Tag Archives: Zalaegerszeg

Mafia-like criminal network around the Orbán family

A month ago The Wall Street Journal reported that OLAF, the European Commission’s Anti-Fraud Office, after a two-year investigation of 35 projects undertaken by Elios Innovatív Zrt. to modernize municipal street lighting in Hungary, found “serious irregularities” and recommended to the Hungarian authorities that they take legal action against the persons involved. Unfortunately for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the principal owner of the company in question was his own son-in-law, István Tiborcz.

The company’s fraudulent activities were substantial. According to OLAF’s calculations, Tiborcz and his accomplices pocketed more than €40 ($49.8) million in EU funds through illegal business practices. Although the report was submitted to the Hungarian authorities, who apparently passed it on to the prosecutor’s office, the Orbán government was loath to make the report public even though, in the past, it had been more than eager to release such documents if they involved fraud cases before 2010.

I have written so many times about this case that I won’t bore regular readers with its details. Suffice it to say that by 2014, when OLAF began its investigation, it was obvious that the fabulous rise of Tiborcz’s company was due to his relationship with the prime minister’s family. By then one could also hypothesize that Tiborcz’s decision to switch from electrical and energy supplies to the installation of LED lighting was inspired by his future father-in-law, who was fully aware that the government had put aside 9 billion forints in EU funds for the purpose.

At the outset there were two problems: Elios needed money and it needed at least one city to entrust its project to Elios as proof of the company’s soundness. With the help of Viktor Orbán both problems were solved in short order. A telephone call to his friend Lajos Simicska, who had handled Fidesz’s finances ever since 1990 and who in the interim had become an extremely wealthy man, was enough to get the necessary capital. Simicska infused much-needed capital into the business of Orbán’s future son-in-law through buying the majority of the shares in the company. The second problem was also easily solved. János Lázár, mayor of Hódmezővásárhely and by 2010 head of Fidesz’s parliamentary delegation, was more than happy to help Tiborcz out. By October 2011 Hódmezővásárhely was touted as the first city in the whole of Europe to use LED technology exclusively. Mission accomplished. Two years later Tiborcz and his partner bought out Simicska, and by the end of 2011 Lázár’s city was called “the European Los Angeles.”

But it seems that all of the advantages his ties to the Orbán family offered weren’t enough for the 24-year-old Tiborcz. He was also dishonest. What we didn’t know until now was how corrupt he, his associates, and the government authorities who dealt with him were.

Well, today we know. Or, more precisely, now we are beginning to learn the details of a mafia-like corruption ring engulfing Viktor Orbán and his family.

24.hu managed to get hold of a copy of the OLAF report that the Orbán government is so eager to hide. We know from a recent OLAF report, which was made public, that these reports are extremely long and detailed. This particular investigation covered 35 business transactions, so I assume it is a lengthy document. The journalists who gained access to the OLAF report had only a few hours to study it, so I’m sure there will be plenty more information trickling in as time goes on.

Momentum’s “gift” to the Prosecutor’s Office: “Accomplice, Accomplice” / Source: Magyar Nemzet / Photo: Balázs Székelyhidi

So, let’s start with what we now know. According to 24.hu, Tiborcz and Co. “misappropriated public funds” in a “criminal association” and “on a commercial scale.” There was a network of people involved in the wholesale fraud Elios’s business partners and their helpers committed. All 35 cases involved the “misuse of public funds,” and in 17 cases OLAF discovered organized criminal activity. There were all sorts of fraudulent activities involved, but perhaps the easiest to understand is that the same person on the same computer wrote up the competitors’ so-called “indicative offers” and in every case priced them exactly 5% and 7% higher than Elios’s bid. Later we learned that this person was one of the directors of Elios.

We already know some details of the fraud through the case of Szolnok’s contract with Elios. That case indicates that even government authorities who handle the European Union’s “environmental and energy efficiency operational program” (KEOP) helped Tiborcz win the contract by changing the parameters of the requirements on a Friday with a deadline on Monday to fit Elios’s specifications. The scheme worked the following way. Ivette Mancz, the Elios director in charge of public lighting, was also involved in writing the specifications for the job ordered by the municipalities. And once Elios finished the work, an “independent auditor,” INS Kft., inspected the finished work. The signature on the so-called independent audit, however, was Mancz’s. The scheme was foolproof: Mancz set the terms, Mancz’s firm did the work, and Mancz was also associated with the company that checked the results.

