In the last few days opposition papers have been having a great deal of fun over the “degree” that Lőrinc Mészáros received that made him eligible to be a bona fide tiller of the land (földműves). Without this piece of paper Mészáros, former gasfitter and current billionaire, and his family wouldn’t have been able to purchase over 1,400 hectares of land from the Hungarian state.
Those of you who still don’t know who Lőrinc Mészáros is shouldn’t fret. Almost no one knows much about the man, except that he is a very close associate of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. How close a financial relationship they have is a topic of hot debate in Hungarian public discourse. There are even some totally cynical human beings who believe that Lőrinc Mészáros doesn’t really exist.
The modest village gasfitter is by now an international player. For example, he just became majority owner of the NK Osijek football club, although as a youngster he wasn’t even interested in the sport. But I guess as mayor of Felcsút and CEO of the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy, a personal foundation of Viktor Orbán, he has to be a soccer enthusiast. Or at least act as if he is.
The land auction the Orbán government initiated is a bonanza for those who are lucky enough to be able to purchase parcels of agricultural land, mostly because of the European Union subsidies they receive simply for owning them. The whole scheme, critics maintain, is a perfect opportunity to fill the pockets of Fidesz politicians, their relatives, and their business partners.
On paper everything looks squeaky clean, as Fidesz politicians repeat often enough. First of all, only bona fide farmers are eligible to purchase land in Hungary. There are three ways to be considered a farmer. First, by having a degree from one of the agricultural colleges or by graduating from a specialized agricultural high school. A person can also qualify as a farmer if he has been the owner of a farm for the last three years. There is a third category, however: the so-called “golden eared farmers” (aranykalászos gazdák) who finish a crash course consisting, at least on paper, of 400 hours of instruction, costing around 250,000 forints. Businessmen, politicians, lawyers, and their family members flocked by the thousands to finish the course before the land auctions began. These are the people one irreverent journalist called “the ersatz peasants.” And with good reason because, as vs.hu revealed in October 2015, most of these courses are phony and the institutions that offer them merely diploma mills.
The number of farmers grew rapidly throughout 2015. In the summer of 2014 there were only 34,000 “tillers of the land,” including Mrs. Viktor Orbán, but by the end of last year that number had jumped to 106,000. Not all of them were “ersatz peasants” but many, including Fidesz politicians, were. For example, Fidesz MP Balázs Győrffy, president of the National Agrarian Association and one of the chief promoters of the land auction. His story is really bizarre. It came to light a few days ago that Győrffy, given his position, was planning to hide his purchase of 150 hectares of land. He arranged a loan of 160 million forints for his chauffeur to purchase the land. Immediately after the chauffeur became the owner, he sold one square meter of land from his 150 hectares to Győrffy. Since the new land law stipulates that a neighbor has the right of first refusal, the chauffeur subsequently sold all 150 hectares to Győrffy.
Mészáros, unlike Győrffy, didn’t try to hide his and his relatives’ land purchases. As far as I know, his family won the most land of anyone in the auction game. The Mészároses received several parcels amounting to 1,400 hectares. Győrffy’s 150 hectares pales by comparison. But, of course, Mészáros is in a very special position. He is considered to be Orbán’s alter ego.
Mészáros had owned land earlier without needing to be formally qualified. This time around, however, like the rest of the applicants he had to get a piece of paper to be eligible to purchase more land. HírTV discovered that the former gasfitter took his “exam” miles away from Felcsút at an agricultural establishment close to Szekszárd. When the director of the place was questioned, he told the curious journalists that Mészáros “had received instruction at his own farm and only took the exam at [their] place.” From the conversation the reporter got the impression that this particular examination center is a favorite among pro-Fidesz oligarchs.
Együtt became so suspicious that they decided to go to the police asking for an investigation of the case. They charge that the “diploma” was given without the “student” fulfilling the necessary requirements and that therefore it is actually a forgery. Consequently, the Mészároses’ land purchases are illegal. Of course, we all know that nothing will come of that investigation.
There is a Hungarian slang word “kamu,” which comes from the word “kamuflázs” (camouflage). It means “phony,” “unreal.” Most likely the diplomas of Mészáros and the Lázár brothers are “kamu.” But so was the announcement by the president of the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, Father Szabolcs Anzelm Szuromi, that he had just been appointed a research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge University. He added that he had been invited to be a member of the university’s accreditation committee. Upon investigation, the whole story turned out to be “kamu” and the announcement was quickly removed from the university’s website.
From top to bottom graft, lies, and corruption. How long will the Hungarian people put up with all this?