Author: Eva S. Balogh

The internet tax is only postponed: it most likely will be called something else

The first act of the drama is over, but I’m almost sure that more will follow since the participants in the recent massive demonstrations know Viktor Orbán only too well. Moreover, in his interview today on Magyar Rádió, he was quite blunt about his resolve to reintroduce the tax. The tax will be adopted “but not this way,” “not in this form.” That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

The problem, according to the prime minister, is that once again the people “misunderstood” the original proposal because there was never any talk about an “internet tax.” The proposed tax was simply an extension of the already existing “telecommunication tax.” Again the same old story: all controversial pieces of legislation are misunderstood by the domestic opposition. And naturally they are misconstrued by the antagonistic domestic and foreign media.

People who know Viktor Orbán are only too aware of his absolute intolerance of contrary opinions. We were reminded of this character trait only today when Tamás Mellár, the conservative economist who worked at Századvég for a year until he resigned in disgust, told the following story to a Népszabadság reporter. One day, when four or five economic experts gathered for a meeting with Orbán, he dared say to the prime minister: “Forgive me, but you are wrong in that.” A deathly silence followed, during which Mihály Varga, minister of national economy, “pulled” Mellár’s hand under the table, signaling to him that such a thing is simply not done.

So, you can imagine the scene when the normally servile reporter who conducts Orbán’s Friday morning radio interviews had the audacity to say that it doesn’t matter whether we call the disputed tax an “internet tax” or a “telecommunication tax”–it is only “playing with words.” A brief silence followed, and one could feel the stunned surprise and wrath of the prime minister. It was a frightening moment. But that was not the only awkward exchange in the conversation. The reporter mistakenly thought that Orbán had exhausted the topic of the internet aka telecommunication tax and wanted to switch over to foreign criticism of Hungarian policies, which he thought was somewhat connected to the upheaval over the internet tax. Orbán snapped at him again. First of all, these two things don’t have anything to do with one another, he claimed, and, second, he does not want to talk about this now. What he wants to bring up and what is very important is that the Hungarian government has an understanding with internet providers to make the whole country internet ready by 2020. This is what is important.

As for the criticisms, Orbán had a very simple answer. Naturally, the accusations of Hungarian wrongdoing have nothing to do with the facts. It is noticeable that criticisms multiply when the government stands up for the Hungarian people which in turn hurts foreign business interests. Right now, for example, after the parliament passed a piece of legislation that forces mostly foreign banks to lighten the burden on Forex borrowers, foreign governments are trying to put pressure on Budapest. Falling into the same category are the mostly foreign internet providers who don’t carry their fair share of the tax burden. They make enormous “extra profits” that they take out of the country. These extra profits disappear into thin air. He leveled this charge despite the fact that earlier in the interview he praised the same foreign internet providers for continuing to pour enormous sums of money into the development of broadband service.

Finally, Orbán announced a “national consultation” on the subject of the non-“internet tax.” Tamás Deutsch, a member of the European Parliament who hangs out on Twitter all day long entertaining people with his obscenities, will be in charge of this grand consultation. Although Deutsch thinks that the tax is “stupid,” he called the protesters “ragamuffins” and “stink bugs.” As for the so-called “national consultation,” we have witnessed a few of these in the past and we know that they are a farce. Viktor Orbán sends out millions of questionnaires to voters containing questions that beg for affirmative answers that justify the government’s position. For example, “internet dependency is a serious psychological illness” or “the internet is dangerous to young people because of pedophiles roaming the Net.”

As for the mysterious “extra profit,” I get annoyed every time I hear someone use the term. And unfortunately one hears it far too often. It stirs up old memories of a compulsory university course called “political economy.” In it one learned the Leninist definition of extra profit. According to Lenin, extra profit derives from the exploitation of workers in the colonies. These extra profits are then distributed at home to raise the living standard of the working class in order to keep them quiet. According to Marxist-Leninist theory, all profit is based on exploitation of the workers but the extra profit is achieved by taking exploitation beyond the normal level. The notion of extra profit in today’s public discourse makes not the slightest sense. Viktor Orbán is taking advantage of the Hungarian people’s discomfort with capitalism and what it entails–including competition and profit–and invoking concepts from the very same communism he wants to banish once and for all from the country. And, by the way, the profit these providers earn is apparently rather low.

