Tag Archives: Tibor Szanyi

Momentum’s anti-Olympics drive is already a success

A day after I wrote a post on the anti-Olympics drive there was an encounter at one of the collecting stations which, to my mind, starkly illustrates the attitudinal differences between those young people who established a new political movement called Momentum and the older generation of MSZP politicians.

Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, decided to reap some political benefit by appearing on a news clip as he is signing the referendum petition. Apparently, he informed the Momentum activists of his intentions. When he showed up, cameraman and all, András Fekete-Győr, the president of Momentum, appeared and gave Szanyi a piece of his mind about the do-nothing attitude of Szanyi’s party. Party politicians come here for a media opportunity instead of going out and helping to collect signatures. Szanyi was visibly embarrassed and acted like a little boy who had just been scolded by his father. Once he had recovered from the shock, however, he decided to strike back. In a totally unnecessary retort Szanyi went so far as to compare the leaders of Momentum to Fidesz in their “manipulation of the news.” And he called them “asphalt hamsters,” whatever this term means. Not the best beginning for cooperation between professional politicians and the civil activists. I share Fekete-Győr’s anger when I see MSZP’s total inability (and unwillingness) to engage the population on any level save through TV and radio interviews.

Momentum activists are conducting a campaign that so far has been very successful, especially if one compares it to earlier abortive attempts by parties and individuals. In less than two weeks the Momentum activists, with the help of LMP, collected over 80,000 of the requisite 138,000 signatures. Yesterday László Sólyom, the former president of the country, signed the petition, as was reported by some readers of Index who spotted him.

Source: Pesti Srácok / Photo Péter Gyula Horváth

The conservative József Eötvös Group organized a discussion on the economic effects of holding the 2024 Olympics in Hungary. The main speaker was a “sport economist” who is in favor of the project, yet even he had to admit that if the Olympic Games were held in Budapest, they most likely would not be profitable. In fact, from his speech it became clear that the estimates of PricewaterhouseCoopers are unrealistic because the figures they presented cover only the “organizational costs.” The cost of the actual investments, like buildings, the Olympic village, stadiums, and infrastructure, are not included in the overall cost because, the eager organizers claim, these investment projects would have had to be built anyway and, in any case, they were already included in future plans.

So far Viktor Orbán is putting on a good face about Momentum’s NOlimpia drive. Only yesterday ATV learned from Fidesz sources that he believes that, even if there is a referendum, supporters of the Games will be in the great majority. As one self-assured Fidesz leader told ATV, “for the time being we are just sitting and smiling. We are not afraid.”

Well, perhaps Fidesz leaders spoke too early because today a new Medián poll was released. It shows that Fidesz’s assumptions about a pro-Olympic public in Budapest are based on faulty data. This is what happens when polling questions are being manipulated to achieve the desired results. While all the earlier polls showed little support for the Games, the one conducted by a pro-Olympic group found overwhelming support for holding the Olympics in Hungary.

Yes, there is every reason to believe that if a referendum were held, the anti-Olympics folks would be in the majority. According to Medián, 68% of the people don’t support holding the games in Budapest because it would cost too much and the money should be used for “more useful” things. Only 26% think that, “regardless of the cost,” the Olympic Games would strengthen “the bond that connects members of the nation and national pride.” Nine percent of those polled had already signed the petition, and 33% said they are planning to do so even if the number of signatures collected is multiples of those required. Sixty percent of them support the idea of holding a referendum on the question. If a referendum were held today, 54% of the Budapest voters would opt for withdrawing the Hungarian Olympic Committee’s application. Among those who are certain they would vote at such a referendum, the percentage is even higher, 59%.

The same Fidesz informant who told ATV that they were not worried one bit about Momentum’s campaign added that, even if the young activists succeed, there is always the weapon of a government counter-campaign in favor of the games. Of course, this is exactly what would happen. But I’m not at all sure in light of what I am reading about the politics of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) whether it would be worth the effort. I have very little knowledge of the inner workings of the IOC, but according to rumors, the committee “might break with established practice by naming the host-cities of both the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games when it gathers in Peru in September.” The reason for such a decision is that, despite the reforms introduced to lower the cost and make hosting the games more attractive, very few cities have applied, and those which had shown an initial interest later changed their minds, like Rome or, after a referendum, Hamburg. Currently, both Paris and Los Angeles are vying for the 2024 games; in fact, Paris is so adamant that at one point the French sports leaders announced that it is either 2024 or nothing. Perhaps, the officials of IOC figure, they could convince one of the two to accept the later date. In that case, Budapest’s chances are close to nil.

