Tag Archives: Zsuzsanna Körmendy

Elemental rearrangement on the Hungarian right?

Over the past few years we often heard that the regime Viktor Orbán built in the last five years can be dismantled only from the inside. Internal dissatisfaction with the leadership will one day reach such proportions that it will force the retirement of Viktor Orbán and his closest associates. Until recently, however, we didn’t see any such movement within Fidesz, despite its steady loss of sympathizers and supporters. We do know that there are insiders, including Fidesz members of parliament, who would like to get answers to their questions and who complain to reporters that they have been waiting a long time for an opportunity to discuss the problems the party is facing, without any success. Still and all, I don’t see any serious cracks in the solid political wall of Fidesz.

The right-wing media is another matter. Although some talking heads predict that the Simicska affair will blow over in no time, I disagree. I believe that the Simicska-Orbán falling out will have serious repercussions in the media world, signs of which have already appeared. My bold prediction, admittedly mixed with a large dose of wishful thinking, is that the fomentation in the media will facilitate the collapse of the Orbán-led political edifice.

On what do I base this prediction? First of all, there are signs that Lajos Simicska means business. He will use his considerable talent and financial resources to build a media empire that can take on state television and radio, a task that is, let’s face it, not terribly difficult. He began by appointing Péter Tarr to be one of the directors of HírTV. Tarr worked for Radio Free Europe until 1994 when he moved over to MTV. In 1997 he became the first managing editor of RTL Klub. In that capacity he was influential in exposing some of the corruption cases of the 1990s. According to Esti Újság, Tarr is gathering a fantastic staff at HírTV that should be able to produce the best news television in Hungary. The plan is to produce a program that “would restore the pillars of democracy and the power of the media.” Well, one could say that this is far too optimistic a scenario and that Simicska is not the most obvious man to lead the fight for democracy and against corruption. Admittedly, but he seems determined to ruin his old friend Viktor Orbán. People who know both men, like Gábor Fodor, a former friend from college days, are certain that this fight will last until only one of them is left standing.

So, what are the signs that encourage me to predict real changes on the mediascape? First of all, the report from the far-right wing media that half of the reporters of Magyar Nemzet and HírTV had quit turned out to be premature. For instance, Szabolcs Szerető, one of the people who quit last Friday, has already changed his mind and returned to the fold. He was the editor of the Monday edition of the paper.

Second, one can already detect substantial changes both in news reporting and in the opinion pieces in Magyar Nemzet. Let’s take a piece of news that has occupied the Hungarian media in the last two days. The chairman of Fidesz’s youth branch (ifjúsági tagozat) was caught with €30,000 of counterfeit currency. Fidesz immediately tried to distance itself, claiming that the young man had been removed from the party way back in 2012. The proof they presented was specious. In the past Magyar Nemzet would have supported the Fidesz position regardless of how ridiculous it was. But not this time. Let’s start with the headline: “He didn’t pay his membership fee and therefore was expelled?” The article continues with an honest description of the case and leaves no doubt that the Fidesz version is most likely untrue. In fact, when the article refers to the culprit as the “former chairman” of the organization, the writer or the editor put a question mark after the word “former.”

The same is true of Zsuzsanna Körmendy, who used to write the most vicious editorials about the opposition and was always supportive of the government and Fidesz. Zsolt Bayer predicted that “everybody from Csaba Lukács to Zsuzsanna Körmendy will quit because they will not be ready to write articles” demanded by Simicska. Yet today Körmendy wrote a piece titled “Self-examination never hurts.” Here Körmendy confronts her readers with the steady decline in Fidesz support and calls on the party “to examine its decisions thoroughly.” From here on the government should make wiser and more thoughtful decisions because “there is nothing more pitiful and destructive than taking back in full or in part earlier decisions. One ought not to experiment with citizens who have been losing their patience.” This kind of language is new in Magyar Nemzet. So it’s no wonder that Policy Agenda, a think tank, is certain that “after five years of governing Fidesz has lost its media,” which will be deadly for the future of the party.

But that’s not all. The most faithful Gábor Borókai, editor-in-chief of Heti Valóság, who served Viktor Orbán’s government as its spokesman between 1998 and 2002, stood by Lajos Simicska and against his former boss in an editorial that appeared today. For Borókai it is obvious that with the Simicska-Orbán duel “an unpredictable tectonic shift began that will turn into an elemental rearrangement on the right.” According to him, that kind of change has been long in coming. In plain language, the performance of the third Orbán government is dismal. In the past year Viktor Orbán has been preoccupied with his balancing act between Merkel and Putin while at home everything is falling apart. People have had enough of a government that wants to rearrange every facet of their lives. They want to be left alone.

