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Hungary’s extreme right: Jobbik

July 31, 2011 18 comments

According to the latest poll (Szonda Ipsos) on party preferences Jobbik, which in earlier polls had lost some of its appeal since the last national elections in April 2010, regained its former strength by July 2011. To give an idea of the relative strength of Jobbik here are some numbers. Fidesz is being supported by 22% of the population eligible to vote, which means 1.8 million voters, while MSZP's supporters constitute 14% of the population with 1.1 million votes. Jobbik has more than 600,000 potential voters.

Who are these people and why are they attracted to an extreme right-wing party? In the media one can read opinion pieces which claim that the leaders of Jobbik, an insignificant party even as late as 2006, discovered that capitalizing on the anti-Roma sentiments of Hungarians was a winning political card. However, András Tóth, a researcher at the Political Science Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, together with István Grajczjár, who teaches sociology at the King Sigismund College (Zsigmond Király Főiskola), came to the conclusion that the Gypsy issue was merely one of several components in the rise of Jobbik.

Hungarian society is a good breeding ground for extreme right-wing movements. On the basis of research conducted in 2003 Tóth and Grajczjár concluded that one-fourth of both Fidesz and MSZP and two-fifths of SZDSZ voters harbored attitudes that can be found in the ideology of the extreme right. For example: nationalism (10%), xenophobia (18%), superiority complex (20%), undue respect for authority (28%), and political disillusionment (36%).

Just to give an idea of the rapid growth of Jobbik, in 2006 Jobbik allied with István Csurka's MIÉP received only 2% of the votes. Four years later, leaving MIÉP behind, it received 16% of the votes. The troubles of the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition and the subsequent economic crisis certainly played a significant role in the growth of the party, but Gábor Vona's ability to reorganize and reenergize the party after the fiasco of 2006 was also important.

According to the research of Tóth and Grajczjár, Jobbik supporters/voters are the most pessimistic group in the country. They don't see any change for the better in their own lives or in that of the country. They are dissatisfied with the workings of the democratic institutions and they don't consider the existence of free elections a guarantee that parliamentary members will represent the will of the people. Altogether Jobbik voters don't trust people in general. They find any kind of reverse discrimination distasteful. They are the most xenophobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Roma group in the population. They are suspicious of parties in general and believe that what the country needs are a few brave, hard-working, and committed leaders. Nationalism is widespread in Hungary, but the romantic type of nationalism and the devotion to tradition is strongest among Jobbik voters.

So, where did the Jobbik voters in 2010 come from? Fifty-one percent of Jobbik voters four years earlier still voted for Fidesz. Nineteen percent of their numbers had voted for Jobbik-MIÉP earlier. And one-third came from MSZP. Jobbik voters are young and overwhelmingly male (63%). A large majority of Jobbik sympathizers are students, young unemployed people, and workers. Yet most of them describe themselves as middle class. This dichotomy may give rise to frustration. Supporters of Jobbik seem to be people who feel that society has treated them unjustly, that they haven't received the recognition they deserve.

The description of the Jobbik sympathizers as an unusually pessimistic lot is worrisome. It is a well known fact that Hungarians as a whole are a pessimistic people. According to a very recent survey done by GfK Roper Consulting (Mood of the World 2011) Hungary still leads the pack of pessimists. Roper Consulting conducted the survey in 25 countries with the participation of 37,000 people. The result is staggering. Forty-two percent of Hungarians don't believe that their financial situation will be better a year from now. The average is 10 percent, but in countries of the region the percentage of pessimists is way below that of Hungary. In the Czech Republic 14% and in Poland 16%. There are some optimistic people in Hungary (26% of the population), but the average of the 25 countries is 60%.

I am wondering about the connection between the infamous Hungarian pessimism and the possible growth of Jobbik in times of economic difficulties. The same sociologists mentioned elsewhere the possibility of Jobbik getting 30% of the votes in 2014. The next elections are still far away and a lot of things can happen. The democratic opposition might pull itself together, and the economy might also improve. Let's not be too pessimistic.

Aladár Horváth, Roma activist’s meeting with Thomas O. Melia

July 30, 2011 Comments off

Yesterday afternoon Aladár Horváth had high level talks in the U.S. Department of State. He had the opportunity to speak with Tomicah Tilleman, advisor to Hillary Clinton, and Thomas Melia, deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The very same man about whom Tamás Deutsch tweeted in such an unspeakable manner.

I wrote about Aladár Horváth earlier. He is a former SZDSZ member of parliament and chairman of the Roma Civil Rights Foundation. The topic naturally was the question of Hungarian democracy and the situation of Hungary’s Roma population. Both Tilleman and Melia have personal connections to Hungary. Tilleman is the grandson of the late Tom Lantos, the Hungarian-born member of Congress, and even wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on a Hungarian topic. Melia, as we found out lately, was in Hungary a great deal during 1989-1990 teaching campaign tactics to members of the newly established parties, including Fidesz.

Horváth spent an hour and a half with Melia, who is still closely watching political developments in Hungary. The conversation covered the state of Hungarian democracy as well as social and economic problems. Horváth, a Roma activist, naturally brought up the dreadful situation of the Hungarian Gypsies who constitute about 40% of the approximately one million people in abject poverty. He called attention to the neglect by successive governments of the countryside and the growth of right-wing extremism. In addition, he covered the difficult situation the media finds itself in as a result of the new media law. The new law on churches and religion was also discussed, and Horváth called attention to the situation of the Hungarian Evangelical Brotherhood (Methodists) led by Gábor Iványi. The Methodists are taking care of many homeless people and the disadvantaged children of the poor, especially among the Roma. Because the Iványi-led Methodists didn’t receive “church” status, their financial future is in jeopardy and the fate of 6,000 people currently under their care hangs in the balance.

In connection with the unemployed Roma population living in isolated villages far from urban centers, the conversation moved on to public works camps to which surely mostly Gypsies will be moved to work on large government projects under the watchful eyes of retired policemen and officers. Melia was especially interested in the details of the law that will govern the running of these camps. I wouldn’t be surprised if the State Department kept a watchful eye on this “revolutionary” innovation of the Orbán government.

