The day after: The protest is not subsiding

When Hungarians keep cracking political jokes one knows that something is wrong. When every second person I get a letter from or every second Hungarian blogger I read keeps calling Viktor Orbán the Dear Leader, I sense deep trouble. The original, official name of Orbán’s party used to be Fiatal Demokraták Szövetsége (Association of Young Democrats) that was abbreviated to Fi-de-sz which sounded so good. After all, fides- fidei means trust or faith in Latin. But what about when a gentleman today in a call-in show called them Fiatalok Diktátorok Szövetsége. How embarrassing!

I received several circular letters in which people ask all those who oppose Fidesz and its new media law to make the Media Authority work a bit. The authors of the e-mails ask the recipient to watch one television program or one radio program on a right-wing media outlet every week and look for racist, antisemitic, hateful sentences, write them down and send them to the Media Authority. People I know are split on the issue. Some liberal journalists and thinkers consider such a move beneath them. This is the kind of thing right-wing supporters of Fidesz did in the past. The predecessor of the Media Authority was inundated with complaints about liberal media outlets. All the while the right-wing media were spewing absolutely vile stuff but nobody bothered to report them and ask them to be punished. Others think that it is not enough to write lofty treatises about freedom. Other kinds of protest are necessary. I like the idea of monitoring the right-wing television and radio stations because as it stands now the journalists who work at these media outlets perhaps rightly think that the new media law will not apply to them. Only to the liberal press and electronic media.

Népszabadság came out with a front page saying: “In Hungary there is no longer freedom of the press.” For good measure that sentence was translated into twenty-three languages.


Népszava came out with the old logo of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party. The man with the hammer.

Nepszava, kalapacsos ember Underneath in Hungarian and in English: “Freedom of the press is a fundamental right in an EU member state. We must defend our democratic rights in Hungary. We demand freedom of the press.”

These are deadly serious questions, but there is always something that can cheer up the Hungarians. One doesn’t have to go very far. The butt of jokes again is Pál Schmitt, president of the republic. Perhaps you remember that Pál Schmitt considers the purity of the Hungarian language of foremost importance and that he will spend a considerable amount of time promoting the cultivation of the language. There are some people who simply can’t leave the language alone. It doesn’t matter what kind of language we are talking about. Often enough one can hear people, especially seniors, complaining bitterly about the dire state of the language. Every since their childhood their mother tongue has been going down the drain. And all those foreign words! Dreadful.

A nationalist is especially prone to thinking about language this way. And Pál Schmitt is no exception. The problem is that he himself would have to go back to elementary school to learn the basic rules of spelling and grammar. Moreover, it seems that in his whole office there is no one who is any better than he is. Once already it happened that a terribly primitive “study” left his office in which he aired his thoughts on history and religion. Not only were the thoughts primitive; the piece that was sent to the committee charged with setting out guidelines for the new constitution was full of grammatical and spelling errors.

Well, it seems that Schmitt doesn’t learn from his mistakes. His New Year’s speech was put up on the website of his office. If possible, that short text had even more mistakes than the earlier “study.” People found seventeen spelling errors on one page. The speech with corrections can be seen on the Internet. It is worth taking a look at it. Once magnified, it is quite readable. Put it this way, a smarter fourth grader wouldn’t make the kinds of mistakes the president of the republic did. Apparently, he wrote it himself. To give but a single example, there are two spelling errors in the first line of the Hungarian national anthem!

It seems that his office manager’s Hungarian is not much better. This morning on “Ma Reggel” (MTV morning political show) he admitted that mistakes were made and promised–and now I will do a mirror translation of the original–“we will look up and we will fix every mistakes.” If you don’t think this makes much sense, don’t worry, it doesn’t in Hungarian either. He suggested that such mistakes are actually helpful. As he said: “The mistakes build us in a positive way.” Strange sentence. Just as strange in Hungarian, trust me.

