Tag Archives: Magyar Narancs

Foreign and domestic criticism of Viktor Orbán’s handling of the refugee crisis

While we are waiting for the outcome of the German and Austrian decisions to temporarily close their borders, let’s move on to two other topics. One is the diplomatic squabble between Austria and Hungary and the other is the pro-Fidesz demonstration against Magyar Narancs. The weekly publication appeared on Thursday with a portrait of Viktor Orbán with a mustache made out of the kind of wire used in the fence along the Serb-Hungarian border. The mustache bore a suspicious resemblance to the one Hitler made infamous. A day later Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann compared Orbán’s refugee policy to the Holocaust in an interview with Der Spiegel. On the very same day the Serbian Blic published a picture of the Hungarian prime minister without a mustache but with two words under his nose: “Orbán, this is shameful.” The paper called him “an evil neighbor [who] sends the police after the refugees, keeps them in dog crates, and feeds them as if they were pigs.”

Let’s start with the Austrian chancellor. It is no secret that Werner Faymann finds Viktor Orbán’s politics unacceptable. Ever since the outbreak of the European refugee crisis Faymann has delivered pointed messages to the Hungarian government. He was perhaps the only European politician who openly talked about limiting the financial contributions of the EU to those countries that are unwilling to cooperate in solving the current crisis. He also made clear that he consider the right of asylum a human right that cannot be taken away from the asylum seekers. The result was the cancellation of a meeting between Orbán and Faymann that was originally scheduled for last week. As it turned out, the two men talked on the telephone several times, but these conversations couldn’t have gone well because last Thursday János Lázár in his weekly press conference called Faymann’s behavior “more than flesh and blood can bear.”

And at that point the Hungarians had not yet read Faymann’s Spiegel interview that appeared on September 12, in which Faymann said: “Refugees stuck in trains, in the belief that they would go somewhere else entirely, bring back memories of the darkest period of our continent.” And he continued: “To divide human rights by religions, is intolerable.” In his opinion, Orbán is pursuing “a deliberate policy of determent.” Orbán’s Hungary as well as other East European countries should be financially penalized, “for example by cutting funds from the structural funds that benefit primarily eastern European member states.” In return, Szijjártó called Faymann a man who is running amuck. He called the chancellor a liar. The spokesman for the party demanded an apology, not just to Viktor Orbán but to the Hungarian nation. The Austrian ambassador to Hungary, for the second time, was called in to the ministry of foreign affairs and trade. The Hungarian ambassador to Austria also had to appear, not to one of the undersecretaries of the foreign ministry but to Chancellor Faymann himself. So, this is where Austro-Hungarian relations are at the moment.

And then there is Magyar Narancs‘s mustache story that greatly upset the leaders of CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum). This is an organization that claims to be an independent body but that just happens to support the government. It is financed by taxpayer money. It was CÖF that began an anti-Bajnai-Gyurcsány-Mesterházy campaign before the election campaign could legally begin because it was a civic organization to which the election laws were not applicable. One of the leaders of CÖF is Zsolt Bayer, an anti-Semitic scribbler whose opinion pieces in Magyar Hírlap are disgraceful examples of the worst features of the Orbán regime. Another leader is András Bencsik, who just the other day wrote a post on Facebook in which he defended Petra László, the camerawoman who physically attacked a refugee and his son, as someone who was just helping the work of the police. These are the people who in the past organized huge demonstrations they called “peace marches.” The goal of the demonstrations was to bolster the sagging popularity of Viktor Orbán and show the world that, contrary to most political analysts, the Hungarian prime minister had tremendous support. Hundreds of buses delivered people to these demonstrations from all over the country. According to rumor, they were paid and fed for their trouble.