These revelations were naturally welcomed by all the opposition parties, whose politicians had already decided that the Tiborcz case is “the atomic bomb” they have been waiting for. Considering that the prosecutor’s office is solidly in Fidesz hands, I wouldn’t be too optimistic. Nonetheless, these disclosures shook even some Fidesz politicians. For example, in the city of Zalaegerszeg, whose city lighting was handled by Elios, two opposition members of the city council requested a copy of the OLAF report and, behold, 6 of the 12 Fidesz members supported the opposition. But it took only a few hours for the mayor to declare that, sorry, it was a mistake. The Fidesz members simply pushed the wrong button. As for the major opposition parties, they are up in arms. They seem to be concentrating on Chief Prosecutor Polt, who “will have to end up in jail.” Jobbik went so far as to demand Orbán’s resignation.

The Orbán propaganda media’s response will most likely follow the reasoning that Magyar Idők proposed in an article which appeared on January 20. It tried to shift the blame onto Lajos Simicska, who for a short time was the majority shareholder of Elios. Origo today published another piece along the same line. We can expect dozens of such articles in the next few days. In the meantime, investigative journalists will have a heyday exploring and exposing Elios’s fraudulent business affairs.

February 7, 2018

Snippets from Viktor Orbán’s recent speeches–turning eastward and inward

Viktor Orbán’s stamina is remarkable. He left for China on May 11, where he had a busy schedule of meetings, and returned to Budapest on May 17. Yet the next day he gave a very long speech at the annual meeting of Daimler AG, held in Budapest. On Friday, May 19, he gave a 30-minute interview to Kossuth Rádió in the morning, and by the afternoon he was in Zalaegerszeg, an almost three-hour trip by car, where again he spoke. The following day he attended the congress of the Slovenian Democratic Party in Maribor, another one and a half hours by car from Zalaegerszeg.

I have carefully read all of Orbán’s spoken words since his return from China. Did I learn anything new from them? Yes and no. On the one hand, Orbán, like everybody else, has certain topics, ideas, and notions about the world that keep recurring in all his speeches. Those passages are of no interest to anyone who’s familiar with the main thrust of Orbán’s thinking about the world. On the other hand, here and there new ideas appear, which allow us to look at the Hungarian prime minister in a slightly different light.

My general sense is that the Chinese trip and the Chinese leadership’s vision of the “Belt and Road Initiative” made a great impression on Orbán and that he feels privileged to have an agreement with the Chinese to construct a railroad between Budapest and Belgrade as part of that modern version of the Silk Road, connecting the East and the West. As he put it in his interview on Kossuth Rádió, the Chinese invited only those countries that “will have a role to play in the growth of the world economy in the next two or three decades,” which is an excellent piece of news for Hungary.

Orbán is impressed with the Chinese in general. In his eyes, “the Chinese are serene people with a philosophical bent and a goal of achieving harmony.” In contrast, it is “the pursuit of freedom which is at the core of Western political thought.” One would think that giving freedom center stage would be positive, but for Orbán freedom “leads to conflicts.” Westerners are “constantly alarmed about dangers to freedom.” The Chinese, on the other hand, “are concerned with problem solving, trying to find a balanced result, which they call harmony,” and therefore “it is good to negotiate with them.” For example, the Chinese would never say what the leader of the European People’s Party said: “The ball is in your court, if you react the proper way you are a team player, if not there will be consequences.” In Orbán’s opinion, EPP’s reaction “shows how deformed European politics is.” Of course, many other topics were covered in this interview, but these words struck me as intriguing and perhaps even significant.

Orbán’s lengthy speech at the general meeting of Daimler AG also had a few noteworthy parts. One was a strange sentence at the very beginning of his speech. It reads: “When you chose Budapest [to hold the meeting], you made the right decision. It is a fashionable place in addition to being a place of a certain excitement. When one opens foreign newspapers and reads about Hungary, one is not sure whether they are talking about a black sheep or about an outstanding economic success. That creates a kind of intellectual excitement around Hungary. So, we are happy that you came here to see with your own eyes what’s happening in Hungary.” These sentences lead me to believe that the European Parliament’s resolution is a genuine embarrassment for Orbán. The arrangements for this meeting had to have been made months before, when no one could have foreseen the Orbán government’s being reprimanded by the majority of the European Parliament.

