Tag Archives: NGOs

Launching a new action plan, “Stop Soros”

In an article that was written yesterday but appeared only today in the early morning edition of Magyar Idők, the well-informed government paper reported that “an action plan is being formulated against George Soros and his network.” This action plan necessitates amendments to already existing laws. The paper got wind of two such impending legal changes. One would allow the assessment of dues or levies on nonprofit organizations that “support migration.” The other action that needed a legal basis was banning George Soros’s entry into Hungary. According to Magyar Idők, the government sought a way to ban dual citizens who pose a national security risk to the country. Zoltán Lomnici, Jr., a far-right so-called constitutional lawyer whose opinions are almost always legal nonsense, suggested a solution that would allow the expulsion of dangerous dual citizens who live abroad on a permanent basis. The other expert to whom Magyar Idők turned for his opinion was Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, director of the pro-government Nézőpont Institute. Mráz is a great deal more intelligent than Lomnici. He opined that the proposed law is “only a symbolic defense instrument.” In brief, it is a propaganda ploy serving domestic political purposes in preparation for the election to be held on April 8.

If Mráz is correct, I’m afraid the Orbán government is assuming a great deal of risk in the international arena with this proposed piece of legislation. After a cabinet meeting this afternoon, the Hungarian government released an article in English on the official website of the Prime Minister’s Office, About Hungary. Here are the most important provisions of these bills:

  1. Every organization that supports illegal immigration by using foreign financial resources would be registered and obliged to report on its activity.
  2. A tax would be imposed on the foreign funding of organizations supporting illegal immigration. This public income would be invested in border protection.
  3. It would be possible to issue restraining orders against those who take part in organizing illegal immigration. In essence, such restraining orders would apply in any area that is within 8 kilometers of the Schengen border. In special cases, a third-country citizen would be subject to a restraining order anywhere within Hungary. This measure would remain in force until the end of the migration crisis.

It is instructive to compare this English text, obviously intended for foreign consumption, with the one Index published in Hungarian.

  1. Every organization that supports illegal immigration by using foreign financial resources would be registered and obliged to report on its activity.
  2. Over and above the registration, those organizations that receive more money from abroad than from Hungary will be obliged to pay 25% of their support as a levy. The money will be collected by the National Tax Authority. If the organizations don’t fulfill their duties, the prosecutor’s office must take action against them. If the prosecutor’s office finds unauthorized activity, it will appeal to the court.
  3. A new kind of restraining order will be introduced: implicated foreign nationals will be barred from Hungary while Hungarian citizens will not be able cross an eight-kilometer border zone next to the Schengen borders.

During a joint interview given by Interior Minister Sándor Pintér and Undersecretary Zoltán Kovács, who is in charge of communication, a few more bits of information were dropped. For example, to my astonishment I discovered that those NGOs that are guilty of assisting illegal migrants will have to “acknowledge their complicity on their own.” If they fail to do so, they will be sanctioned. So, if I understand it correctly, the whole scheme is based on self-incrimination. I’m therefore not surprised that some people believe that the government has no intention of actually adopting these measures.

As far as the banning of George Soros from Hungary is concerned, it seems that the government thought the better of it. In fact, to my great surprise, Pintér announced that “George Soros doesn’t carry out illegal migration activities,” and therefore he has nothing to fear. However, Kovács added that if he ever does so, the law will apply to him just as it does to everyone else. The report published by Eurobserver claimed that “UN personnel and diplomats would not fall under the possible restraining order, and MPs who have reason to be in the area will also not be excluded from the border zone.”

The targeted NGOs, such as the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, charged that these proposals are not only confusing but also most likely unconstitutional. They go against past rulings of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. I’m no lawyer, but Orbán’s own Basic Law guarantees the free movement of citizens anywhere in the country.

I know that Orbán and his minions are too young to have lived through the Rákosi era, when Hungary had so-called “border zone” (határsáv) along the Yugoslav and Austrian borders, but still they ought to know that the comparison will be inevitable. In those days a special permit was required to enter this restricted zone. Most of the peasants who were forcibly removed from their villages, stripped of all their possessions, and deported to the Hortobágy region of the Great Plains came from villages inside the zone. The word “határsáv” has a very bad ring to it.

In the opinion of the spokesman of TASZ, it is also illegal to impose dues on money received from abroad because one cannot make a distinction between monies from domestic and non-domestic sources. I’m also sure that as the proposals are put into more final form, legal experts will offer even more criticism.

Some commentators think that Assistant Undersecretary Kristóf Altusz’s embarrassing revelation to the Times of Malta and the subsequent fallout at home prompted this latest “Stop Soros” action. The new action is, they argue, an attempt to divert attention from what someone called “the Orbán government’s Őszöd,” referring to Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech to the MSZP parliamentary caucus in 2006 in which he admitted that, although they knew about the sad state of the economy, they kept it a secret because of the forthcoming national election.

