Tag Archives: United States of America

Hungary as a blueprint for an autocratic United States

I just read an article by David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush. The title of the piece is “How to Build an Autocracy.” In it Frum argues that the preconditions for the establishment of an autocratic type of regime are present in the United States. He portrays an “illiberal” United States of America with President Donald Trump as an autocrat, warning that “checks and balances” is only a metaphor, not a mechanism. Frum’s imagined no longer democratic United States “is possible only if many people other than Donald Trump agree to permit it” and if Americans opt not to resist Trump and his policies. It is an extremely powerful and deeply disturbing piece.

Frum points to Viktor Orbán’s Hungary as an example of what can happen to a country captured by an autocrat. Hungary, after seven years under Viktor Orbán, has the dubious distinction of being regularly cited as an example of depravity, corruption at the highest level, frightened and oppressed media, and increasingly irrelevant elections. Let me quote the pertinent passage:

What has happened in Hungary since 2010 offers an example—and a blueprint for would-be strongmen. Hungary is a member state of the European Union and a signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights. It has elections and uncensored internet. Yet Hungary is ceasing to be a free country.

The transition has been nonviolent, often not even very dramatic. Opponents of the regime are not murdered or imprisoned, although many are harassed with building inspections and tax audits. If they work for the government, or for a company susceptible to government pressure, they risk their jobs by speaking out. Nonetheless, they are free to emigrate anytime they like. Those with money can even take it with them. Day in and day out, the regime works more through inducements than through intimidation. The courts are packed, and forgiving of the regime’s allies. Friends of the government win state contracts at high prices and borrow on easy terms from the central bank. Those on the inside grow rich by favoritism; those on the outside suffer from the general deterioration of the economy. As one shrewd observer told me on a recent visit, “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s rule over Hungary does depend on elections. These remain open and more or less free—at least in the sense that ballots are counted accurately. Yet they are not quite fair. Electoral rules favor incumbent power-holders in ways both obvious and subtle. Independent media lose advertising under government pressure; government allies own more and more media outlets each year. The government sustains support even in the face of bad news by artfully generating an endless sequence of controversies that leave culturally conservative Hungarians feeling misunderstood and victimized by liberals, foreigners, and Jews.

One must read the whole article to appreciate David Frum’s masterful essay and his portrayal of Donald Trump who, during whose presidency, “will corrode public integrity and the rule of law.” In his opinion, “the damage has already begun, and it will not be soon or easily undone. Yet exactly how much damage is allowed to be done is an open question—the most important near-term question in American politics. It is also an intensely personal one, for its answer will be determined by the answer to another question: What will you do? And you? And you?”

In Hungary, I’m afraid, too few people are ready to stand up and say, “Yes, I will take action.”

February 2, 2017

The Hungarian government’s Anti-American rhetoric: László Kövér and Péter Boross

Two weeks ago Ambassador Colleen Bell returned to the United States to take part in the celebrations organized by the Hungarian Embassy in Washington for the sixtieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. One of the events was the ribbon cutting ceremony for the “1956 Hungarian Freedom Fighters Exhibit,” which took place at the Pentagon. Here the American ambassador delivered a short but ringing speech about the wonderful U.S.-Hungarian friendship because “the United States and Hungary share a faith in democracy. We share a common heritage, cherishing our rights not as subjects or vassals, not as dependents or followers, but as citizens. We are citizens bound together by our love of liberty, and our willingness to serve.” What a charitable description of the present state of affairs in Hungary.

Official Hungary didn’t seem to appreciate the ambassador’s expressions of friendship and her praise of Hungarian democracy. Only a few days later at least two important political personages attacked the United States in the basest fashion in connection with the celebrations of ’56.

Let me start with Hungary’s elderly statesman Péter Boross, who for a few months in 1993 and 1994 was the prime minister of Hungary and now at least on paper is one of the chief advisers of Viktor Orbán. Anyone wanting to know more about Boross’s “love of democracy” should read my post titled “Péter Boross: No longer the wise man of Hungary?”

