Tag Archives: Puskás Academy

The Orbán government is contemplating restrictions on media freedom

The latest nefarious plan of the Orbán government came to light yesterday. Népszava learned that the government has been considering the establishment of a chamber of journalists (sajtókamara). Apparently, the government was originally planning to introduce the idea a year ago, but in view of the upheaval surrounding the shuttering of Népszabadság, they tabled it.

The government, which is surely the instigator of this plan, is remaining in the background and letting its obsequious supporters in the profession do the dirty work. The leaders of the Association of Hungarian Catholic Journalists, the Association of Protestant Journalists, and the Association of Hungarian Sportswriters have been meeting over the past few months to come up with a chamber of journalists that would suit the Orbán government’s ideal of an obedient press. The largest interest group of journalists in Hungary is the Magyar Újságírók Országos Szövetsége (MÚOSZ), with a membership of 3,000, but MÚOSZ was left out of these behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Membership, unlike in the case of the Orbán-government-created chambers of teachers, doctors, and healthcare workers, wouldn’t be compulsory for everyone, but the benefits of membership would encourage publishers of newspapers and magazines to join. Publishers with membership in the chamber would receive a substantial reduction in their tax obligations. Some publishers would have no choice but to join. For example, publications with a nationwide distribution could lose their status if they didn’t become members.

Publishers who join the chamber would have to fulfill certain obligations. For example, they would be required to sign an ethical code. They would be able to hire only journalists who are also members of the chamber, and journalists’ membership might be restricted by such criteria as educational attainment or journalism school attendance. As far as internet publications are concerned, it looks as if the publishers of “larger ones,” I guess like 444, Index, and HVG, would have to be members, but smaller ones and bloggers could escape membership and, with it, restrictions on their activities or their privileges to access of information.

The man who is behind the idea of setting up a chamber of journalists is György Szöllősi, formerly the communication director of the Puskás Academy in Felcsút. It is pretty easy to figure out that he is just a conduit for the plans and desires of Viktor Orbán. Szöllősi is a much favored character in the Orbán orbit. As soon as Nemzeti Sport, Orbán’s favorite newspaper, was taken over by Mediaworks, Szöllősi was made the daily paper’s editor-in-chief. He was also named a roving ambassador, whose sole job is to promote the fame of Ferenc Puskás, the idol of Viktor Orbán.

Tamás Szele, who writes for huppa.hu, outlined in an opinion piece some of the dire consequences of this latest scheme of Viktor Orbán. In the last eight years independent journalists buried the Hungarian media several times, but “this is the moment when the pall is already prepared; they are nailing the coffin, and the day of the burial is fixed.” In his analysis of the information Népszava obtained, Szele posits several possible consequences of having a chamber of journalists. First and foremost, there would be a stark distinction drawn between those who were allowed to join and those who for one reason or another were barred from the organization. For example, a “registered” journalist of Magyar Hírlap would have extra privileges, although the readership of this right-wing, pro-government paper is smaller than some of the so-called “small” internet publications. The government could, for example, restrict the attendance of non-chamber members at press conferences. László Kövér, president of the parliament who has often resorted to excluding journalists from independent media outlets in the past, after the establishment of such a chamber could simply announce that only members of the chamber could enter the parliament building. Marianna Biró of 168 Óra is equally pessimistic. “The autonomy morsels of the media might be at stake in the election on April 8,” she writes. “If Fidesz again receives two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, we are finished.”

Pass it on. Without freedom of the media there is no democracy

In 2010 the Center for International Media Assistance, a project of the National Endowment for Democracy, published a study in 2010 by Steven Strasser titled “Registering Reporters: How Licensing of Journalists Threatens Independent News Media.” Licensing and registering journalists is one of the ways by which “governments control the press.” Such licensing practices are especially prevalent “in the developing world, where governments feel they must control the power of the press as an element of their countries’ domestic and national security.” Strasser also notes that “the echoes [of licensing or registering] still help shape media policies in some of the remains of the communist world.” So, Orbán can choose into which group he would like to place his country: the developing nations or the former member states of the Soviet Union, like Belarus, Azerbaijan, or Kazakhstan.

Almost all commentators call attention to the fact that Hungary once had a chamber of journalists. It was in 1938 during the Imrédy government. The chamber was the brainstorm of “Christian” right-wing journalists who set up membership requirements on the basis of race and ideology. When it was established, almost two thousand Jewish and left-wing journalists didn’t receive admission to the chamber. Initially, membership of Jewish journalists was limited to 20%. A year later the share of Jewish members was further restricted to 6%.

