Tag Archives: TGM

Demokratikus Koalíció moves into a “new phase” of its electoral campaign

Ferenc Gyurcsány, president of the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), announced a “new phase” in the party’s 2018 election campaign. DK activists will collect signatures of people who agree with DK’s resolute opposition to the right of dual citizens who have never lived in Hungary to vote in Hungarian national elections. DK has been relentless in its opposition to the 2011 law, which it opposes on the grounds that only those people should vote who will directly bear the consequences of their decision.

Let’s make clear at the very beginning that no DK politician seriously thinks that this signature drive can have any impact on the current law. Instead, it was designed to serve political purposes. First, the signature drive allows the party to be visible. It will certainly give the party more exposure than the party’s forums, where a hundred or so people gather, most of whom are already DK sympathizers. Second, a signature drive will add tens of thousands of signatures and addresses to the party’s database. And third, it distinguishes DK from the other left-of-center parties that all believe that opposing the voting rights of non-resident Hungarian citizens is far too risky. It would alienate those Hungarians who live in Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. And the government parties will call them traitors to the national unification efforts launched by Fidesz in 2010.

Surely, Gyurcsány must have known the kind of abuse he would get from abroad as well as from Fidesz and, to some extent, from Jobbik. Yet he decided that the advantages of such a signature drive far outweigh its disadvantages. In 2014, 95% of votes from the neighboring countries were cast in favor of Fidesz and perhaps 2% for the left-of-center parties, which in the eyes of the very conservative Hungarian voters in the neighboring countries are already considered to be traitors to the national cause. On the other hand, DK might endear itself to the overwhelming majority of Hungarian voters who strongly oppose voting rights for dual Hungarian citizens.

In August of this year Publicus Intézet published a comprehensive poll on the attitudes of resident Hungarian citizens toward the rights of Hungarians living outside the current borders of Hungary. The results cannot be clearer. While 68% of Hungarians think there is nothing wrong with granting citizenship to members of the Hungarian minorities, they have grave objections to granting them voting rights. When it was pointed out to the respondents that these people don’t pay taxes yet they are allowed to vote, only 18% of the population was in favor of granting voting rights to them. Of course, Fidesz voters were more enthusiastic than those of the other parties, including Jobbik, but still 50% of them objected to what they consider a “free ride.” Thus, gathering signatures will probably not be very difficult.

Some analysts consider the signature drive a very clever political move. Among them are Dániel Mikecz of the Republikon Intézet and, to my great surprise, Zoltán Ceglédi, a political scientist who is normally highly critical of Gyurcsány. The former is certain that this “radical” move will mobilize not only DK voters but sympathizers of MSZP as well. Gyurcsány will be fiercely attacked by Fidesz, but he is already hardened on that score. The issue can distinguish DK from the other left-of-center parties with an easily recognizable and strong political profile. It may allow DK to call attention to the real danger of a two-thirds majority with the help of votes coming from abroad. In 2014, 130,000 foreign votes gave the one extra seat in parliament that was necessary for Fidesz to achieve the much desired two-thirds majority. At that time, only half a million new citizens had been added to the voter rolls, but by now the number is close to one million. So, it can easily happen that the Fidesz parliamentary faction will gain two or three extra seast as a result of the vote coming mainly from mostly Transylvania.

Voting in Transylvania / MTI / Photo: Nándor Veres

The government is doing its best to make sure that the foreign vote will be large. A special commissioner was appointed whose single task is the organization of the election abroad. This is in addition to another commissioner who makes sure that as many individuals ask for citizenship as possible. Mikecz reminds his readers of the infamous speech of István Mikola in 2006 when he was Fidesz’s candidate to become deputy prime minster. He said that “if we can win now for four years, then we will give citizenship to five million Hungarians, and when they can vote, we will be set for twenty years.” And since, according to many analysts, the best the left-of-center opposition can achieve in 2018 is to prevent a huge, supermajority Fidesz win, a campaign against the voting rights of dual citizens can keep the issue alive.

Zoltán Ceglédi is no friend of Ferenc Gyurcsány, but now he defends him because the other seven parties came forth under the banner of Márton Gulyás’s Közös Ország (Common Country) with a proposed electoral law that would give extra two mandates to the dual citizens outright, regardless of the number of votes. Momentum and Együtt went so far as to propose the creation of two extra districts, which would allow the voters in the neighboring countries to vote not only for party lists but also for local candidates. Given the strength of Fidesz domestically, the prospect of two or three seats coming from abroad should be truly frightening to the opposition.

Zsolt Semjén, whose chief job is to gather new citizens and new voters, is working assiduously. Viktor Orbán has already sent off a letter to all new dual citizens. An incredible amount of money is being spent abroad, for which the Hungarian government “is asking for and getting votes.” According to Ceglédi, “one mustn’t be mum about this.” Ceglédi believes that the opposition is doing Orbán a favor when it supports this idea under the false notion of “a common country” with people who have never set foot in Hungary and who “just mail their votes for Viktor Orbán.”

On the other side, Csaba Lukács, a journalist for Magyar Nemzet and a native of the Szekler district in Transylvania, is certain that Gyurcsány’s campaign is good only for Fidesz. He is sure that Hungarians living in the neighboring countries will be even more determined to vote after DK’s campaign. In his opinion, Gyurcsány is discrediting the entire left. His only goal is get a few more votes in order to squeeze his party into parliament. In Lukács’s opinion, the votes coming from abroad are neither here nor there. First of all, these people have only “half a vote” because they can vote only for the party list, not having districts of their own. And one seat out of 199 is nothing to make a fuss about. What Lukács forgets to mention is that “this one measly seat” gave Fidesz a two-thirds majority in 2014.

