Tag Archives: terrorism

Viktor Orbán is back: his views on migrants, NGOs, and the Trump administration

In the last two days Viktor Orbán gave a short speech and a longer interview. He delivered his speech at the swearing-in ceremony of the newly recruited “border hunters.” It was exclusively about the dangers migrants pose to Hungary and Hungarians. The interview was conducted by one the “approved” state radio reporters and ranged over many topics. I decided to focus on two: the Orbán government’s current attitude toward non-governmental organizations and the prime minister’s thoughts on the coming Trump administration.

The migrant question

A few days ago we had quite a discussion about the Hungarian penchant for viewing Hungary as the defender of the West, the protector of Christianity during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. In the last few decades Hungarian historians have done a tremendous amount of work on Hungarian-Ottoman relations, and today we have a very different view of this whole period than we had even fifty years ago. First of all, scholars no longer believe the traditional story of Hungary as a bulwark of European civilization against the Porte. Yet the traditional interpretation of Hungary’s role prevails, and since the beginning of the refugee crisis it has been recounted repeatedly, largely because the Orbán government can use the historical parallel to its advantage.

It was therefore no surprise that Viktor Orbán’s address to the border hunters began with this theme: “you today swore to defend the borders of Hungary, the security of Hungarian homes. With this act you also defend Europe, just as has been customary around here in the last 500 years. To protect ourselves and also Europe: this has been the fate of the Hungarian nation for centuries,” he told his audience.

Although this is certainly not the first time that Viktor Orbán has announced that, as far as he is concerned, all those millions who in the last two years or even before arrived on the territory of the European Union are “illegal immigrants” who “cannot be allowed to settle in Europe,” this is perhaps the clearest indication that for him there is no such thing as a refugee crisis or, for that matter, refugees. No one can force any nation “for the sake of human rights to commit national suicide.” Among the new arrivals are terrorists, and “innocent people have lost their lives because of the weakness of their countries.” In brief, he blames western governments for terrorist acts committed on their soil. “They would have been better off if they had followed the Hungarian solution, which is workable and useful.” In brief, if it depended on Viktor Orbán, all foreigners would be sent back to where they came from.

The rest of the speech was nothing more than pious lies, so I’ll move on to the interview.

Transparency and non-governmental organizations

Let me start by reminding readers that, in the 2016 Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum, among 138 countries Hungary ranked ahead of only Madagascar and Venezuela in the category of government transparency. Yet Orbán in his interview this morning gave a lengthy lecture on “the right of every Hungarian citizen to know exactly of every public figure who he is, and who pays him.”

But first, let’s backtrack a bit. The initial brutal attack by Szilárd Németh against the NGO’s, in which he threatened to expel them from Hungary, was somewhat blunted a day later (yesterday) when János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, assured the Hungarian public that Németh had gotten a bit carried away. The government is only contemplating making these organizations’ finances more transparent, although he added that “the national side” must feel sympathy for Németh’s outburst because it is very annoying that these NGOs, with the help of foreigners, attack the Hungarian government. Németh was told to retract his statement, and for a few hours those who had worried about the very existence of these watchdogs over the activities of the Orbán government could be relieved.

This morning, however, Zoltán Kovács, one of the prime minister’s many communication directors, made an appearance on ATV’s “Start.” He attacked these organizations from another angle. He claimed that they have been assisting migrants and thereby helping terrorists to pour into Europe. If possible, that sounds like an even greater threat to me than Németh’s unconstitutional suggestions regarding the expulsion of NGOs.

So, let’s see what Orbán is planning to do. The reporter asked about “the work of civic organizations that promote globalization.”  Orbán indicated that he finds these NGOs to be stooges of the United States. During the Obama administration, he said, the United States actively tried to influence Hungarian domestic affairs. “Some of the methods used were most primitive,” he remarked.

He is hoping very much that in the future nothing like that will happen. His duty as a prime minister is “to defend the country” against these attempts, but all Hungarian citizens have the right to know everything about NGO’s, especially the ones that receive money from abroad. The people ought to know whether these organizations receive money as a gift with no strings attached or whether there are certain “expectations.” “And if not, why not?” So, what Orbán wants is “transparency.” This demand from Viktor Orbán, whose government is one of the most secretive in the whole world, is steeped in irony.

Viktor Orbán on the future Trump administration

Although initially Orbán tried to be cautious, repeating that it is still too early to say anything meaningful, he is hoping for “a change of culture” after the inauguration. This “change of culture” for Orbán means first and foremost that the Trump administration will not raise its voice in defense of democratic values. Earlier, Orbán didn’t dare to attack the NGOs across the board, and most likely he would have thought twice about doing so if Hillary Clinton had succeeded Obama. With Trump, he feels liberated. Whether he is right or not we will see.

What kind of an American administration does he expect? A much better one than its predecessor. The Obama administration was “globalist,” while Trump’s will have a national focus. It will be a “vagány” government. “Vagány” is one of those words that are hard to translate, but here are a few approximations: tough, brave, maverick, determined, and fearless. Trump’s men “will not beat around the bush, they will not complicate things.”