Some people might consider the comparison between the chamber of journalists in 1938 and the Orbán government’s “sajtókamara” in 2018 far-fetched, but there are haunting similarities. The proponents of the present chamber of journalists come from groups who identify themselves as Catholics or Protestants, which in Hungary means not Jewish. Could it happen that journalists who are not members of either the Catholic or Protestant association of journalists and who are critical of the present government would find themselves outside the favored group of chamber members? Either by choice or by design? I would say yes, easily.

January 28, 2018

Recent gleanings from the Hungarian media

Frightening statistics

Here are a few items I found in the last few days that, while they may not deserve a whole post, certainly should be noted. The one that gave me perhaps the greatest shock came from an article I found on a site I wasn’t familiar with before but that has many useful pieces on economic and business matters. The article that describes a “frightening” statistic fresh off the website of the Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (KSH/Central Statistical Office) compares the productivity of foreign and domestic firms. It is a concise summary of the research published by KSH with all the necessary graphs, tables, and data.

The very first graph, on the share of foreign firms in the gross added value produced in the member states of the European Union, is shocking enough. It shows that Hungary, neck to neck with Ireland, has the greatest share. In general, and understandably, the foreign contribution to national economies is highest in the former communist countries. The sad truth in Hungary is that 53% of the revenue of the business sector is produced by foreign firms, which in monetary terms means 45 trillion forints. This sector produced 8,900 billion forints of added value. These firms also invested 2 trillion forints, or 45% of all investment, into the Hungarian economy. The foreign firms’ outperformance in revenue was accomplished with less than 30% of the workforce.

Both foreign and domestic firms increased their revenue over the last nine years, but the revenue of foreign firms increased by 20% while that of Hungarian firms grew by only 10%. If we look at the situation from the angle of added value, foreign firms have improved by 48% as opposed to the Hungarian companies’ 26%. So, instead of closing the gap with foreign companies, Hungarian companies are losing ground. Here are a few examples. Nine years ago an employee of a multinational created 9.7 million worth of added value as opposed to a Hungarian’s 4.1 million, or 2.4 times more. By 2015 the ratio was more than 2.6: 13.5 million versus 5.1 million forints.

That sounds bad enough, but it is even more shocking that about 690,000 men and women who work for foreign companies produce more goods and value than the almost 2 million employees of Hungarian companies.

Open your mouth and lose your job

One of the speakers at the Pécs rally in defense of the civil charitable group that received a large Soros-funded grant to disperse among smaller humanitarian groups in southern Transdanubia just lost his job. Tamás P. Horváth, who recently published his second book, became nationally known with his 2015 historical novel on the life of Miklós Zsolnay, the only son of the founder of the famed porcelain factory in Pécs. In private life, P. Horváth was the chef of the Hungarian Reformed Gymnasium. That is the school in which Péter Hoppál, Fidesz MP and undersecretary in charge of culture in the ministry of human resources, was once upon a time a chorister and music teacher. Hoppál eventually became the principal of the school and is still on the school’s board. It was his successor who called P. Horváth into his office to tell him that his services were no longer required. P. Horváth had signed a contract for a year in August, and after three months of satisfactory performance his position seemed secure. But retaliation was swift. He could pack up his belongings and leave immediately. The fact that the man is the father of five doesn’t seem to move the Christian souls of Calvin’s sons. After all, those children are not getting the “proper” education to become true patriots of the nation.

Of course, the principal of the school claims that there is absolutely no connection between P. Horváth’s political activities and his firing. But when Attila Babos of Szabad Pécs asked the principal the reason for P. Horváth’s loss of his job, the head of the school added a piece of advice both to the journalist and to P. Horváth. “Please understand that it wouldn’t help the situation of the person concerned if a basically work-related professional matter were to become a political issue.” So, back off because otherwise both the journalist and the fired chef can get into more trouble. The purported explanation for the firing was feeble, but it became truly ridiculous when it turned out that P. Horváth was supposed to deliver a lecture in January to the seniors on his new book and his literary craft. Interestingly, the lecture was also cancelled, and surely that lecture wasn’t about his culinary art.

Thirty-nine kitchenettes for the Felcsút Academy

After a lot of legal haggling Demokratikus Koalíció managed to find out how the Felcsút Academy spends the enormous amount of money it receives every year from Corporation Tax Allowance (TAO). It wasn’t easy to get the information. DK had to go all the way to the Kúria. For some strange reason, Felcsút was loath to reveal the amount it received and how it used taxpayer money.