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Of course, Borókai is still a man of the right, but not the kind that Orbán surrounds himself with these days. He is yearning for the “western, strong, sovereign and ‘polgári’ Hungary which Viktor Orbán wanted to build in 1998.” In 2010 Orbán set out to fulfill this wish, and he did rebuild a devastated economy, but “since then everything around us has changed for the worse. While searching for new solutions one shouldn’t forget the original goal. Otherwise, the chandelier will fall on us.” Borókai’s piece is full of contradictions, but it must be difficult to admit that his assessment of Viktor Orbán and his ideology has most likely been wrong all along. Even in 1998 when he decided to represent the first Orbán government. At one point he claims that “it is not too late” for Fidesz to find itself, but elsewhere he talks about an elemental reorganization of the right. Eventually these right-wing journalists will sort out their ideas, but at least they have begun writing as individuals instead of media servants of the government.

Meanwhile Reporters Without Borders published its World Press Freedom Index, 2014. In the last four years Hungary’s ranking dropped from 23d to 64th out of 180 countries. While the situation in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia is considered to be good, in Hungary there are “noticeable problems.” Even the Romanian press is freer than the Hungarian. Hungary is in the cluster with Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Greece, and Albania. Nothing to be proud of. But perhaps there will be a revolt of the right-wing journalists and with it will come a freer press and perhaps even political change.

The tragedy in France and Viktor Orbán’s political agenda against immigration

In August 2014 Viktor Orbán was still riding high on the wave of his infamous speech about the superiority of an illiberal state. Hungarian ambassadors had gathered in Budapest, as they do every year in late summer, to listen to a speech by the prime minister in which he outlined the main objectives of Hungarian foreign policy. To a question on the Hungarian attitude toward immigration, Orbán repeated parts of an earlier speech he delivered in Ypres, Belgium, at the European Union prime ministers’ summit. On immigration, he said, Hungary has “hard and fast policies.” It is a topic on which the difference between liberal and illiberal states is clear-cut. Hungary in no way supports immigration, and he himself does not believe in the value of a multicultural society. On the contrary, he is in favor of an ethnically homogeneous nation-state.

In Ypres he wanted to include in the EU leaders’ joint statement a sentence to the effect that immigration is wrong and that Europe’s aim is to stop immigration. In this he didn’t succeed, but at least he can make sure that “Hungary remains a nation-state speaking the same language and having Christianity as its religious cornerstone.” Later in November during his visit to Korea he returned to the subject when he again expressed his opposition to immigration, lashing out at “political correctness” and calling the issue “a forbidden topic.”

In light of Viktor Orbán’s attitude toward ethnic and religious diversity, it was not hard to predict what the prime minister’s reaction would be to the tragedy in Paris. In his Friday morning “interview” the topic naturally came up. That his anti-immigration sentiments would surface no one doubted, but what enraged some people was that he felt compelled to include a not too subtle reference to his anti-immigration stance while the search for the terrorists was still under way. He couched his message in these terms: “For the time being it is not worth speaking in the voice of reason, it is still time for mourning,” as Hungary Today reportedWhat the official propaganda site did not mention was that during the course of the interview Orbán announced that “Hungary must be defended against an influx of immigrants.” Well, this is a position that will resonate well with the majority of Hungarians who are, as is well known, the most xenophobic people in Europe.

Viktor Orbán will undoubtedly do his best to influence EU policy on immigration, but I somehow doubt that he will succeed in convincing Brussels to send refugees coming from Africa and the Middle East back home.

immigrants

Hungarian journalists whose colleagues were murdered in France are split on the issue. Right-wingers and some religious leaders seem to lay the blame on the journalists at Charlie Hebdo who “provoked” the followers of Islam. They would like to see a European response that takes into consideration Islamic sensitivities. On the liberal side, commentators consider the attack on the editorial offices of the satirical weekly an attack on the freedom of the press. They consider the right’s point of view “appeasement,” which would only lead to further demands by the Islamic terrorists.