It just happened that three days before the anniversary of the revolution the U.S. State Department released a statement that “share[d] the concerns of global press freedom advocates, international organizations, and Hungarian citizens over the steady decline of media freedom in Hungary.” The statement called attention to two recent incidents. One was the ban of 444.hu from the parliament building on October 19; the other, “the sudden closure of Hungary’s largest independent newspaper, Nepszabadsag, on October 8.” The short statement ended with: “as a friend and ally, we encourage the Hungarian government to ensure an open media environment that exposes citizens to a diversity of views and opinions, a key component of our shared democratic values.”

The answer came soon enough. Péter Boross delivered a speech on October 22 in front of one of the several monuments commemorating the events of 1956. He spared no words condemning the United States, specifically mentioning the U.S. State Department’s statement concerning media freedom in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. As Boross explained, October 23 is “a sacred day which certain people deride.” For example, “the deputy spokesman of a great power’s foreign ministry who is worried about the state of Hungary’s media freedom.” Somewhere in Washington the last issue of Népszabadság is being exhibited, he complained indignantly, and without hesitation offered the following retort: “Shouldn’t we exhibit a couple of items from the list of the heinous crimes [gaztettek] of the American imperialists?” Well, well, old habits die hard. Or perhaps, as János Dési of Klubrádió wrote in an opinion piece, “Boross was always a useful link in all dictatorships.” Dési’s comment is appropriate because as a youngster Boross was an enthusiastic cadet in a military academy that ended up fighting alongside the Germans.

The bashing of the United States continued a couple of days later when László Kövér delivered a speech in the parliament building where MSZP and DK members and perhaps some independents were conspicuously absent. For Kövér the “lesson of the revolution and war of independence [of 1956] is that without the maintenance and defense of its own self-image, self-determination and self-esteem the whole of Europe, the whole of the European Union may become the tragic victim of the unscrupulous self-interest of great powers outside of Europe and of clandestine powers [háttérhatalmak], operating over and above the states without democratic mandate and supervision.” How he got from an uprising against a Stalinist regime and the Soviet occupation forces to the political and economic encroachment of the United States, because, let’s face it, this is what Kövér is talking about, and George Soros’s Open Society project is unfathomable to me.

Kövér continued, claiming that “the Hungarian ’56” also has a message for the 21st century. Every time I hear a politician say that either a historical occasion or a long-dead historical figure “sends messages to us” I have to laugh because I once read a very funny piece by a blogger who said: “No, my friends, St. Stephen doesn’t send us messages. Neither does Sándor Petőfi nor Lajos Kossuth.” Well, I can add, neither does the Hungarian revolution of 1956. Especially not the kind of confused message that Kövér tries to convey about national sovereignty based on the will of the people which, if tampered with, “will lead to the weakening of democracy, anarchy and subordination of Europe.” Thus, in this context, when the Orbán government defends Hungary’s national sovereignty “it defends the heritage of 1956.” Those who think that Hungarians can be made to abandon the heritage of ’56, their historical ideals and their beliefs underestimate the Hungarian people. “No threat, no lies, no sugar coating” will work.

Of of those Soviet tanks Kövér was talking about

One of those Soviet tanks László Kövér was talking about with Hungarian coat of arms plastered on it

But the above was a mild rebuke in comparison to what followed: Kövér’s reinterpretation of the United States’ role in the Hungarian revolution of 1956. It was on November 1, 1956 that Hungary declared its independence and neutrality. “The next day, on November 2, the foreign ministry of the United States informed the Yugoslav leader, Tito, who was host to the Soviet party secretary [Nikita Khrushchev] at the time, that the United States doesn’t look with favor upon those countries neighboring on the Soviet Union that are unfriendly toward the Soviet Union. It was after that, on November 4, that the Soviet Union attacked Hungary with more tanks than Hitler had sent against Poland in 1939.” In brief, the defeat of the uprising is directly attributable to the pro-Soviet policies of the United States, which assured the Russians of its support of the beleaguered Soviet Union. This is a pretty incredible statement. I have no idea where he found this, for me at least, totally unknown piece of information.

As an antidote I recommend the website of the 1956-os Intézet és Oral History Archívum, especially “Győzhetett-e volna a magyar forradalom 1956-ban?” I also recommend Charles Gati’s highly acclaimed book Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt (2007).

