Viktor Orbán’s bad billing: From the World Jewish Congress to the European Parliament

Before I turn to the topic of today’s post I would like to call everybody’s attention to several documents that are now available in English concerning the latest amendments to the Hungarian Constitution. The first is the draft report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (Rapporteur: Rui Tavares) on Hungary. This is the report that was the basis of today’s debate in the European Parliament’s LIBE Committe. The transcript of the debate is not yet available but let’s hope that it will be soon. You have to keep in mind that the European People’s Party (EPP), to which Fidesz belongs, has the majority. If the EPP delegation solidly supports Orbán, nothing will happen.

The discussion of the draft report already began in the Hungarian media. Magyar Nemzet described it as a “left-liberal ultimatum” and George Schöpflin, Fidesz EP MP, found the document “humiliating.” Népszabadság simply recounted the demands outlined in the document and came to the conclusion that, if accepted, the Hungarian government will be forced to withdraw practically all of the amendments.

Another document, also in English, can be found on the website of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. It is an analysis written by three legal scholars who were asked by János Martonyi  to give their opinions on the fourth amendment to the constitution. The three scholars were Francis Delpérée, Pierre Delvolvé, and Eivind Smith. These are conservative legal scholars, and the Hungarian government hoped that they would fully support the Hungarian point of view. As you can see, this was not the case. They also found plenty to criticize.

And now let’s look at some reactions to Viktor Orbán’s speech at the World Jewish Conference. The speech is now available in English. Commentators critical of Viktor Orbán and his government found the speech no more than empty rhetoric while Magyar Nemzet not only praised his speech but also reported that yesterday Ronald Lauder apologized to Viktor Orbán because he was unaware of the Orbán interview that appeared in Yedioth Ahronoth, a Tel Aviv daily. In it, Orbán admitted that Jobbik poses a real danger. “We in Hungary must be especially careful to act as categorically as possible against this phenomenon. If we want to protect democracy, we must take a firm stand against Jobbik. Jobbik has developed a political ideology that quite obviously violates the human rights of Jews at both an individual and community level.” Well, I don’t think that Lauder had to apologize. It was easy for Orbán to say something specific about Jobbik in a Hebrew-language paper published in Israel. He was reluctant, however, to say a word about Jobbik in Hungarian in Budapest.

The foreign press was pretty hard on Orbán. According to Die Welt, Orbán’s words were only “half-hearted” and he refused to talk about any “tangible measures” he is contemplating to curb anti-Semitism in Hungary. The applause at the end of the speech “remained polite.” According to James Kirchick in Spiegel InternationalOrbán whitewashed anti-Semitism. “Orbán’s speech was notable more for what it left out than what it said.”

The reporter for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that Orbán tried to minimize the problem in Hungary by pointing to the rest of Europe. The Austrian Der Standard carried an editorial by Eric Frey that was a strongly worded indictment of Orbán’s speech. Even the title was telling: “Anti-Semitism in Hungary: Orbán’s subtle complicity.” Frey argued that Orbán “plays on the same chauvinistic and xenophobic keyboard as the anti-Semites and gives them backing.” Frey extended his criticism by maintaining that “anti-Semitism is only one component–and certainly not the biggest–of the undemocratic, bigoted and anti-European masonry Orbán has built to secure his power for years to come.”

Naturally, everybody is waiting to see what will follow Orbán’s condemnation of anti-Semitism in general terms. Will they remove the name of the anti-Semitic Bishop Ottokár Prohászka from the streets and pack away his statues? Will they stop the ever-growing Horthy cult and direct local communities to get rid of the statues of Admiral Miklós Horthy? Personally, I very much doubt it.

There was, however, one interesting development yesterday. During the last three years it rarely happened that an MSZP suggestion to table a parliamentary discussion was ever accepted by the Fidesz majority. But, behold, yesterday it happened. MSZP suggested that the Hungarian government should make it possible for every Hungarian student to visit Auschwitz at least once. Earlier that proposal was voted down by the Fidesz caucus. Yesterday, however, Zoltán Pokorni, the chairman of the committee on education, announced that the government party would reconsider the proposal as long as such a trip would not be compulsory for the schools. It would only be a possibility.

Well, this isn’t much, but it is something. Although one can very well imagine that certain principals will simply refuse to participate in such a program. Even if it’s free.

