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Happy New Year!

December 31, 2012 23 comments

Happy New Year 2013

And as a good deed you may want to sign a petition in support of Klubrádió. You can sign here:

http://www.peticiok.com/mondj_nemet_a_klubradio_megszuntetesere

and click on “Petíciók aláírása”

The rest is self-explanatory. First and last name, e-mail address and finally whether you want your name to be visible or not. More than 34,000 people signed already.

Wishing all of you a very Happy New Year!

The new Parliamentary Guard: What will Fidesz use it for?

December 30, 2012 48 comments

It was sometime in late July or early August that  a 168 Óra headline announced that “László Kövér is organizing a private army for himself.” This is not an accurate description of the new 349-member Parliamentary Guard (Országgyűlési Őrség) that is supposed to replace the 266-member Republican Regiment (Köztársasági Őrezred) that was created for the defense of the parliament and the office building in which the members’ offices were situated.

What was wrong with the Republican Regiment? Most likely nothing because, according to reports, most of its members have been taken over by the new Parliamentary Guard. But this government must change everything to make it bigger and grander. Also, if there is no Republic of Hungary there cannot be a Republican Regiment either.

This new police unit not only has very expensive, tailor-made uniforms to the tune of 2.3 billion forints but also has wider jurisdiction than its predecessor. Members of the Republican Regiment couldn’t enter the chamber, while a parliamentary guard can if the presiding speaker so requests. For example, if László Kövér finds an opposition member’s speech objectionable he can ask the member to leave the chamber. If he refuses, Kövér can ask for a guard to escort him out. If the MP refuses to oblige, the guard can forcibly remove him. He will have all sorts of equipment short of firearms to assist him in this task, including handcuffs, pepper spray, and a stun gun. The problem is that Kövér seems to have an extraordinarily short fuse; his sensitivity is incredible given his own manners. So, one never knows when he will decide that he has to ask the police to come to his rescue.

In October 230 people from the old Republican Regiment and hundreds of  others from the police force vied for this cushy job. The lowest monthly pay for a member of the parliamentary guard was set at 400,000 forints, more than three times the average salary of an ordinary policeman. By October 8 they picked the happy 349 people who in the case of the men had to be at least 180 cm tall and in the case of women 170 cm. After that came the special physical and psychological training about which we know nothing.

Magyar Hírlap made sure that its readers don’t find the establishment of a parliamentary guard that is responsible for “order in the chamber” unusual and informed them that “such a guard already existed in the last century. On July 4, 1912, István Tisza instructed the guards to lead out the protesting members of the opposition. Later the scene was repeated when Parliament voted for the reform of the Army Bill in preparation for war in the summer of 1914.”  A rather unfortunate comparison.

As for the uniform, I read several articles on the subject but it is still not clear to me how many uniforms each guard will receive.  There is the  dress uniform which consists of black pants and a dark green tunic with claret-colored piping, black shoes and shako. But Népszava also talked about “társasági öltözet” which should be an outfit for “social occasions.” Another outfit is called “szolgálati gyakorló ruha” which, if I understand it right, is the uniform worn in performing everyday duties. The dress uniforms cost 68.5 million, the uniforms for social occasions 25.3 million, and the ordinary service uniforms 18.8 million. Just the piping costs 9.8 million forints. Orbán is right: there is no such thing as “austerity” in Hungary! All these details were kept secret until yesterday when the new members of the Parliamentary Guard swore allegiance in front of the Holy Crown of St. Stephen that had been placed by the first Orbán government in the Parliament building.

In the front row Márta Mátria (Fidesz MP), the new Sargeant-at-Arms, and László Kövér, the spaker of the House

In the front row Márta Mátria (Fidesz MP), the new Sergeant-at-Arms, and László Kövér, the Speaker of the House

But there seems to be an even fancier outfit for those who will also perform ceremonial functions. Here is a picture of soldiers wearing this uniform:

Parliamentary guards at ceremonial function

Parliamentary guards at a ceremonial function

I should also say a few words about this new-old position of Sergeant-at-Arms (or in Hungarian háznagy). This position existed in the Hungarian parliament until 1945 but was abandoned after the war. When HVG announced the appointment of Márta Mátrai to the post, they introduced her as “the housekeeper of the House.” Indeed, her duties will be somewhat similar: keeping order not only in the chamber but also in the offices situated in the building. The Sergeant-at-Arms also keeps a list of the addresses of the MPs, takes care of handing out official documents to the members, and helps the speaker keep order. At least according to the Pallas Nagylexikon published at the end of the nineteenth century. I assume, but I’m not sure, that she will be the nominal head of the Parliamentary Guard. At least this is the case in the British Parliament. But Ms. Mátrai’s role will be not ceremonial as is the case with the Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons. In England the security of Parliament buildings and the members is provided by the Palace of  Westminister Division of London’s Metropolitan Police Services, whose members are not armed. Moreover, the British police are there to defend the members, not to lead them out.

In the United States there is also a Sergeant at Arms who is an elected officer of the House of Representatives. He is the chief law enforcement and protocol officer of the House and is responsible for maintaining order on the House side of the United States Capitol complex.  The Sergeant at Arms reviews and implements all issues relating to the safety and security of members of Congress and the Capitol complex. The Sergeant at Arms also coordinates extensively with the U.S. Capitol Police and various intelligence agencies to assess threats against members of Congress and the Capitol complex. Again his duties and those of Ms. Mátrai are not the same.

And one final look at the uniform. Apparently real experts in the history of Hungarian military uniforms designed them and claim that they are in the finest tradition of Hungarian military uniforms. The trouble is that quite a few people see a striking resemblance between them and the uniforms of the Wehrmacht.

The Parliamentary Guard uniform on the left and the Wehrmacht uniform on the right

The Parliamentary Guard uniform on the left and the Wehrmacht uniform on the right

Unfortunately, there are similarities. Especially when it comes to the placement of pockets with buttons and the six gold buttons in the front of the tunic. The color green is reminiscent of the old German uniforms. But, the shako is traditional all right. It was typical Hungarian military headgear that was adopted in many countries and the name picked up in many languages, including English.

