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Hungarian antisemitism: How to combat it?

November 30, 2012 85 comments

I would like to share with you an opinion piece by Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus, whom I consider one of the sharpest commentators on Hungarian politics. In today’s issue of Galamus she wrote about the growing antisemitism in Hungary, a topic with which the liberal Hungarian media is preoccupied. The pro-government newspapers are naturally less so. While the liberals demand placing neo-Nazi Jobbik into quarantine, Magyar Televízió (MTV) allowed Márton Gyöngyösi to explain himself on its early morning program. Let’s further spread the “gospel” of hate.

The title of Mihancsik’s article is “Antisemitism: A short history of responsibility.” Actually, the word she uses, and what I translated as antisemitism, is “zsidózás,” coming from the verb “zsidózni,” which is an untranslatable Hungarian verb. It means talking about Jews in an unfavorable light. It also implies that the speaker regularly engages in anti-Jewish speech.

Mihancsik outlines her view of how and why Hungarian society ended up in a state where an openly racist neo-Nazi party, Jobbik, managed to get 800,000 votes in the last elections. Although a lot of people, especially on the right, denied the seriousness of the early signs of the growth of the extreme right, Mihancsik is convinced that it was this underestimation of the problem that was one reason for the present situation. In addition, in her opinion it was a grave mistake for the Hungarian right to consider communism and fascism equal dangers for Hungarian society.

A day after Márton Gyöngyösi’s speech in parliament there happened to be a conference about hate speech organized by the European Council in Budapest. Here Zoltán Balog, minister in charge of human resources, claimed that the hate speech of today is actually an inheritance from the communist dictatorship when “hate speech was organized by the state. For example, the state organized hatred against the kulaks. It is that hate speech that lives on today in Hungary and it is our duty to do something against it.” One could laugh if such nonsense weren’t so sad. Hatred of the Jews and Gypsies goes back to the Rákosi period? Organized by the communists?

Although Balog desperately tries to blame the communists for having people like Gyöngyösi in the Hungarian parliament, the more proximate blame lies elsewhere. Not only is Fidesz responsible for the state of affairs in Hungary today but also people like László Sólyom who simply refused to make a distinction between the dangers coming from the right and the left. Who can forget when Sólyom compared 168 Óra, a liberal paper, to kurucinfo, a virulent anti-Semitic website, and stated that “both are extremist”? LMP, whose leadership came out of a civic organization headed by László Sólyom before he became president, to this day claims that the “Nazi danger” simply doesn’t exist. The Hungarian left is simply using the ogre of Nazism before “every election.”

Speaker's cornerWhen in 1991 the liberals and socialists organized the Demokratikus Charta against István Csurka and his antisemitism, Fidesz, although then still a liberal party, refused to join MSZP and SZDSZ. By 1998 Viktor Orbán himself was using code words conveying antisemitic sentiments when he talked about people whose heart is in foreign lands (idegenszívűek). Surely, everybody knew that he was talking about Jewish cosmopolitan liberals. By 2002 Orbán was talking about “élettér,” the Hungarian translation of Lebensraum, a word carefully avoided by most people. And let’s not forget that Orbán considered Jobbik in its earliest days to be a youth organization of Fidesz. He looked upon these youngsters with fatherly care, as he himself said.

Those who underestimate the danger of the extreme right, in Mihancsik’s opinion, include Fidesz, László Sólyom, SZDSZ, LMP, and finally the “doctrinaire human rights protectors” who paid no attention to the content of words uttered. She considers András Schiffer one of these “fundamentalist defenders of human rights” who while working for TASZ, the Hungarian equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, fought for the freedom of racist and antisemitic speech and did everything to prevent any police action against the neo-Nazis.”

Mihancsik considers Schiffer “the most responsible man among active politicians on the democratic side for the defenseless state of Hungarian society against racism and antisemitism.” In her opinion, Schiffer’s attitude and actions  are “a much greater sin than any uncertainties, errors, mistakes, and weaknesses of all the socialist-liberal governments before 2010.”

Naturally, one can disagree with Mihancsik’s views, and I am sure that many of the readers will. Many people will find it unacceptable to limit free speech, however odious. Others will take the view that the American view of free speech is simply not applicable in Hungary, a country with a history that includes the deportation of 600,000 Jewish citizens. Or that has such a history of discrimination against the Roma. Others, as some of the SZDSZ liberals often repeated in the past, believe that the problem cannot be solved by legal means. The society’s attitude must change. The question is indeed very complicated.

Protests against racism and threats to media freedom in Hungary

November 29, 2012 61 comments

The international indignation over the remarks of Márton Gyöngyösi (Jobbik) in the Hungarian Parliament concerning people of Jewish extraction posing a threat to national security prompted many individuals and organizations to raise their voices. Among them Hungarians and Hungarian organizations in North America. I will publish here two such protests.

The first is a bipartisan document. The organizers were hoping to get support from not only the so-called “left” side of the political spectrum but also from the “right.” These two sides normally don’t see eye to eye, but in this case the two groups came together and joined hands in protest. A fair number of the signatories came from Béla Lipták’s Hungarian Lobby.

The letter was first sent to MTI  which for some strange reason refused to publish it. Perhaps they didn’t realize that the letter had bipartisan support. On the other hand, the pro-government Heti Válasz first published the letter with only a partial list of the signers and a few hours later they came out with the complete list. It is possible that Heti Válasz received its partial list from the Hungarian Lobby and therefore found it more acceptable than if it had come from some suspicious liberal source.

* * *

Letter to Mr. László Kövér, President of the Hungarian Parliament

We the undersigned Hungarians and Hungarian speakers living in the United States and Canada without any regard to political convictions most strenuously object to the racist remarks of Márton Gyöngyösi, Jobbik member of parliament, on November 26. We  also take exception to what happened in the chamber where the legislators present  listened to Gyöngyösi’s anti-Semitic remarks without so much as a murmur. We would like to remind the members of parliament that the honor of Hungary is at stake; we don’t want to be ashamed of our country of birth.

We ask you and your fellow parliamentarians to condemn all types of racism more forcefully than you have done in the past.

