Orbán government

Changes in the Hungarian foreign ministry and the growth of the third Orbán government

Today I would like to say a few words about the reorganization of the government. First, one wonders why it took so long to create the third Orbán government considering that on the top level there were very few personnel changes. Only two ministries were affected–the ministry of foreign trade and foreign affairs and the ministry of administration and justice. Not much changed in the latter, but what happened in the former is truly astonishing. With the arrival of Tibor Navracsics and Péter Szijjártó about 200 new faces appeared in the ministry; their corresponding numbers were either dismissed or moved to other positions in other ministries. It is just now becoming evident how dissatisfied Viktor Orbán must have been with János Martonyi and the men and women around him.

In 2010 Viktor Orbán announced that there were two ministers whose presence in his second government was assured: Sándor Pintér and János Martonyi. Martonyi hadn’t been officially nominated at the time, but Orbán sent him nonetheless to Bratislava to negotiate with the Slovaks.

Martonyi has been loyal to Viktor Orbán ever since 1998 when he was first named foreign minister. From the WikiLeaks documents we know that after the lost election of 2002 Martonyi was a frequent and welcome visitor in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest where he was especially highly regarded by Ambassador April H. Foley (2006-2009). As a result, the relationship between Ferenc Gyurcsány and the American ambassador was outright antagonistic.

János Martonyi made an almost clean sweep in the personnel of the ministry in 2010 and yet, it seems, the atmosphere and the foreign policy strategies devised by Martonyi were not to Orbán’s liking. More and more areas of foreign policy were taken away from the ministry and given to others: first to Tamás Fellegi, minister of national development, and later to Péter Szijjártó. The former was supposed to woo China and Russia while Szijjártó concentrated on the Middle East. And yet Martonyi defended the prime minister and remained loyal to the end. If he was insulted by being sidestepped and ignored, he didn’t show it.

Now his tenure is over. For six months Tibor Navracsics will fill Martonyi’s place after which Orbán’s real favorite, Péter Szijjártó, will become minister. He will most likely continue the policy of the “Eastern Opening,” the brainchild of Viktor Orbán. For such a drastic change in orientation an entirely new staff was necessary. Not one of the six undersecretaries remained, and out of the ten assistant undersecretaries only one kept his job.

Among the victims was Enikő Győri, undersecretary in charge of Hungary’s relations with the European Union, who will be leaving to serve as ambassador to Spain. Her departure might be connected to a debate about which ministry should deal with the EU.  János Lázár wants to move the responsibility to the prime minister’s office, while Navracsics insisted that relations with Brussels belongs to the ministry of foreign affairs. After Navracsics’s departure Lázár may well have his way.

The third Orbán government / MTI Photo Attila Kovács

The third Orbán government / MTI Photo Attila Kovács

Gergely Prőhle, the assistant undersecretary about whom I wrote several times, is also leaving. Zoltán Balog created a new position for him in the ministry of human resources. With this change Prőhle’s diplomatic career seems to be coming to an end. Earlier he served as ambassador to Bern and Berlin.

The most noteworthy change is the departure of Zsolt Németh, undersecretary of foreign affairs in both the first and the second Orbán governments. He was one of the founders of Fidesz who has held high positions in the party ever since 1989. In fact, between 1995 and 2003 he was one of the vice-presidents of the party. He has been a member of parliament since 1990. He will now be the chairman of the parliament’s committee on foreign affairs. According to NépszabadságNémeth was offered the post of ambassador to Washington but he preferred to retire completely from the conduct of foreign affairs. He supports a foreign policy based on transatlantic ties and “would like to see better relations between Hungary and the United States.” Apparently, he is not happy with the cozy relations between Hungary and Putin’s Russia.

In other ministries the changes were not that drastic, but practically everywhere the number of undersecretaries and assistant undersecretaries has grown. Perhaps the most spectacular growth occurred in the Office of the Prime Minister where there are eight undersecretaries and, believe it or not, 27 assistant undersecretaries. One of these new assistant secretaries has already made his mark. He is the one who is “negotiating” with the Norwegians about their grants to Hungary. In total, according to a new HVG article, there are 100 assistant undersecretaries in the third Orbán government.

I see no attempt on the part of the government to be frugal. Not only is the government growing steadily but grandiose plans are being hatched practically daily. The government is planning to build a new museum quarter, to move ministries from Budapest to various cities across the country, and to move the office of the prime minister to the Castle district, near the current residence of the president.

