Tag Archives: Nézőpont Intézet

The polling game: think tanks in the service of the Hungarian government

A few days ago Index received secret polling data that the Orbán government had ordered from Nézőpont Intézet, one of the two “think tanks” it relies on for information. (The other one is Századvég.) Since it was only yesterday that we talked about Fidesz’s heavy reliance on public opinion polls as a basis for policy decisions, the responsibility of these think tanks is enormous. Their results can make or break the government. If studies are improperly framed or if wrong conclusions are drawn, the government in its currently fragile state could make unpopular decisions and become dangerously vulnerable.

It is for this reason that many of us have wondered in the past about the efficacy of polls produced by Nézőpont and Századvég, whose results, in comparison to the other four or five pollsters, are always way off. Well, now that Nézőpont’s poll on the public’s reaction to amendments to the constitution and the Orbán government’s educational policies is no longer a secret, we understand how the commissioned polling game is played. The modus operandi of at least some of the hundreds of analysts who work at these two institutions can be compared to that of tax evaders who keep two sets of books. They prepare one study for the government that reflects the real state of affairs. Part of that study is then adjusted to take into account political expediencies and released to the unsuspecting public.

A perfect example of this kind of dirty game is the February study ordered from Nézőpont. The Fidesz government wanted to know what the public thought about the two important questions I mentioned above: educational policies and amendments to the constitution in the event of a threat of terrorism. Of course, that information was not shared with the public. Only from a poll by Medián did the public learn that 71% of the population consider the teachers’ demands justified. With a different set of questions Nézőpont arrived at similar results, which indicated that only 33% of the population think that the “educational reforms” have achieved “positive results.” With the exception of introducing daily gym, Hungarians think that the teachers’ dissatisfaction is legitimate and their demands reasonable.

think tank

How much did the public learn about the results of this wide-ranging poll conducted by Nezőpont? Not much. On February 24 Nézőpont released its findings with this headline: “Fidesz-KDNP is securely in the lead: The opposition parties haven’t profited from the teachers’ demonstration.” Századvég came out with the same results. Nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the last few months, Fidesz’s popularity is still soaring.

Other, well-respected pollsters came to different conclusions. Medián’s results were the most dramatic: they measured a 6% drop in support of Fidesz among active voters. Even more importantly, opposition parties gained voters. Publicus Intézet also came to the same conclusion. Fidesz gained considerably before December 2015 but since then has been steadily losing voters. According to their calculations, only 23% of the total population would vote for Fidesz today.

This downward slide is almost inevitable in light of public opinion on education. It is doubly so when we learn from this secret poll that Hungarians were not fooled by the Orbán rhetoric of a terrorist threat. Only 17% of them fully agree that amendments to the constitution are necessary. All in all, the population is divided on the issue. Slightly more (44%) oppose the amendments than support them (42%). Given this split, the decision was made to drop the idea.

But now that Orbán “adopted Brussels’ terror threat,” he decided to try to push through his proposed legislation. The rationale is that “thanks” to the terrorist attacks in Belgium, those who were opposed to the amendments back in February might have changed their minds. It is very possible that Nézőpont is already busily compiling its latest poll to guide the government’s strategy. We don’t know whether public opinion has changed on the subject since the events in Brussels, but the opposition leaders haven’t wavered. They are still united on the issue: no opposition party can ever vote for amendments that will result in what amounts to martial law.

Finally, here is a good example of how government client polling firms try to influence public opinion. We know from two very different sources (Nézőpont and Medián) that Hungarian public opinion is solidly behind the teachers. Yet Századvég about a week ago came out with its findings, which was summarized in the headline as “The majority of Hungarians don’t support the demonstration of the teachers.” Do they cheat outright or do they formulate their questions in such a way as to achieve certain desired results? The answer is most likely the latter.

So, let’s see how these pollsters go about their “task.” Századvég wanted to know what Hungarians think of the quality of education and came to the conclusion that “the Hungarian adult population is divided” on the issue. Forty-one percent think that it is “közepes,” a grade of C, and only 34% would give it an F, while 23% percent think that it is good (B) or excellent (A). Even Századvég felt that it had to say that “the majority thinks that there is plenty to change in the system.” But, according to Századvég, the overwhelming majority of the population “disapproves of the methods by which [the teachers] want to push through these changes.”

It is at this point that Századvég’s analysis becomes murky. It looks as if Századvég researchers reached the above conclusion based on answers to a question concerning the participants’ approval or disapproval of the decision of some parents to keep their children home as a sign of support for the teachers. This seems to me to be intentionally misleading because this particular issue was quite controversial at the time. A lot of people, although they wholeheartedly support the teachers’ demands, were against or ambivalent about involving students, especially small children, in the struggle of the teachers. A negative answer to this one question cannot be generalized to an overall disapproval of the “methods” the teachers employ.

Another misleading question dealt with the negotiations. As Századvég put it: “The percentage of those (78%) who think that results can be obtained only at the negotiating table and not on the streets greatly outweighed the 21% who believe that only demonstrations and ultimatums can achieve results.” The false dichotomy here is, I think, obvious at first glance. Everybody knows, including the teachers, that results can be achieved only at the bargaining table, but it is also clear that without pressure the government will either not negotiate or, if it does, it will do so on its own terms.

