Tag Archives: terrorists

Hungarian state media about life in the West: What happened in Leipzig?

I assume not too many people know that between July 19 and 26 the 2017 World Fencing Championships were held in Leipzig. The Hungarian team did reasonably well, ending up in fourth place after Italy, Russia, and South Korea. Although Hungary has some very good fencers, their accomplishments received relatively little coverage since they were competing for media attention with the World Aquatic Championships, held in Budapest. It wasn’t until the fencing competition was almost over that it became hot news. Unfortunately, the story had nothing to do with fencing.

Gábor Boczkó, a silver medalist at the 2004 Summer Olympics, is the newly appointed secretary-general of the Hungarian Fencing Association. Although I don’t know much about Boczkó’s political views, I assume that he is sympathetic to the present government because he was awarded a prestigious decoration (Magyar Érdemrend tisztikeresztje) on March 15, 2016. People who are known to have political views not in line with those of the Orbán government never receive any decoration whatsoever from the present regime.

For a number of years Boczkó worked as the marketing director of the Hungarian Fencing Association. About a month ago he was appointed secretary-general of the organization. At the same time he was named to the 13-member board of the European Fencing Association.

Boczkó accompanied the Hungarian fencing team to Leipzig. The championships were not quite over when Boczkó was interviewed by M1 of Magyar Televízió (MTV). Boczkó complained that the Hungarian team was unable to concentrate on the competition because of the dreadful situation that exists in the city of Leipzig. In fact, the situation was so bad that the members of the team didn’t dare to walk alone on the streets, especially not after dark. They always made sure that they were moving about in groups. Boczkó recalled that in front of their hotel there were constant disturbances, most likely by migrants. For example, they saw a man who was brandishing a machete, and “they witnessed a black man in the middle of trying to kidnap the two-three-month-old baby of a white woman.” In order to further emphasize the dangerous situation that exists in Germany, M1 included some videos of the Munich and Berlin terrorist attacks.

By now non-governmental media outlets are suspicious of practically everything the government propaganda machine puts out. 444.hu is usually the first independent news site to fact-check stories like the one Boczkó told about the situation in Leipzig. After looking at German papers, including ones published in and around Leipzig, and finding nothing approximating Boczkó’s stories, they approached the City of Leipzig, whose spokesman assured them that Leipzig is a safe city where people freely move around day and night. No one knew anything about a person brandishing a machete or about a stolen white baby. The spokesman for the Leipzig police also knew nothing about these alleged crimes. He added that in a local park there was an argument between a North African couple but no crime was committed.

It took only two days for the Leipziger Volkszeitung to discover Boczkó’s description of their fair city and to publish a lengthy article about the unflattering report of the Hungarian fencing team. The article said that the hotel where the Hungarian and nine other teams stayed is not in the best part of Leipzig. It was described by the paper as a crime center and an area drug users frequent. Perhaps, with his head full of Orbán propaganda about criminal migrants, Boczkó simply assumed that any unsavory characters he saw were terrorists who had descended on Germany.

The Seaside Park Hotel in Leipzig where the Hungarian fencers stayed

But Hungarian state television normally doesn’t let sleeping dogs lie. They refused to admit that the information received from Boczkó was at best inaccurate or at worst a falsification of facts. The station called on a secret service agent from the Kádár period, who has since become a useful “expert witness” for the government side of any such argument. He again performed well by announcing that in cases like the ones Boczkó described, the German police is inclined to cover up the real facts and lie when receiving media inquiries. In addition, M1 also got on the telephone with the German police whose spokesman “admitted that there was a baby affair because a North African couple got into an argument.” (Sorry if this sentence is not comprehensible. It wasn’t in the Hungarian original either.) The “expert” then went on and on about Sweden and Great Britain where the police also suppress negative news about migrants. He even talked at some length about Donald Trump’s tweet about Sadiq Khan. (“You have to be kidding me?!: Terror attacks are part of living in big city, says London Mayor Sadiq Khan.”)

Interestingly, Jenő Kamuti, a former Olympic fencer and vice president of the Hungarian Fencing Association who was also in Leipzig, didn’t notice anything unusual. The city, he said, is calm; the world championship is well run and safe. He didn’t encounter any disturbances involving migrants. But Boczkó wouldn’t let the affair die a quiet death, and the Hungarian Fencing Association produced several videos and photos that were supposed to prove that he was right about the dreadful conditions in Leipzig. On one of them “a policeman holds a long knife in his right hand.” The statement of the Hungarian Fencing Association assumes that this piece of equipment was taken from a suspect the police tried to restrain. The same expert who gave long descriptions of the reluctance of western police forces to share information about migrants was again asked to comment on these photos. He dramatically asked the audience: “Do we want to live like that?”