Sincerely yours,
István Deák, New York NY
Melitta Abraham, Toronto ON
Andreas Abraham, Chevy Chase MD
Christopher Adam, Ottawa ON
Gergely Baics, New York NY
Eva S. Balogh, Bethany CT
Anna Bayer, Washington DC
David Balazs Beleznay, Toronto ON
Viktor Beelik, Zephyr Cove NV
Bela Bognar, Dayton OH
April Bognar, Dayton OH
Gyula Bognár Jr., Los Angeles CA
Holly Case, Ithaca NY
Gina Csanyi-Robah, Toronto ON
Frank T. Csongos, Fairfax VA
Emőke Danyi, Toronto ON
Bryan Dawson, Washington DC
Charles Farkas, Chappaqua NY
Donka Farkas, Santa Cruz CA
Peter Farkas, Santa Cruz CA
Gabriel Farkas, Portland OR
Erika Farkas, Toronto ON
Ferenc Felkai, Toronto ON
Lizou Fenyvesi, Washington DC
Charles Fenyvesi, Washington DC
Robert Frank, Cleveland OH
Tibor Frank, Toronto ON
László Fülöp, Minnespolis MN
Robert Gabor, Chevy Chase MD
Péter Gács, Boston MA
Vera Gara, Ottawa ON
George Gara, Ottawa ON
Janos Gertler, Washington DC
Susan Glanz, New York NY
András Göllner, Montreal QC
Cathy Gulkin, Toronto ON
Robert Halasz, New York NY
László  Hámos, New York NY
Paul Hanebrink, New York NY
Stevan Harnad, Montreal QC
Ágnes Hegyi, Washington DC
Bálint  Kacsóh, Macon GA
Vera Kadar, Ottawa ON
Gena Kadar, Los Angeles CA
Paul Kadar, Toronto ON
Marlene Kadar, Toronto ON
Arpad Kadarkay, Lakewood WA
András Kiséry, New York NY
Andras Koerner, New York NY
Laszlo Korbuly, Sarasota FL
Ferenc Korompai, Temple TX
Éva Kossuth, Vancouver BC
Frank Koszorus, Jr., Washington DC
Laszlo Kovacs, Washington DC
Edith Lauer, Cleveland OH
Béla Lipták, Stamford CT
Daniel Lowy, Washington DC
Gabor Lukacs, Halifax NS
Gergely Lukacs, Montreal QC
Zoltan Maros, Toronto ON
Leslie Megyeri, Washington DC
György Mező, Windermere FL
Miklos Muller, New York NY
Leslie Murray, Milton MA
Norman Nawrocki, Montreal QC
Laszlo Jakab Orsos, New York NY
Laszlo Papp, New Canaan CT
George Pick, Washington DC
Anna Porter, Toronto ON
Andrew Romay, New York, NY
Iván Sanders, New York NY
Tibor Schatteles, Ottawa ON
Ágnes Schatteles, Ottawa ON
Agatha Schwartz Ottawa ON
Julia Sonnevend, New York NY
Ágnes Sylvester Fülöp, Minnespolis MN
Judith Szapor, Montreal QC
Katalin Teleki, Washington DC
Maximilian N. Teleki, Washington DC
Barna Toekes, Mason MI
Stephen Vajtay, Jr., Somerset NJ
Charles Vamossy, New York NY
Julius Varallyay, Washington DC
Béla Várdy, Pittsburgh PA
Ágnes Várdy Huszár, Pittsburgh PA
Eva Anna Vas, Washington DC
Fruzsina Veress, Needham MA
Gábor Vermes, New York NY
Judy Young, Ottawa ON
Csaba Zoltani, Lutherville MD

* * *

STATEMENT OF THE CANADIAN – HUNGARIAN DEMOCRATIC CHARTER CONCERNING THE RACIST COMMENTS OF MR. MÁRTON GYÖNGYÖSI, DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF THE HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT’S FOREIGN RELATION’S COMMITTEE

 

Montreal, November 29, 2012

 On Monday, November 26, 2012, the co-chairman of the Hungarian Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, Márton Gyöngyösi, stood up in Parliament and asked the right-wing  government of Viktor Orbán to compile a list of those members of the government and of Parliament who are of Jewish ancestry. In the view of this prominent Hungarian parliamentarian, the presence of Jews in Parliament and the government pose a threat to Hungary’s national security.

The last time such blatantly racist statements were heard in Hungary’s Parliament was during the darkest days of the Holocaust, during the Regency of Admiral Nicholas Horthy, when some 500,000 Jews were rounded up by the country’s police forces, stripped of all their earthly possessions, crammed into railway carriages used for the transport of animals, and shipped off to be slaughtered in Auschwitz. What is astonishing about Mr Gyöngyösi’s statement is not so much the content. Hungarian mass media is full of such hate-mongering and the government’s media watchdog agency, the National Media Council, does absolutely nothing to dampen  such shameful rhetoric. It spends most of its time persecuting those media outlets that do not reflect the Orbán government’s nationalistic, often anti-European outlook on public affairs. As the US Anti-Defamation League’s 2012 study has shown, Anti-Semitic rhetoric in Hungary’s mass media and in public discourse increased dramatically after Mr Orbán came to power in 2010. Mr Gyöngyösi’s parliamentary outburst is only the latest in a mounting din, and testimony to the Orbán regime’s blindness to  this accelerating decay in Hungary’s democratic fiber.

The truly astonishing aspect of the Deputy Chairman’s hate rhetoric is that it was listened to without any protest by Hungarian MP’s. Mr Gyöngyösi was not told to retract his hateful words by the sitting Chairman of the House. He wasn’t interrupted or shouted down for his disgraceful conduct. His Party leader patted him on the back for a job well done.  Mr Gyöngyösi still sits proudly as a member of parliament and deputy chair of the country’s foreign relations committee, and will likely remain in his post as long as his racist, anti-democratic Party, Jobbik, maintains its standing as the second largest political party in Hungary’s Parliament. The most dismaying thing about this Anti-Semitic outburst is not the content but the place where it was articulated. What’s more, it’s not  so much the act of an individual opposition member in Hungary’s Parliament that causes us to raise our voice in protest, but the fact that one of the North Atlantic Treaty organization’s member states, a European Union member state, is led by a government that is restoring a  political culture that  fosters such uncivilized manifestations. Rather than fighting against the erosion of democratic principles, the Orbán government is bent on restoring the political values that held sway in Hungary under the rule of Adolf Hitler’s ally, Admiral Horthy. Mr Gyöngyösi’s outburst is a sad step along this backward march in time.

The Board of Directors of the Canadian Hungarian Democratic Charter takes this opportunity to raise its voice in protest against the anti-democratic, authoritarian and often blatantly racist manifestations that are rapidly gaining ground in Hungary under Viktor Orbán’s governance. The anti-semitic outburst by the deputy-head of the Parliament’s Foreign Relation’s Committee is not an isolated incident, but part of a general malaise against which such  steadfast European democrats as Václav Havel have  warned: “In just 20 years after communism collapsed, Hungary’s government, though elected democratically, is misusing its legislative majority to methodically dismantle democracy’s checks and balances, to remove constitutional constraints, and to subordinate to the will of the ruling party all branches of power, independent institutions and the media” The spread of anti-democratic manifestations within one of the European Union’s member states  strikes at the security of all those nations that are members of the North Atlantic Alliance. To fight against the spread of autocracy and racial intolerance is not only in the interest of Hungarians, but all citizens, on both sides of the Atlantic. Tolerance towards such rogue governments as Viktor Orbán’s sends  other would be autocrats the message that the road is open towards authoritarianism.

The Canadian – Hungarian Democratic Charter was launched on the 55th anniversary of Hungary’s heroic rebellion against the  old, Soviet led communist dictatorship in response to the appeals of democracy’s friends inside and outside the borders of Hungary. We, like our Hungarian associates, are a non-partisan civil rights advocacy group, not affiliated with any political party. Our purpose is to give encouragement and support to the defenders of universal democratic principles in Hungary and around the world, to help defend the dignity of our fellow human beings against the revival of ethnic and racially motivated hatred. Our central mission is to halt the spread of autocratic governance in Central and Eastern Europe.

Signed:

Dr. András B. Göllner, Founder and International Spokesperson.

Emeritus Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Concordia University, Montreal, Que

Dr. Christopher  Adam, Founder and Spokesperson.

Lecturer, Department of History, Carleton University,Ottawa, Ont.

Dr. Éva Balogh, Founder and Spokesperson.

Former Professor of History and Dean of Morse College at Yale University (Retired) New Haven, Conn.

