Tag Archives: Viktor Orbán

Viktor Orbán: Christian Europe in danger

Once a year the Keresztény Értelmiségiek Szövetsége/KÉSZ (Association of Christian Professionals), an alleged NGO, holds its congress. The fact that since 2011 the event has been held in the chamber of the former Upper House (Főrendiház) says a lot about the independence of the organization.

Until very recently KÉSZ was a purely Catholic affair. It was established in 1989 by a Catholic priest and professor of theology who served as its president until his death in 1996. In that year another Catholic priest and a great admirer of Viktor Orbán, Zoltán Osztie, took over. He served until 2016. At that point the presidency was assumed by a Greek Catholic priest and canonist, I guess in an attempt to appear a bit more ecumenical.

The close connection between KÉSZ and Fidesz was obvious even from the few references Viktor Orbán brought up about the organization’s past. He specifically noted KÉSZ’s assistance in setting up thousands of “civic cells” that Fidesz used to widen the base of the party after the 2002 defeat. Then, in 2009, KÉSZ joined the notorious Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF), a phony NGO financed in all sorts of devious ways by the Orbán government. KÉSZ also gives assistance to the government when it comes to its nationality policy outside the country’s borders. For example, KÉSZ has signed joint declarations of intent with the Keresztény Értelmiségi Kör (Christian Professional Club) in Serbia where the Hungarian political elite is an important supporter of the current government. KÉSZ’s website provides no details about its financial resources, but it has a publication called “Jel” (Sign) which looks quite professional, it finances books, and it organizes conferences.

At the KÉSZ congress held on September 16 Viktor Orbán delivered a lengthy lecture on the state of the world. His two most important statements, both made at the end of the speech, were that (1) “the Germans, the Austrians, and the arrogant western media” began a “smear campaign” against his country which was “centrally ordered, centrally controlled, centrally engineered against Hungary—out of vengeance because [Hungary] closed the Balkan route used by the migrants” and (2) if the European leaders are unable to find a path to coexistence between immigrant and non-immigrant countries “the tension that exists between them now will be even more intensified, which may lead to a greater chasm or even a fatal break in the history of the European continent.” Both of these claims are rather frightening.

The attentive audience / Source: Index / Photo János Bődey

Although these are the two statements I chose as the weightiest, there were some other noteworthy claims. One was that “the goal of today’s anti-Christian program” is the importation of non-Christian elements, which in turn will weaken Christianity in Europe to such an extent that it will actually die out. Before Orbán spoke, Cardinal Péter Erdő had delivered a speech in which he talked about the strong roots of Christianity in Europe. Picking up on this theme, Orbán accused “the anti-Christian European program” of planning “to change the subsoil” so that “the roots of Christianity, no matter how thick and strong they are, cannot take hold, and thus the giant tree simply falls over.” Again, Orbán sees a malicious design or at least tries to convince his audience that there is such a design–that European politicians are contemplating the Islamization of Europe and the death of Christianity on the continent.

Orbán also set forth a religious elaboration of his theme that “We want a Hungarian Hungary and a European Europe.” He added: “But this is possible only if we take upon ourselves the task of creating a Christian Hungary within a Christian Europe.” This qualifying sentence is a new motif in Orbán’s political vocabulary. He is certain that under his leadership Hungary will remain a Christian country, but he is not so sure about Europe. “The ideology of the immigrant countries is international liberalism,” while in the case of the non-immigrant countries “the guiding principle is … sovereignty and Christian social teaching. The adoption of Western European liberalism by the people of Central Europe would simply mean suicide. Or to be more precise it would be a suicidal ideology for the countries of Central Europe” because it would result in their becoming immigrant countries. Obviously, liberalism in any shape or form should be banished from Central Europe. I wonder what the Czechs and the Slovaks would think of this demand.

Finally, here is something that Orbán uttered elsewhere, but I think it belongs here. In his speech to the members of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation he apparently noted with great satisfaction that “in the last six years, on the left-right scale, a thoroughgoing shift has occurred toward the right.” I’m afraid he is correct.

September 19, 2017

Hungarians’ changing priorities; shifts in the left-of-center media

Changing opinions on political issues 

Yesterday I saw a Hír TV news segment that I found intriguing. A woman reporter with a cameraman behind her stopped passersby wanting to know what the “man in the street” thinks about current affairs. This is the umpteenth time that I have encountered such an exercise. The result was always disappointing. Eight or nine people out of ten simply refused to answer any of the questions while the other(s) proclaimed their loyalty to Viktor Orbán, who has created a wonderful, prosperous country. To my great surprise this encounter turned out differently. Everybody was willing to speak, and there was only one woman out of about ten who was enthusiastic about Viktor Orbán on account of his defense of the country against the “migrants.”

