Interview with Kim Scheppele, Part II: From the Tavares Report to the Electoral System

Members of the Orbán government and its defenders never miss an opportunity to remind critics that it was the Hungarian people who democratically elected Viktor Orbán and his party to govern their land. Not once, they add, but three times just this year–and each time with an overwhelming majority. What they neglect to say is that “Fidesz got its two-thirds using every trick in the book, and it needed every trick in the book to do that,” as Kim Scheppele tells Benjamin Novak in the second part of the interview The Budapest Beacon conducted with her at Princeton University. The first part of the interview can be seen on Hungarian Spectrum (November 13). Kim Scheppele is an expert on the Hungarian constitution, but as you can see here she is thoroughly conversant with Fidesz’s electoral law as well.

Thanks to The Budapest Beacon, I can republish the video and the transcript of the interview. I’m sure that you will all find it most enlightening.

Let’s talk about the Tavares Report. George Schöpflin tells me that it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

In what sense? Does he thinks it’s false or does he think it’s meaningless?

He thinks it’s the left-liberal way of complaining about this unacceptable situation in which a center-right conservative party gets a two-thirds parliamentary majority.

So let me start with what I take to be the vote on the report, and then maybe we can get into what the report actually says. The report actually came to the floor of the European Parliament. As I understand it, the European People’s Party, which is the party that Fidesz is affiliated with, had a number of members who wanted to be able to vote for the report but were afraid to do so because their party leadership told them to object to the bill. So there was an agreement that there would be a “voice vote”, which is to say just a count of the actual numbers and not a roll call vote. So that said, when you look at the actual numbers for the Tavares Report, the number of people who voted against it was less than half of the total number of European People’s Party representatives, which means that the EPP was divided. Now, it was true that almost all those who opposed the report were on the conservative side. But it was also the case that conservatives had a majority in the European Parliament at the time that that report was voted on. Actually, two-thirds of the members of the European Parliament either voted for it or abstained and let it go through. So, you can’t any longer make this argument that it was just the left against Hungary, because at least half of the conservatives in the European Parliament had to support the report in one way or another. So it’s just wrong that this was something that the left pushed through and the right opposed.  In fact, what was so striking was that that was the first vote in which you could see that the European People’s Party was already splitting on Hungary.

And now they’re splitting again. Just the other day MTI actually reported on the European Parliament’s debate on Hungary and there were a number of people who participated in the debate who afterward gave interviews to MTI.  There was one guy who was described in the Hungarian news service as “Frank Engel, MEP from Luxembourg” because they didn’t want to say “Frank Engel, MEP from the European People’s Party”. He’s in the leadership of the European People’s Party and he came out and said Hungary is really on the edge of being kicked out of the family of democratic states.  I’m seeing this from an outside perspective, but if you look at the comments being made by EPP leaders, you look at the votes on issues having to do with Hungary, I don’t think that the Hungarian government should presume that it’s got the support of the European People’s Party, or that it’s divided the European Parliament left-right.  It just hasn’t done that.

Also every time the European Commission brings sanctions against the Hungarian government, or brings an infringement procedure against the Hungarian government, or makes a criticism of the Hungarian government, it’s very often EPP commissioners who are doing it. The commissioner that the Hungarian government loved to hate most was Viviane Reding, who was an EPP representative from Luxembourg, that was her party. So I think it’s a mistake to think of this as left-right in the European Union. It clearly isn’t. It’s true that the supporters of the Hungarian government in the European Parliament are EPP people. But the EPP is very divided.  And I would be very surprised if the whole party stood up on mass to defend the Orbán government. I just don’t see that happening.

What does the Hungarian government have in store for itself in the upcoming years? Are there going to be sanctions? Obviously, you don’t know if there will be but if there were, what would these look like?

Several of the commissioners during their hearing before the European Parliament, both Juncker who is the President of the European Commission, and now also Timmermans, who is kind of the right-hand man of Mr. Juncker – they’ve all said that when countries violate basic European principles that something must be done. They’ve never mentioned the Hungarian government by name, but they’ve actually made some quite tough statements going into their new terms that something I think is going to happen.

Also, the European Parliament has already started to schedule these hearings on Hungary. So far it has been the left who have initiated these hearings. But the Tavares Report is still there as the statement of the European Parliament.  And the Tavares Report laid out a series of programs for both monitoring what was happening inside Hungary and also checking on whether what the Hungarian government said it was doing actually fixed the problems that the European Parliament identified, and set up a potential road to sanctions. Last Spring the European Commission came out with something it called its Rule of Law Initiative which provided a kind of glide path for how to use Article 7 of the Treaty of the European Union, which is the harshest punishment available now in the European system. So they’re all inching toward actually using the mechanisms that European law makes available to sanction Hungary.

So then the question is what kind of sanctions?  What people don’t realize is that in the European Union there is no way to throw a state out. There now is a way for a state to quit. If Orbán really believes that the EU is being a really repressive actor . . .

. . . then he can pack up and leave.

That’s what Britain’s talking about doing. But if Orbán thinks that, then he can leave. But I really suspect that Orbán will not do it because Hungary really needs the money. You know, the vast majority of funds coming in for economic development to Hungary are coming from the EU. The EU is holding up the Hungarian economy in ways that Orbán can’t afford to walk away from. But if he wants to complain that much, then he has that exit strategy.

Do you think this “eastward opening” is a bluff?

