Zoltán Kovács, Viktor Orbán’s international spokesman in Brussels

Today I will try to squeeze three topics into one post. Two will be short, more like addenda to earlier pieces. The third subject of today’s post is new: the stormy meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Hungary.

The Albert Wass Library in Tapolca

As one of our readers pointed out, György Konrád incorrectly said that the János Batsányi Library was renamed after Elemér Vass, a lesser known Hungarian painter, that it was instead named after Albert Wass. The reader was correct. Moreover, what Konrád left out of his brief story at the very end of his interview with Olga Kálmán on “Egyenes beszéd” was that the name change actually took place in 2006. Tapolca’s town council has had a solid Fidesz majority for years. Why the city fathers decided in 2006 that Albert Wass was a more important representative of Hungarian literature than János Batsányi is a mystery to me. Anyone who’s unfamiliar with the works and politics of Albert Wass should read my summary of his activities.

The Gala Event at the Ferenc Liszt Academy

A friend who lives in the United States happens to be in Budapest at the moment. Her family’s apartment is very close to the Ferenc Liszt Academy, so she witnessed the preparations for the arrival of Viktor Orbán at the Academy, where he delivered a speech at the unveiling of the Hungarian “miracle piano.” According to her, there was no parking either on Nagymező utca or on Király utca. The police or, more likely TEK, Orbán’s private bodyguards despite being called the Anti-Terror Center, set up three white tents equipped with magnetic gates, the kind that are used at airports. The distinguished guests had to go through these gates before they could share the same air as Hungary’s great leader. By six o’clock the TEK people, in full gear, had cordoned off a huge area. Hungary’s prime minister is deadly afraid. Earlier prime ministers never had a security contingent like Viktor Orbán has now. I remember that Ferenc Gyurcsány used to jog with scores of other ordinary citizens on Margitsziget (Margaret Island) with two guys running behind him at a distance. Well, today the situation seems to be different.

Hearings of  the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs*

The announced agenda was “The Situation of Human Rights in Hungary,” specifically the pressure the Hungarian government has been putting on nongovernmental organizations and civic groups, especially “Okotárs Alaítvány,” about which we have talked at length. That’s why three civic group leaders were invited from Hungary: Tamás Fricz, founder of the Civil Union Forum; Veronika Móra, director of Ökotárs Alapítvány; and Attila Mong, editor of Atlatszo.hu. In addition, two experts were present: Barbora Cernusakova from Amnesty International and Anne Weber, advisor to Nils Muižnieks, commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe. The Hungarian government was represented by Zoltán Kovács, international spokesman from the prime minister’s office.

Although the main topic was the Hungarian government’s attack on civic organizations that are critical of the Orbán government, during the two and a half hours speakers addressed other human rights issues as well: media freedom, censorship, homelessness, and even Viktor Orbán’s anti-immigration statements.

The first half hour was spent on procedural wrangling between the European People’s Party members of parliament, including naturally the Fidesz representatives, and the rest of those present. Kinga Gál (Fidesz) presented their grievances. The EPP representatives wanted to invite at least three civic groups close to the Hungarian government, arguing that after all in addition to the two NGO’s critical of the government, Ökotárs and Átlátszó.hu, there were two international organizations (Council of Europe and Amnesty International) represented. They failed to convince the majority, however, and therefore only Tamás Fricz was left to represent the NGO that organized two large pro-government demonstrations in the last few years. Tamás Fricz opted not to attend. I suspect that his declining the invitation in the last minute was part of an overarching strategy to make the hearings totally lopsided. Everybody on one side and only a government spokesman, Zoltán Kovács, on the other. Such a situation could easily discredit the proceedings. However, as it turned out, it was Zoltán Kovács himself who was discredited, though not before the EPP MEPs had walked out of the hearings.

