A show trial in Orbán’s Hungary

Today, inspired by an anonymous piece of writing entitled “A kémügy” (The spy affair) that appeared online on September 16, I will revisit a case I have written about extensively in the past. In July there was a show trial in the military court of Debrecen where the accused were a former minister and two high officials in the Hungarian National Security office.  We will not know details of the trial or even the charges brought against these men for a very long time because the transcript of the trial and the material gathered by the prosecution will not be made public until 2041. Moreover, a gag order was imposed on the defendants. If they reveal anything whatsoever related to the case they will be charged with divulging “state secrets,” which may mean another trial and another sentence.

The last time a cabinet minister and high-ranking officials were accused and convicted of espionage in Hungary was during the Rákosi period. In 1949 László Rajk, minister of the interior, and several high-ranking army officers were accused of spying, found guilty, and executed. The charges were, of course, trumped up. Times have changed, at least in the sense that Viktor Orbán’s political enemies can no longer be physically eliminated. But even on trumped-up charges they can end up in jail for a few years, their lives ruined.

The defendants in this case were György Szilvásy, minister in charge of national security in the Gyurcsány administration, Lajos Galambos, head of the National Security Office, and Sándor Laborc, Galambos’s successor. The court procedures were conducted in the Debrecen military court instead of in a Budapest civilian court.

As I said, I have written a lot about this case, and I suggest that those who are interested in this trial should read some of the older entries. My first post on the subject appeared on July 2, 2011, with the title “More and more arrests, most likely on phony charges,” which was followed by two more in the same month, one of which I entitled “The case against György Szilvásy and the national security chiefs might be of historic importance.” I borrowed that title from Gábor Török, a political scientist, who argued at the time that if the charges turn out to be unfounded “the present government majority can’t escape political responsibility.” In a democracy, said Török, “no political power can use means that are considered to be illegitimate.” Török suspected that someone did use such means and warned that “it will be a black day for Hungarian democracy when we find out who he was.”

Reading this old blog post of Gábor Török from 2011, we can now understand Viktor Orbán’s fury, described by the author of “A kémügy,” when he found out that despite the assurances of Chief Prosecutor Peter Polt the prosecutors’ case against Szilvásy was so weak that a military judge named Béla Varga refused to initiate proceedings against Szilvásy. Poor Varga didn’t remain a military judge for long. In fact, he is currently under criminal investigation. But after Varga’s ruling Orbán realized that “his political career is at stake” and that this “mistake” must be corrected somehow. And the situation for Orbán didn’t look good. The prosecutors appealed and the appellate court agreed with the lower court.

It was at that junction, claims our author, that there was a meeting of Fidesz leaders, high officials of the Ministry of Interior, and top prosecutors. Fidesz leaders made it clear that the “problem” must be solved. A guilty verdict must be delivered, at least in the first instance. The burden eventually fell on the minister of the interior, Sándor Pintér, who just a bit earlier had received supervisory rights over a new national security organization called Nemzeti Védelmi Szolgálat (National Security Service). He managed to get bits and pieces of information from Laborc’s successor, László Balajti, about some of the cases Galambos and Laborc handled.

Since I already wrote rather extensively about the case, I will not dwell on the details. It is enough to say that Galambos hired an outside firm owned by a person whose father studied in the Soviet Union and whose mother was Russian to conduct lie detector tests on some of the people whom he suspected of being spies for Fidesz within his own office. That became the wedge used to build a case against these three men. The prosecutors concentrated on Galambos with the idea of breaking him. Initially, however, they were not successful and again the investigative judge released him from custody. Again, the prosecutors appealed the ruling and in the second instance the investigative judge sent Galambos back to  jail. But although Galambos was often quite incoherent, he did not accuse his minister of espionage.

It was at that point that Sándor Pintér’s new National Defense Service took over the investigation because the politician was worried that nothing would come of this not so well constructed phony case. But by law the National Defense Service is not allowed to engage in investigative operations. So, illegally the officials of the Service visited Galambos in jail and asked for his cooperation. Galambos could easily be coerced because he had another court case hanging over his head. They promised that if he cooperates they will drop the charges in the other case. By that time Galambos was in such bad psychological shape that overnight the prison guards checked on him every fifteen minutes. But still no tangible evidence came to light that would implicate György Szilvásy. Eventually, they asked Galambos whether they could “summarize” his testimony.