No, I think the “eastward opening” is really important to Orbán because I think what he realizes is that the Hungarian economy rests on a very shaky foundation. And it rests on a shakier foundation now that he’s disrupted all of the legal certainty that foreign investors came to Hungary in reliance on. So, as you’ve seen, foreign investment has been drying up. That’s why the dominant money coming into the country right now is coming in from EU funds. So Orbán has to find some way to kickstart the economy.

Now he’s clearly indicated that he wants no constraints on his own sphere of action. So, any money coming from the Troika – which is the IMF, the ECB and the Commission – or any EU sources is going to come with strings attached about changing the domestic landscape so that Orbán is no longer an autocratic monopolist as it were. Obviously, he doesn’t want that, so he has to find money elsewhere.

Frankly, I think the “eastward opening” is Orbán’s trick of how to find money elsewhere because what he’s discovered, and all the attention right now on Hungary is because of Russia, that he’s also (seeking) investments from China, he’s been going hat in hand to Azerbaijan, to Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, the Saudis –

To the ideal illiberal democracies.

Well. they’re not even democracies in many cases. Turkmenistan is definitely nowhere close to a democracy.  I was just there this summer.  But these are countries that are rich and Orbán goes to them and says “give us some money”.  And in a number of cases these countries are giving Orbán money. So then the question is, why are those countries giving Orbán money? Now, we’ve had the most focus on Russia and think that Russia is Orbán’s model. Although, these autocracies, these non-constitutional, non-rule of law, non-democracies, will never ask Orbán to become a constitutional democrat.

Of course not.

So what do they want from Orbán? I think what they want from Orbán is Orbán’s position within the EU. They want somebody on the inside of the EU advocating for their interests.

It wouldn’t be unheard of.

In fact, here at Princeton University we had an undergraduate student who did a very fabulous senior thesis a few years ago. He wanted to know how do tiny, tiny little countries, like little islands in the South Pacific that have only 10,000 people but they’re members of the United Nations… they have nothing to sell, no natural resources… how do they support themselves? He went off and he interviewed members of those parliaments, people in the governments, and what he discovered is that these little countries joined every single international organization that they can.  And then they sell their votes in these international organizations to the states that will pay to keep their governments going.

I read this thesis and thought what an interesting model for government finance! I can’t prove that this is what Hungary is doing, but then what does Hungary have that it can sell? I mean, pálinka is great, Tokaji is divine, I mean there are a number of things that Hungary has that it can sell, but not enough to hold up the whole government.

In Hungary’s case, it wouldn’t be unheard of.  There was this case regarding Béla Kovács, this Jobbik MEP, who allegedly was spying for Russia.

The relationship between Jobbik and Fidesz is not nothing, but they don’t have exactly the same interests. It’s clear that Russia has been sneaking around and looking for ways to get its perspective into European countries and EU institutions.  Because I think that Russia sees the EU as a competitor and a threat. You look at all the signals and it would make sense for Russia to try and make allies inside the EU.

So what does Hungary have to sell? It has its position within the EU. Again, I cannot prove this because I don’t yet have all the evidence, but one of the things that Orbán could be doing with the opening to east, is to get investment into Hungary. Then you have to ask what’s he giving back in return? I don’t think we have a good answer yet to that question.

Only time will tell.  What do you see happening with regards to the United States relationship with Hungary at this point?

Well, I think the United States has been saying for some time that “Hungary is an ally,”  “We’re a little concerned,”  “We’re a little more concerned”.  “Hungary is a friend,” “Friends criticize friends”.   The U.S. was making all those kinds of noises.

But then last month things changed. So first, there was that kind of off-hand remark by Bill Clinton, who is so clever that off-hand remarks like that are not anything he does. Then President Obama repeated these words at a speech in which he was critical of Hungary. Nothing the President says is casual, especially not when he mentions a foreign country. Then we have Victoria Nuland’s speech where she almost threatens Hungary’s position in NATO where she said that we fought for democracies in that part of world, now countries have become democracies, if they start to think that they can pull away from that, then they will not be able to “comfortably sleep at night under their Article 5 blanket”. Now, Article 5 is a piece of the NATO treaty that says that if any country is attacked that all the others will come to its defense. It’s the core of the collective self-defense provision. She put that on the table as contingent on being a member of the club of democracies. And then suddenly we have these sanctions against unnamed Hungarians, probably state officials. That’s a very rapid downhill slide of US-Hungary relations. And then we had the comment by Deputy Chief of Mission Goodfriend that says we are essentially wondering whether Hungary can still be an ally. Those are sharp words. In diplomatic language, that’s huge.  And its concerted, it’s coming from multiple players, and it’s not an accident. This is something that really represents, I think, looking from the outside, a breach in US-Hungary diplomatic relations.

Do you think US-Hungary relations will play a role in helping things at the EU level move forward with respect to Hungary?

This is interesting. When we think of what European Union sanctions are, they have this possibility of excluding Hungary from voting in European affairs. If you think about what I said a minute ago about Hungary’s eastward opening, if I’m right (and it’s a hypothesis), if Hungary is selling its influence in the EU to dodgy states, then losing its vote in the EU would matter a lot because then it could no longer vote on matters in the European Council, its position will be marginalized in European institutions, it can no longer have any influence in the European Union. That’s what that Article 7 is all about. That’s why sanctions could be serious if this is what Hungary is really doing.  Again, this is speculation, but it really is something that one has to wonder. Why are dodgy countries supporting Hungary? What is Hungary selling in exchange? That’s one kind of theory about this.

