Tag Archives: Orbán government

The Orbán government is dragging its feet on the issue of Central European University

Over the last few months I have received several letters from readers of Hungarian Spectrum, wanting to know more about the status of Central European University, an English-language graduate school founded by George Soros, the bogeyman of the Orbán government. Unfortunately, I was unable to give any update on the fate of CEU because not much happened from May to late September.

Between February and May 2017 I devoted seven posts to the Hungarian government’s efforts to get rid of Central European University. It seemed that the decision to launch a frontal attack against the university was reached sometime after the surprise victory of Donald Trump, which promised, at least as far as Viktor Orbán was concerned, amicable relations between the new Republican administration and the illiberal state of Hungary. Viktor Orbán most likely thought that the new Republican president would be only too happy to assist him in getting rid of the university that was established by George Soros, a well-known supporter of his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Well, it didn’t turn out that way. Viktor Orbán managed to get himself and Hungary into a big mess. The new White House was not willing to turn against a well-known university, so the Orbán government had to save face somehow. This process has taken months. The first bitter pill the Hungarian government had to swallow was that there was no way to “negotiate” with the American federal government about the fate of CEU, on which the Orbán government insisted. By the end of June the Hungarian government realized that there was no way out. They would have to negotiate with New York State’s Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo.

By the end of September the hurdle of establishing an American campus of Central European University was surmounted through an agreement with Bard College, located in New York State. Bard is well known for its close ties with Hungary and Hungarian causes in general. For example, it volunteered to receive 325 Hungarian refugee students in 1956-1957, who spent nine weeks on its campus. The fiftieth anniversary of this event was celebrated in 2007, and many of these former students returned to the college to remember the time they spent there. In recent years, many Hungarian youngsters have received Hungarian Heritage scholarships to attend Bard College. And yes, George Soros has made sizable donations to the college.

Thus, an arrangement between these two institutions was an obvious answer to Hungary’s insistence on the physical presence of CEU on U.S. soil. Yet the government was silent until a few days ago, when László Trócsányi staged an “extraordinary press conference.” He announced an amendment to the law on higher education. The modification consists of a one-year extension of the deadline for CEU to come into full compliance, from January 1, 2018 to January 1, 2019.

Below is the university’s reaction to this latest “modification” of the law.

♦ ♦ ♦

Dear Members of the CEU Community,

CEU welcomes any initiative that reduces uncertainty, but the Minister of Justice’s proposed extension of the deadline prolongs the uncertainty while walking away from a solution that lies at hand.

An agreement between the State of New York and the Government of Hungary guaranteeing CEU’s existence is ready for signature. Resolution of this matter is now up to the government. The government can simply sign the agreement it has already negotiated.

In line with the agreement, CEU has signed an MOU with Bard College to undertake ‘educational activities’ in the State of New York. We have already initiated a program registered with the New York State Board of Education that should be operational within weeks. Thus there exists no obstacle to an agreement bringing this whole episode to a conclusion.

Hungary has already signed an agreement with the State of Maryland in respect of McDaniel College. Failure to sign an agreement with the State of New York in relation to CEU can only be perceived as discriminatory.

Extending the deadline and failing to sign the agreement are a step backward. CEU wants to move forward. CEU calls on the Government of Hungary to sign the New York-Hungary agreement without delay and re-affirms its commitment to fulfill all obligations, defend its freedom and continue its presence as a respected member of Hungarian and international academic life.

Michael Ignatieff, CEU President and Rector

Liviu Matei, CEU Provost and Pro-Rector

October 15, 2017

Will Rosatom have its own airfield in Pécs?

A short while ago I devoted a post to the financial collapse of the City of Pécs, which, after many years as an MSZP stronghold, chose Zsolt Páva as its Fidesz mayor in October 2009. Within weeks it became evident that Viktor Orbán, in anticipation of his electoral victory, was using the city as a political laboratory. It was in Pécs that the new Fidesz leadership tried out the practice of “citywide consultations.” Páva sent questionnaires to the inhabitants, asking them questions to which the answer could only be “yes.” One of his most expensive moves, most likely at the urging of Fidesz, was the forcible takeover of the French share of the water company, which years later cost the city three billion forints in a legal settlement. The city’s attempt to take over the famed Zsolnay porcelain factory ended in failure due to the determination of the Syrian-Hungarian-Swiss owner. This was also a costly affair for Pécs because, in the course of the machinations to ruin Zsolnay, the city set up a rival company called Ledina Kerámia and enticed 150 Zsolnay employees to join the phantom firm. The city had to pay the wages of 150 workers for no work whatsoever.

