Tag Archives: MDF

Conservative awakening in Hungary

About a year and a half ago I created a folder devoted to “internal divisions” within Fidesz. At that time there were a few signs of differences of opinion among the top Fidesz leaders, which to me signaled the possibility of a chink in the armor of this monolithic party. I was wrong. In no time Lázár, Kövér, Balog, and some others buried the hatchet–if there ever was such a thing as a hatchet in the first place.

This time there can be no question. An internal opposition has emerged, comprised of politicians who had once occupied important positions in Viktor Orbán’s governments. Even earlier, one had the distinct feeling that people like Foreign Minister János Martonyi, who served Viktor Orbán faithfully for eight years, István Stumpf, who served as Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office between 1998 and 2002 and since July 2010 as a Fidesz-appointed member of the Constitutional Court, and Tibor Navracsics, former head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation (2006-2010), minister of justice and administration, deputy prime minister (2010-2014), who was “exiled to Brussels” in November 2014 to become European commissioner in charge of education, culture, and youth, disapproved of Viktor Orbán’s growing shift to the right, his foreign policy, and his illiberalism. But there was little or no public display of their dissatisfaction. It now looks as if their concerns have become grave enough to overcome their reluctance to turn against the regime they so faithfully supported earlier.

About two weeks ago János Martonyi and István Stumpf delivered lectures at a conference organized by the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum, where  Martonyi took issue with Viktor Orbán’s attachment to “ethnic homogeneity.” In February of this year Viktor Orbán, in a lecture delivered at the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce, had talked quite openly about “safeguarding the ethnic homogeneity” of the country. Later, during his last trip to Poland, at the joint press conference with Prime Minister Beata Szydło, he repeated his vision for Europe and for Hungary that included references to ethnic homogeneity. Martonyi said he couldn’t reconcile Orbán’s concept of ethnically homogeneous nation states with the fact that three or four million Hungarians live outside the country’s present borders. Martonyi is right. Orbán’s ideological struggles with the European Union led him to an irreconcilable contradiction on this issue.

István Stump was even more outspoken. He criticized the limits the Orbán government placed on the competence of the constitutional court. He was specifically talking about the suspension of the court’s competency over economic matters, which he called “an open wound on the body of Hungarian constitutionalism.” He also complained about the practice of retroactive legislation, which “in the long run, eliminates the maneuverability of future governments.”

Then there is Tibor Navracsics, who said that “the Soros Plan is not part of the European Commission’s agenda.” That upset Zsolt Semjén, KDNP deputy prime minister, mightily. In a radio interview he declared that Tibor Navracsics, as a European commissioner, knows that “his colleagues, his surroundings, people as well as organizations, are not only in the hands of George Soros, but also in his pocket.” Semjén accused Navracsics of disloyalty and called on him to decide where his real allegiance lies: with his own country or with the international community. Navracsics didn’t seem to be intimidated and called Semjén’s reaction “hysteria” which leads to wrong political decisions. Semjén’s attacks on Navracsics, however, continue unabated. Only today one could read that Navracsics’s denial of the Soros Plan is being used by the opposition “as a knife in the back of the government.”

One of the harshest critics of the Orbán government is Géza Jeszenszky, minister of foreign affairs in the government of József Antall (1990-1994), who during the first Orbán government (1998-2002) continued his political activities as ambassador to the United States. In 2011 he was named ambassador to Norway and Iceland. In October 2014 he resigned because he disagreed with the government’s attack on the Norway Fund, which achieved nothing and ruined the relations between Norway and Hungary for some time. Jeszenszky is no friend of George Soros who, in his opinion, was “an unfair adversary of the Antall government,” but he finds the anti-Soros campaign “shameful.” He believes that Orbán’s “aggressive” foreign policy is wrong and his pro-Russian orientation dangerous. He gives many interviews in which he doesn’t hide his true feelings about the Orbán government. He even expressed his willingness to help the opposition parties with his advice and support. Naturally, Jeszenszky’s criticisms couldn’t be left unanswered. Tamás Deutsch, a Fidesz member of the European Parliament, described Jeszenszky as being “in a state of political dementia.” Magyar Idők was brief and to the point: “Whoever is (was) Géza Jeszenszky, he should be ashamed of himself.”

Meanwhile, more and more former politicians and professionals who used to work for the Antall and earlier Fidesz governments are ready to join the efforts of the opposition to dislodge the present government. Tamás Mellár, a conservative economist at the University of Pécs who used to work for the Fidesz think tank Századvég, announced his intention to run as an independent candidate for parliament if all the opposition parties would support him. Given the disastrous Fidesz administration in the city, I have no doubt that Mellár could easily win one of the two parliamentary seats from Pécs.