Tomorrow will be a fateful day as far as Hungarian-European Union relations are concerned. One crisis after the next, but apparently the Hungarian prime minister thrives in such an atmosphere. So for a while he will be in his element. After this hurdle will come the question of the excessive deficit procedure. The Hungarian government is preparing for the worst.


  1. The minuscule ego of Mr. Schopflin has bubbled to the top of his personality: as per no surprise, he has found a report on the country ‘humiliating’, as if the document was directed at him personally.

    So the Fidesz arsenal on combating criticism now contains various weapons: one, YOU don’t understand; two, the constitution has been mis-translated; and three, ‘this is humiliating’ and, as a proud Hungarian, I refuse to dignify it with an answer.

    Hungaricum Magisterium–the marvel of the Ages.

  2. Re Schöpflin. I met the man once and once our articles appeared in the same volume. His credentials and his wonderful British accent (he was about eight years old when he got to England) can mislead people. The large vocabulary and “scientific” political science stuff that comes out of him gives a false impression. He is just another Fidesz parrot.

  3. I don’t know why all this fuss about the excessive deficit procedure.
    Malta was allowed to exit last November, then they entered it again in March.

    You can exit, then you can come back. The Hungarian government makes it look like a matter of life and death – for political reasons, sure, but do we need to believe them?

  4. C Cat: this is exactly what they want.

    Get out, spend right away on a pension bonus or the like and then get back the next week even (but by that time it does not matter any more).

    Once you gave a lot of money out (purchased votes), it will be the case of the bad EU again and you will be the nice guy who would love to do the right thing (increase state salaries etc.) but for the EU’s mercilessness you cannot.

    By that time you will have nice credentials too: the utility price decreases which will continue, this on off huge subsidy, so you will sound believable.

    It’s aleady check mate with the utility price decreases (and the election system that favours Fidesz’ structural embeddedness), a pension bonus kill the opposition.

    Have you seen Financial Times yestarday? There was a picture of a menacing young man waiting to see the trial of the German neo nazis (pictured in front of the courthouse). Guess where he was from? It was not written in the caption, but from the logos on his jacket you could figure out he was from Hungary.

    Orbán wants to play Kádár: like K. after 1956, Orbán finished off his pereceived enemies (inclduing right wingers like Sólyom, though he did not kill them admittedly like Kádár, their carreers are over for good) and now he wants to consolidate his power and be the nice grandaddy, the jovial boss who would call onto his prime minister to increase pensions because they deserve it. Plus he admired the fact (like the situation with Horty) that K. was not elected, election is for suckers, real politcians have the entitlement to rule especially as the people want them to lead.

  5. @Femke:
    “…real politicians have the entitlement to rule..” or, as papa Stalin once said, “Can I help it if my people demand a God?”

  6. @Femke:

    Kadar was not of dictatorial type, but was in a dictatorial position.
    Orban, on the other hand, has dictatorial type personality.
    Kadar did not steal.
    Kadar did not permit lieutenants of his organizations to steal.


    Both Feldmajer of MaZsiHiSz and Koves of Chabad seem to be spineless people.

  7. Tappanch: it’s called repeated game in game theory. Feldmajer and Köves have different stakes, just like Lauder who has a school which he does not want to see closed, than foreigners. They have to continue to live with Orbán and Jobbik.

    Feldmájer and Köves depend on the Hungarian state subsidies and are looking forward to receiving it in the future.

    Beggars can’t be choosers, now, can they?

  8. Tappanch: it’s called repeated game in game theory. Feldmajer and Köves have different stakes, just like Lauder who has a school which he does not want to see closed, than foreigners. They have to continue to live with Orbán and Jobbik.

    Feldmájer and Köves depend on the Hungarian state subsidies and are looking forward to receiving it in the future.

    Beggars can’t be choosers, now, can they?

  9. tappanch :
    Both Feldmajer of MaZsiHiSz and Koves of Chabad seem to be spineless people.

    That’s becoming dismayingly obvious. They should both be profoundly ashamed of themselves. They are, in their own way, as unprincipled and opportunistic as Fidesz, ready to betray genuine human and democratic values, or leave their betrayal unchallenged, in exchange for local gain, power, popularity.

    I hope the enlightened, nonreligious majority of Hungarian Jewry will raise its voice to drown out the petty parochials and their myopic instinct of appeasement, instead of letting them speak for the entire (sub)populous.

  10. @ Steven Harnad

    “..they should both be profoundly ashamed..”