Well, it seems that CÖF, which even used SMS to gather supporters to demonstrate in front of the editorial offices of Magyar Narancs, couldn’t rally their usual 300,000 people. This time they had to be satisfied with about 3,000 noisy people who enthusiastically demonstrated against any refugee who would dare set foot on Hungarian soil. Zsolt Bayer, who was one of the speakers, demanded a European Union-wide referendum on the issue. He is convinced that out of the 508 million “natives,” 450 million are against allowing these refugees to settle among them. “The Hungarian prime minister represents their opinion and tells the truth on their behalf. He says that which, because of these people’s ‘opinion terror,’ nobody dares say.” I guess “these people” are the liberals Magyar Narancs represents. CÖF promised to organize a new “peace march.”

Today there were two other demonstrations. One was organized by Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció and the other by Együtt. First DK supporters listened to Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech, and an hour later the Együtt demonstration began, which DK supporters joined. Népszabadság‘s headline read: “Thousands for Hungary’s humanity.” The speeches by the party leaders were coordinated and focused on the inhumanity of Viktor Orbán and his administration. The demonstrations, though not huge, were impressive given the general anti-refugee sentiment in the country.

Együtt-DK joint demonstration, September 13, 2015

Együtt-DK joint demonstration, September 13, 2015

Who knows what next morning will bring. Who knows whether the introduction of a state of emergency will stop the flow of people across the border. I doubt that it will. And then the world will get to see Hungarian summary justice in action.

Interview with Endre Hann of Medián: Intricacies of poll taking

I was once again lucky enough to receive a bunch of Hungarian newspapers and periodicals, among them the latest  Magyar Narancs (June 13). Most of the articles in this issue are still not on the Internet, so you’ll have to wait awhile to read the full interview with Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, perhaps the most reliable polling company in Hungary. I found the interview absolutely fascinating, so today I’m going to share some highlights from it.

Endre Hann regularly appears on ATV’s “Egyenes beszéd” after Medián’s results on the popularity of parties and politicians are released. But he has only about eight minutes to explain the details of their latest survey. So, he cannot really say more about the results than what can be read in the newspapers. As it is, Olga Kálmán usually urges him to hurry. Well, here Hann has ample opportunity to go into the details of their latest survey based on a large pool of 3,000 voters.

Question mark by Smart / flickr

Question mark by Smart / flickr

What did the researchers at Medián learn from this and previous polls? First and foremost, that today there are considerably more people than a year ago who think that the country’s economic prospects are getting better. They are relieved that the economy survived a possible bankruptcy. This finding doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe in a bright future, but while a year ago optimists accounted for only 13% of the sample this time their numbers doubled to 26%.

At the same time only 33% of the people would like to see this government continue in office after 2014. These are the hard-core Fidesz voters, for whom nothing can shake their trust in Fidesz and Viktor Orbán. They number about 1.5 million. Last June when Fidesz’s popularity hit rock bottom (with a 23% share) it was only voters from this hard core that stuck it out. Today the number of potential Fidesz voters is 2.3 million, defined as people who believe that the present government is on the right track.

But what may cheer the opposition is that 56% of the sample would like to see the Orbán government voted out of office. Out of this group 20% (1.5 million voters) would like a change of government but do not know yet whom they should vote for. For the opposition it is key to attract that large group of people.

Hann talks at length about the phenomenon of “hiding voters” who for one reason or other don’t want to reveal their party preferences. He recalls that as early as 1994 people believed that support for István Csurka’s MIÉP (Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja) was much higher than the numbers pollsters came out with. They were certain that MIÉP voters were too ashamed to admit that they would vote for such an extremist, anti-Semitic party. Hann himself never believed in those “hiding MIÉP voters” and in fact in 1994 MIÉP received only 1% of the votes. However, this time around he is not so sure that one doesn’t have to count on true hiders.

I might add here that in 2002 all pollsters with the exception of Medián grossly overestimated Fidesz’s strength. Some by as much as 10%. At that time polls were skewed because of the fear factor; respondents were worried that somehow the Orbán government would find out if they expressed a preference for the opposition. This time is very similar to the situation in 2002, except to an even greater degree. Therefore, even Hann doesn’t exclude the possibility that the figures arrived at month after month overestimate the strength of Fidesz and underestimate that of the opposition.

