Archive

Archive for August, 2012

The IMF and Hungary, the socialist swines, and Lázár’s faux pas

August 31, 2012 46 comments

The silly season, if there even was such a thing this year, is definitely over. There are so many topics that it is hard to choose.

Late yesterday afternoon MTI reported from Washington that although the IMF is keeping in touch with the Hungarian government and the European Commission, it hasn’t fixed a date for the continuation of the negotiations about a loan. Gerry Rice, director of IMF’s foreign relations, reminded his audience at a press conference that the negotiations that took place in July were “constructive,” but for an agreement certain requirements must be met by the Hungarian government.

It seems that the negotiating partners don’t see eye to eye on certain key issues. Rice specifically mentioned structural changes that must be introduced to ensure economic growth. It also looks as if the IMF is not entirely satisfied with the planned budget for the year 2013.

The well informed Internet paper Origo seems to know that the real sticking point is the transaction tax on the Hungarian National Bank. Although Viktor Orbán knows that without giving in on this issue there will be no negotiations, he is sticking to his guns. In fact, he is speeding up the process of the final reading of the budget which includes 300 billion forints to be received from the Hungarian National Bank. By the end of September the final vote on the bill will take place.

Mihály Varga obviously lost the battle with Viktor Orbán. Varga, right after the first round of negotiations with the IMF, indicated that the IMF insists on abandoning this madcap idea of György Matolcsy and Viktor Orbán because the negotiators considered it not in line with Union norms. This latest hurdle shows once again that there is only one person who has the final say in all matters, large or small. And that is Viktor Orbán.

Portfolio is even more pessimistic than Origo; they fear that the aid talks will not continue at all.  András Simor mentioned on Tuesday that the negotiating IMF-EU team left a letter with the Hungarian government, and whether or not the negotiations continue will depend on the response. According to rumor the Hungarian government hasn’t responded at all, at least until now.

According to Népszabadság, the  prime minister won’t budge on several issues. He is unwilling to create a larger reserve in the budget; he is sticking to the job protection action plan costing 300 billion nonexistent forints; as for the transaction tax he will wait until the European Commission passes judgment on it; and he rejects the IMF’s tax-related proposals. This last includes not imposing heavier levies on businesses, making changes in the flat tax he introduced earlier, and scrapping the family tax benefits.

Because the saga of the IMF negotiations is endless, I don’t think one ought to spend a whole post on the subject.

Népszava, August 31, 2012

So, on the lighter side here is a scandal that is so typical of “that bunch,” as Ádám Gere called the current Hungarian government. I don’t have to introduce Gyula Budai, commissioner in charge of corruption cases between 2002 and 2008. I wrote about the man often enough. Budai failed miserably in his task. The cases he dug up turned out to be mostly bogus, and after almost two years of madly searching for the big fish in the pond of corruption he didn’t get anywhere. A few months ago Budai was moved over to the Ministry of Agriculture as undersecretary.

János Lázár, the new chief in the prime minister’s office, joined Budai at a press conference in which he announced that Budai had been wildly successful in ferreting out bad eggs in the socialist-liberal administrations. He delicately described Budai’s change of jobs: “Now Mr. Budai is moving from swines to swines. It is a full circle.” The word ‘disznó’ applied to human beings is especially derogatory in Hungarian. And then there is the word ‘disznóság’, which can be translated as ‘big mess’ or even “atrocity.” Swines are people who commit such atrocities.

But that labeling which, I assume, applies even to such obviously innocent academics as Agnes Heller, was small potatoes in comparison to the faux pas that Lázár committed during the same press conference. A reporter inquired what happened to the famous Gyurcsány case. Why wasn’t he prosecuted? Lázár explained that there was serious pressure coming from the United States to spare Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai. They only obliged.

It took only a couple of hours for Gyurcsány to wittily remark that Lázár had just admitted that the Hungarian judiciary is not independent. After all, if the government can influence the prosecutors to let guilty people off the hook then something is very wrong in Hungary.

The American Embassy didn’t find the story at all amusing. The U.S. Embassy immediately released a statement  that “as [they] often emphasized in the past the United States does not meddle in the internal affairs of Hungary.” Foreign Minister János Martonyi tried to salvage the situation by issuing a statement in which he wrote: “We have extensive contact with the Americans and it is well known that they at times they expressed their concerns in public. They were worried about our judiciary and the new election laws.” But he added that he knows nothing about any American pressure on “what should happen to X or Y in the court of law.”

László Kovács, former foreign minister, wondered whom János Lázár wanted to discredit: the current government of the United States, MSZP, or the two former prime ministers? Whatever his goal was, Lázár managed to discredit himself and the government he represents.

Let me add to this that Péter Szijjártó led a whole delegation to the Republican National Convention held in Tampa, Florida. Four years ago Viktor Orbán himself attended the Republican Convention in the hopes of being invited by George H. Bush to his Maine retreat. Nothing came of the invitation to Kennebunkport, but Orbán loudly announced to his followers that John McCain will be the next president of the United States and how wonderful that will be for the country and personally for the next prime minister of Hungary (VO). And then it turned out differently.

It is not wise to commit oneself to one side or the other in the political life of another country. But Szijjártó didn’t seem to have learned from his boss’s faux pas of four years ago. He went on and on about how much better it will be for Hungary if the Republicans win the elections. Republican politicians are dissatisfied with the foreign policy of Barack Obama. When they are in power the American administration will pay much more attention to Central Europe and to Hungary.

But if Szijjártó thinks that a Republican administration will be more tolerant of all the anti-democratic steps the Orbán government is taking he will be sorely disappointed. And if Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, does not win in November, Orbán will be stuck once again with Barack Obama, whose State Department will have already noted how happy the Hungarian government was at the prospect of Obama’s losing the election.

When words become action: the case of Vilmos Hanti

August 30, 2012 58 comments

In the last few days I have been thinking about the aggressiveness that is spreading rapidly in Hungarian society. It is not new. Even in the Kádár regime I was often struck by the primitive behavior of some people on occasions that didn’t warrant such a reaction. The driving habits of Hungarians clearly show a lack of self-control and easy irritability. The language has also become unbelievably coarse. Curse words are so common that people no longer even notice that the language they speak would exclude them from polite society anywhere else in the world.

But what we see today goes beyond the general impoliteness, rudeness, and coarseness of everyday discourse. Now all that built-up and the over-the-years refined aggressiveness is directed against “anti-Hungarians,” “traitors to the national cause,” the Roma, Jews, gays, and all who don’t agree with them. There have already been victims of this hate: the innocent Roma victims of people who wanted to spark off a civil war. One could say that this was an isolated case involving a relatively small group of people. But today neo-Nazi groups in the hundreds would rush to kill, if they could, anyone “on the other side.” It is enough to look at these people’s faces: their determination is visible. I’m not surprised that fewer and fewer people are ready to stand up to them.

For this state of affairs I consider Viktor Orbán and his fellow hate-mongers responsible. Ever since 2002, when Fidesz lost the elections, verbal attacks on their political opponents were daily fare. The speeches of politicians like János Áder, who was the whip of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation between 2002 and 2006, were studded with hateful phrases. Not witticisms but insults. His successor Tibor Navracsics, who was considered to be a low-keyed and polite fellow, was immediately transformed into a vicious attacker in the Áder style. Orbán himself was rarely seen in parliament, but he spewed his hate at rallies. Meanwhile Hungarian society was cleft into “us” and “them.”