According to the document, Szilvásy, with the knowledge of Ferenc Gyurcsány, served Russian interests. He tried to pass MOL. the Hungarian oil company, into Russian hands and Szilvásy allegedly had something to do with the collapse of Malév, the Hungarian airline company. The lie detector tests were necessary to prevent leaks because the Russians wanted to be sure that no one learns the details of the planned Southern Stream gas pipeline. The anonymous author reminds us that these accusations are practically the same that Fidesz leveled against the Gyurcsány government. Mind you, even here the officers of the National Defense Service were sloppy. At the time that all these dastardly deeds were allegedly committed, in 2006 and early 2007, there were no talks about Hungary’s involvement in the Southern Stream project.

This so-called testimony, the linchpin of the whole case, wasn’t included with the other pieces of evidence because in that case the defense would have been able to read it before the trial. In which case they would have been able to deny the charges in writing. Moreover, evidence obtained illegally cannot be used in the investigative phase. On the other hand, the judges would most likely accept it as evidence because they were more interested in its content than the way in which it was obtained. So, the decision was made that during Galambos’s trial, Galambos himself would ask for the “summary.” Naturally, neither Szilvásy nor Laborc was present and therefore they had no way of knowing what Galambos’s testimony was all about. Therefore they couldn’t possibly mount a defense against it.

Galambos had to be found guilty because otherwise Szilvásy couldn’t have been charged with abetment and Laborc with complicity. Galambos and Szilvásy each received jail sentences of two years and ten months, Sándor Laborc a suspended sentence of one year.

This is what we can glean from this anonymous document. How much of it is true we cannot know now and perhaps never will. But espionage is certainly a very serious offense. According to ¶261§(1) of the Hungarian Criminal Code, someone who gathers intelligence for a foreign power will receive a sentence of from two to eight years. ¶261§(2) states that if the information passed to a foreign power happens to be top-secret then the sentence will be harsher, between five and fifteen years. Considering that Galambos received only two years and ten months, the alleged evidence was most likely very flimsy.

If political motivation played a role and the prosecutors, the military judges, the ministry of interiors actually conspired to send György Szilvásy to jail just because of his role in unveiling Fidesz politicians’ illegal spying on the National Security Office, then Orbán’s Hungary is no longer a country that respects the rule of law. A friend of mine made an observation that I think is absolutely brilliant.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis / wikimedia.org

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis / wikimedia.org

In classic show trials the victims were forced to cooperate and in a spectacular public trial they admitted their guilt. Once the authorities got what they wanted, the judges could announce the verdict and the victims naturally were found guilty. But what happens when the accused refuse to admit guilt as these three men did? How do the authorities manage to send them to jail? The Orbán government came up with the perfect solution. They made everything about this trial secret, including the exact nature of the charges. The persons involved are bound by a gag order. The victims cannot even deny their guilt in public. Thus we will never know what they were charged with and why they were found guilty. This is, my friend says, worse than the classic show trials. I tend to agree with him.


  1. My business partners were similar in their greed to Orban.
    Anyway the great spy story must be related to Al Qaeda, which has destroyed some valuable targets of Turul empire..

  2. An interesting factoid in connection with the Egy-másért story, which is connected to the main story. The whole tax evasion/duty evasion of Egy-másért Foundation was because the processed food items ended up at CBA.

    Yes, that CBA, the government favored and Fidesz-supporting grocery retail chain. And of course everybody knows that CBA is open to any kind of shenanigans with food stuffs, like backdating best before deadlines or repackaging stuff under an international label. For whatever reason, though, CBA’s role in this scheme was never really investigated.

    And as an interesting coincidence someone told me that some top person at CBA told him that he (ie, the top guy at CBA) used to work with the intelligence — which then neatly ties in with the connection to Egy-másért, which was a kind of front organization for the intelligence anyway.