First of all, last year Felcsút got 5.4 billion forints, which is a TAO record. Among the many sports-related items was one that took people’s breath away. 155 million forints were spent on a kitchenette. Index described a kitchenette (teakonyha) as a room used for cooking which must be larger than 2m² and no greater than 4m2 and must have separate ventilation. Index then calculated a 4m2 kitchenette’s price per square meter and compared it to the price per square meter of an apartment in the most elegant section of Buda, Rózsadomb (Hill of Roses). While the price of the Buda luxury real estate is 900,000 Ft per square meter, the Felcsút kitchenette’s price is almost 40 million.

What about this design? It would be perfect for Felcsút

The country was aghast, or at least those were appalled who are sick and tired of Viktor Orbán, Felcsút, the Academy, Lőrinc Mészáros, and the whole lot. But then it was discovered that the initial figure was incorrect. Actually, 220 million will be spent on 39 kitchenettes. They will cost between 1.3 and 2.8 million forints per square meter. I do hope the students appreciate their posh accommodations.

December 21, 2017

Felcsút: The forbidden village for EP “bureaucrats”

Let’s return to Viktor Orbán’s choo-choo train, which runs between the two villages where the Hungarian prime minister spent his first 14 years. In his childhood this narrow-gauge railroad was still functioning, but because of insufficient traffic MÁV, the state railway company, scrapped the line sometime in the 1970s. Apparently Viktor Orbán had fond memories of that train, and once he had the opportunity he decided to revive it. His own Puskás Academy Foundation launched the project. It purchased and renovated the old run-down train station and bought newly refurbished cars and an engine. The project was declared to be of premier importance as far as Hungary’s economy was concerned. This designation was necessary in order to skip the otherwise requisite public tender procedures. It was supposed to be a great tourist attraction, with thousands of passengers.

By the time it was finished the train project had cost 3 million euros, 2 million of which was provided by the European Union as part of a 652.5 million euro package given for the development of the counties of Veszprém, Komárom-Esztergom, and Fejér. In June 2016 The Telegraph reported that OLAF, EU’s anti-fraud agency, was investigating the train, but that turned out to be a false alarm. Still, the Felcsút complex with its 3,500-seat soccer stadium only yards from Orbán’s weekend house and now a railroad going from nowhere to nowhere raised eyebrows in Brussels.

All that didn’t deter Viktor Orbán, who reportedly planned to extend the 5.7 km line, perhaps hoping that the number of passengers could be increased this way. The Hungarian government had promised between 2,500 and 7,000 passengers daily to justify the investment, but according to 444.hu, in its first month of operation Orbán’s choo-choo train attracted only 900 passengers–that is, only 30 a day. By October 2016 there were days when the train had no passengers at all. A few days ago atlatszo.hu published figures it acquired from the Puskás Academy. Since its first run on April 30, 2016, the academy reported, 48,533 people used the train. Last year 30,219, and so far this year 18,314. During that period, the railroad accumulated a 4.1 million forint loss. These dismal figures didn’t seem to bother János Lázár. In his opinion, if 20,000 people use the train, it is a profitable undertaking. Strange accounting, I must say.

From the start questions were raised both at home and in Brussels about the efficacy of this project, and therefore it was not entirely unexpected that the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) of the European Parliament, whose fact-finding delegation will be visiting Hungary between September 18 and 20, put the Felcsút train on its agenda, alongside the huge Metro 4 construction project. Once János Lázár learned that the delegation would like to see Felcsút in all its glory, he hit the ceiling. Or, to be more precise, it was most likely Viktor Orbán who hit the ceiling. Lázár was just assigned the dirty work of fighting it out with the chair of the committee, Ingeborg Gräßle.

I have the feeling that Lázár/Orbán made a huge mistake when they decided to take on Grässle. She has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 and is considered to be especially influential. She is known as a strong advocate of increased transparency and accountability. And, as we will see, she is no pushover. Occasionally one has the feeling that Fidesz politicians think they can intimidate foreigners as easily as they do their “subjects.” But Grässle is an especially forbidding opponent.

In any case, Lázár wrote a letter to the chair of CONT on August 9. In it, he complained that the committee was not following Hungary’s suggested list of projects and accused the committee of setting up a program of its own, which is “strongly politically motivated.” Politico quoted the following passages from his August 9 letter: “I found it outrageous that a committee of the European parliament systematically ignores and rejects a notable amount of suggestions of the Hungarian government, thus significantly interferes in the Hungarian [election] campaign.” He especially criticized the committee’s decision to include a trip to “the home village of the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.” Grässle wasn’t impressed. She refused to change the fact-finding mission’s travel plans and politely assured Lázár that “there is no bias either behind the choice of the date of our mission or of the projects. The Budgetary Control Committee will conduct its visit in a politically neutral way, as we always do.”

