Tag Archives: László Földi

László Földi, “security expert” in the service of the Orbán government

This is not the first time that I’ve written about László Földi, one of the handful of national security “experts” who serve the Orbán government. In October 2015 I devoted about four paragraphs to his background and some of his strongly held beliefs about the world which, I believe, have mighty little to do with reality. The media, however, offers plenty of opportunity for this soft-spoken former intelligence officer from the secret service apparatus of the Kádár regime to spread his outlandish views, not just on the refugee question but also on Hungary’s security in general. In Földi’s view the world is full of spies, internal as well as foreign, who are trying to undermine the present government of the country.

Only recently I commented on those features of the first Orbán government (1998-2002) that show a suspicious resemblance to the present practices of Fidesz. One of these was the fattening up of enterprises run by people who in the past were useful players in Viktor Orbán’s power game. László Földi is one of these people.

With the help of Péter Boross, minister of interior in the Antall government, some high officials of Kádár’s intelligence team, including Földi, continued to work for the first democratically elected government. In the old regime he was in charge of intelligence against the United States, but he didn’t seem to have any difficulty adjusting to the new political environment, although his background indicates an attachment to Marxist-Leninist ideas. His father studied philosophy in the Soviet Union, and he himself was an enthusiastic KISZ member and later party secretary in the ministry of interior’s intelligence department. Despite this background, he seems to have developed a strong working relationship with the Fidesz leadership, and after 1994 he was most likely involved in intelligence gathering not against foreign foes but against some members of the Horn government. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the information gathering was for Fidesz’s benefit. At least the first Orbán government’s generous support for Földi’s fledgling security business called “Defend” during the 1998-2002 period would indicate that much.

spies2

Today Földi, officially at least, has no connection with the government, but it is hard to imagine that he is not consulted by the present leaders of the intelligence and anti-terrorist community. Lately, he made several remarks that would point to a working relationship between him and TEK, the anti-terrorist center.

In the last few days a number of very critical articles have appeared about TEK’s amateurish activities, which are more or less restricted to commando operations instead of intelligence gathering. Of the 1,200 employees of TEK, only 120 are involved in intelligence work. We also know that their technological preparedness is woefully inadequate.

Reading some of Földi’s earlier pronouncements on intelligence gathering, he seemed to be of the school that considered technological gizmos of little use and that preferred old-fashioned personal spying. But now that Orbán announced that TEK will be equipped with the latest and the best equipment, Földi suddenly discovered the benefits of technology. In his most recent remarks he has been emphasizing the introduction of modern electronic equipment.

His ideas on the current refugee crisis are simple enough. Europe is at war and “Europe must be defended.” Angela Merkel is unfit for the job because she is a woman, and “no woman has ever won a war,” a comment that prompted guffawing in the media community over the ignorance of the former history major at Ho Chi Minh Teachers’ College in Eger. This simplistic view gets garbled when Földi tries to explain the nature of this war. For example, I find it difficult to decipher the following sentence: “ISIS was created by military leaders who because of NATO became unemployed and who haven’t given up the fight, only moved the military operations to Europe.” Any suggestions about its meaning?

With the passage of time Földi’s pronouncements have become more and more extreme. On March 1 on state television’s M1 he advocated an “order to shoot” because the simple sight of weaponry is not enough of a deterrent. One has to use the weapons. If the European leaders would admit that what’s going on is war, then “one could announce that the human traffickers are saboteurs who are attacking the defense of the hinterland.” So, you can shoot them on sight.

Or, here is Földi’s interpretation of the deficiencies of democracy. A few days ago he announced that there is something very wrong with Europe, especially in a war situation with ISIS where the rules of war as we know them are not applicable. Europe is at a severe disadvantage when “the criminal is not arrested as long as there is no proof. Moreover, they almost have as many rights as other people.” Elsewhere he insisted that all members of the families of the terrorists should immediately be evicted regardless of their involvement in any crime.

