Tag Archives: Zsolt Molnár

The plot thickens: George Soros enters Hungary’s forthcoming election

In mid-October I reported on a Jobbik stunt directed at the government’s campaign against George Soros. Earlier, Bernadett Szél, chairman of opposition party LMP, had asked for a copy of the Soros Plan, which naturally the government was unable to provide. Jobbik did her one better. It filed charges against George Soros with Károly Papp, the chief of Hungary’s police force. The charges were: (1) preparation for a violent change of the constitutional order, (2) conspiracy against the constitutional order, (3) destruction, (4) treason, and (5) rebellion. In support of the charges, they cited claims by Bence Tuzson, undersecretary responsible for communication, György Bakondi, chief adviser on domestic security, János Halász, Fidesz spokesman, Szilárd Németh, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee on security, András Aradszki, who called Soros Satan, Gyula Budai, Fidesz member of parliament, Zoltán Kovács, government spokesman, and Csaba Fodor, managing director of Nézőpont, a Fidesz political think tank. Ádám Mirkóczki, Jobbik’s spokesman, said that if Soros is guilty of all the things Fidesz and the government spokesmen accuse him of, he should be arrested and charged. At that time I added that I was sure that Károly Papp didn’t find Jobbik’s antic funny.

A month went by, and even skeptics were pleasantly surprised. After a thorough investigation, the Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda (National Investigative Office/NNI) came to the conclusion that, after all, George Soros poses no danger to Hungary’s national security. In their view, Soros’s suggestions about how to handle the refugee crisis were addressed to the European Union without any reference to Hungary. After perusing his writings on the subject, the investigators decided that Soros hadn’t urged anyone to commit aggressive or menacing acts. The government statements concerning “the political goals against Hungary of George Soros reflect only the opinions and subjective conclusions of the declarers.” No investigation was deemed necessary.

Some naïve people triumphantly announced that critics of the Orbán government are too harsh on the regime. Here is  proof that the police are not under the thumb of the government; they are capable of acting independently and are not afraid to say no to all the nonsense Viktor Orbán has cooked up for public consumption. The highest authority of the police department says that the whole thing is either a hoax or a political product. And so, after all, Hungary is not a dictatorship, and all those who say otherwise are falsely accusing the Orbán government of all sorts of misdeeds and of the willful destruction of Hungarian democracy.

Well, these people were far too hasty when they assumed the independence of the country’s investigative authorities. Yesterday we heard from Viktor Orbán himself, in his so-called interview on Kossuth Rádió, that he had ordered “an investigation of the composition, the operational provisions, and influence of the Soros machinery on Europe and Hungary.” It was his “duty to act and use all possible instruments of state—and that includes the intelligence apparatus and the secret police—against Soros’s Plan,” which not only exists but has a serious impact on the policies of the European Union. “That’s why I decided–that’s why the government decided–to deploy the secret service, and on the basis of their findings we would prepare a report. This report was compiled, and the government already discussed it on Wednesday.”

So, the investigation is finished, and I have no doubt that the secret service and the intelligence apparatus found that Soros’s machinery indeed poses a danger to Hungary’s security because, at the moment, this is the raison d’état Viktor Orbán needs. Mind you, as it stands, the Hungarian public will not be able to learn anything about the findings of the investigators because “one must be very careful in such cases.” Moreover, one doesn’t like to reveal one’s “hard-learned pieces of information.” But, according to Orbán, there is plenty of publicly available information that proves his point. He offered a quotation from the Open Society Foundation document made public by DC Leaks from August 2016. It claims that “we have supported leaders in the field, including think tanks and policy centers, civil society networks, and individual members of those networks, to shape migration policymaking and influence regional and global processes affecting the way migration is governed and enforced. This section considers [International Migration Institute’s] role in supporting these actors, our efforts to link our global and corridor-level work, and our engagement with peer donors.” There is no question in Orbán’s mind that because of the existence and likely implementation of the Soros Plan, Hungary is in real danger. “From this moment on, the question is the very existence of Hungary,” he claimed.

Although Orbán didn’t say outright that whatever information the investigators gleaned will remain classified for years,  that is in fact the case, as János Lázár in his more direct style announced at his regular Thursday afternoon briefing. Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, called on the government “to stop manufacturing conspiracy theories and come forward with proof.” Politicians can come up with all sorts of nebulous talk about national security, but before his committee they must show evidence. The secret services will have a chance to do so next Thursday when the committee will have a hearing.