The news of the referendum drive in Budapest certainly reached the headquarters of IOC and may have strengthened their resolve to name the host countries for both the 2024 and 2028 games in September. As a sports reporter for insidethegames.biz writes, such a decision would be wise “since it emerged that Budapest, the outsider in what is currently a three-horse race, would not launch its international promotion campaign at the beginning of this month as planned, due to a resurgence of the referendum calls that seem to have been lingering in the background almost from day one.” The author further speculates that IOC’s decision would be made easier “if a handy referendum put a spanner in Budapest’s works.”

So, even though Fidesz leaders might be smiling and feeling very sure of themselves, the Hungarian Olympic Committee (MOB) is a great deal more cautious. Moreover, the very fact that an anti-Olympic drive began in Budapest has already damaged Hungary’s chances. Medián’s poll results will not help the Hungarian cause either. If the inhabitants of both Paris and Los Angeles are so gung-ho, the IOC will think twice before awarding the Games to a city where two-thirds of the population don’t want them.

Momentum’s political success is already palpable. That’s why I can’t understand why the two largest opposition parties on the left didn’t rush to support its initiative. NOlimpia is obviously a popular cause and promotes political action. I think that MSZP and DK made a mistake.

February 1, 2017

New MSZP leadership: New strategy and tactics?

While the whole world, including readers of Hungarian Spectrum, are preoccupied with the most unfortunate decision of a slight majority of the citizens of the United Kingdom, an important domestic event has taken place that may change the political landscape in Hungary. Today MSZP delegates from all over the country gathered in Budapest to elect a new leadership. The stakes are high: will the new officers be able, together with other democratic forces, to build a political force capable of successfully competing with the flourishing and self-confident Fidesz under the iron fist of Viktor Orbán? Now that the congress is over and almost all the more important leaders, including the chairman of the party, have been replaced, MSZP has another chance to demonstrate that it can be one of the leading democratic forces in Hungary.

A few days ago, while discussing the Hungarian national football team, we talked about “the players’ lack of self-confidence and will to win.” Someone in the course of the discussion remarked that one could say the same thing about the non-Jobbik opposition to Viktor Orbán’s government. It was this exchange that came to mind when I was reading some of the comments made by the four candidates for the party’s chairmanship in the last few months. For example, there is a strong tendency in MSZP to indulge in self-flagellation. What a total misunderstanding of politics. That is the job of Fidesz, not MSZP. Such statements as “we are unable to escape from quarantine until we face our past” (Tamás Harangozó) don’t inspire much confidence. Or, also from Harangozó, the MSZP supporter learns that by remaining in power between 2006 and 2010 the party went against the wishes of its electorate. I guess they should simply have thrown in the towel and resigned. Or, “MSZP by now is not the party that the people trust with the leadership of the country.” Then why should anyone vote for them? József Tóbiás, the chairman who just lost his position, is no better. What about this for inspiration? “MSZP must understand that we are not a big party.” And yet, he says, “on the left there are no competing parties. There is only one party, which is called MSZP.” Well, if MSZP itself is not a big party and it has no competition on the left, Viktor Orbán will have a very, very long tenure. Tibor Szanyi is a true democrat: “MSZP must get rid of the left-liberal little parties.” Instead, he generously offers a place for all democrats under MSZP’s umbrella.

I left statements by Gyula Molnár, today’s winner, to last. He is, as opposed to his mealy-mouthed comrades, a combative sort who back in 1999-2000 wanted “to take up the kind of political tactics characteristic of our opponents.” This is something that the left in general has been unwilling to do. Molnár, because of his forced absence from politics between 2010 and 2016, has a great advantage. He doesn’t bear any responsibility for the things that went wrong with the party in the last six years. Among the candidates Molnár is the only one who doesn’t think that MSZP can single-handedly defeat Fidesz in the coming elections. I think he puts his finger on the problem when he claims that “the rejection of cooperation [with the other parties] is good for only one thing. To leisurely build the party with the result of losing the election.” A few days later he complained that “MSZP committed the left’s classical mistake: when we are in opposition we want to build the party, not win elections.”

Photo: MTI

Photo: MTI

So, I really think that with the election of Gyula Molnár a new chapter opens in the history of MSZP. At least now, I think, there’s a chance. The chairman of the board, László Botka, mayor of Szeged since 2006, was also replaced by István Hiller, chairman of the party between 2004 and 2006 and minister of education between 2006 and 2010. Hiller’s lead over Botka was surprisingly large. Hiller received 201 votes against Botka’s 134. This very poor showing by Botka who, according to Medián, is the most popular socialist politician in the country, is something of a mystery. Only a few days ago there was talk of Botka as a possible prime minister one day. Now the word is that Botka’s retirement from national politics, at least for the time being, is pretty certain.

We will not see much of József Tóbiás either because he announced his intention to resign from his post as leader of MSZP’s parliamentary delegation.

