Tag Archives: Sopron

Viktor Orbán’s new infatuation with modernity

The Orbán government fell in love with the word “modern.” As we just learned today, the leadership of Fidesz has been dissatisfied with the media portfolio of Lajos Simicska for some time. They considered it old-fashioned and hence ineffective. Therefore, quite independently of the quarrel between Orbán and Simicska, the party’s leadership was thinking of pro-government media that can have a greater impact, especially on the younger generation. They have been working on a new media portfolio under the supervision of Árpád Habony, who will also be part owner of the new enterprise. The name of the company will be Modern Média Group (MMG). It looks to me as if Fidesz is no longer capable of coming up with anything new because, as HVG discovered, there used to be a company called Modern Média. It was one of those bankrupt companies around Fidesz that was sold to Josip Tot, the penniless Croatian guest worker, in 1998.

MMG’s plans are ambitious. They will have an internet site called via.hu that will publish opinion pieces and political analyses. The new owners are also planning to launch a free paper to replace Helyi Téma, which ceased to exist a few weeks ago due to the financial troubles of its owner, Tamás Vitézy. In addition, their plans include a financial paper. There is also talk about a possible radio station. All of this requires a lot of money. Where do Árpád Habony and his business partner, Tibor Győri, who used to be undersecretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, get the money for such a media empire? We pretty well know where Lajos Simicska got his money, but what about Habony, who as far as we know doesn’t have a job? Before 2010 Győri was CEO of Mahír, one of Simicska’s companies, but I can’t believe that he is a billionaire.

I’m rather skeptical of the prospects for this new Fidesz-Orbán media empire simply because government-created propaganda is almost never financially successful. As for modernity, it is the last word one would associate with the Orbán government, which has been doing nothing else in the last five years but trying to turn back the clock.

But that’s not all. The Orbán government has a new project called the Modern Városok Program (Modern Cities Program), which Viktor Orbán launched in Sopron on March 25. Unfortunately for Orbán, his speech on that occasion was totally overshadowed by his revelation in the question and answer period that he was the person who ordered his ministers to withdraw all government money deposited at the Quaestor Group.

His visit to Sopron signaled the beginning of a road show that includes visits to all 23 cities labeled as “megyei jogú városok,” which simply means that these cities also take care of the business of the county in which they are situated although not all of them are county seats. According to plans, about 1,000-1,200 billion forints, coming largely from Brussels, will be spent on “modernizing” the infrastructure. Originally, the government planned to finish all the expressways that would connect these cities to “motorways” or superhighways only by 2020, but given the sorry state of Fidesz and the Orbán government, the decision was made to speed up the process and finish the work by 2018, i.e., before the next election. In addition to an expressway between Sopron and Győr (M1), money would go for renovations of “church and government buildings” in Sopron and for the development of a tourist center at Lake Fertő. The expressway itself would cost more than 100 billion forints.

This “modernization” for Orbán means that “anyone crossing the border between Austria and Hungary wouldn’t notice any difference in quality.” But, of course, we know that not everything depends on new paint on buildings and an expressway leading into the city. What is missing on the Hungarian side cannot be remedied by road building and renovation. What is lacking is a forward-looking government and population.

On April 10 Orbán visited Eger, where the goodies coming from Brussels were more modest than in Sopron–only 30 billion forints. In addition to another expressway, Eger would receive a “national swimming and waterpolo centrum” to the tune of six billion forints. This center will be grandiose: several pools, “not just one or two.” After all, “let’s dream of great things, and do it right,” he said. I guess after the stadiums we can expect many, many swimming centers, which actually makes more sense than the stadium building mania for the nonexistent Hungarian football players. At least Hungarian swimmers and water polo players are world famous. Another six billion will be spent on the famous castle where in 1552 the Hungarian forces successfully defended the town from the Turkish invaders. Mind you, in 1596 Eger fell anyway and became part of the Ottoman Empire. An industrial center will be built, waiting for investors who will be able to reach Eger more easily after the expressway is built to M3.

The next stop was Zalaegerszeg. Another expressway by 2018 and another swimming pool with a recreation center. The city will also build a pilgrimage center devoted to József Mindszenty, the last Prince Primate of Hungary. Mindszenty became a parish priest in the Church of Mária Magdolna in Zalaegerszeg in 1919 and spent almost twenty years there. Although his beatification has been pending since 1996, it looks as if the city fathers of Zalaegerszeg are optimistic about the final outcome. I have no idea how popular such a pilgrimage center will be, but it looks as if the mayor and the city council consider it a good business opportunity.