Dr. Stevan Harnad. Founder and Spokesperson. Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Science at Univerité du Quebec á Montreal. QC

Prof. Peter W. Klein, Founder and Spokesperson.

Director, School of Journalism, University of British Columbia. Vancouver, BC.

Dr. Imre Szeman, Founder and Spokesperson.

Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English, Film Studies, and Sociology, University of Alberta.

 * * *

And finally, András Arató, chairman of the board of Klubrádió, sent me this communiqué explaining what happened to the two stations of Klubrádió outside of Budapest.

 Press Release on the Media Council’s attacks on the freedom of the press

The Media Council’s series of decisions violating the principle of the rule of law is a threat to the freedom of the press

Klubrádió’s press release concerning the latest letter issued by the Media Council’s press office claiming that the authorities are doing whatever they can to support the radio’s uninterrupted operation

We did not ask for the Media Council’s sympathy about the tender concerning the Esztergom and Tatabánya coverage area in which no winner had been declared. The only reason why this tender was unsuccessful is that the authority had issued an unprofessional call for tenders, as confirmed by the Budapest High Court of Appeal. It was the Media Council’s negligence but it is Klubrádió that pays the price. According to the judgment of the Court, the Media Council’s call for proposals had been so irrational and unprofessional that it was impossible to submit a proposal that met the applicable formal requirements. As a result, it is the Media Council’s duty to mitigate the damage caused and issue a temporary license for broadcasting in the two towns.

According to the Media Council’s press release, the Council will do whatever they can to make uninterrupted operation possible for Klubrádió, and they intend to prove this by issuing another 60-day extension (the twelfth of such extensions). However, this statement contradicts the facts as judgment after judgment confirms that that the authority’s procedures have been illegal and the Council refuses to comply with the orders of the court. The Council does not abide by the law, it is a law unto itself.

And the statement that the “Media Council continuously offers cooperation to Klubrádió” is utterly false. The truth is that it does not show any willingness to cooperate. They refused to answer our proposals for solutions and did not react to our requests for negotiation.

With the suspension of the operation of our Esztergom and Tatabánya broadcasting stations, we have made it possible for the Media Council to take immediate steps. The Media Council should allow us to take over the Budapest frequency permanently and should issue a new tender for the two country frequencies that meets the applicable professional and moral requirements. Stop causing more harm!

* * *

And finally, a funny (not so funny?) story from the Hungarian parliament that has a great deal to do with Jobbik’s attacks on Jews and on Israel. Israeli-Hungarian dual citizenship is very much on the minds of Jobbik MPs. A few days ago one of the loudest anti-Semites in the group, Előd Novák, inquired from the commissioner in charge of personal data whether members of parliament must reveal whether they hold dual citizenship. The commissioner explained that this kind of information must be made public if someone inquires. So, Novák went into action, and it seems that he wrote to all his fellow members of parliament and inquired about their citizenship status. Undersecretary Christian Democrat Bence Rétvári naturally obliged and assured the Jobbik MP that he was a true Hungarian with only one bona fide citizenship. Not so, the whimsical Katalin Ertsey (LMP) who answered thus:

At dawn this morning I found an e-mail from Előd Novák who wanted to find out whether I possess a dual citizenship or not. I answered him honestly. Here is my answer: “It is a well known fact that I am an Israeli-Piréz* citizen. I purchased my Hungarian citizenship shortly before I became a member of parliament. Not only is my citizenship Israeli-Piréz but I completely identify with both Jewish and Piréz interests, which means hatred of Hungarians. I’m glad that miserable little Nazis like you can busy themselves with research of my national identity.

But let me ask you something. I have been wanting to ask you this for a long time since you seem to have a fondness for bringing up topics concerning homosexuality, “are you a latent homosexual”? 

Novák doesn’t seem to have a good sense of humor. He called on Katalin Ertsey to resign from her position as a member of parliament because of her dual citizenship.

*A few years ago a group of sociologists did a study about Hungarian xenophobia and asked all sorts of questions regarding people’s attitude toward certain ethnic groups. They smuggled the nonexistent “Pirézes” onto the list. The respondents hated the Pirézes as well.

There may be a united democratic force after all in 2014

November 28, 2012 54 comments

There are two very recent political developments that might have something to do with each other. The first piece of news that hit the Internet today was a poll by Tárki concerning party preferences. The results are based on a representative sample of 1,000 Hungarian citizens over the age of 18, and it looks as if Médián’s poll a couple of weeks ago wasn’t a fluke. Gordon Bajnai’s “Together 2014″ would be one of the strongest parties if elections were held today. Moreover, just as the Bajnai group predicted, most of the supporters are coming from the hitherto undecided group of voters.

As for the details. All the other parties pretty much held their earlier support while the percentage of undecided voters decreased from 50 to 47%. The only exception was LMP, which lost some of its followers, and I don’t think that this is the end of the party’s downward slide. After all, the poll was taken before the story broke about the internal fighting that occurred within the party only a few days ago.

Within the population as a whole Fidesz’s support is 19%, MSZP’s is 14%,  and Jobbik’s is 10%. The new Bajnai formation would receive 7% support, ahead of LMP and DK. Among those who claim that they would definitely vote, “Together 2014″ got 13%!

The announcement of MSZP’s decision to join the others against Viktor Orbán’s regime

Because I more or less predicted that Bajnai’s new group would do well and that Médián’s earlier poll was not a fluke, that piece of news didn’t surprise me greatly. However, I was stunned by MSZP’s announcement that the party is initiating serious conversations with all democratic opposition forces aimed at forming “a common party list and naming common candidates in each of the 106 electoral districts.” They dubbed the program “Association for Change.”  MSZP’s suggestions and ideas were sent to Gordon Bajnai’s Haza és Haladás Foundation (HH), to Milla, to Solidarity, to LMP, to DK, to the Social Democratic Party of Hungary, and to Ákos Kornél’s group, “Together for Hungary.”

The timetable would be the following. Starting in January these groups would sit down and work out a program that would include details about economic and budgetary policy, constitutional matters and the state of democracy, employment, education, social policy, the development of the countryside, the environment, regional strategies, public safety, local governments, foreign policy, and “national policy” (nemzetpolitika). The socialists would send a delegation consisting of three or four members to each of the subcommittees that would be set up.

Once these details are ironed out, they should begin a joint registration campaign. Attila Mesterházy in a press conference announcing the party’s decision to join forces with the others emphasized that the democratic opposition would need 20-30 thousand activists because according to the new election law the democratic forces would need at least 20,000 people to be poll watchers. Why that many? Because if a party cannot produce two poll watchers at each polling station then that party cannot send any!!!! This electoral law is full of surprises. But more about the details later. The socialist proposals can be found here.

“Together 2014″ immediately responded positively to the MSZP initiative. Bajnai and his associates consider this development important because by now MSZP also shares the belief that in order to win against the forces of the Orbán regime unity is a must. Ferenc Gyurcsány also supports the idea.

This is a very important development. Until recently some key MSZP politicians spoke about the party’s chances of winning the elections single-handedly as a given. I’m sure that it couldn’t have been easy to convince the majority of the top brass to support Mesterházy’s plan. I wonder whether the party’s internal poll might have given early notice to the socialist leaders that the number of MSZP supporters was stagnating and that Médián’s poll indicated that support for Gordon Bajnai and the people who joined forces with him was real. Mesterházy himself seemed to me always very flexible. He said on several occasions that heading the common list should be the person who has the best chance of winning the elections.