October 26, 2016

Hungarian spies are everywhere

As the minister of the prime minister’s office responsible for, among other things, Hungarian intelligence, János Lázár has very little sense of what should remain secret. I found the minutes of his speech at the meeting of the parliamentary committee on national security on June 23 shocking. He outlined several ongoing Hungarian intelligence projects, endangering not only the work of the Hungarian intelligence community but also the anonymity of its members.

So, what did we learn about Hungarian intelligence from Lázár? A lot. He began with Ukraine, a country that is in the cross hairs of the Hungarian government. It is here that the Orbán government is trying to stir up trouble. Lázár praised the work of the Hungarian military and civilian intelligence in Kiev both during and “after” the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Hungarian intelligence has also been busy in the Hungarian-inhabited parts of the Subcarpathian region of Ukraine. Reading this portion of Lázár’s speech, I gained the distinct impression that in this border region secret agents are busy feeding the Hungarian minority’s dissatisfaction. The Orbán government expects, perhaps even hopes for, a conflict between Ukrainians and Hungarians, which might give Hungary an opportunity to demand a “solution” to the problem. Only yesterday Magyar Közlöny (Official Gazette) reported that this year the Hungarian government has provided 116 million forints “for the training of civilian guards,” who are supposed to defend Hungarians against Ukrainian aggression. Lázár in his speech admitted that the Ukrainian government strenuously objects to the Hungarian government’s meddling in the country’s affairs. Indeed, the Orbán government treats Ukraine like a state from whose collapse Hungary might profit.

Hungarian intelligence is equally busy, according to Lázár, in Romania. What agents are trying to determine is the exact relationship between Romania and the United States because “we know that the U.S. is very much involved in Romanian domestic politics” but “we don’t yet quite understand the nature of this relationship.” I assume there are two aspects of U.S.-Romanian relations that worry the Orbán government: (1) the two countries’ coordinated anti-Russian policies and (2) a possible anti-Hungarian understanding between the two countries.

The third neighbor, Croatia, is also a country that is antagonistic toward Hungary. There the authorities try to discredit the country through attacks on Hungarian businessmen. What Lázár has in mind is the charge of bribery against Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, in connection with Ivo Sanader’s case, which ended in an eight-year prison sentence for the former prime minister. Since Croatia’s constitutional court only today overruled the verdict, Hernádi’s troubles are postponed, at least for a while.

As Lázár put it, “of the successor states of the former kingdom” present-day Hungary has unruffled relations only with Serbia and Slovakia. If we take this comment literally, then something must also be amiss in Austrian-Hungarian and Slovenian-Hungarian relations as well.

Lázár spent quite a bit of time on Hungary’s relations with the United States. “American-Hungarian relations, which have deteriorated significantly in the past few years and which at the moment cannot be said to be good,” make the work of the Hungarian intelligence community very difficult due to its former reliance on U.S. intelligence sources. Because the friction between the United States and Hungary developed as a result of Washington’s assessment of the domestic situation in Hungary, “the Information Office [the official name of the secret service] has to pay attention to accusations which through the western media are designed to discredit Hungary.”

spies

In plain English, Hungarian intelligence officers are following the activities of those people who in one way or the other pass information on to media outlets critical of the Orbán government. Lázár proudly announced that “several campaigns have taken place in the past few years against Hungary, which have been identified.” These foreign critics “unfortunately had their domestic allies, but the intelligence community could easily detect the channels through which incorrect and false information was transmitted.” Mind you, elsewhere in the speech Lázár called attention to the law that forbids intelligence officers from conducting any business at home.

The Hungarian intelligence service plays not only defense but offense as well. Lázár finished his coverage of the antagonistic media with this sentence: “It is no secret that the Information Office must take part in the work that will change the image of Hungary in the western world.” So, intelligence officers are being used to spread pro-Orbán propaganda abroad. The first fruits of this effort was athe German DGSAP report titled “Hungary in the Media, 2010-2014: Critical Reflections on Coverage in the Press and Media,” compiled with the active help of Klaus von Dohnanyi, the former socialist mayor of Berlin.

