A brief history of the subcarpathian region of Ukraine; Kim Scheppele’s “Hungary, An Election in Question, Part 4″

Way back I wrote an M.A. thesis in Russian and East European Studies at Yale University on the nationality problems of the revolutions of 1918-1919. Therefore I spent quite a bit of time studying the area of Subcarpathia which today belongs to Ukraine. Since there is so much talk about the region nowadays, I thought you might be interested in the area’s modern history.

According to the official statistics of 1910, there were almost 500,000 Ruthenians living in Hungary, scattered in several counties which today belong to Ukraine and Slovakia. The languages spoken in the area were dialects of Ukrainian, called lemko, boiko, and hutsul. The indigenous population called itself Rusyn. According to the same statistics, at that time there were only 542 persons whose mother tongue was Ruthenian in all of Hungary practicing “intellectual professions.” Most of them were actually Greek Catholic priests. Only 1,264 Ruthenians lived in towns, and only 50.8% of them above the age of six were literate. So, we are speaking of a very backward area.

The Károlyi regime (1918-1919) belatedly tried to appease the nationalities and Oszkár Jászi, who was an expert on the nationality question, began negotiations with several nationalities, including the Ruthenians. As a result, the Ruthenians were granted territorial autonomy under the name of Ruszka Krajna. It was on December 25, 1918 that Ruszka Krajna officially became an autonomous region within Hungary with its own parliament (seim) chosen on the basis of universal suffrage with the capital in Mukachevo (Munkács).The seim was granted autonomy in matters of language, religion, education, and justice. In addition, there was a separate ministry dealing only with Ruthenian affairs, headed by Dr. Oreszt Szabó, apparently of Ruthenian nationality. Augustin Stefan, the governor, was also supposed to be Ruthenian. Unfortunately, by the time the election took place on March 4, 1919, most of Subcarpathia was occupied by foreign troops, with the exception of Bereg County.


Ruthenian folk costumes
Source: Wikipedia.org

After the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, Ruszka Krajna retained its autonomy, and on April 2 a Ruthenian constitution appeared in Rus’ka Pravda, a Ruthenian newspaper published in Budapest. The constitution was a reworked version of the one enacted by the Károlyi government. All this effort was in vain, however, because within a month the whole area was occupied by Czechoslovak and Romanian troops. Recognizing a fait accompli, a newly established national council voted in Uzhgood/Ungvár on May 8, 1919 for the unification of the Ruthenian autonomous region with Czechoslovakia.

Edvard Beneš, foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, admitted that Czechoslovakia was not really entitled to this area on the basis of nationality but, considering the situation in Russia and the Soviet danger, Czechoslovakia assumed the role of temporary caretaker of Ruthenia until it could be safely attached to Russia. In the Czechoslovak period Ruthenian autonomy was “nominal.” All Ruthenian legislation was made subject to approval by the president of the republic, and the governor of Ruthenia was nominated by the president. As a result, even the constitutional provision for autonomy was never implemented; the Ruthenian parliament was never convened. Ruthenians were not happy with their lot in Czechoslovakia, and they kept looking outside for remedies. The Russophiles envisaged Ruthenia as part of the Russian nation; the Ukrainophiles considered Ruthenia part of the Ukrainian nation, and the Ruthenophiles said that Carpatho-Ruthenians were a separate nation and therefore they wanted to develop a native Rusyn language and culture.

On March 15, 1939 the Ukrainophile president of Carpatho-Ruthenia, Avhustyn Voloshyn, declared its independence as Carpatho-Ukraine. On the same day Hungarian Army regular troops began to occupy the new state. It was from this area that 22,000 Jews were deported to Kamenets-Podolskii in July 1941.

In 1944 the Soviet Army occupied the area, and in 1946 it was annexed to the Ukrainian SSR. During the Soviet period Rusyn as a separate nationality was not recognized. Nowadays the majority of the population of the Zakarpattya Oblast consider themselves Ukrainians.

* * *

Hungary: An Election in Question

Part IV: The New Electorate (in which Some are more Equal than Others)

 Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University

Hungary’s governing party Fidesz didn’t just rewrite the rules for the upcoming Hungarian election. The governing party changed the electorate as well. Different categories of citizens can now vote in different kinds of ways, which creates the very real possibility of unjust discrimination.

The 2014 election features two new voting systems that restructure the electorate and its options.

One permits each major nationality (i.e. minority) group in Hungary to elect a representative of its group to the parliament on a “preferential” basis that requires only one-quarter as many votes to claim the mandate. This system of positive discrimination may look admirable, but in practice limits rather than expands voting options of minority populations, as we will see.

The other gives the right to vote to ethnic Hungarians who never had permanent residency in Hungary. These are people to whom the new constitution has given a route to expedited citizenship upon application. New Hungarian citizens can now register and vote more easily than citizens who have permanent residency but who are abroad on election day. As a result, new dual citizens with the most tangential relationship to Hungary can more easily influence the election than can long-standing citizens whose primary political identity rests in Hungary.