Orbán also has a very high opinion of the members of Trump’s cabinet because “they got to where they are not because of their connections. They are self-made men.” These people don’t ever talk about whom they know but only about what they did before entering politics. “They all have achieved something in their lives; especially, they made quite a few billions. This is what gives them self-confidence.” These people don’t need any political training. “They are not timid beginners. They have ideas.”

Most of us who are a bit more familiar with the past accomplishments of Trump’s cabinet members have a different assessment of their readiness, at least in most cases, to take over the running of the government. Orbán, just like Trump, is wrong in thinking that because someone was a successful businessman he will be, for example, an outstanding secretary of state. Put it this way, Rex Tillerson’s performance at his confirmation hearing yesterday only reinforced my doubts about his ability to run the State Department.

Orbán might also be disappointed with the incoming administration’s “new culture,” which he now believes to be a great asset in future U.S.-Hungarian relations. What if all those virtues of the tough, plain-talking, down-to-earth businessmen Orbán listed turn out to hinder better U.S.-Hungarian relations instead of promoting them? What if those resolute guys in the State Department decide that Viktor Orbán is an annoying fellow who has become too big for his britches? What if the strong anti-Russian sentiment of Secretary of Defense James Mattis prevails and the U.S. government gets suspicious of Vladimir Putin’s emissary in the European Union? Any of these things could easily happen.

January 13, 2017

Terrorists in Hungary? Three days to the referendum

Who would have thought that almost a year after the Paris terrorist attacks the Hungarian media would be full of the old story of Salah Abdeslam, who made several trips to Hungary to pick up fellow conspirators returning from Syria? Abdeslam’s job was to travel to Greece, Italy, and Hungary to transport the terrorists who had taken advantage of the mass migration from Turkey and northern Africa.

The Hungarian anti-terrorist unit knew nothing about the trips Abdeslam made to Hungary until the Belgian federal prosecutor announced on December 4, 2015 that Abdeslam had twice gone to the Hungarian capital sometime before September 9, where he picked up two men whom he supplied with fake Belgian IDs. The two men were subsequently identified as Mohamed Belkaïd and Najim Laachraoui, both killed in the police raid following the terrorist attack at the Brussels Airport. This bare bones story was then embellished in Budapest thanks to the combined efforts of the Hungarian secret police, the incompetent MSZP chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, and members of the Hungarian government. It became a tale of high drama, serving the government’s anti-refugee propaganda. The most unreliable story came from János Lázár, who tried to convince the public that Abdeslam “visited the Keleti station, where he recruited a team from among those who refused to be registered.” Oh, yes, this is precisely how one collects instant terrorists.

Since early December of last year we heard almost nothing about Abdeslam’s trips to Hungary. Then yesterday Magyar Idők, after receiving a hot tip, offered a new take on the old story. It was in Budapest, they wrote, that the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks were hatched.

fear

From the style of Magyar Idők’s article it is pretty clear that the paper received the information it made public yesterday straight from TEK and other secret service agencies, most likely on the order of the “propaganda ministry” of Antal Rogán. The Hungarian authorities know about three trips Abdeslam made between August 30 and September 17, but the paper gives details only of the first and the last trip.

During the first trip on August 30 Abdeslam picked up Bilal Hadfi, who later died in the attack at Stade de France, and Chakib Akrouh, who was killed during the police raid in Saint-Denis. The two crossed the Serbian-Hungarian border and moved on to Kiskőrös, where they purchased cell phones that they allegedly left behind. The Hungarian authorities claim that they later found these cell phones and “ascertained that on the basis on the information available on them it was the Islamic State’s Syrian center that directed the operation.” This meeting, like the others, was organized to provide fake ID cards or passports to the arrivals and to transport them to Belgium and later to France.

Magyar Idők describes Abdeslam’s third visit to Budapest in a separate article, the title of which is enticing: “The Paris mass murderers were waiting and organizing in Budapest,” giving the false impression that the details of the Paris attacks were worked out in the Hungarian capital. According to the Hungarian sources, Abdeslam arrived on September 17. His co-conspirators–Omar Mostefai, Samy Amimour, and Foued Mohamed-Aggad, who all died in the Bataclan terrorist attack–had been waiting for him for at least a week. Shortly after Abdeslam got to Budapest, he turned around and drove the newly arrived terrorists westward, most likely to Belgium.

Magyar Idők says nothing about the second trip, but I assume it occurred shortly before September 9, as the Belgian federal prosecutor stated. Thus, seven terrorists who subsequently were involved in the French and Belgian terrorist attacks traveled through Hungary.

Szilárd Németh, the Fidesz deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, announced his decision to call the committee members together to look at the documents the national security authorities have on Abdeslam’s visits to Hungary. While he was at it, Németh said that the secret service should also investigate those civic organizations that are being financed by George Soros because some of the Hungarian NGOs are mentioned by name on the DC Leaks site. Some of these so-called independent organizations are actually heavily involved in anti-government activities, he claimed.

