Tag Archives: Zoltán Lakner

A week of events organized by the Budapest Pride began last night

After the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling, many well-known personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook and Hillary Clinton on Twitter, displayed the rainbow flag to show their delight with the decision. This is how the resident of the White House showed his support for the American gay community.

white house

And in Hungary? Only about a month before the historic Supreme Court decision, Viktor Orbán announced that “Hungary is a tolerant nation” but that “tolerance … does not mean that we would apply the same rules for people whose life style is different from our own.” He expressed his gratitude to the Hungarian homosexual community “for not exhibiting the provocative behavior against which numerous European nations are struggling.” What exists now is “a peaceful, calm equilibrium” which should be maintained because otherwise anti-gay feelings will flare up.

The message was obvious: don’t rock the boat because there might be adverse consequences. Magyar Narancs summarized Orbán’s message well: “A Hungarian doesn’t harass anyone, unless he is forced to harass him in a tolerant manner with mercy in his heart.” In fact, Hungarian gays and lesbians suffer discrimination and harassment even without any “provocative behavior.”

So, let’s see how Fidesz politicians reacted to the news of the Supreme Court decision. The occasion was ignored by everyone except Máté Kocsis, mayor of District VIII of Budapest, and Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman. These two decided to cover their pictures on Facebook with the colors of the Hungarian flag.

kocsis-kovacs

What  kind of a message did these two want to convey? That a real Hungarian cannot be gay? Or, to flip the sentence and the emphasis, that gays cannot be truly Hungarian? Or, if I were feeling charitable, I might say that these two are just a bit confused. I doubt, however, that Kocsis is confused. Lately, he has been far too eager to prove to the world that talk of his alleged homosexuality is unfounded. As a result, he has sunk to the level of disgusting homophobia.

The only refreshing exception was the wife of Antal Rogán, the leader of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, who decided to follow the example of many foreign celebrities and use the colors of the rainbow over her portrait on Facebook. The president of the Rainbow Mission Foundation immediately wrote her a letter and expressed the homosexual community’s appreciation of the gesture. She also extended an invitation to her and her husband, “if his schedule permits,” to the opening of the Budapest Pride Festival which took place yesterday. As far as I know, they didn’t attend.

We shouldn’t be surprised that homophobic skinheads and football hooligans take pleasure in taunting the mixed crowd of gays and their straight supporters at the annual parade along Andrássy Street when the mayor of Budapest, István Tarlós, doesn’t hide his antagonism toward the gay community. Only yesterday I wondered whether Viktor Orbán is really unaware of the fact that in better circles his racism and xenophobia are considered unacceptable and his behavior unbecoming, boorish, or much worse. In the case of István Tarlós there is no question: he is not at all ashamed that he is a homophobic boor. In fact, he advertises it. And yes, he is a boor.

On June 4 Tarlós was the guest on an early morning TV2 program called Mokka. Earlier Napi Gazdaság had reported that there was a possibility that the Budapest city council would move the Pride Parade from Andrássy Street to Budapesti Nagybani Piac, a wholesale marketplace almost 15 km away from Andrássy Street. So, the reporter wanted to know more about this alleged plan to move the Pride Parade to the outskirts of the city. Tarlós was happy to share his thoughts on the subject. Yes, he would like to move the parade somewhere else because “it is unworthy of the historic district of Andrássy Street.” In addition, he shared his “private opinion” that he finds the idea “unnatural” and gays “repulsive.” The brave reporter said not a word.

It seems that Tarlós is not familiar with the limits of the city council’s authority. Determining a demonstration’s location is not its job. Moreover, as TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued, a public official cannot state his “private opinion” when he appears on TV. He is the representative of the city council, and he represents every inhabitant of the city of Budapest. His public statements must be in accord with the constitution. TASZ pointed out that at the moment Tarlós cannot be held legally responsible because in the civil code “sexual orientation” is not among the qualities protected by law, like ethnic groups or people of religious communities. But perhaps, they added, such a provision should be added, especially since in Hungary there is never any political consequence of such inappropriate statements and actions.

The organizers of the Budapest Pride were outraged at the mayor’s words, and a few days later they answered the mayor by wrapping the tree trunks along Andrássy Street in rainbow colors.

szivarvany Andrassy ut

The cleaning crew most likely appeared on the scene as soon as Tarlós heard of the attempt to desecrate Andrássy Street, which in his opinion is so important to the history of the city that “repulsive” gays should not step on its pavement.

