Péter Szijjártó’s trip to Israel

I often wonder where Viktor Orbán manages to find the characters he surrounds himself with. A former auto repairman is apparently the brains behind the Fidesz propaganda machine. Another new star is a man who knows practically nothing about either economics or business practices but who expounds daily about the blessings of lower utility prices. A former pastry chef is the chief spokesman for the party. The auto repairman is practically invisible, but the others are very much in the limelight.

Stars come and go in the world of Fidesz. Orbán often has a sudden new favorite who catches his eye, and in no time this person finds himself in a very important position. The former favorite is unceremoniously dropped. The chief is, however, generous with those who fall from grace. An important position in some office or state company is normally awarded as a consolation prize.

It was perhaps the rise of Péter Szijjártó that was the most spectacular. At the age  of 20, straight out of high school, he became a member of the Győr City Council. A year later he established the local chapter of Fidelitas, the youth organization of the party. At the age of 23 he acquired a high position in the party hierarchy on the county level. During these years he also attended Corvinus University. Straight out of college he became the youngest member of the Hungarian Parliament in 2002.

After 2006 he was promoted to occupy the important position of Fidesz spokesman. He headed the “parrot commando,” as the Fidesz communication team was called by the party’s critics. He became Viktor Orbán’s voice since  Orbán himself rarely spoke or gave interviews in those days. Szijjártó also often acted on behalf of the party chairman. For example, he was entrusted with answering a letter from Gordon Bajnai to Viktor Orbán, inviting him to discuss the economic program he was planning to introduce after he agreed to serve as prime minister. It was a rude, impertinent response to Bajnai’s polite letter. I suggest you take a look at that exchange because it tells a lot about Szijjártó, Orbán, and Fidesz. The picture is not pretty.

Once Fidesz won the election, Szijjártó became a personal spokesman for Viktor Orbán. Szijjártó accompanied Orbán everywhere he went. You could see him in Brussels as well as in Moscow, sitting right next to the prime minister. Obviously, he proved to be indispensable as a kind of negotiating partner because in May 2012 at the age of 33 Szijjártó was basically entrusted with Hungary’s foreign policy and trade relations. Foreign Minister János Martonyi is a figurehead; Szijjártó, by contrast, seems to spend more time on airplanes than on the ground. He is in charge of Orbán’s pet project: the opening to the East.

It is hard to tell how successful he is at convincing Far Eastern, Central Asian, and Near Eastern countries to extend trade relations with Hungary. Lots of travel, lots of boasting, a great forecast but apparently the results are meager. His age (after all, he is by now in his mid-thirties) shouldn’t be an obstacle, but unfortunately he looks a great deal younger and doesn’t give the impression of a serious and knowledgeable man. He looks like a punk and I fear he is a punk.

szijjarto frizura

So, let’s see how Szijjártó operates on the ground. He just spent a couple of days in Israel where he gave an “exclusive” interview to The Jerusalem Post. It turns out that Szijjártó, in a meeting with Finance Minister Yair Lapid, “offered Israel access to Hungary’s 7 billion cubic meters of state-owned gas storage.” I assume he was talking about the storage the Hungarian government just bought way above market value from the German company E.on. And then came the usual boasting and exaggeration: “we could be a central European distribution hub for Israeli gas.” While at home the state-owned company just signed an agreement with Gazprom, Szijjártó in Israel complained about dependence on Russian gas which “means that we’re quite defenseless.”

While there, Szijjártó met with executives of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., including the recently ousted CEO of the company Jeremy Levin who was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Merit Award, one of the highest civilian awards in Hungary. Bad timing, I would say.

I am not sure why Szijjártó felt it necessary to inform the Israeli public and perhaps even the government that Hungary often goes against the policies of the European Union. For example, on the issue of nuclear energy. While the rest of Europe wants to lower or even exclude nuclear energy by 2020, Hungary is moving in an entirely different direction. Right now 43% of electricity comes from nuclear energy in Hungary, and the Orbán government wants it to be 60-70%. Thanks to Szijjártó’s “exclusive” interview, at last the Hungarian people and politicians could learn about Viktor Orbán’s plans, which he hadn’t bothered to share with anyone at home.