Perhaps if at that point Lázár had just backed off he wouldn’t have gotten himself and the government he represents into hot water, as he ultimately did. On September 4 he wrote another letter, in the same manner as the first. Both letters struck some members of CONT as uncouth. And, further pressing their case, the Hungarian government instructed the Hungarian ambassador to the European Union to plead with Grässle to change the list of projects to be visited, or to postpone the whole visit until after the election in 2018. Grässle apparently told the ambassador that the budgetary control committee “does not accept political interference in the way it organizes its work of controlling the implementation of the budget.”

Ingeborg Grässle subsequently fired off two letters: one to Antonio Tajani, president of the European Union, and another to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. In her letter to Tajani she wrote: “I disapprove of the attitude to exert pressure on an EP parliamentary body with regard to the organization of a mission as well as with regards to its content.” She added that Lázár’s choice not to cooperate means that he does not comply—”in political or in legal terms”—with the requirements of mutual sincere cooperation, which is a basic rule among the institutions and member states. She considered the case so serious that she suggested to Tajani that he raise the issue with Juncker.

There is no question in my mind that it was Viktor Orbán who found the visit to Felcsút a personal attack on him by an EU body and tried to use next spring’s election as an excuse. But it backfired. As Grässle put it: “We are important but not that important.” Surely, it wasn’t the election that bothered the Lord of Felcsút. He simply didn’t want anyone from Brussels to see the place. As we know, anyone who tries to take pictures anywhere near the stadium is usually met with scores of policemen. And this case is more than the usual curious journalists trying to get close to his little empire. It is a group of European politicians who will see that whole grotesque scene Orbán managed to create in that “miserable village,” as Tamás Deutsch called it.

Orbán, with the assistance of Lázár, cast his regime in the worst possible light. One’s first response, which Grässle most likely shares, is: “These guys must have something to hide.” By the way, I wonder what the plans are for the day when the mission visits Felcsút. Will the Hungarian government order out thousands of people to ride their choo-choo train? Anything is possible in that Potemkin village called Hungary.

September 9, 2017

Hungarian microcosm: municipal elections in Felcsút

In the last few weeks we have talked about what in political science is called “high politics” or in Hungarian “nagypolitika.” But I think that the essence of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary can be captured, albeit anecdotally, at the microcosmic level. The story I will tell here brings home the kind of atmosphere that has by now engulfed the whole country. It is both suffocating and menacing.

The story takes place in Felcsút, a village of 1,600 inhabitants where Viktor Orbán spent a few years of his early life. It is here that a new football stadium for 3,600 sits right next to the house he built for a home away from home in the Buda Hills. Ever since he began his own football academy in Felcsút, the village became a fiefdom of the Orbán family and their supporters. Nothing can happen in the village which is not approved by Viktor Orbán himself or his faithful thanes. The most important of these is the mayor of Felcsút, a former installer of gas lines who today is among the one hundred richest people in Hungary. He achieved this feat in the last three or four years.

How did Lőrinc Mészáros become mayor in 2010 when the winner was György Varga, an independent candidate who had been the mayor of Felcsút since 2002? At the time there were jokes about the outcome of the election in Orbán’s village where the Fidesz candidate lost. Orbán was not happy. He became even more unhappy when Varga and the members of the town council refused to sell Felcsút’s small sports stadium and the land surrounding it for 20 million forints to the Puskás Academy. Apparently, the property was estimated to be worth 184 million forints. Well, that was that! Nothing of this sort could possibly happen in Felcsút to Viktor Orbán and his academy. Varga had to go. And he went. It was discovered that Varga owed a small amount in back taxes which allegedly barred him from public office. The election had to be repeated and, behold, it was Lőrinc Mészáros who took his place. That was the beginning of Mészáros’s spectacular career. Since then nothing happens in Felcsút without being approved by Mészáros or his many relatives.

Municipal elections will take place on October 12 and it is not yet known whether Lőrinc Mészáros, who is a terribly busy man nowadays, will run again. Until recently it wasn’t clear whether anyone would be brave enough to run against him or whoever else is designated by Viktor Orbán. György Varga, the former independent mayor who has been unemployed since 2010 because no one dares to hire him, announced in April that he will pick up the gauntlet, but then he thought the better of it. For a while András Váradi, a local sheep farmer who lost his land to Lőrinc Mészáros, was talking about running against Mészáros or whoever is the Fidesz candidate. He also abandoned the idea.

