Tag Archives: Lili Bayer

Wholesale harassment of foreign journalists in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary

Although the transcript of Orbán’s speech about his government’s accomplishments in the last eight years, which he delivered this afternoon, is already available on the prime minister’s website, I will either postpone or perhaps even skip an analysis of it. Instead, today I will cover the muzzling of foreign correspondents who are posted in Budapest.

The phenomenon is not entirely new, but until recently only the government-sponsored media took it upon itself to attack journalists by name, some of whom were actually Hungarian nationals writing for foreign publications. Soon enough, however, Zoltán Kovács, who has the fancy title of Director of the International Communication Office, also entered the fray.

Kovács’s first victim was Lili Bayer, who did an interview with him for Politico in which she lauded Kovács by saying that “if Orbán’s critics, in Brussels and beyond, often seem unable to put a glove on him, it is thanks in large part to Kovács’s mastery of the political spin. He’s won respect, grudging from his detractors, as an effective and tireless mouthpiece of his boss.” But a Twitter comment that Bayer wrote raised the ire of Kovács. Bayer said that the anti-Soros campaign that started in September 2017 was anti-Semitic, and she compared it to the numerus clausus of 1920. Whether this is a correct comparison or not is beside the point. Governments must put up with an awful lot of criticism, some of which might not be fair but must be endured. In most civilized countries the law protects freedom of expression. Officialdom can’t blacklist journalists whose opinions they don’t like. But this is exactly what’s happening in Hungary. Since that incident Bayer is not allowed to attend official functions.

And she is not the only one who has encountered difficulties getting information. Zoltán Kovács admitted in an interview that on the very same day that he accused Bayer of being under the influence of drugs when she wrote her Twitter entry, two other journalists, a German and a Brit, also had to be “disciplined.” And, I’m afraid, the list is growing.

Just today newspapers reported that in the last year fewer articles about Hungary have appeared in the foreign press, but what has appeared has been more critical than previously. Mária Schmidt’s Figyelő accused foreign newspapers of meddling in the Hungarian election campaign on the side of the opposition. Three publications have been singled out: Foreign Policy, The Guardian, and The New York Times. This list, I’m sure, will expand in the coming months because I understand that several important papers that had no special correspondents in the region are planning to send journalists to Budapest. Also, the number of articles dealing with Hungary will undoubtedly multiply in the wake of the scandal created by OLAF’s revelations of widespread corruption linked to the family of Viktor Orbán. No matter how often Zoltán Kovács tells journalists that they are concentrating on unimportant issues instead of reporting the successes of the Orbán government in the last eight years, it is unlikely that critical articles will cease to appear in the foreign press. And if Kovács refuses to have any dealings with those critical voices, soon enough he will not be able to exchange a word with any of the foreign reporters.

Zoltán Kovács has a blog where he comments frequently on domestic and foreign affairs. On February 12 Patrick Kingsley wrote a biting article about Viktor Orbán in The New York Times, calling him one of the modern autocrats. In return, Kovács composed a letter of sorts titled “Dear New York Times: Hungarians are not stupid.” He told Kingsley that what he wrote in his article is actually old hat. Already in 2011 The Guardian was talking about “Hungary’s democratic ‘dictator in the making’ [who] takes center stage in Europe.” Kovács went on about all those articles that complain about the assault on the media, the judiciary, checks and balances, and the constitution. The article is “a classic example of the herd behavior of international journalists writing about Hungary, simply repeating without questioning.” Foreign journalists rely on information gleaned exclusively from spokesmen of the opposition, Kovács claimed. Actually, Kingsley did manage to get an interview with Kovács, but he was the only government official who was willing to talk to him. After this lecture, Kovács told Kingsley what he should have written about. He should have addressed successes like low unemployment, cutting the deficit, reducing the debt, restoring the credit rating to investment grade, and so on. These are the things that affect the lives of Hungarians, not what he and other foreign journalists write about.