Some of the disenchanted conservatives: Attila Chikán, László Sólyom, and Péter Ákos Bod / Source: Magyar Nemzet

Péter Ákos Bod, minister of industry and trade in the Antall government (1990-1991) and later chairman of the Hungarian National Bank (1991-1994), has been a severe critic of the Orbán government for a couple of years. By now he is openly talking about the need to remove Viktor Orbán from power because he fears economic disaster if the present government prevails. In order to appreciate the significance of Bod’s present stance, one should keep in mind that in 2006, when Viktor Orbán was desperate because he realized that his party might lose the election again, he offered the post of prime minister to Bod between the first and second rounds of election in the hope of reversing the trend. So, Bod’s presence at an LMP event where Bernadett Szél announced the party’s cooperation with a small, right-of-center party called Új Kezdet (New beginning) established by György Gémesi, mayor of Gödöllő since 1994, is significant. It shows Bod’s total disillusionment with Viktor Orbán and his regime. György Gémesi’s decision to work together with LMP is also noteworthy. Gémesi was once an important MDF leader.

Analysts have been saying for years that the Orbán regime cannot be removed only by the left-of-center parties. Disappointed Fidesz voters who most likely would never vote for MSZP or DK must have their place in the sun. The awakening of these conservatives might be the harbinger of a new, truly right-of-center political formation that could help stop those far-right forces that Fidesz let loose on the country.

October 25, 2017

The Lakitelek foundation and Russian cultural penetration in Hungary

In early May I wrote a piece titled “Sándor Lezsák’s fiefdom in Lakitelek came to an abrupt end.” The occasion was a by-election held in this large village where the Fidesz leadership suffered a severe blow. The solid Fidesz majority on the Lakitelek town council simply evaporated. The event received national attention because Lakitelek is Sándor Lezsák’s Felcsút.

Sándor Lezsák is best known as the man in whose backyard the Magyar Demokrata Fórum, a right-of-center political party that won the first democratic election after the fall of communism, was born. Lezsák was a teacher at the time in the Lakitelek elementary school. Although he is often described as a minor poet on the basis of two slim volumes of poetry published in 1983 and 1988, he seems to have given up his literary ambitions. On the other hand, ever since 1987 he has been active in politics, first as a member of MDF and later, after his expulsion from the party, in Fidesz. Today Lezsák is one of the deputy speakers of the Hungarian parliament.

While Viktor Orbán’s Felcsút has become the football capital of Hungary, Lakitelek is best known for the Lakitelek Népfőiskola Alapítvány, a private foundation established by Lezsák and his wife for the edification of those who would like to immerse themselves in the eastern traditions of the Hungarian past. This “people’s college” has adopted a decidedly right-wing ideology and a pro-eastern cultural and political orientation. Lezsák’s foundation receives a great deal less public money than does Orbán’s Puskás Academy. Still, according to some estimates, Lakitelek Népfőiskola will have received about 12 billion forints in public funds by 2020. Year after year buildings are added to the complex, which by now looks more like a wellness center than a college for poor country folks, as the founders of such institutions originally imagined them.

Lakitelek is in the news again. It looks as if the Nemzeti Művelődési Intézet (NMI), a public institution with a yearly budget of 1.3 billion forints, will be “inherited” by Sándor Lezsák’s foundation. Thus, a publicly funded institution will be moving to the grounds of a private foundation. NMI’s headquarters are currently in Budapest, but a new building will be erected in Lakitelek. The staff will have to relocate. If, that is, they want to move to a village on the Great Plains about 100 km from Budapest.

In January János Lázár announced, in the name of reducing the size of the bureaucracy and cost cutting, the closing or merger of 73 so-called background institutions attached to ministries. NMI, which was established only in 2013, was destined to be eliminated. But then, as usual, all sorts of interest groups tried to save the institution, which has a nationwide network and whose main function is cultural and educational improvements, especially in smaller, disadvantaged communities.

In Hungarian universities a student can choose a major that trains people to become professional educators outside of the formal educational network. Perhaps one could call them adult educators. The subject is also described as andragogy, which, according to dictionary.com means “the methods or techniques used to teach adults.” Ever since the 1950s almost all villages have had “a house of culture” (kultúrház) where movies, theatrical performances, and other cultural activities could be held. Now it seems that the government wants to replace this network with 500 “people’s colleges” following the Lakitelek model. Accordingly, a June 13 government decree abolished NMI and declared that its functions will be taken over by the Lakitelek Népfőiskola Alapítvány.

This change is another decision that will fundamentally change cultural and education activities outside of schools. Until now NMI’s cultural activities were on a professional footing, but in the hands of the far-right Sándor Lezsák, who is a devotee of Turanism (which is described as a “pseudoscientific, nationalist political and cultural movement which proclaims an ethnic cultural unity for disparate people who are supposed to have a common ancestral origin in Central Asia”), they will be vehicles of state ideology.

