Ferenc Kumin again demands correction of a non-existent gross distortion

You may recall that, shortly after the formation of his cabinet, Viktor Orbán practically ordered Hungary’s ambassadors to respond immediately and forcefully to all unfounded criticism in their “local” media. I’m pretty sure that the foreign ministry also directed Hungarian ambassadors to perform this task, but Viktor Orbán, who has taken away more and more of the competence of the foreign minister and his diplomats, gave some of his own men the task of keeping an eye on the foreign media’s depiction of Hungary and the Hungarian government.

One such man is Ferenc Kumin, about whom I already wrote in connection with a documentary film shown on Swedish television. In this instance Hungarian interference on the ambassadorial level backfired. Since then at least two other television programs have dealt with problems in today’s Hungary. Moreover, Hungary was also the topic of a radio program broadcast on Sweden’s public radio station.

Kumin has quieted down somewhat since his inglorious encounter with Ágnes Heller and was satisfied with only a modest comment affixed to an article that appeared in Maclean’sthe foremost Canadian weekly, about Ákos Kertész, who recently received political asylum in Canada. The author of the article was Anna Porter, the well-known Canadian publicist, who wrote several books on Eastern Europe. What did Kumin object to this time? Interestingly, he didn’t try to deny the harassment of Ákos Kertész by the authorities and by people who were offended by his bitter criticism of his own people, the Hungarians, but concentrated instead on the following lines in Anna Porter’s article:

The far-right Jobbik party demanded that Kertész be stripped of his honours and distinctions; the prime minister agreed and promised a bill would come before parliament to deal with “such racist, anti-Hungarian, traitorous statements.”

According to Kumin,

The author has misquoted Prime Minister Orbán and distorted his comment about the proposed law. It’s simply incorrect to say that he “agreed and promised a bill would come before parliament to deal with ‘such racist, anti-Hungarian, traitorous statements.'” In fact, the prime minister was talking about when it is appropriate to respond to offensive, insulting statements and when it’s better to simply ignore them. He said, unfortunately, one has to handle statements that are often “ignoble, silly or racist” (“nemtelen, szamárság, rasszista”)…. Also, he said that when the parliament considers the law on state honors, it should debate whether it is a good idea to be able to withdraw such honors and, if so, on what conditions. A misquote as serious as this would ordinarily merit a correction.

Kumin gave a link to Viktor Orbán’s answer to a question addressed to him by Sándor Pörzse, a member of Jobbik, the Hungarian anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy party. But before I give the exact wording of the prime minister’s answer, I would like to recall a few events that preceded this exchange on October 24, 2011.

On September 10 the Fidesz caucus of the Budapest City Council proposed withdrawing Ákos Kertész’s “Freedom of the City” award because he called Hungarians genetically servile. A Jobbik member of the City Council agreed and further suggested that the President should consider taking away Kertész’s Kossuth Prize, which he received in 2008.  And indeed, “President Pál Schmitt requested that the government examine the possibility of withdrawing state awards from those who had become unworthy.” The Orbán government seemed to have supported the idea because János Halász, undersecretary in charge of cultural affairs in the Ministry of Human Resources, agreed: “If Kertész doesn’t apologize, the government won’t consider him to be worthy of the Kossuth Prize.” In plain language, they will take it away from him.

On September 21 Kertész was stripped of his “Freedom of the City” award by a vote of the Jobbik-Fidesz majority on the City Council. Three days later the Kertész affair got to the Hungarian parliament. It was on October 4 that Orbán rose and answered Jobbik’s Sándor Pörzse in connection with Kertész’s Kossuth Prize.

Orbán said:

We, right-wing Christian politicians, must get accustomed to ignoble, silly, racist comments which revile Hungarians and we must carefully choose when we pick up the gauntlet, when we hit back and when not…. As far as the concrete issue is concerned, clearly it makes one unhappy that a writer who received the Kossuth Prize entertains us with such stupidities. But there are worse cases than that. For example, Ernő Gerő is still on the rostrum of Kossuth Prize winners. This only shows that in the last twenty years we didn’t have enough steadfastness to scrutinize the law on state prizes and decorations and discuss the question in this House whether a prize already awarded can or cannot be withdrawn, and if it can be, under what circumstances its withdrawal is or is not desirable. Soon the law concerning prizes and decorations will be before the House when we hope we will have the opportunity to discuss soberly and  dispassionately, quite independently from racist stupidities that offend Hungarians, the whole question. 

Orban a parlamentben

But Kumin didn’t quote the rest of the exchange. Pörzse had an opportunity for a follow-up question, and he asked Orbán to take the initiative of stripping Ákos Kertész of his prize. He emphasized that he should take that “symbolic step.”

