First we heard about the deviant sexual behavior of Catholic priests in the United States. Not a word from Europe. Then slowly the walls of silence came tumbling down even on the Continent and one gruesome incident after the other was reported. But in Eastern Europe silence reigned. Surely, no thinking person could believe that all Hungarian priests were saints, radically different from their colleagues elsewhere. There must be problems in Hungary too, but people are either reluctant to report the priests’ misdeeds or the Catholic Church manages to keep the information under lock and key.
I who am a diligent reader of the Hungarian press remember an interview years ago with a young man who for a while was a student at a Catholic seminary. He claimed that “incredible” things were going on within the walls of the school. However, to my knowledge there was no follow-up of this story. Then in 2007 a web site from a U.S. server collected the names of twenty-five gay Hungarian priests. (Gay men, of course, are not necessarily–in fact rarely–pedophiles, and pedophiles are not necessarily–in fact not usually–gay. But within the Catholic Church these distinctions are often blurred.) How the Hungarian Catholic Church managed to shut down the web site I don’t know, but when it was still functioning it claimed that a gay priest was “one of the greatest manipulators of real estate in the whole Catholic Church.”
And this leads us to the current scandal in the Hungarian Catholic Church: the resignation of Mihály Mayer, bishop of Pécs, and the departure of the doyen of the diplomatic corps in Budapest, the ambassador of the Vatican to Hungary.
A couple of years ago I received a small booklet from my cousin who belongs to a group of retired school principals in Pécs. They get together for potluck dinners and occasionally for outings. This time it was a visit to the palace of the bishop. From the outside the place doesn’t look lavish, but the pictures I received of the interior tell a different story. Moreover (and not visible on the picture), recently the bishop added to the building at the back.
The wine cellar, according to my cousin, was truly spectacular, and the opulence in general awed the visitors. What these innocent retired school principals didn’t know was that the bishop in the last few years had amassed an ill-gotten fortune.
Without going into all the details of a long story that started already in 2006, János Wildman, a Catholic layman and editor of a Catholic publication, turned to a Hungarian priest serving in a high position in the Vatican and told him about the questionable financial dealings of the bishopric in addition to the discovery of pedophilia by one of the important Catholic priests attached to the bishop’s entourage in charge of financial matters. Wildman asked for an investigation. Four years went by. Finally in September 2010 we heard that two high-level officials in the bishopric of Pécs were removed from their positions. Surely, the bishop of Pécs thought that this was the end of the story. For a little while he even tried to convince people that the dismissal of the two priests had absolutely nothing to with either sex or money.
Stonewalling couldn’t last forever. A month later Bishop Mihály Mayer was himself accused of forty different offenses, including inappropriate financial dealings, forgery, and sex crimes. Another month went by when the association of Hungarian Catholic Bishops announced that only the Vatican can start proceedings against Mayer. The police of Baranya county immediately made it clear that they don’t want to do anything with the case because “in the past the local police had amicable relations with the bishopric.” A few months later Mihály Mayer resigned his post. And a few days ago the Vatican named György Udvardy to replace him. Udvardy immediately announced that he will get involved in the investigation only if canon law compels him to do so.
And now we come to another interesting development. It turned out that years ago the Vatican informed its ambassador to Budapest, Julius Janus of Polish origin, that something was not quite right in Pécs and instructed him to start an investigation. Julius Janus, instead of starting an internal probe, passed on the documents he received from Rome to the accused. When this came to light Benedict XVI demoted Julius Janus by moving him from Budapest where he spent eight happy years and sending him to Slovenia. In this capacity he will also be in charge of Kosovo. Apparently in Vatican terms it is a sign of disgrace.
The Hungarian government’s reaction to the whole affair is rather curious. Most likely at the suggestion of Zsolt Zsemjén, who pretty well represents the Catholic Church’s interests in the government, the Hungarian government awarded Julius Janus the Cross of the Order of Merit.
A strange country where a person who clearly didn’t follow the orders of the Vatican and who tolerated and shielded pedophiles and other criminals receives a decoration from the Hungarian government. As for this picture, Semjén’s farewell embrace of Julius Janus seems a bit over the top. The former Vatican ambassador looks decidedly uncomfortable.
Meanwhile more and more cases of alleged pedophilic activities of Catholic priests are being reported. Earlier there was a case in Bóly in Baranya county. The accused priest was under the jurisdiction of Bishop Mayer. Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to that case. A few days ago newspapers reported another case of pedophilia in Orosháza. One of the parish priests there apparently had an illicit relationship with a young girl. The age of the girl is being debated. Some say that she was twelve years old, the priest claims that she was sixteen.
In any case, the trouble within the Catholic Church has finally reached Hungary as well. I suspect, however, that there will be a concerted effort to dampen its effect.
It was on September 12, 2008, that I first reported on a scandal that I dubbed the "Hungarian Watergate." But while in the United States Watergate ended in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, the Hungarian Watergate's fate has been shaping up very differently in the last two and a half years. "The bad guys" have morphed into the good guys and the good guys into the bad.
To summarize the events, the National Security Office under the socialist-liberal government became suspicious that a company called UD Zrt. was engaged in illegally gathering government secrets. Among the evidence were tapes of several telephone conversations between the owners of the firm and Ervin Demeter, had who been minister in charge of the National Security Office in the first Orbán government. The men had a longstanding relationship, going back to the days when the owners of UD Zrt. were still part of the Hungarian national security team. In these telephone conversations Ervin Demeter asked the owners of the company to spy on the socialist-liberal government in order to gather certain information that the opposition wanted to have.
