exciting exchange of ideas has become stale, and the event has been more or less reduced to some dull speeches by the same three or four party and government leaders to which mostly older retirees listen. But the event is still held and still creates expectations in the media.

The gathering at Băile Bálványos/Bálványosfűrdő has become a ritual, just as has Viktor Orbán’s annual February speech on “the state of the country.” The party leader/prime minister will deliver that speech, rain or shine, before an invited audience. The opposition papers will claim that Orbán’s speeches are becoming increasingly shallow, which is true. But the quality of the speech is of less importance than the fact that this past February was the nineteenth year that Viktor Orbán stood in front of all those flags and basked in the adoration of his audience. After the event, journalists usually ask people who are leaving the building about their impressions. They invariably find the message uplifting. Moreover, these people were personally invited to the speech, and one can tell that they found that invitation priceless.

Finally, there is the picnic at Kötcse with a history of 16 years. Every September select individuals are invited to attend the picnic where Viktor Orbán shares his visions and plans with his devoted supporters. An invitation to Kötcse is a true honor for several reasons. First, there is the aura of secrecy. The media is locked out, and participants are told not to share anything that happened there. Second, the invited guests are not passive observers as they are at the “state of the country” speech. Here they can ask questions and mingle with high party officials. They can feel part of the family, which must be a truly uplifting experience for many. The few attendees who said anything at all about the picnic emphasized their awe at receiving “the great honor” of an invitation.

What did we learn about this year’s gathering at Kötcse? Not much. I listened to an interview with Zsolt Jeszenszky, the wayward son of Géza Jeszenszky, former foreign minister and ambassador to the United States, who, unlike his father, is a great admirer of Viktor Orbán. According to him, Orbán’s speech lasted an hour and a half and was absolutely brilliant. Orbán’s knowledge of world affairs is phenomenal, but he is also thoroughly at home in the smallest details of domestic affairs. The man is simply amazing.

Otherwise, János Csontos wrote an opinion piece in Magyar Idők in which, somewhat obliquely, he let his readers in on some of the details of the gathering. First, he severely criticized those journalists who created “fake news” about the picnic when they had no first-hand knowledge. After a fairly lengthy introduction he allowed his readers to get a feel for the atmosphere of the gathering. In Csontos’s opinion, Kötcse is a place where “a mutual test takes place between the powers-that-be and the intelligentsia.” Orbán wants to know whether the “moonbow” is still with him, while the members of the intelligentsia want to know whether “Viktor Orbán is still in his right mind.” Csontos was happy to announce that there is nothing wrong on this front. Orbán is as sharp as always. As for the elite supporters, an odd sentence gives pause for thought. “There were times when the refined audience and the army of those with questions no longer wanted to hear the truth, the facts.” What does this mean? They didn’t quite believe Orbán’s worldview?

Orbán must have spent time on his future priorities: innovation, organization of the nation (nemzetszervezés), building up the army, and the demographic situation. Of these four, the one that worries me most is the “organization of the nation.” My problem, of course, is that I don’t have the foggiest idea what it could possibly mean, but at the same time I have the nagging feeling that whatever it is, it means something undemocratic and perhaps even sinister. Perhaps some kind of reorganization of society under state supervision. If that is the case, it reminds me of fascism.

HVG published a series of photos of the arriving guests under the title: “It is as far as Kötcse is from Brussels. Take a look at the elite of NER!” Well, first an explanation. There is a saying in Hungarian, “It is as far as Makó is from Jerusalem,” meaning very, very far. We are not sure of the origin of the saying, but most likely it has nothing to do with the city of Makó but perhaps refers to a medieval knight of the same name who never managed to get to Jerusalem. NER stands for “Nemzeti Együttműködés Rendszere,” i.e., the Orbán regime. HVG’s staff was obviously not impressed by what they saw.

