Tag Archives: prime minister’s office

Microsoft had enough: heads rolled

You may recall the huge Romanian corruption scandal that involved large bribes paid to members of the Romanian government in exchange for their approving increases in license fees for Microsoft products. It was in October 2014 that the investigation by the National Anticorruption Directorate began, and soon enough more than 100 persons were identified as being connected to the case. Among them were nine government ministers. Sentencing took place in March and October 2016. Four of the accused are already serving sentences of between two and six years.

There is a good possibility that similar corruption occurred in Hungary, this time involving Microsoft Hungary, a subsidiary of Microsoft Corporation. But the government response couldn’t have been more different.

József Spirk, earlier of Népszabadság and now at 24.hu, broke the news that the parent company had decided to initiate an internal investigation of the business practices of the Hungarian affiliate. In fact, it is likely that the investigation has been going on for some time. Apparently Microsoft headquarters sent a team of investigators to Budapest, perhaps as early as the second half of 2015. The investigators, with the help of a Hungarian law firm, looked into the business practices of Microsoft Hungary, especially during the tenure of István Papp as general manager.

According to Microsoft News, during Papp’s tenure (2011-2015) Microsoft Hungary was recognized as the best-performing Microsoft subsidiary of its size for two years running. In recognition of his achievement, Papp was promoted to the post of vice-president for sales, marketing, and services in the Asia Pacific in August 2015, and he and his family moved to Singapore. But his stay there was short. By March 2016 his employment was most likely terminated. He returned to Hungary, where he became vice president for business development of HIPA (Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency). HIPA is a government organization under the ministry of foreign affairs and trade. It provides professional consulting services to interested companies free of charge, identifying investment possibilities. In brief, he became a civil servant of sorts. After eight months, in August of this year, he decided to establish his own company, called Thriveo. It advertises itself, in its own English, as “No bullshit here. We build or enhance your strategy and engage in execution. We do not apologize for any inconvenience.” Looking at Thriveo’s website, I have my doubts about the future of Papp’s company.

Péter Szijjártó as representative of the government and István Papp as general manager of Microsoft Hungary sign a strategic partnership in December 2012

The other person of interest in this story is Viktor Sagyibó, who spent eight years at Microsoft Hungary between 2008 and January 2016. He started fairly low on the totem pole, but by 2012 he oversaw all sales of Microsoft products to the government. In July 2015 he was promoted again, to supervise the company’s business with large corporations. By April 2016, however, he was no longer at Microsoft. His departure was certainly not advertised. Microsoft simply announced a few months after his departure that his job had been taken over by Gabriella Bábel, who began her career at Microsoft in 2011.

After leaving Microsoft, perhaps under a cloud, Sagyibó became CEO of 4iG Nyrt., a company that designs customized software based on Oracle and Java technology. Its customers are mostly government agencies, like the National Health Insurance Fund, the National Police Headquarters, and the Hungarian Central Statistical Office. His tenure at 4iG, however, was short. Two weeks after getting the job, he resigned “for unforeseeable personal reasons.” Apparently his quick departure from 4iG had something to do with Microsoft’s strong suspicion or perhaps even knowledge that Sagyibó had a role to play in the corruption case Microsoft Corporation was investigating.

Microsoft Hungary doesn’t deal directly with the Hungarian government but uses so-called LAR partners. LAR stands for “large account reseller.” As a result of its investigation, last month Microsoft broke its contracts with three of its largest LAR partners “for ethical reasons.” These companies, as you can well imagine, were on very good terms with the Fidesz government.

The largest company, which was perhaps the busiest business partner of Microsoft, was Humansoft Kft., a company established in 1989. It has business arrangements with Dell, Cisco, Symantec, Fujitsu-Siemens, and many other important companies in addition to Microsoft. Humansoft has a close relationship to important Fidesz figures, and as a result it was the beneficiary of a 1.5 billion forint grant for software development from the European Union in 2015. The second company, Euro One Zrt., is also a well-established firm with 100 employees, while the third one is a much smaller outfit called RacioNet Zrt.

