A Portuguese view of Viktor Orbán and his dictatorial tendencies

Listening to Viktor Orbán in action” remains the most popular post of the week. I’m not surprised. It’s one thing to read commentary about the prime minister and quite another to hear him in casual conversation.

A couple of days ago (May 6) Visão, the largest weekly magazine in Portugal, published an article on that conversation and gave some additional background on the Drechsler Palace that Viktor Orbán wanted to get back from the Portuguese. We mustn’t forget that this conversation took place on May 1 and it just happened that on the following day Viktor Orbán visited Portugal where he again expounded on the virtues and benefits of religiosity.

Below you will find an English translation of that article. Here are a few notes that may be helpful. Aníbal Cavaco Silva has been the president of Portugal since 2006.  Pedro Manuel Mamede Passos Coelho is the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and has served as prime minister of Portugal since 2011. Belém Palace is the residence of the Portuguese president. São Bento Palace is the home of the assembly of the republic, the Portuguese parliament in Lisbon. Estoril is an elegant resort area where  many right-wing leaders, including Miklós Horthy, lived after World War II. It was here that António de Oliveira Salazar, dictator of Portugal, had a villa.

The names mentioned in connection with the purchase of Drechsler Palace are very well heeled Portuguese businessmen. Millennium BCP is Portugal’s largest bank.

László Hubay Cebria is a Spanish-Portuguese-Hungarian businessmen and a supporter of Viktor Orbán.

The translation from Portuguese is the work of Lili Bayer, a graduate student at Oxford University.

* * *

The Portuguese palace that Orbán wants “back”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán threatens to publish a law that permits him to recover the Drechsler Palace in Budapest, property of Millennium BCP

By Paulo Pena

The occasion is solemn, like the day, the 1st of May 2013. Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, finishes his speech on Heroes’ Square and goes on the maiden trip of a blue Mercedes bus. Dressed appropriately, Orbán secures himself one of the spaces for passengers who travel standing. In front of him is István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, also in a blue suit and tie. In the back dozens of journalists take photos, make notes, and film the conversation.

The bus continues along Andrassy Avenue (the main street of the city), passing by its brand-name stores. Near the Opera House, in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods, Orbán turns to the mayor and points out a palace. It is the Drechsler Palace built in 1882 that used to house the Institute of Ballet. It is classified as a national heritage site. The dialogue, which was broadcast in almost all the Hungarian media, follows. The translation into Portuguese was made and reviewed by two translators.

Viktor Orbán: Oh, István, these buildings still belong to the Ukrainians?

István Tarlós: I had no idea they belong to Ukrainians…

VO: Read something about Ukrainians….

IT: The Institute of Ballet belongs to the Portuguese.

OV: It is in the hands of a Portuguese. I want it back.

IT: But isn’t there some law that prevents this for 20 years?

VO: Why don’t we make a new law? The city can propose and I would make a law.

IT: Yes, for this a law is needed. A municipal ordinance does not suffice.

VO: Start the proceedings and I will make a law.

IT: As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfect.

VO: Make me a proposal. It has to be you, it cannot be me.

IT: Mr. Prime Minister, can I make several?

VO: No. You are being too greedy. We are talking about one. Present it!

IT: OK, we are going to do it…

The journey comes to an end, in Deák Square, near the Danube, on the Pest side. The video of the conversation begins to circulate. The daily newspaper Népszava writes in its headline: “Orbán can make laws for anything.”

Charm with Cavaco and Passos

All of this happened on the eve of an official visit by Orbán to Portugal. On Friday the 3rd, when  the building which “is in the hands of a Portuguese” was debated in Hungary, Orbán shook hands with President Cavaco Silva in Belém, with Prime Minister Passos Coelho in São Bento, and was one of the speakers at the Conferences of Estoril.

São Bento Palace, Lisbon

São Bento Palace, Lisbon

It was a “charm” offensive that won applause. Among the most enthusiastic was the Social Democratic Deputy Duarte Marques, who wrote glowingly about the Hungarian prime minister on Twitter: “He is a born leader,” “Before some idiots criticize him they must better understand the controversy concerning Hungary.” The deputy was referring to the international criticism of Orbán’s party, Fidesz, which changed the Constitution four times in the last two years, tampering with everything from the independence of the courts to a prohibition of homelessness.

The deputy did not know that the “controversy” now also involves Portugal. The palace was purchased in 2007 by Aquapura, a company founded by Luís Simões de Almeida, António Mexia, and Diogo Vaz Guedes. António Mexia, the President of EDP [Energias de Portugal], subsequently left the company which, at the end of 2011, reached a financial agreement with Millennium BCP. This is already the fourth change of hands of the palace since 2001 when the municipality sold it to a group of Hungarian investors. These investors, in turn, sold it to an Israeli company which subsequently negotiated with Aquapura.

