Month: July 2009

Stem cell “therapy” business in Hungary

The story broke on July 28 when a brief news item appeared on the official website of the Hungarian police. The police discovered that since early in 2007 a research laboratory and a private hospital had been engaged in embryonic stem cell therapy (not research) that is illegal in Hungary. In fact, it was only in January 2009 that the first country–bizarrely enough, the United States that as a result of political proscriptions had lagged the rest of the world in stem cell research–cleared the way for embryonic stem cell therapy. Geron Corporation got permission from the FDA to conduct clinical trials on people with spinal injuries. (See http://www.geron.com/media/pressview.aspx?id=1148)

The Hungarian police arrested four people: "B. Julliy" who turned out to be Yuliy Baltaytis, a Ukranian-born U.S. citizen; a Ukrainian woman, Natalia K., who apparently supplied the embryonic stem cells from Kharkov and Kiev; and two unnamed Hungarians, one of whom was charged with assisting the doctors "in the transportation of the cooling equipment, the handling of shipments from Ukraine, and the transportation of the patients to and fro." The police claimed that the "therapists" demanded 5 million Hungarian forints ($25,000) for a single treatment.

A few hours later Stop.hu already knew that the people were arrested in a Budapest hospital (it turned out to be the Gyula Nyírő Kórház) and that there was a police search somewhere in "southern Transdanubia." A few minutes later Somogy Megyei Újság, normally very well informed on local issues,  reported that the search took place in Kaposvár in a fancy private hospital specializing in plastic surgery. The hospital, Seffer-Renner Magánklinika Kft., is owned at least in part by two brothers: István and Tibor Seffer. István, it seems, is currently in police custody, but his brother Tibor and István's lawyer claim that their hospital has nothing to do with anything illegal. In November 2007 the hospital rented facilities to a laboratory–IRM Magyarország Zrt.–allegedly doing stem cell research. But since the laboratory never got the requisite permission to operate, the space has been empty ever since. They're right: the firm didn't get a permit from the Egészségügyi Tudományos Tanács (ETT; Medical Scientific Council) because the council could not corroborate the alleged qualifications of the applicants. For example, they couldn't find any scientific papers written by the doctors proposing the project. They found only two books written by Yuliy Baltaytis, both published at his own expense. Baltaytis proudly noted on his website that he was a member of an academy located in New York, but "it turned out that membership could be purchased for a yearly fee of $125,000."

ETT didn't know the half of it. I did a bit of research myself on Baltaytis, and one of my first hits was Quackwatch, an internet site that claims to be "Your Guide to Quackery, Health Fraud, and Intelligent Decisions." The article, dealing in part with Baltaytis, was written by Stephen Barrett, M.D. The title of the piece is "The Shady Side of Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy." An excerpt: "The Vita Nova Clinic offers stem cell therapy designed and administered by Professor Yuliy V. Baltaytis, MD, PhD, DSc. The Vita Nova site claims that Baltaytis has written six books and over 200 scientific articles and has successfully treated patients with arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes, leukemia, and many other conditions. However, he has no publications indexed in Medline and is not mentioned on any other Web site (which I would expect if he had significant scientific standing)."  http://www.xcell-center.com/treatments/overview.aspx?gclid=CO6tmPPJgJwCFdVL5QodFlsY-g From this article I gather that at one point Baltaytis was running a scam under the name of Vita Nova Clinic in the United States. However, soon enough he turned up in Barbados in a joint venture with Imre Pákh, an American-Hungarian, who nowadays lives off and on in Hungary. If my memory serves me, the elder Pákh who made a fortune in the United States was a great friend and supporter of József Torgyán and other right-wing Hungarian organizations. In fact, Torgyán was Pákh's guest during one of his travels to the United States. Pákh apparently decided to finance Baltaytis's venture in Barbados because he successfully treated his father.

The Barbados venture came to a sorry end in December 2006 when BBC did a bit of investigative reporting on this shady business. Even then the stem cells came from Ukraine where there are no regulations concerning embryonic stem cells. As a result of BBC's revelations the authorities in Barbados closed the operation down. Apparently Baltaytis subsequently gave an interview to the local media in which he announced that he was going to continue his work somewhere in Europe. That he settled on Hungary is not at all surprising given Pákh's stake in the business.