At first blush it would seem that dredging up this old story serves no purpose save to frighten the population further and boost turnout for the referendum. But Népszabadság learned that a new investigation is underway. The paper was told that in the last few days Belgian and French anti-terrorist units have been working with TEK, the police, and members of the prosecutor’s office in Budapest in search of local connections to the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Apparently, they are looking for people who in 2015 assisted at least ten terrorist suspects to escape detection in Budapest and who were instrumental in smuggling them abroad. The authorities naturally are tight-mouthed about the investigation, which has been going on for weeks. But the paper seems to know that the French-Belgian-Hungarian investigative team identified and arrested several people who “belonged to Abdeslam’s circle and who were responsible for the travel arrangements of other Islamic terrorists recently [közelmúltban],” which indicates that the cases might be of recent vintage. This information was later reaffirmed by György Bakondi, Viktor Orbán’s personal adviser on domestic security.

I wonder how much we will ever learn about these alleged new developments. The parliamentary committees concerned with national security and police affairs have not yet been informed of the ongoing investigation. And whatever information the government shares with the public will undoubtedly be received with a large dose of well-founded skepticism. The Hungarian public is already suspicious of the timing of the information leaked by Magyar Idők as well as the release of select details of the super-secret French-Belgian-Hungarian investigation.

September 29, 2016

Explosion in Budapest: Skeptical Hungarians suspect foul play

Last night around 10:30 there was an explosion in front of an empty storefront at 2-4 Teréz körút. Two policemen, a man and a woman, both in their twenties, were seriously injured. According to early reports, the explosion took place inside the store, but eventually it was ascertained that the detonation of the anti-personnel nail bomb occurred outside. Hundreds of nails have been found nearby.

A few minutes after the explosion / Photo by László, a reader of Index

A few minutes after the explosion / Photo by László, a reader of Index

In no time, hundreds of policemen surrounded the area and evacuated the residents of the building. The police went from building to building, from apartment to apartment all night in the area, requesting information from the inhabitants. Some people near the scene of the crime reported a very powerful blast that did considerable damage to nearby buildings.

A demolition expert shared his knowledge of nail bombs with the public. On the basis of pictures of the crime scene he ascertained that this particular bomb was a small, most likely home-made device, adding that this was the kind of explosive device used in the Brussels airport and metro station that killed 31 people and wounded 250. Nail bombs are used mostly in the Middle East (including Israel), in the United States, and lately in Western Europe. In Hungary no such apparatus has ever been used. After this information, it was no surprise that people thought that whatever happened on Teréz kőrút was likely an act of terrorism.

Another expert, István Gyarmati, a Hungarian diplomat and political scientist specializing in national security issues, found it “odd that the victims were policemen and only policemen.” He found it equally strange that “they were only wounded” and not killed. So, it was inevitable that rumors began circulating on Facebook and in comments to newspaper articles about the possible perpetrators. This was especially the case since, until late tonight, the police refused to share any information with the public about the case.

This morning 24.hu neatly summarized the “facts,” which stoked public suspicion. The paper found it strange that only two policemen were hurt and that the first two people to arrive on the scene happened to be policemen in civilian clothes. Within minutes 100 policemen arrived in armored personnel carriers. Pieces of information coming from the policemen at the scene were contradictory and, most importantly, 12 hours after the explosion no official information was available.

Clearly, the reporter for 24.hu suspected that the explosion was an inside job. And he is not alone. No matter what the police investigation of the incident uncovers, a large segment of the Hungarian population will believe that the whole affair was staged by the Orbán government to make sure that the refugee referendum on October 2 succeeds. This shows the depth of suspicion that surrounds the Orbán government.

As the day went by more information was received from those who witnessed the bloody scene. MTV’s M1 station learned that a still unidentified man placed a package or brief case on the sidewalk seconds before the explosion. HVG learned that the two young policemen were actually the specific targets of the assailant. Employees of a restaurant selling gyros nearby claimed to see a white-skinned man around age 40 wearing a white hat. All sorts of stories were circulating, which only added to the suspicion of chicanery.

Around 2:00 DK demanded that the police and the government clear the air and tell the public by 6:00 p.m. what they have learned so far about the incident because “many people don’t find it impossible, in fact they believe it to be likely, that the Orbán government is behind” the alleged terrorist act. About the same time Bence Tuzson, undersecretary in charge of government communication at the prime minister’s office, told MTI, the Hungarian telegraphic agency, that by tonight the police will have enough information to inform the public of the details of the case. Népszabadság was pleased that Tuzson refrained from frightening people with terrorism. On the other hand, Georg Spöttle, another suspicious expert close to the Hungarian government who was apparently at one point a member of the German police force, announced that according to German law all crime using a detonating device is considered to be a terrorist act.

At last, around 9:00 p.m., Károly Papp, chief of the whole Hungarian police force, accompanied by the head of the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office (Központi Nyomozó Főügyészség) made an official announcement. Papp said that the assailant’s targets were the two policemen, adding an important sentence to the announcement: “he viewed the attack on these individuals as an assault on the whole police force.” A manhunt began for a 20- to 25-year-old man about 170 cm tall with a light-colored fisherman’s hat who wore a dark denim jacket, blue jeans, and white sneakers. The police are ready to pay 10 million forints to anyone who can provide information leading to the arrest of the suspect.

