Tag Archives: parliament

László Kövér’s ideas about the ideal democracy: Governance by decree

I really didn’t think that László Köver, president/speaker of the Hungarian parliament, could still surprise me. Yet he manages. Here is his latest.

By way of preface, I should note that there are some commentators who say that one ought not take Kövér terribly seriously. He is just this kind of a fellow. Perhaps his bark is worse than his bite.

Well, I don’t belong to the camp of those who take him lightly. He is the alter ego of Viktor Orbán. He always was. In reminiscences about the early days of Fidesz participants often describe him as the man who had an enormous influence over young Viktor Orbán. Kövér took his sweet time graduating from law school and therefore was four years older than Orbán. According to those who shared their recollections of Kövér in the book compiled by György Petőcz (Csak a narancs volt), Kövér was a cantankerous, hard-to-get-along-with fellow who was utterly devoted, body and soul, first to the college that he, Orbán, and others ran and later to the party. To those who didn’t particularly like him, he was Viktor Orbán’s evil spirit. If Kövér wasn’t around, it was easy to come to an understanding with Orbán. Some even claim that there is a cowardly side to Orbán; if he feels threatened, he is ready to give in. Not so Kövér. He often propped up Orbán, and thus there could be no compromise in the party leadership.

I don’t know whether it was clear to his fellow college students that the man was an ardent nationalist even then. Apparently Kövér’s real interest was in history, not so much in the law. Therefore he attended classes in the university’s history department. His references to modern Hungarian history reveal his deep-seated nationalism, which leads to historical distortion. In the center of his historical universe stands Trianon. I suspect that in this respect Kövér didn’t change much. As far as his politics are concerned, he did change from ardent socialism to fierce anti-communism with a good dose of right-wing extremism mixed in. On his way from extreme left to extreme right he never managed to feel at home in a democratic republic. The very idea of democracy is alien to the man, as we will see from his latest pronouncement.

Yesterday afternoon Kövér gave an interview to Aréna, a political program on Inforádió, a right of center radio station.  In it he covered many issues dealing with the Hungarian parliament. During the course of the interview he said: “I would find it normal, quite independently from what kind of governments we will have in the next few years, if the parliament would lay claim only to the creation of the most fundamental legal guarantees and would otherwise hand over its mandate to the government for the next four years.” When pressed, he explained that this would mean a kind of governing by decree. In his opinion it is no longer necessary to have a government whose functioning depends on laws enacted by parliament. The present system was worked out in 1989-1990 because of the fear of a return of dictatorship. This fear was justified until 1998. But by now this danger is gone.

An incredible statement demonstrating a complete ignorance of the role of parliament in a democracy. The parliament enacts laws not because it is “afraid of dictatorship” but because the representatives of the electorate thus have the opportunity to discuss the laws proposed by the government and can have a measure of control over them.

Kövér also has peculiar views on the essence of democracy. If there is no fear of dictatorship, the government can do whatever it pleases. Earlier on this blog we discussed Kövér’s willingness to get rid of the Constitutional Court because then, he claimed, parliament would have the final, irrevocable say in matters of policy. But now he would be willing to emasculate the parliament of which he is the speaker and empower the government to govern by decree.

Kövér also seems to believe that once democracy is firmly established it needs no improvement or even much oversight. According to this static view, the democratic political system cannot slide back into dictatorship. It would be amusing, were it not so sad, that Kövér believes that this perfect state of democracy arrived in 1998, when Fidesz won for the first time.

I doubt that Kövér learned much about modern Germany while dabbling in history. Otherwise he might have been more cautious in advocating governance by decree. It was in March 1933 that an amendment to the Weimar Constitution took effect which gave power to Chancellor Adolf Hitler to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. The act stated that this arrangement was to last four years unless renewed, which subsequently happened twice. This so-called Enabling Act (Ermächtigungesetz) gave Hitler plenary powers and made him the dictator of Germany. What did Hitler himself say at the time of the enactment of the Enabling Act? It will sound familiar to us: “after the methodical destruction of the nation” the age of renewal has arrived. “The most important question is the handling of the short- and long-term foreign indebtedness. One must save the German peasantry, and the national government will also assist the middle classes.”