These kinds of misleading questions and conclusions are the daily fare of these polling clients of the Orbán government. This is especially so when they add that “these results tally with what László Palkovics and János Lázár said: that difficult technical questions cannot be discussed on the streets.” The conclusion? The government’s position perfectly reflects public opinion. Perfect harmony exists between the government and the governed. That’s why “think tanks” like Nézőpont and Századvég are at their core propaganda instruments of the Orbán government. Moreover, both are described as money laundering vehicles into which billions are poured from taxpayer money.

March 27, 2016

Shifts in Hungarian party politics

While Viktor Orbán is fighting for his cause in Brussels, I think it’s time to pay some attention to domestic politics. The refugee crisis and Viktor Orbán’s popular reaction to it resulted in a spectacular growth of potential Fidesz voters. Jobbik, on the other hand, lost one-third of its support between September and November. These are some of the findings of the latest opinion poll by Nézőpont Intézet, a pro-government think tank. Earlier polls by others show similar trends.

Nézőpont attributes the decline of Jobbik to Gábor Vona’s decision to tone down the anti-Semitic and anti-Roma rhetoric, but I  see this development in a different light. To put it simply: former Fidesz voters who abandoned their party during the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015 to join the more radical Jobbik returned to the party after Fidesz’s own radicalization. As support for Fidesz grew, Jobbik’s support decreased. Those who consider this development, allegedly marginalizing the far right, to be a great accomplishment on the part of Viktor Orbán should think twice. A more radical Fidesz is not one whit better than an only slightly more radical Jobbik. In fact, a far-right party in power is a great deal more dangerous than a far-right party in opposition.

There is some movement on the left, where the big loser seems to be MSZP. For example, according to Nézőpont, only 9% would vote for MSZP while 7% would vote for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s DK.  Tárki a month earlier reported an even lower number for MSZP and a much lower figure for DK, 7% and 4% respectively.

There are several possible reasons for this loss. The chairman of the party, József Tóbiás, is not at all popular among MSZP supporters, and even in the party’s leadership there are several important people who are dissatisfied with his performance. It is becoming obvious that the young Turks who were put forward by former party chairman Attila Mesterházy are incapable of breathing life into the ailing MSZP. The unfortunate remark of the former chairman of the party, István Hiller, that he doesn’t like the fence “but show me something better,” most likely also cost some support from people who are convinced that there can be no “compromise” with Orbán.

Among the questions Nézőpont Intézet put to the respondents was the following: “According to you, who is the leader of the left opposition?” The possible answers were: (1) Ferenc Gyurcsány (DK), (2) József Tóbiás (MSZP), (3) Attila Mesterházy (MSZP), (4) Someone else, (5) There is no such person, (6) Doesn’t know/doesn’t answer. Gyurcsány came out the winner both in the population as a whole (18% as opposed to 5% for Tóbiás) and among left sympathizers (33% versus 4%). Of course, name recognition was probably a significant factor.

Tóbiás’s position is anything but secure, and many observers predicted that there would be a palace revolt at the MSZP congress held this weekend. The tensions, however, were cleverly dissipated, and all the conflicts remain under the surface. But no one should be fooled by this superficial calm. I have the feeling that this is not the end of the story. Nor, unless something dramatic happens, is it the end of the slide of MSZP toward oblivion.

Believe it or not this is the new logo of MSZP

Believe it or not, this is the new logo of MSZP

Most likely these developments in MSZP inspired Ferenc Gyurcsány to announce that “DK is making preparations to form a government as leader of the democratic opposition in 2018 at the latest.” That  is a definite departure from DK’s earlier strategy. In the past, Gyurcsány indicated that he would be happy with a 10% share of the votes. DK would be a smallish party, perhaps a junior partner in a coalition government or an opposition party of some weight. But now Gyurcsány thinks that he can seize the initiative and gather the opposition forces around his own person and party.

Right now there is no one else in any of the democratic opposition parties who could take on Viktor Orbán. But whether Gyurcsány could prevail is not so clear. Critics point to his tainted reputation, for which he himself is, at least in part, responsible. There are too many people, they argue, ordinary voters as well as politicians, for whom Gyurcsány is anathema, someone who would in fact be an obstacle to gathering the troops on the left. And there are those who basically like the man but who think that, although he is a good politician, he was a bad prime minister.

In the last two or three years Gyurcsány has been the most vocal proponent of an electoral coalition of sorts since, given the new electoral law, small parties running on their own can only lead to certain defeat for all of them. In the last few months he most likely came to the conclusion that none of the other parties can possibly head such a unified front and therefore he will have to try to gather all the forces on the left. He must think that he can rally MSZP party members and voters behind him.

There are an awful lot of “ifs” here, but I guess one cannot lose much by giving Gyurcsány a chance since there is no viable alternative at the moment. Given the Hungarian people’s political views and frame of mind right now, however, I don’t know how well Gyurcsány’s liberal message would resonate. I have my doubts. But, as we know, public opinion can turn on a dime. In 2008 80% of the people voted against co-payments for doctor and hospital visits. Today almost 80% say they would gladly pay if that would improve the quality of healthcare. The 2008 referendum killed Ferenc Gyurcsány’s reforms and led directly to his resignation a year later. Voters are fickle.

