Tag Archives: Máté Kocsis

The eviction of Roma organizations

Budapest Beacon reported on November 1, 2016 on the eviction of two Roma organizations from their headquarters:

Hungarian NGOs Roma Parliament and Phralipe Independent Gypsy Organization were forcibly evicted from their Budapest District 8 headquarters last Sunday, reports mno.hu. Several police cars arrived along with removal trucks to evict the organizations from the building at Tavaszmező street 6, citing the dilapidated and “life-threatening” state of the property as well as arrears as the reason for the eviction.

The district claims that the organizations have unpaid debts to the district government, something both organizations deny. Phralipe has regularly paid its bills, has no outstanding debts and has a valid lease agreement with the district, Phralipe president Béla Babos told Népszava. He dismissed the district’s claims that the building is life-threatening as an “alibi”, claiming that his organization received no warning prior to the eviction.

The district claims that the Roma Parliament owes “several hundred-thousand forints,” and had refused earlier offers to move into a different property. However, the organization’s president Aladár Horváth denies this, citing a 2011 court decision that found they had no debts to the district or to utility providers.

The district has been pressuring the organizations to relocate for some time, reportedly offering them the choice of five properties which, according to Horváth, were “small and moldy.” Although willing to relocate in principle, the organization ultimately insisted on remaining in the Tavaszmező street property until the district offered them “a property of similar size and quality,” Horváth said, adding that the NGO had repeatedly requested that its current lease be extended. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to us,” said Babos, who claims that the organizations were current with their rent and utility bills.

The eviction comes after several years of attempts by local authorities to “drive away the sole surviving, system-critical, independent umbrella organization” for Roma, according to a statement issued by the Roma Parliament.  Withdrawing a lawsuit brought against the NGO for alleged arrears dating to 2011, the district refused to conclude a new lease contract, classifying the organization as occupying the building without title.  According to the statement, the lack of a valid lease precluded the organization from applying for grants, and forced it to substantially reduce its operating costs.

Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: Dávid Balogh

Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: Dávid Balogh

The day after the eviction, the Ministry of Human Resources announced  that the former offices of Roma Parliament and Phralipe, which police claimed were “life-threatening”, were to house the Cziffra György Roma Education and Cultural Center, an organization founded and funded by the government. 

According to its statement, the Roma local government first heard of the government’s intention to install a new Roma organization in their headquarters last year, and initial negotiations took place with the “expert” input of House of Terror director Mária Schmidt (“To this day, it is not clear what she has to do with Roma culture,” reads the statement) and Budapest District 8 mayor Máté Kocsis (Fidesz).

According to the statement, Kocsis reneged on his promise to invite the Roma Parliament to subsequent negotiations, which allegedly took place without its involvement.  

The groups suspect the government of creating a “token gypsy” organization to “colonize the cultural and spiritual heritage” of the 25-year-old organization. “The corporatist system itself is building (on a small site for a lot of money) a pro-government cultural and public center where the servile Roma intellectuals, created in their own image, can take a place on the Board of Patrons,” Roma Parliament said in the statement.

According to its website, the Roma Parliament was founded in 1990 as “the first non-governmental umbrella organization for Roma” which works “for mass-scale changes to the situations of Hungarian Roma” through legal advocacy, cultural identity foundations, art and public life programs, among others. The group had been in its Tavaszmező street location since 1990.

Below is the statement of two of the leaders of the Roma Parliament, Aladár Horváth and Jenő Zsigó.

 

Farewell to Hungarys Roma Parliament

Hungary’s Roma Parliament will bid farewell in a ceremony on Wednesday afternoon, November 2, to its headquarters, which the State has ransacked, and intends to knock down. The Roma Parliament has worked here for 25 years. The break-up is the next stage in a spate of state terror that two weeks ago closed the main left-wing daily paper, Népszabadság. Its trumped-up reasons (a hazardous building) coincide with a government order saying it needs it for other purposes.

We look forward to seeing at the ceremony all who view as vital Hungarian democracy that embraces the Gypsy community and the Roma Parliament’s work over a quarter-century. We especially count on the “family” of the Roma Parliament and its forebear, Amaro Drom

  •  our scholarship and summer-camp students,
  • bands, musicians and performers who played on our stages,
  •  journalists, poets, writers, critics and analysts papers that Amaro Drom published,
  • artists who did the murals on the historic walls of our building,
  • those to whom we gave legal and welfare aid and representation over the decades,
  • those active in our social, public and political training events, notably the Roma Academy,
  • all past and present members, heads and staff members; all who inspired the Roma Parliament, in whose communities they grew up.

In recent years, the Józsefváros LGO has tried several times to oust the one independent umbrella organization critical of the system and working for Roma togetherness. Most recently in 2011‒12, the courts ruled an LGO application to dispossess us was unfounded: the Roma Parliament was not in debt to the owner or any utility company. The LGO withdrew its case, but despite a promise, did not reinstate the tenancy unilaterally and suspended on false claims of indebtedness. So it could claim the Roma Parliament held the building without a legal basis. This excluded us also from fund applications. So heads and members of the organization had to cover their shrunken maintenance costs from its own sources of income, the art gallery, meetings, conferences and concerts.

Government Order No. 1785/2014 (December 18) provided for founding a new Capital City Roma Cultural and Methodological Education Centre. (This body under the Capital City LGO performs no meaningful activity. It came into being by annexing the internationally known Gypsy House headed earlier by Jenő Zsigó. Its premises were in Szentkirályi utca, in Józsefváros’s fashionable Palotanegyed, where “regular voters” live. The Fidesz-led LGO refused to renovate it and the money to do so returned to LGO funds. Now that nearly one-billion forints is to be the “starting capital” for implementing the government order.)

