Tag Archives: Paris

Hungary is preparing for a possible terrorist attack

Naturally today’s topic must be the horrific terrorist attack carried out at three locations in Paris, which so far have resulted in 129 dead and 350 injured. We still know few of the details, but according to the latest intelligence the attack was carried out by three teams of terrorists. One team may have included a man with a Syrian passport who arrived in Greece in early October. His identity should be easy to ascertain since, according the Greek minister of interior, local authorities fingerprinted him on the island of Leros. Evidence indicates that among the accomplices there might be some men in Brussels. And the German police are investigating the case of a man who was arrested last week with weapons in his car and his GPS set for Paris. (Modern technology can be dangerous.)

President François Hollande declared three days of official mourning. The flags of the European Union will be lowered and black flags will fly next to them. High officials of countries from all over the world sent condolences to President Hollande.

France is in a state of emergency, and military troops are patrolling the capital. This is understandable since the French government considers the assault on its citizens “an act of war.” The attack is most likely a response to France’s military involvement against ISIS and other terrorist groups in Africa.

What is less understandable is the Hungarian government’s reaction to what happened 1,500 km away. The Orbán government is acting as if the terrorist attack occurred in Budapest. Just like in Paris, soldiers were ordered into the capital where they are patrolling downtown streets with machine guns at the ready. At the government’s prodding the Hungarian Football Association tried to cancel the Norwegian-Hungarian match in Budapest tomorrow, but FIFA vetoed the idea, claiming that the crowded schedule would make rescheduling the game very difficult. Thus, the game is being held, but extraordinary precautions will be taken. Tickets will be checked against IDs, and packages will be opened and inspected.

Heavily armed Hungarian soldiers patrolling the streets of Budapest

Heavily armed Hungarian soldiers patrolling the streets of Budapest

It may not have been possible to cancel the soccer match, but Fidesz postponed its congress originally scheduled for tomorrow because the government declared a day of national mourning. I checked whether any other country declared an official day of mourning for the French victims but didn’t find any that followed Hungary’s example. Which suggests that Viktor Orbán is making as much political hay out of the tragedy in Paris as he possibly can. Not that the Hungarian public needs more incitement against the refugees. At the same time, Orbán had to admit that there is no data suggesting any direct threat to Hungary.

Condolences were offered by Viktor Orbán, President János Áder, Fidesz, and the Christian Democratic Party. They all assured the French people of their sympathy. Among the opposition parties two responses were less boilerplate: Jobbik’s and DK’s. Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, felt it important to add to his soothing words that “what happened is what we have been afraid of.” At the other end of the political spectrum was Ferenc Gyurcsány, chairman of DK, who told his followers that “it is almost impossible not to respond to such hatred with hatred. Yet we must attempt to maintain our humanity.”

The Hungarian government hasn’t yet begun blaming European politicians for the terrorist attack, but I suspect that it will soon. For the time being only a pro-government national security expert and former intelligence man considers the attack “the responsibility of the politicians of the European Union.” But even on the right there are some sane voices. For example, György Pápay in Magyar Nemzet warned readers not to fall for either of two extreme positions: to accept all newcomers or to turn inward and exclude everybody. The golden mean must be found. “We can only hope that what happened in Paris will make the leaders of the continent realize that Europe must show unity.” This sounds like a call for Viktor Orbán to stop his destructive activities and to help solve the problems facing the European Union. Unfortunately, I have little hope that Pápay’s wish will be fulfilled any time soon. I suspect that the tragedy in Paris will only fortify Orbán’s conviction that his strategy is the correct one.

Viktor Orbán: “No significant minority among ourselves”

A day before yesterday I wrote about the Hungarian reaction to the terrorist attacks in Paris. Or, to be more precise, about Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s long-held views on immigration and multiculturalism and the right-wing media’s attitude toward freedom of the press. Orbán is against immigration, and right-wing journalists blamed the victims for the tragedy.

A few hours after I posted my article we learned that Viktor Orbán, along with many other prime ministers and presidents, was invited to join the Paris march against terrorism and on behalf of freedom of speech. All told, 44 high-level politicians from all over the world gathered in Paris yesterday, Viktor Orbán among them. The Hungarian media immediately reported that Orbán would fly to Paris on the private jet that belongs to OTP, Hungary’s largest private bank, and that on the way back he would stop in Zurich, apparently to attend a gala gathering of FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) today.

From the very first moment, news of Orbán’s attendance was received with misgivings in the opposition media. Zsolt Sebes in Gépnarancs  was one of the first who questioned Orbán’s right to be among those marchers who are committed to liberal democracy, to freedom of the press and freedom of speech. He is anything but a democrat, in fact he himself admitted that he wants to build an illiberal democracy, the journalist pointed out. “Orban n’est pas Charlie, what is he doing in Paris?” asked Sebes. Sztárklikk considered Orbán’s attendance one of “his most hypocritical gestures since 2010.” This march was about “the republic, freedom of the press, unity of Europe, about everything which is the essence of Europe. What is Orbán doing there?”