Now we have a woman, the owner of a small farm and stable, who has decided to try. Her name is Judit Horváth, who in the middle of August feared that “at the election I can only lose.” I guess what motivates her is that she, who has only 4 hectares, applied for an additional 26 for her 23 goats and received nothing. Later she learned that “they did not even open the envelope.” According to her, one got land around Felcsút only if one first went to Mészáros “to talk things over.” Horváth is quietly supported by all the democratic parties except for LMP. LMP’s decision is peculiar because from the interview Horváth gave to Magyar Narancs it is obvious that she is very interested in renewable energy and the environment.

To give you an idea of the hopeless situation facing anyone who dares to go against Fidesz and Viktor Orbán, Judith Horváth, when asked what would happen if by some miracle she wins, laconically answered, “then they will pass a new law that will enable them to remove me.” This is a slice of the new Hungarian reality. The hopeless lives of the former now unemployed mayor, the sheep farmer who has no land to feed his sheep, and a woman who knows that even if she wins the election they have all the means necessary to remove her.

Right now Judit Horváth is collecting signatures in Felcsút. András Pungor of 168 Óra followed her while she tried to talk to the locals about the chances of an independent candidate. A middle-aged man’s first words: “I refuse to say anything…. I live here while you just a visitor.” He was, however, ready to talk about life in Felcsút nowadays. He claims that the people in the village did not want to have the stadium but no one asked them. The monstrously big stadium interferes with wi-fi on the street that ends at the stadium. People have difficulties with their cell phones. In addition, the place is neglected. Last year the town built a community center but since then only an exhibition and a wedding were held there. More than twenty houses are for sale. Young people leave in hordes. In the last few years the town couldn’t even pay its electric bill; the central government had to bail them out.

Judit Horváth is getting a signature from a brave Felcsút voter Photo: Dániel Kovalovszky

Judit Horváth is getting a signature from a brave Felcsút voter
Photo: Dániel Kovalovszky

Judith Horváth began campaigning in earnest and arranged with the town that last night she could have use of the new community center for a discussion about the needs of the village. When the journalists of Magyar Narancs arrived at the appointed time, they learned that permission to hold a political forum there had been withdrawn. They were shown a document according to which there was an “extraordinary meeting” of the town council on August 7 when a decision was reached that no political event can be held in a building owned by the town. Although there was such an extraordinary meeting of the council, this particular item was not on the agenda. The person who gave permission to Judith Horváth to hold the meeting in the community center only learned about this new regulation on Thursday.

Otherwise, very few people showed up. They said that the locals are afraid to openly declare their support for Lőrinc Mészáros’s opponent. Almost everyone Horváth invited to the meeting told her that they will not attend because they are afraid of reprisals. And for good reason. While all this was going on in front of the community center, cars from Mészáros’s firm stopped far too often in front of the building and one was permanently stationed next to the building so its driver could see who arrived for the cancelled meeting. As 444 noted,”Lőrinc Mészáros does not leave anything to chance.”  This is what has become of Hungary in a mere four years under the rule of potentates with unlimited power.

Orbán’s son liberated himself. When will the Hungarian people do the same?

I will be writing today about a family affair. Well, not quite. It started off as a family affair, but by now it has become a scandal of sorts. Start with a father who always wanted to be a professional football player but who was not good enough. When he had a son who under his guidance seemed to be keen on football, he became hopeful: perhaps the boy. Although he produced five children, all the others were girls. So his hopes were pinned on the lone boy.

The father became an important politician of some means who was powerful enough to provide everything necessary for a burgeoning young football talent. He even established a football academy where naturally his son was a student. Because of his powerful connections in the world of football he even managed to get his son on a professional team–his favorite, Videoton. But the boy’s record was not noteworthy. He played in one game, spending a grand total of ten minutes on the field. Otherwise he sat on the bench. The servile pro-government media tried to cast his ten-minute appearance as a glorious performance, which apparently it was anything but.

Of course, I’m talking about Viktor Orbán and his twenty-two-year-old son, Gáspár. Gáspár’s name was of course known in Hungary, but in the last few days he became infamous.

The Hungarian public was aware that Viktor Orbán would be going to Brazil for the World Cup. The public was told that he was going alone and that he himself would pay for the trip. As it turned out, FIFA paid for his trip and he took his son along. That by itself would have aroused those who are not exactly admirers of the prime minister, but when the hundreds of photos taken of the VIP section at the German-Argentine game showed Viktor Orbán and his son sitting right in front of Angela Merkel and Joachim Gauck all hell broke loose. The general reaction was that Viktor Orbán is a boor who does not know how to behave. He should have known that his son does not belong in the VIP section alongside heads of states and other celebrities. Vitriolic comments could be read everywhere.

