Tag Archives: Krisztina Morvai

The new constitutional court: LMP lends a helping hand to Fidesz

After 2010 one of Fidesz’s first tasks was to “pack” the Constitutional Court. The party’s two-thirds majority allowed Viktor Orbán to add four new hand-picked judges to the eleven-member court. It was an act that transformed the court into a reliable partner of the Orbán government. It also extended the judges’ tenure to twelve years. Last year Chief Justice Péter Paczolay retired, and this year the terms of three judges will expire. So four judges needed to be appointed to bring the court back to full strength.

The problem was that Fidesz no longer has a two-thirds parliamentary majority. No longer could it single-handedly nominate its most loyal supporters. The party had to make a deal with at least one other party.

In theory, the support of Jobbik would have sufficed, but an exclusive alliance with a party considered by many to be neo-Nazi would not play well internationally. And so, however reluctantly, Fidesz invited all the opposition parties to cut a deal. The party’s suggestion was that it would nominate two judges while MSZP and Jobbik would each be entitled to nominate one.

Negotiations began in December 2015, but soon enough the talks broke down because Jobbik insisted on nominating Krisztina Morvai, Jobbik’s far-right representative in the European parliament. MSZP, after some hesitation, also withdrew from the negotiations. I don’t know how much influence the statement issued by the Károly Eötvös Institute had on the party’s decision, but it recommended the offer be rejected. Its reasoning was that all eleven judges who will remain on the court were appointed by Fidesz. Therefore any deal at this junction would only legitimize an already illegitimate body.

It was at this point that LMP showed an interest in continued negotiations. András Schiffer was still the co-chair of the party, and he didn’t agree with the Eötvös Intézet’s position. At the same time the party refused to participate in any kind of deal that would involve the other parties in the selection of the judges. Szabolcs Dull of Index thought it improbable that Fidesz would agree to LMP’s proposal. But while all the other parties condemned Schiffer’s willingness to negotiate, by January 2016 Fidesz and LMP were seriously discussing candidates for the four positions. As usual, it was the Demokratikus Koalíció that was the most vocal opponent, but Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt also protested in an open letter to András Schiffer. MSZP by mid-January decided to follow their lead.

The negotiations between Fidesz and LMP, represented by András Schiffer, continued. Between January and April Schiffer came up with 17 possible candidates for the job. Not much information about the candidates leaked out, but from the few reports I found it looks as if Schiffer negotiated hard. For example, he said he would accept a Fidesz nominee–Attila Horváth, a legal historian–only if Fidesz gave up the idea of renominating Barnabás Lenkovics. As HVG put it, the two together “would have been too much” for LMP given their strongly right-wing leanings. LMP apparently also insisted on a female candidate–Ildikó Marosi, a judge on the Kúria, Hungary’s highest court. It looked at this point as if Fidesz would swallow the bitter pill that, with the exception of Attila Horváth, all the other names came from LMP’s Schiffer. The nominees would be Marcel Szabó, Ildikó Marosi, Attila Horváth, and Balázs Schanda.

Marcel Szabó, Balázs Schanda, Ildikó Marosi, and Attila Horváth at the swearing in ceremony

Marcel Szabó, Balázs Schanda, Ildikó Marosi, and Attila Horváth at the swearing-in ceremony

But then, a few days after the publication of HVG’s report, Viktor Orbán changed his mind. The deal seemed dead for six months when, out of the blue, on November 15, Gergely Gulyás called on András Schiffer, the retired chairman of LMP, to say that his party was ready to accept the three LMP-nominated judges. The Fidesz decision was completely unexpected. Members of the parliamentary judicial committee didn’t learn about the deal until the second half of the week.

Jobbik was stunned. They had participated in only two discussions in the spring and, as far as they knew, the deal was off. Now suddenly there were four judges who were elected by secret ballot this morning. The yes votes came exclusively from Fidesz-KDNP and LMP. Altogether 136 votes, three votes over the necessary 133. LMP delivered.

It is something of a mystery why Viktor Orbán changed his mind and accepted the deal in which, at least on the surface, LMP played the dominant role. Ákos Hadházy couldn’t give a good explanation for Fidesz’s reversal on the issue. Some commentators believe that the sudden acceptance of LMP’s assistance had something to do with Fidesz’s acrimonious relations with Jobbik of late. Fidesz wanted to show Gábor Vona that it doesn’t need Jobbik; it can turn elsewhere to achieve the two-thirds majority if it wants to. Also, the government had been battered by its loss on the constitutional amendments, with Jobbik pulling its support, and an important parliamentary victory was something Viktor Orbán badly needed.

The opposition parties are up in arms. They consider the politicians of LMP collaborators in the furtherance of Orbán’s political system. Because of the absolute secrecy in which the LMP-Fidesz negotiations were conducted, we know very little about the candidates. For the time being we don’t whether Ákos Hadházy’s optimism is justified. He hopes that “perhaps this way we can stop on the road from democracy to dictatorship.” Something I very much doubt.