It always amuses me when Viktor Orbán, who knows mighty little about economics, shares his high-flown ideas about the future of the world economy. Again, he couldn’t refrain from offering his golden thoughts. The starting point of his assessment of the economic situation in the European Union began with China. “I just came back from China. If one sees the future and looks at Europe from that vantage point, it is especially urgent to reform Europe so it can regain its competitiveness.” That’s a strong beginning, but it is not entirely new in Orbán’s repertoire of stock thoughts.

It’s possible that I missed it before, but this was the first time I heard him “reinterpreting” the causes of the 2008-2009 world financial crisis in economic terms. He said that

It must be accepted in Europe that the 2008-2009 financial crisis was not cyclical but structural. Some European leaders believe that economic crises are part and parcel of a modern market economy. There had been trouble in the European Union before, economic indicators dropped, the economy corrected itself, and the indicators improved. No structural changes were necessary because the system could repair itself. This was true in the last 40 years, but it is no longer so. What we suffer from now is not a cyclical crisis. The simple truth is that other emerging economies are more competitive than we are, and therefore this is a structural crisis of competitiveness. So, our response should be formulated accordingly. I’m convinced that because this paradigm shift is now taking place in the world economy, we should give a European response to it instead of thinking in terms of a cyclical crisis.

I have no idea what kind of structural corrections Orbán is thinking of or what paradigm shift he has in mind. Traditionally a paradigm shift means a fundamental change in basic concepts, which leads me to believe that Orbán is simply mouthing his “right-hand” György Matolcsy’s unorthodox economic ideas, which most responsible Hungarian and foreign economists reject. The Chinese economy, as is the case with all emerging economies, can produce an incredible rate of growth initially, just as East-Central Europe is at the moment ahead of the West as far as economic growth is concerned, but as time goes by these countries’ growth will inevitably slow. It is a mistake to claim that China’s impressive economic growth is due solely to the different structure of its economy and that if the developed West simply adopted its largely state structure, the EU or the United States would produce a 6-8% yearly economic growth.

I found two more short passages worth noting. The first is from the speech delivered in Zalaegerszeg at the opening of a large complex for testing self-driving cars. This is the only recent major construction project that was financed exclusively by the Hungarian government. Orbán said: “This test ground is living proof that we are not on [economic] crutches; we have our own resources; we have our talents; and we are capable of achieving world-class performance. I would like to remind everyone that under the leadership of [Finance Minister] Mr. Mihály Varga during our first government between 1998 and 2002, when we were not yet a member of the European Union, we achieved an economic growth rate of over 4% due to our sound economic policies. In fact, there was one quarter when it was over 5%.” These words were interpreted by the independent media and commentators who are critical of the government as a reformulation of Orbán’s earlier quip: “There is life outside the European Union.” A bad sign, they said. Perhaps he is thinking of eventually leaving the EU.

The proud crew behind the Zalaegerszeg test ground

And finally, in Maribor at the Slovenian Democratic Party’s conference, Orbán said: “As you have heard from your chairman, there is a lot of talk about European values nowadays. They talk about them as if they were guarded in a safe somewhere in Brussels whose key is in the breast-pockets of a very few privileged people. The truth is, however, that there are indeed safes in which European values are stored. These safes, however, are not in Brussels but in the hearts of European citizens, Slovenians, Hungarians, Poles, Germans, French, Slovaks, because European values are not carved into lifeless stones but are written in living hearts.” These words cannot be interpreted in any other way but as a rejection of the fundamental values of the European Union: “Respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. These values unite all the member states—no country that does not recognize these values can belong to the Union.” This is the first paragraph of the description of EU “values and objectives” published by the European Parliament. If these values can be reinterpreted on a national or individual level, we no longer have a union.

Taken together, these last two quotations may be an indication of Viktor Orbán’s thinking about the future. In the short run, it means that the tug-of-war between the European Union and Hungary will continued unabated.

May 22, 2017

József Mindszenty: An inveterate anti-Semite or a national hero?