Viktor Orbán on Friday morning came up with a new accusation against George Soros. Not only does he have a plan that would destroy the country of his birth, on which he has spent so much of his own money, but he is also involving himself in the forthcoming national election as an active participant. Soros will mobilize his organizations, which will conduct anti-government propaganda. The Open Society Foundation “will strengthen its civic organizations, which in turn will pay hundreds and thousands of people. They will establish so-called civic centers, which will function exactly like parties in an election campaign. So, the Soros network and machinery have entered the race. Nobody is happy about this, but it is better to face the unpleasant reality than to bury our heads in the sand and be surprised.” At this point the new interviewer, who is even more subservient than the previous one, outlined the possibility of the Soros network coming up with “independent” candidates whom all the parties who are against the government will support. Orbán’s reaction to the suggestion was that he wouldn’t give advice to the adversaries of Hungary.

The following cartoon reflects the bizarre situation that is being created by Viktor Orbán and his advisers, on the one hand, and the ineffectual opposition parties, on the other.

“Soros entered the race”
“Wow, that’s wonderful. At last there is someone one can vote for” / Gábor Pápai / Népszava

So, this is where we stand at the moment.

December 2, 2017

MSZP’s Gergely Bárándy “debates”: Self-inflicted wounds

Fidesz politicians, who until very recently refused to debate their political opponents, suddenly developed an appetite for political discussions with politicians of MSZP. I haven’t noticed the same eagerness to exchange ideas with Gábor Vona of Jobbik or Bernadett Szél of LMP. But the Fidesz top-drawer strategists allowed Szilárd Németh to shout his way through a discussion, if you can call it that, with Zsolt Molnár of MSZP. Mind you, for that disaster I largely blame Egon Rónai of ATV, who seems to be utterly incapable of keeping order in his studio.

A great deal more was expected of a debate between Gergely Gulyás and Gergely Bárándy, which took place last night at ELTE’s Law School at the invitation of the school’s Political Science Workshop. Bárándy is the MSZP caucus’s “legal expert.” He is a 41-year-old who, after finishing law school at Péter Pázmány Catholic University in 2000, worked as a lawyer in the law office of his grandfather and father. Considering that he was a relative latecomer to politics, he made a remarkable career in MSZP. He became a member of parliament in 2010 and 2014, both times from party lists. I personally find him rather dull and his speeches in parliament uninspiring.

Gergely Gulyás, on the other hand, stands apart from the average Fideszniks. He is what Hungarians call a true “úrifiú,” a young gentleman both in looks and behavior. Like Bárándy, he comes from a family of lawyers. He also attended Péter Pázmány Catholic University’s law school, graduating five years after Bárándy. He joined Fidesz at the end of 2005 and also made a remarkable career in his party. By now he is the leader of the large Fidesz parliamentary delegation, deputy president of parliament, and Fidesz’s legal expert in general. He is intelligent and articulate and is very quick on his feet. He is ready to engage in debates with others and usually comes out on the winning side, even with reporters as well prepared as György Bolgár. He is like an eel; he always manages to support his party’s positions no matter how indefensible they are. At the same time, he gives the impression of someone whose views are moderate. He condemns extremism and vulgarity, which are often exhibited in Fidesz circles.

Photo: Magyar Nemzet

So, when I heard that these two men would face each other in a debate, I anticipated a huge Gulyás win over the less eloquent and less coherent Bárándy. Well, the debate turned out to be something no one was prepared for. According to Magyar Nemzet, it was “a convivial conversation” between two people who have known each other for a long time and who have spent considerable time together on the legislative committee of the parliament. As Gulyás remarked, they know each other’s legal positions through and through. Still, I was not prepared for Gergely Bárándy’s performance. He offered a public confession of the sins of his own party. “Even a Fidesz politician couldn’t have done better,” as Index’s journalist who was present put it. He described his own political side as something “dreadful” and said that he perfectly understands outsiders’ low opinion of the left. He “wouldn’t even entrust his dog to these people.” Gulyás exhibited bafflement at his opponent’s total political ineptness.