They were in a hurry. By June 2007 Baltaytis and Pákh established a new venture in Hungary: IRM Magyarország Nemzetközi Biotechnológiai és Őssejt Központ Zrt. The owner (50%) was IRM Biopharma Holdings Limited, incorporated in the Virgin Islands. The new firm's headquarters were in Budapest, in District XIII, and it had an affiliated site in Kaposvár, allegedly in the buildings of the Seffer hospital. The CEO of the company was Sándor Szabó and on the board we find Imre Pákh, István Seffer, the plastic surgeon from Kaposvár, and Ádám Fásy, a "media star" who apparently became rich as a result of starting beauty pageants in Hungary. Otherwise, Fásy has a rather primitive program on ATV called "Fásy mulató.""Fásy Revelry." I found a picture of Baltaytis (left) and Fásy (middle) taken on the occasion of opening the facilities in Kaposvár–whether in the hospital or elsewhere in the city we don't know.Stemcell

How many people fell for this scam? The police definitely know about eight, but others guess that the number might be closer to 100. Blikk, a tabloid usually quite well informed, thinks that in the last two years the people involved might have taken in close to one billion forints. It seems that the "gang of four" had working arrangements with three hospitals. Whether the directors of these hospitals knew what was going on in their rented facilities is hard to tell. All of them now say they didn't have a clue.

In keeping with the high cost/low profile image of the venture, there have been media reports that the "treatment" was also administered in private apartments and hotel rooms, either by injection or infusion.

The police seized as evidence vials ready to be used at the raided Budapest hospitals. In the media there were all sorts of contradictory reports about the vials' contents. First, we were told that they contained only a saline solution, and some of the doctors interviewed were relieved. Later reports talked about some protein content, and even later reports said that there were indeed stem cells in the vials as well.

This little Hungarian business venture might be costly to its so-called entrepreneurs. According to the Hungarian criminal code trafficking in human organs carries a maximum of eight years.

Government assistance and family support in Hungary

For a good month now the media have been full of reports about different ideas to reform the welfare system and to modify government support given as an entitlement to families for every child up to the age of twenty-one. The debate about child support is not new. SZDSZ has argued for a number of years that well-off families didn't need these monthly checks. SZDSZ highlighted two prominent politicians with large families: Viktor Orbán and Ferenc Gyurcsány. Orbán has five children; Gyurcsány, four. Surely, these two people don't need government handouts! MSZP was reluctant to change the current system. Socialist politicians argued that deciding who is eligible and who isn't would cost more than the government would save on the few thousand families who wouldn't qualify. In fact, no party thought about the issue in a truly innovative way until now, when MDF came up with a "revolutionary" idea. Erzsébet Pusztai, who is the party's spokesman on social issues, outlined an entirely different system of child support. Although I don't think it will be implemented, I find it intriguing and worthy of consideration.

First, let me say something about "free" Hungarian education. The fact is that it isn't free. Most of the children must buy rather expensive textbooks; only children whose parents can prove that their income is under a certain level will receive textbooks free. Cafeteria food is not free either. Again, one must prove eligibility. Erzsébet Pusztai with MDF's blessing proposed a different idea. Child support for children between the ages of four and fourteen should be given not to the parents but to the kindergartens and schools. In return schools would be truly free. No one would have to pay for textbooks, for food in the cafeteria, or for trips organized by the school. Moreover, MDF proposes to lengthen the school year. As in most countries, schools close for two to three months during the summer. Not only do children forget a lot that they learned during the school year; parents also have a difficult time finding accommodations for them during the long vacation. The better off parents spend money to send their children to camp; in some cases grandparents must take care of the kids while the parents work. The children of poorer families often end up hanging out on the streets.

MDF would go even further. If Pusztai's ideas were adopted, they would introduce much longer school days. In the afternoons beside extra classes in, for instance, foreign languages, there could be more gym, art, and music lessons. Schools would provide breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snacks. Moreover, the students could do their homework at school. They wouldn't even have to carry their books home. In addition, they wouldn't be unsupervised during the afternoon when their parents are still at work. Apparently about 250 billion forints are currently spent on child support. That amount of money would be enough, according to Pusztai, to introduce the new system. I might add that MDF's proposal also has another, most modest agenda: to make sure that parents receiving child support actually send their children to school. The Orbán government tried something like that by introducing legislation that tied child support to school attendance. The parties then in opposition, MSZP and SZDSZ, fiercely attacked the legislation and after 2002 the Medgyessy government abolished it.

Zsuzsa Ferge, a sociologist whose main concern is poverty, is outraged. She and others suspect anti-Gypsy bias behind the idea. Ferge also believes that this suggestion is strange coming from MDF, a party that has always emphasized the importance of family but now is trying to weaken family bonds. Zsuzsa Ferge said that the MDF politician's ideas exhibited inadequate knowledge of European practice and the philosophy behind it. In plain English, Erzsébet Pusztai is ignorant. As far as know, Zsuzsa Ferge hasn't made any constructive suggestions except to give more money to the poor.

