Tag Archives: RMDSZ

Transylvania in focus

Today’s post will be devoted to three subjects, all of which are related in one way or the other to Transylvania. The topics range from beer to the coming national election to a fifth-grade Hungarian language and literature textbook for Hungarian students in Romania. Since I spent the last two hours comparing a textbook written for children living in Hungary with that written for Hungarian students studying in Romania, I will start with the textbooks.

The Romanian Hungarian literature textbook is available in its entirety on the internet. Internet access to the textbook from Hungary is restricted to the first 16 pages, but from the table of contents we have a fairly good idea of what fifth graders are expected to learn. The verdict coming from educators in Hungary is that the textbook published in Romania is far superior to the ones children in Hungary use.

According to László Arató, president of the Association of Teachers of Hungarian, it is refreshing to read the book published by the Romanian ministry of education, especially when it’s compared to the old-fashioned, stodgy Hungarian textbook from Budapest. From the very first page the authors stressed that they consider the children partners, which is in stark contrast to the book children currently use in Hungary. While the Romanian textbook is full of contemporary writers’ works, the Hungarian equivalent got stuck at Sándor Petőfi’s ”János vitéz.” The choice of this poem didn’t surprise me a bit because Rózsa Hoffmann, former undersecretary in charge of education responsible for the “reform” of Hungarian education, said at least five years ago that it was an absolute must that children study this poem. Those who are unfamiliar with the story don’t deserve to enter college. Fifty-six pages of the 203-page textbook are devoted to the literary analysis of this poem. I might add that in my copy of Petőfi’s complete poems “János vitéz” takes up 53 pages.

While the Romanian textbook is full of modern texts and daily encounters among people, teachers in Hungary are supposed to teach children about metaphors, Greek myths, and the Bible. There is also a section of excerpts from Hungarian writers who describe different regions of the country, with an emphasis on patriotism. One item sounded promising: Ferenc Molnár’s immortal The Boys from Pál Street. But, as it turned out, the book was covered in only five pages–just the structure and plot of the novel plus the names of the characters. The final item in the table of contents made quite an impression on me. I kept wondering how anyone can teach 10-year-olds about the “theory of literature.” In brief, I feel sorry for all those children who have to sit through this literature course and am especially sorry that they have to analyze “János vitéz” for weeks on end. I’m sure that fifth graders find this textbook deadly. No wonder that children don’t like to read.

Now let’s move on to a jollier subject: beer. Of course, not just any beer but the world famous “Igazi Csíki Sőr,” which I wrote about earlier. There was a trademark battle between a Dutch-Hungarian mini-brewery in Transylvania and the Romanian division of Heineken, the well-known Dutch brewery. For some inexplicable reason the Hungarian government decided to weigh in on the side of Igazi Csíki Sőr against Heineken. János Lázár and Zsolt Semjén traveled to Sânsimion/Csíkszentsimon to show their support. The government contemplated passing legislation that would discriminate against larger foreign-owned companies and promote the business interests of small Hungarian firms. And the government gave money to the company that produced the Igazi Csíki Sör. For a while patriotic beer drinkers boycotted Heineken and Igazi Csíki Sőr disappeared from the shelves as soon as it was put out. But these happy days for the owners of Igazi Csíki Sör didn’t last long. When the large breweries’ products are half the price of the beer from Csík, customer enthusiasm doesn’t last long. The mini-brewery decided that the government-favored beer will no longer be available in supermarkets. They will try their luck with direct distribution, providing home delivery to customers. I don’t know, but I have the feeling that this is the end of Igazi Csíki Sör. Market forces are simply too strong.

The last item is the intensive registration campaign the government has been conducting in the last month or so in the neighboring countries to entice ethnic Hungarians to vote in the 2018 national election. Those familiar with the details of the 2014 election know that Fidesz’s all-important two-thirds majority was achieved only because of the votes that came from Transylvania, Serbia, and Ukraine. Although Fidesz is way ahead of all the other parties in the polls today, Viktor Orbán leaves nothing to chance. In 2014 the government managed to register 193,793 voters in the neighboring countries, though only 128,712 of these were valid. A whopping 95.49% of them voted for Fidesz. Therefore, getting as many people registered as possible is of the utmost importance for Viktor Orbán and his party.

The government hopes that of the one million dual citizens at least 500,000 will vote in the election. The government had 332,000 registration requests by the time of the referendum on the migrant quota issue, in which dual citizens could vote. The intensive registration campaign since then has produced only meager results. In the last ten months the number of registrants has grown by only 18,000. The current figure is 350,000, with 148,000 from Romania, followed by Serbia with 40,000. Of course, it is possible that large numbers of people will register only in the last few weeks, but the goal is very ambitious.