In both cases, these voters with new options are being herded toward Fidesz-friendly results and away from support for the united opposition both because of the new rules and because of the confusing and misleading communications issuing from the offices in charge of running the election. Let’s take these new sorts of voters one by one.

In a move welcomed by the Venice Commission, the new election framework lays out a system in which members of 13 designated ethnic minority groups may vote for a “nationality list.” Though it is called a list, in practice it consists of one person because each minority group can only elect one representative in this new “preferential” way, while all subsequent representatives from the group are elected according to the more demanding conditions necessary to elect a representative on a party list.

While Germans, Romanians, Ukrainians and other registered groups possess the right to elect a minority representative in theory, the Roma constitute the only group who are likely to be able to muster the numbers to elect such a representative in fact.

This new system of nationality representation, however, comes with a number of catches.

First, members of minority groups who want to take advantage of this possibility must sacrifice their ability to use their second vote for a party list when they use their second vote to elect a nationality representative. This system therefore limits the incentives for political parties to court minority voters since minority voters cannot vote for parties if they vote for the nationality representative, further marginalizing them.

Then, minority voters must register in advance to take advantage of this option. According to the Electoral Procedure Law (Law XXXVI of 2013), minority voters must register at least two days before the election. Once they register, they cannot change their minds on election day itself to vote for a party list instead.  (They can change their minds before the registration deadline.) The only choice that the registered minority voters have when election day comes is to vote for the representative of their group on offer, or to fail to cast their second ballots. This system, as a result, locks in the minority vote before the end of the campaign. Unlike the situation for any other voter, minority voters cannot decide in response to the full campaign whom to support.

Finally, and most consequentially, the specific candidate chosen to stand for election as a representative of the minority group must be, by law, selected by the national minority self-government, a body that was elected by each minority group in a special election four years ago. (These self-government organizations have been elected periodically since the mid-1990s to ensure representative decision-making bodies for minority affairs.) But the national minority self-government for the Roma at the moment is run by a group called Lungo Drom, whose leader, Flórián Farkas, is a Fidesz MP.  

In short, if Roma choose to vote for a nationality representative, they cannot vote for a political party and their only choice is to elect a Fidesz MP, using their second votes that could have been used for any party list. Registering to “vote minority” therefore gives Roma no party choice at all. They must vote for a governing party representative.

Roma don’t have to register to vote for the nationality list if they don’t want to. But a letter sent in January from each local Election Office to all voters announced on the first page that Roma would have to register if they wanted to vote, and only on the second page explained in not-entirely-clear prose that Roma had to register only if they wanted to vote for the minority representative. In even more confusing language, the letter revealed that in doing so, Roma would lose the ability to use their second vote to for vote a political party.

When the letter went out, Roma started to register to vote in substantial numbers, largely unwittingly, for the minority representative. So far, the Election Office has not issued any correction, raising questions about what it was doing with its initial letter telling Roma to register to vote. Given that Roma who registered would find themselves excluded from being able to vote for the party lists on election day and would only have the option of voting for a Fidesz MP instead, this mix-up is worrying, especially when the governing party staffed the new Election Office.

The Election Office seems to be contributing to the confusion over the system for Roma voting in other ways as well. While the law clearly says that the nationality voters clearly have until two days before the election to lock in their vote for the nationality candidate (Law XXXIV of 2013, section 249), Ilona Pálffy, the head of the National Election Office announced in a press briefing to the Hungarian International Press Association on 29 January 2014 that nationality voters would have to register no later than eight days before the election and could not change their minds after that.

In fact, when I was interviewing officials and party representatives in Budapest about the new election framework recently, I often got different answers from different people about what the law required. When one gets an answer from the head of the National Election Office that differs so strikingly from the plain wording of the law, however, that is especially alarming. Will Roma be told, if they try to change their minds in the last week and “unregister” from the nationality list, that they can’t do so even though the law says otherwise? I hope that the National Election Office clarifies just what they believe the rule is – before the election.

It’s not just the Roma who have new rules about voting this time. The other newly registered group of voters consists of ethnic Hungarians living abroad who were given the right to apply for citizenship under the new Fidesz constitution. For historical reasons, the only Hungarians whose ancestors lost their citizenship en masse were living in the territories that had been part of historic Hungary but that were allocated to neighboring states by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.  (Hungarians who left Hungary for other countries before or since retained their citizenship unless they explicitly renounced it.) This constitutional change made millions of ethnic Hungarians eligible for expedited citizenship, the vast majority still living in the neighboring countries.

As a result of the new citizenship law, about 575,000 Hungarians, primarily from the Trianon territories, have become citizens in the last year. (I’ll call them the Trianon Hungarians.) And as of mid-February, about 150,000 of them had registered to vote. But the deadline for registering to vote is 22 March so only then will it be clear how many of the new citizens will be new voters as well.