Another Transylvanian, Miklós Gáspár Tamás, TGM as he is known in Hungary, is convinced that Gyurcsány is a “bad politician,” as he has proved again and again. He admits that “it is somewhat unusual that people who have never lived in a country and have no intention of moving there and pay no taxes” can vote, but just because something is unusual does not necessarily make it incorrect, unreasonable, or illegal. “To reject these compatriots of ours just because they are partial to one particular Hungarian party is selfish and petty.” Gyurcsány “foments hatred … ignores or belittles the Hungarian nationalities in the successor states, which is intolerable. His madness and provocations are distasteful.”

So, that’s where we stand. We will see whether Gyurcsány is “a genius,” as the political scientist Gábor Török called him a few days ago, or a really bad politician whose latest move was most likely celebrated in Fidesz circles, as Csaba Lukács and TGM claim.

November 3, 2017

Fidesz censorship in Transylvania

Today I am venturing into an area about which I know relatively little: the situation of the Hungarian media in Transylvania. Keeping track of the media within the country’s borders is hard enough. I have little time to browse Hungarian news sites outside of the country. I’m not alone, it seems. The Transylvanian-born Gáspár Miklós Tamás, or, as he is known in Hungary, TGM, noted lately that Hungarian-Hungarians are neither interested in nor knowledgeable enough about local affairs to be able to follow the Transylvanian Hungarian media.

I’ve written several posts in the past about Viktor Orbán’s determination to have control over Hungarian political parties in the neighboring countries. As early as 2010 Fidesz refused to finance or even recognize parties that had in any way cooperated with the political majority. In Slovakia the successful Most-Híd party was not even accepted as a Hungarian party because its membership included Slovaks as well as Hungarians. Instead, the Orbán government poured money into the Party of the Hungarian Coalition, which since 2010 has never been represented in the Slovak parliament. Most-Híd, on the other hand, has been an active participant in Slovak politics and is currently a coalition partner in the third Fico government.

Something similar was going on in Transylvania as well. Ever since 1989 Romanian-Hungarian voters have been exclusively represented by the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania or RMDSZ. The Orbán government, however, was anything but satisfied with the party because RMDSZ off and on participated in Romanian coalition governments. Relations between the Budapest government and RMDSZ deteriorated to the point that Orbán opted to support a right-wing party in Romania called Magyar Polgári Párt (MPP). The hope was that MPP would be strengthened to the point that it could assume the leading role in Romanian-Hungarian politics. By 2014, however, when it became clear that MPP would not be able to compete successfully against RMDSZ, Orbán had to change tactics. Hungarian politicians were dispatched to patch up the political division between the two Transylvanian parties to ensure that Hungarians would have representation in the Romanian parliament. Viktor Orbán even went to Transylvania to campaign on behalf of RMDSZ. But although the Orbán government had to give up its original idea, it didn’t leave Romania empty-handed. In exchange for its support, it seems, the RMDSZ leadership had to agree to some major concessions.

With this lengthy introduction, we have arrived at the “compromise” between the party of Transylvanian Hungarians and the Budapest government. In return for the generous support Budapest is now providing to RMDSZ, Fidesz demands obedience and total ideological identification with the Orbán government’s far-right political orientation. RMDSZ until now had given money to publications that were somewhat critical of the Orbán government. No longer. Viktor Orbán demanded the cleansing of all “objectionable” publications.

The first victim was Erdélyi Riport published in Kolozsvár/Cluj. RMDSZ was financing the publication through a foundation which is apparently quite well endowed. The Erdélyi Riport had been in existence for 14 years, but the foundation recently informed the editors that due to a lack of money the publication “will be suspended for an indefinite period of time.”

An internet news site called maszol.ro has also run into difficulties with RMDSZ and its foundation. At the beginning of December the editors of maszol.ro, successor to Új Magyar Szó, refused to publish an article that criticized Péter Szijjártó’s “instructions” to Hungarian diplomats to boycott Romania’s national holiday. The author of the article was immediately fired. The same thing happened a few days ago to Hugó Ágoston, the editor responsible for maszol.ru‘s op-ed page. Ágoston, a well-respected journalist in Transylvania, believes that the reason for his dismissal was his “criticism of the Hungarian government’s anti-democratic policies, especially its poisonous hate campaign and its treatment of the media, in particular the elimination of Népszabadság.

Hugó Ágoston

Although the Hungarian media in Transylvania was never entirely independent since it always relied on RMDSZ for funding, for a long time there was an understanding that RMDSZ wouldn’t foist any ideology on the publications it financed. That changed over the last year or so when Orbán reached an “understanding” with RMDSZ. Ágoston in his letter to kettosmerce.blog emphasized the necessity of returning to the pluralism that existed before 2014. I’m sure that Ágoston doesn’t really believe that this is going to happen any time soon. The fired journalist’s farewell article can be read here.

TGM in his article rightly points out that the Orbán government’s meddling in the affairs of a foreign country is worrisome and legally questionable. The Romanian government also supports Hungarian publications, and therefore it might be troubling to Bucharest that “the Hungarian publications in Romania are being edited, censored, directed, or banned either from the private residence of Viktor Orbán or from the Prime Minister’s Office.” It is truly amazing that Orbán refuses to tolerate even the very small liberal community that exists in Transylvania where the overwhelming majority of Hungarians are loyal supporters of Fidesz. His goal is total control at home as well as abroad.