The refugees are not the only enemies Földi sees. He has been convinced for some time that domestic dissatisfaction is fueled by foreign enemies of the Orbán government. Already in November 2014 he was convinced that the impressive internet demonstration was not organized on Facebook by civic activists but that “it was a well-organized and well-financed operation.” He added that those “who for financial gain serve foreign interests” are traitors.

Földi’s latest is an op/ed piece in the March 23 issue of Magyar Idők, which is devoted to his theories about domestic spies at work in Hungary. The article is very confused, but it looks as if Földi discovered that recently Hungary was put on a list of countries that are important to certain interest groups. “The attacking army” works like people who are engaged in “business intelligence.” Since he immediately moves on to propaganda coming from Hollywood, I assume he sees the United States behind these civilian spies. What he considers spying is so broadly interpreted that, for example, the articles and comments that appear in Hungarian Spectrum could be considered to be civilian spying. After all, we gather information on the basis of which we draw certain conclusions, and that according to Földi is civilian espionage. The information thus obtained can then be used to apply political pressure. In Földi’s opinion, Hungary was put on this list because its government was capable of defending its own interests against the will of great powers. As a result “every (!) inhabitant of the country in the crosshairs becomes a victim.”

György Bolgár wanted to learn more about Földi’s “unique” vision of the world after Viktor Orbán’s successes against the “great powers.” Unfortunately, he didn’t have the opportunity to be enlightened by the national security expert. After he asked a few questions about Földi’s solution to the refugee crisis, Földi began to get agitated. When Földi insisted that Angela Merkel had sent agents to Turkey to invite the refugees to escape to Germany, Bolgár asked for proof. At this point he simply hung up the telephone. He is not accustomed to being challenged. Journalists in the government-friendly media listen admiringly to all the nonsense he spouts. And so Földi and some of the other experts continue to spread their disinformation. The ignorant public is misled by charlatans masquerading as experts.

March 28, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s “national security experts” on terrorism

A change of pace. It’s time to have a little fun with those “national security experts” who diligently support the Orbán government’s propaganda campaign, which portrays asylum seekers as current or future terrorists who will be the scourge of Europe within a decade or two.

Here I will concentrate on three of these so-called experts: György Nógrádi, László Földes, and, the latest addition to this illustrious crowd, George Spöttle. It seems that the Hungarian media simply cannot get enough of these guys.

Let’s start with Nógrádi, who is the smartest and best educated of the bunch, though he has a checkered past. In 2009 researchers of the 1956 Institute identified him as one of a large group who were supposed to spread government propaganda at the time of the reburial of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs. The historians also discovered that in 1981 Nógrádi joined the internal security establishment. He received a cover name and was assigned an officer to whom he had to report. He denied the allegation, but his cover name, “Raguzza,” gave him away. He was known to be a lover of the former Yugoslavia, and Raguzza is the Italian name for Dubrovnik. In any case, the 1956 Institute didn’t remove his name from their list. Until recently he taught at Corvinus University, but last year he was invited to teach at the new National Civil Service University. It looks as if his past sins have been forgiven by Fidesz.

György Nógrádi

György Nógrádi

The past of László Földi is not exactly pristine either. Born in 1956, he was a devoted member of the Communist Youth Organization (KISZ) all through high school and later at the Ho Chi Minh Teacher’s College in Eger. Földi never spent any time teaching. After graduation he joined the Hungarian intelligence service (III/I), where he became the party secretary. After the regime change Földi’s career didn’t suffer until the fall of 1996, when the socialist minister in charge of the intelligence service removed him from his position. I can’t go into the very complicated story that became known as the Birch-tree Affair, but it seems that Földi wasn’t only investigating criminal activities in the Hungarian-Romanian-Ukrainian border area but also socialist politicians, and that he may have passed this information on to Fidesz. At this point Földi became a businessman. Later, during the first Orbán administration, he received a lot of government orders and became quite rich. Ever since his retirement from the intelligence service he has been one of the experts on national security matters.

