It was in March that I first read about the land lease scandal in Felcsút. I don’t think that I have to remind too many readers of Hungarian Spectrum that Felcsút is the small village near Székesfehérvár where the young Viktor Orbán spent his childhood. He must have fond memories of the place because he and his family purchased land there, established a soccer academy, and built a house right next to one of the several soccer fields laid out there in the last few years. So, the prime minister doesn’t have to go far to play his favorite game. The opportunity is right in his backyard.
Felcsút received an awful lot of goodies from the central government. Its favorite son, prime minister between 1998 and 2002, made sure of that. Yet, there was an unpleasant surprise awaiting Viktor Orbán in October 2010 when local elections took place and in Felcsút of all places an “independent” was elected mayor instead of the official Fidesz-KDNP candidate. The difference between the independent György Varga and the Fidesz Mrs. János Flier was only ten votes: 454 to 444.
I remember that the opposition papers made fun of Viktor Orbán’s failure in Felcsút when it became known that the Fidesz candidate for mayor lost. Orbán put on a good face and muttered something about democracy. However, a couple of weeks later the local Fidesz contingent decided that the independent György Varga could not remain the mayor of Orbán’s hometown. They “discovered” that Varga owed a few thousand forints in taxes and therefore he could be stripped of his office.
New elections were held and, behold, this time one of the town council’s Fidesz members, Lőrinc Mészáros, won. The extended Mészáros family must be a large one or else its members must be very politically minded. Out of the six-member council three carry the Mészáros name.
Now, a year and a half later, Lőrinc Mészáros’s name appeared in the news again. It turned out that the Mészáros family members already owned a sizable parcel of land in Felcsút, but now thanks to a land leasing program of the Orbán government, they received more than 600 hectars in Kajászó, a village about 20 kilometers from Felcsút. Farmers in Kajászó got nothing, although they were initially encouraged by the government’s announcement that local claimants would get preferential treatment.
There is still a lot of agricultural land in state hands. The long-term leasing of these lands has been going on for some time. Prior to the elections of 2010 individuals applying for these long-term leases had to turn in bids. The highest bids normally won the leases. The Orbán government changed the rules of the game. Lease rates were fixed–and low. The state actually lost a considerable source of revenue by scrapping the bidding process.
The transactions are now being handled by a special government structure called the Organization of National Land Base. Just to give you an idea of how much land can be acquired for relatively little money if one is well situated: 35,000 hectares are up for grab this year. For these parcels of land the government office received 3,800 requests. The details of the requests are not publicly available, and no one knows on what basis decisions were and are being made.
Who is Lőrinc Mészáros, currently mayor of Felcsút? Well, he also happens to be the president of the Ferenc Puskás Soccer Academy. In addition, he and his wife are the owners of a construction company called Mészáros & Mészáros. The company received 50 hectares in Kajászó, and in other parts of Fejér County another 420 hectares. In addition, Beatrix Mészáros, wife of Lőrinc, received in her own name 94 acres, also in Kajászó. János Mészáros, brother of the mayor, got 140 hectares in Vál, thirteen kilometers from Felcsút.
The small farmers of Kajászó were mighty upset. From the available land not a square meter was available to the locals. The extended Mészáros family, on the other hand, will be able to farm the land for twenty years. The local farmers were especially upset because they are full-time farmers unlike the Mészáros clan who is in the construction business. They did buy some agricultural land in Felcsút, but only a year ago. The locals discovered that there were parcels of land in Kajászó where, even before the winner was declared, the Mészároses had already started working.
According to the act on agricultural lands, an individual family farm cannot receive more than 300 hectares from the Land Base on a long-term lease. Most likely the Mészároses can explain it away by pointing out that three different persons are the beneficiaries of the land grants. In any case, by early April, the Mészáros family of Felcsút could farm 946 hectares of state land for twenty years.
Another family from Felcsút, the Fliers, also received a sizable amount of agriculture land all over Fejér County. You may recall that it was Mrs. János Flier (Fidesz-KDNP) who lost the mayoral election to the independent György Varga. The Flier family is also one of the main supporters of the Soccer Academy of Felcsút.
The charges of corruption raised by LMP and MSZP received support from József Ángyán, who was undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture until January 2012. He resigned in disgust because, as Thomas Eccritt summarized his position in The Economist, it was “a coalition of greedy, exploitative economic interest groups, even ‘mafia families’, speculator ‘oligarchs’ and former collective farm heads, and landowning ‘green barons’ who managed to swipe state farms away from everyone else at their privatisation.” The country’s agricultural wealth is being fleeced by Fidesz party faithfuls and personal friends of the Orbán family.
To the victors belong the spoils; the government’s friends get land, contracts, and other lucrative perks. The “people” remain plebs.