Tag Archives: Szilárd Németh

The spies who were not; cheap gas that is not; negotiations that will not be

Today seems to be one of those days when it is hard to cover only one event because there are so many items of interest. Let’s start with the most bizarre: the story of an alleged Hungarian espionage ring working on behalf of the United States.

The “Empire” and its leaders

I dealt with the case in March 2016 when the story broke. One of the charges against the alleged leaders of a spy ring called “Birodalom” (Empire) was that they passed documents concerning Hungary’s defense plans to a NATO officer with the help of the U.S. Embassy. I don’t think I have to detail the absurdity of this charge. The other accusation was that in a conversation with a member of the visiting IMF delegation, they revealed details of Hungary’s negotiations for a loan. These alleged crimes took place in 2008, yet the two men were arrested only in December 2015.

Béla Butka and Norbert Maxin, as we learned today, spent eight months in jail, where detectives tried to compel them to acknowledge their guilt. The two men complain about their treatment in jail. Butka’s letters from his family arrived months late, and Maxin had to share his cell with a dangerous convicted murderer. Today, more than two years after their arrest, the two men were found innocent. The prosecutor is appealing the verdict.

Butka and Maxin are convinced that they were the victims of a politically motivated show trial (koncepciós eljárás), but they are unable to give a rational explanation of why they were arrested or to identify the persons behind the action. This is a wild guess on my part, but the dates might give us a clue.

U.S.-Hungarian relations have been rocky ever since Viktor Orbán assumed power in 2010, but after November 2014 they really deteriorated. For a short while there was some hope that with the arrival of Coleen Bell as the new U.S. ambassador relations would improve. But, just about the time of the arrest of Butka and Maxin, she delivered a strong speech on corruption and the lack of transparency. A barrage of attacks on Bell and the United States followed. I can easily imagine that the imprisonment of two men on trumped-up charges was an answer to Washington, intended to show that Hungary is an independent country that can send spies hired by the United States to jail.

The price of  natural gas

Now on to the government’s inflated natural gas price.

By 2013 Fidesz’s support had dwindled. Something had to be done. The party came up with an exceedingly successful remedy that had immediate results and contributed to a second two-thirds parliamentary majority in 2014: they lowered utility prices. From then on, the price of natural gas, for example, would be set by the government.

Szilárd Németh got the job of promoting this price cut to the public. His success at turning lower utility prices into votes for the government launched his spectacular career in Fidesz.

While many Hungarians believe that their utility prices are still the lowest in Europe, the price of natural gas on the open market has been falling in the last three years. Experts have been saying for some time that while the Hungarian government is getting gas for less and less money, its frozen official price is way too high.

Yesterday E.ON’s Hungarian unit offered a deal to Hungarian consumers. It claimed that households that are ready to abandon the state-owned utility company could save 13,000 forints ($51) annually on their gas bill. This announcement sent Németh into a frenzy. He accused the company of meddling in the election campaign on the side of the opposition. E.ON was cowed, and by today the company claimed that the announcement had been misleading. Such an apology by a large, powerful firm shows the extent of government intimidation of businesses operating in the country.

But the story doesn’t stop here. It just happened that Bertalan Tóth, the leader of MSZP’s parliamentary delegation, after years of litigation, managed to get the gas contracts from Magyar Földgáz-kereskedő (MFGK), which is in charge of natural gas purchases. On the basis of the receipts, Tóth came to the conclusion that the public hadn’t saved any money; in fact, consumers lost on the deal already in 2013 and 2014. If the price hadn’t been fixed, each household could have saved at least 70,000 forints between 2013 and 2017. Attila Holoda, who was assistant undersecretary in the second Orbán government, believes that the state could easily lower utility prices by 20% and still turn a profit. Well, if the opposition parties have any sense—which I often doubt—they should immediately start a campaign. Surely, a 20% reduction in utility prices could be understood by even the least politically astute citizen.

The Ukrainian-Hungarian negotiations

Let’s start at the end. The talks scheduled for today didn’t take place.

In mid-January Péter Szijjártó was in Washington where he met the new assistant secretary of state in charge of European and Eurasian affairs Wess Mitchell. About a week ago I reported that the conversation between Mitchell and Szijjártó most likely dealt with the strained Ukrainian-Hungarian relations as a result of Ukraine’s law on education and that Mitchell probably offered U.S. mediation between the two countries. Mitchell met Szijjártó and Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s foreign minister, in Paris. Negotiations had to take place immediately because at stake was Ukrainian attendance at the meeting of NATO defense ministers on February 14-15.

On February 7 Undersecretary Levente Magyar, after his meeting with Vasil Bodnar in Uzhhorod/Ungvár, announced that “significant steps” had been taken toward the normalization of Ukrainian-Hungarian relations. After a three-hour meeting, he said that “this is the first time that there is a realistic chance” for success. He said that on February 14 representatives of the Hungarian community would meet with Lilia Hrynevych, Ukraine’s minister of education, in Uzhhorod.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on February 12 that it agreed with the Hungarian side on ways to address the language issue in western Ukraine. On the same day, Levente Magyar, the Hungarian negotiator, also expressed optimism about the outcome of the negotiations, which would lift the ban on Ukraine’s attendance at the NATO meeting, a ban put in place by Hungary’s veto.

