Tag Archives: Tamás Fricz

George Soros and George Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein

Ever since April 1, when thousands of hard-hitting Jobbik billboards appeared all over the country, a poster war of sorts has been going on in Hungary. The Jobbik campaign by all accounts irritated Viktor Orbán to no end, so he made sure that in the future he will not have to face billboards depicting him as a common thief. After some difficulty, Fidesz smuggled in an amendment to an otherwise innocent enough bill about “community image” that forbids political advertising at any time other than a few weeks before national and municipal elections. Of course, the government will be able to post “informational material” anytime it deems necessary. Which is practically all the time. One poster campaign ends, the next begins. This has been going on for over a year.

I must say that the thousands of posters and billboards, which are everywhere one looks, don’t do much for the “community image” or “beautification of the cityscape,” but apparently people on the spot have become inured to them. In the last few months there have been billboards on “More respect for Hungarians,” “Let’s Stop Brussels,” and “Hungary is a strong and proud European country.” Now they can enjoy a new 5.4 billion forint campaign with thousands of billboards featuring an enormous picture of George Soros. In small print the text reads: “99% reject illegal immigration” and in large letters: “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh!”

The first thought that popped into people’s heads when confronted with the billboard was the person of Emmanuel Goldstein, the Enemy of the People, who was the principal figure in the programs of the Two-Minutes Hate in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. One of these people was Gábor Török, a well-known political scientist, who quoted at some length from Orwell’s famous novel:

The sight or even the thought of Goldstein produced fear and anger automatically. He was an object of hatred more constant than either Eurasia or Eastasia, since when Oceania was at war with one of these Powers it was generally at peace with the other. But what was strange was that although Goldstein was hated and despised by everybody, although every day and a thousand times a day, on platforms, on the telescreen, in newspapers, in books, his theories were refuted, smashed, ridiculed, held up to the general gaze for the pitiful rubbish that they were – in spite of all this, his influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked by the Thought Police. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State.

Indeed, Soros has become Viktor Orbán’s Emmanuel Goldstein. Naturally, those who read Török on Facebook—and he has close to 50,000 followers—wanted to refresh their memories of Orwell’s book, which had been available in the Magyar Elektronikus Könyvtár (MEK). But as of today the Hungarian translation of the work has been removed for copyright reasons. I know this sounds suspicious, but from what I read on the subject MEK might have made the book public without properly checking the copyright status of the book.

Almost all commentaries on the billboard itself start with the observation that the message makes no sense. I disagree. For me it is crystal clear what the creator of this particular political message had in mind. It is a different matter that the message is based on false information and premises. The first problem is the unspecified 99% who say no to illegal migration. It gives the misleading impression that 99% of the whole population voted against allowing refugees to settle in Hungary, when the reference is actually to the so-called “national consultation” in which, according to the government’s own admission, only 1.4 million people participated while 7.1 million people stayed away. As for Soros’s last laugh, I think the message is that Soros wants Hungary to be invaded by millions of Middle Easterners and Africans. Once this task is accomplished, he will have a good laugh. But the present-day Goldstein will be stopped by the brave government of the 99%.

This new anti-Soros campaign elicited some vehement reactions. One of the strongest came from Lajos Bokros, former minister of finance and currently chairman of a small opposition group called MoMa, who called the campaign “anti-Semitic propaganda based on lies = fascism.” Albert Gazda of Magyar Nemzet claimed that Orbán’s system is totally void of value, ideology, and ideas. He simply wants to remain in power. All his political moves are subordinated to this end. András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of Jewish religious communities, reacted cautiously to the poster and what’s behind it. In his opinion the poster campaign creates troubling thoughts in the Jewish community, but this was not the intention of the creators of the campaign. But, he added, the posters themselves may prompt anti-Semitic reactions in certain segments of society, which is something that should be avoided.

Heisler in that interview expressed his doubts that the government can be persuaded by Mazsihisz or any other group to stop this particular campaign because, for one reason or another, this Soros bashing at top volume seems to be a very important goal of the regime. Here a few examples from yesterday and today. Híradó reported that “Lajos Bokros admitted that he gets his money from George Soros’s university.” Sure, he is a professor at Central European University. “His money” is actually his salary. Bokros’s designation of Orbán’s political system as fascism elicited an answer from the Government Information Center: “Lajos Bokros is a member of the Soros network; he is paid by Soros; he lives on Soros’s money.” János Halász, undersecretary in charge of culture in the prime minister’s office, described Bokros as someone “who is simply George Soros’s political mercenary.”

Because of the upcoming Budapest Pride this weekend, a favorite topic on Lőrinc Mészáros’s Echo TV has been homosexuality. Yesterday three right-wing women discussed the dangers homosexuals pose to society. In no time George Soros was accused of pro-homosexual propaganda through NGOs he supports. It is time to recognize that George Soros’s activities are an open attack against families, they warned. Magyar Idők reported this morning that the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, also sponsored by George Soros, is giving “sensitivity training” to judges when “dealing with migrants, homosexuals, and other groups living at the periphery of society.” Once the paper found out about these activities, one of its worried journalists contacted the Országos Bírósági Hivatal (OBH), which reassured him that of 3,000 judges only 106 signed up for the sensitivity training.

Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist who has a regular column in Magyar Idők, found an article by Bálint Magyar titled “The EU’s Mafia State” published in Project Syndicate, which is, as he put it, “Soros’s own internet site.” Soros also called Orbán’s political system a mafia state and therefore, says Fricz, it is worth looking at these two people’s relationship. Magyar is described by Fricz as an ultraliberal who is against such traditional values as family, churches, and nations. Thus, “Magyar is one of Soros’s favorites.” After this introduction, Fricz accuses Magyar of being the secret agent of Soros who has been publishing book after book spreading the bad name of Viktor Orbán and his government. “Bálint Magyar is a good boy in the eyes of members of the global elite because he is working for [them] against his own country and therefore he gets lots of candy.” Soros has been in such close contact with Magyar that he “by now goes so far as to call the Orbán government a mafia state.” And now Magyar got the opportunity, I guess granted by Soros, to publish in Project Syndicate. The country must defend itself against the network to which these people belong. The fact is that Project Syndicate does receive some money from the Open Society Foundation, but it is funded by many other foundations as well, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is not Soros’s publication. As far as the description of the Orbán regime as a “mafia state,” by now this phrase is so widespread that any kind of mysterious connection between Soros and Magyar is outright ludicrous.

Origo, which practically overnight became a far-right publication, occasionally outdoes Magyar Idők in hate mongering and spreading false news. This time it attacked László Majtényi, president of Eötvös Károly Intézet (EKINT), for organizing all the Soros-funded NGOs under his own EKINT. Majtényi is also a trusted man of Soros, claims the paper. The truth is that Majtényi met Soros three times at large gatherings where he didn’t even have a chance to talk with him. According to Origo, George Soros is also relying on his son Alexander who was in Budapest lately to use NGOs as their instruments against the Hungarian government. Most of these connections described by the government propaganda machine as sinister are based either on nothing or on distorted facts. When reading these concocted stories, one really does have a feeling of total unreality, very much the same way as when one reads about Goldstein in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

There have been a few reports of defacement of some of the Soros posters where someone has scribbled the words “büdös zsidó” over his face. (“Büdös” literally means “stinking” but perhaps “filthy” would be a better match here, so “filthy Jew.”) I find such an outcome almost inevitable. This might be especially uncomfortable since Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to visit Budapest in two weeks’ time. At the Israeli request Péter Szijjártó already had to recant Viktor Orbán’s statement that Miklós Horthy was an exceptional statesman. Not surprisingly, the Israeli government wasn’t pleased given Horthy’s indisputable role in the Hungarian Holocaust. In fact, Yair Lapid, chairman of the Yesh Atid party, wrote an opinion piece in The Times of Israel in which he insisted that “if Viktor Orban doesn’t personally and fully apologize, Prime Minister Netanyahu should cancel his visit to Hungary.” And now we have reports about the defacing of the Soros posters. It’s hard to imagine that the propaganda gurus didn’t anticipate such an outcome.

July 5, 2017

The Hungarian National Bank’s foundations and their beneficiaries

Last night, after a legal battle, the lists of all the grants the six Hungarian National Bank foundations approved in the last two years were finally released. It will take some time for analysts to sort through these lists to figure out who got how much for what from the foundations. Not only are the lists long, but it can happen that the same person or company received grants from several foundations.

The six foundations of the Hungarian National Bank have complicated names starting with Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, and many other virtues. By now only acronyms are used, like PADA, PADOC, and PADS. In any case, György Matolcsy sank 265.65 billion forints or 855.7 million euros of public money into his foundations. He had no intention of ever revealing where all that money would eventually end up. But the Kúria, Hungary’s highest court, decided otherwise. Hence the release of the lists of foundation grants.

These foundations, in addition to serving as sources of grants to the regime’s favorites, also provide job opportunities and extra income for close associates or friends of the management of MNB. The yearly salaries of the six foundation directors amount to 320 million forints. In addition, 30 individuals serve as paid members of their boards. Some people have multiple jobs at different foundations.

It will take some time to determine the greatest beneficiaries of György Matolcsy’s largesse. But so far we can say that they all seem to be politically close to the present government. I would place many of them on the far right of the Hungarian political spectrum.

The building of the Hungarian National Bank

The building of the Hungarian National Bank

One major beneficiary was New Wave Media Kft., whose managing director is István Száraz. It recently acquired two internet news sites: vs.hu and Origo. It also owns two English-language sites: welovebudapest.com and welovebalaton.hu. They seem to be useful sites for potential tourists. One can learn very little about the corporate structure of New Wave from its website, but Hungarian newspapers seem to know that György Matolcsy’s cousin, Tamás Szemerey, is one of the owners.

According to a quick estimate, New Wave received grants from all six foundations, amounting to more than 500 million forints. Over and above this amount 70 million forints was given directly to the ailing vs.hu website. In addition, New Wave received 14 million forints for the translation of three books by George Friedman, a geopolitical forecaster of Hungarian origin who seems to be an admirer of Viktor Orbán.

The foundations poured quite a bit of money into publishing ventures–translations as well as original works. One book found worthy of translating–this time into Polish, Romanian, Czech, and Ukrainian–was Chess and Poker: Chronicle of the Victorious Battles of the Hungarian Economic War of Independence, written by Matolcsy’s secretary, Helga Wiedermann. The book created quite a stir in Hungary when it appeared. Wiedermann recounted that on November 17, 2011, when the Hungarian government officially announced that it had decided to turn to the IMF for a loan, Matolcsy had lunch with three representatives of Goldman Sachs. He told them about the decision four hours before the official announcement. According to Wiedermann, one of three visitors immediately excused himself to go to the rest room, presumably to inform, directly or indirectly, Goldman’s forex trading desk. The EUR/HUF chart from that day shows immediate buying pressure after Matolcsy’s indiscretion. I wrote about this incident shortly after the book appeared in March 2014. So now this book will be available to a larger reading public. The cost of translation, printing, and advertising was 68.5 million forints plus VAT.