Microsoft’s decision to disrupt the traditional method of doing business with the Hungarian government, going back years, was unexpected and very sudden. It came a few days after János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, announced on November 7 that Viktor Sagyibó, the former Microsoft employee, had been hired as “ministerial commissioner” entrusted with the supervision of all domestic and EU projects. He is also in charge of monitoring information technology development within the so-called Public Administration and Civil Service Development Operative Program, a program that is very large. Hungary will invest over 935 million euros, including €795 million from EU funding, under this rubric

Sagyibó’s government appointment must have been the last straw for Microsoft. 24.hu naturally tried to get more information from Microsoft Hungary. It received no confirmation of the investigation, but the company didn’t deny the rumor.

Interestingly, both István Papp and Viktor Sagyibó ended up, at least temporarily, in government employment. Sagyibó came out especially well. It is not an everyday affair that someone who most likely left Microsoft under a cloud ends up being a commissioner who is supposed to make sure that EU grants are well spent.

December 12, 2017

Viktor Orbán: Moving in 2018 to the place of his dreams?

It is really amazing how easily unabashed lies flow from the lips of Hungary’s current political leaders. For example, last Thursday at the “government info” session János Lázár announced that the relocation of the prime minister’s office to the Castle District of Buda wasn’t Viktor Orbán’s idea at all. It was Ferenc Gyurcsány who in 2004 made plans to move his office right next to the Sándor Palace, which is currently occupied by President János Áder. A few hours later 444.hu published an article titled “For a moment we believed Lázár that it was Gyurcsány who forced Orbán to move to the Castle.” Well, he didn’t fool me because I have been following Hungarian political events ever since 1993. I knew about only one Gyurcsány plan to create a so-called government quarter near the Western Station where all the ministries, currently scattered in expensive downtown buildings, could have moved into modern office buildings. The idea had to be dropped for lack of funds.

Members of the Orbán government should have learned by now that it is dangerous to come out with such brazen lies because these days journalists can debunk them in no time. And what did they find in this case? That in 1999, during the first Orbán government, the decision was made to move the prime minister’s office to the Sándor Palace, a building then in ruins that between 1881 and 1945 had served as the prime minister’s residence and office. The next project would have been the reconstruction of the former Carmelite Cloister next door to be used for government offices. So, Orbán has been plotting for at least fifteen years to move himself and his huge staff to the Castle District.

The reconstruction and refurbishing of the Sándor Palace began in a great hurry in 1999, to be finished by March 15, 2002. Orbán was certain that he would win the elections, to be held between April 7 and April 21. After all, there were polls that showed Fidesz 10% ahead of the socialists. But he lost, and with his defeat his dream of moving into the lavishly refurbished Sándor Palace collapsed. The most he could do was to hold his last cabinet meeting in the palace. For more details of the story see my post “Viktor Orbán and the Sándor Palace.”

After the election, it was decided not to use the palace as an office for the prime minister. Instead, it was declared to be the office of the president. After Orbán’s return as prime minister, people wondered whether he would boot the president out in order to occupy the Sándor Palace himself, but it seems that he realized this would not be a wise move politically. He now seems to be satisfied with separate quarters inside the former Carmelite Cloister, which will be reconstructed as the prime minister’s office with all its 700 or more employees. The location of the building, right next to the Sándor Palace, can be seen on the photo below. In the background on the right is the former royal palace, which will also be completely reconstructed and refurbished. Orbán has expensive taste.

The old Carmelite Cloister, the Sándor Palace and the Royal Palace

The old Carmelite Cloister, the Sándor Palace, and the Royal Palace

It was in June 2014 that we first heard about the plans to move Orbán’s office to the Carmelite Cloister. Just for planning the project, the government set aside 1.4 billion forints. A few months later we learned that in 2016 8.2 billion forints and in 2017 5.8 billion forints will be set aside for the reconstruction of the building. This past February it was announced in Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette) that, in addition, one billion forints will be spent on works of art, I assume for the prime minister’s quarters. Looking at one of the drawings of the plan, I have the feeling that this space will cut out from the interior with most likely a separate entrance for the exclusive use of the prime minister and his visitors. By February of this year newspapers were talking about a total cost of 20 billion forints, which is way over the original 14 billion anticipated in 2014.

