Tag Archives: Zoltán Illés

Signs of internal divisions within the Hungarian governing party

In the last few months, as the popularity of Fidesz has been steadily declining, signs of serious internal divisions within the party have been proliferating. Ever since November one opinion poll after the other has reported serious losses in popularity for both Viktor Orbán and his party. Fidesz still leads, but the parties on the left are gaining ground. In fact, for the first time, the number of voters favoring all the democratic opposition parties combined is slightly higher than that favoring Fidesz.

It was almost inevitable that Fidesz’s political leadership would start looking for explanations for the waning popularity. Of course, the most obvious target should be Viktor Orbán himself. After all, Fidesz is a monolithic party where, according to grumbling party leaders, all decisions are made by the prime minister, who is also the head of the party.

His confidants nowadays are not the grand old men of Fidesz but upstarts like Antal Rogán, János Lázár, or the mysterious Árpád Habony who allegedly has no position either in the party or in the government yet is privy to the most confidential information if not state secrets. The old Fidesz leaders who joined the party twenty-five years ago either left a long time ago or Viktor Orbán set them aside. The less important characters had to be satisfied with positions inside state companies or insignificant administrative offices; the more important ones were either given positions that have clout on paper only, for example János Áder and László Kövér, or were shipped off to Brussels. Zoltán Pokorni, who at one point was chairman of Fidesz, had to be satisfied with a humble district mayoralty.

Until last November Fidesz spoke more or less with one voice, the voice of Viktor Orbán. If there were doubting Thomases, they became convinced by the cleverly orchestrated elections that, after all, “Viktor was right.” In fact, he is a political genius who can overcome all obstacles and lead the party to victory not just for the next four or eight years but for a very long time. Now, however, it looks as if Orbán has lost his touch. Instead of being able to correct his mistakes, he piles new ones on top of earlier ones. Moreover, several times in the last few months he had to retreat, which must have shaken the confidence of his closest associates.

I suspect that we are still not at a point that we will hear open criticism of Viktor Orbán himself. Instead, the criticism is directed against the men around him. The first public quarrel occurred in December when Zoltán Pokorni said a few disapproving words about the extravagant lifestyle of János Lázár. Kövér chimed in, taking Pokorni’s side. It is a well known fact that Kövér is no friend of Lázár, who runs the government’s daily business, serving as de facto prime minister, while Orbán himself acts like its all-mighty president, moving effortlessly on the stage of world politics. The quarrel didn’t end there. Lázár shot back and told Kövér that “a political veteran should think twice before he attacks us out of personal resentment or for political gain because he not only weakens us but also weakens or even executes himself.” I guess in this instance “execution” means the end of this veteran’s political career. This is not an idle threat. When after the lost 2006 election Orbán found out that some of his political friends at a party had discussed the desirability of replacing him because of his mistaken election strategy, they were promptly sent into political exile. The most prominent victim was János Áder. More recently, Tibor Navracsics, who as minister of justice criticized the legislative practices introduced by the prime minister’s office, soon enough found himself in Brussels.

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In January we learned that József Szájer and János Kövér also have their disagreements, primarily over Hungary’s relations with the European Union. Szájer is an old timer all right. He was one of the founders of Fidesz but, as opposed to the provincial Kövér, is now serving his third five-year term as MEP in Brussels. In his case, Brussels is not a political exile. He is still a very close associate of Orbán. In fact, Szájer’s wife is perhaps the most important person in the Hungarian judicial system today. In any case, the two old friends from college don’t see eye to eye on the European Union. Kövér belongs to the right wing of Fidesz, a Euro-skeptic who ordered the removal of the EU flag from the parliament building and instead put up a newly-designed flag of the Szeklers living in Romania. About three weeks ago Kövér in an interview expressed his dislike of the European Union and said that it might not be a bad idea to think about leaving. Szájer openly expressed his dissatisfaction with Kövér’s ill-considered statement in an interview on ATV.