Kovács continued: “We look forward to the visit of many international journalists to Budapest in the coming weeks in the run-up to that big day in April. For those journalists, here are a few suggestions. Try not to write your story before you arrive. Set yourself apart from the herd by starting your reporting from a different perspective. Try to answer the fundamental question at play in this election: if Prime Minister Viktor Orbán enjoys such strong popular support (and the opposition such dismal support) that he is predicted to win a third consecutive term, why is that? And if you want to find a thoughtful answer to that question, get out and talk to real people.”

Kovács had scarcely finished his opus to The New York Times when two articles by Jennifer Rankin appeared in The Guardian on February 12 with the telling titles: “How Hungarian PM’s supporters profit from EU-backed projects” and “Orbán allies could use EU as cash register, MEPs say.” By that time, Kovács must have given up because he refrained from delivering another sermon about proper journalistic practices. But The Guardian was already one of the bête noires of the Orbán government on account of an article that appeared on January 11 titled “Viktor Orbán’s reckless football obsession.” It is a lengthy, thorough, beautifully written article that must have made Viktor Orbán and his closest associates extremely unhappy. I heard an interview with György Szöllősi, who is now the editor-in-chief of Nemzeti Sport, Orbán’s favorite sports paper, about the article shortly after it appeared in print. He was very upset about the negative picture of Viktor Orbán that emerged. That is not what they expected, especially after the journalists even had a chance encounter with Viktor Orbán himself, who opened up about his love of the game.

One of the authors of this article was Daniel Nolan, a freelance journalist who has a sterling reputation. He has written for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, VICE News, Deutsche Welle, and the Blizzard, among others. He writes mainly on Central and Eastern European media, culture, politics, and human rights.  In 2016 he was shortlisted for the 2016 European Press Prize for his article “Spinning the Crisis: How the Hungarian Government Played Europe’s Migrant Influx.” The Orbán government considers Nolan to be a paid propagandist, just as Kovács called Lili Bayer. He is one of those who are now taking part in the election campaign against Viktor Orbán and his government.

What happened to Nolan at János Lázár’s “government info” this past Thursday shows that a journalist doesn’t have to be banned from official government press conferences. It is enough to ignore him because his questions might be embarrassing or because the government bigwigs consider him to be unfriendly.

Mr. Nolan. There is an order of things. The rule is that it is I who calls on you.

Dan Nolan, who is currently working on a piece for Al Jazeera, was unable to get an interview with Zoltán Kovács, so he decided to attend János Lázár’s weekly press conference where Kovács serves as a kind of emcee. It mattered not how hard he tried to get recognized, Kovács ignored him until, I guess out of frustration, Nolan grabbed the mike and began asking a question. Or, rather, tried to ask a question. Kovács immediately intervened. When Nolan insisted, saying that he had only one short question, Kovács indicated that if he doesn’t stop he will be removed from the premises.

After opposition parties called the event “an outrage,” Kovács decided to address a letter to Nolan, whom he mistakenly identified as The Guardian’s correspondent. There are rules, Kovács explained, and “here is a basic one: A journalist who wishes to ask a question requests permission and may pose the question after being granted permission.” So far, one could even agree, but this was not the reason for Kovács’s ignoring Nolan. The problem was that he is “more a partisan activist than a professional journalist. Once upon a time, there was a rule for journalists, part of the code of ethics of the profession, to strive to be objective in covering the news and avoid behavior that would seem partisan or biased.”

Just as in the Lili Bayer case, Nolan is considered to be “a partisan activist” because on Twitter he posted some unflattering comments about the Orbán government. A day later an unnamed author in Magyar Idők explained the situation more fully. “It should be known that Daniel Nolan played the hero in the middle of the migration crisis. He called the reception centers concentration camps.” The powers-that-be have a good memory. They don’t forget and they don’t forgive.