Photo EPA / Marcus Brandt

Photo EPA / Marcus Brandt

Gáspár made a mistake his father would never make. He decided to complain to one of the internet news outlets that dared to write about his unusual appearance in the VIP section. And of all places, he picked 444.hu, which is known for its caustic and irreverent style. He practically demanded that the news organ not publish anything about him because he is not a public figure, just an ordinary citizen. 444.hu told young Gáspár that he has been a public figure for some time and that after his appearance on the international scene he certainly is one now. Moreover, newspapers, the editors lectured him, write about ordinary citizens as well.

After this exchange the outrage has only grown and with it the number of jokes and less than complimentary descriptions of the abilities of the prime minister’s son. 444.hu led the way. They called young Orbán “the prince of the Hungarians.” Others followed: “Gáspár or Viktorfi?”

The World Cup final took place on July 13 and Gáspár’s picture appeared in every second newspaper in the world. As soon as he arrived back home he wrote his complaining letter to 444.hu, and two days later came the news: Gáspár at the age of 22 has retired from football. The news was received with astonishment.

It is not clear why he decided to quit the sport. HVG learned that the events of the last few days convinced him that he is not cut out for that kind of “fame.” But I personally suspect that “Viktorfi” had enough of feeling that his football “achievements” are not really his own. Apparently the Puskás Academy’s team has been thoroughly transformed: thirteen players are leaving and nine new ones are joining. Perhaps he realized that without his father’s name he would not have been one of them.

Whatever the case, the media is not any kinder to Gáspár Orbán after his retirement. One sarcastic headline read: “The absence of Gáspár Orbán is hovering over Hungarian football.” Cink.hu called the retiring Gáspár “the Eaglet,” the nickname of Napoléon’s son Franz, Duke of Reichstadt, and what came afterward was a condemnation of the father who put such pressure on his son. “Miserable Gáspár has the country’s most willful sport-daddy, who has the greatest opportunities to fulfill his own ambitions.” Plastic.hu did not feel any sympathy for the oppressed son. If he wanted to be his own man, why did he attend the Puskás Academy and why did he go and sit in the VIP section in Rio de Janiero? Our poor “national martyr.”

Then slowly details emerged. Apparently, Gáspár told his coach after the FTC-Puskás Akadémia game (1-0) that he no longer wants to be a member of the team. A few hours later hir24.hu reported that Gáspár talked about quitting in May while in Uganda where he was teaching children to play football. Gáspár apparently was a volunteer with a relief organization called “Empower a Child in Uganda.” In May this organization put up a photo of Gáspár barefoot like the children with him on Facebook. The text that accompanied the photo read: “Meet one of our New MSTs Gaspar Orban training children in soccer. He is a former professional football player in Hungary who quit the profession after GOD called him to serve his kingdom. He is now blessing the children of Zirobwe village with skills in one of the world’s most loved games.”

So, it seems that Gáspár decided to liberate himself. He just had enough. I wonder when the Hungarian people will decide to follow his example.

The Hungarian far right today and in the 1930s

Not much of any political relevance happens over weekends in general but on a long weekend, as Easter is in Hungary, politics takes a real holiday. Today’s highlight was the resurrection of Hungarian football and the “great game” at Felcsút, with 4,500 fans in attendance. Ferenc Puskás Academy went up against Real Madrid’s football academy; both teams were made up of seventeen-year-olds. The final score was Real Madrid 1, Puskás Academy 0. At least it wasn’t a rout. Earlier Real Madrid beat Melbourne 10-1.

I’m taking advantage of the holiday to take a historical trip back to Hungary in the 1930s. Not that these were happier times. On the contrary, then just as now the Hungarian extreme right made considerable gains. One often hears from Horthy apologists that the governor and his conservative governments were just as hard on the extreme right as they were on the extreme left, i.e. the communists. This wasn’t the case. Politicians of the Horthy era were much more zealous when it came to the few hundred illegal communist party members than they were with representatives of the extreme right. Horthy and his friends had a blind spot when it came to the extreme right even though by all measures they were the ones who posed  a much greater threat to the regime than the weak and ineffectual communists did. Yet men like Mátyás Rákosi or Zoltán Vas received very long prison sentences while extremists on the right were rarely jailed. The longest sentence ever handed down for a right-wing extremist was three years, in the case of Ferenc Szálasi. Zoltán Vas, on the other hand, spent sixteen years in the infamous jail of Szeged.