One might have thought that after this rebuke Pusztai would be less zealous. But no! She stuck her neck out again when the mayor of a small village in northern Hungary came up with another idea. This time about financial assistance to families without a steady income. The village is Monok with a population of 1,600. Officially 7% of the population is Gypsy but this is most likely a low figure because most Gypsies don't identify themselves as such. In any case, about 10% of Monok's population is on financial assistance administered by the local government. The mayor, Zsolt Szepessy, in the last few months became known nationally because of his plan to change the village's financial aid program. He claims that he is not prejudiced. In fact, he is trying to defend the local Roma from userers who are just waiting for the cash received from the poverty-stricken Gypsies on the day of money distribution. He came up with the idea of a "social card." Instead of cash the recipients would get something like a debit card that they would be able to use at designated stores. They wouldn't be able to use the card for the purchase of tobacco products, alcohol, coffee, or soft drinks.

Pusztai and MDF find the Monok government's idea supportable. There are however basic differences between Szepessy and Pusztai in its implementation. Szepessy is going full steam ahead and is planning to introduce the system in Monok on September 1. He proudly pulled out of his pocket the prototype of his "social card" that resembles an ordinary bank card. There is only one problem: the introduction of such a card in lieu of cash is illegal at the moment. But today Monok's local council adopted the plan with added provisions that are surely unconstitutional. Those people who don't grow vegetables in their backyards and don't keep their property clean and orderly wouldn't receive any welfare payments. Not even in the form of a card. Pusztai and MDF of course would support the idea of a card only after the passage of appropriate legislation that would make the new system legal.

In any case, constitutional lawyers already have problems with the plan even without the vegetable gardens! One of them, István Szikinger, announced that the proposal is unconstitutional because the introduction of a card that distinguishes its holder is demeaning and because it inferes with free competition. After all, only stores with a contract with the local government would be able to handle these cards. Some people even claim that a person on assistance should be able to spend his money anyway he wants. Szepessy has a different opinion. According to him the assistance comes from public money and therefore the public has a right to ascertain that the money is well spent. The idea of the "social card" proposed by Monok reminds me of the American Food Stamp Program introduced in the United States in 1964. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_Stamp_Program) Actually, the "stamps" are no longer stamps but debit cards, and these debit cards in many states are also used for the distribution of welfare payments. One must be close to the poverty level to be eligible; currently about 10% of the American population is receiving "food stamps." Surely in small villages like Monok everybody must know who the welfare recipients are, and whether the payment is in cash or in the form of a debit card shouldn't make much difference in their social standing. Szepessy announced that he is going ahead regardless of whether his village's decision on the distribution of welfare payments is legal or not. People asked him what will happen if the Constitutional Court decides that Monok's system is illegal. He shrugged his shoulders: surely no one will jail him! The mayor who is supposed to execute the laws of the land has decided to take things into his own hands.

“Proof” of the activities of the Arrows of Hungarians

It was on June 17 that I wrote about a secret organization called Arrows of Hungarians Liberation Army whose members had committed a number of crimes threatening the lives and damaging the property of socialist and liberal politicians. Up to date nine people have been arrested. The investigation was praised by the authorities, and Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai only recently decorated a number of detectives for their outstanding work in connection with the case. During the investigation the detectives found a "bomb factory" in which some of the accused were assembling explosives that would have been powerful enough to blow up very large objects and/or kill several people. During the investigation detectives of the Hungarian FBI–Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda (NNI)–found a video on the laptop of one of the accused. The video showed a bomb exploding with great force in the middle of a barren field.Bonyhad The NNI copied the video onto DVDs that they passed out to members of the media present at a press conference given by Tibor Draskovics, minister in charge of the police. Draskovics used the video as an example of what these terrorists were capable of.

A few hours after Draskovics's press conference, HírTV, always on the lookout, discovered a "suspicious resemblance" between the scene of the video that Draskovics was showing to members of the media and a picture on the website of TV2. The latter showed a crater caused by an exploded bomb from August 2007. It turned out that five "enterprising" students with an "interest in chemistry" built some  bombs that they then detonated in a secluded field near Bonyhád, a small town in Transdanubia. The police apprehended the students responsible for the explosion; they have since received suspended sentences for "misuse of explosives."

A few hours after HírTV's revelation the whole Hungarian media was full of the story. István Balsai, former minister of justice in the Antall government, immediately accused Draskovics and the government of "spreading false rumors about a nonexistent terrorist danger" and demanded Draskovics's immediate resignation. A few hours later the charge was not only that Draskovics mistakenly claimed that the video depicted the explosion of a bomb made by the members of the Arrows of Hungarians Liberation Army but that Draskovics and the NNI "falsified" the video. Fidesz relentlessly pursued the case and Péter Szijjártó gave an "ultimatum": Gordon Bajnai should immediately dismiss Draskovics.