January 4, 2017

The plight of a Budapest city park

In the last few days the Hungarian media has been full of stories about clashes among three groups in Budapest’s famed park Városliget (City Grove): the so-called “grove defenders” (ligetvédők), members of a private security firm recruited from skinheads hanging around football stadiums to protect the demolition/construction crew, and the Hungarian police.

Városliget is one of the oldest city parks in the world, dating to around 1810, although work on it continued through most of the nineteenth century. By now Városliget definitely needs a face-lift to restore it to its former beauty. But what’s going on right now, in the opinion of the grove defenders, is the destruction of the park as a public space for recreation as well as a source of respite from all the stone and brick that makes up Budapest, especially its Pest half. It is being turned into a “museum quarters.”

Viktor Orbán, most likely at the suggestion of the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, László Baán, decided on the creation of a museum quarters. But the idea of clustering museums was in reality just attractive packaging of what amounted to an eviction notice. Several galleries currently housed in the former royal palace must move because Viktor Orbán wants to put the core of his government where in his opinion it belongs, the ancient seat of the Kingdom of Hungary.

And so the Castle District will become the prime minister’s domain and the city park will be turned into the site of some hideous architectural reproductions. Miklós Gáspár Tamás (TGM) put it this way: “Everybody knows what is happening in Városliget. An uneducated, nouveau riche, parvenu political right wants to pay tribute to the sanctified memory of the House of Habsburg, but they must be satisfied with a third-rate fake of the days of Horthy.”

Indeed, billions of forints will be spent and thousands of trees will have to be cut down to create this absolutely unnecessary project to which, on top of everything else, the people of Budapest strongly object. In February Ipsos, a Hungarian polling company, posed several questions, all concerning the future of the Castle District and the fate of Városliget. The overwhelming majority opted for the renovation of the park and against erecting new buildings within the park. In fact, 85% of those surveyed wanted to have more parks in Pest and thought that another park could be fashioned out of the region lying behind the Western Station. A proposal to hold a referendum on the question was turned down by the Kúria, Hungary’s highest court. By now it should be clear to everyone that a referendum can be held in Hungary only if it is in the interest of the government. And surely, given public sentiment in Budapest, the results would have put an end to Viktor Orbán’s dreams.

Who are the “grove defenders”? As far as I can ascertain, we are talking about a group of 40 or 50 people who decided on March 17 to occupy a part of the park where one of the existing buildings is to be razed and a modern building, House of Hungarian Music, designed by the Japanese architect Suo Fujimoto, is to be erected. Ever since mid-March there has always been a small group of people on site to make sure that no demolition work can begin. They are a varied lot. There are environmentalists who chain themselves to trees. There are urban planners and architects who have grave reservations about the kind of “restoration” the Orbán government has in mind, at least in the case of two of the buildings: the Hungarian Museum of Engineering and Transportation and the Városliget Színház.

The Városliget Színház, built in 1874, was razed in 1952. Looking at an old photo of it, I see no particular reason to rebuild it, which is not in accordance with acceptable restoration practices in the first place.

The Városligeti Szinház

The Városligeti Szinház

The Museum of Transportation, which was heavily damaged during World War II, was restored in a truncated form sometime in the 1950s. The government plans to raze the building and rebuild the horrendous original.

The original Museum of Transportation

The original Museum of Transportation

It will not be any better

It will not look any better

Although the majority of Budapesters object to the whole project, very few have been ready to keep vigil at the park to keep the demolishing crew of Bont-Tör Zrt. (Wrecking and Breaking Co.) away from the old museum building. But those who did were not ready to move, and it was almost inevitable that sooner or later there would be a showdown with the company’s private security contingent. In the end even the police decided to enter the fray.

The grove defenders maintain that the private security forces and the police work together. Eventually some of the demonstrators managed to get to the building and chained themselves to the iron bars on the windows, from where the police eventually moved them one by one. About thirty people were removed in this fashion. In the scuffle some of the demonstrators were injured. For example, Imre Mécs (82), a hero of the 1956 Revolution, was knocked over.

The most spectacular event of Wednesday was the ascent of Gergely Komáromy, the leader of a reggae band and one of the grove defenders, to the very top of the chimney of the building. After spending a few hours there, he eventually came down on his own. The police immediately handcuffed him, forced him into a car, and took him to a rehab center. The story from here on is murky. The police’s story doesn’t jibe with his own.

Gergely Komáromy on the top of the chimney

Gergely Komáromy on top of the chimney

Meanwhile, the skinhead security guards had lost patience with the demonstration. When Komáromy again climbed to the top of the roof yesterday, he was followed by three or four guards, one of whom hit him in the pit of his stomach. He collapsed. This time he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The security guards denied any wrongdoing, but since then a video taken by a smartphone emerged on which one can clearly see the blow. Judging from the short video, I’m not surprised that, as Komáromy told reporters after his release from the hospital, he felt in mortal danger atop that building surrounded by muscle-bound skinheads. As one of the reporters of Index wrote tonight, just watching the video is a harrowing experience, and what is especially upsetting is that the police officers who were present didn’t move a finger. The work must go on because Viktor Orbán is intent on moving to the Castle.