MSZP and the Hungarian bid to host the Olympics in 2024

A new poll was published today, this time by the Nézőpont Intézet. It reaffirmed an earlier poll showing that Fidesz’s popularity is on the rise again, most likely due to the government’s misleading propaganda about the asylum seekers. The parties of the democratic opposition haven’t gained any new followers. The only surprise in the poll was that among potential voters MSZP and DK are neck to neck.

Of course, Nézőpont is not known for its political neutrality and therefore its results are suspect, but this time I wouldn’t be at all surprised if its finding that only 12% of potential voters support MSZP was accurate. The party is in disarray and the incompetence of its leadership is staggering.

By way of illustration, today I’m going to look at MSZP’s position on the Hungarian bid to host the 2024 Olympic Games.

It was just question of time: the idea of a Hungarian Olympics was bound to resurface. In 2001-2002 the first Orbán government eagerly supported the idea. A considerable amount of money was spent on feasibility studies, which naturally confirmed that nothing stood in the way of holding the games in Hungary. Luckily, Viktor Orbán lost the 2002 election, and with his defeat the idea died.

After Orbán’s victory in 2010, when the Fidesz leadership claimed that the country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and that its economy was comparable to that of Greece, even the sports-crazed prime minister knew better than to float the idea of hosting the Olympic Games again. But as soon as there was one good year, which saw a growth rate of 3.6%, Orbán moved into action. A so-called non-political group, the Budapest Olympic Movement, was formed to promote the economic benefits of such an event. The people in this group all have ties to the government party. The president of the group is Attila Szalay-Berzeviczy, an economist and avid sportsman, whose great grandfather was the founder and the first president of the Hungarian Olympic Committee between 1895 and 1904. Szalay-Berzeviczy played a similar role in the 2001-2002 attempt to bring the Olympics to Hungary.

Unfortunately, most people have mighty little knowledge of the cost of hosting an Olympics. And their national pride swells at the very thought of being in the international spotlight for a couple of weeks. I suspect that the majority of the people, if asked, would support the idea.

Olympics 2024

Since most of the events would take place in Budapest, the city council had to vote on whether they would stand behind the games. Given the composition of the city council, it was not surprising that the final vote was 25 to 1 with one abstention. Antal Csárdi, the single LMP member of the council, voted against it, while DK’s Erzsébet Gy. Nagy abstained. That meant that the MSZP members of the council and Gergely Karácsony, the sole PM mayor in Budapest, voted with Fidesz for the Olympics. I heard Csaba Horváth’s feeble explanation of his decision, in which he called attention to the long overdue infrastructure projects that the games would bring to the capital. I haven’t seen Karácsony anywhere since.

Most people who consider the whole idea suicidal could barely recover from their surprise that MSZP would lend its name to the project. But in the next few days the number of MSZP politicians supporting Orbán’s megalomaniac idea multiplied. László Botka, MSZP mayor of Szeged, opted to follow the lead of the Budapest socialist leaders who by then included Ágnes Kunhalmi, the Budapest chairman. I used to think highly of Kunhalmi, until I heard her say that “the concept of a profitable Olympics is not well known” because the government hasn’t publicized it. A profitable Olympics? Surely, Kunhalmi didn’t spend any time reading up on the subject. The truth is that even a cursory look at economic analyses of the Olympic Games shows that, with one possible exception, they were losing propositions.

At this point, most people figured that MSZP would support the government party and vote for the bill in parliament to empower the country to proceed with its application. But then came the bombshell. Zoltán Gőgös, deputy chairman of the party, announced that the socialists would refuse to support the bill. Total chaos. Obviously, party discipline is not a socialist strength. Even members of the top leadership don’t seem to talk to each other before they speak publicly or vote on issues. When Gőgös was asked by György Bolgár how such a situation could possibly develop, Gőgös’s only answer was that no decision was made by the leadership until the issue reached parliament. Again, a feeble answer to a botched up affair. How can such a party possibly compete against a disciplined Orbán-led Fidesz?

I have neither time nor space to reproduce the government’s propaganda list of the benefits of holding the games in Hungary. But no matter what the government argues, the reality is that Olympic Games are not money-makers. Even Szalay-Berzeviczy is hard pressed to come up with an economically profitable Olympics. The one exception may be the 2012 London Olympics. Common wisdom holds that the games boosted the UK economy by £9.9bn, but not everybody agrees with this assessment. Sports economist Stefan Szymanski said that coming up with exact figures is “almost like a bit of creative accounting.” Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Resarch, said that attributing the economic growth to the Olympics was “a little far-fetched to say the least.”

The New York Times published an article titled “Does Hosting the Olympics Actually Pay Off?” The answer is no. According to the article, “there is strikingly little evidence that such events increase tourism or draw new investment. Spending lavishly on a short-lived event is, economically speaking, a dubious long-term strategy. Stadiums, which cost a lot and produce minimal economic benefits, are a particularly lousy line of business. (This is why they are usually built by taxpayers rather than by corporations.)”  The author quotes an economist who has studied the impact of sporting events, who said: “the bottom line is every time we’ve looked–dozens of scholars, dozens of times–we find no real change in economic activity.”