Viktor Orbán himself sent letters to all dual citizens living abroad. In addition, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség/RMDSZ or in Romanian Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România/UDMR), the only serious Hungarian party in Romania, is actively involved in the campaign, especially since Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad on July 22. The relationship between RMDSZ and Fidesz was not always amiable, but efforts to create a new ethnic political force to be used against RMDSZ failed. RMDSZ was the only Hungarian ethnic party left standing. Lately, RMDSZ and Fidesz have been working hand in hand for the reelection of Viktor Orbán.

August 12, 2017

Fidesz censorship in Transylvania

Today I am venturing into an area about which I know relatively little: the situation of the Hungarian media in Transylvania. Keeping track of the media within the country’s borders is hard enough. I have little time to browse Hungarian news sites outside of the country. I’m not alone, it seems. The Transylvanian-born Gáspár Miklós Tamás, or, as he is known in Hungary, TGM, noted lately that Hungarian-Hungarians are neither interested in nor knowledgeable enough about local affairs to be able to follow the Transylvanian Hungarian media.

I’ve written several posts in the past about Viktor Orbán’s determination to have control over Hungarian political parties in the neighboring countries. As early as 2010 Fidesz refused to finance or even recognize parties that had in any way cooperated with the political majority. In Slovakia the successful Most-Híd party was not even accepted as a Hungarian party because its membership included Slovaks as well as Hungarians. Instead, the Orbán government poured money into the Party of the Hungarian Coalition, which since 2010 has never been represented in the Slovak parliament. Most-Híd, on the other hand, has been an active participant in Slovak politics and is currently a coalition partner in the third Fico government.

Something similar was going on in Transylvania as well. Ever since 1989 Romanian-Hungarian voters have been exclusively represented by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania or RMDSZ. The Orbán government, however, was anything but satisfied with the party because RMDSZ off and on participated in Romanian coalition governments. Relations between the Budapest government and RMDSZ deteriorated to the point that Orbán opted to support a right-wing party in Romania called Magyar Polgári Párt (MPP). The hope was that MPP would be strengthened to the point that it could assume the leading role in Romanian-Hungarian politics. By 2014, however, when it became clear that MPP would not be able to compete successfully against RMDSZ, Orbán had to change tactics. Hungarian politicians were dispatched to patch up the political division between the two Transylvanian parties to ensure that Hungarians would have representation in the Romanian parliament. Viktor Orbán even went to Transylvania to campaign on behalf of RMDSZ. But although the Orbán government had to give up its original idea, it didn’t leave Romania empty-handed. In exchange for its support, it seems, the RMDSZ leadership had to agree to some major concessions.

With this lengthy introduction, we have arrived at the “compromise” between the party of Transylvanian Hungarians and the Budapest government. In return for the generous support Budapest is now providing to RMDSZ, Fidesz demands obedience and total ideological identification with the Orbán government’s far-right political orientation. RMDSZ until now had given money to publications that were somewhat critical of the Orbán government. No longer. Viktor Orbán demanded the cleansing of all “objectionable” publications.

The first victim was Erdélyi Riport published in Kolozsvár/Cluj. RMDSZ was financing the publication through a foundation which is apparently quite well endowed. The Erdélyi Riport had been in existence for 14 years, but the foundation recently informed the editors that due to a lack of money the publication “will be suspended for an indefinite period of time.”

An internet news site called maszol.ro has also run into difficulties with RMDSZ and its foundation. At the beginning of December the editors of maszol.ro, successor to Új Magyar Szó, refused to publish an article that criticized Péter Szijjártó’s “instructions” to Hungarian diplomats to boycott Romania’s national holiday. The author of the article was immediately fired. The same thing happened a few days ago to Hugó Ágoston, the editor responsible for maszol.ru‘s op-ed page. Ágoston, a well-respected journalist in Transylvania, believes that the reason for his dismissal was his “criticism of the Hungarian government’s anti-democratic policies, especially its poisonous hate campaign and its treatment of the media, in particular the elimination of Népszabadság.

Hugó Ágoston

Although the Hungarian media in Transylvania was never entirely independent since it always relied on RMDSZ for funding, for a long time there was an understanding that RMDSZ wouldn’t foist any ideology on the publications it financed. That changed over the last year or so when Orbán reached an “understanding” with RMDSZ. Ágoston in his letter to kettosmerce.blog emphasized the necessity of returning to the pluralism that existed before 2014. I’m sure that Ágoston doesn’t really believe that this is going to happen any time soon. The fired journalist’s farewell article can be read here.