November 22, 2016

Hot topics of the day: Budaházy and Ráhel Orbán

The Hungarian media was preoccupied with two topics today. The first was the reaction to the stiff sentences handed out in the case of György Budaházy and his co-conspirators, who were convicted of terrorist activities. The other was the recent discovery of mysterious “negotiations” undertaken by Ráhel Orbán, eldest child of the prime minister, and her husband, István Tiborcz, in Bahrain.

The day after the trial

As one could anticipate, the Hungarian extreme right is outraged. Jobbik’s official internet news site is full of stories of the “seventeen patriots” who were in the forefront of the “national resistance” against the traitorous Gyurcsány government. What Budaházy and his friends did in 2006-2007 was a historic act. László Toroczkai, an old friend of Budaházy who today is the Jobbik mayor of Ásotthalom at the Serbian-Hungarian border, is demanding that Fidesz take a stand on the issue.

But Fidesz refuses to make any comments on the case. The closest approximation to a comment was an opinion piece by Zsolt Bayer that appeared today in Magyar Hírlap. Bayer’s memories of terrorist acts committed by the Budaházy gang, I suspect, are purposely vague. He remembers “some kind of a video of some kind of an explosion,” but basically he can’t imagine that this gentle man could possibly commit such atrocities. He is just hoping that there is “real evidence.”

In connection with the case, Bayer poses a number of questions: “Were they really the ones who threw Molotov cocktails into the houses of politicians? Were they the ones who beat up Csintalan?” And don’t forget, “the body is missing that lay on the street in Olaszliszka* as well as the one that was lifted from the lake in Kaposvár**.” Finally, Bayer says, comes the most important question: if Budaházy received 13 years, then what about Ferenc Gyurcsány and Péter Gergényi, police chief of Budapest at the time of the 2006 disturbances? After all, they are “the two most notorious miscreants of the age.” This question must be asked because “without Gyurcsány, Gergényi (and Draskovics, Szilvásy, and Bajnai) there is no Budaházy.” In brief, the guilty ones are not Budaházy and his fellow terrorists but the governments of Gyurcsány and Bajnai. I take Bayer’s attitude toward the Budaházy case to be a reasonably close approximation to the views of the Fidesz leadership.

András Schiffer’s Facebook note “Budaházy 13 years, how many for shooting out eyes” drew appreciative comments from the right, including Fidesz sympathizers. Viktor Orbán has been trying for years to implicate Gyurcsány in the “police brutality” during the 2006 street disturbances. Up to now they have been unsuccessful. They couldn’t come up with anything to tie Gyurcsány to the police action at the time. The decision to deal with the situation was entirely in the hands of the police chief and his close associates. And even at that level, although the Orbán government brought charges against Gergényi, they couldn’t prove their case.

According to Jobbik and Fidesz supporters, what happened on the streets in 2006 was “police terror,” pure and simple. They therefore equate the “terrorism” of Gyurcsány with the terrorist acts of Budaházy and his companions. The other side, by contrast, remains convinced that the disturbances were an attempt to overthrow the legitimate government of the country and that Fidesz politicians were in touch with the leaders of the mob that was supposed spark a general revolt in the population. It just didn’t work out. András Schiffer, who is allegedly a democratic politician, sided with the extreme right and Fidesz on this issue. It is no wonder that the liberals and socialists are outraged.

The most eloquent condemnation of Schiffer came from Árpád W. Tóta in HVG, according to whom “András Schiffer took a deep breath and sank to the deep where Krisztina Morvai*** resides.” Schiffer should know the difference between an accident that happens during the dispersion of a crowd and premeditated criminal acts committed in a conspiratorial manner. Tóta admits that he never had a good opinion of Schiffer, but he never thought that Schiffer was wired into the same circuit as Krisztina Morvai. I can only agree with Tóta.

Ráhel Orbán and her husband in Bahrain

I must say that Ráhel Orbán, who by now is 27 years old, gets herself into a lot of trouble, unlike her brother Gáspár and younger sister Sára. One reason is that she appears to be interested in politics. Moreover, it seems that father and daughter work together on projects. As we know, Ráhel is interested in the entertainment and tourist industry. A few months ago there was a lot of talk about the government’s centralization of the industry under an umbrella organization in which Ráhel might play a prominent role. But, and this is yesterday’s scoop, it seems that Ráhel might also have been given an unofficial diplomatic assignment.

444.hu discovered an article on the website of Bahrain’s National Oil & Gas Authority (NOGA) with accompanying photos showing the Minister of Energy Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza, Ahmed Ali Al Sharyan, the general-secretary of NOGA, Ms. Ráhel Orbán, mistakenly identified as the wife of the prime minister of Hungary, and Balázs Garamvölgyi, the Hungarian consul in Bahrain. István Tiborcz, also in the picture, was not identified in the caption. This visit took place in September 2015. According to the article

They discussed a number of global oil and gas market and energy issues (…) investment opportunities and expanding economic and trade ties between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Republic of Hungary. They discussed the benefit to the national economy in both friendly countries from improved cooperation.

Ms. Orban and her accompanying delegation expressed their deep appreciation to H.E. Dr. Mirza and thanked him for the warm reception and issues discussed, which were aimed at creating a sustainable business environment and helping build new trade and investment bridges between the two countries that will enhance the economic interests of both. They wished every success to the Kingdom for further development and prosperity.