Meanwhile criticism is still pouring in from all over the world. I read several French, German, and English language paper reports on Hungary. But for today’s blog I picked a pictorial one from Brussels. I assume many of you are familiar with Manneken Pis, the famous Brussels landmark. It is a small bronze fountain sculpture depicting a naked little boy urinating into the fountain’s basin. It was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy and put in place in 1618. The statue is dressed in costume several times each week, according to a published schedule. Apparently there are 700 costumes for him stored in the City Museum. According to the Hungarian Cultural Institute in Brussels, in honor of the Hungarian presidency today Manneken Pis will be in a hussar costume. On March 7th he will don a Matyó folk custume. Later he will be in a “suba,” a wide sheepskin coat worn by herders on the Great Plains and then once again he will be a dashing hussar. However, look what happened on the very first day:


Perhaps this cartoon from the Austrian Der Standard is even worse:



The scene is the hallway of the European Union. Our early ancestor named Hungary is threateningly grabbing  the official’s necktie while dragging a dead man whose name is Press Freedom. The caption reads: “The Presidency! Which way?”

By the way, I just heard that the media law will not come into effect until July 1. I guess they can begin the witch hunt after all those Europeans leave Budapest.



  1. Sorry, I don’t agree with you in picking right-wing papers and collecting “inappropiate” things from these papers. My enemy is the media authority, not the media. So I have to make the media authority work non-stop and non-sense instead 🙂 My goal is to check the politically neutral magazines about gardening, health, babies and things like this. I’m pretty sure I can find something “inappropriate” in these. Maybe that will open their eyes… Or at least, we can laugh at something again…

  2. “Who will confront the hatred in Hungary?” is the title of an article by Nick Cohen in the Guardian, dated January 2.
    Cohen doesn’t mince his words. Here are a few examples:
    “Both parties will maintain the pretence that Hungary is a decent democracy and not discuss the ugly little state that is growing within Europe’s borders.”
    “… well, I will not call it a fascist country or even a neo-fascist county, but just note that an old, foul stench wafts from the “new society” Orbán’s patriots are building on the Danube.”
    “You can catch a smell of it in Fidesz’s propaganda.”
    “Robert Alföldi, the director of the National Theatre in Budapest, has experienced at first hand the hatreds a Hungary built on “work, home, family, health and order” are generating. Before Christmas, demonstrators from the Jobbik, a party whose attitudes towards the Jews and the Roma mark it as truly neo-fascist outfit, marched to demand his removal. He was “a fag, a pervert and a Jew,” they cried, unfit to hold his post.”

  3. Read Bayer’s biography first:
    Read the article second. Finally read the comments on the article.
    The comment section starts with asking people to refrain from the use derogatory and foul language.
    98. “The problem is that the EU is filled with communists..”
    “We know who are the responsible ones [the jews and the communists], it is time to do something.”
    55. “The world is just takes a damp on your [Schiff/Jews/Communists] growling, as they know the attitide of the Jews. If he offends so much interest, and if there is so much noise follows the Orban Government’s doing, they must be doing something right. Just shit you garbage, the dog’s bark cannot be herd to far.”
    8. “They would need Pinochet, who took out the leftist opposition first. In Chile they killed 5000 people, and arrested 130.000 people. It wouldn’t hurt in our country to have some leftist cleansing first. THen we could be strong and patient.”
    If you understand Hungarian you should read comments 106, 364 and so forth.
    Where is the Media Authority ? (laugh)

  4. someone: “Where is the Media Authority ? (laugh)”
    Well, we could start the campaign with him and his commentors.

  5. Is there any kind of coodination regarding protest activities in Budapest? I hear about street protests after the event, and always small numbers. Is anyone coordinating or organising bigger events?