NNI was outraged at the accusation that they had falsified any material connected with the investigation. They found this video on the computer of one of the members of this terrorist organization, and in any case during the investigation it came to light that members of the group did try their hands at blowing up their homemade bombs. So, I suspect, they took it for granted that the video on the computer depicted one of these experiments. And they stopped there. The prosecutors say that the video fiasco is not their fault. They knew all along that this video was not central to the investigation, and that's why they authorized its release. After all, it was just meant to be illustrative. But why then did Draskovics assume it to be a video of the handiwork of the Arrows of Hungarians? Something went very wrong. Somebody goofed. Here was a real success story for the Hungarian police: they uncovered a terrorist group. Yet even that is ruined because of sloppy work and/or communication.

By Monday István Balsai asserted total victory over the incompetent government and police. First of all, he denied the very existence of such a thing as "political terrorism." He claimed that there is no "far-right danger" in Hungary. Draskovics is doing nothing else but "frightening the Hungarian people." He is an embarrassment to the government, and he should be sacked. Gordon Bajnai, however, showed no inclination to fire Draskovics, and his spokesman said yesterday morning that "the prime minister has total confidence in Mr. Draskovics." By this morning Fidesz went even further. Tibor Navracsics, head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, accused Draskovics of "not forestalling terrorism but preparing it." In plain language, the government is hiring people to commit terroristic acts in the hope of some alleged political gain. This is really outrageous.

Meanwhile, actors from the 2007 incident are emerging from the shadows. First Magyar Nemzet found the man who made the video. He is Ákos Halász of Kiskunhalas who, according to the paper, had close connections with the young socialists in town. A sidenote: the young socialists of Kiskunhalas became infamous lately because of the corruption case of János Zuschlag, a young socialist politician who at one point was a member of parliament. Obviously Magyar Nemzet is delighted to have found a "socialist thread," but there is a logical problem here. If the 2007 "high jinks" of students have nothing to do with the Arrows of Hungarians, what's the use of dragging the young socialists of Kiskunhalas into the imbroglio? Ákos Halász was known to be a good photographer and was one of the organizers of a "photography camp for youngsters" launched a month before the videotaped explosion. Presumably he was hired by the local students not for his political views but for his videographic skills. The students and the videographer then traveled to Bonyhád to a site that one of the students deemed appropriate for their experiment.

As for Ákos Halász and the accusation of Magyar Nemzet and HírTV that he had connections to members of the government through socialist politicians in Kiskunhalas, Halász announced that it was the figment of the journalists' imagination. He admitted that he was known in local socialist circles "but not in the way the paper claims."

The funeral of János Kádár (July 14, 1989)

I wrote about János Kádár and his legacy earlier this month in anticipation of the twentieth anniversary of his death on July 6, 1989. His funeral was not held until July 14 because George H. W. Bush was on an official visit to Budapest between July 11 and 13 and the trip, of course, had been arranged long before. The most recent (twenty-ninth) episode of MTV's series on the history of that fateful year– "Visszajátszás" (Playback)–dealt mostly with Kádár, his funeral, and of course the momentous trip to Hungary of the American president. The contemporary television footage of the viewing and the funeral cortege was fascinating. Kádár, of course, received a military funeral, but his coffin was placed in the headquarters of MSZMP. Kádár's physical and mental deterioration had been noticed long before his actual death. According to some of his closest associates, they first noticed that not all was well with "The Old One" after he turned sixty in 1972. And he died only seventeen years later. In the last couple of years his memory failed him, his mind wasn't always clear, he kept repeating himself, and he was often in the hospital. But no one in his entourage had the courage to tell him that it was time to go.

At last help came from Moscow. Gorbachev urged Kádár to retire, and and his biographers claim that he rarely dared to say no to the Soviets. He knew too much about the workings of the Kremlin. In his last incoherent speech before the central committee of the party (April 12, 1989) he said: "you can put any label on me you want but I know that when I was released…." His sentences were garbled, but it was clear that he was talking about the time he spent in Moscow before returning to Hungary to quell the revolution with Soviet help. In the beginning Kádár was hated by the great majority of Hungarians, but especially after 1963 when he announced that anyone who was not against the regime was with it, he became increasingly popular. Just as László Lengyel, the political scientist and author of many books, said in "Visszajátszás": "It was hard to imagine life without Kádár. I was entering first grade and he was already there, and he was still there when I was thirty-nine. My whole life was spent in the Kádár regime."