The press department of the prime minister’s office had no information on Ráhel Orbán’s trip to Bahrain. A few hours later, however, Ráhel Orbán in her usual arrogant style released a statement saying that “between September 17 and 20, 2015 my husband and I paid a private visit to Barhrain [sic]. We paid for all expenses. All other claims are lies,” I guess even NOGA’s press release. Diplomacy is not her strength. Father and daughter express themselves forcefully. Of course, this answer is no answer at all. No one claimed that it was the Hungarian government that paid for their trip. The issue is her involvement in negotiations with Bahrain’s minister of energy.

bahrein1

Panic must have set in government circles after the revelations of 444.hu and word must have reached the politicians in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, because by now the objectionable text about negotiations has disappeared and has been replaced by the following:

Minister of Energy His Excellency Dr. Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza received in his office at the National Oil and Gas Authority (NOGA) on a courtesy visit, the daughter of Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary Ms. Rahel Orban, accompanied by the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Hungary to the Kingdom of Bahrain Mr. Balazs Garamvolgyi, in the presence of Dr. Ahmed Ali Al Sharyan, the NOGA General Secretary.

H.E. Dr. Mirza welcomed the distinguished visitors in the Kingdom of Bahrain and gave a brief overview of the economy of Bahrain.

Ms. Orban and the accompanying guests expressed their deep appreciation for H.E. Dr. Mirza, and thanked him for the warm reception.

They wished every success to the Kingdom for further development and prosperity.

Journalists at Index had a lot of fun with Balázs Garamvölgyi, who gave “probably the best mini-interview of his life” because he conveniently forgot what he was doing in Bahrain. As he said, “it was last September and I really no longer remember.” But one thing HírTV managed to learn: Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, had no knowledge of any official trip undertaken by Ráhel and her husband to Bahrain.

István Tiborcz definitely needs a new suit and Ráhel a new dress

István Tiborcz definitely needs a new suit and Ráhel a new dress

The latest piece of news is that one month after Ráhel Orbán’s visit to Bahrain a delegation from MOL, an international oil and gas company headquartered in Budapest, paid a visit to Abdul Hussein bin Ali Mirza, minister and head of the National Oil and Gas Authority. Garamvölgyi, who seems to have miraculously recovered from amnesia, insists that the two visits had absolutely nothing to do with one another. Of course not. The author of the blog “Most és Itt” (Now and Here) told this story in the form of a fairy tale (“The little royal princess Ráhel in Bahrain”). Most adults no longer believe in fairy tales just as we don’t believe that the two events had nothing to do with one another. Let’s finish this story with the customary last line in Hungarian fairy tales: “Itt a vége, fuss el véle.” Here is the end, run with it.

—-

*Olaszliszka was the town where a group of Roma killed a man driving through town because they thought that a little girl had been killed by his car.

**A reference to the brutal murder of a little boy whose body was thrown into a lake near Kaposvár in 2012.

***Krisztina Morvai began her career as a liberal civil rights lawyer but eventually ended up as a fiercely anti-Semitic member of Jobbik. Currently she represents the party in the EU Parliament.

August 31, 2016

Jobbik as a challenger of Fidesz?

A year and a half ago Gábor Vona, the leader of the Jobbik party, paid a quick visit to London to meet with his party’s supporters among Hungarians working in Great Britain. The trip turned out to be a huge embarrassment for Vona. He and his followers were forced to move to another location after they were confronted with protesters waving signs saying “No Nazis, no Golden Dawn, no Jobbik, no BNP.” A few days before his arrival The Guardian had a piece on Jobbik and Vona and came to the conclusion that the “fascist Hungarian Gábor Vona is not the sort of immigrant we want in the UK.”

The same Gábor Vona at a camp organized by EMI (Erdélyi Magyar Fiatalok / Transylvanian Hungarian Youth) said the other day that “Nazis have no place in Jobbik. If anyone is attracted to the Nazi ideology he should go and establish a party of his own.”

In the last six  months, in the wake of a sudden surge in the party’s popularity in the late fall and winter of 2014, Vona decided on a new strategy. With the precipitous fall in Fidesz’s popularity at the same time, Jobbik became the second largest party in the country. The leaders of Jobbik thought that their party might be the one that could be the foremost challenger of Fidesz at the next national election in 2018. Vona also realized that with the party’s current ideology its chances of appealing to a wider audience was practically nil. There will always be 15-20% of the electorate who will vote for a party espousing anti-Semitism and anti-Roma views, but that is not enough to defeat a party whose supporters come from all walks of life. So came a new slogan: Jobbik must become a “néppárt” (people’s party). That in Hungarian political parlance means a party whose support is not restricted to a narrow segment of society but recruits its followers from all socio-economic segments of society.

