Magyar Nemzet and the Orbán government: A falling out?

While we were analyzing the relevant sentences in Viktor Orbán’s speech of July 26 in Tusnádfürdő/Băile Tuşnad an interesting exchange was taking place between Magyar Nemzet and the very government which this newspaper until now at least loyally served. The first spat between former friends occurred when the government contemplated levying extra taxes on companies which had received the bulk of government orders paid with funds from the European Union. Magyar Nemzet also expressed its disapproval of advertisement taxes on the media. In order to understand the reason for these indignant editorials one must understand that the company behind Magyar Nemzet is part of a complicated labyrinth of firms belonging to Lajos Simicska and his close business partner, Zsolt Nyerges.

These rumblings in Magyar Nemzet have only intensified since Orbán’s infamous speech. The editors of the paper, most likely encouraged by the owners, seem to have had enough of the boorish and aggressive behavior of people surrounding Viktor Orbán. Csaba Lukács received the job of writing an article about Viktor Orbán’s speech which created such turmoil all over the world. Of course, Lukács’s article was duly appreciative of the great thoughts of the prime minister. And he suggested that the opposition’s fierce attack on the speech was unwarranted because, after all, Orbán “only dared to state that the liberal organization of the state administration had failed and instead one must find something else.” As we know, he said more than that, but one can’t expect a journalist of Magyar Nemzet to expose the truly dark side of the speech.

At the end of the article, however, Lukács added a paragraph that had nothing to do with the weighty political matters discussed in Tusnádfürdő. Lukács, a Transylvanian native who moved to Hungary shortly after the regime change, noted with dismay that “the number of people around  the prime minister who are quite servile toward him but who show stupid aggressiveness toward everybody else has multiplied at a frightening speed lately. A typical example of the type is the press secretary of the prime minister who physically attacked our cameraman while he should help the work of the journalists. We would like to note: neither boorishness and aggressiveness, nor even panting servility, is a civic [polgári], Christian conservative virtue.” Well, that is a daring act in today’s Hungary.

Press Secretary Bertalan Havasi didn’t leave this paragraph unanswered. He accused the journalist of Magyar Nemzet of lying, pure and simple. He claimed that he was standing with his back to the cameramen and therefore couldn’t possibly have attacked them physically. In fact, he was the one who received verbal abuse from them.

Magyar Nemzet didn’t back down; instead, it provided the gory details of the encounter. In the newspaper’s version Havasi punched the cameraman of Magyar Nemzet in the stomach. As a result he lost his balance and fell on another cameraman, who also lost his balance with his own camera hitting him on the head. When the cameraman told Havasi that “you shouldn’t do that,” Havasi asked: “And then what will happen?” At which point the cameraman told him off by using an obscene word. I might add that Magyar Nemzet’s cameraman ended up in the hospital.

Bertalan Havasi is a constant companion of Viktor Orbán / Photo MTI

Bertalan Havasi is a constant companion of Viktor Orbán / Photo MTI

Opposition papers had great fun watching this exchange of words between the normally servile Magyar Nemzet and the almighty Bertalan Havasi. I’m sure that they were sorry that the cameraman didn’t hit the press secretary, as he threatened, because this is not the first time that Havasi has behaved in an unacceptable manner. In fact, the pro-government publication Válasz also noted that “Bertalan Havasi has gotten into altercations with several members of the press corps before.” Válasz seconded the opinion of Csaba Lukács that Havasi is “aggressive and arrogant and his behavior is unworthy of a public servant.”

Of course, Válasz is quite right, but Havasi’s reaction  “And then what will happen?” is typical not only of  him but of the whole regime. And the reaction is understandable, even justified, since there are no limits to the power of the prime minister and the people serving him.

I have already written about the troubles Orbán’s only new minister, Miklós Seszták, is encountering. The media discovered that as a lawyer Seszták was involved in some highly questionable business transactions. Since that post in Hungarian Spectrum some more dirty business dealings were unearthed, of which perhaps the most serious is a 30 million forint EU grant for Seszták’s car dealership. Of course, he himself did not apply for the money; an old high school friend came to the rescue. He spent the 30 million adding new offices to the already existing building of the dealership. In addition, Seszták seems to own some businesses registered in Cyprus, considered in Hungary to be offshore since Cyprus is a favorite haven for Hungarian tax evaders.