Kairosz Publishing House, the favorite of the Hungarian right, received 39 million forints for the publication of a six-volume series on Hungarian history by Dr. Miklós Kásler. And no, his doctorate is not in history. He is the director of the National Institute of Oncology. For a number of years he has appeared on state television with his own version of Hungarian history. The members of the board found the publication of this multi-volume work important because “it can serve as a counterbalance to the strongly globalized historical view arriving from the West.” It is supposed “to form the world view of new generations and to strengthen the patriotic sentiment against the globalist views.” The six volumes cover Hungarian history from the arrival of the Magyars in the Carpathian basin to, I assume, the glorious governance of Viktor Orbán.

A new book–“Unorthodox Eccentrics” (Unortodox különcök)–by István Lovas, the Jewish anti-Semite with a questionable past, was also found worthy of financial assistance. It too was published by Kairosz. The book is supposed to be a comparison of the Hungarian, Icelandic, and Malaysian handling of the recent economic crisis. According to the review I read, it is mostly about Viktor Orbán the brave and “everybody else.”

Among the grant recipients is another “favorite” of mine, Tamás Fricz. He calls himself a political scientist and for a while was actually an associate of the Political Science Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. A few years ago the new director of the Institute had the courage to throw him out since Fricz is a Fidesz propagandist, pure and simple. More about his anti-German and anti-Israeli propaganda can be found in one of my earlier posts. Fricz’s subsidized book is a collection of 80 articles written between January 2013 and October 2014. The publisher received 1.2 million forints to help defray costs.

Finally, a 1.5 million grant was given to the Szabad Piac Alapítvány for the publication of the Hungarian translation of Tom G. Palmer’s edited volume After the Welfare State: Politicians Stole Your Future, You Can Get It Back. The book is available online. Palmer’s introduction begins: “Young people today are being robbed. Of their rights. Of their freedom. Of their dignity. Of their futures. The culprits? My generation and our predecessors, who either created or failed to stop the world-straddling engine of theft, degradation, manipulation, and social control we call the welfare state.”

So far I have spent very little time perusing the lists, but I think that even these few examples give us an idea of the mission of the Hungarian National Bank’s foundations. Not financial literacy, not economic research, but the promulgation of Orbán’s ideology and the dissemination in Hungarian of the limited, questionable support it finds in the West. And, of course, assistance for the government’s friends and family.

April 23, 2016

Anti-American and anti-Israeli voices in connection with the refugee crisis

Viktor Orbán is very angry with György Soros, who in late September published a statement titled “Rebuilding the Asylum System” in which he outlined a plan that goes against everything that Viktor Orbán stands for. Soros in that statement offers six suggestions that would result, in his opinion, in the eventual absorption and integration of “more than a million asylum seekers and migrants a year.” But Soros is not the only one on Orbán’s black list. The other culprit is Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. Though not calling out either Merkel or Germany by name, he noted in his speech on Friday that “it is not correct to invite people into our country and then divvy them up among other nations.”

Ever since Merkel announced at the beginning of September that Germany is ready to accept up to a million refugees this year she has been under attack by the Hungarian right. Magyar Narancs reported on September 17 that an organization that calls itself Honfoglalás 2000 (Conquest 2000) demanded Merkel’s resignation. The organization is a strong supporter of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz. Merkel was accused of being the leader of a country that had already inflicted immense pain and suffering on the people of Europe, including six million deaths, in the course of two world wars. The same country is now in the process of causing a third disaster by inviting Muslim migrants into Christian Europe. The statement specifically mentioned among the victims Jews, Gypsies, and left-wingers. The reference to the Holocaust is no accident. Right-wingers often connect German guilt for the Holocaust with their foolishly generous welcome of strangers from other cultures.

But this criticism has become even more strident of late. By now it is not only far-right sources like hir.ma and alfahir that are calling Merkel practically a dictator for forbidding the German police to report publicly about the alleged 750 incidents that have involved newly arrived migrants. The new, pro-government paper, Magyar Idők, has joined the chorus. 

Yesterday two op/ed articles on Merkel appeared in this new mouthpiece of the Hungarian government. One of the authors simply expressed his fervent hope that Horst Seehofer will manage to force Merkel’s resignation. The other, much more interesting piece was written by Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist, whose admiration for Viktor Orbán knows no bounds. Fricz used to have a weekly column in Magyar Nemzet, which he left in a great hurry to join the new “government paper” edited by the same people who earlier had made Magyar Nemzet practically unreadable. Unfortunately, we cannot simply ignore Magyar Idők because its articles and editorials give us a window into the thinking of Viktor Orbán and his underlings. The only good thing I can say in connection with Tamás Fricz is that he is no longer an employee of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Political Science. I guess Fricz’s extracurricular activities became too embarrassing.

Yesterday Fricz published the fruit of his sharp intellect under the headline “It is a mystery what makes Merkel tick.” But, it turns out, it is not a mystery at all because Fricz knows the answer full well. Here it goes.