László Földi

László Földi

We know only as much about the life of our third expert, Georg Spöttle, as he decided to share with us. He had to have been born around 1960, and his father was “a Hungarian from Marosvásárhely (Târgu-Mureș)” who didn’t figure in his life but as far as he knows was a diplomat. His mother, whose maiden name was Spöttle, was a German who during the war ended up in Hungary. Since his father didn’t care about him, he decided to take his mother’s name. In 2002 he claimed that he had spent about half his life in Germany, where he was drafted into the German army. Because he speaks four languages, the German military intelligence approached him with a job, which he gladly accepted. He claims that in that capacity he spent a great deal of time in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Syria. Oh, yes, before I forget, Spöttle was once abducted by UFO’s, as the blogger of orulunkvincent.blog.hu discovered.

George Spöttle

Georg Spöttle

All three of these experts are forewarning the Hungarian public of the immense dangers that await Europeans. Let’s start with Nógrádi, who predicts that in twenty years Europe will be in the midst of civil war, ethnic tensions, and total chaos.  He was one of the first “experts” who suggested building a barbed wire fence. The reason for keeping these people out is Nógrádi’s conviction that Middle Eastern immigrants cannot be integrated into European society. How to keep the new immigrants out? Simple, sink the boats that bring them to Europe’s shores. “They say that this is inhumane. My answer: they should have been sunk a long time ago.”

Földi’s favorite theme is that Europe is at war. A war that was started by the United States and her allies and that by now has reached Europe in the form of the influx of migrants. They are foot soldiers sent by ISIS to destroy Europe. He is convinced that there is a whole intelligence network behind the refugees whose members organize the movement of the people. “This is a consciously planned, built-up system in which everybody to the last man is channeled in.” All of them receive instructions from the organizers. Földi believes that the intelligence agencies of European countries are fully aware of all this and that, if the fence is not enough, “if necessary even weapons must be used.”

Földi is busy. Every three or four days he comes up with a newly-discovered horror story. A couple of days ago he told the public that Hungary by now is absolutely full of spies, just like Vienna used to be during the Kádár period. Hungary is both politically and economically a stable country and therefore it has become a favorite place of foreign secret services. Földi claims that there are many night clubs in Budapest where groups of foreign intelligence officers can be seen because “they want to demonstrate their presence.”

And then there is Georg Spöttle. He is also convinced that the refugees are not escaping from ISIS but on the contrary are being sent by the Muslim extremists. In his opinion, the European intelligence agencies have known since spring that ISIS is planning another 9/11 in Europe, adding that 85% of the migrants are young men of military age. “Once these muscled young men grab guns, God save Europe!”

On state television Spöttle and Földi were asked to comment on certain files found on an abandoned cell phone that the “experts” of TEK had already identified as proof of the owner’s terrorist affiliation. The program dealing with these files was about ten minutes long. Besides Spöttle and Földi, another former secret service official, József Horváth from the Kádár era, was also interviewed. Horváth’s name should be familiar to those who followed the case of UD Zrt, for whom Horváth worked after he was sacked by the secret service in the socialist period. UD Zrt spied on the government on behalf of Fidesz. All three people took it for granted that an especially gruesome picture found on the phone was proof that the phone belonged to a terrorist.

Enter János Széky, a columnist for Élet és Irodalom, who charges that either the so-called experts are total dolts who know nothing about the subject they keep talking about or that MTV, with their help, is knowingly falsifying the facts. The title of Széky’s article, which appeared in parameter.sk, is “They found Ivan in Röszke,” a cryptic one. All of you who can read Hungarian should read the original, which I’ll summarize here for those who cannot.