But Magyar’s boss, Péter Szijjártó, most likely on instructions from Viktor Orbán, declared at a quickly organized press conference that the veto will not be lifted because it is the only means Hungary has to defend the rights of the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathian Ukraine. Hungary cannot be blackmailed. I assume that what Szijjártó had in mind was that in the last few days both Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of NATO, and U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison urged the two countries to sit down at the meeting scheduled for today. Hungary just declared that the meeting has been cancelled.

Hírvonal, a Hungarian news aggregator

Finally, I want to put in a plug for hirvonal.hu, an excellent newsreader, about which I wrote once already in August 2016. For those of us who study Hungarian politics a good news aggregator is a must. Over the years, I have used three different sites, but even the best could be frustrating. From the very first, Hírvonal managed to come up with far more links than any of the others, and by now it is vastly superior to the others. It extracts news from 137 sites. Just yesterday I tested a new feature of the site, searching for my own name. In Hírvonal I found 14 links, while in the others there were none. In brief, it has some very good features that make life a great deal easier.

 February 14, 2018

Who poses a danger to Hungary’s national security? Anyone who lends a helping hand to a refugee

It is hard to describe the hysteria the Orbán government has whipped up over the nonexistent migrant invasion of Hungary. Day after day, they bombard Hungarians with a relentless campaign of fear mongering. Just when I think that perhaps they have finally spent themselves, they come up with yet another salvo. The latest is their decision to ban Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, from attending the parliamentary committee on national security, of which she is a bona fide member.

By tradition, the chairman of national security committee is always a member of the opposition. In this case, the position has been filled in the last eight years by Zsolt Molnár of MSZP. Since 2014 Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), known for his verbal attacks and boorish behavior, has served as deputy chair. On January 15 Németh announced that “those politicians who lie about the national consultation campaign and have been supporting the Soros Plan all along, as LMP politicians do, cannot take part in the discussions of the national security committee, whose task is the prevention of the implementation of the Soros Plan.” Németh charged that in the past Szél worked in a Soros-financed organization that was supportive of migrants. So, Szél was in fact a paid agent of Soros. But that’s not the only sin of  LMP’s candidate for prime minister. She had the temerity to meet with EU Commissioner Věra Jourová in Brussels, who spoke highly of George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. When asked by journalists how a member of the committee can be barred, Németh claimed that “she will not be barred,” but “in those sessions where the Soros Plan is discussed, the LMP member will not be able to participate because she holds views on the subject which are not in the interest of the nation.” I hope you understand why Németh is ridiculed for his rational deficiencies.

A few hours later Szél announced on her Facebook page that “the great thinker of Fidesz just admitted that everything I said about the Soros network is true and everything they say about it is a lie.” In an interview with 444 she claimed that the material presented by the secret services was information anyone could have picked up from the internet. Yet this material is declared to be secret. She was trying to convince the Alkotmányvédelmi Hivatal (AH / Office in the Defense of the Constitution) to allow it to be made public. Hungarians ought to know the truth, not the kind of reality Fidesz wants to present.

Since all the opposition parties, including Jobbik, announced that “this is madness,” it was thought that this particular stupidity would die a quiet death. So, when a day later, Balázs Hidvéghi, communication director of Fidesz, said that Németh’s utterance was a “political opinion,” people breathed a sigh of relief. At least László Kövér, the president of parliament, would not enlist the parliamentary guard to prevent Szél from entering the committee room. That reaction, however, was premature. Hidvéghi is a young, civilized-looking fellow whose IQ must be a great deal higher than Németh’s, but he is not allowed to utter an opinion that in any way differs from the ukase that comes from above. So, by the end, he basically supported Németh when he said that “we will see whether we will have a session [on the Soros Plan] and then we will see. This is our political opinion.” In effect, though in a mealy-mouthed way, Hidvéghi reasserted Németh’s threat. If there is a session about Soros and his nonexistent plan, “we will see” whether Szél can join the discussion.

If it wasn’t clear after Hidvéghi’s press conference that the government was squarely behind Szilárd Németh, whom Viktor Orbán finds extraordinarily useful in his propaganda campaigns, Híradó’s article yesterday, “Bernadett Szél’s expert failed his security clearance,” left no room for doubt. According to this most official government publication, “in the middle of the migration crisis” Szél nominated an expert to testify before the committee who failed vetting. The expert was born in Kabul, and before he began working for LMP, he had worked for MigSzol, “which is the most pro-migrant organization of Soros.” He was deemed to be a national security risk. Apparently, Szél appealed the decision, but Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, refused to reconsider the decision.

