Tag Archives: LMP

Alcohol and sex: The case of LMP’s Péter Ungár

We left the youthful leaders of Momentum, a new political formation with lofty ambitions, at their three-day festival, which was supposed to attract new followers and produce much needed cash for the fledgling party. Unfortunately, the number of attendees was low, and the festival was a financial flop. I also reported on the revelation that the party has had financial support from at least two businessmen, one of whom at least wanted assurances that Momentum would not cooperate on any level with MSZP or DK. In that post I also reported that Edina Pottyondy, a member of Momentum’s board of governors, quit her post two days before the festival’s opening. A few days later another board member resigned.

These two resignations cannot be a coincidence. There must be some very real differences within Momentum’s leadership for that to happen. At first I thought that perhaps the differences of opinion centered on the sources of financial support, but eventually I came to the conclusion that the bone of contention between András Fekete-Győr and some of the others in the leadership was strategic: to remain entirely independent or to work with others for the common goal of removing Fidesz from power. Péter Juhász of Együtt was trying to convince LMP and Momentum to join Együtt, Párbeszéd, and the Two-Tailed Dog Party to create a new political formation called “New Pole” (új pólus). The politicians of these smaller parties became really excited when an opinion poll indicated that such a formation could receive 16% of the votes nationwide. LMP showed some interest in the idea, but without Momentum the idea would have been stillborn.

If I had any doubts about the reasons for the departure of two leading members of Momentum, the news that “a vote of confidence was submitted against the whole board” confirmed my conviction that the internal strife had to center on the strategy of the charismatic András Fekete-Győr, who is adamant about total independence, which will in his view eventually lead to Momentum’s becoming the premier political force in the country. Fekete-Győr survived the vote of confidence. At the same time Momentum decided that not only is cooperation with other parties out of the question; so is even talking with politicians of other parties. Whether this decision was wise, only time will tell.

Concurrently with these happenings, there was an incident that elicited incredible interest from the media. On August 9 azonnali.hu, a trendy new internet site, learned that Péter Ungár, a member of the board of LMP, was thrown out of Momentum’s “Opening Festival” by security guards. A conversation with Ungár couldn’t shed much light on the subject because he had been too drunk to remember the details.

Péter Ungár is a very rich 26-year-old who a few months ago became one of the leading lights of LMP. At the age of 15 his father, András Ungár, died. His mother, Mária Schmidt, court historian of Viktor Orbán, his older sister, and Péter suddenly became exceedingly wealthy. Péter Ungár still has interests in the family enterprise, and from an interview I read it is clear that he has no intention of selling his stake.

Although it is difficult to find too many details about Ungár’s life, given his very recent appearance as a public figure, I learned that he most likely received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Edinburgh. At the age of 17 he had the opportunity to work for the 1998 campaign of Barack Obama. He published a series of articles on the American election in the old Hírszerző.hu, which in 2010 was purchased by HVG. In 2009 and 2010 he published a couple of articles in konzervatorium.hu, which as one can gather from its name is a conservative publication. Sometime after 2012 he enrolled in a master’s program at Central European University.

From Ungár’s conversations with the young crew of azonnali.hu it became evident that this is not the first time he has drunk to excess. Initially, the Momentum leadership was pretty tight-mouthed about the details of Ungár’s expulsion, not just from this particular event but from all future events Momentum organizea. Eventually, however, the public learned that he tried to crawl into the tent of a girl three times and that he told another girl how good he was in bed.

It was inevitable that sooner or later Ungár’s behavior would cause friction between Momentum and LMP, especially since two internet outlets connected to LMP stood by Ungár and made light of his behavior. Or, at least, this is what Tamás Soproni, vice-chairman of Momentum, claims. He showered vulgar epithets on the whole leadership of LMP, whom he called left-lib, pseudo intellectuals. Ungár’s friends and his party should at least remain quiet and not defend this kind of behavior, he warned. Some important people in the democratic opposition also considered the incident so serious politically and morally that they suggested Ungár’s immediate expulsion from LMP.

LMP is not rushing to follow this advice. They first want to have an investigation of the case, which apparently Ungár himself asked for. One possible reason for the party leadership’s hesitancy to act in haste is that reflektor.hu, a relatively new internet site that is close to the party, might be financed or even run by Ungár. I base my opinion on what Ungár had to say about his role in reflektor.hu, which has been full of articles critical of Momentum. He explained that there is an editorial board that is responsible for these published articles. He had nothing to do with them.

The case is embarrassing for LMP, which over the years has been sensitive to women’s issues. It is the only party in Hungary that has a female quota. LMP has a dual chairmanship, held by a man and a woman. The same is true of LMP’s parliamentary delegation. LMP is also one of the moving forces to get the Orbán government to ratify the “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence,” normally referred to as the Istanbul Convention (2011). Hungary signed the convention in 2014, but a year later the ratification was voted down by the massive Fidesz majority. Nothing has happened since.

Some political scientists tried to concoct a political rationale for Momentum’s forceful position on the Ungár incident, viewing it as an excuse for Momentum to turn its back on any kind of cooperation with the smaller parties. I am certain that this is not the case. Momentum has been adamant from the moment it announced its intention to become a party that it would not negotiate with any other party. Fekete-Győr’s strategy is still in place, though, if you ask me, this is not the end of the story.