The general aggressiveness of Hungarian society found itself at home in this new political climate. Fidesz politicians fed the innate aggressiveness of society, and at times Fidesz even used these groups to their political ends. Think of the protracted “camping out” on Kossuth Square in 2006. The aggressive right-wing groups received encouragement from Fidesz politicians. They felt justified. After all, important politicians looked at the world  the same way as they did. As for anti-Semitism, Orbán never uttered an unambiguously anti-Semitic sentence. No, his references were coded, but the followers understood.

Fidesz has been engaged in whipping up nationalism ever since 1998, perhaps even before. This nationalism also added to the hatred of everyone these people didn’t consider to be true Hungarians. The Roma and the Jews were the first targets, but one doesn’t have to be Jewish to be considered a Jew. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them is “Jewish.”

Considering all that pent-up hatred, expressed mainly verbally, it was just a question of time before words would become action. In Ákos Kertész’s case it was only verbal attacks, but even they made him feel so insecure that he didn’t stop until he reached Canada. Yesterday Tamás Bauer, formerly SZDSZ MP and now deputy-chairman of Demokratikus Koalíció, said on ATV that on August 18 when the various neo-Nazi groups demonstrated on Heroes’ Square those members of DK who staged a tiny counter-demonstration actually feared for their lives. Besides the 150 or so uniformed neo-Nazis there were about 200-300 sympathizers. These sympathizers spotted the handful of people standing on the side, and they all turned toward them, ready to attack them physically. The only thing the police did was to stand between the would-be attackers and the peaceful demonstrators.

Yesterday Vilmos Hanti, chairman of the Magyar Ellenállók és Antifasiszták Szövetsége (Association of Hungarian Partisans and Anti-Fascists [MEASZ]), organized a demonstration “against anti-Semitism and racism.”  The event began on Deák Square and eventually moved over to Ede Paulay Street where Új Színház is located. There the new theater director had planned but eventually abandoned a performance of István Csurka’s anti-Semitic play The Sixth Coffin.

Hanti managed to get together practically all the democratic forces with the exception of LMP. Representatives of SZDSZ, the Workers’ Party 2006 (a more moderate splinter group of the far-left Workers’ Party that actually supported Fidesz in 2010), the Green Left, MSZP, DK, and the Hungarian Solidarity Movement were all there.

A surprising number of people joined the demonstration. Even Magyar Nemzet thought that about 500 people were present. Others talked about more than a thousand. They patiently listened to a number of speeches when about fifty neo-Nazi counter-demonstrators showed up and tried to penetrate the ranks of the demonstrators. The usual chanting of “filthy Jews” and “the train is going to Auschwitz” followed. When the crowd arrived at the Új Színház, the counter-demonstrators were already waiting for them with the slogan: “The Új Színház belongs to the Hungarians.” Eventually the police managed to push the counter-demonstrators away from the entrance to the theater.

Vilmos Hanti this morning on ATV

But what happened afterward is really outrageous. On his way home Vilmos Hanti turned into a relatively quiet street off Andrássy Boulevard when he noticed a group of 15-20 youngsters in their twenties approaching. One of them recognized him. Thereupon the group surrounded him and shoved him against the wall of one the buildings. One of the brave ones with a clenched fist hit Hanti, a man well over sixty, in the face. An ambulance took him away. Hanti was especially worried about his right eye. Today I saw an interview with him, and I must say he was darned lucky. If  he had been hit just a little to the left he would have had a serious problem with his eye.

Hanti told the reporter that he feared for his life. These guys were in a lynching mood. Hanti, who in civilian life is a teacher, just couldn’t believe that young boys would actually hit an elderly gentleman who could perhaps be their grandfather.

It would be time for the police to do more than simply stand between the two groups and treat each side equally: the peaceful demonstrators and the screaming counter-demonstrators in a lynching mood.

Barikád, the official organ of Jobbik, didn’t have much sympathy for Hanti. Basically their article suggested that Hanti got what he deserved. Moreover, he was a coward because he ran away crying for help. I guess, according to the editors of Barikád, he should have waited until their friends and comrades killed him. But kuruc.info went even further. They claimed in an article entitled “The drunken antifa[scist] punched himself” that “our great anti-fascist hit himself in the face and started to scream for help. But the pedestrians realized that he is not quite normal and nobody paid any attention to his hysterics… Our colleague offered help and called an ambulance, but the one-man army of the Association of Hungarian Partisans and Anti-fascists didn’t accept the help.”

These are the kinds of people who are rampaging across Hungary while the government makes no attempt to stop their activities with more forceful measures. Yes, the police prevent them from attacking peaceful demonstrators at public events. But there are the dark side streets. Really awful things can happen there when the police are nowhere nearby.

Another new Hungarian economic plan that will hit the dust

August 29, 2012 30 comments

This time the plan is named after Sándor Wekerle (1848-1921) who was Hungary’s prime minister and finance minister three times. Whenever I hear his name two things come to mind. First, that he was the first Hungarian prime minister who was not titled, and second, that he was the brave man who forced through the Civil Marriage Bill of 1894. Mind you, he immediately lost his job afterward thanks to the opposition of the powerful Hungarian Catholic Church.

Sándor Wekerle, 1848-1921

An interesting footnote to this Civil Marriage Bill. It made a civil marriage ceremony compulsory for couples who could hold a church ceremony only after showing the certificate to the church authorities. This was the bill that Viktor Orbán during his premiership between 1998 and 2002 wanted to abolish. It seems that Wekerle’s sins have been forgotten by the Hungarian prime minister if he is willing to name one of his many plans after him.

What is the Wekerle Plan? “It is an outline for the growth of the Hungarian economy within the Carpathian Basin.”  The Plan recalls that the European Union is keen on closer integration and therefore the countries of the Carpathian Basin minus Austria and Ukraine east of the Carpathian Mountains should  at least match the development of integration that has taken place over the years in Western Europe. The Wekerle Plan is no less than “a document of the Hungarian government’s economic strategy for the whole region.” As one irreverent commentator said, this is the plan for “the export of Matolcsy’s fairy tale to the other countries of the Carpathian Basin.”

But I fear that it is much more than that. It seems to me a government attempt to subsidize Hungarian small and medium-sized companies to invest in the neighboring countries where a fair number of ethnic Hungarians live. Such a business expansion would naturally bring added benefits to the political goals of the Orbán government. “The tripe that was expanding beyond the pot” suddenly makes good (or at least better) sense. I’m just wondering what the neighbors will think of this grandiose plan that seems to be for the most part in the sole political and economic interests of Hungary. As far as I can figure out, the Hungarian government prepared this document without ever consulting with any of the other governments in question.

In order to accomplish the goal outlined in the Wekerle Plan “the Hungarian government considers the Hungarian communities in the neighboring countries as strategic allies.” It is, however, very possible that Romania and Slovakia, where the Hungarian minorities are substantial, might find this strategic alliance threatening.