There is one picture that the great experts found indicative of the mentality of these terrorist soldiers who are already in Europe. According to Spöttle, who helped the audience interpret the picture, on the photo there is “a dead infant with a weapon in one hand and a dagger in the other; around the child there are empty liquor bottles.” People who carry such pictures on their phones are pseudo-refugees. M1’s Híradó (News) blurred out the picture of the child.

Széky became curious and, with the help of Google Image Search, in no time found the original of the picture. On the original the child is not dead but is a well-fed baby. So, the staff of M1’s news lied; after all, they were the ones who blurred out the child’s picture. But it is just as bad if not worse that the picture has absolutely nothing to do with the Middle East. It is an old baby picture of Ivan Guzmán, the oldest child of Joquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the hunted drug lord of Mexico. In addition to this picture, Híradó also showed Arab-language videos which, according to Spöttle, were produced by ISIS for recruiting purposes. Széky found these videos on YouTube and with the help of an Arabic-speaking friend found out that, in fact, these videos condemn ISIS and claim that the group’s extremism has nothing to do with Islam. So much for the “experts” whose opinions are so useful to the Orbán government’s anti-refugee propaganda campaign.

And finally, just a brief return to László Földi, whose latest salvo is that Angela Merkel should resign because she is “entirely incapable of leading the continent.” Europe is engaged in a war and “since when did a woman win a war?” asked the former history major. Several papers pointed out that Földi should have learned in elementary school about Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, and Margaret Thatcher, all of whom managed quite well in times of war.

The first stop in the European Union: Refugees keep arriving in Hungary

The refugees keep coming despite the fact that the Hungarian parliament passed amendments to the law on refugees, making it a great deal more stringent. The government is so eager to have this piece of legislation in place that it asked János Áder to sign it as soon as possible. It can’t, of course, solve the refugee crisis either in Hungary or elsewhere in Europe.

A headline in one of the Hungarian papers proclaimed: Leaders of the Catholic Church offer their help to the government in solving the refugee problem. I couldn’t believe my eyes. But then I read the whole article. It was the Czech Catholic Church, not the Hungarian. The latter, as far as I know, has done nothing. The same holds true for the Calvinists. The only exception is the small Hungarian Lutheran Church, which gave a modest amount of money to one of the few charitable organizations involved. And, as usual, Gábor Iványi, head of the Methodist Magyarorszáagi Evangéliumi Testvérközösség, not officially recognized as a church in Hungary, became involved.

There are charitable and kind-hearted Hungarians

Concerned citizens who find Viktor Orbán’s hate campaign against the refugees unacceptable have organized and begun collecting food and clothing for the “unfortunate people” (szerencsétlenek), as volunteers usually refer to them. The first such group was formed in Szeged, close to the Serbian border, where the refugees usually start their journey either to Debrecen or more often toward the West by train. MÁV, the Hungarian State Railways, made the refugees’ stay in Szeged difficult by locking up the waiting rooms for the night. That meant that the refugees, often with small children, had to spend the night outside, trying to sleep on the pavement. It was at this point that concerned citizens, many of them from the university with English-language skills, came to the rescue. At first there were no more than a handful of people, including a professor of medicine who is of Syrian origin, but by now hundreds are at work who have given food and clothing to those in need. The babies received diapers and the children toys.

What the refugees also need, and what the Hungarian authorities don’t provide them with, is information. After they are registered, they receive a document written only in Hungarian that allows them to board a train to one of the refugee camps. But how to get there is sometimes unclear even to the natives. For example, in Szeged the volunteers who call themselves Migráns Szolidaritás, or MigSzol, didn’t know that in order to travel from Szeged to Debrecen one has to change trains in Cegléd. Or, I heard about lost refugees who were supposed to travel to the Western Station in Budapest, but no one told them that because of renovations the station is closed and the train stops elsewhere. The result was that a group of refugees wandered around the station, not knowing where they were and how to get to their destination.

A group similar to MigSzol was formed in Cegléd. The Szeged and Cegléd groups are in constant communication. The Szeged activists phone ahead to Cegléd, telling them when the refugees will arrive, and the Cegléd group waits for them at the railroad station. These groups already have more than 2,800 members on Facebook. They have helped at least 700 people in Cegléd alone.

Amnesty International just released a report titled Europe’s borderlands: Violations against refugees and migrants in Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary which states that “refugees who make the perilous journey [via the Balkan route] are met with both violence and indifference by the authorities.” The refugees, greeted with such kindness on the part of Hungarian volunteers, are extremely grateful.

Neo-Nazis’ hate campaign against the refugees

This is the laudatory side of Hungary but, unfortunately, there are many who loathe the refugees, especially since the prime minister has for months been inciting hatred and fear of the refugees and has repeated time and again that he will defend the country from these intruders.

On Sunday night Jobbik organized a demonstration near the Debrecen refugee camp where Gergely Kulcsár, a Jobbik MP, spoke. As a reminder, it was Gergely Kulcsár who spat on the shoes placed on the bank of the Danube in memory of those Hungarian Jews who were shot and thrown into the Danube in late 1944. Although the demonstration was peaceful, according to one journalist who was present, right after the singing of the national anthem a few people complained loudly about the “black apes” inside the camp.

In Szeged 50 or 60 members of another neo-Nazi organization called the Army of Outlaws (Betyársereg) decided to put the fear of God into those civilians and refugees who are staying around the railroad station. I wrote about this group in 2011. Fortunately, in Szeged, unlike in Cegléd, the policemen guard both the refugees and the activists 24/7. Since there were about as many policemen as outlaws, nothing serious happened although, according to the report, the situation was tense for a while. The Szeged group has been in existence only for eight days, but there have already been three incidents around the railroad station.

Members of the Army of Outlaws arrived in Szeged

Members of the Army of Outlaws arrived in Szeged

The policemen cannot be everywhere, and in one of the villages along the border there is a young mayor, László Toroczkai, who is doing his best to stir up sentiment against the refugees. Toroczkai’s career began in MIÉP, an anti-Semitic far-right group, in 1998, but on the side he also organized a paramilitary organization, Special Unit of the Sons of the Crown, and later the Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom (HIVM/Youth Movement of the Sixty-four Counties), a reference to Greater Hungary’s counties. Because of the irredentist propaganda he conducted in Serbia and Romania he has been banned by both countries. In 2013 he was elected mayor of Ásotthalma in a by-election. I wrote a post about Toroczkai’s career, from the siege of the television station where he was one of the leaders of the football hooligans to the mayoralty.

Toroczkai is now in his element. He seems to know English because I’ve encountered him in several foreign-language articles as someone who informs journalists about the situation along the border. He is also busy on Facebook, where he writes not always truthful stories about the alleged atrocities committed by the refugees. One of his posts on Facebook described a situation in which a group of migrants sat down under a tree on the property of a farmer. According to Toroczkai, the mother who was alone in the house with two small children asked them to leave but they refused. An incredible number of hateful comments appeared immediately after Toroczkai’s short description of the alleged encounter. A reporter for a local paper visited the farmer’s wife, and it turned out that the family actually gave the refugees food and water who then peacefully settled in the shade of the tree and waited peacefully for the police to arrive.

And the “experts” in service of the government

But there are more dangerous propagandists who can influence public opinion through the media. One is György Nógrádi, a university professor and an expert on national security matters. He is a great supporter of a fence or a wall. He gives dozens of interviews and is the favorite man of the state radio and television stations. Even the liberal ATV made the mistake of inviting this windbag for a so-called conversation with another expert on national security.

Then there is László Földi, a former intelligence officer, who poses as an “expert on the secret service.” He is certain that the present refugee crisis is actually part of a war between the Islamic State and civilized Europe. In his opinion the leaders of IS want to conquer and convert the entire world. Their first move is to invade Europe. “This is war,” which can be handled only by warlike methods. This nonsense was uttered on, of all places, Olga Kálmán’s “Egyenes beszéd” (Straight Talk). Kálmán, looking grave, kept nodding. Mind you, Földi was also certain that last fall’s demonstrations were organized by the CIA to overthrow Viktor Orbán’s government.

People like Nógrádi and Földi are more dangerous by virtue of being “experts” in their chosen fields. I’m greatly disappointed in ATV, which gave a platform to these hatemongers.

Hungary as a “field of operation”

Paranoia seems to have swept through the Hungarian government. Fidesz politicians are convinced that the United States wants to remove Viktor Orbán and cause his government’s fall. All this is to be achieved by means of the “phony” charge of corruption.

Recently a journalist working for Hetek, a publication of Hitgyülekezet (Assembly of Faith), managed to induce some high-ranking members of the government to speak about the general mood in Fidesz circles. The very fact that these people spoke, even about sensitive topics, to a reporter of a liberal paper points to tactical shifts that must have occurred within the party.

Their argument runs along the following lines. Until now the Obama administration paid little attention to the region, but this past summer the decision was made to “create a defensive curtain” in Central Europe between Russia and the West. The pretext is the alleged fight against corruption. The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania are the targets. Fidesz politicians point to recent Slovak demonstrations against corruption which were “publicly supported” by the U.S. ambassador in Bratislava. Or, they claim, the Americans practically forced the Romanian government to take seriously the widespread corruption in the country. They are certain that the resignation of Petr Nečas, the former Czech prime minister, “under very strange circumstances” was also the work of the CIA.

In its fight against the targeted Central European governments Washington relies heavily on NGOs and investigative journalists specializing in unveiling corruption cases. George Soros’s name must always be invoked in such conspiracy theories. And indeed, Átlátszó.hu, sponsored in part by the Soros Foundation, was specifically mentioned as a tool of American political designs.

To these Fidesz politicians’ way of thinking, all of troubles recently encountered by the government are due solely to American interference. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that the government itself has given plenty of reason for public disenchantment. In fact, the first demonstrations were organized only against the internet tax. Admittedly, over the course of weeks new demands were added, and by now the demonstrators want to get rid of Viktor Orbán’s whole regime.

The Fidesz politicians who expressed an opinion think, I am sure incorrectly, that the Americans have no real evidence against Ildikó Vida and, if they do, they received it illegally. Vida got into the picture only because of the new “cold war” that broke out between the United States and Russia. Hungarian corruption is only an excuse for putting pressure on the Hungarian government because of its Russian policy and Paks.  As for Hungary’s “democracy deficit” and American misgivings about Orbán’s “illiberal state,” Fidesz politicians said that if the United States does not accept Orbán’s system of government as “democratic” and if they want Fidesz to return to the status quo ante, this is a hopeless demand. “Not one Hungarian right-wing politician would lend his name to such ‘retrogression.'”

The latest American “enemy” of the Orbán government is the State Department’s Sarah Sewall, Undersecretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, who a week ago gave a speech at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in which she said that “we [recently] denied visas to six Hungarian officials and their cronies due to their corruption. This action also bolstered public concern, and on November 9th, the streets of Budapest filled with 10,000 protesters who called for the resignation of corrupt public officials.” As soon as Hungarian officials discovered the text of that speech, André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé in Budapest, was once again called into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I think it would be a mistake to characterize the American fight against corruption simply as a smokescreen for exerting political pressure on foreign governments. Sewall in that speech explains the potentially dangerous political ramifications of corruption.

Corruption alienates and angers citizens, which can cause them to lose faith in the state, or, worse, fuel insurgencies and violent extremism…. Ukraine …provides [an] illustration of how corruption can both increase instability risks and cripple the state’s ability to respond to those risks. The Maidan Movement was driven in part by resentment of a kleptocratic regime parading around in democratic trappings.

All this makes sense to me, and what Sewall says about Ukraine is to some extent also true about Hungary. But the Fidesz leadership sees no merit in the American argument. In fact, today both Viktor Orbán and Péter Szijjártó used very strong words to accuse the United States of interfering in Hungary’s internal affairs.

"We can't pay as much in taxes as you steal"

“We can’t pay as much in taxes as you steal”

Viktor Orbán sent a message from Belgrade. The prime minister does not know why the United States put aside 100 million dollars for “the preparation of an action plan against two dozen Central- and East-European countries in order to put pressure on their governments.” The United States declared Hungary to be a “field of operation,” along with others. Referring to Sewall’s speech, he expressed his dissatisfaction that he has to learn about such plans from a public lecture. “If someone wants to work together with Hungary or with any Central-European government for a good cause, we are open. We don’t have to be pressured, there is no need to spend money behind our backs, there is no necessity of organizing anything against us because we are rational human beings and we are always ready to work for a good cause.” It is better, he continued, to be on the up and up because Hungarians are irritated by slyness, trickery, and diplomatic cunning. They are accustomed to straightforward talk. (He presumably said this with a straight face.)

Viktor Orbán’s reference to the military term “field of operation” captured the imagination of László Földi, a former intelligence officer during the Kádár regime as well as for a while after 1990, who announced that in secret service parlance “field of operation” means that every instrument in the intelligence service can be used to undermine the stability of a country. The Americans’ goal, as Orbán sees it, is the removal of his government.

Meanwhile the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade who were brought in by Péter Szijjártó are solidly anti-American. They consider the diplomats who served under János Martonyi to be “American agents” because of their alleged trans-atlantic sentiments. So I don’t foresee any improvement in American-Hungarian relations in the near future, unless the economic and political troubles of Putin’s Russia become so crippling that Orbán will have to change his foreign policy orientation. But given the ever shriller condemnations and accusations, it will be difficult to change course.

Who’s behind the political turbulence in Hungary? Naturally, the United States and the “left-liberals”

When Viktor Orbán, however reluctantly, decided to scrap the internet tax, he undoubtedly thought his troubles were over. He would not have to worry about young people going out on the streets again to demonstrate against his government. But he was wrong. The demonstrators found plenty more to criticize, especially the regime’s systemic corruption. Since Viktor Orbán is not the kind of man who admits missteps, he and his supporters had to find a culprit, someone who was “stirring the pot.” And the most obvious candidates for such a role were the United States, described by right-wing commentators in Magyar Hírlap as “the empire,” and the “left-liberal” intellectuals at home and abroad.

Let’s start with the United States, enemy number one. Those commentators who blame the U.S. for the unfolding drama of anti-government sentiment tend to forget that it was not the United States that revealed its decision to ban six allegedly corrupt Hungarian officials from its territory. It was the Napi Gazdaság, a financial daily owned by Századvég, the think tank that has been described by a former associate as a money laundering operation. If the government hadn’t decided to leak the information about the ban, most likely today we would know absolutely nothing about Ildikó Vida and her co-workers at the Hungarian Tax Authority (NAV).

But, according to the Hungarian right, the United States’ role in this latest crisis goes far beyond its travel ban. Under the present circumstances, the argument goes, there is no possibility of carrying out an armed coup in Hungary like the one the U.S. allegedly staged in Chile in 1973. Therefore, the United States is now supporting, I suppose even financially, the opposition. “Many people believe that it was the United States that was behind the initial successes of Gordon Bajnai.” But Bajnai turned out to be the wrong man for the job.

Then came Plan B. The United States, even before the three landslide Fidesz victories, realized that “there is no chance of replacing Viktor Orbán.” But since there are no potential leaders in the opposition, André Goodfriend “became the star of the anti-government movement.” The United States has been working toward the destabilization of the country in the hope of changing the Orbán government’s foreign policy orientation.