One problem facing the architects is that the Carmelite Cloister is a historic building under special, very stringent protection. This particular building is situated in the Buda Castle District, which is one of the nine UNESCO heritage sites in Hungary. No major structural changes are allowed that alter the exterior of the buildings. And yet a few days ago it became clear that Viktor Orbán’s plans include a balcony facing the Danube. As you can see from the video of the interior of the Sándor Palace, it has a terrace with a terrific view of the city, which is always shown to visitors. I guess Orbán is not satisfied with anything less. What UNESCO thinks of the balcony idea we don’t know yet, but Gábor Fodor’s Magyar Liberális Párt is planning to inquire of UNESCO whether it has given its blessing to adding a balcony to the building.

The building has a colorful history. A medieval church that stood there was destroyed by the Turkish occupiers, who built a mosque in its place. The mosque was also destroyed at the time of the liberation of Buda in 1686. The empty lot was given to the Carmelite sisters, who built a church and a cloister in the early eighteenth century. Emperor Joseph II with the Edict of Idle Institutions disbanded monastic orders that didn’t engage in teaching, nursing, or other practical work. As a result, the number of contemplative friars and nuns dropped from 65,000 to 27,000. Joseph expropriated the monasteries and took their money to pay ordinary priests more. The Carmelite sisters’ cloister was one of the victims of Joseph’s reforms. He visited Buda in 1786 and personally decided to transform the church into a theater and the cloister into a casino. It was in this building that Beethoven gave a concert on May 7, 1800. In addition, all the great Hungarian actors and actresses of the nineteenth century who later founded the National Theater played in Várszínház (Castle Theater).

During World War II the building was heavily damaged, and it was only in the 1970s that it was rebuilt and again became a functioning theater with its old name “Várszínház.” Between 2001 and 2014 the Nemzeti Táncszínház (National Dance Theater) rented the building, which they then had to vacate.

I wonder what the fate of this dream of Hungary’s megalomaniac prime minister will be. Will he ever move into the building with a commanding view of his capital, a capital he doesn’t really like? Or will something interfere with his plans, like in 2002 when his cherished dream came to naught? Despite their seeming self-confidence, György Matolcsy’s most likely illegal foundations with their corrupt practices have shaken this government more than the leading Fidesz politicians let on. I suspect Orbán often reflects on the fate of his palace in which he could hold only one cabinet meeting, which must have resembled a funeral after a lost election. He might consider it a bad omen that his new office, so close to the former Royal Palace, will again be ready in an election year. The original deadline for the completion of the building was March 15, 2016, safely tucked between two elections. But now it will be ready for occupancy only in 2018. I’ll bet it worries him.

April 30, 2016

Guide book to embezzlement of European Union subsidies. Part I

Today and tomorrow I will look at three recent corruption cases in Hungary, all of which involve money received from the European Union.

Two Hungarian politicians are currently spending a lot of energy uncovering corruption cases. One, Benedek Jávor (PM-Együtt), is a member of the European Parliament who sits with the Greens. The other is Ákos Hadházy, a veterinarian from Szekszárd who began his political career as a Fidesz member of the city council. Once the corruption of the Fidesz members of the council became apparent, he resigned his post and quit the party as well. He is now a member of LMP.

Both men are doing a splendid job. Jávor is in an infinitely better position than Hadházy because he receives information from the EU and its anti-corruption arm, OLAF. Jávor has made a real impact, especially concerning the Paks II nuclear power plant and its most likely illegal financing. Hadházy, on the other hand, is at the mercy of the Hungarian authorities or the police who simply ignore his inquiries and/or criminal complaints. Although he has been working tirelessly on dozens of cases, he is unable to show any results. Hadházy is now hoping that if he and his fellow LMP politicians regularly make corruption cases public, they will be more difficult to ignore. Thus, every Thursday he will reveal one case. He claims that he has enough cases to keep “Corruption Info” going for at least a year.