Delete Viktor

So, will Viktor Orbán’s announcement this morning quiet the protesters? It looks as if Viktor Orbán’s interview, widely reported in the foreign press as announcing a withdrawal of the tax–a capitulation by the prime minister, did not impress Hungarians. Tonight József nádor tér was still full of demonstrators, and the slogans and posters highlighted various “sins” of the government. For example: “Viktor, you will find the extra profit in Felcsút.” Norwegian and EU flags were seen everywhere. The speakers announced that there is no need for “national consultation” because that already took place in the last  few days on the streets of Budapest and other Hungarian cities. The speakers argued that the government needs extra taxes because of the corrupt tax authorities.

In Szeged a very large crowd gathered tonight. Here the speakers covered several topics, including corruption and the lack of media freedom. The internet is the only “free island which the government hasn’t occupied yet.” It is, one speaker claimed, the most significant invention since the discovery of fire and the wheel and the symbol of Hungarians’ tie to Europe. “We cannot stop at the internet tax, let’s demolish the walls while they are not yet plastered and painted. … Long live freedom and the fatherland!”

Two prominent Hungarians: Interviews with Charles Gati and Miklós Haraszti

Budapest Beacon, a bilingual online newspaper that reports on current events in Hungary, conducted a number of interviews with leading Hungarian analysts living or temporarily working in the United States. Herewith two of these: the first with Charles Gati, a renowned political scientist and senior research professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; the second with Miklós Haraszti, a writer, human rights advocate, and former OSCE representative on Freedom of the Media.

Professor Gati’s interview was conducted in English, Mr. Haraszti’s in Hungarian. Since Gati’s main interest is international affairs and foreign policy, his interview focuses on American-Hungarian relations that are such a hot topic of late. Mr. Haraszti currently teaches at Columbia University, but because in 2012 he was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Belarus, the interview took place in the United Nations headquarters where Mr. Haraszti was due to report on his findings.

The interviewer is Benjamin Novak, an American Hungarian who currently lives in Hungary and is senior correspondent of Budapest Beacon. 

The corrupt Hungarian tax authority

Since the fate of the internet tax is still pending, let’s turn to the systemic corruption that has a debilitating effect on the entire Hungarian economy. The existence of corruption on all levels of the administration didn’t escape the attention of the demonstrators who were brought to the street by their concern over the government’s plans to restrict access to the internet through onerous taxation. They protested against the “mafia government” and chanted slogans about thieves who become rich off their own hard-earned money. They deplored the activities of the corrupt officials of NAV, the Hungarian equivalent of the American IRS. NAV spends untold millions if not billions trying to track down small fry while letting the big fish off the hook. Or worse, it is alleged, high officials of NAV receive kickbacks from corrupt businessmen for services rendered. And what is the most disturbing about this whole story is that the highest officeholders of the government party, Fidesz, have known about these fraudulent activities–and have benefited from them–for years.

How can I say with such confidence that members of the government and the party have been aware of these illegal activities for a long time? Almost a year ago András Horváth, an employee of NAV, spilled the beans. He collected evidence that proved that certain crooked businessmen were receiving preferential treatment by NAV. In the wake of Horváth’s revelations nothing happened. After a quick internal investigation, NAV declared that Horváth’s accusations were baseless. And, for good measure, they fired Horváth. Soon enough the police arrived at Horváth’s apartment and took away the evidence.

The fraud that high NAV officials “overlooked” involved all sorts of financial shenanigans that resulted in Hungarian businessmen not paying the admittedly very high 27% value added tax on certain agricultural products like sugar and cooking oil. With that move, and with the active assistance of the Hungarian tax office, these crooked Hungarian businessmen gained a considerable advantage over their main competitor, the American firm Bunge. These Hungarian businessmen were the ones András Horváth was talking about and who are now, after the American revelations, suddenly  in custody. Without the American announcement to ban certain individuals from entering the U.S. these people would still be writing out their fraudulent bills of sale. The thoroughly corrupt Orbán government had no intention of doing anything about the crooked businessmen or, as it turned out, the equally corrupt tax officials. The American ban is invoked only in countries where there is no hope for justice because the government itself is corrupt. Usually third-world countries.

