Tag Archives: Spain

Hungarian politicians support their friends abroad

It seems that members of the Hungarian government don’t have enough to do at home. They feel compelled to get involved in controversies outside of the country. Today I’ll look at two such controversies, one involving a Spanish archbishop, the other the all-important British referendum on EU membership.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, the archbishop of Valencia, is not exactly a household name, but in Catholic circles he is well known as an arch-conservative who is described by Spain’s leading newspaper, El Pais, asa guardian of orthodoxy with an incendiary personality.” Earlier Cañizares was a typical Vatican bureaucrat and a favorite of Benedict XVI, who in 2008 named him head of the Congregation for Divine Worship. But with the pope’s resignation in 2013 his service in the Vatican came to an end. Pope Francis most likely found Cañizares far too conservative. After retiring from his Vatican job, he had to be satisfied with the archbishopric of Valencia, which is considered to be one of the lesser sees in Spain.

Cañizares often gets into trouble. For instance, in October 2015 he talked about the “invasion of immigrants” and wondered what immigration will do to Spain “in a few years.” Like so many other conspiracy theorists, he wanted to know “who is behind all this.” Earlier, in 2009, he claimed that abortion was worse than child abuse. Most recently, the archbishop lashed out at the LGBT community, feminism and gender ideology. In early June, in a homily titled “In defense and support of the family,” Cañizares said that the family, which is the most valued social institution, “is shaken to its foundations by serious, clear or subtle, threats.” In his opinion, Spanish legislation only aids attacks on the family, which is being threatened by “movements and actions of the gay empire, of ideas such as radical feminism, or the most insidious of all, gender theory.” Soon enough, pro-LGBT and feminist organizations in Spain announced that they intended to charge Cañizares with apologia, a term in Spanish law that means encouraging or defending a criminal act. On June 19 The Catholic Herald reported that Spanish feminist groups had called for the government to prosecute Cardinal Cañizares “for inciting discrimination and hatred.”

Cañizares’s remarks and what followed were reported outside of Spain mostly in Catholic publications, but the eagle-eyed Hungarian Christian Democratic youth organization (Ifjú Kereszténydemokraták or IKSZ) found the story. The president of the organization, who looks close to forty years old, issued an official public statement condemning all those “radical liberals” who objected to Cañizares’s description of the LGBT community as a “gay empire.” Young Hungarian Christian Democrats share the opinion of the cardinal and find it outrageous that “even the justice system assists ‘opinion terror’ of members of a tiny minority that call themselves human rights activists.”

In the opinion of KDNP, “the activities of the radical gay and feminist groups are harmful because they want to limit the freedom of expression and incite hatred.” Zsolt Semjén, chairman, and Miklós Soltész, vice chairman of the party, will extend an invitation to Cardinal Cañizares to visit Hungary sometime in the fall.

As usual, the Christian Democrats overreached. They have an urge to openly support the most orthodox ideas expressed within the Catholic Church. Commentators endorsing Cañizares’s position view this case as “an important, perhaps conclusive, litmus test. Will Pope Francis stand with Cardinal Cañizares?” No word has come so far from the Vatican, as the author sadly announced a couple of days ago. On the other hand, a Hungarian group that calls itself the CitizenGO team is collecting signatures online in defense of the beleaguered cardinal.

While the Christian Democrats are supporting the Spanish cardinal, Viktor Orbán is supporting his friend David Cameron. That “one of Europe’s most Eurosceptic leaders” urged Britons to vote to remain in the European Union was startling enough to warrant coverage by Reuters. The move is especially surprising since it was only a few days ago that János Lázár categorically stated that the Hungarian government will in no way commit itself one way or the other. Whatever the decision is, the Hungarian government will respect it. He added that any negative effect of a Brexit on the Hungarian economy and currency would not require the introduction of any short-term measures. At this point Zoltán Kovács, the government spokesman, interjected, assuring the audience that the country’s budgetary reserves can take care of all possible contingencies.

Brexit ad

So, great was the surprise when two and a half days later Kovács himself confirmed the news that the Hungarian government would place a full-page ad in the conservative Daily Mail today. In fact, the ad was originally supposed to appear in the Saturday edition, but because of Jo Cox’s murder it was postponed. Kovács’s explanation for the unusual campaign tactic was that a strong Europe can be built only with the cooperation of larger states. He recalled that Hungary was often accused of anti-European sentiment, but “its current pan-European attitude aptly demonstrates how resolutely and firmly [the Hungarian government] believes in the importance of the European Union’s achievements.”