In three of Hungary’s neighbors, Ukraine, Slovakia and Austria, dual citizenship is not permitted. Ethnic Hungarians from these states who acquire Hungarian citizenship would lose their first citizenship if a second citizenship were discovered. (There is an exception for Austrian-Hungarian dual nationals who were refugees in 1956 and whose dual citizenship is specially protected by a treaty, but other Hungarians are not included under this treaty.)

To protect its nationals in the neighboring states, then, the Hungarian government has decided that the non-resident citizenship rolls should remain a state secret. As a result, the associated voter list remains secret as well. But how can a government run a fair election with secret voter rolls?

After opposition protest, the government agreed to allow members of the National Election Commission (including representatives of the parties running national lists) as well as international observers to see the foreign voters’ registration list (Law XXXVI of 2013 on Electoral Procedure, amended by Law LXXXIV of 2013). But the opposition parties and international observers are not permitted to take notes on the list or reproduce it in any way. Given these limitations, however, how anyone apart from the election officials check the list against the voters who actually vote or and how can political parties outside the government locate these voters to send them election materials? One cannot memorize hundreds of thousands of names and their identifying characteristics. So it is not clear if this level of access to the secret voter lists will be enough to ensure a fair vote.

The logistical problems raised by the non-resident voters don’t end there. In particular, there are few checks on either the process of voter registration or on the actual voting so as to ensure that those casting ballots are who they say they are, or that the ballots faithfully reflect what these voters decide. While applying for citizenship requires an appearance at a consulate or embassy, registering to vote does not. In fact, nowhere in the process does any official have to see precisely who it is that is either registering to vote or voting.

Instead, Trianon Hungarians can register on the internet, filling in a form that asks for information that is quite widely known about a person, especially in tightly knit communities. All you need to provide to register are your name, your maiden name (where applicable), the town and district where you were born, either your date of birth OR your personal ID number, and your mother’s name.

How does the National Election Office that registers the applicants know if the person actually named on the form was the person who filled out the registration request? Nowhere in the process is there an official check of identification or even the requirement of a signature, photograph or other validating evidence. (The general problem is captured in that famous cartoon where a dog sits at a computer and says “On the internet, no one can tell if you’re a dog.”) And, as we will see, the information doesn’t even have to strictly match what the Election Office has on file for that person.

Ballots will be sent out to whoever registers in the name of a citizen without any way to definitively tell whether it is the citizen herself who registered or whether the address to which the ballot will be sent is in fact the address of the voter. Given that voting will reveal that one has taken out dual citizenship in some countries where it is illegal, a voter might well want the ballot sent somewhere other than her home address in any event.

In fact, the Trianon Hungarians are the only ones allowed to vote by mail ballot, which longtime elections observers know is always the easiest place for fraud to sneak into an election operation. Hungary plans to use the usual double-envelope safeguard – where a voter fills in an attestation of identity attached to an outer envelope while the ballot itself is sealed in in an anonymous inner envelope that can be separated from this attestation once it is confirmed. So far, so good.

But there is precious little control over the envelopes themselves as they make their way to be counted. Not only does the ballot not have to be actually mailed, but the law permits bundlers to go around collecting ballots and then delivering them en masse to an embassy, consulate or other designated location. There are no checks on what these bundlers do with the ballots in their care and nothing to check whether they in fact they turn in all of the ballots they were given. There is even no way to tell whether bundlers who may well know the personal details of voters are filling in the ballots themselves or changing what they were given. Self-appointed bundlers can show up at any of the designated locations and deliver votes in unlimited numbers.

The number of ballots delivered to or cast at the polling places in the neighboring states must by law be registered each day in the run-up to the election, which means that consulate staff must tally the number of votes each day without anyone present from an election committee to supervise the opening and checking of the ballot boxes. Given how few checks are in place to check potential foul play in the foreign votes (or simply to give assurances that no foul play was attempted), this could be quite serious.

But surely these foreign ballots can’t really influence a national election? In Hungary, perhaps they can. Hungary has about 8 million registered voters, but only 5.1 million voters actually cast ballots in 2010. If most of the 500,000+ new citizens register to vote and actually vote, Trianon Hungarians could account for up to one-tenth of the electorate. These voters can only cast one ballot for the party list and cannot vote in a single-member district, which limits their impact on the overall result. (And it is another site of inequality.) But given that so much of this process of foreign-voter balloting is unverifiable in any rigorous way, even a modest effect on the election casts some doubts on the process.

The fairness of this system for counting foreign votes is made worse when one considers the other group of foreign-based voters who are treated differently from the Trianon Hungarians. Citizens who still have permanent residence in Hungary, but who are living abroad, must cast their vote in a decidedly more onerous way. Let’s call this latter group the Expat Hungarians.