Zoltán Kovács

Zoltán Kovács

I will not go into the content of the speeches since the readers of Hungarian Spectrum are only too familiar with the problems that exist in Hungary today as far as human rights issues are concerned. Instead, I would like to concentrate on Zoltán Kovács’s representation of the Hungarian position.

All the participants delivered their speeches in English with the exception of Zoltán Kovács, whose English is actually excellent, but, as he admitted later to György Bolgár, he decided to speak in Hungarian so his words wouldn’t have to be translated. In brief, Kovács’s message was addressed not so much to those present at the meeting but rather to Hungarians at home who could admire his effective defense of their government. The trouble was that what he considered to be simply a vigorous defense turned out to be aggressive and disrespectful. Calling the hearings of an EP committee “the fifth season of a soap opera” did not go over well, to put it mildly, especially since he added that “by now neither the actors nor the script writer knows what means what and what they want to say.” He called the charges against the Hungarian government “half truths or outright lies” and said that the members present were prejudiced against his country.

The reaction was predictable. Many of those who spoke up reacted sharply to Kovács’s speech. They were outraged that Kovács talked about the European Parliament, which “represents 500 million inhabitants of the European Union, in such a manner.” It was at this point that Péter Niedermüller (DK) told Kovács that as a result of his behavior “you yourself became the protagonist of these hearings.” Kovács later complained bitterly that Niedermüller spoke out of order, which in his opinion besmirched the dignity of the European Parliament.

A Dutch MEP inquired whether the Norwegian or the Dutch government, the German chancellor, everybody who ever criticizes the Hungarian government is part of this soap opera. Finally, she announced that she is sick and tired of the so-called “Hungarian debates” which are no more than “dialogues of the deaf.” What is needed is a new, effective mechanism that monitors the affairs of the member states yearly. A Swedish MEP “was beside herself”and warned Kovács to watch his words. “The European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, the Venice Commission all say that there are problems with human rights in Hungary. So, then we all lie?” Another MEP called Kovács’s attitude “contemptuous cynicism” and offensive because after all he said that 500 million EU citizens don’t live in a democracy and that the EP commission doesn’t function according to democratic rules. He told Kovács that what’s going on in Hungary at the moment is “the tyranny of the majority.” Kovács was not moved. In his answer he repeated his charges and indicated that as far as the Hungarian government is concerned “the case is closed.”

A few years back Kovács served as government spokesman, but after a while he was replaced by András Giró-Szász. Viktor Orbán remarked on that occasion that “it is time to see some smiles” when the spokesman makes his announcements. The remark was on target. Kovács would resemble Rasputin if he let his very dark beard grow. One has learned not to expect smiles from the man, although on official photos he tries hard. After his removal from his high-profile position he spent some time in the ministry of human resources responsible for, of all things, Roma integration. But last year he was reinstated as “international spokesman.” I don’t know why Zoltán Kovács was considered to be more fit to be a spokesman of the Hungarian government on the international scene than he was at home. His reception in Brussels was not exactly promising.

*Video streaming is now available here:



  1. @petofi
    I’m not sure that there is any ideology at all whatsoever, what Hungarians couldn’t screw out of its hinges so much that nobody ever recognise it for what it really was to begin with.

    I mean, in theory there is not much to complain against the socialism, but somehow the clumsy humans always manage to cripple even all the best theories in general anyway, add to all this the Hungarian habit of “improving” just about everything by making “own” version of generally whatever they came across to – so it went even then.

    Been there, done that, threw away my last razor in ’69 – and managed to save weeks of my life to something else – and still have many of the old principles intact.
    Haven’t regretted it, mind you.
    Particularly, since one of them is tolerance toward individual views, characteristics, preferences.
    Having been called “whore” – had a foot long hair then too – on the bus nr.6 in Budapest can do this to you, so I can relate to ‘deviant’ youngsters even today. It impregnates many other segments of life too, from skin color to religion, you name it.

    So, you see, “love, peace and understanding” conquers!