Altusz, in response to insistent questioning about Hungary’s refusal to admit any refugees,  blurted out that “last year alone Hungary took about 1,300 refugees, but, very often, such cases were not publicized by the government as it could put the beneficiaries in danger.” For more than two years the Orbán government sought to convince the Hungarian people that it wouldn’t allow a single migrant to settle in Hungary, and now it turns out that 1,300 “Muslim invaders,” to use Viktor Orbán’s words from his recent interview with Das Bild, have received shelter in Hungary.

One family among those who received asylum in Hungary

The Orbán government is building its entire election campaign on the migrant issue, and now it seems that, after all, there is a difference between illegal migrants and refugees, as Altusz explained. Moreover, the argument that a refugee must settle in the closest safe country is now in tatters. The government just admitted in an indirect way that Hungary is obliged by the Geneva Convention to give shelter to refugees, even from faraway Iraq, Syria, or Afghanistan.

Hungarians have heard nothing else in the last two or three years but how dangerous these people are; they are terrorists who will kill them and rape their daughters. Just recently, Orbán ordered mayors to organize resistance to settling nonexistent migrants in their cities. And now we learn that the government, behind the frightened people’s backs, allowed 1,300 of these dangerous people to settle in their country. The overeager Kristóf Altusz delivered a serious blow to a carefully crafted political construct and rallying cry.

If Viktor Orbán decided to launch the “Stop Soros” campaign in order to divert attention from this uncomfortable slip by a junior diplomat, I think he is making a mistake. These issues touch upon the very essence of European Union values. To flout them for the sake of an electoral victory, which everybody predicts will be his, is foolhardy.

January 17, 2018

Viktor Orbán rails against the European Commission’s “reasoned opinions”

This morning Viktor Orbán delivered one of his most ferocious attacks on the “Brussels bureaucrats.” He usually relegates this kind of conduct to his minions. He himself tries to maintain the level of decorum fit for a “serious” politician of a “serious country,” as he called Hungary and its government in the midst of his rant.

It is hard to tell whether Viktor Orbán was really as upset as he sounded in this interview on state radio or whether it was feigned indignation, preparing the ground for a meeting initiated by Jean-Claude Juncker with the Visegrád 4 countries. I suspect it was the former. I think he meant every word of his harangue, and I am almost certain that this strident attitude of the Hungarian officials led by Viktor Orbán himself will only be magnified in the coming months.

The immediate cause of Orbán’s outburst was the European Commission’s latest “reasoned opinion,” which Hungary received two days ago. In June the Orbán government passed a law on the status of foreign-funded non-governmental organizations that the European Commission considered to be in violation of the right of freedom of association and the protection of private life and personal data, which are safeguarded by the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. The law was, they argued, also a breach of the principle of free movement of capital. In July the Commission initiated an infringement procedure, to which the Hungarian government had three months to respond. If the response was unsatisfactory, the Commission would take the next step in this legal process, issuing a “reasoned opinion.” It was this “reasoned opinion” that reached Viktor Orbán’s desk with the message that “if Hungary fails to reply satisfactorily to the reasoned opinion, then the Commission may refer the case to the Court of Justice of the EU.” In July Hungary also received a reasoned opinion on the higher education law, which disproportionately restricts EU and non-EU universities in their operations.

On October 2 Jean-Claude Juncker invited the prime ministers of the Visegrád 4 countries to a dinner on October 18, which was labelled a “conciliatory” one. But Viktor Orbán, judging from this interview, is girding himself for battle, or at least he is very skeptical that Juncker can offer them anything that will be satisfactory. In any case, Orbán, in his current frame of mind, is not ready for any kind of conciliation. In fact, he has a profound contempt for the whole institution and its politicians, and he finds the European Commission’s legal pronouncements unworthy of serious consideration.

First of all, these two infringement procedures “have nothing to do with the Charter of Fundamental Rights or the European Constitution.” They “smell of politics even from far away.” The opinions issued are “the objects of general derision everywhere in Europe. A sensible lawyer wouldn’t even touch it…. It is clear that this document is the result of a political diktat… A lawyer—how shall I say—can’t even talk about it in all seriousness and without laughing. This is so ridiculous that one doesn’t even know what to do with it…. Perhaps the most ridiculous argument is about the free movement of capital. What does a donation have to do with the free movement of capital? These are ridiculous things…. If we accepted them, we would become laughing stocks. This is a serious country which even after a month of deliberation cannot say more than that this whole thing is ridiculous. Therefore, the case will end up in court.“ Orbán’s conclusion is that “the people like the European Union but they can’t stand its leadership.”