In terms of US sanctions, the US has relatively few ways it can directly sanction Hungary, except in the way that it’s been sanctioning Russia by issuing individually targeted sanctions on individuals. Those are very powerful. If you’ve been in Moscow recently you’ve seen that high-flying society there is basically closed down. Restaurants are empty. The high-value stores are empty. It hasn’t affected the average Russian very much, which is the good thing about those kinds of targeted sanctions. The US is a friend to the Hungarian people, as I hope it’s clear that I’m also a friend of the Hungarian people.  It’s the government we’re having trouble. Ideally, if the diplomatic community wants to have an effect on the government, they need to figure out a way to do that without also having it affect the people of that country.

Article 7 sanctions in the European Union would just affect Hungary’s vote. It will not be noticed by the average Hungarian. These denial of entry sanctions that the U.S. State Department has now issued against a number of Hungarians. Even financial sanctions which the U.S. has done in the case of Russian individuals and businesses, if the U.S. moves that way, are really designed to influence exactly the circle around the government and not the average people. I think that looks to me like that may be where the EU is going.  It may be where the U.S. is going.  But I think it’s very important for Hungarians to understand that, as I see it from the outside, it looks to me like both the EU and the U.S. are teeing up this possibility of having sanctions that will just be confined to the Hungarian government and the officials in the inner circle.

Let’s talk a bit about the Hungarian elections. In 2010 Fidesz wins with an unprecedented landslide two-thirds majority, a supermajority. Why can’t the West just accept that two-thirds of Hungarians want this?

Well, first of all, two-thirds of Hungarians didn’t want this.  If you look at the low turnout, so more than a third of Hungarians didn’t vote at all. Of those who voted, the opposition was divided. Fidesz only got 54 percent of the vote. This time, however, they got 45 percent. That’s pretty significant. If you look at the numbers, they’ve lost a big fraction of their voters and they managed to win this recent election by reducing the overall vote. Something like 500,000 Hungarians have left the country under the Fidesz watch since 2010, at least as far as we can tell. Many of them were voters affiliated with the opposition and Fidesz made it very difficult for them to vote in the election.

So they exiled the opposition. They then made it harder for them to vote. Then they give new citizenship to all these people in neighboring countries. That vote, by the way, went 97-98 percent for Fidesz. That’s like North Korea voting. There’s no election in which you get that percentage of the vote for the governing party. All the polls that were being taken in Romania, in the community of Hungarian citizens there, showed that Jobbik would probably get 20 percent of the vote, and Jobbik got nothing.   Which makes me wonder what happened to the Jobbik vote.  I’m not a fan of Jobbik but it really makes me wonder what happened to the Jobbik vote in this last election.

It was an election that was very carefully staged to make it appear that Fidesz got this two-thirds vote.  And often times what you’ll hear Fidesz leaders saying that, “We won with two-thirds support!” Well, certainly that’s just wrong in terms of just the numbers. It’s definitely wrong when you look at the way the election was micromanaged from the way they redrew the electoral districts.

Some serious gerrymandering happened.

Also, they put in all these new rules like this winner compensation vote. That was six seats in the parliament.

How would you explain the compensation vote to an American. It took me two months to understand what that is all about!

This is a really complex system. In many European parliamentary systems, voters get two votes when they go to the polls. One vote is like the American election where you vote for your representative. The second vote is where you vote for a party and the seats in the parliament are divided between single member seats and then these party list seats where the party makes a list of who will get in. If they get such and such a percentage of the vote then their top ten people get in and so forth.

So what happens is that single member districts are wildly disproportionate. Somebody can win with one vote and then they get the whole seat, even those where  one less than half voted for somebody else. So it means that these systems are always disproportionate, the American system, the British system, all the ones that use this “first past the post” system are highly disproportionate. What parliamentary systems that have this double vote do is they say maybe we can make it somewhat more proportional by taking the losing votes, the votes cast for losing candidates, and let’s give those votes to the parties when you count the party list votes. So either all of those votes, or a fraction of those votes, or some mathematical function of those votes get added to the other column where people voted for the party lists.

So this was for the original compensation list so that the winner doesn’t take all.

The German system works like that, they have a very disproportionate first past the post system for individual districts. Then by adding the lost votes, the votes cast for losing candidates, to the list votes. They then kind of balance the parliament so that overall the seats kind of represent the underlying votes across parties. It’s a very sane system. Now, that was the system that Hungary had before. It wasn’t perfect, it was still quite disproportionate in all kinds of ways, but that was the prior system.

So Fidesz comes in and says, “Let’s define what is a lost vote”, and they say, “A lost vote is any vote that was not absolutely necessary to a candidate winning the seat.” So suppose you’ve got three candidates in a district and the winner wins by 300 votes and the other candidates get 200 and 100. Under the old system, the 200 votes for that candidate would be added to that candidate’s party list votes, the other 100 votes would be added to that candidate’s party list votes, and the winner who got the seat would get nothing because the winner got the seat. They won.

Now, under winner compensation Fidesz says, “Okay, it turns out that we could have won that seat with 201 votes. The other 99 were just gravy, like that was just extra. So, as a result, those other 99 votes were lost because we didn’t need them to win the seat. So we’re going to add those 99 votes to our compensation list on the party list side.”