With the American revelations Horváth’s accusations were corroborated. Horváth and Goodfriend obviously were talking about the same cast of characters. But the Americans added another crucial piece of information that Horváth couldn’t have known about: high NAV officials offered their services to the CEO of Bunge for 2 billion Hungarian forints, to be paid to a foundation with ties to Fidesz. In return, they offered a lowered VAT on foodstuffs, a demand of long-standing by the honest producers of sugar and cooking oil. For this sum they also offered to go after Bunge’s competition.

The government’s reaction to all these revelations is fascinating. First, government officials–most notably Mihály Varga, minister of national economy who is in charge of NAV–focused on the corrupt businessmen, ignoring the NAV officials. Why is the Hungarian government accused of doing nothing? After all, three or four people are already in custody. When asked about Ildikó Vida, the corrupt head of NAV who was seen at Vienna’s airport leaving for an unknown destination, he played the innocent. Vida is taking her vacation, to which she is entitled. To the question whether Ildikó Vida is banned from the United States as rumored, Varga announced with a straight face and a hefty dose of the exculpatory conditional, that if she were, surely she would have reported this fact to him as she is supposed to.

Who is this Ildikó Vida? She, like almost all Fidesz bigwigs, lived in the countryside before she entered law school in Budapest. (One reason for the heavy concentration of non-Budapesters among the original Fidesz leaders is that they lived in university dormitories.) Vida was also a member of the by now famous Bibó College which Orbán; Lajos Simicska, former treasurer of Fidesz and now a wealthy businessman; László Kövér, president of the parliament; and József Szájer, a member of the European parliament, attended.

Ildikó Vida at her desk

Ildikó Vida at her desk

As one Hungarian media outlet complained, we know very little about the president of NAV. She does not have a large Internet presence and NAV’s webpage has no biographies of the organization’s top leaders. However, she seems to be a very important person in Orbán’s mafia state.

About a month ago a long study by atlatszo.hu, one of those NGOs who receive money from the Norwegian Civil Fund and whom the government is trying to defund, identified the key persons who “captured the Hungarian state.” Ildikó Vida is among them. She must know about the siphoning of public money into Fidesz coffers and most likely into Fidesz politicians’ own pockets as well. Lajos Simicska, whom Orbán called a “financial genius” but who elsewhere would be considered a criminal, was put in charge of the tax office in 1998 as soon as Orbán won the elections. His job was to get rid of all the incriminating evidence about the illegal financial activities of Fidesz-owned businesses that folded and were subsequently “sold” to people unreachable by Hungarian authorities so their unpaid taxes couldn’t be collected. Ildikó Vida was one of Simicska’s deputies and, once Simicska left a year later, Vida became the head of the almighty APEH, the predecessor to NAV. Most people assume that APEH under Vida was no better than NAV is today. I assume that then, just as now, the tax office serves three purposes. One is to assist certain businessmen close to Fidesz to gain an advantage over their competitors by closing their eyes to their fraudulent activities. The second function is to extract money from business leaders, part of which goes to party coffers through an intermediary, like a foundation. And third, the tax office frightens certain persons and businesses Fidesz does not deem friendly to the party and the government into submission. In brief, the picture is grim–and I suspect we don’t know the half of it.

A watershed? Did Hungarian society awaken as some people think?

Most analysts agree that Viktor Orbán made a terrible political mistake when he consented to the idea of taxing Internet usage. Yet for the time being it looks as if the government will not take the proposal off the table. Observers are pretty well convinced that if the government had retreated at the first sign of serious opposition, the opportunity wouldn’t have arisen to forge a wide coalition of forces that by now can be viewed as a serious political opposition not only to the Internet tax but to the whole regime.

Perhaps one of the best descriptions of the feeling after yesterday’s enormous demonstration came from András Jámbor, a blogger and a participant in the demonstration, who said: “The Orbán regime did not fall last night and it is possible that it won’t for some time, but something very important happened yesterday: we conquered the cynicism and apathy around us, and the feeling that ‘it can’t be otherwise.’ We stood up for our own affairs…. Yesterday we won.” I think these words should be taken seriously.

I’d bet that this young man, after yesterday’s demonstration, felt something like the students did in October 1956 after they returned home from Kossuth tér–a distinct sense that from here on nothing will be the same. Even if the revolution failed, the events of that autumn day showed the participants that they were no longer powerless. I’m also sure that participants in the reburial of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs felt the same way: they were witnesses to the beginning of a new era. Yes, something changed yesterday, but it looks that members of the Hungarian government haven’t taken notice yet. Otherwise they wouldn’t insist on going ahead with the tax.