Why did the interwar regime wage a half-hearted battle against the extreme right? Certainly not because government politicians found their racist ideas abhorrent. After all, more often than not they shared these people’s anti-Semitism. They found nothing wrong with nationalism; on the contrary, they pursued an openly revisionist foreign policy. What they found unacceptable was the socialism in “national socialism.” Official Hungary considered these men “revolutionaries” who wanted to turn the existing order upside down. Mátyás Matolcsy, a talented economist of extreme right views who died in jail after the war, didn’t mince words: “we must give up the idea of the sanctity of private property,” and “everybody can dispose of their property only so long as it does not infringe upon the universal interest of the nation.”  The Arrow Cross party program called for the introduction of  the Soviet system of a centrally organized planned economy. Their program also included total state control of the banking system. While Matolcsy wanted to expropriate only Jewish property, the Arrow Cross party was more  “egalitarian.” They would have taken away, for example, all agricultural lands from large landowners, including lands owned by the Hungarian Catholic Church. In 1938 the Arrow Cross party published a pamphlet on the fundamental principles and beliefs of the movement, which was intended to serve the needs of the swelling numbers of followers. In it the author explained that the party wants to exchange the liberal capitalist regime for a “collective economy.” So, it’s no wonder that contemporaries labeled the Arrow Cross leaders Bolshevik revolutionaries who presented a danger to the existing order.

Krisztián Ungváry in his latest book, A Horthy-rendszer mérlege: Diszkrimináció, szociálpolitika és antiszemitizmus  (The Balance Sheet of the Horthy Regime: Discrimination, Social Policy and Anti-Semitism in Hungary), quotes from a speech by the legitimist (opposition) Hugó Payr who visited a slum area full of unemployed workers. One of them said to him, “Sir, we are all Bolsheviks here.” When Payr inquired whether they were followers of  the Arrow Cross movement, the answer was in the affirmative. Payr warned his fellow members of parliament that the middle classes who had been stirred up to embrace anti-Semitic passions didn’t realize that they were in fact helping to establish a new proletarian dictatorship. He invited them to accompany him to working class neighborhoods where “people already talk about which apartments they will requisition or rob.”

I think that while we are grappling with the growing influence of the neo-Nazis in today’s Hungary we should keep in mind what transpired in Hungary in the 1930s. There the result of the economic crisis was not the growth of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party but the incredible spread of the ideas of national socialism’s local version, the Hungarism of Ferenc Szálasi.

Jobbik zaszlo

One has to assume that Viktor Orbán is unhappy about the growth of Jobbik because it may become a threat to his own party’s position, as was already seen at the election. If he has any sense, he will turn his attention to the poorest segments of Hungarian society and offer them tangible economic incentives. Until now he competed with Jobbik in the domain of nationalistic humbug, but surely that will not be enough.

The socialists have also neglected the poor and frustrated masses, whose numbers are growing. People talk about four million people under or very close to the poverty line. If one of the two major parties doesn’t take the initiative, Jobbik may triumph.

Moreover, until now the socialists and liberals refused to engage in a dialogue with Jobbik. After all, they are a racist and neo-Nazi group with whom the “better half” of society should refuse to conduct business. But this also meant that there was no public forum in which the ill-conceived ideas of Jobbik politicians could be confronted.

The socialists must pay more attention to Hungary’s poor as well as to the Hungarian extreme right. Those who voted for Jobbik must be convinced that Jobbik’s remedies are no remedies at all. On the contrary, they would mean a total collapse of the Hungarian economy and society. But at the same time the socialists have to offer about half of the citizenry a way out of their present misery.

Viktor Orbán’s private stadium is completed: “The resurrection of Hungarian football”

The great day is coming. Monday, which is a holiday in Hungary, will not be about the resurrection of Jesus Christ but about the resurrection of Hungarian football. I’m not kidding. This is what György Szöllősi, communication director of the Puskás Academy, said to the hundreds of reporters who showed up for the first tour of the facilities of the Pancho Arena. Why Pancho Arena? Because, as we just learned, this is what the Spaniards called Ferenc Puskás when he was playing for Real Madrid. Mind you, in Hungary everybody knew him as Öcsi Puskás (“öcsi” means younger brother or a really young boy in Hungarian). And while we are on the subject of names, Puskás’s family name until he was ten years old was Purczeld. Yes, one of the Mighty Magyars was of German extraction, a descendant of one of the many German immigrants who settled in Hungary in the early eighteenth century.

