Orbán’s chief adviser Árpád Habony and his encounter with the law

Let me introduce Árpád Habony, considered to be the éminence grise of Fidesz and the Orbán government. He is apparently “the only man Viktor Orbán listens to,” at least according to people in the know. He is often seen in the background, practically hiding, at important functions. Just lately one cameraman caught him watching Viktor Orbán’s speech from close to the podium. He is often seen visiting the Office of the Prime Minister. He is also present at the meetings of the cabinet. He used to be a frequent visitor to the meetings of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, but apparently lately he lost this privilege, allegedly because some of the more important members of the delegation objected to his presence. If this is true, Habony’s removal from these meetings probably happened against the wishes of Antal Rogán, the whip, because Habony and Rogán seem to be on the best of terms.

Who is this man? Well, on paper he holds no position either in the government structure or in the party. One of the Hungarian newspapers couldn’t even manage to find out whether he receives a salary and, if he does, from whom. Although he has no official title, in the media he is normally referred to as the chief adviser to Viktor Orbán. He is apparently the man responsible for communication. Moreover, his services to Fidesz and specifically to Viktor Orbán are of long standing. He is no newcomer.

Árpád Habony at Viktor Orbán's speech on the achievements of the last year / Photo Gergely Túry

Árpád Habony at Viktor Orbán’s speech on the achievements of the last year / Photo Gergely Túry

Apparently it was Tamás Deutsch who introduced Habony to Viktor Orbán sometime after the lost 2002 elections. Not a very good recommendation, I must say, given Deutsch’s reputation. Habony never attended college. He was described lately as a restorer of art objects and, at one point, was one of the two guards of the Holy Crown. I remember reading somewhere a few years back that he used to have a car repair shop where he worked as a mechanic. Quite a leap. The former car mechanic now drives a Lexus SUV. He is an excellent kendo player. Kendo is a modern martial art of sword fighting. He seems to be also an expert in kung fu.

Habony was seldom written about in the media, except  for some tabloid coverage of  his liaison with a Hungarian actress. Lately, however, he has been on the front page of important publications because it was discovered that in May 2011 Habony was found guilty of disorderly conduct. He also caused bodily harm. He received a very light sentence given the seriousness of the case because of some legal technicalities. I’m at a loss to figure out what the difference is between “büntetés” (punishment) and “intézkedés” (measure) in Hungarian legalese. In any case, if for two years he doesn’t get into trouble his record will be scrubbed clean.

So, what happened? According to Magyar Narancs Habony was driving at a fairly high speed in a residential section of Buda in his Lexus SUV when an older couple pushing a shopping cart walked in front of him. Habony first launched into a screaming session and eventually got out of his car, smashed the shopping cart, knocked the man off his feet, and for good measure kicked the older woman in the stomach. Once all that was done he got back into his car and drove off. Later he tried to claim that the older couple wanted to rob him, but it seems that the judge didn’t fall for that ludicrous explanation. How could they have attempted to rob a man sitting in a large SUV?

Árpád Habony, chief adviser to Viktor Orbán, sentenced for disorderly conduct /Photo Magyar Narancs

Árpád Habony, chief adviser to Viktor Orbán, sentenced for disorderly conduct /Photo Magyar Narancs

As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. As soon as Magyar Narancs‘s story came out on February 28 Béla Busch, Habony’s defense lawyer in the case, immediately threatened Magyar Narancs with a lawsuit for violating Habony’s right to privacy. However, privacy laws are designed to protect the reputation of ordinary citizens. Public figures must put up with more intrusion into their lives. That’s why according to Hungarian law ordinary people accused of crimes are described only by their initials but the same is not true of cases involving public figures. The defense lawyer had other objections to the way Magyar Narancs handled the story. He objected to the headline next to  Habony’s picture. According to him, Habony was “not found guilty” of disorderly conduct. He was again referring to some legal fine points, but it seems that his argument doesn’t hold water. Nonetheless, I’m sure that this is not the end of the story and I’m almost certain that Habony’s lawyer will sue Magyar Narancs and perhaps all other publications that dealt with the story.

Herewith a few personal observations. How is it possible that the case of an important person like Árpád Habony surfaces only now when already in 2011 he was sentenced and when Magyar Narancs earlier published a fairly lengthy article about his role as confidant to the prime minister?