Even old-timer Nick Thorpe of the BBC, who has had the reputation of being far too soft on the Orbán government, complained the other day on BBC Radio 4 that he has been unable to get interviews with government officials. In fact, a day after the Nolan affair he was called in by Zoltán Kovács and was read the riot act about his biased reporting and being a partisan activist. The last time Thorpe, who has been in Hungary since 1988, experienced something very similar, he said, was in the Kádár regime. That’s what Hungary has come to.

If Zoltán Kovács continues his harassment of foreign journalists, I can assure him that the coverage of his country in the international press will be even more critical. With good reason.

February 18, 2018

Censured journalists: The case of Lili Bayer

On September 5 the notorious 888.hu, one of the many government news sites, published a list of “foreign propagandists” of George Soros. These “foreign propagandists” for the most part are Hungarian nationals who work for various foreign-language media outlets. Some of them earlier worked for left-of-center Hungarian papers, like Népszabadság, Népszava, and Magyar Narancs but now write for the likes of Bloomberg, Reuters, and Deutsche Welle. According to 888.hu, “the international media’s accredited reporters in Budapest also look upon Uncle Georgie as their sugar daddy,” and therefore they ought to be censured.

Seven journalists and a photo journalist were included in this infamous list, among them Lili Bayer, a freelance writer whose articles regularly appear in The Budapest Beacon and the European edition of Politico. Bayer is an American national with Hungarian roots and an advanced degree from Oxford University. She writes from Budapest, although she makes frequent trips to the neighboring countries as well.

888.hu first took note of Lili Bayer in March of this year after her article, “Hungarian law targets Soros, foreign-backed NGOs,” appeared in Politico. 888.hu claimed that she is “ill-informed [and] a news fabricator.” It is unfortunate that she often writes about Hungary, they said, because she has proved many times that she doesn’t have even a basic knowledge of Hungarian politics. She merely transmits “misleading opinions.”

That was the first attack on Lili Bayer but not the last. On March 24 she was again the subject of an article. Here she was described as someone who, “besides poisoning the readers of Politico,” now “hustles Gábor Vona on the largest American Jewish portal.” The reference was to an interview Bayer did with Vona on “the conversion” of Jobbik. But the reason that 888.hu denounced “Soros’s court journalist” this time was her investigative work on Sebastian Gorka’s Hungarian past. 888.hu falsely accused her of not knowing the difference between the Horthy-established Vitézi Rend and Nazism. “The lesson, don’t ever believe anything from a liberal Sorosist.”

The next occasion for an attack came in May when Politico asked Lili Bayer to interview Zoltán Kovács, the Orbán government’s spokesman who specifically deals with the foreign media. In “Orbán’s (big) mouth” Bayer said that “if Orbán’s critics, in Brussels and beyond, often seem unable to put a glove on him, it is thanks in large part to Kovács’s mastery of the political spin. He’s won respect, grudging from his detractors, as an effective and tireless mouthpiece of his boss.” The picture that emerges from this article, I think, is fair. But obviously, Zoltán Kovács was not thrilled because, from that point on, he joined the attacks against Lili Bayer.

After the appearance of this Politico article, it was again 888.hu that led the way with a piece titled “Lili Bayer: The (big) mouth of Soros.” This time, the 888.hu journalist couldn’t come up with a single valid criticism of the article. He quoted a short passage describing Kovács’s way of handling questions: “The crackdown against watchdog NGOs? A fight for transparency. The legislation seemingly targeting the Central European University, an institution funded by the Hungarian-American billionaire and Orbán adversary George Soros? Simply an initiative to ensure equality among universities. The detention of asylum seekers during their application process? A generous offer of shelter and food.” This time the complaint was that Lili Bayer “forgets to suggest an alternative.” Why a journalist describing the manner in which a government spokesman handles questions should offer “alternatives” is beyond me.

The next day István Lovas in his blog wrote a short comment on the interview with the title “Lily [sic] Bayer’s big mug.” He complained that Politico bothered to spend that much time on a government spokesman and accused Bayer of blaming Kovács for doing his job. “One of Lili Bayer’s accusations against Zoltán Kovács is that he faithfully interprets Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s position.”