Although the document goes on for 24 pages, the essence of the plan is that “the New Széchenyi Plan will be extended to the whole Carpathian Basin.” And since the document freely admits that the bulk of the money will be coming from the European Union, one must assume that the subsidies from the convergence program will be used to enable Hungarian economic penetration into these countries, thus strengthening the Hungarian areas in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine’s territories south of the Carpathians, and parts of Serbia’s Voivodina region. According to the plan, “by 2020 the countries within the Carpathians should be an economic area whose integration is as well developed as in Western Europe.”

I was pleased to hear that the “Wekerle Plan is an organic part of the Hungarian Growth Plan and of the Great Reform Book that shows the Hungarian path to sustainable growth and employment.” Well, I heard something about the Hungarian Growth Plan about a year ago that came to naught, but I must admit that the Great Reform Book is entirely new to me. What could that be? Poor Mao had only his little red book; Orbán’s book, presumably tricolored, is “great.”

The plan outlines five areas of cooperation: the automotive and engineering industries, green economy, food industry, tourism and healthcare, and creative industries and info-communication technologies. The plan concentrates on small and mid-size companies. These firms must be “internationalized,” meaning they should be introduced to international competition. This would be made easier by their expansion into the neighboring countries where there are Hungarians and therefore the language barrier is not such a problem. There will be all sorts of benefits from the Wekerle strategy for Hungary: more exports to the neighboring countries and a greater economic influence in the countries of penetration.

For all this one needs cheap financing. Financial institutions must be set up; they will get funding from the European Union (New Széchenyi Plan) and the Hungarian government. For example, the plan specifically mentions the Magyar Export-Import Bank (Eximbank). But the Hungarian government is also contemplating establishing think-tanks specifically for the study of issues related to Hungarian economic expansion beyond the borders. For example, a brand new Kelet-Közép-európai Növekedéskutató Intézet (East-Central European Research Institute for Economic Growth) will be established. Another institute specifically mentioned is the Kelet-Közép-európai Közlekedéstudományi Intézet (East-Central European Research Institute for the Study of Infrastructure).

An important aspect of the Wekerle Plan is the creation of a unified labor force that would be able to move freely from country to country within the region. The training of the labor force should be “uniform in all the countries involved.” Is Hungary supposed to export the Orbán government’s zany educational ideas for skilled workers? That is, minimal intellectual content provided for trade schools that might not be enough to fulfill the needs of today’s computer-directed economy. And what about the rather low mobility of the Hungarian workforce? Would a Hungarian company whose headquarters are in Hungary be able to convince its some of its workers to move to Slovakia, Romania or Ukraine? Although here and there one can hear about Hungarians living close to the Romanian border being employed in factories on the Romanian side, I have the feeling that this is rare occurrence. On the other hand, one hears a lot about Slovaks working in German-owned automobile plants. Lately most Hungarians are moving to Germany or England, and not necessarily because they don’t have a job. They are fed up with the Hungarian situation that they consider hopeless.

It seems to me that the Hungarian government, after failing to create the north-south axis that Viktor Orbán envisioned among the countries from the Baltic to the Adriatic, has lowered its sights to the Carpathian Basin. But any reference to this particular geographical area raises suspicions. What is behind this plan?

One could look upon the scheme as an attempt to extend political influence over the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries. As the Slovak and Romanian examples show, however, the Hungarians there are an independent-minded lot and don’t want to take orders from Budapest. But if the political maneuver didn’t work, perhaps through economic penetration the Orbán government could have more influence on the Hungarian localities.

The other possibility is that Hungarian government through economic penetration is trying to extend its political influence in the region. In brief, through the back door of economic expansion the Orbán govenment is trying to accomplish its long-standing nationalistic agenda. All that on European Union and Hungarian taxpayers’ money.

My feeling is that nothing will come of it, but I hope that the European Union’s politicians will keep an eye on the situation. And if they don’t, I’ll bet that the governments of the neighboring countries will.

TEK and “freeing” the Hungarian hostages in Syria

August 28, 2012 16 comments

At the Tranzit Fesztivál in Kőszeg Brigadier-General János Hajdú, head of the new Anti-Terror Unit or TEK, received a telephone call in the middle of a round table discussion. He got the news that the three Hungarians who had been taken hostage by anti-government forces in Syria had just been released. The youngsters who were present applauded mightily at this latest triumph of TEK.

But let’s start at the beginning. On August 13 in Damascus, sometime between 9:00 and 11:00 a.m., armed men stopped a car in which three Hungarians and three Syrians were traveling. The Hungarians were about forty years old; they were all once policemen who took early retirement. Who were these men and what on earth were they were doing in Syria?

Although the three already arrived in Hungary yesterday, we still don’t know much about either the men or the purpose of their stay in Damascus. On August 22 HVG managed to get some information about them. Apparently all three were involved with dog training and worked for an outfit called Brave Dog Bt. The word was that they were invited to train dogs in Syria. The reporters of HVG, however, didn’t quite believe this dog story and wondered whether perhaps the three men were actually working for the Syrian government.

Foreign Minister János Martonyi also had no clue what the former policemen were doing in Damascus, or at least he vigorously denied in an interview with Inforádió that the Hungarian government had anything to do with whatever the captured Hungarians were doing in Syria. He added, however, that “if that were the case the Hungarian government must thank the opposition forces for releasing the captives.” An unusual response.

Now to the details of the release of the captives. Since August 25 the story of TEK’s involvement in the release of the three Hungarians and three Syrians has gone through several transformations. First, we heard from János Hajdú, who is prone to self-aggrandizement, that “we arrived at the end of a two-week-long intensive secret service operation executed with clock-like precision that resulted in our freeing the captives. There was no ransom and the captives have been freed uninjured.” He added that the freed men will be “under TEK’s control [fennhatóság].” Hajdú claimed that from the very beginning they knew exactly who the kidnappers were, and he gave the impression that TEK operatives had been in constant touch with the rebels on the spot. However, in the same interview, talking about two other Hungarians taken captive in Syria in April, he had to admit that it is almost impossible to get information about the whereabouts of the two captives because of the chaotic circumstances in Syria. If this is the case, it is truly remarkable that within days TEK operatives managed to contact the particular rebel group that allegedly held the Hungarians hostage.

Heat or no heat, János Hajdú must look the part. Népszabadság, Zsolt Reviczky

A day later the tone changed a bit. The “secret service operation” phrase was left out from  Hajdú’s many interviews about this latest success of TEK. The word “control” was also changed to “supervision” (felügyelet).  Then more details emerged that made TEK’s exploits in Damascus less glamorous. By yesterday it became clear that no weapons were involved in the hostages’ release. Soon more details emerged from an interview with Zsolt Bodnár, the number two man at TEK. The group that captured the men let them go on August 23 and the captured men found shelter with government forces. Bodnár read a letter from the rebels that included the following: “On August 13 during an operation against the resisting military units we captured a special unit that belonged to the regime. Later it turned out that three experts among them were Hungarian citizens.” From this I must conclude that the Hungarians were actually working for the Syrian government, and I’m surprised that the Hungarian media somehow missed this crucial sentence.

The release of the captured Hungarians became even more interesting when Blikk learned that the rebels simply handed the Hungarians the keys to their cells while they themselves left the area. So the most likely explanation for their release is that government forces were getting close to this particular anti-government group’s headquarters which they had to abandon. Holding hostages under these circumstances didn’t seem feasible.