He also told the reporter that “while the EU pushed a platform of human rights and diversity, Hungary was forcefully embracing its Christian heritage.” I bet that made a real impression in Israel, especially when in Eastern Europe the largest Jewish community can be found in Hungary. It is not terribly difficult to come to the conclusion that if a nation forcefully defines itself as Christian, the non-Christians might not be considered part of that nation.

Before the rise of Szijjártó to his current position of roving ambassador, Orbán tried to impress China and Russia without much success. The emissary then was Tamás Fellegi, Viktor Orbán’s senior adviser in law school. At least Fellegi looked like a serious negotiator with academic credentials and business experience in the United States and in Hungary. But he failed miserably and was packed away in Washington to head a Hungarian government lobbying group. Then came the “wonder boy.”  I wonder how long he will last.

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30 comments

  1. Szijjarto of many talents: he’s the anthropological genius who had discovered the never-before-seen “boulevard katcsa”…thereafter a regular on the streets of Budapest.

    As well, Szijjarto, if my memory fails me not, was the go-between for the ever-so-delicate, and astute negotiations with the Azeris for the release of the Axe-Wielder.

    He’s a boy of many talants…

  2. Eva,
    Hungary might have the largest Jewish community in Central Europe but not in Europe (EU). If I am not mistaken, the largest Jewish community in Europe is in the UK (to the extent the UK considers itself part of Europe, but that’s another debate) followed by France and then Hungary, very far behind.

  3. When asked whether taking a strong stance against gay marriage might scare off the diversity that helps breed innovation, Szijjártó replied, “That problem hasn’t occurred. Hungarians are an open people and friendly to foreigners, so if someone wants to come and enjoy life they can.” So, I wonder why he didn’t mention that Jews can enjoy life in Hungary as well! Quite important in Israel isn’t it

  4. Some may remember that Szijjarto’s dad was the witness in a railway track cartel. He talked and therefore was exempted from the fines. Point is Peter Szijjarto did not just appear from nowhere, his dad’s company was a reliable Fidesz’ supporting construction company. I wonder how involved is he now in the railway reconstruction projects, of course all of them main contracted by Közgép? He must work for Közgép as subcontractor.

    http://hvg.hu/itthon/20110705_szijjarto_ceg_kartellezese_kapcsan_nem_te

  5. Attention, Folks.
    Átlátszó (Transparent) News:
    Hungary’s Secret Service has just ordered 20 (Twenty) spanking new extra-sharp heavy-duty blade Guillotines from North Korea. Mechanism pre-tested and approved for min. 20,000 uses. The equipment is estimated to last us through the middle of 2014 !

  6. Most newspapers think that Orban & Fidesz were unpleasantly surprised by the decision of the Kuria in favor of the banks over the debtors.

    I think otherwise. This was a play.

    First of all, the Fidesz-appointed head of the Kuria must have told Orban about the decisions of the court in advance.

    Orban knew that the court was about to make a decision when he called the court to make a decision quickly. As an election ruse, he called the court to make the popular decision in favor of the debtors. He knew that the court would make a decision favoring the banks.

    A decision favoring the debtors would have strengthened him for a few days only, but would have weakened the forint a great deal, causing further hardship to debtors and everyone, and eventually would have cost him lots of votes in April.

    So the court’s decision was the right one for Orban. He can declare a crusade against the court before the election, and partially overturn the decision by new legislation shortly before election day.

    He can also claim to his Western critiques that the courts are still independent in Hungary.
    See – they ruled against my wishes! – while in fact the court ruled in accordance to his wishes.

  7. Tappanch:

    you are spot on.

    Orban knew everything exactly about the upcoming decision and he was fine with it.

    The new head of the Kuria is a known Fidesz-loyalist. In addition, the best shopping pal of Orban’s wife is the co-head of the court system (Ms. Hando, wife of Mr. Szajer), but there are many other influential Fideszniks in the panel that took the decision and among their family members and among the services staff working at the Kuria.