Orbán’s answer must have been soothing to the ears of the Jobbik MP. The prime minister stressed that the “solution” is not in his hands. “We will bring the bill here, we will discuss it, and the Hungarian government will follow” the law that is enacted. Galamus‘s headline read: “Orbán reassured Jobbik.”

You can decide whether or not Anna Porter grossly distorted Viktor Orbán’s comments. I don’t think so. I think she summarized Orbán’s statements on the subject quite accurately.


  1. Anybody dealing with the output of this Government of Liers, should be fully skeptical. Kumin is not in his position because he is less odious, but because he is better, or less obnoxious at being odious.

  2. This Orban speech was like the Harry Potter books, when they talk about Voldemort as “the name we don’t speak of”. He treaded very lightly – never connecting directly the bill with the actual event. But he did talk about “racist, anti-Hungarian, traitorous statements”. Porter simply connected the dots. We know it’s Voldemort. We are not stupid.

    They do this constant complaining about biased articles and documentaries in such an idiotic way that every time they do it, they actually emphasize the original statements. So Mr. Kumin! Keep up the good work!

    Here is the original Hungarian footage (courtesy of kuruc.info):

  3. Shame is piling up on Hungary. After the Gombos, Imredy….Rakosi, Gero, this regime is gambling away again all remaining reputation.

    Good achievement.

  4. “…this regime is gambling away again all remaining reputation.”

    What do they care about ‘reputation’? The Fidesz members are complicit in the robbery of 10 million citizens and a country. They are running amok in a land with out the rule of law.

  5. Attempting to correct one’s “bad portrayal” in the free press is a terribly wrong strategy. At best, nobody cares; at worst, it only brings the focus back where you wish it weren’t any more. Not to mention news people hate nitpicking…

    The only efficient way to counter the effects of bad press is getting good press on top of it. Obviously, this government’s PR team is doing an awful job. Yet another piece on Hungary in Le Monde this week-end, titled: “The Never Ending Yoke”…

  6. What a nice cosy place the Hungarian Parliament is. Jobbik ask a question, Orbán sympathises with them and promises legislation to sort things out.

    Government and ‘opposition’ working in perfect harmony. It’s almost like they’re the same party…

  7. A bit OT, and possibly already mentioned (I’ve not been able to spend much time on HS recently):

    Our wonderful Prime Minister, seeking to calm the unjustified fears of his right-wing, in case they vote for the far-right alternative (sound familiar?), has recently been stirring a storm in a teacup about EU citizens coming to the UK and living off ‘our’ benefits. He is proposing tougher measures to control this largely imaginary problem (which is already more than adequately controlled by existing legislation).

    When this was publicised by our right-wing media (i.e. nearly all our media), the EU Commissioner for Employment was quoted as saying that “Britain is ‘hysterical’ over immigration and risks becoming the ‘nasty’ country of Europe”. The EU Commissioner for Employment is of course László Andor.

    Whilst Andor is not a Fidesz puppet, and his comments are deserved, it struck me as somewhat ironic that a representative of Hungary, of all countries, should describe another country as being “nasty”. Perhaps he isn’t aware of how the rest of us see his country at the moment?

  8. This Orban speech… Here is the original Hungarian footage (courtesy of kuruc.info):

    It would be good if this were-re-transmitted, with English subtitles. In fact, if I were in the opposition in Hungary, it would be part of my electoral campaign to systematically translate daily snippets of Fidesz skulduggery and absurdity in video, subtitled in English, for international scrutiny. I know only Hungarian voters can save Hungary, but international awareness and support can help.

  9. Large hospital in Budapest.

    “Naturally”, there is no tissue or soap in the restrooms, tiles are broken.

    But there were two complete blackouts as well today. The second line of electricity has failed or does not exist – nobody could tell me.

  10. @tappanch:

    I also was astonished when my wife told me that in a Hungarian hospital you’re supposed to bring your own towels, toilet paper, soap and of course your own knife and fork – which you wash yourself in the washbasin …

    One of our neighbours will have an operation in Budapest next week – for an artificial knee joint she would have had to wait at least a year in the local hospital!

    So her daughter arranged for this (and pays a large sum …) but still she has to bring her own nightgown – for the operation! What about hygiene ???

    The neighbour (a woman in her 60s) just told my wife that her daughter at least has brought her a small bottle of dish liquid which she can use …

  11. tappanch :

    The mayoral election of Fot will be repeated as I predicted on the day of the election.

    Orban’s court does not permit opposition victory.


    I really didn’t think that there would be a repeat. But at least this is not about MSZP carrying voters by a mini-bus but about two sealed envelopes in which there were already filled out votes: one for a Fidesz and the other one for a Jobbik candidate.

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