How can a pollster notice that the respondent doesn’t answer the questions honestly? Internal inconsistencies usually give them away. Normally the answers to specific questions reflect the person’s stated party preference. Lately, however, this is less and less so. The example Hann gives is the tobacconist shop concessions. According to Medián’s latest poll, only 19% of the electorate approve of the government’s deciding who can sell cigarettes while 73% are against it. When these people were asked whether there should be a re-examination of the concessions, more than 40% of the Fidesz voters answered in the affirmative. Almost 50% of Fidesz voters consider it “unacceptable that a party should intervene with the market processes and should provide business opportunities to its followers. ” Only one-third of Fidesz voters think that the concessions were allotted lawfully. Yet these people say that they will vote for Fidesz. Will these people actually vote for Fidesz even though they don’t agree with its policies? Hard to tell.

This is not the only issue on which the majority of Fidesz voters don’t support Fidesz’s policies. There is, for example, the question of voting rights for Hungarians living abroad, especially in the neighboring countries. The majority of Fidesz voters supported giving these people citizenship but two-thirds of them opposed granting them voting rights. And 58% of Fidesz voters disapproved of the law on religion that allows political interference in the affairs of religious communities. Fidesz voters were also unhappy with the idea of voter registration that eventually was abandoned by the party and consequently the government.

Another topic discussed in this interview is the relationship between the Fidesz “hard-core” and Jobbik. Medián asked their opinion on a possible coalition between Fidesz and Jobbik if Fidesz gets the majority of votes but not enough to form a government. 51% of the “hard-core” answered in the affirmative.

As for regional differences, everywhere outside of Budapest Fidesz is leading the pack. In Budapest, according to the findings of Medián, the opposition even today “could easily defeat Fidesz.” Jobbik is still doing very well in northeastern Hungary (16%) while nationwide it has only a 10% support.

There is also a fairly long discussion on the “popularity” of politicians. The reporter pointed out that in the last Medián poll Attila Mesterházy was 3% ahead of Gordon Bajnai. Yes, answered Hann, but this result can be misleading. One is not only popular because a lot of people like the person but because he/she is less divisive. Hann checked the popularity of Mesterházy versus Bajnai in different voting groups. Only 5% of Fidesz voters would like to see Bajnai in an important political position, while 10% feel the same way about Mesterházy. The situation is the same among Jobbik voters: 16% of them would like to see Mesterházy in a political position as opposed to 10% in Bajnai’s case. “Mesterházy’s momentary advantage is due to being less rejected on the right.” This result is not very surprising given the aggressive anti-Bajnai campaign, while the government propaganda barely touches Mesterházy.

Bajnai is definitely doing better with the voters of the so-called democratic opposition parties. In all parties he leads over Mesterházy–among sympathizers of Együtt 2014 (89%), of DK (64%), of LMP (56%). Even among MSZP voters 30% think that Bajnai is more qualified for the job of prime minister than MSZP’s chairman. Overall, 51% of the democratic opposition prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (43%). That is not a substantial difference. Translating it to actual numbers, we are talking about 200,000 voters. Among those who are against the present government but are still undecided as far as their party preference is concerned, 55% would prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (33%). The difference here is about 100,000.

Another piece of information I learned from this interview is that 16% of Együtt 2014 voters would in no way vote for MSZP while 20% of MSZP voters hate Bajnai’s party. Despite this, Hann is optimistic about the next election. If the two parties agree on a common candidate he sees no problem with joint support of that common candidate.

