You may recall that back in June I published a facsimile of a letter sent by fifty U.S. congressmen to Viktor Orbán expressing their concern over the growing antisemitism in Hungary. In addition, the letter called attention to the treatment of homosexuals, specifically mentioning the employment of Róbert Alföldi, director of the Hungarian National Theater. The letter also called attention to the discrimination against the Roma population. The man who initiated sending this letter was Joseph Crowley, a Democrat from the State of New York.
The letter was actually criticized by some people in Hungary as putting the blame for the rise of antisemitism exclusively on Jobbik, the party of the extreme right in Hungary, when the current Hungarian government should share in the blame.
All that was detailed in a post entitled “Letters back and forth: Will they change the course of events in Hungary?” Here I’m publishing a letter by Gábor Vona, the party chief of Jobbik, to Congressman Crowley. It seems that Vona felt compelled to react to the contents of the letter and to teach Joseph Crowley a thing or two. The letter is published verbatim, with all its grammatical errors. I think this letter says a lot about Jobbik and its leaders.
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Mr. Joseph Crowley
Member of Congress
United States House of Representatives
Budapest-11 July, 2012
Dear Congressman Crowley,
The predominant part of the letter written by you and forty-nine other representatives to Viktor Orban is related to Jobbik and what the Prime Minister should do to subdue us.
First of all, I would like to remind you that nearly one million people’s vote legitimize us in the Hungarian public life which we have gained in a democratic election in 2010, and according to the polls our popularity has only been increasing ever since. You do not mean that all these people in our country are extremists or racist citizens, do you? It was not Jobbik that you insulted, excluded and stigmatized but our voters; which not only was an irresponsible act but a serious self-contradiction, as well, since you have just ignored your own values you referred to.
I am sorry that your Budapest representation has forgotten to inform you that in the Hungarian parliamentary democracy, just like in the US, every party is responsible for itself. We do not write a letter to Barack Hussein Obama because of Councilman Charles Barron of New York, likewise a Democratic Party member, who, during his competition for Congress on the 11th of June lost against his opponent, stated earlier: “the Gaza Strip is a virtual death camp, the same kind of conditions the Nazis imposed on the Jews “.
In your letter, you logically refer to the Anti-Defamation League since this organization, together with the pro-Israel lobbies, provides the largest share of the funding for your political campaigns. Thus, we understand your diligence that as a superpower you must act to please the league in matters such as the homosexuality of the theatre director Róbert Alföldi, which must obviously be deeply troubling for the American people.
We–and the peoples of the world–are more concerned that after having destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan and caused the death of hundreds of thousands, you will do the same with Iran, who has not initiated a war against any country for centuries; just because Israel commands you to pretend that Teheran possesses nuclear weapons. And it is not only the Muslim world with its 1.3 billion population but all the benevolent peoples of the Earth who are equally worried that you provide an annual support of 3.5 billion dollars for your strategic ally, Israel who, according to former president James Carter, operates an apartheid system that kills thousands of civilians sometimes in Lebanon other times in Palestine.
If the representatives are interested in the politics of Jobbik, I will be very pleased to present you the reality. I would like to tell you in advance that in Jobbik’s political agenda or bills there is not one single point that would make a distinction between citizens by their religion or race. In fact, we are the only party in Hungary that has constantly been arguing to have the same rules and laws applied for everyone, and that no one should be treated with either negative or positive discrimination. I hope that I will be able to personally change your surprising anti-democratic views that condemn people for their political affiliation or Hungarian nationality. I also hope that I can draw your attention to the truly intolerable situation of Hungarian minorities living in the neighboring countries and tormented by chauvinism, as well as to the present vulnerable and exploited state of our truncated motherland. I am convinced that your sensitivity and sympathy for the prostrate and the down-trodden would certainly prompt you to support our cause after learning the hardships of Hungary.
President of Jobbik
Leader of Parlamentary Group Jobbik
Viktor Orbán and his closest friends and political allies must be genuinely afraid that after four years, even with a new electoral law that clearly favors their party, Fidesz might lose the next election. If, however, the government makes prospective voters jump through a pre-election hoop, victory is more likely.
The idea of pre-registration already came up during the debates on the new electoral law in 2011. You may recall that it was János Áder, at the time EU parliamentary member, who was entrusted with the task of writing the law. It was Áder who first brought up the possibility of reviving the old Hungarian custom of voter registers. But it seems that in December 2011 the Fidesz leadership didn’t feel the need to reshape the voter pool by making it more difficult to vote. They felt that Fidesz’s lead was assured and that it was unlikely that the opposition would ever manage to mount a serious and concerted attack against the fortress Fidesz had built on what they considered to be very solid ground.
In the first few months of 2012, however, Fidesz losses as measured by the opinion polls were very serious, and so the idea of voter registration surfaced again. It was during a conference organized by Political Capital, a think tank, that Gergely Gulyás, undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, said that the idea had already been discussed in the Ministry.
Then on May 22 an article appeared in Népszabadság in which some unnamed Fidesz politicians talked quite openly about the need to introduce voter registration in order to choose “active and sober citizens who cast their votes on the basis of conscious considerations stemming from their concerns for the future of the nation” and to keep out “the uneducated, ill-mannered, stupid boors [vadbarmok] who are easily influenced by campaign slogans.” This kind of voting restriction was immediately labelled ”intellektuális cenzus.”
A brief explanation of what “cenzus” means in Hungarian is in order. Before the introduction of universal suffrage “cenzus” meant a register based on property qualifications. The system Fidesz wants to and most likely will introduce in effect puts constraints on universal suffrage, with the poor, the uneducated, and the politically undecided likely to be disenfranchised.
Fidesz-KDNP politicians keep telling critics of the planned registration that “several European countries” have the system. This is not true. In Europe there are only two countries, Great Britain and France, who have anything resembling registration. In the United Kingdom registration is necessary because the country, unlike Hungary, doesn’t have an accurate nationwide database that includes every eligible voter of the land. In France, the only prospective voters who have to register are those who turned eighteen after the last election and whose names hence don’t appear on the roll. Otherwise, voters have to register only when they move.
The country most often mentioned by Hungarians as an example is the United States. But again, the United States doesn’t have compulsory registration of domicile. And most states try to make registration as painless as possible. For example, in several states (Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Wyoming) one can register in person on the day of the election. As you can see here, in most states one can register about 20-30 days before the elections.