Although Police Chief Papp didn’t call the incident a terrorist act, there are a couple of sentences in his comments that are worrisome. He announced that tightened security measures have been introduced at the Ferenc Liszt International Airport, at border crossings, and on all international trains. A well-known journalist on Facebook found it troubling that Papp considers the attack on these two individuals to be an attack on the whole police force, which can be interpreted as a terrorist act. If that is the case, the government might introduce a state of emergency for the next two weeks, which would include the day the referendum is being held. That would mean a ban on demonstrations planned by opposition parties.

To these questions we have no answers at the moment. I’m pretty certain that a lone individual is responsible for the crime, but what this man’s motivation was only time will tell. Skeptical Hungarians on Facebook, however, are certain that we will never know the truth because whatever it is will be made a state secret for at least thirty years. That’s Orbán’s Hungary for you.

September 25, 2016

Hot topics of the day: Budaházy and Ráhel Orbán

The Hungarian media was preoccupied with two topics today. The first was the reaction to the stiff sentences handed out in the case of György Budaházy and his co-conspirators, who were convicted of terrorist activities. The other was the recent discovery of mysterious “negotiations” undertaken by Ráhel Orbán, eldest child of the prime minister, and her husband, István Tiborcz, in Bahrain.

The day after the trial

As one could anticipate, the Hungarian extreme right is outraged. Jobbik’s official internet news site is full of stories of the “seventeen patriots” who were in the forefront of the “national resistance” against the traitorous Gyurcsány government. What Budaházy and his friends did in 2006-2007 was a historic act. László Toroczkai, an old friend of Budaházy who today is the Jobbik mayor of Ásotthalom at the Serbian-Hungarian border, is demanding that Fidesz take a stand on the issue.

But Fidesz refuses to make any comments on the case. The closest approximation to a comment was an opinion piece by Zsolt Bayer that appeared today in Magyar Hírlap. Bayer’s memories of terrorist acts committed by the Budaházy gang, I suspect, are purposely vague. He remembers “some kind of a video of some kind of an explosion,” but basically he can’t imagine that this gentle man could possibly commit such atrocities. He is just hoping that there is “real evidence.”

In connection with the case, Bayer poses a number of questions: “Were they really the ones who threw Molotov cocktails into the houses of politicians? Were they the ones who beat up Csintalan?” And don’t forget, “the body is missing that lay on the street in Olaszliszka* as well as the one that was lifted from the lake in Kaposvár**.” Finally, Bayer says, comes the most important question: if Budaházy received 13 years, then what about Ferenc Gyurcsány and Péter Gergényi, police chief of Budapest at the time of the 2006 disturbances? After all, they are “the two most notorious miscreants of the age.” This question must be asked because “without Gyurcsány, Gergényi (and Draskovics, Szilvásy, and Bajnai) there is no Budaházy.” In brief, the guilty ones are not Budaházy and his fellow terrorists but the governments of Gyurcsány and Bajnai. I take Bayer’s attitude toward the Budaházy case to be a reasonably close approximation to the views of the Fidesz leadership.

András Schiffer’s Facebook note “Budaházy 13 years, how many for shooting out eyes” drew appreciative comments from the right, including Fidesz sympathizers. Viktor Orbán has been trying for years to implicate Gyurcsány in the “police brutality” during the 2006 street disturbances. Up to now they have been unsuccessful. They couldn’t come up with anything to tie Gyurcsány to the police action at the time. The decision to deal with the situation was entirely in the hands of the police chief and his close associates. And even at that level, although the Orbán government brought charges against Gergényi, they couldn’t prove their case.

According to Jobbik and Fidesz supporters, what happened on the streets in 2006 was “police terror,” pure and simple. They therefore equate the “terrorism” of Gyurcsány with the terrorist acts of Budaházy and his companions. The other side, by contrast, remains convinced that the disturbances were an attempt to overthrow the legitimate government of the country and that Fidesz politicians were in touch with the leaders of the mob that was supposed spark a general revolt in the population. It just didn’t work out. András Schiffer, who is allegedly a democratic politician, sided with the extreme right and Fidesz on this issue. It is no wonder that the liberals and socialists are outraged.

The most eloquent condemnation of Schiffer came from Árpád W. Tóta in HVG, according to whom “András Schiffer took a deep breath and sank to the deep where Krisztina Morvai*** resides.” Schiffer should know the difference between an accident that happens during the dispersion of a crowd and premeditated criminal acts committed in a conspiratorial manner. Tóta admits that he never had a good opinion of Schiffer, but he never thought that Schiffer was wired into the same circuit as Krisztina Morvai. I can only agree with Tóta.

Ráhel Orbán and her husband in Bahrain

I must say that Ráhel Orbán, who by now is 27 years old, gets herself into a lot of trouble, unlike her brother Gáspár and younger sister Sára. One reason is that she appears to be interested in politics. Moreover, it seems that father and daughter work together on projects. As we know, Ráhel is interested in the entertainment and tourist industry. A few months ago there was a lot of talk about the government’s centralization of the industry under an umbrella organization in which Ráhel might play a prominent role. But, and this is yesterday’s scoop, it seems that Ráhel might also have been given an unofficial diplomatic assignment.