A few years back, thanks to Wikileaks, it came to light that the American National Security Agency (NSA) had wiretapped Angela Merkel’s cell phone. Everybody expected a huge diplomatic scandal but nothing happened except for some hemming and hawing. What does this mean? That not only are there strong ties between the two countries but also that Angela Merkel is not an equal partner in this relationship. Just last May it became known that the NSA and the German secret service had cooperated on wiretapping the Élysée Palace, the European Commission, and several European conglomerates. Therefore, it is likely that the Americans know absolutely everything about Angela Merkel. It is also likely that the German and U.S. governments are cooperating in refugee affairs.

This logic may be suspect, but what comes after is truly bizarre, especially since Fricz doesn’t bother to give any reasons for his hypothesis. His supposition is that a “multi-racial, multi-cultural, federal Europe” is the ideal partner for the United States and global financial interests. But why? I would have loved to find out because I’m intrigued. Unfortunately, Fricz skipped that crucial step.

Naturally, the state of Israel is part of this conspiracy theory. After some searching, Fricz found a quotation from a speech that Merkel delivered in the Knesset in March 2008. Unfortunately for Tamás Fricz, the whole speech is available in English on the Knesset’s website. Here is the original:

Here of all places I want to explicitly stress that every German Government and every German Chancellor before me has shouldered Germany’s special historical responsibility for Israel’s security. This historical responsibility is part of my country’s raison d’être. For me as German Chancellor, therefore, Israel’s security will never be open to negotiation. And that being the case, we must do more than pay lip-service to this commitment at this critical point. Together with its partners, Germany is setting its sights on a diplomatic solution. But if Iran does not come around, the German government will remain fully committed to sanctions.

Angela Merkel addressing the Knesset

Angela Merkel addressing the Knesset

So, let’s see what came of these sentences in Fricz’s “translation.”

Germany’s responsibility for Israel is my country’s raison d’être. In other words, the security of Israel for me as chancellor of Germany cannot be the subject of bargaining. But if it were to become such, in the hour of verification [of this commitment] these words wouldn’t remain empty phrases.

On the basis of this so-called translation Fricz comes to the conclusion that Merkel’s words actually mean that Germany, together with the United States, will be ready to fight alongside Israeli forces against Iran. As is clear from the original text, Merkel was talking about sanctions against Iran “if Iran does not come around.” I am still surprised at the brazen falsification of facts, figures, and texts by these people.

Fricz’s overall conclusion is that Merkel in her decisions is not “completely independent.” This is a big problem and “a danger for Europe.” But there is still hope. Merkel loves power and doesn’t want to leave her post. Under growing pressure from the right she will have to compromise in order to keep her job.

Yet another attempt to foment hatred of both the United States and Israel, and to implicate Germany in this web of conspiracy–once again, with no respect for the facts.

Viktor Orbán: The Hungarian people are by nature politically incorrect

In the last few days I have been mulling over a lot of topics that I wanted to make available on Hungarian Spectrum, among them key elements of Viktor Orbán’s speech on the “state of the nation” that I did not cover earlier. Specifically, his opinions on multiculturalism, immigration, and political correctness. A young political commentator, Zoltán Ceglédi of the Republikon Institute, believes that Orbán’s claim that “Hungarian people are politically incorrect by nature” is about the most egregious sentence he has ever uttered. In Ceglédi’s opinion, it is worse than his reference to “illiberal democracy.”

Judging from foreign press coverage, “political incorrectness” didn’t set off the shock waves that “illiberal democracy” did last summer and has ever since. Yes, English-language sites quoted it, but it was only the Associated Press that considered it important enough to include in its coverage of the speech. It was also AP that emphasized Orbán’s denunciation of multiculturalism and immigrants. Thus, Orbán’s words on these subjects reached only those foreign newspapers that subscribe to AP’s news service.

Let me quote the appropriate passage. I’m using the Budapest Beacon‘s translation.

We shouldered unworthy attacks and accusations and abandoned the dogma of political correctness. As I see it, the Hungarian people are by nature politically incorrect, or have not yet lost their commonsense. Nobody is interested in talk but rather deeds, results rather than theories, they want work and cheap utility costs (rezsi). They do not swallow the jimson weed that unemployment is a natural part of modern economies. They want to free themselves from the modern age’s servitude of debt created by the foreign exchange loans. They do not want to see masses of people of a different culture in their country who are incapable of adapting, who represent a threat to public order and their jobs and their survival.

“Political correctness” is, according to one definition, “an attitude or policy of being careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society who are believed to have a disadvantage.” Or, “politically correctness is concerned with promoting tolerance and avoiding offense in matters of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” If we can substitute “proper” in this context for “correct,” as I believe we can, then “incorrect”means “improper” or, more loosely, “inappropriate.” Is this what Viktor Orbán had in mind? Indeed, one ought to be careful with words.

Orbán assumes the worst of immigrants. They “will never be willing to accept, they originally came with the intention of destroying, European culture.” In his eyes, Europeans have already lost their “collective European home.” He also added that if the Hungarian government had not acted against the immigrants, Hungary would have been “turned into a refugee camp.”

On the question of “illiberal democracy” he retreated somewhat when he told his audience that liberal principles after 1990 “brought many good things to Hungary for which we ourselves struggled.” But the world has changed and liberalism is no longer relevant. However, he added, “there are things which are worth retaining from a previous period, such as democracy, the one without an adjective.” Actually, I find this off-the-cuff remark about democracy being “worth retaining” a telling clue to Viktor Orbán’s attitude toward democratic values.