In this episode there was footage of people lining up before his coffin, some of them crying. One woman crossed herself as she went by the bier. People were interviewed on the street and they all praised him. These middle-aged people reflected on their youth. Although most felt that it was time for change, they were worried about an unknown future that would replace the familiar and basically secure past. Some who attended the funeral claimed that there were as many people at Kádár's funeral as at the reburial of Imre Nagy and his fellow victims. Although Kádár was in terrible shape (his biographer referenced the "living dead" when recounting his last few months), he was aware of the reburial of Nagy and his fellow victims. He asked, "Is it today … that … that man is buried?" He could never utter Nagy's name. Not even on his deathbed. But he was preoccupied with "that man." On May 10, two days after his retirement, he wrote a letter to the central committee in which he asked its members to "investigate his role." He considered himself to be a "scapegoat in the biblical sense." Apparently the Supreme Court was making its decision about the "rehabilitation" of Imre Nagy when a man entered the courtroom with a piece of paper that he handed to the judges. On it were written the words "Kádár is dead."

Kádár is still popular. All public opinion polls put him among the six most popular historical figures. Way ahead of Imre Nagy, by the way. Somewhere close to Saint Stephen and King Matthias. I don't know whether Kádár's personal popularity has grown of late, but the currency of his regime is on the rise. Together with the success of the extreme right goes a yearning for the good old days of János Kádár. When people behaved (and if they didn't they received just punishment), when people were nicer and kinder to each other, when money didn't matter as much, and when there was no unemployment. And one could continue the praise heaped on a regime that exists only in the memory of a generation. Reality was a great deal different.

The language of Viktor Orbán’s “political philosophy”

Viktor Orbán's philosophical inspiration most likely comes from a couple of local sources. I already mentioned his invocation of biblical quotations, undoubtedly supplied by Zoltán Balog, the Hungarian Reformed minister. His "political philosophy" probably owes a lot to András Lánczi, the author of Conservative Manifesto (2002). Lánczi's ideas are similar to the until recently fashionable neoconservatism but with a Hungarian twist. The basis of Lánczi's conservatisim is "morality." His favorite words are "order," "stability," "laws of nature," and "hierarchy." These words are echoed in Orbán's speeches and writings, though in their second life they are stripped of any theoretical sophistication.

But here I don't want to talk about the hodgepodge of pseudo-philosophical ideas that Orbán invokes but about the language that he (or his speechwriter/ghostwriter) uses. His latest opus appeared in today's Magyar Nemzet entitled "The Age of the Right in Europe." The article is actually a more detailed version of his speech in Tusnádfürdő. In brief, the left is dead and the time of the right has arrived. But the language! That's something else. Here's a sampling of "interesting" turns of phrases starting with the second sentence about the collapse of communism twenty years ago: "Only xenoliths, a few rocky reefs remind us of a sunken empire."  Or the next sentence about the present political and economic problems that "whirl around the world amid drifting ice." Or what about this? "Asia is rising ever higher and being watched with a mixture of admiration and shudder…." "It doesn't matter which way we turn our sights, the accustomed landscape is being reorganized by the vibrations of change." I'm getting very dizzy.

From the reefs and drifting ice he turns to Europe which is the "epicenter of the [current political] movements." This is where, according to Orbán, real changes are taking place. In Europe a historic chapter is coming to a close because "an intellectual system of co-ordinates lost its validity." This system of co-ordinates is neo-liberalism, which is "an odd creature."  Looking more closely at this creature one discovers "a tangled and oppressive imbroglio of myths, taboos, superstitious beliefs." Then comes an aside, perhaps straight from Reverend Balog: "It is worth noting that intellectual circles used to call the Middle Ages dark, most likely because in those days the people still believed in miracles." An interesting explanation!  He does not want to minimize liberal democratic achievements of the past. After all, the left "deserves credit" for fighting for the basic rights of people. He finishes his brief historical discourse on social democracy by making us "step over the trenches of a world war and the bodies of pernicious dictatorships."

The economic elite, which according to him is liberal and sympathizes with the left, is not just growing; it is sprawling (terpeszkedik), a verb with a much more aggressive meaning. The left is faced with an "ideological void," and "it is not only traveling on a road leading to nowhere but it turns into the first dead-end street." This is a "political horror show." "The left navigated its ship into the harbor of neo-liberal anthropology." That was bad enough, but the real trouble was that "it dropped its anchor there." "The well-oiled machine of the neo-liberal financial circles thrives by trying to convince the world of their truths." It also seems that the economic crisis brought to the surface a fact that was "submerged in the plugged-up well of reality." That fact is that "the market only protects the interests of the capitalists."