TGM in his article rightly points out that the Orbán government’s meddling in the affairs of a foreign country is worrisome and legally questionable. The Romanian government also supports Hungarian publications, and therefore it might be troubling to Bucharest that “the Hungarian publications in Romania are being edited, censored, directed, or banned either from the private residence of Viktor Orbán or from the Prime Minister’s Office.” It is truly amazing that Orbán refuses to tolerate even the very small liberal community that exists in Transylvania where the overwhelming majority of Hungarians are loyal supporters of Fidesz. His goal is total control at home as well as abroad.

January 4, 2017

Romanian-Hungarian relations: Ethnic strife and corruption

The first Orbán government, between 1998 and 2002, managed to alienate practically all of its neighbors, so the past five years can be viewed as something of an improvement. Budapest now proudly claims to have excellent relations with Slovakia and Serbia. Relations with Croatia are less rosy, and as far as Romania is concerned, the two countries’ relationship is outright disastrous. Viktor Orbán of Hungary and Victor Ponta of Romania have never officially met. I don’t know about Orbán, but Ponta said that he has no intention of meeting face to face with his Hungarian namesake.

There are several reasons for the strained relations between the two countries, chief among them the Orbán government’s constant interference in the affairs of the large Hungarian minority in Romania. There exists an ethnic Hungarian party in Romania, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ) or Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România (Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania), which since 1996 has often been part of the government. RMDSZ is a right-of-center party whose leaders always had better relations with Fidesz than with the socialist-liberal governments. For many years the chairman of the party was Béla Markó, a poet of some renown. In 2011 he was followed by Hunor Kelemen, another writer. I don’t follow Hungarian ethnic politics in Romania, but my impression is that Kelemen has much closer ties with the current Hungarian government than his predecessor did. Moreover, while Markó used to be proud of his party’s achievements as far as the rights of the Hungarian minority were concerned, Kelemen is much more critical of Bucharest and often harshly criticizes Romanian minority policies. Only a few days ago he complained to the president of the Venice Commission, Gianni Buquicchio, about the grievances of the Hungarian minority. Kelemen reproached the Venice Commission for praising Romania’s minority policy without consulting with RMDSZ, the representative of that minority.

But there are other issues of more recent vintage. One is Viktor Orbán’s pro-Russian policy, which Romania, boxed in between a less than friendly Russia on the east and a pro-Russian Hungary on the west, disapproves of. Another matter that divides the two countries is that while Hungary has been pursuing a less than friendly foreign policy toward the United States and is a very unwilling participant in the trans-atlantic alliance, Romania wholeheartedly supports it. From the vantage point of Brussels and Washington, Romania is a country that is heading in the right direction while Hungary is not.

In the last few years there were relatively few meetings between the Romanian and Hungarian foreign ministers. The last time a Hungarian foreign minister visited Bucharest was in 2013. Last February Romanian foreign minister Titus Corlățean was in Budapest, but it was not an official visit. He came to meet the foreign ministers of the Visegrád Four.

But now Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu came to Budapest on official business. He and his Hungarian counterpart, Péter Szijjártó, were supposed to sign a memorandum on minorities: Hungarians in Romania and Romanians in Hungary. According to the 2011 census there are 1,227,623 Hungarians in Romania and 35,641 Romanians in Hungary. Although apparently both sides wanted to sign the memorandum, at the end the two foreign ministers couldn’t agree on any of the ethnic issues. During the meeting they did sign some agreements on roads to be built and the opening of border crossings, but the ethnic issues seemed to be insurmountable. According to vs.hu, an internet news site, Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister in charge of minority policies, put pressure on Szijjártó not to move an inch on certain issues.

Bogdan Aurescu and Péter Szijjártó / MTI-MTVA / Photo: Tibor Illyés

Bogdan Aurescu and Péter Szijjártó / MTI-MTVA / Photo: Tibor Illyés

One topic that came up in the conversation will add to the poisonous relations between the two countries. That is the case of Attila Markó, a Romanian-Hungarian politician, who is currently sought after by Interpol and who is hiding in Budapest. And that takes us to the Romanian Anticorruption Directorate (Direcţia Naţională Anticorupţie/DNA) and its fearless prosecutor, Laura Codruța Kövesi.

I first read about her in a fairly lengthy New York Times article. Although DNA was originally established by the Romanian government in 2003 to placate the European Union, apparently the Romanians never meant it to be a serious corruption-fighting agency. Once Kövesi took over, however, things changed radically. Since 2013 several very important Romanian politicians have been charged and found guilty, including former prime minister Adrian Năstase and Dan Voiculescu, a politician and businessman who received a 10-year jail term for money laundering.