444.hu discovered an article on the website of Bahrain’s National Oil & Gas Authority (NOGA) with accompanying photos showing the Minister of Energy Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza, Ahmed Ali Al Sharyan, the general-secretary of NOGA, Ms. Ráhel Orbán, mistakenly identified as the wife of the prime minister of Hungary, and Balázs Garamvölgyi, the Hungarian consul in Bahrain. István Tiborcz, also in the picture, was not identified in the caption. This visit took place in September 2015. According to the article

They discussed a number of global oil and gas market and energy issues (…) investment opportunities and expanding economic and trade ties between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the Republic of Hungary. They discussed the benefit to the national economy in both friendly countries from improved cooperation.

Ms. Orban and her accompanying delegation expressed their deep appreciation to H.E. Dr. Mirza and thanked him for the warm reception and issues discussed, which were aimed at creating a sustainable business environment and helping build new trade and investment bridges between the two countries that will enhance the economic interests of both. They wished every success to the Kingdom for further development and prosperity.

The press department of the prime minister’s office had no information on Ráhel Orbán’s trip to Bahrain. A few hours later, however, Ráhel Orbán in her usual arrogant style released a statement saying that “between September 17 and 20, 2015 my husband and I paid a private visit to Barhrain [sic]. We paid for all expenses. All other claims are lies,” I guess even NOGA’s press release. Diplomacy is not her strength. Father and daughter express themselves forcefully. Of course, this answer is no answer at all. No one claimed that it was the Hungarian government that paid for their trip. The issue is her involvement in negotiations with Bahrain’s minister of energy.

bahrein1

Panic must have set in government circles after the revelations of 444.hu and word must have reached the politicians in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, because by now the objectionable text about negotiations has disappeared and has been replaced by the following:

Minister of Energy His Excellency Dr. Abdul Hussain bin Ali Mirza received in his office at the National Oil and Gas Authority (NOGA) on a courtesy visit, the daughter of Prime Minister of the Republic of Hungary Ms. Rahel Orban, accompanied by the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Hungary to the Kingdom of Bahrain Mr. Balazs Garamvolgyi, in the presence of Dr. Ahmed Ali Al Sharyan, the NOGA General Secretary.

H.E. Dr. Mirza welcomed the distinguished visitors in the Kingdom of Bahrain and gave a brief overview of the economy of Bahrain.

Ms. Orban and the accompanying guests expressed their deep appreciation for H.E. Dr. Mirza, and thanked him for the warm reception.

They wished every success to the Kingdom for further development and prosperity.

Journalists at Index had a lot of fun with Balázs Garamvölgyi, who gave “probably the best mini-interview of his life” because he conveniently forgot what he was doing in Bahrain. As he said, “it was last September and I really no longer remember.” But one thing HírTV managed to learn: Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, had no knowledge of any official trip undertaken by Ráhel and her husband to Bahrain.

István Tiborcz definitely needs a new suit and Ráhel a new dress

István Tiborcz definitely needs a new suit and Ráhel a new dress

The latest piece of news is that one month after Ráhel Orbán’s visit to Bahrain a delegation from MOL, an international oil and gas company headquartered in Budapest, paid a visit to Abdul Hussein bin Ali Mirza, minister and head of the National Oil and Gas Authority. Garamvölgyi, who seems to have miraculously recovered from amnesia, insists that the two visits had absolutely nothing to do with one another. Of course not. The author of the blog “Most és Itt” (Now and Here) told this story in the form of a fairy tale (“The little royal princess Ráhel in Bahrain”). Most adults no longer believe in fairy tales just as we don’t believe that the two events had nothing to do with one another. Let’s finish this story with the customary last line in Hungarian fairy tales: “Itt a vége, fuss el véle.” Here is the end, run with it.

—-

*Olaszliszka was the town where a group of Roma killed a man driving through town because they thought that a little girl had been killed by his car.

**A reference to the brutal murder of a little boy whose body was thrown into a lake near Kaposvár in 2012.

***Krisztina Morvai began her career as a liberal civil rights lawyer but eventually ended up as a fiercely anti-Semitic member of Jobbik. Currently she represents the party in the EU Parliament.

August 31, 2016

The first convicted Hungarian terrorist: György Budaházy

Sympathizers of the extreme right are outraged. György Budaházy and 15 of his co-conspirators were found guilty of terrorist activities committed during 2006 and 2007. Yes, ten years ago, and this is not the final verdict. Both sides are appealing. The prosecution claims the sentences were too lenient. The defense wants the case dismissed.

The judicial history of cases against Budaházy is so complicated that it would take days to trace their course up and down the legal system for more than a decade. The courts just don’t know what to do with terrorists/heroes. Thus I can’t be as confident as Ágnes Vadai of the Demokratikus Koalíció when she expressed her satisfaction with the first and only verdict against far-right terrorists in Hungary. It’s quite possible that within a year all the members of the Arrows of Hungarians, the movement established by Budaházy, will be acquitted.

Budaházy is the offspring of a family whose roots go back to the thirteenth century. By now, however, he has little else but his name to distinguish him. The stories of his renowned ancestors fighting for the homeland might have been his justification for exulting tradition and having a mission to restore Hungary to its former greatness.

He became first known in 2002 when a disappointed Viktor Orbán made remarks insinuating that the election had been stolen by the socialist/liberal parties. The electoral law stipulated the destruction of the ballots after a certain period of time after which Budaházy, claiming fraud, organized a blockade of the Elizabeth Bridge across the Danube. The inexperienced police force must have spent at least four hours trying to remove Budaházy and his handful of followers. Nothing happened to him then.