Since the announcement of the new strategy the Hungarian media has been preoccupied with Jobbik and its future, most of which I find rather tiresome. According to some analysts, Vona’s new strategy has been so successful that Vona can easily become the next prime minister of Hungary. The best example of this kind of alarmist sentiment appeared in Index, from which we learn that indeed “Jobbik has followers from the richest to the poorest strata of Hungarian society, and their program preordains them to be the most popular party in Hungary unless Fidesz figures out something by the end of the year.” And that is not all. According to Tamás Fábián, the author of the article, Vona has been more successful than Péter Szijjártó when it comes to acquiring friends in the East. He carefully lists those embassies in Budapest which sent representatives to Jobbik’s last congress and adds that today even “Putin would gladly meet Vona.” The only problem with all this is that Jobbik’s popularity, after an initial upsurge, has been stagnating and in fact, according some of the polls, in the last two months the party even lost support.

There might also be another strategy change in the offing in Jobbik. In 2010 Gábor Vona published an article in Barikád, the party’s weekly, which since has resurfaced as a topic for discussion. In it we read about Jobbik’s warm relations to the Muslim world. Why? Because “there is only one culture left which seeks to preserve its tradition: it is the Islamic world.” Vona considered Islam “mankind’s last remaining bastion of traditional culture…. If Islam fails, the light will go out completely…. History will really come to an end and there will be no happy ending.”

Three years later in Morocco Vona declared that “Islam is the last hope for humanity in the darkness of globalism and liberalism.” In April of this year during a trip to Turkey he fiercely defended Turkey in the face of international criticism over its unwillingness to take responsibility for the Armenian massacre. He even criticized the pope for calling the events of 1915 “the first genocide of the twentieth century,” a remark he found “inappropriate.”

Jobbik also made its position clear on Hungarian participation in the international effort against ISIS. Márton Gyöngyösi, the party’s foreign policy expert, said at a press conference that “although Jobbik looked on the rampage of ISIS with utmost pain, the party could not support any action that could expose Hungary’s security to danger.” He reminded his listeners of an interview given to CNN by Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, in which “Clark acknowledged that Muslim fundamentalists of the Middle East were recruited with the support of the United States of America and its friends in order to fight against Hezbollah.”

The love affair between Jobbik and the Hungarian Muslim community, however, is now over. One of the three imams of the Magyar Iszlám Közösség (Hungarian Islamic Community), Ahmed Miklós Kovács, declared fatva against Jobbik and forbade any communication between Muslims and Jobbik or any other extremist groups. He admitted that in the past many Hungarian Muslims voted for Jobbik and some of them joined para-military groups or the party itself. But this is now over because “these organizations have become enemies of the Muslims.”

Jobbik’s has not publicly announced any policy change toward Islam, but the imam is obviously aware of a change of attitude. Indeed, Jobbik’s internet site, Alfahír, makes it abundantly clear practically every day that Jobbik has zero tolerance toward the refugees, most of whom come from Muslim countries. Jobbik organized several rallies against the refugees, and the latest gathering in Pécs against building a refugee camp near the city had Jobbik support. A message from Krisztina Morvai, a Jobbik member of the European Parliament, was greeted with great delight and approval. The same Krisztina Morvai is planning to produce a documentary film on the “illegal migrants” crossing the Serb-Hungarian border at Ásotthalom, where László Toroczkai, the far-right leader of the 64 Counties Youth Movement in Hungary, is the mayor. He has done a lot to poison the atmosphere in the region by inciting the population against the refugees. All in all, Jobbik, sensing the growing anti-Muslim attitude in Hungary, will most likely quietly drop its pro-Islam stance.

Finally, I would like to quote from Cas Mudde’s recent article on the nature of the Orbán regime.

Misguided emphasis on the most extreme and photogenic radical right groups also plays out in Hungary. As the international media continues to give little or no attention to the increasingly radical right rhetoric of prime minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party, they continue to publish alarmist articles and op-eds about the rise of the radical right Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik) – despite the fact that Fidesz probably has a more radical discourse (though not ideology) than Jobbik.

János Dési, a journalist who currently works for KlubRádió, wrote a book with the title Melyik a Jobbik? (Which one is Jobbik?) The book’s cover says it all.

desi

It would be better to worry about the Fidesz that “Orbán has transformed … into a party that seems increasingly driven by a combination of nativism, authoritarianism, and populism–hallmarks of radical right ideology,” to quote Mudde.

The European Parliament’s debate on Hungary

I spent almost three hours watching the debate in the European Parliament on the Tavares report. We discussed this report at length at the time of its passage in the LIBE Commission of the European Parliament. In addition, I published Rui Tavares’s letter to the Hungarian people both in English and in Hungarian. So, the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are aware that the report is a thoroughly researched document that in many ways echoes the findings of the independent judges of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

I found two good summaries of the debate, both in Hungarian. One appeared in Népszabadság and the other on the new Internet website called 444! But it is one thing to read a summary and another to see the debate live. Just to watch Viktor Orbán’s face was itself educational. Sometimes he looked vaguely amused, but most of the time his smile was sardonic. Who can forget that disdainful expression on Orbán’s face when one of his critics, Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberals in the European parliament and former prime minister of Belgium, mentioned the name of  György Konrád, “the great Hungarian writer”? And when he heard something he didn’t like, Orbán raised his eyebrows and shook his head in disbelief. He considered all criticism utterly baseless and, through body language and facial expressions, made no secret of it. It’s too bad that most of the people in the chamber didn’t see all that since Orbán sat in the front row.