Rather than permit Expat Hungarians to vote by mail, as the Trianon Hungarians are allowed to do, the government has insisted on sticking with the old system in place since 2006 for such voters: they have to vote at embassies or consulates.   As a result, Expat Hungarians living or working in the UK, for example, must go to London, no matter where in the UK they live. Ditto with German-based Hungarians who have to travel to Berlin, Dusseldorf, or Munich. Expat Hungarians living in the US must travel to Washington, New York or Los Angeles. How much easier (and less expensive) it would be to vote by mail! But they are not allowed to do so.

Moreover, unlike the Trianon Hungarians, Expat Hungarians are not allowed to vote unless they show up in person and present ID (a passport, for example). Since Trianon Hungarians can vote without ever seeing an election official, no in-person identification is ever required of them. But such identification is required of the Expat Hungarians.

How many citizens are in the Expat Hungarian group? The government says at least 300,000 – but other estimates say as many as 500,000 – Hungarians are living or working outside the country without having given up their official permanent residence in Hungary. This, too, could be a substantial voting bloc, especially as their status gives them the chance to cast two votes just as if they were in the country. (One of those votes goes for the party list and the other for the constituency in which they are still registered.) But they have a much harder time casting their votes because they have to travel, often long distances, to do so.

Not surprisingly, however, the two groups of Hungarians living abroad have different political profiles. Hungarians in the Trianon territories would cast their votes overwhelmingly for Fidesz, if the polls are to be believed. A recent poll said 80% of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, for example, would vote for the governing party.

By contrast, Expat Hungarians are more likely to support the united opposition, or at least so the united opposition believes. While Expat Hungarians are no doubt a diverse group, the people most likely to move are probably the Hungarians who know languages and have networks, which implies that they may be younger and/or better educated. While young people are divided in their political views, the better educated voters are much more likely to vote for the united opposition. Either way, the sheer number of Expat Hungarians and the onerousness of the procedure for voting combine to depress voter turnout, which as we have seen, will benefit Fidesz.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union working with Együtt/PM (Together-Dialogue for Hungary, now part of the Unity Alliance) has challenged this disparate treatment of the two groups of foreign voters before the Constitutional Court. But even though the petition was filed in November 2013, the Constitutional Court has not yet decided. (A reminder: The Constitutional Court now has a solid majority since the government was able to name the 8th judge out of 15 in April 2013.) So it appears that the election will go forward with this double standard for Hungarians living abroad.

As the election nears, there are reports of worryingly bad advice for these foreign voters coming from election officials. Consulates in the US were given flyers prepared by local election offices that provided voting instructions for Expat Hungarians in the US. But these flyers specified the wrong election day. While election day in Hungary is 6 April, Hungarian voters in North America have to cast their ballots on 5 April, because of the time difference, in order to meet the deadlines set out in the law. If they followed the instructions they were given by their election office, they would be disqualified from voting.

Expat Hungarians in the UK were sent letters by their local election offices that gave them the wrong location of the London polling station. It turns out that, even though Expat Hungarians are generally supposed to vote at embassies and consulates, in some places (like London) voters actually have to go someplace else. But they were not told the correct location.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has protested these flyers and asked that they be recalled.

The head of the National Election Office admitted that mistakes were made. But she did not apologize. Instead she said, rather oddly, that she “simply does not trust some of her colleagues.”

Coming on top of the confusing letter sent by the Election Office to all voters in Hungary about Roma registration, a letter that seemed to imply that all Roma had to register to vote at all, these flyers misinforming US and UK voters about when they need to cast their ballots causes particular concern.

The Election Office website doesn’t even appear to be neutral. On its site, the Election Office features a video from an unclear source, containing much nationalist imagery – and not so coincidentally Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself. It tells voters that “the nation” (meaning ethnic Hungarians) can vote on 6 April – a thinly veiled appeal to voters who overwhelmingly support the governing party (when they are not supporting Jobbik). Just why the Election Office has such a partisan message on its website has so far not been explained. The link is here to a website less likely to take the video down under criticism so you can see it for yourself.

From anecdotal evidence, the Election Office seemed to be making it easier for Trianon Hungarians to register to vote than for Expat Hungarians to register to vote abroad. Expat Hungarians were reporting that their registration was refused if they missed a diacritical mark, omitted some details of their home address, and failed to match the exact form of their mothers’ name that was in the official register. In fact, the complaints from Expat Hungarians were becoming so numerous that it caused us to go back and look at the law.

And sure enough, right there in paragraphs 84 and 92 of the Electoral Procedure Law (Law XXXVI of 2013), we see the reason. Election officials were explicitly told in this law to ignore typos, spelling mistakes, different forms of writing (e.g. Cyrillic), the use of foreign names to denominate geographical locations, or the provision of names, birth place, birth names and mother’s names in a different language. If any of those things are wrong with the form, so that the form does not in fact match the government’s register of citizens, the form must nonetheless be approved.