And that’s not all. Péter Pető of Népszabadság called attention today to the fact that Lezsák is also honorary president of the Tolsztoj Társaság (Tolstoy Association), which was established on May 12, 2011. Those of you who know either Hungarian or Russian should take a look at their website. MVM, the state-owned Hungarian Power Company, is the supporter of the organization. That support must be quite substantial judging from the number of trips members or students of Slovak-Hungarian or Hungarian high schools make to Russia. The board includes such men as T. Gyula Máté, the son of Gyula Thürmer, chairman of Munkáspárt, the minuscule communist party of Hungary. He is best known for his viciously anti-American opinion pieces in Magyar Hírlap. Gábor Stier, a pro-Russian foreign affairs editor of Magyar Nemzet, is also a board member. Pető correctly points out that Lezsák is not only infatuated with Hungarians’ Turanian origin but is also an advocate of closer relations between Hungary and Russia. Over the years he has invited to Lakitelek such government officials as Ernő Keskeny, today Hungarian ambassador in Kiev and the alleged architect of Viktor Orbán’s Russia policy, Aleksandr Tolkach, former Russian ambassador to Hungary, and the infamous Szilárd Kiss, the Hungarian wheeler and dealer in Moscow.

Unveiling Lev Tolstoy's bust in Városliget, October 16, 2013 / MTI / Photo Zoltán Máthé

Unveiling Lev Tolstoy’s bust in Városliget, October 16, 2013. Lezsák is on the right. MTI / Photo by Zoltán Máthé

According to Lóránt Győri, an analyst at Political Capital, “what we see in Lakitelek and in the Tolsztoj Társaság is the result of Russia’s attempt with the means of ‘soft power’ to gain influence in Central and Western Europe.” As is well known, Russia generously supports far-right political organizations, but “there is another form of influence gathering, the ‘Lakitelek model,’ which is trying to influence people indirectly through pro-Russian socialization in the fields of culture and education.” Such influence, especially now that Lezsák will have MNI’s cultural network at his disposal, “might create a pro-Russian young intellectual elite who later in key positions can be useful in the ideological war of the Kremlin.” It sounds pretty scary.

August 8, 2016

Sándor Lezsák’s fiefdom in Lakitelek came to an abrupt end

Yesterday several by-elections were held, with mixed results. Here I will concentrate on the election held in Lakitelek, a large village about 30 km from Kecskemét.

Before 1987 few people had ever heard of Lakitelek. But in September 1987 Sándor Lezsák, a minor poet, offered the backyard of his house in the village for the first gathering of anti-communist forces. There they established the Magyar Demokrata Fórum (MDF). The vast majority of the people who attended this meeting belonged to the Hungarian equivalent of the German Völkisch or the Russian narodnik movement.

Sándor Lezsák, a typical representative of the narodnik (népies) Hungarian literary tradition, has since drifted far to the right. By 2004 he was expelled from MDF, along with some other like-minded politicians. In no time they joined Fidesz as members of a political group they named Nemzeti Fórum.

Lezsák is a great supporter of Turanism, a nationalistic ideology that believes that the Hungarian people migrated from the steppes of Central Asia. A couple of years ago he was the honorary president of Kurultaj, a tribal meeting of Turanian people. A private initiative five or six years ago, this annual event is now sponsored by the Hungarian government and aided by generous grants.

The Hungarian narodniks were always keen on educating talented peasant boys and girls. After 1945 they established so-called people’s colleges, which were forced to close after the 1948 communist takeover. A few years ago Lezsák and his wife established a foundation and began building a people’s college (népfőiskola) of their own. On four hectares the Lezsáks have been erecting an ambitious complex, naturally with generous government grants. In 2015 the Orbán government gave the Lakitelek Népfőiskola 2.3 billion forints. In 2014 the income of the college was 445.7 million, of which 343 million came from the ministry of human resources.

As you can see from the plans, Lakitelek is Lezsák’s Felcsút. When the campus is completed, the college will have a swimming pool, tennis courts, a guest house, café, restaurant, print shop (with a separate building for its publications), gallery, mini golf course, chapel, horse stable, “national statue park,” and, rounding things out in appropriate fashion, yurtas. Classes in Azeri, Bashkir, Belarus, Georgian, Kazakh, Kirgiz, Tatar, Turkmen, Uyghur, and Uzbek are already offered. How much the students will learn in 32 hours of instruction I have no idea, but I have my doubts about the usefulness of Lezsák’s educational methods.

Plans for Sándor Lezsák's very own people's college in Lakitelek

Plans for Sándor Lezsák’s very own people’s college in Lakitelek

Lezsák has been running the show in Lakitelek ever since 1990. In fact, the local internet site is called Lakitelek Lezsák-falva, meaning “the village of Lezsák” where nothing happens without his say so. In the past, the majority of the town council and the mayor were all members of Lezsák’s Nemzeti Fórum, a party with a status similar to that of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Party. It has eight members in parliament within the Fidesz parliamentary caucus. In 2014, however, an unheard-of event took place. A Nemzeti Fórum candidate for mayor lost the election to an independent, Mrs. Anita Kiss-Zoboki. Her margin was slight. Moreover, in the town council Fidesz-NF members remained in the majority. Although Kiss-Zoboki was most accommodating, Lezsák and his men refused to work with her. In fact, when the new mayor asked for an appointment with the great man, he refused to meet with her for six solid months. The situation in Lakitelek began to resemble the one that developed in Esztergom after 2010 when its independent mayor ended up with a totally uncooperative city council with a Fidesz majority. Just like in Esztergom, the Fidesz-NF majority refused to work with the new mayor until, at the end of January, the Fidesz-NF deputy mayor suggested the dissolution of the council and new elections. He sure made a mistake.