The European Union is also a target of Hungarian intelligence. In fact, Lázár instructed the Information Office to find out as much as possible about those groups who turn to Brussels for redress of the allegedly discriminatory practices of the Hungarian government. Lázár is very proud that they managed to learn who was responsible for some of the infringement procedures against Hungary. Thanks to Lázár, we now know that there are currently 65 infringement procedures in the works. Lázár finds the lobbying activities that take place in Brussels “shocking” because “they are conducted against Hungary and the work of the Hungarian legislature.” Unfortunately, the intelligence community has to take up this burden because, until recently, Hungary was unable to successfully represent its own interests in Brussels, unlike Slovakia, Romania or Poland.

The reason for Hungary’s poor performance in Brussels was the less than satisfactory work of Hungary’s Permanent Representation to the European Union, whose “most important task is to present and assert Hungarian interests and sectoral policies in the European Union.” Not long ago responsibility for this permanent mission in Brussels was moved from the foreign ministry to the office of the prime minister, under the supervision of János Lázár himself. Lázár commented on the move. “I will just mention, but I won’t give any details, that it was not by chance that the permanent representation and the information office are both under the same structural unit, the prime minister’s office.” Does this mean that the Hungarian permanent representation is filled with spies, or at least that there is cozy relation between the two bodies?

Two of the neighbors reacted sharply to Lázár’s revelations about Hungarian intelligence activities in their countries. The Hungarian ambassador to Ukraine was called into the Ukrainian foreign ministry where deputy foreign minister Natalia Halibarenko expressed her country’s worries about Hungary’s intentions. She said that conducting intelligence activities in her country without first informing the Ukrainian intelligence service was unacceptable. Nikolai Sungurovskii, the director of an important Ukrainian think tank, the Razumkov Center, expressed his opinion that Hungarian policies toward Ukraine pose a danger and that they may lead to a massive Hungarian separatist movement with possible Hungarian involvement. In fact, according to reports, the Hungarian government is prepared for a large Hungarian exodus from Ukraine.

Romanian-Hungarian relations have been rocky for a long time, but the presence of the former Romanian member of parliament, Attila Markó, in Hungary has exacerbated the situation. He is one of the many Romanian politicians who are being accused of corruption. I can’t pass judgment on his guilt or innocence, but I can say that Romanians have been taking corruption seriously lately and the number of arrests is very high. Markó escaped to Hungary, which irritates Bucharest to no end, especially since there is a European arrest warrant against him. The Romanian foreign minister asked Péter Szijjártó “to observe the European legislation in this field so that the procedure may be completed.” Hungary refused, and Romanian public opinion is up in arms. A Romanian politician who is not exactly a friend of Hungarians in the first place wrote an article on his blog in which he expressed his total amazement that Orbán has the temerity, after the Markó affair, to visit Romania this weekend. Indeed, Orbán is already in Transylvania. He posted the following picture of himself and his youngest daughter with this caption: “In Transylvania, at home.” I wonder what the Romanian reaction to this purposefully ambiguous caption will be.

Orban es Flora

Tamás Gomperz: Yankees, come here!

I will continue with the same theme: U.S.-Hungarian relations, but this time in a lighthearted way. I discovered a short and very funny opinion piece in HVG which I would like to share with those readers of  Hungarian Spectrum who haven’t yet mastered the intricacies of  the Hungarian language. I just hope that my limited skills as a translator will be sufficient to capture the flavor of this short spoof. The author is Tamás Gomperz, a regular at HVG. I might add that a lot of right-wingers and Jobbik voters don’t seem to have a sense of humor. When Mandiner republished it, its readership (which unlike the editorial board is anything but moderately conservative) accused Gomperz of all sorts of  evil intentions.

The quotation at the beginning of the article should be familiar to the readers since I cited it a couple of days ago. It is one of László Kövér’s ruminations. So, here goes.

American flag

* * *

YANKEES, COME HERE!

We would be okay without Europe but only if the Americans came instead

“If that is the future of the European Union, then it is worthwhile to contemplate that perhaps we should slowly, carefully back out.” It’s hard to remember the last time that this deeply tormented man said anything intelligible or did anything useful, but now it seems that at last he wants to change his doleful course. But one should not take him terribly seriously and nobody should worry about our speedy departure from the Union.