    At least at home, the rest of the World still has a way to go 🙂

  2. @spectator

    Well wrote.
    I don’t know much about Radnoti: it was my wife who recognized his wife on Holan Erno Street in the 13th district. She was lovely and her French, my wife told me, was impeccable.
    But your bit about Radnoti will now send me to his poems..

  3. latefor,

    I’m sorry, I know you don’t want to hear any more about this, but I must insist on correcting one small error that you and others have made on this comment thread.

    You wrote: “Let us remember, that Orban was democraticly elected by the Hungarian people, for the Hungarian people. He won election with a 2/3 majority during the financial crises.”

    This is not just nitpicking, it’s an important distinction to make: he won election with 52.73% of the vote in 2010, and 44.54% of the vote in 2014, which gave him a 2/3 majority in the Hungarian parliament both times. That’s a huge difference from winning with a 2/3 majority, which makes it sound like 2/3 of all people who voted chose his autocracy. In a true democracy, he would have not received the power to unilaterally and instantly change the constitution after only getting 53% of the voters to select him, and certainly not after an election that saw a strong majority of voters choose to oust him and his band of thieves from office.

    Also, the 2010 election was after the financial crisis, in my opinion, since Hungary had already begun experiencing economic growth again by the date of the election.

  4. @googly

    The apologists for Orban always rely on that 2/3 nonsense. Whoever put that in the constitution originally should’ve been boiled in pig fat. But I suppose any law can be perverted when a society lacks the historical basis for cooperative government.

    Hungary now has only one hope: one man rule, but someone of the stripe of an Ataturk.

  5. Dearest Eva and Mike Balint – “Imagine that next federal elections the Liberal Party got a 2/3 majority in both houses of parliament in Canberra.

    And imagine that Tony Abbot would then decide, with total support from his party, to throw out the Australian Constitution and write a new one”
    I can’t even imagine! Our Westminster system is working. What I can’t understand is: how can you compare Hungary to Australia?
    After the fall of Communism 25 years ago, they had no idea about how the Capitalist system works when they had to embrace Free Market Economy. (Please see their borrowings in Swiss francs etc. etc. they weren’t exactly educated about finance, like we are in Australia) They are still under shock. Orban decided to try something different, because the previous system was obviously not working for the Hungarian people. Anyway, this is how I understand it. Only the future will tell if he will succeed or not, it’s far too early to tell.

  6. Eva, the comment section is missing again from your newest blog entry, Democratic Round Table’s Manifesto to the People of Hungary.

  7. Spectator -“So, you see, “love, peace and understanding” conquers!

    At least at home, the rest of the World still has a way to go”

    YES, “love piece and understanding conquers!” (Your beautiful post almost made me cry)

  8. MarcelDe, I believe nearly every reader of this blog shares your feeling about what probably can and what cannot change politics, including the Hungarian variety :-).

  9. Bognar and I discussed the ways a blog may or should work.

    The blog should uniquely investigate the activities of the regime and of the many secretive players of the public sphere.

    Discover the lies and the hidden deceits.

    Immunize the public against such manipulations.

  10. Re lack of comments invitation on Jan. 25/Democratic Roundtable. I was able to send a question via . However the only answer was from someone like myself and not useful. There doesn’t seem to be a way of contacting WP itself.

  11. Eva, I hope I did not sound like I am accusing you with disabling comments. I was sure it is wordpress issue, I just wanted you to know.

  12. I am thrilled that Syriza won in Greece, if the economic crisis in Europe is going to lead to the election of more radical parties I much prefer that they be of the left than facists like Jobbik in Hungary or Golden Dawn in Greece. Unfortunately, things are going to get much tougher in the days to come for Syniza once they take on the IMF, World Bank, and the EU. I am waiting for Orban to unlease a rhetorical assult on Syriza.