Once Bárándy was in the swing of things, Gulyás decided to toss him a bone by introducing the magic word “Gyurcsány” into the debate. How is it, he asked, that after eight years in opposition MSZP is still under the influence of the leader of the Demokratikus Koalíció? What followed was more or less what I expected because I always placed Bárándy in the left wing of MSZP and therefore suspected that he was no admirer of the liberal-leaning Gyurcsány. Keep in mind that István Nyakó, MSZP’s spokesman, was just sacked by Gyula Molnár because his sarcastic remarks interfered with the current MSZP-DK negotiations, and therefore the last thing MSZP needed was a barrage of verbal insults on the chairman of DK by an important MSZP politician. But this is exactly what happened. Bárándy announced that he would be very happy if Gyurcsány would step back and wouldn’t insist on being on a common party list.

It is hard to fathom why Bárándy brought up a common list and Gyurcsány’s presence on it because, with Botka’s resignation and the beginning of negotiations between MSZP and DK, this issue is no longer on the table. He got himself so wound up that during the Q&A period, when most of the questions were about the state of MSZP and the other opposition parties, he kept repeating his opposition to Gyurcsány. Bárándy must have realized that this incredible performance would be deemed unacceptable by the current leadership of MSZP because a couple of times he jokingly told his audience that he will deny some of his remarks and hoped that he would not be quoted out of context. For example, when he talked about the absolute necessity of having a leftist party, “whether it will be called MSZP or something else.” This afternoon Klub Rádió reported that Gergely Bárándy now insists that the statements that were attributed to him were never uttered or, if they were, they were not accurately described. Well, he will need a better explanation than that. Not so much to the public but to his comrades.

Since the debate was not open to the public, few newspapers reported on it. Figyelő was the only pro-government paper I could find that carried the news. The article was written by Tamás Pindroch, a devoted pro-Fidesz journalist originally from the far-right Magyar Hírlap who then had a short stint at Magyar Idők. He was delighted because he believes that MSZP politicians like Mesterházy, Botka, Nyakó, and Bárándy are working for a renewed MSZP that will emerge after the party’s electoral defeat next year. The number of people, he wrote, who think that the greatest encumbrance on the Hungarian left is Ferenc Gyurcsány is growing. These people realize that he must be removed in order to have a robust Hungarian left. “One thing is sure; the left-wing cleansing process which didn’t take place in 1990 may begin after 2018. Better later than never.” Of course, Pindroch is not really worried about MSZP’s renewal. What he is hoping for is the further weakening of the left by warring factions within MSZP before the election. And looking at the latest polls, the leadership of MSZP is succeeding admirably. According to the latest opinion poll, in the past three months MSZP has lost 4% of its voters. Among active voters they stand at 13% as opposed to DK’s 9% and LMP’s 6%.

I can more or less understand that MSZP regional leaders, like Ferenc Kurtyán from Szekszárd, haven’t been able to grasp the present Hungarian political reality, but that one of the shining lights of the party, the great legal expert, commits such a political blunder is unfathomable. What kinds of nincompoops run this party? How can you let any politician engage in a debate without sitting down with him and agreeing on the talking points? MSZP’s ineptitude simply boggles the mind.

October 19, 2017

MSZP is grasping at straws as its support plummets

At 1:00 p.m. today HVG published Medián’s latest opinion poll on the state of Hungarian party politics and the popularity of politicians. The message MSZP’s leadership received was shocking. For the first time in 25 years, MSZP’s support among determined voters sank below 10%. At 3:45 p.m. Gyula Molnár, MSZP chairman, released a short communiqué on the party’s website: “MSZP’s offer is still alive.” In it, Molnár called attention to the Závecz Research Institute’s quick poll showing popular support for the party’s “generous offer,” after which the following sentence was tacked on: “If all six parties outside MSZP find the person of Ferenc Gyurcsány acceptable on the list, then we are certainly open to negotiations concerning the issue.” Well, that didn’t take long.

After László Botka’s eight months of activity that has only damaged the party, it seems that some forces wouldn’t mind his retirement to Szeged. The interview last night with Tamás Lattmann on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd might point to such a turn of events. Originally, Lattmann was invited as a legal expert on international law to discuss Hungary’s rather belligerent attitude toward Ukraine and this position’s legal ramifications. But it seems that Lattmann had other things on his mind. He apparently indicated before the show that he would like to talk about something else. And that something was hot stuff.

You may recall that at the end of January Lattmann announced his candidacy for the premiership as a non-party candidate, representing civil society. At that point there was no officially declared candidate, and Lattmann believed that a non-party person might be able to expedite negotiations among the left-of-center parties. He also hoped that he could open the door that at the moment divides parties and civil society. But then came László Botka, and Lattmann’s name disappeared from the news.