In brief, János Hajdú was greatly exaggerating if not worse when he boasted about the “secret service operation” that was performed with such precision. It also eventually became known that TEK received information about the particular rebel group from the Foreign Ministry and other diplomatic sources.

Yesterday Ágnes Vadai (DK), former undersecretary of the Ministry of Defense and until recently chairman of the Committee on National Security, expressed her misgivings about Hajdú’s constant media interviews. She also pointed out that parading the former hostages in a press conference before debriefing is really unheard of. It is simply not professional behavior. Jenő Veress of Népszava also criticized Hajdú for playing politics when the military and the police are supposed to be politically neutral. László Seres of HVG found the story of the dog trainers in Syria highly unlikely.

It seems that it was not only Jenő Veress, a reporter for a social democratic paper, who found Hajdú’s uniformed presence at the pro-Fidesz Tranzit Fesztivál unbecoming a member of the police force. Jobbik was also outraged. Ádám Mirkóczki (Jobbik), a member of the parliamentary Committee on National Security, demanded an extraordinary meeting of the committee to hear what Interior Minister Sándor Pintér and János Hajdú had to say about the latter’s presence in Kőszeg. Mirkóczki wants to know whether Hajdú had Pintér’s permission “to attend a political meeting in uniform and to express his political views there.” Hajdú, in addition to boasting about the events in Damascus, also called Jobbik “a problem that can be handled.” The Jobbik politician called Hajdú’s speech at the festival “the Őszöd speech of Viktor Orbán’s personal bodyguard.” Fidesz’s answer via Zsolt Csampa, a member of parliament, was weak. Why criticize such a fantastic outfit? Not quite enough. Jobbik has a point, just as Jenő Veress does.

Hajdú works hard to justify the existence of his thousand-man force. But even as he spins a Háry János-like tale about his operatives’ Damascus derring-do (not quite anti-terror but at least with a Middle East component) he reinforces the commonly held notion that he is, in fact, the head of the prime minister’s security force/private army.

Another “mad” speech by Viktor Orbán

August 27, 2012 72 comments

Just this morning Péter Róna, an economist who spent most of his life in the United States and Great Britain, said in an interview that he had given up trying to make sense of the Orbán government’s so-called economic policy. A few days earlier Ádám Gere, an American-trained economist and a follower of Friedrich Hayek’s economic philosophy, refused even to consider “whatever this gang is doing in economic policy.” When the reporter inquired whether Gere meant the government when he was talking about this bunch [társaság], Gere answered that it doesn’t deserve to be called a government and expressed his opinion that the “whole bunch” is actually a collection of communists. What he meant was that the leading Fidesz party members in their thinking are still followers of the state socialism in which they grew up.

Gere is not a diplomatic man. He doesn’t pussyfoot around. He calls it as he sees it. And twenty-four hours after this interview Viktor Orbán offered a perfect demonstration of what Gere had in mind.

The prime minister, claiming that his batteries needed recharging, spent two weeks relaxing. There was a faint hope that perhaps he would return a little wiser. Well, that’s not the case. He made another speech lasting an hour and a half containing announcements that were described by Privátbankár, an Internet financial paper, as “shocking.”

The speech was delivered in the inner courtyard of the Jurisics fortress in Kőszeg, very close to the Austrian border. The occasion was a festival called Tranzit–Festival on the Border. According to reports, an audience of 1,000 filled the whole courtyard. Among the shocking announcements let me mention first that Orbán finds “the direction of current economic policy the only possible one.” Moreover, this policy is so successful that “its revision is unnecessary.” What is needed is “more perseverance.” The policy will also include a further reduction of the income and corporate taxes.

The heat is not the only problem

When asked about the “economic war of independence,” Orbán explained that this strategy became necessary because of the high sovereign debt load and that “this war must continue.” Victory, as far as Orbán is concerned, is guaranteed against the European Union because Fidesz-KDNP has a two-thirds majority in parliament and “that two-thirds stands steady [áll mint a cövek], and even if there were some kind of problem the fifty percent is guaranteed.”

The two-thirds majority was also used to repurchase important companies. “We bought MOL shares from the Russians, some of the water companies from the French, Rába from the Malaysians, Ferencváros [football club] from the English, and momentarily we will buy E.ON from the Germans.” He quickly added that naturally Hungary doesn’t have only conflicts but also has allies.

As for higher education, Viktor Orbán seems to be convinced that his reforms will make Hungarian higher education the most competitive in Europe. He repeated the incredible idea that the entire cost of the country’s higher education must be borne solely by the students. They would be able to receive student loans that could be paid back over a period as long as thirty years at an interest rate of 1 or 2%.

He repeated his resolve to introduce pre-registration before actual voting. “The system must be changed … There are counterarguments and there will be an uproar [balhé], we will be attacked … We must stand and defend our point of view.”

I don’t think I have to spend much time on the claim that the government’s economic policy needs no revision. This time it was András Schiffer (LMP) who announced that the extreme heat must have affected the prime minister’s senses. While most analysts view the Orbán government’s introduction of the flat tax as its original economic sin, Orbán plans to compound that sin, further lowering taxes for both individuals and business. It sounds crazy.

One also wonders what Orbán had in mind when he announced that victory against the European Union is assured by his government’s two-thirds majority in parliament. On the face of it, the two have nothing to do with each other.

As for the government purchase of the MOL shares from the Russians, if I were in his place I would keep my mouth shut on the subject. If I recall properly, the Hungarian government bought the stock at 23,500 forints; it is currently trading at 16,15o. For a 21.2% stake the Hungarian government paid 1.88 billion euros or about 500 billion forints; if they were to try to unload their stake today, they would have lost about a third of their investment. The Russians, by contrast, who bought the stake in 2009, had a 40% return on their investment.

As for the repurchase of the E.ON gas and electricity company, the Financial Times Deutschland called the idea “madness” and added that it seems that “gulyás communism” is returning to Hungary. The high price of energy will not be solved by nationalizing the utility companies. They can offer cheaper prices only by receiving state aid paid by the same taxpayers who are getting cheaper gas and electricity. That is economic madness, said the paper. Moreover, with yet another nationalization Orbán is playing a dangerous game because foreign investors are already leery about Orbán’s Hungary. Just lately, the Coca Cola Company decided in the last minute not to open a new factory in Hungary. Instead they will be investing in Romania.

And boasting about buying Ferencváros, a football club, is truly ridiculous. It has been a losing proposition for years. Never mind, the government just decided to spend 20 billion forints building the club a new stadium.

What Orbán practically single-handedly is doing to Hungarian higher education is a crime. The brightest and most enterprising students are leaving the country to study in western European countries where they will most likely pay less for a better education than they could receive at home. Some talented students will never even get to college because of the extremely high tuition fees. Orbán, who received a free education and most likely even got a stipend, suddenly thinks that scholarships are unnecessary.

As for voter registration, we will hear endlessly that after all this is how it is in the United States. But in the United States there is no ready-made election list as there is in Hungary. Registration in Hungary’s case serves only one purpose: to limit the number of voters and filter out those who are not likely to vote for Fidesz.