Viktor Orbán’s attitude toward European Union politicians and administrators is well illustrated by his story about the European Parliament’s delegation that visited Hungary about a week ago to assess some EU-funded projects. During the course of their visit members of the delegation went to see one of Orbán’s pet projects, the narrow-gauged train built in Felcsút, the village where he spent his first 14 years. The delegation found everything in perfect order. Why did they come in the first place?, Orbán asked. Because “they must occupy themselves with something while we are defending Europe instead of them.” These no-good MEPs attack the valiant Hungarians whose soldiers and policemen defend Europe. But he doesn’t give a fig.

After this diatribe he moved on to the Soros network and the Soros “plan,” introducing some new elements and twists. One is that his government was the one that “accomplished a very important task. It uncovered “the network of George Soros which until now had been hidden.” He declared that Fidesz politicians will daily prove the connection between the European Parliament’s committee that is investigating the Hungarian government’s undemocratic ways, which may lead to the triggering of Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, and George Soros. Because all the members of the committee are Soros’s men. “They are his allies who eat out of his hand.” The report they write will reflect Soros’s conclusions. The cards are stacked against Hungary. The Soros “plan” works.

Orbán came up with an entirely new interpretation of the origin of the Soros “plan.” In his opinion, it was a direct answer to his own plan, which he submitted to the European Union as a solution to the migration crisis. Although it is not entirely clear, I suspect he is talking about Soros’s 2016 essay “This is Europe’s last chance to fix its refugee policy.” Orbán recalled that he had published a comprehensive plan at the height of the crisis, which consisted of several points outlining “how Europe should be defended, offering some solutions.” At this very moment, “as an answer,” Soros made public another plan that had several points just like his. Instead of his own ideas, it was this Soros “plan” that was adopted by the European Union. Brussels will deny this, but it is time to let the bureaucrats know that “Hungary is not a country of imbeciles.” They know what’s going on. The EU politicians cannot pretend that all this is just a coincidence. Hungarians “are not simpletons.” On the contrary. They know that “George Soros bought people, organizations … and that Brussels is under his influence. As far as immigration policy goes, the Brussels machinery is carrying out Soros’s plan. They want to dismantle the fence; they want to bring in millions of immigrants; and they want to forcibly disperse them among the member states. And they want to punish those who don’t submit.”

Orbán apparently “smiled mysteriously” when the reporter referred to the “friendly dinner” the Visegrád 4 countries will have with Jean-Claude Juncker. He indicated that he is not sure the meeting will be all that friendly. Of course, we know that Viktor Orbán behaves differently in Budapest and in Brussels. Perhaps today’s tiger will be a bunny rabbit by October 18.

October 6, 2017

The next victims of Orbán’s hate campaign will be the journalists

Hungarian commentators know from past experience that one ought to pay close attention to every word Viktor Orbán utters because his future plans are normally embedded in his speeches way ahead of time. Sometimes these references are too subtle to notice easily; more often, they are dropped in a phrase or two which those who listen to his speeches, especially the soporific ones, are likely to miss.

With the exception of the hired hands of the government media, all other commentators at home and abroad found that Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő-Băile Tușnad was on the dull side, containing practically nothing new. He refrained from announcing any controversial idea that would be greeted with consternation in political circles in the European Union. There was, however, something in that speech that upset Hungarian journalists to no end. Amidst the seemingly endless braggadocio there was one sentence that strongly indicated that, after the attacks on the NGOs and George Soros, the next victims will be journalists critical of the Orbán government, especially investigative journalists who have been unearthing the corruption endemic in Fidesz and government circles.

Orbán made no secret of the fact that, between now and the election sometime in April 2018, Fidesz’s “adversaries will not be the opposition parties at home.” In the forthcoming election campaign “first and foremost [they] will have to hold their own against external forces; against the bureaucrats of Brussels; the Soros mafia network and its media.” That last sentence sent chills down the spines of journalists working for media outlets considered to be unfriendly to the Orbán government.

Magyar Nemzet actually received information from Fidesz circles that this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán has expressed his strong disapproval of the activities of some journalists. Insiders reported that he often talked about the “liberal media” and its unwarranted bias and enmity toward the government, resulting in unfair reporting. The paper learned from several sources that this year’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad was the beginning of a new anti-media campaign. Thus far Fidesz’s targets have been media outlets owned by Lajos Simicska, but now they are apparently planning to go against individual journalists. The informants intimated that investigative journalists concentrating on economic matters will be in his cross hairs. A new enemy is needed after Brussels and George Soros, and the media is an obvious next choice. Especially since Donald Trump’s anti-media campaign has had its influence in Hungary, where the expression “fake news” is spreading in the English original.

Orbán has a point. The opposition in its current state is no threat to him whatsoever. If the chaos that exists on the political left isn’t resolved over the next nine months, Fidesz, especially with the assistance of Romanian-Hungarian voters, will be able to win the election easily and most likely will have the coveted two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats. By now the only threat comes from high-profile NGOs, who insist on legality and diligently pursue government wrongdoings. They keep going to the European Court of Justice or to the European Court of Human Rights, and more often than not they win against the Orbán government. It’s no wonder that Orbán wants to get rid of them. Investigative journalists are also “enemies” as far as Fidesz is concerned. They have been working hard to discover the sources of the newly acquired riches of the Orbán family and to unearth the criminal activities of the oligarchs who are actively supported by the prime minister. If these NGOs and journalists would just disappear, life would be a great deal easier for Orbán and friends.