The man who announced the government’s resolve was Szilárd Németh, a long-time Fidesz member of parliament and, more recently, commissioner in charge of the successful campaign for utility price decreases. Németh began his career as a school librarian, although I can better imagine him as a bouncer in front of a nightclub in some less than reputable district of Budapest. I assume that he got the job of selling the Internet tax because of his great success with the utility rate campaign, which increased public support for the government from 17% to over 40%.

Some people are puzzled about Viktor Orbán’s absence and why he picked this particular time to visit his oldest daughter in Switzerland. After all, it was during his absence that the somewhat belated budget proposal was introduced in parliament. Even before we learned about the numerous new taxes included in the proposed budget, there was widespread fear that  a new austerity program was waiting for the no longer unsuspecting Hungarian public. Did he want to run away from the upcoming storm? Perhaps. However, those who naively think that the chaos in Budapest is due to the prime minister’s absence are wrong. Németh this morning spoke in Orbán’s name.

The two massive demonstrations in three days are hard to ignore or explain away. However, the delusional members of the administration convinced themselves that the demonstrations were actually organized by the opposition parties who misled 100,000 people into staging a political attack against the government. Government politicians by now really seem to believe their own propaganda about the unity of the nation and support for the government by every true Hungarian. The people out on the streets had to be misled, pure and simple. By the end of his interview Németh accused Ferenc Gyurcsány of being behind the plot. As critics of the opposition parties were quick  to note: wouldn’t it be nice if these parties could actually organize such huge crowds.

Zoltán Lakner, one of the few talented political analysts in Hungary, pointed out that by virtue of the government itself admitting that the demonstrations were political in nature, it created a huge political conflict out of a simple tax question. Another observer, Zoltán Somogyi, reminded us that “one prime minister had to resign because of a 300-forint co-pay, another will soon follow him because of a 700-forint” Internet tax. Of course, he was referrring to Ferenc Gyurcsány. Other political scientists are also convinced that if Fidesz does not change tactics, a political avalanche will follow. Even Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, a fierce defender of the Orbán government and CEO of Nézőpont Intézet, admitted that the demonstrations are serious warnings to the government and that even the stability created by the three victorious elections may not be enough to combat the political problem Viktor Orbán is facing.

Finally, I would like to say a few words about the opposition parties’ position vis-à-vis this civic Facebook-organized movement. Before the Sunday demonstration, DK was planning a demonstration in front of NAV headquarters, the tax office, for Monday. Of course, this demonstration had nothing to do with the Internet tax but rather with the alleged corruption charges leveled against the office. Once the demonstration took place on Sunday, DK cancelled the event because they did not want to interfere in any way with a most likely much larger and more important demonstration on Tuesday. The party urged its members and supporters to join the planned demonstration. Együtt-PM and LMP did the same. MSZP said nothing.

Last night, after the official demonstration was over, about 2,000 people went to Kossuth tér in front of Parliament where they demanded that the EU flag be displayed. In the past both the Hungarian and the EU flags were displayed until László Kövér ordered that the EU flag be removed. He discovered that it is not compulsory to fly the EU flag on member states’ parliament buildings. That had to be a joyful discovery for the man who obviously hates the European Union through and through.

So, there was the crowd demanding the flag, but there was no way to force the people inside to oblige. At that point three women appeared in one of the windows with two EU flags. The reaction was stupendous. Cheers went up and most people recognized that one of the women was Ágnes Kunhalmi, an MSZP member of parliament and chair of MSZP in Budapest. The other two were also members of MSZP, Anita Heriges, and Ildikó Borbély. They waved the flags to the cheering crowd. It was a gesture that was highly appreciated. Party members and demonstrating civilians worked together for a brief moment to the satisfaction of both.

Source: Népszabadság / Photo Simon Móricz-Sabján

Source: Népszabadság / Photo Simon Móricz-Sabján

What was the official MSZP reaction to this gesture? Zoltán Gőgös, a member of parliament and an expert on agricultural matters, announced today at a press conference that although MSZP sympathizes with the organizers of the demonstrations, the party as such will not support them in any way.  He singled out  Ágnes Kunhalmi, who according to him did not wave the EU flag as a campaign gesture but simply responded to the request of the demonstrators. Of course, the opposition parties must be very careful not to give the impression that they in any way want to influence or lead the civilians, but it is the greatest folly to distance themselves officially.