Today I will take a step back from everyday politics and write about a controversial historical figure, József Mindszenty (1892-1975), Prince Primate and Archbishop of Esztergom between 1945 and 1973. Just to refresh people’s memory, Mindszenty was arrested on charges of treason and conspiracy on December 26 1948, and on February 3, 1949 he was sentenced to life imprisonment. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 he was released from prison, and on November 3, a day before the Soviet decision to put an end to the uprising, he gave a radio address that was not universally well received. Instead of leaving the country, a possibility that was open to him at that time, he opted for political asylum in the United States Embassy, where he lived for 15 long years. Apparently, the Vatican wasn’t thrilled at his abandoning his flock. His unresolved case was a burden on both the Vatican and the Kádár regime. Eventually Pope Paul declared Mindszenty a “victim of history” (instead of communism) and annulled the excommunication Pius XII had imposed on those responsible for Mindszenty’s arrest and imprisonment. As a result of the pope’s action, the Hungarian government allowed Mindszenty to leave the country in September 1971. He went to Austria. The pope urged him to resign his posts in the Hungarian Catholic Church in exchange for the uncensored publication of his memoirs. Mindszenty refused. In December 1973 he was stripped of his titles by the pope, who declared the Archdiocese of Esztergom officially vacated.

Fast forward. You may recall that starting in early 2015 Viktor Orbán began visiting numerous provincial cities, offering them large sums of money, mostly coming from Brussels. Among the projects were, naturally, several football stadiums as well as improvements in infrastructure in and around the cities. He called it the “Modern Cities Program.”

In May 2015 he visited Zalaegerszeg, where one of the promised gifts from the government was a memorial center and museum in honor of Cardinal Mindszenty, who spent 25 years in Zalaegerszeg as a parish priest. The mayor of the city hopes that the “pilgrimage tourism” generated by such a center will be a real financial bonanza for Zalaegerszeg. The government is pouring a lot of money into the project. Almost six billion forints will be spent on renovating the church where Mindszenty served, a parking garage will be built, and a hotel for the pilgrims will be fashioned out of a castle nearby. All that in addition to the center itself. There is the strong hope that by the time the pilgrimage center opens in 2018 Mindszenty will be granted the title “Blessed” as the second step in his canonization process. He is already “Venerable.” However, Mindszenty’s canonization process hasn’t been moving forward in the last 25 years, perhaps because, as Endre Aczél, the well-known journalist pointed out, Mindszenty wasn’t exactly an obedient son of the Church.

Plan of the Mindszenty Memorial Center in Zalaegerszeg

The planned Mindszenty Memorial Center in Zalaegerszeg

The inveterate anti-Semite

Mindszenty is a very controversial figure, and it is unlikely that historians will ever agree on his role in the Catholic Church and in Hungarian politics. Today I’ll summarize two recent historical assessments of the man.

Let me start with an interview with Zoltán Paksy that appeared in Magyar Narancs in connection with news of the planned Mindszenty Center in Zalaegerszeg. In his opinion, “the person of József Mindszenty is not worthy of such veneration, and certainly he is not an example to be followed.” The story which Mindszenty himself spread that he was arrested early in his career by the communist henchmen of the Hungarian Republic is not true. He was actually arrested during the Károlyi period because he was caught organizing a movement that was supposed to topple the new democratic regime. His real aim was the restoration of the monarchy and the maintenance of the dominance of the Catholic Church. “He was a backward, anti-modernist, intolerant man, and an inveterate anti-Semite.” Mindszenty, then still called József Pehm, established a local paper (Zalamegyei Újság) that was full of anti-Semitic writings about the “Galician hordes.” His editorials frequently condemned the destructive Jewish liberal press.

Mindszenty also dabbled in politics. He was the county chairman of the Keresztény Párt, which in 1922 joined István Bethlen’s government party. After that date Mindszenty’s paper became more careful because Bethlen didn’t tolerate anti-Semitic propaganda within government circles. Once Bethlen left politics, however, Zalamegyei Újság again returned to its earlier habit of giving space to anti-Semitic voices. In 1938 Mindszenty was one of the honorary presidents of the Association of Christian Industrialists and Merchants, which was an openly anti-Semitic organization. At the time of his inauguration he said that “the nation must recapture industry and trade,” obviously from the Jews.

Paksy said that he couldn’t find any documentation corroborating the claim that Mindszenty hid Jews in the spring and summer of 1944, although stories to that effect remain in circulation. It is true that he was an opponent of Ferenc Szálasi’s Arrow Cross party but, according to Paksy, it was because he considered them to be his political rivals who managed to capture the support of the countryside.