And finally a few words about potential voters for Együtt 2014. Medián registered a fairly high voter base for Együtt 2014 of 7%, which means about 600,000 voters.  This is a higher figure than the other pollsters came up with. Of these 7%, 25% claim that they voted for Fidesz  in 2010, 37% for MSZP, 10% for LMP, and 15% didn’t vote in 2010 either because of age or because of general disappointment with politics.

These are highly instructive details. Month after month we hear only superficial descriptions of the results from different polling companies, although it is their in-depth analysis that gives the most food for thought.

Zsófia Mihancsik: “Zero tolerance”–then let’s begin!

This is not the first time that I’ve provided a loose translation of Zsófia Mihancsik’s writing for English-speaking readers because I consider her to be one of the top analysts of Hungarian politics today. She is the editor-in-chief of Galamus, an excellent Internet forum. Galamus, besides offering outstanding op/ed pieces, also publishes Júlia Horváth’s translations of foreign articles in German, English and Russian while Mihancsik does the translations from French about the political situation in Hungary. For example, Professor Kim Scheppele’s articles on the constitution appeared in Hungarian on Galamus immediately after their publications. These translations fill the gap left wide open by MTI, the Hungarian press agency. Galamus also has volunteers from Sweden and Spain who offer their services to the “translation department.”

Mihancsik, in addition to the arduous task of running pretty much a one-woman show, often finds time to contribute articles of her own. The one that appeared today examines the Orbán government’s duplicity on the issue of anti-Semitism. It reveals to the foreign reader the kind of Hungarian reality that is normally closed to outsiders. Even those Hungarian speakers who pay attention to politics and the media may miss a sentence here and a sentence there that speak volumes about the real nature of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary.

* * *

On May 5 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán delivered his opening speech in front of the 14th General Assembly of the World Jewish Congress and stated that “today’s Hungarian Christian Democrat government felt that it was its moral duty … to declare a policy of zero tolerance against anti-Semitism.” On May 9 Péter Feldmájer, the president of MAZSIHISZ, said in an interview that Viktor Orbán’s “speech is satisfactory as a reference point but only time will tell what kinds of decisions will be made as a result.”

Between these two dates, on May 8, the new issue of the Demokrata, a weekly magazine, appeared and in it, on page 42, an op/ed piece by Ádám Pozsonyi entitled “Bacon” that included the following sentences:

I read in Magyar Hírlap that  a miserable fellow called András Gerő–I don’t know his original name–reviled the House of Árpád in some kind of libsi gutter-paper…. Should I get myself wound up about this miserable man who couldn’t adapt and wipes his shoes on the past of the people who gave him shelter? … It just occurred to me, breakfast, Mr. Gerő, don’t you want a little bacon? Please have some. I’ll give you some gladly. [Italics by Zs.M.]

This is what is called anti-Semitic talk. Even if the word “Jewish” is not used. After all, the Hungarian right and far right has a lot of practice in the genre. If Viktor Orbán has no ear for the coded anti-Semitic speech I will translate this passage for him. I don’t know his original name means that we know that this Jew had the temerity to Hungarianize his name. So, Pozsonyi makes sure that everybody understands that Béla Kun’s original name was Kohn, and Mátyás Rákosi’s Rosenfeld. So, they were Jewish.

The word libsi rhymes with bipsi, which means Jewish among the racists. It is the nickname for liberals, primarily used by those who consider everything that is not national and Christian–everything that is liberal/libsi, cosmopolitan, European, etc.–Jewish pollution. (The “libsi” gutter paper, by the way, is the prestigious weekly, Élet és Irodalom.)

This miserable man who couldn’t adapt and wipes his shoes on the past of the people who gave him shelter is a Nazi idea expressed by many. It is a variation of the “Galician vagrants” (galiciai jöttmentek) that was often heard in the last ten years. So, the Jews immigrate from God knows where while the Hungarians give them shelter but the the Jews, because of their character, turn against the accepting Hungarians. (Exactly the same way the left turns against the nation, which is another favorite Orbánite turn of phrase.) The Jews desecrate everything that is holy for the nation, mostly because of their always doubting minds.