“This is just the beginning”: An even larger demonstration against the regime today

Today an enormous crowd gathered on József nádor tér. It eventually swelled to the point that the beginning of the demonstration was already at the Clark Ádám tér on the Buda side at the Lánchíd while the last demonstrators were still at the Astoria Hotel, a good mile away from the Pest side of the Erzsébet híd. And while on Sunday only a handful of people gathered in Pécs, Miskolc, and Veszprém, this time there were much larger demonstrations, including one in Szeged. In Pécs the speaker was Tamás Mellár, a conservative economist at the University of Pécs who has been a harsh critic of the Orbán government’s economic policies. It is not a coincidence that larger crowds gathered in university towns. After all, young people and students would be most affected by the proposed internet tax.

Apparently the original proposal was so poorly prepared that, had it become law, an average computer user would have had to pay 65,000 forints a month just in taxes. Surely, this was total nonsense, but if the government does not consult with the leaders of the industry such a result is predictable. Then came the inevitable amendments when the Fidesz lawmakers try to fix the botched up proposals. At the end most people who went through the amended proposal still didn’t know how big a burden this new tax will be if it’s introduced. According to calculations, an average user will have to pay 10,000 forints in taxes–and that’s over and above  the 27% VAT they already pay, the highest in the world. Ten thousand forints or $42.00 is a lot of money even for an American internet subscriber, but it is a serious financial burden for most middle-class Hungarians. Also, it is not clear whether this tax would be levied per household, per subscription to a service provider (internet and smart phone), or per electronic device.

But it is not really the size of the tax, although of course that is part of it. For the demonstrators it is a question of principle: the net is free. This is their lifeline to the larger world. It is part of a social network that, for example, made these last two demonstrations possible. It is there where within a few days the organizers received 210,000 likes, more than Fidesz has collected in who knows how many years. It’s not known whose brainchild this tax was, but it was a colossal political mistake. Rumor has it that it was the Great Leader himself who came up with the idea. But, people argue, how could Viktor Orbán make such a mistake? After all, his political instincts are impeccable, at least as far as knowing what moves the Hungarian Everyman.

Source:Reuters/László Balogh

Source:Reuters/László Balogh

What could have accounted for this political misstep, whoever made it? I talked about one possible explanation already yesterday: the Fidesz boys got old too fast. I think they aged prematurely because they are basically an intolerant, opinionated bunch. They lack an openness to anything new or different. They are bound by tradition. All that stuff about folk costumes, folk dances, folk motifs, the virtues of the Hungarian peasantry. They are a backward looking lot. I saw an interview with a man who most likely never sat in front of a computer who announced that he is in favor of the tax because “these people use it too much. The internet should be restricted. Above a prescribed  level, it should not be accessible because it is not good for them.”

The tax is controversial even in Fidesz circles, but I doubt that anyone will dare tell Orbán that he is making a huge mistake. According to rumors, he is currently in Switzerland, insulated from the tense atmosphere in Hungary. These demonstrations will not stop. As the crowds chanted: “This is just the beginning!” This is not just against the tax but against the whole rotten system. They called the prime minister a traitor who sold his country to Putin and said that they don’t want anything to do with the Russians. They chanted: “Filthy Fidesz, filthy Fidesz!” They demanded democracy, a free country, and a free internet. And they want to belong to the European Union, from which László Kövér wouldn’t mind backing out slowly.

But this is only the political side of the controversy. What about the economic impact of the move? According to a recent article that appeared in The New York Times, only so-called developing countries impose damagingly high taxes on top of VAT or sales tax. As a report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation pointed out, “increasing taxes on information and communication technologies provides a significant drag on economic growth, and the losses accrue quickly over time.” Perhaps sanity will return and Viktor Orbán will see the light. Mind you, not too many people believe that. Klub Radio asked whether Orbán will retreat on the issue or not: only 20% of the callers answered in the affirmative. By now Hungarians know their prime minister.

Viktor Orbán is not only illiterate when it comes to computers. What about diplomacy?

As you know, I was contemplating writing something about the internet tax, but I felt I had to deal with the further reverberations of Hungary’s shaky relations with the U.S. Now, it seems, the two topics have converged with M. André Goodfriend’s appearance at the demonstration last night.