Enter Magyar Nemzet again. This time one of the three deputy editors-in-chief, Péter Csermely, wrote an editorial (vezércikk) with the title: “The minister should step aside.” Csermely didn’t mince words; he said that Seszták is unfit for the job of minister of national development. Or for any kind of high political position. After the appearance of this editorial, quipped that “Magyar Nemzet became the printed version of the RTL Klub” which since the introduction of the advertisement levy makes sure that their news broadcast always contains some less than savory affair of either Viktor Orbán or some of his close associates.

And what was the reaction to Magyar Nemzet’s demand for Seszták’s resignation? Exactly the same as Havasi’s was in Tusnádfürdő: “And then what?” Nothing! Seszták has no intention of resigning because he obviously can count on Viktor Orbán’s support. And that is enough in Hungary not to worry about any repercussions of illegal activities.

For one reason or other Seszták seems to be a pivotal man in the new administration. So far he has focused on cleaning house, getting rid of about 200 employees in the ministry. What course the newly staffed ministry of national development will take is unclear, but Orbán obviously decided that the old guard had to go.

Since it is extremely difficult to get any information about Viktor Orbán’s inner circle, Hungarian journalists are just guessing about the reasons for Magyar Nemzet‘s new tone. One of the most commonly held views is that there has been a falling out between Viktor Orbán and Lajos Simicska, the paper’s owner. The prime minister wants to curb Simicska’s influence in the Hungarian economy and through it on Hungarian politics. Something is certainly afoot, but I guess it will take some time before we can uncover the real reasons for the exchange of words between Magyar Nemzet and the Orbán government.


  1. The mafia state is showing its true colours!

    At least the media can still report on this – though it seems it doesn’t matter (any more …), but in the long run …

  2. Nyerges and Simi should remember Khodorkovsky.

    For a while they are surely tolerated, but one day they will find themselves in pre-trial detention, lasting for 2-3 years, while their empires will be redistributed to more loyal fideszniks.

    This is how it goes and although both Simicska and Nyerges are lawyers themselves there is a way to break them.

    If the two should continue their resistance for long, the chances are Orban will get upset. They will be branded as traitors who deserve no mercy.

    Or perhaps Orban will make an example out of a somewhat lesser oligarch first, so that they will get the message.

  3. Sandor: “Nyerges and Simi should remember Khodorkovsky.”

    They are no fools and they don’t need to be reminded. My guess is that they have stored shitloads of documentation of Orban’s economic crimes away in bank boxes abroad.

  4. OT, but highly recommended. US v. Russia. Putin vs. naive, a bit dumb, hapless American scholars/perhaps intelligence officers.

    It occurred to me that Condi Rice was also a Russian scholar, and who was also not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. Compared to people like Shechin or Putin, these are amateurs, but somehow these people get to rise to the top. I mean in Germany the US ambassador speaks no German, is there an ambassador in Hungary now? Anyway, great article by David Remnick.

  5. “Nyerges and Simi should remember Khodorkovsky”

    Nyerges and Simicska are cleverer (in an animal cunning way) than Orban- they wouldn’t have built the empire they did through not just Fidesz governments otherwise.

    We don’t know what is going on behind the curtain; we do know that Orban is paranoid, possesses an inferiority complex and is also quite probably not quite all there mentally.
    Hence the flooding of the various ministries with loyal idiots since the election.

    They need the EU and western apathy (if not approval) to maintain their positions.
    Will the Oligarchs (included in that number is also Csanyi) permit such a *flawed* character destroy their carefully built-up fortunes by taking on completely unnecessary battles?

  6. The ideas of Dugin, Putin’s guru, are exactly like those of Gyula Tellér whose papers Orban recited when he delivered his Tusványos speech. Tellér is the best choice for such a personal guru for Orban because he was originally an SZDSZ guy, and Orban has turned him into the most loyal and extreme anti-liberal possible.

  7. D7: without Orban the empire will fall apart. Nobody has the same vision and will power as Orban does to build and maintain such an empire as Fidesz currently is. (Which is logical if one realizes that the left wing could not produce after decades and several parties a worthy opponent either). Orban like Putin viscerally feels obligated to rule because they see no other worthy and capable successors who, in their view, would be equally committed to their vision. Who would prevent the doom of the nation.