As for the coverage of the case, among the many editorials there was only one that was thoughtful. It was written by Adél Hercsel of HVG. She talked about the futile conspiracy theories that were invented and the relativization of sexual harassment and excessive alcohol consumption. The country is again in two camps: those who make light of the Ungár case and those who harshly condemn him. Empathy, which is in short supply in Hungary, is absent. This young LMP politician may be behaving the way he does because he has problems that should be addressed. I can recommend this thoughtful essay to those who are interested in this troubling case.

August 14, 2017

The heist of two million euros

Three days ago, thanks to 444.hu, the Hungarian public at last learned about a robbery that had actually taken place during the night of April 7. In the last three months not a word about it has leaked out, despite an extensive police investigation. The effort to keep the case under wraps is not at all surprising because the burglary occurred at the office of Arton Capital, one of the four companies that were entitled to sell residency bonds.

The residency bond project was launched in 2013. It allowed a citizen of a non-European country to “buy” a resident permit for the duration of five years by purchasing €250,000 worth of Hungarian government bonds. In 2015 that amount was raised to €300,000. I called the project “the Orbán government’s colossal swindle” in one of my posts. Anyone who’s interested in the details should read that post, in which I explained that the greatest beneficiaries of this arrangement were the four companies that had the exclusive right to sell the bonds. According to estimates, these companies made a real killing, receiving about a third of the 1.2 billion euros the state got from the residency bonds.

When 444.hu first reported on the heist, few details were known, just that the burglars took cash and that the amount of money was in the millions. A few hours later RTL Klub knew the exact figures: altogether 1.9 euros were stolen. One million was in a safe and the rest was in an unlocked desk drawer. The safe was gone and so was the server with the complete documentation of all the sales, including personal data of the purchasers.

This burglary has been taken very seriously. According to accounts, the police have pulled out all the stops in trying to solve the case. Index reported that 1,300 people have been questioned in connection with this affair.

We have always suspected that this whole residency bond arrangement, devised by Antal Rogán, served only one purpose: to siphon off as much public money as possible and pass it into individual pockets and most likely also into Fidesz’s coffers. Under normal circumstances, all transactions should have been conducted by drafts or promissory notes. Moreover, if this large amount of cash was part of the clients’ handling fee that varied between €45,000 and €60,000 per residency bond, how did these cash payments reach Arton Capital in Budapest in the first place? A person can legally bring a maximum of €10,000 into the country in cash. The answer of course is that it was done illegally, possibly with the assistance of the authorities.

The burglars were skilled. Their entry and their movements inside the offices showed a high level of professionalism. I assume they were familiar with the place and knew exactly what they were after. Naturally, as always happens in such cases, so-called experts, mostly former police officers, come up with all sorts of fancy explanations–from self-robbery to foreign secret service agents who are after the personal data of the people to whom Hungary so generously allowed free access to the whole European Union. In any case, it looks like a complicated case to me. Even if the usually inept Hungarian police find the culprits, I don’t think we will ever learn the real story behind this huge amount of cash stashed away in an unlocked drawer and a safe.

The weak and usually powerless opposition, especially Jobbik and LMP, has been trying to organize an investigative committee to look into this very suspicious business around the residency bonds. Naturally, Fidesz made sure that no such committee would be formed. Therefore, last November Jobbik, LMP, and the tiny Liberal Party decided to form a “shadow committee” and began their own, unofficial investigation of the clearly illegal and corrupt money laundering business conducted by the Orbán government. At that time, the opposition members of parliament who participated in the shadow committee hoped to finish their job by the spring. After this initial announcement I didn’t see any sign of their activities, although they had ambitious plans, including holding hearings where employees of the Immigration and Citizenship Authority would be called to testify. But now, after the burglary, the shadow committee suddenly revived. They announced that they want to talk to the representatives of the four companies who are in the residency bond business. Good luck, since I’m certain that the men and women in question have no intention of being questioned by members of an opposition shadow committee. On the other hand, a representative of the Liberal Party claims that the members of the committee have learned that the residency bond project is “a professionally organized criminal undertaking.”

A Jobbik member of the committee, Andrea Varga-Damm, was Olga Kálmán’s guest on HírTV yesterday where she revealed an important piece of information, which is most likely the result of the investigation this shadow committee has been conducting in the last few months. The law that established the project was enacted on December 27, 2012. Twenty-six days earlier, on December 1, the government made some small changes in the bill, which up to that point had allowed the companies to hold only a certain amount of money in petty cash. That limit was abolished, most likely not quite independently from the forthcoming residency bond project. Talk about “a professional organized criminal undertaking.” All was prepared for the killing ahead.

June 30, 2017

Total disarray among the democratic opposition parties

A few months ago I started a folder called “Opposition Parties: Dissension and Unity.” Well, by now the unity which a few months ago had a small chance of becoming reality can safely be buried. The fairly promising negotiations on the left fizzled out. After a few negotiating sessions only four political groups were still at the negotiating table: the socialists (MSZP), Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), Párbeszéd (Dialogue) led by Gergely Karácsony and Tímea Szabó, and former Finance Minister Lajos Bokros’s MoMa, which he describes as a “movement.” Együtt (Together) of Viktor Szigetvári and Péter Juhász refused to have anything to do with the others even before the negotiations began, and the participation of LMP (Lehet Más A Politika) was never a possibility. Then, on February 14, Szabó announced that Párbeszéd was leaving the negotiations because the others were not committed to holding primaries, which is an important part of the party’s program. A few days later Bokros announced MoMa’s withdrawal from the negotiations. A faint hope still remained that at least the two largest parties, MSZP and DK, would be able to work out some kind of an arrangement.