On the September 5th 888.hu “black list” Bayer is described as someone with Hungarian roots who is a contributor to the European edition of Politico. She was one of the first people to accuse Viktor Orbán of anti-Semitism after Orbán raised his voice against the subversive activities of George Soros. In addition, she published articles in the leading newspaper of the American Jewry, The Forward, in which “interestingly” she conducted an interview with Gábor Vona.

Obviously, as far as the Hungarian government is concerned, anti-Semitism is a sensitive topic. I don’t want to speculate on the reasons for this, although I could offer some plausible explanations. In any case, on September 28 the following exchange took place on Twitter. Lili Bayer wrote: “On September 26, 1920 the Hungarian parliament voted in its first anti-Jewish measures. September 2017: state-funded anti-Semitic campaign.” Zoltán Kovács, who is very active on Twitter, answered with a South Park cartoon: “Drugs are bad M’Kaaay?” which was not left unanswered: “I’m really lost for words now. The spokesman of the government of Hungary publicly accused me of being on drugs because I tweet on politics.”

888.hu, again on hand, this time called Lili Bayer “the number one American journalist of Soros” who dared to talk about the 1920 numerus clausus, but “luckily Zoltán Kovács put the agitprop blessed with modest historical knowledge in her place.” This was followed by a vigorous denial of any anti-Semitism connected to the anti-Soros campaign. Support for 888.hu’s argument in favor of the government’s position came from an article by David Ha’ivri that appeared in the Israeli Jewish Press. It claimed that anti-Soros activity has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

One would assume that after this exchange a responsible government official would have the good sense to stop this unseemly exercise. But no, both Kovács and his staff seem to be fixated on everything Lili Bayer writes and are intent on keeping the “debate” going. For example, back in August someone from the prime minister’s office accused her of writing about Hungarian politics without knowing a word of Hungarian. She posted a video to her Facebook page in which she proved otherwise. Apparently, an apology followed. But obviously, that was an aberration.

On September 28, the very same day that Kovács responded to her on Twitter, Kovács spent a considerable amount of time Bayer-bashing in an interview with Egon Rónai of Egyenes beszéd. He used the South Park cartoon, he explained, because Lili Bayer is affected by “the drug of calling certain people Nazis and anti-Semites.” He said that “we don’t consider her a journalist but a political activist.” She is coming “from the same universe as George Soros,” which naturally is a cardinal sin for the Hungarian government. Kovács admitted that he had already complained about her to the editor-in-chief of Politico “sometime at the beginning of the year.”

During the conversation it became clear that Lili Bayer is not the only journalist who has crossed Kovács. On the very same day two other journalists had to be “disciplined.” A German and a Brit. They had to be straightened out because, who knows, maybe Kovács will refuse to work with them in the future. The government has already declined to give interviews to certain domestic media outlets or doesn’t allow them to be present at key government functions. Now it seems that Kovács is contemplating extending the ban to certain foreign papers as well. At least this is what his threat of not working with Lili Bayer implies.

September 30, 2017

Spotlight on Sebastian Gorka’s Controversial Medal

Today I am republishing a piece I wrote for LobeLog, a foreign policy internet site, which appeared on February 24, 2017. It was a follow-up to the couple of Hungarian Spectrum posts I had done on Sebastian Gorka–the first, “Sebastian Gorka’s road from Budapest to the White House” and the second, “Sebastian L. von Gorka’s encounter with the Hungarian National Security Office.” At this point, we knew relatively little about this man, whom many consider to be something of an adventurer.

Since then, Lili Bayer, working out of Budapest, has done an enormous amount of investigative work. She published several articles on Gorka’s past in The Forward. I especially recommend her first article, “Senior Trump aide forged key ties to anti-Semitic groups in Hungary,” and another titled “Controversial Trump aide Sebastian Gorka backed violent anti-Semitic militia.”