There were two rounds of voting. From the start Molnár was leading with 121 votes against Tóbiás’s 99, Harangozó’s 67, and Szanyi’s 45. However, since Molnár didn’t have 50% + 1 of the votes, a second round took place where Molnár won 121 votes against Tóbiás’s 99. There will be three deputy chairmen: István Ujhelyi (262 votes), András Nemény (234 votes), and Nándor Gúr (197 votes). I’m pleased by the good showing of Ujhelyi, one of the two MSZP EP members, whom I think highly of.

We know relatively little about what the candidates for the various posts had to say for themselves because the congress was held in camera. I’m relying here on a short description that appeared a few hours ago in 168 Óra. Predictably, Tóbiás tried to convince the delegates that the present course is successful and should be continued. As we know from the outcome, he wasn’t convincing. Harangozó promised that he will be a reliable and hardworking chairman, and Szanyi offered himself as “the captain” of the ship in these troubled times.

Molnár talked about “the fear in our soul. We are afraid to change, we don’t dare to risk. It would be nice to have a messiah who is not afraid of Viktor Orbán. But we can have a general only if there is an army behind him. As [Gyula] Horn said, with bowed head one cannot see far. One needs a new program, new tactics.”

After the congress closed, Molnár gave a short press conference in which he said that he will subordinate everything to the preparations for the 2018 elections. He also emphasized that “only one single challenger can defeat the Fidesz regime,” which means that he is open to negotiations with the other democratic parties. Compare that to László Botka’s speech at the congress in which he announced that “there is life after Gyurcsány and Orbán.” One cannot ignore and insult DK which, as far as electoral support goes, is not too far behind MSZP. Anti-Fidesz voters want cooperation, not strife. I wonder whether Botka’s poor showing has anything to do with his rigid attitude toward other parties on the left.

Fidesz’s “congratulations” to the winners of the MSZP election says a lot about what kind of people the opposition faces. Immediately after the first congratulatory sentence, one reads that both Molnár and Hiller held important positions during the “Gyurcsány era.” In fact, Hiller helped Gyurcsány become prime minister. In any case, it doesn’t matter who the chairman of the party is because MSZP will continue where it left off: “the socialists want to carry out Brussels’ plan of forced immigration, continue their pro-immigration policies, and cover up their corruption…. The new chairman, Gyula Molnár, already indicated that he wants to strengthen the Gyurcsány coalition, which already ruined the country once.”

I hope Molnár will find the right tone to answer such “congratulatory” notes from Fidesz.

June 25, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s interpretation of the Brexit referendum

In the wake of the stunning Brexit referendum outcome, pro-government papers wisely waited for word from the boss before they dared express any opinion on the subject. They didn’t have to wait long. At 8:00 a.m. Viktor Orbán began his regular fortnightly Friday morning interview on the state radio station.

The first topic was of course the British referendum, something the Hungarian prime minister was not at all eager to talk about. The little he said had more to do with his own referendum, to be held sometime in the fall, on the European Union’s right to set “compulsory quotas” of asylum seekers in Hungary. One could ask what these two referendums have to do with one other.  Of course, nothing. What is important for him is his own referendum, and he exploits the opportunity presented by the Brexit referendum.

Brexit1

Source: spectator.co.uk

According to his own version of the story, the whole unfortunate referendum on Brexit was largely the result of the refugee crisis that hit Europe in the last year and a half. He claims that the British people revolted against Brussels because the European Union couldn’t handle the migration crisis. They punished Brussels for its incompetence. Orbán as usual is twisting the truth to fit his own agenda. What the majority of British voters were worried about, in addition to being subordinated to an outside power, was not so much the refugees and migrants who have reached the Continent but those “economic migrants” from East Central Europe who have settled in the British Isles in the last few years.  The 350,000 Poles and the 150,000 Hungarians, for example. At least these are the official figures, though most likely the real numbers are higher.

He was particularly unwilling to talk about the future except to state that “Hungary is in the European Union because we believe in a strong Europe,” a totally meaningless statement, only to return to his main message –the immigration issue. “But Europe can be strong only if it finds answers to such important questions as immigration. Many people, in the case of Great Britain the majority, consider the decisions [on the refugee issue] to be creating not a stronger but a weaker Europe.” So this, in his opinion, is what led to the “leave” vote.

Orbán indicated that he had been in touch with the prime ministers of the Visegrád countries. Robert Fico’s interpretation of the referendum result is almost identical to that of Orbán: “Great numbers of EU citizens reject the migrant policy,” which should obviously be changed. Jarosław Kaczyński went further. He would like to see an entirely new EU constitution which would include “reforms,” after which the EU “could make an offer” to Great Britain. What would these “reforms” include? Among other things, a new definition of the relationship between the EU and the member states, naturally in favor of the nation states. I’m certain that for the Euroskeptic Visegrád countries Kaczyński’s scheme would be a bonanza. Loosen European integration and keep a strong ally, the also Euroskeptic Great Britain, in the fold. This is a totally unacceptable response to the Brexit vote.

Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó regurgitated Viktor Orbán’s wise words about a strong Europe, adding that “the time of honest politics has arrived in Europe” because the EU has for some time been following hypocritical and politically correct policies that have led to wrong answers to the migrant crisis. Lajos Kósa, representing Fidesz as a party, claimed that the majority of the Brits voted to exit from the Union because Brussels couldn’t defend them from the migrants. “It is an impossible situation that the socialist-liberal elite is pro-immigration while the decisive majority of European citizens is not.” Kósa added that “we can agree with the man who came up with the bon mot that Europe for the sake of a few million migrants lost 64 million citizens and the second strongest economy.”

Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadság usually uses her contacts with Fidesz politicians to get a sense of their attitudes on particular issues. According to her, the consensus in the party is that with Brexit Orbán lost an important ally. But in the future Orbán’s voice will become more audible in the EU. Her informants also believe that with the departure of anti-Russian Great Britain Orbán will have an easier time convincing the EU to put an end to the anti-Russian sanctions. The couple of Fidesz EP representatives she interviewed emphasized the importance of the unity of the Visegrád 4 countries, which should be used as a counterweight to French-German dominance. One of the EP representatives, György Schöpflin, is convinced that the European left wants to punish the exiting Brits. He had to admit, however, that it is not only the left that wants immediate negotiations but also the Christian-conservative parties in the European People’s Party (EPP). If that is the case, the Fidesz members of EPP have little choice but to go with the flow.

The leaders of the opposition parties naturally see the situation differently. Csaba Molnár, DK EP member, accused the British conservatives of a 20-year-long anti-EU campaign, which resulted in the disastrous outcome of the referendum. Viktor Orbán has been doing the same thing for years, and if he doesn’t stop eventually Hungary too will leave the EU. He therefore implored Orbán to call off the referendum.  Viktor Szigetvári of Együtt also asked Orbán “to stop his mendacious anti-EU campaign and his anti-European provocations.”

István Szent-Iványi, the foreign policy expert of the Magyar Liberális Párt, looks upon the outcome of the referendum as the result of “the British government party’s two-faced, ambiguous policies regarding the European Union.” The same attitude is present in Hungary and, given the lesson of the British decision, he called on the Hungarian government to make its relationship to Europe unambiguous, to stop its campaign against Brussels, and to cancel the referendum on compulsory quotas. At present, neither Hungary nor Europe needs this referendum, which is no longer about refugees but about Hungary’s relations with Europe.

Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP EP member, called David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum irresponsible and selfish since he placed his own political survival ahead of the future of his country. But perhaps Cameron’s political sins will have a beneficial effect on Orbán. One possible outcome of the British decision might be that European politicians will have had enough of the selfish, nationalist members’ behavior and  will continue European integration without them. At the moment, Hungary still has a chance to be part of this work, but only if Orbán drastically changes course. He added that Brexit will have the most negative effect on the Central and East European countries because the leading demand of those who campaigned for Great Britain’s exit was that citizens of the European Union should not take work away from British citizens.

Given the official Fidesz interpretation of the British referendum, the great majority of the Hungarian people, as is often the case, will be misinformed and misled. I suspect that Orbán will go on campaigning against the EU and will hold the referendum. Otherwise, it is hard to predict how serious a handicap the absence of British support for the Visegrád 4 will be in the coming months. I suspect that from here on Orbán will have a more difficult time in Brussels.

June 24, 2016

Foreign responses to the Hungarian handling of the refugee crisis

On August 27 an article by Jean-Claude Juncker was published in Népszabadság titled “Together, courageously.” In it, Juncker declared that the European Union “will never turn those people away who need our assistance.” However, he continued, it is worrisome that the populist statements of certain politicians merely arouse passions without offering solutions. Hate speech and ill-considered announcements endanger the union’s greatest achievement, the abolition of internal borders. This is not the world he wants to live in, he said. The real Europe is personified in “those Hungarian volunteers who give food and toys to hungry, exhausted refugee children.” Europe is “those students in Siegen who opened the door of their dormitory to the refugees.” Europe is “the baker on the island of Kos who distributes bread to hungry and weary people. This is the Europe where I want to live.” Finally, he added that “by hiding behind fences we can’t barricade ourselves from all fears and sufferings.”

This article was written before 71 people suffocated in a human trafficker truck with a Hungarian license plate not far from the Hungarian border. It was written before it became known that the Orbán government was planning to introduce modifications to the criminal code that will create what has been described as a state of martial law. It was written before the contents of a parliamentary resolution were published, in which nine members of the Hungarian parliament blamed European politicians: their “irresponsible policies are responsible for the death of people.”