But Hungary is still not like Russia or Turkey where journalists are killed or jailed. Orbán most likely will choose a different tack. The suspicion in Hungarian journalistic circles is that the plan is to undermine the reputation of the most active investigative journalists. The government will try to find some dirt and, if there is nothing juicy enough, they will create stories from half-truths. As for character assassination, we know that Orbán is a master of the craft. It is enough to think of how effectively he managed to create a monster out of Ferenc Gyurcsány simply because he believed him to be his only effective political foe in the country. In comparison to that, the task of finishing off some journalists’ careers will be child’s play.

The journalists who either work for the handful of media outlets owned by non-Fidesz businessmen or those who have been supported by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation are worried. They wanted to know more about the targets of the new campaign from Szilárd Németh, deputy to Chairman Viktor Orbán, who gave a press conference on the subject. Németh immediately got into an argument with the journalists who were present. He accused Gergely Nyilas of Index of not being a journalist but an emissary of Lajos Simicska, the owner of the internet site. According to Németh, Nyilas is simply performing the task assigned to him, which is attacking Simicska’s enemy Viktor Orbán. Another journalist representing the Simicska-owned HírTV didn’t fare better. He was accused of reciting his questions, which were actually written for him by someone else. Németh most likely again had Lajos Simicska in mind.

The journalists naturally wanted to know which media outlets are the latest targets of the government, but Németh refused to name them, claiming that both he and the journalists know full well which ones the government has in mind. However, in the course of the conversation he talked about “criminal organizations” that will have to be dealt with by the prosecutor’s office.

In addition to Szilárd Németh, the almost forgotten Rózsa Hoffmann, former undersecretary of education, also spoke about the ill-willed, irresponsible journalists. While claiming that Hungary’s reputation in Brussels is improving, “certain journalistic organizations falsely accuse Hungary on many accounts.” She also seems certain that these journalists are following a prescribed script.

We can expect a heightened assault on journalists as well as NGOs. In fact, Orbán promised that much when answering a man in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad who demanded harsher treatment of NGOs. It sounds ominous.

July 26, 2017

Infringement proceedings galore, but what good will they do?

Lawyers working on infringement proceedings launched by the European Commission against the Hungarian government must have been especially busy in the past few months. Yesterday the Orbán government received notices of three such infringement proceedings. Although infringement proceedings against Hungary are numerous, I have the feeling that three notices in one day is a record of sorts. One is a “letter of formal notice” and two are “reasoned opinions.”

Notices that bear the odd name “reasoned opinions” represent the second stage in the infringement proceedings. In these cases the European Commission had already sent a”letter of formal notice” concerning a piece of legislation but found the corresponding answers to their objections unsatisfactory. If the answers to the reasoned opinion are still unsatisfactory, the case will go to the European Court of Justice.

I will start with the odd man out here: the reasoned opinion concerning restrictions on loss-making enterprises in the retail sector. You may recall that recent Hungarian law prohibits supermarkets to continue operation if they operate at a loss for two consecutive years. Not surprisingly, the Commission considers such a measure unacceptable because it runs counter to “the freedom of establishment and the principle of non-discrimination” (Article 49 TFEU) and “the free movement of capital” (Article 63 TFEU). Hungary has two months to respond.

Although this is a horrendous piece of legislation and one very much hopes that it will be abolished one way or the other, it is taking back stage to the two other infringement proceedings. The first, another reasoned opinion, concerns the Higher Education Law, which as amended on April 4, 2017 in practical terms makes the continued existence of Central European University (CEU), founded by George Soros, impossible. The other infringement proceeding, this one a letter of formal notice, addresses the law, adopted on June 13, dealing with foreign-funded NGOs.

The European Union is often accused of dilatoriness, but this time such criticism cannot be leveled against “the bureaucrats of Brussels,” as Viktor Orbán likes to call the officials and politicians of the European Union. They acted quite promptly. In the case of the Higher Education law, the note the Orbán government received is a reasoned opinion and the Hungarian government has only one month to respond instead of the customary three. As for the foreign-funded NGO case, it took the EC only one month to send out a letter of formal notice. Again, the Hungarian government has only one month to respond. Zoltán Kovács, who is in charge of foreign communications, has already complained bitterly about the unfair treatment Hungary received in these cases because of the very short time limit given.

So, let’s see what the EC’s objections are to the amendment of the Higher Education Law. In the opinion of the European Union, “it is incompatible with the freedom for higher education institutions to provide services and establish themselves anywhere in the European Union.” In addition, it “runs counter to the right of academic freedom, the right to education and the freedom to conduct a business as proved by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Union’s legal obligations under international trade law.”