Another article’s author asks, “Do the Olympic Games generate profits?” And the answer: “No. Unfortunately, they do not.” And who said that? Robert Barney, head of the International Center for Olympic Studies. According to him, “no city has profited in the long run from its hosting role in a purely bottom-line sense.”

Nonetheless, there are at least three MSZP members of parliament who feel so strongly about the issue that they received exemptions from voting against the bill: Ágnes Kunhalmi, László Varga (Miskolc), and Sándor Szabó (Szeged). I wish they would spend a little time learning about the economics of the Olympic Games.

Potpourri: shifting public mood, protest vote, continued attack on the U.S.

Well, in the two days I spent in Switzerland (alas, virtually), a lot of things happened in Hungary. Since I found it difficult to choose a single topic, today’s post will be somewhat scattershot.

Yesterday we got the first public opinion poll since the unrest caused initially by the planned introduction of an internet tax and later by the corruption cases that surfaced at NAV. The frustration vented at the three large demonstrations that took place over the past two weeks went far beyond these issues, however. The participants seemed to have had enough of the whole political system that Viktor Orbán has been systematically building since 2010.

Of course, we will have to wait for a few more polling results to know whether Nézőpont Intézet, a pro-Fidesz company, is correct in its assessment. A few years ago they were utterly unreliable, but recently their results have been quite accurate. So, what’s the word? It looks as if Fidesz has lost some of its supporters. As Gábor Török, a political scientist who is famous for being noncommittal, noted on his Facebook page, this is the first time since June 2012 that Fidesz’s support in the adult population dropped below 30%. Just between October 14-17 and November 3-7 Fidesz lost 3%, about a tenth of its supporters. Most opposition parties had gains, including Jobbik and DK. MSZP by contrast seems to be in worse shape than before. Among eligible voters the socialists are at 7% while their arch rival, the Demokratikus Koalíció, is at 6%. MSZP’s situation is even worse when it comes to “potential voters,” i.e. people who indicate that they would go and vote if elections were held next Sunday. Here DK would garner 11% of the votes while MSZP would get only 9%. DK doubled its support in the last few months while the socialists are working hard at obliterating themselves. The graph below clearly shows clearly the trends in the last four and a half years.

Source Origo / Nézőpont Intézet

Source Origo / Nézőpont Intézet

Talking about parties, Jobbik had a huge success in Ózd, a kind of Hungarian Detroit, except that Ózd in the socialist period became a center of iron smelting. After the change of regime the coke works became less profitable and many folks lost their jobs. The people of Ózd were victims of the Kádár regime’s forced industrialization that in the new competitive environment was bound to fail.

Ózd was a solidly socialist city until 2010, when Pál Fürjes (Fidesz-KDNP) was elected mayor and the city council had 9 Fidesz members out of 14. MSZP had to be satisfied with one lone seat. The desperate inhabitants of the town undoubtedly hoped that a Fidesz administration would be able the reverse the city’s downward spiral. They were disappointed. Nothing changed. In addition, people noticed with dismay that the new Fidesz administration was “arrogant, condescending and corrupt.” The locals could hardly wait to get rid of Fürjes and his friends. The DK-MSZP candidate was new with little political experience and since Jobbik was strong in town, even the DK-MSZP supporters saw little chance of winning against Fürjes. And indeed, a 27-year-old Jobbik candidate of Polish origin, Dávid Janiczak, won with a margin of 66 votes.

But no Fidesz candidate can stomach defeat after having been in office for a while. In several places losers insisted on annulling the results. In two Budapest districts their efforts failed, but in the case of Ózd, where the case went all the way to the Debrecen Appellate Court, a new election had to be held. As you will see from the results, the people of Ózd revolted. One woman told Népszabadság that in October she did not bother to vote because her feet hurt but this time she would have crawled on all fours to vote for Fürjes’s opponent. The inhabitants found Fürjes’s behavior unacceptable and wanted to “punish him.” Well, they did. First of all, they went out to vote in record numbers. While in October only 10,927 people voted, in November the number was 15,982. While in October Janiczak received 4,214 votes, in November he more than doubled that result, with 10,299 votes. Fürjes got only a few dozen extra votes. The most remarkable aspect of the Ózd situation is that while the DK-MSZP candidate in October received 2,238 votes, in November he got only 520. Even people on the left were so determined that the Fidesz mayor not be reelected that they voted for the Jobbik candidate who had a real chance. In brief, it was a protest vote.

Anyone who would like portray the Ózd results as the beginning of an era of Jobbik dominance in Hungarian politics is wrong. This was a unique situation that was created by the usual Fidesz insatiability. Fidesz politicians cannot bear losing. Moreover, they have the feeling that the whole country should be theirs. They are not satisfied until every hamlet, every position everywhere is in their hands.