The Hungarian government is also continuing its mania for acquisitions. It is currently negotiating “to buy Bombardier’s stake in Hungarian rail transportation firm Bombardier MAV Kft.” The new minister of national development told Napi Gazdaság that “it’s a clear aim of the government and the ministry to carry out further acquisitions. It’s not a secret that there are talks under way in this respect with E.ON, for example.”

After this spending spree, who is going to replenish the Hungarian piggy bank?

Undisguised anti-Semitism of Viktor Orbán’s chief ideologue, the historian Mária Schmidt

In the June 26 issue of Válasz, formerly Heti Válasz, a fairly lengthy article entitled “In the captivity of the past” appeared. It was written by Mária Schmidt whom I earlier described as the “chief ideologist of the current government’s very controversial views on history.”

In this latest article Schmidt, the official historian of the Hungarian “Jewish question” in Viktor Orbán’s regime, does not even try to hide her aversion toward the Hungarian “left-liberal” intellectual elite. Moreover, a careful reading of the article reveals that in that hated group the Jews play a prominent role. The whole article is basically an attack on those “infallible,” mostly Jewish intellectuals who have been keeping Hungarian public opinion “under intellectual terror” for decades. Singled out for especially vituperative attack is the older generation of that intellectual elite.

It is hard to understand Schmidt’s vehemence against this aging group since at the very beginning of the article she confidently states that “since the 2014 election the influence and intellectual terror of the left liberal elite has slowly dwindled to nothing.” The election proved that “these clever ones” simply don’t understand the twenty-first century which, according to Schmidt, “began in 2008.”

What kinds of people are these old-fashioned liberals who understand nothing of the present because they are locked in the intellectual framework of 1968? They are, according to the court historian of Viktor Orbán, anti-Christian, anti-Hungarian, Marxist internationalists who talk about a future beyond nations. They are accused of launching a hate campaign, and “in our country only atheistic, intolerant, Marxist groups” are capable of such a hate campaign. These people are unable to understand the very concept of “Hungarian interest.” Instead, they talk about progress and internationalism while actually “they become servants of foreign interests. While there was the Soviet Union, they represented Soviet interests, now they serve the West, that is, the United States, the European Union, and Germany.” She continues: “Every member of this group is against the nation.” For them the nation is dangerous, repugnant, old-fashioned, pre-modern. They like to talk about “the preferred topics of the empire,” meaning the European Union: Holocaust, racism, Roma, homosexual marriage. And where can these people be found? “In the new SZDSZ, the Demokratikus Koalíció.”

Once she sets the stage she moves on to a specifically Jewish topic, or at least what she considers to be a topic that elicits opposition only from the Jewish community. Of course, this is not the case; about half of Hungarians consider the monument the government intends to erect to commemorate the occupation of Hungary by the Germans on March 19, 1944 a falsification of history. Schmidt’s tirade against those who oppose the depiction of Hungary as an innocent victim of German aggression begins with a side swipe at the United States. She says that some people find the proposed statue aesthetically inferior, but after what “the U.S. Embassy did with one of the most beautiful public places of Budapest” one should refrain from such criticism. This is a reference to the alterations made to the building after 9/11 for security reasons.

Then Schmidt embarks on listing  the arguments that were brought against the erection of the monument, finding all of them bogus. Naturally, according to her, it mattered not that although the German army did move into Hungarian territory, it came not as a foe but as a friend, an ally.

The second argument that the memorial’s message blurs the distinction between victim and perpetrator also receives short shrift from Schmidt. Monuments often do that. There is, for example, the Soviet Memorial standing on the same square. It is a memorial to the soldiers who died in Hungary in the course of the war, but, adds Schmidt, they were the same soldiers who  raped 100,000 Hungarian women. (I don’t want to be irreverent, but surely in this case the perpetrators of the rapes were not the ones whose death is memorialized by the Soviet Memorial.)

The third argument is that Hungary cannot be depicted as an innocent victim because “there were Jewish laws and Hungary deported some people who couldn’t prove their citizenship.” But this doesn’t make the occupation any less of a tragedy. The victim becomes a victim not because he is innocent but because of the aggression of the stronger. It happens often enough that “some of the victims later become perpetrators.” Because I am familiar with other writings of Mária Schmidt, I know exactly whom she has in mind: some Jewish survivors who later became willing supporters of the Rákosi regime and whose activities are so vividly depicted in the House of Terror, whose director is Mária Schmidt herself.