The resemblance between the German Enabling Act and what Kövér proposed in this interview was first picked up by János Avar and seconded by György Bolgár on ATV’s UjságíróKlub last night. It has since been repeated by many bloggers. It is one of the most frightening suggestions I have heard in the longest time. And let’s not fool ourselves. This is not some kind of off-the-cuff remark that Kövér hasn’t thought through. Already in February he was talking about giving more power to the government at the expense of the parliament.  In the interview he complained about the current practice which requires that every piece of legislation be enacted by the legislature and long debated. What a bore! Let’s cut out the middle man.

MSZP and Együtt2014-PM made a joint statement in which Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy found it “appalling that the president of the Parliament wishes to enlarge the authority of the government at the expense of the Parliament.” They considered the very suggestion “threatening.”

This man isn't joking!

This man isn’t joking!

I guess the Fidesz leadership decided that Kövér revealed more of the party’s plans than was advisable and immediately announced that naturally the opposition completely misunderstood what Kövér was getting at. Gergely Gulyás, the constitutional expert of Fidesz, in fact claimed that Kövér said the exact opposite of what we all heard from Kövér’s mouth. In fact, said Gulyás, he was talking about “the extension of the opposition’s rights and the greater oversight of the government by the parliament.”

Some observers, including one of our commenters, suggest that Fidesz here is working on a devilish plan that would allow the party and Viktor Orbán to continue their present policies in case after 2014, as they suspect, they don’t have a two-thirds majority in parliament. By curtailing the powers of parliament and enabling the government to rule by decree, the unfettered governing by the third Orbán government could go on despite a stronger parliamentary representation by the opposition. This hypothesis sounds plausible to me.

Of course, if the opposition wins, the big loser in this scheme will be Fidesz. But Viktor Orbán and his alter ego like to gamble. If I were an opposition politician I would double, triple my efforts to unseat this government. Otherwise Hungarians may end up living in Fidesz’s perfect democracy, known to the rest of the world as a dictatorship.

Endre Ady: “Let us go back to Asia” (1902)

The young Endre Ady in Nagyvárad

The young Endre Ady in Nagyvárad/Oradea

A friend called my attention to an article written by Endre Ady, the great Hungarian poet, in 1902. For those of you not familiar with Ady’s work, I ought say a few words about him. He came from an impoverished Calvinist petty noble family. The house he was born in was no different from those of the Romanian and Hungarian peasants in Érmindszent, today called Adyfalva in Hungarian and Ady Endre in Romanian. After he studied law for a while in Debrecen he became a journalist, but he left the city soon after. The town later became the symbol of backwardness in his poetry. He moved to Nagyvárad (Oradea) which in those days was considered to be a small but lively cultural center. I might add that Nagyvárad in those days had a very large Jewish population. About 15,000 out of the total population of 60,000. It was here that he met the love of his life, Adél Brüll, whom he called Léda in his poems, a rich married woman originally from Nagyvárad who was living in Paris at the time.

He became a correspondent for Nagyváradí Napló, the local daily. If one takes a look at Ady’s Összes prózai művei one must admire his prodigious output. There were days when he was able to write two or three short essays. On Christmas Day of 1901 he wrote even more. Here is the essay I received this morning. Translating it was difficult; I’m no Ady.

* * *

Let us go back to Asia

My beloved lordly [úri]  flesh and blood, the cup is full. We don’t have any right to this place here, so let’s go back to Asia!… Perhaps we will find a small territory somewhere, possibly far away where even the Asiatic people are not inclined toward culture. According to our ancient chroniclers we came here with Árpád, Álmos, and company. But now let’s go back following Stefi Rakovszky, Zoltán Lengyel, Pál Móricz, Jr.[members of parliament] and others. Let’s go while we can.

This lordly crowd with its rich history yesterday managed to sink to the lowest Balkanic level. What happened in parliament yesterday was an entertaining comedy even in its baseness. For a minute I would like to be a treasonous “nationality agitator” so I would be able to fully comprehend with true sensitivity the scandal that occurred in the Hungarian parliament. For such stupidity we were not ready although we have been prepared for everything that can happen here.

Does this country need a parliament? The knout, not parliament. Pardon me, not the knout. Nursery school, kindergarten, and lots of patience if there is anything left of this virtue in the twentieth century.

Vilmos Vázsonyi, the only Hungarian member of parliament who was chosen by self-respecting people, was not allowed to speak in the Hungarian parliament. The children who didn’t allow him to speak are angry because he disturbed their game of merils; the children who play dice at the expense of 19 million people.