So, as far as I can see a new Round Table is shaping up, if the other parties are ready to cooperate. My feeling is that the majority of the eight formations mentioned above will. The exceptions most likely will be LMP and 4K!

LMP’s problems are not over yet. LMP MP Katalin Ertsey suspended her membership in the party. During the coming weekend she will decide whether to leave the party altogether. She minced no words and called the latest round of voting that resulted in electing András Schiffer to lead the LMP parliamentary caucus “a dirty compromise” and described her fellow MPs as cynical and immoral. And then there are Gergely Karácsony’s more than unfortunate remarks in Debrecen to a group of university students which he has been trying to deny with not much success. Karácsony is not a very good liar. I will also be curious how long Schiffer will be the leader of the LMP delegation especially given the latest developments and the declining number of LMP supporters. Actually, I am not at all sure that LMP will survive.

Hungarian far-right party claims that Jews are a threat to national security

November 27, 2012 74 comments

By now major papers all over the world have carried the story of a far-right Hungarian member of parliament, Márton Gyöngyösi, who called for a list of Jewish members of the government and parliament because in his opinion they may pose a threat to Hungary’s national security. The condensed stories are often inaccurate and/or they don’t give the background necessary to understand the exchange in the Hungarian parliament that rightly received the condemnation of the whole democratic world.

BBC’s short article describes Jobbik, the party to which Márton Gyöngyösi belongs, as a nationalistic party. Sure, Jobbik is nationalistic all right, but it is also a racist, anti-Semitic party. In brief, it can be called a neo-Nazi party. Jobbik received 16.67% of the votes at the 2010 elections and 44 seats in the 386-seat parliament. Since then, their support has decreased; in the most recent poll their popularity stood at 8% among eligible voters.

Jobbik might have lost some support in the last two and a half years but their anti-Semitic propaganda has had its intended results. Anti-Semitism in Hungary has been on the rise. According to a recent study, Hungary is one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe.

Yesterday’s encounter between Gyöngyösi and Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Zsolt Németh was not entirely unexpected. After all, it was only about a week ago that Jobbik organized a demonstration in front of the Israeli Embassy in Budapest where the leader of the party, Gábor Vona, called on the Hungarian government to find out whether there are Israeli citizens among the members of the government and parliament. Vona also demanded an account of the “presence of Israeli capital in Hungary.”

Márton Gyöngyösi’s inquiries addressed to the undersecretary shouldn’t have come as a surprise either. Gyöngyösi is “the foreign policy expert” of Jobbik. Moreover, his sympathies toward the Palestinians, Iranians, and Arabs in general are well known. It was sometime in February that Gyöngyösi gave an interview to the British weekly, Jewish Chronicle. In that interview among other things he questioned whether 400,000 Hungarian Jews were really killed or deported from Hungary to Nazi death camps during World War II. “It has become a fantastic business to jiggle around the numbers,” he told the newspaper.

Gyöngyösi is not a run-of-the-mill Jobbik member. He is the son of a former commercial attaché who spent his childhood in Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and India and graduated from Trinity College in Dublin. He also spent a year at the Friedrich Alexander Universität in Nuremberg. One can read more about Gyöngyösi in my post “Jobbik’s foreign policy expert: Márton Gyöngyösi.”

In connection with this affair there are several important points to make. One is that every time a Jobbik MP plans an anti-Semitic outburst in the House the party picks a time when the presiding speaker is Jobbik deputy-speaker Zoltán Balczó. The last time that happened was in April when a Jobbik MP rose to “commemorate” the non-existent ritual murder of a young girl in the village of Tiszaeszlár 130 years ago. Details about this particular incident can be found in my post entitled “Two scandalous events in the Hungarian parliament.”

I would like to quote the exchange as fully as possible because some of the descriptions I found in English-language versions of the story were barely comprehensible.

There is a time put aside in the Hungarian parliament for “immediate questions.” When an MP plans to ask a question he first has to submit his question in writing. Normally the question is addressed to the minister in charge, but the minister can delegate someone else if the MP agrees. Foreign Minister Martonyi delegated Undersecretary Zsolt Németh. These exchanges are by house rules very short. A few minutes.

In his prepared statement Gyöngyösi accused the Hungarian foreign ministry of bias toward Israel. Németh answered that the Hungarian government does not take sides but “represents the interests of both people.” He added that 200,000 Hungarian-speaking people live in Israel and about the same number of “our Jewish compatriots live in Hungary.” Moreover, a large number of people from Palestine live in the country. In fact, the largest Palestinian colony in Central Europe can be found in Hungary.

At this point Gyöngyösi had a minute or so to reply. His answer was impromptu:  “Naturally I also know how many Hungarian compatriots of ours [then corrects] how many people of Hungarian origin live in Israel and how many Israeli Jewish compatriots of ours live in Hungary. But I believe that the time has come, especially during such conflict, to consider making a list of Jews living in the country, especially those who are in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, post a national security risk to Hungary.”

I watched Zsolt Németh’s face while Gyöngyösi was speaking; when he got to the point of making a list, Németh slightly raised his eyebrows. His answer was woefully inadequate. “Forgive me, but I cannot be a supporter of such research. I don’t think that the number of persons of Jewish origin in the Hungarian government is particularly related to the serious conflict that is taking place in the Middle East.” In the original: “Ne haragudjon, de ennek a kutatásnak nem tudok a támogatója lenni, úgy gondolom, hogy az, hogy hány zsidó származású személy van a magyar kormányban, az nem nagyon kapcsolódik ahhoz, hogy milyen súlyos konfliktus zajlik a Közel-Keleten.”  The Jobbik presiding speaker said nothing. A couple of times he indicated that the speakers had used more than their allotted time, but that was all.

Although the chamber seemed to be fairly full, there was no noisy outcry after Gyöngyösi’s “immediate question.” The House moved on to other business.

By next morning around 9:00 a.m. the government spokesman, András Giró-Szász , came out with a communiqué that Euroactiv described as terse. “The government strictly rejects extremist, racist, anti-Semitic voices of any kind and does everything to suppress such voices. The government at the same time makes it clear that it defends all citizens of the country from such insults.”

Well there is a little problem with this “terse” communiqué. It is a statement that is put away in some desk drawer in the office of communication to be pulled out every time there is an anti-Semitic incident. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the cause is simple vandalism in a Jewish cemetery, some insulting words directed against the Chief Rabbi, or in this case the horrendous suggestion of making lists of Hungarian Jews. Sharp-eyed journalists and bloggers dug up earlier government statements on anti-Semitism and these statements are practically copied from each other without any alteration. There is an amusing comparison of three recent government statements on anti-Semitisim in K. Funky’s blog. Definitely worth reading.

Finally, a few words about Zoltán Balczó’s chairing of the meeting and not interfering. A reporter managed to interview him this afternoon and asked him point blank whether he made a mistake when he didn’t stop Gyöngyösi. Balczó categorically denied any culpability. He claimed that the speaker of the house according to the house rules has no such authority in a case like that. The speaker has the right to interfere only “if the member of parliament uses insulting or indecent language,” and in his opinion there were no such expressions in Gyöngyösi’s speech. But Balczó added that Gyöngyösi made a mistake because “he gave the false impression that Jobbik wanted to make a list of members of parliament of the Mosaic religion or of Jewish origin.” Well, didn’t they?