I was also astonished to read that when one of the Hungarian newspapers wanted to see the transcript of the trial and the verdict they were told that they have no right to see the material. And, as it turned out, the case cannot be found among the material available online.

It is also worth mentioning that there are just too many right-wing politicians who display verbal and physical aggressiveness. One Fidesz MP, László Tasó, verbally insulted Tímea Szabó (then LMP MP) and later got into a verbal exchange with a family doctor which ended in a physical fight. Earlier a Fidesz MP (2006-2010) physically attacked the policemen who stopped his car. A Fidesz mayor spat on someone with whom he had had some past disagreements. A whole article was written about these cases, saying that Habony found himself “in nice company.” The author didn’t even mention another éminence grise, Lajos Simicska, who a few years ago got into an argument with his neighbor and settled the issue by taking out a chain saw and using it on the neighbor’s fence. Nice guys.

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22 comments

  1. Habony is a close friend of Rogán’s (who is very media savvy and tries to exude an image attractive to yuppies/hipsters; the pensioners are targeted in a different way).

    It is rumoured by the way that Ötkert (the club where Viktor Orbán organised a ‘spontanous’ meeting with ‘concerned university students’ a couple of weeks ago and which place was called as a ‘romkocsma’, a ‘ruin-pub’, but which is actually a club for trendy bourgeois kids) is owned/controlled by Rogán himself.

    Orbán’s and Rogán’s (trash and tabloid) media advisor is also the very same lady (who is also a former girlfriend of Habony’s and of László Jáksó’s, the all-around media personality, whose total bomb of a sit-com was recently cancelled).

    Béla Busch is a well-known criminal lawyer (defense attorney, but comes from teaching), interestingly he was not known for celebrity cases.

    Habony’s background is rather misterious. His first media appearance (although at time nobody took notice) was when he was one of the two crown-guards at the time (in 2000, if I remember correctly) when the crown of St. Stepehen was transferred from the National Museum to the Parliament. How was he chosen? Where did he go to highschool? What happened after that? It’s pretty misterious. Anyway, to be diplomatic, he is not known to be very ‘educated’ in his manners and communication style, but perhaps this is also his allure to Orbán. Through habony Orbán has a smart window into the minds of the ordinary people (like Habony himself, although note that Orbán’s family background is also intellectually unsophisticated). Orbán definitely does not care about intellectuals or more sophisticated media (they completely ignore what is in HVG, Népszabadság, 168 Óra, because it is a small minority who follow these madia, who would never vote Orbán anyway).

    He is interested in Plumber Joe only and commercial media like RTL Klub, TV2, commerical radios, or state tv channels — these are all under the informal influence of Habony. They know what to do if Habony calls.

    For these purposes, Habony seems to have worked out. Until Orbán is in power, Habony will be with him.

  2. Well, the lovely Christians, the family values, etc. Habony separated from his wife and child, and hooked up with a pin-up girl, who was way out of his league (not brain wise I am sure). THank goodness the lady was able to land her TV program at the Public Television shortly after the love broke out between the two. Look at the picture for the match made in heaven with a great article in English here:
    http://www.politics.hu/20110308/just-look-at-what-orbans-righthand-man-has-got-his-hands-on/
    How do you spell hypocrisy?

  3. Hey Charlie.. LONDON CALLING!!!

    Ok, just a quick question, how does one get to sue someone for stating facts?

  4. I recommend Der Aufhaltsame Aufstieg des Arturo Ui (Állítsátok meg Arturó Uit a magyar fordítás) by Bertholt Brecht as a literary case study. In that play the evil propagandist is Giuseppe Givola. There is an eerie resemblence to the protagonist in this article.

  5. Ötkert is NOT a romkocsma, it’s just wanna-be romkocsma for yuppies who want to drink 900 ft beer. Please. You don’t wear a suit and tie to a romkocsma, plus the number of tanning-salon tans are way lower, almost non-existant in the real romkocsmas as opposed to Ötkert.

  6. People jailed in the Communist era between 1945 and 1963
    [not from 1948!, therefore war criminals are also entitled for this]
    will receive a 50% raise in their pension bonus by today’s governmental decree.