We first heard a year and a half ago that the new institution was to rise from the ruins of the Roma Parliament. The specialists brought in to negotiated said so: Mária Schmidt, Director-General of the Terror House (what she has to do with Roma culture is still unclear), and Máté Kocsis, Mayor of Józsefváros, told us the new building was planned for the site of the Roma Parliament at Tavaszmező utca 6. In July last year we approached the Mayor requesting we be drawn into the talks, which he promised, but our organization was never invited. In December we ran a conference on the matter and invited the Mayor and Assistant State Secretary, but they did not come. We showed a photograph series, “Misplaced Dreams”, of 19 civil Roma initiatives in the last four decades for institutions of Roma cultural autonomy (Roma theater, museum, national cultural and arts center, Capital City Gypsy House etc.), all defeated. We also showed a 20th, the fine architectural proposal devised by the Roma Parliament and its professionals in 2009, whereby the Tavaszmező utca premises would convert into our own cultural and community center. (The technical side was done by the Technical University’s architecture professor with four of his students and landscape architecture students of Corvinus University ‒ could this now be the official plan, shed of us?)

The response to our initiative was a single official letter calling on us to vacate the premises.

Then on the initiative of the Fidesz-member head of Józsefváros Roma local government we were offered five premises ‒ outside the district, mainly small and musty or distant and unmaintainable ‒ which we rejected. On April 14, 2016 we wrote to the Minister of Human Resources, Capital City Mayor and heads of the district, requesting they either leave the Roma Parliament where it is and conclude a new contract with us, or provide us with convenient premises similar in size and quality, for our events and storing and displaying our collection of over 200 paintings.

A reply to our Ministry letter came from Károly Czibere, State Secretary for “Social Catch-up”, on 9 May 2016: Tavaszmező utca 6 was to be the “Capital City Roma Centre”… which was “also backed by the patrons’ committee of famed Roma artists convened by Minister Balog, who were informed of details at a patronage supper on July 18, 2016.”

The LGO made no attempt to meet our requests for the new premises. Indeed they attached conditions we could not meet: the local Roma local government could have the old studio of Radio C in Teleki tér (incidentally unsuited to the purpose) and rent it to us, etc.

It became clear that the political motive was to make the Roma Parliament disappear, not find it premises. That explained the lack of honest communication or willingness to agree, and messages rather than dialogue.

Every letter from State Secretary Czibere reiterated that “the aim of the Ministry and the LGO is for Tavaszmező utca 6 to transfer to state ownership by agreement…. From what has been said I do not think anyone will decide your fate without consultation. Our hopes are to find a solution to housing your organization as soon as possible” (letter of August 15, 2016).

Two weeks later we read in the press that the LGO would make a legal attempt to push out the Roma Parliament.

On the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Revolution, Józsefváros LGO broke into the Roma Parliament, emptied it and closed it, while the case was still before the court. It was officially held that the building was dangerous. Yet the government website announced next day the formation of a Cziffra György Roma Education and Culture Centre, to be housed at Tavaszmező utca 6: “The choice in consultation with Józsefváros LGO fell on Tavaszmező utca 6…. which the LGO undertook to empty.” No wonder we were not allowed back in the dangerous building! Meanwhile an illegal stocktaking of our intellectual and cultural goods, artworks, archives, financial documents and valuables built up over 25 years was made and they were taken to an unknown place. We tried to discuss our possessions and documents with the Józsefváros Mayor, but he did not deign to reply.

By a seemingly unstoppable process, Hungary uses illiberal (Mafia-like, dictatorial) force to pull down 25-year walls of a civil-rights movement and colonize its cultural and intellectual heritage. Its corporative system means building (on a small area at high cost) a governing-party cultural and public center with patrons who are servile Roma intellectuals shaped in its own image.

It was painful but expected. The Roma Parliament has no truck with Hungary’s authoritarianism, opposes it vehemently, and supports the Republic. We stand by Roma pushed out of many places, thrust from Székesfehérvár, driven to Canada from Miskolc. Our fate is theirs. We too are pursued.

At this point we must bid farewell to the Roma Parliament, the iron stair decorations, stuccoes, ’56 bullet holes on the front, frescoes on the stairs, stage, theatre and our Home. But we can never bid farewell to our civil revolutionary ideas embodied there until our dream of equal dignity and chances of social inclusion for the Roma becomes reality.

October 30, 2016.

November 2, 2016

Roland Mengyi, the Fidesz Voldemort: from billionaire’s front man to politician

This is the story of Roland Mengyi’s sudden appearance, out of total obscurity, in high politics. The original article titled “Egy milliárdos táskahordójából lett politikus a fideszes Voldemort” (The Fidesz Voldemort went from being the bag carrier of a billionaire to a politician) originally appeared in index.hu and was translated by the staff of The Budapest Sentinel.

Earlier I reported on the findings of Attila Rajnai, an investigative journalist, who in two installments published details of the scandal in the weekly 168 Óra. Since then another installment has appeared, which strongly suggests that officers of the Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal (National Tax and Customs Administration/NAV) were ready to arrest Mengyi when he was negotiating with the two tender applicants from Tiszaújvár about a year ago. The officers’ superior, however, wouldn’t give them permission to act. Rajnai suspects that it was either András Tállai, president of NAV, or Péter Polt, the country’s chief prosecutor, who, for a while at least, saved Mengyi’s skin.

Tállai is a member of parliament, undersecretary in the ministry of interior, and, in his spare time, head of NAV, a huge organization. For one reason or other, Tállai’s appointment was of special importance to Viktor Orbán. But, at the same time, he didn’t want Tállai to relinquish his parliamentary seat in case Fidesz loses a third seat at a by-election. Hence Tállai’s multitasking challenge.

Another development in the case is a unique move by Péter Polt. He asked László Kövér, president of parliament, to initiate proceedings which might lead to the suspension of Ronald Mengyi’s immunity. In the past, the Fidesz majority of the parliamentary committee in charge of immunity cases always denied requests to suspend Fidesz members. This time, I believe, they will oblige. Tomorrow I will outline one possible way Fidesz might handle the case.

♦ ♦ ♦

Mengyi2

Official résumé: We know almost nothing about what the Fidesz parliamentary representative Roland Mengyi did prior to becoming a politician in 2010. He is not answering any questions about his earlier life. Nor is he talking about an ugly corruption scandal to which he has been connected. For this reason we looked into his past. It turns out that, while it does not appear on his résumé, he worked first for the Republican Guard, later as a driver for the front man of a billionaire entrepreneur.

Apart from his enterprising wife, an influential Fidesz city politician may have played an important part in his suddenly becoming a politician.

