Napi Gazdaság, which will soon appear under a new name, Magyar Idők (Hungarian Times), continues where the Magyar Nemzet of old left off before the outbreak of the Orbán-Simicska war. In fact, Napi Gazdaság today is an even more extremist paper than Magyar Nemzet ever was because those who decided to leave Nemzet and form a new team are the most hard-core, loyal media servants of the Orbán regime.
Those who would like to get a balanced picture of what’s going on in Hungary and abroad shouldn’t bother to read Napi Gazdaság. On the other hand, in the last few months Magyar Nemzet has become a much more balanced publication where one can increasingly find opinions that would never have been tolerated earlier. A good example of this new attitude is Magyar Nemzet‘s willingness to publish Mária M. Kovács’s rebuttal of Gábor Ujváry’s piece on Bálint Hóman.
Such a thing couldn’t possibly happen in Napi Gazdaság, which is continuing the strongly anti-American editorial policy that was the hallmark of the Magyar Nemzet of earlier days. The latest example of the pro-Fidesz newspaper’s anti-American bias is an especially outrageous editorial written by Imre Czirják. Czirják abandoned Simicska’s HírTV and became one of the two deputy editors-in-chief of Napi Gazdaság. If you find the ideas expressed in this editorial so absurd that you think they must be the product of a madman’s overly fertile imagination, I hate to disappoint you. The kernel of this bizarre story comes straight from the highest echelon of the Fidesz leadership, from the owner of Fidesz membership card #1, László Kövér, president of the Hungarian Parliament, who is the closest and oldest friend of Viktor Orbán.
A month ago László Kövér gave an interview to Pesti srácok (Scamps of Pest), an internet news site catering to the right wing of Fidesz, which is practically indistinguishable from Jobbik. The conversation was supposed to be about the refugee crisis, and in this connection the reporter disapprovingly recalled that Tímea Szabó, co-chair of the small opposition party Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) and a member of parliament, held up a sign to the refugees saying “Welcome to Hungary.” Then came Kövér’s non sequitur: “In the last hundred years or so internationally trained agents have been showing up from time to time in Hungarian politics. These people work in Hungary because here they are not restricted by linguistic difficulties. This is how it was already with Ernő Gerő and Co., and also after 1990. Barcelona or Belgium, Afghanistan or Africa–it matters not. They do their job whether it is here or there. And they do what their keepers tell them to do.” Clearly, Kövér was accusing Tímea Szabó of being the agent of a foreign power.
A quick look at Tímea Szabó’s biography explains Kövér’s rant. Szabó studied at Harvard and later was involved in a research program under the aegis of the Harvard Law School. She headed a research team commissioned by the United Nations to study strategies for the prevention of military conflict. In the summer of 2001 she spent three months in Pakistan, and after 9/11 she did research on the Afghan conflict and the subsequent rebuilding of the country. She subsequently went to Afghanistan as a member of a UN team and then as a representative of CARE International. Altogether she spent two years in Afghanistan. She returned to Hungary in 2003 and a year later joined LMP. (In 2013 PM split off from LMP.)
Although Imre Czirják’s editorial is titled “Miss Afghanistan,” it is not really about Tímea Szabó. She is merely someone whose past plays into yet another tale of alleged espionage, which fuels the paranoia of Fidesz leaders. Just think of all those stories about an international conspiracy led by western politicians bent on removing Viktor Orbán from power. In government circles and in the right-wing media it is widely believed that foreign powers are financing the opposition parties. They have been especially suspicious of Gordon Bajnai’s financial backers from the United States. And here is where Tímea Szabó’s past comes in handy. Czirják finds it most suspicious that on the united opposition’s party list Szabó’s position was high enough to ensure that she would become a member of parliament. She also represented her party at the farewell party given for M. André Goodfriend, the chargé d’affaires of the United States, before his departure from Budapest. She must be guilty of something, thinks Czirják.
The United States, with the help of Hungarian agents, is hard at work. The question is “what is the real goal of Goodfriend and company and their allies” because up to now Goodfriend’s “unprecedented media campaign achieved only Jobbik’s spectacular rise.” What kind of a strategy are they contemplating now that they have strengthened Jobbik and weakened Fidesz? Are they planning to use Jobbik to their own advantage? It wouldn’t be the first time in Hungarian politics that two parties coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, for example “the communist MSZP and the anti-communist SZDSZ, found common ground with the effective assistance of George Soros.” Czirják suggests that Tímea Szabó, the alleged American agent, is being used to approach Jobbik for an alliance between the neo-Nazis and the so-called democratic opposition under American tutelage.
In Czirják’s opinion there are already signs of a closer collaboration between the two sides. Szabó told Jobbik’s leader in no uncertain terms that it was unacceptable for one of Jobbik’s MEPs to spit into the empty shoes on the bank of the Danube that had been placed there in memory of the Jews who were shot and thrown into the river in 1944. Czirják admits that Vona didn’t answer her directly, but a few days later he sent the culprit to the embankment “to atone for his sin.” When Szabó later asked Vona what he thinks about his party’s racist attitude toward the Roma, or about the paramilitary Hungarian Guard, again the Jobbik party chief didn’t respond, but soon enough he announced his plans to change the party’s image by abandoning its extremist stance. So, Czirják indicates, an alliance is being forged between the extreme left and the extreme right under the watchful eye of the United States in order to ruin Fidesz and Viktor Orbán. Even if we strip the story of its more fanciful details, the United States is being accused of supporting (up to this point indirectly and perhaps in the future directly) a neo-Nazi party.
Let’s return briefly to László Kövér, who in the interview with Pesti Srácok also made the United States responsible for the immigration crisis in Hungary. It all started with the war in Iraq and the Arab Spring, for which the United States is responsible.
Although André Goodfriend’s “unprecedented media campaign” coincided with the growth of Jobbik, it was not responsible for it. Fidesz’s precipitous losses were due primarily to bad governance and an accumulating dissatisfaction with the whole Orbán regime. Many former Fidesz voters left for Jobbik or, for that matter, for MSZP and DK, while the number of undecided voters grew substantially. Admittedly, the Ipsos chart of Jobbik’s fortunes in the last couple of months shows a drop in support for the party (from 18% to 15%). But, again, Goodfriend’s departure can’t be causally linked to this decline. Most likely Vona’s new, more accommodative strategy didn’t appeal to the extreme elements in the party. Moreover, Fidesz ratcheted up its nationalistic, anti-immigrant rhetoric.
In any case, the current Hungarian government’s attitude toward the the United States is not the kind upon which a strong friendship can be built. It is not enough to send an ambassador to Washington who sounds reasonable and moderate when the most important party leaders in Fidesz accuse the United States of using agents to topple the Hungarian government. Or when Fidesz leaders accuse the United States of aiding and abetting a neo-Nazi party.