That hope disappeared when László Botka, the socialist mayor of Szeged, formally announced his decision to run as MSZP’s candidate for prime minister. Up to that point the person of the candidate for prime minister hadn’t been discussed at all among the parties, and therefore there was a certain amount of surprise mixed with ill feelings when MSZP acted as if the candidate was a fait accompli. At a large MSZP conference Botka gave a forceful speech with a decidedly left-leaning political message, which may have sounded attractive to the old socialist base, but it was the death knell of any cooperation between MSZP and DK. Botka in no uncertain terms announced that as long as Ferenc Gyurcsány is heading DK no understanding between the two parties is possible.

DK’s reaction was restrained. Zsolt Gréczy, the party’s spokesman, announced that they had sent DK’s party program to Botka and they were waiting for Botka’s call to discuss issues concerning the coming election. They waited and waited, but Botka had no intention of talking to Ferenc Gyurcsány and his party.

Botka, after returning from a trip abroad, approached LMP, and not surprisingly he returned empty-handed. LMP has remained steadfast in its resolve never to enter into political deals with anyone. I understand that Botka offered something quite enticing to LMP in exchange for the party’s support of his candidacy. According to rumor, Botka offered to cede half of the districts in Budapest to LMP, where the leftist-green party is strong. No dice. Ákos Hadházy, Bernadett Szél, and Péter Ungár, who happens to be Mária Schmidt’s son, refused. I assume Botka was hoping to replace DK voters with those from LMP. So by now it looks as if MSZP is planning to take on the Orbán government alone since neither LMP nor the smaller parties, like Együtt and Párbeszéd, are willing to support Botka, and Botka is unwilling to cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány.

Today, at DK’s congress, Ferenc Gyurcsány formally acknowledged that his original idea of a common list is dead. Despite the attacks coming from Botka, Gyurcsány refrained from attacking MSZP’s candidate. The gist of his message was “perhaps there are many flags but the camp is one.” The democratic opposition must agree on one candidate in each district against Fidesz’s nominee. Because running against each other would be truly suicidal.

The answer to this proposal was prompt. Imre Szekeres (MSZP), former minister of defense and an influential member of the party, accused Gyurcsány of either not knowing what he is talking about or knowingly suggesting “the impossible.” He claimed that separate lists and common candidates are incompatible. He gave a long list of reasons why this is the case, although I remember that during the negotiations such a solution was discussed.

László Botka didn’t wait long either. He told Index only a few minutes after Gyurcsány concluded his speech that he “doesn’t want to get involved with the debates of the ever increasing number of small liberal parties.” It was an arrogant response considering that, according to a January poll, among committed voters 10% of the electorate would vote for MSZP and 7% for DK. In his place I would be a tad more cautious. So, as it stands, all parties will be facing Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz alone. This is a sure way of handing an electoral victory to Orbán even though a significant majority of the electorate thinks that the present government and Fidesz are leading the country in the wrong direction.

What are the chances of a spectacular resurgence of MSZP at the moment? Róbert László, the electoral expert of Political Capital, a political think tank, considers such a Phoenix-like revival of the party unlikely. So do I. It carries too much baggage, and its politicians are singularly untalented. Gyurcsány, who is talented but tainted, is more realistic. His goal is to build a middle-sized party, gaining maybe 15% of the votes. That would give the party a good chance of forming a parliamentary delegation (frakció in Hungarian), which it currently lacks.

Otherwise, all commentators consider the appearance of Momentum politically important, but talking about this new group, as some of the “political scientists” do, as a serious threat to MSZP or DK is a mistake. These young people did an admirable job collecting signatures for a referendum on hosting the 2024 Olympics, but building a party from scratch in a few months is a well nigh impossible task. They may, however, be able to move the apolitical younger generation, especially in Budapest and other larger cities. In the countryside their chances are very poor.

Gyurcsány, and whether he was being honest or not is beside the point, said that he is happy for the emergence of the Momentum group, to which the spokesman of Momentum answered that “Momentum is not happy for Gyurcsány.” No wonder that many people compare Hungarian opposition leaders to kindergartners fighting over the toys lying around.

Péter Pető, former deputy editor-in-chief of Népszabadság, wrote an opinion piece in 24.hu with the title “Only one may remain: The war of Botka, Gyurcsány, and Momentum.” It is a thought-provoking piece, although Pető goes overboard in assessing the political weight of Momentum. Pető is no admirer of Botka, whom he calls “a media partisan” who shirks from being tested in a political struggle with real opponents. “The mayor of Szeged is unwilling to go into battle with Gyurcsány, who was reelected as the chairman of the party with 98% of the votes…. Botka’s game … gives him an opportunity to show whether he has what makes Gyurcsány an important politician: the killer’s instinct.” Pető then gives a couple of scenarios of Botka succeeding in making a deal with LMP or the other two small parties, in which case he thinks that Gyurcsány will have to face a very serious challenge, which may end his political career. “But the problem is that Gyurcsány is at his best in precisely this type of situation,” Pető concludes.

Of course, it is possible that more sober voices will come forward, but at the moment MSZP, LMP, Együtt, and Párbeszéd have declared their intention to face the big bad wolf alone. DK is waiting, but at the moment I don’t see any willingness to cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány and by extension with the Demokratikus Koalíció. Viktor Orbán must be feeling very good.