Of the two right-wing dailies, only Magyar Nemzet decided to write editorials on the French terror attack. Csaba Lukács, who closely follows the lead of Viktor Orbán, wrote the first. Yes, it was an unacceptable, barbaric act. But once we recover from the shock it is necessary to talk about “the question of immigration.” Because of mass immigration, “we [Europeans] are no longer the same, we have fewer and fewer values in common…. There are unbridgeable differences between religions and cultures which we must recognize.” Lukács seems to think that terrorism is somehow tied to a different religious experience. While a secularized Christian just shrugs his shoulders when he encounters an anti-religious cartoon, “a radical Islamist picks up his Kalashnikov.” The staff of Charlie Hebdo “provoked” these people. Nobody should be surprised at what happened because, after all, “for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”

Lukács’s colleague, Zsuzsanna Körmendy, goes even further. She would like to see some statistics about how many family members of the assailants “have been killed by the democracy express of one of the western great powers going back all the way to 2001.” In plain English, all murders by Islamic terrorists from 9/11 on are the fault of the “democracy express.” Although she “feels sorry for the colleagues,” she finds it interesting that four of them were “decidedly old (68, 73, 76, and 80) who may have tasted the honey of ’68.” That is, they were ultra liberals. So, I guess, they deserved it.

The mention of 2001 is no coincidence. It was after 9/11 that István Csurka, chairman of MIÉP, an openly anti-Semitic party, and a member of parliament, rose in the House and delivered a speech in which he blamed the United States for what happened at the World Trade Center in September 2001. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was in the chamber and said nothing. George W. Bush never forgave his silence, and Orbán has been persona non grata in the White House ever since.

Heti Válasz‘s Szilárd Szőnyi is of the opinion that “we should not publish cartoons which are repugnant not only to these beasts but to all decent men.” Another commentator thinks that Arabs and black Africans have an entirely different temperament from Europeans. They are aggressive, they don’t value human life, they are primitive. They live in a tribal society whose “laws are strict.” I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that they murder a few people in cold blood, presumably acting in accordance with strict tribal laws.

Finally, let me quote a university professor, György Nógrádi, who is always introduced as a “national security expert.” I consider him a buffoon. His take on immigration: “It is absolutely ridiculous. They come here when we don’t need them. They come here on ships whose crew escaped. The boat floats until we save them. But it occurs to no one to take them back where they came from. If they come from a country where there is civil war that is something else. But most of them come from Africa to escape hunger.” No comment.

I was happy to hear that according to János Hajdú, head of TEK (Terrorelhárítási Központ) and formerly Viktor Orbán’s personal bodyguard, there is no terror threat in Hungary. However, I’m sure that the Orbán government will reap great political benefits from the tragedy in France. The propaganda against immigration has already begun. The Hungarian prime minister did not even wait for the burial of the victims.

The Hungarian government’s wishful thinking about a change at the U.S. embassy

It is with a certain amusement that I have been watching the Hungarian right-wing media’s attempts to discredit M. André Goodfriend, the American chargé d’affaires of the Budapest embassy. After all, he is currently the top representative of the United States, a country the Hungarian right has never been too fond of. Their dislike of the United States only intensified after 2001 when George W. Bush found Viktor Orbán’s post-9/11 behavior so objectionable. The Hungarian prime minister is still persona non grata in the White House. During the last two U.S. presidential campaigns Viktor Orbán and some high-level Fidesz politicians demonstrated their preference for the Republican party, assuming that a Republican administration would have better relations with a national-Christian “conservative” Hungarian government. Of course, their assumption that Republicans would be more tolerant of an “illiberal state” that is in cahoots with Vladimir Putin’s Russia shows a total misunderstanding of American political reality.

Another Hungarian misconception is that it is Goodfriend who is personally responsible for the strained relations between Washington and Budapest because he oversteps the diplomatic bounds that are supposed to direct his behavior. If he would just stay put, never leave the embassy, not attend demonstrations, and not use Twitter, then American “attacks” on the current Hungarian government would come to an end. And since the reporters on the state television’s newscast and the journalists at Magyar Nemzet and  Válasz blame André Goodfriend personally, their attacks also concentrate on his person. With eagle eyes they watch his every step and find fault with everything he says. By now even his wife, Frances Goodfriend, has become a target. Pesti srácok, a far-right internet site, reported that she attended the demonstration in front of the parliament on November 17. A day later Magyar Nemzet reported that the Goodfriends visited László Bitó’s open house. Since Bitó often writes in Galamus, an internet opinion portal that is allegedly close to Ferenc Gyurcsány, the next thing we heard was that Goodfriend “is playing from Ferenc Gyurcsány’s score.” In brief, behind the current strained relations between the United States and Hungary is none other than the arch-enemy of Viktor Orbán, Ferenc Gyurcsány.