Bacon naturally means pork, which an observant Jew cannot have. For the author of Demokrata it is totally irrelevant whether the person in question is Jewish or not, or if he is religious or not. The mention of bacon here is about the humiliation of someone outside of the nation who cannot eat the national food of Hungarians. He was an outsider and he remains an outsider.

So, I think that in the name of “zero tolerance” Orbán must have a little chit-chat with Demokrata‘s author.

Before anyone tells me that it is unfair to expect a reprimand of an anti-Semitic author by the prime minister, let me explain why I think that Viktor Orbán should rise to the occasion and do something. Why? Because we are not talking about an independent publication but a branch publication,  a party paper, a mouth-piece, a hired organ. We are talking about a paper that has a political boss in whose interest it functions and on whom it depends.

Here are three reasons that I believe Viktor Orbán is responsible for what appears in Demokrata. After the lost election in 2002 he did two things. He organized the civil cells and he urged his followers to support media close to Fidesz. He said at the time: “I ask every member [of these cells] to subscribe to Magyar Nemzet, Demokrata, and Heti Válasz. Those of you who are better off should subscribe in the name of a less wealthy friend or acquaintance.” And he gave a website where the supporters could fill out the order forms for the above publications.

From left to right: Gábor Széles, András Bencsik, and Zsolt Bayer / fnhir24.hu

From left to right: Gábor Széles, András Bencsik, and Zsolt Bayer / fnhir24.hu

In an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs (April 20, 2012) we could read that Fidesz-led municipalities gave 26 million forints in the previous five years to Demokrata.  Another article that also appeared in Magyar Narancs (April 23, 2012) concentrated on the incredible amount of state-ordered advertisements these right-wing papers receive. Given the centralized nature of Fidesz and Viktor Orbán’s individual leadership style, one can assume that the largess these papers receive depends on “performance.” If they “behave” the money comes; if not, the money supply dries up.

Another reason to assume that the relationship between Demokrata and Fidesz is close is the fact that the paper’s editor-in-chief, András Bencsik, is one of the chief organizers of the “Peace Marches” that were supposed to show the world the incredible support Viktor Orbán has. But in addition to Bencsik, one could find among the organizers Ádám Pozsonyi, the author of the article on “Bacon”; István Stefka, editor-in-chief of Magyar Hírlap; Zsolt Bayer, senior editor of Magyar Hírlap; and Gábor Széles, Magyar Hírlap‘s owner

So, given the cozy relationship between Viktor Orbán and the extremist journalists serving him, it would be the easiest thing for Orbán if he were really serious about this new-fangled “zero tolerance” to say: “Boys, if once more you make anti-Semitic propaganda in your paper or on your television station there will be no more financial assistance. Moreover, you will not receive 3.2 billion forints for organizing peace marches. You will not receive any ads from state companies, and the municipalities will be told to stop payment. In a word, you will starve to death.”*

Moreover, I go further. That message shouldn’t just be whispered into the ears of the journalists at these newspapers but should be announced loud and clear to the Hungarian public.Everybody should understand what will happen to him if  he goes against “our Hungarian Christian Democratic politics.”

When that actually happens Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, can make an apology with good reason. If not, then only the shame remains–for us.

*Demokrata sold only 12,000 copies in November 2011.

Postscript to the World Jewish Congress in Budapest by Karl Pfeifer

Is the World Jewish Congress (WJC) a gathering of useless busybodies (“gittegylet” in Hungarian after Ferenc Molnár’s novel, The Boys of Paul Street) as the liberal Budapest weekly Magyar Narancs claims? An association of useless busybodies could never have gathered 500 delegates in Budapest for the occasion.

Is the WJC an entity that controls the governments of Israel or the USA as Hungarian conspiracy theorists claim? You must have lost any sense of reality to believe that.

