Tag Archives: Mária Schmidt

Mária Schmidt on George Soros, the grave digger of the left, Part II

Yesterday I began dissecting Mária Schmidt’s latest propaganda piece,“The Grave Digger of the Left,” which offers up second-hand conspiracy theories about George Soros’s philanthropic endeavors. In the second part of my analysis I will concentrate on the “Hungarian experience” with “Sorosism,” as she calls Soros’s “ideology mix.”

In Schmidt’s view, Hungary was a guinea pig for Soros, who learned the tools of his evil trade in the country of his birth. It was in Hungary that he figured out the kinds of organizations worth investing in, organizations that would then “serve his interests.” He quickly discovered that Prime Minister József Antall and his successor, Péter Boross, both of MDF, were not willing to be partners in his shady schemes. So, Soros had to concentrate on liberal intellectuals in the social sciences and in the cultural sphere in general. He used decoys like programs for the Roma and providing medical supplies to hospitals to lure people into his camp.

He was so successful that by today “left” in Hungary equals “Soros.” All of his pet projects have been adopted by the Hungarian liberals and socialists: political correctness, the environment, feminism, same sex marriage, support of migrants, legalization of prostitution, etc.

Schmidt, who begins her essay with a quotation from Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” further exhibits her familiarity with Western pop culture by comparing Soros to “the evil but super intelligent Silva” in the Bond film Skyfall, who “with obsessive and missionary zeal aims at world domination.” Soros’s results, she admits, have been spectacular. For example, “as everybody knows, the network of Soros’s civilians was behind the colorful revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and the Arab spring.” In fact, at one point Schmidt charges that Soros himself boasted about his success in creating “a Soros Empire out of the Soviet Union.” I don’t know how we all missed the “fact” that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the handiwork of George Soros. Now, according to Schmidt, Soros’s target is the European Union itself.

Mária Schmidt’s “evil but super intelligent Silva”

At this point we get to the real reason Schmidt wrote this essay. Viktor Orbán’s vicious anti-migrant rhetoric has been extremely effective, with the overwhelming majority of Hungarians now the most xenophobic group in all of Europe. The hatred Orbán planted in Hungarian souls has taken root. The challenge for the Hungarian government is how to keep nurturing this hatred. By now there are no migrants around, and there is fear in government circles that this hatred may wither over time. And if it withers, support for Orbán may wither as well.

The government has therefore begun to personalize the migrant crisis, coming up with enemies who can in one way or another be tied to it. Soros, of course, tops the list. Time and again Orbán has blamed “the migrant crisis” on George Soros. Since Central European University was founded by George Soros and some of the NGOs receive small amounts of money from the Hungarian-American financier, they can be targeted. And Brussels is an old stand-by. Whatever the problem, Brussels is always at fault.

To xenophobic Hungarians the very mention of outside influence or pressure on the country makes them flock to Orbán as their only defense against this “foreign invasion.” And since Viktor Orbán has as his overarching goal to remain in power regardless of the cost to the country and its people, this goal is well served by calling attention in every way possible to the dangers foreigners (migrants as well as international capitalists) pose to the Hungarian way of life.

Central European University is in the government’s crosshairs because, as Schmidt puts it, the university is Soros’s “replenishing base” for liberal cadres in Hungary and elsewhere. An illiberal state, one would think, cannot allow such a place to exist within its borders. But Schmidt doesn’t go that far, most likely because she knows that the tug of war between the Orbán government and CEU won’t end with closing the university in Budapest. So she is satisfied to state the lie that the government, by insisting that the same rules apply to CEU as to other Hungarian universities, only wants to send the message that George Soros “isn’t omnipotent and invulnerable.”

Her final shots are directed not just at Central European University but also at the kinds of universities that exist in English-speaking countries and that are so highly valued worldwide. She tells us how enthusiastic she was when CEU moved to Budapest. Many people, herself included, looked upon it as a sign of the end of the old university system. Soon enough, however, they realized that CEU didn’t contribute to pluralism within the social sciences. On the contrary, it became a supporter of “post-communists.” Instead of employing the old Hungarian Marxists, the university imported western ones. “Discarded American, Canadian, Israeli, Western European Marxists found secure positions for a few pleasant years in the departments of CEU,” she charges. And just as they became disillusioned with CEU, over the years Schmidt and her ideological comrades became disillusioned with Anglo-Saxon type universities in general. Now that she and her comrades speak English and are well informed about the world, unlike in the Kádár years, they know about the intolerance in American and British universities where they don’t want to listen to voices contrary to their liberal tenets. Hungarians “don’t want to have ‘safe spaces’ for those at CEU who don’t want to listen to others.”

Schmidt’s blanket labeling of all those who teach at CEU as “discarded Marxists” shows an ideological blindness that is appalling, especially from someone who has academic pretensions. And her reference to the “safe spaces” inside the walls of CEU is outright frightening. If Orbán, Schmidt, and their ideological partners keep going down the road they embarked on in 2010, the Hungarian younger generation who, according to Schmidt’s own admission, has been poisoned by Soros, will find “safe spaces” outside the country. We are getting close to this point.