    All the proposals for major decisions are routinely sent to Fidesz HQ immediately after their internal dissemination (as is the case at the Constitutional Court). There is no such thing as a surprise court verdict with Fidesz, this is bullshit, which only naive Western observers may believe.

    Fidesz’ top echelon is made up almost entirely of lawyers, many of their friends and family members have intimate connections to various levels of the court system, which was reorganized by Fidesz exactly to prevent unpleasant surprises.

    Orban has a firm control over the courts, but he is smart enough to wield his power in smart ways.

    He will save the FX-debtors, just in time for the elections. It will be another 50,000-100,000 votes.

  8. At the rate stuff is flying around, Fidesz is going to overtake the entire Castle District, fill in any missing ramparts, stuff them with TEK soldiers, change the Audis to Helicopters and fly their henchmen between the following THREE heliports: Castle, Parliament and yes, Margit Sziget! The latter will be overtaken to be the highly exclusive SPA for the Top Gvernemnt Functionaries and their Chosen Elite. Any material that canot be delivered electronically will be accomplished via quadri-motor drone mini-helicopters between the three sites.

    Parliament will be shunned and be used as a rubber-stamp entity and the consitution will provide only a Rubber-Stamp function. Rubber stamping gear to be imported from efficient bureaucratic Switzerland.

    CBA stores will have a unique outlet to supply high level functionaries in the castle with Caviar, Oranges etc while the average citizen will have “food imported!!!! (nyummie) from North Korea…

    Guillotines will be on a 24 hour functioning mode located at Moszkva Tér, to be renamed Hell’s Square.

    Andy Vajna will be recruited to do live filming of the Moszkva Tér Horrors and Arnold Schwarzenegger will be imported from the USA as the mighty ruler of a Moszkva to be renamed Hell’s Square for nothing less than a multi-Billion “gázsi” (remumeration) for his efforts.

    This Quite Transparent News supplied by Prediction Services, Hungary, Unlimited.

  9. OT — the House of Fates holocaust memorial (spearheaded by chief right-wing ideologue Maria Schmidt) is now under construction. According to plans, it will be ready by the April 2014 elections.

    Jews can be happy now, hopefully they will settle down and stop fighting against the Hungarian nation. I mean what more can Fidesz possibly do for them, right?

    Orban will have his very own holocaust place, so he will duly receive the anti-anti-semitic credentials.

    Probably it will be even more expensive than the current museum, so he can claim “he” spent even more than the lefties, so he is even more Jew-loving.

    Note the sarcasm.

    http://nol.hu/belfold/20131217-sorsok_haza__indul_az_epitkezes

  10. @Renata: That’s the plan, but let’s wait and see. If Schmidt uses a similar exhibition concept like in the House of Terror, there might be international outrage. Just to imagine what kind of narrative this woman will cook up from the central elements “children Holocaust victims” and “the good Hungarians who helped them” gives me the creeps. It will be kitsch galore, exculpating the Horthy state and society. And the name “House of Fates” is badly chosen. As a gesture to counter Kertész’ term “faithlessness” it implies that the Hungarian government now, in a big gesture, gives anonymous child victims their names and life stories back and retrospectively embraces them as part of the Nation (less controversial for cute children than for the grown-up victims of course). At the same time this name implies what was done to Holocaust victims was their “fate”, whereas their fate was taken from them by the perpetrators, the Hungarian authorities and parts of the majority population, see Péter György in Magyar Narancs. http://magyarnarancs.hu/publicisztika/gyorgy-peter-a-fekete-lyuk-86922

  11. qaz :
    Eva,
    Hungary might have the largest Jewish community in Central Europe but not in Europe (EU). If I am not mistaken, the largest Jewish community in Europe is in the UK (to the extent the UK considers itself part of Europe, but that’s another debate) followed by France and then Hungary, very far behind.

    As a matter of fact, only about 15.000 Hungarians are members in a Jewish community or in a Jewish cultural association. So those (whoever they are) who speak or write about 80.000 or 100.000 Jews in Hungary define probably Jews according to the last Hungarian racial law enacted if I remember well in 1941.