I discovered only one internet site that applauded Orbán’s endorsement of political incorrectness and his denunciation of multiculturalism, immigrants, and liberalism. It is a neo-Nazi site called The Daily Stormer, according to which “Orban is by no means a great hero, but by Western political standards, he is definitely a pretty cool guy.” After quoting the appropriate passages from the Associated Press’s summary of the speech, the author adds: “All he is really saying is something incredibly basic, which is: ‘come on, this is stupid.’ The idea that more leaders are not coming out and stating the obvious fact that it makes exactly zero sense to allow unlimited number of entirely useless and dangerous subhumans to invade our countries demonstrated just how deeply sick the West is.” Approval from neo-Nazis! Does Viktor Orbán realize the kinds of circles in which his ideas are being embraced?

The author of of The Daily Stormer liked Viktor Orbán's attack on immigation, multiculturalism, and liberalism

The author of of The Daily Stormer liked Viktor Orbán’s attack on immigration, multiculturalism, and liberalism

I don’t know what his audience and his constituency thought of his references to multiculturalism, immigration, liberalism, and political incorrectness, but by now we have a fairly good idea of what Fidesz voters thought of the speech in general. They are deeply disappointed because they were waiting for an announcement of a radical change in political strategy after the serious setback Viktor Orbán and Fidesz suffered in Veszprém. Instead, he simply announced that the Fidesz candidate lost badly. It looks as if he is convinced that the only reason for the debacle was a lack of hard work on the part of the Fidesz team on the spot. They didn’t mobilize Fidesz voters. But a large number of his followers think that the fault lies with Viktor Orbán and his government: its pro-Russian and anti-European Union policies, corruption, lack of communication with the general public, ostentatious behavior of members of the government and the people around Orbán, the growing poverty, ineptitude on every level of government, one could list the problems endlessly. But Orbán said not a word about any of these issues. He is not a man who is quick to face reality after a setback.

Magyar Nemzet, which in the past two weeks has become much more critical of the government, also found the speech wanting. An editorial titled “Reveille” expressed its doubt that Orbán’s “Good morning, Hungary!” will be enough to recapture the trust of his followers. Tamás Fricz, a so-called political scientist and one of the fiercest defenders of Viktor Orbán, tried to hang on to a single sentence in Orbán’s 45-minute speech: “Probably there is a need for more discussion and consultation.” Yes, said Fricz, this is the essence of the whole speech. And yes, what Hungary needs is people who believe in equality, “who don’t worship even Viktor Orbán, who don’t believe in the superiority of politicians.” Society must talk about what went wrong in “the national, conservative camp.” After three great wins, it is safe “to conduct these natural and necessary debates, to express differences of opinions, and talk straight with one another as befits us.” Unfortunately, Viktor Orbán does everything in his power to steer clear of debate and to tamp down differences of opinion. And he seems positively allergic to straight talk. The national, conservative camp will have to talk among themselves, without their leader.

Zoltán Kovács, Viktor Orbán’s international spokesman in Brussels

Today I will try to squeeze three topics into one post. Two will be short, more like addenda to earlier pieces. The third subject of today’s post is new: the stormy meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Hungary.

The Albert Wass Library in Tapolca

As one of our readers pointed out, György Konrád incorrectly said that the János Batsányi Library was renamed after Elemér Vass, a lesser known Hungarian painter, that it was instead named after Albert Wass. The reader was correct. Moreover, what Konrád left out of his brief story at the very end of his interview with Olga Kálmán on “Egyenes beszéd” was that the name change actually took place in 2006. Tapolca’s town council has had a solid Fidesz majority for years. Why the city fathers decided in 2006 that Albert Wass was a more important representative of Hungarian literature than János Batsányi is a mystery to me. Anyone who’s unfamiliar with the works and politics of Albert Wass should read my summary of his activities.

The Gala Event at the Ferenc Liszt Academy

A friend who lives in the United States happens to be in Budapest at the moment. Her family’s apartment is very close to the Ferenc Liszt Academy, so she witnessed the preparations for the arrival of Viktor Orbán at the Academy, where he delivered a speech at the unveiling of the Hungarian “miracle piano.” According to her, there was no parking either on Nagymező utca or on Király utca. The police or, more likely TEK, Orbán’s private bodyguards despite being called the Anti-Terror Center, set up three white tents equipped with magnetic gates, the kind that are used at airports. The distinguished guests had to go through these gates before they could share the same air as Hungary’s great leader. By six o’clock the TEK people, in full gear, had cordoned off a huge area. Hungary’s prime minister is deadly afraid. Earlier prime ministers never had a security contingent like Viktor Orbán has now. I remember that Ferenc Gyurcsány used to jog with scores of other ordinary citizens on Margitsziget (Margaret Island) with two guys running behind him at a distance. Well, today the situation seems to be different.

Hearings of  the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs*

The announced agenda was “The Situation of Human Rights in Hungary,” specifically the pressure the Hungarian government has been putting on nongovernmental organizations and civic groups, especially “Okotárs Alaítvány,” about which we have talked at length. That’s why three civic group leaders were invited from Hungary: Tamás Fricz, founder of the Civil Union Forum; Veronika Móra, director of Ökotárs Alapítvány; and Attila Mong, editor of Atlatszo.hu. In addition, two experts were present: Barbora Cernusakova from Amnesty International and Anne Weber, advisor to Nils Muižnieks, commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe. The Hungarian government was represented by Zoltán Kovács, international spokesman from the prime minister’s office.