The Hungarian system would be different. First of all, it will not be called “registration” (regisztráció) but “signing up” (feliratkozás). What is the difference? Some people pointed out that these two words are synonyms. Yes and no because, as Orbán explained last Friday in his weekly interview, “signing up” is a more active form of “registration.” It seems that “signing up” is required for national elections, though not for municipal and by-elections. Is it required for every national election? Maybe, maybe not. For the time being what is critical is that it would be mandatory for the 2014 national elections, when Orbán seems vulnerable.
To be eligible to vote in the 2014 national elections, held in late spring, a person must sign up by January 31. No last-minute decisions. Citizens who don’t register because they aren’t sure in the winter whether they would vote in the spring would be disenfranchised. And those who find it onerous to sign up would also be ineligible to vote. Think of the villages where there is no registration office and the inhabitants have to travel to a designated town within one of the new administrative districts called “járás.” What about people who have no means of transportation? They would be disenfranchised for no good reason because surely a nationwide database of the voting age population will still be maintained.
With the introduction of its registration or signing up system Fidesz aims to get rid of those people who are not really interested in politics and those who are at a loss about whom they would vote for at the next elections. Let’s not forget that they currently make up more then 50% of the electorate. These are the people who will be least likely to register. And yet, based on past polls, the “undecided” voters were the ones who in fact decided the outcome of the elections both in 2002 and 2006. These “vadbarmok” were the ones who defeated Viktor Orbán. Given his lust for power, one can only imagine Orbán’s hatred of this crowd. He is hoping to filter these people out from the election process.
In addition to filtering out the undesirables, the uneducated, the poor, and the undecided there is surely another consideration: Fidesz voters are easier to motivate. The party has a large, enthusiastic group of party activists who in the last few elections diligently visited each household and took careful notes about their reception. These people can again be employed to make sure that Fidesz voters will sign up. One can argue that MSZP should learn a thing or two about modern campaigning, but at the moment MSZP and the other two small parties are in no position to compete with Fidesz when it comes to most likely ill-gotten party contributions.
Prior to 1919 only a very small percentage of male citizens of Hungary was able to vote: around 7% of the population. In 1919 a new election law was passed that gave the vote to all Hungarian adults without any restrictions. However, soon afterward Prime Minister István Bethlen and his fellow conservative politicians who didn’t trust the people, especially the unwashed masses, kept restricting voting rights on the basis of educational attainment and also by making a distinction between men and women by age.
Today’s Hungary can’t be so obviously discriminatory. The CEO of a major company has exactly the same say in a national election as an illiterate Roma. Some on the far right might argue that this isn’t fair, that only the “right” people should be allowed to vote. Fidesz doesn’t make this noxious intellectual argument. It just contemplates structuring its election laws to tip the balance solidly in favor of the “right” people–those who will vote it back into office.
If it’s July it must be a new outrageous speech by Viktor Orbán at Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad.
It all started in 1990 when Fidesz organized a gathering of young Hungarians from Hungary and Transylvania for a week of lectures and fun. It was a small affair in those days; perhaps 40-50 people showed up at the first meeting, dubbed Bálványosfürdői Szabadegyetem és Diáktábor (Free University and Student Camp at Bálványosfürdő/Băile Bálványos). The event consisted of almost a week of camping. In those days the young Orbán himself stayed for the duration and slept in a tent alongside the students.
As time went by the numbers grew and the gathering became so large that it was moved from Bálványosfürdő to Tusnádfürdő about 30 kilometers away. But this year the numbers were less impressive. Viktor Orbán’s website said that about 1,000 people gathered to hear the Hungarian prime minister. Although an Internet video referred to “short pants politicking at Tusnádfürdő,” the photos showed a different picture. The youngsters were in the minority.
Transindex, a Hungarian-language Romanian publication, complained about the lack of real dialogue in Tusnádfürdő because RMDSZ, the largest Hungarian party in Romania which received 80% of the Hungarian votes at the municipal elections about a month ago, was not represented. On the other hand, Jobbik was there, as is evident from this picture of an old warrior of the Hungarian extreme right.
An editorial in Transindex made fun of the description of Tusnádfürdő as the “center of the universe,” as a banner behind the speakers proudly announced. Moreover, it seems that God also had something to do with Tusnádfürdő: Zsolt Semjén attributed to divine will the coincidence that the opening of Tusnádfürdő also marked the happy event of registering the 300,000th new Hungarian citizen. No wonder that the author of the editorial in Transindex, Andrea Hosu, entitled her piece “Tusványos: Divine choreography in the center of the universe?”
Hungarians by now are accustomed to the fact that Tusnádfürdő serves as a pulpit for the most radical side of Viktor Orbán. Perhaps that fresh Transylvanian air in the middle of the Carpathian mountains has this effect on him. By now, however, practically everything that the prime minister says is radical. Orbán’s view of the world bears no resemblance to reality. There are some people, including Gábor Fodor, his old roommate and one of the founders of Fidesz, who are worried about Orbán’s mental state.
Indeed, Orbán said quite a few incredible things in Tasnádfürdő, but they were not more outrageous than what he has been saying for some time. Here is a sampling of the latest crop of statements.
According to him, the current crisis affects only the United States and Europe. The rest of the world is untouched. It is Brussels that is at the core of the problem where the bureaucrats worry about the psyche of geese, toys for piglets, and the size of cages for chickens instead of the serious problems Europe is facing. Western Europe is laboring under the shadow of the two world wars which broke out as a result of national rivalries and therefore it preaches greater integration because of the fear of nationalism. But there is today a renaissance of nation states and Brussels cannot go against their wishes. Today’s problems can be solved only by individual countries and the solution must be adjusted to individual needs. Europe is hopeless and it will never be successful. It is only staggering about like a sleepwalker.
What was perhaps the most frightening part of the speech was Orbán’s “analysis” of the history of twentieth-century Europe. According to him, western politicians are afraid of the politically activated masses because of the rise of fascism in Europe. Fascist governments came into power by democratic means, and therefore the western political elite put their faith in “principles and institutions” instead of the people. He admitted that he himself believed at one point that principles and institutions are the best insurance for success, but he has realized since that “this is what led politics to a dead end.” Because it is never principles and institutions that make decisions but people. “Overestimation of principles and institutions necessarily leads to irresponsible decisions.”