The law on foreign-funded NGOs introduces new obligations for certain categories of NGOs, for example, to register and label themselves as “organizations supported from abroad.” Again, in this case the European Commission decided that this law doesn’t comply with EU law. (1) It interferes with the right to freedom of association. It could prevent NGOs from raising funds and would therefore restrict their ability to do their work. (2) The law introduces unjustified and disproportionate restrictions to the free movement of capital. (3) It raises concerns as regards the respect of the right to protection of private life and personal data. In plain language, the exact amounts of transactions and detailed information about donors would have to be reported to the Hungarian authorities, which in turn would make the data public.

Anyone who thought that the Orbán government would be terribly impressed by the legal arguments outlined above would be wrong. Zoltán Kovács told Politico that “we, of course, maintain our position.” If necessary, the government will go to court. Politico also got in touch with Márta Pardavi, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, who correctly pointed out that “infringement procedures alone are inadequate to redress the combined impact of retrogressive reforms that have taken place since 2010.” The European Parliament would need to vote on an appropriately damaging report which, if passed by two-thirds of the European Parliament, could trigger Article 7(1), which would result in the withdrawal of Hungary’s voting rights.

The Hungarian government’s response to these latest infringement proceedings is defiance. Pál Völner, undersecretary in the ministry of justice, said that “the government is ready to face infringement proceedings with relation to the NGO Act. These are organizations that want to weaken Hungary’s defense capabilities in the fight against illegal immigration.” The charge that organizations like Transparency International or the Hungarian Helsinki Commission want to weaken Hungary’s defense capabilities is of course nonsense. The Hungarian government wants to curtail their activities because it considers them opponents of the Orbán government’s unlawful modus operandi.

Márta Parvadi is right: the Orbán government cares not one whit about all these threats of legal proceedings under the aegis of the European Court of Justice. Viktor Orbán doesn’t mind paying fines, even heavy fines. For political gain he has no compunctions about spending billions of forints of the Hungarian taxpayers’ money. That’s why the only hope of the anti-Orbán forces is that the European Parliament report that may trigger Article 7(1) will be prepared soon. Well, there is good news on this front. On July 11 Judith Sargentini of the Greens/EFA was appointed rapporteur for the European Parliament’s investigation into whether Hungary is in breach of the values of the European Union. But more about that tomorrow.

July 14, 2017

What’s the new Fidesz game plan?

There is just too much talk by Fidesz leaders about the “hot autumn” ahead of us. One politician after the other, starting with Viktor Orbán, warns us that the frustrated opposition led by George Soros and his NGOs is preparing for disturbances on the streets which may well be the beginnings of an assault against Hungary’s “democratic institutions.”

László Kövér envisaged this very scenario at one of the “free universities” organized by Fidesz in neighboring countries. These “free universities” are three- to four-day gatherings where Fidesz politicians deliver speeches about the excellent performance of the Orbán government. The most famous “free university” is held in Tusnádfürdő-Bálványos, Romania, where Viktor Orbán makes a regular appearance. What he has to say there is usually politically significant.

In 2013 this Fidesz tradition was expanded to Slovakia. In July of that year a new “free university” was born in Martos (Martovce), a village of about 700 inhabitants in Komárno County. Originally, the organizers hoped that Viktor Orbán would honor the event with his presence, but in the end they had to be satisfied with László Kövér as the keynote speaker. This first appearance became a regular event. Every year Kövér opens the Martosfest, as he did this year as well.

It was here that László Kövér joined those Fidesz politicians and journalists of the government media who had declared that by the fall a veritable coalition will have been forged by the Hungarian opposition and the Soros NGOs. They will be organizing disturbances on the streets of Budapest. “They will try to create an atmosphere filled with civil-war psychosis,” as Kövér put it.

Actually, there is nothing new in this madcap story because Fidesz propaganda has been full of stories about impending physical attacks against the legitimate government of Hungary. At the end of May Antal Rogán, Orbán’s propaganda minister, was already talking about “existing training centers where people whose job will be the organization of widespread actions of civil disobedience” are being trained. And if that doesn’t work, they will try to provoke some kind of police attack against the demonstrators. On June 2 Magyar Idők seemed to know that the “members of the Soros network will embark on a new strategy, starting early autumn.” Their goal is the destabilization of the country because many of the leading commentators are convinced that the present regime cannot be replaced by democratic means.

Viktor Orbán himself talked about “the hot summer and even hotter fall that awaits us.” He predicted that George Soros will do his best to have a new government in Hungary that will take down the fence and open the borders to illegal immigrants. 444 might find all this sheer madness, but one can’t help thinking that we are faced here with a centrally manipulated propaganda campaign and that behind it the government may actually be preparing to create a situation that would require police intervention. That would give the government an opportunity for a major crackdown, possible martial law, and perhaps the large-scale jailing of activists and opposition politicians.