Fidesz likes to frighten the West with the specter of Jobbik. The usual mantra is: “Don’t criticize the present government and Fidesz because we are the guarantee that the far-right Jobbik will not swallow up the whole country.” This time too a so-called political scientist of the by now notorious Századvég foundation wrote in his blog: “Telegram to America: Ózd.” In plain English, “Goodfriend et al., get off your high horses. You bother about such trifling matters as corruption at the tax authority when we are the bulwark that holds back the far right. You see what you did? The Jobbik revolt in Ózd resulted from your high-handed behavior.” Of course, this is all nonsense. The people of Ózd said that they had had enough of  both MSZP and Fidesz. Let’s see what Jobbik can do. Not all these voters hold  far-right views and not all are racists. They are just fed up. As for how much the Jobbik mayor will be able to achieve, I fear not much even if he is a talented politician with full of good intentions. In the council there is still a solid Fidesz majority, and we know what Fidesz politicians do in such cases. We saw four years of struggle in Esztergom between a Fidesz-majority council and an independent mayor who defeated the Fidesz candidate in 2006. In District XV, where a DK man won this year, the Fidesz majority has already boycotted council meetings, preventing the election of deputy mayors. They will try their best to prevent the DK mayor from actually running the district. Most likely something like that will also happen in Ózd. The last thing that poor city needs.

Finally, the Orbán government’s attacks on the United States continue. In fact, the volume has been turned up somewhat. According to Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, M. André Goodfriend, U.S. chargé d’affaires in Budapest, is “not a truthful man” (nem szavahihető). Even the honey-tongued Zoltán Kovács, one of the many government spokesmen, couldn’t quite manage to explain today that “not truthful” means anything other than “not truthful.”

Then there is the parliamentary committee on national security whose Fidesz majority decided last week to ask André Goodfriend to appear before them. The MSZP chairman had such serious doubts about the advisability of such a move that he refused to extend the “invitation.” Well, the deputy chair, Szilárd Németh, the one I described as a perfect candidate for a bouncer in a shady part of town, decided to go ahead anyway.

But the funniest part of the American-Hungarian tug-of-war was Ildikó Vida’s visit to the U.S. Embassy yesterday. Vida, head of the Hungarian tax authority, is one of the six Hungarians who cannot enter the United States because of their possible involvement in corrupt practices in connection with American firms doing business in Hungary. Vida, accompanied by her lawyer and a reporter and cameraman from HírTV, showed up at the U.S. Embassy unannounced and uninvited. It just happened that Goodfriend was going out for a walk when he was accosted by Vida and her lawyer. The encounter is the object of great hilarity on the internet, especially since Hungarians learned that the almighty head of the tax authority does not know a word of English.

I'm saying it slowly so even Ildikó Vida would understand it: cheers

I’m saying it slowly so even Ildikó Vida would understand it: cheers

In any case, eventually Vida and her lawyer had a fairly lengthy discussion with Goodfriend, during which Vida failed to learn anything new. Afterwards, she said that she considers the chargé totally ignorant of the details of her arduous work uncovering tax corruption. She also announced that she will force the issue by applying for a visa to the United States. Today Vida’s lawyer, Barnabás Futó, who is described as “the Fidesz-mafia’s well-known lawyer,” claimed on Olga Kálmán’s Egyenes beszéd (ATV) that “the American chargé informed him that he had received documents from András Horváth,” the whistleblower who first called attention to the highly irregular practices at NAV. Horváth, who was watching the program, immediately phoned in and announced that he had never met André Goodfriend. After this, however, he said he will have to meet the American diplomat in person to find out what transpired in his meeting with Vida and her lawyer. Perhaps the reason for the misunderstanding was Vida’s and Futó’s lack of language skills.

MSZP’s campaign kickoff: Mesterházy in the limelight

As promised, I am returning to the large socialist gathering in the László Papp Sport Arena where, according to those who were present, all seats were filled. What you have to keep in mind is that most of the attendees are the core of the MSZP activists. Their job is to organize the campaign on the local level. My friends who attended the gathering were duly impressed by MSZP’s ability to mobilize so many people. They were struck by the enthusiasm and determination that seemed to have gripped these activists.

The people who reported to me about their impressions are not MSZP activists. They are members of a small group of outsiders who were invited because of their political roles in earlier times. Therefore, their  enthusiasm reflects a genuine satisfaction with Attila Mesterházy’s performance and MSZP’s organizational ability. They considered the event “professional.” From what I saw of it on video, I detected a lot of American influence. Although some reporters made fun of the “log cabin” video introducing Attila Mesterházy, I thought that it was well done and most likely effective. After all, people know relatively little about him.

According to one of my eyewitnesses, the introductory speeches covered practically all the topics. He was worried that Mesterházy would not be able to add much to them. He didn’t have to fear. Although Mesterházy’s speech was a little too long, it was well structured. First, he gave a succinct assessment of the last four years in which he covered all the major topics dealing with the workings of the mafia state. Second, he outlined his ideas about the future after the election. It was practically an outline of a government program which first and foremost will concentrate on strengthening the trust of foreign politicians and investors in the new Hungarian government. He promised to stop the kind of legislative practice that was introduced by the Orbán government. He pledged a more just social policy, a better quality of life, strengthening the middle classes, and greater mobility. The basis on which all of that can be achieved is a sound educational policy. Last but not least he talked about the need for the restoration of the rule of law. He added that some people don’t seem to realize the importance of a democratic state, but without a strong democratic structure there cannot be real freedom and real prosperity.

Source: news.yahoo.com

Source: news.yahoo.com

Mesterházy promised to take strong action against extremists and extremism, and he insisted that all the illegal and shady affairs of the Orbán government will be investigated and persons found guilty will be punished.