And that takes me to an interview with Tamás Deutsch, one of the founders of Fidesz and currently a member of the European Parliament. He was among those featured in HVG‘s photo gallery. In his youth Deutsch was the darling of older women, who thought he was the cutest boy in all of Hungary. As you can see on the photo, he has lost his charm in the intervening years. The interview that appeared in Magyar Idők is a series of complaints about the West, where “the older member states consider themselves superior, more European than those who joined the Union in 2004 or after. They expropriated the representation of the so-called European values and they don’t understand or don’t even want to understand East-Central Europe.” Dutch Ambassador Gajus Scheltema’s criticism is typical of the widespread belief in the western part of Europe that “they are the sons and daughters of the developed West who can do anything in the wild east.”

Tamás Deutsch and László L. Simon, a poet

András Lánczi, political philosopher and Sebastian Gorka’s dissertation adviser

As for the differences that currently exist between East and West, Deutsch contends that the blame clearly falls on the West. “The politicians of the 15 member states thought that they were ready for the accession of the underdeveloped new members, but this was not the case. Therefore, the majority of the current problems derive from that fact. The new member states were much better prepared politically, psychologically, and socially.” What can one say? Blaming others while claiming superiority over them seems to be a favorite pastime in Hungary.

September 5, 2017

“Orbán or Europe? Choose!”

Today will be all about speeches. After a very hot summer, politics has arrived in full force. After all, it is the beginning of the 2018 election campaign. Of course, according to the electoral law, the official campaign season is very short, the last two or three months before the actual day of the election, but no one is pretending anymore. People are openly talking about the beginning of the campaign season. In fact, Fidesz has learned a lot from the United States where one campaign ends and the next begins. On the day of his inauguration President Trump filed the paperwork to be an official candidate for reelection.

Before the “unofficial” opening of the campaign season, Viktor Orbán had the unpleasant task of visiting Pécs to attend the 650th anniversary of the founding of Hungary’s first and only medieval university. The Fidesz-led city’s financial collapse and the removal of the city’s mayor from his position of authority must have been an irritant. Moreover, the enthusiasm for his visit was more than muted. About 50 elderly admirers showed up to greet him, while a bunch of university students displayed banners indicating that he was not welcome in town. Orbán entered the Kodály Center via a back entrance, to find very few young faces in the audience.

It seems that Orbán is unable to tear himself away from the topic of a decaying Europe. In this speech he went so far as to envisage its disappearance. In that case, “the students of today will live in an as yet unknown world.” But they shouldn’t worry because there will always be courageous young people in Hungary who will go against these trends and will choose the family, the community, and the nation as opposed to multiculturalism and mass culture. Predictably, the university’s King Louis the Great Prize was given to the Pécs bishopric for its role in the foundation of the university in 1367.

Today Orbán had another occasion to deliver a speech, this time at the so-called Kötcse Picnic, which is a Fidesz tradition. For the last 16 years, the party has invited hundreds of public figures, writers, actors, artists, etc., who in one way or another support the party. This group of people is called in Hungarian the “moonbow” (holdudvar) of the party. László Botka tried to gather the ever decreasing members of MSZP’s moonbow the other day in Szeged, but, as I reported earlier, few accepted. The right-wing literary and artistic elite has never been as large or as internationally well known as its liberal counterpart, and year after year the same faces appear at the picnic. Mária Schmidt, for example, is always there.

The main attraction at the picnic is Viktor Orbán’s speech. This speech is not covered by the press, and it is not published on the prime minister’s website. This is how it happened that it was only months later that the Hungarian media recognized the importance of his 2009 Kötcse speech, which outlined Orbán’s brilliant political strategy of the “central power.” In that speech he set forth his intention to rule the country in an autocratic manner.

It is unlikely that Orbán delivered anything of such gravity this year. In fact, if I understand it correctly, Orbán’s speech was on the defensive side in the sense that he is portraying the next election as a defense of the results of the last seven years. What are the most important results? According to Bertalan Havasi, the prime minister’s press secretary, they are the building of the fence on the Serbian-Hungarian border which defended the country from migrants, the protection of jobs, and the maintenance of public safety. Apparently, Orbán stressed that, according to NATO’s calculation, 60 million migrants will start their journeys to Europe from Africa between now and 2020. He apparently also spent a great deal of time on Emmanuel Macron’s Le Point interview. From the short description of the press secretary it is hard to know exactly what was in the interview that Orbán agrees with, but apparently he appreciates the French president’s “realism” in foreign affairs and “his description of the signs of a serious crisis in Europe.” The press secretary didn’t say what Orbán found objectionable in the interview.