The State Department promised professional and moral assistance to the Roma Civil Rights Movement based on experience that the United States gained from the Afro-American civil rights movement.

At the end of the conversation Melia showed Horváth a Fidesz poster he received as a gift from the Young Democrats after the local elections held in October 1990. The poster was signed by all seventeen Fidesz members of parliament, including Tamás Deutsch.

Aladár Horváth meeting Thomas Melia in Washington

 

Well, that was a long time ago. The Young Democrats (Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége) apparently ran a brilliant campaign and to their own great surprise were able to form a parliamentary caucus with seventeen of their members. The text on the poster expresses this surprise. It means something like “Well, this is something!”They were grateful then to Thomas Melia. Hence the gift.

But Tamás Deutsch still doesn’t remember Melia, and he doesn’t regret his obscene remarks. In an interview with Origo he explained that at the time of regime change he had never even heard Melia’s name and they never met. As far as the meaning of his “whimsical” remarks, that is simply the style of Twitter. So, he is just “with it”. Of course, he knew that Thomas Melia was assistant deputy secretary in the U.S. State Department. What he objected to was that the Hungarian government pays so much attention to what a low-level state department official has to say about Hungary. Who cares! What did his fellow Fidesz politicians have to say about his remarks on Twitter? Nothing, they had a good laugh.

We’ll see who has the last laugh.

The meaning of words in Hungarian politics

July 29, 2011 30 comments

In a way I'm returning to earlier topics. To a passage in Viktor Orbán's speech at Tasnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad that created a fierce debate about its meaning and to four different reactions of Hungarian government officials and a Fidesz member of the EU parliament to Thomas O. Melia's remarks before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs. I will tackle the latter first. Because words are especially important here, I will quote the appropriate passages both in Hungarian and in English translation.

The first person who reacted to Melia's critical remarks was Péter Szijjártó, Viktor Orbán's spokesman. The most important sentences in his communiqué are the following, as reported by MTI: "Senki nincs abban a helyzetben–sem Magyarországon, sem azon kívül, hogy megkerdőjelezze a magyar emberek akaratát, márpedig 'a magyar emberek világosan és egyértelműen kifejezték az akaratukat tavaly tavasszal, amikor az ország megújítására és átszervezésére adtak világos felhatalmazást a kormánynak.'" I translated that in my article about the incident as "no one, inside of Hungary or abroad, 'can question the will of the Hungarian people who authorized the government for the renewal and reorganization of the country.'"

This first reaction was followed by the response of the interim government spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, otherwise undersecretary in charge of government communication. Kovács announced that "a magyar kormány nem ért egyet Thomas Melia, amerikai helyettes külügyi államtitkár kedden közölt következtetéseivel, amelyek a kabinet szerint felületes információk és rosszindulatú torzítások eredményeként születtek." Here is the English translation: "The Hungarian government doesn't agree with the conclusions of Deputy Undersecretary Thomas Melia made public on Tuesday which are based on superficial information and hostile distortions."

Then let's repeat, in a slightly longer version, Tamás Deutsch's obscene words about what he thinks of Thomas Melia: "Ki a fasz az a Thomas Melia? Minek kell naponta adnunk a szarnak egy pofont?" In my earlier article I left out the second sentence because, although I understood the words, I simply didn't get the meaning of the sentence. So, here is the first sentence in English: "Who the f… is that Thomas Melia?" And here is the second's translation: "Why do we have to slap that shit daily?" Whatever that means in this gentleman's vocabulary. 

And finally Zsolt Németh, Hungarian undersecretary of foreign affairs, appeared on the program Aréna (InfoRádió) where he said the following: "Szövetségi rendszerben létjogosultsága van a vitáknak és a páarbeszédnek…. Magyarország is illette már kritikával az Egyesült Államokat, például a guantánamói fogolykínzások ügyében…. Reményét fejezte ki, hogy a nézetkülönbséget meg tudják majd beszélni, és egyetértésre jutnak a kifogásolt témakörökben." In English: "Among allies there is room for debate and dialogue…. Hungary also criticized the United States for example in the matter of the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo…. He expressed his hope that they will be able to talk over their differences of opinion and will come to an agreement concerning the disputed topics."

Why did I quote these statements again and at some length? Because Zoltán Kovács was a guest on ATV's early morning show, Start. The reporter wanted to know which of these four reflections is the official position of the Hungarian government. Kovács without blinking announced that there are no differences among these four positions! None. All four say the same thing. The reporter was flabbergasted. He didn't want to believe his ears and kept asking Kovács over and over whether he really sees no differences. Kovács insisted that he doesn't see any difference whatsoever. Later in the afternoon, talking to György Bolgár, Kovács had the temerity to repeat this nonsense. Do these guys really think that the Hungarian people are so stupid that they actually believe that the meaning of these four statements is the same?

The other is a disputed passage from Orbán's speech in Romania. Here is the passage: "Egy évvel ezelőtt Magyarország még a veszélyzóna epicentrumában volt, ma már nem vagyunk ott, kifele tartunk onnan, de még mindig veszélyzónában vagyunk. Ugyanakkor azt szeretném mondani Önöknek, hogy a régi világ összedőlését nem kell sajnálnunk. Nem mi idéztük elő, felelősségünk nincs benne, bár mi omlottunk össze először 2008-ban, de azt senki nem mondhatja, hogy mi rántottuk magunkkal a többieket, tehát a mi lelkiismeretünk tiszta. Nem mi döntöttük össze, sajnálni sem kell, mert az a régi világ szerintem inkább börtön volt, mint otthon, de legyünk megengedőek, legfeljebb kényszerlakhely volt a magyar nemzet számára." English translation: "A year ago Hungary was in the epicenter of the danger zone, but by now we are no longer there. We are on our way out from there, but we are still in the danger zone. At the same time I would like tell you that we mustn't regret the collapse of the old world. It wasn't we who caused it although we were the first to collapse in 2008. No one can say that we dragged the others with us. So, our conscience is clear. We didn't shatter it and we shouldn't feel sorry for it because the old world was a jail, not a home. But let's be more charitable: it was at best a dwelling place forced upon the Hungarian nation."