At the end of the speech Mesterházy walked over to Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gábor Fodor and shook hands with them. At this point came a standing ovation which showed, in my opinion, that it wasn’t only DK supporters who demanded joint action on October 23 but MSZP followers as well. Another sign of satisfaction with the new unity was the enthusiastic reception Gábor Kuncze received. All in all, it seems that supporters have no problem with the new coalition.

But now let’s look at how some reporters saw the event. András Pethő of Origo noted that until now only Fidesz called the MSZP politicians communists, but now MSZP leaders are returning the favor. For example, Mesterházy referred to Viktor Orbán as Bolseviktor. Actually, the communist label fits Fidesz better than it does the socialists. Hungarian socialists are not the ones who nationalize everything in sight. He also noticed that in Mesterházy’s MSZP there are entirely new faces and the great old ones were no longer sitting in the front row. On the other hand, Origo’s reporter found Mesterházy’s speech old-fashioned and far too long. Index‘s reporter was still preoccupied with Gyurcsány’s role in the campaign. He kept asking the participants to guess how many votes he will bring and how many people he will deter. Otherwise, the reporter for some strange reason decided that “Mesterházy’s weapon against Orbán will be Paks.”

The relatively new Internet site, 444.hu, was its usual flippant self. It started its coverage with: “Someone should think twice before voting for Attila Mesterházy because if he becomes the prime minister, his ‘state of the country’ speeches will be very long. This is the most important message of MSZP’s meeting Saturday.” And what follows was no better. The whole article is depressing with its supercilious and, let’s face it, stupid remarks. And then some people are surprised that the Hungarian public is full of cynical characters for whom nothing is important or sacred.

The assessment I enjoyed most was that of Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, director of Nézőpont Institute, which is an indirectly Fidesz financed think tank and polling company. He tried to be “scientific” and talked about Mesterházy’s “tactical mistakes.” One of them was that he invited Zoran Milanović, the social democratic prime minister of Croatia, to attend and to speak at the meeting. After all, Croatia has its differences with Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, who is being sought by Croatian prosecutors on bribery charges. According to Mráz, Hungarian public opinion is solidly behind Hernádi and therefore inviting Milanović was a mistake.

According to Mráz, Mesterházy should be more cautious and shouldn’t talk so openly about himself as the next prime minister of Hungary. He should be more modest because, if he loses the election, he will be responsible for the defeat. Mráz finds Mesterházy’s claim that the socialist government’s economic affairs were in order in the spring of 2010 “incomprehensible.” With this statement Mesterházy “included himself among the failed left-wing politicians.”

While one of my sources specifically mentioned all the friendly gestures Mesterházy made toward Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gábor Fodor, Mráz, following some of the reporters’ mistaken information, claims that Mesterházy never mentioned Gyurcsány’s name and “looked through him.” Clearly, these media servants of Fidesz are trying to sow dissent in the newly unified opposition, but I don’t think that they will succeed. Only yesterday Ferenc Gyurcsány advised his fellow politicians not to react to every accusation Fidesz comes up with. The best thing is ignore them. Mráz closed his analysis with these words: “Mesterházy with the campaign opening that was designed for him risked a lot. His predecessors, who may well be his successors, acknowledged all that with visibly mixed feelings.”

A friend of mine told me that he thinks most people underestimate Mesterházy’s political acumen. Let’s hope he is right.

The growing influence of the Catholic Church in Hungary

A few days ago I wrote about Ágoston Sámuel Mráz’s Nézőpont Intézet which, among other things,  tries to refute foreign newspapers’ descriptions of Hungary under Viktor Orbán. I mentioned that Nézőpont really takes offense if someone accuses the Hungarian government of trying to rehabilitate the Horthy regime. Well, I wonder what will happen if one of these antagonistic foreign journalists finds out what Sándor Lezsák, one of the deputy speakers of the House, had to say in Kenderes on the twentieth anniversary of the reburial of Miklós Horthy. Lezsák expressed his wish that a new research institute be established in Kenderes in which all the documentation relating to the Horthy family would be gathered and where young historians could become acquainted with the true history of the Horthy regime.

The rehabilitation of the Horthy regime goes on in practically all facets of life. For example, what’s going on in the field of education is also reminiscent of the pre-1945-46 period when the overwhelming majority of schools, especially gymnasiums, were in the hands of the churches. There were some Hungarian Reformed and Lutheran schools but not too many for the simple reason that these churches were not as rich as the Hungarian Catholic Church. It could easily happen that even in a larger provincial city children wanting to attend gymnasium had to enroll in the Catholic school because there was no public school in town. It seems that, if it depended on Rózsa Hoffmann, very soon a similar situation will occur in “Christian” Hungary.

