Tag Archives: Slovakia

Another peacock dance: Orbán’s reversal on the verdict of the European Court of Justice

Yesterday I dealt with the exchange of letters between Jean-Claude Junker and Viktor Orbán concerning Orbán’s demand for EU reimbursement of half the cost of the fence the Hungarian government erected along the Serbian-Hungarian border. The Hungarian demand raised eyebrows in Europe and elsewhere, so Hungary was again in the international news.

The other reason for the preoccupation of the international media with Hungary was the long-awaited verdict of the European Court of Justice on the legality of the EU decision on the relocation of 120,000 asylum seekers. Slovakia and Hungary claimed that the decision-making process was illegal. Two days ago, on September 6, the Union’s top court dismissed the complaints of the two countries, dealing a blow to Viktor Orbán.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico immediately reacted to the verdict, saying that “we fully respect the verdict of the European Court of Justice,” adding, however, that his government’s view on the relocation plan “has not changed at all.” Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, remained silent. In his place, Péter Szijjártó, minister of foreign affairs and trade, and László Trócsányi, minister of justice, gave a joint press conference, where the foreign minister vented. He called the ruling “outrageous and irresponsible.” In his opinion, the verdict endangers the security and future of Europe and is contrary to the interest of the countries of the Union, including Hungary. “Politics raped the European law and European values,” he claimed. He announced that “the real battle begins only now,” and he promised that the Hungarian government “will use all the remedies available at its disposal” to prevent similar central decision-making for Hungary.

Trócsányi was no less belligerent when he announced that the Hungarian government will start a new legal debate. Since he liked the phrase “the real battle begins only now,” he repeated it. He didn’t go so far as to accuse his fellow judges of acting politically, but he charged that they were preoccupied with the case’s formal aspects and neglected its contextual qualities. The case was thrown out in its entirety, but Trócsányi still praised the excellent legal work of his team. The legal arguments presented to the court were outstanding, and therefore he was quite surprised by the outcome. Trócsányi also indicated that Hungary will not have to take the 1,294 migrants because the case was only about the legality of the decision-making process.

Péter Szijjártó and László Trócsányi / MTI-MTVA / Photo Szilárd Koszticsek

In brief, it looked as if the Orbán government was prepared to go against the ruling and suffer the consequences. A day later, on September 7, this impression was reinforced by János Lázár at his regular “government info” press conference where he interpreted the decision of the European Court of Justice as an opportunity for the European Commission to allow “Brussels” to meddle in Hungary’s internal affairs. “We will use every legal instrument to preserve the independence of the country.” Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, also chimed in and, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk, repeated Szijjártó’s accusation of a politically motivated and irresponsible decision on the part of the European Court of Justice. Everybody suspected, including naturally Viktor Orbán, that Slovakia and Hungary would lose the case, and therefore the word probably came down from above some time ago about what the proper reaction to the verdict should be.

After two days of criticism of the court and its verdict, Viktor Orbán came out with an entirely different approach to the question. In his Friday morning “interview” on Magyar Rádió he said: “Hungary is a member of the European Union. The affairs of the Union, its internal power relations are settled by the Treaty, so contracts have to be respected. Consequently, one must take cognizance of the verdicts of the courts. Hungarian is a sophisticated, refined language and therefore it does matter with what kind of word we react to a verdict, especially when we are functioning in a hostile Europe. I decided to use the word “tudomásul venni” which I took over from Slovak Prime Minister Fico.” Unfortunately, I don’t know what Slovak word Fico used when talking about his reaction to the verdict. English translations of Fico’s press conference use the verb “to respect” which, unfortunately, is not the equivalent of “tudomásul venni,” which might be better translated as “to take cognizance of.” However, I’m sure that some readers of Hungarian Spectrum will provide us with the the Slovak word that Fico used as well as with the best translation of the Slovak equivalent of “tudomásul venni.” Then we will be able to see whether Orbán and Fico are talking about the same thing or not.