Opposition politicians are suspicious of Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz top leadership, and not without justification. There have been times in Fidesz’s history when Viktor Orbán and his closest circle most likely committed criminal acts in order to acquire power. In the first instance, they succeeded. A lot of people, including me, are convinced that the series of explosions that took place shortly before the 1998 election were the work of Fidesz, which at that time was trailing the socialist-liberal coalition forces. Whoever placed the bombs at or near houses or apartments of Fidesz and Smallholder politicians made sure that no serious damage was done. Of course, the Horn government and its minister of interior, Gábor Kuncze (SZDSZ), were blamed for the lack of security, and these events had a negative impact on public opinion. The election was held and Fidesz, with the help of József Torgyán, chairman of the Smallholders party, won. From that moment on there was silence. No other explosion anywhere.

Fidesz’s role in the 2006 disturbances is also murky. The attack against the headquarters of the Hungarian Public Television was undertaken by relatively few people, mostly football hooligans who were fans of Ferencváros (Fradi). Interestingly, a week before the siege against the television station Viktor Orbán paid a rather unusual visit to a Fradi game where he sat right in the middle of these Fradi fans. A lot of people at the time didn’t think that this was a coincidence. And what happened on October 23 and after was not exactly a spontaneous affair either. Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz politicians for four or five solid weeks did their best to incite the rather unsavory crowd that gathered in front of the parliament building. Perhaps we will never know exactly what role Viktor Orbán and his men played in this attempt to topple the Gyurcsány government, but many people are convinced that it was an attempt to force the resignation of the whole government after a period of extended disturbances. Their resignation would be followed by a new snap election. It didn’t work out that way, but I’m sure this was the original plan.

“The siege against the television station wasn’t organized by the opposition” / Source: Gépnarancs

So, it’s no wonder that both MSZP and DK issued statements accusing Fidesz of starting to orchestrate a situation that would require police action. MSZP specifically mentioned the mysterious explosions in 1998. DK reminded people that it was only Fidesz that provoked violent streets riots in Hungary. DK suspects that Viktor Orbán is preparing to set Budapest on fire again. This is all very alarming.

July 7, 2017

George Soros and George Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein

Ever since April 1, when thousands of hard-hitting Jobbik billboards appeared all over the country, a poster war of sorts has been going on in Hungary. The Jobbik campaign by all accounts irritated Viktor Orbán to no end, so he made sure that in the future he will not have to face billboards depicting him as a common thief. After some difficulty, Fidesz smuggled in an amendment to an otherwise innocent enough bill about “community image” that forbids political advertising at any time other than a few weeks before national and municipal elections. Of course, the government will be able to post “informational material” anytime it deems necessary. Which is practically all the time. One poster campaign ends, the next begins. This has been going on for over a year.

I must say that the thousands of posters and billboards, which are everywhere one looks, don’t do much for the “community image” or “beautification of the cityscape,” but apparently people on the spot have become inured to them. In the last few months there have been billboards on “More respect for Hungarians,” “Let’s Stop Brussels,” and “Hungary is a strong and proud European country.” Now they can enjoy a new 5.4 billion forint campaign with thousands of billboards featuring an enormous picture of George Soros. In small print the text reads: “99% reject illegal immigration” and in large letters: “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh!”

The first thought that popped into people’s heads when confronted with the billboard was the person of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, who was the principal figure in the programs of the Two-Minutes Hate in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. One of these people was Gábor Török, a well-known political scientist, who quoted at some length from Orwell’s famous novel:

The sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these Powers it was generally at peace with the other. But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were – in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State.

Indeed, Soros has become Viktor Orbán’s Emmanuel Goldstein. Naturally, those who read Török on Facebook—and he has close to 50,000 followers—wanted to refresh their memories of Orwell’s book, which had been available in the Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár (MEK). But as of today the Hungarian translation of the work has been removed for copyright reasons. I know this sounds suspicious, but from what I read on the subject MEK might have made the book public without properly checking the copyright status of the book.

Almost all commentaries on the billboard itself start with the observation that the message makes no sense. I disagree. For me it is crystal clear what the creator of this particular political message had in mind. It is a different matter that the message is based on false information and premises. The first problem is the unspecified 99% who say no to illegal migration. It gives the misleading impression that 99% of the whole population voted against allowing refugees to settle in Hungary, when the reference is actually to the so-called “national consultation” in which, according to the government’s own admission, only 1.4 million people participated while 7.1 million people stayed away. As for Soros’s last laugh, I think the message is that Soros wants Hungary to be invaded by millions of Middle Easterners and Africans. Once this task is accomplished, he will have a good laugh. But the present-day Goldstein will be stopped by the brave government of the 99%.