Luís Simões de Almeida, when contacted by VISÃO, concluded: “We are deeply sorry that a Portuguese operation can have a destiny like this…”

Millennium BCP, contrary to Mr. Simões de Almeida, was still unaware of the controversial video. After viewing it, representatives of the bank declined to comment.

György Abelovszky, Counselor at the Hungarian Embassy in Lisbon, clarified to VISÃO that “in Hungary private property is sacrosanct and inviolable. This is the consistent position also of the Prime Minister, and nothing indicates that this could change in the future.”

László Hubay Cebrian is the President of the Luso-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce in Lisbon and already saw the video. In his opinion, the Hungarian state only wants to “repurchase the building. … There was never any intention to expropriate it. Hungary is a country of law.” The problem is to convince Millennium to negotiate, because the guaranteeing Portuguese bank “has received proposals but did not deign to respond.”

There will be yet another problem: the market value of the building is today not the same as it was before the crisis when the Portuguese company purchased it. It is less. One thing is already known: Orbán wants the palace back.


  1. The “word-on-the-street” about the Drechsler Palace once was that it was to be turned into a hotel. Now people say that the owners are waiting for it to fall down so that what is left can be demolished. If the Hungarian government “wants it back”, what will they do with it? It is a beautiful building, so, whatever the politics may be of this business, surely it should be saved.

  2. If Orbán wants it back, he will get it back. They will give an offer to the “Portugese” they can’t refuse.

    It does not matter what they will use it for, bu they can surely throw a coule of billions at it if they really wanted it redone.

  3. tappanch :
    Did the Hungarian taxpayers’ money find two Orban supporters in the US Congress

    Rep. Andy P. Harris is one of the distinguished members of the caucus.
    He lives in the same city I lived for 5 years when I came to the Land of the Free.

    His dad was born in Miskolc, Zoltan Harris. He emigrated to the US in 1950.

    Caucus membership is like scout badges. Rep. Harris has membership in 16 caucuses.

    A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who love boating.

    Chesapeake Bay Caucus
    A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who love boating in the Chesapeake Bay – and save the crabs.

    A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who like chicken (and educate other Members of
    Congress about the history, contributions of the chicken industry). Yum!

    A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who love the coal industry. Energy lobby.

    General Aviation
    A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who love flying and think general aviation is important. Really.

    GOP Doctors
    A GOP only caucus composed of medical providers in Congress. Hospital lobby most likely.

    Immigration Reform
    They are dedicated towards advancing effective immigration policy. It’s a must have.

    Marcellus Shale

    The purpose of the caucus is to educate of the Marcellus Shale formation. Natural gas lobby.

    Natural Gas

    A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who … yes. Energy lobby again (big money and power).

    Northeast Agriculture

    The caucus allows for an open forum that discusses important topics related to the
    agricultural industry on the Northeast. Cheese lobby?

    Port Caucus

    A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives who love … sherry? Hmm. No not that.
    It’s about education of the importance of ports to the nation’s economy.

    Republican Study

    “The Republican Study Committee is a group of House Republicans organized
    for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda
    in the House of Representatives.” Yuck!


    The Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus is the sportsmen’s ally and first
    line of defense in Washington promoting and protecting the rights of
    hunters, trappers and anglers. Gun lobby light (his state is Maryland).

    Republican Israel Caucus

    The Republican Israel Caucus educates House members on current events,
    administration policies and regional issues related to Israel. Looks good for Jewish voters.
    Make sure you don’t support anti-Semitic countries.


    “This bipartisan group of distinguished House members seeks to represent
    interests of Hungarian American constituents; foster bilateral relations
    between Hungary and United States; and protect the rights of Hungarian
    minorities in Europe.” Yep. Szekler independence stuff … Kover will love him.

  4. a minor correction: Belém refers not to a city in Northern Portugal, but to the Portuguese Presidential Palce

  5. Pete: hey, hey, hey, this is defamation. Untrue.

    We will agree with the Portugese on a fair price, the deal will be mutually beneficial and in the end we will purchase the property.

    Hungary always respected property rights, what makes you think there will be something fishy this time?

    It will be a transparent, legal transaction and everybody will be happy afterwards. Win-win.

  6. “We will agree with the Portugese on a fair price, the deal will be mutually beneficial and in the end we will purchase the property.”

    In other words, once again Fidesz will overpay to nationalise something that didn’t need to be nationalized, like MOL, E.on, etc. From a purely selfish standpoint, I would like to see this happen, because it’s so sad to see that beautiful building sitting there unused and unloved, right across from the Opera house. The disgusting part is that taxpayers get the bill for some grandiose project that makes Fidesz look like they’re doing something, when it’s all just window-dressing (and fuel for further corruption, of course). I’m disgusted by all the money being spent to reconfigure the area around Parliament, when it looked fine before (and all those beautiful, huge old trees, slaughtered in the name of Orbán Király’s glory!). First the trees, then democracy, and finally the Hungarian people.