The reporter wanted to know what people think are the most urgent tasks and problems Hungarians face today. The answers were practically uniform: healthcare and education. A couple of people mentioned low wages and inflation, especially food prices. When people didn’t cite migration as a problem, the journalist asked them about the topic. With the exception of one person, they all claimed that the danger of migration is not in the forefront of their concerns. There are no migrants in Hungary, and migrants show little inclination to settle there anyway.

One of those dissatisfied citizens

At first I thought I may simply have seen an atypical, or skewed, news segment. But then, a few hours later, I found an article in 24.hu reporting that “Hungarians worry more about poverty and healthcare than migration.” It summarized the findings of two international organizations, Eurobarometer and the conservative International Republican Institute. Both indicated that migration is not uppermost in Hungarians’ minds. The International Republican Institute’s findings are especially interesting because the respondents were not faced with a set of prepared options. Here poverty and the lack of social equality (28%) were people’s main concerns, followed by corruption (15%), unemployment (13%), healthcare (12%), and “migration” (4%).

But in that case, why did the Orbán government launch a new campaign against the “Soros Plan”? Knowing the careful political calculations of Fidesz, we must assume that the questions in the new “national consultation” will be slanted in such a way that it will speak to the concerns of the majority of Hungarians. There are signs that in the present Fidesz vocabulary the “Soros Plan” is actually just another name for the European Union. In this case, the main thrust of this new campaign will again be anti-EU. But it has to be structured so that it doesn’t cause the kind of adverse reaction that the “Stop Brussels” campaign did.

Changes in the left-of center media

Those of you who are able to watch Hungarian-language television must be aware of the slow transformation of ATV, which until about two years ago was the only independent TV station. At that time Lajos Simicska, Viktor Orbán’s old high school friend and the financial brain behind Fidesz, turned against Orbán, allegedly because of his pro-Russian orientation. This put an end to the pro-government stance of Simicska’s Magyar Nemzet and Hír TV. At about the same time, major changes began to be introduced at ATV, which is owned by the fundamentalist Assembly of Faith. It is hard to tell whether these changes were made in order to boost viewership or for political reasons, but there are fewer programs for people who are interested in political news. Reporters were hired from TV2, a commercial station that caters to a different audience from the one that ATV had attracted earlier. Also, two important reporters, Olga Kálmán and Antónia Mészáros, left the station. Kálmán joined Hír TV and Mészáros left the profession altogether. In addition, several reporters simply disappeared from the screen. The new crew was, at least in my opinion, not worth watching.

The final straw was the replacement of Kálmán and Mészáros with Zsuzsa Demcsák, who began her career as a fashion model but later spent years at TV2, a commercial station recently bought by Andy Vajna, most likely as a proxy for the Hungarian government. After the change of ownership, reporters started leaving TV2, including Demcsák in April. ATV jumped at what the management considered to be an opportunity and hired her. The arrangement was that Demcsák and Egon Rónai would rotate being anchor of “Egyenes beszéd” on a weekly basis. Demcsák’s first week on the job was dreadful. The woman was simply out of her depth. The following week she showed off her incompetence on ATV Start, an early morning political program. Then came Friday morning when she was, I’m afraid, quite drunk while interviewing Tibor Szanyi, MSZP’s European parliamentary member. She was suspended, awaiting the results of an internal investigation, but I’m almost certain that we are not going to see her on ATV again.

On the other hand, Hír TV came out with several new programs. This morning I watched two of them. The first was “Elmúlt 8 év” (The past eight years) with Györgyi Szöllősi, who is a good reporter. The other was “180 fok” (180 degrees) with Sándor Csintalan, a somewhat controversial character who started off as an MSZP politician and at one point was in the Fidesz camp. He is now a committed foe of Orbán. The program is in part a call-in show and and in part a series of interviews. The first guests were Miklós Haraszti, who is no stranger to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, and the head of Iránytű (Compass), a polling company allegedly close to Jobbik. I encountered Iránytű’s director before and found his views moderate and balanced. And I loved the screen behind Csintalan, showing an idyllic countryside with a charming peasant house when suddenly Orbán’s infamous choo-choo train goes across. The train appears every five minutes or so. I laughed every time. I think I will also check out another new program called “Magyar Exodus,” which will be mostly filmed abroad, with Hungarian emigrants.

Unfortunately, these two cable channels reach very few people, but their existence is still vitally important. One can only hope that ATV will find its bearings soon because otherwise it can close up shop.

September 17, 2017

The Orbán government and its American media supporters

While researching media reactions to Jean-Claude Juncker’s state of the union address, I came across Breitbart News‘s take on the speech, which was illustrated with a photo of Juncker in the company of George Soros. Breitbart, as well as other alt-right publications, are riding high on Soros-bashing. What does Soros have to do with Juncker’s vision for the future of Europe? Nothing. The article otherwise was sprinkled with Nigel Farage quotations. In general, Breitbart News is fascinated with both George Soros and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán.