Today I’ll focus on Hadházy’s first case, presented at the launch of “Corruption Info.” I will devote tomorrow’s post to Benedek Jávor’s successful efforts in Brussels.

Ákos Hadházy arrived at the press conference with a recording of a conversation between Rezső Ács, the mayor of Szekszárd, and Péter Máté, a Fidesz member of the city council. The conversation took place in 2012. It was about the decision of the city council to entrust a particular job to a company that charged considerably more than its competitors. Here is a portion of the conversation:

-Eighty-five percent support!

-Yes, yes, but this is a good offer. The price is high, but it can be done in such a way that the person who does it will finance the whole thing and therefore it will not cost us anything.

-Is it overpriced?

-Yes. This is how the tendering procedure works today in Hungary. He comes and tells me that he will do everything. He will win the tender, but he will bring everything. And if not, then he will go to the city next door. Because he has a quota which he can divide. This is how it is behind closed doors.

I’m sure that we all need an explanation of this cryptic description of the process. First of all, the ministry responsible for the tender has a certain number of businesses that have a chance of receiving these EU jobs. Each of them is allotted a quota, so if Szekszárd doesn’t grab the opportunity, the owner of the company will go to the next town. And if Szekszárd makes the mistake of awarding the tender to someone else, they most likely will either get no funding or they will have to put down 15% before the work begins. But one of the privileged companies will promise “to do everything”:  the application as well as the work itself. Only large, well-off companies are able to participate in this game because they have enough capital to wait for payment until the very end of the project, when the money from Brussels arrives. In the case of the project discussed on the tape, the company who did the project charged 115 million forints as opposed to 60 million, which would have been the price without the ruse devised by the Hungarian ministry officials and their corrupt business associates. By the end, with overruns, the cost turned out to be 130 million, paid in full by the European Union.

Ákos Hadházy at his first "Corruption Info"

Ákos Hadházy at his first “Corruption Info”

According to Hadházy, what’s going on are criminal acts of a mafia-like network that reaches and is perhaps even orchestrated by the ministries. He mentioned the prime minister’s office and the ministry of human resources as the main sources of this criminal activity. Apparently, 12 trillion forints worth of tenders subsidized by the European Union are offered by these two ministries.

The reaction of the prime minister’s office was typical. The real culprit is Ákos Hadházy, who sat through this discussion and kept the recording secret instead of going to the police immediately after the discussion took place. Thus, Hadházy is an accessory to a criminal act. According to the spokesman of the prime minister’s office, LMP, instead of holding weekly press conferences, should go to the police immediately and report all suspicious cases they know about.

The prime minister’s office underestimated András Schiffer, co-chair of LMP, who although not my favorite is a very good lawyer. Naturally LMP made sure that everything was professionally prepared. First of all, as soon as the project was finished and paid for, Hadházy filed a criminal complaint concerning the case. That was two months ago. Since then he received a letter from the police saying that they could not find any reason to investigate the Szekszárd case because they found nothing that would indicate abuse of office or misappropriation. However, the police sent the case over to the National Office of Taxation and Customs (NAV). The case bounced back from NAV, which stated that the case has nothing to do with budgetary fraud. It is a case for the police.

Rezső Ács, the Szekszárd mayor, went further. He blamed the socialist-liberal administration for the city council’s decision to offer the job to a company in 2012, two years after Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz won the election.

Tomorrow I will relate stories of criminal activities committed by the Hungarian government in its direct dealings with the European Union.

To be continued

January 29, 2016

The Quaestor story is becoming less transparent despite the release of documents

It was four days ago that I wrote an article titled “A Crime in Search of a More Coherent Cover-up.” Well, the Orbán government is still searching and the story, instead of becoming more coherent, is getting more confusing. It’s hard to know whether the government is intentionally obfuscating the issue or whether it simply can’t concoct a halfway believable plot in which nobody in the government is at fault. The prime minister, we have been told, misremembered. It seems that the buck didn’t stop with him after all. But at the same time he doesn’t want to implicate any of his colleagues. That wouldn’t be good for business.