But that wasn’t quite enough. Yesterday another “expert,” the German-Hungarian Georg Spöttle, was questioned on the situation. He claimed that the citizens of Leipzig stood by the Hungarian fencing team’s secretary-general, as is clear from the hundreds of comments accompanying the article about city hall and the police denying that anything is amiss in the city. Leipziger Volkszeitung, which published the article, doesn’t seem to allow comments. It would be interesting to check whether such comments actually exist. Having some familiarity with Spöttle, I am inclined to doubt that they do.

According to Spöttle, the area where the Hungarians stayed is “in the hands of the Muslims.” It is a real “no-go zone.” Spöttle also claimed that, after Berlin, Leipzig is the second most crime-ridden city in Germany. Admittedly, the list I found of the safest and most dangerous cities in Germany is three years old, but it doesn’t bear out Spöttle’s figures. The “most dangerous” list is headed by Frankfurt am Main, followed by Cologne. Berlin is third, and Leipzig had to be satisfied with eighth place. Spöttle also rattled off some statistics about the crime rates in these two cities, but I suspect that they are most likely wrong as well.

The squabble between M1’s Híradó and 444.hu might seem petty. But then I read in today’s privatbankar.hu that the ministry of foreign affairs and trade just released a statement in which they urge Hungarians traveling to Western Europe to register at Hungarian embassies and consulates because of the extreme danger due to migrants and terrorists. This should be done even if Hungarian citizens visit one of the Western European countries only for a couple of days. This way the Hungarian authorities can easily reach them and offer assistance in case of need.

That reminds me of those years in the 1960s and 1970s when we Hungarian refugees were first allowed to visit our relatives. I don’t know about other western countries, but Canada and the United States definitely advised visitors to countries behind the iron curtain to go to their embassies and register. But today, advising people to register because of the presence of migrants in Western Europe is surely nothing more than yet another attempt to reinforce the Hungarian population’s fear of strangers invading the continent. Perhaps the safest course of action would be to go nowhere and to hermetically seal the borders.

July 30, 2017

The “Let’s stop Brussels” questionnaire: Orbán’s silver bullet?

I haven’t analyzed Viktor Orbán’s speeches for some time, but yesterday he delivered a fairly important speech to parliament. So I think it’s time to take a closer look at the Hungarian prime minister’s state of mind.

As usual, he is on a war footing with Brussels. But if I’m correct, his posture, despite his belligerent tone, is more defensive. His position within the European Union has weakened considerably since the Brexit referendum and the French election. More and more voices can be heard within the European Union calling for financial retribution as a form of punishment for countries that refuse to cooperate when it comes to the refugee crisis. For the time being Jean-Claude Juncker would like to avoid such a drastic step, but the announcement of a looming infringement procedure can be expected any day.

Obviously, Orbán has been expecting such a move on the part of the European Commission. Right now the only bullet in his defensive arsenal is “the national consultation,” with which he wants to “stop Brussels.” But not all bullets are equally effective. The “Let’s stop Brussels” campaign and its imbecilic, deceptive questions have annoyed the Commission from the beginning. I very much doubt that the Commission will be impressed by the responses the Hungarian government received arguing against any interference by the European Union in what Viktor Orbán considers purely national affairs.

Before I turn to the actual speech, I would like to say something about the “success” of this particular consultation. The claim is that the “Let’s stop Brussels” questionnaire was returned by a record number of citizens. Indeed, if we take a look at the Wikipedia entry on “Nemzeti konzultáció,” we can see that this year’s questionnaire was returned by a greater number of people than any of the other five campaigns previously staged. However, we must keep in mind that no independent body counts the returned forms. We have only the number the Orbán government provides.

Given the lack of accountability of the government, I have long had my doubts about the government’s figures in connection with these consultations. This time I’m even more suspicious than before. The consultation drive began on April 1, and on April 19 Antal Rogán’s propaganda ministry reported that 140,000 questionnaires had been returned. But then, on April 25, six days later, Csaba Dömötör, undersecretary in the prime minister’s office, announced that 380,000 questionnaires had been received. Quite a jump, I would say. Two weeks after that, the same Dömötör triumphantly announced that “more than 1,130,000” citizens had already returned their questionnaires. In two weeks the numbers had almost tripled. But if the drive was such a success, why was it necessary for Lajos Kósa, as leader of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, to ask for an extension of the deadline from May 20 to May 31? In any case, Viktor Orbán at the beginning of his speech in parliament yesterday claimed that 1.4 million people are practically unanimously standing behind the government in its fight against Brussels. This number, by the way, by the end of speech became 1.7 million. So, who knows?