These two financial ventures by themselves have been very costly, but they were only a small fraction of the enormous debt Zsolt Páva and the city council amassed in the last seven years. According to a new website called Szabad Pécs (Free Pécs), the city owes 7.5 billion forints, which apparently the national government will take over. That’s not all, however. There are several municipal-owned firms that are in the red to the tune of 10 billion forints. This is an enormous amount of money ($29 million) for a city of about 170,000 inhabitants with not much of a tax base. Viktor Orbán, while visiting the city at the end of August for the 650th anniversary of the founding of Hungary’s first university, established in Pécs, asserted that the city’s leadership got itself into this mess and they will have to pay for it.

I don’t think anyone knew at the time just what Orbán meant, but a few days ago local investigative journalists working for Szabad Pécs learned that the government is not planning to bail Pécs out without some kind of compensation. A week ago rumors began circulating in town that the city-owned Pécs-Pogány International Airport will be taken over by the government, which will in turn write off 2.8 billion forints of the city’s debt. On the face of it, such a government purchase wouldn’t be profitable. The number of passengers, which was over 6,000 in 2009, by 2014 had shrunk to 2,500. But the deal might actually be quite lucrative for the Orbán government because the airport will likely be leased to Rosatom, the Russian company that will build the Paks II Nuclear Power Plant. The distance between Paks and Pécs is almost 80 km, but the four-lane M-6 highway is sparsely traveled. Moreover, Mohács along the Danube is only 40 minutes from Pécs. Material could easily reach Paks via Mohács.

Pécs-Pogány International Airport

A few days after the appearance of Szabad Pécs’s article, a Russian delegation led by Alexey Likhachev, the CEO of Rosatom, visited the Pécs airport. He and his fellow Russians were accompanied by members of TEK, Hungary’s Counter Terrorism Center. The delegation first visited Paks. From there they traveled to Pécs to take a look at the airfield. The journalists of Szabad Pécs were on hand and took several photos. I may add that none of the local “government” news outlets said a word about either the government’s takeover of certain municipal assets in Pécs or the possible leasing of the Pécs airport to Rosatom.

The private plane of Alexey Likhachev, CEO of Rosatom, at the Pécs Airport

Despite the visit of Rosatom’s CEO to Pécs, János Lázár denied any knowledge of a deal that might exist between Rosatom and the Hungarian government. As he said, “this topic was not discussed at the cabinet meeting. We did talk about the situation in Pécs, but nothing was said about the exchange of property. As far as the airport is concerned, I read about it in the media.” Of course, the lack of discussion of the matter at a cabinet meeting doesn’t necessarily mean that such negotiations didn’t take place. But Lázár, as usual, went further. He claimed that “if that is important to Rosatom, it has to talk to the municipality. The government has no information, no knowledge of such negotiations. They didn’t approach us with such a proposal.”

Well, as far as we know, the CEO of Rosatom didn’t visit Pécs to talk to the city fathers about leasing the Pécs-Pogány Airport. Moreover, as far as the journalists of Szabad Pécs know, the transfer of certain properties to the government is still on the table.

Today Attila Babos, the local journalist at Szabad Pécs, was invited to publish a longer article in Magyar Nemzet on the possible Rosatom takeover of the Pécs Airport. He claims that it is also likely that, in addition to the airport, the government will take over two city-owned companies: Pétáv Kft., the local district-heating company, and Tettye Forrásház Zrt., the city water company. The latter is the company the city established to take over the functions of the water company operated and partially owned by the French Suez Company. The city promised lower rates, which didn’t materialize, but at least the company is now profitable. Pétáv Kft. is also in the black. But, given the size of the debt, the fear in town is that several other pieces of property might end up in government hands. No one knows whether the city will have any say in what properties it is willing to part with.

Not surprisingly, Fidesz’s name is mud in Pécs. Páva and his coterie of Fidesz politicians, including the two Fidesz members of parliament representing the city, are blamed for the present state of affairs. As Attila Babos said in his article, “not even within Fidesz does anyone seriously think that the government parties [Fidesz-KDNP] can possible win in the city in the spring of 2018.” Still, Viktor Orbán cannot leave the city in the lurch. At the same time, the government feels that it has to make “the city pay” in order to show that such irresponsible behavior cannot be tolerated.

Finally, a few words about Szabad Pécs. On March 22 several internet news sites reported that three former employees of Dunántúli Napló who lost their jobs when Lőrinc Mészáros bought the last eight of the 109 regional papers not yet in government hands, including Dunántúli Napló which has been in continuous existence since 1946, decided to start an online paper, concentrating on Pécs and Baranya County. Without them we would know next to nothing about Rosatom’s interest in the Pécs airport or the quick visit of Alexey Likhachev. That tells us a lot about the state of the Hungarian media outside of Budapest.