A typical political entrepreneur—based on his previous life this would be the best way to characterize Roland Mengyi, although his previous life is the thing about which it is possible to know virtually nothing, at least on the basis of what the politician has disclosed about himself.

When Mengyi became a Fidesz member of parliament in 2009, he wasn’t only completely unknown to voters but also within his party as well. He just appeared out of nowhere. As to what Mengyi did prior to 2010, the only thing appearing on his official résumé uploaded to parlament.hu is that, and we quote, “Public administration, free market. Former president of a public foundation, (sic).

Although we tried to ask Mengyi about the period before his career in politics, he was not willing to say anything. The Fidesz press office wasn’t able to help us learn anything about his past. For this reason we had no choice but to investigate where the Fidesz politician came from and whom he has to thank for his political career. We spoke with those who knew him from the past and had either a business or personal relationship with him. Finally the picture became clear. Mengyi was born in Tiszaújváros in 1975. He was still a child when his parents moved to neighboring Sajóörös. He attended school in Tiszaújváros where he obtained his high school diploma. He liked to do sports and in 1994 placed 10th in the junior body building tournament in the 90 kg category where he represented Tiszaújváros. Later he moved to Budapest.

His résumé doesn’t mention this either, but we know from other sources that at the end of the 1990s during the first Orbán government he worked in parliament as a member of the Republican Guard. Mengyi did not answer questions relating to this. The Ministry of the Interior, on the other hand, indicated that it could not release information about this.

One of his former colleagues told Index that he served as a security guard, and we spoke with another acquaintance of his who said he was a personal bodyguard.

One source close to him told us that he was in fact with the Republican Guard and later became the personal bodyguard of Pál Solt, then president of the Hungarian Supreme Court. At that time he was proud of the fact that he appeared in the background of a photograph of Viktor Orbán and Pál Solt.

How the driver became a lawyer

The turning point in Mengyi’s career came when he got together with the daughter of a famous Budapest veterinarian. His acquaintances at that time believe that through his girlfriend he entered an intellectual world previously unknown to him and that this influenced his future career: the simple, less intellectual, country bumpkin began studying law at the Pázmány Péter Catholic College. However, a terrible tragedy turned his family life upside down. When he was down on his luck, the veterinarian’s cousin, the billionaire entrepreneur István Petrás, took Mengyi under his wing.

Those in the billionaire’s circle say that at the beginning Petrás did not especially like Mengyi. The persons in question recollect that those belonging to the circle felt the guy of humble origins was using the intellectual medical family as a kind of springboard. “Roland was a clever guy, he learned fast, and studied law at night, he was hard working,” says an old acquaintance. Another person says precisely the opposite. A person belonging to Petrás’s circle says he doesn’t remember Mengyi for his brilliant mind.

In any event, in time Mengyi became Petrás’s confidante.

At that time Petrás was doing well. With assets amounting to many billions of forints, he was listed as one of the 100 most affluent Hungarians. There must have been real trust between the two because, between 2006 and 2008, Mengyi was listed as an owner of one of the billionaire’s companies. However, Petrás’ acquaintances believe that the future politician was needed only as a kind of front man (stróman) for the wealthy entrepreneur, who was dealing primarily in real estate and who characteristically avoided the spotlight. In other words, although Petrás paid him well, he used Mengyi as a simple errand boy and bagman. This explains how Mengyi became the chairman of the board of trustees for the Biatorbágy Health House Foundation founded by Petrás in 2006. The foundation was created for a project belonging to a public private partnership (PPP) in which Petrás was interested along with the Biatorbágy local government. The health house was eventually christened in 2009 by Gordon Bajnai’s Minister for Health, Tamás Székely. According to the minutes that can be downloaded over the internet, by then Mengyi was already a Fidesz member of parliament and thus represented the foundation in the negotiations with the local government.

It wasn’t Petrás who played a key role in Mengyi’s political career but his wife, who dealt in real estate in the 2000s and who later developed a close working relationship with Petrás. In fact, the two met through the billionaire businessman. The woman belonged to a group of businessmen whose success was largely due to their political connections. The defining individual of this circle was Róbert Juharos, who had a joint company with Mengyi’s future wife in the 2000s.

Juharos, who at one time worked at the law firm of KDNP MP György Rubovszky, was one of the founders of the Budapest 8th district chapter of Fidesz and was a member of parliament between 1998 and 2002. But his real career took place in the 8th district. Everything having to do with district development or related to property development went through his hands. Many credit him with the fact that over time a rundown district became a more secure place attractive to investors. Mengyi’s wife also benefited from being connected to Juharos, since one of her real estate companies, for example, specialized in the property of the district government. Furthermore, she, alongside her former husband, had a stake in Juharos’ law office.

Mengyi’s wife was not a simple dealer in real estate. Earlier she worked together with her lawyer husband on the sale of industrial property and on re-zoning, and she dealt with municipal properties, including those slated for demolition. That was the time when companies and private individuals of dubious reputation were able to acquire real estate very inexpensively by promising phantom projects and improvements, even guaranteeing them, which never materialized. In many cases the real estate was sold based on loose interpretations of the terms of the public tender. Juharos did so well that, in time, his name was mentioned as one of the future Fidesz hotshots, although he severely jeopardized his party career when in the middle of the 2000s Lajos Simicska became upset with him. Regardless, to this day he has been able to preserve his influence in the district under Máté Kocsis, Fidesz mayor. He is the president of the district chapter of Fidesz, is Kocsis’ adviser, and his law office contracted with the district government between 2011 and 2014.

Took up politics in secrecy

Not long after Mengyi and his future wife got together, Petrás and Mengyi had a falling out. According to acquaintances, Petrás had a very ugly quarrel with Mengyi because Mengyi concealed things from him which the billionaire believed he should have known. For example, that his protégé was getting into big politics. He only found out when Mengyi wanted to quit. “Roland wanted to leave Petrás. He asked from him his money and the promised percentages, to which Petrás reacted by telling him he was not entitled to them because the projects were not yet completed and money had yet to come in. They had an ugly quarrel, but I believe that since then they’ve patched up their relationship,” a source with a vantage point on both individuals told Index.

Those close to Mengyi believe that Juharos did a lot to help him go from being an errand boy to a politician. Many believe it was the president of the District 8 chapter of Fidesz who introduced Mengyi to how things worked in the party, and how to advance. This helped Mengyi obtain a position even though he was completely unknown within Fidesz.