The Hungarian right became terribly offended when Goodfriend wrote on Twitter: “I think of Webster-Hulsemann in considering US support for shared values” and gave a link to “Interesting Historical Notes.” What was this Webster-Hulsemann exchange? In 1850 the Austrian Johann Georg Hulsemann, the Austrian representative in Washington, objected to American interference in the domestic affairs of Hungary. He stated that his government “deemed it proper to preserve a conciliatory deportment making ample allowance for the ignorance of the Cabinet of Washington on the subject of Hungarian affairs and its disposition to give credence to the mendacious rumors which are propagated by the American press.” To this statement Secretary of State Daniel Webster replied in kind: “Nothing will deter either the Government or the people of the United States from … forming and expressing their own opinions freely and at all times upon the great political events which may transpire among the civilized nations of the earth.” Webster’s letter to Hulsemann can be read in its entirely here.

Well, that inspired Zsuzsanna Körmendy, one of the most demagogic journalists of Magyar Nemzet, to write a lengthy op/ed piece on the subject. The whole article is full of insults and personal attacks on André Goodfriend. She accuses the American diplomat of being ignorant of history and says that if he just read one grade 8 history textbook “he wouldn’t say such stupidities.” Moreover, the comparison is false. Zachary Taylor, the president at the time, simply expressed his opinion and “did not send a note to the Hungarian government about banning certain foreigners from U.S. soil.” In the 1850s the United States was a democratic country and “if America today would be as much of a freedom loving country as it was then, perhaps it would look upon the Orbán government differently. It would appreciate more [Hungarian] attempts at independent solutions.” All in all, the reference to Webster and Hulsemann is, she argues, insulting to the democratic people of Hungary who overwhelmingly voted for Viktor Orbán and his team.

"Let's hope we will be also grateful" / Esti Hírlap

“Let’s hope we will be also grateful” / Esti Hírlap

And then came the great news for the Hungarian right. On November 21 The Washington Post reported that, after “after much delay and hand wringing,” on December 1 the Senate will vote on the confirmation of Colleen Bell who was nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Well, that piece of news roused the right-wing journalists in Hungary. On the very same day Esti Hírlap reported the news with this headline: “First the turkey–then perhaps there will be an ambassador.” A picture under the headline showed a Thanksgiving turkey with the caption: “Let’s hope we will be grateful too!” Válasz was also inspired by the news: “The days of Goodfriend are numbered: Ten days and we’ll know it all.” But the most outrageous handling of the news came from Híradóthe official news broadcast of the state television. The television news claimed to know that Goodfriend will be recalled because “lately he appeared too often in left-wing and liberal circles.” According to Goodfriend’s “official” autobiography, “earlier he worked for the Bureau of International Organization” which, according to the information Híradó received, “worked out methods with which the local opposition in conjunction with civic organizations can overthrow the government of post-Soviet states if the interests of the United States so desire.”

Well, that’s quite something, especially because that utter nonsense was read on a newscast that can be watched nationwide without cable. So, let’s see what this “insidious” organization actually does. The Bureau of International Organization Affairs is part of the State Department and it is subordinated to the Undersecretary of Political Affairs. According to the official website:  “The Bureau of International Organization Affairs (IO) is the U.S. Government’s primary interlocutor with the United Nations and a host of international agencies and organizations.” So much for responsible reporting by Hungarian state television.

As for these people’s fondest hope that M. André Goodfriend will be recalled because he was a bad boy, well, dream on, fellows. Most likely nothing will change after December 1. I suggest taking a look at the Wikileaks’ documents pertaining to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. That gives an idea of the division of labor among the top officials of an embassy. Colleen Bell, if confirmed, will be the public face of the American presence in Budapest while the second in charge will most likely be Goodfriend, a professional diplomat. And I’m sure he will continue to tweet and to visit public events just as before.

Magyar Nemzet and Népszava on the weekend demonstrations

This morning among the comments I found a couple of references to the biases of Magyar Nemzet and Népszava. The latter was labelled a newspaper of MSZP while someone called Magyar Nemzet Fidesz’s Pravda.