    I agree with György Konrád, who said, the money spent on this museum would be better spent to feed those children in Hungary who go hungry to bed. The souteneurs of Zsolt Bayer, Ferenc Szaniszló and the admirers of Nyirö, Tormay and Wass need such a museum to show to gullible foreigners that the postcommunist maffiastate is civilized.

  12. The rubber stamp parliament of Fidesz accepted 22 new laws this morning.
    The Fidesz law counter is at 844 now.

    Pokorni recommended a very minor modification in the textbook law – that there should be 3 books/(year and subject) to choose from.

    But the Fidesz zombies approved the original maximum 2 Fidesz-approved, published and printed textbooks.

    It seems to me that they did not even change the paragraphs I mentioned a few days ago that simply bans the Association of Textbook Entrepreneurs. It goes against lots of European principles, but we have learned by now that the EU is a toothless paper tiger.

    parlament .hu/irom39/13406/13406.pdf

    THey also modified the law about referendums. I do not think there will be any referendum held in the future that goes against Orban’s wishes.

    http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/03479/03479.pdf

  13. Karl Pfeifer: “I agree with György Konrád, who said, the money spent on this museum would be better spent to feed those children in Hungary who go hungry to bed. The souteneurs of Zsolt Bayer, Ferenc Szaniszló and the admirers of Nyirö, Tormay and Wass need such a museum to show to gullible foreigners that the postcommunist maffiastate is civilized.”

    The orbanitchniks must be afraid that the decent Hungary will rise up against their 2/3 mostly lies, 2/3 mostly full hatred, 2/3 destruction.

    Karl Pfeifer, Gyorgy Konrad, Akos Kertesz, Eva Balogh, Laszlo Bito must lift the veil from the manipulations of the shameful orban regime.

  14. Karl Pfeifer :

    As a matter of fact, only about 15.000 Hungarians are members in a Jewish community or in a Jewish cultural association. So those (whoever they are) who speak or write about 80.000 or 100.000 Jews in Hungary define probably Jews according to the last Hungarian racial law enacted if I remember well in 1941.
    The “80.000-100.000” range appears – unsubstantiated – on the Mazsihisz website, page “Magyar zsidó történelem”, fourth § from the bottom.

  15. Ooops sorry, tag mixup.

    Karl Pfeifer :
    As a matter of fact, only about 15.000 Hungarians are members in a Jewish community or in a Jewish cultural association. So those (whoever they are) who speak or write about 80.000 or 100.000 Jews in Hungary define probably Jews according to the last Hungarian racial law enacted if I remember well in 1941.

    The “80.000-100.000” range appears – unsubstantiated – on the Mazsihisz website, page “Magyar zsidó történelem”, fourth § from the bottom.

  16. Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :

    Karl Pfeifer :

    As a matter of fact, only about 15.000 Hungarians are members in a Jewish community or in a Jewish cultural association. So those (whoever they are) who speak or write about 80.000 or 100.000 Jews in Hungary define probably Jews according to the last Hungarian racial law enacted if I remember well in 1941.
    The “80.000-100.000″ range appears – unsubstantiated – on the Mazsihisz website, page “Magyar zsidó történelem”, fourth § from the bottom.

    Lat us take a friend of mine. In her extended family, there are 8 people together, who are all Jewish by the halakha.

    At the 2011 census, only one of them declared Jewish religion. Say, 2 or 3 feels any connection whatsoever, the rest are completely indifferent to and ignorant about their heritage.

  17. @Karl and Marcel
    grammatical & spelling correction:

    Let us take a friend of mine. In her extended family, there are 8 people together, who are all Jewish by the halakha.

    At the 2011 census, only one of them declared Jewish religion. Say, 2 or 3 feel any connection whatsoever, the rest are completely indifferent to and ignorant about their heritage.