It was not only Juharos who helped him, but also the lawyer who introduced him to Petrás in the first place. The lawyer personally knew one of the leading Fidesz politicians who had the final word on nominating candidates. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Mengyi became the Fidesz candidate for parliament for Tiszaújváros even though he did not reside there and played no role in the life of the party in Borsod County. Apart from the fact that he was born there and went to school there, he had nothing to do with Tiszaújváros. As we wrote in an earlier article, after the 2010 parliamentary elections, the political career of the previously unknown Mengyi began to rise. By summer it was decided that he would be the Fidesz candidate for chairman of the Borsod County Assembly in the autumn election after it was determined that the current president, Ferenc Ódor, was leaving. Mengyi was nominated by the head of the Fidesz delegation, Dezső Török, to be Ódor’s successor. We tried to ask Török about Mengyi, but he was on vacation. At the same time he indicated that, in his opinion, he was not qualified to speak about his fellow politicians.

After becoming a politician, Mengyi’s self-confidence grew. According to his acquaintances, it is entirely believable that Mengyi referred to himself as Lord Voldemort according to the wiretap records leaked by 168 Óra, because at a family event held in Tiszaújváros in 2010 the waiters called him “My Lord Lieutenant” (“Főispán uram”), and those in attendance said that wasn’t supposed to be a joke.

Poor rich people

If we look at Mengyi’s declaration of assets, the politician does not rank among the more affluent Hungarians. According to his 2011 financial statement, he already had HUF 10 million ($40,000) in savings, that is he was able to put aside 9.2 million in under a year, which means that he must have made an average of HUF 760,000 a month at minimum. One year later he inherited a house and a flat (he became the half owner), but he was no longer an owner in his company, and his savings had decreased by half. According to his most recent financial statement (2015), he bought neither a car nor a flat last year, and his savings do not amount to even HUF 4 million ($12,000). His children don’t have their own assets either. Nevertheless, his acquaintances believe that his wife owned many Budapest properties when they met her. Moreover, one of the politician’s previous companies, Park Consulting, lets out property that it owns. According to them, the Mengyi family purchased a number of pieces of property since 2010 that are not registered in the politician’s name.

Scandalous affairs

Since entering politics in 2010, his name has come up in connection with two scandals. The most memorable one was when Blikk published a list of Fidesz politicians who spent a few pleasant days in the Azores on the occasion of the European Regional Assembly. Mengyi’s name appeared on this list. In fact, it turned out that he played a central role in the scandal because the Fidesz politicians taking part in the holiday on the islands justified their trip on the basis of Mengyi’s being the county chairman of the Roma strategy.

He was once again in the spotlight in the fall of 2013 in connection with an unusual matter involving the tendering of state lands, which was uncovered by Népszabadság. The 2011 land tender was interesting because the tender was withdrawn after the deadline due to pressure from above so that the land could be awarded to people close to Fidesz.

At the time Népszabadság wrote that Mengyi played a role in the revocation of the tender. Allegedly, he was the one who ordered the head of the Bükki National Park Directorate to withdraw the tender. Among those who won the land was Mengyi’s former campaign manager, who had absolutely no previous experience cultivating land.

The biggest scandal of Mengyi’s political career, one that might even cost him his freedom, was revealed recently by 168 Óra. The crux of the matter is that social cooperatives wanted to apply last year for EU money. They claim that Mengyi would have helped in the disbursement if they gave back at first 50 percent and finally 90 percent of the money won. Instead of offering to help with an existing tender, a separate HUF 500 million ($1.8 million) tender was written for the cooperative that sought Mengyi’s help. Mengyi asked for a bribe which he referred to as “constitutional costs” (“alkotmányos költségek”) and, according to the wiretape transcripts, received HUF 5 million ($18,000), referring to himself as Lord Voldemort throughout. Roland Mengyi denies the whole Voldemort story and said he is prepared to undergo any investigation. Barnabás Futó, Mengyi’s lawyer, claims that the transcripts only refer to Mengyi, but that he himself never spoke. However, according to 168 Óra’s latest article, Mengyi participated in one of the telephone conversations.

August 18, 2016

Defending “the social order” by force of arms?

Most Hungarian journalists and even opposition politicians find what’s going on in Budapest at the moment highly amusing. The City of Budapest dismantles a dozen advertising kiosks, which workmen hired by Mahir Cityposter, a firm owned in part by Lajos Simicska, then replace with brand new ones. This is not, however, something that one ought to find funny or entertaining. What’s going on is further proof that Hungary is no longer a country of law. The Orbán government can do whatever it wants to those who are in its way. And Lajos Simicska is very much in Viktor Orbán’s way. He must be destroyed.

In 2006 Mahir signed a 25-year contract with the City of Budapest which gave it the right to set up 780 cylinder-shaped kiosks in the busiest parts of the city. Because the investment was substantial, Mahir negotiated a contract that couldn’t be broken before the date of its expiration. I cannot decide whether the contract was disadvantageous from the city’s point of view, but for ten years the city fathers found no fault with it. Last fall, however, they decided that the contract was so shamefully drafted in favor of Mahir that decency and good conscience (jóerkölcs) might be issues here. Sometime in September the city council, with a huge Fidesz majority, voted overwhelmingly to break the contract with Mahir as of October 31. They gave Mahir 60 days to remove all kiosks. If it fails to do so, they said, the city itself will do the job, starting in January 2016.

The inspiration for this late discovery of the foul nature of the contract undoubtedly came from the prime minister, who ever since March has been trying to ruin his old friend Lajos Simicska because Simicska humiliated him, called him all sorts of names, and, above all, was no longer willing to use his media empire in the service of the government. Simicska’s company, Közgép, which previously had received fantastic government contracts financed primarily by the European Union, was put on the government’s black list and, in fact, some of its projects that were under construction have been suspended. The latest chapter in this struggle is “kiosk gate.” We can be pretty sure that István Tarlós, mayor of Budapest, received a telephone call one day and was instructed to get rid of Simicska’s Mahir. Tarlós and 19 Fidesz members of the city council obliged.