Lattmann in the interview on Egyenes beszéd claimed that by December of last year there was political agreement among four parties–MSZP, DK, Együtt, and Párbeszéd–which included a joint candidacy for the post of prime minister. He would have been the candidate. But then came László Botka, and the promising negotiations came to a screeching halt. Lattmann’s story about the successful negotiations is not new. We have heard Ferenc Gyurcsány and Lajos Bokros talk about them innumerable times. But that these parties were thinking of an outsider as the candidate for the post of prime minister is certainly new.

Tamás Lattmann

Lattmann gave details. He had negotiations concerning his candidacy with Gyula Molnár, MSZP chairman, Bertalan Tóth, head of MSZP’s parliamentary faction, István Hiller, head of the top party leaders, and Zsolt Molnár, an important party leader, especially in Budapest politics. Lattmann also had talks with DK. As for the anti-Gyurcsány strategy, Lattmann claims, that was Botka’s contribution to MSZP’s policy. Prior to his arrival on the scene, by December, an MSZP-DK understanding was a done deal, including Gyurcsány’s presence on a common party list.

How did the parties in question react to Lattmann’s revelations? According to the communiqué published today by the Demokratikus Koalíció:

During the fall of last year the party’s leaders received a position paper (tájékoztatás) that the leaders of MSZP are conducting negotiations with Tamás Lattmann about his candidacy for the post of prime minister. According to the position paper, the candidate had the backing of the chairman, the head of the parliamentary delegation, and the chairman of the board. MSZP asked DK to meet with Tamás Lattmann for an introductory visit. Accordingly, Csaba Molnár, managing deputy chairman, who was leading the negotiations with the other parties, had a meeting with Tamás Lattmann. The managing deputy chairman informed the presidium of DK of the meeting in detail, and it was decided to be open to the nomination. The presidium accordingly authorized Csaba Molnár to continue talks with the candidate. However, no second meeting was held because MSZP, changing its former position, nominated László Botka as the party’s candidate.

In brief, Demokratikus Koalíció corroborated Lattmann’s recollection of his negotiations with the MSZP leaders. Yet the MSZP politicians mentioned by Lattmann and reaffirmed by DK’s communiqué today outright denied any such negotiations. According to Gyula Molnár, “there is a serious misunderstanding” on the part of Tamás Lattmann, who doesn’t seem to understand the Hungarian language. There were only talks about “policy cooperation” (szakpoliltikai együttműködés). Accusing a university professor of international law of not knowing the Hungarian language is quite a charge.

Today Gyula Molnár, István Hiller, and Bertalan Tóth published a communiqué in which they repeated that Lattmann was mistaken. “It is a fact that can be checked by anybody, since no party organ dealt with the issue and therefore no decision was made.” You may have noticed that Zsolt Molnár, the fourth person Lattmann claimed he talked with, was not among the signatories. He is the one who about a month ago wrote an article about the desirability of stopping the anti-Gyurcsány campaign. In any case, the joint communiqué is no more than typical socialist double-talk. Yes, the issue didn’t get to any decision-making body, but the candidate had “the backing” of the three top party officials who asked DK to take a look at him.

Now let’s move on to MSZP’s second “generous offer.” This time MSZP expressed its willingness to negotiate about Gyurcsány’s inclusion on the list as long as all the other parties are ready to sit down and talk about it. But, as Zoom rightly pointed out, “this is an offer without any stake” because we know that all the other parties already said no to the first “generous offer.” A typical MSZP move, I’m afraid. The offer is meaningless.

Meanwhile something funny happened on the right. The government media suddenly became a great admirer of László Botka, who was thrown overboard by his heartless comrades. Origo’s headline reads: “They kicked Botka in the teeth.” In the article Origo came up with one possible scenario behind the scenes in socialist circles. According to the article, the Molnár-Hiller-Tóth-Molnár team wanted to stop the nomination of Botka already in January, but “at that point they were unable to accomplish their plan.” However, in the last few weeks, Botka couldn’t work on the campaign with full energy because of the constant party intrigues against him, and therefore he is more vulnerable to the intrigues of the Molnár-Hiller-Tóth-Molnár team. Finding one of Fidesz’s own papers standing up for a poor downtrodden MSZP candidate is really amusing. Magyar Idők is not happy with MSZP’s “entirely new direction” as opposed to the “categorical rejection” of Gyurcsány. “We could also say that Gyurcsány, like the fairy-tale wolf, put his foot into MSZP’s cottage. How will this tale end?”