  6. I have followed the whole saga of protests about the new Hungarian media laws and sometimes stuffed my oar in.
    One question that seems to re-occur is ‘what are the Europeans doing about it’? By Europeans I think everyone means the ‘European Commission’.
    Most people think that the ‘European Commission’ is the Government of the EU. It is not. The ‘European Commission’ is the ‘Civil Service’ of Europe which administers Europe and is the servant of each and every European Citizen. The powers and duties of each Commissioner are laid down by the various treaties, the subsequent protocols attached to them which form their raison d’être. There are additional duties laid upon the Commissioners by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers.
    The Commissioners cannot and must not stray outside their remit.
    We see that the relevant commissioner has called for a copy of the Hungarian Media Law, which, as I understand it, from this blog, has not yet been fully published in the Budapest Gazette. It seems to be a ‘dog’s breakfast’ of words.
    The Act will then have to be translated probably first into English, French, German and Spanish (followed by all the other official languages of the E.U.). Once this is done the commissioner’s legal staff looks at it. If there is a nasty smell about it then action must and will be taken.
    Another commissioner, the Trade Commissioner, is looking at the special tax on foreign owned supermarkets for breach of the free market rules.
    Where a breach of European rules have occurred everything else is then automatic and cannot be stopped by anyone.
    Please remember the ‘Mills of God and the European Commission grind slow, but grind exceeding fine!’
    It will take time but the ‘fines’ imposed and the compensations ordered will make an international telephone number seem very ‘small beer’
    Members of the Council of Ministers (whose composition varies depending on what is under discussion) are elected by their various national electorates to own National Parliaments. By custom and practice do not criticise any of their fellow ministers in public. They do this because to do so might have an influence on the electoral position of the person criticised. Their watch words are Nihil Nici Bonum Dixit”. (Do not say anything but good). The significance of silence is often very important.

  7. Odin,
    I found the following that would explain what is happening at this point of time: “In a letter to Budapest in late December, European Commission vice-president Neelie Kroes voiced “concerns” and asked for “clarification” on the text, a Commission spokesman said.
    Budapest will only respond to Brussels’ criticism on Wednesday or Thursday, as the text of the law has not yet been entirely translated into English, Kovacs said.
    In any case, the piece of legislation would be on the agenda of talks between the Hungarian government and the European Commission on January 7, the state secretary for European affairs Eniko Gyori said.”
    You can read the whole text here:
    Radio Netherlands Online, January 4

  8. @someone@ I have seen those comments you recommend to read. The usual antisemitic rambling is not new. The Jews own the world media, the banks. Nothing new under the sun.
    But 343. rugach has surprised me. Peter Frey director of ZDF (second German state TV) has critizised the new Hungarian media law. rugach has premonition that the name Peter Frey is not German but Jewish.
    Reminds me of a real story. A German friend of mine who works in Brussels with EU told me a few years ago, that he has to go to Budapest to give lectures about joining the EU. I told him at the time, about widespread antisemitism and he asked me what would happen if he asked at the end of the lecture about that. I told him, somebody will ask him if he is Jewish. He did not believe it. When he came back from Budapest he told me, that my premonition turned out to be right. One lady in the audience asked him if he is a “real German”. My friend asked the lady why does she believe him not to be a real German. To which the lady replied “because you don’t look like one”. My friend has dark blond hair, blue eyes and has no Jewish blood (His Grandparents had to have a document during Nazi time certifying this)
    A nice friend V.O. has, Bayer thinks not enough Jews and “reds” were killed at the massacre in Orgovány in August 1919.
    Tell me who is your friend and I’ll tell you who you are.

  9. The idea of sending material from right wing or antisemitic papers to the Media Office sounds convincing to me. The office could be of some use after all, and it could prove that it is not an instrument designed to ruin the liberal media. If nothing were done by the Office, no further prove would be needed. But what I do not understand is why should this be similar to what Fidesz did when they were in the opposition?

  10. This law in the English translation is 194 pages – who’s going to read that ?
    And who wrote it and who translated it ?
    Kind of occupation therapy ?

  11. wolfi: “This law in the English translation is 194 pages – who’s going to read that ?”
    Apparently there is a fourteen-page German summary. According to Werner Hoyer it is enough to read that: the law surpasses their worst fears. There is no need not to proceed.