    [3 yrs,5 yrs) —> 30K HUF/month
    [5 yrs, 10 yrs) —-> 45K
    [10 yrs up —> 60K

    death penalty not carried out —-> 75K/month

    Source: Magyar Közlöny 36. szám (2013. március 4.)
    http://magyarkozlony.hu/pdf/16346

  7. CsekonicsTasziló :
    Habony’s background is rather misterious. His first media appearance (although at time nobody took notice) was when he was one of the two crown-guards at the time (in 2000, if I remember correctly) when the crown of St. Stepehen was transferred from the National Museum to the Parliament. How was he chosen?

    LOL. The chosen one … He had some kind of relationship to the German company that made glass cage for the crown jewels – according to the Nepszabadsag.

  8. What László Tasó said to Tímea Szabó was “Mit pofázol bele, kisanyám?,” which might be translated as “What are you yakking about now, you broad?” That’s rude, but can hardly be considered a major insult. Anyway, it’s hard to feel sorry for Timi, who caucuses with Párbeszéd Magyarorságért by day and with Jobbik by night.

    What amazes me is that you can often spot the difference between Fidesz MPs and members of all other parliamentary caucuses by sight. Many Fideszers have a “kuruc,” or “redneck” look about them. It’s in the way they dress, the way they speak, their body language, their haircuts. Fidesz has made great efforts to cultivate itself as the kuruc party, knowing that a very wide swathe of voters belong to this class of people. These Hungarians can be characterized by a disdain for intellect, strong suspicion of the outside world, and a failure to respect others — or themselves, for that matter.

    Fifteen years ago, these folks might have supported the Smallholders party or the MSZP. Today, they are the secret to the success of Fidesz’s “revolution.” Fidesz knows that Hungary is badly divided, and a house that is divided against itself cannot stand. Rather than try to mend the divisions, Fidesz is putting its chips on the kuruc side of the cultural divide.

    So it should not be surprising when Fidesz luminaries engage in uncouth and reprehensible behavior in public. They are, in effect, playing to their crowd.

  9. Habony is important, the post is interesting, but we should try not to attribute too much to one single person or a number of ‘important’ persons.

    There is an organisation, culture, a machinery, a network of power which enable people like Habony to thrive.

    The Socialists and Bajnai both lack all of these and so they will not be able to obtain and/or keep power against such an opponent.

  10. Pibroch :

    Éva – You might want to change the name in the headline from Ádam to Árpád.

    Thank you. Occasionally I get mixed up with names. For example, I called Kövér János several times although naturally I know that he is László.

  11. Two pieces of news: Klubrádió won and it is final. The Media Council must grant them the frequency they currently have. Second, the forint is at 299 to the euro. Finally, there is a long article about Matolcsy’s tightening grip on the central bank in the New York Times.

  12. There is a now review of political reliability underway at the National Bank down to, yes, to secretaries.

    At Fidesz, they pay attention to detail and are serious and methodical. There is a discipline and if the order comes for a detailed HR ‘review’ well, then they will happily and proudly implement it.

    Just like in 1950’s, if any doubt emerges that perhaps one could not wholeheartedly support the government’s economic programme (of cooperation with the prime minsiter) or that one is a’postcommunist’ (the new term of art, probably simple ‘communist’ in 2013 is deemed outdated, hence ‘postcommunist’ means the same politically, people we hate, are associated with the MSZP or liberals and/or Jewish) you will be fired (if you can’t get a job within a month or so, some people get this present).

    Naturally, some people (the best, who can get a job even in this market) will leave, as no self-respecting person with a degree in economics would work with Matolcsy. In fact, for a professional the experience of working with/under Matolcsy could be a stain on a CV as the guy is just crazy. I know this sounds weird and perhaps unbelieveable to people lving in a Western-country, but it is true, Matolcsy is insane (with lucid periods, when he can behave as though he was not completely deranged).

    But try to understand one thing: Matolcsy has no power of his own. Economic policy (as everything else, which is important) is solely and personally decided by Orbán. Again, this may sound weird for foreigners, as a Western prime minister would not meddle into policy. But Orbán personally decides on contractual terms (like that with EON about thenatural gas storage business or the e-payment projects) and on individuals as well as media strategy and so on. The system works so that his OK is necessary to anything deemed ‘major’.