Of course, we don’t know the end of the tale (although I doubt that MSZP will live happily ever after), but today Tamás Lattmann said in an interview with Reflector that under these new circumstances he would no longer be a viable candidate. But he considers Bernadett Szél “a perfectly qualified candidate to become prime minister,” although he is not an LMP supporter. So, this is where we stand at the moment, but who knows what tomorrow will bring.

September 27, 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

László Botka is on the campaign trail, with some hiccups

Although in the last few weeks László Botka, MSZP’s candidate for premiership, has begun to campaign with greater vigor, neither his own popularity nor the approval rating of his party has improved. In fact, according to Závecz Research (August 23, 2017), MSZP’s active voters dropped by three percentage points in three months. The loss was continuous and steady. Publicus Intézet (August 27, 2017), which also measured the popularity of politicians, registered a three percentage point drop in Botka’s popularity in one month. Support for DK in the last three months remained steady. Thus there is plenty to worry about in MSZP circles.

Earlier I wrote about the controversy between Zsolt Molnár, an influential MSZP politician, and László Botka, which showed a cleavage within the party leadership over MSZP’s relationship with the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK). One must keep in mind that DK began as a socialist splinter party, and Ferenc Gyurcsány’s decision to leave MSZP and create a new party left MSZP in a much weakened position. Therefore, one shouldn’t be surprised by the resentment some MSZP politicians feel toward DK and its leader. It is hard to judge the size of the group in the top leadership which under no circumstances would sit down to negotiate with the politicians of DK, but even though their number might be small, they are determined to go ahead alone, without the second largest party on the left. In this group are István Ujhelyi, EU parliamentary member, and Tamás Harangozó. On the other hand, Attila Mesterházy, former party chairman and candidate for the premiership of the united democratic opposition in 2014, seems to be on the side of those who sympathize with Zsolt Molnár’s position. His recent interview at least points in this direction. In this interview he revealed his pragmatic side when he suggested cooperation with Lajos Simicska, because “the removal of Viktor Orbán’s regime is a common goal.” He also defended Gyurcsány against Botka’s accusation that the former prime minister is not a democrat. Although Ágnes Kunhalmi is quiet, I suspect that she also has her doubts about Botka’s strategy. So, Zsolt Molnár is not alone.

MSZP old-timers complain that 15-20 years ago the party had the support of the leading professionals of the country, but by now they have left the socialists because the party leadership didn’t cultivate a working relationship with them. Perhaps Botka also realized that for a party to develop a program and make preparations for governing one needs experts in various fields. Legal experts, men and women with expertise in education, healthcare, public administration, etc. So, Botka sent out 200 invitations to a meeting in Szeged on August 26, where he was hoping to receive the common wisdom of the experts gathered there. When I first read the news as it was presented in Népszava, I had the distinct feeling that the turnout was low and that the largest group present were the big names in MSZP, past and present. Although Népszava, being a social democratic paper, was unwilling to say it outright, it was pretty obvious that there were very few well-known experts present. Népszava somewhat sarcastically noted that Botka announced that he didn’t want to give a speech but proceeded to give a very long one. Besides outlining ten important goals of MSZP once it forms a government, he again spent an inordinate amount of time on Ferenc Gyurcsány, which Népszava discreetly left out of its summary. In order to read that part of the speech one has to go to Index.

This gathering had one bright side, which had nothing to do with collecting professionals to assist the party program and possible future governance. Gergely Karácsony, chairman of Párbeszéd (Dialogue) and his party’s candidate for the premiership, promised his cooperation with László Botka. I chose the word “cooperation” carefully because I don’t think that “support” would properly describe Karácsony’s message. In his speech he said that those who would attempt to remove Botka cannot count on him because he is “willing to struggle alongside László Botka for a just and fair Hungary.” Considering Párbeszéd’s 1% support, Karácsony’s offer of cooperation will not bring too many new voters to MSZP. Still, this gesture should give a psychological lift to the disheartened democratic opposition. Botka also received the support of Zoltán Komáromi, a family physician, who has been a constant fixture in the media. He claims to have worked out an effective reform of the ailing healthcare system that would yield immediate, tangible results. Komáromi’s abandonment of Együtt is a blow to that small party, which has said that it will not cooperate with any other political group.

