The other day, while discussing Péter Juhász’s indiscretions, I noted that a politician must choose his words carefully and be mindful of what information he shares with the public. Overly talkative politicians are normally found in MSZP, where party discipline is lax and individual party leaders often espouse views that contradict official policy. Such speaking out of turn is practically unknown in Fidesz with its stringent party discipline. Spokesmen for the party get their orders, and they faithfully repeat whatever the current slogan is that comes from the propaganda and communication gurus. The monotony that results might be very dull for journalists and political junkies, but it is effective.
One high-ranking Fidesz politician who is something of an exception is János Lázár, who has been in charge of the huge prime minister’s office ever since 2012. From the outside it may look as if Lázár is the person who is actually running the show, but no one should be misled. Viktor Orbán might be gallivanting around and delivering deep “philosophical” lectures to his captive audiences, but practically all decisions, large and small, come from him.
This is also true about decisions regarding the individuals with whom he works. Whether one describes the relationship between Viktor Orbán and his associates as akin to the bond that exists between the godfather and his subordinates in the family or the bond that existed between the seigneur and his vassals, Orbán can move his people around as if they were pieces on a chessboard. János Áder, currently the president of the country, had no intention of leaving the European Parliament, but in the end he reluctantly took the job, and by now there is no way out. Antal Rogán was quite happy as the leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary caucus, but in 2015 he was ordered to head the newly created propaganda ministry. Lázár’s move to the prime minister’s office was very much the same story. He had to quit his job as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely halfway through his term, a job he loved, to oversee the prime minister’s office.
János Lázár might not enjoy his current job all that much because, in the last year or so, he has been talking about his desire to return to the life of an ordinary member of parliament, representing electoral district #4 in Csongrád County. He likes to talk to his constituents. Despite his arduous job in Budapest, he still lives in Hódmezővásárhely. And according to those in the know, nothing can happen in town without Lázár’s nod. Talking about personal preferences is unheard of in Fidesz circles, and therefore I can’t help thinking that Lázár’s departure from the prime minister’s office might be in Viktor Orbán’s playbook. It is possible that Lázár has already been told that after the election there will be a personnel shakeup and his place will be occupied by someone else.
In any case, there are signs that Lázár is preparing for another role. He, who used to jealously guard his family’s private life, just started a professional-looking internet site on which one can see touching family scenes and where his wife describes life in the Lázár household and her husband as the father of her children. Lázár is extremely popular in his district. He easily won all the elections since 2002, and therefore he doesn’t need this kind of advertising. People suspect that Lázár wants to attract national attention, perhaps even as someone who could replace Viktor Orbán if and when the time comes. Such ambitions, if they are too obvious, are hazardous to one’s health in Orbán’s Hungary. As it is, Lázár might be in trouble over his role as István Tiborcz’s first customer as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely.
The spectacular business career of Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law began in Hódmezővásárhely, most likely at the request of the prime minister himself. Last November the overly talkative Lázár, replying to a question, admitted that he and Tiborcz “together figured out how to solve the public lighting problem” in his city. At that time, he spent an inordinate amount of time trying to explain that in 2010, when the two met, Tiborcz had no connection whatsoever with the Orbán family. Unfortunately for Lázár, no amount of protestation will change the fact that the romantic relationship between Tiborcz and Ráhel Orbán began in 2008, and by 2010 Tiborcz was considered to be practically one of the family. Or, at least he was part of the post-election celebration, standing alongside the members of the Orbán clan.
I doubt that Orbán is happy with the way Lázár is handling the situation, but there is no good way of downplaying this well documented fraud case. The line that Tiborcz had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation of the firm cannot be maintained for long. First of all, there is Lázár’s own admission of his collaboration with Tiborcz. Second, there is an interview with Bálint Erdei, Tiborcz’s partner in Elios, from 2015 in which he stated that there was a division of labor between them as far as running the business was concerned. He did the “operative” work and Tiborcz was in charge of “the strategic fine-tuning.” Maintaining that it was Lajos Simicska who was responsible for what happened is not a viable option for the government, especially since only three of the 35 contracts in question were signed while Simicska was involved with the firm.
And so, Orbán will have to find someone else to take the fall for this affair. Government propagandists like Gergely Huth of Pesti Srácok only a couple of days ago accused Lázár of trying to drag Tiborcz into the Elios affair and thereby involving Viktor Orbán himself in the scandal. Alfahír, Jobbik’s official news site, heard that some people could see a way out of this sticky situation if they could blame Lázár for the whole thing. EU subsidies are handled exclusively by the prime minister’s office, after all. Will he be the sacrificial lamb?, asks Magyar Nemzet, because stories to that effect have reached the paper.
Today János Lázár held his regular press conference at which Ildikó Csuhaj of ATV asked him whether it is true that to some of his closer friends he complained that “some people want to shove him into the epicenter of the Elios affair.” He called the story “rubbish” (marhaság). It does sound far-fetched, but it may be one way of both stifling Lázár’s political ambitions and shielding the prime minister’s son-in-law.