Viktor Orbán listening to the speeches / Reuters, Vincent Kessler

Viktor Orbán listening to the speeches / Reuters, Vincent Kessler

Unfortunately the camera didn’t show Orbán when several people tried to explain to him that his concept of democracy is peculiar. He believes in the “dictatorship of the majority” or “majoritarian rule.” Verhofstadt even invoked John Stuart Mill’s words on the subject in his work On Liberty. In fact, one of the major criticisms centered around the nature of democracy and whether Hungary can still be called a democracy. If one were to ask Verhofstadt he would say: “No, Hungary is not a democracy anymore but ‘demokratúra’ as György Konrád called it.” Several other critics agreed with Verhofstadt although they may not have been so explicit.

A second core topic was the question of freedom and the Orbán government’s “war of independence” against the European Union. Several people expressed their bafflement at the very idea of defending the country from a Union to which Hungary belongs. Actually, here again two worldviews clashed. The one held by Viktor Orbán and his entourage maintains that nation states are the only legitimate formations and that they shouldn’t be superseded in any way by a supranational entity such as the European Union. If one holds this view, as Orbán does, then it is perfectly understandable that he defends his nation against the encroachment of the European Union. The problem is that Hungary joined the European Union of its own volition and thereby its government is obliged to follow EU rules. Orbán attempts to resolve this apparent conflict by claiming that the Union is overstepping its authority, and therefore he has every right to resist its attempt at a “guardianship” that he will never accept.

Another important topic of discussion was Orbán’s interpretation of the criticism of his government as an attack on Hungary and the Hungarian people. Several critics rejected this view, making it clear that their criticisms are directed against the Orbán government and not the Hungarian people. In fact, some of the speakers argued that in their opinion it is the Hungarian people who must be shielded against the authoritarian behavior and laws of their own government.

As for Viktor Orbán, he had two opportunities to speak. At the beginning, right after Rui Tavares and Juán Manuel Barroso, and at the end, just before the leaders of the various parliamentary caucuses could answer him. In his first speech he was quite polite and a great deal less aggressive than is his wont. However, after listening to the debate where the Christian Democratic and Conservative voices were drowned out by speeches delivered by the liberals, socialists, and greens, Orbán returned to his true self. As Gabriella Zimmer (a German socialist) said, Orbán didn’t come to Strasbourg “to debate”; he came to express his anger at what he considers to be interference in Hungarian domestic affairs that are within the sole jurisdiction of the Hungarian government, parliament, and courts. He finished his speech with a refusal to accept tutelage from Brussels. For good measure he accused them of  having double standards and of defending the multinational corporations and banks. I had the feeling that by that time Orbán believed that he had nothing to lose. It was no longer necessary to try to mollify the EU parliamentarians. No matter what he does, I suspect he reasoned, the vote will go against him.

And a few more words about the performance of Fidesz and Jobbik MEPs. What can I say? It was embarrassing. Szájer’s comments were the most outrageous. He was not on the list of official speakers but he asked to be recognized perhaps three times. In the first instance he outright lied when he announced that foreign investment was never greater in Hungary than in the last two or three years. Then he claimed that the members of the European Union are afraid of the truth and that’s why they don’t want to give Orbán the opportunity to speak. Both Verhofstadt and Martin Schulz, the president of  the EP, corrected Szájer. After all, they were the ones who asked Viktor Orbán to come to the plenary session of the European Parliament. But that was not enough for Szájer. He retorted that even in Stalin’s show trials more time was allotted to the accused than to the accusers. Well, that’s when Martin Schulz’s patience ran out. He reprimanded Szájer for making any comparison between Stalin’s show trials and the European Union. But Szájer is not the kind of guy who knows when to stop. He got up again and tried to explain away his unfortunate remark. He repeated his reference to Stalin’s show trials and added that it was only the time limit that he had in mind. Schulz was not impressed and rebuked him again. Szájer did a disservice to the Fidesz cause.

Kinga Gál, another Fidesz MEP, was one of the official speakers. She didn’t fare any better than Szájer. In her speech she challenged the democratic nature of the European Parliament that voted in committee for the Tavares report. Schulz gave her a piece of his mind. He told her that it is impossible to claim that majority rule in Hungary is perfectly legitimate while questioning the democratic nature of majority rule in the European Parliament. After all, the majority of LIBE members voted for the Tavares report.

The third Fidesz MEP, Ágnes Hankiss, asked to raise a “question.” It turned out that she in fact planned to deliver a lecture on the injustices of the Tavares report. Schulz interrupted her, saying that she was abusing the privilege of posing questions. Hankiss tried to go on but was stopped.