With this introduction about “victims” and “perpetrators” Schmidt specifically addresses the Hungarian Jewish community. She claims that “in the last couple of decades the status of the victim became absolute. We got so far that there are groups that would like to look upon their ancestors’ tragic fate as an inherited privilege and expand the victimization to generations whose members have not suffered any atrocity.” In her opinion this view, held by some members of the Hungarian Jewish community, has “serious consequences” because if the status of victim can be inherited then so can the status of perpetrator. “We lived through two dictatorships. We are full of former perpetrators and their descendants.” Schmidt claims that the soon to be erected monument was created to be “the monument of reconciliation and propitiation.”

Memorial for those who were killed on the banks of the Danube and their bodies thrown into the river Source; budapest-foto.hu

Memorial for those Jewish victims who were killed on the banks of the Danube 
Source: budapest-foto.hu

As if this were not enough, Schmidt goes on attacking the Hungarian Jewish community. “Those very people who laid the foundations of and represented the historiography of the dictatorship want to prevent us now, seventy years after the tragedy, from placing the flowers of reverence before all the Hungarian victims. They still want to prescribe whom we can mourn and whom we cannot; for whom we can cry and for whom we cannot. They prescribe empathy from us every day of the year, while they remain blind and deaf toward other people’s sorrows. … With this act they exclude themselves from our national community.

Well, this is at least straightforward talk, not the usual coded anti-Semitic discourse. This is the real thing from the chief ideologue of the Orbán regime. And a threat. At least the members of the Hungarian Jewish community now know what they can expect from the Hungarian nation, from which they just excluded themselves.

 

Even a former communist security agent can become a member of the Orbán government

It was on June 12 that President János Áder appointed the third Orbán government’s undersecretaries. There are so many of them that the ceremony had to be held in one of the bigger rooms of the Hungarian Parliament. Among the appointees was László Tasnádi, one of the four undersecretaries in the Ministry of the Interior. He will be responsible for the civilian supervision of the Hungarian police force. Tasnádi is a trusted associate of the minister of the interior, Sándor Pintér. In the last four years Tasnádi was the Pintér’s chief-of-staff.

Tasnádi is actually a high-ranking police officer who, according to his official biography, began his career in the Budapest police force in 1978 and remained an active officer until 1990 with the rank of captain (százados). By now he is a brigadier-general, a rank he received last year. According to the same official bio, he held high positions in the Ministry of the Interior and in APEH, the equivalent of the US Internal Revenue Service, between 1998 and 2002. After Fidesz lost the election, he joined Sándor Pintér’s business venture, a security firm. As soon as Viktor Orbán won the election in 2010, Pintér returned to the Ministry of the Interior with Tasnádi in tow. In  June 2014 Pintér became minister of the interior for the third time and Tasnádi got promoted to be one of his undersecretaries.

President János Áder shaking hands with László Tasnádi, the new undersecretary / Photo MTI

President János Áder shaking hands with László Tasnádi, the new undersecretary Photo MTI

A week after Tasnádi’s appointment became official, Index unearthed a few details about his past. It turned out that on June 16, 1989, when Viktor Orbán was sending the Russians packing, Tasnádi was waiting for the reports of two of his agents, Amur and Vera. By now we know quite a bit about Amur. He was born in 1930, was a tailor’s apprentice who got involved with the illegal communist party, and in 1952 became an officer of the infamous ÁVH (Államvédelmi Hivatal = State Defense Office). By the 60s and 70s he served at the Hungarian embassies in Paris and Geneva. He retired with the rank of colonel a few months before the reburial of Imre Nagy, but because a large crowd was expected retired personnel were also called up for the occasion. Details about Vera are not known.

Tasnádi in his very brief official bio on the website of the Ministry of the Interior simply reports that he left the Budapest police force in 1990 where he was the director of one of the “sub-departments” (alosztály). Indeed he was, but what kind of a sub-department are we talking about? It was the “D sub-department” of the III/II department (counter-intelligence) that was involved with “domestic enemies,” people who were suspected of hostile activities in the churches and in cultural fields. The department also reported on diplomats.

Interestingly, one of the first outcries after the publication of the Index article came from the right. Zsolt Bayer, the foul-mouthed anti-Semitic journalist of Magyar Hírlap, announced on his program Korrektúra on EchoTV that if  Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy (2002-2004) was unacceptable to Fidesz because he was a counter-intelligence officer of  the III/II Department, László Tasnádi should be as well. Tasnádi, however, announced a few hours after the Index article appeared that he has no intention of resigning. He was an honest counter-intelligence officer and what he did is “a profession” like any other. He is proud of his service to Hungary. The members of the opposition were not impressed: they demanded his resignation.