  18. The government money offered for the 70th year anniversary of Holocaust, will be spent partially on people who promised to create “a more realistic and understanding picture of Hungary in the West”

    index. hu/belfold/2013/12/17/a_nyugati_sajtot_raknak_helyre_a_holokauszt_emlekev_penzen/

    Here is the list of winners, a lot of them from the neighboring countries:

    http://www.kormany.hu/download/8/90/21000/20131216%20-%20Civil%20Alap-2014%20El%C5%91terjeszt%C3%A9s%20lista%20mell%C3%A9klet.pdf

  19. Pusztaranger:

    Fidesz, like all Eastern-Europeans, only know kitsch. (Czechs, Polish, Slovaks and Slovenes are Central Europeans, they have tastes). It started with the new National Theatre, you have dozens of Trianon memorial installations all over Hungary, the kitschy reverence of the Holy Crown (remember when it was made to swim up and down the Danube), just to name a few such things and events, and indeed this new holocaust place will be another kitsch galore. We are as tasteful as the main squares of Skopje or Astana, and indeed we are closer to Balkans and the Caucasus than to Germany.

    Oh, by the way you have Tett and Védelem, a Fidesz-supporting Jewish organization, they will OK the project, don’t worry. Fidesz will know how to deal with these guys, as a starter they got 26 million HUF for some very well-defined project: “Program for social remembrance: video project.”

    And the whole Jewish community just received a sweetener worth 1.5 bn HUF, exact timing: just before the elections. Believe me, the House of Fate will be rubber-stamped and loved. It’s money and power and Fidesz knows how to manage those. It is not like Jewish Hungarians are immune to money, I am afraid, I can even venture that a part of it is like the same kind of ento-business as with the Roma National Self Governance, politically incorrect this is to say.

    http://www.kormany.hu/download/8/90/21000/20131216%20-%20Civil%20Alap-2014%20El%C5%91terjeszt%C3%A9s%20lista%20mell%C3%A9klet.pdf

  20. Yet another excellent post, Eva.

    But he’s not a punk. He doesn’t have an iota of the intellect, emotion, articulacy or ultimate compassion (mixed with righteous anger) of either a John Lydon or a Joe Strummer. Appearances may be deceiving. (And he’s pretty right-wing, natch)

  21. Perfect … though, sadly, he does seem to be quite “experienced” now, in the higher echelons of power. When he speaks, or smiles, the word “smug” often springs to mind.

  22. Renata :
    Probably it will be even more expensive than the current museum, so he can claim “he” spent even more than the lefties

    There’s only a minor problem with that train of thought. To wit, the “current museum,” the one in Páva utca, was also founded by an Orbán administration. The first one, back in 2002.

    Karl Pfeifer
    As a matter of fact, only about 15.000 Hungarians are members in a Jewish community or in a Jewish cultural association. So those (whoever they are) who speak or write about 80.000 or 100.000 Jews in Hungary define probably Jews according to the last Hungarian racial law enacted if I remember well in 1941.

    Yep. Either that or the Halacha. At any rate, the myth that “Hungary has an exceptionally large Jewish population” seems to be one of the few common beliefs shared by Nazis and (a surprisingly high number of) Liberals…

  23. I posted here on
    August 20, 2011 at 4:48 am

    “That reminds me of an encounter I had in Brussels on 24 June 2002 with Péter Szijjártó, now Orbán’s spokesman and then the youngest Hungarian MP. We were chatting amically, as I had told him I joined Fidesz as early as May 1988. (What I did not tell him was that this relationship of mine did not last after 1993 at the latest.)
    This was two months after Fidesz lost the elections. And why did they lose? Well, one of the foremost reasons for this was, Szijjártó told me quite in earnest, all those Jews that had been flown in on charter flights from Israel in order to vote. There was clearly a risk of Tel-Aviv dictating in Budapest.
    First I was not sure if Szijjártó was joking, but I could tell by his expression that he was not. But at that time I was not ready to believe that such bullshit would become not only acceptable, but mainstream in Hungary quite soon.”

  24. @ pistike651st

    Planes, trains, and automobiles–obviously, you can plane in more people than Bekemenet
    can transport on the ground…Yeah!

    What is frightening is that the ruling junta have such a firm grip on power that they can say
    such mentally-challenged hogwash without a moment’s reflection. Now, outside of their
    own narrow self-interest, what mental capacity could these people like Szijjarto have to dwell on the welfare of the populace?

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