    I don’t know about Russia, but I agree with Orban that in Hungary there is no real successor to the “founding father” Orban, which is a usual problem for entrepreneurs also (there is no equal successor to outliers like Buffet or Gates). Orban is the sole owner of Fidesz, which is his personal property just like you own your clothes you dress in. This succession proved very difficult for visionary entrepreneurs in the business world and is similarly problematic in politics it seems. Fidesz is an empire like the SU was which will fall apart with a less self confident leader like Gorbachev, only a new Orban, a Putin like figure could keep it together. Or it will end like the current Hungarian left wing: the generation of the late communism, reform communism (including up to Bajnai) was a generation of weakened people who lacked the imagination and discipline of their ideologic fathers from the 1940-1950’s and look where they are now — thinks Orban. Orban can’t let this to be his legacy. So he stays.

    Orban now can personally control all branches of government because the best, almost childhood pals since Bibó college are in the judiciary etc. These decade long friendships will never ever fall apart, because those are not simple memories but fundamental identity issues (to have lived in Bibó in those times or even to go those meetings back in the days). I know several very early Fidesz members who have left the party way more than a decade ago, and it is still an extremely huge issue for them.

    For Lázár or Kósa or Bence Tuzson or Szijjártó or whoever, these relationships are just not there, they could not exert the same influence even if they wanted power. Simicska and Nyerges need to weigh that. They need Orban, only an Orban that remains loyal to them.

  8. “Nobody has the same vision and will power as Orban does to build and maintain such an empire as Fidesz currently is.”

    He may have a vision (no, actually he does have a vision, a never-ending Orban in charge) but the attempts to realize that vision are hampered by his glaring psychological flaws which you have conveniently ignored.

    A completely rationalist, coolly logical Orban would be a terrifying beast indeed. Instead we have an admittedly still pretty scarey version who lets his personal hatreds and obsessions cloud his better judgements. Couple that with an Orban possessing an extremely paranoid self-inferiority complex which is frightened witless with having too many genuinely smart people close to the throne helping his to operate the autocracy. There is no other explanation for the distinctly Third-Division quality of the likes of Szijjarto, Lazar, Tuzson prospering at the very highest echelons of the regime.

  9. What everyone seems to forget is that Hungary is a minor country on the periphery of Europe, with a small and declining population, and a tiny and very fragile economy. A very poor country, kept afloat entirely by the EU and by foreign (mostly German) investment. Without that support, it would be unable to function as anything like a modern Western state.

    Orbán only seems a big fish because he and his mates swim in a tiny, shallow, pond. In reality, he is a tiddler, a nothing. Merkel, Cameron, Hollande and Obama think he is a trumped little, self-inflated, nobody – if they think of him at all. Putin thinks he is a fool.

    The EU isn’t fooled for one second by him and his economic trickery, they continue to support Hungary because they have to – someone has to look after the 10 million people Orbán is supposed to be responsible for. As long as he maintains the illusion of democracy, as long as there is a reasonably free press, elections of a sort, and people are free to travel, why should they do anything?

    Other than a few German investors and those like us who have links to the country, no one else is really affected by what goes on in Hungary. Many, probably most, in the West know nothing about Hungary and probably couldn’t even accurately place it on a map. To most people, Hungary and it’s future simply don’t matter.

    One hundred years ago, Hungary was dragged into a war that it did not want, and from which it had nothing to gain and a great deal to lose. That moment in Hungary’s history turned out to be the single worse thing that every happened to the country and its people since the Mongol hordes swept across Europe. The tragedy of Hungary’s ill-equipped, badly led and then abandoned soldiers, the loss of two thirds of its territory and millions of its citizens, the Red Terror and the civil war, the Horthy regime, the tragic involvement in WW2, the German ‘invasion’, the Russian ‘liberation’, 40 years under the heel of the USSR, the upheaval of the change of regime, and now Orbán – all directly the result of that fateful decision.

    And yet most Europeans know very little about any of this, in fact most aren’t even sure if Hungary was in either of the wars, and if it was, which side it was on.

    That’s how important Hungary really is. And that’s how important Orbán really is.