And finally a few more gems from the speech. When talking about voter registration he announced that Hungary had become a “world nation” (világnemzet). “The socialists [szocik] are behind. They are still in Hungary squeezed between borders. Hungary has expanded like tripe beyond the pot.”  The reaction to this kind of nonsense was predictable. Nándor Gúr (MSZP) said that Hungary hasn’t expanded anywhere, especially not from a pot. Hungary is not a dynamic country, but rather is lagging behind. András Schiffer (LMP) couldn’t make heads nor tails of some of the prime minister’s announcements. He couldn’t figure out what the pot and the tripe had to do with voter registration. Neither can I, but then I doubt that even Viktor Orbán knows anymore what he is talking about.

Neo-Nazi groups in Hungary: Guards of the Carpathian Homeland, National Front, and others

August 26, 2012 35 comments

Yesterday the neo-Nazis held a “review of the troops” on Heroes’ Square in Budapest on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the notorious Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda). The police originally forbade the gathering, giving the usual excuse in such cases: the meeting would interfere with traffic. This was a pretty lame excuse because there is no traffic to speak of on the square. What they should have said is that the Hungarian Guard had been officially disbanded. They could have added that it is also against the law to march in formation, which the organizers planned. The uniform itself is also banned.

The organizers went to the the Court of the Capital (Fővárosi Törvényszék) where the judge allowed the march and the celebration. By the way, this court ruled in the same vein when the police wouldn’t allow the Gay Parade. One might even argue that it was a fair decision because the traffic flow excuse didn’t really wash.

Apparently the organizers expected about 2,000 participants, but at 3:30 Origo’s reporter on the scene figured that there were no more than 200 people. From the videos and pictures I saw the crowd seemed larger than that. Origo also reported that “on the square the guardists appeared in different uniforms. There are those who wear the green top of the New Hungarian Guard (Új Magyar Gárda/ÚMG) while others are in the uniform of the Association for a Better Future Militia (Szebb Jövőért Polgárőr Egyesület/SZPE).”

The logo of the Guards of the Carpathian Homeland

I did some research on the various neo-Nazi groups in connection with this “review of the troops.” It turns out that it was the Guards of the Carpathian Homeland (Kárpát Haza Őrei/KHŐ) that  organized the event. Kárpát Haza bears a suspicious resemblance to the Hungarian Nazi leader’s Kárpát-Duna Nagyhaza which for Szálasi was the name of the newly restored Greater Hungary.

This group is certainly active. They took part in the demonstration, about 1,000 strong, in Devecser–a town of 4,000. They joined others from the Hungarian National Guard (Magyar Nemzeti Gárda/MNG), the New Hungarian Guard, the Sixty-four Counties Youth Movement (Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom/HVIM), the Association for a Better Future Militia, and the Army of the Outlaws (Betyársereg). If every single active participant in these groups appeared in Devecser, these five neo-Nazi groups have at least 1,000 members.

The websites of the groups I visited all have online opportunities to join. They also have recruiting days in different parts of the country. This summer KHŐ organized recruiting days in Balatonfenyves, but in Budapest, Pest, and Heves counties KHŐ seems to be so strong that recruiting is continuous. It was this group that organized the demonstration in defense of the alleged war criminal, László Csatáry.

Who are KHŐ’s collaborators? Naturally Jobbik, which seems to me a kind of umbrella organization over all the groups. KHŐ also indicates on its website that it keeps in touch with a group called Blood and Honor (Vér és becsület-VB) which was banned a number of years ago. The short but “stormy”  history of VB can be read here. Another organization is the National Revolutionary Party (Nemzeti Forradalmi Párt/NFP) that only the other day held an “Anti-Zionist Bacon Grilling” in Mezőnyárád. Their website is perhaps the most lurid I found, but 791 people seemed to like both the pictures and the messages.

In addition, there is a group called the Hungarian National Front (Magyar Nemzeti Front/MNF), a viciously anti-Semitic and quite openly Nazi organization that seems to me perhaps the most dangerous among the ones I looked at more closely because it has intellectual pretensions. One can download all sorts of pseudo-scientific literature from old and new Nazi propaganda material, including one entitled “What Hitler would advise Jobbik to do.” I found with a certain glee one of left-wing David C. Korten’s harangues against capitalists and globalism. Years ago I noticed on the Internet that far-right commentators, joining a member of the Hungarian Workers’ Party, absolutely adored David C. Korten.

SZPE: Orbán, get out of here and take all your cronies with you

The KHŐ also works closely with the Association for a Better Future Militia or SZPE. This group became infamous during the protracted anti-Roma demonstrations in Gyöngyöspata. If you’re drawing a blank, you can refresh your memory by reading one of several articles I posted on this particular event. SZPE is a group that the Hungarian prosecutors actually wanted to get rid of. The prosecutor’s office of Békés County asked the court to put an end to the group’s activities because of their behavior in Gyöngyöspata and Hajdúhadháza. The prosecutors pointed out that their activities in these two villages were in contravention of Hungary’s international obligations. Moreover, the prosecutors argued, SZPE claimed that it was a cultural organization while it was patently obvious that their activities had nothing to do with culture. The judge, Erika Mucsi, found the charges unsubstantiated. The prosecutor’s office had to pay 600,000 forints in court costs. So, when the prosecutors at last move, the court decides to come to the rescue of these groups.

Banning these organizations doesn’t seem to have much effect on the neo-Nazi movement in Hungary. One can ban Magyar Gárda but then comes Magyar Nemzeti Gárda or Új Magyar Gárda. However, I suspect that without the existence of Jobbik, which is after all a party with 45 parliamentary members, these groups would fade after a while. But as long as at practically all neo-Nazi demonstrations Jobbik parliamentary members are there to give their official sanction, these groups will most likely gain more adherents.

One radical solution would be to ban Jobbik as a party, which could be legally achieved by appealing to the obligations of Hungary in the Treaty of Paris on the ban on Nazi organizations. The risks in doing so, however, would be enormous. Hungarian society is deeply divided and banning Jobbik could have lethal consequences. The ban should have been done shortly after this, originally student movement began in 2002.

Police incompetence in Hungary

August 25, 2012 25 comments

This will be a lighthearted post because, let’s face it, there are many occasions for laughter in Hungary, mostly at the expense of the government. It is enough to look at some of the Hungarian blogs or videos on YouTube to know that Hungarian humor is not dead.

Here are two recent stories that you may find amusing. One involves the infamous Terrorelhárító Központ (TEK). For those not familiar with this new police unit, it is the creation of Viktor Orbán for his own and the president’s protection. He made his long-time bodyguard János Hajdú brigadier general and handed him billions and billions of forints to develop a crack commando force.  On October 13, 2010, I summarized TEK’s activities and a year later I related the hilarious story of TEK’s seizure of the theater props to be used in Brad Pitt’s film “World War Z” being filmed in Hungary. The more threatening side of TEK’s legal status was analyzed in detail by Professor Kim Lane Scheppele in The New York Times under the title “The New Hungarian Secret Police.”