What that does just mathematically is it completely tips the balance because it makes it completely disproportionate, especially since Fidesz drew the electoral districts and could maximize its own votes in a lot of these places by dividing the opposition. This is why every time the opposition divided, either between Jobbik and the democratic opposition – and I’m not saying they should get together – or between LMP, the Socialists and the Unity ticket, every time you split the vote you not only split the vote and make it less likely that any opposition party will win the seat, you give Fidesz a bigger advantage over the second-place party because the more you divide, the more they conquer.

So it just compounds the problem.

So the new parliament has 199 seats. Those of us who have looked at the numbers and run the numbers have now realized that they got 6 of those seats just because of this trick. Now, look at how many seats they need for their two-thirds. They needed every vote they got for that two-thirds.  If they didn’t have winner compensation, if they did the election like any normal parliamentary system, they would not have their two-thirds and then they would not have bragging rights.

The foreign vote is another problem. There, they clearly were depressing the voter turnout for the emigré Hungarians – people who had lived in the country, still have permanent residence in the country, but were registered to vote elsewhere. Those people had to register to vote outside and their registration had to exact match what was back in the office in Budapest. So, first of all, a bunch people are rejected because they spelled their mother’s maiden name the wrong way, or if the information they provided didn’t exact match the data at home they were automatically rejected. And there were lots of people who were rejected for that reason. Then, people had to physically go to a consulate or to an embassy to vote. In the UK where there are somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000 Hungarians, everyone had to go to London. There was no other place to vote except London.  So if someone was relatively far away from London, they’d have to physically travel to London. Then, the National Election Office sent a letter to everyone telling them what address to go to vote. Then it turned out that the address was wrong. They sent out the wrong instructions for the British vote.


They also sent out the wrong instructions for what day the Americans had to vote. “Oops a mistake!” But all the mistakes went to suppress the external vote. So then, everyone has to go to the consulate to vote or go to the embassy to vote. Or in London they had to rent a bigger hall because they were expecting so many people. Then suddenly people show up and they are told “you need your foreign passport to be able to vote.” A lot of people showed up to vote with the identification they’d use to vote with in Budapest, their address card. So people show up with their address card and they’re told, “No, you need your foreign passport.” And so people who had travelled all that distance, people who could not go home to pick up their foreign passport and come back, they were then denied the right to vote in the designated polling station. Not surprisingly, there was a relatively small turnout among émigré Hungarians.  Because you really had to be determined and because Fidesz really had to let you vote and there were all these places where they could turn you down, in the registration, in giving you the proper instructions to vote, in going there and checking your ID. There were certainly members of the opposition who voted abroad.  But there were lots of people who were turned down too. In opposition circles the understanding is that it was not random who was turned down. You can’t prove it without better numbers but that was certainly the impression that a lot of people had.

But was that also the case with votes coming from neighboring countries inside the Carpathian Basin?

No. “Near abroad voters” as Fidesz calls them, had a completely separate set of rules. They would register to vote. The could sign up anywhere. Actually, their information didn’t even have to match. In the statute it actually says if their registration doesn’t match all the information we have on file for them, the election officials should ignore the discrepancy. It says that in the law.

So if you have the wrong birthplace, or if you picked the wrong district in Budapest where your family was last registered, or whatever else they needed, and you didn’t match the registration information in the official records, then you were still permitted to register. There was almost no basis on which the electoral officials could deny the registration. Then, how did they get to vote? They could vote by mail. So, you didn’t have to travel, moreover you could vote by mail and you could hand your ballot to anyone who would turn your ballot in for you. You didn’t even have to vote by mail. So there would be people who were of unclear political affiliation, but shall we say were given the vote were probably not affiliated with the democratic opposition, would go through these Hungarian villages and pick up all the ballots and take them to all these new consulates that were opened for example in Romania. Also, there was never a live human who showed up to check anything.

So there were no controls?

There were no controls, there were no checks. Somebody could register in the name of a voter with partial information because, again, the information didn’t have to match.  There was no check that the person who was registered was the one who cast the ballot.  There was no check that the bundler who handled all these hundreds or thousands of ballots hadn’t changed them.  There were no election officials where those ballots were opened in the consulates abroad. So there were no checks on that system at all. So far as we can tell, there were 2 or 3 seats in the Parliament that were determined with those foreign votes.

Again, you add those votes to the winner compensation scheme, I mean, Fidesz got its two-thirds using every trick in the book and it needed every trick in the book to do that. Any one trick, you didn’t have that way of doing foreign votes, you didn’t have that way of doing winner compensation, you didn’t have that way of redrawing districts, etc, etc., any one of those things meant that they certainly wouldn’t have their two-thirds. They probably would have gotten the majority anyway given the turnout. It’s like in Russia where if Vladimir Putin steals elections he’s going to win anyway. But in this case, that two-thirds was crucial because if you don’t have the two-thirds in Parliament, then Fidesz can’t just change any law at will, even the Constitution.


  1. Wow! The first time someone explains those dirty tricks like these “compensating votes” in a way that I could understand them, thank you very much Kim (I hope that’s not too brash …)!

  2. Thank you for sharing this Éva. Excellent interview. Clear and factual answers, especially with respect to the electoral shenanigans of Fidesz. It is so important for Hungarians to know, that the fate of their country is in their own hands, and not in the hands of the White House or the EU Commission.Kim Scheppele is to be applauded for not raising false hopes.

