The new parliamentary guards in action

Everybody was waiting to see what the new parliamentary police force, created to keep order in the House, would do once the spring session of parliament convened. Well, we have the answer. They will interfere with citizens’ freedom of speech even if the protest is outside of their jurisdiction. On the other hand, the new force will assist “civic groups” who want to “defend” the government from its own citizens. Not exactly an auspicious beginning.

This was the second time that a few hundred people embarked on a walk in the dead of winter to call attention to the extreme poverty that exists in certain regions of the country. Just to give an idea of the seriousness of the situation,  out of the seven regions in Hungary six are among the poorest regions of the European Union. That’s one of the reasons that Hungary is receiving relatively generous subsidies from Brussels for the next seven years. The Hungarian government is supposed to do something to alleviate the unspeakable poverty, backwardness, and unemployment in these regions. I have don’t have high hopes that the money will be well spent.

Last year there was only one hunger march. The participants came from the region around Miskolc in the northeastern part of the country. This year, the decision was made to have not one march but eleven starting off from different parts of the country and converging on Budapest.  MSZP joined the organizers, as one would expect from a social democratic party. Fidesz mayors and activists kept provoking the people walking through their towns. For example, government sympathizers threw rolls at the marchers. We might find this kind of behavior more than low, perhaps even disgusting, but such unfeeling boorishness is part and parcel of Fidesz politics.

From day one Gábor Kubatov, the infamous campaign manager of Fidesz, labelled the hunger marches the “power hunger march of the socialists.” CÖF (Civil Összefogás Fórum), an allegedly independent organization that has been responsible for organizing the peace marches on behalf of the Orbán government, liked Kubatov’s label and decided to wait for the marchers in front of the parliament building with a very professional looking banner reading “Greetings to the marchers for socialist power hunger.”

Koszontjuk2

When Népszabadság inquired from Sándor Csizmadia, the chairman  of CÖF, whether permission was asked and/or granted to put up the banner, the head of CÖF announced that “the organization didn’t ask permission because it was put up as part of a spontaneous flash mob.”

But what Csizmadia and other older organizers of CÖF don’t seem to realize is that with modern technology, especially those pesky omnipresent cell phones, lying is becoming increasingly difficult.  Someone who writes a blog called “The heart of the city” (A város szíve) just happened to be zooming by when he noticed that workers from a professional banner firm with the assistance of the parliamentary police were putting up the CÖF banner. One can clearly read: Házőrség (Parliamentary police) on the back of the blue-uniformed policeman standing by.

Hazorseg

A day later Milla decided to put up their own much more modest banner. Hand made, not professional like CÖF’s. And what a difference between the two messages. While CÖF’s text demeaned the four million Hungarians who live below the poverty line, Milla’s text read “Az ország házon kivül van.” It is subtle message that Milla’s activists can be proud of. For those who don’t know Hungarian here is a brief language lesson. In Hungarian the name of the parliament building is “országház,” literally “house of the country.” Thus, Milla’s banner said “the country is outside of the House.”

The subtlety of the banner’s message didn’t impress an official in civilian clothes who rushed out of the building and ordered Szelim Simándi, a political scientist and Milla activist, off the ladder. But Simándi and the others who were assisting him were not easily intimidated. As someone wrote in an opinion piece, these guys are not like the youngsters in the Kádár regime. After all, Szelim was born in 1988. He knows his rights. He told the unnamed member of the police force of the House that he has no jurisdiction over the area where Milla is planning to put up the banner. Here is the scene, although surely our unnamed policeman in civilian clothes is not happy with it. He even wanted to forbid a newspaperman from taking a picture of him.

What followed is truly bizarre. Photos, video, and eyewitnesses don’t convince the press department of the Hungarian Parliament that lying is not the best response to being caught red handed. The official communiqué  stated that “no steps were taken in the case of either banner because the posts on which the banners were attached are outside of the territory that is under the supervision of the house police.” Yet at the same time Szelim Simándi received an e-mail from someone (Laszlo.Polyak@parlament.hu) in which he was told that because the Office of the Parliament/Országgyűlési Hivatal (the head of the office is László Kövér) didn’t receive a request from him to place the banner in front of the building Simándi will have to pay a 107,400 Ft fine. Plus he will have to remove the banner.

Apparently, at least this is what the Office of the Parliament claimed, they also fined CÖF  for their transgression. Not surprisingly the Milla activists don’t believe them and asked their supporters to write to Laszlo.Polyak@parlament.hu and ask for a copy of the letter sent to CÖF. That is, “if you are curious.”

I have the feeling that Mr. Polyák’s mailbox has been jammed since this request. I’m also certain that no letter was ever sent to CÖF. Moreover, one can always produce one ex post facto.