The Hungarian media’s reaction to the contradictory messages was one of puzzlement. As one headline said: “It can only happen here that we don’t know whether we support England’s exit from the European Union or not.” Journalists approached the office of the prime minister for an explanation of the contradiction between Lázár’s announcement of neutrality and Orbán’s ad with his signature attached. The answer was that Orbán, by publishing the ad, is not trying to influence British public opinion. He only expresses “his point of view that we Hungarians are glad we are in an alliance of which the Brits are members. On the one hand, this is an honor because we are talking about a great nation, and on the other, we are also stronger if the Brits stay in the European Union. This is exactly what the ad emphasizes. The decision belongs to the Brits, but we let them know that Hungary is proud to be a member of the European Union alongside of them.”

Meanwhile it is quite clear that the right-wing of Fidesz and Jobbik are keeping fingers crossed for Great Britain to leave the Union. Pesti Srácok with ill-concealed glee announced today that those in favor of Brexit now have a slight lead. The article tries to calm Hungarian nerves by emphasizing that Great Britain’s exit wouldn’t have any serious consequences for Hungary and that those approximately 200,000 Hungarians living in Great Britain have nothing to fear because “those already living there arrived in the country legally.” The question is whether they would want to remain in the United Kingdom, because after Brexit “Great Britain would no longer be the same country they chose at the time of their arrival.” Alfahír, Jobbik’s official internet paper, sympathized with Nigel Farage, who “doesn’t back down.” The article published long quotations from Farage and some of those around him. It pointed to the “almost hysterical atmosphere created by the British media and the pro-EU political elite after Jo Cox’s death.” It doesn’t matter what Gábor Vona says about the party’s changed attitude toward the European Union, Jobbik would still gladly leave the Union and is therefore keeping fingers crossed for the pro-Brexit forces to win the referendum.

So, here we have two cases in which Hungarian reactions are questionable. Hungarian bishops often and in even more forceful terms than Cardinal Cañizares have gone against the wishes of Pope Francis on the refugee issue. Now the Christian Democratic Party, which considers itself the political arm of the Hungarian Catholic Church, has so much affinity with the arch-conservative Spanish archbishop that it feels compelled to extend an invitation to him to visit Hungary. At the same time Viktor Orbán has the temerity to get involved in a dispute that concerns only the citizens of Great Britain. I wonder what he would say if the European Union placed a full-page ad in a Hungarian newspaper urging people to vote against the anti-immigrant referendum he insists on holding. Perhaps one of the European prime ministers should try it. It would be fun.

June 20, 2016

Zsolt Bayer, a Fidesz hack, on the immigration crisis

It’s been a long time since I wrote about Zsolt Bayer, a notorious columnist for Magyar Hírlap, a pro-Fidesz publication of the more radical sort. One could say that tabloid journalists like Bayer are a dime a dozen, but he is no ordinary scribbler. He holds the #5 membership card of Fidesz. (László Kövér, president of the Hungarian parliament, is the proud owner of #1, ahead of Viktor Orbán.) Bayer might be a vulgar, hate-filled hack, but he is still closely associated with the top political leadership of Fidesz. If Viktor Orbán wanted to shut him up, it wouldn’t take more than a quick telephone call. But clearly he doesn’t want to. In fact, just lately Bayer had some very distinguished guests on his new program, “Deep Magyar,” on Echo TV, a companion to Magyar Hírlap, starting with Viktor Orbán himself and followed by László Kövér. So, Zsolt Bayer is still an important man in Fidesz and a much-needed one. He is the one who is supposed to keep the radical wing of the party happy.

Zsolt Bayer is always handy to have around, but this time, when the Orbán government decided to reap political benefits from people’s fear of the thousands of refugees who are moving across Hungary, he has been a godsend. He can whip up hatred like nobody else. And nowadays, in addition to his weekly column in Magyar Hírlap, he also started a blog, where those who are not satisfied with one dose of Bayer hate-speech can always find more of the same.

Of course, Bayer is in his element at the moment. It’s the perfect stage for a man whose hate-filled words fire up those under the spell of Viktor Orbán. And, indeed, Bayer of late has turned his attention to the refugee issue. His latest piece titled “Is it unavoidable?” begins with the situation on the island of Kos, which is one of the first stops for arrivals from Turkey.

The state of affairs on Kos, according to Zsolt Bayer, is desperate. Seven thousand “intruders” have arrived. “The tourists have escaped and the hotels are empty, the population is angry and desperate. The horde doesn’t know anything about this. They are just pouring in. But on Tuesday it began….” The “horde” began a demonstration. “‘We want papers! We want to eat!’ they kept screaming,” and they sat down in the middle of a highway. The Greek authorities tried to shepherd “the beasts” into a stadium because “everything else on Kos was already filled with the beasts.” In the stadium a fight broke out and the police had to use billy clubs. Thursday the horde attacked the police. Giorgios Kynthsis, mayor of Kos, said that ” the situation is out of control…. Blood will be shed.”