September 21, 2017

Friction between natural allies: The Orbán government and the Catholic Church

András Veres has been widely criticized ever since he delivered a brief but controversial sermon at the official Catholic celebration of August 20, Hungary’s premier national holiday. Veres, the bishop of Győr and the president of the Conference of Hungarian Bishops, is well known for his extreme conservatism. So when I heard that he would deliver the homily, I assumed that he would use the occasion to promote reactionary views of the Hungarian Catholic Church. I was surprised when I read the summary by MTI, the state-owned news agency. The summary was extremely short and devoid of any extremism.

Well, it didn’t take long before it was discovered that MTI had left out all the passages in which Veres was critical of the Orbán government. Magyar Kurír, the official internet site of the Conference of Hungarian Bishops, published the complete text, in which this passage could be found:

Brothers and sisters, we must pay attention to an internal danger. A deviously worded law under the guise of good intentions which ignores Christian values furtively is sneaking into the fabric of a Christian-based society, planting the blight of self-abdication. The last time we saw such a thing was in the provision to increase support for the test-tube baby program.

Another passage that was deemed unimportant by MTI was the one that dealt with relations between church and state. What Veres had to say on the subject, in my opinion, amounts to asserting the supremacy of the church over the state.

We Christians cannot abdicate our duty of shaping society according to the value system of the gospel. On the one hand, because we know that we serve the good of all people and, on the other, because if we renounced that task we would not fulfill our mission of baptism, that is, we wouldn’t be building the kingdom of God.

It took a couple of days before the real meaning of the words on the test-tube baby program sank in, but when it did, the outrage was widespread. Something unusual happened in a country of enormous political divisiveness: it mattered not whether people support the government or are in the opposition, they found Veres’s words unacceptable. When I read an open letter addressed to András Veres by László Szentesi Zöldi, I realized the depth of the rejection of the position of the Catholic Church on the subject. Szentesi Zöldi is a journalist who is usually the first to defend the Catholic Church. And yet in this letter he took it upon himself to teach the prelate about true Christianity.

András Veres, bishop of Győr

A long list of well-known personalities expressed their disappointment over Veres’s position. Some commentators couldn’t understand why Veres chose this particular occasion to get involved with such a controversial topic. But there is a fairly simple explanation that got lost in the emotional outcry against the church’s official doctrine. From the snippets of information that we have, the Christian Democratic People’s Party (Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt/KDNP), which considers itself to be the political arm of the Catholic Church seems to be extremely unhappy with the government’s decision to enlarge the test-tube baby program. As of now, the state funds the birth of 6,000 test-tube babies a year, but because of outside pressure as well as the government’s interest in increasing the number of births, it promised enough funds to double that number to 12,000. My suspicion is that behind the scenes Fidesz is encountering opposition from KDNP at the urging of the Catholic Church.

The question of expanding the program has been on the table for far too long. It was during the second Orbán government (2010-2014) that Miklós Szócska, undersecretary of health, commissioned a study that came to the conclusion that the expansion of the program might produce 10,000 new babies every year. His successor, Gábor Zombor (June 2014-September 2015), continued advocating for an expansion, and this time the government actually approved the measure. But its implementation was postponed. This spring his successor, Zoltán Ónodi-Szűcs, brought up the issue once again, but those eager would-be parents who might benefit from the expansion of the program are still waiting.

I fear they can wait for a while, because I’m quite certain that the “discussion” between Fidesz and KDNP hasn’t been settled yet. In fact, if we can trust Rózsa Hoffmann (KDNP), former undersecretary of education (2010-2014), the fight over the issue is raging at the moment. According to her, “the test-tube baby program can be continued, but because of the Catholic Church’s objection there will still be a lot of debate on the issue.”

An article published today confirms my suspicion of the raging debate between the government parties. The author of the article calls attention to the fact that there is “total chaos surrounding the test-tube baby program.” For example, two undersecretaries in the ministry of human resources hold diametrically opposed positions on the issue. Katalin Novák (Fidesz), undersecretary in charge of family affairs in the ministry of human resources, distanced herself from Bishop Veres by emphasizing the enormous help the program gives to infertile parents. She reiterated that the expansion of the program will be approved soon. On the other hand, Bence Rétvári (KDNP), political undersecretary in the same ministry, did not stand by the program and was extremely vague on the details. Rétvári, who is a typical member of a party that considers itself to be the arm of the Catholic Church, suspects that the promoters of the program support the idea because it gives extra work and income to those institutions that specialize in this particular medical procedure. Whether the public outcry will tip the scale in favor of doubling the program we don’t know yet.