DNA became interested in Attila Markó, a member of the Romanian parliament and earlier undersecretary in charge of minority affairs. Markó was a member of the committee responsible for the restitution for confiscated property during Romania’s communist period. According to the charge, Markó and seven other members of the committee overpaid the claimants to the tune of 85 million euros. Markó in an interview with András Stumpf of Mandiner expressed his distrust of the Romanian justice system. In addition, he claimed that “the Romanian state is using the fight against corruption to decapitate the Hungarian political elite. To date there were too few Hungarians among those arrested.” So, Markó wants to make an ethnic issue out of a possible corruption case.

Of course, I have no idea whether Markó is innocent or guilty, but his claim that DNA is after him because of his ethnicity doesn’t ring true. After all, all eight members of this particular committee have been charged, and surely not all of them are Hungarians. Moreover, Laura Kövesi (née Laura Lascu) has lived all her life in near proximity of Hungarians. She was born in the county seat of Kovászna/Kovasna County, a predominantly Hungarian town in the middle of the Szekler region of Transylvania. She attended law school in Cluj/Kolozsvár, which also has a fairly large Hungarian population. And finally, judging from the name by which she is known today, she is or was married to a Hungarian. So, all in all, I doubt that Markó’s accusation is well founded.

Markó’s name apparently came up during the negotiations between Bogdan Aurescu and Péter Szijjártó. The Romanian foreign minister asked his colleague to inform the appropriate authorities about the international warrant issued for the arrest of Attila Markó, but Szijjártó refused to get involved, claiming that the foreign ministry has no authority in such matters.

I’m certain that we will hear the name of Attila Markó in the coming months because I doubt that the Hungarian authorities will extradite Markó to Romania. The Orbán government, which already has the reputation of doing nothing to combat the rampant corruption in Hungary, will now be in the unenviable position of harboring an allegedly corrupt politician from Romania.

Growing troubles in opposition circles

It was only a few days ago that the democratic opposition’s mass rally ended with a protest from the crowd itself–a demand for unity and the resultant quasi demonstration against Attila Mesterházy, chairman of MSZP.

What followed was almost inevitable. The two parties that had signed an exclusive political arrangement which effectively shut out the other opposition parties and groups placed the blame for the protest on Ferenc Gyurcsány, former prime minister and head of DK, a party with sizable support. It didn’t seem to matter that the other speakers’ message was the same as Gyurcsány’s; he was the only one who was accused of flaunting an alleged agreement that speakers would in no way criticize the deal between MSZP and E14-PM. Opposition leaders deny the existence of any such agreement.

Then came the accusation that it was actually Ferenc Gyurcsány himself who organized the demonstration against Mesterházy. His people were the only ones who kept demanding “unity.” I looked at several videos of the event taken from different angles, and in my opinion just as many people holding MSZP red flags shouted slogans that for a while kept Mesterházy from speaking. Some overzealous MSZP politicians like Tibor Szanyi claimed to have seen Ferenc Gyurcsány leaving the gathering in a great hurry even before Mesterházy finished his speech. The implication naturally being that after he created the disturbance Gyurcsány quickly left the scene of the crime. Szanyi turned out to be wrong. Gyurcsány, his wife, and Ágnes Vadai were present to the very end of Mesterházy’s speech. According to Gyurcsány, he even applauded Mesterházy.

Gordon Bajnai joined the MSZP politicians in forcefully asserting that the deal that was signed will in no way ever be changed. This is the best arrangement even if all the other speakers and it seems the overwhelming majority of the voters on the left don’t think so. Of course, politicians can ignore popular demand, except they do so at their own peril. My hunch is that this unbending attitude cannot be maintained for long.

mistakesBut that was not the only problem the opposition had to face. Péter Juhász, who represents Milla, a group formed on Facebook, has caused a lot of trouble in the past, and he struck again. Juhász is not a politician. He worked as an activist even before 2010 and by and large has a devastating opinion of both politicians and parties, left or right. Therefore he often talks about the “past eight years” exactly the way Fidesz politicians do. I assume that within E14-PM his colleagues try to temper his outbursts, but it seems that he cannot help himself. Shortly after the October 23 gathering Juhász was the guest of Olga Kálmán on ATV where he announced that he would never want to stand on the same platform with Gábor Kuncze or Ferenc Gyurcsány. Moreover, he claimed that Kuncze wasn’t invited to participate. I guess Kuncze just appeared on the scene. Crashed the party, so to speak.

These unfortunate remarks were not without consequence. A number of well-known people, like Attila Ara-Kovács, László C. Kálmán, Mária Ludassy, and Ádám Csillag withdrew their support for E14. Most of them added that this Juhász incident was just the last straw. They had had their problems with E14 even before. Gordon Bajnai seems to be adrift, without a firm idea of his party’s goals. And E14’s floundering is reflected in its poll numbers. A year ago support for E14 was about 12%; now it hovers around 5%.