Then comes the Hungarian political situation. In Orbán's vision there is not one extreme political group but two: the left-liberals are also extremists. These two extremes are fighting each other and their "verbal duels can be heard on the political stage of Hungary." This verbal duel, according to Orbán, is injurious to Hungary's reputation abroad. These two extremist groups are throwing "verbal cannisters" at each other, while "the owners of these cannisters hang onto each other and pretend to wrestle. In reality they are dancing according to a prescribed choreography." "The nightmare of both of these groups is a Fidesz government that will bring tranquility, stability and security." And finally, Orbán  borrows from our conservative philosopher Lánczi when he writes that "these last twenty years for us was a period of transition." Now the real regime change will come, and the "honor of the nation will be restored." His government will be able to give "a historical opportunity to the Hungarian people. It will be the people's opportunity and the government's responsibility."

I concentrated here on Orbán's language. I don't know how other people feel about it, but when I look behind the forced metaphors I find almost no substance. We don't know how the right, once victorious, is going to restore the economic health of the country or solve the current social problems. Turns of phrases are masquerading as policy. And charges lodged to suggest a conspiracy between the extreme left and the extreme right are outright false. There is no extreme left, and the left-liberals are not dancing arm in arm with the extreme right. Why does Orbán think that an entirely new age is on the horizon?  Questions, questions. No answers but lots of words. Real wordsmithery.

Hungarian terrorists in Bolivia: Aftermath

Here and there one can still read in Hungarian papers about Előd Tóásó, one of the companions of Eduardo Rózsa-Flores currently awaiting trial in a Bolivian jail, but the intense interest in the alleged terrorist's past and eventual fate has subsided in the Hungarian media. However, in the last couple of days two articles appeared in Népszabadság (July 23 and July 24) about the alleged Bolivian-Hungarian terrorist Rózsa-Flores. The first was inspired by the utterances and writings of a Spanish newspaperman, Julio César Alonso, who came to know Rózsa-Flores in Tirana some fifteen years ago during "the first revolution" in Albania when Rózsa-Flores was working for the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia. Alonso claims that Rózsa-Flores was a "psychopath" who went to Bolivia to foment a civil war. His assertions support the contentions of Evo Morales's government. But since Rózsa-Flores is dead most likely we will never know what he had in mind. We do know, however, that in Hungary he was involved with extreme rightist elements.

Alonso's description of Rózsa-Flores is not exactly complimentary. The story begins in Tirana, when the management of the hotel in which Rózsa-Flores was staying discreetly asked him to leave, allegedly because of a "murky affair." Apparently a battered child carrying hand grenades left his room. The next time the two men met was in Osijek, Croatia. Again a strange story emerges. Alonso was working with a television crew. At one of the check points a Croatian soldier offered to shoot a round of bullets into their car. No one would be hurt, but it would look good for the film they were working on. The soldier mentioned that he did it once before for fifty dollars at the request of "a Hungarian." Once Alonso arrived at the hotel he discovered Rózsa-Flores's car full of bullet holes. Surely, adds Alonso, Rózsa-Flores needed the bullet holes as a prop for some dramatic story.

Then for two months he disappeared, only to reemerge as the commander of an "international brigade" of volunteers on the Croatian side. Rózsa-Flores invited Alonso to visit the brigade which, in the company of a Swiss war correspondent, Christian Wurtemberger, he did. Wurtemberger earlier had met some mercenary types in the Karlovac region; among them were two Spaniards, one American, one Englishman, and three Hungarians. At the meeting the two war correspondents learned that all of these volunteers were trained in Hungary under the guidance of Colonel Attila Gyla.

At this point it is worth pausing momentarily to complain about the superficiality of Hungarian journalism. Admittedly the family name "Gyla" is a bit strange, but a little research reveals that this was the old spelling of Gyula, voivode of Transylvania at the end of the tenth century. The author of the article simply notes in parentheses that the name appeared in this form in the Bolivian press. Surely, he must think it was a misprint. But if he had done just a bit of research on the Internet he would have found Attila Gyla. For example in a United Nations report (1994) on Use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination (http://tinyurl.com/l5c5l5) Perhaps it is worth quoting some of the allegations:

"(Seventh allegation: For several months during 1991, Colonel Gyla Attila of the Hungarian Army was attached to the Croatian National Guard (CNG) headquarters for Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem. He was in charge of planning and undertaking combat activities of CNG units in this area.)

"As for the seventh allegation, in the second half of 1991, Mr. Gyla Attila, a Hungarian citizen, volunteered for the Croatian Army in the region of Slavonia. Nothing is known about his rank as a colonel, however. In any case, he did not act as a commanding officer of CNG units.