I guess the creators of the Pancho Arena in Felcsút, a Hungarian village about 40 km from Budapest, decided on the name because Viktor Orbán, who was already working on making a national superhero out of Ferenc Puskás, decided during his first premiership to name the old Népstadion (built between 1948 and 1952)  after the football legend. So, the Puskás name was already taken. Thus they had to settle for a name that isn’t terribly familiar to Hungarians.

I doubt that Puskás in his youth ever heard of this village. His favorite town was Kispest, where he started to play football. Kispest was a separate town until 1950, when it was incorporated into greater Budapest. Nonetheless, Orbán managed to get all “the Puskás treasures” in the possession of the Puskás family to Felcsút, where the prime minister spent part of his childhood and where he built a weekend house a few years ago. These “treasures,” which include old jerseys, pictures, trophies and other memorabilia, will be on permanent display in the halls of the stadium. Daily guided tours will be available to all who would like to see this “sanctuary” to Ferenc Puskás and football. The description of the arena as a sanctuary also comes from the Academy’s communication director.

The sports reporters were clearly in awe of the excellent conditions created in Felcsút for the sport. I’m also sure that they are looking forward to reporting from the press box equipped with all the latest marvels of modern technology. They lauded the turf that is being watered and heated from below ground.

Journalists who deal with political matters were less enthusiastic. They made sarcastic remarks about the man who is able to satisfy all his whims because of his position of power. They can’t quite get over the fact that such a large and ostentatious stadium, which will be able to seat 3,600, is being built in a village of 1,800 people. Index calculated that each individual inhabitant of Felcsút received 3.77 million “football” forints. One old peasant woman who was interviewed kept emphasizing that the erection of such a stadium is a real joy for the Felcsútians because “after all, the building will remain here.” But this is exactly what worries the critics. What will happen whenViktor Orbán is no longer the prime minister or when he is no longer, period? What will happen to this stadium? The same thing that happened to the one Nicolae Ceaușescu built in his birth place, the village of Scornicesti, which now stands empty and crumbling? Moreover, what can one say about the leader of an allegedly democratic country who allows a football stadium that is supposed to be an exhibition piece to be built in his backyard? Indeed, a valid comparison can be made between the Romanian dictator and Viktor Orbán. This is what a blogger was alluding to when he gave this title to his post on the stadium: “Santiago Orbaneu: Ilyen lett a felcsúti stadion.” (This is how the stadium in Felcsút turned out.)

Felcsut stadium1

Photo László Döme / pfla.hu

There are several boxes, complete with I assume well-stocked bars for those who either “deserve them” or can afford them. One box belongs to Viktor Orbán and his guests. The plaque next to the door reads: “The prime minister’s office.” That aroused the interest of the journalists, but it turned out that the plaque is somewhat misleading. It is the private box of the founder of the Puskás Academy, Viktor Orbán. It will be his as long as he lives. Another box is designated for “local entrepreneurs.” I guess it is reserved for Viktor Orbán’s front men in Felcsút.

In the VIP section the seats are apparently made out of real leather, and the lucky ones who sit there can watch game replays in slow motion on monitors attached to the backs of chairs in front of them. I’m not sure how well these leather chairs will stand up to nature’s vicissitudes and the inevitable stains.

Photo Läszló Döme / pfla.hu

Photo László Döme / pfla.hu

The elaborate wooden structure will also be difficult to keep in tip-top shape. And the copper roofs in no time will tarnish. In brief, the upkeep of the structure will be enormous. What will happen if the flow of money that is coming in now due to the founder’s position stops? Because, although perhaps Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to face the fact, financial supporters of his hobby will drop him once he is no longer of use to them. Once Viktor Orbán is out of office–because it will happen one day regardless of what some pessimistic people say–I doubt that a new Hungarian government will pick up the tab.

Source: Nëpszabadság

Those leather chairs / Source: Népszabadság

On Monday at the opening ceremony there will be the usual speeches. Two of the stars of the show will be former president Pál Schmitt, an Olympic champion and member of the International Olympic Committee, and Ángel Maria Villar, president of the Spanish Football Association and vice president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. The former had to resign in disgrace because of plagiarism and the latter’s reputation is marred by his possible involvement in corruption cases. What a pair!

The communication director of the Puskás Academy admitted that decent people no longer go to watch football, but he predicted that “on Monday the change of regime of Hungarian football will begin.” Critics of Orbán’s football mania very much doubt it. They consider every penny spent on stadiums a waste of limited resources. And the stadium at Felcsút a disgrace that speaks volumes about Viktor Orbán and the regime he has built.