But that wasn’t the only blow to the democratic side. Shortly before he retired from politics Gábor Kuncze was asked by Klubrádió to be the moderator of a political show once a week. Although Kuncze’s program was popular, the owner of Klubrádió, András Arató, decided that since Kuncze agreed to make a speech at the opposition rally he should be dismissed. The result? A fair number of loyal listeners who have been generously contributing toward the maintenance of Klubrádió are angry. Some have gone so far as to stop contributing to the station, which is strapped for money due to the Orbán government’s illegal manipulation of the air waves. They argue that Klubrádió knew about Kuncze’s plans to attend and that Arató should have warned him about the possible consequences. These people figure that the speedy and unexpected dismissal was due to a “friendly” telephone call from MSZP headquarters. The station denies that they have ever yielded to political pressure and claim that no such call came.

Finally, there is the case of a sympathy demonstration organized in Budapest demanding territorial autonomy for the Hungarian-speaking Szeklers who live in a solid mass in three counties in the middle of Transylvania. Since I’m planning to write something about the autonomy question, I’m not going into the details here. It’s enough to say that the views of the Hungarian political leaders in these parts are close to Jobbik. The most important Hungarian party in Romania is a center-right party called RMDSZ, but Fidesz feels more comfortable with the Szeklers.

The sympathy demonstration was organized by CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), the Szekler National Council (Székely Nemzeti Tanács), and Fidesz. CÖF is the “civic” forum, actually financed by the government, that organized the two peace marches against the “colonizers” and that was also responsible for gathering the supporters of Fidesz for the mass rally on October 23. Well-known anti-Semites like Zsolt Bayer, Gábor Széles (owner of Magyar Hírlap and Echo TV), and András Bencsik have prominent roles in CÖF. The Goy Bikers also made an appearance at this demonstration.

Both MSZP and E14-PM decided to support the march as well as Szekler autonomy. They argued that after all RMDSZ also gave its cautious approval to the march that concurrently took place in Romania. RMDSZ’s position, of course, is very different from that of MSZP and E14. After all, RMDSZ needs the Szeklers’ vote; MSZP and E14 don’t. Or, more accurately, supporting their demands will not prompt the Szeklers to vote for these two leftist parties at the next election. Those who vote will vote for Fidesz.

MSZP was satisfied with verbal support, but E14 politicians actually marched along with all the right-wingers and Goy Bikers! And with that move E14 lost even more supporters.

If the opposition is to stand any chance at the next election it can’t keep alienating potential voters. And it shouldn’t act like an exclusive club open only to the MSZP-E14 “founding members.” Politics is a numbers game, and numbers rise with inclusiveness. And with unity.

Hungarian domestic attitudes toward voting rights of outsiders

The forthcoming election will be a hot topic in the next few months, and the voting rights of the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries will be a continuing subtext. So today let’s look at how the citizens of Hungary feel about non-residents by the tens of thousands voting and perhaps deciding the outcome of the election.

We can safely say that the overwhelming majority of the electorate disapproves of the idea, and that even includes a large portion of Fidesz voters. And, as we will see later, people’s negative sentiments have not changed in the last two years.

The politically naive might ask why on earth Fidesz-KDNP insisted on granting voting rights to dual citizens. The answer is simple. Party strategists consider the pro-Fidesz votes coming from abroad, especially from Romania, important, perhaps even vital, to the party’s success in the 2014 elections. At the same time they most likely ascertained through their own polls that Fidesz supporters won’t defect over the voting rights issue.

In light of these findings it is more difficult to understand Együtt-MP’s opposition to abolishing the voting rights of dual citizens without domicile and steady employment in Hungary in the event they are victorious in 2014. One would think that Gordon Bajnai’s party would take advantage of their potential supporters’ strong dislike of the Fidesz-introduced piece of legislation that serves only Fidesz’s political interests.

In any event, let’s see the results of three polls measuring the electorate’s attitude toward voting rights. All three were conducted by Medián. The first was conducted between May 7 and 11, 2010, that is before the enactment of the electoral law.  The next Medián poll was done in July 2012 and the third in November 2012. I’m very much hoping that Medián will follow up with another poll after Hungarians hear more about the possibility of electoral fraud as a result of a (perhaps intentionally) sloppily written law. But given the results of the past three polls it is unlikely that Hungarians’ enthusiasm for the voting rights of non-residents would suddenly soar.