But this easy registration – permitted even with mistakes on the form – holds true only for the Trianon Hungarians. Expat Hungarians have to provide information that matches exactly the information in the government’s database. Hence the large numbers of rejections when Expat Hungarians tried to register to vote.

By the start of the political campaign on 15 February, more than 150,000 Trianon Hungarians had managed to register to vote, but only 5,000 Expat Hungarians had been able to do so, according to the MTI national news service. (Remember the two groups of voters are now roughly the same size.) The Election Office admitted that it had rejected at least 10% of the Expat applications. Expats who have been sharing notes abroad believe that number is actually much higher.

Hungary now has two different and quite large groups of foreign voters operating under two different systems of rules. And not surprisingly, the voters more likely to vote for Fidesz will have a much easier time casting their ballots than the voters who have less clear political affiliations or who are clearly more likely to vote for the united opposition.

Discrimination among different classes of citizens is therefore endemic in the new election system. Roma voters are forced to choose between voting for a nationality representative or a party list, and they are locked into their choice ahead of the election, which other voters are not. Trianon Hungarians can register to vote online with many mistakes in their application, and yet will be issued a ballot to vote by mail while Expat Hungarians have to meet the exact letter of the data in the government’s database in order to register. Then these Expat Hungarians have to show up in person at an embassy or consulate (or some other unannounced location) to show further identification in order to be able to vote. That is all assuming, of course, that they are given correct information about where and when to vote.

It’s not an equal system. And given that so much of this system will be new for everyone, the election offices’ bungling of instructions again and again raises a real cause for concern. It should cause special concern because so far, all of the “bungles” point in one direction – toward getting Roma to register to vote for the Fidesz MP, toward giving Fidesz-friendly voters the easiest possible path to voting and toward giving those of opposition or uncertain political leanings every roadblock imaginable, from refusing their registration on technical grounds to giving misinformation about voting dates and polling places.

As George Orwell famously said in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The same is now true of citizens in Hungary.


  1. More information would be hazardous to our health.
    Let us consider philosophical thoughts on Hungary.
    We need justice, fairness, zero corruption.
    Can the Orbans deliver it?
    Can the Unity 2014 deliver it?

  2. OT:

    In Hungarian, about a Hungarian story how one can manufacture a viral buzz on the internet pretty easily.

    Too bad not only we can read this but the types of Mr. Paul, but the point is that the internet has this totally uncritical approach to everything (as editorial control does not exist anymore) and hypes up everything in no time (as all internet media seem to exist in one single echo chamber).

    This also illustrates the sick craziness of predicting immediate “collapse” for the Left (due to the Zuschlag news), even Leftist bloggers and smartasses immediately started to advocate for yet another strategic change in the campaign of Kormanyvaltas. It’s the best example of the hysterical Left killing itself by its very own ‘smartness’ and constant criticism. They just can’t keep cool and stick to something.

    The Left cannot understand that there is a huge value in calmness, leadership, unity and predictability — in other words what Jobbik has been doing.

    Or for those who follow media, what RTL Klub has been doing vs. TV2 which had dozens of new strategies, new management and business models none of which seem to work.


  3. Pumi :
    OT: Russia vs. West

    The link brings up Anatole Kaletsky’s no nonsense evaluation of Putin’s game. Putin is pursuing geopolitical rather than economical goals, and he has won because nobody else has the stomach for a Second Crimean War. One relevant aspect of the analysis is missing. The victory is bound to wet Putin’s appetite. Who and what will he gobble up next?

  4. In our last discussion, Laci made the observation of likening the present political climate to the Wiemar Era. The similarities, derived from the “humiliation” of the truncation of Germany after WWI, are striking. Hungary remains one of the few countries of Eastern Europe which has not, and can not, regain geographic integrity. Does this mean anything? Sure does, when one must watch with open eyes relatives suffering discrimination across the border. Copied and pasted from a series of articles I wrote in 2008-2010, the parallels to Wiemar Germany were striking.

    • Serious economic crisis has endangered families by the score and
    • Poverty has inflamed humiliation of “breadwinner” and “caregiver”
    • The constitution will certainly need major rewriting
    • The extreme right leadership has offered to run for President
    • A bizarre, cabaret-like denial discolors depression, especially in the young
    • Austerity deepest in 20 years, deeper austerity is mandated by Brussels
    • Jewish leadership, and leadership generally, is at a loss and policy is knee-jerk. It lacks the essentials of ongoing dialogue –a capacity for some studied distance from impulsivity –that can engage conflicting interests
    • Present leadership has won by mandate and now holds an willful rule
    • Faced with almost certain economic shamble –yet also a likely leadership role well into the future –a shift toward extremism is likely

  5. Dr. L. PETROVICS Ofner :In our last discussion, Laci made the observation of likening the present political climate to the Wiemar Era. The similarities, derived from the “humiliation” of the truncation of Germany after WWI, are striking. Hungary remains one of the few countries of Eastern Europe which has not, and can not, regain geographic integrity. Does this mean anything? Sure does, when one must watch with open eyes relatives suffering discrimination across the border. Copied and pasted from a series of articles I wrote in 2008-2010, the parallels to Wiemar Germany were striking.