  3. An :
    I would like to add that this is going on in the middle of the EU. And Orban can get away with it.

    Exactly. What a shame that a country can so easily swindle itself into the EU, pretending it is much more advanced than its peers. I suggest to transfer the country back to the Etelköz, and in particular the individuals who are the ones actively doing what is so nicely hidden in passive voice sentences:
    “Poor Varga didn’t remain a military judge for long. In fact, he is currently under criminal investigation.”
    “It was at that point that Sándor Pintér’s new National Defense Service took over the investigation”
    ” Orbán’s Hungary is no longer a country that respects the rule of law”.

  4. Wow! The Hungarian text seems to have come from a source “in the know”.

    The Fidesz is holding its party congress today. The only candidate they can vote for chairman is Orban.

    Live report:

    Vice chairman Kövér: The [democratic] opposition parties are those who “sell out the country, accumulate debt, turn Hungarians against each other, lie in the morning, at night and in the evening, who trump up charges against their opponents to besmirch their victims. and create mass hysteria”

    I really think this description characterizes Fidesz precisely.


  5. As much as I know about the workings of the state organizations I have no doubts about the veracity of the Spy Affair story.

    The only uncertain point is the call between Polt and Orbán, which sounds very much like the first sentences of any American non-fiction book, which are supposed to establish the insider credentials/great scoop-getting capabilities of the author.

    I am not sure that the author could possibly have had access to the metadata of the call, although the author could well have heard from the more junior/mid-level prosecutors actually working on the case that their direct boss (Polt’s direct subordinate) told them that Polt personally told him (Polt’s subordinate) that he (Polt) talked with Him and got direct orders. But even this point to my ears sounds more likely than not, and I buy the rest.

    I also wonder whether Galambos’s break was a result of his attorney, at least to a certain extent. In such rare and sensitive matter one would expect that a defendant either wanted to hire a top defense lawyer or a lawyer with connections to the intelligence services. UD Zrt.’s hire of György Bakondi comes to mind (for the avoidance of doubt he isn’t a top defense lawyers). As far as I see the defense attorney of Galambos is not a top defense bar lawyer so I have to assume that he was chosen because of the sensitivity of the issue, ie. he had connections to the services. As such, he probably lacked appropriate defense experience and might have been amenable to the persuasion of the prosecution (combined with Bolcsik’s apparatus). But the bottom line is how easily a supposedly professional broke down, one would have though a top officer is tougher. Of course you never know.

    Although I don’t want to derail the post’s main argument, I can’t help but to raise the timely irony of it. Given the classified nature of the whole Szilvásy court procedure, the content of the Spy Affair blog post had to have been made public via a breach of criminal law, ie, breach of state secrets. I agree that the whole story shows gross abuse on the parts of the involved state organizations and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice. Still, the law is law and the story was made public by breaching a criminal statute.

    Now, we know that the Obama Administration has so far prosecuted twice as many whistleblowers, otherwise known as sources to journalists who would write about abuses of power, than all previous administrations in history combined. Despite contrary statements, by the most reprehensible of legal theories journalists are targeted as co-conspirators of spying, if not syping per se (both punishable by death by lethal injection) and, no kidding, environmental activists are routinely charged under terrorism statutes, which also carry the death penalty. And the press behaves, see Sy Hersh’s interview yesterday in Guardian.

    The point I am making is that in Hungary, and in Europe, these miscarriages have no real consequence. You might get two years, or three years suspended, which combined with the ordeal of it all are a terrible burden. It is true. See for example the UD Zrt. criminal procedure which is waged against the victims, which just started over. But in the US you will easily get 35 years and the court and the prosecution were extremely generous not to seek the death penalty (the prosecutors usually propose something like 60-70 years to anchor the sentencing), plus a financial bankruptcy for the whole family given the legal costs. Or as Aaron Schwarz found out, he was threatened with 30 years for a victimless crime in which his former girlfriend was broken and used in a stomach churning turn of events as a willing witness to the prosecution.