This incident demonstrates how the Orbán government can manipulate public opinion by financing and otherwise assisting a phony “civic” organization that is actually an arm of the government that serves up its own propaganda. At the same time the government does everything in its power to restrict the movement of the opposition. Szelim Simándi’s interview on ATV’s Egyenes beszéd is definitely worth watching.

By the way, Milla is organizing a demonstration in front of parliament for Monday and is asking for hundreds of banners to protest the government’s underhanded behavior in this case.

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25 comments

  1. “out of the eight poorest regions in the European Union seven are in Hungary.”

    Truly staggering and depressing information.

    My wife’s response? “It’s the Gypsies”. Pointing out that there are plenty of Gypsies elsewhere in the EU, especially in Romania, made no impression.

  2. These poverty marches remind me of the Jarrow March (or Crusade) in the UK in 1936 (and the various hunger marches which preceded it).

    Although these marches were often met by police and State resistance (and worse), the ordinary people usually behaved quite differently. Food and lodging were provided at towns and villages on the route, usually given voluntarily, but often with support from local councils, workers organisations, etc. And the ordinary people applauded the marchers and often gave them food and clothing as they passed by.

    What a contrast to their reception in Hungary.

    Are Fidesz proud of being seen by the rest of Europe as backward and inhumane?

  3. Are Fidesz proud of being seen by the rest of Europe as backward and inhumane?

    The answer is yes they are proud and they believe that UE will follow in their footsteps.
    János Lázár declared those who own nothing are nothing worth. László Bogár said, one third of the population must be left alone and no help should be given to them in order to save the others.
    Fidesz becomes the party of social Darwinism.

  4. “out of the eight poorest regions in the European Union seven are in Hungary”

    Getting back to this – Éva, what’s your source for this?

    I am no tappanch, but I’ve done my best to find data to support this, and I can’t. The closest I’ve come to it was a 2011 WSJ blog entry that actually says “The poorest eight regions are either in Bulgaria or Romania. (Correction: Not Hungary.)”

    And everything else I can find points to the poorest regions being in Bulgaria and Romania.

  5. Eva, I am curious to know what data you use to reach the conclusion that “out of the eight poorest regions in the European Union seven are in Hungary”.

    The conclusion of EU’s statistical service Eurostat is that “The nine ‘poorest’ regions (using this measure [GDP per inhabitant]) were all in Bulgaria and Romania, with a number of Polish, Romanian and Hungarian regions making up the remainder of the bottom 20 in the ranking.” http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Regions_of_Europe

  6. Paul, there are simply not so many gipsies in Hungary to justify these rankings, their importance in poverty is way overblown. It’s simple majority Hungarian poverty,lack of industry, jobs, good education, inactivity, depopulation, alcoholism and of course bad government.

    Policy-wise this Fidesz government is the worst of all previous governments – but Orbán knows that policy does not matter, what matters is raw power, gerrymadearing, media control, hate mongering and so on.

    If these regions will indeed vote for Fidesz as the polls show, that will mean that they like what they have and they value Fidesz more than their potential (thoug with low probability) development under a better policy government.I n a way that is democracy, you cant’ force people to be smart abou themselves.

  7. grilli – I know that, and I suspect even my wife knows that, but she is family* and family is Fidesz, and with Fidesz-Jobbik, it’s always the Gypsies….

    (*by which I mean ‘Hungarian family’ – her English one doesn’t seem to carry the same weight!)

  8. Csoda. Kegy :

    Eva, I am curious to know what data you use to reach the conclusion that “out of the eight poorest regions in the European Union seven are in Hungary”.

    The conclusion of EU’s statistical service Eurostat is that “The nine ‘poorest’ regions (using this measure [GDP per inhabitant]) were all in Bulgaria and Romania, with a number of Polish, Romanian and Hungarian regions making up the remainder of the bottom 20 in the ranking.” http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Regions_of_Europe

    I’m afraid I wasn’t quite explicit here. I should have said that six regions of Hungary’s seven are among the poorest in the European Union. That’s bad enough.

  9. Orban is bipolarly active, to keep his power.
    Unfortunately, many Hungarians buy his crazy arguments.
    The Galamus writers radiate a refreshing dignity, and I hope, they can go viral among the Hungarians.

  10. Eva: “That’s one of the reasons that Hungary is receiving relatively generous subsidies from Brussels for the next seven years.”

    I don’t buy it.

    Might it not have been more correct for Brussels to require that the Hungarian government redirect all that
    ‘stadium-building money’ to work-producing projects?
    Why would Brussels give money and watch the government fritter away their own budget on stadiums and vote-buying efforts like a 13th month of pensions and the like?