March 4, 2017

Momentum’s anti-Olympics drive has momentum

As is evident from the government media, the Orbán government is mighty upset over the early success of the Momentum Movement’s signature drive to hold a referendum on whether Budapest should host the 2024 Olympic Games. On the very first day of the campaign, Magyar Nemzet reported that people were queuing up and waiting a long time to be able to add their names to the list of those who believe that Hungary’s current financial situation doesn’t warrant such an extravagance. A host of problems remain in healthcare and education, on which in the last six or seven years the government has spent far too little money.

My hunch is that, initially, Viktor Orbán was not at all worried about Momentum’s anti-Olympics project. Two opinion polls had been held on the question, and the second one, after massive pro-Olympic propaganda, showed a slight majority supporting the idea. Therefore, I assume that the government decided to allow the signature drive in the belief that it would be a flop. Instead, here we are one week later and the activists have collected almost 70,000 signatures. Momentum has 30 days altogether to collect 138,000 signatures in favor of a referendum.

“No for the Olympics, yes for our future!”

Shortly after the beginning of the campaign, Magyar Idők must have gotten the word to begin a campaign of its own against Momentum and the opposition parties that decided to support it. Dávid Megyeri, a journalist for the government mouthpiece, tried to convince his readers and perhaps also himself that the opposition parties are actually committing “collective seppuku” by supporting Momentum’s anti-Olympics campaign, even if “they are hiding behind a phantom organization.” Megyeri’s imagination went quite far in assessing the dreadful consequences of this signature drive for the socialists. It is quite possible, he wrote, that the attack on the Olympics will be considered “a casus belli for MSZP’s voters.” He believes that the anti-Olympic drive “practically guarantees the disappearance of the remainder of the socialist party.” The “miniature” MSZP will fall into the lap of Ferenc Gyurcsány. The little fish will eat the big fish, concludes Megyeri. Perhaps a threat of this sort will further confuse the already confused MSZP leadership.

In fact, the most fervent supporters of Momentum’s drive are the activists of LMP, who collected an additional 10,000 signatures in a week. And who knows how many signatures were collected by the activists of the Two-tailed Dog Party, Együtt, and Párbeszéd. Magyar Idők tried to minimize the damage the drive’s success was causing by insisting that “the signature collection has lost its momentum.” That certainly does not seem to be the case.

Mayor István Tarlós, who initially was not too keen on holding the Olympics, by now has become a great fan, arguing that no sane person should sign the petition because Budapest will be the clear winner of the Olympic Games if Hungary gets the nod. After all, the construction of almost all the necessary buildings and stadiums as well as infrastructure improvements will benefit Budapest, while the government will take care of all the expenses. Of course, he is right, but the rest of the country, which lags behind the capital city in economic development, is not so enamored with the idea. Outside of Budapest enthusiasm for the Games is substantially lower than in the capital.

While the activists are doing a great job, the same cannot be said about the opposition parties. Let’s start with the opposition members of the Budapest City Council. LMP’s Antal Csárdi proposed that Budapest withdraw its bid for the 2024 Olympics. Of course, given the preponderance of Fidesz members on the Council, there was no way for Csárdi’s proposal to succeed. But at least one would have expected that the liberal-socialist members would vote for the proposal. Well, that didn’t happen. We are talking about thirteen opposition members all told, of whom only five supported the motion. Of the five MSZP members two voted for the motion, one abstained, one didn’t vote although he was present, and one voted against it. One DK member voted for it, the other against it. That will give you an idea about the state of the Hungarian opposition. Just as reflector.blog.hu remarked, “this is a sorry lot.”

Demokratikus Koalíció also showed itself to be totally inept and clumsy when the party decided “to help” the drive by setting up independent stations for non-Budapesters, letting them express themselves on the question of the Olympics even though they were not eligible to sign the petition. It soon became clear that DK, instead of helping the drive, was hindering it. Even the pro-DK nyugatifény.blog disapproved of the move that only confused people. After a day, the DK campaign was halted.

After the disastrous city council vote, the government media had a real heyday, pointing out the opposition’s double game. Pro-government journalists called attention to MSZP politicians who are now supporting the anti-Olympic drive but who earlier had enthusiastically endorsed hosting the Olympics. One of these “turncoats” was Ágnes Kunhalmi who, according to Origo, had said in 2015 that, if it depended on her, she would rather spend the money on education, but “the two together may give such strength to Hungary that it may set our country toward unparalleled successes.” She made crystal clear that she “supported the cause.” Rather embarrassing, I’m afraid, in light of her signing the petition on practically the first day of the drive.

Csaba Horváth, leader of the MSZP group in the City Council, was equally enthusiastic at the same event organized by the Hungarian Olympic Committee. However, Horváth is now trying to divert attention from this video interview available online. He made public the transcript of a speech he delivered at the council meeting on December 2, 2015. He now claims that he was the first one to suggest holding a referendum on the question of the Games. According to the transcript, Horváth said: “I believe in the Olympic movement; I believe in my politician friends; and above all, I believe that all Hungarians can unite for a good cause. However, the final decision should be based on the broadest possible consensus. Therefore, I suggest that we should hold a referendum on the question of the Olympics.” He apparently repeated the same sentiment in a letter addressed to János Lázár a few days later. Furthermore, on January 27, 2016, the opposition members put forth a motion about holding such a referendum, which was naturally voted down. By September 2016, he said, he was of the opinion that Budapest will not be able to accommodate the Olympics in 2024. But then why on earth did he abstain in the vote on Antal Csárdi’s motion? Typical MSZP waffling, I’m afraid. The party is loath to take a clear stand on anything.