  3. She didn’t really answer the question about EU sanctions. What would be necessary to end EU subsidies, and is the EU considering it? They didn’t end subsidies over the suspected fraud, they only suspended some of them, and from what I understand, they ended the suspension and the Hungarian government received all of their subsidies. I’m not sure I’m correct about this, so if anyone knows about that, I’d be interested in hearing from you.

    It sounds like Kim Scheppele is saying that the EU wants to avoid hurting ordinary Hungarians, so the ending of subsidies is not really being considered. I believe that the ending of subsidies is the only way, short of kicking Hungary out of the EU, that Fidesz will lose badly enough to allow the “basic law” to be overturned. If Hungary loses EU voting rights, that will hurt, but not enough to bring Hungary back to democracy, at least in the next 20 years or so.

  4. @googly:

    It doesn’t really matter what the EU can or could in theory do. One should not, under any circumstances, count on the EU.

    The EU is politically impotent and this is how it wants to remain and how member states wants it to remain. That’s the core DNA of the EU — the supposedly non-political expert technocratic bureaucracy in Brussels loving their coffee breaks, long holidays and generous tax free euros and of course refraining from being politically controversial.

    The funding will not be cut because it would make the EU unpopular, so it’s a complete no go for the EU these days. Hungary’s votes will not be suspended because it’s too complicated politically to see that process go through. Orban knew this all along, this is why he acts as he does. He cannot be disciplined by the EU or even by EU member states (because there is no such member state which is willing to play that role). Prof. Scheppele shed light on a lot of extremely important issues, but this part of her interview unfortunately just isn’t relevant.

  5. State of the republic, for Hungarian speakers.

    It is with a heavy heart that I link this post:

    The comments to the article are via facebook, so overwhelmingly people with real names, photos, often with personal data comment on an article which was about two rapes committed in Miskolc by a person of roma origin.

    There are 116 comments, about 80 would execute the person and many add various methods to carry out the execution and the torture before it. The comments must be read to be believed.

  6. Sure – there were some dirty tricks. But Fidesz was still the most popular of all the parties at the general election – that is the fact. With or without the dirty tricks they would still have won the election.

    The real problem is that a large portion of the population have just given up on politics. I met many people who told me that they would not vote in the election – they hate Fidesz, but the opposition parties are just as bad, according to many (and its probably a fair comment).

    So no offence, but this article might be full of clever legal understanding of the system, but really misses the point. The point is that the political class in Hungary is very corrupt and the people of Hungary have given up on them. Problem is what’s the alternative?

  7. @”voice of reason”

    The dirty tricks don’t stop with election rigging. The government control of the media has a huge hand in shaping public opinion. So do the financial dirty tricks and protectionism, which leave people fearful for their livelihoods. Without those further dirty tricks the opposition would have stood a chance. (And even with a simple majority the gov’t could not have continued playing the dirtiest tricks of all, namely, destroying the constitution and making fast-laws that make even the notion of legality a joke.

  8. Voice of Reason is right. There is full apathy amongst voters. People simply do not go to vote for three reason: 1. There is no “professional” alternative. 2. The more educated voters are very much aware how the voting is rigged, so they feel their vote would not make a difference. 3. In some district people are literally fearful of opposition to win any election as they know that it would mean that Fidesz would punish the district. (Esztergom!)

    I wish I could list all the “protectionism” Steven refers to, as I have concrete examples. It is contract given out to family members w/o experience or for way more money that it should cost. Building contracts are subcontracted for 5% directly going to the contractor, wife gives out work to husband’s business w/o proper bidding procedures.
    THe list could go on.

  9. I think Steven Harnard is right… without the control of the media, and the brainwashing power Fidesz has through it, and without the intimidation of voters – in other words, in a fair election system- we just don’t know how well Fidesz would have fared.

  10. googly – how can I ask you to be a true anti-fascist? Trust me, I am one of those, and it is a very easy job.

  11. 300 bankers rule the entire world. (For the uninitiated readers: “banker” means a jewish agent.)

    This is not in Der Stürmer, but on the state-owned Hungarian television (lavishly) paid by the taxpayers.

    Surkov’s know-how is being transferred to Orban-Arpi Habony.

    Oh, no, Orban is not retreating, instead he ratchets up the craziness and paranoia, and conspiracy theories ad manipulation.

    But hey Orban’s a beloved member or the European People’s Party and Ms. Merkel will visit him to talk about important issues.

  12. @temudchin

    Should someone decide to take measures against Hungary, it will be up to the Council, not the EU civil servants in Brussels. One of the problems is that FIDESZ belongs to EPP and still has some support within that political group, either for ideological or simply pure political reasons: EPP has lost votes in the last elections and is ready to take onboard parties simply to have more weight in the European Parliament.

  13. yesterday i found/ read an article about the mental state of Mr.Orban:.He should have got psychiatric treatment in Austria..
    I Found it in “HirARÉNA:2014-12-08.
    Mediavezető irt levelet to tisztelt Dr.Wolfgang Waldner,nagykővet Úr”
    In ten points he wrote about security risks.
    Maybe somebody can tell more about this.For example:is it true?

  14. Spillie, it’s a long repeated urban legend that Orban has been seeing a psychiatrist in Graz.

    I find it doubtful that he would take the time and effort to go into therapy (analysis), especially as this would imply that Orban came to terms with the fact that he had mental problems which he would like to solve. Such realization and admission of a personal weakness seem antithetical to his whole personality.

    At most a psychiatrist could prescribe drugs to him. That said, I don’t think Orban would need prescriptions from any doctor to obtain drugs.