This scandal of this most Balkanic parliament opened our eyes. It uncovered the secret that would have been better not ever to be known. We found out that the children of the Hungarian parliament are all the same. It doesn’t matter whether they take their oath to the two-headed eagle, to the dewy pimple of Kálmán Széll, the hat of Lajos Kossuth, the slippers of the infallible Holy Father, it doesn’t matter to what. If one scratches just a little the thick lining of their abstruse cerebrum suddenly they are swarming in front of us in their pitiful similarity.

What did Vázsonyi say? Cultural beasts? In the divine name of culture let’s veto this title. For the sake of the reputation of the beasts because they always dare to show their teeth. Not only when they have something to do with a democratic member of parliament.

My beloved lordly flesh and blood. Asia roared in you yesterday. The nostalgia, the wishful desire of the nomadic, the brutish men broke into a full-fledged attack. I wasn’t there but I see the picture. In the middle there is a goaded single man of intellect. He is knowledgeable, he is ambitious, he is daring, he is determined, they hate him. And–oh, what a horror–his ancestry once-upon-a-time crossed the Jordan River. That little Jewish giant among us. This giant became famous overnight and today thousands adore him and he is knowledgeable. This indeed is the most awful part of it! This man dares to be in our ignorant crowd! And on top of it all, he is Jewish! There he stands confused in the middle of the crowd. A shrill invective can be heard. Zoltán Lengyel yelled, this young  simpleton with insufficient intelligence who in another country couldn’t even be cleaning silverware.  And Mr. Leszkay and Mr. Rakovszky, and other well known idiots. And Vázsonyi leaves this house of comedy in a one-horse buggy.

My beloved lordly flesh and blood. The game of nine-men’s merils that you lose hurts, doesn’t it? Isn’t the slothfulness of the eastern nomadic mentality came to the surface in order to annihilate  this man with instruments we brought along from the Crimea because we can’t fight with his weapons, learning and knowledge? Isn’t it so, my beloved lordly flesh and blood? Because this is the only way to excuse this scandal.

If at all. But not really. Other people are watching us. They see our inability to progress; they see that with Samoyed virtues we are sprawling and wrangling in the middle of Europe as a little piece of  the forgotten Middle Ages. They see that we are empty and they find us wanting. If we want to do something spectacular then we hit a Jew. As soon as we become sober we rush to drink the sweet drink of the colored glory of  the so-called one thousand years. We are idle and good-for-nothings. The parliament, the rock fortress of great nations, is for us good only to discredit it. Where will this lead, my beloved lordly flesh and blood? Because I’m Ur-magyar, not a Jewish peddler [handlézsidó] whom you call everybody who is superior to you. The end of it will be that we will be shown the door from here as if we had never been here before.

Let’s just once be scheming. Let’s go back to Asia. There we will not have to listen to uncomfortably truthful democrats. We will hunt, fish, play a quiet domestic card game and we can meditate about a certain beautiful one-thousand-year-old dream.

Let’s go back, my beloved lordly flesh and blood. Here the letter, the railway kill us. Moreover, there are too many Jews here who keep urging us to go forward. Down with the frills, swords, blessed rosaries, cards, flasks, greyhounds, race-horses, and ancestors! Let’s go back to Asia!

Nagyváradi Napló, January 31, 1902

Orbán’s chief adviser Árpád Habony and his encounter with the law

Let me introduce Árpád Habony, considered to be the éminence grise of Fidesz and the Orbán government. He is apparently “the only man Viktor Orbán listens to,” at least according to people in the know. He is often seen in the background, practically hiding, at important functions. Just lately one cameraman caught him watching Viktor Orbán’s speech from close to the podium. He is often seen visiting the Office of the Prime Minister. He is also present at the meetings of the cabinet. He used to be a frequent visitor to the meetings of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, but apparently lately he lost this privilege, allegedly because some of the more important members of the delegation objected to his presence. If this is true, Habony’s removal from these meetings probably happened against the wishes of Antal Rogán, the whip, because Habony and Rogán seem to be on the best of terms.

Who is this man? Well, on paper he holds no position either in the government structure or in the party. One of the Hungarian newspapers couldn’t even manage to find out whether he receives a salary and, if he does, from whom. Although he has no official title, in the media he is normally referred to as the chief adviser to Viktor Orbán. He is apparently the man responsible for communication. Moreover, his services to Fidesz and specifically to Viktor Orbán are of long standing. He is no newcomer.