  12. Thanks for the English translation link, Minusio.
    It’s actually well translated and not too difficult to read. Are all Hungarian acts of parliament published in English like this? (If not, why has this one been translated?)
    But, even though it is much easier to read than I expected, I only got to page 16 before fatigue set in! Only another 178 pages to go…
    Mind you, if it’s anything like the Jobbik manifesto (the only political party manifesto I have ever read!), the good stuff is probably tucked away at the end. By the by, anyone else attempting this can happily skip the first 7 pages without missing anything of particular interest.
    The only things I noted in my first foray were:
    “In certain instances stipulated herein, this Act shall apply to the viewers, the listeners or the readers of the media services, ancillary media services and media products and the user, consumer and subscriber of the broadcasting service falling within the scope of this Act.”
    So, it’s not just ‘them’ who mustn’t do these naughty things, YOU mustn’t watch/read/listen to them either.
    And, for no apparent reason, the whole of article 13 is repeated! Someone even more bored than me obviously did the proofing.
    Other than that, the only thing that stood out was a bit about broadcasters not being allowed to express opinions on political news reports. Or, if they do, they must make it clear that what they are about to say is just their opinion.
    I suspect this is going to be typical of the whole act – not actually banning anything, just making it very difficult to comply with all the articles, so that the Media Council can get you on something if they really want to.
    If anyone with a LOT more time on their hands than me would like to run through the whole thing and summarise the interesting bits, it would be greatly appreciated.

  13. @Kirsten@ The censorship will not – I am afraid – warn one Zsolt Bayer, a good friend of Viktor Orbán.
    Bayer has written a nasty anti-Semitic article. A few days later Orban offered Bayer in front of TV cameras a piece of cake. It was the anniversary of Fidesz foundation.

  14. Paul – The Legal Eagles will not have far to read before they stumble on the first ‘problem. It is in article 2A which mentions broadcasters from outside Hungary. Thou shall NOT do this under the EU broadcasting directives!
    As to the bit which says ‘Thou shalt not listen, read, view or in any way absorb proscribed materials. This is a humdinger. The European court will have fun with that one!.
    This means that ALL programs, written materials etc will have to be submitted to the Hungarian authorities before being made public. This will have to be done no matter where they originate from just in case they enter Hungary. Even the VHF frequencies transmitted in the U.K. can be received in Hungary when the ‘Skip is In’ –Tropopausic tunnelling to give it it’s real name-
    I have not yet found the criminal offenses bit yet but the Beloved Leader and Mighty One’s minions could issue ‘European Arrest Warrants for the Director General of the BBC’ for a disparaging remark in the BBC news bulletin.

  15. As it turns out the official translation the Hungarian Government gave to the EU is not the full translation. I am shocked! (not)
    THey conveniently left out some paragraphs, and I assume they conveniently translated some parts in a softer tone, assuming that no one would bother to compare the Hungarian and the English document side by side.I certainly did not.
    If the EU (or any Hungarian) ever had any doubt about the intentions of this “law”, they got their answer.

  16. An interesting development regarding the incomplete translation. The Government obviously holds the EU in contempt. Of course, with most laws, the devil is in the detail, so if the really nasty bits are yet to be translated, it will cause outrage in Brussels. Barroso and co will not like to be treated as mugs.

  17. @someone: The Commission in Brussels employs a number of translators from Hungarian so they could easily check themselves and I guess that not all of them are loyal followers of OV…

  18. So, am I correct in thinking that this law now doesn’t actually come into force until after OV’s presidency is over?
    If this is true (and I confess to being rather confused abot this), surely there would be a bit of a fuss over it in the EU? After all, it is tantamount to OV admitting that the law is bad.

  19. @Paul: My understanding is that the law is in effect from January 1st, but the media office won’t levy fines until July 1st. This is apparently a last minute modification they added to the law.
    Quite sneaky, as during the presidency they won’t be levying fines, only after…

  20. Too obvious to be ‘sneaky’, An.
    Fidesz can’t seem to rid itself of this crazy notion that they can fool the rest of the world, just because they managed to fool most Hungarians.
    The world outside Hungary must seem quite weird to the average Orbánista.

  21. @Paul: In the meantime the government prepared an English translation, from which a couple of paragraph is missing… among others the paragraph where they state that they will start levying fines on July 1st.

Comments are closed.