The Fidesz picnic is held in the courtyard of a somewhat neglected country estate situated at the end of a modest football field. Ironically, at the other end of the field Ferenc Gyurcsány and his family have their country retreat, but only his wife and smallest child watched the game, which was being played while the picnic was going on. Ferenc Gyurcsány himself was not at home. He was giving a speech in Budapest in front of the Western Station. The gathering kicked off the Demokratikus Koalíció’s election campaign.

Zsolt Gréczy, the party’s spokesman, announced on August 13 that their campaign slogan will be “Orbán or Europe? Choose!” Shortly afterward, the party began a telephone campaign, asking people to indicate their preference: Orbán or Europe.

At the time of the diplomatic ruckus between Hungary and the Netherlands, László Botka was on Klub Rádió talking about the coming election as a choice between Orbán and Europe. He expressed his firm belief that Viktor Orbán, by creating an unpleasant situation over the Dutch ambassador’s interview, was actually testing how the Hungarian people would react to Hungary’s exit from the European Union. I must say that I thought that Botka overstated the importance of this incident. I was also stunned by his description of the coming election as a choice between Orbán and Europe. Obviously, the DK leadership was not at all happy with Botka’s choice of words. A few days later, in a TV interview, Attila Ara-Kovács, the DK politician in charge of foreign affairs, charged that MSZP stole DK’s campaign slogan.

For a number of weeks György Bolgár has been asking politicians and public figures in general for their thoughts on a slogan or call that would move the lethargic Hungarian electorate. I always thought that, given the overwhelming support for the European Union among Hungarian voters, there can be no better slogan than something that would bring home the possibility of a rash move by Orbán once the financial benefits of the EU come to an end. And by that time, there would be no one to stop him.

Gyurcsány had barely finished his speech when Balázs Hidvéghi, the communication director of Fidesz, retorted. Hungarians must choose, he said, “between the Soros plan or Europe, and Ferenc Gyurcsány is working on the execution of that plan. He also wants to dismantle the fence and wants to let in the migrants.” That in addition to all sorts of other sins, including the party’s endorsement of a common EU defense and common immigration policies. It is hard to fathom this Fidesz fear of a party that currently has only an 8% share of support among active voters. Maybe Gyurcsány is right and in seven months a lot can happen, but at the moment apathy rules. Momentum’s anti-Russian demonstration was a flop, and the DK gathering was small. DK’s slogan, however, is a good one. We will see whether it can move the crowd.

September 2, 2017

THE ORIGINS OF THE REFUGEE CRISIS ACCORDING TO VIKTOR ORBÁN. PART II

Yesterday, in the first of my two-part series on Viktor Orbán’s speech in Kötcse, where Fidesz bigwigs hold a so-called picnic, I concentrated on Viktor Orbán’s ideas about the origins of the refugee crisis. I think we can safely call these ideas fanciful and without foundation. Here I will analyze another theme: the crisis and possible death of liberalism.

A year ago at Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad, Viktor Orbán delivered a speech that caused worldwide consternation. In his speech he rejected democracy as we understand it and championed the cause of “illiberal democracy,” an autocratic form of government in which, although there are free elections, citizens lack civil liberties. The speech created quite a storm and Orbán’s men tried to explain his words away with little success. From there on, he was not too eager to talk about the end of liberal democracy. It seems, however, that his “successes” in his fight against the Islamic invasion have emboldened him and that he is now ready to return to his vision of the new world that will be created as a result of the migration crisis. Viktor Orbán now sees himself as the leader of a new Christian, national era that will follow “the age of liberal blah blah.”

In his view, with the refugee crisis came “the crisis of liberal identity.” What is the connection between the two? I will try to put it more elegantly than Viktor Orbán did. Liberal ideals, among them the right to freedom of movement and universal human rights, brought on this catastrophe, which proves that the continuation of these policies is no longer possible. Right now Europe is rich but weak, which is “the most dangerous combination that can exist.” Liberalism is responsible for Europe’s weakness. And soon enough its riches will be taken away by the less fortunate. If Europe wants to defend itself, it must get rid of its liberal political philosophy.