Árpád Habony at Viktor Orbán's speech on the achievements of the last year / Photo Gergely Túry

Árpád Habony at Viktor Orbán’s speech on the achievements of the last year / Photo Gergely Túry

Apparently it was Tamás Deutsch who introduced Habony to Viktor Orbán sometime after the lost 2002 elections. Not a very good recommendation, I must say, given Deutsch’s reputation. Habony never attended college. He was described lately as a restorer of art objects and, at one point, was one of the two guards of the Holy Crown. I remember reading somewhere a few years back that he used to have a car repair shop where he worked as a mechanic. Quite a leap. The former car mechanic now drives a Lexus SUV. He is an excellent kendo player. Kendo is a modern martial art of sword fighting. He seems to be also an expert in kung fu.

Habony was seldom written about in the media, except  for some tabloid coverage of  his liaison with a Hungarian actress. Lately, however, he has been on the front page of important publications because it was discovered that in May 2011 Habony was found guilty of disorderly conduct. He also caused bodily harm. He received a very light sentence given the seriousness of the case because of some legal technicalities. I’m at a loss to figure out what the difference is between “büntetés” (punishment) and “intézkedés” (measure) in Hungarian legalese. In any case, if for two years he doesn’t get into trouble his record will be scrubbed clean.

So, what happened? According to Magyar Narancs Habony was driving at a fairly high speed in a residential section of Buda in his Lexus SUV when an older couple pushing a shopping cart walked in front of him. Habony first launched into a screaming session and eventually got out of his car, smashed the shopping cart, knocked the man off his feet, and for good measure kicked the older woman in the stomach. Once all that was done he got back into his car and drove off. Later he tried to claim that the older couple wanted to rob him, but it seems that the judge didn’t fall for that ludicrous explanation. How could they have attempted to rob a man sitting in a large SUV?

Árpád Habony, chief adviser to Viktor Orbán, sentenced for disorderly conduct /Photo Magyar Narancs

Árpád Habony, chief adviser to Viktor Orbán, sentenced for disorderly conduct /Photo Magyar Narancs

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. As soon as Magyar Narancs‘s story came out on February 28 Béla Busch, Habony’s defense lawyer in the case, immediately threatened Magyar Narancs with a lawsuit for violating Habony’s right to privacy. However, privacy laws are designed to protect the reputation of ordinary citizens. Public figures must put up with more intrusion into their lives. That’s why according to Hungarian law ordinary people accused of crimes are described only by their initials but the same is not true of cases involving public figures. The defense lawyer had other objections to the way Magyar Narancs handled the story. He objected to the headline next to  Habony’s picture. According to him, Habony was “not found guilty” of disorderly conduct. He was again referring to some legal fine points, but it seems that his argument doesn’t hold water. Nonetheless, I’m sure that this is not the end of the story and I’m almost certain that Habony’s lawyer will sue Magyar Narancs and perhaps all other publications that dealt with the story.

Herewith a few personal observations. How is it possible that the case of an important person like Árpád Habony surfaces only now when already in 2011 he was sentenced and when Magyar Narancs earlier published a fairly lengthy article about his role as confidant to the prime minister?

I was also astonished to read that when one of the Hungarian newspapers wanted to see the transcript of the trial and the verdict they were told that they have no right to see the material. And, as it turned out, the case cannot be found among the material available online.

It is also worth mentioning that there are just too many right-wing politicians who display verbal and physical aggressiveness. One Fidesz MP, László Tasó, verbally insulted Tímea Szabó (then LMP MP) and later got into a verbal exchange with a family doctor which ended in a physical fight. Earlier a Fidesz MP (2006-2010) physically attacked the policemen who stopped his car. A Fidesz mayor spat on someone with whom he had had some past disagreements. A whole article was written about these cases, saying that Habony found himself “in nice company.” The author didn’t even mention another éminence grise, Lajos Simicska, who a few years ago got into an argument with his neighbor and settled the issue by taking out a chain saw and using it on the neighbor’s fence. Nice guys.

The new parliamentary guards in action

Everybody was waiting to see what the new parliamentary police force, created to keep order in the House, would do once the spring session of parliament convened. Well, we have the answer. They will interfere with citizens’ freedom of speech even if the protest is outside of their jurisdiction. On the other hand, the new force will assist “civic groups” who want to “defend” the government from its own citizens. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

This was the second time that a few hundred people embarked on a walk in the dead of winter to call attention to the extreme poverty that exists in certain regions of the country. Just to give an idea of the seriousness of the situation,  out of the seven regions in Hungary six are among the poorest regions of the European Union. That’s one of the reasons that Hungary is receiving relatively generous subsidies from Brussels for the next seven years. The Hungarian government is supposed to do something to alleviate the unspeakable poverty, backwardness, and unemployment in these regions. I have don’t have high hopes that the money will be well spent.