April 17, 2017

Mária Schmidt on George Soros, the grave digger of the left, part i

The Orbán regime must consider Mária Schmidt’s essay “The Grave Digger of the Left,” which appeared on her government-sponsored blog Látószög (viewing angle), a critically important piece of writing. It was promoted on MTV1, the state propaganda television network, even before it was published.

The essay is, as you might have guessed from its title, about George Soros. Schmidt contends that Soros is singlehandedly orchestrating world events to bring about a world he has been cunningly building for decades. He is a puppeteer, a “wizard/double agent,” as a Russian source called him.

Schmidt’s piece is the result of shockingly bad research. Admittedly, a blog post is not an academic treatise, but one would expect a historian to check her facts. At the very least, one would hope that a historian doesn’t blindly take the conclusions of highly questionable sources at face value. Schmidt’s one-sided interpretation of events with which George Soros has been connected over the years leads me to believe that she first has a theory and then looks for anything that could possibly pass as evidence. It doesn’t seem to bother her that her stories make no sense or that they sound more like fantasy than fact.

Here is one example. At the very beginning of the article Schmidt mentions two organizations in connection with the closing of the Trepca (Kosovo) lead mines: the International Crisis Group (ICG) and Doctors Without Borders. She claims that both are “generously” supported by George Soros. Schmidt is correct in pointing out that both George Soros and his son Alexander are on the board of ICG. What she neglects to say is that the board has 43 members from 33 countries and that ICG’s budget comes largely from governments and corporations and to a smaller extent from foundations and individuals. Her other claim is that Doctors Without Borders, which is also “financed” (Soros pénzel) by Soros, was responsible for closing the Trepca mines, which did unspeakable harm to the people of the area. A quick look at the list of organizations funded by George Soros and his Open Society Foundations would have revealed that Doctors Without Borders is not a recipient of Soros money. And this is a serious problem because, as a result, the whole conspiracy story of Soros’s involvement with the mines collapses.

As Mária Schmidt sees Soros and the world

If there is a problem with the Trepca story, there is also something very wrong with the conclusion of the blog post. Because that story from 2000 is supposed to be the prototype of George Soros’s predatory remaking of the world bit by bit. First, this shrewd and unscrupulous financier finds a project that makes good business sense. Then, he sends his civilians there to destabilize a region. Subsequently, he pays off the media, creates chaos and once the whole area is physically destroyed he offers assistance for the reconstruction. Meanwhile he cherry-picks the best business opportunities. Soon after that comes breaking down borders, abolishing national sovereignty, paying off the experts with scholarships, prizes, fame, calling them independent and democrats. This is what happened in Kosovo, where the “Soros-financed Doctors Without Borders” were called in to do the dirty work for him. They convinced the UN forces that the mines were having a deadly effect on the people working and living there. If, of course, Doctors Without Borders were not the henchmen of Soros, Schmidt’s prototypical example collapses.

This is a pretty embarrassing beginning, and I’m afraid the rest is no better. For instance, Mária Schmidt claims that George Soros was solely responsible for the 1998 Russian financial crisis. It is worth quoting her summary of what happened. “George Soros talked the ruble down, something which also caused significant hardship for Hungary, when he published an op-ed piece in The Financial Times in which he called for the devaluation of the ruble by 15-20%. As a result of this [article] the ruble collapsed and lost 60% of its value. The salaries, pensions, and of course savings of people were gone, just as five years later were those of the Brits.”

I don’t think one has to know much about economics to be suspicious of Schmidt’s interpretation of the 1998 Russian financial crisis. An op-ed piece in The Financial Times cannot be responsible for such a financial calamity. So, let’s see what an associate of the CFA Institute had to say about it. “The Russian crisis of 1998 was really an extension of the Asian Currency Crisis of 1997 (the ‘Asian flu’). The combination of declining economic output, falling oil prices, enormous budget deficits, and a currency pegged to the rising US dollar overwhelmed the fledgling Russian government. To maintain its peg to the dollar, Russia used its foreign exchange reserves to buy rubles. But as the country gradually depleted its foreign exchange reserves, it became clear that Russia would soon run out of reserves. At that point, the Russian government would no longer be able to maintain the ruble’s peg to the US dollar. Upon exhausting its reserves, Russia defaulted on its debt and revalued the ruble on foreign exchange markets.” Not a word about George Soros.

These two examples will suffice to demonstrate that Schmidt is offering up “alternative historical facts.” We can therefore move on to her other charge: Soros’s “capture of the left not just in the United States but also in Europe, including Hungary.” In her reading, by now Soros and the left are one and the same. People who are inclined to support social democratic, green, or liberal parties in reality “unscrupulously serve the interests of large global corporations and global financial actors.” How does Schmidt know this? Simple. She noticed that heading leftist parties are “businessmen, bankers, corporate managers, or politicians who will become sooner or later lobbyists for big business.” For example, Clinton, Schröder, Blair, Kern, Macron, Schulz, Gyurcsány, and Bajnai.