I also visited Fox News, where I found an elevating article on the same subject titled “EU power grab: A hunk of Junck” by John Moody, executive editor and executive VP of Fox News. This opinion piece is also peppered with Nigel Farage comments, but Moody also devotes considerable space to Viktor Orbán, who called immigration “poison” and a “Trojan horse for terrorism.” Orbán is Moody’s man, someone who “will not bend” no matter how much he is being threatened by the European Union. “Sounds like a tough-talking populist candidate who bucked the political system in the United States last year. Whatever became of him?” he asks mournfully.

If some of the mainstream English-language newspapers spent as much time on Hungary as Breitbart News does, the world would be a great deal better informed about Hungarian reality. Alt-right publications are indiscriminate supporters of the Orbán regime. Here are a few headlines: “Hungary looks to ‘sweep away’ Soros-linked organizations,” “Hungary: Left-wing EU Soros puppets are attacking us for opposing mass immigration,” “Hungarian PM: We won’t let ‘Europe’s kingmaker’ Soros have the last laugh,” just to mention a few. Many of these articles were written by Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D., the Vatican analyst for CBS, who left the priesthood in 2012 after fathering a child. Two days ago he published an article in which he rejoiced over the fact that “Hungary takes NY Times to school on Europe’s migrant crisis.” He is referring to an article Zoltán Kovács wrote as an answer to a New York Times editorial titled “Hungary is making Europe’s migrant crisis worse,” which appeared on September 8.

Kovács’s answer, which appeared on his official website, was subsequently reprinted in several English-language government publications. Williams located it on abouthungary.hu, and he found Kovács’s answer to the “sanctimonious op-ed rife with errors and misconceptions regarding Europe’s migrant crisis and Hungary’s role in protecting Europe’s borders” to be brilliant.

I took a good look at The New York Times editorial and couldn’t find all the errors and misconceptions Williams was talking about. The editorial bemoans the fact that Hungary, which opened its borders in 1989 because it was guided “by generally accepted international principles of human rights and humanitarian considerations” now behaves very differently. The country now refuses to allow refugees even to enter the country, despite the verdict of the European Court of Justice that found Hungary and Slovakia’s refusal illegal. “It is particularly sad to see countries that so poignantly celebrated the lifting of the Iron Curtain now argue, as Hungary does, that being asked to take in a small number of Muslim immigrants is somehow a violation of European laws and values.”

Zoltán Kovács’s response was titled “The New York Times editors really still don’t get it.” Why did Kovács insert the word “still”? Because Kovács already wrote a letter to The New York Times: “Dear New York Times Editors: You just don’t get it, do you?,” which Breitbart News faithfully reported on at the time. His objections to the Times’s editorial are numerous. He questions the assertion that East European countries “have stubbornly blocked entry to refugees.” He objects to the description of Viktor Orbán as a “hard-liner,” and he bristles at calling Orbán’s demand for EU reimbursement of half of the cost of the fence Hungary built to keep the refuges out “arrogant.” The overarching problem with the editorial, Kovács asserts, is that the editors simply don’t understand the European migrant situation. As he puts it, “Admittedly, it’s not easy to grasp this ‘indisputably difficult problem’ from the comforts of Midtown Manhattan.” However, Kovács is ready to share “some basic facts”–for example, that “Hungary is securing an external border of the 510 million-strong European community,” which is “a meaningful demonstration of [Hungary’s] solidarity.” He objects to the editorial’s references to international law and European values that “appeal to the ‘limousine liberal’ readership of the Times” because there is no international law, no European treaty that gives Brussels the authority to decide on immigration. Kovács closes his response with these ringing words: “As the government responsible for the safety and security of Hungarian citizens—as well as the citizens of Europe—we will not apologize for continuing to assert our right to make our own decisions on immigration and to keep Europe’s borders strong.”

Although Kovács thoroughly dissected the text, he ignored the editorial’s reference to “Hungary’s callousness.” Perhaps he decided to ignore the affront since the treatment of refugees in Hungary is widely known to be glaringly inhumane. Unfortunately, it is not only officials who treat them abominably; ordinary citizens also often show them no mercy. Perhaps you recall Index‘s report on an Iranian-Afghan couple with their three children and a fourth on its way. I told their story in a post titled “Life in the Hungarian transit zones” about a month ago. In this particular instance the husband didn’t get any rations because he had gone through Hungary once on his way to rescue his family in Macedonia. The sequel to their story was just published, which is every bit as heart-wrenching.

The Iranian-Afghan couple at the EU-financed refugee camp

After months of imprisonment in the transit zone came a surprising development: the family received asylum. They could go to a refugee camp in Hungary and be safe but outside of the transit zone they continued to receive harsh treatment. One has the distinct feeling that this behavior is intended to encourage even those who receive asylum to move on. For example, throughout the long trip the officers didn’t allow the couple to have baby formula on hand. As a result, the ten-month-old baby cried bitterly for hours. The husband was forbidden to accompany his wife to the gynecologist, although she doesn’t speak any English. They asked for an interpreter; their request was denied. As for the behavior of ordinary Hungarians, the poor man had another bad experience. He and one of his children, who had cut his hand, were taken to the hospital in Győr (18 km away), but they had to take the bus back to the camp. He gave the driver 5 euros since he had no forints. The driver took the money but wouldn’t allow them on the bus. It took them three hours to walk back to the camp.