Rózsa Hoffmann wasn’t always that devoted to the service of God and the Catholic Church, but sometime after the regime change she saw the light. Nowadays she acts as the instrument of the Hungarian Catholic Church, her goal being “to educate more and  more children in the Christian faith.” Therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that the pious undersecretary for public education gave one of her many speeches marking the beginning of the new school year in the Basilica of Eger. I wouldn’t be surprised if soon enough all public school children were herded into one of the nearby Catholic churches for Veni Sancte as I was in grade one. Quite an experience for someone who hadn’t seen the inside of a church, any church, until then.

medieval school

Hoffmann is working assiduously to achieve this goal. She was rapturous over the growing number of parochial schools and expressed her hope that soon enough Christian education will begin in kindergarten. It’s never too early to start, and since all children from here on must attend kindergarten from the age of three we can be sure that if the government decides on universal Christian education it will be done. After all, the school system is totally centralized. In fact, terribly overcentralized. While she was at it, Hoffmann proudly announced that 52% of first graders opted for religion over ethics. It is now compulsory to take one or the other.

Many Hungarians are a great deal less enthusiastic about this transformation of secular public education, especially since Hoffmann’s missionary work is being paid for by the Hungarian taxpayers who are not necessarily Christians, or even believers. Because one cannot emphasize enough that this expansion of the parochial school system is financed exclusively by the central budget. At least in the Horthy regime the Catholic Church and parents footed the bill.  A somewhat radical critique of the Orbán government’s support of the Catholic Church can be found on one of the well known Hungarian blogs, Gépnarancs, whose name is a take-off on Fidesz’s official color, orange, and Lajos Simicska’s Közgép, considered to be the financial lynch pin of the Orbán system.

It is not only the Catholic Church that has been acquiring schools. Just lately I read about three schools that had been taken over by Kolping International, a lay organization whose members allegedly “participate in a socially just transformation of society.” The organization is named after a nineteenth-century German Catholic priest Adolph Kolping. Kolping International has over 400,000 members. One these new Kolping schools is an elementary school in Pócspetri. Another is opening in Szászberek where even the school’s new name gives it away. It is called Szászbereki Kolping Katolikus Általános Iskola.  And naturally Rózsa Hoffmann was on hand in Csurgó where the Kolping Foundation will run a high school for 600 students. I guess it was time to open a Catholic school in Csurgó because there is already a Hungarian Reformed high school in town. Here Hoffmann lectured about the “morality” that had been cast aside. She promised that the new Hungarian school system will make sure that Hungarian children will return to the world of morality because “one must not live without values.” I agree in principle, but what kinds of values is Hoffmann talking about?

After Hoffmann visited several Catholic parochial schools it was time to go to a Hungarian Reformed school, the famous Debreceni Református Kollégium established in 1538. After all, Hoffmann’s boss, Zoltán Balog, is a Hungarian Reformed minister whose son happens to be a student there. Given the government’s political grip on education, it was not amusing to hear Balog ask the teachers not to allow politics to infiltrate the schools. It was also somewhat ironic to hear within the walls of a parochial school that “the government believes in public education.” But I guess if parochial schools are being funded by the public, they by default become public schools.

Rózsa Hoffmann spent most of her time defending the complete reorganization of the Hungarian school system. I was astonished to hear that this school year is the 1018th in the history of the nation. It seems that Ms. Hoffmann believes that the first “school” in Hungary was established in 995. A brave assumption. What I know is that it was in this year that Saint Adalbert of Prague arrived in Hungary to begin his missionary work. Otherwise, Hoffmann praised her own accomplishments, including personally appointing all new school principals. Such an arrangement “symbolizes greater respect for the principals than before.” Hoffmann also announced that it is “wise love (okos szeretet) [that] distinguishes [the Orbán government’s] pedagogical philosophy from others in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.” “Wise love” will be taught in religion and ethics classes.

Of course, I have no idea what “wise love” is. I trust it is not “tough love.” What these kids will learn in religion or ethics classes I have no idea. I just hope more than we learned during compulsory religion classes before the communist takeover. Then it was tough love all right. The minister who taught us didn’t spare the rod; boys who misbehaved were caned.

Fact checking the foreign press in Hungary

A Hungarian friend called my attention to a relatively new Internet site, factcheck.hu, surely inspired by the American factcheck. org. But what a difference. While factcheck.org has headlines like “Obama overpromises premiums” or “Obama care by the numbers,” factcheck.hu targets the foreign press: “Baseless allegations by the Czech daily, SME,” “The article in Die Presse is not supported by facts,” Huffington Post is wrong when it claims that  “Fidesz rehabilitates the Horthy regime,” “The article of The Guardian is based on misinformation.”

The publisher of this vehemently pro-government site is the Nézőpont Intézet. I think I wrote about this think tank before, but it is worth repeating that nobody takes Nézőpont seriously. To say that Nézőpont (which by the way means “viewpont” in Hungarian) has a pro-Fidesz slant is a major understatement. Their monthly polls on the population’s political attitudes deviate so radically from the other four or five, including the pro-Fidesz Századvég, that they are derided by serious followers of Hungarian politics.

Naturally, the Orbán government is quite satisfied with the work of Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, the CEO of the Institute, and government orders have been pouring into Mráz’s  companies. Yes, plural because Nézőpont established a couple of separate companies, one of which is called Médianéző (Media Observer). Médianéző received a government contract for three years (from January 2012 to December 31, 2014) to provide the government with digests of domestic and foreign newspapers. The government will pay 30.3 million forints a month for these services–more than a billion forints in three years.