We will see what László Kövér and Márta Mátrai will use the members of this beefed up Parliamentary Guard for. Will they really use them against opposition members whose behavior is objectionable to the presiding speaker? Possibly. Of course, the question is whether they will be used only against MSZP, LMP, and DK members or whether Kövér will be equally strict with members of Jobbik when they begin making anti-Semitic speeches as they have done on several occasions in the past.

The siege of the Hungarian Television Station, September 18, 2006

December 29, 2012 44 comments

For those of you who are either not familiar with the fateful events of the fall of 2006 in Hungary or don’t remember all the details I should state again that there were two distinct phases of the riots. The first took place on September 17-18 and the second at the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 Revolution, an occasion attended by scores of foreign dignitaries.

Every time the topic of these riots comes up Fidesz supporters like to make a sharp distinction between the “peaceful demonstrators” of October 23 and the next few days and the criminal elements who laid siege to the Hungarian Television Station on September 18. However, immediately after that bloody night on Szabadság (Liberty) Square Fidesz politicians insisted that the siege was a spontaneous outburst of justified indignation. At the same time they accused the government of purposely sending the ill-equipped policemen into harm’s way, thereby compromising the opposition that supported them. One thing is sure: the violence that characterized the siege and the characters who took part in it didn’t rock the government. According to a Medián poll taken before the siege, 52% of those asked thought that Gyurcsány should resign. After the siege, only 45%.

First let’s examine how “spontaneous” the gathering was on Kossuth Square on the evening of September 17, right after the release of the incriminating lines from Gyurcsány’s speech. Initially the police noted only 20-30 people, but minute by minute more people came from all directions. To the police it looked as if recruiting were taking place, most likely through cell phones. Eventually there were at least 1,000 people, if not more. Soon enough they even had loudspeakers and managed to put together a podium. Speaker after speaker kept repeating parts of Gyurcsány’s speech. It began to rain and somebody distributed yellow raincoats used at Fidesz gatherings. The demonstration was peaceful at the beginning, but eventually some of the people broke the cordon the police had erected.

This “spontaneous” demonstration was illegal because it had not been registered with the police. The police leadership, especially Péter Gergényi, the police chief of Budapest, misjudged the situation by declaring it part of the campaign season for the municipal elections. During such times spontaneous gatherings indeed are permitted. Gergényi talked to József Petrétei, the minister of justice, and his deputy Ferenc Kondorosi and informed them that there was nothing to do. “Let them let off some steam.” He predicted that the demonstration planned for the following day would also be peaceful. Petrétei happily agreed. According to Debreczeni, the real culprit of this story was the incompetent Petrétei, in civilian life a professor of law at the University of Pécs who, according to his job description, is supposed to “direct” the police. Instead, he was watching the events on television at home.

Some of the crowd didn’t leave the square even during the night. Soon enough someone was serving them food and Gyula Budai, today undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and in the first two years of the Orbán government the commissioner in charge of “political crimes” of MSZP politicians, provided them with portable toilets. He also brought along a tractor with which he led some of the people to Jászai Mari Square in order to lay siege to the building that serves as an office building for members of parliament.

Meanwhile extremist groups came with their flags and slogans: the Honfoglalás 2000, Hatvannégy Vármegye, Magyar Nemzeti Front, and Jobbik. Football hooligans who used to fight among themselves now united in order to attack the television station the next day. Busloads of football fans arrived from Debrecen and Nyíregyháza, the UTE (Újpest) fans came straight from a game in Sopron. They arrived with a police escort! Maria Wittner, the heroine of 1956 and an extremist politician, made a speech and announced that there was a new “revolutionary situation.”  By evening the word came that “Fidesz assures the demonstrators its solidarity.” Naturally, a huge ovation followed the announcement.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the siege of the building the following evening. Instead I suggest you view a video by Ádám Csillag entitled “Under  Siege” (Ostrom alatt).

The police leadership turned out to be singularly untalented and the policemen’s equipment was woefully inadequate. Hundreds of policemen were seriously injured. In 2002 the question of providing the police with proper riot gear came up after a demonstration that blocked Elizabeth Bridge, but the undersecretary in charge of police matters in the Ministry of Interior vetoed it. It was too expensive and unnecessary. Instead they bought 40 Ford Mondeos for patrolling the streets.

Not only the equipment was problematic. The Hungarian police force, especially those who can handle riots, was very small and ill-trained. On that day no more than about 850 policemen were available in the whole country who could be called to the scene. Altogether there were only 2,400 policemen on the streets nationwide, including ordinary traffic cops. In the Netherlands there are 16,000 available at any given moment.

Eventually, they came up with a twenty-five-year-old water cannon whose power was negligible. And when it was a question of getting equipment to fire tear gas, the staff couldn’t accommodate because the equipment was locked up in a room where arms were kept.

Some of those who showed  their "justified indignation" against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

Some of those who showed their “justified indignation” against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

It was an incident with this water cannon that make people very suspicious that someone was actually giving orders to the crowd. There were a number of policeman inside the water cannon which the rioters set on fire. Everybody was expecting that either these people will burn alive inside or, if they come out, they will be lynched. But no, when they came out the crowd retreated. Obviously, the organizers were careful not to go too far.

Another episode also indicates some kind of central planning. At one point a number of policemen were cornered; they were practically lying on the ground trying to defend themselves from the stones hurled at them. However, the organizers allowed another unit to rescue them.

In addition to Maria Wittner, Gábor Kubatov, currently the president of Ferencváros and right-hand man of Viktor Orbán, most likely also had a large role to play behind the scenes in the events of September 17 and 18. At least this is what József Debreczeni heard from some people in the Office of National Security.

I should also mention László Sólyom’s rather unfortunate role on September 18. He decided to talk about the “moral crisis” that had developed as a result of the Balatonőszöd speech and practically called for Gyurcsány’s resignation. That added oil to the fire. The attackers felt perfectly justified. After all, even the president thinks that they are on the right side. If Gyurcsány doesn’t resign, they will force him to do so. Standing behind this crowd, be it Viktor Orbán or László Sólyom, showed either very poor judgment or cunning. With Sólyom I suspect it was a lack of knowledge of what was going on exactly and who the actors were. With Orbán, I think one must be less forgiving. He was ready to exploit criminal elements if they served his purpose.