After this introduction came a laundry list of MigSzol’s activities, which obviously the Orbán government considers to be illegal. Here are some of them: MigSzol organized a demonstration in support of Ahmed H., the man who was sentenced to ten years for “terrorism” for throwing a rock (no one knows whether it hit anyone). During the demonstration protesters chanted slogans like “Freedom for Ahmed!” and “Ahmed today, tomorrow you.” MigSzol activists protested against the national consultation by launching boats into the Danube made out of national consultation questionnaires. During the chaos created by migrants at the Eastern Station in 2015 these activists encouraged Hungarians to give money to feed the migrants. The activists of MigSzol have been attending the trial of Ahmed H.; they inform people about the details of the court proceedings on their website; they try to defend Ahmed H. in opposition to the Hungarian authorities; they don’t hide their goal of attaining freedom for the leader of the disturbances at the Serbian border in September 2015. After all that, Híradó adds: “it is now obvious why Szilárd Németh does not want to see Bernadett Szél in the committee.”

Source: Index / Photo: István Huszti

Híradó’s article also claimed that Bernadett Szél was herself at one point in the pay of George Soros when, in 2002, she was the program director of Menedék—Mingránsokat Segítő Egyesület (Shelter—Association of Migrant Assistance. In an interview yesterday Szél told her audience that at the age of 16 she received a Soros Foundation scholarship to spend six months in the United States. That’s her only connection with George Soros and his organizations. She said that she did work as an activist for the Humanist Movement, which is an international volunteer organization that promotes nonviolence and non-discrimination. She sarcastically added that “it seems that Fidesz at the moment considers it a Soros organization.”

Today Szél gave a press conference in which she labelled press reports on the vetting of LMP’s expert an unlawful disclosure of a state secret. Szél stressed that none of LMP’s experts performs work that is not legitimate. She also said that all the employees of the party are Hungarian citizens who cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their ethnic origin.

This story is a perfect example of how easily the Hungarian authorities can label charitable organizations and protesters threats to national security. It also demonstrates that the Orbán government’s first instinct is to declare people suspect or even guilty on the basis of their national origin. Anyone—and I’m afraid there are many in Hungary—who thinks that the Orbán government’s latest “Stop Soros” campaign is not meant seriously is dead wrong. If that package of new laws is enacted, the MigSzol people who chanted “Today Ahmed, you tomorrow” were unfortunately right.

January 20, 2018

Viktor Orbán on his role at the European Council Summit

Yesterday I tried to make sense of a garbled newspaper article in Pesti Srácok giving details of allegedly newly discovered documents that implicate certain Hungarian nationals who are in the pay of George Soros, the sworn enemy of Viktor Orbán and his migration policy. As I pointed out, the documents actually surfaced in August 2016, but the powers-that-be deemed it necessary to reintroduce them to the public. A day after the appearance of the article, two government and party officials picked up the story and threatened members of NGOs that receive financial help from the Soros Foundation with investigation by the national security forces. A day later, on October 27, Viktor Orbán himself devoted part of his bi-weekly radio interview to the subject.

I will spend relatively little time on the part of the interview that dealt with George Soros’s network in Hungary because I discussed some of this yesterday on the basis of two press conferences, one given by Balázs Hidvéghi, Fidesz communication director, and the other by János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office. Viktor Orbán made quite an issue of the alleged novelty of the documents. He acted as if the great news all over Europe was the release of these documents and that therefore one could not be surprised that eventually they found their way to Hungary. The truth is that these documents had been a topic of interest in the Hungarian parliamentary committee on national security in late September 2016. Deputy chairman Szilárd Németh (Fidesz) was greatly disturbed by what he read in the Hungarian press about the DCLeaks documents and suggested holding a meeting on it. So much for the truthfulness of the prime minister of Hungary.

Viktor Orbán distinguished several levels of influence of the Soros Network. We already know that he is convinced, or pretends to be convinced, that the whole European Commission is under the thumb and in the pocket of George Soros. Tibor Navracsics doesn’t know about Soros Plan, which only shows how well hidden it is. Then there is the European Parliament, where 226 members were identified as receptive to the ideals of the Open Society, including five Hungarian members from the opposition parties. He is particularly disturbed by the fact that a fair number of these people are members of LIBE (Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs), including Péter Niedermüller of the Demokratikus Koalíció. This committee just lately passed a report that would impose mandatory migrant quotas and strip non-complying member states of funding. Viktor Orbán cannot do much about this. He is after those “who, according to the newly emerged documents, work in Brussels against the Hungarian government.” These people try to influence decision makers in order “to punish Hungary and force it to change its migrant policy.” As he put it, the Hungarian government “must find these people who through various channels manage to influence organs of the European Union, which eventually lead to legal proceedings against Hungary.” He, unlike Lázár, didn’t talk about journalists, but let’s not exclude the possibility of extending the investigation to members of the press, especially those who receive or used to receive money from the Soros Foundation. We have arrived at a new phase in the anti-Soros campaign. New attacks on NGOs–like Transparency International, the Helsinki Commission, and TASZ–are forthcoming.