  10. Nyerges and Simi should remember Khodorkovsky

    It’s very well possible that these guys are our best allies against Orban. The anti-orban forces should reach out to them in the right moment. Of course the question is how greedy are they? I sucks to be a tycoon in a dirt poor country so I’m pretty sure they will not let Orban sink the economy.

  11. The New Yorker article linked by Zoszima from the New Yorker presents only the Foreign policy side of my government’s analysis of the Putin regime. Michael McFaul who was a favorite of the Obama administration has not agreed with the assessments made by the US military or the CIA on the nature of the Putin regime. He reflects President Obama’s hesitancy to be forceful against Putin.

    I have posted before links to the Strategic Studies Institute’s primary analysis of Putin’s nationalist state capitalist regime, it was a radically different perspective than that of McFaul. Times are changing and so is the perspective of the US government. Obama now has used evidence the CIA has had for a long time that the Federation is violating the SALT II treaty on tactical weapons to free up our options.

    Moreover, the CIA without question has recordings of conversations between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Putin indicating she had some prior knowledge of Putin’s preparations for the invasion of Crimea. While the US government has admitted it has recordings of Merkel’s phone calls it hasn’t revealed what those conversations revealed.

    The CIA has also long held the view that Germany’s intelligence and security services have been penetrated by Russian agents. It is likely up until very recently that the Obama administration totally rejected the CIA’s perspectives as paranoid. US secret services have recruited more than a dozen officials in various German government ministries to work as spies, with some of them working for the CIA for many years, and Obama has finally come to realize that Putin fully rebuilt its spying and penetration of Germany. One has to assume Hungary is also fully penetrated and the CIA has a nice collection of discussions between Orban and Putin.

    Do not be surprised if suddenly the Obama administration reveals – it has obtained information that Military officials in Hungary have been providing the Russian Federation with sensitive NATO materials. If that were to happen it wouldn’t be new information at all, but rather information the CIA has had for a good while and the Obama administration has decided to us for some purpose. Hopefully to politically destroy Orban. But that is expecting a lot out the hesitant Obama administration and it may have to wait until there is a new President.

  12. Germany was famously the most “transparent” government during cold war, I am not surprised that it funds itself again in that scenario. The Germans by nature can’t dare to be nationalistic, aggressive and paranoid enough, which I guess are needed in such jobs. Plus they just don’t care. They are successful, extremely rich and are not really threatened: for them Russia is far, Poland is in between, it’s not their problem. Plus they are like Japan, they have the technological capability to assemble nukes within months if they really wanted it.

    Hungarian public servants in any position make about 1,000 euros, 2k at best a month in net salaries and are often not too savvy and self-confident people in my experience. I am sure they are very easy targets for the professional Russian officers. All the more so because for the Russians Hungary’s a familiar territory, they have the experience. A lot of Russians without zero Hungarian family connections even took the pains to learn Hungarian from scratch (Vladimir Kryuchkov, one of the last chairmen of the KGB was a famous example). They just have the commitment to the region, they are’nt going anywhere.

  13. “It sucks to be a tycoon in a dirt poor country…”

    Let’s be real, folks: no one will oppose anything that Orban wants to do. Since looting of the country is going on at a wild pace, the big boys are getting theirs and shipping it off-shore ASAP.
    If Orban seeks to destroy the economy, they won’t do a damn to prevent it–they’ll just get as much as possible as soon as possible, and that’s it.

    The hitch, for me, in trying to figure out Orban’s plans is his continual efforts to destroy the country’s economic future: I mean the attack on banks, the irregular tax structures leading
    to general instability, the useless building of stadiums at the expense of improving hospitals and schools. Surely, these moves can hardly encourage foreign investors! And the fact is, Orban
    is much smarter than to do these things without knowing exactly what the consequences will be.

    So, for me, Orban is out to destroy the country. Why? That’s a question to ponder…

  14. Does anyone know how this paper, this Magyar Nemzet covers the genocide in Gaza? Or the rest of the Hungarian press? In the world press you can not find many reports even though about a 1000 women and children lie dead and 200 000 innocent people became homeless, their houses blown up, rocketed, bombed destroyed.

    Even an United Nations school was targeted and bombed by Israel even though the UN gave GPS coordinates 17 times to Israel so they would know exactly the location of the UN building.

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