Gorka’s Hungarian past has been the subject of immense interest, as the number of articles that have appeared in the past three months attests. The essay below was intended to inform readers what Miklós Horthy’s Vitézi Rend (Order of Knights) was all about. I might add that Gorka has consistently denied that he was a member of the order, although the evidence to the contrary is quite convincing.

♦ ♦ ♦

Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant of President Donald Trump and member of a new White House team, the Strategic Initiatives Group, has been receiving an increasing amount of attention in the last few weeks. Julianne Smith, a former national security adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, worries about both the existence of this new group and Sebastian Gorka’s presence in it. Counterterrorism experts are particularly concerned about Gorka’s ideas that Islam as a religion cannot be separated from the ideology of terror. Knowledgeable people in the field consider his ideas on Islam dangerous and a radical departure from U.S. policy over the last 17 years.

Several U.S. journalists who have dug into Sebastian Gorka’s past have been puzzled by his proud embrace of his Hungarian roots. Why did he appear at the inaugural ball in a strange braided outfit with an equally strange medallion and decoration? Eli Clifton of LobeLog identified the medallion as one bestowed by the Order of Knights (Vitézi Rend), a group established by Miklós Horthy, regent of Hungary between 1920 and 1944. A day later Allegra Kirkland of Talking Points Memo quoted a Hungarian historian who was less certain about its provenance.

By now we can state with confidence that the medallion is indeed the identifying object of the Order, as Sebastian Gorka himself admitted in a short Breitbart video appearance. He explained that on special occasions he wears the medallion and decoration, which his father received in appreciation of his suffering as a political prisoner between 1950 and 1956. But there is a more complete version of the story that needs telling.

Origins of Vitézi Rend

Miklós Horthy established the Order of Knights to bestow the honor of knighthood on highly decorated World War I veterans. The “captain-general” of the Order was Horthy himself. Although the Order’s leaders today claim that it was always apolitical, they end up describing it as a right-wing, conservative body that promotes Hungary’s military tradition. Unfortunately, this military tradition also includes Hungary’s participation in World War II on the side of Nazi Germany.

Only a few days ago members of the Order marched along with extreme right-wing groups to commemorate the “Day of Honor,” February 11, 1945, when German-Hungarian soldiers in an encircled Budapest tried to break through the Soviet lines. Imre Marosvári, the captain of the Order in Budapest, honored the 72nd anniversary of the event with an unrealistic, pro-German description of the military situation in 1945. The primary concern of these brave soldiers, he said, was to slow down the Soviet advance in order to give the Germans time to develop their “new weaponry.” I assume he is talking about the atomic bomb. He also had harsh words for the Allies. According to him, the American and British air raids were inhumane and cruel and turned the civilian population against the Allies.

The Order still follows its original goals, which among other things aimed “to secure the lordship of the Hungarian race, which could strike down all subversive, anti-national efforts with formidable force.” From its inception the Order was an irredentist organization, whose slogan is still: “I believe in one God, I believe in one country, I believe in the divine everlasting truth, I believe in the resurrection of Hungary,” which means the recreation of Hungary according to its pre-1918 borders. As Hungarian historian Szilárd Tátrai pointed out in a recent article, the ideology and policies of the Order were a faithful reflection of all the key attributes of the Horthy regime. Therefore, nobody should be surprised that the U.S. State Department considered the Order to be an organization under German influence. After all, they argued, Hungary was an ally of Nazi Germany.

The Order was organized along military lines. Under Horthy as captain-general were eight nationwide regional captains. Every county had a captain of its own, and every “járás,” a smaller administrative unit, had a lieutenant. The knight had to observe a strict political and moral code, and unmarried knights had to submit for scrutiny details about their future wives’ families. The male children of knights were required to enroll in the Levente Movement, designed to give military training to Hungarian boys between the ages of 12 and 21. Since the title of knight was inheritable by the oldest male child, the “ideological preparation” of the next generation of knights was considered to be of the utmost importance.

