Is Viktor Orbán playing chicken?

It was only yesterday that a lengthy psychological portrait entitled “The Patient’s Name is Viktor Orbán” appeared in Népszabadság under the pseudonym Iván Mester. The author is an associate professor, I assume of psychology or psychiatry, at an unnamed university. In this article “Mester” states that because of his character traits Orbán “is unable to stop … he is insatiable.” What is going on in front of our eyes is a manifestation of his inability to let go. He has to win against all odds.

This afternoon the latest episode of this “drama” (because I’m convinced that for the prime minister this is a real drama) took place in parliament. According to house rules, Orbán had to appear in parliament to answer questions personally. Gergely Bárándy (MSZP) wanted to know “who is lying” about the corruption case involving six Hungarian citizens, of whom at least three are high officials in the Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service. Bárándy wanted to know whether it is true that the Hungarian government knows what these people are accused of by the U.S. government. The exchange can be read in an abbreviated form on the web site of the Prime Minister’s Office.

As Orbán explained, the U.S. chargé d’affaires claims that the president of the Nemzeti Adó- és Vámhivatal (NAV) can be personally tied to corruption involving an American firm doing business in Hungary. “According to Hungarian law, in a case like that one ought to start legal proceedings. This is what I expect from the president of NAV. If she does not do so without delay, I will replace her.” In Hungary a person found guilty of corruption does not get replaced but is locked up, said Orbán. “So, the stakes are high.” If the American diplomat can prove the charge and the court finds her guilty, then the head of NAV will be incarcerated. “But if, on the other hand, the American diplomat’s charges are untrue there will be consequences.”

Viktor Orbán is forging ahead

Viktor Orbán is forging ahead

Bárándy pointed out in his rebuttal that the lawsuit Orbán is recommending cannot take place in Hungary. The only solution is what André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé, has repeatedly recommended to Ildikó Vida, the head of NAV. She should apply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, whereupon she would be told the reasons for her ban.

Orbán countered that if an American chargé accuses a Hungarian official of a crime, he cannot “hide behind his diplomatic immunity. He should be a man and accept responsibility for his claims.”

What the official government version of the exchange did not mention but Népszabadság included in its coverage was the following dialogue between Orbán and Bárándy. The MSZP member of parliament asked whether Orbán “can venture to state that the Hungarian government and authorities have no knowledge of the nature of the cases that resulted in barring the president of NAV from the territory of the United States.” Orbán did not answer this question. Instead, he stressed that the solution lies “in the world of the law,” which in my opinion is a confirmation of the government’s knowledge of the American allegations.

André Goodfriend, as usual, responded promptly by posting a short note on Twitter: “US & Hungary have excellent legal cooperation, including a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.” And indeed, back in 2009 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Balázs signed the Protocols of Exchange of Instruments of Ratification for the 2005 U.S.-Hungary Mutual Legal Assistance Protocols and the U.S.-Hungary Extradition Treaty. Clinton said at the time that “these twin agreements will give our police and prosecutors in both countries state-of-the-art tools to cooperate more effectively in bringing criminals to justice on both sides of the Atlantic. They form part of a network of similar agreements that the United States has reached with all the countries of the European Union.” Balázs, for his part, stressed the close cooperation between the two countries.

In addition to the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, Goodfriend called attention to a legal guide for judges written by a lawyer specializing in international litigation. The message is that Hungary should turn to the United States asking for official legal assistance. Apparently, the Hungarian prosecutor’s office did ask for assistance but the request was not official. Details of the differences between the two can be found in an earlier article in 444.hu.