July 1, 2016

András Schiffer’s departure is hailed on the left

The big news of the day is that András Schiffer, co-chair of LMP (Lehet Más a Politika = Politics Can Be Different), announced his irrevocable decision to retire from politics. He is resigning as leader of LMP’s parliamentary delegation immediately, and at the end of August he will quit parliament altogether. In a long farewell interview to Index he gave several reasons for his departure from politics, the most important being “the lack of intellectual support that would provide stability to a party with a critical attitude toward the existing system.” In plain language, he lay the blame for his own political failure on those intellectuals who in the past stood fast in support of democratic parties but who now don’t aid his efforts against the political system of Viktor Orbán. Veranus, the blogger with strong opinions and a sharp tongue, reacted to this accusation: “I as a former LMP voter and someone who has watched the party’s fortunes over the years with sympathy can tell you the reason for the lack of intellectual support: your hysterical autocratic behavior. You screwed up.” Well, he used a slightly stronger verb.

Schiffer Andras2

While Mandiner.hu, a right-wing site, is full of comments that are quite sympathetic to Schiffer and express regret at his departure, those who, according to Schiffer, should have been his supporters rejoice that at last the man who refused to cooperate with other democratic parties before the 2014 elections was at last out of the way. Klára Ungár, formerly a Fidesz and later an SZDSZ member of parliament, remarked on Facebook that “surely LMP without him will be more successful because [Schiffer] is an extraordinarily unpleasant man.” Zoltán Lovas, one of the organizers of the vigil in front of the statue of Archangel Gabriel against Orbán’s falsification of history, rejoiced over “the disappearance of one of the most repugnant and contemptible characters of the past few years in Hungarian domestic politics.” György Csepeli, a well-known sociologist, attached the following post: “I would also add the adjective ‘heinous.’” Tamás Bereczky, an HIV activist, remembered “little Schiffer from elementary school where he had the reputation of being a little dotty, an aggressive, priggish meschugge.”

The people who can definitely be categorized as belonging to the intellectual elite, the ones Schiffer most likely counted on, dislike him for several reasons. First of all, they consider LMP under his leadership a useful tool in Viktor Orbán’s hands. Schiffer, ever since the formation of the party, has steadfastly refused any kind of collaboration with the other democratic parties, thereby giving an advantage to Fidesz. Some people are convinced that Fidesz helped Schiffer’s party gain parliamentary representation in both 2010 and 2014. The only question is whether there was some kind of a secret deal between Orbán and Schiffer or whether Schiffer was simply a “useful idiot.”

Because of Schiffer’s unyielding attitude LMP already split once in January 2013, when eight of the 15-member parliamentary delegation left to form a party of their own. I suspect that the real reason for Schiffer’s resignation now is that he no longer has the majority of the party leadership behind his policies. The reason for the party strife is probably the same as it was three years ago: the majority of LMP leaders no longer believe that Schiffer’s “go it alone” policy can succeed. Schiffer in his interview was fairly successful in hiding the real reason for his resignation. There was only one sentence that gave him away: “In LMP an organizational culture has developed in which even informal influence is a curse word.” In party debates his support for an issue is actually “counterproductive,” he complained in the interview. Therefore, he added, the party will be fine without him.

There was one member of the left-wing intellectual elite, Gáspár Miklós Tamás or TGM as he is known in Hungary, who was waving his hat while saying goodbye to András Schiffer. TGM’s admiration for Schiffer is not at all surprising. Schiffer made LMP a party that is against globalization and multinational corporations. Schiffer’s LMP is a socialist party and therefore close to the heart of TGM, who still believes in some form of utopian socialism. He believes, like Schiffer, that the politics of the 1990-2010 period were just as bad as the regime of Orbán.

I think it might be useful to summarize a speech Schiffer made in August 2015 at a party gathering to which, for some strange reason, Schiffer invited László Kövér. In this speech he claimed that the cooperation between foreign capital and the communist capitalists resulted in the failure of the country’s economic convergence. He talked about oppression and the exploitation caused by globalization, which threatens nation states. As Péter Béndek, a conservative commentator, noted, “for Fidesz there is only one acceptable socialist, Schiffer.” The co-chairman of LMP is, he continued, a typical representative of those green politicians who are “green on the outside but red on the inside.” Surely, Schiffer’s radical socialism couldn’t possibly appeal to Hungarian liberals and moderate social democrats.

And there is another “sin” for which a lot of liberals will not forgive Schiffer. When in May 2011 the prosecutor’s office charged Ferenc Gyurcsány with “abuse of office” in connection with the Sukoró real estate swap, it was on the basis of a complaint filed by András Schiffer in October 2009. Of course, Viktor Orbán would dearly have loved to send his political opponent to jail, but he preferred to have Schiffer’s name attached to this particular dirty trick instead of instructing his commissioner to launch the court case against Gyurcsány. Clever fellow. Supporters of Gyurcsány simply cannot forgive Schiffer for his involvement in this case, especially since Schiffer has never felt the urge to file a complaint charging Viktor Orbán with “abuse of power.” Most people feel that he should have apologized to Gyurcsány since he went after him on the flimsiest of charges. That’s not going to happen. Schiffer hates Gyurcsány about as much as Orbán does.

Finally, I should add that I also dislike András Schiffer. I disagree with what he stands for politically, and I find him objectionable as a person. I join those who think that his departure is a blessing for the true opponents of Viktor Orbán’s political system.

