I’m afraid I will have to return to Zsolt Bayer’s unspeakable article in Magyar Hírlap because since its appearance on January 5 a lot has happened.
In most civilized countries the editor-in-chief of a paper wouldn’t have allowed that incendiary piece to appear in print in the first place. But if the editor-in-chief made a mistake and published it, he would at the very first possible opportunity have apologized and distanced the paper from the author’s hate speech. Moreover, in a civilized country Bayer, the senior editor of the paper, would most likely have been summarily fired.
Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. Zsolt Bayer was given an opportunity to explain his first article “Who shouldn’t exist!” He offered up “Truly, what should be done?” In it, Bayer explained that naturally he could have written the original piece in a civilized manner but he chose this offensive style because he wanted to wake society up to the grave problem facing Hungary. He doesn’t want to kill anyone; he just wants “order.” Finally, he brought up some poetic images including a Gyula Illyés line that he mistakenly attributed to Mihály Babits.
On the same day as Bayer’s explanation Gábor Széles, the owner of Magyar Hírlap, and István Stefka, the editor-in-chief, published a “Declaration.” It was a typical Hungarian right-wing rant that started with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s despicable treatment of Magyar Hírlap in 2009. It reminded its readers that after another horrendous article appeared in the paper the prime minister called on government offices not to subscribe to the paper. Thus, claims the “Declaration,” Gyurcsány violated the sacred principle of freedom of expression. It is no secret, the “Declaration” continues, that with its attack on Magyar Hírlap the opposition wants to break up the unity of the Right.
At the end, however, they apologized for any unintended affront and promised not to publish anything that might give rise to hate on either the left or the right.
Well, one could say that although the owner and the editor-in-chief didn’t admit that Bayer’s piece went beyond what can be considered legitimate freedom of expression and actually can be construed as an incitement against an ethnic group which is a crime in Hungary, at least they admitted that the article rightly caused consternation.
It would have been wise if Magyar Hírlap had stopped right there. The incident had already caused an upheaval in Hungary and abroad. Since Zsolt Bayer is one of the original founders of Fidesz and a personal friend of Viktor Orbán, it might have been a good idea to drop the whole topic as soon as possible and hope that the incident would be forgotten. But no, this is not how things work in Hungary.
By this morning the management of the paper decided to retract their semi-apology and stand by their man. Not only that, but for good measure they even dragged Fidesz and the government into this sordid business.
The original “Declaration” was taken off the paper’s website and instead a new “Declaration” was published. The tone of this new one is not at all conciliatory. On the contrary, it is wildly belligerent. The headline reads: “Answers to the Attacks.” The new version repeats the cardinal sin of Gyurcsány in 2009 when apparently friends of Magyar Hírlap demonstrated on Kossuth Square for their favorite paper which “in the last six years has supported democracy, freedom, and independence.”
The article by Zsolt Bayer is not the real question, Széles and Stefka claim. The real problem is the left-liberal damage that has been inflicted on the country (országrontás) that led to the current conditions. Murderers and beastly, cruel criminals pillage in many parts of the country, but the liberal elite wants to cover up these crimes. What the liberals are doing is a form of connivance which, in their opinion, is worse than the original crime itself. Some members of the opposition consider anti-Semitism and racism the real problem in the country while they don’t allow the authorities to clamp down on the crimes of Gypsies. Magyar Hírlap‘s stand is that “There is no forgiveness for murderers. Even less for those who shield them. Magyar Hírlap rejects the latest witch hunt of the post-communists and at the same time asks the readers and supporters of the newspaper to stand by our senior editor, our paper and our national government working on our behalf.”
What happened between yesterday and today? One explanation for this change of heart came this afternoon from György Balavány. I don’t think that I’ve mentioned his name before. He is a right-wing newspaperman who worked for Magyar Nemzet for ten years. But a few months ago he left the paper and since then has become a critic of the Orbán government. He seems to me somebody who likes to be in opposition. Magyar Nemzet was fine as long as it was an opposition paper but when it became a “government paper” Balavány had difficulty adjusting to the new situation. Now he writes for atlatszo.hu and has a blog, balavanyposzt.blog.hu.
Balavány told the following story on his blog this afternoon. Zsolt Bayer used to work for Magyar Nemzet (2002-2007) before he became senior editor of Magyar Hírlap. According to Balavány, Bayer was not liked at the paper and his colleagues considered him “the man of the Party.” After Bayer left for Magyar Hírlap in 2007, as a result of some administrative mix-up Balavány inherited Bayer’s telephone number. One day a voice on the other end said: “Hi, listen, here is something, write about it, may I tell you about it now?” At this point Balavány introduced himself and asked with whom he was speaking. It was Gábor Kubatov. At this point Kubatov laughed and asked for Bayer’s telephone number.
Balavány closes his post this way: “Yes, we knew that he is a Proud Member of the Party but we didn’t know that he works under such direct orders. Zsolt is not a simple national-conservative reporter who criticizes left-liberal politics and politicians. Zsolt is the Voice of the Party. That is the case. So, we know that we cannot expect any distancing here on the part of Fidesz and the government.”
I suspect that Balavány is correct. Fidesz decided that there will be no retreat here. No apologies. It might even be possible that the original order came from Fidesz to write something on the latest brawl involving Gypsies but somehow the final product was a little too rough around the edges. Now somewhere on the highest level of Fidesz the decision was made not to bend but to stand by the spirit of Bayer’s original article. I suspect that Fidesz is in this shameful affair up to its collective neck. (If guilt can be collective, perhaps a metaphorical neck can be as well.)