First of all, this time 61% of eligible voters cast ballots, as opposed to 45% in 2014. In the October 2014 election Anita Kiss-Zoboki got 867 votes as opposed to her opponent’s 795, a difference of 72 votes. Yesterday she received 1,377 votes; her Fidesz-NF opponent, 827. In the six-member council formed in 2014 there were four Fidesz-NF affiliated members and only two independents. Today all six council members are independents belonging to Kiss-Zoboki’s team. That’s called a rout.

The village is described as politically divided, and therefore articles in local papers that appeared before the election predicted a close contest. The Fidesz-NF leadership in town seemed to be worried because apparently the party’s local supporters distributed phony leaflets trying to tie the independent candidate to Ferenc Gyurcsány. On the leaflets one could see a picture of Anita Kiss-Zoboki with the colors of DK in the background. The ads claimed that if she wins the election the whole town will be full of migrants and same-sex marriages will be allowed.

According to Hírösvény, an internet news site serving Kecskemét and environs, such a huge win was totally unexpected because other left-leaning opposition parties are not at all represented in Lakitelek. Clearly, the people of Lakitelek had had enough of the local politicos acting like medieval barons. The people also realized that voting for a non-Fidesz mayor but allowing a Fidesz-ruled council doesn’t work. The result is a non-functioning local government. And so, while the people of Lakitelek were at it, they got rid of the whole bunch.

May 9, 2016

What went wrong in 1990?

This year we celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the birth of Hungarian democracy after fifty years of Soviet domination. To mark the occasion a number of books, articles, and reminiscences will be published. Several interviews with people politically active in those days have already appeared.

These new studies and memoirs will complement books that have already been published dealing with the two or three years preceding the opening of parliament on May 2, 1990. Of course, there are at least two narratives of the same story, but I consider Zoltán Ripp’s Rendszerváltás Magyarországon, 1987-1990 (Budapest, 2006) a book that will have a significant impact on the public assessment of these events for a long time to come. Ripp, as a good historian should, tried to give a balanced view, yet it was obvious that his sympathies lay with those people who later formed the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ). I’m unaware of a comparable work written from the point of view of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), although I just read that Imre Kónya, who later became minister of the interior in the Boross government (December 13, 1993-July 14, 1994), is in the process of writing his reminiscences of the period. Of course, the memoirs of a politician, however valuable, cannot be compared to a scholarly work with thousands of footnotes.

Two biographies of József Antall, the first prime minister of the post-communist era, appeared earlier. The first, Antall József távolról (József Antall from Afar), was written by Sándor Révész, a journalist at Népszabadság. It was published in 1996, three years after Antall’s death, not enough time for a balanced assessment. In 2006 József Debreczeni came out with A miniszterelnök (The Prime Minister), which suffers from Debreczeni’s undisguised admiration for Antall.

To understand the political situation twenty-five years ago it is important to recall the results of the elections of 1990 which took place on March 25 and April 8. Considering that it was the first free election after so many years, voter turnout was relatively low: 65%. MDF received 24.7%, SZDSZ 21.4%, the Smallholders 11.7%, MSZP 10.9%, Fidesz 8.9%, and the Christian Democrats 6.4%. MDF couldn’t form a government alone. Eventually, Antall opted for a coalition of MDF, the Smallholders, and the Christian Democrats. The opposition, all from the left of center, were the liberal SZDSZ (93 seats) and Fidesz (21 seats) in addition to MSZP (33 seats). A “grand coalition” of MDF and SZDSZ was out of the question for Antall and other important MDF leaders.

Although it is fashionable on the right to blame SZDSZ for the very sharp divide between the two political groupings, it was not a one-way street. A hatred of SZDSZ was widely shared in MDF political circles. The above-mentioned Imre Kónya published a short article in Magyar Nemzet a few days ago in which he recalls a conversation with Antall during the coalition negotiations. The future prime minister told Kónya that he didn’t want to govern with the liberals because “once they establish themselves in some of the ministries not even God Almighty will be able to get rid of them.” Yet, given the Hungarian constitutional set-up, Antall was forced to come to an arrangement with SZDSZ to ensure the relative stability of his government.

Today some critics, even former members of MDF like Károly Herényi, think that Antall made a huge mistake when he decided to form a coalition of three parties, all from the right. The problems facing the country were so great and the road ahead so difficult that a “grand coalition” would have been the only sensible move. Such an arrangement would have spread the responsibility for the very unpopular measures that lay ahead. And common governing may have blunted the sharp differences between the two groups.