Here Viktor Orbán is perhaps most clearly showing his dictatorial side by turning away from the principles of democracy itself. Instead of checks and balances he is putting his faith in “the people.” So, it is not at all surprising that he simply ignores the decisions of the Constitutional Court. After all, it is just one of those institutions that led Europe astray.
Otherwise, the prime minister of a country that is in terrible economic shape and whose two-year governance only added to its problems announced that “Europe is actually envious of Hungary” because of its excellent handling of the crisis. This is one of those occasions when some people question Viktor Orbán’s sanity.
In addition to all that frightening nonsense Viktor Orbán also decided to meddle in Romanian internal affairs. A referendum is being held today on the fate of Romanian President Traian Băsescu. A day before the voting, during the campaign silence, Orbán urged Hungarians living in Romania to “make good decisions, meaning to make no decision at all” during today’s vote. In addition, both he and László Tőkés appeared in white shirts that apparently signals their support for Băsescu. As things stand at the moment, Băsescu’s only hope is that not enough people will bother to go to the polls. Three hours before closing time only about 38% of the eligible voters had voted; 50% plus one vote is necessary for the referendum to be valid.
As for cooperation with RMDSZ, Orbán admitted that he cannot ignore it because after all it is the major Hungarian party in Romania, but he added that cooperation with its politicians is out of the question. In 1994, he recalled, the socialists asked Fidesz to join them in a coalition. They refused because if they “had said yes then [they] would have been morally ruined and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to replace the socialist governments that ruined the country.” The obvious message is that there can be no compromise with RMDSZ, which he called elsewhere a party with Bolshevik roots.
No compromise with anyone while Zsolt Semjén in his introductory remarks on Wednesday talked about the looming danger of another Little Entente. Meaning cooperation between Slovakia, Romania, and perhaps Serbia against Hungary. Perhaps a different Hungarian attitude toward the neighbors could prevent such a “calamity.”
Paul Lendvai has achieved quite a feat with his Hungary Between Democracy and Authoritarianism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012). Lendvai, a well kn0wn journalist who was born in Hungary but has been living in Austria since 1957, is in a way part of the story he is writing about. Due to his stature outside and inside of Hungary he had the good fortune to have personal encounters with all the public figures mentioned in this book.
Hungary Between Democracy and Authoritarianism is more than a history of the last twenty-five years of Hungarian history. In a mere 250 pages Lendvai also investigates Hungarian nationalism, the roots of antisemitism, the state of the Hungarian media, the growth of the extreme right and its targets, the Roma and the Jews. Each of these topics is discussed for only a few pages, but Lendvai provides the reader with enough information to understand the intricacies of day to day events in Hungary.
For background Lendvai describes the failed 1956 uprising and its consequences and offers a brief but apt description of the nature of the Kádár regime that followed it. Lendvai was a fairly frequent visitor in Hungary even before the change of regime in 1989-1990 and has some wonderful descriptions of the leading politicians of the communist regime. For example, he met Károly Grósz, successor to János Kádár, twice. Once in the fall of 1988 and again in May 1989. The description of the change in Grósz is masterful. Within a few months Grósz “no longer seemed to be in the driving seat but a passenger.” He also recounts meeting Gyula Horn, then undersecretary in the Foreign Ministry, in 1985 who “with the radio turned up and standing next to an open window whispered his critical observations about Soviet foreign policy” into Lendvai’s ears.
There are two biographies of József Antall in Hungarian, one critical and the other more admiring. Both are long and informative, but one can perhaps learn more about him from Lendvai who in a few pages seems to capture the essence of the man. I found telling, for example, something that I had read nowhere else before: that Antall’s embossed visiting card listed all his titles in Latin (!), English, and Hungarian. In twenty-two pages Lendvai describes both Antall the person and the history of the Antall-Boross governments.
The account of the period between 1994 and 1998 when the Socialists and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) together had more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament is also excellent. Lendvai’s description of Horn as a “shrewd political operator” is at the center of his analysis of the socialist-liberal coalition, but he pays ample attention as well to Horn’s first two ministers of finance, László Békesi and Lajos Bokros, who today are vocal against the economic policies of the current administration. He also outlines the uneasy relationship of the coalition partners that led to the increasing marginalization of SZDSZ and the corruption scandals that contributed to the socialist-liberal coalition’s political defeat.
Viktor Orbán is discussed in two chapters. In chapter 6, entitled “The Young Comet–Viktor Orbán,” we read about Fidesz’s move from the liberal to the conservative side and Orbán’s ever increasing nationalism and populism. Orbán is described as a man of “overwhelming lust for power” and “a man who almost automatically believes the veracity of whatever he considers to be politically useful to him.” It was discovered already during the first Orbán government that Orbán believes in “the primacy of politics over economics.”
There is a chapter on Péter Medgyessy, the anything but charismatic politician, who managed to defeat Viktor Orbán in 2002. He was described by people who knew him as “capable, but vain, and weak.” According to colleagues who worked with him he was Hungary’s worst prime minister, “the one who caused the greatest damage.” Or “a man who neither could make a decision nor inspire an example. He simply wanted to add to his CV the fact that he had been prime minister.” Not a very flattering picture. I must say that the few interviews I heard him give after he resigned confirm Lendvai’s negative image.
The Gyurcsány portrait is also interesting. Lendvai met him first in 2004 when Ferenc Gyurcsány was still minister of sports in the Medgyessy government. Lendvai describes him as “an exotic bird of paradise.” Different from the run of the mill socialist politicians. In his very first conversation with Lendvai “he pulled the Socialist Party to pieces, deriding it as a party incapable of deciding whom and what it represented.” After this first meeting Lendvai was convinced that Gyurcsány was “probably the most gifted and most dynamic politician in the socialist-liberal camp,” but he forgot Churchill’s warning, “In politics, especially at the top, there is no friendship.” Lendvai summarizes Gyurcsány’s role in Hungarian politics: “The flame of this perhaps greatest political talent in the post-communist history of the Hungarian left flared but briefly. Ferenc Gyurcsány turned out to be (in the sense of Jakob Burckhardt’s reflections on history) a ‘man of momentary greatness.’”