    It seems to me that the insatiable appetite of the state for victims is not unique to Hungary. The message is clear, however, to everyone. Dissent (or insubordination if you want to be a bit more serious) these days, is not tolerated and is dangerous. Szilvásy and Laborc understood that cutting the communications line from within the intelligence services to Fidesz had consequences and Fidesz always makes good on its threats. It is a credibility issue, because people will only fear you if they know that the consequences are inevitable, automatic. I just hope the reporting from out there continues because it is a fascinating and in an odd way inspiring story.

  6. So in a way we have not progressed from the old times where any subordination against the king was punishable by death – or worse, like rotting in a rat infested castle cellar for many years and being tortured …

    Guantanamo isn’t much better than that and who knows what other facilities exist somewhere.

    The powers that be (whether US, UK or the little Balkan states like Hungary or Serbia …) do as they like – democracy and justice are empty words spoken loudly to the stupid sheep.

    And anyway a large minority (or even majority ?) doesn’t believe that democracy is better than having a strong leader – sometimes I wonder whether humans are really worth surviving as a species.

    Still it’s better to live in the “Developed Western Civilisation” than in most Asian or African countries – most people don’t want more than “panem et circenses” aka tv and mobile phones …

    A bit OT:

    Since my wife has some eye problems she’s not allowed by the doc to read as much as she would like and so we’ve been trying to find good programs on Hungarian tv – we have so many channels but most of them are filled with the crappiest US films and tv series, it’s unbelievable!

    So usually we resort to channels like Nat Geographic or the equivalent German ones, rarely do we watch a film …

  7. Ah, András Gálszécsy (probably the biggest apologetic for the Hungarian intelligence services, including the communist era snitches reporting on family members), says that the second instance court may change the characterization of the crime from espionage to treason, which, unlike espionage, is punishable by a life sentence. Well, this is indeed a legal possibility and the appeal will be heard by yet another Debrecen court. By the way, Debrecen is an arch-conservative town of about 200,000 citizens, where needless to say all private practice lawyers, prosecutors, judges know each other intimately.

    I would love to read the story of how A. Gálszécsy got to be the perennial, old gentleman apologetic of the services.

    Anyway, the story is not about the crimes committed, it indeed sounds strange to invite Russian experts to review Hungarian personnel, but whether any acts could have conceivably been committed by or attributable to Laborc or Szilvásy and whether the courts and prosecution acted in accordance with law?

  8. @Kirsten: “Exactly. What a shame that a country can so easily swindle itself into the EU, pretending it is much more advanced than its peers.”

    Hungary was not pretending anything. It was pretty much an open book in 2004.

  9. tappanch :
    Wow! The Hungarian text seems to have come from a source “in the know”.
    The Fidesz is holding its party congress today. The only candidate they can vote for chairman is Orban.

  10. You admit you do not know anything about the trial or the charges but you think you know it is a show trial.
    Isn’t that a little bit of a contradiction?

  11. Pokorni, the moderate compared the Fidesz with the Romans in the movie “Life of Brian”.

    I disagree with him: Fidesz has not forced anything good on Hungary (and perhaps the Roman were not as funny in Judea either, contrary to the comedy).

    But I can bring a true analogy from the same movie: the opposition is as fragmented as the various small Jewish resistance groups were there.

  12. So Pokorni basically implied that although the Fidesz [the Romans] are like an occupying force in Hungary [Judea], but they brought good things to the Hungarians.

    He listed:
    1. cuts in the utility bills [why can’t I see those cuts in my bills ? collapse of
    infrastructure after nationalization?].

    2. decreasing inflation [ are you kidding? what about food prices? deflationary world!]

    3. support to families [support to well-to-do families mainly, like the Fidesz bosses]

    4. integration of ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries [apart from election fraud, what else? Romanian nationalists would be happy if Fidesz caused mass immigration to Hungary]

  13. Sir Johnny Stalin – thank you for adding some confusion to the glory of FIDESZ.
    Are you curious about the background of trials order by the Dear Vezeer?

    We should sing again: We do not like this regime….by Dorottya Karsay:

  14. An, there was a referendum about whether to join the EU or not, at the terms agreed in the accession negotiations. Hungary, and specifically those citizens voting in favour of the agreement, stated that it will not only respect but also promote democratic principles. It will even participate actively in the European integration process, e.g. through providing people who could run European institutions in a democratic manner. So what exactly was so clear, that people who voted in 2003 in favour of joining the EU will quickly find out that they actually find the EU oppressive and their own autocrat and medieval life irresistible?