In May 2010 19% of Fidesz voters disapproved of granting both citizenship and voting rights to Hungarians in the neighboring countries and only 30% approved of both. The rest, 46%, supported dual citizenship but without voting rights. So, 65% of Fidesz voters surveyed were against granting voting rights to Hungarians outside the borders. 62% of MSZP voters opposed both citizenship and voting rights and only 5% approved of the Fidesz plan. Jobbik voters were split on the issue: 35% of them wouldn’t grant outsiders anything but 35% of them were happy with Fidesz’s plan. Those without party preference also overwhelmingly opposed voting rights. Only 13% supported the government’s plan. All in all, 71% of the adult population were against granting voting rights and 33% even opposed granting citizenship. Only 23% supported the proposed law that included both.

The July 2012 poll inquired about other aspects of Hungary’s relations with the neighboring countries, especially the Hungarian government’s involvement with party politics in countries in the Carpathian Basin. As soon as Fidesz won the elections the government unabashedly supported certain Hungarian minority parties and ignored or actively worked against others. This particular poll concentrated on Romanian-Hungarian affairs and specifically the Hungarian government’s support of small parties that are politically closer to Fidesz than the largest Hungarian Party, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ) or in Romanian Uniunea Democrată Maghiară din România (UDMR). Medián wanted to know what Hungarians think of direct Hungarian involvement in political campaigns outside of Hungary’s borders. In addition, Medián inquired about people’s opinion of the government’s support of insignificant political groups in Romania as opposed to the largest Hungarian party, RMDSZ. And while Medián was at it, they included a question testing whether their May 2010 findings about Hungarians’ opinion on the voting rights of people of foreign domicile had changed at all.

The overwhelming majority (78%) disapproved of the government’s involvement in the politics of its neighbors. As for Fidesz’s support of smaller Romanian-Hungarian parties that are closer to the Fidesz leadership’s heart, even Fidesz voters were split on the issue, with 50% supporting the Fidesz strategy but 37% disapproving. In the population as a whole only 24% thought that supporting small political groupings was a capital idea while 52% thought such a strategy was self-defeating. A rather large number of those surveyed (24%) had no opinion.

As to the issue of citizenship and voting rights, more than two years went by and nothing really changed. In May 2010 71% disapproved and only 23% approved, in July 2012 70% still disliked the idea but the supporters went up a bit, from 23% to 26%. Not really significant.

In November 2012 Medián conducted another poll. The overwhelming majority of MSZP, LMP, DK, MSZP, Együtt 2014, and undecided voters rejected that section of the electoral law that grants voting rights to dual citizens. Although a relative majority of Fidesz (55%) and Jobbik (53%) voters supported it, in the population as a whole those who opposed it were still slightly over 70%.

The November 2012 Medián poll on the issue of voting of outsiders on national elections

The November 2012 Medián poll on the issue of voting by outsiders in national elections
blue = approval, red = disapproval, gray = doesn’t know

DK is the only party that openly declares its opposition to voting rights. MSZP’s program indicates that they sympathize with DK’s position. But Együtt 2014-PM insists that they will not touch the status quo created by Fidesz for its own political gain. I fear that this issue might be one of the thorniest between MSZP and Együtt 2014-MP during the negotiations.

Given public opinion in Hungary, I think it would be an unnecessary gesture to leave this part of the law on citizenship intact. Moreover, flying in the face of overwhelming public opinion against this legislation might irritate some of Együtt 2014’s supporters who by the largest margin (87%) among any of the parties rejected the idea of voting rights.

“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” at a Fidesz-sponsored gathering in Slovakia

Every year Fidesz holds a “free university” in Tusnádfürdő-Bálványos, Romania. I normally write about the event because Viktor Orbán makes a regular appearance there and what he has to say is usually politically significant.

This Fidesz tradition has now been expanded. Between July 18 and 21 a similar “free university” was held for the first time in Martos (Martovce), a village of about 700 inhabitants, 17 km from Komárom/Komárno, Slovakia. Originally the organizers were hoping that Viktor Orbán would honor the event with his presence, but in the end they had to be satisfied with László Kövér as the keynote speaker.

The organizers received financial help from Fidesz and the Hungarian government in addition to MOL, which was described as the “chief sponsor.” Among the organizations that supported the effort were several Fidesz foundations, the Fidesz youth organization Fidelitas, the Association of the Young Christian Democrats, and János Sellye University in Komárno. The sponsors must have contributed quite a bit of money because the extended weekend event featured rock bands and singers as well as speakers from Serbia and Romania.