As for his general intolerance, here are a couple of examples. He refused to take part in any ceremony organized by the city where the Protestant ministers of the town were also present as equals. And in 1922 he hit a man because he didn’t take his hat off when meeting him on the street.

The National Hero

An opposing view of József Mindszenty comes from Margit Balogh, who has spent 25 years studying his career. Her latest effort is a two-volume, 1,570-page biography of Mindszenty based on extensive research in 50 Hungarian and foreign archives. The earlier, shorter biography that she wrote has already been translated into German, and its English translation is being prepared. According to Balogh, “despite his mistakes and faults, József Mindszenty was a national hero.”

Balogh admits that in the Zalamegyei Újság “we can find vehement, unacceptable expressions,” but “Mindszenty’s criticism of Jews was not the racial kind but originated from Christian anti-Judaism.” Moreover, she claims that with time he mellowed. For example, during the summer of 1944, as Bishop of Veszprém, “while he denied that the Church is pro-Jewish (zsidóbarát), he also made it clear that what is happening to the Jews is not defense of the nation (nemzetvédelem) but murder, a sin according to the Ten Commandments.” He expressed regret over the insensitive reporting of the deportation of the Jews by the diocese’s paper: “We should have done more and more forcefully.”

Balogh also admits that in the spring of 1944 Mindszenty saw nothing wrong with “an exchange of Jewish-Christian ownership,” but “the cruelty of the deportations made a great impression on him.” For example, by September he specifically forbade his priests to acquire Jewish properties. The historian also admits that, as far as she knows, Mindszenty didn’t make any effort to save Jews. He did, however, want to spare human lives and wrote a letter to Szálasi asking him to evacuate Transdanubia in order to save lives at this hopeless stage of the war.

Zoltán Paksy’s research was limited to Mindszenty’s years in Zalaegerszeg and didn’t extend to his actions after 1945. Balogh, however, admits that the other Hungarian prelates were not thrilled with Mindszenty’s unbending attitude toward the new regime. They suggested more flexibility in order to get the best possible deal for the church under difficult conditions. Yet, says Balogh, he was the only one who “defended the values of democracy against communist expansion.”

Mindszenty certainly was a symbol of resistance to the growing expansion of Mátyás Rákosi’s rule. A few months before his arrest he celebrated mass in Máriagyűd, where 150,000 people gathered to hear him, and delivered a fiery speech against the invaders from the East. So, in that sense Balogh is right. On the other hand, she has been unable to refute Zoltán Paksy’s assessment of the younger József Mindszenty.

April 24, 2016

The latest business venture of Orbán’s son-in-law

István Tiborcz, Viktor Orbán’s son-in-law, pretty well disappeared from the spotlight once OLAF, the European Union’s anti-fraud office, started to investigate his firm, Elios Innovatív Zrt. The firm specialized in LED street lighting technology and practically cornered the market: one city after the other signed contracts with Elios to modernize its street lighting with funds that came from the European Union. With the EU investigation pending, Viktor Orbán and his son-in-law decided that it might be wise for Tiborcz to “sell” his share of the business to Attila Paár, a well-off businessman with excellent connections to the Orbán government.

Only once, in December, did Tiborcz get any media coverage. The story was about Elios’s work in Zalaegerszeg, which seems to have been less than satisfactory. In some parts of the city it is pitch dark, while in others pedestrians have difficulty navigating because the streetlights shine only on the road, leaving the sidewalks practically unlighted. Complaints poured into city hall, which the mayor, naturally a member of Fidesz, “tried to handle discreetly.”

Now the Tiborcz family is back in the news. It seems that István Tiborcz might be one of the investors who purchased the Schossberger Mansion in Tura, which has been described as the most beautiful castle in Hungary, comparable only to the palaces along the Loire River in France.

Who were the Schossbergers? Not much can be learned about them online, but William O. McCagg, Jr.’s Jewish Nobles and Geniuses in Modern Hungary provides quite a bit of information about the family, who were originally from Moravia. The first Hungarian Schossberger who settled in Pest in 1833 was Lázár. His son, Simon Vilmos Schossberg, was the first unconverted Jew to receive nobility from Franz Joseph, in 1863. In 1873 Simon’s son Zsigmond purchased 13,000 hectares from Prince Miklós Esterházy. Ten years later he commissioned a neo-Renaissance mansion based on the plan of Miklós Ybl, one of Europe’s leading architects in the second half of the nineteenth century. Ybl’s best known work is the Hungarian State Opera House (1874-1884).

schossberger

The Schossberger Mansion

After 1944 the mansion was used by the Germans and the Soviet troops. It then became an elementary school. After the regime change it was sold twice, but no one did anything with the building, which would need serious renovation.