Two days after he told his story to the reporter, the family was already in Germany. He is certain that he will not be deported back to Hungary because “people abroad know how Hungarians treat the refugees. The European Court of Justice decided in our favor twice. I have the decisions on my phone. If I tell them what treatment we received here, they will not send us back.” And, indeed, Germany hasn’t sent any refugees back to Hungary since April 11. Defending the borders of Europe is one thing, cruelty is another.

September 15, 2017

George Soros, the omnipotent bogeyman: the focus of Fidesz’s electoral campaign

Fidesz’s framework for its electoral strategy is slowly taking shape. There seem to be two interconnected strands. One propaganda offensive suggests that outside forces are fomenting a revolutionary uprising against the Orbán government. The second concentrates on the “Soros Plan” that is being executed by the European Union. Fidesz’s task in the next few months is to uncover the conspiracy which is brewing against the government and at the same time to save the country from the dreadful fate that awaits it as a result of the European Union’s evil plans. Of course, George Soros is behind both the attempt to physically remove Viktor Orbán’s government and the potential flood of illegal migrants forced upon the country by the European Union. If Fidesz doesn’t win, disaster awaits the Hungarian people. The stakes are as high as they were in 1990. It is a matter of life or death. Everything that was achieved will be lost if Hungarians make the wrong choice.

As far as I can see, this electoral strategy has been in the making for some time. A couple of months ago I wrote a post titled “What’s the new Fidesz game plan?” in which I outlined the first strand of this strategy, pointing out that starting in the early summer Fidesz politicians were talking about a coalition that will be forged by the Hungarian opposition and the Soros NGOs. They will organize disturbances on the streets of Budapest. “They will try to create an atmosphere filled with civil-war psychosis,” as László Kövér, president of parliament, put it in one of his speeches.

At this point, government politicians were unable to point the finger at specific “members of the Soros network” who will be responsible for these disturbances, but now they have begun to identify its members. Szilárd Németh named three civil activists: Márton Gulyás, who started the Közös Ország Mozgalom to change the current unfair electoral system; Árpád Schilling, a theater director and the founder of Krétakör Színház (Chalk Circle Theater); and Gábor Vágó, a former LMP member of parliament between 2010 and 2014. How did these three names surface?

Source: Index.hu

It all started with claims put forth by Antal Rogán, the propaganda minister, who at Fidesz’s Kötcse picnic in early September brought up the possibility of violence on the streets of Budapest organized by “foreign forces.” The opposition parties, usually slow on the uptake, were urged by analysts to call on Rogán. Charging that foreign forces are behind an attempt to overthrow the government is a serious matter. Surely, Rogán as a responsible member of the government must have proof of such interference. Zsolt Molnár, chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, saw the light and called the committee together, asking Rogán to attend. The meeting took place two days ago. As could have been predicted, Rogán didn’t show up.

As we learned later, officials of the national security forces knew nothing about any mysterious forces behind the alleged revolutionary leaders who are contemplating the overthrow of the Orbán government. At least this is what the socialist chairman and the LMP and Jobbik members of the committee said.

On the other hand, the Fidesz vice chairman, Szilárd Németh, reported that “according to the Hungarian national security services, organizations and individuals financed from abroad pose a very serious risk” to the security of the country. He specifically mentioned Árpád Schilling and Márton Gulyás, who “openly talk about marching on the streets and organizing sit-down strikes if they cannot have their way.” Ádám Mirkóczki, a Jobbik member of the committee, said that “it seems that Szilárd Németh was attending a different meeting.”

This would not be the first time that Németh makes up stories to further Fidesz’s program. The next day government papers were full of Németh’s bogus story about “the serious risk subversive civilians pose.” On the same day Lajos Kósa, who was the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation until today, gave an interview in which he specifically mentioned Gábor Vágó, “an opposition activist,” who allegedly called for illegal and aggressive acts against the government. While he was at it, he described certain opposition members of parliament as “the men of Soros.”

A day after Németh’s press conference Bernadett Szél, the LMP member of the committee, pressed charges against the Fidesz politician on the grounds that he revealed the identity of people whose names were mentioned in a closed session of the committee.

Since Németh’s falsification of what transpired at the committee meeting didn’t get much traction, the Fidesz propaganda machine came up with a new angle. Magyar Idők learned that the Független Diákparlament (Independent Student Parliament) is organizing a demonstration in support of Central European University. What follows is rather fuzzy. Apparently, Árpád Schilling, one of the people Németh referred to, is a supporter of this student movement. Therefore, concludes the paper, “it seems that the Soros network will start its fall disturbances on the backs of the students.”