János Hajdú becomes brigadier-general

This time around the entire neo-Nazi crowd is having fun with TEK and its knowledgeable brigadier general, János Hajdú. The case involves the far-right Szent Korona Rádió and its website masthead, a long list of phony names. Here are a few examples. The editor-in-chief is Gyula Ostenburg-Moravek, who has been dead since 1944. His name came up the other day when we were discussing Gábor Barcsa-Turner’s threatening letter to the Kanadai Magyar Hírlap. In a footnote I explained that Ostenburg-Moravek was the leader of one of the detachments  in Miklós Horthy’s army that was responsible for the murder of two journalists of the social democratic Népszava in early 1920. Among the editors we find two other notorious detachment leaders, Pál Prónay and Iván Héjjas. The “journalists” include Mihály Szabolcska, a fifth-rate nineteenth-century poet; Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor; and Miklós Zrínyi, either the Ban of Croatia in the sixteenth century or the poet from the seventeenth century. Among the female “journalists” are Ilona Zrínyi, mother of Ferenc Rákóczi II, and Erzsébet Szilágyi, mother of King Mathias from the fifteenth century. In brief, anyone with even the most rudimentary Hungarian education should immediately know that this is a bogus list.

Yet János Hajdú, the brigadier-general, addressed an official letter to the so-called editor-in-chief Gyula Ostenburg-Moravek. In the letter Hajdú complains that Szent Korona Rádió published a photo of a member of TEK without his permission. “The Dear Mr. Editor-in-Chief” duly answered Hajdú. You can imagine in what vein. Naturally “Ostenburg-Moravek” explained the difficulties involved in receiving Hajdú’s letter since he has been long dead, but luckily “today’s Hungarian patriots often evoke [his] spirit.” “Ostenburg-Moravek” then gave Hajdú a few tips on how to run TEK. As for the paragraphs Hajdú quoted, “Ostenburg-Moravek” doesn’t recognize the validity of laws.

I don’t normally abide by the equal-time rule, but here I think it is appropriate to give equal time to ignorance. The real editors of Szent Korona Rádió don’t seem to know a lot about the former detachment leader because they claim that Ostenburg-Moravek died fighting the  “the Red Horde” when, in fact, he died in Budapest at the age of sixty.

But historical ignorance sometimes comes with a price. It is truly staggering that the top commando leader knows so little about this far-right publication and radio that he doesn’t realize that the names listed on the website are bogus. As a cop he should be just a bit more informed about the far-right groups he is supposed to keep an eye on. So much for the intelligence work of TEK and other national security officers.

Another example of the total incompetence of the Hungarian police is what happened in Csókakő. Not long ago a Horthy bust was unveiled in that picturesque village on a square that used to be called Bánya tér (Mining Square) but that the far-right leadership of the village decided to rename Nagymagyarország tér (Square of Greater Hungary).

Early today one hundred policemen surrounded the town of 1,300. No one could enter or leave without an ID. Those inhabitants who were out for a weekend stroll and happened to leave their IDs behind couldn’t get back home. The police spokeswoman for the police of Fejér County explained that the police’s action was necessary “to prevent a criminal act that the police deemed probable.” She added that thanks to the police’s action the planned criminal act was averted.

Meanwhile, the far right is laughing its head off. Kuruc.info claims that they fooled the police, whom they endearingly call “the dogs of Pintér,” the minister of interior. One hundred and thirty new recruits were to be initiated into the New Hungarian Guard (Új Magyar Gárda) today and the organizers made sure that the police would be misled. The police in Fejér County received information that a memorial tour in honor of Horthy would take place in Csókakő. Even as the policemen hermetically sealed the little town, the 130 new guardists were initiated at some other unnamed place.

Behind the ruse was János Árgyelán, the Jobbik chairman of Fejér County, who spread the news that the local Jobbik was organizing a “memorial Horthy tour” in Csókakő when in fact it was only a maneuver to divert attention from the initiation of the guardists. Jobbik and other far-right organizations amused themselves watching the police prepare for a potentially serious confrontation. The police set up tents just outside of the city limits and even brought along grills. Checklist: food and shelter okay; the bad guys–oops, missing.

The super commando force that came into being allegedly as an anti-terrorist unit and the ordinary police force still have a lot to learn. One difference between the two, by the way, seems to be that the TEK personnel make about twice as much as ordinary cops do. Otherwise, TEK seems to be busy closing off the entire street where Viktor Orbán lives. Not for a day or two but for a whole month. What is Orbán afraid of? I hope not yet another ruse.

A close reading of István Csurka’s antisemitic play, The Sixth Coffin

August 24, 2012 80 comments

Thanks to a friend of Hungarian Spectrum, yesterday I received a copy of István Csurka’s Hatodik koporsó (The Sixth Coffin). Since just the other day one of the commenters complained that we are discussing a play that none of us has read, I was mighty glad to have an opportunity to do so.

It is only forty pages long and I could have read the whole play in less than an hour, but I was taking notes and kept checking  the historical accuracy of some of the characters and events Csurka describes. So it took me about an hour and a half to go through the play’s rather bizarre plot.

The play is about a fantastic invention of two Hungarians that allows its users to recapture every word, every movement, every person from the past. Centuries later we can find out precisely what happened at any moment in history as long as the invention is on the spot where the event took place. The falsifiers of history can thus be eliminated and the past becomes completely knowable without any distortion. In addition to this “truth machine”–my own description of the invention–these two Hungarian geniuses are also able to make people and objects invisible.

The two inventors bring their machine into one of the conference rooms of the Palace of Versailles. They also employ a young Hungarian who is referred to as Apród (Page) whose grandfather was executed in 1958 because of his involvement with the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. They also drag in a huge coffin which, in addition to the grandfather’s remains, contains a few pieces from Stalin’s smashed statue. Interestingly enough, the dead grandfather in the coffin can merrily converse with Georges Clemenceau, and among his otherworldly possessions he even has a lighter tucked away.

The day that this “truth machine” focuses on is February 17, 1919, when there is a meeting of  the committee that was entrusted with coming up with the new frontiers of Romania and Yugoslavia. I assume that Csurka’s source was Francia diplomáciai iratok a Kárpát-medence történetéről, 1918-1919, a collection of French documents pertaining to the Paris Peace Conference, edited by Magda Ádám and Mária Ormos.

Csurka couldn’t have read the text very carefully, however, because he even makes mistakes when recounting the names of the participants. Reginald Leeper of Great Britain becomes Lepper, Sir Stuart M. Samuel becomes Sir Samuel Stuart, and Lieutenant Reuben Horchow of the United States Army becomes Harchow. Horchow was one of the eight secretaries for territorial questions; his job was most likely recording the meeting in shorthand. Csurka pegged him as a Jew and Horchow/Harchow became Csurka’s main villain. According to Csurka, Harchow officially handled the service personnel, but in reality he was a spy. He was originally from Poland and trained in the United States but paraded as part of the French delegation. According to one of Csurka’s inventors, Harchow visited Hungary only once when he apparently got in touch with the people in the Galileo Circle. Naturally! The evil Harchow was spying for the British secret service and later passed on a wealth of information to “the secret services of the burgeoning Israel, Russia and Great Britain.”