So, let’s start with the demonstration itself. I considered the crowd very large, especially in comparison to similar gatherings when the issues were purely political. Abstract concepts don’t move crowds in Hungary. The reason might be the low level of political culture and sophistication, the lack of a sustained democratic past, and perhaps even the sinking living standards that force people to concentrate on sheer survival.

I watched the entire demonstration and was impressed with Balázs Gulyás, the organizer and speaker. Although he tried to keep the focus on a single issue, the internet tax, it was clear from the first moment that the demonstration was much more than that. It was a rejection of the kind of life Viktor Orbán and his minions are offering Hungarians, especially young people. I especially liked a phrase in Gulyás’s speech–“we only turned the clock back, not the century”–referring to going off Daylight Savings Time the night before. The demonstrators obviously knew full well that the internet tax is just a symptom of the many anti-modern moves that make the Orbán regime a retrograde construct that can only lead the country to disaster. We are already pretty close.

Another welcome feature of the demonstration was a healthy mix of the young, middle-aged, and old. Yes, I know that young people are not interested in politics, and I wish this weren’t the case, but one must face facts. Unfortunately, by and large this is the situation all over the world. But those young people who went out yesterday realize that this government does not serve their needs. They consider Viktor Orbán a man of the past, an old fuddy-dud who is computer illiterate. Someone who is never seen with a smart phone. Someone who “cannot send an e-mail.” The boys–as longstanding acquaintances call the Fidesz founders–are looking old and tired. Although Orbán is only 50, he is “not with it.” Something happened to these young revolutionaries of the 1980s over the last twenty years. Time has left them behind, and they want to foist their outdated ideas and outlook on life on the new generation.

Balázs Gulyás is telling the truth: not a computer in sight

Balázs Gulyás is telling the truth: not a computer in sight

On the other hand, the American chargé d’affaires, André Goodfriend, seemed to be very much with it as he stood in the crowd with a backpack. As he said in one of his many recent interviews, he spends a great deal of time on the streets of Budapest. A planned demonstration on the internet tax was certainly something he thought he ought to see in person. I’m also sure that he has the State Department’s backing for both his appearances at demonstrations and his presence on Twitter. There a so-called conversation developed between the American chargé and Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for international communication. I find Kovács unsuited for the job he holds, but perhaps it is fitting that such a man represents the Orbán government abroad. He is a perfect embodiment of this aggressive, crude regime.

Here are a couple of tweets, starting with

Goodfriend:

            “Interesting to see the nature of crowds in Budapest. Internet tax march seemed large & orderly w/good police support.” Then later: “Seeing the news reports of vandalism during the march as well, which I condemn. Not as orderly as it seemed where I stood.”

Kovács:

            “Checkin’ the mood, André?! @a demonstration organized by MSZP and liberals’?! As Chargé d’Affaires? Interesting, Eh?”

Goodfriend:

            “Absolutely. I’ve also checked the mood at the Peace Marches, and at numerous other events organized in Hungary.”

Kovács:

            “Are you sure that’s the wisest thing in this histerically stirred-up atmosphere while you vindicate to be a key actor? Eh?!”

Goodfriend:

            “There’s always a choice between hiding away, & getting out to see what’s happening. I try to hear the full range of perspectives.”

Kovács:

            “Sure ‘hearing’ and influencing does make a large difference.”

Goodfriend:

            “When I want to influence, I speak. Otherwise, I’m listening. Sometimes there’s not enough listening.”

Kovács:

            “That we’ve learned through the past couple of days. Sometimes there’s too much ‘demonstration.'”

Goodfriend:

            “So, now is the time to draw lessons from the discussion, and follow words with constructive, meaningful deeds.”

Kovács:

            “Surely, giving an ultimatum by demonstrators to a govt is no ground for constructivity. Good luck with friends like that…”

Goodfriend:

            “Some people see ‘ultimatum’ others see a proposition awaiting response as part of dialog. Constructive part may be the response.”

An extraordinary exchange in which Zoltán Kovács showed his true colors and the baseness of his discourse.

Meanwhile the likes of Kovács, András Bencsik, and other organizers of the Peace Marches were ready to call their 100,000 followers to defend their leader because the United States may prepare a coup against Orbán just as it did in Ukraine, they claimed. Apparently they were told to cool it because it might be taken as a sign of weakness of the all-powerful prime minister. Just as they were told to scrap a planned demonstration on behalf of the poor Russians suffering under the yoke of sanctions.