Ever since 2010 there have been signs of a softening of the opposition’s very negative opinion of József Antall. Those who criticized him for years now think much more highly of the former prime minister. This is not surprising after five years of Viktor Orbán. Most people stress the fact that, despite all his faults, he was a steadfast supporter of parliamentary democracy, which is more than one can say about the current holder of the office.

And yet, although MDF could certainly have made a worse choice, Antall’s background and his immersion in Hungarian history didn’t prepare him to lead a new Hungary. This may sound odd coming from a historian, but let me explain what I mean. Normally, one would think that being well versed in history ought to be an asset for a politician. Yes, but not when the history of the country offers no viable models for a democratic future. Moreover, Antall by upbringing brought along the thinking of the “keresztény úriosztály” who were the main supporters of the Horthy regime. What do we mean by “keresztény úriosztály”? Another difficult term to translate. It was a group of upper middle class people, often of gentry background. The majority were Catholics, and many of them were either civil servants or were employed by the municipalities. József Antall, Sr. belonged to this class and held high civil service positions during the Horthy era. József, Jr. naturally attended a Catholic school, the famous Piarist gymnasium in Budapest. Throughout his youth he was steeped in that culture.

Source: www.piarist.hu

József Antall with István Jelenits, Piarist theologian and writer / Source: www.piarist.hu

With this background came a heightened nationalist fervor, which was an important ingredient of post-Trianon Hungary. Imre Kónya in an interview recently explained that what made him an opponent of the Kádár regime was not only the lack of democracy and freedom but also the want of nationalism. Although he sympathized with the fierce anti-communism of SZDSZ, it was the MDF leaders’ nationalism that induced him to join the party. After all, Antall was the one who announced that in spirit he wants to be the prime minister of 15 million Hungarians, which raised quite a few eyebrows. This nationalism has been the hallmark of the Hungarian right ever since. Unfortunately, in today’s world this nationalism can lead only to isolation and conflict.

The other day I talked about RMDSZ, the Hungarian ethnic political party in Romania. I mentioned its former chairman, Béla Markó, who just yesterday published a remarkable opinion piece in Népszabadság. He was talking about May 9, Europe-Day. He concluded his piece with these words: “Today we celebrate that day [May 9] as Europe Day, when the idea of European cooperation proved to be more important than the delusions of nation states because in a common Europe nations can breathe more freely than they can being locked up in their own hubris. I don’t know whether this will happen or not. But it should happen this way.” An indictment of both Hungarian and Romanian nationalism.

The plight of a Hungarian whistleblower

It was a month ago that András Horváth, a former employee of NAV (Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal/National Office of Taxation and Customs), turned to the prosecutor’s office to report a breach of fiduciary duties committed by the top management of this 23,000-employee office. He claimed that large-scale cheating goes on with fictitious VAT reimbursement payments, especially in the case of large commodity distributors and food chains, both multinational and domestic. The figures Horváth was talking about are staggering. He estimates the loss of revenue at 1.7 trillion forints a year.

Since then András Horváth has been in the news constantly. There has been hardly a day that he wasn’t in the electronic media, and thousands of articles have appeared about what is called the NAV scandal. Some people predicted that this affair might bring down the Orbán government, which I very much doubt. These guys are far too foxy to trip over such a “trifling” item as a 1.7 trillion forint fraud.

On November 19 I reported about the affair in as much detail as was available at the time. Predictably, since then politics entered the fray. The first party that offered assistance to Horváth was András Schiffer’s LMP. Schiffer is a lawyer who made sure that Horváth had good legal counsel. At the same time LMP began an effort to get the 78 signatures necessary to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate Horváth’s allegations. MSZP and DK were reluctant to join forces with Jobbik in calling for the committee, which I think was a mistake. I understand that the overwhelming majority of DK’s membership shared my opinion. Well, by the end they managed to get the 78 signatures without current Jobbik members, but Fidesz boycotted a hearing that was supposed to question Horváth on the details. Later Fidesz thwarted the opposition’s effort to set up the committee, claiming  that the existence of such a committee is illegal when a criminal investigation is already underway. I don’t want to delve into the legal complexities of the issue, but legal experts claim that Fidesz as usual was not exactly on the up and up on this issue. Moreover, as it turned out, Horváth was never informed of the investigation launched against him, and his report to the prosecutor’s office on the wrongdoings of the management of NAV wasn’t followed up with any investigation.

Meanwhile direct evidence was mounting that underscored Horváth’s claims. Economic Minister Mihály Varga, under whose ministry NAV operates, admitted in response to a question posed to him by a couple of LMP MPs that NAV investigated only the distributors, not the food chains themselves. This is exactly what Horváth was talking about.