The gay community doesn’t have any backing from government circles, but twenty-five foreign embassies announced their support of Budapest Pride. I guess no one will be surprised to learn that, with the exception of Slovenia, no former socialist country is among the sponsors. I understand that several companies also offered financial help for the close to 100 cultural events planned for the next seven days. I suspect that most of them, if not all, are multinational companies.

Last night’s opening was a huge success. The very talented theater director Róbert Alföldi was the keynote speaker. A video of the event is available on YouTube:

I haven’t had time yet to watch the whole one-and-a-half hours of it, but I listened to part of a very amusing, witty speech by Zoltán Lakner, a professor of political science, whom I consider one of the keenest observers of the Hungarian political scene.

I understand that  a number of politicians from the democratic opposition were present: Gábor Fodor, Magyar Liberális Párt; Bernadett Szél, co-chair of LMP; Ágnes Kunhalmi and István Ujhelyi from MSZP; and Péter Juhász, vice-chairman of Együtt. Several foreign embassies were also represented.

I fear that next Saturday the gay community and their supporters will once again be harassed by Jobbik and Fidesz supporters. Should we be surprised when Fidesz politicians egg them on?

Jean-Claude Juncker: “The dictator is coming”

More than a million people have looked at the YouTube clip of the by now infamous scene where Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, greets Viktor Orbán with “The dictator is coming” and raises his right hand in a quasi-Nazi salute. The news spread like wildfire. I found well over fifty articles in the Hungarian media describing this 26-second video. I’ve seen an unusually large number of references to it in American papers, in addition to the usual German and Austrian avalanche of Hungarian news items. Those commentators who are critical of the Orbán government found it hilarious, while the two pro-government organs, Napi Gazdaság and Magyar Hírlap, decided to remain quiet on the subject. Orbán’s press secretary explained that there is nothing new in this exchange. Juncker always greets Orbán this way and, in return, Orbán calls Juncker Grand Duke. How jolly.

A commentator from the right Dávid Lakner didn’t find the scene at all funny. Instead, it struck him as embarrassing, especially at a time that more and more people view the European Union itself as a joke. Lakner called Juncker “an imprudent clown.” He suspects that the president was inebriated. (Juncker has been accused of heavy drinking by some of his critics.) On the other hand, journalists of Luxembourger Wort, who ought to know Juncker very well, were not not shocked, nor did they accuse him of drunkenness. They simply noted that “Juncker lived up to his reputation for straight talking … when he hailed Hungarian Premier Viktor Orbán as ‘dictator’ on his arrival at an EU summit in Riga.”

I have also have objections to Juncker’s joking mood, but on very different grounds from Lakner’s. Hungary’s sinking into a one-man dictatorship is no laughing matter. It is not a joke. It is a deadly serious business. Merriment over what Orbán is doing in Hungary is an inappropriate reaction from the president of the European Union.

And this brings me to an op/ed piece by Sergei Guriev and Daniel Treisman in yesterday’s New York Times titled “The New Dictators Rule By Velvet Fist.” Their short article is based on an earlier longer study, “How Modern Dictators Survive,” prepared for the Centre of Economic Policy Research in London. Their argument is that modern dictatorship no longer needs to have totalitarian systems and tyrants like Stalin, Hitler or Mao. Instead, “in recent decades, a new brand of authoritarian government has evolved that is better adapted to an era of global media, economic interdependence and information technology.” These new dictators achieve a high level of control over society by stifling opposition and eliminating checks and balances–and they achieve this without any violence at all.

Among “these illiberal leaders” we find Viktor Orbán alongside of Alberto K. Fujimori of Peru, Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, Mahatir Mohamad of Malasyia, and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. What illustrious company! But at least the others are not being financed by European democracies the way Viktor Orbán’s dictatorship is being subsidized by the EU. I wonder how the taxpayers of Western European countries would feel if they fully realized to what end Viktor Orbán is using their hard-earned money. I doubt that they would find it a joking matter.