For Soros to buy the left and liberalism, he first had to buy the Democratic Party. Her evidence: Saturday Night Live. No, this is not a joke. But what follows is outright breathtaking. Somehow Soros managed to get the McCain-Feingold Reform Act of 2002 enacted, which, according to Schmidt’s interpretation, financially ruined the Democratic Party. The party subsequently became entirely dependent on Soros’s financial support. After that, everything went smoothly, Schmidt concludes.

Schmidt next turns to a dissection of Soros’s influence on current Hungarian society, especially on the youth. But this deserves another post tomorrow.

April 16, 2017

The dangers of being a historian in Orbán’s Hungary

Something extraordinary happened yesterday. László Tüske, director of Hungary’s National Library, launched disciplinary action against János M. Rainer, head of the Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (’56 Institute), and three of his colleagues. Two were charged with making their views public on the factually inaccurate billboards used to advertise the sixtieth anniversary extravaganza staged by Viktor Orbán’s court historian, Mária Schmidt. This was the by now infamous case in which a fourteen-year-old boy who was one of the “pesti srácok” (urchins of Pest) was misidentified. A third was charged with complaining about photoshopped images used in the anniversary celebration. The fourth was charged with behaving improperly during Viktor Orbán’s speech on October 23.

Before I return to the story of this boy, let me say a few words about the ’56 Institute. It was officially established in June 1989 as a private foundation with very limited resources. In the mid-1990s the institute’s financial problems were seemingly solved when it became a publicly supported institution. Its financial security, however, was dependent on the whims of governments. As soon as Fidesz and the Smallholders won the election in 1998, the promised 60 million forints for the coming year was reduced to 6 million, largely because the right-wing government’s views on the events of 1956 differed radically from those of the majority of historians inside and outside the ’56 Institute. The Institute survived the four lean years and kept publishing literally hundreds of first-rate books on the revolution and related subjects. After the change of government in 2002 the Institute again received proper funding. But then Viktor Orbán returned, and this time he was ready to abolish the Institute altogether. At the last minute a compromise was reached, and the Institute was placed under the supervision of the National Library. Its historians became employees of the library.

Last November I wrote a post titled “An inveterate liar: Mária Schmidt’s celebrated freedom fighter.” You may recall that the Orbán government’s new “take” on the 1956 Revolution is that the only heroes of the revolution were those urchins and adults who actually fought against the Soviet troops on the streets. All others, including disillusioned party functionaries, journalists, intellectuals, and students, played a minimal role. Their presence didn’t make a substantial difference in the course of the events. So, for the sixtieth anniversary, new heroes had to be found from the groups of street urchins.

An actor with unlimited imagination came forth who created a hero of himself. He even found proof: a photo that appeared in Time Magazine at the time. Mária Schmidt, the organizer of the ’56 Memorial Year, was delighted. Giant billboards covered the country with this photo, and the boy depicted was identified as László Dózsa, an actor of modest talents. There was only one problem: the boy on the photo was not Dózsa but Pál Pruck, whose family came forth and proved, at least to my satisfaction, with family photos that it was indeed their father plastered and falsely identified all over the country. Both Dózsa and Mária Schmidt insisted that they were right and the Prucks were lying. Schmidt was especially adamant.

Since Schmidt didn’t let go, the “controversy” went on for weeks. During the debate contemporary pictures of both Pruck and Dózsa were displayed, and it was obvious that the boy in the Time Magazine photo was Pál Pruck. I suspect that Dózsa himself also knew that the boy in the photo was someone else. It is pretty difficult to mistake oneself for someone else regardless of the number of years that have gone by. For example, I found a picture of myself in the company of three of my classmates on Fortepan.hu, a fabulous collection of old photographs turned in by volunteers. I was unaware of the existence of this photograph, taken by someone without our knowledge. I had no difficulty identifying myself and my classmates. I was 16 at the time, Dózsa was 14 in 1956. Yet Schmidt in her usual shrill manner kept insisting and insisting, even when the facts were staring her in the face. As far as I’m concerned, she made a fool of herself. And now she’s making an even greater fool of herself by instructing the director of the Hungarian National Library to discipline the historians who “dared” question her judgment.

From left to right: László Eörsi, János M. Rainer, Réka Sárközy, and Krisztián Ungváry

While I could care less that Mária Schmidt is making a fool of herself, I do mind very much that Hungary has by now become a country where historians are “disciplined” for making their views public. This is another low in the history of Viktor Orbán’s “illiberal state.”

János M. Rainer’s sin was that he placed an interview on his Facebook page in which he explained that no one from Schmidt’s committee had asked the opinion of the historians of the Institute about the decorations Dózsa received in recognition of his role in the revolutionary events. Dózsa did receive all sorts of state decorations for his alleged heroism, but according to László Eörsi, the second disciplined historian, none of his stories could be verified. Eörsi was in fact quite diplomatic when he called Dózsa’s stories unverifiable. I, who went through the events, find them figments of his imagination. His stories are simply not believable. A third historian who was disciplined is Réka Sárközy, whose specialty is film history. She talked to 168.hu about her reservations over how the committee in charge of the memorial year was falsifying original photos. Obviously, expressing her opinions on “photoshopping” was also forbidden. Krisztián Ungváry’s specialty is not the revolutionary events of 1956, and his case is not connected to Dózsa. He was punished because on October 23, 2016 he whistled during Viktor Orbán’s speech. As he said, “I went there as a historian to demonstrate against the falsification of history.”