    I’m not so sure. It’s not pleasant hearing appeasing sounds from them but there are old age homes and hospitals and schools that depend on the government subsidies and I think they are being mindful of them. Sometimes you have to swallow..for the better good.

  11. petofi :
    …there are old age homes and hospitals and schools that depend on the government subsidies and I think they are being mindful of them. Sometimes you have to swallow..for the better good.

    This is precisely the formula and rationale that keeps Fidesz (and the Fidesz mentality) in power. The WJC is the eyes of the world. An opportunity missed, for (hopes of) short-term, short-sighted gain. (And surprising to hear the usually vituperous Petofi condoning appeasement…)

  12. Quite right, Stevan. But I’d be terribly surprised if the jewish old age homes and hospitals get anywhere near the money that Catholic organizations get. Hence the care. But I do hate it. However, it is the system that Orban well knows he’s put in place. If I have some patience with the jewish situation it’s because it’s not pleasant growing old, let alone being stuck for food, heat or medical attention.

    However, I have absolutely no reservation in blasting the Hungarian young and middle-aged (of any religion) who put their heads down and stomach the present situation. They should be in the streets refusing to work, or to allow the capital city to function. This situation is abominable.

  13. One thing is clear for me, Orbán is winning the Jewish card here at least domestically big time. I understand that some of you feel very strongly about attacking Orbán from that angle but it’s backfiring in front of our very eyes right now. Orbán has despotic tendencies, the rule of law is in peril, but his antisemitism is questionable and even if it exists it’s mainly in the closet and manifests itself very indirectly (e.g. through associating with Zsolt Bayer, or not being suffuciently anti-antisemitic. This is just not by far enough for anybody besides our picky little circles to care. It’s sad but it’s true.

    I don’t claim to know or make a final verdict if Orbán and his system is antisemitic or not (I’m sure some of you will do it for me) What I feel pretty sure about by now is that attacking him over that is useless and highly counterproductive. Every effort to do so is viewed politically motivated and contrived by the overwhelming majority of the people (not always entirely mistakenly). By Lauder’s apology and the Hungarian Jewish communities siding with him, he wiped the floor with his opponents like it or not.

    I agree strongly with Véleményvezér’s opinion piece and I’m very very sad about the future.

  14. Orban is the archetypical, Felcsutian liar: he will say whatever those attending him want to hear. He’ll ‘slip and slide’: a jiveass who’d be perfectly acceptable in the nether regions of Harlem.

    I don’t think he ‘wiped the floor’ with anyone, excepting those who buy his bullshit….and Hungarians who don’t know better, usually in that IQ range struggling to reach 100. Those will always think he ‘wins’ every battle or encounter.

    Lauder was tricked. Orban anticipated that criticism and gave the interview
    to a jewish journalist so that he could ‘wrong-foot’ Lauder. Simple Felcsutian

  15. petofi: Moral victories are irrelevant. He’s going to dominate in 2014. Luckily for you, you can just go on hating Hungarians in general, but for some of us it’s a bit more complicated than that. For anybody in the anti-Orbán camp who cares about this country this was indeed a big wiping.

    Besides, that wasn’t the most elaborate trickery I’ve heard of, Lauder should have checked every single interview Orbán gave this past month or should have paid somebody to do it. The WJC’s criticism was out minutes after Orbán’s speech clearly indicating that it was written beforehand. If Lauder and his people are this unprofessional then they got what he deserved.

  16. Jano is right I’m afraid. At home Orban just gained support. It’s totally hopeless. The average Hunky strongly believes that “foreign smear campaign against Hungary” theory.

    I believe the idea of bringing the WJS to Budapest was to raise awareness to the growing anti-Semitism in Hungary in the foreign media. I guess Orban agreed to it (yes, I’m pretty sure) for the prospective domestic gain in support. This is a very sinister plot. The Fidesz is slightly feeding anti-Semitism in the country so the criticism can be used on the below hundred IQ population.

    It was a mistake bringing the congress to Budapest less than a year before the elections.

    And in the below hundred IQ circle anything goes. Orban just gave a speech at some Christian Intellectuals conference in Hungary in front of full house and essentially told them that Europe’s anti-Hungarianism is because of the Hungarian government’s stand on gay marriage.

    “Gays take your pensions” – could be a Fidesz slogan in 2014. It would work.