According to Guriev and Treisman, “the West needs to address its own role in enabling these autocrats.” This is certainly true about the European Union vis-à-vis Hungary. But the authors also talk about lobbying efforts on behalf of these dictators. We know from earlier posts what an incredible amount of money is being spent by the Orbán government on foreign propaganda just in the United States. The four-year contract Connie Mack and Századvég signed was for $5 million.

The authors suggest, and I fully agree with them, that “lobbying for dictators should be considered a serious breach of business ethics.” Although Representative Dana Rohrabacher, speaking to Kriszta Bombera of ATV, denied that he was coached by the Hungarian government through Connie Mack and said that holding the hearing was his own idea, the director of Századvég made no secret of Connie Mack’s usefulness as a top lobbyist in Washington in getting a hearing on U.S.-Hungarian relations during which the chairman and his Republican colleagues defended the Orbán government with full force. “It was a breakthrough,” said Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky of Századvég.

And finally, let me talk about other enablers, specifically the two Hungarian-American associations whose leaders claim that for years they have been tirelessly promoting better understanding between the two countries. They are the Hungarian American Coalition and the American Hungarian Federation. Although they claim to be politically neutral, in fact they are conservative lobbying groups which support right-wing Hungarian governments. I know from personal experience that the Coalition at least moves into high gear only when a right-wing government is in power. After Fidesz lost the election in 2002, the Coalition paid for a group of Fidesz members of parliament to spend two or three weeks in Washington to learn something about American democracy. When I asked why only Fidesz politicians were invited, I was told that the socialists were simply not interested in spending time in Washington. I found the explanation improbable. So I wrote to Ildikó Lendvai, who was the whip of the socialist parliamentary delegation at the time, and it turned out that the socialists had never received any such invitation. That should give you some sense of the true nature of these organizations.

I was therefore somewhat surprised when I heard that the presidents of these two organizations decided not to attend Rohrabacher’s hearing. I thought that perhaps they realized that something was very wrong in Orbán’s Hungary. Perhaps they decided that they would no longer stand by the Hungarian dictator with a velvet fist. I was hoping that the statement Maximilian Teleki, president of the Coalition, released on May 22 would explain his reasons for not participating in the hearing. Instead, we learned only about the dangers of Jobbik and the great achievements of the Orbán government, which in 2010 “faced a Greece-like economic and financial crisis” and which by now has achieved “a respectable economic growth.” As for Jobbik’s anti-Roma and anti-Semitic propaganda, the only thing Teleki could say is that “the Hungarian government has taken a zero-tolerance policy,” adding that much still remains to be done.

Maximilian Teleki with April H. Foley, former U.S. ambassador to Hungary ad a great supporter of Viktor Orbán

Maximilian Teleki with April H. Foley, former U.S. ambassador to Hungary and a great supporter of Viktor Orbán

In his opinion, the United States “has done little to assist Hungary in developing a long-term [energy] strategy and implementing an effective action plan.” He mentioned “Russia’s aim of reestablishing Cold War-era borders and spheres of influence in the region” but had nothing to say about the close Russian-Hungarian relations and Paks II. What should the United States do to improve the “bilateral relationship” between the two countries? The U.S. should offer more opportunities for Hungarian decision makers to visit the United States; more U.S. officials and decision-makers should obtain first-hand experience by visiting Hungary frequently; and the U.S. should “make possible meetings at the highest political levels: it has been more than 10 years since Hungary’s Prime Minister was received in the White House.” And yes, the United State should support educational and cultural programs sponsored by NGOs. In brief, the dictator with a velvet fist should be rewarded for degrading Hungarian democracy into a modern-style dictatorship.

Viktor Orbán on a communication offensive: trying to undo the damage

Viktor Orbán’s “communication staff” is working on “the problem”–the record drop in the government’s popularity. Apparently, the leading politicians of Fidesz are belittling the gravity of the situation, pointing to 2010-2011 when the popularity of the government party was lower than it is now: only 20%. Moreover, there was a time when Gordon Bajnai had a higher ranking than Viktor Orbán, and Fidesz managed to regain its standing within a few months. Surely, with clever communication tricks the situation can be remedied once again. And the best spokesman for the cause is the prime minister himself.

Blikk’s Sztárchat, which I wrote about yesterday, was Orbán’s first attempt to “engage” the people. A day later he gave an interview to Napi Gazdaság and this morning an “extraordinary Friday interview” on Kossuth Rádió (MR1). The contents of the two interviews largely overlap.