László Botka (MSZP) and Gergely Karácsony (Párbeszéd) / Photo Ádám Molnár

After these positive developments I must turn to the less bright aspects of Botka’s campaign activities. Botka was supposed to come up with 106 candidates by September, but to date he has managed to name only two. After visiting Gyöngyös, he declared that there can be no better candidate in that district than György Hiesz, the MSZP mayor of the town. Hiesz is one of the founders of MSZP. He was a member of parliament between 1990 and 1994 and again between 2010 and 2014. He was mayor between 2002 and 2010 and again from 2014 on. Then a few days later, while campaigning in the town of Makó, Botka had the bright idea of asking István Rója, who had been the principal of the local gymnasium, to be MSZP’s candidate in the coming election campaign. Rója’s appointment was not renewed despite wide support by teachers, students, and parents. Rója is not an MSZP member. While Hiesz is an experienced politician, Rója has never been involved in politics. These two people might be excellent candidates, but the way Botka single-handedly and in a somewhat haphazard manner is picking his candidates doesn’t appeal to some people within the party, especially since compiling the party list is supposed to be the leadership’s joint decision.

I should also call attention to another perhaps not so small blunder. Yesterday Botka essentially promised the job of minister of education to István Hiller, who had held this post between 2006 and 2010. About a year ago Ildikó Lendvai, former chairman of MSZP, suggested creating a so-called shadow cabinet, a popular political instrument in Great Britain, which consists of senior members of the opposition parties who scrutinize their corresponding government ministers and develop alternative policies. Such a body could develop a coherent set of goals and policies for a party. However, for some strange reason, László Botka doesn’t like the concept. As he keeps repeating, he wants to have a real cabinet, not a shadow one. Therefore, he said that he wasn’t going to name names. Yet yesterday, standing next to István Hiller, Botka announced that Hiller was once minister of education and he is very much hoping that he will be so again. It doesn’t matter how you slice it, this means that he has Hiller in mind for the post. There’s a major problem here, however. Botka in the last eight months talked about nothing else but those guilty MSZP and SZDSZ politicians who are responsible for the electoral disaster of 2010 when Fidesz won a two-thirds majority in parliament. They must retire and shouldn’t even be on the party list, meaning that they cannot even be ordinary backbenchers in parliament. That was allegedly his reason for insisting on Gyurcsány’s disappearance from politics. And now, he publicly indicates that his choice for minister of education is a former cabinet member in the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments. This inconsistency doesn’t look good.

All in all, Botka’s performance to date leaves a great deal to be desired. I wonder when the day will come that he is told to change course or else.

August 30, 2017

The Hungarian socialists in turmoil?

Perhaps the most telling sentence on the state of the Hungarian Socialist Party came from its chairman in an interview he gave to Inforádió on August 7. In the interview Gyula Molnár tried to be upbeat. The public clash between László Botka, the party’s candidate for the premiership, and Zsolt Molnár, one of the top leaders of the party, is now behind them. Zsolt Molnár and László Botka have made peace, and the decision was reached to follow the party’s initial strategy, the lynchpin of which is the retirement of Ferenc Gyurcsány from politics. The chairman sounded upbeat until he uttered the following sentence: “I’m already afraid of the results of the August opinion polls.” Molnár’s fear is well founded. There is a very good possibility that the clash between the two well-known MSZP politicians will further erode the dwindling support for the socialist party.

MSZP’s leadership will not change strategy. As long as the politicians and the membership of Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) insist on Ferenc Gyurcsány’s presence on a common party list, there will be no collaboration with DK. Perhaps it was Gyula Molnár’s interview that inspired DK to publish an open letter to László Botka. Ágnes Vadai, one of DK’s vice-chairmen, posted it on her Facebook page. I assume DK is trying to make sure that the public will place most of the blame on Botka because of his intransigence concerning the person of Ferenc Gyurcsány. So Vadai stressed DK’s attempts to come to an understanding with Botka, though she emphasized that the DK community will not accept him as the leader of the joint opposition without the presence of its chairman. As she put it, “DK is not for sale either with or without its chairman.” Vadai ended her letter by saying: “You accepted the leadership role. If you’re successful, it will be to your credit, but if you fail, you will have to shoulder the blame.” Vadai added that if Botka rigidly adheres to his present strategy, he will place the democratic opposition in an untenable situation.