Orbán’s interview was long, during the course of which he said many uncomplimentary things about the European Union, but at the end he came up with some startling statements. The interviewer reminded him that the politicians of the European Union consider the Polish refusal to abide by a court verdict as preparation for the country’s exit from the Union. If Orbán keeps talking about his “fight,” this communication may lead to the interpretation that Hungary is also planning to leave the Union behind. Here is Orbán’s answer: “Communication is interesting and in politics is often important, but it does not replace reality…. Hungarian reality is that the Hungarian people decided after a referendum to join the European Union. That decision was a correct one. No political decision can overwrite that decision. A popular referendum was held, and therefore no government action can reverse that determination. It was the Hungarian people’s choice, and that’s right and well.”

Although Szijjártó, who is in Tallin at the moment, expressed his trust in the unity of the Visegrád Four, there are signs that Slovakia and the Czech Republic are not ready to sacrifice themselves for Poland and Hungary. The weak link, I believe, is Slovakia. I heard an interview with Pál Csáky, a Slovak member of the European Parliament, who surprised me to no end with his condemnation of the Orbán government’s attitude toward the European Union. The reason for my surprise was that Csáky was Fidesz’s favorite among Hungarian ethnic politicians in Slovakia back in 2010. Lots of money was poured into Csáky’s party, the Magyar Koalíció Pártja (MKP), against Béla Bugár of Híd/Most. Despite the funding, MKP didn’t even manage to get enough votes to become a parliamentary party. Csáky at this point resigned. Today he made it clear that Slovakia will not follow Orbán’s suicidal strategy. Slovakia is all for the European Union.

There is another reason that Orbán may have changed his mind. The spokesman of the European People’s Party delivered a message to Viktor Orbán: don’t go against the ruling of the court because this verdict gives an opportunity to heal the wounds caused by the recent conflict between the member states. “The unanimous opinion of the party is that Slovakia and Hungary comply with the rules.”

Otherwise, Jean-Claude Juncker is ready to have a chat with Viktor Orbán, but his spokesman reminded his audience as well as Viktor Orbán that the position of the European Commission is explained in Juncker’s letter to Orbán. It is available for everybody to read and, in any case, the Commission is not in habit of verbal ping pong. Given Juncker’s firmness as expressed in his letter, I would not advise Orbán to continue to press his case.

September 8, 2017

Should Hungarian-speaking Roma students be educated in Hungarian schools in Slovakia and Romania?

Zoltán Balog, Viktor Orbán’s minister of human resources, is in the news again. Regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum know by now that Balog normally makes headlines when he says or does something that the public finds objectionable. Over the last seven years he has acquired the reputation of being a less than caring man which, given his pre-political life as an ordained Hungarian Reformed minister, is jarring to say the least.

After his last interview, with his ill-chosen words about the lack of CT and MRI machines in the National Cardiology Institute, several articles about the head of the Emberi Erőforrások Minisztériuma or, as he is often called, the “emberminiszter” (human minister) appeared. But lately one can hear people talking about the “embertelen miniszter” (inhuman minister).

The most interesting of these articles appeared in 168 Óra. The piece is based on several interviews with Balog’s old friends and acquaintances. The picture of the man that emerges is pretty devastating. An old friend, László Donáth, a Lutheran minister, told the reporter that Balog owes him only a bottle beer after they bet on who is going to win the 2002 election, but there will be a day of reckoning when he will have to stand before the Lord. It will not be easy, Donáth added. Apparently, Balog lost most of his friends in 2006 when, after some hesitation, he chose politics instead of the church. Balog’s father, also a minister, told him, “My son, you became a politician because you were not good enough as a minister.”

His former subordinates describe him as a man who craves praise and constantly brags about his awards and accomplishments. He doesn’t tolerate criticism. He is often harsh toward his subordinates and tries to make them scapegoats in order to cover up his own mistakes. As an unnamed former employee said, “I am truly sorry that I cannot say much good about such an intelligent and talented man.”

Apparently, Balog’s devotion to Viktor Orbán and what he represents is genuine. According to a former parishioner, “Zoltán truly believes that Viktor Orbán is doing a job given to him by God and as prime minister he will make Hungary prosper again.” Balog apparently needed someone he could follow while Orbán needed someone who would assist him in reducing the amount of money spent on social welfare, education, and health. That’s why all these disparate fields were put under one ministry.