As for the “Soros Plan,” the new name is a way of personifying the evil scheme of the European Union, which would threaten the future of Europe. The most important task is to fight against this plan by all possible means. The struggle against it will be the most important ingredient of the election campaign. Therefore, “the Fidesz parliamentary delegation is asking the government to hold a national consultation about the Soros Plan.” Holding such a national consultation is especially important since the European Court of Justice’s verdict “opened the door to the execution of the Soros Plan,” which includes the arrival of one million migrants every year from here on.

The anti-Soros campaign must have been deemed a resounding success, and therefore the decision was made to continue it. A lot of observers, including me, think that the Orbán government has gone too far already with its Soros-bashing, but obviously we are mistaken because I can’t imagine that Orbán would embark on another anti-Soros campaign without proper research on the effectiveness of his past efforts in that direction. In fact, it looks as if Orbán decided that fighting against George Soros’s alleged agenda will be his party’s key campaign theme, which he apparently outlined in a speech to the members of the parliamentary caucus in a three-day pow wow of the Fidesz MEPs and important party leaders. Hard to fathom and it sounds crazy, but unfortunately that’s Hungarian reality.

September 14, 2017

Bernadett Szél hopes to be Hungary’s next prime minister

Although Bernadett Szél’s name can be found in scores of posts on Hungarian Spectrum over the years, I don’t think that I ever devoted an entire post to this popular female politician, the co-chair of LMP (Lehet Más a Politika/Politics Can Be Different). Well, now that LMP formally announced that she is the party’s choice to run for prime minister, it is time to assess her candidacy. Although Szél is a very attractive contender, one must keep in mind that LMP has consistently refused to consider cooperation with any other political party. LMP, led by Bernadett Szél, is planning to win the election single-handedly.

The forty-year-old Szél has an undergraduate degree in economics (2000) and a Ph.D. in sociology (2011). She is an excellent debater who has delivered some notable speeches in parliament. She is quite capable of silencing her opponents. She is perhaps best known as the most eloquent and resolute opponent of the extension of Hungary’s nuclear power plant in Paks. Unlike most of her colleagues in parliament, she speaks both English and German well. She also seems to have an abundance of energy and, despite her many duties, has time for a daily run or some other form of physical exercise. So, unlike the present prime minister of Hungary, she is in excellent shape. She and her husband have two young daughters.

Of the current candidates for prime minister–László Botka (MSZP), Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd), and Gábor Vona (Jobbik)–Bernadett Szél is probably the most promising. Even her gender may be in her favor. Thirty percent of the electorate would prefer a female prime minister, and sixty percent of the left-of-center voters would support a woman over a man. There is a growing conviction, often expressed by men, that women are more inclined to reach compromise solutions and that therefore Hungary would be better off with a female prime minister. I’m not at all sure that Bernadett Szél is the prototype of that compromise-ready woman since she has repeatedly expressed her total rejection of all politicians who had anything to do with politics before 2010. But still, judging by her accomplishments and talents, I believe that she would qualify as a very good and most likely popular candidate. With a party behind her with about 4-5% support of the electorate, however, it is unlikely that the name of Hungary’s next prime minister will be Bernadett Szél. Unless, of course, she is ready to strike a bargain.

Source: 24.hu / Photo Dániel Mátyás Fülöp

Despite the party’s low poll numbers, Szél and LMP are dead serious about winning the 2018 Hungarian national election. Their first move was to get Ron Werber, an Israeli campaign strategist, to serve as LMP’s adviser. Werber used to work for MSZP, and his greatest accomplishment was MSZP’s victory in 2002 against all odds. From that point on, Werber became Fidesz’s bogeyman, the “conductor of hate” as they called him because of his negative campaigning style. I don’t know what kind of advice Werber has given Szél so far, but Werber and Szél seem to be a good fit. She has confidence in him, and Werber considers Szél “competent and someone who knows what she is talking about.” Werber apparently talked with both MSZP and DK but finally settled for LMP. The media would love to find out how much LMP is paying the Israeli adviser, but for now we must be satisfied with Szél’s claim that Werber’s advice is pro bono.

According to Magyar Nemzet, before the party’s announcement of its candidate for the premiership LMP hired Závecz Research to conduct a poll to assess Bernadett Szél’s chances against Viktor Orbán in a hypothetical two-person race. It turned out that four-fifths of socialist voters would support Szél. As far as Jobbik voters are concerned, the support is not that overwhelming, but the majority (54%) would vote for LMP’s candidate. This is especially significant because one would have assumed that a Jobbik voter in this scenario would vote for Orbán, but in fact only 20% would commit to the Fidesz candidate. LMP also wanted to know what would happen if the electorate could vote for prime minister separately. How would Szél fare? At this point, even before the announcement of her candidacy, Szél would get 29% of the votes to Orbán’s 44%. All this shows considerable support for Szél, but, of course, the problem is that the next election is not shaping up to be a two-way race.