Then came another open disagreement, this time between László L. Simon, undersecretary of János Lázár in the prime minister’s office, and Gergely Gulyás, the right-hand of László Kövér and head of a parliament commission dealing with legislative matters, who talked about the likelihood of modifying the law on freedom of assembly. This announcement was unfortunate. It looked as if the Orbán government was planning to restrict the current law and was thereby intending to limit the kinds of demonstrations that took place recently on the streets of Budapest. L. Simon immediately announced that the idea was Gulyás’s private opinion. The government has no intention of revisiting the law on assembly. A very wise move on the part of the government.

Then about ten days ago Zoltán Illés, earlier undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture in charge of the environment, decided to go public with his criticism of the Orbán government’s nonexistent environmental policies. Illés is a committed environmentalist and was useful to Viktor Orbán when Fidesz was in opposition as he attacked the socialist-liberal governments for their neglect of environmental issues. Illés was everywhere a tree was cut down. He organized demonstrations and blocked several projects because of environmental considerations. In 2010 he most likely saw himself as the next minister of the environment and must have been taken back when the ministry was abolished and he became only an undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture. But, as he explained recently, he still hoped that even in this position he could be effective. That turned out not to be the case. His position was stripped of practically everything that used to belong to the minister of the environment. Between 2010 and 2014, while in office, the formerly vocal Illés was quiet as a mouse for example when hundreds of trees were cut out overnight around the parliament building. Eventually he no longer could stand it. He was the only Fidesz member of parliament to vote against building a new reactor at the Paks nuclear power plant. That sealed his fate. Not only is he no longer an undersecretary, he didn’t even receive a cushy job. Now he “tells all” everywhere he has the opportunity.

In the last few days there have apparently been open disagreements between Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán on immigration; between Zoltán Balog and Károly Czibere, his undersecretary, on the segregation of Roma children; between Antal Rogán and László Trócsányi, minister of justice, on the necessity of new legislation in defense of religions.

Finally, newspapers reported yesterday that János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament, published a long critique of his party and the government on his own website.

The parrots are starting to learn words of their own.

Sexism in the Hungarian parliament

I have written a number of times about female members of the Hungarian parliament and their treatment by male colleagues. I’ve also written about the attitude, especially of Fidesz MPs, toward women in general.

As a reminder, here are a few statistics about the minority status of women in Hungarian politics. Today there are only 35 women in a 386-member parliament (9.06%). According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s statistics, of the 144 countries listed Hungary ranks 118th! Among the countries that are doing worse are Malta, Brazil, Bhutan, Benin, Ghana, Ukraine, Botswana, Nigeria, Tuvalu, Georgia, Egypt, Oman, and Yemen.

Although the number of women parliamentarians is low across the board, Fidesz has the smallest percentage of women in its parliamentary caucus. It is also noteworthy that the credentials of Fidesz female MPs are less impressive than those of their colleagues in the opposition. There are at least three who have no higher education at all. There are several who are elementary school teachers. Some finished only “főiskola,” a three-year program, instead of university. I found only one woman in the caucus who has a law degree. Several majored in economics and there are a couple of physicians. I found only two Fidesz female MPs who studied subjects that could be considered to fall under the category of  a classical “liberal arts education.” Keep in mind that all the members of the Fidesz delegation were handpicked by Viktor Orbán.

If an attack is launched against female members of the opposition, the Fidesz-KDNP women are silent. They don’t even show solidarity privately with the victims of Fidesz testosterone. If they are asked about sexist incidents that unfortunately occur quite often, the brave Fidesz-KDNP women keep looking at the floor and remain silent. Not the slightest sign of female solidarity.

But, as I said, Orbán himself picked men and women who would be rubber stamps in parliament. Orbán most likely cannot abide independent and outspoken women because he thinks in terms of traditional gender roles. Just lately, in connection with his daughter’s wedding, he talked about the women who will cook and who will cry at the wedding and made it clear that he wouldn’t be caught dead dropping a tear or two at his daughter’s wedding. I’m also sure that he didn’t want to choose people who were too brainy to be the representatives of the people; the Fidesz delegation has an awful lot of people who, under normal circumstances, would never have found themselves in such a position.  According to Zoltán Ceglédi, a political scientist who wrote about the qualities of the ideal Fidesz MP, most of the current officeholders are incapable of answering the opposition’s questions. They become frustrated and hence behave in an unacceptably aggressive manner. Moreover, as a result of the practically unlimited power of the Fidesz politicians and government officials, they feel omnipotent. The result is boorish behavior. The few women in the opposition are the prime targets, it seems.

