The case of the questionnaire on social issues and the ombudsman

On May 17 I wrote an article entitled “The growing audacity of the Orbán government” in which I described the growing concern over the mysterious bar codes on the questionnaires sent to all Hungarian citizens over the age of sixteen. Earlier, on May 5, I gave a list of the meaningless, misleading, and outright ridiculous questions that were posed to the people about the direction the government should take the country.

My feeling is that this time even fewer answers will be received than last time. The government claims that they received about 900,000 replies to their earlier questionnaire about the constitution. By now people are getting tired of these “national consultations.” Moreover, because without their names and the mysterious bar code the questionnaire cannot be returned, fewer people will be willing to share their thoughts. The ad I heard on the radio in which Viktor Orbán himself urges the people to respond only strengthened my suspicion that the consultation isn’t going too well.

The mystery of the bar code was solved soon enough by experts, and it turned out that it can store an awful lot of information about the sender. András Jóri, the ombudsman in charge of privacy issues, began an investigation into the legality of this questionnaire. Although it took Jóri’s office three weeks to come to a conclusion, on June 7th they handed down the verdict: the questionnaire is illegal from the point of view of privacy, which is taken very seriously in Hungary. Jóri’s office decided that the questionnaires can be “personalized.” That is, the sender’s political views can be determined by the way he/she answers the questions. Moreover, one can consider even non-participation in the survey a statement of political opinion. As for the endless bar code, Jóri’s office ascertained that it enables the authorities to create “a detailed profile,” such as address, age, and assumed political opinions of the sender. Moreover, the results of these “detailed profiles” can potentially be used in assessing the results of future consultations. Jóri therefore instructed the organization responsible for processing the incoming data to handle the material in such a way that it excludes the name, address, signature, and e-mail address. If the office refuses to follow his instructions, he will go further and order the office to delete the data gathered.

That was bad news for the government which had tried to give the impression that the answers to this questionnaire carry a special weight in determining the course of government action. Every time a trade union or any other organization wanted to negotiate with representatives of the government, the answer always was that the government is waiting for the results of the questionnaire. Thus, Viktor Orbán’s office had to react immediately the only way it could under the circumstances: try to discredit András Jóri, the ombudsman.

Péter Szijjártó, the personal spokesman of Viktor Orbán, announced that András Jóri was informed on three separate occasions about the “method and course of the process” and “at these times neither the ombudsman nor his colleagues indicated any objection.” Thus, if the ombudsman objects now it must be for personal reasons. And what could they be? Jóri must be worried about his own career because it is a well known fact that in the future there will be only one ombudsman instead of the present four. “It cannot be a coincidence that Jóri decided on the issue a day after he received the proposal for a bill in which his position is not mentioned.” This is a pretty low insinuation.

It seems, however, that Szijjártó met his match in Jóri, who answered him promptly.


He claimed that there was no “previous consultation” concerning the shape and form of the questionnaire. He met with the director of the Central Office of the Administrative and Electronic Public Services (Közigazgatási és Elektronikus Közszolgáltatások Központi Hivatala = KEK KH) only once, on May 5, but by that time the questionnaires had already been printed and therefore no changes could be made. However, Jóri indicated to the director of  KEK KH that his office would start an investigation into the case. The ombudsman’s colleagues in the course of the investigation visited the offices of KEK KH to inquire about the details.

Since then I have heard Jóri speak about the case at least three times and he doesn’t strike me as someone who would act unprofessionally in his capacity as an ombudsman. As far as the security of his job is concerned, Jóri doesn’t have to be worried about his future if he finds himself booted out from his present position. He is a young legal scholar who started his legal studies only in 1992. His curriculum vitae is impressive. In one of his interviews he even indicated in passing that he may have opportunities for important positions abroad.

It didn’t matter how often Jóri repeated his story, Szijjártó kept returning to his original accusation: the ombudsman is lying. He reiterated that there was an agreement between the ombudsman and the director of KEK KH and that Jóri gave his blessing or at least he had no objections. On June 9 Szijjártó again stated that the only reason Jóri objects to the questionnaire is because “he is uncertain about his future career.”

I might add that Gábor Borókai, editor-in-chief of Heti Válasz and for four years the first Orbán government’s spokesman, in a discussion aired this afternoon on “Hetes Studió,” a weekly program on Klubrádió, admitted that according to the current Hungarian law the identifications on the questionnaire are illegal. However, he added, one can question the necessity of such stringent privacy laws. At the same time he strongly condemned Szijjártó’s way of handling the case.