Whether the Orbán government will actually allow a referendum even if Momentum and its allies get enough signatures, which by now is likely, remains questionable. Portfolio pointed out, however, that there is a good possibility that the International Olympic Committee will decide that support for the project is far too low in Budapest. In the past, cities were chosen only where popular support was over 65%, which is a far cry from the percentages measured by opinion polls in Hungary. In September 2015, only 41% of Hungarians supported the idea, according to Medián. Although the Hungarian Olympic Committee held its own poll, which showed a slight majority for supporters, most other polls indicate that only about 50% of Hungarians support a Budapest Olympics. In Paris, by contrast, popular support is 70%, while in Los Angeles it is 88%. I do hope that the International Olympic Committee will have enough brains to choose Los Angeles or Paris instead of a rather reluctant Budapest.

January 27, 2016

Jobbik’s Gábor Vona and his Hanukkah greetings

Today Ákos Hadházy, co-chair of LMP, managed to retain his position despite opposition from András Schiffer and the admittedly ineffectual smear campaign of the Fidesz-inspired media. Hadházy’s internal critics accused him of jeopardizing LMP’s firm policy of not cooperating with any other party when he talked about the necessity of dialogue among opposition forces.

I’m convinced that deep down Hadházy knows that the party’s current strategy is doomed to failure, but with a brave face he is trying to pretend otherwise. At the press conference after the party congress Bernadett Szél somewhat pointedly remarked that the party’s election strategy had already been decided earlier: LMP will be on its own at next year’s election because “there is no party in parliament that LMP could work with.” Hadházy took the easy way out by emphasizing that LMP doesn’t want to attract voters from the left but rather “hopes to convince voters of the government party that change is necessary.”

Now to the main topic of today’s post.

A few weeks ago the government launched a smear campaign against Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, which, as I indicated earlier, didn’t achieve its aim. In fact, the methods used to demonize Vona were so primitive and base that I got the distinct impression that the campaign actually resulted in some sympathy for Vona, even on the left.

Thus, new tactics were required, which Gábor Vona himself offered to Fidesz when he decided to write Hanukkah greetings to the various Jewish religious communities, including Slomó Köves’s Chabad-based Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation. Köves is a supporter of Orbán. Shortly after the formation of the second Orbán government he became chief rabbi of the Hungarian armed forces.

Vona’s Hanukkah greetings were obviously part of Jobbik’s new strategy, which includes shedding the party’s anti-Semitic past. The problem is that that past was laden with so many sins against Hungarian Jews that a quick turnaround couldn’t be accepted by Köves or any other Jewish religious leaders. Köves wrote a lengthy letter in which he listed some of Jobbik’s most outrageous anti-Semitic statements. After a few famous sayings from the Old Testament, such as “The tongue has the power of life and death,” Köves suggested that instead of sending Hanukkah greetings, Jobbik leaders should voice their new convictions, if they are genuine, at forums where previously “not light, but hatred, ignominy, and darkness reigned.”

Köves made his letter public, which in turn elicited a public response from Vona. Perhaps the most interesting part of the letter is Vona’s explanation of how he ended up on the wrong side. He “inherited” his anti-Semitism because he found himself in an environment in which “one side called Hungarians Nazis, while the other labeled Jews traitors.” Since then, he “has come to the realization that this doesn’t lead anywhere.”

Vona’s answer didn’t satisfy the Jewish community, which was justifiably offended by his occasional juxtaposition of Hungarians and Jews instead of Christian and Jewish Hungarians. At the same time, it also outraged the more radical members of Jobbik who, I’m convinced, have been getting ample support in their opposition to Vona’s leadership from Fidesz.

Origo has been closely following the reverberations within Jobbik after the Hanukkah affair. The first story of some import came from Vecsés, a town just outside the city limits of Budapest. Vecsés at one point was the center of the Army of Outlaws movement, whose leader is a friend of Gábor Vona. Otherwise, Jobbik claims that the party and this neo-Nazi group have nothing to do with one another. On the local level, however, there seems to be cooperation despite the denial. Or, at least this used to be the case. The only Jobbik member of the town council was, or perhaps still is, affiliated with the Army of Outlaws. This man, Imre Orbán, has a reputation for being a troublemaker and has distinguished himself as a fouled-mouthed anti-Semite. This time he placed a post on Vecsés’s Jobbik Facebook page in which he accused Gábor Vona of making a fool of Jobbik members by turning to the rabbi with his apologies. He added some four-letter words in his discussion of Hanukkah. This incident was taken seriously by the party and Vona promised to investigate.

The official “state news” Híradó reported a few days ago that the Jobbik leadership in Vámosmikola, a village of 1,600 inhabitants, also criticized the leadership because of the Hanukkah greetings and the subsequent exchange of letters. Jobbik cannot be strong in Vámosmikola since in the 2014 municipal elections it didn’t even have a candidate for mayor or the town council, but even the smallest protest is big news in the right-wing press.

Pesti Srácok gleefully reported that a former member of the Magyar Gárda, once the paramilitary arm of Jobbik, since dismantled, demanded the vest that was part of their uniform from Vona, who proudly wore it at the opening of parliament in 2010. By trying to build bridges between Jews and the party, Vona “became unworthy” of this precious vest, claimed the former member of the Magyar Gárda.