András Veres subsequently gave interviews explaining the church’s position, and the more he said the worse it got. Since the church believes in birth only through natural means, infertile couples just have to cope with their lot. Or, as a remedy, they could adopt a child, which would relieve their anxiety so they could eventually produce a child of their own. No one seems to be convinced.

As for Veres’s second statement, about the duty of the church to shape society, no has taken notice of it yet, although it might be a much more weighty statement than the church’s views on test-tube babies. After all, 80% of women pay not the slightest attention to the Catholic church’s views on reproduction. The shaping of society according to the value system of the Catholic church is a much more frightening prospect, especially in a country like Hungary where state and church are far too close as it is.

August 25, 2017

Hungarians oppose the Orbán government’s policy toward ethnic Hungarians living abroad

Originally, I considered writing about the “gala interview” that László Kövér gave to Magyar Idők yesterday. I must admit that this decision was based mostly on the couple of reactions I read, which insisted that Kövér’s interview was the craziest he has ever given, that it’s becoming apparent to everyone that the president of the Hungarian parliament is not quite normal. Index, ahead of the interview’s publication, was sure that the interview would have “exciting” parts, while a journalist from Pesti Bulvár, a liberal internet site, was flabbergasted after reading it.

So, foolish me, I thought this interview would give us new insight into Kövér as well as into the latest mindset of the Fidesz leadership. Perhaps I have developed an immunity to everything that comes from the characters who are running the country at the moment, but I found nothing new in this “gala interview.” I guess what shocked the journalists of Pesti Bulvár was that Kövér announced that he wouldn’t be surprised if the European Union collapsed in his lifetime. Kövér is 58 years old, so the timetable is pretty tight. Aside from this prophecy, Kövér repeated his belief in the conspiracy of certain clandestine powers (háttérhatalmak) that, at the time it was first floated by Viktor Orbán a year ago, consisted of the U.S. government, the Clintons, George Soros, and the civic organizations financed by him. By now the composition of this group of evil spirits has changed somewhat. After the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, “a certain segment of the intellectual, political, and economic elite” joined the conspiracy because “they are trying their best to hamstring the democratically elected president.” So, instead of the U.S. government, Kövér considers the American liberal elite part of the hidden powers that run the world. I fail to see what is new in all that.

On the other hand, there is something that is worth discussing. A new poll was just released showing that Hungarian citizens living in Hungary have serious reservations about the financial assistance given to ethnic Hungarians who live in neighboring countries. They also reject their participation in Hungarian elections.

Those of you who follow the discussions among readers of Hungarian Spectrum may recall that only a few days ago I expressed my personal misgivings about giving voting rights to people who have possibly never set foot in the country. They don’t live and work there, but now they have the right to determine the political fate of the country, possibly at the expense of those who have to carry the political and economic burden of it. Ex Tor especially took exception to my position, saying that there can be no citizenship without voting rights. At that time I looked at the electoral laws of several European countries and found that most of them do in fact grant voting rights but that there are exceptions. In any case, I believe that the Hungarian situation is unique, if for nothing else but the large number of votes expected from the neighboring countries. If the government’s plans materialize, about ten percent of all votes cast would come from abroad.

Now let’s see the results of the poll Publicus Institute published for Vasárnapi Hírek. Just as I said earlier, my hunch was that Hungarians wouldn’t mind giving citizenship to those who can prove Hungarian ancestry but who were born and still live in another country, be it one of the neighboring countries or countries such as Canada, the U.S., France, or Germany. The majority, however, object to certain privileges these ethnic Hungarians receive at the moment. They resent the sizable amount of money that is being spent on projects in the neighboring countries to benefit ethnic Hungarians. They oppose their entitlement to various social benefits in Hungary. They have serious objections to the voting rights of dual citizens. They consider the present law, which makes a distinction between new dual citizens and Hungarian citizens who work abroad, discriminatory and unfair. And when it comes to spending billions on the football academy in the Szekler-inhabited area of Romania, they are really up in arms (-81%).

Anyone who’s interested in all the details of the poll can visit Publicus’s website. Here I will summarize only the most important findings. On the whole, there is strong support (68%) for granting dual citizenship to those who want to become Hungarian citizens, but backing for the legislation that granted it varies greatly, depending on party affiliation. Fidesz and Jobbik are strong defenders of the measure, while the majority of MSZP voters object even to dual citizenship as a concept. (Publicus has the habit of putting all left-liberal parties under MSZP.)