By mid-morning Gyöngyösi himself decided to comment on the events of last night. He corrected himself. He was actually talking only about a list of those members of parliament who are also Israeli citizens. Just like Gábor Vona demanded in his speech in front of the Israeli embassy. He wouldn’t want a list of all Jews in Hungary. Előd Novák (Jobbik) who was sitting right behind Zsolt Németh seemed to be in full agreement with Gyöngyösi judging from his expression, and he shook his head in disbelief while listening to Németh’s claims of impartiality. But now he tried to defend his friend: “Marci only misspoke. He could be misunderstood.”

Today four members of parliament wore yellow stars in protest. The MSZP István Ujhelyi who happened to be the presiding speaker this morning and three DK members of parliament who still sit among the independents: Ágnes Vadai, István Kolber, and László Varju.

In the afternoon László Kövér also spoke up. His answer to everything is more restrictive house rules. However, knowing László Kövér’s almost pathological hatred of the socialists, it is most likely that he would use the more stringent house rules not so much against Jobbik whose ideas are not far from his own but against the MSZP members of parliament.

The only Fidesz politician who used strong language against Gyöngyösi was Antal Rogán. He rightly pointed out that Gyöngyösi’s revised version was no better than his original speech. It was refreshing to listen to him.

The lowest common denominator: What do the opposition groups want?

November 26, 2012 60 comments

A few days ago an interesting chart appeared in Népszava. It accompanied an article entitled “The lowest common denominator” about a study published by the Attila József Foundation, an MSZP think tank. The study dealt with opinions held by the opposition parties and civic organizations on some key political issues. Unfortunately the chart is not available online. I got it from the paper’s digital edition, and I think I should share its findings.

The heartening news is that all these organizations hold very similar views on issues. So, the current problems standing in the way of cooperation are partly personal and partly the groups’ attitudes toward the past and toward each other.

When it comes to questions of democracy and the rule of law, all groups (LMP, DK, Solidarity, 4K!, Haza és Haladás) agree that the new government will have to restore it. DK, Solidarity, and 4K! consider the new Basic Laws (Constitution) illegitimate. Haza és Haladás (HH) wants to move toward restoration, but slowly and gradually.

When it comes to independent institutions, all groups agree that the former competence of the Constitutional Court must be restored. DK and HH also specifically mention the restoration of the rights of the Budgetary Council and the independence of the Hungarian National Bank.  HH adds the independence of the courts.

There are no differences of opinion on the media law and the existence of the Media Council in its current form. They all demand a new media law and the abolition of the Media Council. They are unanimous when it comes to legislative actions that are retroactive, a practice often used by the current government. They also see eye to eye on the new election law; they all reject prior registration as a prerequisite for voting rights. Basically, they all want to return to the old system although LMP would like to make a few adjustments. HH mentions the National Election Committee that would need serious revamping. After all, the members are all Fidesz appointees and their tenure is exceedingly long.

On social security, especially on the question of pensions, there are more divergent opinions. LMP would like to raise the age limit and peg pension increases to inflation. DK is much more ambitious. They want to return the money the Orbán government took away from employees’ private pension funds and to restore the private retirement funds alongside  the state’s social security system. Solidarity would like to abolish the enacted laws that decreased the size of pensions hitherto received. 4K! has a rather peculiar idea. According to them, state-owned companies should pay into the social security fund in order to maintain it. HH doesn’t seem to have any explicitly stated plans. They are just very critical of the current system.

As for the Roma question, LMP seems to have the most radical solutions. The party explicitly talks about quotas, though only in the public media. They also would like to set up extensive scholarship programs specifically for Roma youngsters. Solidarity hasn’t paid much attention to the problem and therefore they have no program worked out. DK mentions integration as a goal while HH talks about employment and educational integration. So, the solutions offered are rather vague.

In the sphere of education, DK seems to be the group that spent the most thought and energy on the subject. The reason may be that three of DK’s deputy chairmen have academic backgrounds. DK emphasizes the restoration of the autonomy of teachers, it doesn’t reject tuition but would combine it with scholarships and student loans. 4K! wants to withdraw the educational reform altogether while HH has no specific suggestions but is simply critical of the present situation.

Practically all political formations studied emphasize the necessity of leaving cultural matters to the practitioners. DK is the most emphatic here: “the government has no business here,” they say. LMP, perhaps because of its young membership, mentions state assistance to popular culture. The others don’t have much to say.

Health care is in crisis at the moment, but most groups concentrate on higher wages. It is only DK that goes into some detail. They want to reintroduce co-pay and allow private insurers to participate in the health care system. You may recall that these ideas have been in circulation ever since 2006 when the second Gyurcsány government began revamping the health care system. It was then torpedoed by the joint effort of MSZP and Fidesz. The final blow was the referendum that abolished both tuition and the co-pay of about €1.00.

Most of them agree that Hungarians living in the surrounding countries shouldn’t get the right to vote; voters must live within the borders of Hungary. However, what “The Theoretical and Moral Fundamentals of the Together 2014 Movement” says about the question is a great deal less explicit. According to the document, the granting of dual citizenship “opened a new chapter in the question of national  unity. Therefore it cannot be the goal of the new political era to disenfranchise  Hungarians living outside of Hungary proper. But at the same time we must find legal and political guarantees so that in this new constitutional situation Hungarian domestic politics shouldn’t influence the lives of Hungarians living in the surrounding states.” So, will all new Hungarian citizens be able to vote or not? It is not at all clear from this passage, but I’m inclined to say that Bajnai’s umbrella organization would leave the new law in place.

As we can see from this comparison of opposition groups’ political goals, there are many issues that have been left untouched. However, their positions on important issues are very close. If that is the case, why did Gergely Karácsony (LMP) exclaim only a few days ago that he was in favor of negotiations with Bajnai only to be able to veto his nomination for the position of prime minister? Or why he did he say that he hates MSZP more than he hates Fidesz? All this doesn’t bode well for the future.

A challenge for the Hungarian opposition: Can they cooperate?

November 25, 2012 89 comments

Yesterday’s post prompted a lively discussion. My position has been clear for a very long time. Given the new electoral law, no opposition party can single-handedly dislodge Viktor Orbán’s government. There must be a unified opposition with a single list. Just as Tamás Bauer warned on the video I provided, supporters of individual parties will have to vote for people they don’t particularly like because this new unified group/party will be able to put up only one candidate in each of the 106 electoral districts. Some LMP followers will have to vote for an MSZP candidate; some MSZP supporters will have to vote for DK’s candidate. It will be hard, but it must be done.

Collaboration

As the candidate of such a unified opposition party I don’t see a better person than Gordon Bajnai. He proved himself to be a capable crisis manager. He has political experience, which is a must. One cannot pick up some civic group leader and make him prime minister. It would be a disaster. Bajnai doesn’t belong to any party, and it would be a stretch to call him a man of MSZP. Yes, MSZP-SZDSZ supported him, but not because they agreed with all that he was doing. They supported him because they knew that the economic situation was so grave that without the further austerity measures he introduced the whole edifice might collapse. For the parties that, let’s hope, will gather under the umbrella of “Together 2014″ it will be easier to accept a non-party man instead of the leader of one of the constituent parties.