Although the main topic was the Hungarian government’s attack on civic organizations that are critical of the Orbán government, during the two and a half hours speakers addressed other human rights issues as well: media freedom, censorship, homelessness, and even Viktor Orbán’s anti-immigration statements.

The first half hour was spent on procedural wrangling between the European People’s Party members of parliament, including naturally the Fidesz representatives, and the rest of those present. Kinga Gál (Fidesz) presented their grievances. The EPP representatives wanted to invite at least three civic groups close to the Hungarian government, arguing that after all in addition to the two NGO’s critical of the government, Ökotárs and Átlátszó.hu, there were two international organizations (Council of Europe and Amnesty International) represented. They failed to convince the majority, however, and therefore only Tamás Fricz was left to represent the NGO that organized two large pro-government demonstrations in the last few years. Tamás Fricz opted not to attend. I suspect that his declining the invitation in the last minute was part of an overarching strategy to make the hearings totally lopsided. Everybody on one side and only a government spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, on the other. Such a situation could easily discredit the proceedings. However, as it turned out, it was Zoltán Kovács himself who was discredited, though not before the EPP MEPs had walked out of the hearings.

Zoltán Kovács

Zoltán Kovács

I will not go into the content of the speeches since the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are only too familiar with the problems that exist in Hungary today as far as human rights issues are concerned. Instead, I would like to concentrate on Zoltán Kovács’s representation of the Hungarian position.

All the participants delivered their speeches in English with the exception of Zoltán Kovács, whose English is actually excellent, but, as he admitted later to György Bolgár, he decided to speak in Hungarian so his words wouldn’t have to be translated. In brief, Kovács’s message was addressed not so much to those present at the meeting but rather to Hungarians at home who could admire his effective defense of their government. The trouble was that what he considered to be simply a vigorous defense turned out to be aggressive and disrespectful. Calling the hearings of an EP committee “the fifth season of a soap opera” did not go over well, to put it mildly, especially since he added that “by now neither the actors nor the script writer knows what means what and what they want to say.” He called the charges against the Hungarian government “half truths or outright lies” and said that the members present were prejudiced against his country.

The reaction was predictable. Many of those who spoke up reacted sharply to Kovács’s speech. They were outraged that Kovács talked about the European Parliament, which “represents 500 million inhabitants of the European Union, in such a manner.” It was at this point that Péter Niedermüller (DK) told Kovács that as a result of his behavior “you yourself became the protagonist of these hearings.” Kovács later complained bitterly that Niedermüller spoke out of order, which in his opinion besmirched the dignity of the European Parliament.

A Dutch MEP inquired whether the Norwegian or the Dutch government, the German chancellor, everybody who ever criticizes the Hungarian government is part of this soap opera. Finally, she announced that she is sick and tired of the so-called “Hungarian debates” which are no more than “dialogues of the deaf.” What is needed is a new, effective mechanism that monitors the affairs of the member states yearly. A Swedish MEP “was beside herself”and warned Kovács to watch his words. “The European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission all say that there are problems with human rights in Hungary. So, then we all lie?” Another MEP called Kovács’s attitude “contemptuous cynicism” and offensive because after all he said that 500 million EU citizens don’t live in a democracy and that the EP commission doesn’t function according to democratic rules. He told Kovács that what’s going on in Hungary at the moment is “the tyranny of the majority.” Kovács was not moved. In his answer he repeated his charges and indicated that as far as the Hungarian government is concerned “the case is closed.”

A few years back Kovács served as government spokesman, but after a while he was replaced by András Giró-Szász. Viktor Orbán remarked on that occasion that “it is time to see some smiles” when the spokesman makes his announcements. The remark was on target. Kovács would resemble Rasputin if he let his very dark beard grow. One has learned not to expect smiles from the man, although on official photos he tries hard. After his removal from his high-profile position he spent some time in the ministry of human resources responsible for, of all things, Roma integration. But last year he was reinstated as “international spokesman.” I don’t know why Zoltán Kovács was considered to be more fit to be a spokesman of the Hungarian government on the international scene than he was at home. His reception in Brussels was not exactly promising.

*Video streaming is now available here:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20150116IPR09871/html/Committee-on-Civil-Liberties-Justice-Home-Affairs-meeting-22-01-2015-0900

Anti-American voices after the reactions to Viktor Orbán’s speech

As promised, today I will write a few words about the worsening U.S.-Hungarian relations, not that they have been all that good over the last few years. Magyar Nemzet, the flagship of the Fidesz media empire, has been publishing one vitriolic editorial after the other. The same is true of Magyar Hírlap and the television stations HírTV and EchoTV. The attack is two-pronged. On the one hand, they accuse the United States of interference in the affairs of other countries and, on the other, they charge the U.S. with uncritical support of Israel all the while unjustly accusing Hungary of anti-Semitism.

