Tag Archives: street riots of 2006

What’s the new Fidesz game plan?

There is just too much talk by Fidesz leaders about the “hot autumn” ahead of us. One politician after the other, starting with Viktor Orbán, warns us that the frustrated opposition led by George Soros and his NGOs is preparing for disturbances on the streets which may well be the beginnings of an assault against Hungary’s “democratic institutions.”

László Kövér envisaged this very scenario at one of the “free universities” organized by Fidesz in neighboring countries. These “free universities” are three- to four-day gatherings where Fidesz politicians deliver speeches about the excellent performance of the Orbán government. The most famous “free university” is held in Tusnádfürdő-Bálványos, Romania, where Viktor Orbán makes a regular appearance. What he has to say there is usually politically significant.

In 2013 this Fidesz tradition was expanded to Slovakia. In July of that year a new “free university” was born in Martos (Martovce), a village of about 700 inhabitants in Komárno County. Originally, the organizers hoped 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. This first appearance became a regular event. Every year Kövér opens the Martosfest, as he did this year as well.

It was here that László Kövér joined those Fidesz politicians and journalists of the government media who had declared that by the fall a veritable coalition will have been forged by the Hungarian opposition and the Soros NGOs. They will be organizing disturbances on the streets of Budapest. “They will try to create an atmosphere filled with civil-war psychosis,” as Kövér put it.

Actually, there is nothing new in this madcap story because Fidesz propaganda has been full of stories about impending physical attacks against the legitimate government of Hungary. At the end of May Antal Rogán, Orbán’s propaganda minister, was already talking about “existing training centers where people whose job will be the organization of widespread actions of civil disobedience” are being trained. And if that doesn’t work, they will try to provoke some kind of police attack against the demonstrators. On June 2 Magyar Idők seemed to know that the “members of the Soros network will embark on a new strategy, starting early autumn.” Their goal is the destabilization of the country because many of the leading commentators are convinced that the present regime cannot be replaced by democratic means.

Viktor Orbán himself talked about “the hot summer and even hotter fall that awaits us.” He predicted that George Soros will do his best to have a new government in Hungary that will take down the fence and open the borders to illegal immigrants. 444 might find all this sheer madness, but one can’t help thinking that we are faced here with a centrally manipulated propaganda campaign and that behind it the government may actually be preparing to create a situation that would require police intervention. That would give the government an opportunity for a major crackdown, possible martial law, and perhaps the large-scale jailing of activists and opposition politicians.

Opposition politicians are suspicious of Viktor Orbán and the Fidesz top leadership, and not without justification. There have been times in Fidesz’s history when Viktor Orbán and his closest circle most likely committed criminal acts in order to acquire power. In the first instance, they succeeded. A lot of people, including me, are convinced that the series of explosions that took place shortly before the 1998 election were the work of Fidesz, which at that time was trailing the socialist-liberal coalition forces. Whoever placed the bombs at or near houses or apartments of Fidesz and Smallholder politicians made sure that no serious damage was done. Of course, the Horn government and its minister of interior, Gábor Kuncze (SZDSZ), were blamed for the lack of security, and these events had a negative impact on public opinion. The election was held and Fidesz, with the help of József Torgyán, chairman of the Smallholders party, won. From that moment on there was silence. No other explosion anywhere.

Fidesz’s role in the 2006 disturbances is also murky. The attack against the headquarters of the Hungarian Public Television was undertaken by relatively few people, mostly football hooligans who were fans of Ferencváros (Fradi). Interestingly, a week before the siege against the television station Viktor Orbán paid a rather unusual visit to a Fradi game where he sat right in the middle of these Fradi fans. A lot of people at the time didn’t think that this was a coincidence. And what happened on October 23 and after was not exactly a spontaneous affair either. Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz politicians for four or five solid weeks did their best to incite the rather unsavory crowd that gathered in front of the parliament building. Perhaps we will never know exactly what role Viktor Orbán and his men played in this attempt to topple the Gyurcsány government, but many people are convinced that it was an attempt to force the resignation of the whole government after a period of extended disturbances. Their resignation would be followed by a new snap election. It didn’t work out that way, but I’m sure this was the original plan.

“The siege against the television station wasn’t organized by the opposition” / Source: Gépnarancs

So, it’s no wonder that both MSZP and DK issued statements accusing Fidesz of starting to orchestrate a situation that would require police action. MSZP specifically mentioned the mysterious explosions in 1998. DK reminded people that it was only Fidesz that provoked violent streets riots in Hungary. DK suspects that Viktor Orbán is preparing to set Budapest on fire again. This is all very alarming.