But Demeter wasn't the only one who had close ties with the owners of UD Zrt. There were several telephone conversations between them and László Kövér, one of the most important men in Fidesz who also held the post of minister in charge of the National Security Office. He was more circumspect on the telephone than Demeter, his successor, but it was clear from the conversations that were available for a while on the Internet that these politicians and the former national security guys were great pals. Other people were also involved. For example, Sándor Csányi, head of the biggest Hungarian bank, OTP, and a great friend of Viktor Orbán, who almost sounded on the phone as if he were "the boss" of the whole organization.
In any case, at first it looked like an open and shut case, but it turned out that with the help of the prosecutors it was UD Zrt. that came out victorious in this tug of war between people allegedly working for Fidesz and the government. Eventually the accused was not UD Zrt. or Ervin Demeter but the socialist minister György Szilvássy and the head of the National Security Office. UD Zrt. was found completely innocent according to the Hungarian prosecutor's office. This decision came after a mere six days of investigation. As time went by the prosecutors found another "guilty" man, Károly Tóth, deputy chairman of the parliamentary committee in charge of national security. So, today these two men stand accused instead of Demeter, Kövér, or the owners of UD Zrt.
The charge against Szilvássy and Tóth is "misuse of personal information" (személyes adattal való visszaélés). How? The members of the parliamentary committee demanded the CD that contained the telephone conversations that were recorded legally. Szilvássy, as minister, was obliged to hand the CD over to the members of the committee. Once they received the information, the Fidesz members illegally put some of the material online.
Today four "witnesses" were called. All Fidesz politicians, including the almighty speaker of the house, László Kövér. Reading the Index report on the proceedings I could imagine how furious Kövér must have been when the judge asked him some rather embarrassing questions. The judge, Csaba Vasvári, didn't seem to be awed by the presence of the "very important man." The Fidesz witnesses talked all over creation, further deepening some people's suspicion that something is very fishy about this whole case.
The first question was when Kövér and Demeter first learned about the case. This is an important question because in September 2008 it looked as if Demeter and Kövér knew about the impending trouble before the affair became public. Kövér testified that he first heard about it on September 12, shortly before it became public, from György Bakondi, lawyer for UD Zrt. Demeter came up with a different story: he heard it from a journalist of Népszabadság. Too bad that he couldn't remember the journalist's name and that Szilvássy swore under oath that he had not given out any information to the media prior to the official announcement of the affair. The judge gave Demeter five days to refresh his memory.
Kövér also had a hard time with the judge who kept asking why it was so important for the lawyer of UD Zrt. to inform him about the search at the headquarters of UD Zrt. if his relationship with the owners of the firm was as casual and sporadic as he claimed. Kövér's answer was anything but satisfactory. He claimed that he knew at that very moment that the whole UD Zrt. affair would be shown in a light that would be very negative for Fidesz and Bakondi, the lawyer, wanted "to prepare him psychologically and verbally" for what was afoot. Apparently, Kövér's claim that he knew very little about the activities of UD Zrt. didn't impress the judge.
One of the specific charges originally brought against Demeter and UD Zrt. was that Demeter asked the owner of UD Zrt., József Horváth, a former secret service man, to find out more about the head of the National Security Office and his trips to Moscow. Apparently, information concerning such trips anywhere outside of Hungary is considered to be a state secret. However, the Fidesz witnesses, former ministers in charge of the office, couldn't decide what the real situation was. According to Kövér it wasn't a state secret while Demeter said that it depended on the trip. In reality, it is a state secret. It already was when Kövér was minister between 1998 and 2000.
The judge wanted to know from Demeter why he thought that Horváth knew anything about trips made by the head of the office. Demeter's answer was curious: it is a well-known fact that there is a "pensioners' club" made up of former National Security Office people where information of that sort can be picked up. But there was a bit of trouble in connection with this pensioners' club. Horváth, when asked by the judge, simply denied the very existence of such a club. The men just chit-chatted among themselves while drinking a few glasses of beer. At this point the judge expressed his astonishment that people while having a few drinks would talk about the foreign trips of heads of the secret service. He asked Horváth again: how did they know about such things? Answer: "I don't know."
But that wasn't the end of the conflicting statements. When it came to the question of whether the CD had been marked "not for the public," Kövér claimed that it had already been opened up and therefore there was no marking on it. Demeter, on the other hand, claimed that it was clearly marked "not for the public." Simicskó, the chairman of the parliamentary committee that received the CD, many times with full conviction repeated that the CD had this marking, but his statement collapsed when he was read his earlier testimony (December 10, 2008) in which he categorically denied that there was anything on the CD.
When one reads the detailed description of the proceedings and the judge's questions, one can understand why Fidesz would like to get rid of about 300 judges and replace them with new "blood" that wouldn't ask such probing questions from the witnesses. I don't know how old Csaba Vasvári is, but if he is too young to be forcibly retired the current government will most likely find other ways to make his life miserable.
Last Sunday there were by-elections in Zugló, the XIV district of Budapest. A Fidesz-KDNP member of the city council, Imre Garaba, had resigned for family reasons. So, a new campaign, new elections for the seat. MTI simply announced the results: Tildy Balázs (Fidesz-KDNP) won with 39.1% of the votes. HVG's headline read: Fidesz-KDNP nominee has a solid [biztos] lead in Zugló.
Well, I wouldn't call the win spectacular. After all, Márta Demeter (MSZP) was second with 30.3% while Gábor Kaibinger (LMP) received 17.5% of the votes. The final result might be a Fidesz win, but the fact is that the MSZP-LMP (socialist-liberal) opposition beat the Fidesz candidate by a mile. If there had been unity on the anti-Fidesz side, a socialist-liberal candidate would have won 47.8% of the votes and would have been declared the winner.
This Fidesz win is even less impressive if we compare the results to the numbers in October 2010, at the time of the municipal elections. Imre Garaba, the man who just resigned, received 47.49% of the votes. Thus, looking at the results in Zugló, we see that Fidesz is losing its supporters but as long as MSZP and LMP can't get together Fidesz is unbeatable.
Leaders of LMP always find some excuse for not cooperating with MSZP. Last September-October the excuse was that LMP couldn't possible hitch its wagon to MSZP because MSZP was corrupt and hated. No way would LMP agree on a common candidate even if that person was not attached to any one party. The Budapest MSZP candidate, Csaba Horváth, was certainly not an exciting choice. Yet he still managed to get almost 30% of the votes, which under the circumstances was close to a miracle. How did the independent LMP candidate fare? He received less than 10%. I'm convinced that an independent common candidate would have done much better than 40%.
The latest alleged obstacle in LMP rhetoric is Ferenc Gyurcsány. Prior to September-October 2010 Gyurcsány was not active politically, but since then he has been making efforts to move his party in a direction he finds most useful under the circumstances. Some of his suggestions–for example, boycotting the discussion of the new constitution–were accepted not only by MSZP under the leadership of Attila Mesterházy but also by LMP. Of course, they would never admit that Gyurcsány's suggestion and their decision had anything to do with one another. Now that Gyurcsány is again in the public eye, LMP and its media began an attack on him as the reason for Fidesz's two-thirds majority as well as for the impossibility of cooperation with MSZP. If Gyurcsány disappeared completely, everything would be wonderful. LMP and MSZP would be bosom buddies.
This is of course a huge lie. It is hard to know what LMP's real role is in this new political game, but its leaders are wrong if they think that their party can wage a political war on two fronts. On the one hand, tell the world how terrible Fidesz is and, on the other, maintain that MSZP is a corrupt party with an unacceptable leadership. In the end, such a two-front war can end only in failure. If LMP sticks with this strategy it will manage, perhaps inadvertently, to keep Fidesz in power.
One mustn't forget the origins of LMP. It grew out of a group of citizens who cared about the environment. During the 2002-2010 period these environmental groups did everything in their power to delay or make impossible any development whatsoever in the country. Whether it was the construction of a radar station, a new factory, or a road, they opposed everything. The particular environmental group that gave birth to LMP was Védegylet. Among other things Védegylet is linked to the election of László Sólyom with Fidesz help to become the president of the republic. One of Sólyom's very first acts was to demonstrate against the radar station that the Hungarian government was obliged to build because of its obligations to NATO.
Sólyom's dislike of Gyurcsány was a well-known fact and András Schiffer (LMP), one of the men who was vital in elevating Sólyom to his position, is only following in his idol's footsteps. He was the one, for example, who went to the prosecutor's office and brought charges against Ferenc Gyurcsány in the Sukoró case. This was the land swap that was undertaken to facilitate the construction of a large entertainment center and casino. As I mentioned several times, Gyula Budai, the commissioner who is supposed to put every opposition politician into jail, tried but failed to implicate either Gyurcsány or Gordon Bajnai. And as things stand right now, it very much looks as if no crime was committed in the course of the transaction. Naturally, the investment is down the drain. The case, by the way, also has anti-semitic overtones since the men who were planning to establish King's City (the intended name of the project) were Israelis and American businessmen of Jewish origin.
As far as I can see MSZP would be ready to work together with LMP at any time, but LMP isn't budging. If there is no united opposition in the next couple of years we will know whom to blame.
It is a commonplace that Hungarians are among the least mobile people in Europe. In some ways they resemble the French who traditionally were very reluctant to leave home. Starting in the fifteenth century France tried to colonize parts of North America. Most attempts, Quebec excepted, failed. A similar fate awaited the Netherlands. England, originally the least likely to succeed in the colonization of faraway places, came out ahead: in the seventeenth century an incredible number of people from the United Kingdom left, facing untoward dangers on sea and land.
Hungarians have never been keen on starting life anew in another country. Those who speak of the three million Hungarians who "staggered to America," to use Attila József's words, are mistaken. The staggerers were not Hungarian-speaking citizens of Greater Hungary but mostly Slovaks. It was these Slovaks whom Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk approached to support the creation of a Czechoslovak state in 1917 and 1918.
In the second half of the twentieth century there were two occasions when Hungarians left the country in greater numbers–after 1945 and after 1956. We don't have accurate figures for the first migratory wave. But we know that about 200,000 people, mostly young and well educated, left after 1956. I don't know of any studies dealing with the effects of this emigration on Hungarian society, though I'm sure they exist, but it was a large-scale brain drain. Judging from studies on the success of Hungarians who went abroad, I would assume that this particular emigration had a very negative effect on Hungarian society.
Unlike the 56ers, who had to cross borders illegally and face years of uncertainty, today's emigrants are in a much better situation. Western Europe and Canada are becoming increasingly popular destinations for people who have had enough of Hungarian reality. And people are leaving–recent graduates, professionals, people of means. They know languages, have skills, and want out.
As of May 1 Hungarians can pack up for Austria and Germany. They can work, buy property, and settle there for good. Austria is particularly attractive because it is close and the country is familiar. In the last year or so Hungarians have been showing more and more interest in buying a house or an apartment in Austria. In a single anecdote HVG writes about a man close to retirement who worked for a bank in Hungary. He dealt primarily with people who wanted to place their savings in Austrian banks because they were leery of the Orbán government's rather cavalier attitude toward other people's money. These people believed that their money would be safer in Austria: "there the sanctity of private property and banking secrecy are still honored." So now, just before retirement, he is moving to Austria. His son is already studying in Vienna, and he bought a 100m2 house in a small Burgenland village.
In Germany there are fewer Hungarian settlers. Only 2,519 Hungarians live in Berlin on a permanent basis, a number that is especially small in comparison to the 10,000 Bulgarians and the more than 5,000 Romanians.
But just think about the thousands of young doctors who have moved to the United Kingdom, to Sweden, and to other countries in Europe. Although some of the naive Hungarian doctors believed that their lot would improve after the elections, it is becoming increasingly clear that people working in the health care industry cannot expect a boost in their salaries. Young interns organized an interest group whose leader occasionally shows up for television interviews. A few months ago he was still optimistic. Most young doctors would rather stay at home if they would just get a bit more money and if they were not tied to one hospital for years to come. The new government lifted the restriction on free hospital choice, but the money the young doctors demanded cannot possibly be granted. There is simply not enough money. Naturally, there is always money for the things Viktor Orbán and his government are interested in: soccer, bodyguards, new uniforms for students of the military academy, and an entirely new college for training future civil servants. One could continue. Money is freely spent and the sovereign debt is growing. By now the 250 billion forints that György Matolcsy put aside for a rainy day is also gone. It was just announced that this amount must be permanently taken out of the budget.
The mood in Hungary is gloomy. Although the Christian Democrats try to convince young Hungarians currently working abroad to return, appealing to their love of chicken paprika and Túrós Rudi, this primitive campaign isn't creating a massive "return to home" movement. Just the opposite: half of the M.D.s who graduated last year left the country immediately.
Even people who don't go abroad with the idea of emigrating end up staying. A nephew of mine got a job in Sweden a few years ago. He married a Swedish girl and is currently working on his Ph.D. It is highly unlikely that he will ever return to Hungary for good. His sister went to work in England. She met an Englishman, married, and they have a child. She is happily settled in England.
The growing antisemitism in Hungary may also propel Hungarians of Jewish origin to pack up and leave. All in all, I see a growing tendency on the part of Hungarians to move to greener pastures.
Until recently critics of the Hungarian attitude toward the past complained only about the fact that the overwhelming majority of Hungarians simply refuse to take responsibility for the crimes committed against Hungarians of Jewish origin that resulted in the death of about 400,000 people. The Hungarian attitude is similar to that of the Austrians who gladly dump responsibility for the holocaust within their own country on the Germans who marched into Austria accomplishing the Anschluss that, let's face it, most Austrians fervently desired. The Austrians can point to the fact that no Jewish labor camps or deportations took place in Austria before 1938.
Hungarians hold very similar views. They claim that Hungarian Jews were shielded until Germany occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944. From there on what was done was only under pressure from Germany. Of course, the whole deportation process was the work of local authorities.
From here on this Hungarian way of interpreting the events of 1944 will be part of the Hungarian constitution. The state assumed the mantle of historian, decided on one particular historical interpretation, and made it official dogma. The new constitution will state that whatever happened between March 19, 1944 and May 2, 1990 simply doesn't exist. Or, more precisely, it existed but entirely independently from the Hungarians. They are therefore not responsible for anything that happened during those forty-five years.
A number of historians, philosophers, and sociologists raised their voices against this particular passage in the new constitution. Although the Rákosi and Kádár regimes interfered with the work of historians, even the communists didn't go so far as to constitutionally set "the corrrect interpretation" of history. Falsification of history was a serious problem during the Rákosi regime, and with a very few exceptions one could easily throw out all the books written about modern history in those days. However, by the second half of the Kádár regime excellent historical works began to appear that contradict the new official history of modern Hungary set in stone in the new constitution.
The possible consequences of this particular passage in the constitution are immeasurable. One must assume that all textbooks will have to be rewritten that contain any reference to Hungarian complicity in the holocaust. I wonder what will happen to historians who dare to hold a different view on modern Hungarian history. Can they be sued or prosecuted?
There are already certain signs that a massive rewriting of history is under way. There is a Holocaust Memorial Center in Budapest which seems to be at the top of the government's agenda. This memorial center has a permanent exhibition entitled "From Deprivation of Rights to Genocide." One of the undersecretaries in Tibor Navracsics's ministry decided to pick this exhibition as his first target. The question is whether Hungarians are responsible for the Hungarian holocaust. The undersecretary notified a representative of the Holocaust Memorial Center that part of the exhibit has to be reassessed because "it is set up in such a way that it depicts Horthy marching into various cities and regions, which is an altogether different sort of thing. It is different because there is no causal connection between the return of Hungarian-inhabited areas to Hungary and Regent Miklós Horthy and the Hungarian army marching in, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the subsequent death marches in which people were being herded to their deaths." According to him this is a skewed take on history that "gives rise to unnecessary tension," I assume between Jewish and non-Jewish Hungarians.
To claim that there is no connection between the return of areas from Serbia, Romania, and Czechoslovakia to Hungary and the holocaust is nonsense. It is a well known fact that the Hungarian Jews in the returned areas enthusiastically greeted the Hungarian troops only to find out that they would be stripped of their rights as citizens of their own country. The "Jewish laws" were made applicable to them immediately.
In order to make sure that the exhibit changes its sinful ways and shows the history of the Hungarian holocaust in a manner that is acceptable to the government the Holocaust Memorial Center would need new leadership. Although theoretically the government has no say in the matter, it is clear that the authorities would be happy to see the current director, László Harsányi, go and instead have Szabolcs Szita, a historian who came up with a more acceptable version for the exhibition, at the head of the center.
István Deák of Columbia University, who had a hand in approving the current exhibition, expressed his amazement that the undersecretary, who "is presumably a well read and educated man," can possibly assume that there is no connection between territorial enlargement and the treatment of Hungary's Jewish citizens. Deák is charitable. The government is full of people who are both ignorant of history and rabidly nationalistic; they simply cannot face the fact that one's nation doesn't always behave in the most righteous way. As Deák said, "we mustn't insist on the innocence of the nation under any circumstances." But if you are an ardent nationalist, you will surely insist on the perfection of your fatherland. A dangerous concept.
This morning I received a link to an article in The Globe and Mail with the title "The importance of national shame." It continues this way: "Do you believe that your country is the greatest in the world? Then shame on you. And I mean that literally: I’m increasingly convinced that a crucial factor in the progress of any country is a strong and well-inculcated sense of national shame. To face up to the fallibility and deep wrongs of your country is to reconnect it to the wider world. It also allows you to see the state for what it should be: a sturdy if battered containment vessel for the dreams and ambitions of its citizens, not a golden trophy of preordained rightness."
The Hungarians haven't gotten that far yet.
In Hungarian show trials are called "koncepciós perek." There is first a concept, the decision to put somebody into jail, and then the police and the prosecutors create the "facts" that prove the person is guilty.
In today's 168 Óra there is an article by József Barát about the Orbán government's attempt to lower the retirement age of judges, including the responses of several legal experts to questions he posed. Among others Barát asked László Boros, a legal scholar, about the possible ramifications of "beheading" the justice system. Boros began his answer by saying that the dividing line between illiberal democracy and dictatorship is the existence of show trials. Hungary hasn't had any yet but, according to him, it is not out of the realm of possibilities.
Boros uttered this sentence a day before an interview was published in Népszabadság with Zsolt Császy, one of the accused in the Sukoró case. For those of you who don't remember the details, the prosecutors claim that Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai were in some way involved in a dirty deal–an exchange of property that was financially disadvantageous to the Hungarian state. The exchange of property was to take place between an Israeli-Hungarian businessman and the Magyar Nemzeti Vagyonkezelő, the office that handles the selling or renting of state properties. Császy was second-in-charge; Miklós Tátrai was the head of that organization. Both men spent half a year in jail and currently they are awaiting trial.
At the time of their release I heard an interview with both men and came to the conclusion that Orbán and company will have a difficult time with these two. They are anything but pushovers. Indeed, Császy decided to spill the beans and outright accuse the politicians of the current government of preparing a show trial. Császy didn't mince words either in his interview in Népszabadság or in his talk with Olga Kálmán last night on ATV's "Straight Talk." He said that the prosecutors' primary aim was to break them so they would give false testimony against Ferenc Gyurcsány. He refused to oblige, but he understands that some people lose their nerve as a result of the court's decision to jail them even before there is an indictment.
He spent only half a year in jail but György Hunvald, MSZP mayor of one the Budapest districts, has been in jail for two and a half years. The charge is very similar to that levelled against Császy: breach of fiduciary responsibility. As Császy said in his interview, the breach of fiduciary responsibility is about as popular and as vague a charge nowadays as "sabotage" was in Rákosi's time in the 1950s. Every time the communist party wanted to see someone in jail there came an accusation of industrial sabotage. In fact, such a sabotage case was being prepared against my own father who worked as an engineer in Komló. In a great hurry my father became "ill" and thus couldn't be fired or worse.
These cases have a rather primitive but effective script written ahead of time. The Magyar Nemzeti Vagyonkezelő or a local government asks several assessors, who come up with a reasonable price. Years later the prosecutor's office asks its own assessor, who offers a grossly inflated figure. The case is closed as far as the prosecutor's office is concerned. This is what was done in the case of Sukoró, in the case of the Moscow property, and, for that matter, in György Hunvald's case. The only thing left for them to prove is that the prime minister, the local mayor, the minister of foreign affairs, or the Magyar Nemzeti Vagyonkezelő knew all along that the property was worth billions more. And there are always people who will gladly "confess" that they knew that the difference between the low and the high price ended up in certain pockets. It is that simple.
Császy interestingly enough is an old Fidesz hand. He was present at the founding of Fidesz but didn't sign the document because basically he is not interested in politics. A few years later he did some work for the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, but after a couple of years he devoted himself entirely to professional work. He taught at the law school and was a civil servant working for various offices as legal counsel.
To the question of why Orbán and his friends want to drag him into this case he can only speculate. One possible reason is that current Fidesz politicians consider him a traitor to the cause because he worked for socialist-liberal governments. In 2009 when the Sukoró affair began the prosecutors questioned him about his early connection to Fidesz. From the interview I gathered that Császy no longer sympathizes with Fidesz which he considers, very rightly, a radically different party from the one he knew as a student.
Császy also has a low opinion of the people who today play a leading role in the party. Either they are old communist party hacks for whom the current methods of Fidesz are a comfortable fit. After all, this is what they were accustomed to before 1990. Or they are very young and don't have the foggiest idea about how the old communist system worked.
Császy is not afraid. His family stood against the Nazis and the Communists. In the Sukoró case both anti-semitism and communist economic policy can be detected. He is ready. As for the political influence: in February 2009 a newspaper article appeared on the basis of which he figured what kind of figure the politicians would like to see attached to the Sukoró property. And behold, months later the spokesman for the prosecutor's office triumphantly announced that they have the true assessment. It was only 1% off from the one Császy came up with as the politically desirable number.
Császy said something I found interesting: if this case goes to trial the accusers will be in trouble. Ferenc Gyurcsány said the same thing a few months ago. Császy is also certain that this case will be taught in law schools all over the country. According to Császy, it has nothing to do with facts or the law. It will be a political trial. He himself is ready to go as far as Strasbourg. I believe him.
For about a week there have been rumors that "there might be changes in the composition of the judiciary." First there was talk about the chief justice of the supreme court, András Baka. Commentators considered the renaming of the supreme court to "kúria" an opportunity to get rid of Baka, a László Sólyom nominee. Then came news about a possibly much more sweeping change. Magyar Hírlap reported that in the new constitution there might be a provision by which any judge who served as a judge before 1989 would be dismissed. In another version of the rumor all current judges would have to reapply for their jobs and in each case a decision would be made about his or her acceptability. Surely, on political grounds.
As it turned out, the rumors were not quite accurate. The lawmakers are contemplating a paragraph to be included in the constitution that would lower the compulsory retirement age of judges from 70 to 62. That would mean that 6-8% of all judges would have to retire.
It is possible that the earlier reports on recalling all judges who served in the old regime were actually accurate but that the "careful and wise" lawmakers subsequently realized that 72% of all current judges were appointed to their posts before 1990 and getting rid of 72% of all the judges would be too drastic even for the Orbán government.
Then came the latest move to reduce the retirement age. While everywhere in the developed world the retirement age is being raised due to demographic changes and while, for example, the retirement age for Hungarian prosecutors remains 70, the judges with the most experience must retire at a ridiculously early age. All that because Viktor Orbán finds the courts and the judges still far too independent. The prosecutors have been willing accomplices of Fidesz in the last ten years or so; now Orbán wants to have "fresh Fidesz blood" injected into the judicial system.
The news hit the judges hard. As András Baka said today, "there is great unease and indignation among judges" as a result of the latest suggested addition to the text of the new constitution. Baka added that "they all worry about the independent judiciary, which is the basis of democracy." And, practically speaking, as a result of this new law about 300 judges who are handling thousands of cases at the moment would be fired. These cases would have to be passed on to someone else. The whole procedure would further slow down court procedures that are sluggish enough as it is.
Baka pointed out that in 1990 90% of the judges were under the age of 55, which precluded their active participation in the illegal activities after 1956. In 1990 parliament decided that the judges even in the second half of the Kádár regime did a creditable job given the circumstances. If that was the case in 1990, why it is necessary now, twenty years later, to review the Hungarian judiciary "on political grounds?"
Yesterday in committee István Balsai (Fidesz) announced that the original suggestion to lower the retirement age to 62 might not be entirely satisfactory. According to him "a new element" of the question surfaced and therefore the amendment must be reworked. Most people suspect that the "new element" is Viktor Orbán's insistence on getting rid of Chief Justice András Baka under any circumstances, and Baka is only 59 years old.
Apparently the leading judges of the Supreme Court are inclined toward compromise: to work out the problem with the government. I personally think that if Viktor Orbán decides that he wants to get rid of someone then there is no compromise. He will not move an inch. The other possibility is to bring the dirty linen to an international forum, the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary.
About András Baka. I wrote about Baka a lot in the past. Not so much about his career and judicial philosophy but about László Sólyom and his obstinate way of appointing officials. Sólyom refused to inquire from the parliamentary parties whether his nominees were acceptable to them. As a result he often fell on his face. His original nominee for the post of the chief justice was András Baka, who wasn't even recommended by the fourteen-member National Jurisdictional Committee because of his lack of experience in Hungarian jurisprudence. He had spent seventeen years as one of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights. The rejection of the Council didn't deter Sólyom, who went ahead with the nomination. Needless to say, Baka was rejected by parliament.
After trying another candidate twice, Sólyom came back with Baka a year later; with the reluctant support of MSZP he was elected to be chief justice. That was in the summer of 2009. Now it seems that András Baka will most likely not serve out his term that ends in 2013. If he is too young, I'm sure Viktor Orbán will find some other way of getting rid of him.
For the time being Baka and his fellow judges seem to be in a fighting mood as are some others who are under attack without any justification. One of the accused in the Sukoró land deal is quite openly talking about the political pressure put on him to testify falsely against former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány. More and more people compare the present situation not to the Kádár regime but to the horrific days of Mátyás Rákosi. Fortunately some of them are standing up and refusing to play the government's game. I can only applaud this civil courage.
Originally I wanted to talk about Rudolf Ungváry, father of the historian Krisztián Ungváry, who wrote a piece in today's Népszava about his own political development from conservative to liberal. Ungváry writes extensively in the Hungarian media on political matters although by profession he is an engineer. What he is writing about in this article is the fairly common realization on the part of people who always thought of themselves as conservatives that they can't possibly identify with the Hungarian right. I find this phenomenon especially interesting in the case of Hungarians living in the United States who are conservative when it comes to American politics but liberal when the topic is in some way connected to Hungary. Their split political personality is perfectly understandable; what is going on in Hungary has nothing to do with conservatism.
Although Ungváry's "transformation" is of great interest and I'm convinced that many people will follow him, I will have to postpone the topic for another day because something else happened that might be of interest to non-Hungarian-speaking readers.
I volunteered my services to Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus.hu, to report the names of the people György Bolgár interviews each day on his program. Galamus transcribes these interviews. On Mondays someone else usually takes over the program, but when Bolgár didn't show up on the late Monday night television program Újságíró Klub I figured he must be on vacation. I checked the Tuesday program, there was still no Bolgár. So, I assumed I was right, he was off somewhere on vacation, and I had a little free time in my schedule.
A few hours later I heard that Bolgár, along with two other Hungarians, was invited by the Swedish Pen Club to talk about the current Hungarian political situation. The others from Hungary were Mária Bogdán, a university lecturer of Roma origin, and László F. Földényi, a literary historian whose volume of essays just appeared in Sweden.
In the first half of the program there was a new television interview with Imre Kertész. Someone then read a short excerpt from the book of György Klein, a holocaust survivor. And finally Ervin Rosenberg, a well-known translator from Hungarian to Swedish, said a few words.
In the second half came Bogdán, Bolgár, and Földényi. All the talks were in English. The audience of about 200 listened politely and applauded enthusiastically. All went well until the end. When everybody thought that the event was over, a woman got up and announced that she would like to ask a few questions. The Swedish moderator announced that this is not a forum or a debating club and they were not planning to have a question and answer period. The woman wasn't satisfied and kept raising her voice; by the end, according to Bolgár, she was screaming in Hungarian. The whole audience got involved. Someone turned toward the speakers and yelled: traitors! From the other side came the reply: fascists! An unfortunately typical Hungarian scene in the middle of Stockholm. But that brouhaha is less important than something that happened even before the lectures began.
A television crew showed up saying that they represent Magyar Televízió. The Swedish organizers were taken aback because television crews usually arrange things ahead of time, but not the Hungarian crew. The Swedes originally didn't want to allow them to film the event, but the naive Hungarian participants saw no reason to exclude them and thus the organizers changed their minds. One must understand that Hungarian Television has no official correspondent in Sweden. A crew had to be sent from Budapest to Stockholm just for that occasion. It is likely that MTV or somebody higher up knew ahead of time that there would be a ruckus at the meeting of the Swedish Pen Club. Is it possible that this particular "event" was organized in the same way as other protests were, for example, when Ferenc Gyurcsány appeared in public? After all, we know by now that Fidesz is quite ready to pay people for services rendered. Think of the clapping 500 on March 15.
The expense of sending a television crew to Stockholm had to be considerable, and the only benefit to the Fidesz government was a brief segment on the evening news. The reporting was naturally quite slanted, and it seems that the chief target was György Bolgár because the story transformed him into the most important speaker at the whole event. However, from Bolgár we know the details of the program. The Hungarian visitors were allotted only a few minutes.
The TV report, entitled "Report from Hungary–Indignation in Stockholm," gives the impression of a general outcry over the false assertions about the Hungarian government. Moreover, MTV's evening news intimated that this event was organized by Hungarians for Hungarians. However, that wasn't the case. It was organized by the International and the Swedish Pen Club. The proceedings were all in English. MTV claimed that in Sweden there is "censorship" because the Hungarians present were not allowed to ask questions.
The Swedes are astonished and somewhat shaken. If some people in the audience thought that Bolgár and his fellow speakers were exaggerating, now they could see with their own eyes how the Hungarian government and the so-called independent public media function. As Gábor Kuncze, who was substituting for Bolgár on his talk show today, said succinctly: "We export all of our stupidites for the whole world to see."
As for MTV, allegedly an independent public television station, according to people whose opinion I trust Fidesz now has a third channel beside HírTV and Echo TV. Most of the old reporters have been sacked and in their place reporters from HírTV and Echo TV have been hired. MTV didn't have a large audience ito begin with, but since the personnel changes they have further lost viewership. Why not? With government propaganda oozing from the screen from reporters who wholeheartedly and unabashedly serve the government's purposes, the whole thing is a sham.
One of the first items I read this morning was a letter to Viktor Orbán published in Népszava and written by Clemens Prinz who in the printed version is identified as "Austrian, folklorist, translator." Then thanks to the blessings of the Internet I found out that he was born in 1973 and finished his university studies at the University of Vienna. In the last fifteen years he has been living in Hungary where he teaches folklore at the Technical University of Budapest.
While searching for details on Mr. Prinz I found an article that appeared in Népszabadság on November 28, 2009, that bears the title "Ki mossa le a gyalázatot?" (Who will clean off the shame?), a reference to Sándor Petőfi's poem that is associated with March 15, 1848. The story is about the Roma Holocaust Memorial at the Nehru Pier in Ferencváros. Someone smeared feces on it, which remained there for weeks. I remembered the story but didn't remember that it was Clemens Prinz who reported it and asked the authorities to clean it off. Promises he got but no more than that. So Prinz organized a session with his Hungarian and non-Hungarian friends: with buckets of water and sponges they cleaned the memorial.
Well, the the same man now decided to write a letter to Viktor Orbán. I liked the letter so much that I decided to translate it in its entirety for those of you who can't handle Hungarian.
Dear Mr. Orbán:
I decided to write you a letter as a father to a father. I was thinking, I was taking notes on topics I would like to cover. However, sitting down at my desk I came to the conclusion: I wouldn't really want to say anything to you after all. Well intentioned words make no impression on you. You only laugh at them. You are convinced that you're always right due to some divine revelation that authorized you to do anything and everything under the sun. God, if he exists, certainly didn't authorize you to liquidate the Republic or commit 100,000 idiotic actions, some of which will also be included in the new constitution. Idiotic, yes. It seems to me that you got rid of all people with a modicum of intelligence and surrounded yourself with sycophants and boot lickers as is becoming a weak statesman without ideas. I'm a real idegenszívű*, an Austrian who ended up in Hungary fifteen years ago for good, learned the language, taught at a university, established a family, had a child, and shares the fate of Hungarians.
I remember the student demonstration against the Bokros austerity package in 1995 when we came to Budapest from Debrecen to demonstrate. Everybody trusted Fidesz then. Even three years later when they won the elections I was hopeful and kept telling myself "Fidesz will create a wonderful little country from Hungary." Indeed, that's exactly what Fidesz did: they created a country for themselves. Shortly after the elections the general mood was glummer than I had ever experienced before. And things only got worse.
You know, Mr. Orbán, you didn't lose the elections because Fidesz didn't do anything and instead manufactured purple clouds of dreams but because everybody had enough of the fear and dread you created. I would like to remind you that I, the idegenszívű, quarrelled with friends with whom I don't talk to this day. You're responsible for that and my ire is forever because of this. The next government also did a lot of stupid things but at least one didn't have to be afraid. There was no fear or hate as there is now. Those governments didn't fire people because they were independent thinkers.
I would like to know one thing from you. How will you explain to your children all these lies, all this arrogance, all this disdain, and the assumed infallibility once their eyes open? I can easily explain to my children why we have a pink Toyota (nobody wanted to buy it, that's why it was cheap), or that we have only 52m2 of living space (we couldn't afford more), why I don't wear suits (because outward appearance is not what is important), why my father doesn't have a mine (because he learned the trade of carpentry and I wasn't a politician), and why I wrote this letter (because I refuse to be afraid).