For two years Horváth tried to call attention to the wholesale tax fraud at NAV. He approached several top Fidesz politicians. For example, Antal Rogán and János Lázár. I don’t know why he didn’t go to the Ministry of National Economy where Gábor Orbán, no relation to Viktor, is the undersecretary in charge of taxes and finance in general. Perhaps he had his reasons, although yesterday he said that it wasn’t the government that put pressure on NAV but influential businessmen, oligarchs as he called them.

Yesterday was no ordinary day for the poor Hungarian whistleblower. Out of the blue, at 7:30 a.m., four detectives arrived at Horváth’s apartment and took his famous green dossier, which he carried everywhere he went, claiming that all the information he has is in that folder. For good measure they also took the hard drive from his computer as well as his notebook with the names and telephone numbers of journalists, politicians, and lawyers with whom he has been in contact lately. The sudden and apparently illegal raid reminded people of the surprise visits from the state security authorities during the Rákosi period. They usually arrived at the crack of dawn to arrest people. Everybody agrees that the aim of yesterday’s raid was intimidation. Indeed, Horváth seemed to be genuinely shaken last night when he talked to Olga Kálmán of ATV, although he promised to fight on.

Source: cherispeak.wordpress.com

Source: cherispeak.wordpress.com

It was during during his encounter with the detectives that Horváth learned that a charge had been filed against him: breach of confidentiality. Considering that up to this point Horváth didn’t divulge any details about those companies which were, according to him, purposefully not investigated, it is really questionable whether this charge can be maintained. Later it also became clear that NAV already on December 11 filed a police report against Horváth with the Emergency Police’s National Detective Section, not only in connection with the breach of confidentiality but also with the abrogation of fiduciary duties. They only neglected to inform András Horváth of the charges against him.

A right-wing blog gleefully announced that Horváth might receive a three-year jail term. On the other hand, TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent  of the American Civil Liberties Union, alongside other groups active in the defense of the law like Transparency International, considers the police search most likely illegal. Whistleblowers have appropriate protection in Hungary. According to a 2009 law (Law  CLXIII, Act 21 § (5) “filing for breach of confidentiality cannot be applied unless it was done in bad faith .” That is, if it turns out that Horváth made malicious and unfounded charges. But first his charges must be investigated.

Others rightly compared the case to the UD Zrt. scandal in which the victim, Ibolya Dávid, president of Magyar Demokrata Fórum, a since defunct right-of-center party, ended up being the accused. UD Zrt., most likely at the behest of Fidesz, spied on her and on her party. That was in 2008. By the summer of 2009 she was a defendant, and as of today she still hasn’t been able to clear her name in court. Only recently, after she and her co-defendant Károly Herényi were acquitted, a judge ordered that the whole procedure be started again from the very beginning. Viktor Orbán doesn’t forget easily. He blamed her for his defeat in 2006 when she refused to go along with a joint Fidesz-MDF ticket. But Dávid knew what she was doing. Her experience in a Fidesz-MDF-Smallholders coalition when she was minister of justice taught her a thing or two about how Orbán deals with those whom he needs to acquire power and how he subsequently ruins them.

Viktor Orbán naturally has been fairly quiet on the subject of the possible tax fraud at NAV.  He spent the last two days in Brussels. During the press conference after the meetings he was asked about the scandal. He made no mention of the search and seizure at Horváth’s apartment yesterday morning. Instead he explained why “the state machinery hasn’t moved yet.” He would like “to have answers to three simple questions: who committed what and when.” Can you imagine what would have happened to Horváth if he had obliged and answered these questions? Surely, given how the Hungarian system works, by now he would be in pre-trial detention.

József Antall twenty years later

I happened to be in Hungary on the day József Antall, Hungary’s first prime minister after the regime change, was buried. Just to give you a sense of how little I knew about Hungarian affairs in those days, I wasn’t even aware that Antall had died. I also had no idea how much he and his government were disliked, nay hated, in Hungary. Naturally I didn’t realize how difficult the transition was from the so-called socialist system to a market economy and what it meant to millions of Hungarians–high unemployment, very high inflation, spreading poverty, and, as I later learned, a fairly incompetent government.

Antall was right when he told the members of his cabinet that they had joined a kamikaze government. He realized, at least in the early days of his administration, that no government, regardless of how well prepared its members were, could remain popular under the circumstances. And since the members of the Antall government had absolutely no political and administrative experience, their performance was less than sterling.

Antall JozsefAlthough today, twenty years after Antall’s death, politicians from right to left praise Antall as a great statesman, in his day he was sharply criticized for being a man of the past.

Two important biographies of Antall have appeared since his death. The first, published in 1995, is by Sándor Révész, a liberal journalist and writer. The second was written by József Debreczeni, an MDF member of parliament during Antall’s tenure as prime minister. He is an admirer of Antall. From the two books two entirely József Antalls emerge. Révész’s Antall is a typical member of what in Hungarian is called the “keresztény úri osztály,” a social group that’s difficult to define precisely. Members of this group were normally Catholics, their ancestors came mostly from the lower gentry, and their fathers and grandfathers (having lost their land) served as government bureaucrats. Since their livehood depended on government, they were loyal to the Horthy regime. Indeed, that was the Antall family’s background as well. Debreczeni’s Antall is a man characterized by utter devotion to democratic principles and parliamentarism and devoid of any nostalgia for the Horthy regime, for which he was blamed by the left.