Zoltán Lakner, my favorite “political scientist,” summed up Orbán’s message well on Facebook. “He repeated … all those items that are objects of our hilarity or our rage.” The great communication offensive so far is an attempt to explain to the Hungarian people that all the government’s recent decisions are actually good for them.

Let’s start with highway M0, which encircles the capital. The decision to make M0 a toll road is actually a benefit to the Hungarian people at the expense of foreign visitors, he explained. Orbán’s aim is to have the naive citizens of the country think that somehow the only victims of these new tolls will be foreign visitors who, upon entry, will pay a hefty price to be able to use all the toll roads. Hungarians, on the other hand, will be able travel for relatively little money within the borders of the county in which they reside. But what happens if they want to leave the confines of their county? Well, the prime minister did not go into such mundane details. But since he spent so much time on the question of toll roads, I assume that the revenue that is projected to come from this source is desperately needed.

The second topic was the proposed drug tests. The last time we talked about it, the word was that mandatory yearly drug tests for politicians and journalists are clearly unconstitutional and against European Union law and therefore the government will drop the idea. At the same time, we heard, there will be no compulsory drug testing of children, only voluntary testing. Well, it seems that Orbán changed his mind and now insists on mandatory testing of politicians and journalists. This is such an outlandish idea that it was immediately picked up by the Associated Press and this morning was already on the website of ABC television news. The lead sentence is worth quoting: “Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has vowed to make Hungary into a ‘non-liberal’ state as he moves closer to Moscow, now wants mandatory drug testing for journalists and politicians.” Here in one sentence is the core of what people in the West object to: Orbán’s illiberal state and his moving closer to Moscow.

Why, according to the prime minister, is this testing necessary? Because a drug mafia is hard at work in Hungary. So, “the government made the decision that in the next three years we will clean Hungary of the drug mafia. That is what we began now.” To see how minor a problem drug use is in Hungary, I highly recommend the European Monitoring Center’s interactive prevalence maps. Here Orbán is playing on the ignorance of average Hungarians who cannot distinguish between marijuana and cocaine or heroin, even as he implies that journalists critical of his government must be under the influence of drugs. As far as I know, so far only one Hungarian politician was caught snorting cocaine by a hidden camera. Because he happened to be a Fidesz politician, the investigators couldn’t recognize him clearly. Nothing happened to him. We know from past experience that Fidesz politicians can get away with murder but innocent opposition politicians are sometimes dragged into court. If this piece of legislation is passed, it will be an excellent club in the hands of Viktor Orbán against his political opponents. The same will be true of journalists he doesn’t like.

Let's calm down. The time of serene governance is beginning

Let’s calm down. The time of serene governance has started.

As for foreign policy, he will “continue the defense of the national interests” because Orbán anticipates attacks against Hungary coming from abroad. Orbán is convinced that behind every international dispute there are blatant economic and financial interests, and therefore “the government continually has to watch and struggle. But at the same time that it wages a battle outside, it has to create tranquility, stability, transparency inside. It has to promote the development of conditions in which the Hungarian people can live serene lives.” There is every expectation that this goal will become a reality because the country has moved in the right direction and soon enough will catch up to the western countries. Next year the government will start “the largest economic development project in Hungary’s history” which will provide “economic security, equanimity, quietude and happiness for Hungary.”

So, let’s see what commenters on 444.hu and vastagbőr.hu had to say in reaction to these lines.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” I am already a nervous wreck.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” Did they find some experimental drug in Graz?

He has lied until now and he will be lying in the future. This is the only thing that is predictable.

“The era of serene, calm and predictable governance is beginning.” Why, did Viktor lapse into a coma?

Viktor, Viktor, you are stupider than I thought.

The program is: we CONTINUE. The stealing, the robbery, the blackmailing, and this sickeningly tasteless lying.

What kind of serene governing is this idiot talking about? Doesn’t he live in Hungary? He doesn’t realize that people are demonstrating because of the idiotic, stupid policies that irritate people? They should have sent him straight to hell a long time ago.

During the interview Orbán recalled that he said four years ago that he doesn’t want “popular ministers.” What is important is competence. As for the popularity of the government, he will take care of that. Well, I don’t think he has been doing a bang-up job lately.