Meanwhile the police twiddled their thumbs, presumably waiting for instructions from above. Although Quaestor collapsed on March 9 and rumor had it that Csaba Tarsoly, its CEO, was a flight risk, they did nothing until March 26. Finally, two days ago, they arrested Tarsoly.

The chief prosecutor of Budapest, Tibor Ibolya, tried to explain away the delay by saying that “he did not want to prejudice the case” by acting hastily. In order to bolster this claim he had the temerity to quote the guidelines of the European Court of Justice. It is hard to tell whether Ibolya is just incompetent or, more likely, an eager accomplice of the Orbán government like his boss, Péter Polt. To get a sense of the man, I recommend Olga Kálmán’s interview with him on Egyenes beszéd (Straight talk).

QuaestorAlthough we heard earlier that Csaba Tarsoly, CEO of Quaestor, had officially announced the firm’s bankruptcy, the revised account is that no such notification to the authorities ever took place. Tarsoly simply told the National Bank that the company had collapsed; he didn’t file any bankruptcy papers. As a result, Tarsoly and his associates had plenty of time to get rid of evidence, hide assets, and do all sorts of things that would obscure their allegedly illegal activities.

It is possible that a great deal more public money landed in the coffers of Quaestor than the 3.5 billion returned in the form of cash to the Magyar Nemzeti Kereskedőház (Hungarian National Trading House), which is under the jurisdiction of the ministry of foreign affairs and trade. Népszabadság received information that the ministry of agriculture lost millions, but the paper’s Fidesz sources said that its money was not at Quaestor. I, however, wouldn’t be at all surprised if this ministry also had money with Quaestor because of Tarsoly’s close business connections with Szilárd Kiss, the man accused not only of embezzlement but also of possible connections to the Russian Federal Security Service. Kiss was a special favorite of the minister of agriculture, Sándor Fazekas.

The Hungarian public was promised information about the extent of the loss of public funds by tomorrow. This will be a tricky document to put together.

By now the government seems to have realized that it has lost public confidence. Therefore in the last few days it released a number of documents to build a more believable story.

Among the documents the government released is the March 9th letter of Csaba Tarsoly to Viktor Orbán in which the Quaestor CEO asks for government help in saving his firm. He requested a 300 billion forint loan to protect 50,000 small investors, resulting in greater public trust in the Orbán government. The government even released Viktor Orbán’s answer as transmitted by his private secretary:

We gratefully acknowledge the receipt of your letter. The Prime Minister informed the minister of economics of its content. Mihály Varga will appoint a person to conduct the negotiations you suggest. He will most likely get in touch with you today.

It looks as if Hungary’s prime minister was prepared to make a deal with the man whom now he calls a crook.

One would assume, on the basis of these letters, that the man appointed by Mihály Varga actually had a conversation with Tarsoly on the evening of March 9th, which was unsuccessful. Therefore, Tarsoly had no choice but announce, albeit unofficially, the collapse of Quaestor to György Matolcsy, president of the Hungarian National Bank. Today, however, we learned that this sequence of events, however logical, is wrong.

VS.hu asked for additional information from the ministry of national economy, and it actually got what its reporter asked for. Yes, Mihály Varga did appoint Undersecretary Gábor Orbán (no relation to the prime minister), who met Tarsoly not on 9th but on the following day, March 10th. Apparently he didn’t like Tarsoly’s proposal. Undersecretary Orbán “found the plan unrealistic and unacceptable because it would have put the whole financial burden of restitution on the Hungarian government.” Another inexplicable twist in an already badly twisted story. What was the point of negotiation between Csaba Tarsoly and the Hungarian government a day after the unofficial announcement of Quaestor’s collapse? Why didn’t Tarsoly wait until he had a chance to talk to Gábor Orbán? Is it possible that Tarsoly was still hoping to make a deal, even after March 10th? That he viewed the collapse of Quaestor as remediable?