On June 24 even the Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF), the phony NGO that organized the pro-government peace marches, demanded Tasnádi’s resignation. The leaders of the group indicated that if Tasnádi is not ready to retire quietly they will exert more pressure “for the sake of strengthening the moral foundations of democracy.” They did not spell out what kind of pressure they had in mind. In addition, other pro-government journalists raised their voices against the Tasnádi appointment. Perhaps the most vitriolic was a spoof by András Stumpf in Válasz (aka Heti Válasz) in which he makes fun of certain right-wing journalists who try to defend Tasnádi.  Stumpf also calls attention to a Heti Válasz article from 2009 in which Tasnádi, along with 49 other officers, was mentioned.

Naturally, liberal journalists were appalled. Sándor Révész of Népszabadság pointed out with bitter irony that, after all, Tasnádi is in the right place. In the service of dictatorship he harassed Hungarians involved in the cultural field or connected to the churches while he kept an eye on diplomats who were helping the members of the human rights movement.  Now he can do the same thing again.

CÖF only yesterday made public another declaration about the Tasnádi affair. This time they ask the Ministry of Justice to prepare a bill that would make appointments of earlier “functionaries” impossible. This is, of course, far too sweeping. Who is considered to be a functionary? I hope that no such bill will be presented before the voting machine of the Orbán parliament. But members of the security forces of the dictatorship have no place in the government of an alleged democratic state.

It was the Demokratikus Koalíció who asked the most important question in connection with the Tasnádi case. Tasnádi is today an undersecretary because he has been favored by the minister of the interior who was himself a high-ranking police officer during the Kádár regime and as such was a party member. DK is wondering, and with good reason, about the connection between Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán. Why is it that Sándor Pintér seems to be the everlasting minister of the interior? This is now the third Orbán government in which Pintér serves as minister of interior. As the DK communiqué pointed out, Pintér is the only man who has been a minister for every minute of the Orbán governments. What is so special about this man? And DK pointedly asks: what does Pintér know about Viktor Orbán that he can allow himself to appoint a  man like Tasnádi to be his deputy?

I wrote about Pintér several times before and in one post I outlined the many rumors swirling around him. One of these rumors is that Pintér had a hand in or had knowledge of a series of suspicious bombings at the houses of Fidesz politicians just before the election in 1998. They were suspicious because as soon the election was over and Fidesz won, these terrorist activities abruptly ceased. As if they were ordered by someone or someones to create chaos and give the impression that the MSZP-SZDSZ administration was unable to handle the situation. At the same time they created sympathy for Fidesz and Smallholder politicians against whom these attacks were directed. This might be one possibility, but given the less than savory activities of Fidesz politicians in the past, it can be many other things that would be deadly if revealed.

We will see whether this case will also be ignored by the administration or perhaps, given the outcry on the right, Pintér will have to retreat and let his friend the security agent go.

Another corrupt official: The minister of national development and his “businesses”

Today’s scandal involves the newly appointed minister of national development. In case you get confused with all the “national” stuff, this is the ministry that was led in the last couple of years by the mysterious Mrs. László Németh. The one nobody had heard of before and the one who had only a high school education.

In 2010 when the ministry was created it looked as if the minister initially appointed to head this new ministry was destined to play a major role in the affairs of the Orbán government. Viktor Orbán appointed his former professor and senior adviser Tamás Fellegi to the post. Fellegi, especially at the beginning, traveled madly back and forth between Beijing, Moscow, and Budapest. It was also this ministry that was supposed to handle the subsidies coming from the European Union. After a few months, however, Fellegi’s job of dealing with China and Russia was taken over by the prime minister himself and Péter Szijjártó, the young “genius” of Orbán’s inner circle. Fellegi resigned or was let go. Then came Mrs. Németh and with her a total lack of transparency about the activities of the department. She was presumably unable to handle such a high position in a “key ministry.” She was the only minister whose tenure Orbán decided to terminate this year.

The new minister is Miklós Seszták , a member of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP). The appointment raised some eyebrows for at least two reasons. One was Seszták’s lack of any background in economics, finance, or administration. He is a small-town lawyer. Actually the only one in his hometown, Kisvárda (pop. 16,000), 22 km from the Ukrainian-Hungarian border. And the second problem was Seszták’s less than sterling record as a lawyer; he has been linked to some very shady business ventures.