According to the Index article on this disgraceful case, the director of the National Library did what he did because he felt it was the only way to defend the historians against Schmidt’s wrath. Schmidt’s original idea was to put an end to the very existence of the Institute by subordinating it to one of the institutes Schmidt herself runs. It even occurred to her that the Institute should be merged in some form or other with the Veritas Historical Institute, where the “truth,” according to Orbán, is being sought by mostly right-wing historians.

György Gábor, a philosopher and a former classmate of László Tüske, finds the director’s decision to work hand in hand with the powers that be “disgusting and unacceptable.” It reminds him of the years of the one-party system. I would go even further. In the last ten years of the Kádár regime such blatant interference in matters of history was uncommon. This “disciplinary action” reminds me more of the Rákosi regime’s favorite way of handling such cases. In less serious matters, party functionaries from the top of the pyramid all the way down to the lowly Pioneer leader demanded a public “self-criticism” for one’s perceived misdeeds. I guess if these four historians had humbled themselves and apologized to Mária Schmidt perhaps they could have saved themselves from disciplinary action. Instead, I understand, Krisztián Ungváry has already turned in a formal complaint against the ruling.

March 24, 2017

Viktor Orbán’s next target: Central European University in Budapest

One after the other, independent publications have been taken over by Fidesz loyalists. I covered the sad fate of Népszabadság and spent a considerable amount of time on the acquisition of regional papers, which are valuable additions to the growing network of the government propaganda machine.

One takeover I didn’t cover was the purchase of Figyelő (Observer), a highly respected financial weekly established 60 years ago. The new owner is Mária Schmidt, court historian of Viktor Orbán and director of the historically misleading House of Terror. Of course, Mária Schmidt is well known to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, but perhaps I didn’t report sufficiently on her wealth. She inherited a fortune when, in 2006, her husband died suddenly at the age of 53.

Figyelő had been ailing financially for over a year when Schmidt decided to “save” the paper in December 2016. She promised not to intervene in the day-to-day running of the paper or to interfere with its content. A month later, however, she appointed three prominent Fidesz ideologues to head the editorial board. Several journalists promptly resigned. That was at the end of January.

A few days later the new issue of Figyelő appeared with an article titled “Can the Soros-School stay?” Unfortunately, the article is not available online, but from the summaries by other publications we can reconstruct the gist of the story. According to Figyelő, in the summer of 2016 Viktor Orbán and George Soros had a discussion about Soros’s pride and joy, Central European University (CEU), which he established in Budapest. At that meeting the strong man of Hungary apparently reassured Soros that “he will not touch” CEU. But, continued Figyelő, “since last summer the international situation, with the election of Donald Trump as president, [has changed]. The Hungarian government might think that it can risk attacks against the university that it wouldn’t have tried earlier.” Figyelő claimed to know that one of Orbán’s ministers talked about CEU “as the main target in 2017.” He indicated that what they would really like is the departure of the whole institution from Budapest. The article was also full of untrue assertions about CEU, its students, and its faculty.

Michael Ignatieff, the new president of CEU, responded with a dignified open letter addressed to the “editor-in-chief” of Figyelő. He pointed out the benefits CEU has brought to Hungary in the last 25 years and the excellent relationships the university has with other academic institutions in Hungary and abroad. At the end of the letter he noted that the university is proud of George Soros, a Hungarian patriot, but the administration of the university is entirely free from outside pressure.

Anyone familiar with Mária Schmidt’s modus operandi should have known that President Ignatieff would get an answer. And that it would not be dignified as Ignatieff’s was. Instead, it would be a base attack on him, the university, and anything that has anything to do with liberalism.

Indeed, her response is a disgusting piece of prose, at the center of which is an attack on the speech Ignatieff gave at the launch of a project called Re-thinking Open Society. (A summary of the speech is available online.) In her rambling article, titled “An open society and a liberal revolution,” Schmidt talks about foundations financed by Soros as “military outposts of the U.S. State Department” and Ignatieff as “the Canadian liberal” whose “field of operation happens to be” in Hungary at the moment. He is “a passionate liberal.” That for Schmidt is the greatest sin anyone can commit.

Ignatieff is further accused of being soft on communism, which she says is especially disgraceful from someone whose ancestors were refugees from the Red Terror, “a fact that he doesn’t consider especially important.” (Ignatieff’s paternal grandfather was Count Pavel Ignatieff, the Russian minister of education during World War I, and his great-grandfather was Count Nikolay Ignatieff, a Russian statesman and diplomat.) How do we know that Ignatieff, who gives lectures on the subject, doesn’t know the first thing about the horrors of communism? Because “he always talks about communism in connection with Nazism and he always compares Hitler to Stalin.” Until now, Hungarian anti-Communists accused liberals of making excuses for communism and focusing only on Nazism, but if we can take Schmidt seriously they now consider communism even worse than Nazism and the horrors it brought to the world.