May 31, 2016

The Hungarian media and the Greek crisis

On January 27, a day after the victory of Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza party, Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó, who happened to be in Ankara, expressed his hope that “within the shortest possible time there will be effective and pragmatic cooperation” between Hungary and Greece because “there are many important international challenges which must be handled together.” Magyar Nemzet, then still the faithful mouthpiece of the Orbán government, immediately responded with a pro-Syriza editorial: “It was enough. This was the message the Greeks sent to their corrupt government.” The fact that Syriza was a “Trotskyist, Maoist, socialist and communist” party didn’t bother Magyar Nemzet because, according to Gábor Stier, the paper’s pro-Russian foreign policy editor, Syriza was no longer as radical as it used to be.

A few days later Anna Szabó, another editor, although she expressed her fear that the new government would not be able to solve Greece’s problems, kept fingers crossed for them. After all, Alix Tsipras is doing now what Viktor Orbán did in 2010. Both said “no” to austerity. As for the state of the two economies, Szabó discovered great similarities: the previous Greek governments were as corrupt as the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments: both cheated and falsified data. Austerity, forced on Hungary after 2008 by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, if continued after 2014 would have led Hungary to bankruptcy just as the same policy led Greece to its current troubles.

The Hungarian government signaled a willingness to have close relations with Greece. At the end of March Szijjártó talked with one of the undersecretaries of the Greek foreign ministry about increased trade relations and discussed the possibility of getting EU financial assistance for a highway and railroad connecting Athens and Budapest.

The Hungarian liberal and socialist media was anything but enthusiastic about the Greek developments. Only a few “true believers,” like Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM), broke ranks. “We resolutely and enthusiastically support Syriza without paying attention to the transparent lies of the ridiculous Hungarian press,” he announced. TGM didn’t reveal who these “we” were. Given the strength of the Hungarian far left, he was maybe talking on behalf of a handful of people. And indeed. According to their website, on March 13, 2015 eleven people established the Balpárt (Left Party), which “considers the examples of the Greek Syriza, the German Die Linke, and the Portuguese Blocco its guiding principles.” The last article about Greece to appear on its website, on July 6, was titled: “Today Athens, Tomorrow Budapest!” The author of the article was the chairman of the party, Szilárd Kalmár, a social worker. The article was subsequently translated into English and published in the Hungarian Free Press (Ottawa).

In addition to this far-left group, there are a couple of economists who have been supportive of the Greek position. Foremost among them is Zoltán Pogátsa, a professor of economics at the University of Western Hungary. Pogátsa has his own website on which he has published several articles about the Greek situation. In his estimate the blame for the crisis clearly falls on the European Union and the other creditors, and he accuses the European Union of abandoning everyman in favor of bankers and capitalists. Interestingly enough, an editorial in the right-wing Válasz also shows great sympathy for the Greek position and practically takes over the arguments of one of Pogátsa’s articles on an English-language Greek site called SigmaLive. In this article Pogátsa explains why the “dear Slovaks, Lithuanians, Latvians, and Slovenes” must show solidarity with the Greek people although they might be a great deal poorer than the Greeks.

The other economist who takes a more sympathetic view of the Greek position is Péter Róna, an American-Hungarian economist and investment banker, who is politically close to the anti-capitalist, anti-globalist LMP. In his opinion, all the troubles Greece is experiencing today stem from the introduction of the euro. His argument is that the introduction of a common currency in countries or states with less developed economies necessarily lead to their further economic deterioration. Therefore, Róna, in an article published in Népszabadság today, thinks that Greece should leave the eurozone, the creditors should write off at least half of Greece’s debt, and for the rest there should be at least a ten-year moratorium. In addition, over the next three to five years Greece should receive about 60 billion euros. Róna seems to forget about Greek corruption, graft, and a general reluctance to pay taxes.

So, this is the sum total of pro-Syriza voices in Hungary. The rest, including socialist and liberal commentators, are less than sympathetic. In an editorial in yesterday’s Népszabadság the author compares the Greek situation today to the earlier troubles of Portugal, Spain, and Cyprus–countries which followed the advice of the international financial institutions and in short order saved their economies. But in Greece people refuse to face facts and admit their mistakes. The Greek government doesn’t dare tell the people that “for the current crisis not only the foreigners are responsible.” The Greek people must change their ways.

Péter Techet in HVG is even less polite. The title of his opinion piece is “Solidarity but not with the Greeks.” Techet complains about the European left, which wants to help Greece where the salaries are three times higher than in the former Soviet satellite countries, but which ignores the millions who live in poverty in the eastern periphery of the Union. Syriza’s far-left politics repel him, and he finds the government’s cooperation with the far-right as well as Syriza’s nationalism and “aggression against Macedonia” unacceptable. He, like Róna except for different reasons, thinks that Greece should leave the eurozone before it drags the whole Union into economic chaos.

The red flags at the Acropolis made a negative impression in Hungary

The red flags at the Acropolis made a negative impression in Hungary

Magyar Nemzet reported that Syriza’s followers attacked journalists who were, in their opinion, not supportive enough of the “No” answer. Some of these journalists talk about “a march toward Stalinism” in Greece under Syriza rule. In the same paper a long interview appeared with László Csaba, a professor of economics, who was also very critical of Greek politicians’ handling of the economy in the last decade or so. He pointed out that the black market economy in Greece amounts to a staggering 40% of the GDP. He places the blame largely on the Greek political leadership.

Attila Ara-Kovács in his recent editorial in Magyar Narancs called Syriza “unacceptable,” a sentiment most Hungarian commentators share. In Hungary, only a handful of far-left people representing practically nobody are taking the side of Alexis Tsipras and Syriza.