Altogether 8.1 million questionnaires were sent out to all citizens over the age of 18, and therefore it doesn’t matter how you slice it: 1.4 or 1.7 million returned questionnaires, take your pick, shouldn’t be hailed as a great victory. But what is really annoying is that Viktor Orbán blithely turned the official government figure(s) of a 17%-21% return rate into a pro-government response rate of greater than 50% when he said that “the majority of Hungarians think that Brussels is going in the wrong direction.”

What do the government and the “majority of Hungarians” want, according to Orbán? They want “a Hungarian Hungary and a European Europe.” A couple of years ago Jobbik’s Gábor Vona announced with great fanfare that “Hungary belongs to the Hungarians,” and it seems that Viktor Orbán now agrees with him. I wonder what he would say if the prime minister of Slovakia or Romania announced that he wants to have an ethnically pure Slovakia or Romania and the Hungarian minority has only two choices: emigrate or assimilate. I assume there would be an incredible outcry, and with good reason. As for the “European Europe,” we all know what Orbán has in mind. A white Europe.

In connection with the ten-year jail sentence for “terrorism” meted out to Ahmed H. for using a megaphone to call for calm during clashes at the Serbian-Hungarian borders, Orbán accused “Brussels” of supporting terrorists at the expense of the security of the Hungarian people. Bernadett Szél (LMP) said in response that Orbán had “misplaced his medication.” George Soros couldn’t be left out of Orbán’s speech to parliament, and indeed the “American speculator” was pictured as someone who is directing the fate of Europe. The European Commission is under his influence. He asked the members of parliament “not to stand by Brussels in Hungary’s disputes with the European Union.” In addition, the parliamentarians “should stand by the Hungarian people in the battle between the Soros mafia and Hungary.”

Orbán announced that Hungary “can’t accept that [its] future is decided in Moscow, Brussels, and Washington.” As for the future, Orbán made some strange comments. Let me quote one of them. “The French election during the past weekend shows that the revolt of the European people has also reached France.” We know that when Orbán in the last couple of years was talking about “the revolt of Europeans” he was not thinking of Macron’s centrist movement. Macron’s victory is not a welcome piece of news for Orbán, which he tries to hide here. He also seems worried about a possible French-German “experiment to transform Europe,” which may take place after the German election. At the moment, “it is not clear whether these developments will help or hinder the realization of Hungary’s national interests.” Odds are, however, that hard times are coming, and therefore the national consultation took place at the best possible moment.

Let me express my very serious doubts that Orbán’s national consultation is the kind of silver bullet that will save the Hungarian government from the consequences of Viktor Orbán’s antagonistic, confrontational behavior and his flaunting of the core values of the European Union. Surely, in his sane moments he must know that those stacks of returned questionnaires are not worth a plug nickel when it comes to negotiations with the important political players of the European Union.

June 13, 2017

The greatly touted Hungarian terrorist story is a hoax

Last night Reuters reported from Budapest that the Hungarian anti-terrorist police had detained four people traveling toward Budapest with explosives in their car and later found “a bomb-making laboratory set up for a mass killing.” The source of the information was the director-general of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ), János Hajdu. In addition, Hajdu revealed that two other people had been arrested in a separate raid, in whose possession they found submachine guns, silencers, and ammunition. When asked whether the subjects were jihadist terrorists, he said “Let me reply to that in the next few days.” He also declined to disclose the suspects’ identities, nationalities or motives but indicated that the case had “an international dimension.” Reuters seemed to know that the “suspects had been formally placed under arrest.” In no time this Reuters report from Budapest was picked up in the major newspapers of the world. Fox News announced this development with a bright yellow sign behind the anchor reading “Alert!”

In Hungary, meanwhile, János Hajdu, the former bodyguard of Viktor Orbán, made the rounds at several television stations in addition to MTV’s M1 where he made his initial announcement. I watched him on ATV where he was a guest of Egyenes beszéd.