Ignatieff mentioned Václav Havel in his speech, who is not exactly Schmidt’s favorite. “Havel is significant for Ignatieff and the other liberals only because he published several articles in their most important publication, the New York Review of Books.” So much for Václav Havel.

Soros himself is accused of collaborating with the communists in the late 1980s and preferring left-wingers and liberals when it came to his grants. (Schmidt herself was a beneficiary of Soros’s generosity.) To quote her precisely: “Soros in Hungary as well as in other countries became the keeper of washed-out komcsik and libik. He is the embodiment of everything that deserves our contempt. Today Soros’s name means liberal and liberal means SZDSZ and SZDSZ means everything that is loathsome, unpatriotic, arrogant, and unacceptable.”

I guess these few lines will give the readers of Hungarian Spectrum a sense of Mária Schmidt’s latest masterpiece. I could go on and on about her defense of populism, Brexit, and Donald Trump, but that would take us too far from our topic: the fate of Central European University. The essence of the lengthy article comes at the very end: “CEU is George Soros’s outpost in Europe.” The implied verdict: Soros’s university has to go.

Schmidt’s attack opened a floodgate. A few days after her article appeared, Magyar Idők reported that CEU is letting 17 faculty members go because the university’s business school will merge with the department of economics. The pro-government mouthpiece claimed that all 17 professors were Hungarians and that they were extremely popular with the students. Magyar Idők also stated that the salaries of foreign faculty members are double those of Hungarians at CEU. A day later another article was published in the same paper, titled “They are cooking something in Soros’s witch’s kitchen.” The same unfounded and unverified accusation that Hungarian faculty members were fired solely because they were Hungarians was repeated. In vain did CEU try to explain that the faculty members of the Business School were not all Hungarians and that there are not different pay scales for foreign and native faculty members. Magyar Idők was not giving up. Today a new article was published in which they try to discredit CEU’s press release that pointed out the paper’s false statements. Magyar Idők claimed that CEU didn’t satisfactorily deny that only Hungarians were fired.

That’s where we are at the moment. What happens to CEU may depend, at least in part, on how successful Donald Trump is at implementing his plans at home and abroad. If he moves American democracy toward an illiberal state and if his followers keep bashing Soros, most likely Viktor Orbán will feel free to banish CEU from Hungary. But if he fails because of internal opposition and foreign resistance, perhaps these attacks will subside. Let’s hope so.

February 11, 2017

Sebastian Gorka’s road from Budapest to the White House

A few hours ago Sebastian Gorka triumphantly announced on Twitter: “Well the radio silence is over. Congrats to those who guessed! Honored to be Deputy Assistant to the President of the United States,” most likely on the National Security Council. Faithful followers of Fox News may be familiar with his name since Gorka has been a frequent guest as an expert on Islamic terror. He is one of those people who are convinced that the Western world is at war with Islam, a war that could have been won if the president of the United States had been serious about the mission, as Barack Obama obviously wasn’t. Trump, however, “sees that this is an actual war that he wants to win.” It was this theme that Gorka developed in his 2016 book Defeating Jihad: A Winnable War. Gorka is also a regular contributor to Breitbart News and a protégé of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, or, as GQ magazine called him, “our president.”

Sebastian Gorka with Donald Trump

Sebastian Gorka’s name is not exactly a household word in the United States, but in Hungary it has a more familiar ring. In the years after 9/11 Sebestyén Gorka, as he was known in Hungary, was a national security analyst who, according to some less than charitable TV viewers, was usually wrong.

Gorka was born in Great Britain in 1970, the son of Hungarian refugees Zsuzsa and Pál Gorka. The father, according to Sebastian, was sentenced to life in the 1950s and was freed in October 1956. A few years ago Pál Gorka, who moved back to Hungary after 1990, wrote a book about his experiences before and during the revolution.

The young Gorka received a B.A. in philosophy and theology from the University of London and, upon graduation, joined the British Territorial Army reserves, serving in the Intelligence Corps. In 1992 he followed his parents to Hungary, where his meager military training and intelligence experience were sufficient to land him a job in the Ministry of Defense. There he worked on international security issues and Hungary’s future accession to NATO. Gorka spent five years in the ministry, during which time he also earned a master’s degree from Corvinus University in international relations and diplomacy. Later he received his Ph.D. from the same institution.

Anyone who’s interested in the career of Sebastian Gorka should consult his Wikipedia entry which, I suspect, he wrote himself. There is no need to repeat all that information. Instead I will concentrate on his time in Hungary.

Hundreds of articles have appeared in the Hungarian media in the last few days about Gorka’s fabulous career. He and his family left Hungary for the United States only nine years ago, and yet he will be an important adviser to the president of the United States. These articles note that he was also an adviser to Viktor Orbán. Some of the better informed pieces report that he eventually became disillusioned with Orbán and established a party, Új Demokratikus Koalíció. Interestingly, in his many resumés one finds not a word about his position as adviser to Viktor Orbán, which is odd since one would think that it might be a plus for his political ambitions.