According to people in the know, only once did Balog try to say no to Orbán. It was at the time when the Orbán government decided to submit a new law on the churches. Balog told Orbán that he can’t support the bill without some amendments. Otherwise he will resign. Apparently, Orbán responded: “OK, write your resignation and tomorrow morning put it on my desk. I will sign it.” Balog quickly changed his mind. Apparently, after this minor incident their friendship became very strong and, it seems, enduring despite the fact that Orbán knows as well as anyone that Balog’s administrative talents don’t match the enormous tasks of his mega-ministry. Thus, in 2014, Orbán installed one of the Christian Democratic hardliners, Bence Rétvári, to actually run the ministry. Balog was reduced to the role of “drum major.”

Balog’s ill-chosen words on the state of Hungarian healthcare were barely uttered when a week later he managed to call attention to himself again. He was one of the participants in the three-day Fidesz extravaganza in Tusnádfűrdő/Băile Tușnad. According to the official program, Balog was the keynote speaker at a lecture and discussion on the “Idea of the Reformation and the Future of Europe.” After his lecture he joined a discussion group on the state of Hungarian youth both in Hungary and in the neighboring countries. Among the many topics, the quality of Hungarian schools in Romania and Slovakia came up. Balog told the audience that in Slovakia many Hungarian families don’t send their children to Hungarian schools because too many Gypsies attend them. He added that “neither the Hungarian communities nor the government has decided yet whether the Hungarian-speaking Gypsies are a burden or a resource. We must decide what we consider to be a Hungarian school.”

Béla Kató, Hungarian Reformed bishop of the church’s Transylvanian district, and Zoltán Balog, Tusnádfrürdő/Băile Tușnad

The government media, although it reported on the panel discussion, neglected to include Balog’s comments on the Orbán government’s ambivalent feelings toward Hungarian-speaking Gypsies in Slovakia and Romania. I did a quick check to find out how many people we are talking about. In Slovakia, of the half a million Hungarian speakers, researchers estimate that 60,000 are Gypsies, that is, a little more than 10%. The Roma population of Romania is very large. We are talking about perhaps as many as three million people. About 80,000-90,000 of them are Hungarian speaking.

The Orbán government is in a quandary: should they embrace the Roma on the basis of the common language or simply take away the opportunity for Hungarian language instruction, forcing them to attend Romanian or Slovak schools instead? I gather from Balog’s remarks on the Slovak situation, where non-Roma families would rather send their children to Slovak schools because of the presence of too many Gypsies in the Hungarian ones, that the Orbán government is inclined to get rid of “the burden” Hungarian-speaking Gypsies impose on the government in Budapest. We can safely say that they are approaching the question along racial lines. I might also add that Balog is a firm believer in segregated education for Roma children in Hungary. It doesn’t matter how many experts tell him that segregation leads to sure failure, Balog remains unconvinced. I might add that the segregation Balog advocates is unconstitutional and forbidden by many international agreements which Hungary signed.

Today an article appeared in 24.hu reminding Zoltán Balog and his Fidesz friends of the events of March 20, 1990 in Marosvásárhely/Târgu Mureș where Hungarian demonstrators were attacked by members of the nationalist Vatra Românească but Hungarian-speaking Gypsies came to the rescue. First, the Hungarians didn’t know who they were, but then one of them yelled: “Ne féljetek magyarok, mert itt vannak a cigányok!” (Don’t be afraid, Hungarians, because the Gypsies are here). If the Orbán government closes Hungarian schools to Hungarian-speaking Roma students in Slovakia and Romania, soon enough there won’t be any Gypsies to ride to the rescue. They’ll speak Slovak and Romanian and feel no ties to Hungary.

July 25, 2017

What awaits the Visegrád Four?