    However, I’m almost certain that Orban regularly takes medicine (although truth be told in the US literally tens of millions take anti-depressants every day), his manic actions caught on video attest to this.

  15. @theestampe

    I think it is highly misleading to state or imply that the “Council decides”. The Council never decides in a vacuum. The main branches of the EU power structure closely work together.

    The Council would never decide without some analysis or proposal from the Commission. And the Commission would of course never initiate/propose any procedure which the Council might not (could not, due to political disagreements) conclude until its end. Such a failure would make the EU’s political impotence clear (yet again) and as such must be avoided by any means.

    The Commission is keenly aware that such a disciplinary procedure could lead to political disagreements (on the short term and with respect to fundamental EU issues) and that would hurt the EU as such (the cohesion of the union) and would also hurt the Commission which would be seen as the entity creating conflicts. (Nobody likes a whistleblower.)

    The Commission is expected to know its limits i.e. not to meddle into purely political matters, such as the state of democracy in any member state. And the bureaucrats are highly aware of this expectation, they are absolutely fine with it, makes their life so much easier.

    The point is: if it depends on the EU nothing will change in Hungary politically, the money will keep flowing into Orban’s coffers and he can continue to do whatever he wants to do.

    The EU, a bit paradoxically, exactly because it’s so politicized (see the above considerations) is not a real political entity on the member state level. At least not to a political formations like Fidesz whose politicians couldn’t care less about “weak, spoiled Western European smartasses who always had it so easy”.

  16. @Spillie – Nobody but Orban and those closest to him know about his health. Rumours that Orban is taking medication for a serious problem, and that his doctor is in Austria, have been around for a long time. Those who believe this think his mental illness may be a form of schizophrenia, and that as a result of the drugs administered for that disease he also suffers from tardive dyskenisia for which he has to take other medications. Those who believe in this rumour point out that he appears to have some of the symptoms of t.d. (compulsive lip licking, strange hand movements).
    I, personally, hope these rumours have no basis in reality.

  17. o’magyar,

    Being an anti-fascist is not very controversial, even in Hungary, and is similar to being anti-rape – even the few people who might support it are not likely to admit it publicly. Doing something concrete about it is a different thing, not nearly as easy. You can donate money to an NGO or organise a demonstration, but, in Hungary at least, you’re just not going to have any effect. If you do manage to have an effect, you become a target and risk losing your livelihood and enduring harassment and possibly even physical attacks.

    I’m not sure what you want me to do, but I do my part to fight fascism by pointing out the errors and lies of those pro-fascists who bother to leave comments on blogs like this. It’s not very useful, but at least they don’t spread their propaganda unanswered, which could conceivably lead to someone being seduced by their ideology. I feel that it’s better than nothing. Of course, I have done more than that in the past, including protesting and volunteering time and money to NGO’s, and I plan to do even more in the near future.

    Hopefully this is enough to keep you from continuing to waste your time challenging me, rather than just going back and reading my comments for yourself.

  18. @Tirgu Thanks for that link.

    I think it is a very important article Tirgu linked us to. For those of you who do not speak Hungarian, here is a short recap. (Sorry Eva. I hope you may expend on the subject later, as the state-owned television that is in the hands of Fidesz willingly played the following. WHat is posted below very much reflects what Orban, Fidesz and their supporter who pop up on this blog time to time advocate.)

    One of the invited “expert” on the subject is a (long) ex-journalist of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He told the viewers that most journalist have been recruited by the CIA and alike organizations. He is a big fan now of Russia. THe guy by the way took on the muslim religion, and later on returned to catholicism. (You know how Orban is liberal then conservative, atheist then almost orthodox catholic…. THey have a lot in common.) THe guys also published a book that at the end even his own publisher refused to promote.
    – The world is managed by 200 American families
    – The press is manipulated by the interest of liberal economic philosophy

    An other “expert” tells us that
    – actually there are 300 super rich banker dynasty that manipulates all the politics around the world.
    (This expert actually advocates that September 11 was executed by the MOSAD for the order of those super rich…)

    Conclusion, the rich above manipulation the press and the attack against Orban.

    To make sure the program has any legitimacy, Zoltan Kovacs shows up. He is a historian and politician, currently serving Orban as Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Relations.

  19. OT: Fidesz is supporting Mate Kovacs’s mad idea of testing children and your between ages 12 and 18 for drug use. (by blood, spit, pee, I have no idea?) I just cannot wait to hear what the Human Rights Commission will say for this. What will parents say for this?
    THey are also considering the testing of journalists and politicians.
    As far as I am concerned their mental health of politicians should be tested first. I can see that every time someone votes against a Fidesz idea they will fingerprint him, tie him down and forcibly draw blood.

    According to Rogan (with the ever growing apartment he purchased) THose who do not support the drug tests, support drugs! Sounds familiar? Thos who do not support Fidesz are anti-Hungarian.

  20. Some1 – they want compulsory urine tests for every school child.
    Incidentally, they’ve already placed a policeman in every school in Hungary.
    Anyone who calls Fidesz “center-right” or “conservative” should be told to stop, immediately. Fidesz people apparently believe that the state, under their guidance, has the right (indeed, duty) to meddle in every aspect of a citizen’s life “for his own good.”

  21. I guessing 500K to 750K 12 to 18 school age kids in HU. How will they manage a drug testing program on that scale. Will they budget money for managers to administer program? Will they need health professionals to administer tests? Or will this be on the backs of the underpaid teachers and school administrators? This is a program that will cost millions (USD).