This is the passage that is the topic of heated debate. Please tell me how you understand this passage. What was the jail or the forced dwelling for the Hungarian nation?

Fidesz is paying Thomas O. Melia back for his help in 1989-1990

July 28, 2011 13 comments

Yesterday afternoon I received a brief note from a friend who is knowledgeable about the events of the late 1980s when Viktor Orbán and his college friends were only dreaming of a regime change. The note referred briefly to the fact that Thomas Melia, who at the time was just about thirty years old–only six years older than Viktor Orbán, worked for NDI (National Democratic Institute), an independent, nongovernmental organization that has been supporting democratic institutions and practices since its founding in 1983. During 1989 and 1990 he, together other activists of NDI, was giving advice to members of various dissident organizations and newly formed parties on how multi-party democracy works and how they should prepare themselves for the time when they can have a voice in governing.

My friend, as usual, was well informed. Today Origo, a respectable on-line newspaper, came out with an interesting article about the relationship between Melia and Fidesz at the time of the regime change. Melia was in charge of NDI's East-Central Europe operations. NDI was very active in Hungary, as in other countries of the region, where its associates were helping the new democratic parties prepare themselves for the elections.

Origo interviewed Gábor Fodor, one of the founding members of Fidesz, who remembered Melia and others from NDI. The Institute organized training sessions and, according to Fodor, the NDI activists were especially fond of the young Fidesz crew. NDI not only taught Fidesz about the techniques of a democratic election campaign but it also financed trips for Fidesz delegations to the United States. According to Fodor, Melia was the key NDI player in Hungary. Fodor considered him "an excellent and skilled man, who knew Central Europe well." Melia visited Hungary several times and Fodor met him often. Fodor is 99% certain that Tamás Deutsch met Melia but "if not, surely he had to be familiar at least with his name."

Endre Hahn, today managing director of Medián, a polling company, also remembers Melia well. The preparation of the parties for the 1990 elections was "a long process" and some of the training sessions were held in a Lake Balaton hotel. Thus, the Hungarians had plenty of opportunity to get to know the activists of NDI, among them Melia. Fodor did concede that because Deutsch didn't speak any foreign language he had difficulty making contact with foreigners. (And here is a member of the European Parliament who doesn't speak any language except his mother tongue. How useful he must be in Brussels! Just like his fellow Fidesz EMP who, although he claimed that he spoke English, when some Hungarian youngsters phoned him pretending to be foreign correspondents he could only mutter out a few words and quickly hung up the phone. He must be very useful in Brussels too. If anyone would like to have a good laugh, here are three "conversations" with Mr. Áder in English just before he became a member of the European Parliament.)

But let's go back to Thomas Melia's connections to Hungary. In 1992 NDI published an edited volume entitled The New Democratic Frontier: A Country by Country Report on Elections in Central and Eastern Europe, 1992. It was Thomas Melia who wrote the lengthy (35 pages) piece on Hungary. Although in 1993 his interest shifted from East-Central Europe to the Near East, he kept in touch with his Hungarian friends. He visited Hungary and followed events there. For example, when János Martonyi visited Washington in 2000, at the end of his stay there was a conference where participants in the events of 1989-1990 recalled those exciting days of regime change. Thomas Melia was one of the speakers.

As my friend remarked yesterday, when Melia was training Orbán and his friends how to undermine the communist regime they surely didn't mind interference in Hungary's domestic affairs. But now they are outraged. It is not Melia who has changed but they–that is, if they ever were democrats.

Origo naturally wanted to get in touch with Tamás Deutsch, who not surprisingly wasn't available. However, NDI promised to give some details about Thomas Melia's activities in Hungary. So, I assume that this is not the end of the story as far as the Hungarian media is concerned.

Another American warning but the Hungarian government doesn’t listen

July 27, 2011 11 comments

Yesterday Thomas O. Melia, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the United States Department of State, expressed his concern about the new Hungarian constitution, the state of the media and, at the urging of a Republican congressman, the law on churches and religion before the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Although Melia emphasized that Hungary is an important member of the European Union and NATO, he pointed out that the current "one-party" Hungarian government is using its unprecedented two-thirds majority to implement changes in the constitution that would strengthen its power and would paralyze future democratic governments in handling new political, economic, and social challenges. He spent some time on the changes the government made in the composition of the Media Council and the heavy fines the Council can impose on articles deemed "unbalanced" or "offensive to human dignity." As for the law on the churches and religion, he suggested "a careful rethinking" of the law while the Hungarian government is working on the cardinal laws.

It took only a few hours after the news of the hearing reached Hungary for the usual rude answer to come from Péter Szijjártó, who is Viktor Orbán's personal spokesman. Although there are numerous complaints about his style, the Hungarian prime minister seems to be more than satisfied with Szijjártó talking in his name. A question of taste, I guess. But what can be expected from a man who thinks, as the prime minister of the country that held the presidency of the European Union in the first six months of the year, that he can "slap around" leading politicians of the European Union?

According to Szijjártó no one, inside of Hungary or abroad, "can question the will of the Hungarian people who authorized the government for the renewal and reorganization of the country." This means that no criticism of the government can be voiced at all. If taken literally, we are back in the Rákosi regime.

An hour later came Zoltán Kovács, whose original job was undersecretary in charge of communication in the Ministry of Administration and Justice but who lately also assumed the post of government spokesman for six months while the original appointee is on a leave of absence. Kovács was only a tad more diplomatic than Szijjártó. He claimed that "Melia's conclusions are based on superficial information and hostile distortions." As an example of Melia's ignorance he mentioned that the American diplomat was talking about a "one-party government" when "the Hungarian governement is led by an alliance of two parties, Fidesz Magyar Polgári Szövetség and the Kereszténydemokrata Néppárt." Now, that's a real laugh. In name indeed there is a party called the Christian Democratic People's Party, but it is a party that exists only in name. A certain number of Fidesz MP's were assigned to form a separate Christian Democratic caucus in order to have twice as many Fidesz members serving on the various parliamentary committees.