Ágoston Sámuel Mráz established another company called Kutatóközpont Kft. (Research Center), which received a contract to do market research for the state-owned Szerencsejáték Zrt. (Gambling/Lottery). In 2011 and in 2012 the state lottery paid out more than about 340 million forints for services rendered. Details on Mráz’s dealings with the government and the state-owned lottery can be read in 168 Óra and HVG.

Personally, I would question the wisdom of relying on the services of a company whose owner and employees are so committed to one side of the political spectrum. Will the morning summaries of the news items that reach all important government officials accurately reflect the contents of the original? Will the selection be impartial? Perhaps this doesn’t really matter because government officials pay no attention to Nézőpont’s news summaries anyway. The contract is most likely payment for the lopsided polls Nézőpont puts out month after month.

Even though these polls bear no resemblance to reality, every Hungarian newspaper reports on what Nézőpont has to say, so they serve some propagandistic purpose. Only yesterday “Fabius,” a well known blogger, recalled the time when all other polls reported that Fidesz had lost 1.5 million voters between April 2010 and January 2012 whereas Nézőpont claimed that  Fidesz had actually lost only 200,000 voters while the opposition parties lost 450,000!

Meme (Fideszfigyelő). On the left János Lázár, Fidesz politician and on the left two independent political scientists. Far right is Ágoston Sámuel Mráz. The audience came from one of the civic cells

Meme (Fideszfigyelő). On the left János Lázár, Fidesz politician, and on the right two “independent” political scientists of Nézőpont, including Ágoston Sámuel Mráz on the far right. The audience is made up of members of a civic cell.

But let’s go back to Mráz’s latest venture, factcheck.hu. On the webpage we are told that since Nézőpont has the job of serving as media providers for the government, they decided to start a site where they would point out to Hungarian speakers all the lies and distortions of the foreign press. This venture began in June. If the Hungarian government supports their efforts I must say they don’t get much for their money. In June I found eight instances where corrections were “needed” and in July again eight short articles appeared. So far in August there is a huge void, although I could certainly come up with several important English, French, and German opinion pieces and articles about Hungary during that period.

One article they highlight is John Feffer’s piece in The Huffington Post entitled “Hungary: The Cancer in the Middle of Europe?” Since I read the article when it came out in early June 2013, I was curious what Mráz and his fellow analysts found objectionable in it. The piece is not overly long, about the length of one of the posts on Hungarian Spectrum. Interestingly enough, they found only two objectionable sentences “[Fidesz] has begun rehabilitating the dictatorial regime of Admiral Horthy (whose signed picture Adolf Hitler kept on his desk as inspiration). The social agenda of Fidesz veers rightward as well, with its attempt to declare homelessness illegal.”

Here I will deal with only with the first sentence about the Horthy regime’s rehabilitation. So, let’s see how the sharp minds at Nézőpont tackle that horrible attack on the Orbán government. Here is the lead sentence: “The first assertion of the article is misleading because Fidesz never showed any manifestation of extremist tendencies.” Did Feffer say anything about Fidesz’s extremism? Did he even say that Horthy’s regime was extremist and therefore its rehabilitation leads to extremism? No, nothing of the sort. He simply said that the Orbán government began the rehabilitation of the dictatorial regime of Miklós Horthy. I would say that this assertion is correct. First, the rehabilitation efforts are obvious; just think of all the street name changes. And second, Hungary between the two world wars was no democracy; the electoral law that included open voting in the countryside ensured that “the government party” always won the elections. The kind of dictatorial setup Viktor Orbán himself advocated in his September 2009 speech in Kötcse about a “central power,” a regime without any serious opposition, as his ideal.

So, once the “political analysts”of Nézőpont started off on the wrong foot there was no way for them to prove that Feffer was mistaken. Instead, they talked about the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust that the first Orbán government introduced. They went on about all the wonderful pieces of legislation that ensure the safety of minorities. And naturally, Nézőpont mentioned the speech Viktor Orbán delivered at the World Jewish Congress in Budapest (which the readers of this blog know was not received with enthusiasm because it contained only generalities and didn’t outline any practical steps the government would take to stem the tide of growing antisemitism in the country). What does all this have to do with Feffer’s assertion about the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime? Clearly, nothing.

This was just one sentence that appeared in one publication. Can you imagine if one actually cataloged all the “refutations” Mráz and his friends would have to come up with? But perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult after all, because they seem to have pat answers that are copied from refutation to refutation. Here is, for example, the answer to an opinion piece in the French Libération which looks at the popularity of Le Front national. The author, Bernard Guetta, calls “the [French] situation just as grave as in Hungary” (la situation est tout aussi grave qu’en Hongrie).  What is Mráz’s answer? Practically the same as to Feffer’s article in the Huffington Post. “The Hungarian government never showed any extremist tendencies. On the contrary, it always actively stood up against extremism,” and here they repeat practically word for word what they wrote in “analyzing” the Feffer article. There was the World Jewish Congress, the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust, etc.

I should mention that Ágoston Sámuel Mráz was Tibor Navracsics’s political science student. It was Navracsics who called attention to this talented young man. What does this say about Tibor Navracsics or about Hungarian political scientists? At any event, I’m glad that the Orbán government and Fidesz are satisfied with Mráz’s job. And I’m sure Mráz is satisfied with his employers: they don’t demand much and they pay well.