Gorka established and was the executive director of a conservative think tank, the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security, in Budapest. By 2006 he decided to chart his own political course. In September of that year he gave an interview to Magyar Nemzet in which he explained why he was running against the Fidesz candidate for the mayoralty of Piliscsaba, a picturesque village in the Budapest metropolitan area where he and his family lived. A few days later he talked to someone from the New Telegraphic Agency who complained about the red-and-white-striped “Árpád” flags favored by Magyar Gárda. Gorka explained to him that the flag-wavers “are a soft target, because how do you prove you’re not a fascist?” And, he continued, “if you say that eight centuries of history can be eradicated by 19 months of fascist distortion of symbols, you’re losing historical perspective.” Gorka was a bit off; Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross regime lasted only about four months.

In January 2007 he and three others established a right-wing party. After Viktor Orbán lost the election in 2006 a lot of people within his own party came to believe that Fidesz cannot win an election as long as Orbán is at the helm. Gorka was one of the “insurgents.” He identified three groups within the party. One was the Orbán-Simicska line. The other was a group led by István Stumpf, head of the prime minister’s office during the first Orbán government, and Mária Schmidt, director of the House of Terror and today the court historian of Viktor Orbán. The third group was led by Zoltán Pokorni which, according to Gorka, was the weakest of the three. It was under these circumstances that Gorka wanted to establish a party in opposition to Fidesz. He added that he was hoping that some Fidesz leaders would join him. He specifically mentioned János Áder, today president of Hungary.

Jobbik, which had just started to become an important factor in the country’s domestic politics, sent an observer to the press conference that set out the goals of the new party. He came away with the feeling that the ideology of the Új Demokratikus Koalíció was confused. The leaders of the party counted on the right-wing followers of Mária Schmidt, the left-winger followers of Gyula Horn, and the “völkisch-national-socialists” of Katalin Szili. No wonder that Gorka’s attempt to establish this new party was a total flop. Most likely it was his political failure that prompted him to leave Hungary and not, as he later claimed, “the chaos created by Gyurcsány.”

The last time Gorka gave an interview to a Hungarian newspaper was in September 2016. The reporter of Magyar Nemzet asked his opinion of Viktor Orbán’s Russian policy, and he was anything but complimentary. He harshly criticized Putin’s policies and found Orbán’s balancing act between NATO and Moscow to be both dangerous and unsustainable. Orbán, he said, will have to decide between the West and the East. Given Gorka’s family background, it makes sense that he would be no fan of Russia or Putin, the former KGB agent.

Hungary might think that it is gaining influence in Washington by having Sebastian Gorka in such a prominent position. But given his low opinion of Orbán, whom he considered already in 2006 unfit to lead the country, the Hungarian prime minister might not get the kind of reception from Trump that he expects.

January 31, 2017

An inveterate liar: Mária Schmidt’s celebrated freedom fighter

Today’s story is a sad commentary on the gullibility of some of the leading supporters of Fidesz. It’s the tale of a man who among his colleagues is known to be a habitual liar but who, over the past 30 years, has managed to fool an awful lot of people.

Pathological liars are not rare. I myself have encountered at least two. But most of us sooner or later realize that the stories they tell don’t add up. And we certainly don’t defend the truth of these stories in the face of evidence to the contrary. Here, however, once hard facts proved that our man had been lying through his teeth, Mária Schmidt, the chief organizer of the sixtieth anniversary of the 1956 October Revolution and allegedly a historian, came to his rescue. She attacked the media for trying to ruin her precious event and besmirching the halos of the “pesti srácok,” youngsters who fought on the streets of Budapest.

The man I am talking about is László Dózsa, an actor whose career has not been distinguished. He currently directs plays staged in the Újpest Színház, which doesn’t strike me as much of a theater. Yet shortly after Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz won the election in 2010, he was awarded the title “érdemes művész” (actor of merit). Admittedly, as far as awards in the theater world go, this one is fairly lowly. Even so, in one of his interviews a reporter asked him whether anyone had ever suggested that he received the award not so much for being an actor but rather for being a “freedom fighter.”

It would seem that his alleged activities in 1956 are central to his self-identity. In his Wikipedia entry, which most likely he wrote himself, he is described as “1956 freedom fighter, actor, director, actor of merit” in this order.

This year Dózsa made it as the freedom fighter of all freedom fighters. A painting based on a Life Magazine photo, depicting a young man with a rifle and captioned László Dózsa (1942-), was plastered all over Budapest. He must have felt on top of the world. But soon enough his world collapsed. It turned out that the boy in the picture was Pál Pruck (1941-2000). Once Pruck’s family learned that Dózsa had assumed his identity, they decided to act.

dozsa

It was high time to put an end to Dózsa’s outrageous stories about 1956. Dózsa was always known to tell tall tales. When after 1989 he began regaling people with his exploits during the revolution, his friends didn’t unmask him even though they figured the stories were lies. They thought the lies were harmless.

After a while the media became interested in the adventures of this extraordinary man. One of the first of these interviews, “The man who has three lives,” appeared in the October 2005 issue of Hetek, the fundamentalist Assembly of Faith’s weekly. This story was repeated over and over in several more publications, with new embellishments. It is difficult to create a coherent story from Dózsa’s recollections which were, I assume, purposefully vague, but there are a couple of fixed points: he joined a group that gathered around the Divatcsarnok at the corner of Rákóczi út and Szövetség utca and he joined the group after November 4.