And if that weren’t enough, we had the privilege of listening to Krisztina Morvai (Jobbik) twice. No EU parliamentary caucus accepted Jobbik and therefore they sit as unaffiliated members. Thus she had the privilege of speaking twice, just as the other leaders of the various parties. She sported a blouse adorned with Hungarian folk motifs and held up a sign reading “HUNGARY ≠COLONY.” Otherwise, although Orbán emphasized that he is the one who is most fiercely attacked by the far-right Jobbik, Morvai defended Fidesz and its policies all the way while accusing Viviane Reding of meddling in Hungarian affairs. Her second speech was especially remarkable. She recalled her days working with battered women who often thought that they could change their abusive husband’s behavior by pleasing him, working harder, and being the best of housewives. But eventually when the husband’s behavior remained the same, they came to the conclusion that there was only one remedy: divorce. So, Hungary should pack up and leave the Union if this abuse continues. After that ringing defense of Fidesz it will be difficult for Orbán to maintain his fierce opposition to the far right. After all, they speak the same language and Jobbik fights alongside Fidesz for the “honor of Hungary.” Frank Engel (Luxembourg EPP member) sarcastically remarked immediately afterwards that he hoped that “Ms Morvai has not just offered to go into coalition with Fidesz.”

The vote will take place tomorrow at 11:30 European time or 5:30 EDT. I will be watching.

A severe blow to the Orbán government: The Tavares report is accepted by the LIBE Commission

After less than a day of very hard work getting everything installed and tweaked on my new computer I’m up and running with only minor temporary inconveniences. So, it is time to return to my daily routine of  monitoring the Hungarian media. Today I’ll concentrate on the Tavares report that was prepared for a vote in the European Parliamentary Committee of  Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).

You may recall that I left off with the approximately 500 amendments to the draft report, of which about 200 were submitted by Fidesz MEPs and a Slovak and a Romanian member of parliament of Hungarian nationality. The vote was scheduled for June 19.

Given the enormous number of amendments, Hungarian newspapers predicted that the session would be very long, taken up with debating each of the submitted amendments, and they seemed to be surprised that after only two or three hours it was all over. They also emphasized that the committee was highly divided on the issue and so the vote one way or the other would be very close. That prediction also turned out to be erroneous. Of the 58 people present (the committee has 60 members) 31 voted for the report, 19 against it, and 8 abstained. I wouldn’t call that exactly close. In fact, observers in Brussels were somewhat surprised at the outcome. They expected a much closer vote, considering that half of the members come from either the European People’s Party (EPP) or the group of conservatives and reformers.

Kinga Gál (Fidesz), one of the deputy chairmen of LIBE, immediately announced that it was a lie that some EPP members voted for the Tavares report, adding that a few of them abstained. But the numbers don’t add up. Someone from that group had to endorse the report. After all, there were 29 right-of-center MEPs present. But even Fidesz MEPs had to admit that, in spite of very heavy lobbying, they failed to alter the text of the original proposal in any significant way. Most of the Fidesz amendments were thrown out.

One substantive suggestion came from the chairman of LIBE, Juan Fernando López, who proposed some additional text. He suggested that a serious investigation of the new Hungarian election laws be undertaken and that the Office of Human Rights actually monitor the forthcoming election. Quite a blow for a member country of the European Union. A first.

It seems that some Hungarian MEPs felt compelled to make a scene. I guess nobody who knows anything about Krisztina Morvai (Jobbik) will be terribly surprised to learn that she managed to wreak havoc in the committee meeting. Morvai is not a member of LIBE, she was there only as a spectator. Just before Chairman López called for a final vote, she interrupted the proceedings. She  denied the legality of the procedures followed by the committee and held up a poster reading: “The European Union is a dictatorship.” López warned her that “the European Parliament is not a circus.”

The tooth lion of the Chain Bridge, Budapest / commons.wikipedia.org

The toothless lion of the Chain Bridge, Budapest commons.wikipedia.org

As it turned out, some members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats were convinced that Morvai was a Fidesz MEP; after all, her arguments in defense of the Hungarian government’s position were identical to those articulated by Enikő Győri, undersecretary in charge of European Union Affairs, except Győri used milder language. She called the report “deeply biased” and claimed that even the report’s facts don’t stand up to scrutiny. The committee discarded corrections of factual errors that EPP members submitted to the committee. Therefore, the Hungarian government still cannot subscribe to the report’s conclusions. She contended that the report is a political document that was heavily influenced by party politics. After all, she claimed, European parliamentary elections will be held next year and therefore it was predictable that the split in the committee was entirely along party lines. As we have seen, Győri is not exactly reliable on this point. Her verdict was that “the committee clearly overstepped its authority.”

The Fidesz MEPs went even further. They announced point blank that the Tavares report’s acceptance by the LIBE commission has “neither legal, nor budgetary, nor economic consequences.” The same is true of the possible adoption of the report by the full plenary session of the European Parliament sometime in July. One could ask: if the European Parliament is such a toothless lion, what on earth is the Fidesz delegation doing in Brussels? Why do they even bother to participate in the useless activities of the European Parliament?