A whole chapter is devoted to the “Cold War at the Top–Orbán versus Gyurcsány.” This cold war is described as “a life and death struggle that destroyed Gyurcsány.” Lendvai lists the instruments that were used in this struggle by the master strategist, Viktor Orbán.
In addition to the chapters outlining the political events in Hungary more or less chronologically, there are important chapters that help the reader understand the background to these events. I especially enjoyed the chapter on the Hungarians’ sense of history entitled “The Sense of Mission of an Easily Seducible Nation.” One can ponder poll results that show that 76% of Hungarians believe that the Hungarians are related to the Huns and 79% are certain that during the reign of Louis Greater Hungary bordered on three seas. Or, 70% of all Hungarians are absolutely certain that the Hungarians treated the minorities living in Hungary fairly and only 9% think otherwise. As for Trianon, the results are equally shocking. In 2010 45% of the people said that the results of the border changes mustn’t be accepted.
There is an excellent chapter on the state of the Hungarian media with special emphasis on the media empire Fidesz built between 2000 and 2010. There are plenty of examples from right-wing papers that would give foreigners a fair idea of the state of journalism in Hungary. Chapters on the roots of antisemitism and anti-Roma attitudes are also helpful in understanding the current state of the affairs.
The last chapter is an addition to the original German edition of the book. Apparently, Viktor Orbán was greatly offended by it and made no secret of the fact that he considers Paul Lendvai an enemy. The title of this chapter is “Orbán Über Alles–Hungary at a Dead End.” In it Orbán is described as “a master tactician, a gifted populist, a radical and consummate opportunist, a ruthless power politician who believes not in ideas but in maximizing his power without any compunction, giving vent to Hungarian nationalism or tapping into fear and prejudice at a moment of crisis.”
Foreign diplomats, journalists, and businessmen who for one reason or another are planning to spend some time in Hungary should definitely read Lendvai’s book for background information. The rest of us can learn from Lendvai’s unique insights.
Hungarian opposition newspapers have an annoying habit. If someone just once says something critical of Viktor Orbán or the policies of the current government, the liberal newspapermen practically elevate him to sainthood. All his past sins are forgotten. This is what is happening now with Sándor Demján, the managing director of VOSZ (Vállalkozók és Munkáltatók Országos Szövetsége = National Association of Entrepreneurs and Employers).
Demján is apparently the richest man in Hungary. He is a real estate developer and his company, Tri-Gránit Fejlesztési Zrt., builds shopping centers throughout the region, including Poland and Ukraine. The man might be a good businessman, but his ideas about the world are often reprehensible. In the past he frequently accompanied Viktor Orbán on his foreign trips, especially to China and Central Asia. Demján was very impressed with the Chinese way of doing business and expounded on the secret of Chinese success: using huge numbers of poor Chinese as a labor force. Poverty ensures progress. He added that the Chinese practice would be a good example for Hungary to emulate. At one point he suggested lengthening the work week to six or even seven days. After all, the country is in economic trouble. He also talked about “financial dependence being worse than tanks invading the country because in the latter case at least the picture is clear.” Almost as if he had heard István Csurka of MIÉP.
So, this man who before the 2010 elections said that “it is in the interest of every Hungarian that the Fidesz team wins the election because if they don’t that is bad for everybody” now seems to be dissatisfied. The opposition papers are enthusiastic about Demján’s criticism of Orbán, and very few of them actually sat down and analyzed Demján’s suggestions for economic recovery, some of which at first blush seem unrealistic.
When Viktor Orbán suggested to the leadership of VOSZ that he meet with them he was undoubtedly expecting the usual adulation. But this is not what happened. Demján delivered an hour-long speech that was highly critical of the “unorthodox” economic policies of Viktor Orbán as delivered by György Matolcsy. That rattled Viktor Orbán so much that he asked for a ten-minute break, saying that in the wake of Demján’s speech he had to rethink his own. What resulted was largely nonsensical mumbo-jumbo; what was comprehensible was outright frightening.
Let’s see what kind of wisdom Demján entertained his audience with. “It is growth that creates wealth” and “one needs wealth because a country that is poor gets assimilated by globalization.” Whatever that means. Other comments, although not revolutionary, were at least on target: without investment there can be no growth. Foreign investment in Hungary has practically come to a halt. Bloomberg just published an article entitled “Orban’s Tax Binge Repels Investors.” Not surprisingly, Demján is not terribly worried about foreign investment. He wants Hungarian-owned companies to grow. But there is not enough domestic capital accumulation to help finance them. Therefore he suggests setting up a large investment fund for the sole purpose of assisting small- and medium-size Hungarian-owned companies.
I’m not going to go into the details of Demján’s plan for constructing such a fund because according to experts it is not realistic. But another idea of his might be more practical (at least if default or a government grab is off the table): to introduce something Demján called a “solidarity bond issuance” that would be “a kind of compulsory savings plan.” Otherwise, Demján is all in favor of an agreement with the IMF-EU. I think that Demján is far too optimistic on the subject, at least from what Orbán had to say on the subject in the last couple of days.
So, let’s see what Orbán managed to put together in a great hurry after Demján’s speech. As I said, some of it was outright frightening, especially this sentence: In Central Europe a new economic system must be built “and let us hope that God will help us and we will not have to invent a new type of political system instead of democracy that would need to be introduced for the sake of economic survival.” A stunning admission that Orbán has been thinking of the possibility of governing by decree. As his political opponents said, this is one of the few honest words he has spoken of late.
He again repeated what we can hear constantly: that Western Europe is in decline while Central and Eastern Europe is on the rise. The latest economic data don’t support Orbán’s contention, but figures never bother the Hungarian prime minister too much.
He did admit that 90% of the current investments come from European Union subsidies: “There is no Hungarian money for development.” But if that is the case, why is he waging a war of independence against the European Union?
As for the negotiations with the IMF-EU delegation, “one needs cold logic, patience and calmness.” He is glad that “the IMF was not here in the last two years because then the government couldn’t have introduced certain elements of its economic policy.” According to him, if there had been an agreement with the IMF in 2010 the country would have saved 100 billion forints on its sovereign debt but the government couldn’t have received 200 billion forints yearly from extra levies on certain sectors of the economy. Moreover, they couldn’t have taken away the savings of the private pension funds. That’s why critics of the Orbán government claim that it is the IMF and the European Union that will safeguard the interests of the Hungarian people against their own government.