  15. tappanch :
    Will Hungary default after the election in 2014?
    Expiring long-term (more than a year) Hungarian debt in billions of euros, as of June 30, 2013:
    2013: 5.3
    2014: 13.5
    2015: 7.7
    2016: 9.9
    2017: 8.9
    2018: 5.0

    I’m afraid we we will not default.

    It doesn’t matter how much you owe. You can go easily above 100 % of GDP (my mortgage is more than two times of our yearly after tax income). What matters is your ability to pay. So if you are an iron fisted dictatorship that will beat out the payments from the people no matter what the investors still will buy your bonds. Unfortunately the Hungarians are starving but the economy is still predictable and its a long way until we max out our credit cards.


    The ongoing Fidesz gathering elected a new party president. It was a real nail biter, knowing that Mr Orban was the only name on the ballot.

    And get a load of this! From the 1241 delegates, one brave soul DID NOT VOTE FOR THE FÜHRER!! Who is this national hero? I’d like to meet him or her and contribute to his or her legal expenses if needed …

  17. @Mutt

    We do not know the future. The Hungarian government will have to borrow a record amount of money in 2014 – that we know. (about 30% more than in 2013 – the 5.3 refers to the second half of 2013 only).

    THe probability of default, as measured by the 5-year CDS is at 18.5%, slightly above the 17.1% when Orban took power. (It reached 40% in January 2012).

  18. Mutt, perhaps it was OV, he is such a humble man… Or just one of the delegates was so illiterate that he could not even play the envelope system. In any case, 1 relative to 1240 people, the latter number impresses me more. What an elite.

  19. @Kirsten:Huh… I think the EU was living in a pink cloud when they thought that it will be all dandy in Eastern Europe. And they haven’t even learned… now there are having the negotiations for accession with Ukraine… with the country’s excellent record of respect for democracy.

  20. An, who are ‘they’ in this respect. It makes sense to identify those who act and decide and those who create the necessary support (directly and indirectly), and not to think in some abstract or general terms. Applies equally to ‘Europe’ and Hungary. To say in 2003 that the East is not ready for joining the EU, which quite a number of Western Europeans thought and said at that time, was considered arrogant and selfish. Instead, the arguments of those who were in favour of enlargement despite obvious deficiencies, at that time located mainly in Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania, was that it will strengthen the positions of those who work hard to maintain and improve the new, democratic, lawful regimes. It was indeed believed that such people exist (and I believe that still, even in Hungary). That the Western countries should provide these democracies and functioning public spheres, perhaps through technical assistance programmes, above all against the will of the population (manifested for instance in willingness to participate in such an effort) has not been part of any deal. So ‘they’ are still paying for this great present of Eastern enlargement, have to cope with this wonderful group of people supplied by these countries, such as Kaczynski, Klaus, Zeman, Fico, Orban, you name them, and in the end it is ‘them’ also who are responsible for it? Quite self-serving argument.
    And by the way, this ‘they’ that you wrote, includes Hungary.

  21. Now that I wrote it, technical assistance programmes actually existed in many spheres but not assistance in mass political education or in assisting in running the state or cleaning the state or society from corruption.

  22. Kirsten, this is not and all or nothing arguments. It’s not that either the Hungarian people are to blame OR the EU. What I am saying, they both have responsibility in the situation becoming what it is right now. I have no problem acknowledging the Hungarian people’s responsibility in this; in supporting a political leadership whose idea of democracy is very distorted, to say the least. In fact, obviously, Hungarians bear the primary responsibility for this. But the EU should also acknowledge it owns part… its naivety, as to not thinking of possible democracy deficit issues cropping up in the East, and its inability to do anything about the situation when they do crop up. As an EU citizen, I think that what’s going on in Hungary doesn’t look good on the EU either. Or does it? Kirsten, you live in a political union of countries where show trials can and do take place. How does that reflect on the EU? And by “they”, I meant the elected officials and leaders of the union.