The host was Magyar Közösség Pártja (MKP) and Via Nova, its youth organization. Originally MKP was the only Hungarian political party in Slovakia, but it split a number of years ago. Béla Bugár, a moderate, left the party since it was moving farther to the right and established a Slovak-Hungarian party called Most-Híd, the Slovak and Hungarian words for “bridge.” Fidesz doesn’t want to build bridges. It is not their style, and in no time the Hungarian government announced that it doesn’t consider Most-Híd a Hungarian party. Currently, the Hungarian government has no connection with Bugár’s party even though at the last elections it managed to retain its status as a parliamentary party while the Fidesz-supported MKP did not. Fidesz often bets on the wrong horse when it comes to Hungarian minority politics in the neighboring countries.

Via Nova has a new chairman, László Gubík. A few months ago it became known that Jobbik had approached Gubík and urged closer cooperation between Jobbik and Via Nova. Gubík was apparently impressed by István Szávay, a Jobbik member of parliament and formerly head of the Jobbik-dominated student organization at ELTE’s Faculty of Arts. Gubík was photographed standing in front of a Jobbik flag. After the close cooperation between Jobbik and Via Nova was discovered, József Berényi, the chairman of MKP, tried to distance himself and his party from Jobbik, but according to inside information he didn’t manage to convince the leadership of Via Nova to abandon their connection with the extremist Jobbik. One can read more about the “independence” of Via Nova from MKP on an English-language Slovak site.

Despite this scandal, Fidesz didn’t hesitate to work together with Via Nova in the organization of the first “free university” in Slovakia. Apparently, the gathering was not a great success although a lot of “important” people showed up besides Kövér. Among them, András Schiffer (LMP); Katalin Szili, former socialist now independent MP; Hunor Kelemen, chairman of the largest Hungarian party in Romania; and Zsuzsanna Répássy, assistant undersecretary in charge of “national politics.” But these individuals as well as Fidesz must now live with the fact that racist, anti-Semitic, irredentist books were displayed and sold at the festival. Here is a picture of the collection. The picture is genuine; it can also been seen on a Slovak-Hungarian Facebook page.

Pick your favorite!

Pick your favorite!

Among other titles you could buy Henry Ford’s The International Jew, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Ernő Raffay’s openly anti-Semitic book on the Freemasons (Politizáló szabadkőművesség). Other choice titles on display were Borbála Obrusánszky’s Szkíta-magyar múltunk ragyogása, a book about the fallacy underlying the theory of the Finno-Ugric origins of the Hungarian language, and László Gulyás’s Küzdelem a Kárpát-medencéért (Struggle for the Carpathian Basin) in addition to a bunch of books by Albert Wass and József Nyirő. You can also see Viktor Orbán’s selected speeches.

Of course, this scandal highlights the fact that Fidesz is ready to work with groups that are closely associated with Jobbik in order to gain adherents. One might argue that the Fidesz bigwigs certainly couldn’t have had any knowledge of the kinds of books that would be displayed in Martos, but unfortunately this line of argumentation is weak because the Jobbik-Via Nova connection was already well known in March of this year. The Hungarian media first reported on the preparations for the festival on May 9, 2913. By that time at least Zsuzsanna Répássy, the assistant undersecretary in charge of Hungarian minority issues, must have known about the scandal in Slovakia concerning Via Nova. Yet, Fidesz pushed ahead, cooperating with this Jobbik-tainted youth organization.

Fidesz seems to be giving in to pressure coming from the far right in Romania too. The Tusnádfürdő-Bálványos event will take place this weekend. Originally a moderate right-of-center RMDSZ politician was supposed to be one of the speakers, but the small right-wing Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt (Transylvanian People’s Party) vetoed it. Therefore the politicians of RMDSZ will not attend.

There seems to be a tendency for Fidesz to drift farther and farther to the right in the neighboring countries. This is a self-defeating strategy. Both in Romania and in Slovakia the more moderate Hungarian parties are leading in the polls. And especially in Romania, Fidesz will need those votes come April 2014.

Meanwhile it will be difficult for Fidesz to explain away the display of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion at their first “free university” in Slovakia.

“The war of the flags”: Diplomatic spat over Szekler territorial autonomy

A few months back I ended one of my posts with a question: How long will the Romanian-Hungarian love affair that Viktor Orbán and  Traian Băsescu initiated back in 2009 last?

In the last few days over 200 articles have appeared in the Hungarian media on the “székely (Szekler) flag.” Before I venture into the tiff over the flag, let’s look at who the Szeklers or székelyek are. The origin of those Hungarians who live in Covasna (Kovászna) and Harghita (Hargita) counties in the eastern part of Transylvania is shrouded in mystery. Perhaps the most accepted theory is that they were originally a Turkic group that came along with the other Hungarian tribes to present-day Hungary. They were already Hungarian speaking at the time. Originally they settled in Bihor (Bihar) county around Oradea (Nagyvárad). From there they moved farther east and guarded the eastern regions of the Kingdom of Hungary.