Orbán repeated that foreign banks that do business in Hungary are reluctant to extend credit because they remain in dire financial straits. The truth is not so simple. The “mother banks” had to allocate extra capital to their affiliates in Hungary because of the enormous taxes the Orbán government levied on them. The Hungarian affiliates are not profitable.
It is practically impossible to have an Orbán speech without the mention of the necessity to build a society “based on work.” Orbán and some of his supporters often intimate that Hungarians are lazy slobs who just don’t want to work. Of course, this is not the case. The majority of the people would love to work if there were an opportunity to do so. But there isn’t. There is a segment of society that is dreadfully undereducated. This is especially true of the Roma population. Others, although qualified, can’t find jobs because companies in a no-growth economy simply aren’t hiring.
Viktor Orbán seems to think that public works projects paid for by the government are the remedy for unemployment. A few hours of mostly useless public work is also dole, but I guess it looks better when the employment statistics come out. In a year or two there will be no welfare payments without enrollment in a public works project. That would seem to include child support, to be administered through a “system of work” (munka rendszere). What on earth is this? Is it possible that Orbán is alluding to a child support system that is available only to families where one or both of the parents are gainfully employed?
Work seems to be the remedy for everything, including the unity of the country. Demján suggested consulting with the opposition, an idea that is far from Orbán’s thinking. According to the prime minister, “there is no need to shake hands [parolázás] with the opposition.” Instead, the unity of the country can be achieved by “giving work instead of government assistance to the people.”
And I left the best to last. “Cooperation is a question of force, not of intention. Perhaps there are countries where things don’t work that way, for example in the Scandinavian countries, but such a half-Asiatic rag-tag people as we are can unite only if there is force.”
Well, well, well. Do you remember what happened to Ákos Kertész, the Kossuth Prize winning author, when said something about Hungarians being genetically servile? He was chased all the way to Canada, where he asked for political asylum. Surely nothing like that will happen to Viktor Orbán, but the best answer to this unspeakable statement came from Gergely Karácsony of LMP: “The prime minister should know very well that Hungary in the last one thousand years, ever since the reign of Saint Stephen, has been part of Europe.” Admittedly, like every other nation, Hungarians also made mistakes. For example, when “they gave political power to an Asiatic-style despot.”
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission visited Budapest during July 17-25 to start discussions on an IMF/EU-supported program following a request by the Hungarian authorities. The IMF mission worked in close cooperation with a mission from the European Commission and observers from the European Central Bank. At the conclusion of the visit, Thanos Arvanitis, IMF mission chief for Hungary, issued the following statement:
“The Hungarian economy continues to face a series of interconnected challenges related to high public and external indebtedness, strained bank balance sheets, weak confidence, and elevated risk perceptions. Amid a difficult external and domestic environment, real GDP is expected to contract in 2012 and recover modestly in 2013. Beyond the current cycle, historically low levels of private investment and labor participation cloud the growth outlook.
“The key near term challenge is to maintain macroeconomic and financial stability, while building the foundations for a more robust recovery which is necessary to raise living standards. Policies should therefore aim to advance the needed fiscal consolidation in a sustainable manner, restore the soundness of the financial sector, and set in place a more business friendly environment and promote structural reforms, building on the objectives of the original Széll Kálmán plan.
“The authorities’ commitment to the fiscal targets under the revised Convergence Plan in 2012-13 is welcome. However, greater focus should be placed on achieving a more balanced fiscal consolidation, shifting away from ad hoc tax measures towards streamlining public expenditures, while ensuring adequate support to vulnerable groups. A smaller and more efficient state with strong and predictable policies would create better conditions for private-sector led growth, and reduce the tax burden over time. For 2013, additional measures will be necessary to secure the government’s deficit target, and put public debt firmly on a downward path.
“The monetary policy stance remains appropriate, reflecting the recent uptick in headline and core inflation and persistently elevated risk premia. The contracting credit reflects mostly structural challenges confronting the banking, household, and corporate sectors as well as recent policy actions. Reforms to restore banking system soundness in a more business-friendly environment are critically important so that banks can contribute to economic recovery.
“Generating higher and more inclusive growth will require more emphasis on structural reforms. The focus should be on measures to encourage labor participation, advance competition, reform loss making state-owned enterprises, notably in the area of transport, and put in place a regulatory level-playing field for all companies.
“The IMF mission, jointly with its European partners, has had constructive discussions with the authorities on these issues. The dialogue will continue in the period ahead.”
Press Release No. 12/276
July 26, 2012
Today a fairly lengthy interview with Benedek Jávor, the leader of LMP’s parliamentary caucus, appeared in Népszabadság. LMP (Lehet Más a Politika = Politics can be different) has the smallest parliamentary delegation with fifteen members; it has 3.9% share of the seats.
LMP, despite its name, is just another political party that plays strategic and tactical games like any other. Even its beginnings were somewhat marred by talks that without secret Fidesz help LMP wouldn’t have been able to collect enough endorsements to participate in the elections in Budapest. Without the possibility of running in the capital, LMP’s fate would have been sealed. On the day of the deadline, around noon, LMP was short of endorsements, but then suddenly endorsements started pouring in.
Wagging tongues claim that the upsurge in eager LMP voters was engineered by Fidesz activists who urged their followers to help LMP along. After all, it was to Fidesz’s advantage to have another left-of-center party in order to split the anti-Fidesz vote. As it turned out, LMP received 7.48% while MSZP got 19.30% of all the votes cast. If there had been no LMP it is likely that MSZP would have received substantially more votes. After all, those who didn’t like Fidesz could have voted only for the socialists.
LMP is indeed like any other party except that it refused to elect a party leader. It operates under a kind of “collective leadership” with all the difficulties such an arrangement poses. However, the party had to name a parliamentary leader because house rules pretty much demand it. So, András Schiffer was named “frakcióvezető” because by all accounts it was he who was the dominant force in building a party in record time out of nothing.
However, Schiffer resigned his post in January 2012. In his place the LMP caucus chose Benedek Jávor, a Ph.D. in biology and assistant professor of environmental law, as the new leader of the 15-member LMP caucus. Now it seems that Jávor may also be contemplating resigning. What’s going on?