July 7, 2017

András Schiffer: From KISZ to neo-communism?

Just as I suspected, in one short post I couldn’t cover the departure of András Schiffer, the founder and leader of LMP, from politics as well as opinions of him that have appeared since his announcement. Over the years I have written more than a dozen articles about LMP and András Schiffer and yet, after re-reading them, I must admit that I never managed to give a satisfactory portrait of this complex, controversial, divisive man. I guess one day someone will write a book on LMP and the abortive attempt to establish a true green party in Hungary. That book will undoubtedly praise Schiffer, the party’s founder, for being able in two short years to build a party that sent a fifteen-member delegation to the Hungarian parliament. No mean feat. But most of the book will probably be about the constant internal fights within the party and its founder’s unyielding and, in my opinion mistaken, ideology and political strategy.

I suspect that most people would agree with András Stumpf of the pro-government Mandiner.hu website that, without Schiffer, LMP’s chances of becoming a parliamentary party in 2018 are remote. The party leaders of LMP are naturally much more upbeat. Bernadett Szél, co-chairman of LMP, sounded neither heartbroken about Schiffer’s departure nor pessimistic about the future of the party. She took the news laconically. “I’m old enough to know that if someone wants to leave, one should let him go. Today I can’t worry about this. Instead, I want to make sure that the green party that has grown roots in the country has a future.” She is already organizing a tour of the countryside with a view to widening the territorial base of LMP. Szél in this interview gave the impression of being a liberated woman who can now do things her own way. As for the hard-and-fast rule of not allying LMP with any other political formation, it remains in place as far as I can see.

Photo: István Fekete

Bernadett Szél. Photo: István Fekete

Among those with LMP ties, the greatest admirer is Péter Róna, which makes sense given Róna’s economic precepts, which include anti-capitalist sentiments and ideas of the “népiesek,” a group of people who envisaged a Hungary whose economy would be a “third road” between capitalism and socialism. Róna simply cannot understand the Hungarian intellectual elite’s indifference, or in some cases hatred, toward Schiffer, whom he considers the best and most honest politician in Hungary today.

Endre Kukorelly, who for a few months was an LMP member of parliament in 2010, is a writer. Since I haven’t read a line of his, I can’t pass judgment on his literary talents. But, to me, his political views are muddled. He who quit parliament after a few months hails Schiffer’s decision because it is so much easier to do politics without the shackles of a party. He represents the unproductive view that political parties are evil and that civilians are the ones who will change the present system.

The opinions of most other former LMP members, however, are pretty uniformly negative.

Benedek Jávor, whose activities in the European Parliament I greatly admire, most likely hit the nail on the head when he observed that “the conflicts that led to a split in the party have not dissipated with our departure,” referring to PM members’ leaving LMP in January 2013.

Virág Kaufer, who left LMP in 2012, suggested that Schiffer “take some time off and take a good look at what he created and speak with those who are no longer his supporters.”

Perhaps Gábor Vágó, a former LMP insider, best summarized LMP’s problem. In his opinion, Schiffer’s departure “is not the end of the LMP story. The fate of the party was sealed when it abandoned its critical attitude toward [Orbán’s] system.”

At the end of this post you will find about a dozen links to my past articles on LMP and András Schiffer, from which a fuller picture of LMP’s role in Hungarian politics should emerge. But perhaps I should add a few details that might be helpful in explaining where Schiffer came from.

Schiffer’s first political act at the age of eighteen was adding his name to an open letter addressed to the Congress of KISZ (Magyar Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség). The letter was dated April 10, 1989. Less than two weeks later KISZ was dissolved. Gordon Bajnai, Ferenc Gyurcsány (KISZ secretary), and György Szilvássy (KISZ spokesman and later minister in Gyurcsány’s cabinet) also signed the letter. Schiffer talked about those days in 2014 in an interview with Szabolcs Panyi of Index. “In the spring of 1989, when it wasn’t quite clear which way things would develop, there was only one man in the whole nomenclature of the party-state who put his foot down, even risking his livelihood, and declared that the properties of KISZ and the party must be divided among alternative organizations. This man was Ferenc Gyurcsány. … Gyurcsány proclaimed what many of the opposition politicians didn’t dare: that because of the nature of the state socialist system what they [KISZ and the party] possess belongs to the people.”

