Tag Archives: Puskás Academy

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.

Fidesz accuses Mesterházy of wanting to execute Fidesz oligarchs

I have been planning to give a detailed description of the huge MSZP gathering on January 25, which was the unofficial beginning of the campaign. I’m working on a translation of an abbreviated version of Attila Mesterházy’s speech that was well received, even by those who are not really MSZP fans. The gathering was very professionally orchestrated and can be considered a success. But then came the story of the “rope.” More than twenty-four hours after Mesterházy’s speech, Magyar Nemzet discovered that someone in the crowd of 13,000 shouted “rope” as an appropriate fate for Lőrinc Mészáros, mayor of Felcsút and director of the Puskás Academy, who in three short years became the 88th richest person in Hungary. The modest artisan whose job it was to bring gas lines to the houses of the people in Felcsút is now the wealthy owner of a construction business and large tracts of land.

Mesterházy jokingly said that Mészáros’s feat is unparalleled and he should teach college students how to do it. Then, according to Mesterházy, someone in the crowd shouted that instead of a lectern Mészáros deserves jail. To which Mesterházy answered in agreement.

Lőrincz Mészáros. Achievements: 5 billion forint profit in 2012, 1,200 hectares of land, billions in public procurements -- Lőrinc Mészáros is doing better

Lőrincz Mészáros. Achievements: 5 billion forint profit in 2012, 1,200 hectares of land, billions in public procurements — Lőrinc Mészáros is doing better

But this is not what the reporter for HírTV heard. He heard “rope” although other reporters, for example those from Index and Origo, claimed that all the journalists were too far away to hear properly. They heard someone shouting something but they couldn’t catch the word. In any case, Magyar Nemzet was delighted. The headline read: “Members of MSZP cry for rope and Mesterházy agrees.” The paper claimed that several journalists heard it, but it admitted that its tech people had to change a few settings on the recording for the word coming from the audience be audible. A year ago–the paper continued–Mesterházy was much less vehement. Then he declared that there will be no repeat of socialist and later Fidesz attempts at investigating cases of corruption. But now that Gyurcsány is back, “hatred returned.”

So, who said what? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that someone in the crowd indeed yelled the word “rope.” It can easily happen in a crowd of 13,000. But who would think that Mesterházy, a seasoned politician, would be so foolish as to agree with such a proposition if he heard the word properly? He is no fool. Yet the right-wing media keep harping on the theme. MTV’s Híradó (News) repeated the segment eight times, over and over, to make sure it sticks.

How much political ammunition can be gained by this incident? I don’t think much, but surely what Fidesz has in mind is another “rope” story, this time attached to László Kövér, which might have given a slight edge to the socialists in 2002.

During the campaign Kövér delivered a speech to a small audience in which he criticized those who listen to naysayers and those who see only hopelessness and spread disillusionment and suggested that they should go down to the cellar and hang themselves. It was this speech which Ferenc Gyurcsány, as adviser to Péter Medgyessy, decided to use in the last week of the campaign. He claimed later that before they hit on the idea to use this “rope” speech of Kövér, Fidesz was leading. A week later the socialist-liberal coalition, in a close contest, led after the first round of voting.

Maybe Fidesz thinks that this new “rope” story will have the same impact, but I doubt that they are right. First of all, Kövér not once but at least twice used the metaphor of the rope, the cellar, even talking about a big nail on which these people should hang themselves. It was his own voice that was leaked. The present story, which might even be concocted, is different. It is very difficult to connect Mesterházy to wanting to hang anyone and even more difficult to make Gyurcsány responsible for someone asking for a rope for Mészáros.

Fidesz demands an apology while MSZP is suing Magyar Nemzet. MSZP interprets the Fidesz story of the “rope” as a sign of panic after seeing the large and enthusiastic crowd on January 25.  Naturally, they recall the story of Kövér’s speech about the cellar and the rope and promise to sue anyone who claims that Mesterházy said yes to hanging anyone.

The sad thing about this story is that it turns attention away from the rather impressive gathering of the socialists and the program that Mesterházy outlined there. Perhaps this is what Fidesz wanted to achieve.

What does the Demokratikus Koalíció stand for?

On September 3, I wrote about an opinion piece by Tamás Bauer, vice-chairman of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Its title was “Electoral mathematics: The Demokratikus Koalíció’s position.” Bauer argued for DK’s right, based on its numerical support, to receive at least 8 or 9 electoral districts. He added that DK’s positions on many issues differ from those of both MSZP and Együtt2014-PM and therefore it deserves a parliamentary caucus.

At the end of that post I indicated that I would like to return to DK’s political program because relatively few people are familiar with it. I had to postpone that piece due to DK’s very prompt answer to MSZP. On the next day, September 4, I posted an article entitled “The current state of the Hungarian opposition: Negotiations between MSZP and DK.”

Over the last few days it has become obvious to me that Ferenc Gyurcsány has already begun his election campaign.  Zsolt Gréczy’s appointment as DK spokesman signaled the beginning of the campaign, which was then followed by several personal appearances by Ferenc Gyurcsány where he began to outline his program. Surely, the amusing video on being a tour guide in Felcsút, “the capital of Orbanistan,” was part of this campaign. So, it’s time to talk about the party program of the Demokratikus Koalíció, especially since only yesterday Attila Mesterházy answered Ferenc Gyurcsány’s letter to him. I elaborated on that letter in my September 4 post.