  17. @Jano

    Let me fill you in on a thing or two…
    I came back to Hungary when all my Hungarian friends said ‘you’re nuts: Hungarians were always die-hard anti-semites and will remain as such’. My answer was:
    “Well, my father was on one those trains, and my parents met in Bergen Belsen, but in my first 7 years in Budapest I didn’t experience anything but the most general antisemitism–“you must’n tell anyone we bought a parakeet because they’ll accuse us of things because we’re jewish”, and the like. I had to say that the parakeet flew through the window and into the waiting cage…that’s how we got the bird. Ridiculous,
    even to a five year old.

    So, in short, my answer to all the naysayers was this: “Yes, I know you were all beaten up when young and all that, but that isn’t my experience. I think Hungarians are well-read and cultured and behave differently now, 60 years later.”

    So I returned in 2009 when, already, the dormant anti-semitism was not so dormant. Still and all, I enjoyed living in Budapest, after all, it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

    However, since 2010, what has been happening is the systematic shoring of individual rights and the destruction of the rule of law. THIS I didn’t bargain for.
    And I sit here dumbfounded at the absolute nonchalance and sheer mindlessness of the populace who believe the most inane stuff that Orban spouts.
    This makes me angry. And yes, I hate the weak-minded, idiotic, malleable Hungarians who can be fed nationalistic, catholic nonsense in one end, and have anti-semitism, and anti-European sentiment come out the other. Do I hate that? You bet your life I do…

    One last thing: the other day I had a very civilized discussion with a slightly pro-Fideszer. I say ‘slightly’ because he let on that while what’s going on is not good, Fidesz is still better than any other option.
    I accepted that then, but after some thought, I wouldn’t now. Nothing can be worse than the loss of the rule of law and the arbitrary rule of one man fronting a party that is causing mayhem throughout the land.

  18. Mutt: Just curiousity, do you know how gay marriage works internationally? If e.g a gay couple marries in a country where it is allowed can they inherit assets that are in Hungary if one of them deceases? I would assume that there is some international law saying that a country recognizes marriages happened in another country.

  19. I hope that I will not get disappointed. Next time I want to read that the new tobacco licences have been actually well received by the average Hungarian Joe because Hungarian security has been increased immensely !

  20. Jano :
    Mutt: Just curiousity, do you know how gay marriage works internationally?

    This is interesting. I’d like to hear it too. If I was a lawmaker I would focus on the granted right of ownership not the way it was granted. But I can imagine that the Fidesz Holy Joes would confiscate the property because I’m gay so I would declare the inheritance in my will just in case.

  21. I agree with Jano too (#16), and in some extent even with Paul Lendvai, who predicted that all the WJC will do is just give Orbán a chance to read up a few pro jewish slogans – in order to try to clean his image – while in essence nothing will change.

    Actually, the outcome even worse, – particularly hearing the ‘apology’ of Ronald Lauder – since nothing substantial having been said, let alone having been acted upon, but a notorious turncoat had a chance to strategically place a few well needed words, easing the pressure on him, even if temporarily.

    People changes dramatically, and changes a lot in a relative short period of time, nowadays.
    I’ve been shocked when I’ve meet with a few friends of thirty years, how different they became in the last couple of years, while they were mostly unchanged during the twenty-something previously. The system of Orbanism took away their faith in values, their trust in the future, their hope, that freedom and democracy is their for keep.
    Now they are afraid, suspicious, withdrawn and trying to survive at any price – no principles matter any longer, only to make it trough somehow, anyhow…

    This is not the Hungary what I’ve left, they are not the Hungarians I have much in common anymore – that’s how I feel, unfortunately.

    Not only the politics, but the people has changed, and this is frightening.

  22. Totally OT (or not ?):

    I just found in the German SPIEGEL a link to this very interesting article on genetic diversity/relations in Europe:

    “Author Summary

    Few of us know our family histories more than a few generations back. It is therefore easy to overlook the fact that we are all distant cousins, related to one another via a vast network of relationships. Here we use genome-wide data from European individuals to investigate these relationships over the past 3,000 years, by looking for long stretches of genome that are shared between pairs of individuals through their inheritance from common genetic ancestors. We quantify this ubiquitous recent common ancestry, showing for instance that even pairs of individuals from opposite ends of Europe share hundreds of genetic common ancestors over this time period. Despite this degree of commonality, there are also striking regional differences.

    Southeastern Europeans, for example, share large numbers of common ancestors that date roughly to the era of the Slavic and Hunnic expansions around 1,500 years ago, while most common ancestors that Italians share with other populations lived longer than 2,500 years ago.

