Tag Archives: Szabolcs Szuromi

The new Hungarian landowners or, as some call them, “ersatz peasants”

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.

Meszaros es Orban

Lőrinc Mészáros and Viktor Orbán

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?

February 16, 2016

A compulsory course on the Holocaust at the Hungarian Catholic University

While the world is preoccupied with Greece and Viktor Orbán’s preparations to erect a fence along the Hungarian border with Serbia, I decided to focus today on the debate over Péter Pázmány Catholic University’s decision to introduce a compulsory course on the Holocaust. Until now there was only one compulsory course, “Introduction to the Catholic Faith,” which I understand, to put it mildly, is not taken seriously by the students. According to someone who is most likely a student at PPKE, as the university is known, “it is a joke,” a course in which everybody cheats.

President Szabolcs Szuromi and Ilan Mor at the press conference

President Szabolcs Szuromi and Ilan Mor at the press conference

On May 26 Szabolcs Szuromi, the president of PPKE, in the presence of Ilan Mor, Israeli ambassador to Hungary, held a press conference, which was disrupted by two “journalists” from Alfahír and Kurucinfo. The former is the semi-official internet site of Jobbik. Kurucinfo, the virulent anti-Semitic media outlet, needs no introduction. Both men fired all sorts of provocative questions at the president and the ambassador.

The reaction of the far right didn’t surprise anyone. They especially objected to the presence and role of Ambassador Mor and to the fact that two Israeli historians, Dina Porat and Raphael Vago, had been asked to prepare the syllabus for the course. Jobbegyenes (Straight Right) accused the Hungarian government of taking orders from the Israeli ambassador when it agreed to the removal of a sign referring to “the victims of Gaza” behind the Hungarian entrant at the Eurovision competition. Moreover, according to the author, it is not PPKE’s job to teach students about the Holocaust. They should have learned that in high school.

Zsolt Bayer’s reaction was also expected. In his opinion, there is just too much talk about the Holocaust. Practically every day there is a new book, a movie, or a theater performance. A few years ago he “thought that one couldn’t sink lower” when he read in Népszabadság that grandchildren of German war criminals, with the financial help of the European Union, had arrived in Budapest asking for forgiveness from elderly survivors. In Bayer’s opinion it was a perverse idea. The souls of these youngsters are “infected with guilt.” What is going on at PPKE is also a perversion. In fact, Bayer thinks PPKE’s decision was even worse than the grandchildren’s apology.

But there were critical remarks on the left as well. The most serious criticism came from Sándor Révész. He objected to the compulsory nature of the course and predicted that “within seconds” someone will suggest “a compulsory course on Trianon, on the communist dictatorship, on religious persecution,” and so on and so forth. In fact, Gábor Vona and Dóra Duró of Jobbik already sent a letter to the president of PPKE asking for the introduction of a course on the tragedy of Trianon.

Révész also found PPKE’s decision to introduce such a course problematic because it is a well-known fact that the Catholic Church still venerates Ottokár Prohászka (1858-1927), bishop of Székesfehérvár, who was a rabid anti-Semite and the ideological precursor of Hungarism, the Hungarian version of Nazism. Révész called attention to the fact that the Hungarian Catholic Church published a collection of Prohászka’s most savage anti-Semitic writings titled My anti-Semitism in 1942. “Is PPKE ready to reevaluate the opus of Ottokár Prohászka in connection with the Holocaust?” asked Révész.

There is criticism coming from historians as well. László Karsai, a historian who has written extensively on the Holocaust, finds it strange that two Israeli scholars were invited to prepare the syllabus when there are many Hungarians qualified to do the job. Moreover, Karsai finds the syllabus as well as the readings wanting. Some books on the reading list are of inferior quality. If he had children at PPKE, he wouldn’t advise them to take the course–not that they would have a choice. He added, however, that “it is an interesting experiment that might generate some lively discussions.”

Péter György, professor at ELTE, just announced that they themselves have been thinking about creating three one-semester courses that all students of the Faculty of Arts would have to take: the cultural history of racism, social theory, and the philosophy of science.  In the course on the cultural history of racism students would also study about the Holocaust. The members of the faculty realize, I think, that something went very wrong at the university since a large portion of the Jobbik leadership graduated from ELTE with a degree in history. Although they don’t want to meddle in the worldview of students, they believe that they should be able to fend off blind prejudice and racism. György admitted that “radicalism” is a very serious problem at ELTE and “the university has no other antidote than arming the students with the necessary knowledge.” He was very pleased when he heard about PPKE’s decision and he, unlike Révész, trusts the faculty of the university to face the past honestly.

It was Elek Tokfalvi, one of my favorite publicists, who was truly enthusiastic about the course. In his opinion, what happened in Hungary was unique in the history of the Holocaust because the Hungarian Jewish community’s destruction began after all the others’ had already ended. Therefore, studying the Hungarian Holocaust is warranted. Tokfalvi looks upon PPKE’s decision to introduce a course on the Holocaust as a “moral redemption” after decades of the undisturbed spread of anti-liberalism, anti-capitalism, ethnic superiority. “Therefore, it deserves praise.” In his opinion, other universities should follow PPKE’s example.” Perhaps it would also be beneficial to teach basic values that would “counterbalance the anti-Semitism of university graduates.” The same idea that Péter György is advocating.

One thing is certain. It s not enough to introduce a course on the Holocaust. As long as people like the economist Katalin Botos give lectures like the one available in part on YouTube, no change in attitudes can be expected.

It might also be a good idea if György Fodor, dean of the Divinity School, and others would take a more critical look at Ottokár Prohászka and the Catholic Church’s attitudes past and present concerning anti-Semitism and racism because, for the most part, the church leaders did very little, or nothing.