Most of the “temporary provisions” of the Hungarian Constitution are scrapped by the Constitutional Court

December 28, 2012 49 comments

Yesterday just before noon came the news that the Constitutional Court had annulled a number of so-called “temporary provisions [átmeneti rendelkezések] related to this Fundamental Law” that were specified in the closing sections of the new constitution.

Almost all the newspapers hailed this as the death of Fidesz’s plans to introduce registration as a prerequisite to citizens exercising their right to vote. But although the final outcome might indeed be the repeal of the law, the Constitutional Court’s ruling was not on the registration issue per se.

The ruling addressed not President János Áder’s request to the Court to investigate the constitutionality of the registration requirement but a request of the ombudsman, Máté Szabó, to take a look at the “temporary provisions.” Upon closer scrutiny, about two-thirds of these provisions were not temporary at all. Including in the new constitution the right to enact “temporary provisions” was only a Fidesz trick. They were smuggling all sorts of  unconstitutional laws into the constitution itself.

The majority of the Court decided to annul the questionable provisions retroactively. Five Fidesz appointees–István Balsai, Egon Dienes-Oehm, Barnabás Lenkovics, Péter Szalay and Mária Szívós–dissented.

From reading the law on “temporary provisions” in the collection of Hungarian laws it becomes clear that a huge part of the law has been scrapped, starting with the preamble entitled “On the transition from communist dictatorship to democracy.”  In it there is a long list of sins of the communist dictatorship for which the two-thirds Fidesz-KDNP majority made today’s Hungarian Socialist Party responsible. In addition, the law makes it clear that these crimes have no statute of limitations. In plain language, the current government has the legal right to prosecute politicians of the main opposition party for crimes committed, let’s say, by the Rákosi regime.

Article 11 (3) and (4), which allows the president of the National Judicial Office to transfer cases to courts of her choosing, was also scrapped. So were Articles 12 and 13 that deal with the early retirement of judges and prosecutors and Article 18 that states that the president of the Budgetary Council is appointed by the President. Article 21 is also gone; it allows parliament to decide the status of churches. Article 22, which prescribes that only those can ask for remedy from the Constitutional Court who have already exhausted all other legal possibilities, was also found questionable. Article 23 (1) and (3)-(5) is about electoral registration and it was annulled.

Article 27 is a tricky one; it concerns the functioning of the Constitutional Court. It is a kind of amendment to Article 37 (4) of the Constitution that reads: “As long as state debt exceeds half of the Gross Domestic Product, the Constitutional Court may, within its competence set out in Article 24 (2)(b-e), only review the Acts on the State Budget and its implementation, the central tax type, duties, pension and healthcare contributions, customs and the central conditions for local taxes for conformity with the Fundamental Law or annul the preceding Acts due to violation of the right to life and human dignity, the right to the protection of personal data, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and with the rights related to Hungarian citizenship. The Constitutional Court shall have the unrestricted right to annul the related Acts for non-compliance with the Fundamental Law’s procedural requirements for the drafting and publication of such legislation.” Article 27 of the “temporary provisions” actually negates this right.

Article 28 (3) allows the government to pass regulations for local governments if they neglect to regulate something prescribed by law. Article 29 also made waves when it was adopted because it states that new taxes can be assessed in case the European Court fines Hungary because of the government’s actions that were not in line with European Union law. Article 31 (2) simply states that these temporary provisions were accepted on the basis of the old and new constitutions. And the Court also scrapped the last article (32) that declares April 25 as a memorial day of the new constitution. This last point might seem trivial, but it is in line with the reasoning of the Court. Declaring a special day for the celebration of the new constitution is certainly not a temporary measure.

The judges’ decision was not based on the constitutionality of the temporary provisions. They simply declared that these provisions were not temporary. Fidesz’s answer was immediate. József Szájer, who boasted that he wrote the constitution on an iPad on the train between Budapest and Brussels, announced shortly after noon today that since the Court didn’t examine the constitutionality of these provisions the government is planning to incorporate them straight into the new Constitution. The Constitution that was supposed to be the basic law of the land for centuries to come has already been amended three times and certainly will be many more times in the future. Every time because the political interests of Fidesz-KDNP so dictate.

Szájer is apparently a talented man and very familiar with constitutional law. In his interpretation the Constitutional Court didn’t interpret the law properly. According to him, the reference to the “temporary provisions” was put into the final article of the constitution because the framers always considered these provisions part of the Constitution itself. Well, Szájer might be a legal brain, but then why did they call these provisions “temporary”?

Antal Rogán, the whip of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, seconded Szájer and also announced that in February when Parliament reconvenes they will fix the problem. Fixing means that he will gather the members of the caucus and tell them that here is the list of new amendments that they will have to vote on. The voting machine works flawlessly.

On Monday we can expect the Court’s decision on the registration issue. If the Court again finds only formal problems with the law, then the Fidesz-KDNP government can simply incorporate Article 23 (1) and (3)-(5) dealing with registration into the Constitution. But if the objections are more substantive and the judges find the law itself unconstitutional, then the Fidesz brains will have to work a little harder.

Máté Szabó as the sole ombudsman appointed by the current government has been a pleasant surprise. I think a lot of people expected him to be only a tool for Viktor Orbán’s designs. He must be a disappointment and Orbán must have cursed his bad judgment in allowing Szabó to be appointed ombudsman. I’m glad that Szabó turned to the Constitutional Court concerning this issue because without his intervention the world would not be as informed about the Orbán government’s undemocratic rule and its transgressions of the laws of the land. These “temporary provisions” were adopted one by one over time; only when one reads the whole list does one become painfully aware of the undemocratic nature of this regime.

Meanwhile, I was surprised to hear that the tables displaying the Basic Law have disappeared from public buildings. Central and local government offices were instructed by the government to set up a table in a prominent place so admirers of the new constitution could sign a “guest book” and could also purchase either an ordinary or a deluxe edition of the Basic Law. A person had to be hired to mind the table. Someone the other day noticed that the tables had disappeared.