  7. IvanKuzmics :
    Pete: hey, hey, hey, this is defamation. Untrue.
    We will agree with the Portugese on a fair price, the deal will be mutually beneficial and in the end we will purchase the property.
    Hungary always respected property rights, what makes you think there will be something fishy this time?
    It will be a transparent, legal transaction and everybody will be happy afterwards. Win-win.

    Where is the defamation? Reporting on an article and being sarcastic. This is not allowed?

    If the two parties go into it voluntarily – then win-win. If one party is forced into it by targeted legislation, not so much. So what may be fishy is not respecting property rights by submitting legislation that targets this property.

    And of course this would be yet another way to stifle foreign investment in Hungary.

  8. Ivan Kuzmics: “Hungary always respected property rights, what makes you think there will be something fishy this time?
    It will be a transparent, legal transaction and everybody will be happy afterwards.”

    After the emergency patch on the law on data privacy following the tobacco scandal, nothing will be transparent in Hungary any more.

  9. Ivan Kuzmics is a character from Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector (The Revisor).

  10. Am I the only one who immediately thought that Ivan’s comment was satirical ?
    If It’s not, I’d be ashamed – of myself and of Hungary …

  11. @wolfi. Is it irony, sarcasm, satire or neither? Is the author a pretended Fideszer, a real Fideszer, a pretended anti-Fideszer or a real anti-Fideszer? Don’t get paranoid about it because it doesn’t matter. Whether a statement taken at face value is worth answering depends on the statement not on the author.

  12. This is a very out of context and misleading article. And I am no fan of VO. If anyone actually lives around the ballet institute area they will know there are many houses including the ballet institute which have been sat on by investors (private equity) and left to rot with no upgrades. The intention is to wait for a buyer to flip the property to. I own a flat in one of those houses in the 6th and constantly am playing games of having monthly fees raised to ridiculous levels to force out poorer owners without anything being done on the house. The house at the corner of Bazy and Andrassy (opposite Costes) is going through this as well. And of course everyone’s favorite house with the scaffolding at Liszt Ference Ter and Andrassy.

    What VO said (and one can access the article at http://nol.hu/belfold/20130509-megkopott_palota.) was he wants a law created that forces investors to upgrade the buildings and not sit on them like what is happening with the ballet institute. If they do not perform upgrades they will get increasing fines until the state will force them to sell. these building will fall apart if they don’t

    When the ballet institute gets redeveloped it will kick off a whole refurbishing effort and real estate interest from Andrassy to Kiraly and Nagymezzo down. It will also positively influence the surrounding area around the opera house as well. That is jobs and money for the city and state. Also raises property value for owners and investors.

    As everyone says Budapest’s real draw for tourists are it’s classical houses which are unique in the world. And private equity companies are letting them rot as they do not want to perform capital upgrades only flip the asset or sell the land if condemned.

    I am so surprised that the author of this blog entry in the interest of attacking VO missed the big picture and did not give the overall context.

  13. Every time we go to Budapest I wonder about those dilapidated houses everywhere – I don’t understand why nothing is done in the way of repairs. Am I too stupid to understand the rationale behind this ?

    I bought an old house in the center of my home town in Germany (not too big: 3 stories, 2 flats and a shop on the ground floor) built “sometime in the 16th century” and had it repaired like many others did. The main points where:

    – There are strict rules from the city on what you can do.
    – The outside was not to be changed too much.
    – For example we had a lively discussion with the city officers on the new colour and the form and colour of the wooden window shutters … They had to conform to the “city ensemble” so I had the painter put different shutters and different patches of colour on and we stood there for some time discussing them – comparing them to the neighbouring houses …
    The important point follows:

    On the other hand:

    – I could deduct all the costs for the renovation (over 10 years) from my income which reduced my tax very effectively – of course I did the whole thing while I was still earning money, not as a pensioner. And of course I could ask a much higher rent – and people were willing to pay …

    Isn’t there something similar in Hungary ? This would help with the restoration of the city centers, not only in Budapest.

  14. Wolfi, the answer is very simple. The Hungarian centrally located buildings with the innner, open courtyards have big surfaces, outside and inside, to renovate. Add to that the problems with the roof etc. the costs of renovation of such a building is way beyond the collective funds of the people living there, many of them pensioners who have literally zero money to contribute.

  15. shrek: “If anyone actually lives around the ballet institute area they will know there are many houses including the ballet institute which have been sat on by investors (private equity) and left to rot with no upgrades. ”

    The most remarkable boarded up building is the CET Budapest building situated between the big market hall and the Danube. Its architectural design is far more interesting than eclecticism. Have a look:

    The CET - the most creative, but empty building in Budapest

    Why is it boarded up?

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