    The study of long stretches of shared genetic material promises to uncover rich information about many aspects of recent population history.”

    The middle paragraph (my indentation) sounds very interesting!

  23. The whole ‘apology’ saga is very frustrating. Apologies for repeating, but why on earth was the opportunity spurned to say: “Thank you for your warm welcome, sir. And thank you for reassuring us as to your stance on anti-Semitism. But may we ask why Mr Bayer remains a much feted leading member of your party? And also, why do you share so many platforms, particularly at a local level, with the much feared Jobbik.” It beggars belief, actually, that Orban is hardly ever put on the spot in any straightforward way. Here was a chance. Gone.

  24. @ Ivan:

    Right to the point: people seem to lose their self-possession on meeting the Viktator. He’s not mesmerizing. He’s not Hitler: at least, not yet…

  25. @Jano

    “By Lauder’s apology and the Hungarian Jewish communities siding with him, he wiped the floor with his opponents like it or not.”

    I’ve read some who’ve said that this little controversy put Orbán’s remarks into the Hungarian media, where they can be read by those who sympathise with Jobbik, but who vote (or will vote) for Fidesz. This and the support he’s receiving from Hungarian Jewish leaders might turn them away from voting for Fidesz next time, and they are the ones he might need to replace the voters who left for the opposition or who no longer believe his lies.

    Sometimes one can win for losing.

  26. The Jobbik party is not ignored by the Orban and the Hungarian Government. Even the president of the World Jewish Congress has apologized for the criticisms he made earlier this week.

    Orban, in an interview with the Israel daily newspaper, has officially condemned the actions of Jobbik.

    That interview and article can be read here:

    The apology can be read here:

  27. Stevan Harnad (@AmSciForum) :

    petofi :
    …there are old age homes and hospitals and schools that depend on the government subsidies and I think they are being mindful of them. Sometimes you have to swallow..for the better good.

    This is precisely the formula and rationale that keeps Fidesz (and the Fidesz mentality) in power. The WJC is the eyes of the world. An opportunity missed, for (hopes of) short-term, short-sighted gain. (And surprising to hear the usually vituperous Petofi condoning appeasement…)

    This was also the formula that got hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers. I am with the old saying of “going down fighting” if you have to go down. Appeasement and cowardess, avoiding the issues or keeping your head down will get you first into the moral mire then usually to death. If you don’t learn from your mistakes you are doomed to repeat them!!!

  28. “And in the below hundred IQ circle anything goes. ”

    This notion fits in with the meme that anti-Semitism anti-Roma and religious bigotry are the domain of the backward and ignorant. This at best ignores and at worst alibis the Hungarian RULING class (supported by a good part of the intelligentsia). Support for fascistic currents always derives from the propertied and entitled layers.

    The fish rots from the head.

  29. @Lumpy – I couldn’t agree more, but you must admit that there must be a considerable layer amongst Jobbik supporters and even members, who support them through ignorance. And here I am not putting forward the really reactionary notion that the mass is ignorant and therefore can be fooled by anything. It is just that all parties have so far failed the people in that life is getting harder, people are getting poorer and it is the failure of the left in general that allowed these criminals to get their two third majority. Therefore people are thrashing around for an alternative and in their desperation they are prone to just listen to a few simple slogans and have no real appreciation of what Jobbik really stands for. What do you, or anybody else out there think of this?

  30. JGrant: “all parties have failed the people”
    Yes, they have. But I do not know how such observation could change anything. Yes, the liberals, socialists, Budapest intellectuals have failed big time. And then what? If the broad public then expects that some strong leader is the best solution, possibly also because the democrats were unable to create a well-functioning democracy or at least a feasible vision of such democracy, and if people choose to be passive, I do not know how democracy should function. Autocracy IS then a logical implication. I still believe that interpretations of the current troubles as a conflict between town and rural areas or between the modern and the backward are of limited use because obviously it appears necessary that a government that wishes to be a government for the entire country should be representative of more than a narrow clientele. For that a national programme is needed that is neither only pro-MSzP, nor only pro-Fidesz. It has to be spread by people who are willing to get engaged politically more or less in grassroots fashion. With the politically active people only thinking in terms of insurmountable obstacles preventing compromise between people of different interests and caring only for their own narrow voter base, and a passive populace that waits for the good emperor, an ’emperor’ will emerge nearly out of necessity, only not ‘good’.

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