The Table of the Basic Law in the Fifth District in Budapest. The mayor is Antal Rogán

The Table of the Basic Law in the Fifth District in Budapest. The mayor is Antal Rogán.

Indeed, sometime in September the government officials running these offices were ordered to remove them. The mayor of  Hajdúdorog told one of the reporters of ATV: “We had a room where people could take care of their business concerning trash removal. There was a table there already, so we put a tablecloth and the Basic Law on it. If anyone wanted he could look at it. I may add that only 1% of people over 18 wanted to buy the simple edition and no one was interested in buying the deluxe edition.” Now the table is gone. Imre Kerényi, who was the brain behind the Table of the Basic Law and to whose career I devoted a whole post, explained that the idea is not dead. It was planned this way.

It seems that this new and wonderful Basic Law has very serious problems, among them that the people don’t have a particular affinity to it. The lack of interest was too embarrassing. It was better to remove table and all. And I predict that the Basic Law’s aura will only decrease thanks to the games the Orbán government is playing with something as important as the constitution of the country.

Fidesz prepares the battleground, July 22-September 17, 2006

December 27, 2012 21 comments

József Debreczeni has no direct evidence that would prove that Viktor Orbán knew about the existence of the speech Ferenc Gyurcsány delivered in Balatonőszöd, but he makes a fairly good case that he did.

His argument relies on the relatively calm popular reception of the new government’s program, including the austerity measures. Naturally, there was disappointment because the population was expecting further improvements in their lives, but when right-wing organizations held a series of demonstrations in late June hardly anyone showed up, as even Magyar Nemzet had to admit. Gyurcsány’s personal popularity fell, but Orbán didn’t gain substantial support between March and October 2006.

Debreczeni also counters the claim that Gyurcsány didn’t tell the truth after the election. In an interview with Népszabadság (June 29, 2006) he explained the reason for “not unfolding all the details of the truth.” Because, he said, “politically that was a rational move because it created the chance of a real change…. But what it is true and proper in politics is not entirely true and acceptable by the measures of everyday ethics.” Here, of course, he was thinking of Max Weber’s famous dictum. Although there was talk about Gyurcsány not revealing the real state of the economy, Viktor Orbán didn’t begin a campaign against the alleged lying prime minister.

It was on July 22 in Tusnádfürdő, Romania, where Fidesz bigwigs gather yearly for political speeches and rock concerts, that Fidesz issued a proclamation called “Good Morning, Hungary!” It was signed by an odd assortment of office holders within Fidesz. In addition to Viktor Orbán the signatories were Kinga Gál, a member of the European Parliament; Zsolt Németh, today undersecretary of foreign affairs; Mihály Varga, who doesn’t belong to the party’s inner circle; Tibor Navracsics, who was a later addition to Fidesz; György Schöpflin, a member of the European Parliament and a real outsider; József Szájer, a member of the European Parliament and not active in domestic politics; and András Gyürk, a member of the European Parliament. Debreczeni thinks that signatures were hastily collected on the spot from Fidesz dignitaries who happened to be in Tusnádfürdő on the day part of the text reached Orbán.

In the Proclamation the word “lie” (hazugság) appeared eleven times, eight in combination with “political” as in “political lie.” So, three months after the election Viktor Orbán called out his troops to defend democracy from the dictatorship that rested on lies. He asked his supporters to sign the Proclamation and gather on Heroes’ Square on September 23.

Apparently, the plan was that those parts of the speech Fidesz already knew about in July would be broadcast at this mass meeting. Meanwhile Viktor Orbán began laying the foundation for a spectacular unveiling of the lies of the prime minister. He wrote a long article, published in three parts in Magyar Nemzet between July 29 and August 2006, entitled “Watershed” (Vízválasztó). In it he compared the Gyurcsány government to the dictatorship of the Kádár regime that was founded on lies. Today, he claimed, the problem of the country is not in the economic but in the political sphere. “The real problem is the lies of the government, its conscious distortion of the truth.” He predicted that by the time winter arrives it will not be the right and the left arguing with each other; an embittered and exasperated country will be facing an illegitimate government.” What did Orbán have in mind?

One of Debreczeni’s sources, an unknown blogger, noticed a telling item in the August 11 Magyar Nemzet. In an article about the chances of the opposition succeeding against the government, Zoltán Kiszelly, a political scientist of decidedly right-wing leanings, was asked to comment. Kiszelly declared that the population is fully aware that lying in politics is an everyday affair, so “the accusation of lying by itself does not carry enough weight.” The article had an illustration of a tape recorder. The blogger surmised that even if Kiszelly didn’t know about the tape, someone at Magyar Nemzet did.

A lot of people call attention to a highly unusual visit of Viktor Orbán to a Ferencváros (Fradi) game. Orbán is not a Fradi fan. Moreover, Fradi had just been demoted from NB I to NB II and was playing against Jászapáti of all places. The Fradi Fan Club, however, was an easily lit fuse. They were known for their brawls and their anti-Semitism.  At games against MTK they would chant about “the trains that are speeding toward Auschwitz.”  Magyar Nemzet, in the wake of Orbán’s attendance at the Fradi game,  gave the club a voice. The editors published an opinion piece by the vice-president of the Fradi Fan Club: “Ferencváros: Symbol of the Country.” Fans of this symbol of the country were active in the siege of the public television station on September 18, 2006, along with other football hooligans.

Beginning on September 4 the media reported demonstrations anywhere Gyurcsány appeared. Usually the same faces showed up and chanted the same slogans. It was clear that these noisy demonstrations were organized by Fidesz. By September 14 Orbán was calling on Fidesz activists to redouble their efforts in gathering more and more signatures to the proclamation “Good Morning, Hungary!” because it is “time to set out against the government.” On the same day Orbán gave an interview to Reuters in which he talked about the right to resist. “In Hungarian, ‘rebellion’ is a very strong word, so I would rather not use it, but the people have the right to resist and I think that resistance is an acceptable form of democratic politics.” It was at this time that Gyurcsány wrote in his blog that Orbán “is playing with fire.”