On September 9 Bernadette Szél (LMP) rose to inquire from Zoltán Illés, undersecretary in charge of the environment in the Ministry of Agriculture, what the Hungarian government was planning to do about the Romanian gold mines and their possible use of cyanide, pointing out that until now not much has been done about it. This is how the gentleman answered:

Just because you are good looking it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are clever. I have to refute one by one all those stupidities and imbecilities that you talked about here in the last five minutes.

I was there together with others, … when Viktor Orbán took a great number of steps in connection with the cyanide pollution in Nagybánya [Baia Mare, Romania]. I take my hat off to him. This is not brown nosing on my part. I was there, I heard it, my hat off again for all that he did there.

Honorable … ah, dear madame member of parliament.

Madame member of parliament, don’t dare to utter a word about the Prime Minister. And my last comment: it is not the clothes that make a person. Your having a T-shirt on doesn’t make you an environmentalist. Shame.

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy seems to enjoy the exchange

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right, Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy

The whole exchange can be heard on the parliamentary radio. Both Szél and András Schiffer wore a T-shirt over their normal clothes to emphasize their interest in the environment. LMP is a left-green party. As for Szél’s qualifications, she has a Ph.D. (2011) from Corvinus University.

Well, that was too much even for some members of the Fidesz delegation. Sándor Lezsák (Fidesz), deputy president of the parliament, instructed Illés to take back the epithet of “imbecilities,” but it seems that the “stupidities” or the reference to physical appearance and brains didn’t bother him. Illés obliged. At the same time Máté Kocsis apologized in the name of the Fidesz delegation right on the spot. Eventually, Illés did apologize to Szél, not in person but via sms, an act greatly criticized in the media.

Perhaps the most politically objectionable part of Illés’s answer was his effort to forbid Szél to utter the name of Viktor Orbán. An article in Magyar Narancs rightly pointed out that it is written in the Old Testament that one cannot mention the name of God. What kind of a political community is it when the leader cannot be criticized? What kind of political culture exists within Fidesz? As for Illés’s reference to the brave steps Viktor Orbán took in connection with the gold mine in Nagybánya, I suspect that he was talking about the 2000 cyanide pollution of the Tisza River and Viktor Orbán’s efforts at that time and not about the current situation.

Illés in his answer accused Szél of ignorance when the LMP MP claimed that the European Union should ban the use of cyanide. Didn’t she know, asked Illés, that the European Parliament already passed such a resolution? Yes, such a resolution was passed by the European Parliament a few months ago, but for such a resolution to become law the European Commission must endorse it, which it failed to do. So, if someone is ignorant it is the undersecretary for the environment.

Of course, members of the opposition were eager to hear from László Kövér, who is such a stickler for manners in parliament. It seems that he is much fussier when he detects irregularities in the ranks of the opposition. Bernadette Szél herself was already fined by Kövér because she held up a poster on which there was a quotation from Viktor Orbán. Kövér didn’t think that Illés’s behavior was unacceptable. He didn’t think that Illés’s answer was “flagrantly offensive” and added that offensive comments more often come from the opposition than from his own side. Even Bernadette Szél said some very offensive things in the past, he claimed.

I should add that this is not the first time female members of parliament have had to endure this kind of talk–and worse. You may recall the story of Ágnes Osztolykán (LMP) when she asked for a lift home. Some MPs suggested that they would take her home, but to their own apartments. And finally György Gyula Zagyva (Jobbik) got involved. Zagyva told her that he wouldn’t mind f…ing her even though she was a Gypsy. At that time I wrote that, although the present parliament is lopsided given Viktor Orbán’s personal preferences, the trouble goes beyond the walls of the Hungarian parliament. The problem is in Hungarian society as a whole.