More interesting for those of us interested in Viktor Orbán’s political ambitions on the international scene is the lecture he gave about the workings of the European Council and his own role in the process. Keep in mind that he attended a two-day summit on October 19-20 in Brussels and that, breaking his habit, he didn’t give a press conference to the three or four reporters who accompanied him to Brussels. Therefore, he most likely thought that a “report” on his attendance was in order.

Orbán explained to the Radio’s reporter that the politicians of the European Union are an overly refined, genteel lot who like to cover up disagreements. For example, after a summit the European Commission publishes a set of “conclusions.” If something is not in the “conclusions,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that it was not discussed, just that there was no agreement on the subject, he claimed. Thus, the EU is hiding what actually happens at these meetings.

There is a problem with this contention because it is clearly stated that “ahead of the European Council meeting, the President drafts guidelines for the conclusions. These are then discussed in the General Affairs Council and later adopted at the European Council meeting.” That is, there is a set of items which is given out ahead of time to the participants.

The conversation about the conclusions took an interesting turn. The reporter pointed out that the issue of compulsory quotas was not among the items in the conclusions. Orbán assumed that the reporter had concluded that the reason it was missing from the conclusion was a lack of consensus in the European Council. “Yes, you’re correct. I’ve been fighting for the last year and a half so that no item would ever appear in the ‘conclusions’ at the end of the negotiations of the prime ministers that would violate Hungarian sovereignty.” The implication is that the question of compulsory quotas was on the agenda but, thanks to Orbán’s strenuous efforts, no consensus was reached.

The European Council Summit in session

The European Council’s conclusions are public, so he could not ignore a crucial sentence: “The European Council welcomes the progress achieved so far on the reform of the Common European Asylum System and calls for further convergence towards an agreement which strikes the right balance between responsibility and solidarity and ensures resilience to future crises, in line with its June 2017 conclusions.” The Council will return to this point in December and “will seek to reach a consensus during the first half of 2018.”

Orbán in his interview claimed that during the session there was tremendous pressure on him “to compromise and agree to some kind of compulsory quota which might be part of a future general regulatory arrangement.” But he “managed to deflect this attempt.” Instead, however, of repeating his resolve to continue his fight in December, he simply said, “We will see.”

I have an additional reason to doubt that there was an extended and contentious debate over compulsory quotas. According to one of the diplomats present, the most important issue on the agenda was relations with Turkey. Those present spent altogether three hours on this one subject alone. It is hard to imagine that another highly-charged issue like compulsory quotas could be squeezed into the meeting, which had a very full agenda. It would be good to know exactly what happened, but I’m almost certain that no extended discussion of compulsory quotas took place at this particular summit.

October 28, 2017

MSZP’s Gergely Bárándy “debates”: Self-inflicted wounds

Fidesz politicians, who until very recently refused to debate their political opponents, suddenly developed an appetite for political discussions with politicians of MSZP. I haven’t noticed the same eagerness to exchange ideas with Gábor Vona of Jobbik or Bernadett Szél of LMP. But the Fidesz top-drawer strategists allowed Szilárd Németh to shout his way through a discussion, if you can call it that, with Zsolt Molnár of MSZP. Mind you, for that disaster I largely blame Egon Rónai of ATV, who seems to be utterly incapable of keeping order in his studio.

A great deal more was expected of a debate between Gergely Gulyás and Gergely Bárándy, which took place last night at ELTE’s Law School at the invitation of the school’s Political Science Workshop. Bárándy is the MSZP caucus’s “legal expert.” He is a 41-year-old who, after finishing law school at Péter Pázmány Catholic University in 2000, worked as a lawyer in the law office of his grandfather and father. Considering that he was a relative latecomer to politics, he made a remarkable career in MSZP. He became a member of parliament in 2010 and 2014, both times from party lists. I personally find him rather dull and his speeches in parliament uninspiring.

Gergely Gulyás, on the other hand, stands apart from the average Fideszniks. He is what Hungarians call a true “úrifiú,” a young gentleman both in looks and behavior. Like Bárándy, he comes from a family of lawyers. He also attended Péter Pázmány Catholic University’s law school, graduating five years after Bárándy. He joined Fidesz at the end of 2005 and also made a remarkable career in his party. By now he is the leader of the large Fidesz parliamentary delegation, deputy president of parliament, and Fidesz’s legal expert in general. He is intelligent and articulate and is very quick on his feet. He is ready to engage in debates with others and usually comes out on the winning side, even with reporters as well prepared as György Bolgár. He is like an eel; he always manages to support his party’s positions no matter how indefensible they are. At the same time, he gives the impression of someone whose views are moderate. He condemns extremism and vulgarity, which are often exhibited in Fidesz circles.