According to his story, once the fighting was over the Russians made them, about 30 young boys, stand against the wall of the Rákóczi movie theater and killed everyone except him. He escaped with his throat half destroyed by a bullet. He was then taken to a prison hospital where he was interrogated and was so badly beaten that he was eventually pronounced clinically dead. He was taken, together with other dead bodies, to the cemetery on Kerepesi út and thrown into a common grave. They even poured lime on the bodies. The gravediggers, however, discovered that he was alive and returned in the darkness of night. They took him to the Jewish Hospital on Szabolcs utca where two professors operated on him. These two good men hid him until it was safe to return “from the dead.” Because of “international pressure” he was not prosecuted.

On its face the story is bizarre and unbelievable. And, after reading an interview with László Eörsi, the historian who has written scores of books on these small fighting groups, one can be pretty certain that not a word of Dózsa’s story is true. Eörsi describes himself as an “event historian” (eseménytörténész). I have several of his books, which are basically minute-by-minute descriptions of the activities of these groups. Eörsi interviewed Dózsa at one point but came to the conclusion that his stories were bogus because they could not be corroborated. No one had ever heard of the murder by the Russians of 30 people in the center of the city. Dózsa claimed that the Russians bombed the Divatcsarnok when in fact they didn’t resort to air attacks. He talked about firing squads against civilians at the Nyugati Station, but that occurred only on December 6.

So, let’s turn to Pál Pruck. Once the Pruck family found out that Dózsa had assumed the identity of the deceased Pruck, they complained. Dózsa, after the story broke, magnanimously agreed to take his name off “in reverence” to the deceased’s relatives. But he still maintained that he was the one who appeared in the Life Magazine photo despite convincing evidence to the contrary. Tamás Pruck, Pál Pruck’s son, remembers his father telling him that he had been sent by the guys of Corvin-köz (Corvin alley) for bread when a foreign photographer stopped him and took a picture of him. “But he never spoke about being such an important freedom fighter.” He was just a “srác interested in guns.” Apparently, he never received any decoration but he never asked for one either.

The Life Magazine photo

The Life Magazine photo

Yesterday I was sure that Mária Schmidt would remain quiet. The evidence against Dózsa was far too strong. I was wrong. Today Schmidt called the poor deceased Pruck a criminal and insisted that Dózsa was an outstanding national hero. At the same time she launched an attack against the opposition media, which insists on debasing the memory of the ’56 revolution and its heroes.

The photos Pál Pruck and László Dózsa at the time

Photos of Pál Pruck and László Dózsa at the time

Her defense of Dózsa stretched the limits of logic. 444.hu summarized it well. (1) Dózsa is credible because he received a lot of decorations for the heroism he demonstrated in ’56. (2) In 2007 Dózsa himself wrote that this was a photo of him, something that nobody questioned. (3) Normally photographers don’t identify their subjects in a wartime situation or they give them phony names. That’s why the photographer gave an existing person’s name to a photo depicting Dózsa. (4) This is not the first time that the wrong name is attached to this photo. (5) Dózsa years ago in a video taken at the House of Terror identified himself as the boy on the picture. (6) Nothing is known about Pál Pruck’s activities during the revolution. (7) He himself said in a television interview that he doesn’t know how the photographer got his name. (8) Pál Pruck was a criminal who was in jail several times. He was also used by the Kádár regime’s propagandists to discredit the revolution. (9) The relatives of Pruck didn’t come forth although the photo was widely known. (10) It is suspicious that Pál Pruck didn’t suffer any reprisals after the revolution.

This is the best that Orbán’s court historian could come up with. Pitiful and embarrassing. But, I said to myself, isn’t it also embarrassing that Dózsa received the Officer’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit in 2006 during the Gyurcsány government? At least this is what I read in his Wikipedia entry. Well, I checked the list of recipients and there is no sign of László Dózsa. He even lied about that in his Wikipedia entry.

On the other hand, he has been richly rewarded for his faithful service to right-wing causes since 2010. I already mentioned his becoming an “actor of merit” in 2011. But the big prize came this year, on the sixtieth anniversary of the revolution. He became an “honorary citizen” of Budapest. Apparently, Mayor István Tarlós and the Fidesz majority’s choice was Dózsa while Csaba Horváth (MSZP) argued for László Nemes Jeles, director of the Oscar-winning Son of Saul. Tarlós put an end to the discussion by saying that “László Dózsa is our son of Saul.” What a gift. Tarlós, Schmidt, and the rest can now contemplate how to rescue Dózsa for posterity.

November 3, 2016

The fate of a journalist, Gergely Brückner, who told the truth

Népszabadság is not the only Hungarian publication that has been harassed by the authorities, although its shutdown on October 8 was the Orbán government’s bluntest attack on the Hungarian media. Shortly after the destruction of Népszabadság came an assault on a journalist who had investigated one of the Orbán government’s dubious financial transactions. This time the Hungarian National Bank “filed a complaint against an unknown perpetrator,” actually Gergely Brückner, a highly regarded journalist at Figyelő (Observer), a financial weekly whose most important articles are unfortunately not available online. Kolos Kardkovács, head of the central bank’s legal department, filed charges against him for “infringement of trade secrets” in connection with the purchase of MKB Bank. The article Kardkovács objected to appeared in Figyelő’s very first issue in January 2015.