As for the Tavares report, it is no more than “a party dictate of the European Left.” As far as the Fidesz delegation is concerned, this document is simply unacceptable. In any case, it is the end of the excessive deficit procedure that really matters and that was approved by Ecofin today. The delegation also expressed its optimism concerning a satisfactory resolution to the Hungarian government’s debate surrounding the fourth amendment to the new Hungarian constitution which, they are certain, will end in Hungary’s favor. I find this last prediction just a bit premature considering the very strong condemnation of the latest constitutional amendments by the Venice Commission, which is comprised of internationally renowned constitutional lawyers.

There is no question that the adoption of the Tavares report is a severe blow to the Hungarian government. The answers referencing bias, party politics, and the European Parliamentary election next year sound hollow, especially if one takes the trouble to read the Tavares report or the opinions of the Venice Commission.

The right-wing media on the parliamentary debate on Hungary in Strasbourg

While the opposition papers published scores of articles before and after the European parliamentary discussion in Strasbourg, government organs have been fairly quiet. Of those few articles that did appear in Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap some were simply personal attacks on European parliamentary members who are in one way or the other connected with the Hungarian case.

Way ahead of the parliamentary debate Magyar Nemzet made certain that its readers know who that horrible Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, is. Where he came from and how he got the top EP job. The article was written by János Boros, a professor of philosophy who made a rather unsavory name for himself as one of the henchmen of the Orbán government involved in the attack against liberal philosophers back in 2011. I wrote about him and the Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at that time. His new mission was to explain to those unsuspecting Hungarians who don’t read Der Spiegel or any other foreign newspaper that Schulz is a truly despicable character.

A while back Der Spiegel had a spread on the career of  Schulz–from a troubled youth to one of the best known figures in European politics. But while Der Spiegel talked about the road he traveled in admiring terms, Boros finished his article this way: “His first girlfriend, who left him because he was in a drunken stupor too often, today is proud of him. Schulz is also proud of himself. But whom should Europe be proud of? And the European Hungary?” Although the article is not at all original because Boros only quotes a sentence here and a sentence there from Der Spiegel, his choices were intended to show Schulz in the worst possible light.

T. Gyula Máté of Magyar Hírlap wrote an even more tasteless piece on Hannes Swoboda, the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, whom he called “the lapdog of Reding.” He imagined a breakfast meeting with the Hungarian socialist MP Zita Gurmai–Genosse Zita, as Máté called her–who naturally misinforms Swoboda about the Hungarian situation. As if Swoboda needed a lot of outside information. He is an Austrian who is connected to Hungary by family ties. His mother’s family is from Miskolc and he visits Hungary quite often. In any case, according to Máté, Swoboda’s argumentation during the debate clearly showed that Reding’s strategy of courting the socialists and liberals to bolster her candidacy for the presidency of the European Commission is bearing fruit. I might add that Máté misspelled the name of Swoboda as well as Luxembourg throughout.

Only Hungary has gripes against Viviane Reding? Europe's bulldog / Heti Válasz, April 11, 2013

Only Hungary has gripes against Viviane Reding?
Europe’s bulldog / Heti Válasz, April 11, 2013

Well, if Swoboda is a lapdog, Reding is a bulldog. At least according to Heti Válasz, a pro-government weekly. A bulldog is considered to be stubbornly persistent. But it seems that Reding is more than that. She is also a schemer, at least according to Magyar Nemzet, who most likely passed on the “lie” about the dissatisfaction of the European People’s Party with Viktor Orbán to Új Magyar Szó, a Hungarian-language paper from Cluj/Kolozsvár. She decided to pick a journalist from a Hungarian paper in Romania to spread the news worldwide!

Another Magyar Nemzet article appeared today under the headline “The left uses the methods of the communist secret police.” This piece of nonsense came from Ágnes Hankiss, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament. In her opinion the very fact that the debate on the “Hungarian question” took place in Strasbourg signifies that the 2014 European parliamentary campaign has already begun. At the center of the campaign is “the weakening of the EPP and the Christian Democratic parties.”  She also immediately addressed a letter to Viviane Reding asking her opinion on the Slovak government’s prohibition of dual citizenship for its Slovak-Hungarian minority. Surely, this is an attempt to prove Reding’s partiality.

I might also mention here that during the parliamentary debate only a Pole from the PiS of Jarosław Kaczyński and Krisztina Morvai of Jobbik defended the Hungarian government. Morvai’s speech is available on YouTube. Judging from the comments, it seems that only Jobbik members and sympathizers have visited the site. Morvai, just like her close friends in Fidesz, lobbed personal attacks on Viviane Reding and Rui Tavares, the chairman of  a parliamentary committee (LIBE) that is in charge of preparing the working documents on the Hungarian case for consideration by the whole parliament.

She declared that since neither Reding nor Tavares has a law degree neither of them is qualified for the job. Moreover, the whole procedure against Hungary is unlawful and “explicitly arbitrary.” It is part of the “European Union’s war against Hungary.”

This is how the Orbán government, its media, and their Jobbik friends are casting the European Union debate. Surely, if they were so confident that their legislative actions would pass scrutiny they wouldn’t have to resort to character assassination. But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is exactly what Fidesz politicians have been doing for almost twenty years. They have plenty of practice.