Viktor Orbán, the man who is, we can safely say, responsible for everything that happens in the country, says not a word. He has, as is his wont, disappeared, just as he vanishes from the chamber when he forces his minions to vote for controversial pieces of legislation he wouldn’t like to be held responsible for at a later date. I can’t imagine that any statesman would remain silent in a situation that government officials and politicians describe as a state of emergency. Orbán instead gets his henchmen to sign the odious document.

Foreign criticism of Viktor Orbán has been growing, especially since the tragedy that befell the Syrians on their way to Germany in that truck. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave an interview today in which he called the attitude of some countries in Eastern Europe “scandalous.” He criticized them for “not complying with the common values of Europe.” Fabius wants to dismantle the fence the Hungarian government erected as the first demand, after which the “European Union should have a serious and tough discussion with the Hungarian leaders.” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also condemned the Hungarian “solution” to the crisis when he told a gathering in La Rochelle that “those who flee wars, persecution, torture, must be welcomed with dignity.” Look around the Hungarian train stations where families have to lie on the cement floor in designated areas.

Mourning the death of the refugees at the Keleti Station in Budapest

Mourning the death of the refugees at the Keleti Station in Budapest

On the other side, the Orbán government tries to justify its actions by claiming that they are actually defending the interests of Western Europe. Gergely Gulyás, one of the cleverest and therefore most dangerous of the Fidesz lot, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, told the German readers of the paper that in fact Hungary’s tough stand serves German interests. They should be grateful because fewer people will reach Germany as a result of Hungary not allowing the refugees to step onto Hungarian soil. “One could say,” he continued, “that Hungary is closing its borders for Germany’s sake.” Perhaps it would be time for the German government to tell the Hungarians that it doesn’t want their help. I don’t think that Angela Merkel would like to be held responsible for more deaths of refugees who feel that they must pay smugglers because the Hungarian authorities, for Germany’s sake, don’t let them board trains for which they already have tickets. Let’s leave that responsibility to Viktor Orbán.

Reuters‘s Krisztina Than talked at length with Ahmed, a twenty-seven-year-old Syrian school teacher, and his wife at one of the Budapest railway stations. He told her about their harrowing ten-day trip from Ariha in northern Syria to Budapest. They are heading to Germany, he said. He described their journey as “a trip from death to death.” He said that if he finds a smuggler, he will go with him. “It’s better than sitting here.” Indeed, the next day “there was no sign of Ahmed and his wife at the railway station.” The family who camped out next to them indicated that “they had already moved on.” The chaos that has been the result of the incompetence and perhaps even ill will of the authorities and the fear that they will have to stay in Hungary compel these people to flee, if necessary with the help of smugglers.

Just yesterday the Austrian police checked a suspicious-looking truck near Sankt Peter am Hart in Upper Austria in which they found 26 refugees, among them two five-year-old girls and a six-year-old boy who, due to severe dehydration, were close to death. The driver of the vehicle was a Romanian citizen. It is only a question of time before another tragedy happens. This one was a close call.

Tibor Szanyi, an MSZP member of the European Parliament, on tumblr.com, blamed Viktor Orbán for the death of the 71 people who suffocated in the refrigerated truck because “if these people didn’t also have to escape from the Hungarians, they would still be alive.” Szanyi can say hair-raising things, but this time I’m not sure that István Dévényi of Válasz is correct when he claims that “Tibor Szanyi has simply lost his mind.” It was not only the right-wing Válasz that condemned Szanyi’s short note but also János Széki, a columnist of Élet és Irodalom. He is outraged that instead of mourning the victims, the first thing that comes to someone’s mind is that “Orbán will have to answer for the death of these people.” (Actually, Szanyi used the Hungarian expression “Orbán lelkén szárad” [it is on Orbán’s conscience].)

According to Zoltán Kovács, the government spokesman, the victims themselves are responsible for their own deaths. In the opinion of the leading politicians of Fidesz, it is the irresponsible European politicians who are guilty. And now Szanyi comes forward with a new culprit, Viktor Orbán himself. Of these three, I’m afraid, Orbán is the best candidate because after all he is the prime minister of the country that seems unable and/or unwilling to handle the crisis and whose government is determined not to allow these refugees to continue their journey in a legal and organized fashion. Under these circumstances, after such an arduous and dangerous journey, these people feel that they have no choice but to turn to smugglers. The more stringent border patrolling and more severe restrictions produce more smugglers and more possible tragedies. A rapid change in policy is in order. The tough talking-to Fabius proposed shouldn’t be postponed.

Hungarian public discourse: Gloves off

We have been so preoccupied with Viktor Orbán’s ideas on the illiberal state that we have paid scant attention to some other important utterances of the Hungarian prime minister. Here I think of his many references to “honest” public discourse replacing what is “politically correct.” “Honest” public discourse often seems to encompass verbal abuse, including in some segments of Hungarian society racist and antisemitic expletives.