Well, insofar as there was a discussion inside the WJC whether it was right to hold a meeting in Budapest, I can state that the conference was a clear and definite success. Rampant anti-Semitism and racism in Hungary have become the center of attention of the international media. All the delegates and journalists received a 20 page brochure entitled “Anti-Semitic Incidents in Hungary 2012” documenting the present situation.

When Orbán spoke about the Hungarians and the “Jewish people” in Hungary, that might have sounded good to an Israeli right-wing delegate who said to me accusingly: “Your definition of a nation is definitively European.”

Last autumn Prime Minister Orbán defined the Hungarian nation as an ethnically pure group held together by kinship and blood rather than by language and culture: “We are born into the myth of the Turul-bird just as we are born into our language and our history.”  A crazy notion considering that there are no ethnically pure Hungarians. But it helps you to label all those who do not believe in the pagan foundation myth as “Jews”.

A few days before the congress took place the German journalist Keno Verseck interviewed János Lázár, the powerful head of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s office. “Lázár complained bitterly […] about the international criticism of Hungary, above all that ‘part of the world labels all of us as anti-Semites.’ It is ‘unethical,’ the 38-year-old said, when ‘injuries in politics and business life are retaliated against with accusations of supposed anti-Semitism.’”

Of course, Lázár did not and could not name any serious politician or journalist who has ever claimed all Hungarians were anti-Semites. Lázár’s statement was a demagogic variant of the paranoid theory that Hungarians are eternal victims of unjust prejudice. And the second part of his statement about the “accusations of supposed anti-Semitism” is the typical defensive counterattack which claims that anybody raising the issue of anti-Semitism is doing so in bad faith and dishonestly.

To quote from the brochure “Anti-Semitic Incidents in Hungary 2012 handed out at the meeting:

“[…] The growing number of violent physical incidents clearly shows the impact on “street anti-Semitism” made by the anti-Semitic utterances of Jobbik in the Hungarian Parliament or by the relevant crimes committed during World War II. In 2012, the media reported several cases where individuals suffered slight injuries because of their real or supposed Jewish identity. Furthermore, the proliferation of hate groups, speeches inciting violence and assault at neo-Nazi mass demonstrations and the military training of radical paramilitary skinhead groups are raising serious concerns. Finally, Jobbik is steadily becoming one of the most popular political parties amongst young people and the camp of its sympathizers aged between 18 and 37 is rapidly expanding. This constitutes a huge threat to democracy and social tolerance in the long run. Young people, who often lack a secure future perspective, are increasingly influenced and radicalized by popular neo-Nazi websites, such as kuruc.info, which publish illegal contents and the authorities have not yet managed to close down.

In 2012, the Hungarian Jewish community were not subject to complete marginalization. Some members of the Jewish community have started to flee their community and country, mostly to the neighboring country, Austria. Although the government has reiterated a clear statement that Hungary provides a homeland and safety for the Jews, just like for any other minority, Hungarian Jewry witness a rise in anti-Semitic incidents, including media-reported incidents, graffiti and disgraced cemeteries, hate speech in both political and social forums, verbal abuse shared on social networks or personal stories that might never become public.

Anti-Semitism is not a problem of the Jewry but of the Hungarian society and government. In Hungary, there is evidence to prove that more and more people outwardly express their dismay towards Jews than those who are indifferent towards them or who are perhaps Philosemites. It is precisely for these reasons that this report has been prepared in order to shed light on the extent of anti-semitism in Hungary.“

When WJC president Ronald Lauder apologized to Orbán after the conference for not having mentioned an interview given by the Prime Minister to Eldad Beck of the Israeli daily Yedioth Achronoth, where he promised not to form a coalition with Jobbik or to depend on its tacit support, the right-wing media celebrated victory.