Bernadett Szél has given several interviews in the last few days, but perhaps the most detailed one, as far as her ideas are concerned, was conducted three days ago by Attila Kálmán of 24.hu. Her message is straightforward. She decided to run because, just like the majority of the electorate, she can no longer endure “the total chaos” that exists within the opposition. In this interview she presents herself as the embodiment of LMP’s program, which is ready, but soon she will also tell the voters what she will do in the first 100 days of her administration. She is categorical when it comes to other parties on the left. Creating a unified voting bloc would be a “Frankensteinian construction,” after which they would be unable to govern. Members of this Frankensteinian construction “time and again forfeited the trust of the people in the last thirty years and therefore they shouldn’t be entrusted with the future of the country.” She promises “to shutter the past and revitalize the country.” But Bernadett Szél ought to realize that one cannot close the past because history is a continuum, nor can one drastically change a country at will. Still, despite her shortcomings and in a different electoral system, she would be a very promising candidate. Unfortunately, she has to measure herself against Viktor Orbán in an electoral system that he devised to his own advantage.

One more item that is only tangentially related to Bernadett Szél’s candidacy. ATV’s famed program, “Egyenes beszéd” (Straight Talk), has gone through some fundamental and unfortunate changes. First, at the end of last year the anchor of the program, Olga Kálmán, left the channel and started a new program called “Egyenesen” (Straight) on HírTV. “Egyenes beszéd” was taken over by Antónia Mészáros and Egon Rónai, both seasoned and outstanding reporters. Then, unexpectedly, Mészáros left to become managing director of the Hungarian section of UNICEF. After a few weeks of total chaos, when assorted people tried to replace Mészáros and Rónai, who was on vacation, a new setup emerged: one week Zsuzsa Demcsák, formerly of TV2, is the anchor, and Egon Rónai runs the show the next week. Her first week’s performance doesn’t bode well for the future.

Here is one example. Bernadett Szél was Demcsák’s guest on September 4. The new anchor turned to the candidate and said something like “you know there will never be a woman prime minister in Hungary.” Later, she tried to convince Szél that she is on the side of women and of course would be delighted if one day a woman became prime minister, but the harm was already done. To add insult to injury, she asked Szél what her husband thinks about a female prime minister. Of course, she profusely apologized for the question, but for some strange reason she thought it was relevant.

It is a good thing that there are not too many Zsuzsa Demcsáks in Hungary. To me it is a pleasant surprise that the electorate doesn’t share her views.

September 11, 2017

Felcsút: The forbidden village for EP “bureaucrats”

Let’s return to Viktor Orbán’s choo-choo train, which runs between the two villages where the Hungarian prime minister spent his first 14 years. In his childhood this narrow-gauge railroad was still functioning, but because of insufficient traffic MÁV, the state railway company, scrapped the line sometime in the 1970s. Apparently Viktor Orbán had fond memories of that train, and once he had the opportunity he decided to revive it. His own Puskás Academy Foundation launched the project. It purchased and renovated the old run-down train station and bought newly refurbished cars and an engine. The project was declared to be of premier importance as far as Hungary’s economy was concerned. This designation was necessary in order to skip the otherwise requisite public tender procedures. It was supposed to be a great tourist attraction, with thousands of passengers.

By the time it was finished the train project had cost 3 million euros, 2 million of which was provided by the European Union as part of a 652.5 million euro package given for the development of the counties of Veszprém, Komárom-Esztergom, and Fejér. In June 2016 The Telegraph reported that OLAF, EU’s anti-fraud agency, was investigating the train, but that turned out to be a false alarm. Still, the Felcsút complex with its 3,500-seat soccer stadium only yards from Orbán’s weekend house and now a railroad going from nowhere to nowhere raised eyebrows in Brussels.

All that didn’t deter Viktor Orbán, who reportedly planned to extend the 5.7 km line, perhaps hoping that the number of passengers could be increased this way. The Hungarian government had promised between 2,500 and 7,000 passengers daily to justify the investment, but according to 444.hu, in its first month of operation Orbán’s choo-choo train attracted only 900 passengers–that is, only 30 a day. By October 2016 there were days when the train had no passengers at all. A few days ago atlatszo.hu published figures it acquired from the Puskás Academy. Since its first run on April 30, 2016, the academy reported, 48,533 people used the train. Last year 30,219, and so far this year 18,314. During that period, the railroad accumulated a 4.1 million forint loss. These dismal figures didn’t seem to bother János Lázár. In his opinion, if 20,000 people use the train, it is a profitable undertaking. Strange accounting, I must say.