It turns out early in the play that “”four American Jews and Arthur Balfour were responsible for the dismemberment of Hungary.” How does Csurka manage to find four Jews among the top decision makers?  Jews and quasi-Jews come and go throughout the play, so I’m not sure who the real American villains were. Charles Seymour, history professor at Yale University and later its president, wasn’t Jewish; even Csurka doesn’t try to convert him. Csurka thinks that he was “a shyster of a lawyer in New York.”  However, according to Csurka, Seymour reports to Edward (Colonel) House. Csurka makes a Jew out of House, whose ancestry goes back to Dutch immigrants of the colonial period. The family’s original name was Huis, Dutch for “house”. Not so for Csurka who decided that House’s original name was Mandel and that he was the son of a rabbi. In fact, House’s father was the mayor of Houston. Another Jew in this company was actually Jewish, Bernard Baruch. But Baruch had absolutely nothing to do with the territorial questions at the peace conference. He advised President Woodrow Wilson on economic matters and in fact argued against the exceedingly harsh reparation payments Germany had to pay after the lost war.

Another villain is Sir Stuart M. Samuel, formerly high commissioner for Palestine, who was entrusted with minority rights in Poland. Csurka certainly doesn’t like the idea of protection for the rather large Jewish minority in Poland. Csurka talks about a Rothschild without being more specific, but I guess he is talking about Edmund James Rothschild, a great supporter of  Zionism. Csurka puts the following words into Rothschild’s mouth: “The tribe of Jews always accepted suffering for the survival and realization of the whole nation. If suffering awaits the Jews of a dismembered Hungary, they should bear it or should emigrate to the United States, but the matter of power over the whole world must go on.” Csurka’s Rothschild also makes it clear that Trianon is really the work of American Jews who try to shift the blame onto the French. Another American Jewish financier, Jacob Schiff, enters the scene in a conversation with Bernard Baruch and Arthur Balfour. It is about Wilson’s idea of setting up the League of Nations. Schiff is originally opposed to the idea but eventually relents on the condition that “the first president of the League of Nations will be Jewish.” Baruch inquires from Balfour whether this is possible or not, and Balfour assures him that it is possible. As far as I know, the first president of the League of Nations was Léon Bourgeois, former French prime minister, and I don’t have the foggiest idea of his ethnicity.

Léon Trotsky is also mentioned by these Jewish conspirators. Referring to him by his original name, Leon Bronstein, he is described as a close friend of Rothschild, Baruch, and Schiff. Granddad in the coffin and grandson Apród keep asking members of the committee questions. One concerns Trotsky who was, according to Csurka, financed by the American Jews who later advised Wilson on matters of state. And all the Jewish immigrants working in sweatshops talk about Trotsky whom they consider to be the real leader of Bolshevik Russia. Apród wants to know who the first and second presidents of Soviet Russia were, and naturally both were Jews.

Eventually Clemenceau enters the stage and has a long conversation with the dead revolutionary from 1956. He tells the French president that he was killed by Hungarians on Soviet orders. Clemenceau thinks that the man in the coffin is Romanian. Our revolutionary proudly retorts: “Thank God, no. I’m a Hungarian.” The conversation turns to Stalin and thus Clemenceau: “Oh, I remember him from the early days when he was an insignificant character. He was a Georgian, not Jewish and not a freemason. I never thought that he would ever amount to anything.”

Granddad informs Clemenceau about 1956 in this vein: “Stalin out of revenge delegated power to four Muscovite Jews–Rákosi, Gerő, Farkas, and Révai–who not only introduced a dictatorship but robbed the country blind.” This was also the peacemakers’ fault, including Clemenceau, because “if they hadn’t torn Hungary apart, the Russians would never have occupied Budapest.” Well, that’s an interesting theory. Hungary would have been able to stand against the mighty Soviet Union? On Germany’s side? And win the war? Is that what Csurka is getting at?

Throughout the play Edvard Beneš is lurking in the background. In Csurka’s theory the Czechoslovak foreign minister is behind everything–or at least everything that the Jews don’t control. He feeds false information to the peacemakers who robotically accept all his recommendations, even those concerning the future Romanian-Hungarian border. The February 17 meeting deals with the controversial decision to leave about 200,000 Hungarian speaking people on the Romanian side for the sake of a north-south railway line. The much abused Americans in fact wanted to leave the territory with Hungary but they were outnumbered: the British, the French, and the Italians all voted in favor of Romania. Beneš’s name did come up during this particular discussion, but Csurka’s Clemenceau gave him a commanding, prescient role. Bidding goodbye to the members of the delegation, Csurka’s Clemenceau said, “Continue with your work according to the Beneš decrees.” How unhistorical can you get?

In brief, István Csurka’s truth machine came up with a grotesque re-creation of  the twentieth century. What is truly frightening is the reaction of the play’s director, Zsolt Pozsgay. To him “Csurka only used a historical event in its historical reality.” As for its antisemitism, to Pozsgay “there are no antisemitic thoughts in the play. There are only historical facts.”

There is history and there is fiction, and sometimes the two can be bedfellows. But Csurka’s play doesn’t even begin to rise to the level of historical fiction. It is propaganda pure and simple. History is not a bedfellow of fiction but a rape victim.

Another speech: Viktor Orbán’s state of mind

August 23, 2012 21 comments

Normally sometime in the second half of August the 104 Hungarian ambassadors from all over the world gather in Budapest where they attend a series of instructional speeches by the prime minister and the foreign minister. Last year György Matolcsy was also present, but I guess this year it would have been too embarrassing to hear from him how fantastically well Hungary is doing economically. InsteadViktor Orbán did the honors.

Apparently this event is supposed to offer a kind of road map that informs the ambassadors about the general direction of Hungarian foreign policy. However, although I read several descriptions of Viktor Orbán’s speech, I found only one sentence that referred to foreign policy per se. It went something like this: good Hungarian foreign policy doesn’t depend on an imitation of the western model but on whether it serves the national interest or not. Therefore the ambassadors must be much more creative. I don’t think that one can get any vaguer than that. But, indeed, if someone wants to defend the Hungarian government’s activities one does need an unusual amount of creativity.

Last year on the same occasion Orbán announced his intention to wage a war against the European Union in defense of the country’s sovereignty and urged the ambassadors to steadfastly defend all of the government’s unorthodox moves, from bank levies to taxation. He made optimistic references to Hungary’s economic progress in the near future. This year somehow he had to pretend that the great economic strides that he’d promised last year have been fulfilled. So it’s no wonder that Sándor Burány (MSZP) declared after the text of the speech became known that the heat wave had had an adverse effect on Orbán’s thought processes. Or as Péter Balázs, former foreign minister, said, Orbán was looking at the road map upside down.

Because how can anyone claim with a straight face that Hungary is handling the crisis better than other countries when the Hungarian economy is in recession and its inflation is the highest in Europe? Real wages decreased by 3.2%  and 21,400 fewer people work than a year ago.  And that latter number includes the many thousands of people who are currently employed in public works projects. Orbán always put the blame for the crisis on the European Union, but other countries in the region, with the exception of the Czech Republic, are doing much better than Hungary. The Slovak numbers are especially impressive where for the last two or three years economic growth is between 3 and 4%. So it is simply not true that Hungary is a success story in this respect. But Orbán promised that shortly Hungary will again be the leader in the region. Promises, promises, as usual.

Viktor Orbán indicated, however, that there will be no change in economic policy. They will not change the tax system and will not lift the heavy levies on selected businesses and banks. He is still planning to take over utility companies and make them non-profit which according to economists is a disastrous idea; moreover, he himself knows that the European Union will not approve it. Given the current economic policies pursued by the Hungarian government, it is almost predictable that Hungary will sink lower and lower toward a perhaps very serious economic crisis. This will especially be the case if, as predicted by many, there is no agreement with the IMF.