    What do they intend to do with kids who test positive? Counseling? Once you’ve ID’d minors with a problem it a moral obligation to help them. Who will pay for that? Or will this be strictly a punitive program?

    Isn’t this putting the cart before the horse? Does Hungary have a comprehensive nation-wide school drug prevention program? Testing without such a program is not effective.

    This document is dated (2004), but raises important ethical and legal questions.
    Drug testing in Schools in European Countries

    Drug prevention in EU schools

    Click to access att_33491_EN_Dif05en.pdf

  22. @Reality Check – I’m no legal expert, but I’ve been told that according to current Hungarian regulations, if anyone tests positive for illegal drugs the tester must report this to the police, and the police must take appropriate action – potentially including arresting the individual who tested positive.
    Hungary did have a nationwide drug prevention program. Unfortunately Fidesz cut its funding.

  23. From MTI: Democratic Coalition board member Laszlo Varju said the implementation of Kocsis’ proposal would cost 40 billion forints (EUR 130m) as against 100 million forints allocated in next year’s budget for drug prevention.

    If these figures are true, 400 times more on testing than on prevention. Brilliant!

  24. @Some1:

    That “German journalist” you describe must be Udo Ulfkotte who writes for the Kopp Verlag, a well known publisher of fascist and antisemitic books – he’s totally crazy!
    His name was already mentioned on – anyone who uses him as a source is probably equally crazy!

    Now for something else:

    I’m in Germany right now and just talked with a representative of our local bank (Kreissparkasse) who is a big fan of the Balaton. He told me a sorry story:

    He knows of at least two local SMEs (Schwab companies with about 50 – 200 people) which wanted to expand manufacturing to Eastern Europe. They looked at Hungary first, but reading about Fidesz unpredictable and sometimes outright crazy new laws and taxes decided not to invest there – one has already started in Slovakia …

    He is very disappointed by the developments in Hungary in the last years under Orbán!

    Actually everybody who knows or hears that I have a house in Hungary asks me similar questions: What’s going on in Hungary?
    The German media, I’m sorry to say have only this negative news about the government’s crazy ideas – especially the Hungarian government’s cozying up to Russia (many use a stronger word: *** Putin’s behind) is almost unbelievable for Germany …

  25. @Eva, his language was over the top – telling Goodfriend to stand up and be a man.

    “álljon ki, legyen férfi”

    He is itching for a fight with the US.

  26. The drug testing is a rubber bone (on which the media can chew, while important issues remain un-dealt with) if ever there was one.

    Fighting against drugs is very popular and any anybody who opposes the testing comes out as a drug-promoting liberal (aka the worst of the worst, even the communists are better). ű

    But this is just decoy, nothing more.

  27. @reality check

    I wonder if Orban dares to man up and declare Goodfriend persona non grata, consequences be damned. He seems wavering.

  28. @Tirgu & Some1, re: Ulfkotte.

    The guy was interviewed in October by Magyar Nemzet, and a translation of the interview into English was later published in Hungary Today. And now, M1.

    The French have his alter ego of sorts (Meyssan), who works for Russian and Iranian media outlets. I’m surprised he hasn’t yet made an appearance in Fidesz news.

  29. Eva S. Balogh: New development. Orbán in parliament just announced that if Ildikó Vida does not sue André Goodfriend he will fire her. And Goodfriend better not hide behind his immunity.

    The next step will be reinstating Pál Schmitt, who will then challenge André Goodfriend to a duel. Never a dull moment.

  30. @Eva

    I am speechless. And this insanity is clearly just going to get worse, no question, but I’m afraid that I don’t see this ending well for the Prime Minister…

  31. I wonder if they would have a police man/woman posted in each bathroom when samples are collected? If I would smoking some weed, I would just use one of my friends’ sample from the next stall. I bet if they go ahead with this cray idea, there will be an other march…

    @wolfi: Bingo. It is Udo Ulfkotte. This is the man Fidesz entertains as their expert.

    @Reality Check: I just love how Orban tries to egg on the USA. It shows the whole world how immature, and unqualified the whole Hungarian diplomatic group with Orban at the top. It is actually very funny. Like a kindergartener. Like Goodfriend really have to prove something to this little snipper-snapper.

  32. re. Eva S. Balogh

    OV can not move in any other way. He knows exacly about Ildiko Vida´s doings, she is his strohman. He can not dispose off with her. They have known each other way back, from the time at Bibo college. He is trying to protect her. The US visa restrictions was a real masterpiece because it shows that the USA understands exactly how the system works and Orban knows this.

  33. “Pál Schmitt, who will then challenge André Goodfriend to a duel”

    Vida and Goodfriend both should give a urine sample and the one who has more will never have to work on Sunday and will be exempt from the internet tax.

  34. @Stevan Harnad, my point for quite some time is the lack of freedom of the press *will* most definitively affect public opinion. Case in point, this summer we had meetings with a group of people coming from St. Petersburg. This group of Russians were highly educated, have regular unfettered access to foreign media, have daily interactions “westerners” and don’t appear to harbor any extreme views. This group, a group that I would have least expected to be susceptible to the lack of press freedoms, was completely propagandized.

    @Eva, this is getting interesting. So if Vida sues would that not create a diplomatic incident near the level of declaring Goodfriend persona on grata?