Playing with firedeeharman / flickr

Playing with fire
deeharman / flickr

Magyar Nemzet came out with an issue on September 16 that dealt almost exclusively with the theme of  lying. “Demonstrations against the government!” “The wave of demonstrations will culminate this weekend.” “The prime minister is a maniac,” a quote from László Kövér. “One hundred days, one hundred lies.” It was reported that Imre Kerényi, who today is an active participant of the Orbán government’s Kulturkampf, was organizing a “walking demonstration.” On the op-ed page there was an article with the title “From lie to dictatorship!” Finally, a full-page ad for “Good Morning, Hungary!”

If the tape was in the hands of Fidesz politicians earlier–which, of course, they deny–then the riots of September-October must be re-evaluated. In this case they were not spontaneous reactions of the indignant population; the riots were organized.

The unnamed blogger and Debreczeni agree that by calling the government illegitimate and announcing the right to resistance Viktor Orbán exceeded the limits of legitimate democratic political action. Moreover, according to the Constitution of the time (2.§/3/), “No activity of any person can be directed toward the forcible acquisition of power.” Debreczeni claims that although Orbán didn’t explicitly call for force, he did cross the Rubicon by calling the government illegitimate and those who attacked it legitimate.

Who leaked Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech in Balatonőszöd? Part II

December 26, 2012 25 comments

I finished the first part of my story on the 2006 Budapest riots with some finger pointing. I shared József Debreczeni’s strong suspicion that it was Imre Szekeres and two of his close associates in the top leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Party who were responsible for passing the audio recording of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech in Balatonőszöd to Fidesz politicians.

Some readers of Hungarian Spectrum suggested the very unlikely possibility that Gyurcsány himself leaked the recording, but there is far too much contrary evidence. We have enough information even today to allow us to more or less follow the path of the tape from MSZP headquarters to Fidesz.

Let’s start with what transpired a few hours before the release of the recording on September 17, 2006. Around 2 p.m. a man arrived on a motorcycle, handed Balázs Weyer, the editor-in-chief of  Origo, an envelope, and quickly disappeared. Weyer later stated that he couldn’t identify the man. As we know from Attila Rajnai, an investigative journalist who published an article about the case in Élet és Irodalom (May 25, 2007), while Weyer was playing soccer in the morning people from Magyar Rádió and RTL-Klub were looking for him. Their message was that they had something that would be the big news story of the day. But Origo was late with the news. Weyer got a CD of the entire three-hour meeting in mp3 form. At first he had no idea what it was all about or where and when it was recorded. All that took time to figure out. In the meantime he tried to ascertain what passages were worth publishing.  And before publishing the material, he phoned Emese Danks, the  Gyurcsány government’s spokeswoman at the time, asking about the authenticity and the details of the recording. She confirmed that they knew about the leak but for the time being they didn’t want to make any statement.

So, yes, Gyurcsány’s office knew about the CD, but I suspect that they found out about it only a few hours before the actual broadcast of the incriminating passages. Although József Debreczeni doesn’t mention it in his book, A 2006-os ősz, I distinctly remember reading an article which described the confusion that reigned in the prime minister’s office. They had no idea what speech was in question. They didn’t remember any unusual speech. Obviously to MSZP MPs it was just one speech among many. They didn’t attach any great significance to it.

Another copy was delivered, also by a motorcyclist, to Péter Uj, the editor-in-chief of Index. Earlier he received a telephone call at home from someone who didn’t introduce himself but who used the informal form of address. The person announced that he had important information for him. Where should the messenger to be sent? Uj thought it was a joke. But about an hour later, at four o’clock in the afternoon, the messenger arrived and handed him a package. At that very moment György Such, the president of Magyar Rádió, phoned him and told him to turn the radio on. To this day we have no idea who these messengers were. Certainly not employees of a professional messenger service. Attila Rajnai, the journalist, checked that aspect of the story thoroughly and came up empty handed.

stealing documents2However, later investigations revealed that prior to September 17  some of the incriminating parts of Gyurcsány’s speech had  already been circulating among right-leaning information specialists. E-mails went back and forth between eastern Hungary and Budapest. Someone also sent this material to a Hungarian, György T., working in Mexico at the time, on either September 12 or 13. He forwarded it to at least  twenty of his friends. Subsequently György T. returned to Hungary and told Rajnai that he had indeed sent the information on to others, but he refused to reveal the exact source of the message. He did, however, indicate that the man from whom he got the material was also sympathetic to right-wing politics.

In Fidesz circles the word was that “our friends in Debrecen were the first ones who learned about [the speech's contents].” Rajnai talked to some information technologists in Debrecen who worked for the City Hall of Debrecen, but they refused to answer his questions. So, the investigative journalist lost the thread in Debrecen.

It seems that the Office of National Security, which was entrusted with investigating the case, got a bit farther. Debreczeni quotes from Ferenc Gyurcsány’s letter to Attila Mesterházy that outlined his suspicions about the three leading MSZP politicians who might have been responsible for the leak. “The Office of National Security questioned many people and performed many technical investigations…. A few things surfaced. For example, that the material got to Budapest from the Office of the Mayor of a Fidesz-led city on the Great Plains.” We are talking here about Debrecen and Lajos Kósa. That this was indeed the case is reinforced by our knowledge that the telephone calls announcing the arrival of the CDs came from Debrecen.

Debreczeni’s theory is that the approximate content and perhaps even the most damaging details of the speech were known to the Fidesz leadership already prior to July 22 when Viktor Orbán made his speech in Tusnádfürdő, Romania.  He called on the Hungarians to gather on Heroes’ Square on September 23 to fight “against the lies of the dictatorship.” It was a proclamation entitled “Good morning, Hungary!” However, Debreczeni continues, the complete audio recording arrived in  Debrecen’s City Hall only later.

To the best of our knowledge the intermediary in that transaction was Eduardo Rózsa-Flores! Familiar name? You may recall that in April 2009 he, a Bolivian by birth but a Hungarian citizen, tried to assassinate the Bolivian president. Soon after his arrival in the country he was killed by Bolivian commandos. I wrote about him twice: “The Hungarian far-right in Bolivia–Eduardo Rózsa-Flores,” and again a day later in a post entitled “The psyche of an ‘anarchist’: Eduardo Rózsa-Flores.”