    The European Union did not exist at that time, nor did the ECJ. No freedom of circulation and installation, no legal framework for addressing ethnic, linguistic, cultural discrimination at a transnational level, no common standards between countries for freedom of information, etc. In that particular field, I find the comparison with interwar Central Europe particularly moot.

  6. Here is the video from the Zuschlag trial An was talking about. Z.is talking on the phone in which he complains that Gyurcsány has a missionary zeal when it comes to corruption.

  7. @Eva

    “Gyurcsány has a missionary zeal when it comes to corruption.”

    Patently false: an attempt to designate Gyurcsany’s zeal as corruption-based–an accusation in the best KGB methodology. Gyurcsany’s zeal is exactly the opposite.

  8. @Dr Petrovics:

    There is one big difference between the German “Weimarer Republic” (please note the spelling …) and the Hungarian situation:

    The elections for the parliament in Weimar were almost fully proportional, so there were up to 15 parties represented in parliament – though until the thirties the Social Democrats were always the strongest, even in 1928 they got around 30% of the votes, more than in the years before …

    Maybe interesting too: Between 75 and 85% of the people usually went to the elections, so you can’t say people were uninterested in politics – and 75% was called “low participation” – did Hungary ever have numbers like that?

    Wiki has detailed info (only in German) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstagswahl_1928

    So all in all I don’t think you can really compare today’s Hungary with the Weimar times, German people were politically active – though maybe on the wrong path in the end!

  9. I can’t help suspect that all these ‘accusations’ and mis-directions by Fidesz/Orban are to convince the neutral observer that they’re seriously engaged in the democratic process…when all along they/he will steal the result Orban deems preferable.

  10. petofi :


    “Gyurcsány has a missionary zeal when it comes to corruption.”

    Patently false: an attempt to designate Gyurcsany’s zeal as corruption-based–an accusation in the best KGB methodology. Gyurcsany’s zeal is exactly the opposite.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. He was fighting corruption in the sports ministry and later in the whole party.

  11. Eva S. Balogh :

    petofi :
    “Gyurcsány has a missionary zeal when it comes to corruption.”
    Patently false: an attempt to designate Gyurcsany’s zeal as corruption-based–an accusation in the best KGB methodology. Gyurcsany’s zeal is exactly the opposite.

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. He was fighting corruption in the sports ministry and later in the whole party.

    Ahh, a different thing altogether. I agree that he’s a person set to root out corruption–no mean task in the political culture of Hungary.

  12. Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) :

    Dr. L. PETROVICS Ofner :In our last discussion, Laci made the observation of likening the present political climate to the Wiemar Era. The similarities, derived from the “humiliation” of the truncation of Germany after WWI, are striking. Hungary remains one of the few countries of Eastern Europe which has not, and can not, regain geographic integrity. Does this mean anything? Sure does, when one must watch with open eyes relatives suffering discrimination across the border. Copied and pasted from a series of articles I wrote in 2008-2010, the parallels to Wiemar Germany were striking.

    The European Union did not exist at that time, nor did the ECJ. No freedom of circulation and installation, no legal framework for addressing ethnic, linguistic, cultural discrimination at a transnational level, no common standards between countries for freedom of information, etc. In that particular field, I find the comparison with interwar Central Europe particularly moot.

    Wolfi, Marcel. Agree with you both. The clearest argument coming from the recent reports in the NYC Jewish Weekly on the Hungarian situation and quoting the Nationalism Studies Department of Central European Univeristy ie. “No way.”. But what was striking at the time (2006-2010) –and I may be reading too much into this –was the ochestrated, step by step, manner by which Jobbik seemed to mimmic the rise of the Social Democrats. The poor and bereft, and enraged, found a voice in empty bombast. It started with attack on culture and heritage which others held holy. If you have time and interest I attach what I observed “on the ground” back then, with the disclaimer that my views have changed greatly.

    The rise of Jobbik Fair Diagnosis

    Can lead to…

    Fair Solutions

    If a free PRESS is FREE to be rounded

  13. Completely unscientific report from the depths of District 7 is my impression that there is a lot less excitement surrounding the election compared to both 2010 and 2006.

    The fascist (Jobbik) youngsters are everywhere but apart from that Fascist Lite (Fidesz) and democratic activists are conspicuous in their absence.

    From what I can see on the ground at the moment, the election could well come and go without a majority of the electorate participating or even caring it is taking place.