Here I have selected three articles to give a sense of recent anti-American sentiment among the Hungarian right. Two of the authors work for Magyar Nemzet. They are Tamás Fricz, who is a regular contributor, and István Lovas, the paper’s correspondent in Brussels. The latter’s “Open Letter to the Chargé of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest” actually appeared on a far-right internet portal Flag Magazin. Both pieces were republished on nemzeti.netwhich aggregates articles from hundreds of far-right online publications. It is a treasure trove for those interested in the activities of the Hungarian far right. The third article appeared in Magyar Hírlap and is from Zsolt Bayer, about whom I wrote several times. His targets are liberals, the foreign press, Jews, and anyone who criticizes the Hungarian government–for example, Ulrike Lunacek, an MEP from Austria. In comparison to some of his other writings this particular piece is tame.

I haven’t said much about István Lovas in the past and I will not have time to do so today. I will say only that he is one of the most unsavory characters in the Hungarian right-wing media, and that is something. Although he has some Jewish ancestors, he is a vicious anti-Semite. His open letter to André Goodfriend was occasioned by the visit of  Ira Forman, who was  appointed by John Kerry to be U.S. Special Envoy of the Office to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism.

Forman gave an interview to MTI, the Hungarian news agency, on July 21 in which among other things he talked about the unfortunate situation that developed over the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust and the memorial the Orbán government insisted on erecting despite strong opposition from Jewish and non-Jewish groups. He stressed that this is not only his personal opinion but also that of the U.S. government. Forman talked about the growing anti-Semitism in Europe ever since the beginning of the 21st century, especially in countries with large Muslim populations. But, he added, in Hungary “there is another kind, the classical 19th and 20th century Nazi type of anti-Semitism.”  And since there is a fairly large Jewish presence in Hungary, his office follows the situation closely.

One can quibble about the accuracy of this statement. After all, we cannot talk about a Nazi type of anti-Semitism in the nineteenth century. Perhaps “political anti-Semitism” might have been a better choice of words. And one might argue that Forman’s description of the Hungarian situation is far too general. But we can definitely say that the Hungarian far right’s political views bear a suspicious resemblance to those of German national socialism. And that the far right is represented in the Hungarian parliament.

It was a few days after this interview that Lovas decided to attack André Goodfriend, who is currently heading the U.S. Embassy in Budapest.  He charged that the embassy is the only one “in the whole world” whose chief activity is “the struggle against anti-Semitism.” Instead of concentrating on Hungary, the U.S. government should worry about the “death of Palestinian infants, children, women, nurses, and doctors.” He described the situation in Gaza as a “massacre.” Then follows a very long list of anti-Semitic incidents in various European countries. At the end he returns to the person of the American diplomat. Without telling the reader what terrible sin André Goodfriend personally committed, he asks him what he is afraid of. “To tell the truth?” And obviously this truth is the reason “why all U.S. embassies must be barricaded and surrounded by guards.” As time goes by they will need more and more barricades and guards.

Tamás Fricz, to the shame of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, is a senior researcher at its Institute of Political Science. He also teaches political science at the University of Miskolc. Interestingly enough, he didn’t major in political science but received a degree in finance and accounting not at a university but at a three-year college. After graduation he enrolled at ELTE but, again, not as a student of political science but of philosophy (1985-1989). In the 1990s he received a doctorate, a title that no longer exists, from the University of Economics, today called Corvinus, but in what field it is hard to tell. That doctorate was then automatically morphed into a Ph.D.

He wrote his anti-American article after the condemnation of Viktor Orbán’s speech by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Fricz opines that The New York Times‘s editorial pretty well reflects the views of the American government. How do they dare call on the European Union to reduce EU subsidies to Hungary or take away her voting rights? “We are amazed.” What would happen if the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung or Le Figaro demanded sanctions from the president against one of the states, he asks? Perhaps the United States should ask for membership in the European Union and pay the contributions member states of the EU have to pay.

Fricz continues his harangue against the United States by pointing to its military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. The United States’s fight against Taliban “terrorism” led nowhere. The same thing happened in Iraq where “they introduced democracy” and the only result is that there is now total chaos in the country. He explains that “free elections, human rights, rights of citizens in themselves are not enough for the establishment of real democracy. Cultural, historical, societal, religious preconditions must be present for the establishment of democracy and we must declare that these preconditions are stronger than the institutional prerequisites.” How true! What Fricz does not seem to recognize is that he just condemned his own country as one of those lands where these preconditions of democracy don’t exist. I doubt that he thought this through.

Fricz and Bayer

Zsolt Bayer’s piece is just as primitive as the others. Bayer is one of the 37 founders of Fidesz. At the time he was a student of Hungarian literature and history at ELTE. He likes to show off his vast knowledge of history, literature, and philosophy. He is a name dropper. In his “Open letter to the New York Times” he starts off with Nietzsche and finishes with Ortega y Gasset, to which he adds: “It was Ortega who wrote these lines. I don’t suppose you [the editors of The New York Times] understand them.”

The gist of the piece is how much better Hungarians are than Americans. Because they did not start wars “under false pretexts”; they did not ignore the verdicts of international organizations; they did not legalize torture; they did not hold prisoners in Guantanamo; they don’t spy on other people, including their allies; and finally the Hungarian head of state does not have the right “to liquidate people” without consulting with the judiciary as the American president has. I assume Bayer is referring here to a speech by Attorney General Eric Holder at Northwest University in 2012, I believe in connection with American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki.

The Ortega quotation is amusing because it has nothing to do with Orbán’s lecture on “illiberalism.” Ortega is considered to be a “liberal philosopher” and therefore it is hard to believe that he thought that “liberals … were old-fashioned people who marched under faded flags.” The quotation is most likely taken out of context because the portion Bayer quotes begins: “Why are they satisfied with the repetition of ready-made ideas?” Moreover, these old-fashioned people can be either liberals or reactionaries. So, clearly, Ortega is talking about non-thinking people in general.