Yesterday Magyar Idők called attention to a demonstration of disappointed Jobbik members that will take place in Debrecen, where the organizers are expecting Jobbik sympathizers from four counties. These people not only complain about Vona’s Hanukkah letter but also about Jobbik’s abandonment of its earlier radical political strategy. A closer reading of the article, however, reveals that most of these people are no longer members of the party. As the chief organizer, Erika Ulics, a lawyer, explains, 35-40 local leaders who will gather in Debrecen already left the party after Vona, in 2014, decided to scuttle the party’s former ideals. Ulics herself was expelled from the party, allegedly because she leaked inside information to Népszabadság.

Ulics, by the way, is a notorious neo-Nazi and an admirer of Ferenc Szálasi, who was executed for war crimes in 1946. In addition, she is a racist who suggested that all Gypsies should be forced to join the army and attack Romania. “If we win, Transylvania is ours. If we lose, Hungary is ours.” Those with strong stomachs should visit the news sites Cink and 4024 for more quotations from this vicious neo-Nazi and anti-Semite.

The government-sponsored sites are so eager to spread news of the imminent collapse of Jobbik that they are resorting to fiction. According to alfahir.hu, Jobbik’s official site 888.hu reported that the entire ten-man Jobbik group in Nemeshetés, population 320, resigned in protest over Vona’s new pro-Jewish policies. It turned out that Jobbik doesn’t have a local cell in the village. Since then, the article has been taken offline.

Yesterday afternoon Ulics’s demonstration did take place. It is hard to tell from the picture just how many people attended, but as far as I can judge, there were mighty few. It certainly didn’t shake Jobbik to its very foundations as, I’m sure, some Fidesz leaders hoped.

The sign, by the way, is an Albert Wass quotation: “The surest weapon against mendacity and falsehood is truthfulness. This is our weapon.” And one shouldn’t miss the doctored photo of Gábor Vona and Ágnes Heller walking hand in hand. It is unlikely that Heller received this distinction because these people are such admirers of her accomplishments as a philosopher.

All in all, I tend to agree with the political scientist Attila Ágh, who in a recent interview said that Vona’s new strategy, for the time being at least, hasn’t resulted in any spectacular growth in the party’s popularity. On the other hand, it hasn’t collapsed either. The opposition to Vona is small, and he still has the party leadership behind him. Most supporters have remained faithful to the party, but it is difficult to predict whether Vona’s new strategy can achieve its aim of attracting voters from the left and from the large group of the undecided.

January 15, 2017

Blueprint for character assassination: The case of Ákos Hadházy

In a piece I wrote for the Christmas issue of Népszava I described Ákos Hadházy as “a very sympathetic man who unfortunately has chosen the wrong party.” It now seems that his colleagues in LMP, with substantial help from Fidesz, are doing their best to end his career as co-chairman of his party.

Let’s start with Hadházy’s “friends” within LMP. On January 4 Magyar Idők reported that Antal Csárdi, LMP’s candidate for the mayoralty of Budapest in 2014, will challenge the newly elected Ákos Hadházy. Csárdi explained that he had been toying with the idea of running for the co-chairmanship right after the resignation of András Schiffer but decided against it, wanting to see in what direction Hadházy would take the party. Obviously, Csárdi doesn’t like Hadházy’s friendly relations with the other opposition parties and thinks that “the independence of the party should be more strongly emphasized.” A few days later, in an interview with András Stump, he was even more explicit. As a faithful “Schiffer man,” he stressed that the “independence of the party” is “the legacy of András Schiffer” and must not be abandoned. “When Ákos keeps talking about dialogue with the left-wing parties, when he doesn’t unequivocally exclude cooperation with them, he does harm to LMP.” The leading lights of LMP, including András Schiffer, obviously want to get rid of Hadházy.

Although Csárdi in his interview said that he doesn’t consider Hadházy’s anti-corruption work all that important, Fidesz thinks otherwise. Shortly after the holidays Origo came out with articles that tried to blacken Hadházy’s name. The first stab was a dud, but about two weeks later “investigative journalists” in the pay of the government tried again. I guess they needed time to gather all sorts of unsubstantiated stories about the “Hadházy clan,” as they call Hadházy and his family.

First, let me summarize the bare facts. Hadházy’s father, Árpád Hadházy, is also a veterinarian. He works as a toxicological specialist for the agribusiness Szekszárd Zrt. owned by Baron Georg (György) Twickel, son of the late Countess Mária Terézia Zichy. In addition, he is the county chairman of the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture.  He grows wine on 6.5 hectares, which he purchased over the years, some of which he planted himself.

Origo presumably stumbled on an article in the local online news site teol.hu, which reported that the Szekszárd chairman of Jobbik had accused the elder Hadházy of buying land through proxies. The initial Origo story was feeble. The story was not really about Hadházy but about his boss Georg Twickel, who apparently is known around Szekszárd as “the green baron.” He was the one who was accused of buying land at auctions, apparently using his employees as cover. The only connection Origo could come up with between Ákos Hadházy and Twickel was that Hadházy and his wife were “friends” with a certain Mrs. Gescheidt on Facebook, whose husband “was connected” to Twickel.