The Order’s Political Associations

Although Hungarians of Jewish extraction were not officially excluded from the Order, in practice they were barred from membership. Here is what Miklós Horthy, the captain-general of the order, had to say on the subject in a letter written in October 1940: “A ‘Vitéz’ may marry with a license only, and persons of alien stock are received only when this person is a 100 per cent Hungarian as to feeling, is reliable and applies himself for the Magyarization of his name. Even the bravest and most decorated Jew is excluded.” Those sentences were followed by Horthy’s infamous claim that “as regards the Jewish problem, I have been an anti-Semite throughout my life. I have never had contact with Jews.”

Although apologists of the Order bring up the couple of high government officials and military men who at the very end turned against the German and Hungarian Nazis, these people were few and far between. Even the official history admits that many knights committed war crimes. For example, “unfortunately the organizers of the bloodbath in Novi Sad (Újvidék) were members of the Order of Knights.” Approximately 3,500 Serbs and Hungarian Jews lost their lives in Novi Sad in 1942. The organizers of this carnage, who thanks to Horthy could await their trial as free men, escaped to Germany only to return with the German troops in 1944. Two men who were instrumental in organizing the transports that carried more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews to their death in 1944 were also knights: László Endre and László Baki.

Horthy died in February 1957 in Estoril, Portugal. But shortly before his death he was still thinking about the future role of the Order, whose “calling is the rebuilding of a new Hungarian future.” With his death, émigré knights began to reorganize the Order, and it soon spread among Hungarians worldwide. The reorganized Order introduced an important change in the admission procedures: heroes of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution could also become knights. Because of this new policy (loosely interpreted), Sebastian Gorka’s father, Pál Gorka, became eligible for admission to the Order of Heroes. His investiture, in 1979, apparently took place in Great Britain, to which he had escaped after the defeat of the uprising by Soviet troops.

Today there is not one Order of Knights but two because the leaders of the organizations are badly split on several issues. One group is called “Vitézi Red” (Order of Knights) while the other is known as “Történelmi Vitézi Rend” (Historical Order of Knights). The split occurred after the center of the Order moved back to Hungary. Pál Gorka and most likely Sebastian Gorka as well were invested in the Historical Order of Knights led by László Hunyadi, its captain-general.

Knights in inter-war military uniforms teach youngsters about the use of weaponry

Gorka’s Connection to the Order

As for Pál Gorka and his knighthood, I have pieced together his story from bits of information that he and his son provided. The stories, I’m afraid, don’t always jibe. The elder Gorka was arrested in 1950, but the duration of his sentence is not at all clear. When Pál Gorka was interviewed by David Irving, the well-known Holocaust denier, for his book on the Hungarian revolution of 1956, he claimed that he had been sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage because “one of his cell’s couriers was shot on the frontier, and papers found on him enabled the AVH [the Hungarian state security] to break the network.” However, in a Hungarian-language article that appeared in August 2002, he said that he had received a ten-year sentence and that Kim Philby, the notorious British spy, had betrayed him and his comrades.

In that same 2002 interview Pál Gorka also talked about his part-time work for the British government. For 30 years he helped the authorities vet newly arrived political refugees from Hungary. He seems to have been active in the local Hungarian community. For example, he represented the British-Hungarian community in the World Federation of Hungarians and in that capacity attended the Third World Congress of the Federation in Budapest in 1992.

Another intriguing aspect of the Gorka family’s life in Great Britain is their relationship to David Irving, a revisionist historian who tried to clean away the “years of grime and discoloration from the façade of a silent and forbidding monument” to reveal the real Hitler. His 1977 book, Hitler’s War, tried to whitewash Hitler while blaming the allies for escalating the war. Irving was prolific, coming out with a new book practically every year. Eventually, he decided to write a book on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, which he published in 1981 under the title Uprising! One Nation’s Nightmare, 1956. The massive 740-page book is available online. Irving’s conclusion is that the revolt was “primarily an anti-Jewish uprising,” a gross misrepresentation of the facts. He interviewed a lot of people both in Hungary and abroad who had a role to play in the events. Although Pál Gorka, who had been freed from jail a few days after the outbreak of the uprising, certainly wasn’t a key player, he got at least a couple of footnotes. More interesting was the introduction where Irving thanked his three interpreters, one of whom was Susan Gorka, Pál’s wife and Sebastian’s mother. Considering that Irving, according to his own admission, spent about six years off and on doing research on this book and knew not a word of Hungarian, Susan Gorka must have worked with the author fairly closely.