You may remember that one of the sticking points between the two parties was whether DK is ready to have “an electoral alliance” as opposed to “a political alliance.” Gyurcsány in his letter to Mesterházy made light of the difference between the two, but as far as the socialists are concerned this is an important distinction. Yesterday Attila Mesterházy made that crystal clear in his answer to  Gyurcsány which he posted on his own webpage. According to him, a “political alliance” means the complete subordination of individual parties’ political creeds to the agreed upon policies.  In plain language, DK “will have to agree not to represent its own political ideas during the campaign.”

Since DK’s program thus became one of the central issues in the negotiations it is time to see in what way DK’s vision of the future differs from that of MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM. Here I’m relying on Tamás Bauer’s list of the main differences.

(1) An MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM alliance following an electoral victory will only amend the new constitution and the cardinal laws that are based on this new constitution. The Demokratikus Koalíció, on the other hand, holds that the new constitution is illegitimate because it was enacted without the participation of the opposition. Therefore, according to DK, the new constitution must be repealed and the constitution of the Republic must take its place.

(2) MSZP-E14 by and large accepts the policy of Viktor Orbán on national matters and would allow people living outside of the borders to vote in national elections. The Demokratikus Koalíció rejects this new law and would put an end to these new citizens’ voting rights.

(3) MSZP-E14 does not seem to concern itself with the relation of church and state or the Orbán government’s law on churches. DK would restore the religious neutrality of the state and would initiate a re-examination of the agreement that was concluded between Hungary and the Vatican or, if the Church does not agree to such a re-examination, DK would abrogate the agreement altogether.

(4) MSZP-E14 talks in generalities about the re-establishment of predictable economic conditions and policies that would be investment friendly but it doesn’t dare to reject such populist moves as a decrease in utility prices or the nationalization of companies. Only DK is ready to openly reject all these.

(5) MSZP-E14 accepts the tax credits that depend on the number of children and therefore supports an unjust system. DK, on the other hand, wants to put an end to this system and to introduce a system that treats all children alike.

(6) Együtt2014-PM opposes the concentration of land that is necessary for the creation of  a modern and effective agriculture. The policy of small landholdings was the brainchild of the Smallholders Party, which was largely responsible for the collapse of Hungarian agriculture after the change of regime. MSZP is against foreign investment in Hungarian agriculture. The Demokratikus Koalíció intends to liberalize the agricultural market. DK thinks that agricultural cooperatives should be able to purchase the land they currently cultivate. It also maintains that foreign capital should be able to come into Hungary in order to make Hungarian agriculture competitive again.

(7) The attitude of MSZP and Együtt 2014-PM toward the conflicts between the European Union and the Orbán government is ambiguous, while the Demokratikus Koalíció unequivocally takes the side of the institutions of the Union against the Orbán government.

These are the points that Tamás Bauer mentions. But as the Gyurcsány campaign unfolds more and more differences will be visible. For example, only yesterday Gyurcsány talked about his ideas to abolish the compulsory retirement age and to financially encourage people to demand higher wages in order to maximize their pensions after retirement. During this talk in Nyíregyháza Gyurcsány made no secret of the fact that his party is working on its election program.

So, it seems to me that the Gyurcsány campaign has already begun. Maybe I’m wrong and Gyurcsány will give up all his ideas and will line up behind MSZP-E14, but somehow I doubt it. Even if he tried, he couldn’t. Temperamentally he is not suited for it.

Meanwhile, an interesting but naturally not representative voting has been taking place in Magyar Narancs. Readers of the publication are asked to vote for party and for leader of the list. DK leads (52%) over Együtt 2014 (29%) and Gyurcsány (54%) over Bajnai (32%). Of course, this vote in no way reflects reality. What it does tell us is that the majority of readers of Magyar Narancs are DK supporters. Something that surprised me. If I had had to guess, I would have picked Együtt2014.

As for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s visit to Felcsút, I wrote about it a couple of days ago. The video is now out. This morning I decided to take a look at it because from Zsolt Gréczy’s description on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd the whole scene of Fidesz cameras following them everywhere sounded hilarious . At that time the video had been viewed by about 5,000 people. Right now the number of visitors is over 53,000.

Clips from The Godfather are juxtaposed with scenes from Felcsút. The video ends with the wedding of Vito Corleone’s daughter. While Gyurcsány is narrating the enrichment of the Orbán family, two people, one of whom is the Fidesz regional secretary and the other perhaps the cameraman of the Puskás Academy, follow him everywhere and record his every move and word. Definitely worth seven minutes of your time.

Since I am no fortune teller I have no idea what will happen. A couple of things, though, I’m pretty sure of. DK will never agree to drop Gyurcsány as their party leader. And Mesterházy indicated that this might be one of the MSZP demands for an agreement. Or at least that Gyurcsány not be DK’s top candidate, or possibly any candidate. Otherwise why would he have asked: “Are those media predictions that the Demokratikus Koalíció plans to nominate the chairman of the party, Ferenc Gyurcsány, for the second slot on the list true?”

At first reading I didn’t notice this linguistic oddity. The letter is addressed to “Dear Mr. Party Chairman, dear Feri” and continues in the second-person singular: “te.” Now that I returned to the sentence in order to translate it, suddenly I noticed that Mesterházy switched from “te,” which in a personal letter would have been normal, to “Ferenc Gyurcsány” in a letter addressed to Ferenc Gyurcsány.

What will the final result be? I have no idea. Let’s put it this way, it’s much easier to predict the outcome of Hungarian soccer matches than the outcome of opposition politics.