One can only guess about the internal affairs of LMP, but surely not all is well in the top leadership. One MP resigned already and another threatened to do so. There also seems to be a split over LMP’s relations with the other democratic parties, although for the time being Schiffer’s position is triumphing. When Schiffer resigned, the hope was that LMP would elect someone who would be more flexible on the issue of cooperation with MSZP, DK, and any other democratic formation. Great was the disappointment in certain circles when Benedek Jávor seemed to hold exactly the same position as his predecessor. But observers claim that there is still a group within LMP that doesn’t approve of the current attitude of the party on this issue.
My own reactions to LMP are largely unfavorable, although personally I find Gergely Karácsony, one of the top men in the party, a pleasant and likeable man. It seems that I’m not alone. In one of the polls he actually was shown to be more popular than Viktor Orbán. I suspect that Karácsony is also more realistic about the chances of LMP at the next elections. One cannot take András Schiffer seriously as he expounds on LMP’s winning the 2014 elections alone. After all, Gyurcsány, whose party is almost as popular as LMP, only hopes that DK will be able to achieve 10% of the votes if all goes well and instead urges close cooperation with others in order to unseat Fidesz and Viktor Orbán.
You may recall the results of the by-elections in Dunaújváros where MSZP refused to cooperate with DK and as a result lost to Fidesz by only a few votes. At the same election LMP bombed. While the LMP candidate received 7.62% of the votes in 2010 he ended up with 1.68% this time around. This dismal showing should have been a wake-up call, but if I read Jávor’s message correctly LMP isn’t planning a change of direction.
Soon enough there will be a mayoral election in Hódmezővásárhely where János Lázár held sway for last eight years until Orbán made him chief of staff in the prime minister’s office. Admittedly, it would be exceedingly difficult to change the color of the city from orange to red when it has been under Fidesz rule for so long, but what kind of a politician is Benedek Jávor who announces that defeating the Fidesz candidate even with a common candidate will be a “bravura.” Meaning, almost impossible.
The MSZP candidate is a 31-year-old woman, and although Jávor doesn’t know her personally he doubts that any non-Fidesz candidate can win. In fact, LMP didn’t even name a candidate yet. They will allow the locals to come up with a suitable name. To me that means that LMP has given up on the idea of even competing for the post of mayor of Hódmezővásárhely. As far as Jávor is concerned, MSZP will have to change radically before LMP is willing to cooperate with its leaders. Instead they would like to strengthen their ties to Solidarity, Milla, and 4K. I think this plan is doomed. In modern politics one can’t ignore parties and rely exclusively on civic organizations.
Apparently there are some in LMP who think that winning the elections in 2014 shouldn’t be the goal of the party. It seems that Jávor doesn’t belong to this group: “The Orbán government must go. No question. But later it will be an important issue whether Fidesz actually exists or not and if it does what it will be like without Viktor Orbán…. After a lost election there might be an opportunity for the formation of a Fidesz without Orbán and a conservative party without him.”
Rumor has it that if Jávor leaves the post Schiffer will return. I do hope that this is only a rumor because Schiffer, if he continues his old strategy, will be the greatest obstacle to cooperation among anti-Fidesz forces, which offers the only chance of defeating Viktor Orbán in 2014.
About a week ago Viktor Orbán announced that he will be taking a two-week holiday because his “batteries were exhausted.” He will spend time with his family in Felcsút and perhaps at Lake Balaton. I’m sure that a lot of people received this announcement with a certain amount of relief because lately the Hungarian prime minister has been delivering speeches that made not the slightest sense. Perhaps these people thought that a two-week rest would have a beneficial effect on Orbán’s nerves and senses.
However, no such luck. He changed his mind and instead of taking a vacation he began a tour, meeting important segments of society. Now, don’t think that these include groups who don’t necessarily agree with him. No, he has pleasant exchanges, perhaps several daily, with his followers. The speeches he has made at these encounters are perhaps even more outrageous than his earlier ones. It was during one of these meetings, this time with the leading lights of Hungarian capitalism, that he announced that at least fifty percent of the banking sector must be in Hungarian hands. I don’t think that I have to elaborate on the nonsensical nature of this particular announcement given the lack of capital in Hungary. It was also during one of these fruitful talks that he announced that public utilities companies in the future should operate on a non-profit basis. Again, I don’t think that one has to dwell on the impossibility of such a scheme–unless, of course, these companies are nationalized, in which case they would probably operate at a loss.
Well, yesterday Orbán met with the leaders of Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. Most of these people, for example Péter Ágh (1982-), the chairman of Fidelitas, also have high positions either in the Fidesz parliamentary caucus or in the government. So, the prime minister didn’t have to worry too much about adverse reactions to his ideas on higher education.
Let’s get to perhaps the most outrageous idea: within a few years Hungarian higher education will be financially self-sustaining. In plain English, the government will not put a penny into maintaining Hungarian universities. Well, such a thing is simply unimaginable.
There is no country in the world where higher education is maintained simply through tuition. Not even in the United States, which is usually brought up as the example of the most unfair system of higher education in the western world. But in the United States not even private universities, where tuition fees are very high, can exist simply on tuition paid by students. They still need massive financial help from alumni and, yes, grants for research projects or even the teaching of certain subjects that might be useful from the government’s point of view. For instance, during my tenure at Yale we received a grant of $100,000 for a number of years to teach Polish, for which the university didn’t have available funds. And naturally there are the state universities that receive large sums of money from state budgets. For example, for the 2012-2013 school year the University of Connecticut received $284 million from the state of Connecticut. A nice sum, although because of budget cuts it is $45 million less than the year before.
And after Orbán announced that he is planning to maintain Hungarian state universities from tuition fees alone, he immediately added that “I’m an enemy of tuition because we don’t know where students will get the money for tuition. Therefore I’m not arguing in favor of the introduction of a tuition system, but instead I am advocating an arrangement by which the state gives an opportunity to the poorer students to be able to educate themselves through long-term loans.” Thus tuition is not tuition if it is paid with borrowed money.
He elaborated on this plan by saying that “the government doesn’t want to finance walls. Thus we are not interested in ensuring that certain institutions continue to function, but instead we want students to have influence through their application decisions which universities are good and which are not.” This needs a bit of “translation.”