Returning to the issue of the medallion, I would like to correct Sebastian Gorka’s somewhat misleading description of how his father acquired the medallion. The medallion is not bestowed by the Order in recognition of some heroic deed. It is tangible proof of membership in the Order. A person must apply for membership and must be approved by the leadership of the Order. Presumably, Pál Gorka was approved because he was a “hero” of 1956 who adhered to the precepts of the Order. Moreover, once a person undergoes the process of investiture he is expected to be an active participant in the organization. Pál Gorka was probably an active member of the organization when the Gorkas lived in Great Britain. He was certainly active after his return to Hungary. He and his wife settled in Sopron, a town close to the Austrian border, where he worked on behalf of the Order under Kornél Pintér, “territorial tribe captain” of the region. In the last ten years of his life he served as “knight lieutenant” on the county level.

According to the rules of the Order, inheritance of the title is not automatic. The eldest son must be approved by the Board of the Order. One cannot just “inherit” the medallion and use it “in memory” of one’s father. If we can believe Kornél Pintér, the “tribe captain,” Sebastian is a full-fledged member of the Order in his own right. That’s why Pintér is so proud that “one of our fellow members is now in the White House.”

June 2, 2017

Scandal after scandal: trying to hide the real meaning of “ethnic homogeneity”

It doesn’t happen too often that I have to return to a topic that I thought we had discussed quite thoroughly only yesterday. But this time such a revisit is definitely warranted. Without it, the story is incomplete. Readers would not be able to grasp the extent of the depravity and duplicity of the government that rules Hungary today.

Of course, I’m talking about the controversial speech Viktor Orbán delivered on February 28 at the annual gathering of the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce. When I’m writing about a speech, I normally wait to have the full text in front of me as opposed to relying on summaries that appear right after it is delivered. I consider the written text to be more reliable and more detailed, allowing me greater room for analysis. So, I checked the prime minister’s website several times for the appearance of the complete text.

In my piece I concentrated on two paragraphs. The first was about the “ethnic homogeneity” desired by Orbán, and the second was about “the greatness” of the Hungarian nation. In both cases I translated practically the whole text.

There was one sentence, which happened to be the lead sentence of the paragraph on “ethnic homogeneity,” that after some pondering I decided to leave out. It was jarring. It didn’t make any sense. So I decided that the best solution was simply to omit it, especially since it wasn’t vital to our understanding of Orbán’s message. It read: “First, I find the preservation of cultural homogeneity very important.” This lead sentence was followed by two sentences that I did translate: “By now one can say such things. A few years ago one could be executed for such sentences, but today one can say it because life confirmed that too much mixing brings trouble.” These sentences, coming one after the other, made no sense to me. One may think that “cultural homogeneity” is desirable, but one cannot be branded for life for espousing such a thought. So, as I said, I decided that the best solution was to drop that first sentence.

It now seems that my instinct was correct. We learned today that someone in the prime minister’s office changed the original sentence “I find the preservation of ethnic homogeneity very important” to “I find the preservation of cultural homogeneity very important.” Who ordered the change we don’t know. Was it the prime minister himself who upon reflection decided that such a statement was inappropriate or was it one of his subordinates who concluded that this sentence would cause an uproar? It really doesn’t matter because the falsification of facts is unacceptable, or at least it should be unacceptable. But in Hungary’s case one can say with confidence that there will be no fallout from this latest “editing.”