  14. Thanks to Pumi for the link to Anatole Kaletsky’s essay that basically says NATO and the US have been forced into a military situation vs Russia in relation to the annexation of the Crimea. Specifically Kaletsky’s writes: “Putin has created a situation in which the West’s only alternative to accepting the occupation of Crimea as a fait accompli is war. Since a NATO military attack against Russia is as inconceivable as Russia’s withdrawal from Crimea, Putin’s redrawing of the Ukraine’s borders seems bound to prevail.”

    I think Katetsky avoids the fact that the reality he depicts might have been avoided if NATO had been far more aggressive weeks ago towards Russia. From my experience I have little doubt that the US and NATO intelligence services were well aware once Russia gave formal notice of the so called military maneuvers what was up. At that point maximum NATO forces should have been deployed to Poland and all other NATO nations bordering the Ukraine, these forces needed to include tactical non-strategic nuclear weapons. I have worked and studied with many now retired US Army strategists who played significant roles in NATO and I know their approach to potential Russian aggression. The only major retired officer that went public has been retired US Admiral Stavridis who led NATO forces until last year. His March 1, commentary on foreignpolicy.com reflects this position which overall I share.

    Even now President Obama is moving US air assets forward, but as far as I can tell this is US initiative, not a NATO move. Europeans in NATO are simply terrified of any potential military confrontation with Russia leading directly to a nuclear exchange. As Admiral Stavridis politely wrote: ” Many will consider any level of NATO involvement provocative and potentially inflammatory. Unfortunately, the stakes are high and the Russians are moving. Sitting idle, without at least looking at options, is a mistake for NATO and would itself constitute a signal to Putin — one that he would welcome.”

  15. oneill:

    lack of interest is very good for Fidesz. This has been a rule of thumb since 1998.

    Fidesz voters are extremely disciplined, they just go, as do Jobbik voters also. The right wing is disciplined and organized.

    Lefties always over-philosophise everything, they are wavering, can never seem to reach a decision about anything (including whether to vote). This is actually true for both the parties and their voters.

    So the less people actually go to the booths, the more likely Fidesz wins a 2/3s — for which it needs not much more than 40% of all voters who actually cast a ballot.

    The Left is basically dead in the water below 60-65% participation rate, that is also a rule of thumb. And if this rate is below 50% (which would be lowest ever for general elections, but we certainly cannot exclude this) then Fidesz could end up having 80% in the Parliament.

    But let’s just wait a little.

  16. belafonte :
    Fidesz voters are extremely disciplined, they just go, as do Jobbik voters also. The right wing is disciplined and organized.

    Some pretty uniforms all we need, obviously.
    I hardly wait!

  17. The old jobbik technique is to send many activists in the street.

    The sidewalks, the metro stations are full of love-hungry, desperate souls?

    The jobbik owes them with a disclosure: jobbik is bringing the national suicide closer.

  18. “Lefties always over-philosophise everything, they are wavering, can never seem to reach a decision about anything (including whether to vote).”

    I would change that- lefty intellectuals and Budapest’s left-liberal political elite over-analyse and love debating the more abstract democratic notions ; the genuine working-class (who should be their natural support) don’t have that luxury.

    For the urban working/class, one more searching question is whether Orban’s mafia will permit them to have a job tomorrow? If they lose their job will they be forced to join the ever-increasing slave-labour batallions in order to get any kind of social support from the regime?
    How can they cope with the inevitable effects on their daily budget of Orban and his pet morons’ (eg Matolcsy) economic policy?

    Those are the questions which the regime should be challenged on if there is to be any chance of democracy being established in Hungary.

    I am convinced Jobbik will do well and they will because they are offering the working-class the illusion of some kind of fightback against the Fidesz middle-class oligarchy and the others “doing the stealing” ie Jews and Roma. It’s an immoral and illogical narrative but it is believed.
    Left/liberal democrats need to find a narrative which is much more relevant to their potential electorate

  19. I agree with you, Oneil, but largely from another view. Despite Vona’s few trips to the West which highlighted his anathema (szalon képtelenség) in both London and Toronto, and his few reps in Brussels also being isolated, at home his grass roots organization in every village and cranny is formidable. As the Magyar Szövetség, they have claimed a non-political, but rather a cultural posture, yet they will certainly vote en mass and as one voice.

    What most analysts overlook is not just the present existential crisis you highlight, but the deep sense of social dislocation from the “Changes” onward, expressed in their political knell, Élszámolás (holding accountable, ie. revenge). For them, perhaps correctly, there has never existed the “democracy” of which you write, and it seems Chappell also overlooks this, just the dry bones of makeshift choice –the tyrant, and his offspring, simply spread as enduring weed, and covert in all the traditional choices among MDF, SzDSz, MSzP, FIDESZ, etc. there festered a covert political force, the unaddressed tyrant.

    Given the catastrophic voices for empty revenge leading to deeper isolation and deeper economic chaos, I am glad to hear here of the likelihood a Fidesz mandate. Having treated young people Magyar Balint sickened, denying that stealing and distributing the equivalent of the Hungarian SAT tests mattered, his abstract arguments harkens back to himself, and much of the “champions of openness” on the Left in their own personal missteps of which they and public know. It is as mute as Scheppele’s recent loud protestations –that she has been silent for all these decades while the substance of democracy languished leave her present motives suspect.