  1. when will the genocide start in hungary?
    are the russians coming back to save the victims again?

  2. “He is uncertain about his future career”
    WTF does this matter? The bar code on the questionnaire traces the reply back to the sender witch is against the law. Is Szijjártó stupid?

  3. Exactly, Mutt. Whether Jóri is afraid for his job, or whether he’s lying about “previous consultations”, is irrelevant. The identification on the questionnaire is illegal, period.

  4. Is big time trouble coming for the Hungarian Government? Oh yes! It is coming big time. Johnny Boy I hope you are feeling strong and well rested, because you are going to have to peddle your ‘BUNK-O-MATIC’ (© Mutt Damon MMX) like fury with this one.
    When a government breaks its own laws then the country becomes lawless. The government by breaking its own law gives a strong defence to all defendants of ‘There but by the grace of God go I’. That is that if the Government can break the law so can the citizens of the land. This means that the country is now without law. That is the country is lawless.
    The idea that the declaration that the survey is illegal is due to the good Dr Jori will soon lose his job is balderdash.
    The Hungarian privacy laws are based on the various clauses in the European Charter of Human Rights, as is the paths to obtaining redress. Anyone who feels threatened by the survey can petition the European Union for redress and protection.
    The Hungarian URL is here You can do it by Email! And In any official language of the EU.

  5. Odin’s lost eye: “When a government breaks its own laws then the country becomes lawless.” Not in current Hungary, as they just change the law retroactively.
    When the survey arrived, and I looked at it, I advised my parents not to fill it out as it can be traced.
    I doubt that Fidesz will destroy any of the data they have collected so far or alter the way they are process the results.

  6. Someone Retrospective criminal laws are prohibited by Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the Hungary is a signatory. Since you cannot make anything that was legal retrospectively illegal, you equally cannot make anything that was illegal retrospectively legal.
    Two illegalities do not make it legal.
    Therefore a country where the Government breaks its own law means that the country now has NO LAW!
    I rest my case!

  7. Any supporters of the present government who read this blog and consider themselves both patriots and opponents of the past authoritarian states — both “left” and “right” — should consider the implications now of a state which both has gathered information on the opinions of individual citizens AND has the modern digital technology to access and manipulate that information freely and rapidly.
    Earlier authoritarian regimes had that first capacity, but they were not efficient in their use of that information because they lacked that second capacity. The current government has both, making it more effective than prior regimes in their ability to monitor and control their citizens. Is this what you really want from your state? Do you really trust this government so much?

  8. On a related point – ballot papers in the UK have data encoded onto them in the form of perforations. These can be scanned by computer (in the same way that the data input cards and paper tape of earlier times were read) and the ballot paper can then be matched up with the record of who used that paper to vote (the ‘stub’ left behind when the ballot paper is torn off has the same code perforated into it).
    Most people are unaware of this as the perforations are very small and are easily not noticed in the few seconds you typically handle a ballot paper. But from time to time there is a fuss about this in the media and the government always says the codes are there to ensure against ballot rigging. They are only used to check a random sample of ballot papers to ensure that voting procedures have been complied with. They would never be used to determine how specific electors had voted.
    But the fact remains that they COULD be used for just this purpose and we only have the government’s word that this doesn’t happen.
    Is this sort of thing peculiar to the UK, or does this happen in other countries with ‘secret’ ballots?

  9. @Paul. You should see how we vote here in Virginia. Four nice church ladies, sitting at a table with a huge spreadsheet. They look at you drivers license, then cross your name out on the paper. Cannot be simpler then this.

  10. Paul the last time I voted in the U.K. the ballot papers and their stubs both have serial numbers printed on them. When voters arrive they tell the Returning Officer their name and address (no identity documents are needed although you will have received a ‘Poll Card’ by post which tells you where to vote etc). The clerk writes the serial number onto the Electoral Register perforates the ballot paper with the polling station identity punch. You go to the booth and mark the paper with an ‘X’, fold it and take it to the Ballot box where you show the guardian the perforation and drop it in the box.
    After the ‘count’ the ballot papers are placed all together into a box, which is sealed and sent for storage. This process is observed by the Candidates and their appointed witnesses. To find one particular ballot paper out of some 30-50,000 would be a herculean task!
    By the way the Poll Card has printed on it in large letters that you do not need to produce the Poll Card to vote.
    I have acted as a teller and as a witness for a candidate several times, so I know the rules and by God some of them seem strange, but are there for good reason.