But you, Mr. Orbán, how are you going to explain to your children that you behaved like an arbitrary operetta king, brought stupid laws, lied, ruined people just because they were unwilling to submit to your will? What will you say if they ask "Dad, why did you behave like a Hottentot dictator?" Or you will just slap them around and send them away?
Austrian, folklorist, translator
*The adjective idegenszívű is very difficult to translate.It is a Fidesz creation and describes someone with a "foreign heart." Someone who cannot identify with true Hungarian feelings and aspirations. This person can be a Hungarian by birth and on paper but he/she isn't quite part of the nation. And since Orbán often described his followers as the only ones who represent the nation, everybody who is not a Fidesz voter and admirer is by definition an "idegenszívű."
I really thought that the Hungarian media law no longer interested the world. The European Commission did as much as it could, which wasn’t much. Hungarians, I figured, will simply have to live with the consequences. Perhaps, but there’s a new wrinkle–the UN.
Let’s first set the stage on the Hungarian side. During the heady days when everybody was fixated on the media law a new face appeared on the scene: Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of government communications in the Ministry of Administration and Justice. I always find it necessary to explain what this new ministry is all about. Basically, its task is to run the government. It is headed by Tibor Navracsics, the former head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation, who was ordained by Viktor Orbán to be the de facto prime minister without the title, while the actual prime minister would be above such mundane matters as managing the everyday affairs of the government. If something goes wrong, one can always blame Navracsics instead of Viktor Orbán himself.
That was the original idea, but I don’t think that the plan fulfilled the expectations that were attached to it. While the Orbán government is as unpopular at the moment as the Gyurcsány government was in the spring of 2007, the disappointed electorate doesn’t blame Tibor Navracsics but Viktor Orbán. Even among Fidesz voters Orbán’s popularity dropped from 92% to about 70% within a few months.
But back to Zoltán Kovács and a brief background. He received a degree in history and geography from the Lajos Kossuth University of Debrecen in 1993. Subsequently he received his M.A. from the Central European University, located in Budapest and financed by George Soros. He spent some time in London and in the United States, but I have no information about the details. He speaks English well and German tolerably. His last job was as assistant professor of history at the University of Miskolc. But it seems that Kovács was always more interested in politics than in history. As an undergraduate he was very involved with the student union. The nationwide network of student unions seems to be a breeding ground for future Fidesz and Jobbik politicians. He was also involved in local politics and became a Fidesz member of the Debrecen City Council, a good launch pad for someone interested in nationwide politics. After all, Lajos Kósa is the mayor of Debrecen. He also represented the Association of County Seats on the board of the Hungarian Television. I hope you all remember how Fidesz used these board members to make sure that no president of MTV would ever be elected while the party was still in opposition.
Zoltán Kovács is the government’s point man on the Hungarian media law. So when a foreign visitor from some official organization visits Hungary to discuss the media law, his official contact is Kovács. Kovács is not a negotiator, as is evident from his conversations with Olga Kálmán on Egyenes beszéd (Straight Talk) on ATV. Here is one example from today.
Kovács is the classic slippery government “communicator” that we encounter worldwide. In this particular interview he repeats at least three times that the latest nosy visitors from the High Commission on Human Rights of the United Nations were actually invited by the Hungarian government. But that is not the whole truth. The two rapporteurs first wrote to the Hungarian government in January expressing their desire to visit Budapest to have a chat about the controversial media law. When they received no answer, they wrote again. After a while the Hungarian government had to extend an invitation.
Meetings between representatives of the Hungarian government and visitors from international organizations are normally described in such understated diplomatic terms that one has to read between the lines in order to find out what actually happened behind closed doors. But Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion expression, was a great deal less diplomatic. As he said, he was “a bit shocked, to say it politely, at some of the positions I heard…. Different government officials were speaking with full honesty and speaking their mind, but it does seem to me that there is a framework of control. I think this is very dangerous.” In brief, members of this government don’t realize how unacceptable the Hungarian government’s position is on certain issues–for example, control of the media. Something that sounds perfectly reasonable to them sounds horrific to foreign observers.
Just to highlight the gravity of the situation, these rapporteurs normally don’t visit European countries. Not long ago La Rue visited Egypt, Algeria, South Korea, South Africa, and from Budapest he is traveling to Kenya.
Today La Rue and Zoltán Kovács gave a joint press conference. Kovács made it clear at the beginning that the UN representatives didn’t come to Budapest “to investigate” but “because we invited them.” Kovács repeated as he does time and again that there is absolutely no reason to change anything in the media law. The fault always lies with the other side which is ignorant of either the law or the particular Hungarian situation or both.
Kovács wasn’t impressed by La Rue’s strong warnings about limiting the freedom of the press by appealing to morality or hate speech. Not surprisingly, La Rue was somewhat taken aback by the fact that the members of the media council were appointed solely by the government, initially for nine years and renewable for another nine. “This is eighteen years, practically a whole generation.”
He also addressed the issue of balanced coverage. La Rue said attempts by governments to dictate balanced media coverage often lead to censorship. “Every time we hear about balanced coverage or objectivity of the press … it inevitably becomes, with time, a form of censorship regardless of what the initial motivation was. The press is accountable … to the public and never to the state and much less to the government.”
The UN investigators came and went, but apparently they will return. For what? I have no idea. Meanwhile Zoltán Kovács keeps repeating that the Orbán government will not change a thing. Mind you, we’ve heard that earlier straight from the horse’s mouth and a few months later, behold, under pressure changes were made. We will see.