Kovács continued with his usual story which by now he should know by heart: the new Hungarian government's decisions are in perfect harmony with the best European traditions and standards. After all, the Venice Commission, after studying the text of the constitution, found that "this new Constitution established a constitutional order based on democracy, the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights as underlying principles." Yes, it certainly said that, but it went on to criticize the constitution in the strongest terms on multiple points. Of course, Kovács didn't say a word about the criticisms.

Kovács also regurgitated his old claim that the European Council had demanded a few changes that were largely technical. Hungary obliged, and now everything is fine and dandy with the document. As we know, this is not the case. When he came to the law on the churches and religion, he sidestepped the issue of the fourteen recognized churches and the hundreds of others that cannot even use the word "church" in their names and talked instead about freedom of religion that is in no way being threatened.

At the end he expressed the Hungarian government's willingness, just as in the past, to give detailed information about "the activity of the Hungarian Parliament." If a true picture were given of the "activity" of the parliament to western politicians, they would be astonished at how bills are thrown together and sometimes changed completely in the last minute. In fact, the law on the churches and religion was constructed under the most bizarre circumstances. So, I think Mr. Kovács would very wise to keep the inner workings of parliament a secret. Because Hungarian lawmaking goes far beyond what prompted Bismarck's caution that "Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made."

Perhaps Tamás Deutsch, one of the founding members of Fidesz who is currently a member of the European Parliament, best typifies this crew's attitude toward others as well as the intellectual level of the top leadership of Fidesz. Deutsch lately became an avid participant in the world of Twitter. When Deutsch heard that Thomas Melia had expressed concern over the Hungarian constitution, the media law, and the law on churches and religion, he wrote the following: "Ki a fasz az a Thomas Melia?" (Who the f… is that Thomas Melia!) You may recall another beauty of Tamás Deutsch, also on Twitter. We had a long discussion about the meaning of one of the words that I wasn't familiar with. 

Well, I will explain to Tamás Deutsch who Thomas O. Melia is. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, he is currently deputy assistant secretary of state. Before he joined the State Department he was deputy executive director of Freedom House. Before that he was senior associate at Greenberg Quinlan Roser Research Inc. (2001-2002) and research associate and director of research at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy 92002-2005). He has been a key actor for the last twenty-five years in the development of policies that would strengthen democracy around the world. He is a writer and a university professor. He is recognized as an expert on foreign policy matters.

Some of Deutsch's friends in Fidesz may even remember him since he testified before the joint session of the Human Rights and the European Affairs Committees of the Hungarian Parliament in 2008.

I wish I could say that Tamás Deutsch is an aberration. Someone who mindlessly writes stupid and crass things on Twitter. But no. Unfortunately he is no exception. He fits in perfectly with the group that today is dragging the country into the gutter in more than one way.

An informer and his career: Péter Heltai

July 26, 2011 9 comments

Fidesz was never too finicky when it was discovered that people in the party's ranks had had rather checkered careers. That actually a number of them were informers. A communist past wasn't an obstacle either, in spite of Fidesz's virulent anti-communist rhetoric. For example, it turned out that there were more former MSZMP members in the first Orbán government than in the socialist Horn government. Among the ministers one could even find former informers. And one Fidesz mayor actually reported on his own family.

The second Orbán government has a new informer scandal, this time with an international twist. It turns out that Péter Heltai, an immigrant from Romania who made a fantastic career in Hungary as a media mogul, reported to the Romanian Securitate on his friends in Cluj/Kolozsvár between 1982 and 1987.

Why is this interesting now? First, because Heltai's informer past became known only recently and, second, because it was Péter Heltai who wrote the bulk of the infamous media law and came up with the "brilliant" idea of centralizing the newscasts of public television and radio via MTI, the official Hungarian news agency. And it is his second wife, Athéna Görög, who is in charge of the firings at the public TV and radio stations. A nice couple.

Péter Heltai was born in Cluj in 1962 and in 1986 received a degree in philosophy and history at the Babeş-Bólyai University. A year later he left for Hungary where in no time he was employed at the Hungarian Academy's Institute of Sociology in spite of his lack of qualifications. His boss, Elemér Hankiss, was so satisfied with him that when Hankiss was named to be the new president of MTV he took Heltai along. In 1993 Hankiss was fired but Heltai remained in a high position until 2000. Obviously a clever fellow.

Between 2000 and 2010 he had several business ventures. He was, for instance, the founder and co-owner of InfoRádió, the first radio station broadcasting mostly news. But he worked at DunaTV and lectured on communication to journalists as well. Importantly, he also served as an advisor in Tamás Fellegi's company. 

All went well until Tibor Gáll, a fellow Romanian-Hungarian and an artist currently living in Berlin, asked the Consiliul Naţional pentru Studierea Arhivelor Securităţii, the committee that is responsible for the Securitate's archives, to identify the unnamed informers in his files he had received earlier. He learned at the end of November 2010 that the man behind the code name "Hegel" was his old acquaintance from Cluj days, Péter Heltai. Although Gáll's files contained reports by several hands, two of them were written by "Hegel." Both from 1985. Gáll wasn't the only one Heltai spied on. Several other dissidents from Cluj fell victim to Heltai's activities.

At first Heltai denied the charges altogether, which is a typical reaction from informers. Eventually he admitted that although he wasn't an official informer, in spite of the existence of documentary evidence to the contrary, here and there he had conversations with the representatives of the Securitate. He claimed that he had been blackmailed and gave no new information about the activities of his friends. He just repeated news that was already available from other sources.

However, the documents tell a different tale. Heltai became an informer in October 1982 and reported to Capt. Valer Rusu, who was in charge of affairs pertaining to Hungarian youth. Heltai turned out to be "an honest, reliable young man who arrives punctually and his reports are valuable and truthful. His political views are adequate and encouraging." He received all sorts of expensive and hard-to-obtain gifts from the captain for services rendered.