  11. I have worked for elections in Canada as a supervisor. Some of the election is automated, and some are not, but even with the automated ones, we only knew that a particular person did show up, the ballot they received had no link to the person (as it was just in the next in ballot in a batch), and when they cast the ballot it was scanned with no way to link the ballot and the voter. Fair and square.

  12. someone: “have worked for elections in Canada as a supervisor. Some of the election is automated, and some are not”
    In Connecticut about two years ago they switched to scanning the ballots. Once you blackened the appropriate areas on your ballot sheet you slip it into a scanning device. Thus, the results are available as soon as the voting ends. It seems to work quite well.

  13. How is it that Hungarian elections are counted so quickly (must be a simple answer!)? I’m always amazed, switching on the results TV show, to see the counting complete within a couple of hours of polls closing. Do they start counting before all the votes are cast?

  14. Ivan: Hungarians are quick to count. 🙂
    In Hungary there are approx. 11000 voting ranges, each of which has at least 4 members: two officials of the local authorities and presumably one delegate from each party. When booths close at 19pm, the boxes are opened and votes are counted by each member separately. After they all agree on all votes, the results are placed on record and the papers are transferred to the mayor’s office.
    The results of all 11000 voting ranges are thus processed in parallel and reported as soon as they are available.

  15. It never seem to amuse me, how one can be such a Jack of all trades, like Johnny Boy. Economy? No problem. Elections? No problem? Art? No problem. History (any age, at any country)? No problem. Political science? No problem. He either knows everything or knows nothing but pretends to know it, or he is more then one. Knows everything… I doubt it. Either he is a Mekk Elek (anyone remembers?) or more then one. Both are scary scenarios.

  16. I understand you are frustrated when you meet someone who doesn’t have the same cramped limitations as you. But, considering the people of the rest of the world, I guess this frustration must find you quite often, right?
    If you want to meet someone who pretends to know everything but knows actually nothing, seek out the author of this blog.
    But to ease your discomfort, I can assure you I know the Hungarian election procedure first hand: I was teller delegate multiple times.

  17. Johnny Boy: Oh no Johnny, you are not a renaissance man, do not kid yourself. I certainly have my limits, and what brings me way-way above you that I have no problem to admit that. Yes, I meet people very often who I admire and know way more than I do. I am lucky as I am surrounded by people, who I can look up to. You on the other hand bark into everything that you know zero about and you truly believe you are an expert. It is obvious from your post that you are surrounded by people who know even less than you do, so that explains a lot, but congratulation for you to became the “cock of the garbage dump” (kakas a szemetdombon). bahahaha
    I thought that people who work for the election (even in Hungary should be impartial. You being part of it on the other hand explains a lot.

  18. someone – he certainly is Mekk Elek! If you remember, everything he did went horribly wrong because he thought he understood how things worked, but never actually did.
    In one episode he trird to build a house by putting the roof together first and then trying to build the walls underneath. Thanks to you, I shall now think of this wonderful image every time JB pops up!
    Maybe he should let his parrot post for him – we might make more sense of that!
    But, of course, the real reason he appears to ‘know’ everything is that ‘he’ has the resources of the Fidesz PR and propaganda office behind him.

  19. Odins – I have taken part in elections in the UK, as both candidate and party worker and have several times had the “can you identify the voter?” conversation with elections officials of various grades.
    The answer was always “yes, we could, but (of course) we never would”.
    Make of that what you will.

  20. GW: the bar code does not do anything besides representing an identification number on the paper.
    The problematic part is not the bar code but the personal data, and I don’t support it.
    no one: “I thought that people who work for the election (even in Hungary should be impartial”
    This tells a lot about your indeed narrow limits. I pointed out that there are officials and party delegates. Guess who I was there?
    Paul: “‘he’ has the resources of the Fidesz PR and propaganda office behind him.”

  21. “Guess who I was there?”
    The official party delegate who invalidated all votes for MSzP and SzDSz. (Johnny, you need not worry, we do not underrate you.)

  22. As you obviously didn’t manage to understand what I posted earlier, I must point out again that all votes are counted by all members, so however hard you try to extrapolate MSZP’s way of counting the votes onto me, you fail.

  23. Johnny, I was “obviously” not serious. And you still feel the need to contradict such a statement.

  24. Kirsten, why even attempt to reason with someone who posts things like “I do not give a flying f00k” or “stfu” (shut the fuck up), and this just a a little sample. Johnny Boy often forgets that he is not writing emails to his mom, or posting on Magyar Hirlap but around people who are not really use such garbage talk and are actually want to read other people’s opinion. He does not care ad he make this loud and clear. He is just try to post propaganda and when he does not like the reaction he just becomes himself.

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