Hard at work

Hard at work

It always surprises me how inept opposition politicians can be when it comes to realizing the significance of some of Viktor Orbán’s moves. For example, Csaba Horváth (MSZP) said: “they should conduct this Fidesz in-fighting among themselves and, if it is at all possible, they shouldn’t entertain either the public or the city council with them.” I must say that an unnamed journalist of stop.hu is much more sophisticated politically than Horváth because he captured the essence of this so-called “in-fighting” when he wrote: “Now Lajos Simicska can really see what kind of a country he and his former friend built. If necessary, the government will get even with those who are in the prime minister’s way even if it means disregarding the law. The only difference between Simicska and the average Joe is that the CEO of Közgép became a billionnaire from government investments. While Simicska fights his prestige battles with loose change, Everyman is fighting for his life.”

Mahir Cityposter’s legal defense is in good hands. Simicska hired György Magyar, an able lawyer. As far as he is concerned, the case is clear-cut. Immediately after the city council voted to break the contract, he filed suit against the city of Budapest. As far as he knows, the case will be heard on January 11. Until then, every action taken in this case is illegal. However, a new pro-government website, factor.hu, claims that Mahir’s request for a postponement of the removal of the kiosks was denied on December 12. The only problem is that Mahir’s lawyer knows nothing about this. Perhaps these discrepancies will be cleared up in the next few days. At this point it is useless delving into the details of the case. The immediate reaction of Orbán’s minions is much more interesting and telling.

The very fact that Mahir didn’t take what it is considered to be an illegal action lying down angered those who feel compelled to defend their master. Máté Kocsis, the mayor of District VIII who has been mentioned as the possible next lord mayor of Budapest, suggested police action to ensure the removal of the kiosks. He also threatened the company Mahir hired to guard the kiosks with the withdrawal of its operating license. György Bakondi, chief adviser to Viktor Orbán who made himself ridiculous during the refugee crisis, happily agreed that “public security and social order” might be maintained by armed forces. The word he actually used was “karhatalom,” which has a horrible connotation in Hungarian. After the failed Hungarian Revolution in 1956 the newly installed Kádár regime recruited civilians who were ready to support the new government to patrol the streets, arms in hand. These people were called “karhatalmisták.” Their task was to defend the “social order.” As one newspaper rightly pointed out, Bakondi slept through 27 years. He still thinks he is in the People’s Democracy of Hungary.

What is really frightening is the talk about “public security” and the defense of “social order.” At the moment Orbán and Company want to save the social order from Simicska and they have gone to war against him but, as László Seres pointed out in HVG today, “Who is interested in Simicska? This is a declaration of war. Against all of us, just for your information.” Indeed, whatever one thinks of Simicska, let’s not forget that what is happening to him can happen to any Hungarian.

A week of events organized by the Budapest Pride began last night

After the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling, many well-known personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook and Hillary Clinton on Twitter, displayed the rainbow flag to show their delight with the decision. This is how the resident of the White House showed his support for the American gay community.

white house

And in Hungary? Only about a month before the historic Supreme Court decision, Viktor Orbán announced that “Hungary is a tolerant nation” but that “tolerance … does not mean that we would apply the same rules for people whose life style is different from our own.” He expressed his gratitude to the Hungarian homosexual community “for not exhibiting the provocative behavior against which numerous European nations are struggling.” What exists now is “a peaceful, calm equilibrium” which should be maintained because otherwise anti-gay feelings will flare up.

The message was obvious: don’t rock the boat because there might be adverse consequences. Magyar Narancs summarized Orbán’s message well: “A Hungarian doesn’t harass anyone, unless he is forced to harass him in a tolerant manner with mercy in his heart.” In fact, Hungarian gays and lesbians suffer discrimination and harassment even without any “provocative behavior.”

So, let’s see how Fidesz politicians reacted to the news of the Supreme Court decision. The occasion was ignored by everyone except Máté Kocsis, mayor of District VIII of Budapest, and Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman. These two decided to cover their pictures on Facebook with the colors of the Hungarian flag.

kocsis-kovacs

What  kind of a message did these two want to convey? That a real Hungarian cannot be gay? Or, to flip the sentence and the emphasis, that gays cannot be truly Hungarian? Or, if I were feeling charitable, I might say that these two are just a bit confused. I doubt, however, that Kocsis is confused. Lately, he has been far too eager to prove to the world that talk of his alleged homosexuality is unfounded. As a result, he has sunk to the level of disgusting homophobia.

The only refreshing exception was the wife of Antal Rogán, the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, who decided to follow the example of many foreign celebrities and use the colors of the rainbow over her portrait on Facebook. The president of the Rainbow Mission Foundation immediately wrote her a letter and expressed the homosexual community’s appreciation of the gesture. She also extended an invitation to her and her husband, “if his schedule permits,” to the opening of the Budapest Pride Festival which took place yesterday. As far as I know, they didn’t attend.

We shouldn’t be surprised that homophobic skinheads and football hooligans take pleasure in taunting the mixed crowd of gays and their straight supporters at the annual parade along Andrássy Street when the mayor of Budapest, István Tarlós, doesn’t hide his antagonism toward the gay community. Only yesterday I wondered whether Viktor Orbán is really unaware of the fact that in better circles his racism and xenophobia are considered unacceptable and his behavior unbecoming, boorish, or much worse. In the case of István Tarlós there is no question: he is not at all ashamed that he is a homophobic boor. In fact, he advertises it. And yes, he is a boor.

On June 4 Tarlós was the guest on an early morning TV2 program called Mokka. Earlier Napi Gazdaság had reported that there was a possibility that the Budapest city council would move the Pride Parade from Andrássy Street to Budapesti Nagybani Piac, a wholesale marketplace almost 15 km away from Andrássy Street. So, the reporter wanted to know more about this alleged plan to move the Pride Parade to the outskirts of the city. Tarlós was happy to share his thoughts on the subject. Yes, he would like to move the parade somewhere else because “it is unworthy of the historic district of Andrássy Street.” In addition, he shared his “private opinion” that he finds the idea “unnatural” and gays “repulsive.” The brave reporter said not a word.