Of course, the roadshow is not over. There are twenty more cities to visit.

I find the Orbán government’s sudden interest in modernity curious. If anything, Viktor Orbán is a man of the past. Even before he became prime minister in 2010, he fought tooth and nail against modern shopping habits. It’s enough to think of his crusade against the government’s plans to allow over-the-counter medications to be sold outside of pharmacies. And the government’s newly introduced Sunday store closings are supposed to favor small business owners and punish the large supermarket chains.

modernityYes, in the last fifty years or so small business owners have been pushed out of the market. It is sad. Where are the small bookstores? Few of them survive. The small pharmacy I used to visit even in the 1980s is gone. Pharmacies have been replaced by chains. Some large retail outlets, like Walmart, have their own pharmacies. There are fewer and fewer flower shops because every supermarket sells flowers. Certain professions have completely disappeared. For example, typesetting. But there is nothing new about that. After all, when Gutenberg introduced movable type, within a few years scribes lost their jobs. To try to stop these developments by government edict is more than foolhardy. Such an attempt can bring only disaster–backwardness and poverty. Moreover, it is hopeless. Anyone who attempts to stop the clock, unless it is Kim Jong-un in isolated North Korea, is doomed to failure.

Jobbik-Fidesz cooperation: The case of the Western Hungarian Uprising of 1921

In a way I’m continuing the same topic as yesterday–the Orbán government’s appeasement of Jobbik and its supporters. Actually, it may be imprecise to talk about appeasement. There is a partially shared ideology that on quite a few occasions has brought the Orbán government and Jobbik together on the same platform, working hand in hand. Fidesz politicians would like to keep this cooperation quiet. Openly they refuse to associate themselves with Jobbik, but under cover they are more than ready to pick up and support Jobbik’s ideas.

One such endeavor seems to run into difficulties year after year. I’m talking about the restoration of the statue of a young man that adorns the grave of Tibor Vámossy, a nineteen-year-old engineering student who died in the so-called Western Hungarian Uprising of August 28 – October 13, 1921. Before 1920 Western Hungary was the official name of that part of Greater Hungary called Burgenland today.

Austria, in the name of self-determination of nations, laid claim to the territory, including the city of Sopron, on November 17, 1918. The Allied and Associated Powers approved the transfer of territories in the September 10, 1919 Treaty of Saint-Germain. The Hungarian government did not expect such an “unfriendly act” from the “in-laws,” as Hungarians often refer to their former Austrian partners, but the Austrian claim was well founded. The territory’s population according to the 1920 census was about 350,000. The vast majority were German-speaking (72.4%). Croatians (13.8%) and Hungarians (12.3%) made up the rest.

This territory–as opposed to those in the north, east, and south–remained under Hungarian administration after the military collapse, which gave the Hungarian government some hope of retaining it. Budapest tried to come to a separate understanding with Vienna, but these negotiations not surprisingly were unsuccessful. At this point “independent” armed groups decided to prevent the entry of Austrian gendarmes. Eventually 2,000-3,000 quite well armed men were involved on the Hungarian side; the Austrian policemen were no match for them. After a few people died on both sides, the Austrians withdrew. Eventually a peaceful solution was found at the Conference of Venice with Italian moderation. The Hungarians asked for a plebiscite in Sopron and in nine villages nearby. Although the plebiscite produced a Hungarian majority in only three villages, the inhabitants of Sopron voted for Hungary so overwhelmingly (72%) that eventually the whole area remained within Hungary. This was the only negotiated settlement between Hungary and her successors.

In the last few years the statue of Tibor Vámossy in the Farkasréti Cemetery has become a gathering place for Jobbik supporters who, flanked by members of Magyar Gárda, commemorate Vámossy’s death on October 6, 1921. Young Vámossy was the only son of  upper-middle class parents who were rich enough to hire a well-known artist to sculpt a statue of their son and who were patriotic enough to make sure that everybody would know that Tibor died for “Western Hungary.” The Latin words “Pro Integritate” were chiseled into the base of the statue. Vámossy, Jobbik contends, was a member of the so-called Rongyos Gárda (Ragged Guard), one of the many paramilitary organizations that took part in the uprising. Jobbik–and Magyar Gárda–consider it a precursor of sorts.