Jobbik supporter--"Honor is my loyalty" The Telegraph / Photo Reuters

A Jobbik supporter–“Honor is my loyalty” The Telegraph / Photo Reuters

Yet how true Orbán’s statements are can only be measured if he ever needs to depend on Jobbik’s support to stay in power–be it after the elections of 2014 or later. I personally consider them part of his usual “pávatánc” (peacock dance), the deft if tortuous maneuvers by which he has managed, so far with considerable success, to be applauded abroad for his non-anti-Semitism while gathering support from the all too real anti-Semites of Hungary.

A footnote to the attitude of Viktor Orbán’s government toward the Holocaust. Yesterday’s Le Monde reported that the Polish president of the Auschwitz Foundation, Piotr Cywinski, recently visited  the capitals of Europe asking for contributions for the maintenance of the camp. Some of the barracks are in very bad shape and need serious reconstruction. Professor Cywinski reported that he managed to collect 100 million euros from twenty-three countries. Even Turkey is among the donors. It was “only Hungary that offered nothing.”  Cywinsky has difficulty understanding the Orbán government’s attitude “when Auschwitz is the burial place of 400,000 Hungarians out of the 1.1 million victims.” So much for Orbán’s pious words at the World Jewish Congress in Budapest.–ESB

Fidesz Roma strategy, from Balog to Bayer

The country is again full of stories about “gypsy terror,” spread with gusto by Jobbik. The cause this time is a New Year’s Eve party in a bar in Szigethalom, today part of Budapest, situated on the northern end of Csepel Island. A group of boys, members of the MTK (Magyar Testgyakorlók Köre [Circle of Hungarian Fitness Activists]) was having a party when two of them, a  under-age boxer and a wrestler, were severely wounded in the men’s room of the establishment. There were two assailants, one a Gypsy. The other assailant is still on the loose.

Whatever the cause of the brawl, it was unlikely a hate crime. One of the victims, we know, had many Roma friends. In fact, a large number of the youngsters training to become boxers or wrestlers are Gypsies. At the same time it also became clear that this particular victim wasn’t exactly an innocent lamb. Last July he was arrested after attacking a young man in the men’s room of a Budapest bar, hitting him in the face and taking his money. Because the recent incident also happened in a men’s room, the police are rightfully investigating the possible role of this victim himself.

Jobbik is organizing a demonstration in Szigethalom, Magyar Nemzet wrote an article that practically accused the Roma community of collective guilt, and Zsolt Bayer wrote an opinion piece in Magyar Hírlap that can be construed as an “incitement against a community.” I wrote about Bayer a couple of times and I tried to translate his practically untranslatable prose. Then he was venting against Jews, now against the Roma.

This latest upheaval gave Attila Ara-Kovács, a member of the democratic opposition of the 1980s and an astute commentator on the pages of Magyar Narancs, the opportunity to write a very important article about the government’s so-called “Roma strategy,” entitled “From Balog to Bayer.”

A bold Roma strategy was supposed to be a key contribution of the Hungarian presidency of the European Union (January-July 2011). It was supposed to be a strategy aimed at eventually solving the terrible situation of the Roma in Europe, especially at its eastern fringes. By the end of 2011 all European countries were expected to develop their own strategies, taking their cue from the great Hungarian model.

Zoltán Balog, today minister of the mega-ministry in charge of health, education, and culture, was put in charge. His only responsibility was to work out a Roma strategy and head the effort toward Roma integration. Once he moved to a higher position, he took his old staff with him to the Ministry of Human Resources. He proudly announced only a few months ago that the Orbán government was the first in Hungary to pay attention to the Roma question.

The problem is, says Ara-Kovács, that this is simply not true. Are we surprised? It was in 2002, after the formation of an MSZP-SZDSZ coalition, that Bálint Magyar, the liberal minister of education between 1996 and 1998 and again between 2002 and 2006, began serious work in this field.