It seems that Tarlós is not familiar with the limits of the city council’s authority. Determining a demonstration’s location is not its job. Moreover, as TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued, a public official cannot state his “private opinion” when he appears on TV. He is the representative of the city council, and he represents every inhabitant of the city of Budapest. His public statements must be in accord with the constitution. TASZ pointed out that at the moment Tarlós cannot be held legally responsible because in the civil code “sexual orientation” is not among the qualities protected by law, like ethnic groups or people of religious communities. But perhaps, they added, such a provision should be added, especially since in Hungary there is never any political consequence of such inappropriate statements and actions.

The organizers of the Budapest Pride were outraged at the mayor’s words, and a few days later they answered the mayor by wrapping the tree trunks along Andrássy Street in rainbow colors.

szivarvany Andrassy ut

The cleaning crew most likely appeared on the scene as soon as Tarlós heard of the attempt to desecrate Andrássy Street, which in his opinion is so important to the history of the city that “repulsive” gays should not step on its pavement.

The gay community doesn’t have any backing from government circles, but twenty-five foreign embassies announced their support of Budapest Pride. I guess no one will be surprised to learn that, with the exception of Slovenia, no former socialist country is among the sponsors. I understand that several companies also offered financial help for the close to 100 cultural events planned for the next seven days. I suspect that most of them, if not all, are multinational companies.

Last night’s opening was a huge success. The very talented theater director Róbert Alföldi was the keynote speaker. A video of the event is available on YouTube:

I haven’t had time yet to watch the whole one-and-a-half hours of it, but I listened to part of a very amusing, witty speech by Zoltán Lakner, a professor of political science, whom I consider one of the keenest observers of the Hungarian political scene.

I understand that  a number of politicians from the democratic opposition were present: Gábor Fodor, Magyar Liberális Párt; Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP; Ágnes Kunhalmi and István Ujhelyi from MSZP; and Péter Juhász, vice-chairman of Együtt. Several foreign embassies were also represented.

I fear that next Saturday the gay community and their supporters will once again be harassed by Jobbik and Fidesz supporters. Should we be surprised when Fidesz politicians egg them on?

The first sign of opposition in the Fidesz parliamentary caucus: No compulsory urine tests

The furor over John McCain’s harsh words about Hungary’s “neo-fascist dictator” and his “illiberal state” hadn’t subsided when a new Hungarian bombshell exploded: Máté Kocsis, a two-bit district mayor in Budapest, had a great idea which he immediately made public on his Facebook page last Friday. Given the widespread use of drugs, it would be a good idea, he claimed, to introduce compulsory yearly drug tests for teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 as well as for elected politicians and journalists. Why politicians and journalists? Politicians’ decisions have a lasting impact on the citizens while journalists have the power to influence public opinion. He promised that he would suggest to the Fidesz parliamentary delegation that they discuss the idea and prepare a legislative proposal to this end.

From what we have learned about this latest brainstorm of Kocsis, it looks as if the idea did not originate with the mayor of District VIII (at least not in his role as mayor) but with Viktor Orbán’s communication staff. It was, it seems, part of a desperate effort to devise a strategy that could neutralize the growing public dissatisfaction with Viktor Orbán and his government.

Directly after the election Orbán talked about creating a “new communication team” headed by the chief communication adviser, Árpád Habony. I wrote about Habony earlier. He’s a shadowy figure with enormous influence within the party and the government but without an official title or an official salary. This new group apparently meets every Friday to discuss some of the issues that cropped up during the previous week. Máté Kocsis, who is no longer a member of parliament but besides being mayor of District VIII is communication director of Fidesz, is an ex officio member of the staff. So it’s no wonder, claim investigative journalists, that Kocsis’s bright idea was published on Facebook on Friday night.

Reports of this crazy idea spread like wildfire. The Associated Press immediately picked up the story. Scores of newspapers and television stations carried the news because journalists find such bizarre items outright delicious.

By now the general consensus is that, with this whacky idea, communication strategists were trying to divert the public’s attention from the corruption case of Ildikó Vida and five unnamed others. Apparently, Viktor Orbán himself thought that the idea of yearly drug tests was a capital idea and decided to support it. And of course we know from past experience that if the Hungarian prime minister supports something it will be law in no time. The members of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation will automatically vote for it even if some MPs consider the idea to be of dubious value and/or legally questionable. By Monday, the Fidesz parliamentary caucus decided with some major changes to consider the proposal.

The idea of mandating regular drug tests for politicians and journalists was dropped by the caucus because such a law would clearly be unconstitutional. Even the Fidesz-dominated fake “constitutional court” couldn’t close their eyes to such a law. As for children’s screening, the Fidesz legislators opted to support only voluntary tests initiated by the children themselves or by their parents. This is certainly nothing like what the “communication staff” cooked up last Friday.

I wonder how Viktor Orbán will react to this unheard-of “revolt” of the Fidesz caucus. After all, the Sunday closing of stores will most likely be approved unaltered although the Fidesz delegation was deeply split on the issue. But now it looks as if Fidesz MPs finally balked at orders from above. If I were Viktor Orbán I would ponder the significance of this earlier unimaginable event.

The way Népszava sees Máté Kocsis's proposition

The way Népszava sees Máté Kocsis’s proposition

But let’s go back to the Habony-led communication staff’s activities. It is rumored that leaking the U.S. decision to bar six Hungarian citizens from entering the United States because of charges of corruption was the idea of Árpád Habony. Again, naturally, with Viktor Orbán’s blessing. We who look at events from the outside think that this was a singularly bad idea that created serious tensions between the United States and Hungary. Ever since mid-October major newspapers all over the world have been talking about the Orbán government’s systemic corruption. The leak resulted in massive anti-corruption demonstrations which in turn added to the growing dissatisfaction with the government. A huge drop in popularity followed. In brief, most independent observers would consider this particular idea of Habony outright injurious to Viktor Orbán and his government. Yet not only has Habony not been fired; his position as chief communication adviser has been strengthened. Moreover, his advice about mandatory drug tests was heeded by the prime minister.

How can we explain this seeming contradiction? In my opinion only one way: Viktor Orbán still thinks that leaking the news of the American ban was a good idea. It was a clever communication ploy. Why? Because Hungary’s position in world affairs is a great deal less important to him than his domestic standing with the electorate. And obviously he must think that the contentious American-Hungarian relations actually work in his favor at home. Fidesz supporters who lately have become disenchanted will perhaps return to the flock because of hurt national pride. He thinks that the risk is worth the gamble. After all, it seems to be working in Russia.