Four minutes after the publication of this article, Ákos Hadházy replied. He stated that he has “no connection with von Twickel, a dual Hungarian-German citizen,” who is his father’s employer. As far as he knows, Twickel and his mother had the right of first refusal on those lands that have now been auctioned off to others under the program “Land for Farmers,” and therefore Twickel has legitimate grievances. Otherwise, Hadházy reiterated that his father still has only 6.5 hectares. Well, one couldn’t do much with this story.

Ákos Hadházy

After two weeks of silence, the onslaught, such as it was, began. First, on TV2’s news, called “Tények.” That’s a real laugh since “tények” means “facts” in Hungarian, and ever since Andy Vajna purchased TV2 Tények has become notorious for distorting the facts. TV2’s shot across the bow missed its target by a mile. The most it could come up with was two young employees of Twickel who were allegedly used as proxies for Twickel’s purchases. As an attack on Hadházy, it was totally beside the point.

Ripost then came out with an article that dwelt on Hadházy’s “darned expensive hobby.” He has a pilot’s license and “flies here and there with a private plane, which is harmful to the environment.” This is how he provokes his party. Moreover, the only way Hadházy has enough money for his hobby is from his family’s shady business practices. This accusation was completely unfounded. In fact, those who watched “Private Sphere” on ATV could see Hadházy pulling out a rickety-looking little plane built in 1965 which new cost about 50 million. It isn’t even his; it is owned by a club. Hadházy only rents it for about 20,000 forints an hour here and there.

By yesterday Origo discovered that the real culprit of the Hadházy story is Ákos’s mother. “At the end of 2015 she wanted to acquire 150 hectares of land,” which it seems she never got, but it still cost her 30 million forints to bid for the property. Moreover, Mrs. Hadházy’s lawyer was also the lawyer of “the right-hand man of Georg Albert Freiherr von Twickel, Tolna County’s green baron.” And, as if it mattered at all, the article pointed out that this “right-hand man” bought 223 hectares for almost 617 million forints. Of course, none of this has anything to do with either Mrs. Árpád Hadházy or her son. The journalists of Origo were also extremely sloppy in trying to piece together a bunch of lies about the Hadházy family. For example, they misunderstood Ákos’s comments about the right of first refusal of Twickel and his mother and attributed it to Ákos Hadházy and his mother. Since the LMP politician considers the whole program of “Land to the Farmers” a sham, they said, he has completely discredited himself because he and his family think of themselves as victims of the program.

This article also tried to prove that the Hadházys had lied about the size of their landholdings. Instead of 6.5 hectares, they actually own 14 hectares. Origo also found 6 hectares of forest in the possession of Mrs. Árpád Hadházy. Thus, Origo concluded, just in 2015 and 2016 the Hadházy family spent 50 million forints on land purchases, “and if Mrs. Árpád Hadházy had managed to buy 150 hectares they would have had to borrow 270 million.” But, of course, she didn’t.

That was not enough. Magyar Idők found a neighbor whom Ákos Hadházy allegedly wanted to turn out from his apartment by forcing him to pay half a million forints for work done on the roof. Of course, the poor man had no money to pay, at which point the heartless and ruthless Hadházy couple simply turned off the water supply to the old man’s apartment.

At this point Hadházy explained a few things on his Facebook page.  “Unfortunately neither Origo nor TV2 could show me where my father’s 50 hectares are.” His mother did inherit 4.5 hectares of land in Hódmezővásárhely 20 years ago but left it in the possession of of his grandmother. The forest turned out to be a black locust (akác) grove which indeed his parents bought last year and which he didn’t know about. And, he added with a smiley face, “they caught me.” As for the neighbor, the roof had to be fixed and the owner of a small apartment in the building refused to pay his share. Hadházy offered him a contract for support for life in lieu of the price of his share of the cost, which he didn’t accept. As for the water, the Hadházy’s bathroom was being modernized and the plumber closed off a pipe which, as it turned out, supplied the old man’s apartment. As a result of this mistake it was also discovered that Hadházy’s neighbor had been paying nothing for water for the last ten years since the pipe was connected to the Hadházy’s water supply. At this point, Hadházy paid for the work to restore water to the neighbor’s apartment. As it stands, the Hadházys are still paying for the man’s water.

I know this has been a long story, but it tells a lot about the methods of the Fidesz government media. Hadházy is getting under Fidesz’s skin. He is dogged and refuses to give up on his corruption cases, which are getting closer and closer to the top. Therefore, somehow he must be shown to be corrupt himself. That seems to be a tall order.

January 12, 2017

The Hungarian opposition is still in disarray

I am returning to party politics today because, after an extended holiday season, opposition politicians and civilians active in politics have become vocal again. One after the other gives interviews to newspapers or to the two friendly television stations, ATV and Hír TV. Naturally, the topic is how best to prepare for the 2018 national election. Alas, every time such a tsunami of statements comes from the opposition parties, confusion and discord reign.

While the opposition parties MSZP, DK, and Párbeszéd are allegedly negotiating and those negotiations are, according to reports, going well, one of MSZP’s big guns, István Hiller, at least according to Magyar Idők, announced on December 27 in an interview that he doesn’t believe in the kind of political partnership among the democratic parties that proved to be singularly unsuccessful in 2014. If it depends on him, such a strategy will never be repeated. I must say that this was a surprising announcement since Hiller’s party is currently negotiating with the small parties on the left.