    OT, is Rogan really serious in trying to compare the Internet tax with the net neutrality?

  35. The anti-American brainwashing can not start early enough.

    Íme: Gergő Berényi, 15 years old

  36. @buddy: So I guess after all the drug test is not a bad idea. They can start with GergoBerenyi. WIll they implement IQ tests too?

  37. @zene a zene:

    Thanks for that link to the Surkov story – unbelievable!

    Everybody should read this, it shows how the “masses” still can be manipulated so easily …
    And of course it shows that some people have absolutely no scruples at all – what a crazy world we live in!

  38. Poor Gergő Berényi’s Hungarian spelling, punctuation and grammar are terrible, I’m not sure his high school in Szolnok can be too proud of him.

  39. @Reality Check
    In order to calculate the cost of the proposed narco-test programme for minors it is necessary to know how often the children will be tested, which other narcotics will be searched for, the cost of the different tests, and how many will be tested.

    Marijuana is measureable for 3-4 days to 2-3 weeks after smoking. Most narcotics have shorter residence times than marijuana and the tests may be more expensive.

    I doubt that the calculations have been done. If a realistic estimate of the price of the programme had been done, nobody in his right mind would have advanced the proposal.

  40. Here’s the recording of Orbán in Parliament today. He sounds even more unhinged than I imagined:

    [audio src="" /]

  41. There seems to be an equation here: Orban’s increasing craziness is in proportion to the deterioration of Russia’s/Pyutin’s situation….

    What has Orban been asked to do?

  42. Googly

    in your last comment in the comments section under Éva’s review of Rudolf Ungváry’s latest book, you claimed that Fidesz parliamentarians and their support base are mostly Christian Democrats, as against my assertion that they were first and foremost Christian Nationalists.

    I think that Kim Lane Scheppele’s comments are proof positive that the Fidesz parliamentarians and their support base could not possibly be considered Christian Democrats.

    Christian Democrats, as this category of politicians is generally understood in Western Europe, would never set out to systematically smash constitutional checks and balances, abolish the separation of powers and blatantly rig elections.

    Only members of a fascistoid nationalist mafia would set out to do that, and they could furthermore only succeed in that enterprise in a political environment of ignorance, indifference, predisposition to authoritarianism, and a profound fear and suspicion of liberal democracy.

    You keep expressing the hope that change for the better is just around the corner, but I myself would not hold my breath too long for liberal democracy to suddenly begin to sprout in the Hungarian wasteland, the “magyar ugar”, as Ady termed it.

    The truth is that a positive disposition toward liberal democracy is as far from the mentality of Hungarians as Makó from Jerusalem.

    Proof positive is the willingness of Hungarians inside and outside Hungary to even participate in the electoral fraud foisted on them by Fidesz and accepting the outcomes of that electoral circus.

    After all, even DK, not to mention the MSZP, LMP, etc., meekly went along with the the utterly corrupt electoral process, and then to top it all, piously took the oath of allegiance to the fascistoid new mafia constitution, so they can serve as a “democratic” figleaf to it.

    But of course hope springs eternal, and you are perfectly entitled to hope.


  43. Small correction of the paragraph before last, above:

    After all, even DK – not to mention the MSZP, LMP, etc. – meekly went along with the the utterly corrupt electoral process, and then to top it all, piously took the oath of allegiance to the fascistoid new Christian Nationalist mafia constitution, so they could serve as a “democratic” figleaf to parliamentary preceedings based on it.


  44. Mike Balint,

    You wrote: “you claimed that Fidesz parliamentarians and their support base are mostly Christian Democrats, as against my assertion that they were first and foremost Christian Nationalists.”

    I apologise if I’ve given you the impression that I was referring to the actual parliamentarians or even those who work for Fidesz directly. I meant to speak of the supporters of Fidesz and the majority of those who work in the government (since many who don’t support Fidesz have been purged from the ranks of government employees). I happen to know some of these people, and none of them would ever believe that Fidesz is a mafia organisation or fascist in any way, not even the elite. They believe the propaganda, that Fidesz is a democratic party that is actually strengthening democracy and Hungary. They will probably be shattered when the truth becomes more widely spread, and they may even remain in denial for a long time after that. Few people like admitting that they have been duped, and have therefore contributed to the ruination of their country. Note the very large drop-off in the Fidesz vote percentage and total from 2010 to 2014. Many people realised their mistake, but are not ready to vote for the “leftist” opposition, which has been tarred by Fidesz as being even worse.

    As far as participating in the sham democracy, the parties on the left really had no choice. I agree that the more satisfying and principled thing to do would have been to refuse to participate, but that would have played even more thoroughly into the hands of Orbán. He is trying to paint them as radicals and rascals who want to deny the voters their will, so a boycott would have allowed Orbán to completely destroy them. No parliamentary immunity, no significant dedicated support among the population, they would not have had any power. At least now they can force Orbán to answer questions in Parliament, and occasionally hang a flag out of the window of parliament. They appear to be working within the system to effect change, which makes them more popular among those Fidesz voters who might want to change their minds. In the end, if Fidesz does something truly outrageous, they can march out of Parliament and boycott it then, appearing to have tried to fulfill the will of the people, but been taken advantage of by Fidesz. Either way, though, they really don’t have much power. Once a nation gives a man like Orbán the power to change the constitution at will, he will never give it up willinglly, regardless of how much he has to lie cheat and steal to keep it. He is Central Europe’s answer to Mugabe and Chavez.

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