  23. tappanch :

    Stevan Harnad :
    Couldn’t one of them just seek asylum in Strasbourg and tell all?

    THey should seek asylum in Iceland.

    The point is not really the asylum or its locus but the “tell all.” — Otherwise this dirty little secret is safely muzzled for a quarter century, well into VO’s serene dotage.

  24. Hi Eva,
    I found this piece fascinating. Thanks. Am I understanding you right – you use ‘National Protective Service’ and ‘National Defence Service’ to refer to the same organisation – the NVSZ?

    I’d also find it really helpful if you could explain what the National Security Office was – was it a police department with a similar function to the NVSZ? From your article it sounds as thought it might have been the disbanded precursor of the NCSZ. Is this correct?

  25. This is a really strange case and an unbelievable procedure by the Fidesz court. Before JohnnyB barged in I played with the idea of correcting Eva – calling the whole affair a “No Show Trial” …
    Of course JB is right in a way: We can only speculate since we are not supposed to know anything about this – in principle even knowing that there was a trial might be a punishable crime, just like in the Stalin or Hitler areas!

    If it weren’t so sad (or rather outrageous …) it would be really funny – and it’s a good base for all kind of conspiracy theories (or constipation theories as I like to call them).

    You can either evoke Kafka or North Korea – both environments might apply …


    Have you read about the court’s decision that Lázár has the right to call the OTP boss “Hungary’s usurer No1” ?

    Now that will give us the right to call Orbàn and his henchmen anything like mafia, Satan worsippers, paedophiles, etc with impunity ???

  26. An, what I am trying to say is that the EU should be seen as what it is and not as some abstract structure that will easily solve problems of its member states. I do not only live in a political union where “show trials” are being staged and European principles ridiculed (Hungary), but also with corruption on large scale (many member states), state ineffectiveness (Greece), clashes including violent between “Catholics” and “Protestants” (Northern Ireland) and so forth. This is no new information. But why is it so difficult to understand that to change this requires that the EU citizens must be willing (and able) to do something about it?

    You are speaking of “officials” and “leaders” of the EU. To a substantial extent these are located in the member states:
    I especially recommend to look into the role of the heads of government – totally domestically determined. (There where these great leaders that I named above are chosen as best representation of the political interests of the countries.)
    The heads of government have a very substantial role in the EU, claiming this is beneficial to the decision making process. And that although it has often been identified as not too democratic. Ask the EU electorate whether they would like instead being governed by a European government responsible to the EP. This gain in “democracy” is typically not considered to be more important than the loss in national “sovereignty”.

    So it is the electorate, that by electing people into the EP but also the national parliaments also chooses the leaders of the EU. This argument is not different from what applies to Hungary currently, how should some force from outside be able to achieve change (in addition: not violently) if the broad public refuses to either consider the problem or even actively works against such change, e.g. through insisting on “national sovereignty” (EU member states as well as Hungary currently) or a return to “traditional” modes of government?

    This document might of interest for you, it is “EU speak” but it is a document that contains some ideas about “what has been learned from earlier enlargement rounds”:

    Click to access strategy_paper_2012_en.pdf

  27. @Kirsten: “I do not only live in a political union where “show trials” are being staged and European principles ridiculed (Hungary), but also with corruption on large scale (many member states), state ineffectiveness (Greece), clashes including violent between “Catholics” and “Protestants” (Northern Ireland) and so forth. ”

    As unfortunate it is that there is widespread corruption in member states, or that there are ethnic or religious conflicts… these issue can and should be resolved under democratic governance. Lack of democracy cannot be resolved under democratic governance (because it is the lack of democratic governance that is the actual problem). It is a different and this more serious issue, as it undermines the fundamental principles on which the EU operates.

    With what is going in in Hungary, I am not a proud citizen of the country. But I am also not a proud citizen of the EU if democratic principles can be bypassed in member states without any consequences on the state’s membership. How far this can go? Is it OK to kill political opponents in member states, too, if the local electorate is OK with it? Where do you draw the line?