So far so good, but there is the growing dissatisfaction of some members of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation as demonstrated during the “stormy debates” that accompanied discussions on the Sunday closing of stores and the compulsory yearly drug test. In yesterday’s debate on drug testing Viktor Orbán came out the loser. What will happen next?

Let me bring up something that might further demonstrate intra-party dissatisfaction with Fidesz directives coming from above. You will recall that the former Fidesz mayor of Ózd, a very poor town in northeastern Hungary, was so unpopular that the citizens went out in hordes to vote for the only electable opponent, a young Jobbik candidate, who was elected with a two-thirds majority. But in the city council Fidesz was in the majority. The members of the caucus were obviously instructed from above to follow the strategy of Fidesz in Esztergom where the Fidesz majority refused to cooperate with the independent mayor and as a result nothing whatsoever could be accomplished for four long years. Within a few days it became obvious that Ózd had become ungovernable due to the refusal of the Fidesz council members to cooperate. But this time some of the Fidesz city fathers revolted. Three of the eight decided to quit the Fidesz caucus and serve as independents. Fidesz’s majority collapsed. I think we can expect more such events to take place on the local level. A certain erosion has begun that will be very difficult to stop.

György Rubovszky, a Christian Democrat member of parliament and a most faithful supporter of the Orbán government, found the drug test proposal “legally indefensible.” But he also had a personal story that he shared with a journalist of Népszabadság. His twelve-year-old granddaughter phoned him crying bitterly. “Grandpa, I must leave this country because I am not willing to pee in front of strangers.” I must say Rubovszky, who is not my favorite, has a smart granddaughter. Válasz, a pro-government site, wrote yesterday that this latest idea of Fidesz is a sure way to lose all the first-time voters in 2018. Even the party faithful recognize that some of these maneuvers may backfire.

Meanwhile those opposing the proposal are busily collecting urine and leaving it in a large bottle outside the city hall of District VIII. One really wonders whether Viktor Orbán has lost his touch–or, as some might claim, whether he is touched.

The new Fidesz target: László Székely, Hungary’s ombudsman

In May I wrote a post about László Székely, the ombudsman newly appointed by the Orbán administration. In it I suggested that Székely’s appointment might have been a mistake on the part of Viktor Orbán. I noted that the prime minister had erred earlier in naming Máté Szabó as the new sole ombudsman. Szabó turned out to be a steadfast defender of human rights and the rule of law. I added that “it may happen again, but Viktor Orbán rarely makes mistakes on personnel choices.” Well, it did happen. Székely has been an independent ombudsman whose recommendations have rarely met with government approval. Now it seems that he may lose his job. Moreover, the case is an opportunity for a fresh attack against the Hungarian NGOs which receive Norwegian funds because the case involves TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, one of the recipients.

TASZ represents the Kék Pont Alapítvány (Blue Dot Foundation), which is involved in the prevention of drug abuse. It provides an ambulance service for drug addicts and serves as a drug consultation center. The Foundation also runs a number of centers where addicts can exchange their used needles for sterile ones. One of these centers is in District VIII, a rather seedy part of Pest. Máté Kocsis, the Fidesz mayor of the district, is a brash young man without much compassion for the downtrodden. His efforts “to clean up” the place usually employ inhumane methods. Recently he turned against Kék Pont’s needle exchange center. The staff was told that they have to stop their activities. TASZ, representing the foundation, appealed to the ombudsman’s office for a judgment last November. Their argument rested on the right to health. Used needles spread disease not only among drug users but also in the population at large. Moreover, TASZ stressed that needle exchange programs are recommended by the European Union. All in all, they had a strong case, and the ombudsman’s office agreed with them. The mayor, however, contended that the ombudsman’s office simply parroted TASZ’s arguments. He was also convinced that the ombudsman himself never read the verdict; he just signed his name to it.

How did we get to this stage? Well, it would be nice to know how Fidesz and its on-again-off-again mouthpiece, Magyar Nemzet, collude. Does Magyar Nemzet receive orders and documentation from Fidesz politicians or is it the other way around? I suspect that the former is the more likely scenario. My hunch is that Kocsis was infuriated by the recommendation of the ombudsman that he received on September 8. He managed to get hold of some e-mails from the ombudsman’s office that could be interpreted in a way that would serve the young mayor’s purpose. Magyar Nemzet is also not shy at presenting material it receives in a false light. Once the staff considers a story juicy and politically damaging it is ready to churn out one article or opinion piece after the other. That was definitely the case here. Since yesterday morning Magyar Nemzet published nine articles about the horrid collusion between László Székely’s office and TASZ. They seized the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: Székely did not turn out to be a willing tool and TASZ–well, it is one of those anti-government, anti-Hungarian NGOs.

The Fidesz steam roller / Source: ataszjelenti.blog.hu

The Fidesz steamroller / Source: ataszjelenti.blog.hu

It all started with a falsification of facts. The paper published a facsimile of an e-mail which was not an exchange between TASZ and one of the associates of the ombudsman’s office, as Magyar Nemzet intimated, but an internal memo between two officials in the ombudsman’s office. This e-mail, dated May 28, was an answer to a question from another official concerning the time of the decision’s release. The answer indicated that the text was more or less ready but that they would make an inquiry at the ministry and at the city hall of District VIII before its release. The appropriate officials will have 15 days to answer. Moreover, since both people will be on summer holidays, the decision can be released only after their return.

Immediately after the publication of this e-mail, Székely ordered an in-house investigation and found out within a couple of hours that it had nothing to do with TASZ.