    No, the EU gave the development money to make it ever more difficult for Orban to explain why he will eventually turn to the Russians for more cash…

  11. I found all this this talk of EU regions rather confusing, especially where region to region, or country to country, comparisons are being made, so I’ve done a little bit of ‘research’. From which my conclusion is that any discussion based on EU regions can potentially be very complex and easily misleading. Additionally, all the data I can find is quite out of date (published in 2008, so presumably collected before the banking crash and the beginning of the current Europe-wide recessions).

    The EU has three types of regions (bizarrely known as NUTS): NUTS type 1 – between 3m and 7m population, type 2 – 800,000-3m, and type 3 – 150,000-800,000. Hungary has 3 NUTS 1 type regions, 7 NUTS 2 and 20 Nuts 3 (these appear to be sub-regions, within regions, rather than mutually exclusive, different sized, regions – i.e. Hungary doesn’t have a total of 30 regions).

    Given the above definitions, I assume that when people refer to ‘regions’ in articles such as Éva’s, they are referring to the NUTS type 2 regions.

    A further complication in all this is that there really isn’t much logic in comparing any one region to another, as size, population, resources, geography, history, etc can be widely different. For instance, the region containing the capital is nearly always much richer than a country’s other regions, but might not necessarily have a greater population.

    Getting back to the ‘poorest regions’ data – Hungary doesn’t have any regions in the bottom 10 (5 Bulgarian, 4 Romanian and 1 Polish), but she does have 4 in the bottom 20 (at 12th, 13th, 17th and 18th place). Altogether in the bottom 20 there are 6 Romanian regions, 5 Bulgarian, 5 Polish and 4 Hungarian (but, remember this data is at least 5 years out of date).

    From that brief look at the data, it’s easy to jump to conclusions – for example that Poland is doing worse than Hungary – but, of course, these are discrete figures, not percentages. Poland, for instance, has 16 regions, so its 5 in the bottom 20 only represent 35%, whereas Hungary only has 7 NUTS type 2 regions, so it’s percentage is 57 (the figures for Bulgaria and Romania are 83% and 75% respectively). But even this is meaningless, as we have no idea how these regions compare to each other, nor how population, wealth, etc is divided up into the regions for each country (the UK, for instance, has a number of very poor regions, but you wouldn’t conclude from that statistic alone that the UK was a poor country. And Poland, often held up as the shining beacon of financial recovery within the EU has 5 regions in the bottom 20.

    From these incomplete regional stats then, all we can say is that a specific country has particular numbers of regions in various bands of the table – and not that this means anything in particular. Hungary, for instance has one relatively very wealthy region (Budapest), so does this outweigh its 4 poor regions more than Romania’s wealthier regions outweigh its 6 poor regions? Of course, it’s not good for any country to have poor regions (although, given the logic of stats, someone has to), but the stats don’t really tell us any more than that.

  12. Paul :
    Of course, it’s not good for any country to have poor regions (although, given the logic of stats, someone has to)

    My guess is that some countries’ richest region would gladly trade places with some other countries’ poorest region, the EU is not a very homogenous entity.

  13. Slightly OT, new bill boards out paid for by Jobbik. It’s a young lady in short jean shorts pockets turned inside out with money falling out and two hands tugging at them for more. I was about to describe it but good old images.google.hu was quite helpful. Look at http://revolucio.blogin.hu/2013/01/page/2/… and scroll down a wee bit.

    On second thought, you might not want to be giving this site any traffic…

  14. London Calling!

    Liars!

    Caught on camera – with little knowledge of their powers.

    Their ‘damage limitation’ is pathetic too.

    I just wonder how many Hungarians will actually get to see this ‘cameo’?

    And what a hero is Szelim Simándi!

    Good to see a student protesting too – even if a post-graduate.

    A tiny gesture – but courageous in the circumstances.

    Regards

    Charlie

  15. More on EU regions:

    Wikipedia has very comprehensive pages on the EU regions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_European_Union

    The usual caveats re Wikipedia, of course, but this data looks OK. They have a very useful table showing all the NUTS 2 regions by country, and giving the GDP per capita per region – in Euros, and as a percentage of the EU average.

    This reveals some interesting facts – some you would assume, and some that are quite a surprise (France, for instance has 22 of it’s 26 regions below average and it’s only really Ile-de-France (i.e. Paris) that’s substantially above average). The data is dated 2009 so needs to be treated with care – especially where Ireland, Greece, Spain, etc are concerned!

    Getting back to our ‘bottom 20 regions’ countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Poland and Hungary:

    Bulgaria has six NUTS 2 regions, all under the EU average GDP PPP. Five regions are in the upper 20s/lower 30s in percentage terms, and only one region has a significantly higher figure – 75% (Yugozapaden – which, inevitably, includes the capital, Sophia). The overall figure for Bulgaria is €10,300 GDP PPP, which is 44% of the EU average (the average is €23,500 – 6.9m Ft, $31,369, £20,267).

