For those of you who don’t follow the comments to my blog posts there is a huge debate among readers of Hungarian Spectrum over who is responsible for the video of a fake meeting of six Roma in Baja. Most of us couldn’t make head or tail of the story of R. (Róbert) G. Since then more information has become available, and there is a good possibility that no political party was involved. Instead, it might have been a private initiative to get some quick cash, although R. G. seems to be a well-off man who owns several houses in Baja as well as in Budapest and the house where the meeting was staged looks substantial and well maintained. The bizarre nature of R.G.’s story didn’t prevent Fidesz politicians from accusing the opposition of hiring the culprits to discredit the government party. MSZP denies any involvement and threatens to go to the police if Fidesz’s accusations continue. DK demands a thorough investigation of the case.
We can be duly horrified at this particular case, but the truth is that corruption is endemic on all levels in Hungary. Quite independently from the fake tape there is proof that Fidesz politicians in Baja bribed the local Gypsies for their votes and that is a crime. Of course, creating a fake video for money is also a crime. But what can we expect in a country where corruption can be found at the highest levels of the administration, starting with the prime minister? It has long been suspected that he amassed his considerable (and under-reported) wealth in not exactly the most honorable way. And it’s better not even to mention the cesspool of party finances.
So let’s turn to corruption in another sphere: phony language proficiency results. Who is involved here? Language teachers, university professors, politicians, high government officials, high-ranking police officers, and people who work for the official language testing center, commonly called Rigó utca after its location in Budapest. We are talking about scores of people at the testing center as well as at the Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University and the Budapest Engineering School. Because, after all, it was not only the proctors who had to be paid but also those who gave out the test questions ahead of time as well as those who came up with the right answers and passed them on to the test takers. The customers were in the hundreds or perhaps in the thousands. It’s no wonder that the Hungarian media talk about a “language-exam factory.”
Blikk, a tabloid popular with the less educated and politically less curious public, broke the original story back in July. Some of the facts later turned out to be not quite accurate. For example, the newspaper called Corvinus University the center of the “exam factory.” Blikk was also wrong when it claimed that the “factory” began its operation only in 2010. Apparently it has been in existence since the 1990s.
Interestingly enough, Blikk‘s revelation didn’t make a splash in the larger Hungarian media, but Blikk didn’t give up. It pursued the scandal. A few days after the original article the paper revealed that about 80% of the people who took advantage of the opportunity offered by the “exam factory” were university students who needed to pass the language exam in order to receive their diplomas. The rest, older politicians and other public employees, didn’t mix with the students; their exams were organized separately. Apparently there were some unexpected encounters when government and opposition politicians ended up taking the exams together, presumably in happy harmony!
Soon enough we also learned that an intermediate language exam cost 300,000 but an advanced one could be purchased for only 500-550.
On October 4 the prosecutors charged 18 people with involvement in the falsification of foreign language examination results. Although by now we know that members of parliament were involved, they will not be charged with fraud because in their case the three-year statute of limitations has expired. However, the prosecutor’s office of Pest County which is handling the case confirmed that at least one Budapest mayor is a suspect. The number of people who will most likely be charged is not 18 as was originally announced but well over 600 if we include those who took advantage of the “exam factory.” As far as numbers are concerned, this will be the largest criminal case in the history of Hungarian jurisprudence.
The chief organizer was András P., owner of a private language school in Győr, whose private fortune as a result of the scam is considerable. Origo estimated close to a milliard forints. Under András P. there were several layers of intermediaries who also got a piece of the pie. Each language teacher received about 10,000 forints per student, which doesn’t sound like big money until you realize that we know of only four language teachers if Blikk‘s information is correct and the number of participants in the scheme was well over 1,000. I guess eventually we will know more because there are detailed lists of all the “customers” stored on the chief organizer’s computer.
As long as corruption is as widespread, even in fields that are connected to intellectual achievement, we cannot hope for improvement in Hungarian universities, public administration, and, yes, in politics. A country in which 30-35% of university students admit that they cheat on their exams and 40% of university graduates are unable to pass a fairly simple language test is destined to be second- or third-rate in a highly competitive world.
Fidesz and MSZP are silent. Or, to be more precise, when asked they said that they have no intention of starting an investigation of the matter within their own parliamentary caucuses. Members of the small LMP delegation triumphantly announced that their language tests are valid. They were either taken in the 1980s or at none of the places where the phony tests were administered. DK also announced that none of their people are involved in the scheme.
When I write about a topic in which members of parliament play some role I usually check the website of the parliament which, among other things, details the members’ language proficiency. I never had much trust in those results from Rigó utca, but after this case I will have even less so.
