Potpourri: shifting public mood, protest vote, continued attack on the U.S.

Well, in the two days I spent in Switzerland (alas, virtually), a lot of things happened in Hungary. Since I found it difficult to choose a single topic, today’s post will be somewhat scattershot.

Yesterday we got the first public opinion poll since the unrest caused initially by the planned introduction of an internet tax and later by the corruption cases that surfaced at NAV. The frustration vented at the three large demonstrations that took place over the past two weeks went far beyond these issues, however. The participants seemed to have had enough of the whole political system that Viktor Orbán has been systematically building since 2010.

Of course, we will have to wait for a few more polling results to know whether Nézőpont Intézet, a pro-Fidesz company, is correct in its assessment. A few years ago they were utterly unreliable, but recently their results have been quite accurate. So, what’s the word? It looks as if Fidesz has lost some of its supporters. As Gábor Török, a political scientist who is famous for being noncommittal, noted on his Facebook page, this is the first time since June 2012 that Fidesz’s support in the adult population dropped below 30%. Just between October 14-17 and November 3-7 Fidesz lost 3%, about a tenth of its supporters. Most opposition parties had gains, including Jobbik and DK. MSZP by contrast seems to be in worse shape than before. Among eligible voters the socialists are at 7% while their arch rival, the Demokratikus Koalíció, is at 6%. MSZP’s situation is even worse when it comes to “potential voters,” i.e. people who indicate that they would go and vote if elections were held next Sunday. Here DK would garner 11% of the votes while MSZP would get only 9%. DK doubled its support in the last few months while the socialists are working hard at obliterating themselves. The graph below clearly shows clearly the trends in the last four and a half years.

Source Origo / Nézőpont Intézet

Source Origo / Nézőpont Intézet

Talking about parties, Jobbik had a huge success in Ózd, a kind of Hungarian Detroit, except that Ózd in the socialist period became a center of iron smelting. After the change of regime the coke works became less profitable and many folks lost their jobs. The people of Ózd were victims of the Kádár regime’s forced industrialization that in the new competitive environment was bound to fail.

Ózd was a solidly socialist city until 2010, when Pál Fürjes (Fidesz-KDNP) was elected mayor and the city council had 9 Fidesz members out of 14. MSZP had to be satisfied with one lone seat. The desperate inhabitants of the town undoubtedly hoped that a Fidesz administration would be able the reverse the city’s downward spiral. They were disappointed. Nothing changed. In addition, people noticed with dismay that the new Fidesz administration was “arrogant, condescending and corrupt.” The locals could hardly wait to get rid of Fürjes and his friends. The DK-MSZP candidate was new with little political experience and since Jobbik was strong in town, even the DK-MSZP supporters saw little chance of winning against Fürjes. And indeed, a 27-year-old Jobbik candidate of Polish origin, Dávid Janiczak, won with a margin of 66 votes.

But no Fidesz candidate can stomach defeat after having been in office for a while. In several places losers insisted on annulling the results. In two Budapest districts their efforts failed, but in the case of Ózd, where the case went all the way to the Debrecen Appellate Court, a new election had to be held. As you will see from the results, the people of Ózd revolted. One woman told Népszabadság that in October she did not bother to vote because her feet hurt but this time she would have crawled on all fours to vote for Fürjes’s opponent. The inhabitants found Fürjes’s behavior unacceptable and wanted to “punish him.” Well, they did. First of all, they went out to vote in record numbers. While in October only 10,927 people voted, in November the number was 15,982. While in October Janiczak received 4,214 votes, in November he more than doubled that result, with 10,299 votes. Fürjes got only a few dozen extra votes. The most remarkable aspect of the Ózd situation is that while the DK-MSZP candidate in October received 2,238 votes, in November he got only 520. Even people on the left were so determined that the Fidesz mayor not be reelected that they voted for the Jobbik candidate who had a real chance. In brief, it was a protest vote.

Anyone who would like portray the Ózd results as the beginning of an era of Jobbik dominance in Hungarian politics is wrong. This was a unique situation that was created by the usual Fidesz insatiability. Fidesz politicians cannot bear losing. Moreover, they have the feeling that the whole country should be theirs. They are not satisfied until every hamlet, every position everywhere is in their hands.