Here are few of his achievements. In 2002 an article forbidding discrimination was incorporated into the law on education. Magyar appointed a ministerial commissioner in charge of disadvantaged and Roma children whose function was to check every proposed bill and to make sure that they in no way infringed upon the rights of the disadvantaged and the poor.

In 2003 a law on equal treatment was enacted, and subsequently an Office of Equal Treatment was established.

In 2004 the government established a National Integration Network whose task was to promote integrated classrooms to assist disadvantaged children and their teachers. This same year they set up a system by which for each disadvantaged and Roma child the schools received extra financial assistance (50,000 ft more than the norm). That was a sizable amount; it constituted one-fifth of the total that the government paid out for schools.

In the same year they began a new program called “From the last row” that was supposed to move Roma children from classes designed for the “moderately retarded” back to the mainstream educational system. I should mention here that teachers liked to declare Gypsy children retarded and thus get rid of them since they needed more care and work. Magyar’s ministry also in 2004 introduced another program called “Útravaló” (Provisions for the journey) that provided scholarships for 18,000 disadvantaged children and 3,000 mentors per year.

In 2005 another law made it compulsory for schools to give preference to disadvantaged children who live outside the school districts when deciding on acceptance.

Thus by 2006 there was a noticeable decrease in the degree of segregation.

So, let’s see what the present government has done in the last two and a half years. The Orbán government’s Roma strategy was based on an agreement between Viktor Orbán and Flórián Farkas, the leader of the Roma community at the moment, who is a Fidesz puppet. In this agreement, the Hungarian government accepted responsibility for training 1,000 Roma women. It’s going very slowly. Up until last fall about 300 had received training. Viktor Orbán also promised medical screening for 5,000 women. The program hasn’t started yet. The most important part of the agreement was the promise of 20,000 new jobs for the Roma community. That promise was to be fulfilled by establishing an extensive public works program for about half of the minimum wage. The numbers currently employed are nowhere close to 20,000.

The Útravaló (Provisions for the Journey) program has continued, but while in the 2004-2005 school year the government spent 2 billion forints on it, now that amount is 1 billion.  That means 5-8,000 forints a month, but something went wrong here too and the sums that should have been distributed last year never were. One of the more important programs of Balog’s ministry is the Roma Special College (szakkollégium). This program seems to have been given over to the churches.

Finally, Ara-Kovács summarizes other Fidesz “achievements” that run counter to any grand Roma strategy. (1) Compulsory education is no longer 18 years but only 16. (2) In the first four grades grading was reintroduced. (3) If a child doesn’t finish eight grades by the age of  15 he must be discharged. (4) Secondary technical schools are no longer obliged to admit students who didn’t get into a gymnasium. (5) The government practically eliminated the extra year for foreign language competence. (6) In technical schools the number of courses in languages, literature, and history was reduced so dramatically that students will come out of these schools practically illiterate.  (7) In general, the number of students reaching matriculation will be greatly reduced, thus also the numbers who can enter college or university.

Marabu / Népszabadság

Marabu / Népszabadság

While Balog in Berlin only a few months ago proudly outlined the accomplishments of the Orbán government as far as its Roma strategy is concerned, one of the organizers of the Peace March and a man who holds the #5 membership card in Fidesz, Zsolt Bayer, announced that “a significant portion of the Gypsies are unfit for coexistence. Not fit to live among human beings. These people are animals and behave like animals. Like a bitch in heat she wants to copulate with whomever and wherever. If he finds resistance, he kills. He voids where and when it occurs to him.  … He wants what he sees. If he doesn’t get it, he takes it and he kills…. From his animal skull only inarticulate sounds come out and the only thing he understands is brute force… There shouldn’t be animals. No way. This must be solved, immediately and in any way.” In Hungarian: “Ezt meg kell oldani–de azonnal és bárhogyan.” It sounds ominous. What can he have in mind?

“This is the real Roma strategy of Fidesz. It would be worth making that clear to Europe,” adds Ara-Kovács at the end of his article.