From that point on, Budaházy continued to taunt the authorities. He was arrested and let go several times until, in January 2008, he was charged with incitement against the democratic order as a result of letters published in the infamous kuruc.info, a website associated with Jobbik. In them, he outlined how to build barricades and argued how important it is to have bullet-proof vests. He asserted that “a patriotic dictatorship is much better than a democracy that squanders the future,” among many other equally compelling slogans. He envisaged “commando units that will destroy the enemies,” he urged people to blockade the capital, he talked about the stones and Molotov cocktails that would ensure the patriots’ victory over the people’s enemies. He told the democratically elected politicians and officials “to vanish if they want to save their lives.” Parliament, he wrote, should be forcibly dissolved. Once the democratic regime collapsed, a “sacred leadership,” whatever that means, would be established. At that point the presiding judge admitted that Budaházy overstepped the boundaries of what is acceptable as free speech, but, after all, he said, his calls for the overthrow of the government remained unanswered. As I said at the time, “that to me means that he is not guilty because he wasn’t successful.”

The appellate court judge agreed with me. He overruled the verdict and ordered the proceedings to begin anew. This time a different judge found Budaházy guilty and sentenced him to a one-year suspended sentence. Another appeal followed, which upheld the lower court’s decision. Budaházy’s lawyer at this point requested a review of the case from Hungary’s highest court, the Kúria, which in June 2012 acquitted him.

But Budaházy’s verbal calls to action were soon enough followed by deeds. He and his associates used Molotov cocktails against the party headquarters of the socialist and liberal parties and the homes of several members of the government. The Arrows of Hungarians also set fire to a club called Red Csepel, the Broadway ticket office, and two bars frequented by gays. They blew up an ATM in Székesfehérvár to get money for their endeavors. They also severely beat Sándor Csintalan, a former MSZP politician, who at the time worked for HírTV. The attackers kept yelling: “you damned filthy Jew.” They did all that to raise the level of fear and force the government to resign.

Because of these criminal acts the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office (Központi Nyomozó Főügyészség) in September 2010 charged Budaházy and 16 others with terrorism, causing bodily harm, and coercion. Today’s verdict was in connection with this case. Of the 17 defendants two received suspended sentences. The sentences for the other 15 were harsh. Budaházy himself got 13 years without the possibility of parole, of which he will have to serve 11 years since he has already spent two years, on different occasions, in custody.

The severity of the punishment stunned the spectators, mostly extreme right-wing sympathizers. When Budaházy appeared in the courtroom, he was greeted with frenetic applause. In turn, he greeted his sympathizers with “Szabadság” (Freedom). (Ironically, that was the greeting used by the members of the communist party in the early years of the Rákosi regime.) After the verdict was announced several people cried.

The sympathizers greet György Source: Népszabadság / Photo: Imre Földi

The sympathizers greet György Budaházy
Source: Népszabadság / Photo: Imre Földi

During the trial the accused men denied their guilt, but some made self-incriminating statements or gave accusatory testimony against others. Budaházy’s defense lawyer, István Szikinger, in his statement, downplayed the actions of his defendant, claiming that “happy is the country which has such terrorists.” He charged that during the investigative phase several instances of malfeasance occurred, and he wants Budaházy acquitted of all charges. The prosecution, which is appealing for a harsher sentence, sees the situation very differently. According to the prosecutor, a strict military hierarchy existed within the movement in which the members followed the orders of Budaházy.

György Budaházy waiting for the verdict Source Népszabadság / Photo: Imre Földi

György Budaházy waiting for the verdict
Source Népszabadság / Photo: Imre Földi

Jobbik, several of whose politicians were present at the reading of the verdict, is outraged. The official Jobbik statement claims that the verdict is the greatest shame of the last 26 years. Budaházy is convicted, but “none of communist leaders of the Biszku-type,* the culprits of the robber privatization, corrupt politicians, or Ferenc Gyurcsány and his friends who are responsible for the police terror of 2006 ended up behind bars.”

In its accusation of Ferenc Gyurcsány Jobbik was not alone. András Schiffer, former co-chairman of LMP, wrote on his Facebook page: “Budaházy 13 years. How many for shooting out eyes?” This accusation of “shooting out eyes” became Fidesz’s battle cry, repeated over and over until it finally stuck. The “shooting out eyes” supposedly happened when the police “attacked peaceful demonstrators” with rubber bullets. The “battle” that was fought on the streets of Budapest was anything but peaceful. More inexperienced policemen were injured than so-called peaceful demonstrators. And yes, at one point the police used rubber bullets, but only one person suffered an eye injury as a result.

A terrorist, a poster child for injustice, a hero. Is it any wonder that the Hungarian courts can’t find their way in the Budaházy case?

 

*Béla Biszku was a hardline communist who, after the failed revolution of 1956, served as minister of interior. In 2011 he was charged with war crimes. He was accused of failing to protect civilians in wartime. In addition, he was held responsible for ordering the security forces to open fire on crowds. He died in 2014 while his lawyer was appealing his sentence in the first instance. I wrote in more detail about Biszku’s case earlier.