The situation is entirely different when it comes to the fabulous amount of money the Orbán government spends on ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, and Slovakia. The majority of respondents disapprove of the policy of providing social benefits similar to the ones they receive to people who have never lived in the country. People feel strongly against providing dual citizens with pensions, paid leaves for new mothers, travel discounts, and welfare benefits (60-70%), but somewhat strangely 55% would provide them with healthcare. When it comes to the reasons for Fidesz’s generosity toward ethnic Hungarians, the majority of the Hungarian voters cannot be fooled. Or at least only Fidesz voters (57%) believe in their party leaders’ altruism. The most skeptical bunch are the Jobbik voters (77%), closely followed by MSZP (74%), but uncommitted voters are not far behind (63%). The fact that new dual citizens can vote via mail as opposed to Hungarian citizens working abroad, who must travel miles to reach the embassy or a consulate, is considered to be discriminatory and unfair by 81% of the people. On the crucial question of voting rights, 57% of the respondents indicated their opposition to the present practice.

Although the Orbán government’s “national policies” (nemzetpolitika) are unpopular, the government considers the “investment” worthwhile, as is obvious from its frantic spending on Hungarian ethnic groups lately. The government spends hand over fist on those “sisters and brothers” abroad who are squarely in the Fidesz camp. The extra votes Fidesz expects to receive from them are considered to be crucial in the forthcoming election. Moreover, since there is no independent oversight of the incoming ballots, their numbers can be manipulated, depending on need. Let’s not forget that Fidesz’s two-thirds majority in 2010 was announced after the foreign votes were counted. It was highly suspicious then, and it will be equally suspicious if a similar situation occurs in 2018.

August 20, 2017

Life in the Hungarian transit zones

The other day I happened upon an opinion piece in Magyar Idők written by Georg Spöttle, one of the many somewhat mysterious national security experts attracted to the Orbán government. He is allegedly a retired German army officer who has permanently settled in Hungary. His background is murky, as one can see from an interview he gave to Magyar Nemzet in 2002.

Spöttle’s op-ed piece was supposed to quiet the hysteria created by Magyar Idők, a Fidesz MP, and three mayors in the Lake Balaton area over the vacation plans of Migration Aid for a few asylum seekers. But Spöttle spent about half of the article on the conditions in the two by now infamous transit zones set up by the Hungarian government for refugees waiting for an official decision on their cases.

Access to the zones at Röszke and Tompa is severely limited. In addition to organizations of the United Nations, six aid organizations can visit the camps. Spöttle, due to his privileged position, had no problem paying a visit and gave a glowing report on the circumstances that exist there. If he had to choose between “a transit zone in Berlin and Röszke,” he would choose the latter. Let’s not quibble over the fact that Berlin has no transit zones like the ones the Hungarians set up along the Serbian-Hungarian border. The Hungarian accommodations are actually prisons, from which the only escape route leads back to Serbia. According to Spöttle, the mostly Afghan families who currently live there are enjoying the few weeks they have to spend in containers enclosed by a barbed-wired fence and under heavy guard. He saw many smiling and waving children playing football.

This description is in stark contrast to what others who are familiar with the conditions in these transit zones report. A couple of refugees who, after spending some time in the Tompa camp decided to return to Serbia, described the conditions there. Apparently, this particular camp has five separate “sectors” sealed tight with a four-meter barbed-wire fence around each. Inhabitants of one sector cannot cross to another. Each sector has about 70-80 people, including 20 children who had to share a 10×10 m area. The metal containers are not air-conditioned and are therefore unbearably hot, especially given the sweltering weather this year in Hungary. There is no shade, not even any grass, only white gravel. Each person is heavily guarded. A UN official described a scene where a sick man was escorted 20-30 meters to the doctor in the other sector by five armed guards. People who had to visit a hospital are handcuffed. All in all, the conditions are horrendous and, what is more important, illegal. Also, apparently the quality and quantity of food is inadequate, especially in the case of children and pregnant women. Add to all this uncaring officials and guards. The two men could recall only one decent person in the whole bunch, a blonde woman who would actually say hello and smile at the children. Of course, the Hungarian authorities deny these charges and claim that there are all sorts of amenities the former inmates and UN observers failed to notice, like the availability of Arab-language television channels and playrooms for the children.

Source: Index / Photo András Földes

All this sounds pretty bad, but the story Index reported about a week ago is truly hair-raising. It is about an Iranian-Afghan couple with three children and a fourth on its way. The wife’s first husband was killed by members of the Taliban and she was raped, but eventually she managed to escape to Iran where she married an Iranian. The family for political reasons left Iran and ended up in Greece, where a human trafficker insisted that they split up. The woman and the children went by car and the husband hid in a truck. The husband made it, but the wife and children were caught in Macedonia.