Viktor Orbán had to be aware of Seszták’s participation in suspected corruption cases because at least since January 2013 his name had been all over the newspapers. Miklós Seszták was involved with an EU financed venture which the European Commission’s European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) found fraudulent. This was not the first time that the EU questioned the allocation of grants, but the Hungarian government normally protested or at least tried to explain them away. This time there was no question and the Orbán government did not contest the allegations.

The story goes as follows. There were five companies that received 21.25 billion forints from the EU to develop broadband internet access. But there was a bit of a problem. All five companies were established only a couple of weeks before they applied for the grant and some of the owners overlapped. In addition, Seszták happened to be a member of the board of one of these companies, Enternet Invest Zrt.

Miklós Seszták / Photo MTI

Miklós Seszták / Photo MTI

Miklós Seszták has considerable experience in establishing companies; as it turned out, his services were used to set up over 800 bogus companies in the last decade. The story goes back to 2005 when Figyelő, a respectable paper dealing with business and finance, reported that these companies were all registered under two addresses in Kisvárda where Miklós Seszták had his law office. When the reporter visited the two family houses, they found a middle-aged woman, Erzsébet Kovács, who hailed from Ukraine. When asked, Kovács announced that she is handling an international business venture that concentrates on direct marketing. The business has partners in ninety different countries and for easier communication and flow of goods it was necessary to register these foreign nationals in Hungary just as the Hungarian companies are registered in those countries where they have business interests. When the reporter inquired from APEH, the tax office, he was told that everything was in perfect order with these companies. Nothing illegal was going on. It seems that APEH did not find it odd that all the owners of these companies were citizens of countries outside the European Union. Russians and Ukrainians.

By 2009 Index found that the largest “company cemetery” was in Kisvárda. Why are they called “company cemeteries”? Because not long after their establishment and registration they disappear. In one of the Kisvárda addresses four-fifths of the 550 companies were already liquidated while at the other address three-fourths of the 201 companies were gone.

According to Index‘s updated account, 700-800 companies were registered at three different addresses in Kisvárda. Index claims that the “company cemeteries” were still functioning between 2007 and 2009, by which time four-fifths of them were liquidated, leaving substantial debts behind. All three buildings belong to Miklós Seszták. In one of them, in addition to the phony businesses, one could find until recently the local Fidesz office.

Establishing phony companies must have been a lucrative business. At least Seszták did very well financially in the last decade or so. It was only in 1996 that he opened his law office in Kisvárda, and he couldn’t have amassed a fortune from an ordinary small-town practice. Yet today he is one of the richest members of parliament.

LMP, Együtt-PM, DK, and Jobbik are demanding Seszták’s resignation. MSZP has said nothing as yet. What will happen? I assume what normally happens when a Fidesz scandal hits the newsstands. Fidesz acts if nothing has happened. They are sure that eventually the noise will die down and everything will go on its merry way, including Seszták’s appointment. And they are right. In any other country such scandals would have brought down the government years ago. But not in Orbán’s Hungary. I don’t know what is needed for the Hungarian people to wake up and say: no more!

Sándor Kerekes: Hungarian democracy in a nutshell*

I am speaking about democracy in a nutshell today, because that’s pretty well all that is left of Hungarian democracy by today. In fact, it is even quite loose in that nutshell, after having shrunk so small.

On December 31 2013, in the late night hours, as the country was well on its way to getting drunk and celebrating the new year, the Official Gazette of the Hungarian government published the text of a theretofore unheard-of Order: “About the memorial to be erected in Budapest’s fifth district and qualifying it as an overriding national economic importance and the appointment of the competent authorities.” This is just the title! You can imagine what follows.

But let me translate the details. The fifth district is the historic center of Budapest. The “overriding national economic importance” is the legalese term lifted from a not so long before enacted piece of legislation that enables the government to avoid any public tender process and, regardless of the size of the project, to award it to whomever they please, without any disclosure or explanation. This is corruption writ large, carved in legislative stone. (The price was found out later to be 311 million forints, or $1,399,671). The memorial is intended to stand on Freedom Square, a storied and beautiful public place, rife with social and historical significance, just under the windows of the US Embassy, and to be ready on the 19th of March 2014, on the anniversary day of the German occupation of 1944.