August 30, 2016

Does Viktor Orbán really want a common European army?

It often happens, especially at Tusványos in a more relaxed atmosphere, that Viktor Orbán’s most interesting remarks come after his speech is over and when he is more willing to answer questions. While the Hungarian prime minister couched his message about the future of Europe in language that needed a great deal of parsing, his answer to the question about the military security of Europe was straightforward. He told his audience that he had changed his position on the matter of a common European army. He used to think that the existence of NATO provided an ample defense umbrella for Central Europe, but now, after Brexit, “the military strength of the continent has substantially decreased.” In these circumstances “we must create a European army that would be a truly common force with actual joint regiments, with a common language of command, with common structure.”

This new EU army would have to defend the continent from all threats coming from the east and the south. Orbán added that the establishment of such an army is also important because of the risk of terrorism and the migratory invasion. The migrants continue their efforts to gain entrance to the EU because they realize that “Europe is weak.”

Orbán’s answer was astonishing. Here is a politician who has been working hard for years to loosen the ties between the European Union and its member states and who has resisted all attempts at a level of cooperation that might lead one day to a United States of Europe. And now he comes forth with an idea that would take away the right of individual states to be in charge of their own defense. The Hungarian government put a great deal of money and effort into the country’s military academy, the Ludovika, intended to boost national pride and Hungary’s military tradition. And now this nationalistic prime minister suggests putting Hungarians into the common uniform of a European army, abandoning the uniform that was fashioned after 1990. In the newly refurbished and reorganized Hungarian military academy, cadets would have to study military science, most likely in English, and the Hungarian enlisted men would also have to learn some English, just as their predecessors who served in the common (k. und k.) army of the Dual Monarchy had to learn some German. Or perhaps, even worse, there would be no national military academies at all. Coming from Viktor Orbán, the whole idea is extraordinary.

To change these traditional uniform?

Is Orbán willing to change these traditional uniforms

to something jazzy like this?

to something jazzy like this?

Just to make myself clear, I would welcome the establishment of such an army. I embrace almost all suggestions for closer ties among member states because the current structure of the European Union is inadequate to its tasks. Moreover, I do think that Europe must assume a larger share of the cost of its own defense. As it stands, the United States spent 3.3% of its GDP on the military in 2015. NATO’s European members are supposed to spend at least 2.0% of their GDP on the military, but with the exception of Poland all member states consistently fall short. Therefore, strengthening the European forces either by individual states or by the formation of a common army should be welcomed. I just can’t see how this latest brainchild of Orbán is consistent with his overall attitude toward Brussels.

I also have some problems with Orbán’s justification for his change of heart on the matter of European defense. He said that it was the United Kingdom’s departure from the Union that drove home to him the necessity of a common army. It is true that the U.K. has a more robust military than the countries of the continent, but I don’t see what Brexit has to do with the security of the EU. The U.K. will remain part of NATO. Its leaving the EU makes not the slightest difference as far as the defense of Europe is concerned.

I’m also not sure what this army would be used for. György Nógrádi, the government’s favorite “security expert,” who listened to the speech live, interpreted the common military to be a force that is necessary to keep the migrants out, “if necessary not by peaceful means.” It would also be useful to know what Orbán means by the geographic designation of “East.” Could it possibly mean Russia or he is simply thinking of migrants coming through Bulgaria? Not at all clear.

Finally, in my opinion, he confused the matter mightily when he told his audience that the countries of the Visegrád 4–the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia–“are working on establishing a common army of their own which would not be part of the European common army.” Wow, the more the merrier? What would a separate V4 army do? I have searched in vain for some reasonable explanation of why the V4 would need such an army, but I can’t come up with anything.

It is typical of the pettiness of Hungarian political discourse that the two largest parties on the democratic side, MSZP and DK, began arguing over which of them first came up with the idea of a common army. I can’t pick the winner. All I know is that about eight months ago, in November of 2015, MSZP submitted a parliamentary proposal for such an army which was ignored by the Fidesz-KDNP majority, as all such proposals are. At that time Lajos Kósa, the leader of the Fidesz caucus, explained that such a proposal was meaningless. “Europe has a common army,” NATO.

Actually, the idea of a European army has been around for a long time. As early as 2009 the European Union had a plan for such an army, which was approved by the European Parliament. According to General Zoltán Szenes, professor of military science, this plan included a “synchronized military force,” which meant that all member nations would have had to relinquish their rights as far as defense was concerned and consign them to the center. The European Union would have done the recruiting, would have provided training, and would have financed the force. Naturally, nothing came of it. Moreover, a year later, in 2010, Viktor Orbán would have vetoed the plan if it had ever gotten to the European Council. But now he is all for it. At least this is what he says. Perhaps he’s afraid that his choice for the U.S. presidency will abandon both Europe and NATO and that Europe will have to fend for itself militarily.

July 25, 2016

The Orbán government’s latest: jail sentences for encryption software developers

Nearly a week ago Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, and István Simicskó, minister of defense, announced that the government had decided to adopt an “anti-terrorist action plan.” Since the implementation of such a plan involves changes in some of the cardinal laws and Fidesz-KDNP no longer has two-thirds of the seats in parliament, the government needs some support from the opposition parties. On such occasions the government calls for “five-party conferences.”