A couple of weeks ago an excellent article appeared in Atlatszo.hu with the striking title “Visegrád is dead—An anti-Orbán alliance is in the making in Central Europe.” The alliance the author, Botond Bőtös, is referring to is the so-called Slavkov Triangle, comprising Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Slavkov is better known to most of us as Austerlitz, where the Battle of the Three Emperors (Napoleon, Tsar Alexander I, and Emperor Francis II) was fought in 1805.

Actually, the Slavkov Triangle is not new. It was in January 2015, in the middle of the Ukrainian crisis, that on the initiative of the Czech Republic the three prime ministers–Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann, and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico–signed a declaration that envisaged close cooperation in areas of infrastructure development, traffic, energy safety, and, most important, joint consultations prior to European Union summits. At the time quite a few Polish and Czech analyses appeared, but in Hungarian I found only one, in HVG, by Csaba Tóth of the Republikon Institute, which was subsequently translated into English and published by the Budapest Sentinel under the title “Slavkov Triangle threatens to isolate Hungary from its European allies.” The Slavkov Declaration, as Tóth noted,“betrays such a level of cooperation … as to suggest that if this plan is executed, the Visegrád Cooperation will become an empty structure.”

Not much happened in the intervening months. But at the end of June Bohuslav Sobotka, Robert Fico, and the new Austrian chancellor Christian Kern sat down again to continue their project and talk about the “convergence of old and new Europe.” According to Botond Bőtös, in the last couple of years the Czech Republic in particular has become concerned that the Visegrád 4 countries are being labelled intransigent opponents of everything the European Union stands for. Czech politicians began asking whether it was in the best interests of the Czech Republic to be identified with the Polish-Hungarian dominated group.

Bőtös is convinced that Orbán was always something of an irritant to the others, but after the 2015 Polish election that brought the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) to power, “the foreign policy of Orbán became the official strategy of the Visegrád Group.” That was too much for the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Especially after the September 2016 V4-meeting in Bratislava, it became increasingly apparent that the Czechs and Slovaks held different views from their Polish and Hungarian colleagues. They differ on European integration, and they are not happy with the authoritarian turn of events in Poland and Hungary. They came to the conclusion that the V4 has no common, positive message for the rest of Europe. And the outside political world has a very negative opinion of the V4 countries. These are the considerations underpinning the revival of the Slavkov Triangle.

Christian Kern, Bohuslav Sobotka, and Robert Fico in front of the Austerlitz Palace

A couple of days ago Austrian chancellor Christian Kern gave an interview to the German paper Handelsblatt in which he talked at some length about the Visegrád 4 Group. He began by saying that there is a visible split in the group between Poland and Hungary on one side and the Czech Republic and Slovakia on the other. Kern pointed out that the EU often reproached the Polish and Hungarian governments, to no avail, but “now this conflict must have a resolution.” If necessary, through financial retribution.

Péter Szijjártó, the Hungarian foreign minister, reacted by saying that the Hungarian government has been aware for some time that certain Western European politicians are attempting to divide the Visegrád Group. “But we have bad news for them. It will not work. The Visegrád Group is the closest and most effective alliance within the European Union.”

Yesterday Viktor Orbán himself spoke about the Austrian chancellor’s reference to Hungary and the fractured Visegrád 4 in his Kossuth Rádió interview. Let me translate the passage verbatim because it says a lot about him and his interaction with the rest of the world.

It is never fortunate in politics when someone confuses his desires with reality. I understand that the Austrians are hurt because they are not part of the Visegrád Group. Austria is a lonely country anyway, and thus we don’t even know exactly where it is trying to find its strategic interests. Since the collapse of the monarchy it has been the historical question of Central Europe where Austria belongs. Until now Austria has been a very successful country. Therefore we can tip our hats because between the end of World War II and now it has achieved the highest standard of living and the greatest economic development. So, it is a talented country, but in a foreign policy sense it is at a loss because it is not a member of NATO yet a member of the European Union, not a member of V4 although it belongs to Central Europe. So there are many uncertainties here. It is not worthwhile for our friends to hope that they can break the unity of the Visegrád 4. The basic principle of V4 is simple: one for all and all for one.

Orbán at his best. Condescending, contemptuous, and arrogant when, by the look of it, it is he and his country who seem to be in some trouble on the international stage.

July 8, 2017

A multi-speed Europe and the Visegrád Four

While Viktor Orbán is celebrating his “victory” in his fight with the European Commission over the expansion of the Paks Nuclear Power Plant, politicians in the western half of the continent are busily working on laying the foundation for a new type of European Union, one that might be able to avoid the pitfalls that have besieged Brussels ever since the abrupt enlargement of the Union in 2004.

On March 1 the European Commission published a White Paper on the future of Europe, “Avenues for the EU at 27.” The White Paper sets out five scenarios, each offering a glimpse into the potential state of the Union by 2025 depending on the choices Europe makes. Scenario 1: Carrying On. Scenario 2: Nothing but the Single Market. Scenario 3: Those Who Want More Do More, which means that the 27 members proceed as today but willing member states can do more together in areas such as defense, internal security, or social matters. Thus one or several “coalitions of the willing” will emerge. What will that mean exactly? To give but one example, 15 member states set up a police and magistrates corps to tackle cross-border criminal activities; security information is exchanged as national databases are fully interconnected. Scenario 4: Doing Less More Efficiently, which means delivering more and faster in selected areas, while doing less in other areas. Scenario 5: Doing Much More Together, in other words something close to a real union.

Although Juncker tried to deliver these five options in a neutral tone, it soon became evident that he and the other policy makers preferred scenario 3. “This is the way we want to go,” said an EU official to Euroaktiv.

On March 25 the White Paper will be officially handed over to the 27 governments in Rome at the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which signaled the first step toward the idea of a united Europe. It is there that the Visegrád 4 countries were planning to propose amendments to the EU treaties, but their hopes are most likely misplaced. As an unnamed EU official said, “for treaty change, there is no market.”

The idea of a multi-speed Europe has been in the air for some time as an answer to the feared disintegration of the European Union after Brexit. But it was only on February 3, at the informal summit of the European Council in Malta, that Angela Merkel spoke of such a solution publicly. Since then behind the scenes preparations for the implementation of this solution have been progressing with spectacular speed.

Today the “Big Four” officially called for a new dynamic, multi-speed Europe. In the Palace of Versailles Angela Merkel, François Hollande, Mariano Rajoy, and Paolo Gentiloni announced their support for a newly revitalized multi-speed Europe. The leaders of Germany, France, Spain, and Italy want to do more than celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the EU. They want “to reaffirm [their] commitment to the future,” said Hollande. Merkel added that “we should have the courage to allow some countries to move ahead, to advance more quickly than others.” To translate these diplomatic words into less polite language, these four countries, most likely supported by a fair number of other western and perhaps also Baltic states, are sick and tired of countries like members of the Visegrád 4. If they don’t want deeper integration and a common policy on defense, the economy, security and immigration, so be it. They will be left behind.

European leaders at the Palace of Versailles / Euroactiv.fr

What is Viktor Orbán’s reaction to these plans? As we know, the Hungarian prime minister can change his positions quickly and frequently, and it looks as if in the last month his ideas on the subject have hardened. Bruxinfo received information from sources close to Orbán at the time of the Malta Summit that the Hungarian prime minister didn’t consider the formation of a multi-speed Europe a necessarily adverse development as far as Hungary is concerned.

On March 2, however, a day after Juncker’s White Paper came to light, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary issued a joint declaration to the effect that the Visegrád 4, strongly supported by Viktor Orbán, find the idea of a multi-speed Europe unacceptable. The declaration said that the Visegrád 4 countries want neither federalization nor a return to the single market. What they find most odious, however, is Scenario 3. They look upon a multi-speed Europe as a sign that they will be treated as poor relatives, second-class citizens. Unfortunately, the four Visegrád countries, besides not wanting to be left behind, can’t agree on the extent of integration they are ready to accept.

Slovakia and the Czech Republic, unlike Poland and Hungary, are ready to cooperate with Brussels in certain areas such as asylum, migration policy, and the digital agenda in the spirit of “Bratislava Plus” adopted in September 2016. You may recall that after the Bratislava Summit Viktor Orbán was the only political leader who announced that the summit was a failure. He was especially unhappy that his Visegrád 4 friends didn’t stick with him during the negotiations. It looks as if Poland and Hungary didn’t manage to force their rigid attitude on the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Because of their differences, the common denominator of the Visegrád 4’s declaration was merely a description of their gripes. As a result, their message was defensive and weak. The four countries “express their concerns about creating exclusive clubs, they demand the equality of member states, and they want to involve national parliaments more in the political process that would control the subnational institutions,” as Vit Dostál, editor-in-chief of Euroaktiv.cz, remarked in his op/ed piece. The news about the decision of the German, French, Spanish and Italian prime ministers yesterday had to come as very bad news for the Visegrád 4. A multi-speed Europe is a frightening prospect for these countries.

Of course, they wouldn’t have to worry so much if they, especially Poland and Hungary, were more accommodating in their attitudes and would accept the fact that by joining the European Union they gave up some of their countries’ sovereignty. If they accepted the fact that the refugee problem is something that can be solved only together. As Merkel said in Versailles yesterday: “Cooperation can be kept open to those that have fallen behind.” We will see which road Orbán will choose, but cooperation is not Orbán’s strong suit.

March 7, 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

The collapse of the united front of the Visegrád 4 in Bratislava

The Hungarian media hasn’t paid much attention to Viktor Orbán’s Friday morning interview on Magyar Rádió, which was aired on September 16 around 8:00 a.m. but was recorded the evening before. In it, the prime minster talked a great deal about the common agenda of the Visegrád 4 countries, on which their representatives were working furiously, even overnight. He proudly announced that while “the bureaucrats in Brussels” will most likely not be able to produce a document at the end of their negotiations in Bratislava, the Visegrád 4 will present a common set of proposals. As he said, “this is an important moment in the history of the Visegrád 4.” He added that “the Visegrád 4 are in perfect agreement on these questions.”

So, let’s see the demands of this joint statement, which Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło presented to the leaders of EU27. Its most important “ultimatum,” as some journalists called it, was “the strengthening of the role of national parliaments underlining respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality.” The Visegrád 4 accused Germany and France of making key decisions alone and disregarding the opinions of the eastern European states. “European integration is a common project and all negotiations should therefore be inclusive and open to all member states.” They demanded that “efforts should be channeled to fully implement the already undertaken commitments aiming at strengthening security in the Schengen area as well as the protection of EU’s external borders.” Linked to the security issue was the question of migration, which is considered to be the key issue for the group. The solution of the Visegrád 4 to the problem of the millions of migrants is what they call “flexible solidarity,” “a concept [which would] enable Member States to decide on specific forms of contribution taking into account their experience and potential. Furthermore any distribution mechanism should be voluntary.”

If we take a look at “The Bratislava Declaration,” we can safely assume that very few of these demands were discussed or even considered. The only exception is that the Bratislava road map includes “full control of our external borders…. Before the end of the year, full capacity for rapid reaction of the European Border and Coast Guard.” The goal of the Bratislava summit was to demonstrate unity, not to argue endlessly about the Visegrád 4’s grievances. The European Union is facing difficult challenges for which the member states must find common solutions. Donald Tusk made it crystal clear to Beata Szydło that this is not the time for a public debate of these issues. He even visited Budapest ahead of the summit to try to convince Viktor Orbán to let sleeping dogs lie. It seems that Tusk failed to restrain Orbán from open criticism, although in his interview on Magyar Rádió the prime minister did say that “in the name of fairness there is improvement on this issue,” adding that Tusk is one of the people in Brussels who places “defense” as the top priority. Of course, he credited himself for the evolving change in thinking on the issue.

If Orbán found the joint document of the Visegrád 4 so significant, why didn’t he complain that the summit passed over most of the demands outlined in it? Why did he object instead merely to the European Union’s immigration policies? On this issue “The Bratislava Declaration” said only that “work to be continued to broaden EU consensus in terms of long term migration policy, including on how to apply the principles of responsibility and solidarity in the future.”

First of all, knowing Viktor Orbán, who cannot imagine life without dissent, discord, and constant battling about one thing or the other, we could expect that he, unlike his comrades in arms in the Visegrád 4, would not come out of the meeting smiling and telling the world how happy he is with the outcome. He would have to complain about something. The most obvious target was immigration, or rather sharing the burden of the newly arrived asylum seekers. He could not return home and tell the Hungarian people that all’s well with the European Union and that from here on the remaining 27 member states will try to solve their problems together. After all, the Hungarian referendum on the refugees will be held on October 2, a referendum that he deems of vital importance to his political career. So, the choice of his complaint was a given.

But, in addition to immigration policy, he could have complained that the summit ignored one of his demands: strengthening the nation states at the expense of the center. Why didn’t he? Because, as far as I can see, he lost the support of his allies: Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. They joined the rest and declared the Bratislava summit a success. Even Beata Szydło realized that in the package presented to the members there were substantial incentives to stand by the others.

The roses were not enough

The roses were not enough

From the very beginning dissension was noticeable among the four countries. Poland and Hungary were the most vocal critics of Brussels. Slovakia and the Czech Republic wanted closer relations with Germany. Of course, it is not at all to Hungary’s advantage to have a pro-government media empire that revels in anti-Merkel rhetoric, but Orbán’s political moves are not always rational. While Orbán was advocating a counter-revolution against the existing order in Europe, Ivan Korčok, the Slovak undersecretary for European Affairs, talked to Politico about “a deeper reflection process, [fearing] trenches between West and East.” Moreover, he said that “migration is a phenomenon we have to see with a long term view,” which to my mind means a realization that migration will be part of the lives of the people of the EU, from which there is no escape for individual states.

Even between Poland and Hungary, despite their close ideological ties, there is the troubling issue of Russia. Poland, fearing Russia, supports a permanent NATO force in the region while Orbán would like to see the end of EU sanctions against Russia. The Poles also don’t approve of his cozy relations with Vladimir Putin.

These four countries, in spite of their geographical proximity, are different in many ways and have different national interests. As Korčok said of the upcoming summit, “I don’t think we can surge forward together.” Well, they didn’t.

It seems that Orbán’s revitalization of the Visegrád 4 pretty well collapsed in Bratislava. This diplomatic defeat should trouble him a lot more than the European Union’s immigration policy, over which he has no control. For the sake of winning a useless referendum for domestic political purposes he might have to give up his dream of being the leader of the East European countries and ultimately a major player on the European stage.

September 17, 2016

Fidesz exports its ideology and methods to the neighbors: Serbia and Slovakia

I have the feeling that most Hungarians living within the country’s borders would be appalled if they knew how much financial support ethnic Hungarian parties receive from the government in Budapest. Here I will write about the Hungarian government’s reach into Serbia and briefly cover its failure in the ethnic politics of Slovakia.

The area of the Autonomous Province of Voivodina has a population of about 2 million people, most of whom (66.76%) are Serbs.The next largest ethnic group is Hungarian (13%). The area has autonomous status, and the Hungarians have their own national council (Magyar Nemzeti Tanács). The Hungarian government supports the Voivodina Hungarian Association (Vajdasági Magyar Szövetség / VMSZ). István Pásztor, who became chairman of the VMSZ in 2007, has developed a close relationship with Viktor Orbán, with all the benefits that it entails.

To the surprise of everybody, including the leadership of VMSZ, in November 2015 Levente Magyar, undersecretary in the ministry of foreign affairs and trade, announced a 50 billion forint package for the improvement of agriculture and tourism in the Hungarian-inhabited areas of Voivodina. Thirty billion will be given in long-term low-interest loans, and the rest will be an outright grant. This grant is supposed to put an end to, or at least slow, the emigration of Hungarian youth to western Europe. VMSZ will decide how this money will be distributed.