As things stand now, even conservative politicians are liberals because of the pressure of the media, which is in liberal hands. This liberal tyranny in Europe is so strong that even talking about a turn away from liberalism is dangerous. Only in Hungary can one speak honestly, “where we can sit here and talk about these questions.” Nowhere else in Europe could that happen. One couldn’t call together such a meeting in Germany “because there one cannot say such things.” Even in Poland it would be risky.

Liberalism has been undermining the very foundations of European security, and the refugee crisis made the bankruptcy of liberalism crystal clear. Orbán further elaborated on this theme today in his regular Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió. He called western liberalism “suicidal” and said it will lead to a decline in living standards. Thus, while a year ago he tried to hide his antagonism to liberalism, now Orbán has come out and openly attacked it as the cause of the “migrant invasion.” Obviously, he thinks that foreign public opinion will be more receptive to his anti-liberal talk given the pressures of the refugee crisis.

In the eyes of the United States and its supporters

there is righteousness and there is evil that should be conquered. But at the end, it always turns out that behind it all there is something else: money, oil, raw materials. When they bombed Iraq or for that matter Syria into smithereens their action was anything but beneficial. Yet they demand that the world acknowledge that they are benefactors who stand on the right side. This is the essence of liberal foreign policy.

Orbán is looking at the Euro-Atlantic alliance as an outsider even though Hungary is a member of NATO and therefore an ally of the United States. I really don’t understand how he can cooperate with an evil power like the United States and why he sent a contingent of Hungarian soldiers to Iraq only a couple of months ago. I also don’t understand why he allows American troops into the country because at this very moment there are joint military exercises taking place in Hungary. How long will he be able to play this game?

Orbán spent a considerable amount of time on his plans for Hungary’s future. He came up with four essential ingredients. The first is the necessity of defensible borders. As he put it, “a country that has no borders is not a country.” That means that Hungary will veto any attempt to strengthen geographical and political ties among member states.

The second is “the defense of ethnic and cultural composition,” not only of Hungary but also, he hopes, of Europe. Every nation has the right to decide whether they want to change or not. He seems to think that this is the most important component of his new Europe “because at the very end this is the battle that must be won.” This is a dangerous idea which could affect the free movement of citizens of the European Union’s member states. What if the United Kingdom decides that they want to defend the current ethnic composition of the country and no longer welcome Hungarian “economic immigrants”?

Third, Hungary must remain economically competitive because in these modern times even if you are right and “morally as close as possible to perfection, if you are not successful economically they will crush you.” Economic success, however, is not an end in and of itself. It is only a vehicle for the ultimate goal: national sovereignty.

And the last ingredient of illiberal Hungary is what he calls “everyday patriotism” (mindennapi patriótizmus), to which he immediately added: “Please, don’t misunderstand me.” What is the problem with everyday patriotism? After all, what he seems to mean by it is that Hungarians should give preference to Hungarian products and should discriminate in hiring practices in favor of Hungarians. Why apologize? Well, it is because most Hungarians remember the documentary film of Mikhail Romm called “Ordinary Fascism,” which for the most part took the form of annotated excerpts of archival material that show the rise and fall of fascism, especially in Nazi Germany. The film’s Hungarian title is “Hétköznapi fasizmus” (weekday fascism), in the sense of “ordinary.” Even he felt that the phrase needed some explanation. His everyday patriotism has nothing to do with Romm’s ordinary fascism.

Thousands marching toward Nagykanizsa, Zala County

Thousands marching toward Nagykanizsa, Zala County

Well, I’m afraid we’ll have to wait for the fulfillment of Viktor Orbán’s grand vision. At the moment, all hell has broken loose along the borders and Hungary has become completely isolated. Viktor, you’re doing a heck of a job! Unfortunately, unlike Michael Brown who resigned ten days after George W. Bush thus praised him for his utterly inadequate handling of the Katrina crisis, the Hungarian prime minister is seeing both his power and his domestic popularity increase.

The origins of the refugee crisis according to Viktor Orbán. Part I

Until today only the Magyar Távirati Iroda’s summary of Viktor Orbán’s speech at Kötcse was available, and MTI’s reporting on such events is not always reliable. But today atlatszo.hu published the complete text.