The news spread like wildfire. Since the initial announcement of TEK’s raids over the weekend hundreds of Hungarian media outlets painted lurid pictures of the possible dangers posed by these “bomb makers,” further disquieting an already jittery Hungarian public. Hajdu described a full-fledged laboratory in which the suspects were ready to manufacture bombs which they could either use themselves or make for others. There was talk of detonators, test tubes, disguised fire extinguishers filled with explosives capable of killing hundreds of people, and grenades of all sorts. He showed a picture of a contraption that was described as a starter mechanism for would-be assassins. The impression he tried to convey was that Hungary was in mortal danger. International terrorism had reached the country.

János Hajdu with his boss / Photo Népszava Péter Szalmás

János Hajdu with his boss / Photo Népszava / Péter Szalmás

There is only one problem with the story: not a word of it is true. There is no bomb factory, and there are no terrorist suspects. It is would be easy to conclude that members of TEK are staggeringly incompetent. The best example of their incompetence was the time they seized theater props arriving in Budapest for a film production, thinking they were real weapons. I wrote about that fiasco earlier. But this time it is almost certain that we cannot chalk up to incompetence what happened during this past weekend. Here we are dealing with the willful misleading not only of the public but even of the parliamentary committee on national security. The reason for the deceit? It is most likely a desire to help Viktor Orbán’s current propaganda campaign against the asylum seekers.

Currently the Hungarian government is in the midst of a ferocious anti-refugee campaign. Activists knock on doors gathering signatures to oppose the quota system that the European Union will most likely introduce to deal with the refugee crisis. It was only a few days ago that Viktor Orbán in an interview said that “of course, it’s not accepted, but the factual point is that all the terrorists are basically migrants… The question is when they migrated to the European Union.” The anti-refugee propaganda has been in full swing for months, and by now the great majority of Hungarians have been convinced that the world would come to an end if Hungary accepted even a single refugee. It looks as if it was TEK’s job to find a few terrorists in Hungary to heighten the fear that is already widespread.

So, let’s see what actually happened. There were two raids, both in or close to Budapest. The first took place on Saturday. It seems that TEK had been following two Hungarian men who, from the details Hajdu gave to Olga Kálmán of ATV, are “extremists” and who illegally had in their possession submachine guns, home-made silencers, and ammunition. I suspect that they are the ordinary neo-Nazi types who are unfortunately rather common in Hungarian far-right circles. The second raid took place on the highway, where they arrested four men. These are the ones suspected of terrorism. This is the case that, according to Hajdu, has “an international dimension.”

What is the truth? A young fellow who lives in Budapest is a World War II history buff who collects wartime memorabilia. This past weekend, with his father and two of his friends from Slovakia, he headed to some wooded areas around Veszprém with a metal detector to look for items like shells and old grenades. They packed the things they had found into the trunk of the car and headed home. Great was their surprise when they were surrounded by members of the Hungarian anti-terrorist group. TEK units, with their uniforms, masks, and heavy weaponry, are quite a frightening sight. A search of his parents’ apartment followed, where TEK grabbed everything that looked suspicious to them, including, for example, the above mentioned fire extinguisher. Naturally, the three boys and the father were arrested.

The case was so weak, however, that even the prosecutors asked for temporary custody only for Roland S., who is most likely the boy with such an interest in war memorabilia. This afternoon, however, the court ruled that none of the four should be detained, and in the press release the court stated that “there is nothing in the documents that would indicate that the suspect whose interest in World War II is no more than a hobby has any connection with other organized criminal groups or terrorist organizations…. In fact, everything indicates the lack of any such connection. There is no proof of any extremist views or any foreign connection with the exception that his two companions with a similar interest are from Upper Hungary [Slovakia].”

This morning János Hajdu and other high officials of TEK, who were asked to appear before the parliamentary committee on national security to brief the lawmakers on the background of the terrorist threat, lied. HVG learned that Hajdu talked about the Roland S. case as being of great importance. When the committee members left the conference room, they–including the opposition members–announced that TEK had done an excellent job. Hajdu never said that Roland S. was a collector of war memorabilia or that the so-called international connection was nothing more than two friends from Slovakia.

Try to imagine what would happen to János Hajdu if he pulled this trick at a hearing of one of the committees of the U.S. Congress. He would be charged with contempt of Congress. This is exactly what happened to Rita Lavelle, an EPA official, in 1983 when she was indicted for lying to Congress. She was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison, five years probation thereafter, and a fine of $10,000.

But rest assured, nothing of the sort will happen in Hungary. I hope that the opposition will have the good sense to raise hell and that journalists will follow up on this disgraceful story.