As for the sins of the past. In my opinion the major “sin,” if one could call it that, of the governments between 2002 and 2010 was that they refused to use antidemocratic measures against an undemocratic and aggressive opposition. Fidesz in opposition didn’t behave according to the rules of the game in a democracy. Viktor Orbán used every possible illegal means to overthrow the legitimate government–if necessary, with the help of skinhead football hooligans and criminals. For four solid years Fidesz (and Jobbik) falsified the history of the events of October-November 2006. They also falsified the speech of Ferenc Gyurcsány. One can repeat endlessly, as some people do even on this blog, that it was a speech about his own lies. No, it wasn’t. It was about all the empty promises parties had made in the hope of electoral victory. And this was true of all governments from 1990 on, and that included the first Orbán government as well. Gyurcsány was also talking about Medgyessy’s irresponsible promises and about his own two years in office. He tried to explain to the MSZP parliamentary delegation that this must stop because otherwise the country is heading toward financial ruin.

As we know, three MSZP bigwigs–and Gyurcsány most likely knows who they are–sent the speech straight to Fidesz. Orbán had his man at Magyar Rádió who picked out one sentence from the long speech and broadcast it over and over.

A new book by József Debreczeni strongly suggests that Fidesz knew of the planned siege of the television station before it occurred and that the behind-the-scene organizers gave explicit instructions on how far these criminal elements should go. It is also known that several Fidesz MPs were in telephone contact with the far-right elements who were attacking the police on October 23. It has been clear for some time that the Fidesz demonstration was staged at the Astoria Hotel in order to be close to Deák tér and that the criminal elements were instructed “to pull the police” close to the Fidesz demonstration.  The result was predictable. The two groups intermingled and some innocent bystanders ended up among the violent groups who were throwing rocks at the police.

It is also a well known fact that certain key MSZP party leaders refused to support Ferenc Gyurcsány either because they didn’t like the reforms he wanted to introduce or because of his eagerness to make a clean sweep of the corruption within MSZP. It is no coincidence that years later Gyurcsány felt that he had no choice but to abandon MSZP and establish a party of his own. So, to make Gyurcsány responsible for MSZP’s mistaken policies is unfair.

As for the much talked about corruption. One witness after the other in important corruption cases claim that they were intimidated into giving false testimony by the police or by the prosecutors. The prosecutor’s office has been in Viktor Orbán’s pocket for a long time, but until now at least the courts have been more or less independent. No wonder that one of the first decisions of the Orbán government was to fire over 300 judges and replace them with young men and women favored by the regime.

In order to win this election every vote counts. No one can give up 300-400,000 DK voters just because some people think that Ferenc Gyurcsány was responsible for the two-thirds majority. What about Fidesz’s behavior in opposition? What about Orbán’s lies? And what about those “liberals” who refused to vote in 2010 because their favorite party, SZDSZ, was no more? How many votes were lost there? I know people who couldn’t be convinced that not voting means a vote for Fidesz. Some of them are well known political commentators today.

I also remember so-called liberals who actually rooted for Fidesz to get a two-thirds majority because they considered such a landslide victory a sure foundation for an entirely different kind of politics. Well, they got what they asked for, but it seems that by now they themselves realize that they completely misjudged Viktor Orbán and Fidesz.

The Hungarian people must learn that there are no perfect choices at election time. You must choose the party you find the best (or the least noxious). Some people might find in MSZP, some in LMP, and some in DK the party closest to his political views. All three parties and the new civic political groups are committed to democracy, and that is the most important consideration.  We know that Fidesz is not a democratic party. In fact, Viktor Orbán is building an autocrat state along the lines of  Mussolini’s fascist Italy. This must be prevented. I suggest that everybody put aside their selfish personal interests for the sake of salvaging Hungarian democracy. What is left of it.

Orbán’s election campaign has already begun

November 24, 2012 81 comments

The incredible anti-Bajnai campaign that has been launched by CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum) led by Sándor Csizmadia and other organizers of the two peace marches demonstrates that the current government is afraid of  Gordon Bajnai. As they should be. He is everything Viktor Orbán is not. The contrast cannot be greater. Bajnai is modest and soft spoken, Orbán is loud and has an inflated opinion of himself. Bajnai is quietly competent while Orbán twice proved that he is not fit to run a government. Bajnai is not really a politician while Orbán is a master of political intrigue, but his talents seem to stop at ruining the reputations of his political opponents.

People who are familiar with advertising rates estimate that this particular anti-Bajnai campaign has cost at least 100 million forints. The poster pictures Bajnai with Ferenc Gyurcsány as the latter is whispering something into Bajnai’s ear. The text is cleverly crafted. Gyurcsány-Bajnai Alliance appears in the lower lefthand corner. Large letters proclaim that “Together they ruined the country.” The word “together” is in red, which is obviously designed to call attention to Bajnai’s new formation, “Together 2014.” The text continues: “Once was enough. We don’t forget.”

The infamous anti-Bajnai poster allegedly financed by a civic group

Clearly the election campaign has begun, albeit unofficially. The method adopted here foreshadows what will most likely happen after the 2014 election campaign officially kicks off. From what we know of the new election law, it contains several stringent restrictions on advertising. We still don’t know whether government subsidies to the parties will be reduced or not. At one point Viktor Orbán talked about abolishing the current party financing because of  hard economic times. So, we can’t quite discount the possibility that the two-thirds majority will vote to change the party financing law and reduce the subsidies to insignificant amounts or even to zero. In that case Fidesz, using government money funneled through its civic groups, will spread the party’s slogans all over, on every bus and every surface available for advertising purposes, while the opposition will be invisible. It is that simple.

I think it is also worth talking a little bit about the Fidesz strategy of linking Bajnai’s name to that of Ferenc Gyurcsány. Some people are convinced that Ferenc Gyurcsány’s return to politics a year ago gave Viktor Orbán the opportunity to tie him to Gordon Bajnai in the here and now. They claim that Gyurcsány should have disappeared and that in that case Gordon Bajnai’s situation would be much easier. I think this line of reasoning is mistaken. I am sure that Orbán would have used the same strategy even if Gyurcsány had disappeared from the face of the earth. Orbán with the assistance of Tibor Navracsics and Zsolt Semjén managed to ruin Gyurcsány’s reputation. The very fact that Bajnai served in Gyurcsány’s government gives them a fantastic opportunity to repeat the performance, with Bajnai in the cross hairs this time around. These guys are skilled political assassins.

Here’s one illustration of my point. A few days ago Heti Válasz displayed a picture that linked Gordon Bajnai to Bálint Magyar (SZDSZ), who was minister of education between 1996 and 1998 and again between 2002 and 2006. Magyar is not involved in politics today, but that didn’t seem to prevent the pro-government publication from describing them, in the words of the article’s title, as “Birds of a feather flock together.” One should keep in mind that SZDSZ’s logo depicted a bird in flight.

Gone is Bálint Magyar, gone is SZDSZ, but it doesn’t matter. The vicious campaign will continue, linking his name with anyone who has ever served with him in the same government.

The question, of course, is whether it will work or not. Most of the people who were asked their opinion of the current anti-Bajnai campaign refused to answer. “I don’t know anything about politics.” Or, “I am not interested in politics.” Only a few dared to tell the questioning reporter that they find the campaign disgusting. One woman went so far as to say that she likes both men.