A short break for explanation
You must forgive the interruption, if I stop to explain. The winged figure, according to the artist’s technical description, is the defenseless and innocent Archangel Gabriel, symbolizing the defenseless and innocent Hungary, savagely attacked by the imperial eagle of the Third Reich. Of course, you all know that, far from innocent, Hungary was a staunch ally of Hitler, benefitted from the alliance and received the occupiers with open, welcoming arms at the time. This memorial is nothing but the most blatant, revisionist falsification of history. The intended spot for the memorial is on top of an underground garage, whose roof had to be enforced to bear the weight, so the deadline had to be extended to the end of May.

Naturally, you may ask: who could think it desirable to memorialize and celebrate the day of national humiliation, the source and the beginning of untold suffering and bloodshed?

Well, it is the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

As you see, PM Orban himself is not at all averse to flaunting some eagles of his own.

PM Orbán himself is not at all averse to flaunting some eagles of his own.

The rush to the slope
But how did we come to this point?

Well, in the election, May 2010, Viktor Orbán and the FIDESZ party won an overwhelming majority. The electorate was thoroughly fed up with the previous Socialist-Liberal coalition and wanted change. They elected the only alternative available, with a comfortable majority of 53%, and that was enough for a 2/3 majority in Parliament. On the evening of the election Viktor Orbán declared that “the people of Hungary executed a revolution in the voter’s booth.” He set to work within weeks to transform the entire system of government. It worked democratically before: checks and balances. But now, just as he described it previously, in a secret speech in the fall of 2009 to his confidantes, it would be a central “force field.” Eliminate the useless bickering, the bothersome tug of war between disparate interests and replace it with government by the will of a single force.

Before the opening of Parliament he personally received each member in his country house, where they, one by one, assured him of their personal loyalty and pledged cooperation. With one single exception this pledge has endured, their 2/3 of Parliament has flawlessly functioned as a voting machine.

With such legislative prowess it was a cinch to strangle the checks and balances. Some of them were just shut down. Others he replaced with new ones, or only their personnel were replaced with his own loyal followers. Usually placed there for nine-year terms, to carry out his policies, even if god forbid, he should lose an election in the future. After an unfavourable decision by the Constitutional Court, he diluted it, from nine to fifteen members, appointing his supporters, among them his personal lawyer, to prevent any similarly unpleasant decision in the future. And since he was working on the court already, he cut off most legal access to it and curtailed the court’s field of competence.

After these swift and efficient preparations he was ready to implement his “vision” even further!

The Orbán government, in a legislative fury, first issued the Manifesto of National Cooperation to be displayed in every public building. This document stipulates that the national reconciliation, peace and brotherly understanding will be accomplished if everyone just meekly follows the government. A new constitution was secretly prepared, without any consultation, and pressed through Parliament in three weeks, claiming that it was absolutely urgent and necessary, because the previous constitution (to which they all swore allegiance and promised to uphold) was a communist document.

Codified corruption
Concurrently, Orbán personally appointed as state dignitaries his college friends, reduced the number of ministries to eight, thus concentrating power in the most trusted hands. The speaker of the house and the president are his roommates from his college dorm. But there is a fourth college friend who is perhaps the richest man today in Hungary and who, from the beginning, has directed the financial dealings of the party and possibly Orbán himself, and is so obscure in the background that for more than twenty years has not been seen, or photographed: Lajos Simicska. The oligarch par excellence! This man owns the vast majority of billboards in Hungary, the largest advertizing agency, newspapers, TV and radio stations, the largest and most favoured civil engineering firm, and has the largest long-term lease, over 9000 acres of state-owned agricultural land. (While the legal limit is 300 acre per person and 1200 acres per family.) In 2013, his mind-bogglingly complicated company-network was awarded 14% of the entire public works and procurement budget of Hungary: 875 million forints (€2,916,700, or $3,946,418) every day, 39.6 billion forints (€128,721,432=$178,603,644) in total for the year.

All this, of course, was done secretly, through unknown channels and processes. So, it’s no wonder that some people claim that behind the mask of Orbán, it is actually Simicska who is running the country.

At the head of the eight ministries are Orbán’s most trusted people. That would be fine, if they were qualified. But in many cases they are not. Most ministries are covering unrelated responsibilities. For example, the Human Resources Ministry, which controls the greatest budget, has the responsibility for pensions, healthcare, education, employment, funding for the arts, Roma integration and so on. And who is the minister of this complex? He is Viktor Orbán’s spiritual adviser, the Rev. Zoltán Balogh, an ordained minster of the Reform Church, who has not the slightest previous experience in public administration.