Ignorance and prejudice in Hungary

Tibor Frank, a Canadian-Hungarian economist who lives in Vancouver, just returned from Hungary after a longer visit where he gave several interviews. After his return he also talked to Kanadai Magyar Hírlap about his impressions. During the interview he expressed his amazement at “how someone can turn around his little finger a whole country, how he can enrich his whole family, how he can turn against the whole world and how he can still remain popular.” Indeed, he is not alone in finding all this difficult to understand.

At the moment the refugee question and the government’s response to the arrival of migrants is the hottest topic in Hungary, something that sharply divides society. The campaign of fear and hate conducted by Fidesz politicians continues unabated. Just to give one example, here is László Kövér, one of the founders of Fidesz and best friend of Viktor Orbán, who wonders whether the large number of refugees arriving in Europe is not so much a simple migration as Orbán described it but “an invasion organized with a secret purpose in mind.” Terrorists arriving in Europe “may make the next decades the age of dread.” So, it’s no wonder that a barely literate man, who lives right on the Serbian-Hungarian border, says on a video taken by HVG that “Europe is kaput,” or that “something is going to happen here,” which I take to be a primitive summary of Kövér’s fear-mongering vision.

It makes a difference what kinds of messages the population receives from its political leaders. Hatred mixed with fear has spread like wildfire all over Hungary lately, the sources of which are Fidesz and Jobbik politicians. And the seeds of hatred find a perfect breeding ground in the backward region where most of the refugees cross the Serbian-Hungarian border.

ignorance

What do these people know about the new arrivals? The older woman on the HVG video knows absolutely nothing about them and has no desire to learn. “It’s not my business,” she says. The police should take care of them. The man on the video thinks he does know something. According to him, the refugees are Kurds who are “cigányok, Roma” and, showing off his knowledge of English, adds “Gypsies, you know.” He is originally from Subotica/Szabadka where they call these Kurds “talibánok” because they come from “Tália or something.” He may be ignorant but he has strong opinions. He is not afraid of the migrants because after all he has a “shovel, hoe, and pitchfork” which “unfortunately” he didn’t have to use yet. Why unfortunately? “Because I can’t stand them.”

And I suspect that not too many people in this region have more accurate information about the refugees than these two.

Yesterday we talked about the generally low level of medical knowledge among Hungarians. One of the comments to the post talked about unhealthful eating habits. Indeed, it is a major problem that should be dealt with on the highest political level. But as a commenter pointed out, there is no government campaign to change the dietary habits of Hungarians. The result is obvious, as it should be to the prime minister himself who has put on a great deal of weight. Obesity is a huge problem in the United States, but Barack and Michelle Obama have been actively promoting a change in dietary habits. Obesity is also a problem in Hungary, but there the population only sees and hears how much the prime minister likes “Hungarian  cuisine.”

And finally, let’s talk about another area of ignorance, the nature of homosexuality. This topic has been in the forefront of discussions lately, mostly because of the very successful Budapest Pride, a week of celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the first gay demonstration in Budapest. Although this was the largest Pride ever, the majority of Hungarians still entertain virulently homophobic attitudes. Again, some of these prejudices stem from ignorance. And I’m talking not only about ignorant laymen. I’m talking about a doctor who, on top of everything else, is a DK politician in Baranya County. His name is László Sütő, and he is a general practitioner (háziorvos) in the village of Baksa, population 800. To DK as well as to Gyurcsány personally, who is a supporter of the LGBT community, he became a major embarrassment.

Sütő spread his ignorance on Facebook where he claimed that “the science of medicine considers all chromosomal abnormality illness. There can be no exception for sexual chromosomes.” After this pseudo-scientific announcement he expressed his true feelings with the worst kinds of obscenities. It turned out that Sütő has gone through many parties since the regime change in 1990. Originally he was a member of the Smallholders, which before the appearance of István Csurka’s MIÉP was considered to be the quintessential rightist party. Later he joined MSZP and, when Gyurcsány left the socialists, Sütő followed him to the newly established Demokratikus Koalíció. Sütő apparently also held views not exactly compatible with the ideas of his party on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, when he took a pro-Moscow position.

One could say that a single ignorant doctor means nothing. The trouble is that he is not alone. I  myself encountered a Hungarian psychiatrist who believed that homosexuality is like smoking. One can take it up and one can give it up. And just yesterday another learned physician felt compelled, on György Bolgár’s program, to support Sütő’s position. So, I was glad that today a real scientist and an expert on the subject was invited to report on the state of scientific research into the genetic component of homosexuality.

Unfortunately, getting rid of ignorance, which fuels prejudice and hatred, doesn’t serve the interests of the present regime. Actually the more ignorant the better; they will believe everything the government tells them.