This is how the open letter ends: “Your obese society is marching under the faded flag of liberalism. Without a thought, pitifully. But you must understand one thing: you have no right to interject yourselves into the affairs of other societies and their future. Is that clear?”

In case you think that one ought not to pay much attention to these lunatics, consider the opinion of a man who in his former life was a respected British scholar and who subsequently became the refined voice of Viktor Orbán in the European Parliament–George Schöpflin. This is what he had to say about the possible effects of the Orbán speech: “it might even be that a decade from now the Bǎile Tuşnad speech will be referred to as the audacious and courageous forerunner of necessary change. Of course, it could be that it will not be. But in that case, democracy will be in trouble.”

With friends like these, democracy needs no enemies.

Magyar Nemzet and Népszava on the weekend demonstrations

This morning among the comments I found a couple of references to the biases of Magyar Nemzet and Népszava. The latter was labelled a newspaper of MSZP while someone called Magyar Nemzet Fidesz’s Pravda.

There’s no question that on the front page of Népszava one can read: “Szociáldemokrata napilap.” As far as I know, the paper does get some money from MSZP but not enough to overcome its precarious financial situation. One manifestation of its financial woes: people who used to be regular contributors to the op/ed page are no longer willing to write their columns for nothing. Tamás Mészáros, who for a while disappeared from the pages of Népszava, returned recently, most likely because he feels it his duty to help the paper along. Magyar Nemzet, on the other hand, is doing just fine financially, especially since 2010. The government helps it along with its generous advertising. The number of subscriptions also soared after the formation of the second Orbán government: government offices order multiple copies of the paper, an indirect subsidy to the government’s favorite paper.

Quite a few years back I compared the news of one day as it appeared in Magyar Nemzet and in Népszava. The result? As if these two papers were reporting on two different countries. This time I decided to compare not news items but opinion pieces on the weekend’s political demonstrations. I will refrain from making a judgment on the coverage.

Magyar Nemzet came out with two opinion pieces, one by Zsuzsanna Körmendy and another by Tamás Fricz.  Here I will focus on Körmendy’s piece, entitled “Nasty campaign” (Komisz kampány). Its main theme is that while the Fidesz mass demonstration on Saturday was “demure and balanced,” the opposition’s Sunday demonstration was “nervous.” The prime minister’s speech was inspirational and stirring and the demonstrators peaceful. The opposition, however, made fun of them: some people played an old movement song entitled “Our future is one with the party and the people.” This is how it is: “the domestic right for the opposition is either fascist or communist.” Sometimes both at the same time. “What can we say? If we visit a psychiatric ward we have to suffer with a straight face when the patients loudly call us idiots.”

The Peace March has nothing do with Rákosi but with that great experience in April 2002 when Viktor Orbán made a rousing speech in defense of his government and announced that “the nation cannot be in opposition.” It was at that time that many people “discovered their calling to the cause.”

Körmendy didn’t expect much from the opposition, but “one hasn’t heard that much stupidity in the longest time.” The most amusing stupidity came from Ferenc Gyurcsány who told his audience to vote for the opposition because then the sun will shine. Gábor Fodor talked at length about the twelve points of the revolutionary youth in 1848 and dwelt on the union with Transylvania but quickly switched to the union with Europe. “So, Belgium and Austria became part of our country except these countries don’t know anything about it yet.” The third stupidest speech was delivered by Tímea Szabó who “wanted to overthrow not Viktor Orbán’s government but Viktor Orbán himself.” It was, she adds, “quite embarrassing.”  Bajnai kept talking to those who were not present. “This way there was no possibility that someone would talk back to him.” Mesterházy’s focus was on “Orbán’s dictatorship which harks back to the Horthy regime, feudalism, and Bolshevism.”

A scene from the opposition rally on March 30, 2014 Source: MTI/János Marjai

A scene from the opposition rally on March 30, 2014
Source: MTI/János Marjai

Finally, Körmendy criticizes the patriotism that was “overemphasized by the left-wing speakers.” Fodor was pre-occupied with 1848, Bajnai talked about the well-known song about Lajos Kossuth, Gyurcsány also began his speech with patriotism. Körmendy suspects that “their speeches were written for March 15, which they were too lazy to rewrite.” On the other hand, “we could hear about the essence of patriotism from Vikor Orbán who said: ‘to be Hungarian also means that one is never satisfied with one’s own government, but if necessary, one always stands by it.'”

The socialist and liberal papers downplayed–in fact, practically ignored–the demonstrations. There was only one short editorial in Népszabadság that referred to the two demonstrations. The author’s conclusion is that the voters have already decided and that the two demonstrations made no difference one way or the other. By contrast, Tamás Fricz in Magyar Nemzet views Fidesz’s ability to gather a larger crowd than the opposition psychologically important.

In Népszava only a very short editorial by János Dési, no more than about 200 words, appeared. Dési considers the Sunday demonstration a sign that “the opposition must be taken seriously.” Fidesz underestimates the united opposition which, after all, was able to motivate a large number of people to go out to demonstrate. “The politicians of the opposition know what they are doing.” The organization was good, the speeches were effective and “prove that there is hope. There are many people who want an independent European Hungary.” That’s all I could find.