Photo: Magyar Nemzet

So, when I heard that these two men would face each other in a debate, I anticipated a huge Gulyás win over the less eloquent and less coherent Bárándy. Well, the debate turned out to be something no one was prepared for. According to Magyar Nemzet, it was “a convivial conversation” between two people who have known each other for a long time and who have spent considerable time together on the legislative committee of the parliament. As Gulyás remarked, they know each other’s legal positions through and through. Still, I was not prepared for Gergely Bárándy’s performance. He offered a public confession of the sins of his own party. “Even a Fidesz politician couldn’t have done better,” as Index’s journalist who was present put it. He described his own political side as something “dreadful” and said that he perfectly understands outsiders’ low opinion of the left. He “wouldn’t even entrust his dog to these people.” Gulyás exhibited bafflement at his opponent’s total political ineptness.

Once Bárándy was in the swing of things, Gulyás decided to toss him a bone by introducing the magic word “Gyurcsány” into the debate. How is it, he asked, that after eight years in opposition MSZP is still under the influence of the leader of the Demokratikus Koalíció? What followed was more or less what I expected because I always placed Bárándy in the left wing of MSZP and therefore suspected that he was no admirer of the liberal-leaning Gyurcsány. Keep in mind that István Nyakó, MSZP’s spokesman, was just sacked by Gyula Molnár because his sarcastic remarks interfered with the current MSZP-DK negotiations, and therefore the last thing MSZP needed was a barrage of verbal insults on the chairman of DK by an important MSZP politician. But this is exactly what happened. Bárándy announced that he would be very happy if Gyurcsány would step back and wouldn’t insist on being on a common party list.

It is hard to fathom why Bárándy brought up a common list and Gyurcsány’s presence on it because, with Botka’s resignation and the beginning of negotiations between MSZP and DK, this issue is no longer on the table. He got himself so wound up that during the Q&A period, when most of the questions were about the state of MSZP and the other opposition parties, he kept repeating his opposition to Gyurcsány. Bárándy must have realized that this incredible performance would be deemed unacceptable by the current leadership of MSZP because a couple of times he jokingly told his audience that he will deny some of his remarks and hoped that he would not be quoted out of context. For example, when he talked about the absolute necessity of having a leftist party, “whether it will be called MSZP or something else.” This afternoon Klub Rádió reported that Gergely Bárándy now insists that the statements that were attributed to him were never uttered or, if they were, they were not accurately described. Well, he will need a better explanation than that. Not so much to the public but to his comrades.

Since the debate was not open to the public, few newspapers reported on it. Figyelő was the only pro-government paper I could find that carried the news. The article was written by Tamás Pindroch, a devoted pro-Fidesz journalist originally from the far-right Magyar Hírlap who then had a short stint at Magyar Idők. He was delighted because he believes that MSZP politicians like Mesterházy, Botka, Nyakó, and Bárándy are working for a renewed MSZP that will emerge after the party’s electoral defeat next year. The number of people, he wrote, who think that the greatest encumbrance on the Hungarian left is Ferenc Gyurcsány is growing. These people realize that he must be removed in order to have a robust Hungarian left. “One thing is sure; the left-wing cleansing process which didn’t take place in 1990 may begin after 2018. Better later than never.” Of course, Pindroch is not really worried about MSZP’s renewal. What he is hoping for is the further weakening of the left by warring factions within MSZP before the election. And looking at the latest polls, the leadership of MSZP is succeeding admirably. According to the latest opinion poll, in the past three months MSZP has lost 4% of its voters. Among active voters they stand at 13% as opposed to DK’s 9% and LMP’s 6%.

I can more or less understand that MSZP regional leaders, like Ferenc Kurtyán from Szekszárd, haven’t been able to grasp the present Hungarian political reality, but that one of the shining lights of the party, the great legal expert, commits such a political blunder is unfathomable. What kinds of nincompoops run this party? How can you let any politician engage in a debate without sitting down with him and agreeing on the talking points? MSZP’s ineptitude simply boggles the mind.

October 19, 2017

George Soros, the omnipotent bogeyman: the focus of Fidesz’s electoral campaign

Fidesz’s framework for its electoral strategy is slowly taking shape. There seem to be two interconnected strands. One propaganda offensive suggests that outside forces are fomenting a revolutionary uprising against the Orbán government. The second concentrates on the “Soros Plan” that is being executed by the European Union. Fidesz’s task in the next few months is to uncover the conspiracy which is brewing against the government and at the same time to save the country from the dreadful fate that awaits it as a result of the European Union’s evil plans. Of course, George Soros is behind both the attempt to physically remove Viktor Orbán’s government and the potential flood of illegal migrants forced upon the country by the European Union. If Fidesz doesn’t win, disaster awaits the Hungarian people. The stakes are as high as they were in 1990. It is a matter of life or death. Everything that was achieved will be lost if Hungarians make the wrong choice.

As far as I can see, this electoral strategy has been in the making for some time. A couple of months ago I wrote a post titled “What’s the new Fidesz game plan?” in which I outlined the first strand of this strategy, pointing out that starting in the early summer Fidesz politicians were talking about a coalition that will be forged by the Hungarian opposition and the Soros NGOs. They will organize disturbances on the streets of Budapest. “They will try to create an atmosphere filled with civil-war psychosis,” as László Kövér, president of parliament, put it in one of his speeches.