"(Eighth allegation: At the end of 1991, the Osijek operations zone of the Croatian Army had an international brigade established by Eduardo Roses Flores, the Zagreb-based correspondent of the Catalonian paper 'La Vanguardia'. The brigade was composed of former French Legion combatants and mercenaries from the wars in the Middle East and Latin America. It often operated on its own in the region of Eastern Slavonia and committed massacres against Serbian civilians in the villages of Divos, Ernestinovo, Tenjski Antunovac and others.)"

Alonso's Swiss colleague, Wurtemberger, started to snoop around in Germany to learn the source of funding for this "international brigade." He discovered that the Bolivian consul in Germany was supplying them with weaponry, and apparently they received some drug money via Turkey. Soon enough the "international brigade" grew substantially: fifty French volunteers, recruited by Jean Marie Le Pen, arrived and approximately 110 more men came from "British, German, and Hungarian fascist organizations." Alonso claims that Rózsa-Flores "in those days was an out-and-out fascist who hated Jews, Arabs, Blacks, and Communists." Alonso alleges that Rózsa Flores was responsible for the murder of Cedomir Vukcovic at the instruction of General Branimir Glavas (http://tinyurl.com/ncujc5). Further accusations by Alonso follow. Apparently Wurtermberger tried to get close to the "international brigade" in order to learn more about the organization, but he "fell in battle." However, according to the Spanish journalist the body showed signs of torture and strangulation. When another journalist, Paul Jenks, showed too much curiosity about Wurtemberger's fate he received a bullet in his neck while he was photographing Serbian fortifications. Alonso is convinced that his own life was also in danger because he was in possession of Wurtemberg's computer. However, he and another journalist, Pinto Amaral, managed to escape. Alonso was told by the one American in the group, Colton Perry, that three people were responsible for Wurtemberger's death: the English "Frenchie," the Hungarian "László," and "MT" (most likely Mario Tadic, currently in jail in Bolivia). From here on Alonso didn't have first-hand knowledge of Rózsa-Flores's activities. However, he mentions Bosnia, Angola, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Sudan as stopping places of Rózsa-Flores.

It's hard to know how reliable Alonso's information is, but the stories from Croatia seem to have a ring of authenticity to them. Apparently, the Bolivian government would like to expand its investigation to Hungary. That might bring interesting results not only for the Bolivian but also for the Hungarian authorities. After all, some of the mercenaries in the Bolivian group still at large are Hungarians: Tibor Révész (founder of the Székely Légió), Gábor Dudog, Dániel Gáspár and Lajos Tamás. Perhaps with some help from Bolivia, the Hungarians could find out more about their own extremists, for example, the Arrows of the Hungarians. Hungary is a small country, and it is hard to imagine that these extremist groups weren't in touch with one another.

Corruption: The Hungarian judiciary and politics

Courage is a rare commodity in Hungary and perhaps not without reason. The one-party dictatorship, "soft" though it may have been, didn't exactly reward those who criticized the fundamentals of its so-called socialism. It was safer to be quiet, minding one's own business. The fear of repercussion is never too far from Hungarian thinking. Nor is repositioning oneself, preferably before a change in the political winds.

Now that a Fidesz victory seems almost certain, people are already thinking of the future. After all, the leaders of Fidesz said in no uncertain terms that a "just punishment" awaits those who in the last few years sided too openly with the socialist-liberal government that ruined the country. One can see a shift even in liberal circles. Not long ago three liberal commentators (all of whom happened to be women) were discussing the political situation on József Orosz's Kontra (Klub Rádió). To my utter surprise I heard one of them say that she is actually looking forward to the formation of the Fidesz government because "the sooner we get over the whole thing the better." She compared such an event to a case of the measles. Once a child has measles he has immunity. Four years of Viktor Orbán and the Hungarian people will discover the benefits of liberalism! Or, as one of the editors of Népszabadság put it the other day: "The only force that can consolidate the country is Fidesz and Viktor Orbán!" He belongs to the growing number of people who believe that only Fidesz can handle the extreme right. The assumption is, I think, that if Fidesz turns against Jobbik the politically uneducated will follow and will turn against Gábor Vona and Krisztina Morvai. I very much doubt the validity of this assumption. Moreover, until now I haven't seen signs of any serious Fidesz criticism of the neo-Nazi ideology of Jobbik.

But let's return to courage. Zoltán Somogyi, director of Political Capital, showed courage when he wrote a fairly lengthy and thoughtful piece about political corruption and its influence on the judiciary. Specifically on the prosecutor's office that, as opposed to many other countries, is independent of the government. Political Capital (http://www.politicalcapital.hu/index.html) is a business venture begun by Zoltán Somogyi and Krisztián Szabados, two political scientists. A team of political scientists maintains an internet newspaper Hírszerző (http://www.hirszerzo.hu/), writes analyses, and gives advice to foreign governments and parties. For a number of years Zoltán Somogyi has also been an advisor to MDF and Ibolya Dávid. Political Capital is a conservative group in the true sense of the word.