Although the individual fields are supervised by undersecretaries whom, in many cases, are at least professionals. (Some of them are also graduates of the Simicska conglomerate.) While the Minister of Finance, interestingly, is an economist, the Minister of Development, in charge of all public works, is a bookkeeper, Mrs. Németh, who is also an alumna of the oft-mentioned oligarch, Mr. Simicska. Her educational attainment is a high school diploma. She hardly ever speaks publicly, or in Parliament. Her voice, (and her professional adviser as well), is Dr. János Fónagy, and with him we arrive at one of our basic subjects: the Jewish contribution. He is one of the two known, openly Jewish members of Parliament. Fully secular, very smart, a truly dedicated lawyer. Dedicated, that is, to upholding and operating the new, practically single-party system. But this savvy, seasoned lawyer was stunned, well-nigh speechless when, in November 2012, one of the openly anti-Semitic MPs demanded the listing of Jews in Parliament. All he could say was that his parents were Jewish, yes, but he had no choice, and no, he is not practicing.

Of course I became interested. One day two years ago I naively walked up to the entrance of Parliament asking to be admitted. They didn’t laugh, just sent me to this office and that, all for naught. In the US and Britain it is a matter of merely asking a representative for a free ticket and entrance to the legislature is assured. In France free entrance for all is outright spelled out in the Constitution. Now in Hungary one can buy a ticket for a guided tour of Europe’s largest parliament building, but visiting the sitting of the Assembly is tied to a special permit, a press accreditation, that must be renewed from week to week, and for me it took several months to obtain. Finally, months later, miraculously I was admitted at last. (The whole thing took only another twenty minutes of phone calls and checking.)

So, now that we are inside, let me introduce you first to Mr. Speaker, Viktor Orbán’s former college roommate, former communist party apparatchik with latent authoritarian inclinations, the intensely anti-communist Dr. Lászlo Kövér. His job is to restrict the House’s operation so that only Fidesz can have its way and to stifle the opposition. Speaker since August 2010, from his appointment on, he imposed control on proceedings. He cancelled all press credentials, then later, after readmitting them, he relegated all press to the loggia above the Speaker’s perch. This resulted in the prevention of photographing him and the person speaking on the rostrum from any angle, except from above and from behind. All rights to video are restricted exclusively to the official parliamentary broadcasting system; journalists are forbidden to make videos. This is not just idle talk, there are guards immediately interfering with any such attempt, if necessary, by putting their hand in front of any camera. The “official” video broadcast is strictly controlled in the government’s best interest and if the opposition should do anything untoward, or unexpected, the screen shows the speaker only, the sound is cut off and the public will never find out what actually happened. The public cannot come in and information cannot get out of there. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the public at large is completely ignorant of Parliament? One of Speaker Kövér’s golden rules is that immediate questions must be submitted in advance in writing, the MP must read them verbatim from paper and the Government’s answer is also read from paper. The whole charade of “immediacy” is a surrealistic farce.

Having sat in that press gallery for some time, I became increasingly frustrated by my failing hearing. I knew I was losing it, but this fast? After some days I realized though that I can hear Mr. Speaker perfectly well, only the rest is a muffled noise. I decided to “investigate.” Looking around the balcony I discovered that two loudspeakers on each end clearly convey Mr. Speaker’s voice from his microphone, but the connections to all other microphones are cut off and the disconnected loudspeakers and wires, as sad leftovers of corpora delicti, have been strewn under the chairs. I went immediately to the Press Office a few doors away. The head of the Press Office didn’t want to believe me. “Nobody has ever complained about such a thing before,” he said with conviction, (Yeah, I retorted, because nobody was interested in what is said in there,) then he put on his jacket and we dashed off to the press gallery to see it. I showed him around in his own domain, explained how the system worked, that is, how it actually didn’t work, showing the detritus beneath the chairs.

I still don’t know to this day, how sincere his astonishment was. We went back to his office and I asked what he intended to do about it. He promised to reconnect the speakers.

A week later, seeing that nothing happened, I went back to him, but another official told me that it was the end of the session, they are swamped, and this must wait until next session. That, of course, never came; soon an election was called for a new, reconstituted Parliament.