Let’s start with the basic educational philosophy of Viktor Orbán. He wants to limit the number of students who embark on university studies. While the European Union is encouraging countries to increase the number of college graduates, Orbán’s Hungary is moving in the opposite direction. He and Rózsa Hoffmann, undersecretary in charge of education, severely cut back on the number of tuition-free slots–from 53,000 to 32,300. The immediate result of this decision was that 30,000 fewer high school graduates even applied to college this year.
Now, if I understand Orbán’s words correctly, he wants to limit the number of institutions as well. In a way that makes sense: fewer students need fewer colleges and universities. The decision as to which institutions remain will be based on the number of applicants to each university. Fewer applicants will mean the closing of the school. And the few popular schools that remain will be maintained by the students. They will be the ones who will make sure that the walls of the buildings do not collapse. Today, in fact, the cabinet will discuss the results of the applications, and those colleges that were less popular will not receive any government subsidy. That is, they will die.
If Fidesz wins the next election, in the next three to five years the “system will be operational [üzembiztos].” And the saddest thing about all this is that his young audience on the ship where the meeting was held didn’t tell him, “You know what? Jump into the Danube, you fraud!”
The first detailed description of the flashmob that took place in front of László Csatáry’s house on July 16 was published in Kanadai Magyar Hírlap. The author of the article was Eszter Garai-Édler, a participant, who was subsequently identified by some of the readers of kuruc.info. The threats against her have been relentless ever since. Two came from Béla Varga himself, who offered a bounty of 75,000 forints to the most diligent “informers” on the identities of the demonstration’s participants. One of the threatening letters was in English and ended with: “A friendly advice … . get life insurance.”
Soon enough some Hungarian-language newspapers and Internet sites reported on the flashmob organized by Jewish activists and sympathizers, but I couldn’t find anything in Magyar Nemzet, for example. Garai-Édler remarked in her story of the demonstration that the Hungarian media didn’t seem to be interested in their planned demonstration. Mostly foreign journalists were present. In fact, it was AFP that reported at length on the event. The articles all mentioned the harassment the organizers suffered after being identified on kuruc.info’s website.
The answer was an immediate counterattack by the editors of kuruc.info. The article entitled “Poor Jewish students are being harassed by the readers of Kuruc.info” was written in the inimitable style of this neo-Nazi site that leveled a personal attack against one of the organizers, Andrea Gergely of the Union of European Jewish Students. Kuruc.info was greatly offended that Gergely went to the police and demanded an investigation of the website’s practice of listing e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of people whose political views they don’t like.
After Andrea Gergely’s visit to the police, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities (Mazsihisz) also filed a complaint at the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office because of the publication of personal data as well as the threats received by the identified participants.
One can no longer find any information on Facebook on either Andrea Gergely or Eszter Garai-Édler, two of the participants mentioned by name on kuruc.info. But even the less prominent members of the group severed their ties with the well known social networks. However, Garai-Édler talked at length to a reporter for Népszabadság. Although she was deeply shaken by the hundreds of threatening letters, phone calls, and ugly comments, she doesn’t regret her participation in the event. In fact, she felt that the reaction of the neo-Nazis clearly shows that there is need for such actions. “It tells a lot about the state of the country when certain people take up the cause of a former ghetto commander with such determination,” she added. Another person who was identified, Gábor Sajósi, was taking the whole affair in stride. As he said, nothing can surprise him anymore. According to kuruc.info, Sajósi is “a true Gyurcsányist.” Garai-Édler considers herself to be committed to the values of liberal democracy and has been politically active, especially since the fall of 2009 when it became obvious that liberal democracy in Hungary was in crisis. As a civilian she has been responsible for several anti-government demonstrations. The third person on the photo, Mrs. Ferenc Démeth, was lucky. Kuruc.info activists didn’t manage to get her name.
The Jerusalem Post also visited kuruc.info and reported that the website is full of antisemitic imagery, including a Nazi hammer crushing the Star of David. The paper specifically quoted these passages: “They [the Jews] complain about various crimes when they are responsible for corrupting our country into communism and later into capitalism” and “They are responsible for the death of many thousands of Hungarians, for the emigration of hundreds of thousands, for the killing of six million fetuses….” I’m especially intrigued by the “killing of six million fetuses.” The Post added that “the Hungarian embassy in Israel on Sunday declined to comment on the website.” I must say that the Hungarian foreign service personnel are an inept bunch. Surely, they could condemn the site in the strongest of terms and assure the Israeli journalists that the Hungarian government is doing everything it legally can to shut down the site. Assuming, of course, that it is.
According to Népszabadság, an official of the Ministry of Interior told the paper’s reporter that the Ministry had already requested the assistance of the FBI, the CIA , the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. However, he refused to give any details about the Ministry’s own efforts at discovering the identities of the authors and editors of kuruc.info.
It is possible that the national security offices–there are several of them–have been hard at work identifying the men and women behind kuruc.info and the only reason for not divulging any information on the topic is caution. After all, any leaked information might interfere with the investigation. It is also possible, however, that the Hungarians simply dropped the whole problem into the lap of the American authorities. Viktor Orbán’s rather impertinent answer to the fifty U.S. congressmen’s letter would indicate that the Hungarian authorities weren’t overly concerned with kuruc.info. American server, American problem.
Finally, Pusztaranger was correct. Kurucwanted.blogspot wrongly identified the pictures. However, there still might be some connection between the two Vargas because the Californian Béla Varga is also from Mór. Moreover, he seems to have purchased a vineyard near the town. As for his association with Callaway Vineyard&Winery, it seems to have been of short duration. He is now the owner of Red Paprika, a deli in Healdsburg, California where he lives. Red Paprika seems to be a modest establishment because it is described by the sole reviewer of the business as “a little Hungarian store off the beaten path … a quaint little shop. I found a few items in here that were nice, and purchased some interesting tea that makes lovely iced tea, but for the most part, most of the items didn’t come across as totally unique.” As for the Béla Vargas on Facebook, there are absolutely hundreds of them. But Pusztaranger found two walls that most likely belong to him. On one of them we can find among his 150 friends György Budaházy, the man who is currently under indictment for terrorism. The other one seems to be newer, with fewer friends. Both are closed sites.