Goodbye to democracy: An interview with Gáspár Miklós Tamás about Viktor Orbán’s speech

Since there is a debate going on about the art of the translator, I am happy to publish a translation by George Szirtes, Hungarian-born British poet, writer, and translator. He has translated many important Hungarian literary works into English, including such classics as the nineteenth-century verse play of Imre Madách, The Tragedy of Man, and novels of  Gyula Krúdy, Ferenc Karinthy, and Sándor Márai. His last translation, Satantango [Sátántangó in Hungarian] by László Krasznahorkai, received the Best Translated Book Award in 2013.

So, enjoy both the translation and the thoughts of Gáspár Miklós Tamás or, as he signs his publications in English, G. M. Tamás. The interview took place on Egyenes beszéd [Straight talk] on the television station ATV on July 28. The original interview in Hungarian can be seen here. This dramatic interview should help foreign observers realize the seriousness of the situation in Hungary.

Only today two important editorials were published. The New York Times calls on Jean-Claude Juncker to act more forcefully because otherwise “the commission would diminish its credibility.” The Wall Street Journal wrote that the “West’s victory in the Cold War led to a complacency that the liberal idea was triumphant–that it was ‘the end of history,’ in the fashionable phrase of the day…. Western Europe needs to set a better example of what freedom can achieve by reviving economic growth, and the American President who ostensibly still leads the free world ought to break his pattern and speak up on behalf of the liberal idea.” 

I’m grateful to George Szirtes for allowing me to publish his transcription and translation. The text originally appeared on his blog.

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GOODBYE TO DEMOCRACY

‘On Saturday Hungary officially, ceremonially, openly, publicly, said goodbye to democracy.’ 

[My transcript is very close but here and there I have cut a passage for brevity or shaped a phrase in what I believe is a faithful fashion.  In it TGM [TGM here since Hungarian puts the surname first] argues this is the beginning of a very dark chapter in Hungarian history.

I am somewhat amazed that the UK press hasn’t picked up more on the Orbán speech. It is, after all, quite something to declare the end of liberal democracy and to suggest that the prime minister should not be answerable to other state checks and balances. GSz]

one-to-one
Interviewer recounts views of other parties on Viktor Orbán’s speech then turns to Gáspár Tamás Miklós. She asks if there are any points in Orbán’s speech that the opposition and the press have left undiscussed.

TGM replies that this is a speech of extraordinary importance. He credits Orbán with being a highly  intelligent man, a significant historical figure and a charismatic politician, one whose place is assured in Hungarian history. This, he claims, is the proclamation of a new political system, the seeds of which had already been sown. The speech was clear and simple to summarise. 

TGM counts on his fingers and summarises.

TGM:
1. He is building an illiberal state. This is demonstrated by his rewriting of the constitution and by his ending of the separation of powers. He joked about this saying that if there were any attempt to impeach or obstruct him that would mean he wasn’t the leader of the country. In other words he knows what the game is, as do I.

2. His stated his doubts about democracy

3. He announced that the concept of human rights is out of date. That human rights are finished

4. He declared  the country must abandon any notion of social support (or welfare state)

5. He declared that his preferred state models were Singapore, Russia, Turkey and China.

6. He declared that all NGOs working in the cultural or social sphere were foreign agents, traitors paid by alien powers

Gáspár Miklós Tamás

Gáspár Miklós Tamás

Interviewer asks which of these six points was new.

TGM`: Every one of them.

Interviewer doubts that but TGM insists that they are completely new. Was it not just a matter of actually articulating them in a new way? asks the interviewer.  TGM repeats that it was utterly new, in every respect

TGM: Yes there was this kind breast-beating before but that’s not important.

He goes on to Orbán’s idea of the state founded on work, the ‘work state’, the ‘illiberal state’ the ‘populist state’ the ‘national state’ etc.

TGM: This is a complete break with the post-1945 consensus as espoused by what we call the free world, not only with 1945 but with the less-free post-1989 political, social and moral consensus. Its abandonment of social responsibility represents a break with the ideas of freedom, and equality. What does a ‘work-based state mean?  It means a non-social state, a non-welfare state, a state that offers no support or aid – it is a case of arbeit macht frei isn’t it? It means that work is what people do not because they want to but because they have to so that capitalists may prosper, the kind of work the unemployed would be forced to do against which, in a free country, there would be mass demonstrations….

Interviewer returns to her earlier question. ‘But what is new in all this?’ Again TGM replies: everything. The question is what is to come?

TGM: So what is to come? What is new is that this has become a political programme to be enacted by the state. On Saturday Hungary officially, ceremonially, openly, publicly, said goodbye to democracy. The prime minister, the autocratic leader of the country, has declared that he is opposed to civil society. Have you noticed we no longer have a governing party by the way? When was the last time we heard anything of Fidesz as a factor, a genuine player? – all we have recently been hearing is a state apparatus in which not a shred of democratic process remains and when we see the Secretary for Defence using a violent thug [a named army officer from Hungarian history] as a role model for new army recruits we may be certain what kind of violent, thuggish, and repressive state is being promised to us… a state that, since the prime minister’s speech was given in Romania, believes in provocation, [a speech] that did in fact elicit a storm of protest in the Romanian press and many declared that they had had quite enough of Hungary.

So here we have, in this truly terrifying speech, given to his friends and a highly enthusiastic audience, one of the darkest moments in Hungarian history, a moment of darkness provided by Viktor Orbán. Meanwhile everyone goes, ‘oh dear, there he goes again, isn’t that just the kind of thing he tends to say ‘ But that’s not what is happening here. It is time to take Viktor Orbán seriously so that we can take up arms against  him and save Hungary. I don’t despise him, I don’t look down to him. What we have here is an almost fully achieved dictatorship.

In any dictatorship the person of the dictator is important. Viktor Orbán is not going to let power slip from his hands now. All dictatorships depend on the dictator so now we have to concern ourselves with the kind of person Orbán is.

He told us that he will not be removed by elections. [That means] that those who are against him must be prepared for the grimmest struggle. Either that or he remains in office as long as his health permits, directing the affairs of the country by his own authority, while the country descends ever further into darkness in every possible respect in economic, political, cultural, social, or moral terms until we become a waste land, a wreck, a terrible place, a black hole in the map of Europe, a place more backward and more tyrannous than any of our Eastern European neighbours, and we will have to start envying the Bulgarians and Macedonians who will be in a far better condition, far freer, more cultured.

Interviewer asks what happens if Orbán refuses to be voted out through normal elections.

TGM: Blood and chaos. That’s the way it usually goes when elections don’t work. It’s what happens when people’s social plight becomes ever more desperate. Our social circumstances are bound to worsen and there will be people desperate and violent enough to bring down the country in the process.

We really can’t take this seriously enough. What was said in that speech is highly dangerous.

Interviewer asks whether people are in the mood to rise in defence of such high ideals.

TGM: Not at all, not at the moment. This is a browbeaten society that has utterly bought into [the Orbán persona?]. But it won’t always be so. Nothing lasts for ever. At the moment there is no ideology to confront this dark chauvinism, this cult of the state, this cult of force, full of anti-democratic sentiment.

Interviewer: Why isn’t there?

TGM: We are exhausted. We Hungarians are too tired to argue. You can’t expect people to sacrifice themselves without a hope of success. People are resigned. Like it or not, they accept they can’t change it.

Interviewer:  So what hope is there?

TGM: [Thinks] The one hope lies in continuing to uphold the ideals of freedom and equality as long as we can. The hope is that, despite everything, we don’t give up on the ideals of 1918, 1945 and 1989. Those  [ideals] belong to us. No one can take them from us. We might have to prepare for a long and very bad period. I myself might not live to see the end of it. Who knows? The fact remains that if we wish to live a moral life and to protect the culture of freedom we have to maintain a cool but obstinate resistance and to repeat our own commonplaces.

Interviewer: How can you maintain these high ideals when the prime minister offers hard facts? When he takes banks back into Hungarian control? When he forces banks to pay back what they owe. Has anyone ever made a bank pay us? So he doesn’t go on about ideals, about constitutional details.

TGM: I never said he was an unsuccessful politician. He is that, among other things. He is the only man who can give us hard facts because he is in charge of the government.

Interviewer: So there you are, hard facts. Isn’t it better to have hard facts than to be dreaming about ideals?

TGM: Are you talking about those four million people currently in desperate straits in this country? Do you think they like it? Do you think they don’t believe in ideals such as a better life? That too is an ideal: they believe their own children deserve as much as the better off, the middle class and the rich. That ideal is called equality.

It’s not the way they refer to it every day, of course. But that is the proper word for it. These things are connected. These ideals are not a matter for a few specialists divorced from reality. Equality means that the bottom four million have a right to food, electricity, to a heated home, to read, to enjoy their pleasures. That is an ideal but it’s not the reality.

This ideal concerns the poverty of four million people and the servitude of ten million,  and opposes the torrent of state funded lies with which Viktor Orbán and his underlings flood this small country. Yes, there are ideals in which people believe, that, for example, they should be able to live a decent honourable life. That ideal has roots in Christianity, in liberalism, and in socialism. That is not something they are obliged to know, but they know it. And Viktor Orbán is telling you directly, in your face while laughing at you that that is what you have to live without.

And if, dear fellow Hungarians, that is what you accept that is what you’ll get. There’s nothing anyone can do for now except to regard this terrible speech with hatred and contempt. Because society is weak but it is possible for it to know these things.

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[That is the end of the interview. It is a very dark vision of Hungary’s future and TGM is clearly angry.  It is fascinating – and liberating – to hear a man talk of socialism with such conviction. It is fascinating that he should include Christianity and liberalism in the struggle for freedom and equality.

What that shows is that TGM is not an old-system communist. He was part of the opposition to the pre-1989 order. He is part of the spectrum that any democratic society should be proud to represent. It is the spectrum Hungary is on the point of leaving. GSz]

 

Evidence is presented in the Jobbik espionage case

Shortly after the news broke on May 14 that Péter Polt, the Hungarian chief prosecutor, had asked Martin Schulz, president of the European Union, to suspend the parliamentary immunity of Béla Kovács (Jobbik), Fidesz moved to convene the Hungarian parliamentary committee on national security. The committee is chaired by Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), whose plate is full of his own problems. Two weeks ago a picture from 1992 of the 18-year-old hooded Molnár was made public. Magyar Nemzet accused the socialist politician of being a skinhead in his youth. I guess it was just tit for tat: the opposition was outraged over Fidesz’s support of a Jobbik candidate for the post of deputy president of the House.

A couple of days ago I expressed doubts about the charge of espionage in the case of the Jobbik MEP. First of all, we know only too well the Fidesz practice of accusing their political opponents of some serious crime that years later turns out to be bogus. The acquittal comes far too late; the political damage is instantaneous. After the 2010 election wholesale accusations were launched against socialist politicians and now, four years later, most of the accused have been acquitted. Among those court cases one dealt with espionage, but because the case was considered to belong to the rather large realm of state secrets we still have no idea about the charges or the evidence. Early reactions from Ágnes Vadai (DK), who at that point was a member of the parliamentary committee, indicated that both bordered on the ludicrous.

Since I consider the national security office an arm of the Orbán government that is often used for political purposes, my first reaction was to be very skeptical of the charges leveled against Kovács. Until now, Viktor Orbán concentrated on the left (MSZP, DK, E14-PM) and ignored Jobbik. Now that everybody predicts a resounding success for the extremist Jobbik party at the polls on Sunday, it seems that Orbán decided to turn his attention to his adversaries on the right. After all, he has the magic two-thirds majority in parliament and doesn’t need Jobbik.

There is no question of Kovács’s pro-Russian sentiments. He spent the larger part of his life in that country, and he is an ardent supporter of Vladimir Putin and his vision of Russia and the world. In Brussels he is considered to be a “Russian lobbyist,” and I’m sure that he represented Russia more than Hungary in the EP. At least some of his speeches indicate that much. But espionage is something different from making propaganda at the behest of a country.

Viktor Orbán, never known to worry about linguistic niceties, is capitalizing on the situation. On Friday night on MTV he equated espionage against the European Union with treason. He claimed that “the Hungarian public is familiar with the treasonous activities of internationalists who don’t consider the nation important, but that a party that considers itself national (nemzeti) would want to send such people to Brussels where they are supposed to represent Hungarian interests is really unprecedented.”

Let’s analyze this sentence. First of all, he is accusing some (actually, probably most) left-wing politicians of being traitors, while suggesting that there might be more spies among the proposed representatives of Jobbik to the European Parliament. I’m sure that Viktor Orbán means every word he says in this sentence. He is convinced that everyone who disagrees with him and criticizes him is not only unpatriotic but also a traitor; if it depended on him, he would gladly jail all of them. Also, there are signs that Béla Kovács might be only the first target. Perhaps the grand prize would be Gábor Vona himself.  As it is, Lajos Pősze, a disillusioned former Jobbik member, claimed on HírTV that Vona is Moscow’s agent.

In any case, the parliamentary committee on national security was called together this morning. Both Béla Kovács and Gábor Vona were obliged to appear before the committee. It seems that everyone who was present, with the exception of Jobbik member Ádám Mirkóczki, is convinced on the basis of the evidence presented by the national security office that Béla Kovács committed espionage.

Gábor Vona, Ádám Mirkóczy, and Béla Kovács Source: Index / Photo; Szabolcs Barakonyi

Gábor Vona, Ádám Mirkóczki, and Béla Kovács after the hearing
Source: Index / Photo; Szabolcs Barakonyi

What did we learn about the proceedings? Not much, because the information will be classified for a number of years. We do know that the Hungarian national security office has been investigating Kovács ever since 2009 and that they have pictures and recordings of conversations. Chairman Zsolt Molnár (MSZP) found the evidence convincing but added, “there is espionage but no James Bond.” Apparently, what he means is that the case is not like espionage concerning military secrets but “an activity that can be more widely defined.” Bernadett Szél (LMP) was also impressed, but she added that “a person can commit espionage even if he is not a professional spy.” These two comments lead me to believe that we are faced here not so much with espionage as with “influence peddling.” On the other hand, Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), deputy chairman of the committee, was more explicit and more damaging. He indicated that “Kovács had connections to the Russian secret service and these connections were organized and conspiratorial.” Attila Mesterházy, who was not present, also seems to accept the story at face value. The liberal-socialist politicians all appear to have lined up. Interestingly enough, not one of them seems to remember similar Fidesz attacks on people on their side that turned out to be bogus. Yes, I understand that Jobbik is a despicable party, but that’s not a sufficient reason to call Kovács a spy if he is no more than a zealous promoter of Putin’s cause.

Ágnes Vadai (DK) used to be the chair of the committee when she was still a member of MSZP and thus has the necessary clearance to attend the sessions. Since she had to retire from the chairmanship due to her change of political allegiance, she asked admission to some of the more important meetings of the committee. Normally, she receives permission. But not this time. Her reaction was:  “We always suspected that Jobbik has reasons to be secretive but it seems that Fidesz does also.” She promised to ask the Ministry of Interior to supply her with documents connected to the case. I doubt that she will receive anything.

Gáspár Miklós Tamás, the political philosopher whose views I normally don’t share, wrote an opinion piece that pretty well echoes what I had to say about the case three days ago. He calls attention to a double standard. The liberal journalists view Fidesz’s attack on the left-liberal political side with healthy skepticism, but this time they seemed to have swallowed the espionage story hook, line, and sinker. Kovács is most likely an agent d’influence but no more than that. TGM–as everybody calls him–considers the “criminalization of political opponents the overture to dictatorship,” which should be rejected regardless of whether it is directed against the right or the left.

Interestingly, Jobbik’s pro-Russian bias finds many adherents in Hungary. Apparently, whereas in most of the Eastern European countries the public is anti-Russian, especially after the Ukrainian crisis, Hungarian public opinion is divided. And the right-wingers, including some of the Fidesz voters, consider Putin’s intervention in Ukraine at the behest of the ethnic Russians justified. This sympathy most likely has a lot to do with the existence of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

How will Orbán achieve both of his goals–to ruin Jobbik with a Russian espionage case and at the same time defend Russia’s support of autonomy in Ukraine? He may well succeed. His track record when it comes to threading the needle is very good.