    Hungary is also fortunate that it has a scholar of the depth of Zoltan Pogatsa who has a deep understanding of the crisis the Greek people have faced and also the rampant corruption in that society. I recomend all Hungarians who read English read his brilliant book “The Political Economy of the Greek Crisis.” I am also confident that Syriza will be an ally in the fight against Putin’s aggression, unless my country the USA fails to see that the level of austerity imposed on Greece can not be maintained. There is a pathway out of the corrupt politics of the present and the Greek people have chosen a path opposed to both fascism and the extreme austerity that has been imposed on them.

  13. Istvan, as they say in Hungarian: ne igya’l elo”re a medve bo”re’re!

    Here is a tweet from The Wall Street Journal:

    Dan Knight ‏@DanPKnight · 4h4 hours ago
    RT @WSJ: Breaking: Greece’s Syriza clinches coalition deal with right-wing Independent Greeks, party officials say http://on.wsj.com/1uMDsp9

  14. The visa ban issue (e.g. Ildiko Vida etc.) is officially over.

    The Hungarian government considers it a closed case.

    Nothing changed (but of course), all people remained at their places, who continue with their lives as before.

    As was predicted Orban did not budge. Only a foolish and naïve lefty government would’ve done that, to surrender to Americans. The winners, like the Republicans never compromise. That’s one of their strengths. Maybe, at one point in the future the lefties will realize that.

    Slowly, people forget about Goodfriend and life returns to normal.

  15. Brazil: “The Hungarian government considers it a closed case.”

    In a democratic country with a free press the government cannot get off the hook by declaring a case closed.

  16. Brazil – Of course the Hungarian government considers the case closed, and wants people to forget it. That’s because the Hungarian government lost in every sense: it got nothing it demanded from Washington; Ildiko Vida still can’t go to the US; the government’s popularity plummeted after the scandal broke out, and hasn’t recovered one whit; ordinary Hungarians are convinced that the Hungarian government is corrupt and the tax authorities assist in the corruption.

  17. Szijjártó hopes that the arrival of Ambassador Bell will give improve US-Hungary relations in itself: “Bízom abban, hogy az új nagykövet érkezése önmagában jelenti egy új kezdetnek a lehetőségét”

    The implication here is that he believes the problem in US-Hungary was caused by Andre Goodfriend’s character, not because of anything that the Hungarian government did (ie corrupt practices).

    Brazil, you’re right when you note that Fidesz refused to admit any wrongdoing in the whole visa ban issue, so in that sense they didn’t give in. But this attitude might end up hurting them later if Ms. Bell turns out to be as tough as Goodfriend was.

    If she turns out not to be such a strong person, maybe Szijjártó will be proven right.

  18. Ambassador Bell is required by federal law to provide support to an US based company doing business in Hungary that complains to our embassy that a Hungarian official has requested a bribe to do business in Hungary.

    This is because of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, as amended, 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1, et seq. (“FCPA”), was enacted for the purpose of making it unlawful for certain classes of persons and entities to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. Specifically, the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA prohibit the willful use of the mails or any means of instrumentality of interstate commerce corruptly in furtherance of any offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of money or anything of value to any person, while knowing that all or a portion of such money or thing of value will be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official to influence the foreign official in his or her official capacity, induce the foreign official to do or omit to do an act in violation of his or her lawful duty, or to secure any improper advantage in order to assist in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person.

    Mr. Goodfriend was doing what was required of a US official by federal law and Ambassador Bell will do the same in terms of investigating corrupt practices of Hungarian officials that impact US firms.

  19. Brazil,

    You wrote: “The winners, like the Republicans never compromise.”

    You mean the Republican party of the U.S,, which lost the presidency and Congress in 2008, and will probably lose their third presidential election in a row next year? I hope Fidesz follows in their footsteps.