It seems that he was supposed to report on the people involved with the samizdat publication Ellenpontok (Counterpoints): András Keszthelyi, Attila Ara-Kovács, and Géza Szőcs. Keszthelyi left Romania in 1985 and Ara-Kovács in 1983. Keszthelyi later worked for the Medgyessy, Gyurcsány, and Bajnai governments. Ara-Kovács after 1990 was involved in the founding of SZDSZ, worked as foreign policy advisor to Gábor Kuncze, and served in the diplomatic corps. Géza Szőcs, currently undersecretary for cultural affairs in the Orbán government, after spending some time in Switzerland and Romania, also eventually settled in Hungary.

Between 1982 and 1987 Heltai wrote twenty-eight reports, primarily on Keszthelyi, Ara-Kovács, and Szőcs. But there were several others, most notably about Gáspár Miklós Tamás, political philosopher, who had left Romania for Hungary already in 1978.

In 1985 the Securitate procured a hard-to-get tourist visa for Heltai to visit Hungary in order to get close to Gáspár Miklós Tamás and inquire about a new undertaking of Attila Ara-Kovács–the Erdélyi Magyar Hírügynökség, a news agency reporting on the affairs of the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. Another task Heltai was supposed to carry out during his Hungarian trip in 1985 was to get to know more about the students of history at the University of Szeged who were publishing a semi-legal historical periodical called Aetas, a publication still in existence. In fact, this year the current editors are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the quarterly. The student editors of this periodical wanted to have young Hungarian historians from Romania publish, under pseudonyms, articles about Transylvanian history from a less biased perspective than the works of the official "court historians" of Nicolae Ceaușescu.

It was about that time that the Hungarian Academy of Sciences published a three-volume history of Transylvania that caused serious friction between Romania and Hungary because the Hungarian version of the early history of today's Transylvania questioned the official theory of Daco-Romanian continuity. (It would be a major distraction to get into this particular historical controversy, but the upshot of the theory is that the inhabitants of Dacia were totally Latinized during a relatively short Roman occupation of the province. These Latin-speaking Dacians remained there after the withdrawal of the Roman army and survived the vicissitudes of subsequent centuries.)

In any case, the Romanian authorities suspected some kind of attack on the Daco-Roman theory with the help of dissident Hungarian students from the university at Cluj. In fact, Heltai did visit Szeged and reported that Tibor Gáll had close connections with the Szeged student editors and that the editor, Attila Greksza, "talks a lot of nonsense." Whatever that meant.

Heltai's informer past didn't seem to hurt his career. In fact, with Tamás Fellegi becoming a minister and a confidant of Viktor Orbán, Heltai has broken out from the confines of the media. He was seen travelling with Fellegi to the airport and accompanying the minister of economic development to Brussels where Fellegi was informing the committee of the European Parliament about the program of the Hungarian presidency of the European Union.

As far as the news of his informer past is concerned, most Hungarians have already forgotten about it. However, it is clear that Heltai, and now it seems even his wife, is playing an important part in building a Fidesz media structure and a propaganda machine. Well, that's how things go in Orbán's Hungary with all its lofty Christian values. But then the Golden Rule didn't make it into the new constitution.

 

Anders Behring Breivik’s Hungarian connections

July 25, 2011 8 comments

The horrible massacre in Norway by a thirty-two-year-old fanatic shook the whole world. Every newspaper is full of the details and the latest developments concerning Anders Behring Breivik. One can find over 3,000 articles just in English on the subject, and the Hungarian media is no exception. In the last three days more then 700 articles appeared about the Norwegian terrorist, whom the Hungarian journalists simply call "the Norwegian butcher." 

Hungarian interest in the case owes something to the fact that Breivik's rambling 1,500-page "testament" has several references to Hungary and Hungarians. His knowledge of the country, its politics, and even its history shows that the Norwegian terrorist's interest in the country was not casual.

One of the reasons for his initial interest was that his "best friend" was a certain Peter whose parents arrived in Norway from "the marxist Soviet Union." Breivik is most likely mistaken here because Peter's parents were in fact Hungarian. He and Peter celebrated Peter's thirtieth birthday in Budapest. That was in 2009, but he also visited the Hungarian capital earlier.

I suspect that Breivik knows more about Hungary than the average European or American. He mentions the names of György Lukács and Imre Kertész. Naturally, he has a very low opinion of Lukács, the Marxist philosopher whom he considers guilty of developing what he calls "cultural Marxism." On the other hand, he is an admirer of Kertész. According to Kertész, a civilization that doesn't declare its values unequivocally or lets these values slip will start on the road toward ruin. According to Breivik's comment on the quotation, it is a very "timely" warning.

Another interesting discovery is that Breivik seems to know something about Hungarian history. Or at least he is familiar with the name of János Hunyadi (1407-1456), the hero of the Battle of Belgrade/ Nándorfehérvár against the Turks that kept the Turkish armies away from Hungary for almost another 100 years. Breivik bemoans the fact that Hunyadi's name is not known outside of Hungary although "he most likely did more than anyone else for the prevention of the Ottoman conquest of Europe. He slowed down the Muslim advance and thus saved Western Europe from Islamic rule." He is most upset that "our children don't learn anything about him … when in a wider sense he saved even the North American and Australian civilizations."

The anniversary of the Battle of Belgrade (July 22, 1456) was just declared to be a "day of remembrance" by the Hungarian parlliament. Apparently the suggestion for its celebration came from the Batthyány Circle of Professors (great supporters of Fidesz), Sándor Lezsák, a minor poet and nowadays Fidesz member of parliament, and István Simicskó, undersecretary of defense. The supporters of the bill emphasized the religious aspects of the struggle between the Ottoman Empire and the international forces under János Hunyadi. Christianity's victory over Islam. I wonder what the members of the professorial circle are thinking now after reading the reports of Breivik's admiration for Hunyadi as a defender of Christianity against Islam. In any case, ordinary Hungarians who are not well versed in history are convinced that Hungary suffered for 250 years under the Turkish yoke in order to save Europe from Islamic conquest. 