But the volume was turned up by members of the government. László Kövér last night on HírTV talked about a verbal cold war and warned the West that further criticism of Hungary might change the positive picture Hungarians have of the United States and Western Europe. He also tried to explain away Hungary’s isolation by saying that Hungary has so few friends because this is the “nature of politics.” And naturally he did not forget about the NGOs that serve foreign interests.

At the same time there are a few voices warning the government that its relations with the United States have reached a dangerous juncture. Péter Boross, prime minister for a few months in 1993-1994, came out with this observation: “The European Union and the European Parliament are terrains where the government and the prime minister can defend their actions. But the United States is different. The United States is a great power and I would not suggest getting into an argument with her. That can be dangerous for Hungary.”

Others share Boross’s view. An opinion piece in HVG was entitled “The country that came into the cold.” In another, which appeared in privatbanker.hu, a journalist is convinced that “the ice is cracking under our feet” and that Hungary’s relations with the West are shattered at their very foundations. Even in the pro-Fidesz Válasz an editorial warned that it is not a smart thing to irritate the lion. The writer found it outlandish that Tamás Deutsch, one of the veteran politicians of Fidesz and a member of the European Parliament, called André Goodfriend a fifth-rate CIA agent. The author also found Kovács’s tweets to the chargé unfortunate. Such a communication style might be acceptable in Syria and Iran, he said, but these countries do not claim to be allies and friends of the United States.

More about this topic tomorrow.

Tamás Gomperz: Yankees, come here!

I will continue with the same theme: U.S.-Hungarian relations, but this time in a lighthearted way. I discovered a short and very funny opinion piece in HVG which I would like to share with those readers of  Hungarian Spectrum who haven’t yet mastered the intricacies of  the Hungarian language. I just hope that my limited skills as a translator will be sufficient to capture the flavor of this short spoof. The author is Tamás Gomperz, a regular at HVG. I might add that a lot of right-wingers and Jobbik voters don’t seem to have a sense of humor. When Mandiner republished it, its readership (which unlike the editorial board is anything but moderately conservative) accused Gomperz of all sorts of  evil intentions.

The quotation at the beginning of the article should be familiar to the readers since I cited it a couple of days ago. It is one of László Kövér’s ruminations. So, here goes.

American flag

* * *

YANKEES, COME HERE!

We would be okay without Europe but only if the Americans came instead

“If that is the future of the European Union, then it is worthwhile to contemplate that perhaps we should slowly, carefully back out.” It’s hard to remember the last time that this deeply tormented man said anything intelligible or did anything useful, but now it seems that at last he wants to change his doleful course. But one should not take him terribly seriously and nobody should worry about our speedy departure from the Union.

There are two moral considerations here. One is that most of the money that can be stolen comes from the Union, and we all know that one cannot heat the swimming pool with patriotism. The second is that Hungary’s departure from the Union is not in Moscow’s interest. On the contrary, the Russians would be not at all happy if the Trojan horse suddenly bolted from the fortress and found itself outside its walls.

As long as this remains the situation, we stay. Moscow pays because it has managed to acquire an agent; the Union pays because it is stupid. Meanwhile the prime minister is convinced that he is very clever and cunning because he can take advantage of both sides. Based on his pocketbook, his reckoning is pretty accurate, although that does not mean that he would hesitate even for a second if he had no other choice. Then he would quit without the slightest hesitation. So, all those who love Europe should hold their collective breath for two things: Hungarian foreign policy will still be conducted from Moscow and the European Union will remain as stupid in the future as it has been in the past.

Given the cast of characters, the prospects are good for both. On the other hand, it is worth contemplating that America managed to do more for Hungarian democracy in one week than all the European political leaders have in the last four years. Therefore, perhaps it would be useful to rethink the situation. Perhaps we should slowly retreat from all that vacillation over Europe. Instead we could perhaps beg for a real American occupation, colonization, protectorate, whatever. They didn’t come in 56, they can make up for it now. We will take over the constitution, M. André Goodfriend could be the nádor,* governor, or sheriff, we are open to all solutions. He could start immediately with a proclamation. Because it is a good thing that people representing our worst features can’t go across the ocean. Actually, it would be even better if someone would expel them from here. We can’t solve the problem alone.

So, as the saying goes: there is life outside the Union but one must swim farther.

*nádor/palatinus local representative of the king in Hungary