Let’s backtrack a bit to mid-December 2014 when I wrote a post titled “The first state-owned Hungarian bank is already in trouble.” MKB Bank was supposed to be sound since its former owner, Bayerische Landesbank, prior to the sale pumped 270 million euros into it. This was supposed to be enough to cover all possible losses over the following few months. Government officials were sure that the bank would be profitable by 2016 “at the latest” and that “the reorganization of MKB Bank will not burden either the state or the taxpayers.” Yet three months later Viktor Orbán and György Matolcsy, at a joint press conference, said that 300 billion forints are urgently needed to keep MKB Bank afloat. Orbán announced that since “the consolidation of MKB Bank will be done by the Hungarian National Bank, it will not cost the budget or the Hungarian taxpayers anything.” The same lie that was used to justify the establishment of the central bank’s foundations.

Between September and December 2014 Brückner gathered background information for a series of articles on the less than transparent purchase of MKB Bank. During 2015 and 2016  he published at least a dozen articles on the reorganization and eventual sale of MKB Bank to several investors of, again, less than transparent identity.

The decision of the National Bank to file charges against him, however, is based on a single sentence from his initial reporting. The sentence reads: “Our paper has learned that shortly after Lázár became the owner [of MKB Bank] he received a letter from Matolcsy in which the bank president indicated that even in the short term tens of billions of forints will be necessary in order to avoid bankruptcy and that may not be the end of the reckoning [cech]. (Our sources talk about 75 billion forints and later another 200 billion capital increase).” The Hungarian National Bank never denied any of the information provided by Brückner about MKB Bank. They never asked for a correction. Nothing. But suddenly, 22 months later, they discovered that Brückner is guilty of the infringement of business secrets.

Gergely Brückner

Gergely Brückner

Brückner did what a good journalist should. He pointed out that the purchase of MKB Bank was a very bad deal, for which the Hungarian taxpayers have paid dearly ever since September 2014. Whoever sealed the deal either didn’t exercise due diligence or, what in my opinion is more likely, Viktor Orbán was so eager to acquire a foreign-owned bank and transform it into a bank which would eventually be in Hungarian hands that he simply didn’t care about the exorbitant amount of money it would take “to reorganize” it.

The policemen who questioned Brückner demanded that he reveal his sources, which he refused to do. Later he said that in fact he no longer remembers who his source was for this particular piece of information. He had conversations with at least 15 men and women who had information about the case both in Hungary and in Bavaria. He didn’t think this sentence was of any great significance and therefore paid no special attention to it. It was the overall picture that interested him, that the purchase of MKB Bank was a very bad business deal.

This case is yet another example of the warped legal system in Hungary and of the government’s attempt to clamp down on media criticism. Although scores of people have filed complaints in connection with the shady affairs of Antal Rogán and György Matolcsy, neither the police nor the prosecutors move a finger. Their usual answer is that there is no reason to investigate. But if a journalist accurately reports on a disastrous bank purchase, the police are ready to jump and insist that he reveal his sources, which according to current Hungarian law are protected. We don’t yet know whether the investigative judge will decide to go forward with the case.

János Lázár, who can quite often surprise us, once again did so in this case. Last Thursday at his usual press conference he expressed his disapproval of harassing journalists, pressuring them to reveal their sources. I think it’s safe to assume that he was not himself the source; that is, he presumably did not make public the letter he received from Matolcsy. But the information must have come either from his office or from Matolcsy’s, perhaps too close for comfort.

How badly have Hungarian taxpayers been burned by the deal? It had to be a colossal loss. The bank into which 300 billion forints was poured, over and above the 35 billion purchase price, was sold in March 2016 for 37 billion forints. It was sold to a consortium of domestic and foreign equity funds, with Hungarian owners getting a majority stake. One member of this consortium is a Hungarian private equity fund called Metis, which will have a 45% stake in MKB Bank. Metis was launched only recently with a registered capital of 100 million euros. The other prominent member is Blue Robin Investments SCA, whose owners are apparently Indian and Chinese investors. It will also own 45% of the bank. A Hungarian pension fund will hold the remaining 10% of the shares.

By July Brückner learned that “the most important and real owner” behind Metis is László Szíjj, owner of Duna Aszfalt, which people usually refer to nowadays as the new Közgép. Közgép was Lajos Simicska’s firm, which in the past used to receive most of the government contracts. Now that Simicska is one of the chief enemies of Viktor Orbán, his place has been filled by a number of oligarchs, one of whom is Szíjj.

One more thing about Figyelő. Although the weekly is profitable, it is up for sale because of an acrimonious ownership dispute that has been going on for about two years. The journalists who work at the weekly are almost certain that the new owner will be Mária Schmidt, the court historian and director of the House of Terror who became a very wealthy woman after the unexpected early death of her husband. If Schmidt does indeed become the owner, I’m sure Gergely Brückner will quickly become “redundant.”

November 1, 2016