At this point, government politicians were unable to point the finger at specific “members of the Soros network” who will be responsible for these disturbances, but now they have begun to identify its members. Szilárd Németh named three civil activists: Márton Gulyás, who started the Közös Ország Mozgalom to change the current unfair electoral system; Árpád Schilling, a theater director and the founder of Krétakör Színház (Chalk Circle Theater); and Gábor Vágó, a former LMP member of parliament between 2010 and 2014. How did these three names surface?

Source: Index.hu

It all started with claims put forth by Antal Rogán, the propaganda minister, who at Fidesz’s Kötcse picnic in early September brought up the possibility of violence on the streets of Budapest organized by “foreign forces.” The opposition parties, usually slow on the uptake, were urged by analysts to call on Rogán. Charging that foreign forces are behind an attempt to overthrow the government is a serious matter. Surely, Rogán as a responsible member of the government must have proof of such interference. Zsolt Molnár, chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, saw the light and called the committee together, asking Rogán to attend. The meeting took place two days ago. As could have been predicted, Rogán didn’t show up.

As we learned later, officials of the national security forces knew nothing about any mysterious forces behind the alleged revolutionary leaders who are contemplating the overthrow of the Orbán government. At least this is what the socialist chairman and the LMP and Jobbik members of the committee said.

On the other hand, the Fidesz vice chairman, Szilárd Németh, reported that “according to the Hungarian national security services, organizations and individuals financed from abroad pose a very serious risk” to the security of the country. He specifically mentioned Árpád Schilling and Márton Gulyás, who “openly talk about marching on the streets and organizing sit-down strikes if they cannot have their way.” Ádám Mirkóczki, a Jobbik member of the committee, said that “it seems that Szilárd Németh was attending a different meeting.”

This would not be the first time that Németh makes up stories to further Fidesz’s program. The next day government papers were full of Németh’s bogus story about “the serious risk subversive civilians pose.” On the same day Lajos Kósa, who was the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation until today, gave an interview in which he specifically mentioned Gábor Vágó, “an opposition activist,” who allegedly called for illegal and aggressive acts against the government. While he was at it, he described certain opposition members of parliament as “the men of Soros.”

A day after Németh’s press conference Bernadett Szél, the LMP member of the committee, pressed charges against the Fidesz politician on the grounds that he revealed the identity of people whose names were mentioned in a closed session of the committee.

Since Németh’s falsification of what transpired at the committee meeting didn’t get much traction, the Fidesz propaganda machine came up with a new angle. Magyar Idők learned that the Független Diákparlament (Independent Student Parliament) is organizing a demonstration in support of Central European University. What follows is rather fuzzy. Apparently, Árpád Schilling, one of the people Németh referred to, is a supporter of this student movement. Therefore, concludes the paper, “it seems that the Soros network will start its fall disturbances on the backs of the students.”

As for the “Soros Plan,” the new name is a way of personifying the evil scheme of the European Union, which would threaten the future of Europe. The most important task is to fight against this plan by all possible means. The struggle against it will be the most important ingredient of the election campaign. Therefore, “the Fidesz parliamentary delegation is asking the government to hold a national consultation about the Soros Plan.” Holding such a national consultation is especially important since the European Court of Justice’s verdict “opened the door to the execution of the Soros Plan,” which includes the arrival of one million migrants every year from here on.

The anti-Soros campaign must have been deemed a resounding success, and therefore the decision was made to continue it. A lot of observers, including me, think that the Orbán government has gone too far already with its Soros-bashing, but obviously we are mistaken because I can’t imagine that Orbán would embark on another anti-Soros campaign without proper research on the effectiveness of his past efforts in that direction. In fact, it looks as if Orbán decided that fighting against George Soros’s alleged agenda will be his party’s key campaign theme, which he apparently outlined in a speech to the members of the parliamentary caucus in a three-day pow wow of the Fidesz MEPs and important party leaders. Hard to fathom and it sounds crazy, but unfortunately that’s Hungarian reality.

September 14, 2017

The next victims of Orbán’s hate campaign will be the journalists

Hungarian commentators know from past experience that one ought to pay close attention to every word Viktor Orbán utters because his future plans are normally embedded in his speeches way ahead of time. Sometimes these references are too subtle to notice easily; more often, they are dropped in a phrase or two which those who listen to his speeches, especially the soporific ones, are likely to miss.

With the exception of the hired hands of the government media, all other commentators at home and abroad found that Viktor Orbán’s speech in Tusnádfürdő-Băile Tușnad was on the dull side, containing practically nothing new. He refrained from announcing any controversial idea that would be greeted with consternation in political circles in the European Union. There was, however, something in that speech that upset Hungarian journalists to no end. Amidst the seemingly endless braggadocio there was one sentence that strongly indicated that, after the attacks on the NGOs and George Soros, the next victims will be journalists critical of the Orbán government, especially investigative journalists who have been unearthing the corruption endemic in Fidesz and government circles.