By the time members of Jobbik and Magyar Gárda discovered the grave site, it was neglected and crumbling. But it had not been completely ignored. Earlier, in 2004, a government organization looking after places and objects that have some national significance (Nemzeti Emlékhely és Kegyeleti Bizottság/NEKB) decided to include the grave on its roster. The president of this organization is Péter Boross, prime minister of Hungary for a few months after József Antall, who in my opinion is very much to the right on the Hungarian political spectrum. So when Jobbik came up with the idea of restoring the crumbling statue they had to turn to NEKB for permission. On September 12, 2012 the organization gave Jobbik permission to go ahead with the project.

At this point members of the Vámossy family raised objections. They refused to have anything to do with Jobbik and its efforts at reconstructing their ancestor’s grave. They announced that, contrary to Jobbik’s claim, Tibor Vámossy was not a member of the Rongyos Gárda; he was a simple patriotic engineering student who decided to fight for his country. The Rongyos Gárda’s reputation is pretty bad in Hungary: it was a murderous anti-Semitic group. So, it is understandable that the Vámossy family refused to endorse the project.

The Vámossy relatives, most of whom live abroad, were right. Young Vámossy was not a member of this unsavory group. According to Andor Ladányi, who wrote a book on the role of university students in the first years of the counterrevolution, there were two recruiters at the engineering school: István Friederich, former prime minister between August 7 and November 25, 1919, and EKSZ (Etelközi Szövetség), an irredentist group active in universities. According to Ladányi, about 50 students were recruited from the engineering students by Friederich, some of whom were described by contemporaries as “all very stylish and well-educated boys.” They even had a “uniform” of sorts: green hunting caps and brown “sporty outfits.” Vámossy was one of these. He and a friend of his, Antal Lossonczy, died while writing postcards home along a roadside near Kismarton. An Austrian patrol opened fire on them.

So, Jobbik came up with an idea which was then approved by the Boross-led organization in charge of national monuments. When the family objected to the presence of Jobbik, the Ministry of Defense decided to take upon itself the cost of the restoration. That is what I meant when I said that Jobbik and the Orbán government often work hand in hand. As Előd Novák, vie-chairman of Jobbik, reported in August 2013, it was on Jobbik’s initiative that the project received the nod from Csaba Hende, who wrote to him that ” although Tibor Vámossy did not die as a soldier on October 6, 1921, he sacrificed his life in defense of the integrity of our country.” Apparently, Hende added that “naturally the government and the ministry acknowledge the merits of the Rongyos Gárda” as well.

The restored tomb and statue

The restored tomb and statue

In August 2013 the whole project was almost ready and Jobbik was preparing for the official unveiling of the statue sometime in October. Naturally, the Magyar Gárda and Jobbik wanted to be present. After all, it was their idea, and they would have been ready to pay for the restoration if the family hadn’t objected. But this was exactly what Csaba Hende, the minister of defense who planned to deliver the speech at the unveiling, did not want. So, according to Jobbik sources, the ministry decided to unveil “the statue of Tibor Vámossy who was a member of the Rongyos Gárda in secret” on October 11. As soon as the ministry discovered that Jobbik knew about the “secret” event and that they intended to participate, Hende’s ministry “postponed the ceremony” again.

Jobbik was outraged and began to attack both the ministry and the Vámossy family. In Novák’s opinion, the ministry is using the family as an excuse. They simply don’t want to be seen with Jobbik. Jobbik also began questioning the right of the Vámossys to speak on the issue at all. After all, they said, Tibor was unmarried and had no direct descendants. Yes and no. I happen to know that Tibor Vámossy had a sister who was married to someone whose family name was Mikecz. At the request of his father-in-law Mikecz changed his name to Vámossy in order to carry on the family name.

Another year has gone by and the anniversary of the uprising’s beginning, August 28,  is approaching. There is still no resolution to the unveiling even though by now the restored memorial is in place. According to Jobbik, the government must decide whether it recognizes the heroism of the Rongyos Gárda in the Western Hungarian Uprising that resulted in a negotiated settlement in Hungary’s favor or not. Előd Novák wants the government not to hide anymore and instead to come out openly and bravely. Hende cannot say one thing to Novák and another to the general public or the Vámossy family. The members of the Orbán government must choose. I agree with Novák.