There’s no question that on the front page of Népszava one can read: “Szociáldemokrata napilap.” As far as I know, the paper does get some money from MSZP but not enough to overcome its precarious financial situation. One manifestation of its financial woes: people who used to be regular contributors to the op/ed page are no longer willing to write their columns for nothing. Tamás Mészáros, who for a while disappeared from the pages of Népszava, returned recently, most likely because he feels it his duty to help the paper along. Magyar Nemzet, on the other hand, is doing just fine financially, especially since 2010. The government helps it along with its generous advertising. The number of subscriptions also soared after the formation of the second Orbán government: government offices order multiple copies of the paper, an indirect subsidy to the government’s favorite paper.

Quite a few years back I compared the news of one day as it appeared in Magyar Nemzet and in Népszava. The result? As if these two papers were reporting on two different countries. This time I decided to compare not news items but opinion pieces on the weekend’s political demonstrations. I will refrain from making a judgment on the coverage.

Magyar Nemzet came out with two opinion pieces, one by Zsuzsanna Körmendy and another by Tamás Fricz.  Here I will focus on Körmendy’s piece, entitled “Nasty campaign” (Komisz kampány). Its main theme is that while the Fidesz mass demonstration on Saturday was “demure and balanced,” the opposition’s Sunday demonstration was “nervous.” The prime minister’s speech was inspirational and stirring and the demonstrators peaceful. The opposition, however, made fun of them: some people played an old movement song entitled “Our future is one with the party and the people.” This is how it is: “the domestic right for the opposition is either fascist or communist.” Sometimes both at the same time. “What can we say? If we visit a psychiatric ward we have to suffer with a straight face when the patients loudly call us idiots.”

The Peace March has nothing do with Rákosi but with that great experience in April 2002 when Viktor Orbán made a rousing speech in defense of his government and announced that “the nation cannot be in opposition.” It was at that time that many people “discovered their calling to the cause.”

Körmendy didn’t expect much from the opposition, but “one hasn’t heard that much stupidity in the longest time.” The most amusing stupidity came from Ferenc Gyurcsány who told his audience to vote for the opposition because then the sun will shine. Gábor Fodor talked at length about the twelve points of the revolutionary youth in 1848 and dwelt on the union with Transylvania but quickly switched to the union with Europe. “So, Belgium and Austria became part of our country except these countries don’t know anything about it yet.” The third stupidest speech was delivered by Tímea Szabó who “wanted to overthrow not Viktor Orbán’s government but Viktor Orbán himself.” It was, she adds, “quite embarrassing.”  Bajnai kept talking to those who were not present. “This way there was no possibility that someone would talk back to him.” Mesterházy’s focus was on “Orbán’s dictatorship which harks back to the Horthy regime, feudalism, and Bolshevism.”

A scene from the opposition rally on March 30, 2014 Source: MTI/János Marjai

A scene from the opposition rally on March 30, 2014
Source: MTI/János Marjai

Finally, Körmendy criticizes the patriotism that was “overemphasized by the left-wing speakers.” Fodor was pre-occupied with 1848, Bajnai talked about the well-known song about Lajos Kossuth, Gyurcsány also began his speech with patriotism. Körmendy suspects that “their speeches were written for March 15, which they were too lazy to rewrite.” On the other hand, “we could hear about the essence of patriotism from Vikor Orbán who said: ‘to be Hungarian also means that one is never satisfied with one’s own government, but if necessary, one always stands by it.'”

The socialist and liberal papers downplayed–in fact, practically ignored–the demonstrations. There was only one short editorial in Népszabadság that referred to the two demonstrations. The author’s conclusion is that the voters have already decided and that the two demonstrations made no difference one way or the other. By contrast, Tamás Fricz in Magyar Nemzet views Fidesz’s ability to gather a larger crowd than the opposition psychologically important.

In Népszava only a very short editorial by János Dési, no more than about 200 words, appeared. Dési considers the Sunday demonstration a sign that “the opposition must be taken seriously.” Fidesz underestimates the united opposition which, after all, was able to motivate a large number of people to go out to demonstrate. “The politicians of the opposition know what they are doing.” The organization was good, the speeches were effective and “prove that there is hope. There are many people who want an independent European Hungary.” That’s all I could find.