A close associate of Rózsa-Flores was Zoltán Brády, editor-in-chief of Kapua far-right publication. After Rózsa-Flores’s death Brády gave an interview to MTI in which “he admitted that they–Brády and Rózsa-Flores–were the ones who leaked the speech in Őszöd…. However, he didn’t say where they got it from and to whom they passed it on.”

We do know where the recording ended up and, thanks to an interview with Brády on MTV, we even know that the source was one of the leading members of MSZP. On April 19, 2009, Brády was interviewed by Szilvia Krizsó on A szólás szabadsága (Freedom of speech) where the following dialogue took place:

Zoltán Brády: Eduardo managed to get that piece of evidence.

Krizsó Szilvia: But how?

ZB: He received it.

KSz: But from whom?

ZB: You don’t think that I will tell you that!

KSz: Of course, I do.

ZB: OK, I will tell you as much as that it was from the MSZMP, forgive me…

KSz: You mean MSZP.

ZB: MSZP, doesn’t matter, from the leadership of MSZP.

When Debreczeni inquired from Gyurcsány whether any surveillance was conducted against Imre Szekeres, or whoever X was, the answer was a definite no. After all, it would have been against the law. However, Rózsa-Flores was naturally under surveillance and there the Office of National Security encountered the names of some parliamentary politicians. One high-level national security officer came across, for example, the names of Viktor Orbán and László Kövér while investigating Rózsa-Flores’s highly suspicious activities. The investigators even opened separate files for them with the names of “Bajusz” (mustache) and “Ovi” (abbreviation of óvoda/kindergarten). More can be read about this in the October 11, 2011 issue of Heti Válasz, a pro-Fidesz publication.

The Office of National Security even placed an undercover agent in Rózsa-Flores’s circle, but before that person managed to find out the name of the MSZP politician who passed the copy of the recording to Rózsa-Flores, he died in Bolivia and his secret with him.

Happy holidays!

December 24, 2012 38 comments

Happy Holidays3

With best wishes to all  the readers of Hungarian Spectrum

Who leaked Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech in Balatonőszöd?

December 23, 2012 66 comments

Yesterday I received Christmas presents from my relatives in Hungary and as usual I got books. I was looking forward to reading all of them, but József Debreczeni’s book on the riots of September-October 2006 especially interested me since I have been fascinated by the way in which the history of a series of events can be rewritten. One needs only a communication avalanche supporting a slice of the whole and magnifying it beyond recognition.

Debreczeni’s book has been #1 on the Hungarian bestseller list ever since it appeared a few weeks ago. So it seems that I’m not the only one who wants to read a minute-by-minute account of those days.

There are three narratives of the events as summarized by Debreczeni. The first is the right-wing version where Good does battle with Evil. The event is described as a spontaneous democratic protest against a government that came into power by lying and that was answered by brutal police terror. The second is the left-wing version that describes the riots as being fueled by Viktor Orbán who couldn’t make peace with losing two elections in a row. According to this version, the events were directed by politicians who hoped for a coup d’état that would remove the Gyurcsány government from power. The third version is that of the civil rights activists: TASZ (the Hungarian version of the American Civil Liberties Union), the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, and Védegylet, an environmental group in which András Schiffer and László Sólyom were active. These groups were aided by such Internet papers as Origo, HVG, and Index that tried “to find their place somewhere between the warring political factions.” In Debreczeni’s opinion these groups belittled the danger the rioters posed to society.

Naturally, Debreczeni has to deal with the immediate cause of the riots of September 17 and October 23-24: Ferenc Gyurcsány’s leaked speech before the MSZP parliamentary caucus on May 26. Here I would like to summarize briefly Debreczeni’s description of how it ended up in the hands of Viktor Orbán.

The quality of the audiotape was too good to have been done by an amateur. It had to have been copied from one of the two official tapes of the speech. One went to the prime minister’s office where it was placed in a safe. The other ended up in the headquarters of MSZP where it was lying about on an open shelf in a room that many people had access to. Thus, whoever stole and copied the original audio tape most likely got it from the party’s headquarters.

And now comes brand new information straight from Ferenc Gyurcsány who obviously shared his suspicions with Debreczeni. In July 2011, when the relationship between MSZP and Gyurcsány was sorely strained, Gyurcsány wrote a letter to Attila Mesterházy in which he told the party chairman that he was fairly certain about the identities of the three people who leaked the speech to Viktor Orbán. Gyurcsány told Mesterházy that he had no hard proof and therefore could not demand a police investigation. Mesterházy refused to open the letter and shredded it unread in public.

What was in the letter? Among other things, that sometime in the summer of 2010 a well known public figure visited Gyurcsány and claimed to know the name of the man who leaked the speech at Balatonőszöd. His son worked in a law office where one of his colleagues kept repeating that he knew who the man was but refused to reveal his secret. Then came a drunken party when he slipped. He named X.

A few months later Gyurcsány was talking to an influential journalist who revealed that on September 18, 2006, a day after the content of the speech became known publicly, a leading MSZP politician asked to meet him. During the encounter the MSZP politician tried to convince the journalist that it was actually Gyurcsány who had leaked the audio. That leading MSZP politician was X himself.

Then in the summer of 2011 Gyurcsány received a message from an MSZP member who doesn’t live in Budapest. According to his story, sometime in the summer of 2006, way before the audio became public, a leading member of MSZP played the tape of the speech for him, adding that “Gyurcsány is in my hands, I can do anything I want with him.” Who was this leading MSZP member? Not but a very close associate and friend of his. The two families spend their holidays together. Let’s call him Y.

And finally, shortly before Gyurcsány wrote the letter to Mesterházy another MSZP member called him with the information that a few months earlier among a small circle of friends revealed that his close associate Z, one of the leaders of MSZP, was the one who had actually smuggled the tape out of the party’s headquarters. 