Orbán made no secret of the fact that, between now and the election sometime in April 2018, Fidesz’s “adversaries will not be the opposition parties at home.” In the forthcoming election campaign “first and foremost [they] will have to hold their own against external forces; against the bureaucrats of Brussels; the Soros mafia network and its media.” That last sentence sent chills down the spines of journalists working for media outlets considered to be unfriendly to the Orbán government.

Magyar Nemzet actually received information from Fidesz circles that this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán has expressed his strong disapproval of the activities of some journalists. Insiders reported that he often talked about the “liberal media” and its unwarranted bias and enmity toward the government, resulting in unfair reporting. The paper learned from several sources that this year’s speech in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad was the beginning of a new anti-media campaign. Thus far Fidesz’s targets have been media outlets owned by Lajos Simicska, but now they are apparently planning to go against individual journalists. The informants intimated that investigative journalists concentrating on economic matters will be in his cross hairs. A new enemy is needed after Brussels and George Soros, and the media is an obvious next choice. Especially since Donald Trump’s anti-media campaign has had its influence in Hungary, where the expression “fake news” is spreading in the English original.

Orbán has a point. The opposition in its current state is no threat to him whatsoever. If the chaos that exists on the political left isn’t resolved over the next nine months, Fidesz, especially with the assistance of Romanian-Hungarian voters, will be able to win the election easily and most likely will have the coveted two-thirds majority of parliamentary seats. By now the only threat comes from high-profile NGOs, who insist on legality and diligently pursue government wrongdoings. They keep going to the European Court of Justice or to the European Court of Human Rights, and more often than not they win against the Orbán government. It’s no wonder that Orbán wants to get rid of them. Investigative journalists are also “enemies” as far as Fidesz is concerned. They have been working hard to discover the sources of the newly acquired riches of the Orbán family and to unearth the criminal activities of the oligarchs who are actively supported by the prime minister. If these NGOs and journalists would just disappear, life would be a great deal easier for Orbán and friends.

But Hungary is still not like Russia or Turkey where journalists are killed or jailed. Orbán most likely will choose a different tack. The suspicion in Hungarian journalistic circles is that the plan is to undermine the reputation of the most active investigative journalists. The government will try to find some dirt and, if there is nothing juicy enough, they will create stories from half-truths. As for character assassination, we know that Orbán is a master of the craft. It is enough to think of how effectively he managed to create a monster out of Ferenc Gyurcsány simply because he believed him to be his only effective political foe in the country. In comparison to that, the task of finishing off some journalists’ careers will be child’s play.

The journalists who either work for the handful of media outlets owned by non-Fidesz businessmen or those who have been supported by George Soros’s Open Society Foundation are worried. They wanted to know more about the targets of the new campaign from Szilárd Németh, deputy to Chairman Viktor Orbán, who gave a press conference on the subject. Németh immediately got into an argument with the journalists who were present. He accused Gergely Nyilas of Index of not being a journalist but an emissary of Lajos Simicska, the owner of the internet site. According to Németh, Nyilas is simply performing the task assigned to him, which is attacking Simicska’s enemy Viktor Orbán. Another journalist representing the Simicska-owned HírTV didn’t fare better. He was accused of reciting his questions, which were actually written for him by someone else. Németh most likely again had Lajos Simicska in mind.

The journalists naturally wanted to know which media outlets are the latest targets of the government, but Németh refused to name them, claiming that both he and the journalists know full well which ones the government has in mind. However, in the course of the conversation he talked about “criminal organizations” that will have to be dealt with by the prosecutor’s office.

In addition to Szilárd Németh, the almost forgotten Rózsa Hoffmann, former undersecretary of education, also spoke about the ill-willed, irresponsible journalists. While claiming that Hungary’s reputation in Brussels is improving, “certain journalistic organizations falsely accuse Hungary on many accounts.” She also seems certain that these journalists are following a prescribed script.

We can expect a heightened assault on journalists as well as NGOs. In fact, Orbán promised that much when answering a man in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tușnad who demanded harsher treatment of NGOs. It sounds ominous.

July 26, 2017

Hate campaigns and their consequences

President János Áder, who had been reelected for another five-year term already in March, delivered his inaugural address on May 8. If we can believe him, his original intent was to talk about all the work that still lies ahead for the nation. “Looking at the political discourse of the past months,” however, he came to the conclusion that “if things go on like this, we will destroy everything we have managed to build together since 1990. We question everything. We completely disregard every—even tacit—agreement we have made. We go beyond all limits.” So, what is the remedy? According to Áder, the simple answer is “reconciliation.”

In his speech I found only two sentences that deserve closer scrutiny. One was a Ferenc Deák quotation, the third in the short speech, which can be construed as a criticism of the governance of the Orbán government. Deák, the architect of the 1867 Compromise with the Crown, warned that “Hungary should not be loved with inciting thoughts unsettling it, but with a series of everyday, useful deeds that promote prosperity.” The second sentence came from the section on the quality of public discourse, which has deteriorated dramatically over the years. “I don’t want to dwell on responsibilities and on who is to blame. However, political numbers and majority status dictate that the responsibility of government parties is greater,” Áder admitted.