From the start questions were raised both at home and in Brussels about the efficacy of this project, and therefore it was not entirely unexpected that the Budgetary Control Committee (CONT) of the European Parliament, whose fact-finding delegation will be visiting Hungary between September 18 and 20, put the Felcsút train on its agenda, alongside the huge Metro 4 construction project. Once János Lázár learned that the delegation would like to see Felcsút in all its glory, he hit the ceiling. Or, to be more precise, it was most likely Viktor Orbán who hit the ceiling. Lázár was just assigned the dirty work of fighting it out with the chair of the committee, Ingeborg Gräßle.

I have the feeling that Lázár/Orbán made a huge mistake when they decided to take on Grässle. She has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 and is considered to be especially influential. She is known as a strong advocate of increased transparency and accountability. And, as we will see, she is no pushover. Occasionally one has the feeling that Fidesz politicians think they can intimidate foreigners as easily as they do their “subjects.” But Grässle is an especially forbidding opponent.

In any case, Lázár wrote a letter to the chair of CONT on August 9. In it, he complained that the committee was not following Hungary’s suggested list of projects and accused the committee of setting up a program of its own, which is “strongly politically motivated.” Politico quoted the following passages from his August 9 letter: “I found it outrageous that a committee of the European parliament systematically ignores and rejects a notable amount of suggestions of the Hungarian government, thus significantly interferes in the Hungarian [election] campaign.” He especially criticized the committee’s decision to include a trip to “the home village of the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.” Grässle wasn’t impressed. She refused to change the fact-finding mission’s travel plans and politely assured Lázár that “there is no bias either behind the choice of the date of our mission or of the projects. The Budgetary Control Committee will conduct its visit in a politically neutral way, as we always do.”

Perhaps if at that point Lázár had just backed off he wouldn’t have gotten himself and the government he represents into hot water, as he ultimately did. On September 4 he wrote another letter, in the same manner as the first. Both letters struck some members of CONT as uncouth. And, further pressing their case, the Hungarian government instructed the Hungarian ambassador to the European Union to plead with Grässle to change the list of projects to be visited, or to postpone the whole visit until after the election in 2018. Grässle apparently told the ambassador that the budgetary control committee “does not accept political interference in the way it organizes its work of controlling the implementation of the budget.”

Ingeborg Grässle subsequently fired off two letters: one to Antonio Tajani, president of the European Union, and another to Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission. In her letter to Tajani she wrote: “I disapprove of the attitude to exert pressure on an EP parliamentary body with regard to the organization of a mission as well as with regards to its content.” She added that Lázár’s choice not to cooperate means that he does not comply—”in political or in legal terms”—with the requirements of mutual sincere cooperation, which is a basic rule among the institutions and member states. She considered the case so serious that she suggested to Tajani that he raise the issue with Juncker.

There is no question in my mind that it was Viktor Orbán who found the visit to Felcsút a personal attack on him by an EU body and tried to use next spring’s election as an excuse. But it backfired. As Grässle put it: “We are important but not that important.” Surely, it wasn’t the election that bothered the Lord of Felcsút. He simply didn’t want anyone from Brussels to see the place. As we know, anyone who tries to take pictures anywhere near the stadium is usually met with scores of policemen. And this case is more than the usual curious journalists trying to get close to his little empire. It is a group of European politicians who will see that whole grotesque scene Orbán managed to create in that “miserable village,” as Tamás Deutsch called it.

Orbán, with the assistance of Lázár, cast his regime in the worst possible light. One’s first response, which Grässle most likely shares, is: “These guys must have something to hide.” By the way, I wonder what the plans are for the day when the mission visits Felcsút. Will the Hungarian government order out thousands of people to ride their choo-choo train? Anything is possible in that Potemkin village called Hungary.

September 9, 2017

Another peacock dance: Orbán’s reversal on the verdict of the European Court of Justice

Yesterday I dealt with the exchange of letters between Jean-Claude Junker and Viktor Orbán concerning Orbán’s demand for EU reimbursement of half the cost of the fence the Hungarian government erected along the Serbian-Hungarian border. The Hungarian demand raised eyebrows in Europe and elsewhere, so Hungary was again in the international news.

The other reason for the preoccupation of the international media with Hungary was the long-awaited verdict of the European Court of Justice on the legality of the EU decision on the relocation of 120,000 asylum seekers. Slovakia and Hungary claimed that the decision-making process was illegal. Two days ago, on September 6, the Union’s top court dismissed the complaints of the two countries, dealing a blow to Viktor Orbán.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico immediately reacted to the verdict, saying that “we fully respect the verdict of the European Court of Justice,” adding, however, that his government’s view on the relocation plan “has not changed at all.” Viktor Orbán, on the other hand, remained silent. In his place, Péter Szijjártó, minister of foreign affairs and trade, and László Trócsányi, minister of justice, gave a joint press conference, where the foreign minister vented. He called the ruling “outrageous and irresponsible.” In his opinion, the verdict endangers the security and future of Europe and is contrary to the interest of the countries of the Union, including Hungary. “Politics raped the European law and European values,” he claimed. He announced that “the real battle begins only now,” and he promised that the Hungarian government “will use all the remedies available at its disposal” to prevent similar central decision-making for Hungary.