I remember watching the funeral of the prime minister on television among relatives who all hated Antall and his government. I was struck by the pomp and circumstance of the event and could hardly get over the uniforms and caps of the young men surrounding the coffin, which I must admit I found ridiculous. They had an unfortunate resemblance to costumes out of a Lehár or Kálmán operetta. Indeed, one could sense a conscious effort to return to the former “days of glory.”

Critics of Antall charged that he not only knew nothing about economics but that he wasn’t even interested in it. Fine points of the Hungarian parliamentarian tradition were more his thing. They pointed out that he was long winded and that during his speeches he often lost his train of thought. I was told that he was an arrogant and aloof man who couldn’t identify with the man on the street. That may be the case. I certainly didn’t have the opportunity to decide on my own. In fact, the first time I heard Antall speak at some length was yesterday when I listened to a speech of his from 1990 which was never delivered because MTV, then led by a close friend of Antall, refused to air it. He considered it to be a campaign speech and therefore inappropriate just before the municipal elections. MTV’s refusal to air the speech in turn began the so-called media war between the government and the mostly liberal media, which ended with the decimation of the staff of MTV and MR.

Here are my first impressions. I don’t think that Antall was as ignorant of economics as his critics maintained. In the first fifteen minutes of his speech he was able to explain quite cogently why Hungary was having economic difficulties. There was nothing wrong with his explanation. The second fifteen minutes, however, was something else. I came to the conclusion that, despite all the claims about Antall’s high sense of democracy, he had no clue about the true nature of democracy. Or, even if he knew it theoretically, he was unable to translate it into political practice. The second half of his speech was devoted to criticizing the opposition for behaving as an opposition. To his mind, instead of criticizing his government the opposition should help him along in his quest to get Hungary out of trouble.

Indeed, the country was in big trouble and Antall’s party, MDF (Magyar Demokrata Fórum), although it received the most votes, didn’t have an absolute majority to form a government on its own. Antall turned to József Torgyán’s Smallholders and the Christian Democrats; with these two parties came some people whose devotion to democracy could be seriously questioned. Given the enormous tasks facing the government, the best solution would have been a grand coalition between the two largest parties, MDF and SZDSZ (Szabad Demokraták Szövetsége), an idea that was bandied about in 1990. It would have made a lot of sense to share the burden and the unpopularity, which was bound to follow the change of regime. But Antall refused to contemplate such a coalition because he considered SZDSZ not a liberal but a center-left party.

Viktor Orbán has always paid lip service to the greatness of József Antall and has tried to intimate that he is the politician Antall himself wanted to be his successor. Indeed, there is at least one common feature shared by these two men. Antall as well as Orbán considered the opposition traitors because they were critical of their government’s policies. I found a short note in Beszélő from which I learned that József Antall at one of the yearly meetings of Hungarian ambassadors viewed criticism of his foreign policy, especially Hungary’s relations with the Soviet Union and the neighboring countries, as “treason.” From the article I also learned that Antall frequently used modal verbs. In this case he said: “I could even say it is treason.” Well, it seems that Antall had somewhat similar verbal tricks to the ones the present prime  minister of Hungary employs far too often.

This afternoon Géza Jeszenszky, Antall’s foreign minister, was a guest of György Bolgár on Klubrádió. Jeszenszky was not only a member of his cabinet but also the husband of Antall’s niece. Naturally, Jeszenszky thinks very highly of the former prime minister and, although he admitted that as a historian he shouldn’t ponder “what if” questions, of course he did. He announced that if Antall hadn’t gotten sick shortly after he became prime minister MDF wouldn’t have lost so massively in 1994. He is also certain that Gyula Horn would never have become prime minister of Hungary if Antall hadn’t died. It seems to me that Hungarian political life, as viewed from the plush office in the foreign ministry, was very different from what I encountered on the streets in 1993. The Antall government’s fate was already sealed in the second half of 1990. And the great electoral victory of MSZP was a foregone conclusion by the middle of December 1993.

The factious Hungarian opposition

Yesterday by 11 a.m. it became clear that there was no chance of an electoral alliance between the socialists and the representatives of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Perhaps there never was because, although Attila Mesterházy only a few hours before this final meeting gave a 50-50 chance of reaching an understanding, I suspect that the decision had already been reached to reject the DK proposals.

Shortly before the meeting Mesterházy claimed that his party hadn’t formulated its position on Ferenc Gyurcsány’s participation in the campaign and his advocacy of a common party list. However, most of the DK demands eventually put forth had been known for at least a week, and I assume that the socialist leadership was fully aware that Gyurcsány’s person would be on the agenda in one way or the other.

As it turned out, DK had seven demands: (1) there should be joint MSZP-DK candidates; (2) the number of districts should be based on the principle of proportionality; (3) DK should receive nine districts, three of which should be winnable, three hopeless, and three uncertain; (4) on the list a DK candidate should occupy every eighth place, again on the basis of proportionality; (5) the person of the candidate should be decided by each party; (6) MSZP should receive the first and DK the second place on the list although if MSZP doesn’t accept this DK is ready to consider their counter-proposal;  (7) DK’s top place on the list should go to the chairman of DK. So, DK was not adamant about the second place but certainly wanted Gyurcsány to be on the best DK place whichever that would be.

MSZP wasn’t in a negotiating mood. Their demands reminded me of Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia in 1914, which was formulated in such a way that the Monarchy knew that there was no way Serbia could accept it. MSZP offered four districts to DK, none of which was winnable. Instead of every eighth place on the list, MSZP was only willing to place a DK candidate in every twenty-fifth. According to electoral mathematics, the largest number of seats the opposition can win from the list is fifty, which would mean that only one or two DK candidates would receive mandates. In addition, DK couldn’t represent its own political ideas and would have to follow the MSZP-Együtt14 line. MSZP didn’t want anything to do with Gyurcsány and, when pressed, it turned out that they also didn’t want to see Ágnes Vadai, Csaba Molnár, or László Varju anywhere near the campaign. (In addition to Gyurcsány these three people represent DK in the Hungarian media.) MSZP would have veto power over any candidate put forth by DK but DK wouldn’t have the same veto power over the MSZP candidates. This was unacceptable to the DK negotiating team.

If you recall, MSZP in January was the prime proponent of joint action with all democratic parties and groups while Együtt 2014 was stepping back from close cooperation with MSZP. They were undoubtedly afraid that Attila Mesterházy was planning to seize the opportunity to lead the future coalition. E14 decided to postpone further negotiations in the hope of gathering more support. Precious months were wasted in what turned out to be a futile effort. So, came the compromise agreement of no common list but common candidates. Some politically savvy people consider the agreement a very good idea while others view it as a failure and an indication of weakness and discord.

Együtt 2014 with its 6% of the electorate came out the real winner with 31 districts. MSZP didn’t fare as well (75 districts), especially since it was the socialists’ burden to reach an understanding with the other smaller parties. Of the three parties only DK has measurable support. We are talking about 100,000-150,000 voters for DK while MSZP has about 1.2 million. If we look only at these numbers DK’s demands sound reasonable. The real aim of the opposition, however, is to convince the large block of undecided voters. We don’t know the party preferences of about 40% of the electorate. The opposition parties’ real goal is to attract this large group to their ranks.

And here the socialists and E14 are convinced that if they embrace Ferenc Gyurcsány and DK they will attract fewer people from the ranks of the undecided. József Tóbiás in an interview yesterday disclosed that the party had conducted a poll that was designed to measure the effect of cooperation between MSZP and DK. The poll revealed to the party leadership that they would lose more votes with Gyurcsány than they would gain. This finding lay behind their decision. If this poll correctly measures the effect of a joint MSZP-DK ticket, then MSZP’s decision was logical. Of course, we know how a wrongly formulated question can distort the results.

Naturally this poll reflects only the current situation. One doesn’t know how MSZP’s rather abrupt negative attitude toward the other parties and groups will affect MSZP’s standing or the electorate’s attitude toward DK. It is possible that they will consider MSZP too high-handed and uncompromising and DK an underdog. They may think that MSZP is not serious about unity, not resolute enough in its determination to unseat Viktor Orbán and Fidesz.

opinion pollOne could also ask MSZP whether the poll inquired about those possible voters who under no circumstances would vote for MSZP, because apparently they are also numerous. What about those who think of E14 as a party with no well defined political agenda? Only yesterday Szabolcs Kerék Bárczy, the last spokesman of Ibolya Dávid’s MDF, complained about Együtt 2014’s lack of political coherence. He pointed out that although E14’s avowed aim is to attract liberal conservatives, there is not one conservative in its ranks. Moreover, how can these people be attracted to a group whose members often applaud Orbán’s nationalization or who make statements against free markets and competition? Kerék Bárczy is thinking here of some people in the PM group with their decidedly leftist views of the world. Liberal conservatives, he says, will not vote for either E14 or MSZP. Because it looks as if MSZP is going to make a sharp turn to the left since some party leaders claim that MSZP’s failure stemmed from its move toward liberalism under Ferenc Gyurcsány’s chairmanship.

Kerék Bárczy doesn’t understand why MSZP nine months before the elections suddenly stiffened its attitude and refused to negotiate with anyone. He puts forward the question: what will happen if the poll numbers change as a result of these failed negotiations and a serious attempt by DK to attract more followers? What will E14 and MSZP do? Renegotiate their agreement? It will be difficult to change course without losing face.