Shortly after the dissolution of KISZ, Gyurcsány established a new youth organization called Új Nemzedék Mozgalom (Movement of the New Generation), of which Schiffer became a member. Gyurcsány soon gave up his political activities and became a businessman, but Schiffer remained active and was one of the founding members of a new political movement called Ifjú Szocialisták (Young Socialists). Shortly thereafter, Schiffer retired from politics (for the first time). After finishing law school, he worked for TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, where he became interested in the green movement.

What changed Schiffer’s attitude toward Gyurcsány, whom he clearly admired back in 1989, were the 2006 disturbances in which he, as an associate of TASZ, took the side of those he considered to be the victims of “police terror.” What happened on the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 Revolution is a hot potato about which people have widely different opinions. Rightly or wrongly, Schiffer accused Gyurcsány of criminal acts against innocent demonstrators. Hence, his hatred of the man.

His attitude toward Gyurcsány may have changed radically, but he didn’t shed his socialist political views. Árpád W. Tóta, who writes witty, sarcastic, sometime savage opinion pieces, said that LMP has never managed to present a coherent worldview and that “the only concrete position one can make out is a blood-curdling neo-communism. The kind that is becoming sawdust right now in South America.” Tóta portrays Schiffer as someone who wanted to be different simply for the sake of being different. The party was toggling between right and left until it started getting closer to the positions of Fidesz and Jobbik. In brief, in ideological terms Schiffer left the party in a real mess.

Links to Hungarian Spectrum articles on LMP and András Schiffer:

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/03/26/lmp-or-can-politics-can-be-something-else/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/03/27/two-interviews-with-andras-schiffer-chairman-of-lmp/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2010/07/07/viktor-orban-had-a-meeting-with-the-lmp-parliamentary-delegation/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2011/05/02/babes-in-arms-lmps-encounter-with-viktor-orban/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2011/07/12/the-new-electoral-law-lmps-wake-up-call/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2011/11/14/a-few-words-about-the-hungarian-green-party-the-lmp/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/01/14/the-rise-and-fall-of-lmps-andras-schiffer/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/07/26/the-future-of-lmp-an-interview-with-benedek-javor/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/10/21/hungarian-opposition-groups-lmp-4k-and-milla/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/11/17/with-or-without-gordon-bajnai-lmps-dilemma/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2012/11/18/lmps-andras-schiffer-won-but-did-he/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2013/01/26/where-is-andras-schiffer-leading-lmp-straight-into-the-arms-of-fidesz/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2013/01/27/lmps-rebels-left-the-party-who-will-be-the-winner-of-this-game/

http://hungarianspectrum.org/2014/04/23/budapest-municipal-election-mszp-lmp-deal/

June 1, 2016

Ferenc Gyurcsány the campaigner in his element

Ipsos was the first company to release its monthly poll on the electorate’s preferences for parties and politicians. As far as the two large parties, Fidesz and MSZP, are concerned, the changes are minimal and most likely insignificant, Fidesz’s 27% is one percentage point higher than it was a month ago; MSZP lost one percentage point and now stands at 14% in the electorate as a whole. In the case of the three smaller parties, the changes may be more significant. Jobbik lost 2% of its followers, which means that only 6% of the electorate would vote for this far-right party. Együtt 2014-PM lost a point and by now is the second smallest party in Hungary, with 3%. DK is still the smallest political formation with 2%, but this number is nonetheless something of a breakout for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party which this year never had more than a 1% share of the electorate. In a month–at least according to Ipsos–the Demokratikus Koalíció doubled its support. Mind you, Ferenc Gyurcsány, the party’s chairman, declared only yesterday that support for the party is much greater than the polls indicate although he would hate to guess how much greater. It could be 4% or even 12%.

One reason for the upsurge might be the incredible energy of Ferenc Gyurcsány who, realizing that elections are closer than most people think, moved into high gear. Here are a few numbers. In August Gyurcsány’s name appeared in the news 72 times, fewer than Viktor Orbán, Gordon Bajnai, or Attila Mesterházy, but it was Gyurcsány who had the most air time. He spoke on TV and radio for 2,218 minutes as opposed to Mesterházy’s 1,367, Viktor Orbán’s 683, and Gordon Bajnai’s 353 minutes.