In this story of twists and turns, contradictions and memory lapses, Népszava noticed another oddity. While the prime minister office’s short e-mail to Csaba Tarsoly was written on March 9 at 17:24, Tarsoly’s letter to Orbán was logged in only on March 10th. Naturally, the Hungarian media immediately picked up this anomaly. Admittedly, it may be nothing more than the usual sloppiness that reigns in Hungarian government circles. It might happen, though it seems odd, that a letter would be received and answered before it was logged in. The official explanation is that the office of the prime minister receives an inordinate amount of mail and that the log-in process–all done by hand–is slow. Surely, even Viktor Orbán’s “plebeian government” could afford an electronic automatic scanner which would take care of all this in seconds.

What is much more difficult to explain is why the Tarsoly letter to Orbán, which Giró Szász proudly showed to Antónia Mészáros, a reporter for ATV, last Sunday, March 29, had no log-in information on it whatsoever. Which letter is authentic? The one the government released, with the log-in date of March 10, or the letter Giró Szász showed on March 29, which had never been logged in? I’m sure the government will say that the letter Giró Szász had was a copy of the letter the prime minister received, a copy made prior to its being logged in. But why, when it is in the throes of a scandal, doesn’t the government keep things tidy? It just raises new questions, arouses new suspicions.

Ferenc Kumin’s encounter with Ágnes Heller

Ágnes Heller, the well-known Hungarian philosopher, is once again in the news. This time on account of a brief appearance in a Swedish television documentary on the state of Hungarian culture and politics, with particular emphasis on the extreme right.

Do you remember the case of the liberal philosophers whom the newly elected (and neither liberal nor philosophical) Orbán government accused of embezzlement? That was in January 2011 when the official inquisitor, Gyula Budai, entrusted with “uncovering mass corruption” on the part of politicians and, it seems, philosophers as well, began his investigation. Budai’s efforts bore no fruit. Of about 140 cases only a handful actually made it to court, and most of those ended either in acquittal or in a light, suspended sentence on questionable grounds. Eventually Budai’s position was eliminated and he was moved to the Ministry of Agriculture where his greatest concern is the price of watermelons.

It took a year before the philosophers, including Ágnes Heller, were cleared of any wrongdoing but not before news of their harassment spread far and wide. After all, Ágnes Heller is a very well-known person and her friends and admirers are influential people. Viktor Orbán and his underlings should have known better than to pick a fight with her. She is both pugnacious and scary smart. Moreover, she doesn’t give a hoot about government threats. If she wasn’t silenced by the Kádár regime when she was officially accused of treasonous activities and forced into exile, she certainly will not be frightened by threats coming from an assistant undersecretary entrusted with  “foreign communication,” better described as worldwide propaganda extolling the virtues of the Orbán government and defending it against malevolent attacks.

I’m talking about Ferenc Kumin who as far as I know is still working on his Ph.D. dissertation in political science. I don’t know how he finds time for his studies given his crowded schedule, which also includes a lot of traveling. Only a week or so ago he was in Washington trying to convince Jewish organizations that the Hungarian government’s support of the Jewish community is exemplary. I understand they were not moved. When he is at home he tracks every word uttered by foreign politicians or written by journalists he finds politically objectionable. In addition, he busies himself with writing an English-language blog and, unlike some, he takes his writing seriously. How much of it is written by him and how much is drafted in some Washington PR firm, I’m not sure.

Kumin’s position is new. He is one of those undersecretaries and assistant undersecretaries who are attached to the Prime Minister’s office and who have usurped the Foreign Ministry’s traditional role. I just read an M.A. thesis by Lili E. Bayer (Hungary’s Turn to the East, Oxford, 2013) on Viktor Orbán’s “Eastern opening” in which the author found that only 8.75% of bilateral meetings were led by officials of the Foreign Ministry as opposed to 36.25% by the Prime Minister’s Office!

Every summer Hungarian ambassadors from all over the world go home for a meeting organized by the Foreign Ministry and attended by the prime minister, who delivers a speech. During the very first such gathering in 2010, Viktor Orbán strongly urged all the ambassadors to raise their voices every time they noticed any attack on Hungary in the country’s press.