Last October a mysterious new buyer showed up: TRA Real Estate Kft., a brand new joint stock company headed by Dr. Judit Tóth. TRA Real Estate Kft. is the parent company of BDPST Ingatlanforgalmazó és Beruházó Zrt., owned by Judith Tóth and Loránd Aurél Szabó, both lawyers. The new buyer wanted to be sure that the city of Tura didn’t have the right of first refusal and therefore sent the law firm of Endre Hamar to approach the city.

It is here that one becomes suspicious. First, Hamar got in touch with the town of Tura on September 7 in the name of TRA, when the firm didn’t yet exist. It was established only a week later. Second, Endre Hamar is a former business partner of István Tiborcz. Third, Hamar’s law firm might exist only on paper. It is ostensibly located in the same building as the headquarters of Elios Zrt. BDPST Ingatlanforgalmazó, which is linked to TRA, also has the same address. As 444.hu notes, Endre Hamar cannot have too many clients, considering that his firm has no website and one cannot even find the firm’s name on the list of businesses renting office space in the building.

Meanwhile, the deal took place. Whoever bought the mansion paid 200 million forints, including a 80 million forint mortgage, to the Széchenyi Bank.

When the the Schossberger Mansion was purchased, the transaction couldn’t be directly linked to István Tiborcz. But three days ago 444.hu found out that it was István Tiborcz himself who paid the 100,000 forint excise tax on August 14, at the time of BDPST’s registration as a new business. What is still a mystery is where TRA Kft. got the millions of forints that it spent on the mansion in Tura. Neither Judith Tóth nor Loránd Aurél Szabó has any other business venture that could fund the purchase.

If Tiborcz is behind BDPST Zrt., he might also have interests in other real estate ventures because BDPST is the part owner of two other businesses dealing with real estate, AMX HS and AMX Nador House. The CEO of both companies is a wealthy Turkish businessman, Suat Gökhan Karakus, who resides in Budapest. The other part owner of these companies is HBRE International Investments B.V. of Amsterdam.

On January 8 Együtt (Together) released a communiqué in which the party asked István Tiborcz and Ráhel Orbán to come forward and explain the source of their wealth. I think Együtt can wait for the day when anyone in the Orbán or, by extension, the Tiborcz family reveals the source of their rapid enrichment. Of course, it would also be nice to know where the 2 million euros came from that Lőrinc Mészáros just invested in the NK Osijek football club. That would be quite a job, not just for an investigative journalist but for a whole slew of the best detectives in Europe and the Americas.

Viktor Orbán’s new infatuation with modernity

The Orbán government fell in love with the word “modern.” As we just learned today, the leadership of Fidesz has been dissatisfied with the media portfolio of Lajos Simicska for some time. They considered it old-fashioned and hence ineffective. Therefore, quite independently of the quarrel between Orbán and Simicska, the party’s leadership was thinking of pro-government media that can have a greater impact, especially on the younger generation. They have been working on a new media portfolio under the supervision of Árpád Habony, who will also be part owner of the new enterprise. The name of the company will be Modern Média Group (MMG). It looks to me as if Fidesz is no longer capable of coming up with anything new because, as HVG discovered, there used to be a company called Modern Média. It was one of those bankrupt companies around Fidesz that was sold to Josip Tot, the penniless Croatian guest worker, in 1998.

MMG’s plans are ambitious. They will have an internet site called via.hu that will publish opinion pieces and political analyses. The new owners are also planning to launch a free paper to replace Helyi Téma, which ceased to exist a few weeks ago due to the financial troubles of its owner, Tamás Vitézy. In addition, their plans include a financial paper. There is also talk about a possible radio station. All of this requires a lot of money. Where do Árpád Habony and his business partner, Tibor Győri, who used to be undersecretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, get the money for such a media empire? We pretty well know where Lajos Simicska got his money, but what about Habony, who as far as we know doesn’t have a job? Before 2010 Győri was CEO of Mahír, one of Simicska’s companies, but I can’t believe that he is a billionaire.