Another reason might be that his message is the simplest and the most uncompromising as far as his attitude toward the Orbán government is concerned. Many voters who want change find Együtt 2014-PM’s messages confusing and the latest declarations of Gordon Bajnai, Viktor Szigetvári, and Péter Kónya worrisome. Bajnai’s mysterious reference to an offer that Fidesz will not be able to refuse led some people to think that Bajnai may be thinking in terms of a grand coalition, an idea that sent shivers down the spines  of members of the anti-Fidesz forces. I also suspect that Gyurcsány’s shabby treatment at the hands of MSZP politicians will only help’s DK’s fortunes. Next month’s polls will reveal whether or not my hunch is correct. I might also add to the list of reasons for increased DK support Gyurcsány’s superior oratorical skills.

I assume that the above figures regarding Gyurcsány’s media exposure did not include the speech he gave on Saturday when he, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju attracted about 5,000 people. Or his recent long interview with HVG. Or another interview that MTV’s Híradó published only a few hours ago.

Here I would like to say a few words about the HVG interview. It is about twice as long as my average-length post. Although it is upbeat, it also includes a level of self-criticism that one couldn’t hear from Gyurcsány before. He came to the realization, he said, that in 2004 he “became prime minister without the necessary experience or wisdom.” Today he knows that to be beaten once or twice, or to be in opposition, are perhaps prerequisites for success as prime minister.

Gyurcsany HVG

He then returned to the subject of Őszöd because he wants to “rehabilitate” that speech, portraying it as the first attempt on the left to depart from the kinds of economic policies for political gain that led to the economic decline of the country. A lot of people said at the time, including President László Sólyom, that Gyurcsány should have resigned right then and there. Gyurcsány disagrees. In that fateful speech he told his audience that if the reforms he was planning to introduce fail, he will resign. He should have resigned, however, he admits, in 2008 after the reforms were roundly rejected by the disastrous referendum on the 300 forint co-pay and the introduction of a small tuition fee. He “missed the tempo.” Instead of resigning, he attempted to scale back the reforms, which he now calls “reforms light.”

As for DK’s chances, Gyurcsány thinks that the party will be able to get 7-8% of the votes, plenty to become a parliamentary party. If DK doesn’t manage to qualify for parliamentary representation, then the party is finished and with it Ferenc Gyurcsány as a politician.

If the democratic side loses the election and DK is in opposition, he will be the head of the DK delegation “to show how one ought to speak and act in opposing Viktor Orbán.” If the current democratic opposition wins, he will not occupy the post because he doesn’t want “the new prime minister to feel his presence in his back.” He is optimistic. “According to public opinion polls, 53% of the electorate want to see Viktor Orbán’s government go and only 31% stick by it. One can go back as far as 1990: no government could remain in office with such a level of rejection.”

And finally, the conversation turned to his person as an obstacle for the unity of the left. MSZP maintains that Gyurcsány will take more votes away from the opposition than he will bring to the opposition. (Vera Lánczos in today’s Galamus argues that the poll the Republikon Institute took in the spring doesn’t support that claim.) Gyurcsány in this interview gives new polling figures that I was not familiar with. He claims that 60-70% of left-liberal voters like Bajnai, Mesterházy, and him equally well, although he admits that he is less popular among the undecided.

The Demokratikus Koalíció has embarked on a membership drive and is also in the middle of amassing a database. The party called 550,000 households, using Gyurcsány’s voice, asking for support. Apparently in 14% of the cases people showed a willingness to allow DK to collect their personal data.

Gyurcsány might yet surprise us all, especially if the extreme right-wingers spit in his face a few more times as happened yesterday inside and outside of the courthouse where he went to show his solidarity with the two police chiefs who are facing charges in connection with their alleged negligence in the September-October 2006 disturbances. By the way, the court procedure, for which 100 days were set aside, was scheduled to begin on September 18, the exact day when the one or two sentences from the long Őszöd speech were read on the Hungarian public radio and prompted, with lots of help from Fidesz, the siege of the Hungarian Public Television station. The choice of the date cannot be an accident. The Orbán government has a sense of the dramatic.

The newest judge of the Hungarian constitutional court: A man jointly supported by Fidesz and Jobbik

You may recall that Viktor Orbán “packed” the Constitutional Court in July 2011. He nominated and parliament approved four new judges, increasing the size of the court from eleven to fifteen. Since then there was another Fidesz-KDNP appointee, László Salamon, who replaced Mihály Bihari who had to retire because he reached the age of seventy. László Salamon prior to his appointment was a KDNP member of parliament. So much for even the semblance of impartiality and independence. Another sitting judge, András Holló, will turn seventy in April, which provided an opportunity to further tip the Constitutional Court in Orbán’s favor.

The earlier Orbán appointments were criticized because the appointees didn’t have the necessary qualifications. Moreover, it was clear that these people were fully committed to the current government. Indeed, for the most part these four new judges have voted as a bloc in favor of the government’s position.