Members of Jobbik parliamentary members holding up the "székely flag

Jobbik parliamentary members holding up the “székely” flag

As for the origin of the flag, it is even murkier. The Székely Nemzeti Tanács (National Council of Szeklers) claims that the design they came up with was inspired by the flag of the only Szekler prince of Transylvania, Mózes Székely (1553-1603). However, the flag attributed to Mózes Székely was not his heraldic flag but a so-called battle flag he received as a gift from Prince Zsigmond Báthori before a battle led and lost by him against the royal Habsburg forces. It was just one of many such flags and was never associated with the Land of the Szeklers. I think one can safely say that this flag is a new symbol for the Szeklers, who are currently demanding territorial autonomy within Romania.

So, what happened that caused a diplomatic spat between Romania and Hungary? Last month the prefects of the two dominantly Hungarian inhabited counties forbade flying the székely flag on private or public buildings. This flag had been displayed in Romania since 2010. László Kövér, speaker of the Hungarian parliament who supports the National Council of Szeklers, ordered the display of the flag on the parliament building in November 2010. In January 2012 the demonstrators of the Peace March demanded, among other things, autonomy for the Land of the Szeklers and carried hundreds of Szekler flags. The demand for Szekler autonomy spread beyond Transylvania and gained increasing support in Hungary.

After the Covasna County Court ruled that the Szekler flag cannot be displayed in Romania a local leader of RMDSZ asked Hungarian mayors to fly the Szekler flag in a display of solidarity. That was on January 18, and ever since one after the other, especially the more radical Fidesz mayors, have obliged. First it was Siófok that displayed the flag, then Budafok, and a few days later District VII, the historic Jewish quarter of Pest. No wonder that a blog writer who lives there made fun of all those Szeklers who inhabit Erzsébetváros.

Zsolt Németh, undersecretary of the foreign ministry, attended the ceremony that accompanied the display of the flag at the Budafok City Hall on February 5. There he delivered a speech in which he called the Romanian decision to ban the Szekler flag “symbolic aggression” and urged other mayors to follow suit. He insisted that “the steps Romania has taken lately are contrary to Romanian-Hungarian cooperation, the values of strategic partnership, and the norms of the European Union.”

A day later the Romanian prime minister, Viktor Ponta, answered in kind. Romania will not tolerate any interference in Romania’s domestic affairs. He described Németh’s remarks as “impertinent” and called on Romania’s foreign minister to make a vigorous response to the Hungarian government concerning the issue. Bogdan Aurescu, undersecretary of the Romanian Foreign Ministry, considered Németh’s words to be support for territorial autonomy, which the Romanian constitution forbids.

On the very same day Oszkár Füzes, the Hungarian ambassador, was called into the Romanian Foreign Ministry. During the conversation the Hungarian ambassador apparently said that Hungary supports the display of the Szekler flag in Romania. Moreover, he gave an interview to a Romanian television station where he stated that his country supports the Szeklers’ demand for territorial autonomy and gave a piece of advice to the Romanians: they should change their constitution and make Romania a multi-national state. At this point the Romanian foreign minister threatened Oszkár Füzes, who had gotten into trouble earlier in Romania, with expulsion. He added that even before possible expulsion Füzes will be persona non grata in Bucharest. He expressed his hope that Budapest will be able to keep its ambassador in line; if that effort is unsuccessful, “his mandate in the Romanian capital will be short-lived.”

János Mártonyi came to the rescue of his ambassador in Bucharest: “Oszkár Füzes did not say anything on the question of Szekler autonomy that would be different from the opinion of the Hungarian government.” Hungary’s position hasn’t changed with respect of Szekler autonomy in twenty-two years. He added that “we were not the ones who started the war of the flags.'” Zsolt Németh also put in his two cents’ worth, saying that “they are ready to negotiate but the solution is in the hands of Romania.”

RMDSZ, a much more moderate Hungarian party than either Fidesz or the Szeklers’ Magyar Polgári Párt, looked upon all this with trepidation. According to György Frunda, adviser to Viktor Ponta, this “diplomatic scandal” hurts the Hungarian community in Romania. Hunor Kelemen, chairman of RMDSZ, considered Zsolt Németh’s words inflammatory, adding that the fate of the Szekler flag is not in the hands of Hungarian politicians.

Today János Martonyi phoned the Romanian foreign minister, Titus Corlăţean. From what we can learn from the Hungarian news agency’s report, the two agreed to disagree. But “the negotiating partners concluded that the lessening of tensions is mutually desirable.” They will continue negotiations and “they count on the contribution of the diplomatic corps.” So, it seems that Romanian-Hungarian relations are currently so bad that the conflict needs the mediation of outsiders. It sure doesn’t sound too promising.