    Ahol zsarnokság van, ott zsarnokság van…Illyés voice spoke and speaks now for many of us about tyranny in this Magyar Spectrum, “Where tyranny is, the tyrant persists”… For many Hungarians, despite our views here, a new dawn may emerge in April, “Ahol zsarnokság van, ott zsarnokság volt.” Let us hope and work for the very best.

  20. I don’t read every comment but I got stuck on this one by Dr. .Petrovics (I don’t care what kind of doctor you are but I do mention that I don’t like people who call themselves doctors): ” Having treated young people Magyar Balint sickened, denying that stealing and distributing the equivalent of the Hungarian SAT tests mattered, his abstract arguments harkens back to himself, and much of the “champions of openness” on the Left in their own personal missteps of which they and public know.” What this means?

    I will want an honest answer. I don’t quite understand this garbage but perhaps you can explain.

  21. “Dr” Petrovics Ofner was one of a large number of emigre Hungarians who turned up in Budapest in the 90s, with claims of a successful career abroad that was never substantiated. He spoke imperfect English and imperfect Hungarian, and when I met him, was hawking around an English language novel that he had written (and I strongly suspect, printed himself) and which remains pretty much his only trace on the internet. He made no sense then and makes no sense now. I vividly recall being present when he was attempting to recite chapters from his novel, which he did in a loud and slurred voice, caused by the hip flask of palinka that he turned to habitually. By the end, he was in such a state that he couldn’t even open a door when trying to leave! Obviously, it is no crime to be an alcoholic fraud and post on an internet forum. But as his favourite trick is to hint that he has some qualifications that give him some authority when spouting his garbage, it behooves those of us unlucky enough to have met him in the flesh to point out that he really should not be taken seriously. Unless, of course, he was to frame coherent and interesting posts. We are still waiting, Laci

  22. II got greatly offended by Dr. Petrovics-Ofner’s postings of late. He is accusing people of all sorts of crimes (e.g. Bálint Magyar) and his accusations are totally baseless. Just as hiBoM sayd he makes no sense most of the time. His long diatribes just clutter this place. I put him on the blacklist.

  23. @HiBoM
    FYI Petrovics’s book was published with the Atlantic Monthly Press, which if you had googled along with his name you would have discovered is one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the US. You refer to him as “Dr”. His PhD’s from Columbia U., again a pretty respectable institution. He may be a little crazy, but he often brings up excellent and interesting points and I’d encourage you to argue against the points rather than resort to insult.
    Eva? This poster’s accusations are baseless and according to Hungary’s demented laws, probably even defamatory. Rather than agreeing with him shouldn’t HiBoM not be blacklisted?

    Shame on you for blacklisting because you are “offended” by arguments. Like all Hungarians you still haven’t digested the notion that productive debate includes perspectives that one may not agree with. Controversial statements =”clutter”? The US Supreme Court would disagree. You even give warnings first to the anti-semites who offend, so why not offer the same courtesy to him if his posts are too long? Do you fear facts that might counter the delusional notion that Gyurcsány is a respectable politician? As for his accusations being “baseless”: the equivalent of the Hungarian SAT, the college entrance exams, were stolen a week before the test, sold widely, and the night before the exam put on the internet. Bálint as minister of education did not stop the testing, nor did he assume any responsibility afterwards. He also ignored the hundreds of parents who protested over the consequences this had for Hungarian students. Failure to show integrity is not a crime in this country, to be sure, but any minister in the US or Canada would have resigned under similar circumstances. Would you care to look into the facts?
    And is it reasonable to ask a commenter to explain and simultaneously prevent him from posting again? You might want to reconsider your criteria for blacklisting if you believe in open society principles.

    – a Canadian fed up with Hungarian sensitivity to, and intolerance of, “offensive” opinions

  24. postscript: It occurs to me that I probably should have mentioned in my post above that I happen to disagree with much of what Mr Petrovics was arguing. I’ve studied minority rights law and the protections that Hungarian minorities receive abroad is quite good. It’s a Fidesz/Jobbik myth that Hungarians are oppressed by neighbouring countries. There are tensions, but education in a minority language is a right in most, if not all of these places. Incidentally, the protections Hungarians get abroad today are tenfold what national minorities got from “greater Hungary” at the time, a fact that Hungarians conspicuously leave out of their history curriculum.

  25. nyugtalan meh, the problem with Petrovics is his attacks on people. I like dialogue too and I would never kick out someone because he/she holds different views from the majority of the readers. But I will not tolerate ridiculous psychoanalysis of people. I don’t care where he got his degree or where he published his book, but I don’t think that anyone has the right to make personal attacks on others based on some alleged knowledge of psychology.

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