But Hungarian opposition papers were not the only ones who considered his presence in Paris incongruous. Le Monde expressed its surprise at seeing such politicians as Benjamin Netanyahu, Sergey Lavrov, Viktor Orbán, Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Ali Bongo in the front rows of the march. Le Monde‘s criticism of Orbán focused on his government’s attacks against the media. Le Monde was not the only paper to object to the presence of certain politicians. Libération and Metro followed suit. And The Independent had the same kind of negative opinion of Viktor Orbán: “In Hungary, Mr Orban pushed through a law in 2010 which restricts independent media and gives the government extensive power over the flow of information.” In brief, he shouldn’t have been among the marchers.

The French president’s reception of Orbán seems not to have been the warmest, as Hungarian opposition papers gleefully pointed out. It stood in sharp contrast to his warm embrace of other dignitaries. Indeed, judging from the pictures taken at the scene, Hollande extended his hand at a moment when Viktor Orbán was still quite far from him, two steps down. Apparently a sign of distancing in the world of diplomacy.

Hollande and Orban

Viktor Orbán is not the kind of man who, when encountering resistance, tries to keep a low profile. On the contrary, in situations like his unwelcome presence in Paris he makes sure that he further incites ill feelings toward him by making inappropriate pronouncements. The rally he attended was “in support of free speech and tolerance in Europe” yet Orbán right on the spot told the Hungarian state television that the Charlie Hebdo murders should make the EU restrict access to migrants. According to him, economic immigration is undesirable and “only brings trouble and danger to the peoples of Europe.” Therefore “immigration must be stopped. That’s the Hungarian stance.” He added that “Hungary will not become a target destination for immigrants…. We will not allow it, at least as long as I am prime minister and as long as this government is in power.” As he said, “we do not want to see a significant minority among ourselves that has different cultural characteristics and a different background. We would like to keep Hungary as Hungary.”

These words got extensive press coverage in the last couple of days not only in Hungary but also abroad because they go against the common values of the European Union to which he himself officially adheres. As the spokesman for the European Commission tersely said: “I don’t comment on statements of any prime minister but the Commission’s viewpoint in connection with migration is unambiguous.”

All opposition parties criticized Viktor Orbán’s nationalistic, xenophobic statement with the exception of Jobbik, whose spokesman praised the prime minister for speaking “almost like a member of Jobbik.”

Lajos Bokros was perhaps the most eloquent. Bokros is the chairman of the Movement for a Modern Hungary which he describes as a liberal conservative party. He wrote an open letter to Orbán, published on Facebook, in which he told the prime minister that he should not speak in the name of all Hungarians. “This is the view of you and your extremist xenophobe allies.” He asked the prime minister why he went to the rally when he does not understand what the whole thing was all about. Bokros repeated Orbán’s words about Hungarians who don’t want to see among themselves people who are different from them, who have different cultural characteristics. It is “terrible even to repeat these words…. If Hungary belongs to the Hungarians, then why doesn’t Romania belong to Romanians? Or Slovakia belong to the Slovaks? What would happen to Hungarians if the neighboring states thought the same way you do?”

DK pointed out that Viktor Orbán’s politics have gotten closer and closer to the extremist attitudes of Jobbik. Orbán’s “chronic populism” has reached a point where he is capable of uttering anti-freedom thoughts at the march for the republic. Orbán’s statement is especially disgusting since about half a million Hungarians currently work in Western Europe and the British Isles. PM joined in, stressing the ever decreasing differences between Fidesz and Jobbik. József Tóbás of MSZP added that “Viktor Orbán sent a message to David Cameron and Angela Merkel to send those Hungarians working in their countries back home.”

If you want to reflect on the irony of the prime minister’s xenophobic position you need look no further than yesterday’s celebration of the country’s German minority, an event that occurs every year on January 11. For the occasion President János Áder made a speech praising multiculturalism. “During the one-thousand-year-history of Hungary it has become evident many times that the members of our national minorities became great Hungarian patriots who enriched our common values, cultures, language.” And he quoted, as is usual on such occasions, the famous line from St. Stephen’s Exhortations to his son Imre: “nam unius linguae uniusque moris regnum, imbecille et fragile est” (a kingdom where only one language is spoken and only one custom is followed is weak and fragile).

M. André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé d’affaires, recalled this quotation in a tweet: “Over lunch, among other things, discussed St. Stephen’s advice about the benefit of diversity.” And he gave a link to the bilingual text available in the Hungarian Electronic Library. Lajos Bokros also asked Orbán: “Didn’t you learn anything from the history of Central Europe? When was the last time you turned the pages of St. Stephen’s Exhortations?” A very long time ago, if ever.