There are two moral considerations here. One is that most of the money that can be stolen comes from the Union, and we all know that one cannot heat the swimming pool with patriotism. The second is that Hungary’s departure from the Union is not in Moscow’s interest. On the contrary, the Russians would be not at all happy if the Trojan horse suddenly bolted from the fortress and found itself outside its walls.

As long as this remains the situation, we stay. Moscow pays because it has managed to acquire an agent; the Union pays because it is stupid. Meanwhile the prime minister is convinced that he is very clever and cunning because he can take advantage of both sides. Based on his pocketbook, his reckoning is pretty accurate, although that does not mean that he would hesitate even for a second if he had no other choice. Then he would quit without the slightest hesitation. So, all those who love Europe should hold their collective breath for two things: Hungarian foreign policy will still be conducted from Moscow and the European Union will remain as stupid in the future as it has been in the past.

Given the cast of characters, the prospects are good for both. On the other hand, it is worth contemplating that America managed to do more for Hungarian democracy in one week than all the European political leaders have in the last four years. Therefore, perhaps it would be useful to rethink the situation. Perhaps we should slowly retreat from all that vacillation over Europe. Instead we could perhaps beg for a real American occupation, colonization, protectorate, whatever. They didn’t come in 56, they can make up for it now. We will take over the constitution, M. André Goodfriend could be the nádor,* governor, or sheriff, we are open to all solutions. He could start immediately with a proclamation. Because it is a good thing that people representing our worst features can’t go across the ocean. Actually, it would be even better if someone would expel them from here. We can’t solve the problem alone.

So, as the saying goes: there is life outside the Union but one must swim farther.

*nádor/palatinus local representative of the king in Hungary

The Hungarian far right’s attack on the United States

It was only a few months ago, on March 15, 2013, that Ferenc Szaniszló, a so-called journalist who has a show twice a week on Echo TV, received the Táncsics Prize, the highest award that can be given to a Hungarian journalist. You may recall that the minister of human resources, Zoltán Balog, first claimed that he was not familiar with the work of Szaniszló and that eventually, when the whole Hungarian media was up in arms, he practically begged Szaniszló to return the award. He did, but as often happens with members of the Orbán government, Balog didn’t tell the truth. It wasn’t an oversight that Szaniszló, who is an anti-Semitic extremist, was chosen. On the same national holiday the lead guitarist of a far-right rock group called Kárpátia and the composer of the Hungarian Guard’s anthem, also received a state decoration.

So, let’s first say a few words about Echo TV. Wikipedia describes it as “a conservative Hungarian television channel” (although Wikipedia’s entry does go on to say that the channel “is a favorite among neofascists in Hungary”). “Conservative” is not an adjective I would use in connection with Echo TV. The channel was established in 2005 by Gábor Széles, one of the richest men in Hungary. Széles also purchased the financially ailing liberal Magyar Hírlap and transformed it into a far-right newspaper where one of the regular contributors is the anti-Semitic Zsolt Bayer. He is also one of the chief organizers of demonstrations called Peace Marches in support  of the present Hungarian government.

Szaniszló’s  half-hour program is called “Világ–Panoráma.” It airs twice a week, on Monday and Friday, in prime time between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m and can be seen by everyone who has a cable connection. Most people do.

What kind of information do devoted right-wingers receive about world affairs through Szaniszló’s interpretation of twentieth-century history and more recent events? We regularly complain about the general lack of knowledge of the vast majority of Hungarians and express our astonishment that they seem to believe all the propaganda they receive from their own government. If you listen just once to Ferenc Szaniszló, you will not be at all surprised.

Since non-Hungarian speakers don’t have the benefit of listening to this man in the original, I took copious notes on his ten-minute-long attack last Friday on the United States and on Jews, although he doesn’t refer to them explicitly. In the past Echo TV wasn’t that shy. I suspect the word came from above that the Orbán government is working very hard to convince the world that it is doing everything in its power to curtail anti-Semitic occurrences, so please refrain from being too obvious about the subject of international Jewry. As for attacks on the United States, Magyar Nemzet, Fidesz’s own favorite newspaper, has also been full of anti-American articles for some time. So, don’t think that only the far right specializes in U.S. bashing.