This new anti-Soros campaign elicited some vehement reactions. One of the strongest came from Lajos Bokros, former minister of finance and currently chairman of a small opposition group called MoMa, who called the campaign “anti-Semitic propaganda based on lies = fascism.” Albert Gazda of Magyar Nemzet claimed that Orbán’s system is totally void of value, ideology, and ideas. He simply wants to remain in power. All his political moves are subordinated to this end. András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of Jewish religious communities, reacted cautiously to the poster and what’s behind it. In his opinion the poster campaign creates troubling thoughts in the Jewish community, but this was not the intention of the creators of the campaign. But, he added, the posters themselves may prompt anti-Semitic reactions in certain segments of society, which is something that should be avoided.

Heisler in that interview expressed his doubts that the government can be persuaded by Mazsihisz or any other group to stop this particular campaign because, for one reason or another, this Soros bashing at top volume seems to be a very important goal of the regime. Here a few examples from yesterday and today. Híradó reported that “Lajos Bokros admitted that he gets his money from George Soros’s university.” Sure, he is a professor at Central European University. “His money” is actually his salary. Bokros’s designation of Orbán’s political system as fascism elicited an answer from the Government Information Center: “Lajos Bokros is a member of the Soros network; he is paid by Soros; he lives on Soros’s money.” János Halász, undersecretary in charge of culture in the prime minister’s office, described Bokros as someone “who is simply George Soros’s political mercenary.”

Because of the upcoming Budapest Pride this weekend, a favorite topic on Lőrinc Mészáros’s Echo TV has been homosexuality. Yesterday three right-wing women discussed the dangers homosexuals pose to society. In no time George Soros was accused of pro-homosexual propaganda through NGOs he supports. It is time to recognize that George Soros’s activities are an open attack against families, they warned. Magyar Idők reported this morning that the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, also sponsored by George Soros, is giving “sensitivity training” to judges when “dealing with migrants, homosexuals, and other groups living at the periphery of society.” Once the paper found out about these activities, one of its worried journalists contacted the Országos Bírósági Hivatal (OBH), which reassured him that of 3,000 judges only 106 signed up for the sensitivity training.

Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist who has a regular column in Magyar Idők, found an article by Bálint Magyar titled “The EU’s Mafia State” published in Project Syndicate, which is, as he put it, “Soros’s own internet site.” Soros also called Orbán’s political system a mafia state and therefore, says Fricz, it is worth looking at these two people’s relationship. Magyar is described by Fricz as an ultraliberal who is against such traditional values as family, churches, and nations. Thus, “Magyar is one of Soros’s favorites.” After this introduction, Fricz accuses Magyar of being the secret agent of Soros who has been publishing book after book spreading the bad name of Viktor Orbán and his government. “Bálint Magyar is a good boy in the eyes of members of the global elite because he is working for [them] against his own country and therefore he gets lots of candy.” Soros has been in such close contact with Magyar that he “by now goes so far as to call the Orbán government a mafia state.” And now Magyar got the opportunity, I guess granted by Soros, to publish in Project Syndicate. The country must defend itself against the network to which these people belong. The fact is that Project Syndicate does receive some money from the Open Society Foundation, but it is funded by many other foundations as well, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is not Soros’s publication. As far as the description of the Orbán regime as a “mafia state,” by now this phrase is so widespread that any kind of mysterious connection between Soros and Magyar is outright ludicrous.

Origo, which practically overnight became a far-right publication, occasionally outdoes Magyar Idők in hate mongering and spreading false news. This time it attacked László Majtényi, president of Eötvös Károly Intézet (EKINT), for organizing all the Soros-funded NGOs under his own EKINT. Majtényi is also a trusted man of Soros, claims the paper. The truth is that Majtényi met Soros three times at large gatherings where he didn’t even have a chance to talk with him. According to Origo, George Soros is also relying on his son Alexander who was in Budapest lately to use NGOs as their instruments against the Hungarian government. Most of these connections described by the government propaganda machine as sinister are based either on nothing or on distorted facts. When reading these concocted stories, one really does have a feeling of total unreality, very much the same way as when one reads about Goldstein in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

There have been a few reports of defacement of some of the Soros posters where someone has scribbled the words “büdös zsidó” over his face. (“Büdös” literally means “stinking” but perhaps “filthy” would be a better match here, so “filthy Jew.”) I find such an outcome almost inevitable. This might be especially uncomfortable since Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to visit Budapest in two weeks’ time. At the Israeli request Péter Szijjártó already had to recant Viktor Orbán’s statement that Miklós Horthy was an exceptional statesman. Not surprisingly, the Israeli government wasn’t pleased given Horthy’s indisputable role in the Hungarian Holocaust. In fact, Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, wrote an opinion piece in The Times of Israel in which he insisted that “if Viktor Orban doesn’t personally and fully apologize, Prime Minister Netanyahu should cancel his visit to Hungary.” And now we have reports about the defacing of the Soros posters. It’s hard to imagine that the propaganda gurus didn’t anticipate such an outcome.