An image of a human brain / scienceblogs.com

Although the speech was not that different from the run-of-the-mill speeches he normally delivers, there were a few remarks I personally found interesting. I think they tell a lot about the state of mind of the Hungarian prime minister. One was that “an Italian type government of experts is not a solution for Hungary because the citizens will only accept the necessary measures taken if the government that introduces these measures is legitimate.” I may add here that Orbán considered both the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments illegitimate in the sense that they didn’t have the support of the majority. At the moment the government enjoys the support of 17% of the adult population. Why did Orbán feel compelled even to mention the possibility of a government of experts? I leave that to the imagination of the readers.

Orbán’s other odd remark touched on the economic crisis and democracy. It was about a month ago that Orbán, talking to a group of businessmen, expressed his hope that the current crisis will not require a political system different from the current democratic setup. Commentators were aghast.  They considered the very fact that the Hungarian prime minister was contemplating such a possibility an outrage.

I guess Orbán himself thought that he had gone too far and wanted to take the edge off of this remark. This is how he handled it. According to him, the solution to the protracted economic crisis is “not made any easier” by the existence of the democratic model. “Europe chose the democratic model after World War II,” so that’s that. This is not a criticism on his part, he added.

Well, I think with this explanation Orbán made things much worse. He is certain that a non-democratic regime could handle the crisis much more effectively, and he regrets that he has to abide by the rules of democracy. Mind you, in my opinion he is working pretty hard on changing this situation in Hungary.

Another interesting passage was his reference to the loss of confidence in the leaders of the European Union which he described as a new stage in the crisis of Europe. The politicians of the nation states cannot afford this kind of loss of trust. Why mention something like this? Surely, he must know that people’s confidence in him is shaken. For years he tried to block every attempt at economic reform while promising pie in the sky to the Hungarians who expect the state to take care of them. And, not surprisingly, this tactic that may lead to electoral victory also generates great disappointment and a loss of confidence. In fact, it may result in a hatred of all politicians. This is pretty much what’s going on in Hungary at the moment. I sense a shift away from Fidesz from comments in mainstream newspapers. While a year ago, even half a year ago, the majority of the comments came from Fidesz true believers, today one can hardly find one or two among the hundreds.

So, to my mind, this speech said perhaps more about the mental state of Viktor Orbán than the newspapers reported and the commentators noticed. He is a man who, while boasting about the success of his government, is afraid that one day he may have to leave and his government may be replaced by a cabinet of experts. He knows that his popularity is very low. Here and there I think he is seriously thinking about a new kind of political system that might solve all his problems. Not the country’s but his! No, Sándor Burány is wrong: it is not the heat wave. It is fear and insecurity.

A “friendly” football match: Hungary-Israel 1-1

August 22, 2012 78 comments

Over the past few days the outrageous behavior of a large group of football fans at the Israeli-Hungarian “friendly” match on August 15 has become an international cause célèbre.

Initially the behavior of the neo-Nazi fans went unnoticed in Hungary, with the possible exception of the rest of those 10,000 people who attended the match. Although they were screaming “stinking Jews” at the top of their lungs all through the match, the most egregious part of their performance occurred during the Israeli anthem.

The incident became widely known only on August 17, two days after the game, when a blogger, a Hungarian who lives in Prague, reported on it. In Hungary only Péter Németh, editor-in-chief of Népszava, felt the need to comment on it in a short editorial. As he said in his note, Hungarians have gotten to the point that a little “zsidózás” is not even worth mentioning.

In the last twenty years the Hungarians have played against the Israelis five times.  The Israelis won twice, the Hungarians once, and twice the match ended in a tie, including the most recent one.

In far-right circles this game was considered to be a very important affair. Some of the hard-core anti-Semites on Facebook and Magyar Hírlap were concerned before the game that “for political reasons the Hungarians must not win the game.” One financial genius added that “Man, if we beat them tomorrow the euro will be worth 320 forints.” A third man announced that “it is ridiculous that there is again a country that our national team may not beat. That’s like when the golden team had to lose against the Soviet Union.” The golden team refers to the Mighty Magyars of 1950s fame.

From Facebook it is also clear that these neo-Nazis were preparing to create a scandal at the game. One participant in the discussion provided the others with a telephone number in case anyone got into trouble with the police.

The Hungarian authorities knew well ahead of time that trouble was brewing and in fact the Israeli national football team was warned of a “severe threat” to their safety in Budapest. From the interview with Eli Guttman, the team’s coach, it is not clear exactly what the Hungarian police did to defend the visitors. We do know that there was cooperation between the Israel security detail that accompanied the team and the Hungarian police because the Israelis’ “bus was sent out of the stadium after the match with a police escort and sirens sounding so that people would think it was [them. They] were asked to stay behind and left later in a bus with the blinds drawn.”

The day started pleasantly enough. The Magyar Labdarúgó Szövetség (Hungarian Football Association) organized a dinner party for the officials of the Israeli delegation that included the president of the Israeli Football Association. In attendance were Sándor Csányi, CEO of OTP and the president of the association, as well as the secretary-general and the vice-president. Ilan Mor, the Israeli ambassador, was also present.

But then came the preliminaries to the match. As usual, the visitor’s national anthem is played first followed by the national anthem of the home team. This is what people in the stadium could hear of the Israeli national anthem:

As days went by more and more details surfaced. One was a photograph taken in the stadium. Tibor Bana, a Jobbik member of parliament, can be seen on the photo in the company of two attractive girls. One of the girls is holding up an Iranian flag in front of her. Jobbik, as is well known by now, has very friendly relations with Iran. It is also likely that the party receives money from the Iranian government. It is pretty clear that Jobbik had a hand in creating this particular scandal with the help of the neo-Nazi football hooligans.

Several days went by and the Hungarian government didn’t feel it necessary to say anything or to apologize to Israel. At last the English-language Israeli paper Haaretz broke the silence and pointed out that “The Hungarian authorities still have not apologized for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents that took place at an August 15 soccer match between the national teams of Israel and Hungary in Budapest. During the so-called friendly match, a warm-up for both teams in advance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Hungarian fans turned their back on the field during the singing of ‘Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, and waved Iranian and Palestinian flags.”

A day later The Jerusalem Post also reported on the incident. The Post quoted Péter Morvay, editor of ATV, who attended the match with his son: “Not a few lunatics, but the whole bunch of supporters behaved this way.”

After a fair amount of pressure, the Hungarian government released a statement on August 21, almost a week after the incident. There was no apology, but the statement declared that “the Hungarian government deeply condemns the behavior of the football fans who disturbed the dignity of the friendly Israeli-Hungarian football match on August 15.” However, “the extremist behavior is not in direct contradiction with the law, therefore there is no legal ground for the authorities to take immediate action.”

The Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) said that it would investigate the incidents at a meeting today. I guess they are still investigating because as yet there is no news on the outcome of their gathering.

And finally the Israeli national anthem which cannot be heard on the video.

If the tune sounds familiar it is because this 16th century popular Italian song was incorporated by Bedřich Smetana in his symphonic poem Má vlast  as “Vltava.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,202 other followers

%d bloggers like this: