Tag Archives: László Kövér

Viktor Orbán discovered the culprits of bolshevism in western europe

At last we have a Viktor Orbán speech that contains something new, not merely his usual mantra of the declining West which, let’s face it, is becoming pretty tedious. Although the speech was still about the West, Viktor Orbán–this time as a self-styled expert on political philosophy from a historical perspective–decided to enlighten his audience about one of the West’s gravest sins. With admirable virtuosity he managed to make the West responsible for the Soviet system as it developed after 1917 in Russia. For good measure, he added that Western Europeans should be ashamed for not placing equal blame on communism and national socialism.

The speech was delivered on February 25, which Orbán’s government declared in 2000 to be the “Day of Victims of Communism” as “befitted a Christian-national government.”

So, let’s see how he moved from the Soviet Union and its satellites to the guilty West. “It is no longer customary to say that those ideas that led to tyranny were born in Western minds. Communism, just like national socialism, came into being as a Western intellectual product. It didn’t see the light of day in Moscow, Cambodia, or Havana. It came from the west of us, in Europe, from where it proliferated over half the world.” The West was also responsible for this “through and through Western idea becoming the bitter lot of Central Europe.”

The numbers on the lectern designate the three parcels in which the remains of the heroes of 1956 are buried / MTI/ Photo: Zoltán Máthé

The transgressions of the West don’t end here. “Even today there are many people in the West who try to excuse the sins of communism, and the European Union itself is reluctant to condemn it.” After the war, sentences were meted out to war criminals in a military court, but after the fall of communism “the representatives of the free world didn’t impose such a severe verdict” on the perpetrators of crimes in the former communist countries. So, it’s no wonder that “Western Europe has a bad conscience.”

Orbán’s critics are up in arms. What an incredible leap from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels to Lenin and Stalin. Accusing Western European politicians and intellectuals of being responsible for Stalinism or Maoism just because in the second half of the nineteenth century a German social scientist and philosopher developed a social model which years after his death was transformed in Russia into something that had nothing to do with Marx’s theories is preposterous. Marx’s original hypothesis that the lot of the proletariat would worsen turned out to be wrong and therefore, as the years went by, Marx’s ideas were transformed. Modern social democracy developed. Soviet Bolshevism had more in common with Russia’s Tsarist past than with Karl Marx. Viktor Orbán should know that only too well. His generation had to study Marxism-Leninism and, as far as we know, he was an enthusiastic member of KISZ, the Communist Youth Organization, while his father was party secretary at his workplace.

Other speakers representing the Christian-nationalist government elaborated on Orbán’s theme, further distorting the past, burying it under their ideological garbage. Zoltán Balog went so far as to claim that “European unity and real dialogue [between East and West] will be possible only if Western Europe is willing and able to look upon the sins of both communism and Nazism as the shame of Europe.” This contention–that underlying the profound differences of opinion between some of the Central and East European countries and the western members of the European Union is the refusal of Western Europe to own up to the sins of communism–is staggering.

Other Fidesz politicians turned instant historians came up with bizarre versions of Hungarian history in their desire to make anti-communism a trademark of Hungarian existence during the Kádár regime. János Potápi, undersecretary in charge the government’s “national policy,” said that with the arrival of communism Hungary “had to say goodbye to a world based on law and order.” As if the Horthy era had been a model political system that was worth preserving. We also learn from him that “the political system founded on tyranny failed because there were secret little islands, fortresses of souls and ideas that paralyzed” the dictatorship. This is the fruit of Mr. Potápi’s imagination. With the exception of a handful of “dissidents” in the 1980s who were the future founders of SZDSZ there were no fortresses or islands of resistance in Hungary to speak of. And those few who resisted the regime and were ready to face the serious consequences of their actions are today considered to be “enemies of the people” by Viktor Orbán.

László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, is inclined to see communist ghosts everywhere, although he himself came from a family that was closely associated with leftist politics. His grandfather, as a young man, served in Béla Kun’s Red Army, and his father was known to be a faithful member of the party. Yet he considers the communist system to be the greatest curse of history, which ruined the lives of generations. It seems that Kövér discovered God and now as a religious man is worried about the “godlessness and inhumanity that are manifest in communism, which may under a different name and in a different shape return at any time.” Such a tragedy must be thwarted by reminding people of the evils of communism.

Gábor Tamás Nagy, the mayor of Budapest’s District I, claimed that in essence there was no difference between the Rákosi and the Kádár regimes, adding the total nonsense that “the communists didn’t learn anything from 1956 and didn’t forget anything. That was the reason for their downfall.” At first I thought that perhaps the mayor is a relatively young man who knows nothing about the Kádár regime. But no, he was born in 1960 and thus spent 30 years in Kádár’s Hungary, which he equates with the terrors of Mátyás Rákosi. They didn’t learn anything from 1956? Just the opposite. The memory of the revolution was foremost on their minds, and they adjusted their policies accordingly. It was precisely the lessons of 1956 that eventually led to Kádár’s goulash communism.

All this falsification of history only postpones a real reckoning with the past, be it 1944, 1956, or 1989-90.

February 27, 2017

The Hungarian government’s Anti-American rhetoric: László Kövér and Péter Boross

Two weeks ago Ambassador Colleen Bell returned to the United States to take part in the celebrations organized by the Hungarian Embassy in Washington for the sixtieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. One of the events was the ribbon cutting ceremony for the “1956 Hungarian Freedom Fighters Exhibit,” which took place at the Pentagon. Here the American ambassador delivered a short but ringing speech about the wonderful U.S.-Hungarian friendship because “the United States and Hungary share a faith in democracy. We share a common heritage, cherishing our rights not as subjects or vassals, not as dependents or followers, but as citizens. We are citizens bound together by our love of liberty, and our willingness to serve.” What a charitable description of the present state of affairs in Hungary.

Official Hungary didn’t seem to appreciate the ambassador’s expressions of friendship and her praise of Hungarian democracy. Only a few days later at least two important political personages attacked the United States in the basest fashion in connection with the celebrations of ’56.

Let me start with Hungary’s elderly statesman Péter Boross, who for a few months in 1993 and 1994 was the prime minister of Hungary and now at least on paper is one of the chief advisers of Viktor Orbán. Anyone wanting to know more about Boross’s “love of democracy” should read my post titled “Péter Boross: No longer the wise man of Hungary?”

It just happened that three days before the anniversary of the revolution the U.S. State Department released a statement that “share[d] the concerns of global press freedom advocates, international organizations, and Hungarian citizens over the steady decline of media freedom in Hungary.” The statement called attention to two recent incidents. One was the ban of 444.hu from the parliament building on October 19; the other, “the sudden closure of Hungary’s largest independent newspaper, Nepszabadsag, on October 8.” The short statement ended with: “as a friend and ally, we encourage the Hungarian government to ensure an open media environment that exposes citizens to a diversity of views and opinions, a key component of our shared democratic values.”

The answer came soon enough. Péter Boross delivered a speech on October 22 in front of one of the several monuments commemorating the events of 1956. He spared no words condemning the United States, specifically mentioning the U.S. State Department’s statement concerning media freedom in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. As Boross explained, October 23 is “a sacred day which certain people deride.” For example, “the deputy spokesman of a great power’s foreign ministry who is worried about the state of Hungary’s media freedom.” Somewhere in Washington the last issue of Népszabadság is being exhibited, he complained indignantly, and without hesitation offered the following retort: “Shouldn’t we exhibit a couple of items from the list of the heinous crimes [gaztettek] of the American imperialists?” Well, well, old habits die hard. Or perhaps, as János Dési of Klubrádió wrote in an opinion piece, “Boross was always a useful link in all dictatorships.” Dési’s comment is appropriate because as a youngster Boross was an enthusiastic cadet in a military academy that ended up fighting alongside the Germans.

The bashing of the United States continued a couple of days later when László Kövér delivered a speech in the parliament building where MSZP and DK members and perhaps some independents were conspicuously absent. For Kövér the “lesson of the revolution and war of independence [of 1956] is that without the maintenance and defense of its own self-image, self-determination and self-esteem the whole of Europe, the whole of the European Union may become the tragic victim of the unscrupulous self-interest of great powers outside of Europe and of clandestine powers [háttérhatalmak], operating over and above the states without democratic mandate and supervision.” How he got from an uprising against a Stalinist regime and the Soviet occupation forces to the political and economic encroachment of the United States, because, let’s face it, this is what Kövér is talking about, and George Soros’s Open Society project is unfathomable to me.

Kövér continued, claiming that “the Hungarian ’56” also has a message for the 21st century. Every time I hear a politician say that either a historical occasion or a long-dead historical figure “sends messages to us” I have to laugh because I once read a very funny piece by a blogger who said: “No, my friends, St. Stephen doesn’t send us messages. Neither does Sándor Petőfi nor Lajos Kossuth.” Well, I can add, neither does the Hungarian revolution of 1956. Especially not the kind of confused message that Kövér tries to convey about national sovereignty based on the will of the people which, if tampered with, “will lead to the weakening of democracy, anarchy and subordination of Europe.” Thus, in this context, when the Orbán government defends Hungary’s national sovereignty “it defends the heritage of 1956.” Those who think that Hungarians can be made to abandon the heritage of ’56, their historical ideals and their beliefs underestimate the Hungarian people. “No threat, no lies, no sugar coating” will work.

Of of those Soviet tanks Kövér was talking about

One of those Soviet tanks László Kövér was talking about with Hungarian coat of arms plastered on it

But the above was a mild rebuke in comparison to what followed: Kövér’s reinterpretation of the United States’ role in the Hungarian revolution of 1956. It was on November 1, 1956 that Hungary declared its independence and neutrality. “The next day, on November 2, the foreign ministry of the United States informed the Yugoslav leader, Tito, who was host to the Soviet party secretary [Nikita Khrushchev] at the time, that the United States doesn’t look with favor upon those countries neighboring on the Soviet Union that are unfriendly toward the Soviet Union. It was after that, on November 4, that the Soviet Union attacked Hungary with more tanks than Hitler had sent against Poland in 1939.” In brief, the defeat of the uprising is directly attributable to the pro-Soviet policies of the United States, which assured the Russians of its support of the beleaguered Soviet Union. This is a pretty incredible statement. I have no idea where he found this, for me at least, totally unknown piece of information.

As an antidote I recommend the website of the 1956-os Intézet és Oral History Archívum, especially “Győzhetett-e volna a magyar forradalom 1956-ban?” I also recommend Charles Gati’s highly acclaimed book Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt (2007).

October 26, 2016

Gábor Horváth: “Silence Speaks Volumes”

This commemorative article on Elie Wiesel  by Gábor Horváth, foreign affairs editor of Népszabadság,  appeared in the newspaper’s July 5, 2016 edition. The article was translated from the Hungarian by Lili Bayer.

♦ ♦ ♦

Wiesel

At home they spoke mainly Yiddish, but Elie Wiesel’s family members considered themselves Hungarian Jews until a Hungarian second lieutenant threw their Hungarian papers in their faces. They also knew a little Romanian and German, but Hungarian much better. Nevertheless, Elie Wiesel did not speak Hungarian after age sixteen. There was no one to speak with, and anyway after the liberation of the concentration camp he ended up in France, and later in America. When he broke his long silence, thirteen years ago, and gave an interview to a Hungarian newspaper, he spoke English with Népszabadság’s Washington correspondent. But, as he spoke about his hometown, Sziget, his pronunciation of it was nicer than any local TV host’s.

Hungary also considers him Hungarian, and he is still listed with pride on the list of famous Hungarians in the Hungarian embassy in Washington. He ended up there somehow, and taking him off would have been awkward. He was a disquieting Hungarian. He was not able to forgive those Hungarians who helped murder his family and did everything they could so the Germans could kill as many Jews as possible. He also could not forgive those who believe that all this is a forgettable episode. For example, László Kövér, who made a pilgrimage to Transylvania four years ago for the reburial of József Nyirő, who had stuck with the Arrow Cross till the end. Wiesel called this horrifying, and as a sign of protest he formally returned a medal he had received from the Socialist-Free Democratic Hungarian government  back in 2004.

Now that he has passed away, President János Áder, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and László Kövér—who is still head of the National Assembly—with clenched teeth remain silent. The Nobel-prize winner is useful as long as one can boast about him, but if he has opposing opinions and dares express them, the “dignitaries” pretend as though he never even existed. But after all, what can they say? Some of their supporters would interpret their words as forced, under pressure by secret powerful forces, honoring “a Jew.” Others, regardless of the leaders’ sincerity, would see this as yet another cynical about-face. The abovementioned gentlemen have maneuvered themselves into this position. It’s on their conscience.

The government occasionally attempts to take steps to avoid being considered anti-Semitic. But then with a statue here and there, slips of the tongue, and the twisting of historical truth, called “memory politics,” all gestures to the far right, it nullifies this. In the end, how should they be viewed, if they themselves do not know what they think?

This would not interest Elie Wiesel much. It is possible that he would find this disavowal a bit painful. What is it compared to 1944? There are enough countries where his death is being commemorated at the highest levels, among them Romania, his birth country, France, where he became an adult, and the U.S., where he lived and worked. He devoted his life so that what took place would not be forgotten and memory of the victims would not be erased. And it has not been forgotten, and the memories will not be silenced. Or perhaps they can be, but the silence speaks volumes.

According to his son, his father dreamed a few weeks ago that he was taking a walk in Máramarossziget with his little sister Tzipora and his parents, who were all killed in the camps. At the funeral on Sunday the son, Shlomo Elisha Wiesel, said goodbye with these words: “Tell your parents that you succeeded. We live. We love.”

July 9, 2016

László Kövér on liberals, socialists, and the nation state

I was somewhat surprised that László Kövér, president of the Hungarian Parliament, within the course of a week gave not one but two very long interviews. The first appeared on June 26 in Pesti Srácok, an internet site catering to the far right of Fidesz loyalists and well-endowed by means of government advertising. The second was published on July 2 in Magyar Hírlap, an equally right radical organ owned by billionaire Gábor Széles.

As usual, these lengthy interviews covered many topics, from Brexit and migration to party politics at home. In deciding what to analyze, I ruled out Kövér’s comments about George Soros and the European Union, which only repeated what his fellow politicians have been saying ad nauseam. Moreover, most of Kövér’s views on European politics are so bizarre that they can be safely ignored.  The only thing that caught my eye was his visible rejoicing over the rise of the extreme right in some Western European countries. His message was: what wonderful lessons they are delivering to Brussels. As he put it, “By now the people of Europe have awakened and share our views.” He was clearly delighted by the results of the Dutch referendum which rejected a Ukraine-European Union treaty to forge closer political and economic ties. And he deemed the Austrian presidential election results “a smack in the face” that EU politicians deserved.

As Kövér’s statements demonstrate, the current leaders of Hungary openly and without shame identify with far-right groups that are gaining strength in France, Germany, Austria, and elsewhere. It is time to acknowledge that there is only one country in Europe that is being governed by a far-right political party, and that is Hungary. (Although the Polish government is trying to imitate the “Orbán miracle,” so far the imitation is pale.)

Kövér’s ideas about the nation and the socialist-liberal political forces place him solidly in the far-right camp. His thoughts were most fully spelled out in his interview with Magyar Hírlap. Kövér, by all indications, fervently believes in the necessity of nation states. If they were destroyed, which he maintains the socialists and liberals want to do, it would result in a tragedy akin to the Chernobyl disaster.

Moreover, a multicultural society, another ideal of the left, would be the end of the social order in Europe. Just look at what happened in Yugoslavia. The internecine war of the 1990s was the direct result of “Yugoslavism,” the forced gathering of different nations into a federated state. Once the conflict was over, liberal analysts came to the conclusion that “religion and nation” had been the culprits. They insisted that once national and religious differences disappear, war will become obsolete. But human beings “instinctively want to belong to a community in which the predictable behavior of others offers them security, [which] can be achieved only by sharing a common culture.”

Liberals, who can be found everywhere, even in Christian Democratic and conservative parties, want to create a multicultural society in Europe. Their “model is the United States.” What does Kövér’s United States look like? “There is no national culture there. The community is held together by external bonds, like cheap fuel, the artificially maintained myth of equal opportunity, and their belief in their superiority, their star-spangled banner, and their knowledge that they are able to put the rest of world in its place if a given president is in the mood.”

Kövér2

Kövér’s hatred of the socialists and the liberals, which is palpable in every word he utters, stems from his conviction that they are, by virtue of their rootless cosmopolitanism, the gravediggers of the nation. In the Pesti Srácok interview he elaborates on this point. Liberals and socialists, like some of the politicians of DK, “have been poisoning the air here and undermining our community for at least the last 120 years.” They are not part of the nation but are a cosmopolitan group, “people without a country” (hazátlan társaság). One cannot read these descriptions without suspecting that, in addition to communists, socialists, and liberals, the Hungarian Jewry is also included in this “hazátlan társaság.” All the markers of anti-Semitism are present here.

In Kövér’s eyes, the socialists can still redeem themselves “as long as they break with their anti-national heritage, which reached its moral nadir under Gyurcsány.” MSZP should be truly independent and “not the pawn of outside forces.” Who are these outside forces? Naturally, the liberals. For Kövér, “the big question is whether MSZP will team up with those Gyurcsány-types who betrayed their nation (nemzetárulók).” But MSZP’s remaining an independent party is not enough for its survival. It must abandon its age-old ideology of internationalism because if it cannot be a “national party,” it will simply disappear from Hungarian political life. One ought to be careful of advice coming from one’s enemies, and there is no question that Kövér is a mortal enemy of those he views as traitors. His advice would lead MSZP into oblivion given the electoral law Fidesz devised for itself.

Kövér’s parting words to the reporters of Pesti Srácok were: “We must set straight not only the history of 1956 but Hungarian history in its entirety.” This will entail of course a new kind of “national nurturing” (nemzetnevelés), which in effect means brainwashing children. He sadly noted that nothing happened in this arena after 1990, and even 2010 didn’t bring a real change. “Today the intellectual heirs of those who had earlier wanted to erase the past in the name of proletarian internationalism still want to dictate to us.” Obviously, they must be removed from all positions. In their place a new set of intellectuals lights, the likes of Sándor Szakály, will interpret history and nurture the masses in the national spirit.

July 3, 2016

Viktor Orbán in the wake of Brexit

As I’m following commentaries on “life after Brexit,” I’m struck by the huge divergence of opinions. There are those who are certain that one Euroskeptic country after the other will hold a referendum on membership and that the entire European edifice that has been built slowly and methodically since the 1950s will simply collapse. One Hungarian commentator, former SZDSZ chairman Mátyás Eörsi, thinks a European war is almost inevitable. At the other end of the spectrum are those who believe that the British exit is actually a blessing in disguise. At last the countries of the Continent will be free to deepen integration which, in their opinion, will strengthen the European Union and ensure its political and economic importance in world affairs.

Opinions on the effect of Brexit on the political fortunes of Viktor Orbán also differ widely. A few think the event will be a useful tool in the Hungarian prime minister’s hand, which he can use to force the powerful core states to make concessions to the Visegrád 4 countries and a couple of other Euroskeptic nations in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The reasoning is that without concessions, the contagion may spread through other member states at a time of right radical ascendancy. After all, these commentators point out, several right-wing groups have already announced plans to force through similar referendums.

I don’t believe in this scenario. The result of the British referendum is having such devastating consequences in both political and economic terms that I doubt too many countries would willingly sign up for such a suicidal undertaking. After all, it seems that the pro-exit Conservatives themselves were not quite prepared for a pro-leave majority and have no idea of what to do next. There are signs that they wouldn’t mind undoing the awful mess they created. Moreover, the first attempt at holding a similar referendum, the Dutch Geert Wilders’ Nexit initiative, has already failed. Yesterday, out of the 75 MPs present Nexit received only 14 votes.

Since the spread of anti-EU referendums is unlikely, Brexit didn’t strengthen Orbán’s position in Brussels. On the contrary. He lost a powerful ally in David Cameron, on whom he relied time and again in resisting every move that, as he saw it, trampled on the sovereignty of the nation states. Now he can only hope that the Visegrád 4 countries, if they remain united, will be strong enough to stand up against likely pressure in the direction of integration. There is a good possibility that Orbán and his fellow prime ministers of the former Soviet bloc countries will have to choose between cooperation and some kind of inferior status that would place them outside “an ever closer union.” That second-tier status would mean turning off the spigot from which billions of euros have flowed to these countries.

Until now one had the impression that Orbán was the leader of the Visegrád 4 group, but this impression might be misleading because news about V4 meetings arrives through the filter of Hungarian government propaganda. A couple of days ago the Polish government announced that it wants to hold “an alternative meeting of EU foreign ministers,” those who weren’t invited to the meeting of the six founding members of the European Union on Saturday. Yesterday, according to the Polish public television, eight foreign ministers–from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Greece, Spain, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia–had accepted the invitation. The United Kingdom will be represented by an undersecretary.

Poland is taking the lead among countries that have issues with the European Union. The Polish initiative is perfectly understandable. Poland is a large country with almost 40 million inhabitants, and therefore its government feels that it should spearhead the movement of those who resist EU “encroachment.” How Orbán feels about this Polish initiative one can only guess. In any case, if this Polish invitation to 22 countries yielded such a small gathering, the prospect of the Poles forging a strong counterweight to the pro-integration forces looks slim to me.

Nonetheless, in Budapest there is hope that with the departure of the United Kingdom the Visegrád countries “will gain much more influence within the European Union.” At least this is what Gergely Prőhle, former Hungarian ambassador to Berlin, believes. He expressed his hope to Boris Kálnoky, Budapest correspondent of Die Welt, that Austria and the Netherlands may also support the program of a Visegrád 4 coalition. But Prőhle is far too optimistic and, as Kálnoky points out, the Hungarian government is nervous about the prospect of a more integrated Europe and “a sharper attack on the Euroskeptic and nationalist governments.”

David Cameron arrives today in Brussels / Reuters / Photo: Francois Lenoir

David Cameron arrives in Brussels / Reuters / Photo: Francois Lenoir

Of course, Viktor Orbán would never acknowledge that Great Britain’s likely exit from the European Union may decrease his effectiveness in Brussels. But László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, freely admitted that with Great Britain inside the European Union Hungary would have had an easier time of it in Brussels. Moreover, he acknowledged that “the political strength of those who oppose the formation of some kind of united states of Europe has diminished.”

Many Hungarian commentators actually rejoice over Brexit for the very reason Kálnoky and others point out. The absence of Great Britain from the negotiating table will weaken Viktor Orbán. Moreover, these people are strong believers in a federated Europe and look upon Great Britain as an impediment to that ideal. These commentators argue that the United Kingdom from the very beginning was a reluctant member and that, being an island nation, it is a very different place from the countries of the Continent. The strongest Hungarian criticism I read appeared in Index. Its author, M.T., accused Britain of blackmailing the European Union for years.

Viktor Orbán, who is by now in Brussels, has been talking about “the lessons” to be learned from Brexit. Of course, for him the lessons are that the politicians of the EU must listen to the “voice of the people” who are fed up with Brussels’ handling of the “migrant crisis.” From the moment the results of the British referendum became known, Orbán has been trying to convince his voters that the reason for Brexit was the 1.5 million migrants who have arrived in Europe in the last year and a half. But I wonder how long this myth can be maintained once Hungarians learn that, since last Thursday, more than 100 incidents have taken place in the United Kingdom, mostly against Poles.

The defense of “the rights of Hungarians working and studying in the United Kingdom” is Orbán’s self-stated top priority during the negotiations over Brexit. Of course, these negotiations are still far away, but Orbán can show that he is concerned about the fate of his people. It’s too bad that when it came to allowing Hungarian citizens living in Western European countries to have the same voting rights as Hungarians living in the neighboring countries he was not such a staunch supporter of them.

In Brussels this afternoon Orbán gave a press conference in which he placed the “migrant crisis” at the epicenter of all the current ills of the European Union. If it isn’t solved along the lines he suggested, the crisis the EU is experiencing now will only deepen. He emphasized the necessity of holding a Hungarian referendum on the “compulsory quotas,” which we know don’t even exist. This referendum “is necessary in order to represent the Hungarian position clearly and forcefully.” Of course, the Hungarian referendum is totally off topic. The negotiations in Brussels are not about the refugees, but about Great Britain’s likely exit and the future of the European Union.

June 28, 2016

The Orbán regime’s reaction to the scandal at the Hungarian National Bank

The Hungarian National Bank cagily released the documentation on its foundations’ grants and contracts Friday night after 5 p.m., but the timing didn’t help much. The outcry was immediate. And ever since, more and more revelations have been adding fuel to fire, from the grants given to relatives of György Matolcsy to the extra money that went to the wife of Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt. (In addition to her regular job as one of the department heads of the bank she also sits on the boards of several foundations.) The opposition, including Jobbik, is up in arms. All parties demand an investigation as well as the abolition of the six foundations which, by all accounts, were established illegally.

News travels fast, especially nowadays. The Financial Times carried the story of the resignation of the journalists at vs.hu on its front page. The New York Times and the Washington Post also covered the story.  Bloomberg had a complete rundown on Chairman Matolcsy’s machinations with the almost one billion U.S. dollars that was moved from the assets of the National Bank to private foundations. If something like this had happened in western Europe, it would undoubtedly have resulted in the resignation of the chairman of the central bank and perhaps even the whole government. In Hungary, however, nothing of the sort will happen. As Lajos Bokros, the former finance minister, put it when asked about the consequences, “I have no illusions. As long as we are saddled with the Orbán regime, nothing will change.”

Despite the many juicy stories surrounding this case, we shouldn’t get bogged down in details. The important thing to keep in mind is that the very establishment of these foundations was illegal. Bokros in a post on Facebook summarized the legal objections to Matolcsy’s “unorthodox” handling of the assets of the central bank. (1) All money that is accrued over the fiscal year by the bank must be put into the budget of the Hungarian state. Matolcsy, in office now for three years, has not been doing this. (2) The National Bank cannot establish foundations because by doing so it siphons public funds from the budget. (3) The Bank cannot utilize funds for public purposes because the utilization of public funds can be done only with the approval of parliament. (4) The Hungarian National Bank cannot get involved in the formulation of fiscal policy. Its only job is the formulation and execution of monetary policy. (5) The National Bank cannot attempt to transform public money into private funds because that is intentional theft and fraud.

Péter Róna, another economist and banking expert, in a conversation with György Bolgár on Klubrádió this afternoon added that the only assets Matolcsy could have used to buy works of art, musical instruments, or even to establish foundations were the bank’s private “income” from dues paid by banks and entrance fees to view the bank’s numismatic collection, which when Róna was a member of the board of directors a couple of years ago was no more than 4 billion forints a year. The foundations received 260 billion forints, more than 17 billion went for real estate, and an incredible amount of money was spent on artwork, including a picture by Titian for 4.5 billion forints.

From the general silence, it is apparent that members of the government and Fidesz-KDNP MPs find the whole scandal most unfortunate. When journalists asked questions of László Kövér and Viktor Orbán in the corridors of the parliament building, the politicians just kept going, eyes fixed on the floor. They refused to utter one word. Some of the lesser characters tried to act dumb. The excuse of one of the Fidesz deputy chairmen, Szilárd Németh, was that since he has only a simple cell phone, not like the journalists with their smart phones, he had heard nothing about the whole thing. I suspect that they were told to remain silent in the hope that eventually the whole scandal will just die down. However, I would like to remind Árpád Habony and Antal Rogán, head of the propaganda ministry, that this kind of strategy didn’t work in President Pál Schmitt’s plagiarism case.

Behind the stony silence I suspect fear because journalists of four independent organs were told yesterday that they will not be able to enter the parliament building for an unspecified duration. The four publications are Népszabadság, HVG, Index, and 24.hu. Letters notifying the editors-in-chief of the decision asked the editors to instruct their colleagues to obey the rules governing the presence of journalists in the parliamentary building “in order to maintain your publication’s parliamentary accreditation.”

In addition to the silence, the decision must have made somewhere high up, most likely in Fidesz, to leak a ten-year-old story according to which Péter Medgyessy, prime minister of Hungary (2002-2004), received 597,000 euros from the French company Alstom while he was serving as “traveling ambassador” for the country. After Medgyessy resigned, his successor Ferenc Gyurcsány named him to the post as a kind of consolation price. At the same time, however, Medgyessy returned to his old consulting business. Magyar Idők claims that the money Medgyessy received from Alstom was not compensation for his consulting services but a bribe in connection with Alstom’s bid for the metro cars for the new M4 metro line negotiated in and around 2006. Alstom was found guilty of paying more than $750 million in bribes to government officials around the world in December 2014. To make sure that the story sticks, a few hours later Magyar Idők also published a tabloid-like editorial.

Lajos Kósa, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, announced that “no prime minister in the 25 years of our democracy was accused of such a crime. Péter Medgyessy must give an account of that sum.” The prime minister’s office immediately joined the chorus, and its spokesman promised an investigation into how “this money is connected to the governance of the left.” They will investigate not only the affairs of the former prime minister but also those of former Budapest mayor Gábor Demszky. As for Medgyessy, he admits that he received almost 600,000 euros from Alstom through a Danish and Austrian company but claims it was all on the up and up.

Of course, at this stage we have no idea what transpired, but I must admit that 600,000 euros for a consulting fee is pretty steep. I heard Csaba Molnár (DK) contemplate the possibility that the reason for Medgyessy’s rather sympathetic attitude toward the Orbán government of late might have something to do with Fidesz’s holding this information over his head. Of course, this is just speculation, but it was rather embarrassing when a few months ago Medgyessy claimed in a radio interview that the Orbán government’s corruption is no different from corruption during the socialist-liberal period. I guess this also included his own two years as prime minister.

I’m sure that the pro-government media, including state TV, will keep this issue alive while an investigation will immediately begin into the bribery charge against Medgyessy and perhaps even against Demszky. Meanwhile, of course, nothing will happen on the Matolcsy front.

April 26, 2016

Fidesz heavyweights against Viktor Orbán

Who would have thought that Viktor Orbán’s decision to repeal the law on Sunday store closings would create such turmoil in government circles? Deep divisions surfaced not only between Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) but also within Fidesz itself. To my great surprise some very important political leaders–like János Lázár, Zoltán Balog, and László Kövér–turned out to be such staunch supporters of this unpopular measure that they opted to stay away to avoid voting for the bill. Lázár and Balog made clear that their absence must be interpreted as a “no” vote. All three have been fined 100,000 ft. for not following the compulsory voting procedure for members of the Fidesz delegation.