I’m rather skeptical of the prospects for this new Fidesz-Orbán media empire simply because government-created propaganda is almost never financially successful. As for modernity, it is the last word one would associate with the Orbán government, which has been doing nothing else in the last five years but trying to turn back the clock.

But that’s not all. The Orbán government has a new project called the Modern Városok Program (Modern Cities Program), which Viktor Orbán launched in Sopron on March 25. Unfortunately for Orbán, his speech on that occasion was totally overshadowed by his revelation in the question and answer period that he was the person who ordered his ministers to withdraw all government money deposited at the Quaestor Group.

His visit to Sopron signaled the beginning of a road show that includes visits to all 23 cities labeled as “megyei jogú városok,” which simply means that these cities also take care of the business of the county in which they are situated although not all of them are county seats. According to plans, about 1,000-1,200 billion forints, coming largely from Brussels, will be spent on “modernizing” the infrastructure. Originally, the government planned to finish all the expressways that would connect these cities to “motorways” or superhighways only by 2020, but given the sorry state of Fidesz and the Orbán government, the decision was made to speed up the process and finish the work by 2018, i.e., before the next election. In addition to an expressway between Sopron and Győr (M1), money would go for renovations of “church and government buildings” in Sopron and for the development of a tourist center at Lake Fertő. The expressway itself would cost more than 100 billion forints.

This “modernization” for Orbán means that “anyone crossing the border between Austria and Hungary wouldn’t notice any difference in quality.” But, of course, we know that not everything depends on new paint on buildings and an expressway leading into the city. What is missing on the Hungarian side cannot be remedied by road building and renovation. What is lacking is a forward-looking government and population.

On April 10 Orbán visited Eger, where the goodies coming from Brussels were more modest than in Sopron–only 30 billion forints. In addition to another expressway, Eger would receive a “national swimming and waterpolo centrum” to the tune of six billion forints. This center will be grandiose: several pools, “not just one or two.” After all, “let’s dream of great things, and do it right,” he said. I guess after the stadiums we can expect many, many swimming centers, which actually makes more sense than the stadium building mania for the nonexistent Hungarian football players. At least Hungarian swimmers and water polo players are world famous. Another six billion will be spent on the famous castle where in 1552 the Hungarian forces successfully defended the town from the Turkish invaders. Mind you, in 1596 Eger fell anyway and became part of the Ottoman Empire. An industrial center will be built, waiting for investors who will be able to reach Eger more easily after the expressway is built to M3.

The next stop was Zalaegerszeg. Another expressway by 2018 and another swimming pool with a recreation center. The city will also build a pilgrimage center devoted to József Mindszenty, the last Prince Primate of Hungary. Mindszenty became a parish priest in the Church of Mária Magdolna in Zalaegerszeg in 1919 and spent almost twenty years there. Although his beatification has been pending since 1996, it looks as if the city fathers of Zalaegerszeg are optimistic about the final outcome. I have no idea how popular such a pilgrimage center will be, but it looks as if the mayor and the city council consider it a good business opportunity.

Of course, the roadshow is not over. There are twenty more cities to visit.

I find the Orbán government’s sudden interest in modernity curious. If anything, Viktor Orbán is a man of the past. Even before he became prime minister in 2010, he fought tooth and nail against modern shopping habits. It’s enough to think of his crusade against the government’s plans to allow over-the-counter medications to be sold outside of pharmacies. And the government’s newly introduced Sunday store closings are supposed to favor small business owners and punish the large supermarket chains.

modernityYes, in the last fifty years or so small business owners have been pushed out of the market. It is sad. Where are the small bookstores? Few of them survive. The small pharmacy I used to visit even in the 1980s is gone. Pharmacies have been replaced by chains. Some large retail outlets, like Walmart, have their own pharmacies. There are fewer and fewer flower shops because every supermarket sells flowers. Certain professions have completely disappeared. For example, typesetting. But there is nothing new about that. After all, when Gutenberg introduced movable type, within a few years scribes lost their jobs. To try to stop these developments by government edict is more than foolhardy. Such an attempt can bring only disaster–backwardness and poverty. Moreover, it is hopeless. Anyone who attempts to stop the clock, unless it is Kim Jong-un in isolated North Korea, is doomed to failure.