The new Fidesz target: László Székely, Hungary’s ombudsman

In May I wrote a post about László Székely, the ombudsman newly appointed by the Orbán administration. In it I suggested that Székely’s appointment might have been a mistake on the part of Viktor Orbán. I noted that the prime minister had erred earlier in naming Máté Szabó as the new sole ombudsman. Szabó turned out to be a steadfast defender of human rights and the rule of law. I added that “it may happen again, but Viktor Orbán rarely makes mistakes on personnel choices.” Well, it did happen. Székely has been an independent ombudsman whose recommendations have rarely met with government approval. Now it seems that he may lose his job. Moreover, the case is an opportunity for a fresh attack against the Hungarian NGOs which receive Norwegian funds because the case involves TASZ, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, one of the recipients.

TASZ represents the Kék Pont Alapítvány (Blue Dot Foundation), which is involved in the prevention of drug abuse. It provides an ambulance service for drug addicts and serves as a drug consultation center. The Foundation also runs a number of centers where addicts can exchange their used needles for sterile ones. One of these centers is in District VIII, a rather seedy part of Pest. Máté Kocsis, the Fidesz mayor of the district, is a brash young man without much compassion for the downtrodden. His efforts “to clean up” the place usually employ inhumane methods. Recently he turned against Kék Pont’s needle exchange center. The staff was told that they have to stop their activities. TASZ, representing the foundation, appealed to the ombudsman’s office for a judgment last November. Their argument rested on the right to health. Used needles spread disease not only among drug users but also in the population at large. Moreover, TASZ stressed that needle exchange programs are recommended by the European Union. All in all, they had a strong case, and the ombudsman’s office agreed with them. The mayor, however, contended that the ombudsman’s office simply parroted TASZ’s arguments. He was also convinced that the ombudsman himself never read the verdict; he just signed his name to it.

How did we get to this stage? Well, it would be nice to know how Fidesz and its on-again-off-again mouthpiece, Magyar Nemzet, collude. Does Magyar Nemzet receive orders and documentation from Fidesz politicians or is it the other way around? I suspect that the former is the more likely scenario. My hunch is that Kocsis was infuriated by the recommendation of the ombudsman that he received on September 8. He managed to get hold of some e-mails from the ombudsman’s office that could be interpreted in a way that would serve the young mayor’s purpose. Magyar Nemzet is also not shy at presenting material it receives in a false light. Once the staff considers a story juicy and politically damaging it is ready to churn out one article or opinion piece after the other. That was definitely the case here. Since yesterday morning Magyar Nemzet published nine articles about the horrid collusion between László Székely’s office and TASZ. They seized the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone: Székely did not turn out to be a willing tool and TASZ–well, it is one of those anti-government, anti-Hungarian NGOs.

The Fidesz steam roller / Source: ataszjelenti.blog.hu

The Fidesz steamroller / Source: ataszjelenti.blog.hu

It all started with a falsification of facts. The paper published a facsimile of an e-mail which was not an exchange between TASZ and one of the associates of the ombudsman’s office, as Magyar Nemzet intimated, but an internal memo between two officials in the ombudsman’s office. This e-mail, dated May 28, was an answer to a question from another official concerning the time of the decision’s release. The answer indicated that the text was more or less ready but that they would make an inquiry at the ministry and at the city hall of District VIII before its release. The appropriate officials will have 15 days to answer. Moreover, since both people will be on summer holidays, the decision can be released only after their return.

Immediately after the publication of this e-mail, Székely ordered an in-house investigation and found out within a couple of hours that it had nothing to do with TASZ.

Then came Magyar Nemzet’s second article, published after János Lázár had already announced that if the story about the e-mail was true, Székely must resign. From this second article it became clear that whoever lifted the documents from the ombudsman’s office had a number of e-mails concerning the Kék Pont case. This time the paper published an exchange between Péter Sárosi, the man who handled the case at TASZ, and Beáta Borza, one of the department heads in the ombudsman’s office. In his letter Sárosi inquired about the date of the release of the verdict because Kék Point already had a shortage of needles and in September they must close their doors. Moreover, he said, he himself will be going on vacation and he would like to be around when the decision is released. TASZ would like to make sure that the story gets into the media. The department head promised to talk to the lawyer who was handling the case and expressed her hope that they can help as far as the date is concerned. From that letter both Magyar Nemzet and Kocsis came to the conclusion that there was collusion between the two over when the document will become public. In his usual parlance Kocsis announced that “the drug lobby has already entrenched itself in the ombudsman’s office.”

This case is being taken extremely seriously in government circles. György Rubovszky (KDNP), chairman of the judicial committee, announced that on Monday László Székely must appear before them. It seems that Rubovszky has pretty much made up his mind. He released the following statement: “According to recent news, the office of the ombudsman, disregarding the expectation of its objective and independent inquiry, prejudicially cooperated with the organization that initiated the inquiry in the preparation of its content and the timing of its publication.” I don’t think Székely will be Hungary’s ombudsman for long.

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7 comments

  1. Just a side note: Magyar Nemzet is a not only a mouthpiece of Fidesz (despite all the differences between Simicska and Orban, though the latest is that the media tax is being rethought), but also an instrument of the secret services according to many independent journalists. Both Orban and Simicska have a rather strong preference of using reliable people who were originally selected for loyalty and willingness to carry out dubious missions. (Of course those who entered the services before 1990 are known by the Russians, the rest of the names, who are younger, they could figure out anyway, so no secrets before our new big brothers).

  2. This whole MN story reeks of a KGB-style “kompromat”. (Though one should learn from the masters.)

    Even the text of the email on the cover of the Saturday edition of MN is such that it doesn’t really say anything, it could be interpreted a hundred ways, but it’s really great in the sense that it could be manufactured into an evidence against Székely. The deep state strikes back.

    As it was mentioned on this blog, and yesterday’s KGB/FSB commenter “Richard” alluded to it, the NGOs operating in Hungary will be eradicated. Nothing less is acceptable. The Russian colleagues supply the know-how and they know how the get results.

    This war on the NGOs does work. Among the fidesz and jobbik-loyal fan base (altogether a huge proportion), the NGOs are the new jews, liberals, Americans, Brussels — meanwhile it became fashionable to exchange recipes of Russian dishes among fidesznik housewives. Not kidding. Russia is out new best friend and savior. Crazy.

  3. Istvan Lovas the completely crazy, die-hard fidesznik, Orbanist Brussels-based correspondent of Magyar Nemzet who was recently fired wrote an open letter to one V. Putin asking for a Hungarian version of Russia Today (the pro-Putin tv channel).

  4. This is wrong on so many levels. As far as I know the needle exchange program was working well, and there were certainly more initiatives to be taken in that department. Regarding the Ombudsman, in another country I’d say ‘that’s for the courts to decide’ but then… this is Orbánistan. There is no such thing as an ‘independent authority’ any more.

    By the way, the ‘seedy’ District VIII is quite vibrant. It has many people that Fidesz would like to boot out of the center of Pest entirely: homeless, Roma, immigrants, drug addicts … Obviously, they face serious challenges (and as far as the latter are concerned they also pose a series of problems to the neighborhood), but that’s what a modern European metropolis is also made of. Segregation won’t work.

  5. Are there similar heroin NGO-s in the United States as well? I mean NGOs providing free services to heroin users. Wouldn’t in the United States if you established a heroin NGO all the “customers” be arrested for possession of heroin?

    Let us ask the writer of this blog if they had a house would they want a heroin NGO next to it? An NGO where thousands of heroin users come daily.

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