In our technologically advanced age the husband knew precisely the whereabouts of his family and decided to go to Macedonia to pick them up. He made the mistake of traveling through Hungary on his way south and was caught and placed in a sealed refugee camp. In order to get out of the camp as soon as possible, he decided to seek asylum in Hungary. After four months spent in what amounted to jail and having been denied asylum, he crossed the Serbian-Hungarian border on his way to Macedonia, where he was reunited with his family. They turned north and in April 2017 reached the Hungarian border, where they were placed in one of the transit zones. But then came the real surprise. Since the husband had been denied asylum by the Hungarian authorities, he is not entitled to food rations while locked up in the transit zone. So, he must live on the leftovers of the rations his wife and two older children receive, which are meager. The smallest child gets powdered milk. In the last three months he received three food packages from the Red Cross, the Hungarian Reformed Church, and the Hungarian Ecumenical Aid Organization.

The paddy wagon / Photo taken by the Iranian husband

The wife, seven months pregnant, would need regular medical checkups, but the only means of transportation is a paddy wagon travelling on a dirt road. She is afraid to sit down on the very narrow wooden seat, fearing injury, but standing is not exactly a safe solution either. She is fearful of losing the baby and is getting more and more distraught. According to the husband, “one of the officers told us that if we want a car in which she can sit down they will bring one for 50 euros, which we don’t have.” How absolutely disgusting.

I haven’t found this particular story yet in the foreign media, but news of the cruel treatment of asylum seekers by Hungarian authorities has been spreading all over the world. Although it is the current Hungarian government that in the final analysis is responsible for this inhumane treatment of the refugees, unfortunately there are just far too many enablers who are ready to lend assistance and support to the government. The powers-that-be have been inculcating fear in the citizens, which by now has morphed into widespread hatred of all outsiders. Index asked at the beginning of its article on the Iranian-Afghan family: “What do you think of a country, dear reader, which treats a family with small children this way?” Indeed, what do you think?

August 17, 2017

What are Soros’s solutions to the refugee crisis? Not what Orbán claims

Most people will be surprised to hear that until now no one bothered to publish a Hungarian translation of George Soros’s article “This is Europe’s Last Chance to Fix Its Refugee Policy,” which appeared in Foreign Policy. This is especially surprising since it was on the basis of this article that the Orbán government declared Soros to be the devil incarnate who wants to abolish nation states, destroy European culture, and inundate Hungary with migrants.

The article was written a year ago, shortly after the Brexit vote and before the rerun of the Austrian presidential election, the Hungarian referendum on refugee policy, and naturally all the national elections in Europe that took place in 2017. Soros looked upon the refugee crisis and Brexit as threats to the very existence of the European Union. He was naturally concerned over the growth of xenophobia and nationalism, with the accompanying rise of far-right parties and ideologies. Under these circumstances, he felt that a “comprehensive policy ought to remain the highest priority for European leaders; the union cannot survive without it.” What followed were his own recommendations for such a comprehensive approach, which would be built on “seven pillars.”

Before he outlined his “seven pillars,” Soros stressed that “the refugee crisis is not a one-off event.” The world must expect high migration pressures in the coming years, and therefore the European Union and other western countries must together work out an orderly and humane immigration policy.

The seven pillars are:

  1. The European Union, like the United States or Canada, should set a limit of legal immigration of 300,000 people a year from countries where most of these refugees and economic migrants are currently. The rest of the world could also take in the same number of people. This would be a high enough number that it would discourage illegal border crossings. Moreover, once this guaranteed quota is in place, those people illegally crossing the border of the European Union would be disqualified from being admitted as legal immigrants.
  2. The European Union must regain control of its borders. The chaos that exists now alienates and scares the public. The remedy is to provide Greece and Italy with sufficient funds to care for the asylum-seekers temporarily.
  3. Funds are necessary for the long-term challenges connected to the refugee crisis, which at the moment are not available. In 2014 the member states and the European Parliament reduced and capped the EU budget at 1.23 percent of the sum of its members’ GDP, which is simply inadequate. Soros thinks that 30 billion euros a year will be needed to carry out a comprehensive asylum plan, which is a lot of money but still less than the political, human, and economic cost of a protracted crisis. How should the EU get the money? “By raising a substantial amount of debt backed by the EU’s relatively small budget.” The EU has a low amount of debt, and “it should therefore leverage this budget like all sovereign governments in the world do.”
  4. The EU must build common mechanisms for protecting borders, determining asylum claims, and relocating refugees.
  5. Soros is against the stillborn resettlement and relocation programs. “The union cannot coerce either member states or refugees to participate in these programs. They must be voluntary.” He suggests a program based on public-private initiatives in which small groups of individuals, community organizations, and companies support the integration of the newcomers. He brings up the example of Canada, which in four months admitted 25,000 Syrian refugees before the summer of 2016 and promised to settle 10,000 more by the end of the year. That number for Canada would be the equivalent of the EU allowing the settlement of 4.5 million immigrants annually.
  6. The European Union and the international community in general should be much more generous in their support of the refugee-hosting countries and African nations which at the moment receive financial aid only in exchange for migration control.
  7. Soros shares the general view that, given the EU’s aging population, it “must eventually create an environment in which economic migration is welcome.” Merkel’s generous act “was not well thought through” because such great numbers couldn’t be properly handled. Nonetheless, in his opinion “the benefits brought by migration far outweigh the costs of integrating immigrants.”