Fidesz likes to frighten the West with the specter of Jobbik. The usual mantra is: “Don’t criticize the present government and Fidesz because we are the guarantee that the far-right Jobbik will not swallow up the whole country.” This time too a so-called political scientist of the by now notorious Századvég foundation wrote in his blog: “Telegram to America: Ózd.” In plain English, “Goodfriend et al., get off your high horses. You bother about such trifling matters as corruption at the tax authority when we are the bulwark that holds back the far right. You see what you did? The Jobbik revolt in Ózd resulted from your high-handed behavior.” Of course, this is all nonsense. The people of Ózd said that they had had enough of  both MSZP and Fidesz. Let’s see what Jobbik can do. Not all these voters hold  far-right views and not all are racists. They are just fed up. As for how much the Jobbik mayor will be able to achieve, I fear not much even if he is a talented politician with full of good intentions. In the council there is still a solid Fidesz majority, and we know what Fidesz politicians do in such cases. We saw four years of struggle in Esztergom between a Fidesz-majority council and an independent mayor who defeated the Fidesz candidate in 2006. In District XV, where a DK man won this year, the Fidesz majority has already boycotted council meetings, preventing the election of deputy mayors. They will try their best to prevent the DK mayor from actually running the district. Most likely something like that will also happen in Ózd. The last thing that poor city needs.

Finally, the Orbán government’s attacks on the United States continue. In fact, the volume has been turned up somewhat. According to Antal Rogán, leader of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, M. André Goodfriend, U.S. chargé d’affaires in Budapest, is “not a truthful man” (nem szavahihető). Even the honey-tongued Zoltán Kovács, one of the many government spokesmen, couldn’t quite manage to explain today that “not truthful” means anything other than “not truthful.”

Then there is the parliamentary committee on national security whose Fidesz majority decided last week to ask André Goodfriend to appear before them. The MSZP chairman had such serious doubts about the advisability of such a move that he refused to extend the “invitation.” Well, the deputy chair, Szilárd Németh, the one I described as a perfect candidate for a bouncer in a shady part of town, decided to go ahead anyway.

But the funniest part of the American-Hungarian tug-of-war was Ildikó Vida’s visit to the U.S. Embassy yesterday. Vida, head of the Hungarian tax authority, is one of the six Hungarians who cannot enter the United States because of their possible involvement in corrupt practices in connection with American firms doing business in Hungary. Vida, accompanied by her lawyer and a reporter and cameraman from HírTV, showed up at the U.S. Embassy unannounced and uninvited. It just happened that Goodfriend was going out for a walk when he was accosted by Vida and her lawyer. The encounter is the object of great hilarity on the internet, especially since Hungarians learned that the almighty head of the tax authority does not know a word of English.

I'm saying it slowly so even Ildikó Vida would understand it: cheers

I’m saying it slowly so even Ildikó Vida would understand it: cheers

In any case, eventually Vida and her lawyer had a fairly lengthy discussion with Goodfriend, during which Vida failed to learn anything new. Afterwards, she said that she considers the chargé totally ignorant of the details of her arduous work uncovering tax corruption. She also announced that she will force the issue by applying for a visa to the United States. Today Vida’s lawyer, Barnabás Futó, who is described as “the Fidesz-mafia’s well-known lawyer,” claimed on Olga Kálmán’s Egyenes beszéd (ATV) that “the American chargé informed him that he had received documents from András Horváth,” the whistleblower who first called attention to the highly irregular practices at NAV. Horváth, who was watching the program, immediately phoned in and announced that he had never met André Goodfriend. After this, however, he said he will have to meet the American diplomat in person to find out what transpired in his meeting with Vida and her lawyer. Perhaps the reason for the misunderstanding was Vida’s and Futó’s lack of language skills.

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69 comments

  1. Typical (and sad …) for Hungary in the background of that COUB-video the signs “eladó”.

    We always joke that Mr Eladó must be the richest man in Hungary, his name crops up everywhere – and the next in line is his brother Mr Kiadó …

  2. @petofi I hope your “troll” comment was not referring to me?

    Jeez, I just like charts and data, I thought the Origo chart constituted statistical malpractice, and tried my hand at creating a better alternative. When my choice of including all center-left opposition groups in one line was criticized, for reasons I disagree with but can wholly understand, I even created a second alternative for those who didn’t like that.

    FWIW, I’ve commented before on this blog, though it’s been quite a while; I even remember Eva’s postings on email discussions groups from back in the early/mid-1990s! I don’t usually agree with Eva, I must say, but I do appreciate the wealth of information she provides. I loathe both the MSzP and the DK, but I loathe Fidesz and Jobbik even more; if I were allowed to vote here I guess I’d go for the LMP, though 4K! seemed promising for a moment. I’ve participated in more anti-government demonstrations from the left/liberal side than I can count. Maybe that’s enough to not be called a “troll”…

    If you weren’t referring to me and I’m just being oversensitive, my apologies. Just being disappointed, I guess, cause I thought I contributed something worthwhile.

  3. VIDA ILDIKÓ, the Hungarian perpetual QUARREL and the pharmaceutical antidote required: QUARELIN a special Hungarian Trade Mark for sodium-metamizol… :

    thehttp://coub.com/view/3ysbm
    Now here above is the non-cartoon version of Vida Ildiko’s comment on the US stance on keeping information to itself about the specific reasons for denying entry into the USA:.

    What is fascinating is that it appears a government official of Hungary appears unable to comprehend that admission into a sovereign nation can be denied for reasons that are not necessarily to be disclosed.

    I come across this lack of comprehension by the non-intellectual elements (most of the folk) in Hungary.

    For anyone living on the outside, this may appear as an unheard-of style of thinking – but believe me it is standard practice here.

    Namely: if a logic is not to an individual’s liking, the person will invent his/her own logic to suit their purpose and canot be convinced otherwise — since here logic is not an end in itself but a means of proving to yourself and the world that you are RIGHT… (That you have the sceptre of knowledge in your hand).

    Som of you may remember my thoughts on this subject expressed previously.
    It actually outlines the basis of the Fidesz way of arguing and thinking.

    Perhaps there should be a name given to the pattern such as “Illogical Thinking” which would mjive well with the other catch phrase used, namely “Illiberal Democracy” or the contradiction to common sense of the prase “Maffia State”.

    Hungary even has a medicine that you buy in the pharmacy when you get sick from the constant quarreling here: Its called “Quarelin” distributed by Sanofi pharmaceuticals. In other countries it does not go under the concept of Hungarian Quarrels, instead it has a more sobering chemical equivalent of “sodium-metamizol”.

  4. Re: troll comments

    Calm down, folks. Length of comment is only one sign of trolldom: the main sign is ‘content’ and how mud-slinging on the Left and the West (EU and the US) is a staple of troll commentary.

  5. Feeding bullsh** to the infinitely naïve Germans.

    “Orban is open to changing course and aligning with Germany instead of Russia. This is being prepared”.

    I would ask, prepared by whom? Szijjarto and his brain trust? When Orban is personally talking via “former” Stasi agents about long term gas agreements with Russian “former” KGB agents? When he is negotiating Paks 2 in secret? When he is praising the Azerbaijani dictator as a model politician to emulate?

    But of course Seehofer and Kohl are pushing Orban strongly and nothing happens in Berlin without the CSU. Well, this new alignment process will be a rather long one, but Germans will keep believing.

    http://www.hvg.hu/itthon/20141112_Orban_igazodik_a_nemetekhez_fordulat

  6. @holger:

    I don’t think “old man Kohl” and Seehofer will sway Mrs Merkel – she’s already very angry at both of them!

    Kohl said some not so nice things about her and Seehofer with his ideas about the toll on the German Autobahn (only for foreigners was the idea – but of course that would be against EU law …) is already the laughing stock in Berlin!

    Together with ex chancellor Schröder’s friendship with Putin this doesn’t look too good – most politicians are against the Russians, just a few in the “Left” still look up to Putin.

  7. @andysomos – OT, but still: whatever you say, Quarelin the one only Hungarian stuff what I can not live without after 25 years off from the place – couldn’t find anything with the same effect.

    About the subject;
    Eva, you are perfectly right in that tweet, the situation is quite hilarious!
    Just look at that miserable pawn – who certainly took an order to go there and act tough, – with a lawyer why infamous of his under the belt tactics, and they fell royally.
    Later on the lawyer explained that their intention was to “surprise Godfriend”..!

    Of what end, for cryin’ out lout? He shouldn’t be able to “hide” some incriminating evidence of Ildikåo Vida innocence, or what, for Heavens sake?

    In a “normal” country people have appointment and have a civilised conversation in order to clear up the situation, in case if it’s their interest.

    Well, it wasn’t the case.
    Strange, isn’t it?

  8. @andy and spectator (totally OT):

    This Quarelin sounds “interesting” – its main (?) component Metamozol is sold in Germany as Novaminsulfon or Novalgin – a very effective painkiller. I get it from my doctor to switch between it and Diclofenac for my back pain.

  9. @wolfi(still OT,sorry)
    Iv’ve got the first subscription sometimes in ’73 in Hungary for my headaches, and still working.
    I believe it also contains caffeine and codeine, so it effect – to me anyway – among other things by improving the blood-circulation of the brain. So, the dominant effect isn’t dulling the senses, rather solving the problem what causes the pain.
    Recently it became harder to get, you need a doctor to provide you a receipt.
    It may very well be individual, but I never experienced the “pain-killer effect” (as it “normal” with Diclofenac, which is working to effect your central nerve-system, – mine anyway) of subdued sensory reactions and mental fog, the thing may be old fashioned, but just works, thank you.

  10. About Jobbik in Ozd. It is frightening that people come in large numbers (ie that they get mobilised) when hoping for strong responses of a far-right movement. That the so-called left wing parties are joining the club of Jobbik voters is also very telling, about their ability to generate convincing politicians and some workable and suitable answers to the current Hungarian malaise. Mafia state versus nationalist-military mobilisation, I believe it does not matter, both is moving the country closer to disaster. Why is it so difficult to spread some more positive ideas about politics and society?

  11. buddy: “Maybe one of our kind German speakers would be able to provide a decent translation of this?”

    http://wien.orf.at/news/stories/2678543/

    Since nobody has responded, here is an interpretation from a third language pupil of German.

    The link shows a report on the awards of the Nestroy Prices to actors for the best performances in the past theater season in Wienna. The list of serious awards to different actors is finished by two humorous awards, one was given to a theater director for “the best performance as a theater director” and one was given to the Hungarian prime minister for “the worst performance as a contemporary statesman”.

  12. MTI’s news service today ran a story about comments made by Petr Hajek, a former senior adviser to Czech President Vaclav Klaus. Hajek is quoted as stating the United States is preparing to overthrow the elected Hungarian government by creating a false corruption scandal. He went further arguing that the internet tax protests were organized to “overthrown” Orban’s government, apparently at the behest of the USA for Orban being “disobedient” in relation to following the US line on economic relations with Russia. The MTI article was carried by Népszabadság today under the heading “Washington a korrupciós botránnyal akarja megbuktatni az Orbán-kormányt?”

    Would this be the same Petr Hajek who called the killing of Osama bin Laden by Seal Team 6 a media fabrication and has said that the terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001 were a conspiracy of the U.S. government? Would this be the same Petr Hajek who is a homophobe and calls gay people “deviants” and opposes gay pride parades in Prague? Would this also be the same Petr Hajek who called Czech President Milos Zeman a “collaborator” similar to Emil Hacha, who was made Czech leader by the Nazis during World War II for the crime of flying the blue-and-gold European Union flag is flying above Prague Castle? Why yes it would be.
    Does Mr. Hajek have a credibility problem? Oh, yes he does, does MTI even mention that in their article? No they don’t.

  13. @Kirsten, I think you exaggerate the differences between Fidesz and Jobbik. As I often say one does not know where one ends and where the other starts. Moreover, Fidesz achieved almost all of Jobbik’s program.

  14. Eva, I must have written a bit too quickly. My intention was actually quite the opposite. I understood your comment about the elections in Ozd as if you put some hopes into the recent interest of the voters of Ozd in (local) politics. I wanted to say that even if people get mobilised for this election, to vote Jobbik, with the support of the democratic parties, this does not mean much for me in terms of a shifting public mood. Whether they vote for Fidesz (which promises to relieve people from their detested need to choose and therefore also to think about politics) or for Jobbik, which does not differ in the preference for autocracy and more, people mainly demonstrate their preference for strong leaders and quick and easy solutions. Fidesz already managed to disappoint people (their “easy solutions” brought nothing), but that is merely the best opportunity to ask another charlatan for “quick solutions”. Therefore I found the big interest in politics and in voting in Ozd more worrying than promising.

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