While this concerted effort at discrediting Bajnai is proceeding apace, LMP is falling apart. Gergely Karácsony announced only a few days ago that a breakup of LMP was “out of the question,” but by yesterday Benedek Jávor wasn’t that categorical. Because Jávor resigned as leader of the LMP caucus, the parliamentary group had to choose a new leader. There were four nominations, but three of the candidates refused to be nominated. András Schiffer, even though last week he announced that he was not willing to take the post, suddenly became much more willing. The trouble was that the eight LMP MPs who formed a platform called “Dialogue for Hungary” refused to vote for him. And since they are in the majority, Schiffer’s nomination was voted down 8-7.

Schiffer and a few of his followers left the meeting early. To the reporters’ questions about the outcome of the meeting Schiffer replied: “I was told that I’m supposed to eat what I cooked but they didn’t give me a fork and knife to eat it with.” Meanwhile Gábor Scheiring called Schiffer “the most divisive person in the party” who is unfit to lead a deeply divided caucus.

My sense is that those who are fed up with Orbán’s regime (and their numbers are growing) will demand unity and will punish LMP if  they stand by their decision to boycott Bajnai’s “Together 2014.” I’m also noticing a mellowing in certain liberal circles toward Ferenc Gyurcsány. People have begun to appreciate his steadfast efforts to call attention to the dangers of a stolen election in 2014. The fact that he and his party are ready to cooperate with “Together 2014″ without any preconditions also endears him to those who are disgusted with the Schiffer-wing of LMP. I will be really curious what the next polls will tell us. There might be a few surprises.

Hungarian academic standards: Analysis of a textbook

November 23, 2012 58 comments

It looks to me as if the Hungarian academic community is closing ranks. Not necessarily because the people involved are supporters of the current government but because they realize that if a serious investigation of Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén’s so-called research is undertaken the greatest loser will be Hungarian academe.

What is the difference between the current plagiarism scandal and that of President Pál Schmitt? Schmitt’s was a open and shut case even if the Hungarian authorities took their own sweet time in reaching the right decision.The plagiarism was so blatant that there was never any question that the work Schmitt submitted was a translation of French and English texts and that not even the translation was his own. Moreover, the academic community could brush aside the case, claiming that a doctoral dissertation written for the College of Physical Education was “a joke.” Something like that could never happen at a “real” university.

And yet here we are. ELTE, one of the top universities if not the top, finds itself in the middle of a controversy. It turns out that the university bestowed a degree in sociology on Zsolt Semjén when the readers most likely knew that a large part of the senior paper (szakdolgozat) was simply copied from a mostly plagiarized dissertation submitted for the fulfillment of the requirements in another subject at another university. That other university was Péter Pázmány Catholic University, a favorite of the current government and the Christian Democratic Party, chaired by Semjén.

And today I’ll focus on another blot on Hungarian scholarship: the substandard textbook produced by one of the professors of Corvinus University. Corvinus otherwise has an excellent reputation as a university specializing in economics, finance, and business.

All in all, I’m not surprised that the scholars involved are eager to close the case. Because, let’s face it, it is deplorable that they set the bar so low that they accepted these two pieces of work and considered Semjén’s performance excellent. What does this say about the standards of Hungarian higher education? Or about education in general?

Now, on to the Corvinus textbook.

A few days ago I received the text of  Géza Jeszenszky’s chapter on “Minorities in Hungary: The issue of the Roma (Gypsies. Minority self-government).” In an earlier post I called Jeszenszky a “lousy scholar.” Now that I have the full text I can reiterate the same with even greater emphasis.

I don’t know how much research went into this particular chapter but it couldn’t have been much. Jeszenszky wrote the English-language text himself without asking a native speaker to check it. Thus, in the very first sentence there is a grammatical error. Moreover, Jeszenszky is quite capable of writing the word “Gypsy” two different ways on two consecutive lines. Once properly and then as “Gipsy.”

Painting by János Balázs (1905-1977)
Roma painter and poet

I will not have time to go line by line and point out everything that I consider to belong to the realm of unacceptable scholarship. My observations will be general since I am not sufficiently familiar with the subject matter. But if one claims (and note that I’m not editing Jeszenszky’s English) that “the greatest number of Roma with full higher education in the whole of Europe is in Hungary, both in absolute and relative terms” one would like to see some numbers. Instead, we read that “among the 24 Hungarian members of the European Parliament, two are Roma.” (I might add that since the book was written there is only one because SZDSZ didn’t get enough votes and since then its Roma representative Viktória Mohácsi has been seeking political asylum in Canada.)

Jeszenszky seems to have problems with numbers in general. In one place he correctly estimates the percentage of Roma in Hungary’s population as 7-8%, but a few lines later we read that “in some countries [in Eastern Europe] their share of the overall population exceeds 5 per cent.” Or how meaningful is this assertion: “In terms of estimated figures for the number of Gypsies resident in 38 European countries, Hungary lies in the fourth place, after Romania, Bulgaria and Spain.” In absolute numbers or as a percentage of the population? According to Romanian statistics, Gypsies constitute 3.4% of the population. Spain apparently has 700,000 Roma, about as many as Hungary, but Spain’s population is close to 50 million as opposed to Hungary’s 10 million.

Or what about this? “Since 2001 the size of the Roma population has increased rapidly. Today every fifth or sixth newborn Hungarian child belongs to the Roma minority.” Where is he getting these numbers since very few Gypsies actually declare themselves as belonging to the Roma minority?

And then comes the notorious sentence that received so much publicity: “”The reason why many Roma are mentally ill is because in Roma culture it is permitted for sisters and brothers or cousins to marry each other or just to have sexual intercourse with each other.” Judging from this sentence, Jeszenszky doesn’t seem to know the meaning of the word “mentally ill.” Intermarriage might result in genetic problems or retardation but not in mental illness. Of course, it is possible that Jeszenszky knows the difference in Hungarian but perhaps not in English.

But there are other peculiar assertions. Here is one example: The Roma’s “attachment to established religions, whether Hindu, Muslim or Christian, appears to have been a matter of convenience rather than conviction.” The example he gives is of Gypsies who lived in the Balkans under prolonged Turkish rule as opposed to those who lived under Christian rule. One doesn’t have to be an expert to know that this is a ridiculous assertion. Serbs who lived under Turkish rule for a long time became Muslims, something the Christian Serbs haven’t forgotten to this day. Or Syria before the Arab conquest was overwhelmingly Christian, but eventually they converted to Islam. Moreover, the Hungarian Roma population is a great deal more religious than the non-Roma population of the country.

There is a section that talks about the Roma invasion of Western Europe in early modern times, but “because of their alien culture and unwillingness to be engaged in agricultural production they were soon expelled and deported from Western Europe, sometimes brutally. Some tribes managed to hold out in the Mediterranean region but the majority retreated to Central and Eastern Europe.” The suggestion here is that Western Europeans were intolerant while in Eastern Europe, specifically in Hungary, Gypsies found shelter.

Here is a description of the current situation: “Criminality is high among them, consequently a negative attitude to Roma is wide-spread among the population at large.” Again, the suggestion is that discrimination is solely due to the Gypsies’ criminality. “Many Roma live in self-made squatter settlements on the outskirts of towns or villages.” As if the Roma chose to live in isolation at the far end of villages.