Ferenc Szaniszló on the set of his program on Echo TV

Ferenc Szaniszló on the set of his program on Echo TV

Szaniszló’s harangue begins with a rehash of the Kennedy assassination, a topic he talked about earlier. Here the story serves as an introduction to the main theme. Kennedy was assassinated by “financial powers that conquered the United States.” According to Szaniszló, Kennedy was not the first victim of this financial power group because “there were earlier presidents, vice presidents, and secretaries” who were killed by these people. I myself couldn’t come up with any president whose assassination was in any way connected to the financial world. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by a Southerner; James Garfield’s assassin was mentally unbalanced; and William McKinley was killed by an anarchist. As for vice presidents, no vice president of the United States has ever been assassinated. And as for secretaries, there was an assassination attempt on the life of William H. Seward, Lincoln’s secretary of state, at the same time as the president’s assassination, but he survived.

Soon enough Szaniszló moves to more dangerous grounds. With a quick turn we are at 9/11, which is according to him “the biggest lie of world history” because it was a “willful self-provocation, one of many.” In plain English, the United States government itself attacked the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. And there were many similar faked attacks.  The same thing happened with the Lusitania, the British ocean liner, which according to Szaniszló was not torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat but by the United States to have an excuse to enter World War I. Just as the United States bombed and destroyed practically the whole U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor to justify entering World War II.

Those who committed atrocities in New York disappeared because “they became extinct in the fire of 9/11,” but “the Arab passport remained among the ruins of the Twin Towers where even steel beams became dust. And naturally they kill Osama bin Laden, but quickly they throw his body into the bottom of the ocean. They destroy his house. These financial conspirators consider people idiots and indeed they are right because they are duped by those who possess all the power, all the money, the media, the film industry, the propaganda, and the brain washing machinery.” Yet, this is all so clear. “The plane that few into the Pentagon simply disappears, Building # 7 collapses on its own without any attack, and the helicopter that was used in the Osama raid is destroyed by a nonexistent Taliban anti-aircraft defense force.” That is not all. After the Boston marathon attack two American agents fall out of an airplane because they know the truth about Chechnya. Two other agents are killed for the same reason. In brief, the politicians who run the United States are murderous criminals.

Szaniszló goes so far as to say that all the terrorist attacks were fakes. Every time there was an attack an official anti-terrorist exercise took place. For example, on September 11, 2001 planes of the American Air Force were not flying between New York and Washington because of exercises. The Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut was staged by the American anti-terrorist group. “They sacrificed their own children and their teachers.” During the Boston marathon the same thing happened. The U.S. Air Force was doing routine exercises “in order to hide the truth which was a murderous attack organized from above.” All that to incite anti-Muslim feelings in the United States. “These were attacks against their own people disguised as anti-terrorist exercises. Their goal is to acquire more oil and gas fields and gold mines.

“What kind of morality is this? And the West builds its fortune on that? On this filth, on this garbage? Is this supposed to be the liberal democracy? This morass?” Thanks to Edward Snowden we now know that “they don’t even trust their closest friends, they spy on their own henchmen, and they even record when Angela Merkel does her number one and number two in the Reichstag or what Queen Elizabeth wears under her train.”

Once Szaniszló finished with the United States he moved on to Ukraine, a country that doesn’t want to supply slaves to the European Union. It would rather turn to Russia, which at the moment is trying to undo its own Trianon.

This is what Hungarian television viewers learn about the world. Hatred against the United States, the European Union, the West in general. And then we are surprised at the general ignorance and hatred of foreigners? We shouldn’t be.

Some citizens are more equal than others

I simply can’t understand the Hungarian opposition’s lack of initiative and its sluggish reactions to unacceptable actions that are being taken day in and day out by Fidesz and the Fidesz-ruled parliament. Often, opposition politicians wake up only when a government official reveals by a slip of the tongue the real intention of a piece of legislation. A good example of this kind of opposition lethargy is its recent discovery that the government is up to no good with its laws governing the voting rights of new Hungarian citizens who were born and lived all their lives in one of the neighboring countries. No opposition politicians raised the possibility of electoral fraud until the head of the National Election Commission made the mistake of revealing some of the details of the voting procedures contemplated by the government. Then suddenly the politicians of the democratic opposition woke up. But, for Pete’s sake, the particulars of the electoral law have been known for months. Where were these people when the proposal was duly voted into law sometime in December?