Péter Szijjártó received the fancy title of undersecretary in charge of international communication, but in fact he was demoted. János Lázár, the man Viktor Orbán moved from his positions as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely and leader of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, became chief of staff in the prime minister’s office, and he immediately decided to do a thorough spring cleaning. Lázár obviously convinced Orbán that Szijjártó, who is the object of ridicule at home, should be let go. Unfortunately, I don’t think that sending him all over the world will do much for his or the country’s reputation.
Szijjártó began his foreign trips by visiting Washington for two or three days. He talked to some people in the State Department and met some of the “most important Jewish leaders” in the United States. He asked them to lend a helping hand to silence kuruc.info, the notorious anti-semitic site that uses a server in the United States. As we discussed at length on July 5 and after, and as László Bartus wrote in Népszava, although the server–Cloudfare as some of our readers discovered–operates from the United States, kuruc.info is edited and published in Budapest. The problem must be remedied in Hungary. Especially as there is a strong possibility that one of kuruc.info’s benefactors, Béla Varga, a winemaker in California, also has a winery in Mór, Hungary.
Varga’s name was widely circulated in 2010 when Tamás Bodoky, an investigative journalist, reported on the financial dealings of kuruc.info and discovered that the advertisers receive no receipts and that the fees must be paid either in U.S. dollars to the bank account of Béla Varga or delivered as cash in a sealed envelope and given to an employee of Turania, a small shop in District VI. These financial transactions are clearly in violation of the tax laws in both Hungary and in United States.
Why do I write about this particular case today? Because Béla Varga’s name cropped up again, this time in connection with the flashmob organized in front of the house of László Csatáry, who is being investigated for war crimes. A day after the event kuruc.info called on its readers to identify the members of the group who took part in the demonstration. The editors proudly announced that they already managed to learn the identity of “seven anti-Hungarian Jews,” adding that “those who manage to send the most usable data will receive 100,000 forints, 75,000 of which was donated by our brother-in-arms Béla Varga, who lives in the United States.”
Pusztaranger, the excellent German-language blog, also reported on the case. According to the Ranger, within 48 hours 93,000 people read kuruc.info and managed to identify most of the participants. Since then the participants have been harassed on the Internet and by telephone. The Ranger collected a large amount of material on Varga from earlier Hungarian sources, adding some research of his own.
I was intrigued and decided to learn a little more about this Béla Varga. I discovered among other things that the self-portrait Mr. Varga provides in the United States has little resemblance to reality.
First, I couldn’t quite believe that Béla Varga of Napa Valley, California, is the same person as Béla Varga of Mór. Their life stories were so radically different. Let’s start with the Californian Varga. Varga is hailed in wine circles as a very talented winemaker who between 1999 and 2007 was the head of the operations of Claar Cellars. He is described as “a Hungarian by birth who received his Masters Degree in Enology and Viticulture from Budapest University.” In 2007 he changed jobs. He was hired as the winemaker of Callaway Vineyard&Winery. In the press release he is described as someone “with stellar winemaking credentials.” From the press release we find out that he received his M.S. from Budapest University in 1988, the same year he climbed “over the Iron Curtain and scaled barbed wire fences to leave leave his native country. He ended up in Canada where he worked for eight years as winemaker for Vincor, Canada’s largest producer and marketer of wine and related products.”
We also learn from the press release that Béla Varga is a talented jazz pianist. “At the young age of five, Varga began playing the piano by ear and was immediately enrolled in music education schools. He graduated from the Budapest Jazz Conservatory in 1985 and has played with Moe Koffman, Maynard Ferguson and Pat Metheny.”
One doesn’t have to go any farther to know that something is not quite right with the information Varga provided to his new employers at Gallaway Vineyard&Winery. Although it is true that graduates of ELTE (Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem) often try to simplify the name of the university and call it simply University of Budapest, ELTE has no Department of Enology and Viticulture. There is such a department at Gödöllő Agrártudományi Egyetem (nowadays called Szent István Egyetem, Gödöllő). Then I began to look for the Budapest Jazz Conservatory, but the only thing I came up with was the Egressy Béni Zeneművészeti Szakközépiskola és Gimnázium. There they teach jazz, but the trouble is that this high school opened its doors only in 2002 and the first students of the school graduated only in 2006. There is also the problem of climbing over the barbed wire between Austria and Hungary. By then the barbwire fence was mostly gone. Moreover, by then Hungarians could travel freely to the West. Our man most likely simply decided to stay behind.
Now let’s see the bio of Béla Varga of Mór where he is the owner of Varga és Fia Pincészet. His own father was already a vintner in the Balaton region. Our man claims that he began learning the ins and outs of winemaking in the Élelmiszeripari Szakközépiskola (a high school specializing in the food industry). His schooling entitled him to the title of “technician” and he worked as such at the Badacsonyvidéki Pincegazdaság in Ászár for a year and a half. After serving two years in the army in 1978, he got a job at the Móri Állami Gazdaság.
At this point Varga resorts to some verbal tricks to conceal the fact that in 1988 he left Hungary and asked for political asylum in Canada. So, if he spent nine years with the vineyards of Mór, he must have left the state company in 1987-88. However, he continues by saying that in 2000 “after the Móri Állami Gazdaság was liquidated” he and his son started a winery of their own on 20-30 hectars. There is a problem here. The Móri Állami Gazdaság was liquidated in 1990 and not in 2000. Thus, through clever wording Béla Varga’s and his son Máté’s trip to Canada and later to the United States is simply covered up.
The huge difference in the accomplishments of the two Béla Vargas confused me. No, I said, that cannot be the same man. After all, the name Varga is very common. Moreover, I found another Béla Varga who was also a vintner who is an export manager of the Tokaj Kereskedőház. But then I compared the two pictures, one given on a site that devoted considerable energy to uncovering the editors of kuruc.info and the other one that was included in a list of the top 100 vintners in Hungary. There is no doubt there is only one Béla Varga whose Hungarian vineyard is most likely managed by his son, Máté.
Apparently, the Budapest Chief Prosecutors’ Office is investigating the case. I suggest that they pay a visit to Mór to Varga és Fia Pincészet. One doesn’t have to talk to the American authorities or travel to Napa Valley, California. At the same time perhaps the Internal Revenue Service might be interested in Béla Varga’s tax returns.