The question is what Viktor Orbán is trying to achieve by this latest move. Among my knowledgeable friends one thinks that the foxy prime minister is trying to find an excuse to fire Ildikó Vida because “he knows that she is guilty.” My answer to this supposition is that of course Viktor Orbán knows full well that she is corrupt because she was put there for the very purpose of running a corrupt organization. That is part of her job description. She is there as the emissary of a corrupt government headed by the prime minister himself. Another friend, following the same line of reasoning, thinks that Vida’s refusal to sue Goodfriend will give Orbán an opportunity to fire Vida in such a way that he will not be seen as bending under U.S. pressure. This way he will save face. I don’t see much merit in that hypothesis either. What prevents Ildikó Vida from bringing charges against Goodfriend? Nothing. She can certainly try. It could happen that the court refuses to hear the case, but this would not be Vida’s fault. She sued, just as Orbán demanded. Another possibility would be if the Hungarian courts decided to hear the case but the United States government forbade Goodfriend from appearing in court. Thus he would be a man who does not accept responsibility for his claims, to use Orbán’s words. In my opinion that would be the best scenario as far as Viktor Orbán is concerned. And, as opposed to my friends, I believe this is exactly what he is planning to do. What do you think?

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63 comments

  1. I wonder, if there ever was some kind of study, or even experimental modelling of a situation – imaginary, mind you, but still a possibility, however remote:

    Fidesz without Orbán?

    Is there any, say two years later?
    Is there any possibility that they finally be able to return to the role of a civilised European conservative party, or they will go anyway further toward on the way of Lenin/Mussolini/Rákosi?

    Just curious, if you know of something, or nobody even dared to consider the – inevitable – possibility..?

  2. Some1: You are correct. Also the 2009 Agreement allows the evidence to be given to the Attorney General (Polt Péter) once he starts an OFFICIAL investigation into the corruption case and request the proof OFFICIALLY as needed information for his investigation and being able to file a lawsuit against the person(s) being accused and investigated.

  3. “Another possibility would be if the Hungarian courts decided to hear the case but the United States government forbade Goodfriend from appearing in court. Thus he would be a man who does not accept responsibility for his claims, to use Orbán’s words. In my opinion that would be the best scenario as far as Viktor Orbán is concerned. And, as opposed to my friends, I believe this is exactly what he is planning to do. What do you think?”

    I totally agree Prof. Balogh. Considering what we have learnt of his nature, character, psychopathology and from his many pronouncements – that is the most likely scenario in my opinion. There is method in his madness and provided you think of the most base and vile option you are never far from the truth. Considering that the Vida affair will have to come to its end game soon, we’ll see how it pans out, but I would put money on it that your guess is the winner!

  4. In 2010, Miklos Gimes interviewed a lot of people, mostly the products of the jobbik/fidesz nationalism.

    He called his article “Die Gulasch Faschisten”,

    The views of the interview subjects were shaped by ideas taken from an arrow cross playbook.

    The war positions have been set. The rightwing is supported by dubious foreign agents, the democratic minority by nobody. Who will win? The immediate winners are the rightwing extremists.

  5. Spectator,

    No need to apologise, you have definitely earned the right to say anything to anyoe on this site, in my opinion!

    You’ve got a very good point about Jobbik’s propaganda having a large impact, while the leftist opposition seems to be screaming into a well. I think part of the problem is that Fidesz is happy to help Jobbik get its message out, since it is somewhat similar to what Fidesz is saying and, at the same time, makes Fidesz look sane and centrist. Another possibility is that Hungarians are just more receptive to that sort of thinking right now than to the same sort of rhetoric that they have been hearing for years from MSZP and SZDSZ, the discredited liars/thieves (this perception is not wholly the fault of Fidesz – they earned a large part of it).

    At the same time, there is still an opposition voice, for those who want to hear it. There is Klubradio, Népszabadság, and ATV, among others. I think, therefore, that the main problems are that:

    A. The global financial crisis has destroyed the reputation of democracy and capitalism in Hungary
    B. Fidesz’s propaganda is working well, and is everywhere. It’s a lot easier to convince people that you are right when your morals don’t keep you from lying and bullying, and the government doesn’t ensure that all parties have equal access to the media and advertising.