Soros is convinced that “pursuing these seven principles is essential in order to calm public fears, reduce chaotic flows of asylum seekers, ensure that newcomers are fully integrated, establish mutually beneficial relations with countries in the Middle East and Africa, and meet Europe’s international humanitarian obligations.”

©AP / Anja Niedringhaus

It is this article that is the basis of the Orbán government’s accusations against George Soros as the evil manipulator who wants to flood Europe with millions of non-European, non-Christian people, as a result of which Europe would lose its character. But as we can see, Soros agrees with Viktor Orbán on many issues. He thinks that the compulsory settlement of refugees is outright wrong. It is unfair to the local population as well as to the refugees. He also puts a great deal of emphasis on the effective defense of the European Union’s borders, just like Orbán. He, like Orbán, also wants to give more money to countries outside of Europe which are the first stations in the migrants’ journey to Europe.

Viktor Orbán may agree with many of George Soros’s ideas, but when it comes to the immigration of non-Europeans to the continent the Hungarian prime minister is adamant. He refuses to acknowledge the continuing migration pressures that force the EU to find solutions. Orbán’s answer of total exclusion is unrealistic. There is no way of preventing millions of people from entering the territory of the European Union.  For one country to erect a fence is a useless exercise. His boasting about his own fence on the Serbian-Hungarian border, which allegedly defends the whole of Europe from millions of illegal immigrants, is outright ridiculous. The only thing he managed to achieve with the fence was to prevent the asylum-seekers and economic migrants from traveling through Hungary toward their final destination.

Orbán also disagrees with Soros on the beneficial effects of immigration. First of all, he believes that current demographic trends can be solved from within, which, as the trends over the last 30-40 years show, is simply not true. No matter what the Orbán government does to promote higher birthrates, a serious turnabout is most unlikely. But for economic growth you need a robust internal market and a vibrant work force. In Hungary not only is the birthrate very low, but emigration is high. According to the latest statistics, every seventh Hungarian child is born abroad.

What is disgusting about the anti-Soros campaign, in addition to its anti-Semitic undertones, is that the government propaganda accuses Soros of things he doesn’t advocate. Most important, he doesn’t support the forcible settlement of refugees in Hungary against the will of the people, as the Orbán government claims. Thus, the whole anti-Soros campaign rests on a lie.

It is high time for Hungarians to read the complete text of Soros’s article which was published in HVG shortly after its publication. I just hope that people will take the time to read it. If they do, they will realize that the Orbán government concocted a whopper of a lie about Soros’s designs on Hungary.

July 9, 2017

Teaching Hungarian doctors to say hello

On June 2 several newspapers reported that a pregnant woman, after leaving the Ferenc Jahn Hospital in Budapest and while waiting for a taxi, collapsed in an epileptic seizure. The taxi driver had the good sense to hold her head to prevent her from injuring herself on the hard pavement. With the help of a passer-by he phoned the ambulance service. The dispatcher wouldn’t send an ambulance and instead suggested going to the hospital for help. But the door was locked and no amount of knocking or honking the car’s horn elicited a response. It took several more calls before the woman’s physician appeared at the door with a nurse. The taxi driver rightly pointed out that the problem is not only the state of Hungarian healthcare but also the attitude of doctors to their patients. I should add that this incident occurred at the same hospital where for several days no one noticed that there was a dead body in a restroom that served visitors to the neonatal unit.

I don’t know what our taxi driver would have thought if he had listened to a conversation between György Bolgár of Klub Rádió and a physician a day after the incident. The illustrious colleague explained to Bolgár why the hospital did what it was supposed to do. Just because the woman collapsed in front of the hospital, the institution had no obligation to accept her. He illustrated the case with the following example. Can anyone whose BMW breaks down in front of a BMW factory expect his car to be fixed right there just because the trouble occurred in front of the plant? People in a hospital have no time for such unexpected incidents. Who can go out? A doctor who is with another patient? Or a nurse who has to look after 40 patients? Yes, the taxi driver could only phone the ambulance service. Soon enough another physician, a woman this time, phoned in. She kept repeating, robot-like, that “there are rules,” and the rules say one must turn to the ambulance service in such cases. Period.

Where it all happened

And what was the reaction of the hospital administration once the story got out? The statement the hospital issued revealed that the security guard inside was fully aware of what was going on in front of the entrance. In fact, he was taking notes. “Everybody knows,” the hospital said, that between 11:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. the main entrance to the hospital is closed. One must use the entrance to the emergency department. As for the incident itself, “it is unfortunate that an epileptic seizure may occur at any time in the case of an epileptic patient.” The hospital administration conducted “a thorough investigation” and found that everybody followed the expected protocol. I should add that the emergency entrance is almost a whole kilometer away from where the incident occurred.

Only a few days after this incident the Állami Egészségügyi Ellátó Központ (ÁEEK), or National Healthcare Services Center, published a so-called performance evaluation, covering the 2013-2015 period. It is an extremely detailed manual of more than 1,000 pages on every possible aspect of the Hungarian healthcare system. Those who are not quite ready to wade through the incredible amount of information should at least read the summary (összefoglaló), which is depressing enough. Within the European Union, Hungary, together with countries like Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia, and Lithuania, is at the very bottom, whether as measured by mortality rate, life expectancy, or number of healthy years. There are incredible regional differences. For example, in Central Hungary, which includes Budapest, men live 6.6 years and women 8.4 years longer than their fellow citizens in Northern Hungary. The correlation between educational attainment and health is a well-known fact, which has a large literature. A man with a grade 8 education will die 12 years earlier than a man with a college degree. In the case of women, the difference is 5.6 years.

But what made the greatest impression on those who read about the study in the media was the notion of “avoidable deaths” which, according to the study, in 2014 was 26% or 32,000 deaths. Fourteen percent of these “avoidable deaths” could have been prevented by timely and appropriate care while 12% of them could have been prevented by better public health practices. Half of those who died before the age of 65 could have been saved if people were more health conscious. With these statistics Hungary ranks 26th of the 28 member states.

In addition to this massive study, Political Capital together with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung organized a conference, “Can healthcare be cured?” Attila Juhász of Political Capital published a short, 30-page study with the same title which he summarized at the conference. Zsófia Kollányi, assistant professor of health policy and economy, mostly talked about Hungarians’ ever worsening health and societal conditions. She gave a few intriguing examples of the depth of the problem. For example, Swedish men live 9 years longer than Hungarian men, but the “real drama” is that if we compare college-educated Swedish and Hungarian men the difference is only five years. On the other hand, if we compare Swedish and Hungarian men with elementary educations the difference is 12 years. So, a greater emphasis on education would also most likely improve Hungary’s health statistics. However, the Orbán regime’s educational policy is moving in exactly the opposite direction.

After Fidesz won the election in 2010, one of the first moves of the Orbán government was to abolish a recently established independent organization that dealt with patients’ complaints. I’m sure that this was at the request of the medical profession, which in those days at least was a strong supporter of Fidesz. This independent watchdog organization was not exactly the favorite of physicians. Márton Asbóth, the lawyer in charge of health issues at TASZ, told the audience that every year 3,000 people turn to the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union with their complaints. So, there would be a great need for the resurrection of such an organization.

Finally, as György Leitner of the Primus Magán Egészségügyi Szolgáltatók Egyesülete (Association of Prime Private Healthcare Providers) said, “Hungarian doctors must be taught to greet people and shake hands.” Andrea Mezei of the Emberibb Egészségügyért Közhasznú Alapítvány (Foundation for More Humane Healthcare) also complained about the attitude of Hungarian doctors toward their patients. According to her experiences, “a cashier at the checkout counter is able to greet the shoppers, but in the doctor-patient relation this is often not true.” Healthcare facilities are like “islands” out of touch with Hungarian society at large. Her foundation tries “to bring normalcy into hospitals” by organizing training for doctors and nurses. They are not welcome in every hospital, and in fact in one hospital the nurses petitioned the hospital administration to prevent them from organizing such training. Leitner, representing the private healthcare providers, seconded Mezei’s observations by saying that not only is money missing from healthcare but also the positive attitude that adds to the satisfaction of the patients.

Which takes us back to the Ferenc Jahn Hospital’s attitude toward the woman with the epileptic seizure and the doctor who compared a hospital to a BMW plant.

June 16, 2017