Trócsányi was no less belligerent when he announced that the Hungarian government will start a new legal debate. Since he liked the phrase “the real battle begins only now,” he repeated it. He didn’t go so far as to accuse his fellow judges of acting politically, but he charged that they were preoccupied with the case’s formal aspects and neglected its contextual qualities. The case was thrown out in its entirety, but Trócsányi still praised the excellent legal work of his team. The legal arguments presented to the court were outstanding, and therefore he was quite surprised by the outcome. Trócsányi also indicated that Hungary will not have to take the 1,294 migrants because the case was only about the legality of the decision-making process.

Péter Szijjártó and László Trócsányi / MTI-MTVA / Photo Szilárd Koszticsek

In brief, it looked as if the Orbán government was prepared to go against the ruling and suffer the consequences. A day later, on September 7, this impression was reinforced by János Lázár at his regular “government info” press conference where he interpreted the decision of the European Court of Justice as an opportunity for the European Commission to allow “Brussels” to meddle in Hungary’s internal affairs. “We will use every legal instrument to preserve the independence of the country.” Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, also chimed in and, in an interview with Deutschlandfunk, repeated Szijjártó’s accusation of a politically motivated and irresponsible decision on the part of the European Court of Justice. Everybody suspected, including naturally Viktor Orbán, that Slovakia and Hungary would lose the case, and therefore the word probably came down from above some time ago about what the proper reaction to the verdict should be.

After two days of criticism of the court and its verdict, Viktor Orbán came out with an entirely different approach to the question. In his Friday morning “interview” on Magyar Rádió he said: “Hungary is a member of the European Union. The affairs of the Union, its internal power relations are settled by the Treaty, so contracts have to be respected. Consequently, one must take cognizance of the verdicts of the courts. Hungarian is a sophisticated, refined language and therefore it does matter with what kind of word we react to a verdict, especially when we are functioning in a hostile Europe. I decided to use the word “tudomásul venni” which I took over from Slovak Prime Minister Fico.” Unfortunately, I don’t know what Slovak word Fico used when talking about his reaction to the verdict. English translations of Fico’s press conference use the verb “to respect” which, unfortunately, is not the equivalent of “tudomásul venni,” which might be better translated as “to take cognizance of.” However, I’m sure that some readers of Hungarian Spectrum will provide us with the the Slovak word that Fico used as well as with the best translation of the Slovak equivalent of “tudomásul venni.” Then we will be able to see whether Orbán and Fico are talking about the same thing or not.

Orbán’s interview was long, during the course of which he said many uncomplimentary things about the European Union, but at the end he came up with some startling statements. The interviewer reminded him that the politicians of the European Union consider the Polish refusal to abide by a court verdict as preparation for the country’s exit from the Union. If Orbán keeps talking about his “fight,” this communication may lead to the interpretation that Hungary is also planning to leave the Union behind. Here is Orbán’s answer: “Communication is interesting and in politics is often important, but it does not replace reality…. Hungarian reality is that the Hungarian people decided after a referendum to join the European Union. That decision was a correct one. No political decision can overwrite that decision. A popular referendum was held, and therefore no government action can reverse that determination. It was the Hungarian people’s choice, and that’s right and well.”

Although Szijjártó, who is in Tallin at the moment, expressed his trust in the unity of the Visegrád Four, there are signs that Slovakia and the Czech Republic are not ready to sacrifice themselves for Poland and Hungary. The weak link, I believe, is Slovakia. I heard an interview with Pál Csáky, a Slovak member of the European Parliament, who surprised me to no end with his condemnation of the Orbán government’s attitude toward the European Union. The reason for my surprise was that Csáky was Fidesz’s favorite among Hungarian ethnic politicians in Slovakia back in 2010. Lots of money was poured into Csáky’s party, the Magyar Koalíció Pártja (MKP), against Béla Bugár of Híd/Most. Despite the funding, MKP didn’t even manage to get enough votes to become a parliamentary party. Csáky at this point resigned. Today he made it clear that Slovakia will not follow Orbán’s suicidal strategy. Slovakia is all for the European Union.

There is another reason that Orbán may have changed his mind. The spokesman of the European People’s Party delivered a message to Viktor Orbán: don’t go against the ruling of the court because this verdict gives an opportunity to heal the wounds caused by the recent conflict between the member states. “The unanimous opinion of the party is that Slovakia and Hungary comply with the rules.”

Otherwise, Jean-Claude Juncker is ready to have a chat with Viktor Orbán, but his spokesman reminded his audience as well as Viktor Orbán that the position of the European Commission is explained in Juncker’s letter to Orbán. It is available for everybody to read and, in any case, the Commission is not in habit of verbal ping pong. Given Juncker’s firmness as expressed in his letter, I would not advise Orbán to continue to press his case.

September 8, 2017