    I am trying to make you uncomfortable with this issue, Kirsten, so that you, as an EU citizen, and all EU citizens, if the “Hungarian question” comes up again in the EU parliament, give their support for decisive measures. I’d like you, and other EU citizens, put some pressure on your EU representatives, to treat the issues in Hungary according to their weight. Because Hungary may be “uncivilized”, or “pretended” to be more “western” than it is, or may not be in your backyard, what happens in Hungary, does reflect on the EU, an on its citizens as well.

  28. Pol.hu just published a piece on Orbán’s speech after his reelection – I’m anxiously wating for reactions. Just a snippet:

    ” Everyone will join forces against Hungary, including “he soft-spoken bankers, the greedy multinationals, and the Brussels bureaucrats who serve them plus their Hungarians servants …”

    Will there be a new level for Fidesz’s anti-EU course ?

  29. An, I admit I did not feel so far to be in need of agitation in this respect but I understand, one has to start somewhere. So, I can assure you that I do not feel “comfortable” with this state of affairs, neither in Hungary nor in the EU. I try to be up to date in what happens in Hungary. Admittedly, I do not consider being proud or ashamed of a citizenship a pragmatic or constructive approach. I am more interested in understanding why some things happen, why they cannot be changed easily (what makes people cling to bad habits, so to speak), and how change can (with constant effort) be achieved. (Which is why I repeat even banal things quite frequently.)

    What I believe to be of the biggest problems with the current EU is that people have expectations about how the EU acts or should act that bear nearly no relation to the actual functioning of the project. I hear of people that are “disappointed” by the EU on a daily basis (Germans surprised about how such thing as “Hungary” can occur within the EU, but many other problems also, “saving” other nations, lobbying for big business…). When I ask what they suggest to do with it, it not too seldom turns out that there is very limited knowledge about the nature of the EU, and particularly about this hybrid structure of very tight integration in some respects and nearly no integration in other respects, while many people feel uneasy with the transfer of responsibilities to “Brussels”. (“We Europeans are too different, integration cannot work.”) When I ask whether they actually voted in European elections and demanded specific European policies from their representatives, you can guess from the turnout how often I hear that they did. In that regard I think that I do try to contribute in a small way.

    But in one thing I must disappoint you. The other examples that I wrote are similarly important as Hungary. A country in which the state structures have turned out so weak that in a crisis that hit the country in a similar manner as other countries government has close to collapsed and extremist movements are gaining ground (I am speaking of Greece) can be considered at least equally important as Hungary. This holds true all the more as we hear from Hungary that many people not only respect their government but also still find it “not bad” and will even vote for it – in an envelope system or not – again next year. To have religious conflicts of the sort of Northern Ireland that have not been solved through “democratic” approaches, is equally troubling as anti-semitic hate speech in Hungary. To have corrupt politicians in a number of countries coupled with a teethless judiciary is endangering democracy not only in Hungary. And so forth. I acknowledge that more is currently being done for countries within the euro area – but it is forced on the countries and difficult to relate to “democratic decision making” as well. And that problem – that you cannot force democracy on people in a dictatorial manner – should be accepted as such. There is no solution to it other than making people interested in democracy to the extent that they demand changes themselves (and then support it from outside), otherwise it is just another sort of dictate, as OV is also not tired of reminding us.

    So, I will continue to make people feel “uncomfortable” about Hungary and the limited EU reaction to it, but you could equally try in addition to agitating EU citizens other than Hungarians to make your fellow citizens uncomfortable about their passive acceptance of Orbans’ revolution.

  30. @Kirsten: I am very aware of the need to make Hungarians uncomfortable about the current situation. As I said, it is not an “either or” dilemma. I’m not calling on the EU to solve Hungary’s problem. Or to convert Hungarians into democratic minded responsible citizens, or to force democracy onto them… only Hungarians can bring about change in such matters. But I’m calling on the EU to stand up for its core value, democracy.

    I still think that the issues of democracy in Hungary is more fundamental than the other issues you brought up. More fundamental does not necessary mean more important in a practical sense.Corruption that leads to a collapse of an economy can cause very serious problems EU wide. But more fundamental means what it means…it means it cannot be ignored unless we deem that the declared principal values the EU is based on (democracy) are only secondary considerations in the everyday functioning of the union.

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