László Botka wasn’t impressed. First, he made fun of “the followers of Donald Trump’s Twitter politics,” meaning Vadai’s choice of Facebook as a vehicle of communication. Second, he indicated that he has no intention of changing his mind on the subject of Gyurcsány’s presence in the political life of the democratic opposition. His answer was a paraphrase of a line from a Szekler story. An old couple is sitting on the terrace. The wife turns to the husband and complains that he never tells her that he loves her. The old Szekler says: “I said it once. If there is a change I will let you know.” This story might capture one aspect of the Szeklers, who are known for their reticence, but it was impudent under the circumstances. It showed the arrogance for which Botka is becoming known nationwide. Moreover, a day later Botka accused Gyurcsány of not being a man of democratic convictions. Otherwise, Gyurcsány would support him, because he is the one who “proclaimed the strategy of victory” which will remove Viktor Orbán’s government.

Given these unfortunate events, observers of the political scene on both sides of the aisle have become convinced that Gyula Molnár’s fears of a serious loss of support will force MSZP to drop Botka, who hasn’t shown the necessary political finesse or a willingness to keep communication open with the other democratic forces outside of MSZP. Government publications began to speculate that Botka’s days may be numbered. Earlier there had been voices suggesting that Gergely Karácsony of Párbeszéd would be an attractive alternative, but I can’t imagine that MSZP politicians would be ready to entrust a non-party member with that position. A couple of days ago Figyelő, the once highly respected financial weekly which has since been purchased by Mária Schmidt, Viktor Orbán’s court historian, came up with a replacement in the person of Ágnes Kunhalmi.

Source: nyugat.hu / Photo by Bálint Vágvölgyi

The 35-year-old Ágnes Kunhalmi has popular appeal that MSZP hasn’t really exploited. She was designated the party’s education expert. She does appear frequently in the media, but always strictly in that capacity. This is surprising because in the 2014 election Kunhalmi showed what she is capable of. Gábor Simon, an MSZP old-timer, was MSZP’s candidate in Budapest’s 15th electoral district (Pestszentlőrinc-Pestszentimre/District XVIII). Only a few weeks before the election Simon was accused of money laundering and was arrested. The party in the last minute replaced Simon with Kunhalmi, who in a spectacular campaign lost by only 56 votes. The Fidesz candidate’s slim margin was due to several phony parties with misleading names being encouraged by the government to enter the race. There were at least three such “social democratic types” of parties on the ballot (SZDP [67], MSZDP [52], Szociáldemokraták [128]). Later, when the democratic forces had problems finding a candidate to run against Fidesz-supported Mayor István Tarlós, I thought Ágnes Kunhalmi would be a perfect candidate. Instead, Lajos Bokros ran in the last minute. Although he is not a popular politician, he did surprisingly well, getting about 35% of the votes.

Soon after Kunhalmi’s name surfaced in Figyelő, the government publications were full of the news that “the dissatisfied MSZP leaders have already found the successor to Botka.” Origo seems to know that Kunhalmi, who is the chairman of the Budapest MSZP, is less than happy with László Botka’s decision to name József Tóth, the successful mayor of District XIII, as a kind of coordinator of the Budapest campaign, which under normal circumstances would be the job of the Budapest MSZP leadership. Yesterday Gyula Molnár denied in an interview on “Egyenes beszéd” of ATV that there is any intention of replacing Botka with Kunhalmi. In fact, their relationship is close. The party, including Kunhalmi, stands behind Botka. Moreover, MSZP will not change its initial strategy. MSZP has already chosen its 106 candidates for the 106 available electoral districts, though, he added, that can still be changed. In this scheme the other opposition parties would have a slim chance of winning any of the left-leaning districts.

Kunhalmi said that the election campaign will be in the hands of the Budapest Election Committee, which will be under the supervision of the Budapest MSZP leadership, which she heads. She and her team will, however, work with the party’s central leadership, with László Botka and with József Tóth. She added that she finds Tóth’s appointment an excellent idea because “there is a need to engage all successful left-wing politicians who can give new hope and impetus to Hungary after the long period of darkness under Fidesz.”

All of this optimism sounds too good to be true. Let’s wait for the polls, which will be coming out in late August. Perhaps, after all, the strategy will have to be changed and, with it, the person who will lead the team.