Somogyi never made a secret of his job as a political advisor, and in television discussions he often admitted that he couldn't be 100% independent in his opinions on MDF. This is a welcome change from all those so-called independent political scientists who are anything but. Two of them are prominent in this story: István Stumpf, formerly minister in Viktor Orbán's government, and András Giró-Szász, who works alongside Stumpf in Századvég, a Fidesz think tank. The names of Somogyi, Giró-Szász, and Stumpf came up in connection with the drama over the case of Ibolya Dávid, who from victim became the accused thanks to the machinations of Fidesz with the help of the chief prosecutor's office.

I wrote so much about all this that I'll give only the briefest of summaries here. Those of you who want more details can search for previous references. The upshot of it is that UD Zrt., a firm that specializes in "private investigation," had strong ties to some Fidesz politicians who were curious what went on in the National Security Office (NBH). NBH became suspicious and got a court order to tap UD Zrt.'s telephones. Among the thousands of telephone conversations there were some that clearly indicated that Ervin Demeter (Fidesz-Jobbik) and László Kövér (Fidesz), both former ministers in charge of national security, were asking UD Zrt. for information about the inner workings of the National Security Office. As an added bonus was a tape that indicated that István Stumpf and others had cooked up a plan by which they hoped to oust Ibolya Dávid as head of MDF. That tape somehow ended up in Ibolya Dávid's hands; she then went with it to the prosecutor's office, asking them to investigate. A week later the prosecutor's office returned the tape saying that there was nothing to investigate, and a few months later the same prosecutor's office asked parliament to suspend the immunity of Ibolya Dávid and her right-hand man, Károly Herényi, because they now wanted to question her not as a witness but as the suspect, charged with divulging private information. Zoltán Somogyi was present at one of the ensuing conversations between Ibolya Dávid and "the people and their representatives" from the other side. One "representative" of István Stumpf was the allegedly independent political scientist András Giró-Szász.

Once Somogyi's name appeared in the papers in connection with the case, he decided to retire from active management of Political Capital. Moreover, he made his opinions about this whole witch hunt public in today's HVG. Somogyi's complaint is that Fidesz, instead of turning against Jobbik which he considers a real threat, does everything in its power to ruin Ibolya Dávid and MDF. As Somogyi wrote, "Hungarian democracy's greatest challenge up to date is the appearance of Jobbik," yet Róbert Répássy, Fidesz's legal expert, "demands summary proceedings against the leaders of MDF from the prosecutor's office." As for the prosecutor's office, Somogyi didn't mince words: "The charges against Ibolya Dávid–and in that connection the activities of the Hungarian prosecutor's office–are concerns of Hungarian democracy." This is not a simple criminal case; here we are dealing with something that can only be described as political criminality. The accused wasn't even questioned; her accuser was deemed the sole witness. Information leaked out from the prosecutor's office to people who most likely committed the alleged crime. It was the head of UD Zrt.who "informed" the public about the intent of the prosecutor's office concerning the leaders of MDF. Károly Herényi was told by a newspaperman two weeks before he received any formal notice that he and Dávid would be charged. "Any one of these strange happenings would be enough in a country of law for the chief prosecutor to resign."

Somogyi then turns to the topic of "independent political scientists."  He happened to be present "when fellow political scientists, some of them even friends of [his], begged Ibolya Dávid not to make public more recordings…. [He] heard them give details of how they approached with 'special enticements' members of the presidium of MDF, how they wanted to make Kornél Almássy president [of MDF] … only to use him as a puppet. . . . And [he] saw how they changed their tune once it became clear that the prosecutor's office was 'with [them]'." 

Somogyi claims that he was "in the wrong place at the right time" and thus witnessed something he hopes to be able to tell in court. Today, it's dangerous to expose cases of corruption because it can easily happen that the injured party will get burned. "This is a game of corrupt helping corrupt." Somogyi doesn't spare the "depraved journalists" who became no more than propagandists or "media businessmen" who bark out orders to the journalists dictating which party to write about and what to say. Somogyi also suspects that the incorrect predictions of certain opinion polls about MDF's prospects were not exactly a matter of chance or a lack of expertise. These are harsh words. Harsher than most publicists left of Somogyi who, being close to MDF is presumably a conservative, would ever dare to utter. And, by the way, Herényi just announced that MDF will spend its summer looking into corruption cases. After all, someone has to do something if the prosecutor's office, instead of investigating crime, helps to cover it up. Don't forget that MDF is headed by a former minister of justice.