Imre Szekeres who was named by Ferenc Gyurcsány minister of defense in 2006

Imre Szekeres, who was named minister of defense by Ferenc Gyurcsány in 2006

That was what Gyurcsány knew in July 2011, but since then he learned something else from another person who is ready to testify if necessary. The informer implicated Imre Szekeres who in July 2006 in Székesfehérvár, only a couple of months after the stunning MSZP victory, told county leaders that the party will have to prepare for the post-Gyurcsány period. The informer even asked Szekeres how such an idea could come up at that time. Szekeres answered that in politics one must be prepared for all eventualities. The person apparently sent a message to Gyurcsány about Szekeres’s odd remark,  but  Gyurcsány didn’t attach any significance to it at the time and soon enough forgot about the whole thing.

Péter Niedermüller wrote a four-part series on the “Őszöd speech” (Az őszödi beszéd)  in which he dealt at length with the possible reactions to Gyurcsány’s announcement of the austerity program. There were some party leaders who realized that the promised reforms would adversely affect their political influence and might endanger their positions, financial and otherwise, within the party. When he read these articles in August 2011 Debreczeni immediately thought of Imre Szekeres and László Puch. Just an immediate gut reaction. It was a year later that he found out from Ferenc Gyurcsány what the former prime minister knew about the affair, which seemed to implicate Szekeres and two close associates of his.

These three men obviously had no intention of wreaking havoc on the party’s national standing. They just hoped that they could get rid of Gyurcsány with all his liberal ideas and reforms that rattled the top leadership of MSZP. The party paid dearly for their ill-conceived political power play.

László Kövér and democracy in Hungary

December 22, 2012 31 comments

László Kövér has been extraordinarily talkative of late and one has the feeling that not even his own camp is always happy with his harsh, provocative words. A lot of liberal commentators don’t seem to take him seriously. “You know what Kövér is like,” they react. Only a few are coming to the conclusion that the sole “opposition” within Fidesz to Viktor Orbán’s policies comes from Kövér and his circle. And that internal opposition is from the right.

From an interview that Kövér gave to MTI I think we can safely say that he doesn’t have a clue what democracy is all about. Let’s start with what he thinks of parliamentary debates. According to the Constitution, while the Parliament is in session plenary sessions must be held every week. The 1989 Constitution stated the same thing, but that didn’t prevent the first Orbán government from changing it to “every third week.” An awful lot of criticism followed the decision because fewer sessions of parliament further limited the opportunity for the opposition to be heard. Kövér, however, seems determined to bring back the old practice,  and he doesn’t hide his hope that by doing so he would take away “some of the play things of the opposition.” Such a change naturally would entail another modification of the barely one-year-old Constitution. But as we know well enough, that would not be a problem.

According to Kövér, one reason that might warrant such a change is that as of 2014 there will be only 199 members of parliament instead of 386 and therefore their work load will be a great deal heavier. But that is not the only reason. In Kövér’s words, the so-called “discussions on the details of the bills [részletes viták]  are nothing but empty, boring, at times ad hominem cavils which interest no one [ in Hungarian "a kutyát sem érdekli"] besides the poor stenographers. Even the presiding chairman falls asleep on the dais.” On the same day Kövér expanded on the theme in an interview on Inforádió. He complained about “the time spent by the opposition voting down amendments when they ought to know full well which are the ones the government parties support.” So, why bother? In that case, indeed, one doesn’t need an opposition. Back to dictatorship!

And if Kövér doesn’t like a multi-party parliament why should he like the Constitutional Court? He doesn’t. In his opinion the Hungarian Constitutional Court simply doesn’t understand its own role. It acts as a “quasi appellate forum over parliament in such a way that the judges, unlike members of parliament and members of the government, are not responsible to anyone. The judges created the theocratic power of a divinity called ‘the invisible constitution’* over and above the sovereignty of the people.”

I don’t think that László Kövér reads this blog, although someone in his office does, but herewith a thing or two about the role of constitutional courts in Europe and the United States. I will first quote from an aid to civics teachers in American schools from grades 3 to 12. It is an easy text for youngsters and therefore should be super easy for László Kövér.

The Supreme Court has a special role to play in the United States system of government. The Constitution gives it the power to check, if necessary, the actions of the President and Congress. It can tell a President that his actions are not allowed by the Constitution. It can tell Congress that a law it passed violated the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, no longer a law. It can also tell the government of a state that one of its laws breaks a rule in the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the final judge in all cases involving laws of Congress, and the highest law of all the Constitution.

In brief, this nasty U.S. Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the laws of the land. It’s not just those terrible Hungarian judges who try to foil the present government and parliament elected by the “people.” But if Kövér thinks that the United States goes too far and that the presidential system is radically different from the parliamentary system still in place in Hungary here is another description of the institution from Europe:

A constitutional court is a high court that deals primarily with constitutional law. Its main authority is to rule on whether or not laws that are challenged are in fact unconstitutional, i.e. whether or not they conflict with the constitutionally established rights and freedoms.

Nothing here about judges of the Constitutional Court being responsible to a higher authority, except the Constitution of the country. The Court is indeed part of those checks and balances Hillary Clinton often talked about with concern when it came to the dangerous path the Orbán government has taken in the last two and a half years. And here is the third most important dignitary of Hungary who seems to know less about how democracy works than a third grader in the United States.

As for the ad hominem attacks that Kövér is so upset about when he is the one who presides over the session like a nasty old nineteenth-century schoolmaster. Well, he himself is a frequent attack dog. He makes László Sólyom responsible for the present “constitutional bankruptcy of the country.” I assume it’s bankrupt because even the already packed Constitutional Court throws back bill after bill as being unconstitutional. And after László Sólyom, the first chief justice of the Constitutional Court and later president of the country, criticized the Orbán government, Kövér decided to accuse Sólyom of having a hurt ego. Viktor Orbán picked Pál Schmitt, who eventually had to resign in disgrace, instead of him. Not very elegant.

Yes, Sólyom is “at fault” because after all he was one of the framers of the Constitution as well as the man who had the greatest influence in shaping how the Hungarian Constitutional Court would function in the future. He is responsible for the Constitutional Court becoming “an appellate forum” of parliament and the government. What a tragic misunderstanding of the role of a constitutional court.