Last year there was only one hunger march. The participants came from the region around Miskolc in the northeastern part of the country. This year, the decision was made to have not one march but eleven starting off from different parts of the country and converging on Budapest.  MSZP joined the organizers, as one would expect from a social democratic party. Fidesz mayors and activists kept provoking the people walking through their towns. For example, government sympathizers threw rolls at the marchers. We might find this kind of behavior more than low, perhaps even disgusting, but such unfeeling boorishness is part and parcel of Fidesz politics.

From day one Gábor Kubatov, the infamous campaign manager of Fidesz, labelled the hunger marches the “power hunger march of the socialists.” CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), an allegedly independent organization that has been responsible for organizing the peace marches on behalf of the Orbán government, liked Kubatov’s label and decided to wait for the marchers in front of the parliament building with a very professional looking banner reading “Greetings to the marchers for socialist power hunger.”

Koszontjuk2

When Népszabadság inquired from Sándor Csizmadia, the chairman  of CÖF, whether permission was asked and/or granted to put up the banner, the head of CÖF announced that “the organization didn’t ask permission because it was put up as part of a spontaneous flash mob.”

But what Csizmadia and other older organizers of CÖF don’t seem to realize is that with modern technology, especially those pesky omnipresent cell phones, lying is becoming increasingly difficult.  Someone who writes a blog called “The heart of the city” (A város szíve) just happened to be zooming by when he noticed that workers from a professional banner firm with the assistance of the parliamentary police were putting up the CÖF banner. One can clearly read: Házőrség (Parliamentary police) on the back of the blue-uniformed policeman standing by.

Hazorseg

A day later Milla decided to put up their own much more modest banner. Hand made, not professional like CÖF’s. And what a difference between the two messages. While CÖF’s text demeaned the four million Hungarians who live below the poverty line, Milla’s text read “Az ország házon kivül van.” It is subtle message that Milla’s activists can be proud of. For those who don’t know Hungarian here is a brief language lesson. In Hungarian the name of the parliament building is “országház,” literally “house of the country.” Thus, Milla’s banner said “the country is outside of the House.”

The subtlety of the banner’s message didn’t impress an official in civilian clothes who rushed out of the building and ordered Szelim Simándi, a political scientist and Milla activist, off the ladder. But Simándi and the others who were assisting him were not easily intimidated. As someone wrote in an opinion piece, these guys are not like the youngsters in the Kádár regime. After all, Szelim was born in 1988. He knows his rights. He told the unnamed member of the police force of the House that he has no jurisdiction over the area where Milla is planning to put up the banner. Here is the scene, although surely our unnamed policeman in civilian clothes is not happy with it. He even wanted to forbid a newspaperman from taking a picture of him.

What followed is truly bizarre. Photos, video, and eyewitnesses don’t convince the press department of the Hungarian Parliament that lying is not the best response to being caught red handed. The official communiqué  stated that “no steps were taken in the case of either banner because the posts on which the banners were attached are outside of the territory that is under the supervision of the house police.” Yet at the same time Szelim Simándi received an e-mail from someone (Laszlo.Polyak@parlament.hu) in which he was told that because the Office of the Parliament/Országgyűlési Hivatal (the head of the office is László Kövér) didn’t receive a request from him to place the banner in front of the building Simándi will have to pay a 107,400 Ft fine. Plus he will have to remove the banner.

Apparently, at least this is what the Office of the Parliament claimed, they also fined CÖF  for their transgression. Not surprisingly the Milla activists don’t believe them and asked their supporters to write to Laszlo.Polyak@parlament.hu and ask for a copy of the letter sent to CÖF. That is, “if you are curious.”

I have the feeling that Mr. Polyák’s mailbox has been jammed since this request. I’m also certain that no letter was ever sent to CÖF. Moreover, one can always produce one ex post facto.

This incident demonstrates how the Orbán government can manipulate public opinion by financing and otherwise assisting a phony “civic” organization that is actually an arm of the government that serves up its own propaganda. At the same time the government does everything in its power to restrict the movement of the opposition. Szelim Simándi’s interview on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd is definitely worth watching.

By the way, Milla is organizing a demonstration in front of parliament for Monday and is asking for hundreds of banners to protest the government’s underhanded behavior in this case.