Here is an interesting description of the discrimination against Roma children in schools. “A large proportion of their children do not regularly attend school. Discrimination plays some part in this as the birth-rate among Roma has increased while the general population has a zero or negative growth rate, and many elementary schools are inundated by unruly Gypsy children.” Hence discrimination and truancy?

And finally, here is another telling sign of the incredible prejudice that can be found in practically every line. After a long description of the “very serious efforts to improve the lot of [Hungary's] citizens of Gipsy origin” Jeszenszky continues: “The media, especially the international, gives publicity mainly to the negative tendencies and to the controversies. (Recently hot debates started about a few criminal cases. Some were described as ‘hate crime’ against Roma, others involved family feuds between Gipsy families, but on several occasions Gypsy gangs killed innocent non-Gypsies.)”

Well, we all remember the cases of serial murders of absolutely innocent Roma by a gang of far-right Gypsy haters. If those were not hate crimes, I don’t know what they were.

Honestly, what can we expect from Hungarian higher education when textbooks such as this are being used at one of the best universities in the country? The reputation of Hungarian scholarship is at stake.

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 22, 2012 21 comments

The birds pictured below are the real wild turkeys. The kind who visit often. Some of them are quite ferocious. One day about half a dozen of them gathered outside and pecked madly on the windows and the door sidelights on the lower level of the house. I was afraid that they would succeed in breaking into the house.

But most of the time they are peaceful and dumb. Very dumb. A whole flock will cross the roads around here without paying the slightest attention to the traffic.

These are not the kind you want to eat. They are tough old birds with tiny breasts. But in the fall of 1621 the Pilgrims were happy to have even them to eat.

The wild turkeys of New England

When it comes to stuffed turkey recipes I decided to go international. I came upon a recipe in Marosvásárhelyi Infó, a Hungarian Internet publication from  Târgu Mureș, Romania. The original recipe appeared in Urbanlifestyle /Oraşul găteşte, a Romanian-language publication. Soon enough I found the original Romanian version called “Curcan umplut” which simply means stuffed turkey, or “töltött pulyka” in the Hungarian version.

It does look great.

Stuffed turkey from Transylvania

As Julia Child would say: Bon appétit!

Hungary’s oil company, a possible bribery charge in Croatia

November 21, 2012 5 comments

I have been collecting articles on the Hungarian oil company’s troubles in Croatia ever since the summer of 2011. In June of that year a Croatian newspaper Večernji list reported that Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, was accused by the Croatian prosecutor’s office of bribery in connection with the privatization of INA, the Croatian oil refinery. According to the paper, Hernádi paid Ivo Sanader, Croatian prime minister at the time, €5 million for a favorable deal. Apparently, the money exchanged hands during 2008 and 2009. MOL, which took over the management of the company, got a 47.47% stake in INA and the Croatian government held on to 44.84%. Details of the alleged bribery were murky, but Sanader abruptly resigned on July 1, 2009 and after a while left Croatia for Austria from which he was eventually extradited.

Naturally, MOL denied the allegations, and members of the Orbán government who have a close working relationship with Hernádi suspected Russian hands in the affair. After all, the Russians disliked Hernádi because of the Hungarian government’s insistence on buying Surgutneftegas’s stake in MOL. Government officials claimed that the Russians urged the Croats to take over INA from the Hungarians.

By July 2011 Croatia sought to review both the 2003 and the 2009 agreements signed by MOL and the government of Ivo Sanader. Viktor Orbán, whose government has a 25% share of MOL, intervened: “It is our firm stance as an owner of MOL that we won’t agree to any changes in the contract between the Hungarian and the Croatian oil companies.”  There were even reports that the Croatians asked for the extradition of Hernádi, but that turned out to be no more than a rumor. It was true, however, that the Croatian prosecutor’s office submitted a legal aid request. It took the Hungarian prosecutors only about a week to decide that they had no reason to investigate the case.

Meanwhile the case against Sanader was unfolding, and here and there Hungarian papers reported on some details of the possible bribes paid by MOL. For example, on September 17 MTI reported that Večernji list indicated that the money Hernádi paid to Sanader came in installments. The paper claimed that 2.6 million euros were paid on June 17, 2009 and another 2.4 million the next day, on June 18, just a few days before Sanader abruptly and unexpectedly resigned as prime minister of Croatia.

Image via The Gloss

It was just a question of time before the Croatian prosecutor’s office would charge Sanader with taking a €5 million bribe that secured MOL a dominant position in Croatia’s market. The proceeding against Sanader began on September 23, 2011. By mid-November it was reported that the Croatian prosecutors named Zsolt Hernádi as a suspect in the bribery trial of Ivo Sanader. Both Sanader and MOL denied the accusations.

By November Sanader’s lawyer asked the court to allow Zsolt Hernádi to testify on behalf of his client. The court refused the request, especially since the prosecution was in possession of a video of a lavish dinner attended by both Ivo Sanader and Zsolt Hernádi which was accepted as evidence although the defense argued that it was taken illegally without the guests’ knowledge.

All in all, the case was not going well from the point of view of Hernádi, and MOL and the Hungarian government through Heti Válasz were still pushing the Russian connection. The Hungarian publication claimed that the two Cyprian companies through which Hernádi allegedly moved the money to Sanader were in fact affiliated with Gazprom. Gazprom denied the allegation, but Heti Válasz didn’t give up and announced several times that it wasn’t MOL that bribed the former Croatian prime minister.

By January 2012 the Hungarian prosecutors were no longer investigating the MOL-INA case; they had found no evidence of a crime. As for the legal aid requested by the Croatians, the Hungarian prosecutor’s office couldn’t oblige because giving such information”would endanger the security of Hungary.”

Then came a lull both in the investigation and in the court proceedings until yesterday when Ivo Sanader was sentenced to ten years for accepting €5 million or $6.4 million from MOL. He is still facing separate trials for profiteering, creating slush funds for his political party by siphoning money off from state companies, and influencing public tenders. The judge said in court: “You have damaged Croatia’s reputation. Because you were a top official, this verdict is a message to those engaged in politics that crime does not pay.” According to the executive director of the Zagreb office of Transparency International, Sanader “represented the epitome of political corruption in Croatia.”

After the announcement of the verdict, the price of MOL shares dropped by 4%. MOL immediately published a communiqué in which the company denied any and all wrongdoings and expressed their belief that the whole case was concocted by Ivo Sanader’s political enemies.

Today’s verdict was handed down by a lower court, and Sanader will most likely appeal. According to Hungarian lawyers specializing in international law, when the verdict becomes final MOL may end up in big trouble. First of all, the Croatian government may start proceedings against MOL, demanding the annulment of the contract with INA. It is also possible that the Croatian authorities may go after the persons allegedly involved in bribing Sanader. If it turns out that MOL illegally took over  the management of  INA, all decisions since the date of the changeover could also be questioned.

At the moment MOL’s lawyers are studying the judge’s written verdict. Apparently they found “factual errors” and “misunderstandings.” According to MOL, the prosecution didn’t prove its case against MOL. Well, that is pretty basic, I think. Naturally, the judge claims that the charge against Sanader is solid. In any case, the Hungarian company may take steps to defend its reputation by appealing to international arbitration.

Meanwhile the Croatian foreign minister indicated that as soon as there is a final verdict in the case, the Croatians will surely try to change MOL’s contract with INA.

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