Breikvik is also familiar with the Hungarian extreme right. He met a few Hungarians who were among the founders of an organization called "European Military Criminal Court–The Temple Knights" in 2002. The Knights were planning a "preventive war against Europe's cultural-Marxist and multicultural regimes … in order to prevent or eliminate the current Islamic colonization/occupation." Breivik is convinced that there are several thousand people who are ready fight for such a cause all over Europe, including Hungary. If I were working for the Hungarian National Security Office, I would start cracking!

Breivik knows about the existence of three far-right parties or organizations: Magyar Igazság és Élet Pártja (MIÉP), Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúság Mozgalom (HVIM) and Jobbik. He is aware of Jobbik's antisemitism and anti-Roma propaganda, and at one point in his writings he suggests that the best solution for the Roma problem in Europe would be the establishment of a country for them. A few days before the killing spree Breivik wrote e-mail to several far-right organizations all over Europe. Among the recipients was László Toroczkai, the leader of HVIM, an openly revisionist group. In the e-mail Breivik called attention to his "study" published on the Internet under the title "2083." Toroczkai doubts that he ever met Breivik. He further claims that he didn't read the e-mail until after the event and that he hasn't yet read the 1,500-page manifesto.

Breivik has a very good opinion of Václáv Klaus, the euroskeptic president of the Czech Republic, because Klaus declared several times that only nation states can guarantee democracy and not "empires or such conglomeration of states, as the European Union." In that case he must also have liked Viktor Orbán, who was called "the secret weapon" of euroskeptics in the European Union. After all, Orbán is also convinced that nation states are superior to a unified Europe, which he is already burying.

The Hungarian far-right organizations, akin to their western counterparts, are somewhat embarrassed and try to distance themselves from Breivik's unspeakable act. MTI asked two "experts" about their assessment of the situation, and these two men made pronouncements on things they couldn't possibly know anything about. One of these experts confidently announced that "the Hungarian connection shouldn't be overemphasized." Barikád, Jobbik's on-line newspaper, was delighted and immediately published an article containing this information. The same expert announced that in Hungary one shouldn't worry about similar terror attacks because terrorism is not part of the Hungarian culture. He seems to have forgotten about the murders of Romas in the past few years.

 

The state versus the nation: Viktor Orbán’s speech in Romania

July 24, 2011 16 comments

This was one of the themes of Viktor Orbán's speech on Saturday in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad, Romania. The reporter for MTI, the Hungarian news agency, realized the importance of the relationship between nation and state in Orbán's rambling and mostly self-delusional speech. The headline was: "A successful state can be built only with a strong nation behind it."

In Orbán's formula the nation has primacy. It is the result of a natural, organic development while the state is an artificial construct. The exact relationship between nation and state in this formula is not really clear, and I'm almost certain that even if one pressed him on its exact meaning we wouldn't get any closer to a coherent description of the relationship between "nation" and "state." In the first place, both in English and in Hungarian the two words can be used interchangeably. For example, in "the nations of Europe" and "the states of Europe" both refer to "the countries of Europe." Or, state and nation can be used together as in "nation state," meaning a political unit  inhabited predominantly by a people sharing a common culture, history, and language. So, what does this juxtaposition of state and nation mean in Viktor Orbán's often nebulous vocabulary and thought processes?

"State" in its stricter meaning is "a politically organized body of people occupying a definite territory." It is precisely this "definite territory" that is so distasteful to Viktor Orbán. Because the state of Hungary, whether Orbán and his fellow nationalists like it or not, has jurisdiction only within the country's current borders.

Behind a state stands, in modern political theory and practice, not the nation but the totality of its citizens. These citizens, regardless of national origin, have certain rights and privileges granted by the power of the state. But if the relationship between state and its inhabitants is not the usually accepted state-citizen connection but some abstract notion of nation, then the whole modern structure of state collapses right in front of our eyes. Who belongs to this nation? Do the Gypsies, when in ordinary parlance one hears more and more often the distinction being drawn between Hungarian and Roma? The Roma themselves refer to their non-Gypsy fellow citizens as "Hungarians," indicating that they don't view themselves as belonging to the privileged majority. The Hungarian far-right wants to send the Roma back to India and the Jews to Israel. Certainly the far-right doesn't consider either of these groups Hungarian. And the great majority of the population would like to close the door to all foreigners.

Orbán claims that the "strength of the state springs from the nation" and one needs a strong Hungary (anyaország) because without it there can be no strong "Hungarian nation in the Carpathian Basin." He envisages an entirely new economic and perhaps political era in which Hungary will have a leading role to play. (More about this fantasy land of his a little later.) In some unspecified, and let's add unfathomable, way the arrival of a new era will result in "the growing together of the Hungarian nation." He uses the noun "összenövés" which is rarely used and then mostly in medical literature; it means two or more organs spreading and growing into one. Thus, this vision presupposes a demographic turnabout. Although birthrates are low both in Hungary and among the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries, Hungarians will spread and will grow together into one mass. I guess in order to make this statement less frightening to the neighboring countries, he added that as a result of this great economic revolution that will take place in Europe, "the whole of Central Europe will grow together … and will be the economic center of the new economic era." That will be a historical first, because as long as there has been written history the eastern part of Europe has always lagged behind the west.

And here we have arrived in la-la land. According to Orbán, the whole world is at the threshold of an entirely new world order which will be born on the ruins of the old. A complete collapse is unavoidable because of the inordinate indebtedness of the western nations. In this new economic era "the state will have an entirely new role to play," but unfortunately Orbán doesn't elaborate. Or rather he added the following sentence: "The sovereign debts can be paid back only with the instruments of state." My first reaction was: "Well, that is brilliant. Who else will pay back state debt if not the state?" But then I stopped and became suspicious that perhaps Orbán means here the kind of state capitalism that Putin introduced in Russia. Perhaps what he was alluding to was the nationalization of certain sectors in the economy. After all, the Hungarian state purchased 21.3% of all MOL shares not long ago and there are rumors that they are negotiating with E.On, the German gas company, to buy its Hungarian holdings. Thus, it is very possible that Orbán thinks that profitable state firms will produce enough revenue to pay back Hungary's current debts.