Now let’s now turn to western descriptions of what happened on the Island of Kos. First of all, Bayer’s description of Kos as a tourist paradise now empty of well-off European visitors is false. “Sunbathers tan on the beach, metres from where migrants camp on the street. Tourists queue for €20 ferry rides to the Turkish shore–a journey that a nearby refugee will have paid 50 times more to complete in reverse.” The hotels are full.

Yes, it is true that there were two occasions when fights broke out among the Syrian and Afghan refugees who have been on Kos for months, waiting for a piece of paper that will allow them to move off the island. Athens, which has had a lot on its plate in addition to the refugee crisis, simply neglected to lighten Kos’s burden. According to the UN Refugee Agency, “conditions for migrants on Kos and other islands are shameful.” They don’t have adequate housing. A Syrian banker told a journalist from The Guardian that he, along with 2,000 of his fellow countrymen, was sandwiched in on a sandy beach for over a day without a drop of water or food. They didn’t even provide open public facilities for them. Apparently, Mayor Giorgios Kynthsis “agreed with the suggestion that no refugee should be given even a bottle of water.” The head of Greece’s reception system claims that “on the island of Kos we don’t have the cooperation of the mayor at all. He thought that if he doesn’t facilitate our operation, the people would go away.” Perhaps this background would make the revolt of “the beasts” more understandable.

 Migrants crammed into stadium as they await registration procedure on Tuesday. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

Migrants crammed into a stadium as they await the registration procedure on Tuesday. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images

By today, the mayor of Kos was described by Reuters in an entirely different light: “overcome by emotion, the mayor of Kos handed out water, milk and food to hundreds of Syrian migrants on Friday as a huge passenger ship docked on the Greek island to serve as a floating reception center and dormitory.” I suspect that earlier Kynthsis wanted to call attention to the untenable situation on the island in an effort to prompt Athens to do something in a hurry.

Bayer himself mentions the arrival of the passenger ship because the Greek government “at last got its senses back, but the question now is whether it will be brave enough to deploy the riot police and a battleship. If they do, the Greeks will make history. If they dare to employ the troopers and if necessary the army and at last rid Kos of these hordes, then at last something will begin. But only then…. We will write history only if they send them home packing and eliminate them from the middle of Europe. Once and for all.”

I’ve concentrated on Bayer’s version of what was happening on the island of Kos. But at least half of his article deals with atrocities committed this week in two European countries by non-Europeans. During a police raid in the resort town of Salou in Catalonia, a Senegalese man jumped out of a third-floor window. This set off angry clashes between the police and about 200 people, “many of them believed to be members of the African community.” Here comes Bayer. “The Senegalese was a criminal. They wanted to arrest him. Instead he jumped. So what? It was his decision. He jumped and died. That’s all.” The Spanish authorities “should have handled the situation right then and there. All of them should be cleared out from Spain. They can go home.”

Then he moves on to Sweden where in an IKEA store two men from a nearby refugee center stabbed two people to death. Bayer describes the men as being cooperative with the police and adds that it would have been better if they had resisted arrest because then “the police could have shot them as one does a mad dog.” Now the Swedes have two murderers from Eritrea and two dead white Swedes. “Surely, the exchange was worth it. Long live liberalism! Long live human rights! Except when we talk about the rights of the European, white, Christian race.” Here Bayer uses the word “rassz,” which is practically never used in modern Hungarian in this sense.

Bayer’s conclusion is that Europe must be defended. “It must be freed from this horror. If necessary with arms in hand. If everything remains the same, there will be bloodshed. These hordes believe that only the blood of Europeans can be shed.”

Bayer’s racist rant is dreadful but, let’s face it, the only difference between Bayer and the members of the Hungarian government is that he can freely express his desire for a white, Christian Europe while Viktor Orbán can only hint at such a goal. And if that is not possible, at least the prime minister can try to prevent the “hordes” from the Middle East and Africa from entering Hungary.

Viktor Orbán: “We are not nice guys from the mainstream”

The Hungarian government responded to a very tough letter from José Manuel Barroso by making a couple of new amendments to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The first states that the limitation on political advertisement on commercial electronic media will be restricted to national elections and will not apply to the European parliamentary elections. The second amendment prohibits the president of the National Judicial Office from moving cases from one court to another when the case raises an issue of European law.

According to legal experts, this was a shrewd move on the part of the Hungarian government. By removing amendments that would have been in direct violation of European laws, Hungary has made the European Union’s case against it much harder. Most non-legal types, of course, think that this move only highlights the Hungarian government’s cynical authoritarianism. The opposition will be unable to campaign effectively while the government, with its practically unlimited ways of advertising itself, will dominate campaign rhetoric. And sensitive (especially political) cases will still be referred to government-friendly judges.