First, I guess I ought to say a few words about Kötcse. Every year the Fidesz leadership makes a pilgrimage to Kötcse, a village about 10 km south of Lake Balaton, for a picnic. Besides the actual picnic there are political speeches, capped with one given by the prime minister himself. Orbán’s speeches at Kötcse are at least as important as his yearly addresses in Tusnádfrürdő/Băile Tușnad. The difference is that the speeches he makes in Kötcse are not advertised and are normally not published, whereas the speeches at Tusnádfürdő are broadcast far and wide and are translated into English in record time.

Perhaps the most significant Orbán speech at Kötcse was delivered in September 2009. It foreshadowed Viktor Orbán’s long-term plans for remaking Hungary. In it he also stated in no uncertain terms that he was planning a political system that would be in place for a couple of decades. He painted a picture of the future in which there would be none of those endless and useless political debates. I wrote about this Kötcse speech three times. First, when I read the MTI summary of it and was already alarmed and twice in February 2010 when Viktor Orbán allowed its publication in a pro-Fidesz literary magazine.

Viktor Orbán arrives in Kötcse, September 5, 2015 / MTI / Photo György Varga

Viktor Orbán arrives in Kötcse, September 5, 2015 / MTI  Photo György Varga

In these speeches Orbán almost always tries to explain that his audience is in an extraordinarily privileged position: they are getting a glimpse into the inner workings of his mind and are allowed access to his most private thoughts. Moreover, here among friends and comrades, he is able to express himself freely. Here he can talk about matters “about which it is not advisable to speak in public.” Indeed, Orbán is correct. Enlightened people are not xenophobic and don’t advocate racial purity.

Of course, even in this speech Orbán remains careful not to sound either xenophobic or racist. He chooses his words carefully. But the overall impression is still that of a highly prejudiced man. He wouldn’t go as far as the fundamentalists who talk about “a crusade” against Islam. He, as “a moderate man,” would speak only about the problem of the “Islamization of Europe.”

Orbán sees himself as the standard-bearer of this defensive war: “this is what Europe demands of us, Hungarians.” Not just from Hungarians in general “but from the elected officials of this country.” Although he and his fellow politicians have faced many challenges and conquered them, he believes that this current crisis is the greatest demand he has had to face to date. Because as a result of this crisis  and his response to it a new era will begin: “The Christian-national idea and mentality will regain its dominance not just in Hungary but in the whole of Europe.”

One often has the feeling that Viktor Orbán doesn’t have a grasp of Hungarian intellectual and political history and doesn’t realize what the “Christian-national idea,” fashionable in right-wing circles during the interwar period, meant. Otherwise, he wouldn’t appeal to it constantly. The “Christian-national idea” was born in the early twenties and had more to do with anti-Semitism than with Christianity.

Viktor Orbán, it seems, wants to spread the gospel of the “Christian-national idea and mentality” across the European Union. He wants to be in the forefront of European politics, someone who can reshape the face of Europe just as he did that of Hungary.

Orbán’s explanation for this mass migration is telling. It is not, he claims, the wars and terrorism in the Middle East and Africa that made masses of people run for safety, first to the neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon and then farther west, given the hopelessness of their lot there. According to him, the origin of this mass movement lies in globalization. “For years we have told them that ‘the world is a global village’ … we have talked about universal human rights to which everybody is entitled. We forced our ideology on them: freedom is the most important thing, we said. We bombed the hell out of those who didn’t accept our ideology…. We created the internet, we declared the freedom of information, and we told them that every human being should have access to it. We sent them our soap operas. They watch what we do…. We sent our TV stars into their homes…. they now think that our virtual space is also their space and that in this virtual space everybody can meet anybody else. … These people, partly because of our culture lent to them or forced upon them, are no longer tied to their own land and to their past.”

In Orbán’s ideal world, the people streaming into Europe should have remained ignorant of the world, they shouldn’t strive for freedom, and they shouldn’t be the beneficiaries of the kinds of human rights we are entitled to. What can one say, except to express outrage. It is shameful that this man is the leader of a European nation that is so proud of its love of freedom.

To be continued