August 11, 2017

Toward a police state? A proposed government “data grab”

It doesn’t happen too often, but a few days ago Attila Péterfalvi, president of the National Authority for Data Protection of Freedom of Information (Nemzeti Adatvédelmi és Információszabadság Hatóság/NAIH), strongly criticized the government’s latest attempt to infringe upon the privacy of both Hungarian citizens and foreign visitors.

On July 31 the ministry of interior submitted a bill for consideration which, among other things, aims at a greater scrutiny of individuals and creates a central storage facility for information gathered by state and non-state authorities. Thus, as opposed to the present practice, extracting information on individuals would be a one-step process. At the moment data gathered by the different branches of government and non-government organizations (police, traffic supervision, public transportation authorities, banks, toll road monitors, etc.) can be accessed only by first presenting reasons for their legitimate use. But, as the bill reads now, there would be no judicial oversight of the collected material. Thus, every scrap of information on individuals would be collected in one place where an individual’s whole history could easily be assembled–and all that without any judicial oversight.

In addition, the ministry of interior wants to know more about everybody who spends any time in a hotel as a guest, be that person a Hungarian citizen or a foreign tourist. Hotels would have to copy people’s I.D.s or passports. The state seems to be interested in all the details: date of arrival and anticipated date of departure, sex, birthplace, birth date, citizenship, and mother’s maiden name. All this information would have to be stored and provided upon request to the various national security services. The authorities would also require hotels to install software that would enable the transfer of data collected.

It didn’t take long for Péterfalvi to label the proposed bill “a visual surveillance system for secret information gathering.” Péterfalvi’s letter to one of the assistant undersecretaries can be found on the website of NAIH. His conclusion is that the new law would “further restrict” the individual’s right to the protection of his personal data. He suggested changing the bill to make sure that the state authority that needs the piece of information documents the reasons for its request and specifies the precise scope of the inquiry. He also wants further restrictions on surveillance around churches, polling stations, political meetings, and demonstrations. In addition, Péterfalvi wants NAIH to have the authority to verify the use of the documents requested by the state authorities.

Now that practically the whole government is on vacation, István Hollik of the Christian Democratic Party was the one to react to Péterfalvi’s opposition to the bill. Hollik was brief and noncommittal. According to him, the government will have to consider whether Péterfalvi’s proposals can be incorporated into the bill. But, he added, since the bill otherwise is fine, he sees no problem with the small changes proposed by the president of NAIH. I’m not sure whether Hollik understands that Péterfalvi’s requirements are more substantive than they may appear at first glance.

In any case, Demokratikus Koalíció isn’t satisfied with Péterfalvi’s solution to the problem. The party wants the whole bill to be withdrawn. Péter Niedermüller, co-chair of the party and member of the European Parliament, announced that if the bill, even with the amendments, is passed by the Hungarian parliament, DK will turn to the European Commission because the party believes that the law doesn’t comport with the constitution of the European Union.

Viktor Szigetvári, the president of Együtt’s board, also wants the ministry of interior to immediately withdraw the bill. In his opinion, the bill paves the way for the establishment of a police state. He called attention to the anti-democratic practices of Russia, whose president is Viktor Orbán’s role model, and therefore he suspects that Orbán’s intentions are anything but benevolent. He considers the bill another sign of Orbán’s plans for unlimited power.

MSZP, which seems to be far too preoccupied with its own problems, didn’t make any official announcement about the party’s position on the question. The only comment came from Zsolt Molnár, chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, whose status in the party is more than shaky after his recent open disagreement with László Botka, the party’s candidate for the premiership. MSZP usually takes a less categorical position than the other opposition parties, and therefore I wasn’t particularly surprised when Molnár stated that there is a need for a new law on data protection but there are several problems with this bill. He called the proposal “excessive, even if national security precautionary measures sometimes justify stricter restrictions.” As usual, MSZP is sitting on the fence.

So far, only a couple of foreign papers have reported on Péterfalvi’s reaction to the proposed bill. Euractive introduced the topic with the headline “Hungary rights chief denounced ‘data grab’ bill,” using AFP’s report from Budapest. It quoted from an interview with Péterfalvi on KlubRádió where he claimed that the bill “would give almost automatic access to personal data.”

I assume the issue will not come up until late September, when the parliament reconvenes.

August 8, 2017