Skeptics are certain that Áder’s words were approved by Viktor Orbán himself, who needs to cool the overheated political atmosphere. Others, like György Csepeli, a social psychologist, consider the speech a perfect example of hypocrisy. After all, Áder signed the bill that threatens the very existence of Central European University, which added fuel to the fire, but the same man now wants a world in which people of different political persuasions live in harmony. If I may add another observation. Áder admits that the larger share of the responsibility falls on Fidesz, but simply because it is the governing party with a large majority. He is wrong. The reason for this state of affairs is not political arithmetic but the militaristic style of Fidesz, which leads to both verbal and physical violence. There was a time when Áder himself, as the leader of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, practiced the same kind of verbal coercion he now decries.

Zsolt Bayer, about whom I have written 13 posts since the beginning of 2011, is certainly not helping to tone down Hungarian political discourse. Bayer, one of the founding members of Fidesz who still has the full support of Viktor Orbán and his party, is notorious for his anti-Semitism and his vile writing. This time he ranted about the handful of NGO leaders who appeared at a parliamentary hearing to silently protest a pending bill that would discriminate against those NGOs that receive financial aid from abroad. When asked his opinion of their silent demonstration, Bayer said: “If people like this show up in the parliament building again and disrupt their work, then they need to be thrown out like shitting cats. If they need to be pulled out through their snot and blood, then they should be pulled out through their snot and blood….Their faces should be beaten to smithereens, if need be.”

The objects of Zsolt Bayer’s ire

As György Balavány, a conservative journalist, pointed out, Bayer is not a lone overly active pitbull. “He is the voice of the party” which, despite all pro-government opinion polls, is afraid. Facing widespread opposition, the Orbán government has “no other strategy than the intimidation of the public and the incitement of its own followers. Both of them can serve as preliminaries to physical force.” Meanwhile, Fidesz acts as if the increasingly frequent physical encounters simply didn’t exist. Orbán, for example, said that “it is not his job” to comment on claims of that sort. Among those Fidesz members who had an opinion on Bayer’s latest, some found his remarks perfectly acceptable. For example, according to Fidesz spokesman Balázs Hidvéghi, Bayer didn’t cross the line between free speech and incitement. The spokesman of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation said that Bayer is like that, “and this is how many of us like him.”

At this point TASZ’s two lawyers, who took part in the silent demonstration at the hearing, decided to offer Bayer an opportunity to discuss their differences over a cup of coffee. Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP, said she would join them. The naïve souls. First of all, any rational exchange with Bayer is a hopeless task. Worse, TASZ’s invitation was a tactical mistake because Bayer countered, saying he wants to extend the invitation to individuals on the anti-government side who, in his opinion, were either violent or who incited others to violence. Bayer suggested that the following individuals should be invited: Márton Gulyás and Gergő Varga, the two activists who were stopped from throwing washable orange paint on the president’s office, and two journalists from 24.hu who, according to Bayer, wanted him to hang on the first lamp post. He also thinks a pro-government female journalist should be present, who could tell how frightened she was among the “liberal” and “European” crowd at one of the demonstrations. Perhaps the editor-in-chief of a regional paper could also attend, who said that he is afraid that Orbán can be disposed of only in the way the Romanians managed to get rid of Ceaușescu. “If you think that I will take responsibility for the current state of public discourse alone, then you are mistaken.” Since then, others have indicated that they will attend and suggested more people who have been verbally abused by Bayer. One of these people was András Hont of HVG, who responded on Facebook: “Thank you, but I don’t want any coffee.”

Meanwhile fear and hatred have reached dangerous proportions in the country. The following incident in the heart of Budapest tells a lot about the impact of the government’s hate campaign against the European Union and the migrants. An employee of a pizza parlor on Kálvin tér, a bona fide Hungarian, thinking that one of his customers was a tourist, addressed the man in English. In turn, the customer called him a “filthy migrant.” And he kept yelling that Hungary belongs to the Hungarians and that he is not a tourist in his own country. He called the waiter “a cockroach.” When a young woman asked him to stop insulting the waiter who mistook him for a tourist, he hit the woman on the head, knocked her glasses off, and called her a stupid woman whose brain is filled with urine. Her bitter reaction after the incident was: “Long live the politics of hate, the brainwashing, and the incitement.”

Szilárd Németh, the embodiment of Fidesz primitiveness who is a deputy to Viktor Orbán, when asked about the incident, expressed his belief that the whole thing was nothing more than a “damned provocation” because anything can happen here “since George Soros set foot in this country and his provocateurs do what he tells them to do.” He added that this kind of incident has absolutely nothing to do with the Orbán government’s communication tactics because the government has never attacked the migrants. It has only defended Hungary and Europe. Poor Hungary, poor Europe.

May 14, 2017