    Romania has 8 regions, only one of which (Bucuresti – Ilfov) is above average (111%). The other regions vary from 52% to 29% – the Romaina average GDP PPP is €11,000 (47%).

    Poland has 16 NUTS 2 regions – NONE of which are above average GDP PPP – they range from 97% down to 41%. Poland’s average is €14,300 – 61%.

    Hungary has 7 regions, only one of which is above EU average (Közép Magyarország – 109% – and I think we all know which big city that includes…). The other 6 regions range from 60% to 40%. The average for Hungary is €15,200 – 65%.

    So, just on the basis of having no regions at all at or above average EU GDP PPP, Poland would seem to be the poorest country of the four.

    But, looking at country average GDP PPP instead, Bulgaria is the poorest, closely followed by Romania. Then there is quite a big gap (€3,300 GDP PPP) until we get to Poland, with Hungary doing even better with an average GDP PPP €900 better at €15,200 – 65% of the EU average – actually better than six other EU countries (and that was on 2009 figures, I suspect one or two others may have dropped below Hungary by now).

    But, looking again at the regions, you get a slightly different picture if you evaluate each country on the basis of how many regions it has that are under 50% average GDP PPP. Bulgaria is bottom once again, with 5 out of 6 regions (83%) under the 50% average, and Romania is still second from bottom with 6 out of 8 regions (75%) below average. But 3rd and 4th places are swapped around – with Hungary dropping to 3rd from bottom with 4 out of 7 regions (57%) below 50%, and Poland looking a lot better with only 31% of regions (5 from 16) below 50% of the average. (Note, this ‘table’ only includes the four countries I mentioned in my previous posts – in reality there are several other poor countries in the mix.)

    So, as always, lies, damn lies and statistics – pick the ones that make your case. But there’s no getting away from it, Hungary IS one of the poorer countries in the EU, and, with 4 regions below 50% of the EU average GDP PPP, it has some VERY poor areas and people. But, and this is quite an important ‘but’ in light of the ‘statistics’ that started this discussion, it is a long way from being the poorest, or even having the poorest regions.

  16. Paul :
    More on EU regions:
    Wikipedia has very comprehensive pages on the EU regions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_the_European_Union
    The usual caveats re Wikipedia, of course, but this data looks OK. They have a very useful table showing all the NUTS 2 regions by country, and giving the GDP per capita per region – in Euros, and as a percentage of the EU average.
    This reveals some interesting facts – some you would assume, and some that are quite a surprise (France, for instance has 22 of it’s 26 regions below average and it’s only really Ile-de-France (i.e. Paris) that’s substantially above average). The data is dated 2009 so needs to be treated with care – especially where Ireland, Greece, Spain, etc are concerned!

    So, what the NUTS system seems to be recording is where economic activity is registered which is loosely correlated to where it’s occurring. Yet another problem is mobile workforces. Example, I would imagine that Luxembourg City is very high on the scale.That said, a lot of economic activity is registered there even though it doesn’t occur there. No one can live in Luxembourg City.. property there is much more expensive there than it is in Manhattan!. So people live in Thonville Fr. or Arlon BE or Trier DE etc.. where property is much more affordable. Thus those commutes are not so poor and in fact may have a higher standard of living than what you’d achieve in Paris. So I say nuts to NUTS.. 😉

  17. LwiiH – it is rather an unfortunate acronym!

    I guess they have to divide countries up in some way, so they try to do their best. If you read up on NUTS you’ll find they do genuinely try to match their regions to geographical/social/political/historical areas that locals would recognise as valid ‘regions’ – i.e. most of the people in that ‘region’ would feel that it was representative of them and their lives.

    Having said that, it’s never going to be easy. For instance, if you lived a relatively prosperous life in Debrecen (just to pick an example at random!), would you really appreciate being lumped in with all the failing towns and villages of Eastern Great Plain? Or similarly, for those doing relatively well out of the tourist industry in Northern Hungary or Balaton, are they going to want to be mixed in with Miskolc or the poorer rural areas of Western Trans-Danubia? But I guess that the NUTS people would argue that the type 3 regions are there to do that job.

  18. One last squeeze of the juice out of this one – I finally got round to copying the EU data into a spreadsheet and sorting it.

    Of Hungary’s 7 NUTS 2 regions, 6 of them are in the bottom 33 (13%) of the poorest regions – all under 60% of the EU average GDP per capita (4 are under 45%).

    Only Central Hungary does well, coming in at 183 from bottom (out of 265 regions) with 109% – comfortably above many regions in the UK, Germany, France, etc.

    And one final comment re how these regions are decided – in Hungary’s case at least (so I assume also elsewhere), the lowest NUTS region level (3) is the same as the counties, and NUTS 2 and 1 regions are simply amalgamations of the counties (i.e. with identical ‘external’ borders).

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