But that wasn’t enough. Kövér accused Sólyom of being the underling of the communists who were negotiating in the name of the MSZMP at the Ellenzéki Kerekasztal (Opposition Round Table) during the summer of 1989. According to Kövér, Sólyom and all those who supported him in his quest to set up a Constitutional Court were in fact helping the communists preserve their power. I assume Kövér thinks that it’s still a key element in the alleged communist conspiracy against the Orbán government. Soon enough something must be done about it. I’m sure that if it depended on Kövér the Court would simply disappear. There is already one Orbán appointee on the Court who thinks that it should be abolished.

A reminder that there were times when Viktor Orbán considered the rulings of the Constitutional Court the iron-clad rule of democracy. No more such performances in Parliament

A reminder that there were times when Viktor Orbán considered the decisions of the Constitutional Court the iron-clad rules of democracy. No more such performances in Parliament next year.

Otherwise, Kövér is planning to put an end to any kind of unseemly behavior in parliament. Order will be established in the next session, with 349 guards making sure of it. These guards will receive a high salary, about three times that of an ordinary policeman, and will have similar rights. If there is a serious incident they can hit, kick, and even fire weapons. 199 MPs and 349 guards! Incredible.  But if Orbán and Áder are shielded by the members of TEK (Anti-Terror Unit), it seems that Kövér must have his own guards. All 349 of them.

*It was László Sólyom who introduced the term “invisible constitution.” It basically means that the constitution must be interpreted in a flexible manner. It is the opposite of strict constructionism.

The right-wing media on the student movement

December 21, 2012 24 comments

Today you are being showered with information but all of it is important. Who can forget about the plight of Klubrádió, which is the only opposition FM radio in Budapest and a couple of other cities? The hatred of Viktor Orbán toward the spirit of this free station knows no bounds. Will he have the guts to silence it and with this move arouse mass protests all over the world? A sane person wouldn’t do that.

Because, let’s face it, the world is watching. It’s enough to read the statement of Senator Benjamin Cardin on the senate floor yesterday afternoon. Washington is watching and listening and I’m certain that the 3.5 billion Hungarian forints spent on propaganda by the Orbán government will do no good. This government’s reputation cannot be restored.

And finally, there is the case of Péter Dániel. One could argue over whether his reactions to certain government measures were appropriate, but depriving him of his livelihood is far too severe a punishment. After all, he was fined for damages caused and he is ready to go to jail. And indeed, that László Grespik is one of the luminaries of the Budapest Bar Association who will pass judgment on Dániel is hard to swallow.

Here I would like to write a few words about the pro-government media’s reaction to the student protest. Viktor Orbán is perhaps the most inventive. This morning he claimed that an absolutely perfect system had been worked out by the government but the students prematurely broke off the negotiations. If they had just stayed they would have heard that the money they were supposed to borrow would in almost all cases have been forgiven. If the graduate was employed by the public sector, the state would have paid off his loan and if he were to enter the private sector his employer would have taken over his financial burden. The employer could have deducted the amount paid from the company’s taxes. Oh, yes! Of course!

Students entering law school will have to pay tuition fees. The caption reads: "For fewer rights, fewer lawyers"

Students entering law school will have to pay full tuition fees. The caption reads: “For fewer rights one needs fewer lawyers.”

It seems though that other members of the government were unaware of this scheme because until this morning no one had come up with the explanation that it is actually the students’ fault that they ended up in this sorry state. Earlier what one could hear from government officials was that either the students simply didn’t understand the details of the law or that the opposition was taking advantage of the students’ dissatisfaction.

I would like to summarize a few fairly typical right-wing opinions. Let’s start with Szabolcs Szerető of Magyar Nemzet in an opinion piece entitled “We are bored, we can go home.” He predicted yesterday that the movement will die soon. After all, the whole concept of the university reform changed and therefore there is no need for any more demonstrations and protests. “The death of a revolutionary movement can be caused by its suppression but also when the cause for it disappears.” It is a great more exciting “to protest, to be impertinent with the authorities than to sit down at the negotiating table to work out the details, to attend lectures, or to prepare for exams.” But what is going on today has nothing to do with tuition fees or the number of students eligible to enter university. “These students are only puppets manipulated by others.”

András Stumpf today came out with his own opinion. I should mention that Stumpf is considered to be one of the more liberal members of Heti Válasz’s staff. The title itself is greatly objectionable. In Hungarian: “Tüntizni jó!” The verb “tüntetni” means “to demonstrate,” but by using a playful version of the word he makes the whole movement no more than a gathering of students who get together because these demonstrations are so much fun. If someone alone screams at the top of his lungs people might think him mad. “But if someone does the same thing within a crowd he is a proud citizen who exercises his democratic rights.” Should I quote more?

And finally, an article that appeared in “Polgár Portál, a magyar civil együttműködés lapja.” It seems to me that this organization is closely allied to CÖF, the group that organized the peace marches and that has undertaken the smear campaign against Gordon Bajnai. The author of the article is Gergely Huth, second in charge at Magyar Hírlap. The title is telling: “Erkölcsi hullák hergelik a diákokat” (Morally bankrupt people incite the students). In no time we learn that these morally bankrupt people are Gordon Bajnai and the leaders of the Milla group. Huth warns the students that they are being duped. Huth believes that the opposition forces are actually financing the demonstrations and shows the picture of a sign that according to him cannot be produced on monthly allowances. Of course, we know that HÖOK does have a fairly large budget, and Huth should know that better than you or I.

He attacks HÖOK, especially Dávid Nagy who, according to Huth, is a closet communist who in some mysterious way is connected to Ferenc Gyurcsány. How? Simple! His HÖOK career began in Győr at about the same time Ferenc Gyurcsány became the county chairman of MSZP. Obvious, isn’t it? Apparently Nagy systematically got rid of those members of HÖOK whom he suspected of being Jobbik supporters. A real sin!

So, after the character assassinations of Ferenc Gyurcsány and Gordon Bajnai comes Dávid Nagy. The same Dávid Nagy who everybody, including myself, suspected of being an instrument of Fidesz while it was in opposition and of the Orbán government in the last two and a half years. Sooner or later the black list is going to be very long.

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