Right-wing politicians are pioneers of the art of “honest” discourse. While in opposition Viktor Orbán was a master of the craft. He used his skills to undertake a character assassination of his political foe, Ferenc Gyurcsány. Now that he is prime minister he refrains from the kind of language that was his trademark. He no longer calls his political opponents clowns, no-goods, idiots, adventurers, regents of eastern despotism, and similar epithets; he lets others to do the dirty work. For example, CÖF, the pro-government civil group. Or his old friend, Zsolt Bayer. But topping them is his close friend, László Kövér, president of the parliament, who has inherited his mantle; he is a master of finding the most abusive words when talking about the opposition.

Here are a few choice sentences from the latest Kövér special. On September 26 Kövér gave a pep talk to the Fidesz faithful in Budapest’s District XX. First he talked about the weak and confused opposition whose “members don’t know whether they are boys or girls, often in the strictest sense of the word.” (“Nem tudja,  fiú vagy lány” is an expression that means being confused.) One did not have to be there to know that this “witticism” must have been a real hit with the audience. After accusing the owners of utility companies of “stealing money out of people’s pockets,” he moved on to the arch-enemy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is “the total bankruptcy and nadir of Hungarian democracy.” After piling one accusation after the other on the former prime minister, Kövér compared him to “the politicians of the Entente” [after World War I] responsible for Trianon. “In comparison to him Mátyás Rákosi was an altar boy.” And if that wasn’t enough, he called him “the reincarnation of Ernő Gerő,” Rákosi’s right-hand man.

gloves off

What can come after such verbal abuse? As often happens, physical abuse. This morning Ferenc Gyurcsány was campaigning in Csepel where the opposition actually has a good chance of defeating the current mayor, Szilárd Németh, the face of the utility rate decreases. A man started screaming at Gyurcsány and set out to attack him physically; fortunately the people around the former prime minister managed to restrain the would-be assailant.

The right-wing media naturally follow the “stylistic” lead of the politicians. Heti Válasz (nowadays only Válasz in the online version) decided to transform their formerly stodgy style into one that is more sensational. The articles in its new column called “Rosta” (sieve) have begun to resemble some of the opinion pieces of the far-right Magyar Hírlap. The leading Fidesz paper, Magyar Nemzet, also likes to pile abuse on political opponents. The latest victim of the paper is István Vágó, earlier a television personality, who decided to run for a seat on his district’s city council. Vágó’s program includes a suggestion to convert an empty piece of real estate into a children’s center. This particular building had earlier belonged to the district but was given back to the Catholic Church some time ago. Well, this suggestion was a cardinal sin in the eyes of the editors of the newspaper. Vágó was accused of a Rákosi-like harassment of the Church.

Unfortunately the verbal infection is spreading to opposition circles. An MSZP politician, Tibor Szanyi, who is often described as the enfant terrible of the party, decided some time ago to imitate the right-wing politicians. Recently Szanyi, a member of the European Parliament, got himself into a terrible jam when, as a result of a foolish bet he made, he had to invite a number of “goy bikers” to Brussels. Worse, he did that not on his own money but with funds provided by the European Union for the purpose of acquainting citizens with the workings of the European Union. The media, after learning about the event from one of the goy bikers, ran the story. Szanyi’s answer? He called the journalists rats! Szanyi is currently the leader of the four-member socialist-DK caucus. But not for long. The goy bikers story was too much for DK, and it seems MSZP concurs.

And now we come to the language of a well-known poet turned politician, Géza Szőcs. He started his career in Cluj/Kolozsvár, then worked as a journalist in Switzerland, returned to Romania where he became a politician, and finally ended up in Budapest where he joined the government of Viktor Orbán as assistant secretary in charge of culture. Here is this cultured gentleman’s letter to Hannu Launonen, a Finnish translator of Hungarian literature, who was awarded the Janus Pannonius Prize, a relatively new international award given jointly by the Hungarian government and the Hungarian PEN Club. Szőcs is currently the president of PEN.

In the last minute Launonen turned down the prize. He was not the first one to do so. In 2012 Lawrence Ferlinghetti was awarded the prize but, after learning that the Hungarian government was a partial sponsor of the award, did not accept it. In declining, Ferlinghetti cited his opposition to the right wing regime of Viktor Orbán which curtails civil liberties and freedom of speech. Szőcs was infuriated with Launonen’s decision. And so he wrote an open letter to Launonen.

The letter was described by 168 Óra as “primitive.” But how primitive? Among other things, Szőcs wonders what would have happened if Launonen had decided to decline the prize after he received the €3,000 that went with it, intimating that he might have pocketed the money anyway. He accuses Launonen of “aping Ferlinghetti” and adds that his “gesture’s weight is truly relative.” At the end he claims that any exchange between the two of them is “superfluous and pointless” because on the basis of his behavior Szőcs considers him a man “of infirm character.” What can one say? If Szőcs hadn’t written this “superfluous” letter he could have saved himself the embarrassment of being called a boor.

The price of collecting signatures of the quick and the dead

My initial impression of HVG‘s young editor-in-chief was negative, mainly due to his habit of appearing for TV interviews wearing a baseball cap backwards. But I have since completely revised my opinion of Gábor Gavra. He has turned HVG into a powerhouse of investigative journalism. It was HVG that in the final analysis was responsible for President Pál Schmitt’s resignation. While they were at it, they managed to prove that not was all kosher with the dissertations (yes, plural) of Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, the pious spokesman for the Hungarian Catholic Church. Alas, proof or no proof, Semjén stayed and Schmitt’s replacement, János Áder, is only superficially better than his predecessor.

HVG‘s track record of exposing documented misdeeds encouraged others to come forth. For instance, they broke the story of the allocation of tobacconist shop concessions in Szekszárd where the Fidesz members of the city council determined who among the party faithful should be rewarded. The brave vet who approached HVG with the tape recording has since left the party and, as a result of his disclosure, has been having all sorts of problems in his hometown.

HVG‘s latest revelation deals with the Fidesz petition to lower utility rates. According to the tapes it received, Fidesz paid young high school students who were eager to make some pocket money 100 forints per local signature, 500 forints if the signature came from someone out of town. We know from the article that appeared in HVG yesterday that the editors of the paper have not just one tape but most likely several at their disposal. Moreover, as we know from past experience, Gábor Gavra likes to hold a few pieces of evidence back for later use. So, although right now the evidence points to Dunakeszi and Fót, who knows what else the editorial staff of the paper has up its sleeve?

What we know already is damning enough. The kids didn’t just pound the pavement in their hometowns. It seems they were sent to other localities. The evidence comes from a mother whose underage son began collecting signatures on Friday and didn’t return home until Monday. The worried parents actually informed the police about the disappearance of their son. Surely, if he had been working close to home he would have gone home for the night.

Fidesz collected 2.5 million signatures and paid an unknown sum of money to the students for their efforts. But why would such a signature campaign be needed? Wouldn’t it be a no-brainer for 2.5 million people to support the idea of lowering utility rates? It seems from the tapes, however, that it wasn’t all that easy to collect those signatures. One boy boasts that in two days he managed to collect 102 signatures; another claims that one can make 8,000 forints a day.

The payment per signature might explain the many “mistakes” that came to light once Viktor Orbán sent thank you notes to those who signed his petition. Thousands of people complained that they didn’t sign the petition and still got a letter or that their long deceased relatives were also profusely thanked by the grateful prime minister.

Voting fraud

Róbert Zsigó, one of the many Fidesz spokesmen, immediately came to the rescue, claiming that the signature campaign that HVG described was a purely local initiative. A local politician decided to reward the youngsters “from his own salary.” Sure thing. As the video of Zsigó’s press conference attests, that can’t be the real story because Zsigó himself got confused. First he denied that “we paid” anything, but a second later he said “we paid” (fizettünk). So, did they or didn’t they? I suspect they did, and they did it nationwide.

As soon as the news broke, Tibor Szanyi (MSZP), taking advantage of the situation, expressed his belief that if Fidesz can pay for signatures for utility prices why wouldn’t they do the same at the national election where the stakes are a lot higher? We do have to distinguish the two cases. Payment for collecting signatures is not against law as long as we are talking about adults, although I don’t know the status of payment for collecting phony signatures. Payment for votes, in whatever form that takes–well, that’s something else entirely. And, of course, voter fraud (to mention only three of its possible iterations: vote early and often, resurrect the dead, vote on behalf of those who do not intend to vote) is illegal. Unfortunately, MSZP’s suspicions are not unfounded. A lot of people worry about electoral fraud. Viktor Orbán can’t imagine life without being the prime minister and I’m sure he will do everything in his power to remain in office.

Gordon Bajnai blinked: He is ready to accept the thirty-five districts allotted to Együtt 2014

The somewhat surprising developments that occurred on Friday afternoon during the meeting between Attila Mesterházy, chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP), and Gordon Bajnai, former prime minister and current co-chairman of Együtt 2014-PM, not unexpectedly created a huge discussion among political commentators. It still hasn’t subsided, despite the fact that Bajnai announced a retreat from his earlier position this morning.

When on Friday the two men got up from the negotiating table and held separate press conferences it looked as if even the partial results achieved over the past few weeks had been lost. Although there had been a tentative agreement on the division of the 106 mandates, Mesterházy made it clear that his party considered it null and void. According to this preliminary agreement, MSZP would be entitled to put up 71 candidates and Együtt 2014 35. These numbers, it seems, were not final. If MSZP insisted on providing the candidate for the premiership, Együtt 2014 wanted more than 35 seats. How many more is unclear. It was at this point that Bajnai introduced his idea of a campaign in which the two candidates would try to convince the electorate of their worth. After such a campaign the decision would be based on a couple of polls. Mesterházy turned the tables on Bajnai and suggested holding primaries.

Of course, each man suggested a course that would best serve his interests. So, let’s see first what the Bajnai group is confronted with. You may recall that sometime in June I wrote about an interview with Endre Hann, CEO of Medián, a polling company. In this conversation we learned that although overall Mesterházy has a 3% lead over Bajnai in the polls, this is due only to Bajnai’s relative unpopularity among Fidesz and Jobbik voters. As I reported, “Bajnai is definitely doing better with the voters of the so-called democratic opposition parties. In all parties he leads over Mesterházy–among sympathizers of Együtt 2014 (89%), of DK (64%), of LMP (56%). Even among MSZP voters 30% think that Bajnai is more qualified for the job of prime minister than MSZP’s chairman. Overall, 51% of the democratic opposition prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (43%). That is not an unsubstantial difference. Translating it to actual numbers, we are talking about 200,000 voters. Among those who are against the present government but are still undecided as far as their party preference is concerned, 55% would prefer Bajnai over Mesterházy (33%). The difference here is about 100,000.”

Negotiations
In a poll asking supporters of the democratic opposition to choose between the two potential candidates, Bajnai would most likely come out the winner. Or at least this is the situation now. I’m sure that Mesterházy is aware of these figures and that’s why he would prefer a primary which, given the well developed nationwide MSZP organization, would favor him. I myself find a primary not a bad idea in theory, but under the present circumstances it is out of the question. At least for two reasons. First, Hungarian parties don’t have rostrums of their likely voters. If sometime in the future Hungarian politicians decide to introduce primaries, they will need to build databases of the party faithful (or introduce party registration). Second, primaries are held to pick a candidate from contenders within the same party. And Bajnai and Mesterházy are the leaders of two different parties. Primaries in the United States, for instance, are not held to decide whether a Republican or a Democrat will run for the presidency. Sándor Révész, a liberal supporter of Bajnai, in an editorial in Nepszabadság called the suggested primary a not so well hidden fraud.

On the other hand, there are others, for example, Andor Schmuck, chairman of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party, who severely criticized Bajnai for his unacceptable demands. According to him, Bajnai might be more popular than Mesterházy, but he is the co-chairman of a party with a 6% share of the votes. Moreover, Együtt 2014 is not really a party but a coalition of different civic groups with no numbers behind them. He went on to list them: Milla has 50-100 people, Solidarity 250, Haza és Haladás (Homeland and Progress Foundation) 15-20. At the end Schmuck came up with 800 people who are organized behind Bajnai. It took them four months to come up with 90 names, which shows the lack of party organization and support. This holy mess (hercehurca) has been going on for eight months and people who want a change are sick and tired of it. Mesterházy went through four very difficult years when it was not exactly a picnic to be head of MSZP while Bajnai retired only to appear three years later, and now he wants to be the prime minister. As you can see, each side has its own valid arguments.

Mesterházy’s ultimatum also has another consequence that might not be welcome to the MSZP leadership. MSZP, like all parties, is made up of people with different shades of political opinion. Although MSZP has its share of liberals, there is also a fairly strong left-wing group whose ideas are strangely foreign to the ideal of western social democracy. One of the people in that group is Tibor Szanyi who, emboldened by Mesterházy’s rejection of any further negotiations with Bajnai, came out with the kind of demagoguery that makes a lot of people uneasy. On Facebook Szanyi tore into those capitalists whose wealth originates from communist oligarchs–like Péter Medgyessy, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Gordon Bajnai–who were not fit to lead a socialist party that is supposed to be a party of the working people. Gordon Bajnai might have been their prime minister in 2009-2010, but he is certainly not one of them. He doesn’t represent the working people. After all, he took away the thirteenth month salaries and pensions. If MSZP had been able to decide on its own, the thirteenth month salary wouldn’t have been touched. And I may add that they would have led Hungary into a financial abyss. Mesterházy needs these kinds of socialists like a hole in the head.

On the other hand, the Friday ultimatums prompted László Botka, the socialist mayor of Szeged, to raise his voice. I don’t think that I mentioned László Botka in the past, though perhaps I should have. His name often comes up as a possible candidate either for party chairmanship or even prime minister one day. On Facebook he expressed his surprise at the breakdown of negotiations and reiterated his belief that the most important goal is “the replacement of the Orbán government and anything else is secondary to it.” He asked for “more responsibility, greater magnanimity , and more wisdom.” He added that for those who want Orbán out of office the important question is not whether the prime minister will be Mesterházy or Bajnai. At last a sane voice in MSZP.