That’s not the only subject on which MSZP leaders disagree. Unnamed MSZP sources told Magyar Hírlap a couple of days ago that the leadership is also divided over László Botka’s offering himself as a candidate for the premiership. They are puzzled by the fact that Botka twice sent messages to his own party, once via 168 Óra and again only two days ago in an interview given to Index, that were actually ultimatums. Moreover, some of Botka’s demands can’t be met. For example, the exclusion of Ferenc Gyurcsány from the election process, which even in the opinion of Gergely Karácsony of Párbeszéd is an impossibility.

Even though MSZP leaders are still optimistic that the parties will be able to agree on a common platform, there are a couple of hurdles that might make agreement difficult. One is the question of the selection process of the most promising candidates for each of the 106 individual electoral districts. The idea of primaries has been bandied about for years, but by the fall of 2016 Párbeszéd decided that this was the most promising way to find the best candidate in each district. This small party was then joined by civic groups, which kept widening the nominating process to the point that it now includes the possibility of voting online. For this they hired the company Anonim Digitális Azonosító (Anonymous Digital Identifier), whose website is already available. Párbeszéd managed to convince MSZP of the efficacy of primaries and DK, although not terribly enthusiastic, agreed to the idea if all the others are game. When it comes to the internet application, however, the other partners are less than keen. Moreover, Botka’s announcement that he finds primaries superfluous further complicates the situation since at the moment MSZP is still a supporter of the idea. Botka stressed the necessity of “choosing the best candidate” in each district but didn’t give any guidance as to how this should be accomplished.

The other possible stumbling block is the question of having a common party list versus having individual ones. One must keep in mind that in the Hungarian system each voter casts two votes, one for an individual and the other for a party. Two of the three parties that are still talking to one another are committed to a common list while DK is sitting on the fence, at least according to Népszava. I personally prefer one common list because separate party lists send a strong signal to the voters that unity is still sadly lacking.

You may have noticed that I didn’t mention Együtt and LMP. Despite hopes that with the departure of András Schiffer LMP’s new leadership would be more willing to cooperate with the other parties, this didn’t turn out to be the case. A couple of weeks ago I still felt sorry for Ákos Hadházy, Schiffer’s replacement, when he tried to rationalize his party’s strategy while claiming that his greatest desire is to get rid of Viktor Orbán’s regime. By now, however, I have decided that the new co-chair of LMP doesn’t deserve my sympathy. A sharp-tongued commentator in gepnarancs.hu called LMP “a closed ward,” indicating that he finds LMP’s leaders not quite sane. Of course, he quickly added: “pardon me, a closed structure.” In his opinion, “ever since the departure of their word-jongleur they wriggle like fish out of water.”

Együtt’s two-man leadership seems to have supreme confidence in their party’s weighty position in Hungarian politics. Consequently, Együtt wants separate lists to ensure parliamentary representation. Just as a reminder, in order to get into parliament, Együtt would need at least 5% of the votes. Meeting that threshold, however, would not ensure a separate parliamentary delegation, which in the current setup must have at least five members. For example, DK, which is a much larger party, currently has only four members and hence no delegation. Viktor Szigetvári, co-chair, is so sure of his party’s chances that he already announced in an interview that he will be the leader of the Együtt parliamentary delegation after 2018. I admire his confidence.

A growing sentiment within the opposition favors some kind of “understanding” between the democratic parties and Jobbik. After reading the pro-government papers I came to the conclusion that Fidesz is really worried about this possibility and is trying to prevent any such meeting of the minds. János Somogyi, a frequent contributor to Magyar Idők, devoted an opinion piece to the subject. Of course, he finds both sides abhorrent. He tries to convince himself that such an understanding will never happen. But if by some fluke it does, it matters not because Fidesz will win the election anyway. He concluded his article dramatically: “The Lord will hear the last words of Prime Minister László Bárdossy, who was innocently executed in January 1946. Holding his arms toward the sky, he said ‘My Lord, deliver the country from these bandits!’ Perhaps this will become reality in 2018.”

Naturally, democratically minded political commentators are divided on the issue. One unexpected promoter of the idea is Ágnes Heller, Hungary’s best-known philosopher who, by the way, is a Holocaust survivor. Here is Hungarian Free Press’s translation of what she had to say on the subject. The original appeared on the website of ATV.

Cooperation can happen if both sides desire it. Purely based on numbers it is true that if they went up against Fidesz together, they would defeat the governing party. It would not be bad if they did so. But if they don’t want to do it, then they should not…Maybe the word ‘cooperation’ is not the right one. They could just support each other. This, of course, would be very difficult to explain to their voters, even if today there is basically a state of emergency in Hungary. If this is impossible due to their divergent identities, they do not need to make ideological compromises. Instead of a public agreement, they can simply decide to support each other’s candidates, even as they both develop their own campaign strategies. And then, if Fidesz has been defeated, the current electoral system would be reformed and new elections would follow between the victorious parties.

Ágnes Heller

György Konrád, a well-known writer and also a Holocaust survivor, thinks that “one can even join forces with the grandmother of the devil as long as the goal of a democratic alteration of the electoral laws can be achieved.” He added that such an outcome is “improbable,” but “it cannot be totally excluded either.”

On the other hand, TGM, a political philosopher, Tamás Ungvári, a literary historian, and Mihály Kornis, a writer, find the idea totally unacceptable. Kornis, who has the tendency to exaggerate, declared that if the choice was between Jobbik and death he would choose death.

In brief, the Hungarian political scene is extremely complex, and carving out a winning strategy is a daunting task for the opposition.

January 9, 2017