We have to keep in mind is that the present Hungarian government is not a coalition. It is a “pártszövetség” (party alliance), which gives the Christian Democrats very little room for political maneuvering. The actual political strength of the party is minuscule. The party is nothing more than a political club whose largest “victory” was in 1994 when it received 5.7% of the votes. Four years later, with 2.59%, it ceased to be represented in parliament. Then, after eight years of inactivity, it resurfaced as part of Fidesz in 2006. The revival of the party and the fact that Fidesz essentially sponsored it was the result of Zsolt Semjén’s clever politicking. Once the party alliance was in place, he managed to get a fair number of government positions for KDNP members who, by the way, are often also members of Fidesz. One such person was Rózsa Hoffmann, who failed miserably as undersecretary of education. Bence Rétvári is another Christian Democrat who is now rather unsuccessfully battling with the teachers’ unions.

In addition to the failed “education reform,” KDNP had a couple of other issues they felt strongly about. One of these was the formulation of a new law on the churches. But after they put a lot of work into drafting a bill, Fidesz took over the project and completely rewrote it. The party also felt strongly about a so-called family bankruptcy law, which turned out to be so poorly formulated that after the government set aside half a billion dollars for it, only 100 families signed up. And, of course, the crown jewel of KDNP’s political agenda was the Sunday closing of retail stores. That turned out to be a failure too. Once Viktor Orbán was faced with a likely referendum on the issue, he quickly decided to repeal the legislation and reopen stores on Sunday.

In the last few weeks the Orbán government has been faced with two huge headaches: the revolt of the teachers and the upheaval surrounding István Nyakó’s referendum question. One wonders whether Viktor Orbán might not be re-weighing the benefit of having KDNP as an “ally.” At the moment it is only a pain in the neck.

I assume that Viktor Orbán is clever enough to make KDNP even more marginal in the “alliance” than it is now. The problem is that there is a cleavage even within Fidesz itself when it comes to the Sunday closing issue. As far as I can see, the Fidesz bigwigs’ opposition is not ideological as KDNP’s is. For many Christian Democratic politicians Sunday is a holy day when good Catholics are supposed to go to church. So, they look on the legislation as, at least in part, a religious issue. The Fidesz rebels apparently disagree with Orbán’s pandering to the voters. As a populist his main concern is the government/party’s popularity. If public opinion polls provided by the party’s own think tank, Századvég, indicate that Sunday store closing is not popular and that the opposition will rally the dissatisfied, it must be abolished. Apparently, it is this totally pragmatic approach that bothers László Kövér, János Lázár, and Zoltán Balog.

Viktor Orbán and János Lázar at the plenary session on Monday / MTI Photo Tibor Illyés

Viktor Orbán and János Lázar at the plenary session on Monday.  MTI / Photo Tibor Illyés

According to 444.hu, over the weekend the highest officeholders of Fidesz got together. Both Kövér and Balog expressed their strong opposition to a retreat on the issue. Their argument was based on principles. Fidesz, according to them, is a conservative Christian party which made the decision out of conviction, and it should stick with it even at the cost of a loss of popularity. On Monday, during the cabinet meeting, the debate continued. At that meeting Lázár supported Balog and posed the theoretical question: “If the people don’t want stadiums, will we start demolishing them?” A few hours later, at the meeting of the Fidesz caucus, Kövér expressed his disgust at the decision.

At the moment it is difficult to know how serious a rift we are witnessing and where it may lead. I wonder, for example, how long Orbán will put up with Lázár’s less than loyal comments and his open disagreements with the prime minister. Perhaps Lázár thinks that he is irreplaceable, but we know that nobody is. I find it interesting that on his way to the Voivodina (Serbia) last night Viktor Orbán stopped in Hódmezővásárhely to have dinner at the Lázár house. In fact, he spent the night there. I suspect this was not a social call but a heated discussion of their disagreement over fundamental issues.

Many commentators consider the repeal of the law on Sunday store closings a huge defeat for MSZP and the other opposition parties, which have been deprived of at least three months of anti-government campaigning and possible victory at the polls. This is not how László Kövér sees the retreat. He considers Orbán’s decision “a huge mistake which cannot be left without comment.” He believes that Fidesz “ceded the unattended field to the left opposition, which can now wage a bait campaign against [them].” Fidesz was unable to convince the people of the correctness of their original decision, and if they don’t do better in the future they will be in trouble at the 2018 election.

And just one more word about our inimitable László Kövér. He was outraged that women were disproportionately against the Sunday closing. He said that they should show more solidarity toward those who must work on Sundays. This interview, which originally appeared in Magyar Idők, was summarized in HVG where, unlike in Magyar Idők, people can comment. Most of the comments were negative, many expressing their dislike of Kövér. Not surprisingly many women commented. One woman wrote: “I would love to be the wife of Kövér for a short while.” To which another wrote: “Me too! Lucrezia Borgia …. :-)”

April 13, 2016