But while the Orbán government put on its cooperative face (or mask) in order to avoid what seemed only a few days ago to be unavoidable armageddon in Brussels, it also launched an aggressive PR blitz. Just today three different Orbán interviews appeared: in the German Die Welt and Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Austrian Die Kurier. In all three he said that for the time being he has no interest in a dialogue with Brussels. “Once they read it … we can talk about the concrete issues.” For good measure he added that “we are democrats who believe in the force of reason.”

Die Welt entitled its interview “Orbán holzt gegen die EU” (Orbán plays rough against the EU). Orbán’s latest favorite expression is “We are not nice guys from the mainstream” (Wir sind keine netten Kerle vom Mainstream), something I don’t think he has to explain to the politicians of Western Europe. For good measure he added that he is a civilized man; after all, “he can eat with a knife and fork.”

So, it seems that Orbán is getting the idea that some of his colleagues abroad look down on him. It is these cultural differences that a Hungarian journalist explored when analyzing Barroso’s latest letter to Orbán. According to him, Barroso learned a lot in these last two years. He now knows that he cannot treat Orbán as he does the prime ministers of other European member countries. “It took the Roman emperor some time before he found out that the king of the Visigoths lies even when he poses a question and that it is much more effective to smash his head with an ax. But by then Roman civilization had had it.”

Orbán then began his usual tirade against the deficiencies of Europe. In our changed world the European model is no longer competitive. The current economic system that “allocates functions between market and state is simply false,” which is a roundabout way of saying that the solution to our current economic problems is greater state ownership. Later in the interview he was a bit more direct about the connection between  market and state. “In the neo-liberalism of the past two decades the market had priority and the state was deprived of important areas.” Unfortunately, we can already see signs of his grandiose plans for nationalization in Hungary.

In the FAZ interview he talked at length about the importance and strength of the nation state. He went on and on about the European Union’s being too rigid and inflexible when it is perfectly clear that European politicians have no solution to Europe’s current problems. As for Die Kurier, he tooted his own horn as is his wont. He is a problem solver. Hungary is a success story. The trouble is that the figures don’t support his contention, but the spin sounds good and perhaps some people believe it. And that’s enough for him.

Orbán spent yesterday and this morning in Spain. Yesterday he delivered a lecture on Christian Europe and this morning he talked with Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. From the descriptions of the meeting I gather that there was no joint press conference; it seems that Orbán talked only to Hungarian journalists after the meeting. He told them that he had made it clear to Rajoy that Hungary “insists on going on its own way as far as economic policy is concerned and as long as Hungary doesn’t belong to the eurozone.” In brief, the European Union should dole out the money and they should be able to do anything they want with it.

Finally, a few words about Orbán’s lecture at the conference on “Catholics in public life” held in Bilbaó. Orbán is not a Catholic; presumably he was baptized as a Calvinist. His wife is Catholic, but when they were married in the late 1980s they didn’t see the need to get married in a church. Moreover, their children were not baptized as infants. By now, however, he finds great support in the Hungarian Catholic Church and portrays himself as a religious man who wants to transform all those non-religious Hungarians into practicing Christians. Preferably Catholics, it seems. I suspect that his attachment to the Catholic Church is mere political calculation. After all, it is the largest religion in the country.

Christians in Europe and elsewhere, 1900-2050 The trend doesn't support Viktor Orbán's vision for Christian Europe

Christians in Europe and elsewhere, 1900-2050
The trend doesn’t support Viktor Orbán’s vision for a Christian Europe

So, let’s see what he had to say about European society and religion in this lecture. Europe is the only continent in the world where a large part of the political elite thinks that they are able to organize their world without God and divine providence. “Today in Europe an aggressive secular political vision reigns” which is called progress, and in Brussels most of the politicians think that “this should be the future.” These people, wittingly or unwittingly, are building a society without God; they think that religion is only a supplement to individual lifestyle. “The European people can’t get rid of the Christianity in their heads and therefore there is no use forcing a new common European identity on them that doesn’t accept the fundamental fact that it is the Biblical story that is the moral foundation of European life.”

I could go on and on about Orbán’s vision for a Christian Europe, but most of it is not worth repeating.  One sidenote, however. According to Orbán, “Europe needs a religious revival because otherwise it will not be able to be economically competitive again.” I wonder whether Orbán ever read Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. I doubt it, but if Weber’s theory has any foundation Orbán shouldn’t be looking for it in Catholic Spain.

One more interesting slip of the tongue by Orbán. He received a question about the new constitution. He admitted that the majority of the population didn’t want a Christian constitution, but eventually he was able to convince them to accept a constitution based on Christian values. He managed to achieve this through national consultations. In plain language, Hungarian society is secular and most Hungarians would have been quite happy with a secular constitution, but with its two-thirds majority Fidesz managed to push it through nonetheless. Well, yes. This is exactly what happened.