The newest judge of the Hungarian constitutional court: A man jointly supported by Fidesz and Jobbik

You may recall that Viktor Orbán “packed” the Constitutional Court in July 2011. He nominated and parliament approved four new judges, increasing the size of the court from eleven to fifteen. Since then there was another Fidesz-KDNP appointee, László Salamon, who replaced Mihály Bihari who had to retire because he reached the age of seventy. László Salamon prior to his appointment was a KDNP member of parliament. So much for even the semblance of impartiality and independence. Another sitting judge, András Holló, will turn seventy in April, which provided an opportunity to further tip the Constitutional Court in Orbán’s favor.

The earlier Orbán appointments were criticized because the appointees didn’t have the necessary qualifications. Moreover, it was clear that these people were fully committed to the current government. Indeed, for the most part these four new judges have voted as a bloc in favor of the government’s position.

Imre Juhász / MTI, Photo László Beliczay

Imre Juhász / MTI, Photo László Beliczay

The new appointment, announced on March 19 and voted on the next day, is perhaps the most unacceptable of all. It looks as if Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik struck a deal to appoint Imre Juhász, who is considered to be close to Jobbik. Here are some headlines that tell a lot about the general perception: “The right hand of Krisztina Morvai will be the new judge of the Constitutional Court,” “Fidesz and Jobbik made a deal,” “Imre Juhász is only a gesture to Jobbik.”

So, who is this Imre Juhász? Yes, he has a law degree. Shortly after graduation in 1986 he started teaching civil procedure at his alma mater, ELTE’s law school. First as a T.A. and from 1992 on as an assistant professor and later as an associate professor. Eventually he received a doctorate in law.

He became well known not because of his teaching activities but because he was one of the founding members of the Civic Legal Committee (Civil Jogász Bizottság). The committee’s shining light was Krisztina Morvai, who later became a prominent member of Jobbik and today serves as one of the party’s members of the European Parliament. I might add that the second star of this committee was Zoltán Balog, currently minister in charge of education, health, culture, sports and everything else under the sun. This unofficial far-right “committee” was set up to investigate the events of the September-October 2006 riots, especially the activities of the police. There was also an official investigating committee comprised of former police chiefs, sociologists, lawyers, and historians under the leadership of Katalin Gönczöl (Gönczöl Bizottság) that arrived at a critical but balanced assessment of the events.

Not so Morvai’s committee, whose seemingly sole purpose was to assist Viktor Orbán in discrediting Ferenc Gyurcsány and his government. I must say that they were very successful. They managed by repeated and noisy accusations to falsify the history of those days. Moreover, by now most people, including liberals and socialists who ought to know better, swear that there was a concerted police attack on innocent bystanders.

Balog already received his much deserved reward for services rendered. He is one of the most powerful ministers in Orbán’s government and perhaps the closest to the prime minister. Since Krisztina Morvai joined Jobbik, she cannot be openly supported by the present government, but surely Viktor Orbán must be grateful to her for the terrific job she did. The book the committee published was translated into English, and I understand that it was one of the two books Gergely Gulyás handed to Senator Ben Cardin at the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s hearing the other day. And now Imre Juhász receives a top job from the grateful Viktor Orbán.

MSZP, DK, and PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért) boycotted the parliamentary committee that considered Juhász’s nomination. Only Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik MPs were present, and they enthusiastically endorsed Juhász. Tamás Gaudi-Nagy (Jobbik) explained that his party didn’t have an official candidate, but they can heartily endorse Juhász. Indeed, it would have been strange if they didn’t.

From what Juhász said in his hearing before the committee, we can have no doubt that he will be an obliging appointee. He doesn’t have any problems with the new restrictions on the constitutional court. If earlier decisions cannot be used, no problem. One must follow the new constitution without considering any legal renderings of the past. He also seems to be enamored with the “historical constitution,” which should receive much greater emphasis than it does currently. As far as the limits of the constitutional court are concerned, Juhász endorses the absolute supremacy of parliament. As we know from Kim Scheppele’s argument, this means the elimination of checks and balances and can lead to tyranny. He talked about his plans to defend the rights of Hungarians in the neighboring countries, something that I find difficult to comprehend. He as a member of the Hungarian Constitutional Court has no jurisdiction across borders. If Juhász actually means what he said to the committee, we may well be faced with a lot of unpleasantness between the Hungarian government and its neighbors.

Another hobbyhorse of Juhász is the repeal of the so-called Beneš doctrine. In his curriculum vitae Juhász called attention to his efforts when he referred to the two petitions he delivered to the European Parliament. The first in 2007 and the second in 2012. He handed in the more recent one jointly with Alida Hahn-Seidl, the representative of the Hunnia Baráti Kör (Hunnia Fraternity).

Gergely Bárándy, MSZP’s legal expert, called the nomination a hoax (kutyakomédia) in which his party will not participate. Gergely Karácsony announced that PM members will not pick up their ballots. DK announced the boycott even earlier. So, when it came to the final tally there were only 298 members present, of whom 286 members voted for Juhász and 12 voted against him. As far as I know, LMP remained in the chamber. And, by the way, over the weekend LMP decided that they will not negotiate with Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 14 or any other opposition party.