All three Orbán governments have meddled in the political life of the Hungarian communities in the neighboring countries. The financial assistance they extend to the Hungarian minorities is based on ideological considerations: only those parties receive assistance that are close to the right-wing nationalist worldview of Fidesz. Viktor Orbán prefers monolithic parties, the kind he himself built at home. Apparently, István Pásztor is that kind of a leader but, unlike in Fidesz, some people in VMSZ objected to Pásztor’s style. Orbán noticed the rebellion that was brewing in the party and warned that “it is not in the interest of Hungarian national policy that the unity that has been achieved in the Southern Territories (Délvidék) in any way be damaged.” He indicated that his government will not assist any such deviance from the party line. Fidesz hoped that this incredible amount of money would strengthen Pásztor’s leadership, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case.

István Pásztor and VMSZ received the money in November 2015, and by February 2016 Népszava reported that eighty persons had been expelled from the party just before the April national election. Considering that the party has 11,000 members, this number doesn’t sound large enough to do much damage. However, some of those who were expelled are important personages in Voivodina politics. For example, Jenő Maglai, the only Hungarian mayor of a large Serbian city, Subotica/Szabadka.

If political unity in Voivodina comes to an end and if different Hungarian parties compete against one another, the strength of the Hungarian parties will dissipate. This is what happened almost everywhere Fidesz politicos interfered. Romania is perhaps the best example, where at one point two new Fidesz-favored parties tried to weaken the Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ), with little success. Fidesz managed to split the Hungarian parties both in Ukraine and Slovakia. The same situation is developing in Voivodina. A civic movement called Magyar Mozgalom (Hungarian Movement) has been formed, which has attacked VMSZ as “being totally subordinated to the Hungarian government.”

The Voivodina Gallop

The Voivodina Gallop

This was not the first time that VMSZ received substantial amounts of money from Budapest. Back in 2013 Pásztor received 11.3 billion forints or 27.8 million euros (at the 2015 exchange rate), which “to the last penny” went to friends and family of VMSZ leaders. The list of beneficiaries was acquired by the media and published in Gépnarancs in June 2015. Three million euros went to Olivér Bunford, who owns a horse farm and runs the Vajdasági Vágta (Voivodina Gallop) and who happens to be the son of Tivadar Bunford, member of the executive board of VMSZ. The older Bunford also received 4.5 million euros. Those who didn’t like the new ways of doing business within the party and dared to say something were forced to resign, like Deputy Chairman László Varga who bitterly complained about Pásztor’s autocratic ways. Not only did Fidesz export its penchant for using public funds for private purposes but VMSZ also follows the cultural policies of Fidesz. The party leaders have attacked the program and spirit of the Hungarian theater in Subotica/Szabadka.

The Slovak situation is somewhat different. There three smaller Hungarian parties formed a new party called Magyar Koalíció Pártja (MKP) in 1998, which became the coalition partner in the Dzurinda government (1998-2006). When Pál Csáky, a friend of Viktor Orbán and a Fidesz loyalist, was chosen to be the new chairman in 2009, however, several politicians, including Béla Bugár, the former chairman, left the party and established a party named Most—Híd, meaning “bridge” in Slovak and Hungarian. As its name indicates, it is an inter-ethnic party. It seeks to represent the interests of Hungarians while working together with the majority Slovaks. To everybody’s surprise, Most—Híd won 8.12% of the votes in 2010 while the Fidesz-supported MKP didn’t reach the cut-off point of 5% of the votes. Since then MKP has dwindled and found itself without representation in 2012 as well as in 2016. Most—Híd, on the other hand, managed to win 6.89% of votes in 2012, and 6.7% in 2016. Given Fico’s poor showing, Most—Híd might have a role to play in the forthcoming coalition negotiations.

The latest chairman of MKP has resigned. Despite strong Fidesz support, or perhaps because of it, Viktor Orbán’s favorite party has bombed. Yet the Budapest government refuses to do anything with Béla Bugár’s party because it is not a “purely Hungarian” party.

I think one can safely say that the money that is being spent by the Budapest government to bolster the chosen Hungarian ethnic political parties does more harm than good. Moreover, a great deal of the assistance ends up in the pockets of Fidesz loyalists. All in all, not a wise use of the Hungarian taxpayers’ money.

March 11, 2016