Imre Juhász / MTI, Photo László Beliczay

Imre Juhász / MTI, Photo László Beliczay

The new appointment, announced on March 19 and voted on the next day, is perhaps the most unacceptable of all. It looks as if Fidesz-KDNP and Jobbik struck a deal to appoint Imre Juhász, who is considered to be close to Jobbik. Here are some headlines that tell a lot about the general perception: “The right hand of Krisztina Morvai will be the new judge of the Constitutional Court,” “Fidesz and Jobbik made a deal,” “Imre Juhász is only a gesture to Jobbik.”

So, who is this Imre Juhász? Yes, he has a law degree. Shortly after graduation in 1986 he started teaching civil procedure at his alma mater, ELTE’s law school. First as a T.A. and from 1992 on as an assistant professor and later as an associate professor. Eventually he received a doctorate in law.

He became well known not because of his teaching activities but because he was one of the founding members of the Civic Legal Committee (Civil Jogász Bizottság). The committee’s shining light was Krisztina Morvai, who later became a prominent member of Jobbik and today serves as one of the party’s members of the European Parliament. I might add that the second star of this committee was Zoltán Balog, currently minister in charge of education, health, culture, sports and everything else under the sun. This unofficial far-right “committee” was set up to investigate the events of the September-October 2006 riots, especially the activities of the police. There was also an official investigating committee comprised of former police chiefs, sociologists, lawyers, and historians under the leadership of Katalin Gönczöl (Gönczöl Bizottság) that arrived at a critical but balanced assessment of the events.

Not so Morvai’s committee, whose seemingly sole purpose was to assist Viktor Orbán in discrediting Ferenc Gyurcsány and his government. I must say that they were very successful. They managed by repeated and noisy accusations to falsify the history of those days. Moreover, by now most people, including liberals and socialists who ought to know better, swear that there was a concerted police attack on innocent bystanders.

Balog already received his much deserved reward for services rendered. He is one of the most powerful ministers in Orbán’s government and perhaps the closest to the prime minister. Since Krisztina Morvai joined Jobbik, she cannot be openly supported by the present government, but surely Viktor Orbán must be grateful to her for the terrific job she did. The book the committee published was translated into English, and I understand that it was one of the two books Gergely Gulyás handed to Senator Ben Cardin at the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s hearing the other day. And now Imre Juhász receives a top job from the grateful Viktor Orbán.

MSZP, DK, and PM (Párbeszéd Magyarországért) boycotted the parliamentary committee that considered Juhász’s nomination. Only Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik MPs were present, and they enthusiastically endorsed Juhász. Tamás Gaudi-Nagy (Jobbik) explained that his party didn’t have an official candidate, but they can heartily endorse Juhász. Indeed, it would have been strange if they didn’t.

From what Juhász said in his hearing before the committee, we can have no doubt that he will be an obliging appointee. He doesn’t have any problems with the new restrictions on the constitutional court. If earlier decisions cannot be used, no problem. One must follow the new constitution without considering any legal renderings of the past. He also seems to be enamored with the “historical constitution,” which should receive much greater emphasis than it does currently. As far as the limits of the constitutional court are concerned, Juhász endorses the absolute supremacy of parliament. As we know from Kim Scheppele’s argument, this means the elimination of checks and balances and can lead to tyranny. He talked about his plans to defend the rights of Hungarians in the neighboring countries, something that I find difficult to comprehend. He as a member of the Hungarian Constitutional Court has no jurisdiction across borders. If Juhász actually means what he said to the committee, we may well be faced with a lot of unpleasantness between the Hungarian government and its neighbors.

Another hobbyhorse of Juhász is the repeal of the so-called Beneš doctrine. In his curriculum vitae Juhász called attention to his efforts when he referred to the two petitions he delivered to the European Parliament. The first in 2007 and the second in 2012. He handed in the more recent one jointly with Alida Hahn-Seidl, the representative of the Hunnia Baráti Kör (Hunnia Fraternity).

Gergely Bárándy, MSZP’s legal expert, called the nomination a hoax (kutyakomédia) in which his party will not participate. Gergely Karácsony announced that PM members will not pick up their ballots. DK announced the boycott even earlier. So, when it came to the final tally there were only 298 members present, of whom 286 members voted for Juhász and 12 voted against him. As far as I know, LMP remained in the chamber. And, by the way, over the weekend LMP decided that they will not negotiate with Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 14 or any other opposition party.