M. André Goodfriend, the star of the "left-liberals at a press conference

M. André Goodfriend, the star of the “left-liberals,” at a press conference

It is this American destabilization effort that explains the outrage of thousands of Hungarians against the Orbán government in front of the parliament building. The various groups that have appeared recently don’t offer an alternative, but this is not their real goal and purpose. They want to “weaken” the regime, make the “consolidation” efforts of the government impossible.

Magyar Hírlap zeroed in on the “domestic enemies.” Left-liberal intellectuals, hand in hand with the Americans, are behind the disturbances. Proof in support of this accusation is rather flimsy, but such weaknesses have never bothered Magyar Hírlap‘s Tamás Pindroch. The link between the “left-liberal intellectuals” and the United States was demonstrated by André Goodfriend’s appearance at one of the Saturday evening open houses of László Bitó, professor emeritus of ocular physiology at Columbia University who developed Xalatan, a medicine for glaucoma. And if anyone needs more proof here it is. Back in April Ágnes Heller, the philosopher, was asked during a political discussion whether something like what happened in Kiev could happen in Hungary. Heller responded that yes it could but not in the same shape and form. For example, a revolt of the hungry masses could break out.

But Pindroch’s accusations are mild in comparison to what László Földi, a former intelligence officer during the Kádár regime and even for a few years after the change of regime, had to say. He is convinced that a large demonstration like the one we saw on Monday cannot be organized on the internet and without any money. According to him, “it was a carefully prepared, well-organized and financed event.” Földi suggested that those behind the action serve foreign interests for financial gain and thus commit treason. In brief, his claim is that the United States is financing those left-liberals who are behind the anti-government protests. Földi is convinced that by now the United States will be satisfied only with the departure of Viktor Orbán. Abandoning participation in the Southern Stream will no longer suffice.

Another intriguing piece by András Dezső appeared in Index, an online site that cannot be called right-wing. Dezső is a talented young journalist who made quite a name for himself with his investigation of Jobbik’s Béla Kovács, who is accused of being a Russian spy. In this piece he proposed that there is a direct connection between a report of Human Rights First, “a little known but influential human rights organization,” and the current U.S. policy toward Hungary. The report, entitled “We’re not Nazis, but…,” made a number of recommendations to the U.S. government in general and the State Department in particular which, according to Dezső, the United States is actually following today. I wrote about this report at length and quoted some of the recommendations Dezső is talking about.

Yes, there are similarities between the recommendations of the authors of the study and the actual steps taken by the U.S. government, but I would find it strange if the staff of the Hungarian desk at State was so oblivious to what is happening in Hungary that only after reading this, by the way, excellent report did they finally decide to act. Moreover, here is something that undermines Dezső’s hypothesis. One of the recommendations of the report is to “seek commitments from Hungary and Greece to set in place policies and practices to impede high-level corruption and improve transparency and equal enforcement of the law.” But we know from the aide-memoire–what Viktor Orbán called a scrap of paper (fecni)–that Goodfriend intervened with the foreign ministry as well as the tax authorities on the subject of corruption as early as October 2013, almost a year before the appearance of Human Rights First’s study.

My hunch is that the officials of the State Department have been following the Hungarian domestic scene and Viktor Orbán’s relations with Vladimir Putin’s Russia for some time. Their concerns most likely intensified in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis. And then came the fateful June 27 “illiberal” speech of Viktor Orbán when, it seems, they decided that it was time to act. The sharp-eyed authors of the study on the Hungarian far right noticed the same problems the U.S. diplomats perceived and recommended similar remedies. But we would underestimate the diplomats in the State Department if we assumed that only an outside study woke them up and made them move.

Trying to crack down on corruption is one thing, funding and organizing demonstrations is something else. There is no evidence that the U.S. helped the demonstrators–or even that the demonstrators needed outside help. They just needed the miracle of modern communications technology.