Some of the ambassadors, especially the political appointees, took this advice seriously, perhaps not realizing that such an ambassadorial reaction, either oral or written, is unbecoming the official representative of a foreign country. I suspect that the old-timers in the foreign ministry were not too eager to follow Orbán’s ukase. Among those who took Orbán’s advice to heart were the ambassadors to Vienna and London. They have been very active and as a result, I’m sure, have made themselves singularly unpopular in the countries to which they are accredited. Now it seems that the newly appointed ambassador to Sweden, Lilla Makkay, who is actually a foreign ministry veteran, has joined them and subsequently received the treatment she deserved.

The occasion for the interference by Ferenc Kumin and Lilla Makkay was a half-hour program on the Swedish public television station about Hungary. The Hungarian government considered it to be one-sided because there were a lot of references to the growth of the Hungarian extreme right. Makkay called Kristofer Lundström, the man responsible for the series in which this particular documentary was broadcast, and complained. Moreover, she was annoyed that she hadn’t been consulted before the broadcast of the film. She invited him for a friendly chat at the embassy, I guess in order to enlighten him about the true state of affairs in Hungary.

Officials of Swedish Television (SvT) found the Hungarian reaction peculiar. They looked upon Makkay’s telephone call as “putting pressure” on them. Earlier, before the collapse of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, it was customary for reporters wanting visas to go behind the Iron Curtain to receive “invitations” by ambassadors. But by now western journalists are simply not accustomed to such heavy handed and undiplomatic reactions. Alas, it was not without reason that Lajos Bokros in his October 23 speech called Fidesz politicians “neo-communists.”

Magyar Nemzet, whose reporters supported the Hungarian government’s efforts to influence the independent Swedish Television, most likely found the Swedish ambassador’s answer incomprehensible: she sent them to SvT if they have any questions or observations. The article that reported on the case called it a shirking of responsibility. Obviously, for them, the true independence of Swedish TV is unfathomable.

Meanwhile Ferenc Kumin decided to get involved in the affair. On his Facebook page–because Kumin is also active there–he wrote an impertinent letter to the highly respected philosopher twice his age. Kumin described Ágnes Heller as a prominent philosopher who, “with a background in Marxist thinking … as her Wikipedia biography points out, has clear political sympathies and antipathies.” Thus Kumin “reached out to Dr. Heller to ask her to join [him] in protesting the Swedish documentary and to clarify some of her statements, which [he] felt were factually incorrect or distorting in the way they depict Hungary.” Moreover, he suggested that Heller quote the current government slogan: “Hungary is doing better!”

Ssource Hír24.hu / Photo Márton Neményi

Source Hír24.hu / Photo Márton Neményi

Ágnes Heller wrote back. Here is gist of the letter she sent to Kumin. She first thanked him for making her 40 years younger than she is because it was at that time that she was called to account by the Kádár regime for signing a petition alongside counterrevolutionaries. (Here Heller is referring to the  Charta 77 in which about 100 prominent people protested the crushing of the Prague Spring. She was one of the signatories and, if I recall correctly, the only one from behind the Iron Curtain.) She continued: she can give Kumin the same answer she gave to the authorities then. Everywhere, on every forum, she expresses her own views regardless of who is asking her, be it Swedish TV or the Hungarian Kossuth Rádió, that is, if the Kossuth Rádió would ever ask her for an interview. She certainly didn’t quote the slogan “Hungary is doing better” because she doesn’t think that it is true. Finally, she asked Kumin whether he really considers the programs of MTV or MR balanced. What’s going on in those programs is the talk of parrots. She suggested to Kumin: “forget what you hear and occasionally consider that other people’s opinion can differ from yours.”

Yesterday she followed up with an amusing interview on ATV. It is always a pleasure to listen to her. She is delightfully forthright. During the interview she responded to the government’s latest suggestion of jail sentences for investigative reporters who publish audio tapes or videos which turn out to be fakes: “Well, that’s something.” She then stopped for a bit and continued: “this is the last nail in the coffin of the freedom of the press.” I wish there were more brave men and women like Ágnes Heller. Admittedly, she is untouchable. They can ignore her but they can’t silence her, no matter how much they would like to.