There are several problems with this great scheme, if it is what Orbán has in mind. First and foremost, the Hungarian budget is in terrible shape. Mihály Varga, former minister of finance and now head of the prime minister's office, a few days ago indicated that the state might have to sell some or all of the MOL shares it just purchased from the Russians. He also admitted that the figures for the convergence program, the Széchenyi Plan, and the Kálmán Széll Plan might have to be recalculated and a period of even more severe austerity might have to be introduced. With an empty treasury one cannot buy up firms or purchase shares in large and profitable companies.

Orbán wants the state to occupy a central position in social and economic matters. It will be the state, according to him, that will solve the unemployment problem. Moreover, it will be the state that will reorganize the economy. Neither of these tasks belongs to the state in a free-market economy and in a democracy. One can only hope that Orbán's solution to the unemployment problem is not the public works projects, which will mean thousands of dislocated poor people working with shovels building soccer stadiums and dams under the supervision of former policemen and retired soldiers.

Orbán likes to talk about "an economic system based on work," and a lot of people don't quite understand what this can possibly mean. No wonder, because all economic systems are based on work of some sort. But perhaps the mystery is solved if we read in the description of Orbán's speech that "the economic system based on work" will replace the welfare state. So, no work, no check.

And finally, Orbán emphasized at the end of his speech that "it was Hungary that before any other country in Europe gave the right answers to the imminent arrival of the new era." Every time I hear Orbán and Matolcsy boasting like that I think of the American idiom about the man who is whistling in the dark when he is actually scared witless. It is becoming more and more obvious that the revolutionary new economic policy is in deep trouble. Whistling won't help make the figures add up.

Hungarian gathering at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad: In the name of nationalism

July 23, 2011 15 comments

Every year at this time of year Fidesz politicians make a pilgrimage to the picturesque resort of Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad in the middle of Hargita/Harghita County, a part of Transylvania where Hungarians are in the majority. The gathering is often called the Transylvanian Woodstock: lectures and speeches are interspersed with musical performances.

The last time I wrote about Tusnádfürdő at length was in 2009, when Romanian President Traian Băsescu attended. At that time he hoped to attract a few extra Hungarian votes in the forthcoming Romanian elections. His friend Viktor Orbán was lending Băsescu a helping hand in this endeavor, and he was grateful enough to attend Tusnádfürdő again last year. But this year the Romanian president was conspicuously absent. In fact, he didn't even receive an invitation by the organizers. Zsolt Németh, undersecretary for foreign affairs, explained that the topic of this year's gathering wouldn't have interested Băsescu. Because the main theme was "the unification and strengthening of the [Hungarian] nation across borders" and related subjects such as dual citizenship, Hungarian territorial autonomy in areas where Hungarians are in the majority, and the Romanian census and the importance of every Hungarian being properly registered.

The real reason for Băsescu's absence most likely was the strained relationship that is rapidly developing between the two countries, mostly due to an aggressively nationalistic Hungarian foreign policy. The Hungarian government more and more behaves as if territories in which Hungarians live in the neighboring countries are actually under Hungarian jurisdiction. This is quite evident in changes that are being introduced, even in the public media. For example, in the news programs "the borders will disappear," which means that there will more news from Kolozsvár/Cluj, Nagyvárad/Oradea or Kassa/Kosice. As one jaundiced commenter in Népszabadság remarked, as a result of this policy change even fewer people will watch MTV's news.

The theme of this year's Tusnádfürdő was the nation in the Carpathian Basin. It mattered not what the topic was, this theme had to be woven into the speech somehow. That effort resulted in some rather bizarre statements. Perhaps the most notable came from Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary in charge of education, who introduced an entirely new concept, which is unfortunately incomprehensible to "any rational human being," as Endre Aczél wrote in an opinion piece in Népszabadság. First of all, Hoffmann came up with a new Hungarian word and concept: "tudástér." "Tudás" in Hungarian means "knowledge" and "tér," "space." There is an unfortunate connotation of linguistic concoctions ending with the word "tér." Adolf Hitler's "Lebensraum," which in the original meant simply "habitat," was translated into Hungarian as "élettér." As a result, it's a word that is judiciously avoided in Hungary. So, great was the upheaval when Viktor Orbán during the 2002 election campaign talked about "economic Lebensraum/gazdasági élettér." He wanted to have a large economic Lebensraum for Hungary.

And now, Hoffmann wants to have a Hungarian "tudástér" in the whole Carpathian Basin. Aczél reminded Hoffmann that Hungary shares the Carpathian Basin with the Slovaks, Ukrainians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Austrians. Hoffmann can do whatever Viktor Orbán allows her to do within the Hungarian borders, but "the Carpathian Basin is not ours." He warned that "every reference that connects the existence of this geographic entity to the Hungarians either revives the illusion of a historical Hungary that ceased to exist almost one hundred years ago or, even worse, the irredentist slogan of the 'Carpathian-Danube-Great Homeland' [of Ferenc Szálasi]."

A second speech worth analyzing a bit is Zsolt Semjén's "ode to the idea of the nation." "The very existence of nations is a universal value for mankind," he declared. Mankind would be poorer if "nations disappeared from history." Well, there are some people who would violently disagree with Semjén and who are convinced that nationalism is the curse of mankind and the source of incredible sufferings over the last two centuries.

In order to make devotion to the nation perhaps more palatable than it should be, Semjén decided to lecture his audience on the "extremes of nationalism" which should be avoided. One is cosmopolitanism, "which considers the nation to be an antiquated, provincial concept." Those who adhere to cosmpolitanism are "ruining true values" because "we receive our language, our culture, our thoughts from the nation." 

I'm confused.  Let's start with Semjén's definition of cosmopolitanism as simply the negation of nations, instead of viewing a cosmopolitan as someone "having worldwide rather than limited or provincial scope or bearing." Perhaps because Semjén spent the greater part of his life in Kádár's Hungary he inherited the old Marxist-Leninist definition of cosmopolitanism as "a bourgeois tendency that tries to discredit patriotism and national feeling and to disparage national culture." As for receiving our language, our culture, our thoughts from the nation, I'm really puzzled. A baby learns language from his/her immediate surroundings. I know people who were born in North America, far away from the nation, and yet they speak absolutely fluent Hungarian. Surely, these people didn't learn their language from this mythical nation. As far as my own thoughts are concerned, I don't think that they have much to do with "the nation."