This time, unlike in the past, all of the opposition parties represented in parliament– MSZP, LMP, and Jobbik–indicated that they would attend. MSZP demanded receipt of the proposals in a timely fashion because the Fidesz government is notorious for informing the opposition parties of its plans only hours before they are supposed to make decisions.

Although the opposition parties had only one day to consider the “action plan,” all five parties showed up at the meeting at the ministry of the interior. Zsolt Molnár, chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, and Tamás Harangozó, deputy chairman of the committee on the military and police, represented MSZP. András Schiffer attended on behalf of LMP, and Ádám Mirkóczki spoke for Jobbik. In addition to Sándor Pintér, several government officials were present as well as the deputy director of TEK, the anti-terrorist center created in 2010. The legal brain of the government side, Gergely Gulyás, was also there.

Among the topics on the agenda was the “strengthening of TEK,” which according to all accounts needs serious improvement since “body building” takes priority over brains and counter-terrorism skills. A couple of weeks ago the usually well-informed Index learned that foreign secret service organizations are mistrustful of the organization because of its director’s total ignorance of the profession. According to Népszabadság, there might be other reasons for the mistrust: they are afraid that information passed on to the Hungarian authorities might end up in inappropriate, possibly Russian, hands.

In addition of the reorganization of TEK, the government is planning to set up a new anti-terrorist center with a staff of 130 whose job would be to analyze data coming from the various (at least four) national security offices. The government also wants the right to check bank accounts.

One of the most controversial proposals would have given the government the right to sentence anyone who uses an app to ensure the secrecy/privacy of smart phone conversations. From the little we learned from the generally upbeat descriptions of the meeting by opposition politicians, they managed to convince the government that only the manufacturers of such software would be criminally liable.

The government wouldn’t yield on its stricture on mass meetings. In case of a threat of terrorism, no mass meeting of any sort could be held.

Since we don’t know much more about the outcome of the meeting, I will spend the rest of this post dealing with the shocking ignorance of Hungarian government officials when it comes to the world of high tech. I became suspicious months ago when Sándor Pintér, formerly national commissioner of the police, revealed his total ignorance of burner phones. To a journalist’s question about the use of burner phones (throw-away phones in Hungarian) as a way of avoiding detection, Pintér’s answer was: “all cell phones can be thrown away.” Well, that’s true, but an ordinary cell phone can be traced back to the owner of that phone whereas the user of a burner phone remains anonymous. Moreover, who wants to chuck an expensive iPhone when you can buy a burner phone at Best Buy or Walmart for $3.99? Or, if you don’t want a burner phone, you can always get a burner app which allows smartphone users to have temporary, disposable phone numbers. In this case the number, not the phone, is thrown away. This application has been available since August 2012, and the company came out with an Android version in April 2013. Pintér should really start surfing the internet.

Having cleared up the burner app/burner phone issue, let’s move on to the much more serious question of encryption software, the use of which the government initially wanted to make a criminal offense punishable by two years in prison. The opposition party leaders convinced the government that only the manufacturers of such software should be held liable.

Googling “encryption software” brings up such entries as the “ten best encryption software of 2016,” the “five best free encryption software.” The most expensive software in this category costs $37.95 (Folder Lock), but even some of the free ones get good reviews. Folder Lock proudly announces its global success with more than 25 million users in over 80 countries.

There are scores of encryption programs available online. The only way to try to prevent the use of encryption software is to block everyone in Hungary from downloading any of these programs. But if someone wants to outfox the government and isn’t especially computer savvy, he can make a quick trip to one of the neighboring countries and the problem is solved.

encryption

Among the encryption software available is one that was developed by a Hungarian company with headquarters in Sweden. Arenim Technologies, which produces CryptTalk, just received the Startup Innovation Prize from the Hungarian Innovation Association. The prize was presented to the developers by László Kövér himself. Yet now the Hungarian government wants to ban it and its competitors from Hungary. Moreover, in a nod to the Apple-FBI dispute, it insists that, if necessary, the companies themselves break the encryption. But even the developers of CryptTalk cannot break the encryption; this would involve developing entirely new software.

Although the company’s headquarters are in Sweden, the actual software development takes place in Hungary. If this piece of legislation is accepted, CryptTalk will pack up and leave. After all, they have a presence in thirty countries. According to the CEO of the company, even the Chinese rules are more forgiving than the proposed Hungarian ones. Only North Korea dared to do what Orbán’s Hungary is proposing.

I do hope that the opposition politicians who represented their parties at the Friday conversation will do some homework and realize that they cannot endorse this latest piece of legislation proposed by the Orbán government. And, by the way, I don’t see too many Hungarian news sites calling attention to this plan and the opposition’s acquiescence to it. The only exceptions were János Széky’s article titled “The good old 70s” in parameter.sk and Népszabadság’s warning that Hungary is following in North Korea’s footsteps. It is time for the opposition to wake up. To outsmart Harangozó and Molnár is not terribly difficult but, as Széky himself notes, one is surprised about András Schiffer. Although he might not be everyone’s favorite, he is certainly a smart lawyer.

April 4, 2016