It can easily happen that, amid the frenzy of Fidesz legislative action over the last three and a half years, even the more observant among us misses a troubling piece of legislative action. Here is one that I at least missed. It was included in the new electoral law of 2011, officially called the Law on the Election of Members of Parliament. For the most part Law CCIII provides a description of the newly created electoral districts, and it was on these gerrymandering efforts of the framers of the bill that I initially concentrated. Yesterday a friend called my attention to an interview with Aladár Horváth, a Roma political activist, on ATV’s program ATV Start.
At the time of her telephone call I still hadn’t had a chance to see the program, but I was told that Aladár Horváth is urging his fellow Roma not to register as such because so identifying themselves will deprive them of their right to vote for party lists. The Electoral Law on the Election of Members of Parliament, ¶7§(2), reads as follows: “A citizen who belongs to a minority can vote a) for a candidate of his electoral district and b) for the list of his own nationality.” In brief, as opposed to a non-minority citizen who can vote for both a candidate and a party list, a citizen who registers as a member of a minority can vote for a local candidate and the minority list.
This is the first time that minorities in Hungary can, at least theoretically, have representation in the Hungarian Parliament. The lack of such a possibility was a major embarrassment for earlier Hungarian governments that often stood up for the rights of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries where in fact Hungarian parties do have parliamentary representation. Of course, it is also true that ethnic minorities in Hungary, with the exception of the Roma and perhaps the Germans, are too small to reach the threshold necessary to be represented in parliament.
The Venice Commission’s draft opinion on The Act on the Elections of Member of Parliament of Hungary welcomed this particular aspect of Law XXIII. “For the first time, special provisions aimed at favouring the participation of national minorities in parliament in the electoral legislation. . . therefore the Venice Commission welcomes the introduction of such provisions.” However, the Venice Commission seemed to have some concerns regarding the new situation faced by the minority voters. It recommended that “as voters have the right to choose between registering to vote for normal party lists or national minority lists, the law should allow such registration in a reasonably short time frame before election day. This would ensure that all voters have sufficient information to make an informed choice. However, it would be preferable to give to the voters from national minorities the possibility of choice on election day between nationality lists and party lists.”
I guess I don’t have to tell you that no such opportunity will be given to minority voters either at the time of registration or on election day. Moreover, it is very unlikely that the Roma population, undereducated and living in backward villages, will realize the pros and cons of opting for the party list versus the minority list. After all, even Viktor Szigetváry, Együtt 2014′s electoral expert, when he wrote about the new electoral system didn’t pay much attention to this particular provision of the new law. He did admit that voting for the minority list “in small measure will strengthen the majoritarian character of the whole system” but he obviously didn’t consider it a potentially serious problem.
I checked the number of people who registered in 2010 to be able to vote for minority lists in local elections. Their number is over 200,000. Under the 2011 law they will now be deprived of their right to vote for a party. Or to be more precise, by voting for the minority list they will de facto be voting for Fidesz.
The leading members of Lungo Drom, the representative body of Hungarian Gypsies, including the head of the organization, Flórian Farkas, are Fidesz puppets. So any Gypsy who votes for the current ethnic leadership will only help Flórián Farkas be reelected to parliament. It would be one more vote for Fidesz.
Farkas is an old ally of Viktor Orbán who has worked closely with Fidesz ever since 2001 when he was already the president of Lungo Drom. He signed an agreement with Fidesz-MDF at that time in which he pledged Lungo Drom’s support of these parties. After the split of MDF and Fidesz, Farkas stood by Fidesz and renewed the electoral agreement between the Roma organization and Fidesz. He has been a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus ever since 2002. He is known as someone who does nothing whatsoever for the Roma community even though he is also head of the Országos Cigány Önkormányzat (OCÖ or Nationwide Gypsy Self-government).
So, this is the situation to which Aladár Horváth called attention. The problem is that his message is pretty much lost in a sea of total indifference. For example, he gave a press conference which not even the reporters of the liberal-socialist press bothered to attend. Although he himself is making an effort to get to the Roma communities, it is unlikely that he and his friends will be able to enlighten the Roma minority about their choices and the consequences of their decision.
We can be sure of one thing. Fidesz doesn’t do anything that doesn’t serve its own interests. Just as they don’t really care about the Hungarian minority in the neighboring countries so they don’t care about ethnic minorities inside of Hungary. Their primary concern is to get extra votes from the mostly Fidesz sympathizers in Romania and Serbia and to ensure that by default the Roma end up supporting them. The rest is just talk.