    Finally, in every country I have studied (with the possible exceptions of micronations like Luxembourg and Monaco), there is a large majority of people who just don’t have the time or inclination to get both sides of the story, when it comes to political parties. Most people in the world just find a news outlet they like (if they pay attention to current events at all) and listen uncritically. Of course it’s up to the elite to make sure that the news outlets report responsibly, but in Hungary, the elite has been largely co-opted (bought off, intimidated, or fooled), like almost everyone else, and we can see the result. I’m grateful for the internet, and that fact that it isn’t censored yet. I expect that if this government stays in power another 10 years, that censorship will come.

  6. An,

    I only said that he raised a good point, not that his entire post is correct. In fact I even pointed out where I thought he went wrong (though it’s way down at the end of the comment). Perhaps I need to be more explicit at the beginning, from now on.

    If Daniel is a troll, then he is one of the most subtle ones I have ever noticed. I think it’s still possible that he is just wrong. I like to give commenters the benefit of the doubt, especially when they are not being rude or obviously lying.

  7. The answer above was his reply to the question:

    “You should not support only your friends like Mr Meszaros. There will be another election some day. Why do you want to take away our premium for Sunday work?”

  8. Googly, Daniel has no point at all and Mrozek & others are spot on.

    1) It’s a visa matter, a diplomatic strife. There’s no point in suing the State Department in a Hungarian court unless you want to use the justice system as a political propaganda tool – which is what Fidesz is doing right now.

    2) And yes, it would be exactly the same if the grounds for denying entry were related to other criminal matters (note that comparisons involving sex crimes is not uncommon among fidesznik commenters, I wonder why). Denying entry to high placed individuals is definitely not the same as bringing charges, and it happens often… except it generally doesn’t become public.

    Now, if one wants to adopt a judicial point of view, in my opinion the real questions start with this one: did a U.S. company previously file a complaint for corruption in Hungary, involving the individuals subject to the entry ban?

    1) If yes, what was the result? a) Was it quashed, by whom and why, or b) is an investigation ongoing?

    2) If not, why? Was it because a) no substantial allegations could be made? Was it because b) they didn’t trust the Hungarian justice system to prosecute high-ranking officials? Was it because, for business reasons, c) they preferred to use backchannels – i.e. ask those in power to ‘clean their own house’ quietly? Note that the last two are not mutually exclusive.

    Although the trust of Hungarians in their judicial system seems to be within the EU average, I’m not sure the Hungarian public opinion would favor either 1.b or 2.a. over the alternatives. And while OV’s current gambit may play well on anti-American feelings, there is a possibility it could quickly backfire on the domestic scene.

  9. Marcel Dé,

    I think Eva’s post today supported my contention that Daniel has a good point, if only to say that most Hungarians see the entire affair in the way he outlines, rightly or wrongly. If you say that I am wrong, and that he has no valid point at all, then you are essentially saying that Hungarians don’t see the situation in this way. If you say that not all the points he made were valid, then I agree, and have said so more than once.

  10. Thanks for the response ‘googly’!

    Mostly we agree, no doubt.
    However I’d like point to the fact that while I’m with you regarding the receptiveness of the populace in general toward the Jobbik’s propaganda – and I agree with the reasoning too – I still fail to see the same- or similar effort from the democratic side to somehow get through their message. After all, one can only hear what- and when you’re speaking, it isn’t harder than this.

    In the end it comes down to inadequate communication – or they simply have nothing substantial to say, beside Orbán must go, and the main time we are busy at each others throats, because we, and only we are the ‘righ’ ones on the ‘left’, and no, there is no way that we cooperating with each other, unless blablablabla…

    Just how pathetically Hungarian is this – again?

  11. I think the US Embassy should fight nasty on this one, put them all in a tailspin. I personally don’t think they should allow Goodfriend to testify, since it was not his complaint in the first place, he was just the person delivering the message. They should call to the stand those who made the decision to ban the officials and dump all the evidence out in the open. They should also try their damnedest to implicate any and all Fidesz officials involved, maybe then the people will be mobilized to do something about the corrupt government. I cannot believe that people are being so blind in Hungary.

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