I wrote about some possible problems with the absentee ballots on July 29 after Ilona Pálffy, the government official in question, made the mistake of outlining the procedure in terms that made it clear that the safety of the ballots cannot be guaranteed. It will be extremely easy to manipulate the ballots of dual citizens. It took another two weeks for the opposition to discover that there are serious problems with the voting rights of Hungarian citizens living abroad.

Currently perhaps as many as half a million Hungarian citizens work abroad. This number is a guesstimate, but the true number is surely more than 300,000, the number of dual citizens in the neighboring countries. And while these dual citizens can vote via absentee ballot, Hungarians working abroad must vote in person either in Hungary or at a Hungarian embassy or consulate. Let’s take, for example, Great Britain since it has a large Hungarian presence. In the United Kingdom both the Hungarian embassy and the consulate are in London. There are no consulates anywhere else.  So if a Hungarian lives in Glasgow and would like to vote he would have to travel to London, more than a six-hour trip by rail. And we’d better not mention Northern Ireland.

The situation is slightly better in Germany but not much. There a Hungarian citizen can vote either in Berlin or in Munich. In the United States there are three places you can vote: Washington, New York, and Los Angeles.  If you happen to live in Kansas City you can look forward to a 2,000 km trip to New York City. You are even worse off in Canada where there are a lot of Hungarians. There you can vote only in Ottawa; the distance between Vancouver and Ottawa is 3,538 km. For sake of comparison the Hungarian government maintains four consulates in Romania: in Bucharest, Cluj/Kolozsvár, Miercurea-Ciuc/Csíkszereda, and Constanta. Of course, this comparison doesn’t really speak to the issue since Hungarian dual citizens in Romania don’t have to show up in person at one of these consulates.

Fidesz obviously doesn’t want Hungarian citizens living in the West to vote in the forthcoming elections. I don’t think they’re focused on votes coming from Canada and the U.S. What worries them is those recent emigrants to Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. who left the Orbán government behind. Their connection to Hungary, family and friends is much more intense and direct than that of earlier emigrants to North America. Moreover, most of them left Hungary recently because of economic hardship, and most of them seem to be satisfied with their new circumstances. They find life in Great Britain and Germany much more pleasant and career opportunities more merit-based. There is a good likelihood that a great majority of these people would not vote for Fidesz.

And there’s another reason to discourage these potentially anti-Fidesz Hungarians in the West from voting. A Romanian-Hungarian dual citizen can vote only for party lists while Hungarians living in the West but with a valid address in Hungary can theoretically vote for both individual candidates who represent a district and for party lists.

All citizens are equal / www.presseurope.eu

All citizens are equal / www.presseurope.eu

This blatant discrimination against Hungarian emigrants in the West was introduced as an amendment to the electoral law. It was an afterthought. I suspect that Fidesz figured out that the number of Hungarians seeking employment abroad was growing by leaps and bounds and that if these people can vote as easily as the by-and-large pro-Fidesz crowd in Romania and Serbia their actions might counterbalance the gains coming from the Romanian-Hungarian vote. In that case, the whole exercise of giving the vote to Hungarians in the neighboring countries would have been for naught.

The opposition was asleep at the switch when the Fidesz amendment was approved. It was only today that Gergely Karácsony on behalf of Együtt 2014-PM announced that he is planning to submit an amendment to the electoral law that would put an end to this discrimination against Hungarians temporarily living in countries of the European Union.

The answer from the other side came in no time. Gergely Gulyás, who is deeply involved with constitutional and electoral issues, said that he considers Karácsony’s proposed amendment a desperate move on the part of the opposition forces. The opposition already knows that they will lose the election so they are now trying to convince the world that their loss is the sole result of electoral fraud. He claimed that the Hungarian electoral law ensures equal opportunity to all Hungarian citizens. Well, you can judge for yourself whether a Hungarian citizen living in Great Britain has the same opportunity to cast his vote as his counterpart in Romania.

I highly doubt that Fidesz will be willing to change the existing law that clearly favors them. At least this is how I interpreted Gulyás’s words.