It is bad enough that high government officials fiddled with the true message of the prime minister, but one would have expected more finesse from them. What good does it do to change the wording in one instance but in four other cases in the same paragraph leave “ethnic homogeneity” unaltered? Moreover, when the video of the speech becomes available on the government website, this tinkering with the transcript will be called out in no time, as it was this afternoon at János Lázár’s Thursday afternoon séance, “government info.”

Faithful readers of Hungarian Spectrum surely remember Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság, who was known for her scoops on the affairs of Fidesz. She was always the first one to come up with breaking news on people close to Viktor Orbán. Now that there is no more Népszabadság, Csuhaj got a job at ATV as a provider of background news. She was the one who brought up the presence of “ethnic homogeneity” in Orbán’s speech at Lázár’s press conference. Lázár and his faithful companion at these occasions, Zoltán Kovács, were outraged: Hungary’s prime minister said nothing of the sort. Lázár even told Csuhaj to stop bothering them with such annoying and obviously nonexistent claims. Kolozsvári Szalonna captured their pique in its headline to the story: “Ildikó, you little goose, don’t bother the gentlemen with your nonsensical questions.”

I’ll bet they were not so happy after the press conference was over

Interestingly, Ildikó Csuhaj’s take on Orbán’s racist remarks came from a vantage point quite different from that of the reports and analyses coming from abroad. Foreign assessments objected to the racism inherent in the concept of “ethnic homogeneity” in general. Ildikó Csuhaj’s probe, on the other hand, centered around Orbán’s attitude toward the introduction of a guaranteed basic income, which had been proposed by László Botka of MSZP and the leadership of Párbeszéd. Orbán, as a believer in a “work-based society,” naturally rejects such a plan out of hand, but he finds its introduction especially problematic in his own country because “ethnic relations in Hungary are complicated.” That was translated to be a specifically racist remark in connection with Hungary’s Roma population. Even if Orbán were in favor of a guaranteed basic income, given the presence of the large Roma population the idea couldn’t be introduced in Hungary because of the enormous unemployment in the Gypsy community. The reasons for this high unemployment? Well, “ethnic relations in Hungary are complicated.”

The Orbán government must have been embarrassed because it moved to salvage what could be salvaged abroad. Zoltán Kovács wrote an opinion piece for a new government propaganda site called About Hungary. Here we learn that it wasn’t the Orbán government that falsified the prime minister’s remarks; the culprit was “the liberal media.” Kovács had the temerity to summarize Orbán’s speech this way: “The prime minister, after delivering a speech at the Hungarian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, was talking about threats to Hungary’s strong economic performance and stability. One of those threats is illegal migration, and he said that preserving the European cultural identity of Hungary is a priority for the well-being of the country.” After these introductory words, he quoted Orbán’s lead sentence correctly but cagily left out all the sentences in which the phrase “ethnic homogeneity” appears. As Kovács put it, “if you’re having trouble seeing why that’s racist, that’s because it’s not. He was talking about preserving the ethnic identity we have, and that’s associated with culture, language, sometimes religion, and so on.” Indeed, in his version it is difficult to find the original meaning of Orbán’s message. According to Kovács, “the loud, ideologically-driven press simply don’t have ears to hear the real meaning of a statement and refuse to report the full picture. Instead, these journalists with an agenda quote out of context.”

I was spared, unlike Lili Bayer, a freelance journalist working out of Budapest, who has written some excellent articles on Hungarian affairs for Politico and lately a piece for The Forward on Sebastian Gorka’s connections with the Hungarian far right. Kovács discovered the following tweet by Bayer: “Today Orban called for ethnic homogeneity in Hungary. 73 years ago my grandma was taken to concentration camp by others making same argument.” Kovács accused her of “manipulative editing” and decried “the rigged media [which] is … blinded by their own bias.”

The Hungarian government works exceedingly hard to massage the news to their political advantage, and domestically they have had significant success with their propaganda campaigns. Internationally, however, as is clear from Kovács’s pitiful attempt to explain away this latest scandal, they are much less successful at pulling the wool over our eyes.

March 2, 2017