Semjén's further elaboration of the concept of nation and its other extreme, chauvinism, is also peculiar. He thinks that chauvinists "because of the presumed interests of their nations deny other nations' right to life." Chauvinism is not a nice thing, but I don't think that any chauvinist would go so far as to eliminate whole nations. Let's see some definitions: "militant devotion to and glorification of one's country; fanatical patriotism; zealous and belligerent patriotism, excessive or blind patriotism." The Hungarian definitions are practically the same as the ones I just quoted from different English dictionaries.

Why is Semjén doing this? Of course, it is possible that he hasn't taken the trouble to think about nationalism, cosmopolitanism, or chauvinism and therefore the confusion and distortion comes from a lack of knowledge. But it is also possible that by exaggerating the two "extremes" of national feelings he wants to make his own government's nationalistic foreign policy less threatening. However, a few sentences later Semjén made it clear that "we will never subordinate our national interests based on our human rights to the domestic political ups and downs of other countries." In plain language, we don't give a damn what the neighbors think; we will go ahead like a bulldozer. This formula is well known from the 1998-2002 period when Viktor Orbán managed to alienate all of Hungary's neighbors. I doubt that such a policy serves Hungary's national interests. Or even the interests of the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

Joseph K. Grieboski then and now

July 22, 2011 24 comments

Most of us know, if not in the original at least in translation, a Latin saying about changing times and changing people (tempora mutantur, et nos mutamus in illis). Well, very true but some people change a bit faster than would normally be expected. For example, Joseph K. Grieboski, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, who today thinks that the law on the churches and religion recently adopted by the Hungarian Parliament "is a danger to all Hungarian society and a terrible indication of the state of democracy in the country." He added that he "had known and worked closely with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, most recently on the new constitution, and expected much more from him."

I must say that I was surprised to hear that Viktor Orbán had consulted Joseph K. Grieboski when, as we know only too well, the authors of the new constitution consulted with practically no one. A friend of mine who knows Grieboski personally was also taken aback. My first thought was that since Orbán often expressed his admiration for the preamble of the Polish constitution, perhaps he felt that it would be useful to talk to someone who is involved in religious matters and is of Polish descent.

Lately someone called my attention to two articles, both published in The Huffington Post, written by Grieboski. The first article appeared on March 30, 2011, only a few days before the "Easter Constitution" was adopted by the Hungarian Parliament. Grieboski was ecstatic about the new constitution, which even then was severely criticized the world over and which since then has been squarely condemned by the Venice Commission. The title of the article is telling: "From Dictatorship to Democracy: Hungarians United in Drafting Constitution." Anyone who knows anything about the birth of this new constitution knows that Fidesz refused to incorporate any suggestions coming from the opposition until the representatives of the two democratic opposition parties finally left the parliamentary committee in disgust. So much for the united Hungarians.

Grieboski claims that "this month the era of Soviet domination was finally and completely put to rest in Central Europe" due to the adoption of the Basic Laws, as it is officially called. The author considers the former constitution "illegitimate and tyrannical put in place by the Stalinists in 1949." Moreover, according to Grieboski, Hungary had no written constitution prior to 1949–so far so good–but "its basic law was governed by the Doctrine of the Holy Crown," which is of course nonsense.

As for the Basic Law itself, Grieboski is thrilled with the much criticized preamble and sees nothing wrong in calling it a "national testament." He is delighted that the preamble begins with the first line of the Hungarian national anthem, "God bless the Hungarians," and that it refers to Hungary's Christian roots, the Holy Crown, and the legacy of the 1956 revolt against the Soviets.

Grieboski finds it "interesting that Hungary does not accept the legal continuity of the 1949 constitution which served as the basis of a tyrannical rule." Well, other people called this so-called suspension of legal continuity between March 19, 1944 and May 1, 1990 something else. For example, an attempt to rid Hungary of any blame for what happened to its Jewish citizens in the summer and fall of 1944. 

All in all, Grieboski knows next to nothing about Hungarian history or the constitution adopted in 1989. His enthusiastic embrace of this new constitution reflects the kind of government propaganda pouring out of every government official's mouth. And he swallowed all that propaganda hook, line, and sinker. And now a few months later he suddenly wakes up. The details of the law on the churches and religion brought home, it seems, that perhaps there is something very wrong with this democracy Hungary just arrived at after the tyranny of the last few years.

Perhaps one reason for Grieboski's change of heart between April and July when his second article appeared is that he knows more about religion than about the Doctrine of the Holy Crown. And it hit him a little harder. Suddenly he was faced with "the worst religion law in Europe." He thinks that "this law stands at odds with the newly drafted Hungarian Constitution," but if he listened to the critics of the constitution instead of only to Fidesz party propagandists he would have realized that not all is well with the constitution either. It would still be useful for Grieboski to read the opinion of the Venice Commission. He might realize that the so-called cardinal laws will bring more and more very ugly surprises until we might not be able to talk about Hungary as a democracy.

At any event, now that Grieboski's eyes have been opened he has discovered that "the passage of this religion law is the latest and most disturbing example of this serious setback of human rights and the rule of law in Hungary." So, there have been others. Indeed! Where was Grieboski in January and February when for weeks the whole world could talk about nothing else but the outrageous, most restrictive Hungarian media law? 

Grieboski ends by saying that "the government in Hungary must realize the terrible mistake it has made." Well, if Grieboski worked with Viktor Orbán he should know him better than I do, but I can assure Mr. Grieboski that Orbán will not change his mind. As for Grieboski's insistence that "the president of Hungary must not sign the religion law," he is too late. Pál Schmitt has already signed it, as he signs everything Viktor Orbán's government puts in front of him.

The only thing I can suggest to Mr. Grieboski is: wake up! It is not the Soviet past that threatens Hungary's democracy but Viktor Orbán himself.

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