Speaker Kövér also called into being a special military unit, the Parliamentary Guard. These live tin soldiers are meant to impress the tourists, but even more, suggest the sinister muscle power at his exclusive personal disposal to apply force against unruly MPs. (The number of guards: 349, in the 2013 budget 2.3 billion forints €7,476,245=$10,373,444 and in 2014 an additional 30 are being hired.) The costume of the Guard is a combination of a little pre-war Royal Hungarian and a lot of German Wehrmacht elements and bears no resemblance to anything historical. But no matter, if Regent Admiral Horthy had such a guard, then Speaker Kövér, the son of a provincial metal worker, must have his too.

Legislating the coup
The Hungarian Parliament has dispatched a prodigious number of bills, produced at a scorching rate. In 2012 the government submitted and the House voted in 364 pieces of legislation. That’s right, one for every day, except Christmas day! So to speak. Regularly the government introduced legislation, several hundred pages long, on Friday evenings and got it read and voted in the following Monday. Amendments were proposed by obscure Fidesz backbenchers, often just half an hour before the final voting, and they passed, regardless of the opposition’s claims that there wasn’t even time to thumb through the papers. Voting was frequently timed to occur in the middle of the night, or later, to avoid possible public scrutiny. To my knowledge, in these four years not one single bill submitted was supported by any corroborating background papers. If ever made, they have been kept secret from Parliament, as well as from the public. Many of these laws are contrary to European Union rules, sometimes contrary even to their own new Fidesz constitution, but the European Union besides ruminating, producing damning reports and furling its collective brow, does nothing. The Machine works miracles.

One of those “miracles” was the new election law pushed through with the same dizzying speed and a mere few months before the election itself. It came out of the machine providing unprecedented advantages to the governing party, while making a win for the opposition nearly impossible. (As one of the opposition MPs noted, the field was not only tilted, it was actually vertical.) It reduced the members of Parliament almost by half and included rampant gerrymandering. Consequently, last month’s election, although free, was neither fair nor equitable. The rules were so skewed that even cheating was not necessary. Thanks to the carefully “calibrated” rules, with 44.87%, of the 61.24% voting, Fidesz won another electoral triumph. This represents a mere 27% of the eligible voters, yet again it was enough for a super-majority.

What system?
This election was a good example of how the Fidesz system works, its aims and its goals. All election-related spending was done to the benefit of Fidesz oligarchs, just like the public works are. The government boosted its success propaganda, often verbatim identical to that of the Fidesz party, the two inseparable; party money mingled with government money and they are indistinguishable. Billions have been paid to oligarchs. Then through unknown channels those oligarchs recycle the government monies into the party– and private coffers. Thus laundered, it buys more power and is rewarded by government largesse, contracts and fat jobs. There it yields new income for the oligarch and the cycle spins ad infinitum. This is the substance of the Orbán system of National Cooperation.

Sense and sensibility
In closing, let’s come back to the memorial, the start of this lengthy presentation.
When the Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Parishes, known as MAZSIHISZ, heard of this bizarre memorial, the normally cordial air between the government and them froze almost solid. Their newly elected board and new president, Mr. András Heisler, sent a memorandum to the government. They set three conditions to participate in the official year of remembrance, one of them being: this memorial project must be abandoned. Anti-Semites were crying foul immediately, talking about an ultimatum.

No sane person could accept the whitewashing of war crimes attempted by this “statue”: the murder of 600,000 Jews, the 160,000 casualties on the front, or the cruelties perpetrated by the Hungarian forces in Serbia and against the Ukrainians.

Grudgingly, Orbán, citing the impending election campaign, suggested adjournment and reconsideration until, after the election, consultations could be held in a calmer, more conducive climate. MAZSIHISZ quietly agreed but were stunned when two days after the election the construction work started without the promised consultations. So, they decided that the Jewish Community “en bloc” would disassociate itself from the official government memorial events. The Jews will remember in their own way, in their own time, and with their own money.

Thanks to his own obstinacy, Viktor Orbán has painted himself into a corner from which he can only come out with a major loss of face and, by the same token, forged a Jewish Community tightly united as never before, and to a degree never thought possible. This is the first time, in an unprecedented way, that the Jewish Community has taken it upon itself to proudly represent civic courage, the advocacy of reason, and the principles of democracy, in the name of all of Hungary, that hardly anyone else dares to do in the ever-deepening and darkening pit that Hungary is rapidly becoming in the middle of Europe, and do it right into the face of the government machine of Viktor Orbán.

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* This paper was presented at a workshop organized jointly by the Ben Gurion University and the Konrad Adenaur Stiftung. The topic of the workshop was “Jewish Contribution to the European Integration Project.”