Then came Magyar Nemzet’s second article, published after János Lázár had already announced that if the story about the e-mail was true, Székely must resign. From this second article it became clear that whoever lifted the documents from the ombudsman’s office had a number of e-mails concerning the Kék Pont case. This time the paper published an exchange between Péter Sárosi, the man who handled the case at TASZ, and Beáta Borza, one of the department heads in the ombudsman’s office. In his letter Sárosi inquired about the date of the release of the verdict because Kék Point already had a shortage of needles and in September they must close their doors. Moreover, he said, he himself will be going on vacation and he would like to be around when the decision is released. TASZ would like to make sure that the story gets into the media. The department head promised to talk to the lawyer who was handling the case and expressed her hope that they can help as far as the date is concerned. From that letter both Magyar Nemzet and Kocsis came to the conclusion that there was collusion between the two over when the document will become public. In his usual parlance Kocsis announced that “the drug lobby has already entrenched itself in the ombudsman’s office.”

This case is being taken extremely seriously in government circles. György Rubovszky (KDNP), chairman of the judicial committee, announced that on Monday László Székely must appear before them. It seems that Rubovszky has pretty much made up his mind. He released the following statement: “According to recent news, the office of the ombudsman, disregarding the expectation of its objective and independent inquiry, prejudicially cooperated with the organization that initiated the inquiry in the preparation of its content and the timing of its publication.” I don’t think Székely will be Hungary’s ombudsman for long.

European Police College in Budapest? Not likely at the moment

While Fidesz was trying to discredit its political opponents in a tiny electoral district of a small town in Hungary, another struggle was taking place in Strasbourg over Hungary’s right to be the new site of the European Police College or CEPOL. Most likely few people have ever heard of the institution, which is currently situated in Bramshill in the United Kingdom. The UK a few months ago decided not to continue to host the college, and thus the European Commission and the Union’s other institutions had to come up with another location in one of the member countries. While they were at it, the Commission made the recommendation that CEPOL and Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency with its headquarters in The Hague, should be merged. Europol has a big, modern building, and combining the two institutions would be more cost effective. It seems that many people in the European Parliament and elsewhere in other European institutions are not too keen on the idea of the merger, believing that the college should be a professional training ground and fearing that it might be politicized by this fusion.

European Police College, Bramshill, United Kingdom

European Police College, Bramshill, United Kingdom

And now enters Lithuania, whose prime minister and right-wing political leadership have a soft spot for Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. In December 2012, for example, when the Hungarian government was under considerable pressure from Brussels because of its less than democratic tendencies, the Lithuanian parliament issued a proclamation “defending” Hungary. The Hungarians were naturally most grateful and thanked the Lithuanian people and their politicians for their brave act.

What does Lithuania have to do with the fate of CEPOL? A lot. Lithuania currently holds the presidency of the European Union. You may recall that when Hungary had the post for six months in 2011 the ministerial councils of the member states held their regular meetings in Gödöllő in the former summer palace of the Hungarian royal couple. It is Vilnius that now chairs these meetings, and on October 7 when the council of the ministers of the interior met they agreed to the Lithuanian proposal that the new headquarters of CEPOL should be in Budapest.

It turned out that seven countries had submitted proposals, but Hungary was the only country from the relative newcomers. And there is an attempt in the European Union to distribute European institutions in such a manner that eventually there would be no great differences between the long-time members and the newcomers.

For a while the Hungarian government felt pretty certain that the deal was sealed. CEPOL will be in Hungary from 2014 on. But then came all sorts of unforeseen complications, the least of which, as it turned out, was Rui Tavares’s objection to the location as long as the Hungarian government leaves the European Parliament’s report on the country’s democratic inefficiencies unanswered. In Hungary an awful lot of time and energy was wasted on Tavares’s objection. On October 14, Máté Kocsis in parliament called attention to the “communist” Comrade Tavares’s machinations in the hope of preventing CEPOL headquarters from being located in Budapest. And while he was at it, he accused the Hungarian socialist members of the European parliament of treasonous behavior because he “suspected” that they were the real instigators. Of course, that was followed by some tit for tat from MSZP, which decided to sue Kocsis.

All that was just a lot of useless noise because two days later MTI reported that “nobody stood by Tavares” at the hearings of Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), one of the standing committees of the European Parliament. The report also added that even Kinga Göncz, one of the MSZP members of parliament, argued for the Budapest location. Magyar Nemzet was graphic. Their article, based on the MTI report, announced that “Tavares’s spectacular failure was something else!” But the problem with all this boasting about the great Hungarian victory at the hearing is that the issue didn’t hinge on Tavares’s objections. The situation is much more serious than that.

If one has the patience to listen to the forty-minute video of the hearing, it becomes clear that the procedure Lithuania adopted is most likely flawed. Moreover, despite what Kinga Gál (Fidesz) claimed at the hearing, the European Parliament has veto power over the decision. So does the European Commission. And it is clear that both the representatives of the Commission and the parliamentary rapporteur of the European Parliament are against moving CEPOL to Budapest.

The Commission still prefers the merger of CEPOL and Europol in The Hague, and the parliamentary rapporteur, the Spanish Agustin Diaz de Mera Garcia Consuegra, a member of the European People’s Party, expressed his opinion that the procedure adopted by Lithuania is unconstitutional and therefore most likely void. The European Parliament was not consulted as it should have been. Lithuania misread the constitution or misconstrued it  The whole affair is “pathetic,” he announced.

Another EPP member, the French Veronique Mathieu Houillon, who will be the rapporteur of the question, suggested taking a look at all seven applications which up till now the European parliamentary members didn’t have an opportunity to review. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 26 when perhaps a decision will be made.

So, that is the true story of the hearing of LIBE on Thursday. No great victory, at best a setback. Moreover, it is a distinct possibility that Budapest, after all, will not get CEPOL because neither the European Commission nor the representatives of the European Parliament are keen on the Budapest location. Also, keep in mind that both people who suggested reviewing the whole procedure are members of the conservative European People’s Party. Hungary will be the site of CEPOL only if both the Commission and the Parliament endorse its bid. From the tone of the discussion I wouldn’t be too optimistic if I were Viktor Orbán.

I also wonder how much damage Lithuania did to its own reputation and to the Hungarian cause in bypassing EU rules to support its ideological friend, Orbán’s Hungary. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Hungary asked Lithuania’s help in mending its relations with Armenia. It seems that the Lithuanians were ready to assist, but their efforts ended in a large embarrassment for both Lithuania and Hungary. There may also have been close cooperation between the two countries in the case of CEPOL’s headquarters. Given the tone of the hearings, such cooperation (if it existed) wasn’t a good idea.