    Matolcsy is thus only a media cover, so that people can deal with him, hate him etc., while the real decision maker remains, as ever, Orbán.

  13. Instead of this minor case, let us discuss the obscene status of the talkback comments in the rightwing Hungarian internet sites.

    From those remarks, there must be a clear verdict: the ideological committed people are very sick.

  14. Ged883eon is a wonderful addition here.
    Some comments:
    “…some people will leave..”–and they won’t stop at the border, either. But by now we know that intelligence or expertise is not what Orban wants.

    “…some can get a job…”–yes, but what kind of a job? And under what sort of pressure
    will the new employer be under. Considerable, to be sure.

    “…and Orban decides everything..”–and people wonder why I disparage Hungarians when these so-called leaders sell their souls for 2 million a month, not to mention selling the country and their fellow citizens down the river. And the citizens? The famed ‘sheep’ who baaa only on cue from Victor and when they’re 400,000 strong…what are they deserving of?

    No, we mustn’t mention bitter truths, better to hide them best we can but these truths, as for instance the behaviour of Hungary’s heroic army of the second world war, the truth will see the light of day. Hungarians must stop taking refuge in heroic fancy’s of the past.
    Wake up!
    Consult your guts!!
    Your country is being shredded before your dreamy eyes…

  15. Sometimes I think this is just a bad dream …

    It doesn’t concern us too much personally (at our age and having our money in Germany) – but when my wife’s son told us today that he hasn’t got his February salary yet and they’re having for lunch what my wife put in their freezer the last time we visited them …

    Unbelievable! Of course the people in Syria or Africa are worse of – but I’ve always though Hungary was part of Europe ???

  16. People on the left must organise themselves better, with more strategy and foresight. It is also linked with the self selection of ideology: disciplined people feel at home on the right, while critical, diversity and debate (delibaretaion) liking people like the left.

    It’s a mighty task. It’s also kind of a fundamental problem of politics in problematic countries (including Italy, but obviously Hungary), the recruitment. Why would one risk everything and sacrifice all for years for the possibility that he/she could be a ‘decider’? The risks are just too great and the rewards are contingent and unlikely.

    OT, but connected: People in the West in their hopelss naivity always read articles about what happens in Russia and contemplate the possibility of liberal reforms. It will never happen (until Russia exists in its current form). Try to understand this finally. I guess it takes a person living in the East to conclude that.

    Russia is just too big geographícally, so it is simply impossible to organise a national party without the assistance of the state (with no tradition of any grassroots organisation, but a huge tradition of undercover sabotage from the state). Even P. could not do it, he relies heavily on the state administration and local municipalities (the idea of which runs counter to the very conception of the Western-style democracy) to operate his supposedly competitive party. They are happy to assist. Other parties in the parliament are also controlled by P., they are not independent parties, they are there just to gather opposition votes and to provide a false sense of choice, all parties are controlled centrally (like under the Tzar when the underground opposition organsiations were all honey traps run by the Okhrana).

    (Note also that in the US, the two major parties are very much local and independent politicaly. On the federal level the party organsitaions have an umbrella function, but management of the parties are decentralised to the state level. US is also just too big).

    And It’s not only money, it’s the organisation. Once the dominance of a party like P’s becomes entrenched it is very easy for them to disrupt the formation of a new national party. In Hungary given the election system and other structural conditions, to organise a national opposition party (in a rather small state) is also very-very difficult. (Interestingly the best organsied ‘opposition’ party is Jobbik, and also in Russia, many of the current ‘dissidents’ are actually very nationalistic and so given the political situation they are not ideological opposition).

    Now try to imagine that on a scale that is 50 times bigger (with perhaps 8 times zones and various ethnic minorities, languages etc.) and against a very pervasive bully culture (to say the least). (Once you come out in a country town that you don’t support the majority party, your life becomes suddenly much more difficult, also in Hungary, but in Russia — you have no idea). There is just no way that a real competitive election could take place in Russia. The only way for them to experience change is to have a new leader after P., who will or will not stay for another 20 years. In Hungary the system is only slightly better at this mooment. This is the reason why it is paramount to disrupt Orbán’s regime, if only for a couple of months, to show that it could possibly be done, otherwise the fear (even more than now) will prevent any changes for long. (Or, the politics will take place only within one party, as it does in dictatorships).

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