July 5, 2017

Hungarian NGOs embrace civil disobedience

I don’t think anyone was surprised when two days ago the Hungarian parliament with its overwhelming, almost two-thirds Fidesz majority passed a law imposing strict regulations on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations. The law bears a suspicious resemblance to the 2012 Russian law that required groups that received funds from abroad to identify themselves as “foreign agents.” The Hungarian version is somewhat more “lenient.” The targeted NGOs don’t have to call themselves “foreign agents,” but they must bear the label that they are the recipients of foreign funds, which can be considered a stigma.

Defenders of the bill insist that there is nothing “discriminatory” in this new “civic law,” but, of course, this is not the case. If it were, there wouldn’t be so many “exceptions” to the rule. For example, churches and sports clubs are exempt. Fidesz politicians feel confident in capitalizing on how the Hungarian everyman reacts to anything foreign, especially after a series of anti-migrant campaigns that, as we know from polls, greatly increased xenophobia in the country. Just imagine an interview with the managing director of TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, in which either she must introduce herself or the reporter must introduce her as “the leader of a foreign-funded organization.”

Fidesz’s pretext for enacting such a law is the government’s alleged striving for more transparency and for preventing money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Anyone at all familiar with the work of such organizations as TASZ, the Hungarian Helsinki Commission, or Amnesty International, three NGOs that are specifically targeted by the government, knows that it is not money laundering that is bothering the Orbán government. Over the years these NGOs have become increasing irritants as far as the Orbán government is concerned. Every time the lawyers working for these NGOs suspect illegality they immediately turn to the courts, and they almost always win. As far as Fidesz and the Orbán government are concerned, this is an intolerable situation.

The government’s position is that human rights activists are not elected officials and therefore they have no right to act as a quasi-political opposition to the elected government. Of course, this argument is unacceptable in a democratic society where people can freely organize political associations on pro- or anti-government platforms. Even political parties fall into the same category. They are voluntary organizations ruled by their own by-laws and their own boards of directors. All these groups have the right to function freely as long as they act in a lawful manner. Fidesz has pretty well succeeded in making the other political parties inconsequential. But the NGOs refuse to go away or kowtow to the government. And so it was time, somehow or other, to get rid of these pesky civil rights activists with their highly qualified lawyers who keep poking their noses into the Orbán government’s dirty business.

Viktor Orbán hates these organizations, whom he considers in large measure responsible for many of his problems with the European Union, the European Court of Justice, and the European Court of Human Rights. If these organizations hadn’t existed, he wouldn’t have had half the problems he has had over the years with the European Commission.

With the anti-NGO law, Orbán is most likely convinced that the small, cosmetic alterations the government made by incorporating some of changes recommended by the Venice Commission will satisfy the European Commission, as similar superficial modifications to Hungarian laws satisfied the commissioners in the past. For a few days foreign papers will be full of articles condemning the undemocratic, illiberal Hungarian state and a few foreign governments will publish official statements expressing their disapproval of Orbán’s latest move, but nothing of substance will happen. In fact, in a couple of days everybody will forget about the bill and its consequences. Then, sometime in the future, the Orbán government will make another move against the NGOs. Because few observers believe that this will be the last attempt to get rid of the NGOs that stand in the way of the present Hungarian government.

Only a few hours after the enactment of the “civic law,” TASZ announced that it will not obey the law, i.e. it will not register as the law demands because “this is the most effective way of combating this unconstitutional law.” According to TASZ, the law violates the freedoms of speech and association and unlawfully differentiates among civic organizations. TASZ’s lawyers are also convinced that it violates EU laws because the legislation violates the European Union’s internal market rules, in particular the free movement of capital. TASZ is prepared for the consequences of its action. Máté Szabó, professional director of TASZ, argued along the following lines: “Some of the enforcement possibilities will be open to us only if we don’t comply with the law. Since we do not want to relinquish a single law enforcement option, we will not comply with the requirements of the law.” Stefánia Kapronczay, executive director of TASZ, said: “We are aware of the fact that legal procedures will be initiated against us, but we are not afraid of them. Yearly we represent our clients in more than a hundred cases in the courts of Hungary, the Constitutional Court, and the Strasbourg court…. I’m convinced that after long procedures this law will have to be discarded.” The Hungarian Helsinki Commission joined TASZ in boycotting the new law on civic groups. “Unless and until the Hungarian Constitutional Court and/or the European Court of Human Rights hear the case and approve the law, we will not register.”

I think that the decision of these two civic organizations is the correct one, even if László Trócsányi, minister of justice, announced that “civil disobedience is not known to me, nor is it known in [our] legal system.” This was obviously meant not as an admission of ignorance but as a warning to TASZ and the Hungarian Helsinki Commission. However, I would like to remind Trócsányi that his lawyers don’t have a great track record against the lawyers of these two NGOs.

June 15, 2017