  20. Brazil, wasn’t theRepublicans who had such a low opinion of Orban and his government that eve the lefty democrats could not even get close to their opinion? Hungary “is a very important country where bad things are going on.” Orban “entered into a nuclear deal, and he is practicing the same kinds of antidemocratic practices as what seems to be his role model–Vladimir Putin.” I am not sure what is your point. By the way it is not the USA’s loss that Orban and his gang raping Hungary, it is the loss of Hungarians, and cheering this on is shameful. The USA does not care about criminals visiting their country, but Orban does care the same criminals run Hungary. Something to be proud of, isn’t?

  21. googly,

    You have apparently little knowledge about the US political system. The Democrats have minimal chance ever (in the foreseeable future) to regain the House. The Republicans very strategically gerrymandeared the relevant districts, plus the Democrats’ fundamental problem is that liberal voters are concentrated in urban districts whereas the Republicans are spread out more evenly. In a first past the post system it’s absolutely useless to win with 80% in urban districts as Democratic candidates often do because you have no voters left for rural districts. Thus even if Obama could carry (just) a state like Ohio during presidential elections, Democrats could not win there as senators or congresspeople.

    In other words the Republicans have a much higher chance of owning all three political domains, the presidency, the house and the senate (plus they own the courts, mind you, the Supreme Court has been running with a conservative majority for decades without hope for the Democrats for the foreseeable future to gain a majority there) than for the Democrats to win the presidency. Even if a Democrat wins the presidency it is unlikely that the Democrats could regain the Senate, but it’s plain impossible for them to regain the House too. Thus while there is a very substantial chance that the Republicans could have a free reign to do whatever they want (and have that approved by the SCOTUS), cut taxes for the rich, do away with EPA, kill Obamacare (actually SCOTUS may still do that for them) and so on, the Democrats have zero chance of being able to implement a bold strategy (and they don’t even have that).

    There’s an entire library written on the long-term strategical thinking of the Republicans. In the sixties, seventies they panicked (legalization of abortion, secularization of education, civil rights, welfare etc.) and realized that they needed to focus and be smarter (take over the courts, plan ahead, be active). Also the downtrodden white working class blames the “out of control federal government” for its ills and is staunchly Republican (compare that to the European white working class voting for the anti-Brussels Le Pen, Jobbik etc.), even if the policies of the Democrats would suit them better. The Republicans did implement a smart strategy, while the Democrats hollowed out ideologically, just like the traditional European left did (note Pasok or MSZP). Now it’s almost too late. The Republicans are extremely strong fundamentally, while the strength (well, Obama is actually a lame duck) of the Democrats is very fragile.

    I have grave doubts about Hillary Clinton’s ability to win against Jeb Bush, even if the economy would continue to improve. Plus note that since the economy improved only in terms of economic figures but the gains continue to be distributed very unevenly and a lot of people left the labor market for good, people are not as happy even if on paper the GDP grew rather robustly (but poor disappointed people can only vote Republican even if that’s not “good” for them, that’s how a two-party system works). The Republicans can win in many ways (and win big if they are successful), while the Democrats have a very narrow path to more or less being able to keep their lame positions. Sorry to disappoint.

  22. Of course, I meant the U.S. Republican party lost Congress in 2006, then the presidency in 2008. They had lost both by 2008.

  23. poharnok,

    You wrote: “You have apparently little knowledge about the US political system. The Democrats have minimal chance ever (in the foreseeable future) to regain the House.”

    If you re-read my comment, you will see that I never said the Democrats were going to win the Congress back, I wrote that they will probably win the next presidential election. Besides, if you knew anything about US politics, you would know that the main three reasons why they lost the Senate last year were the fact that it was a mid-term election (typically, the president’s party does poorly in them), Democratic voters are less likely to vote in mid-term elections, and the Democrats had an unusually high number of vulnerable seats to defend. The next election could go the Democrats’ way if Clinton is in good shape, because, like in 2008, it will be a historic win (first female US president), so turnout will be high (thus favoring Democrats across the board) – also, the Republicans have an unusually high number of vulnerable seats to defend.

    You also wrote: “I have grave doubts about Hillary Clinton’s ability to win against Jeb Bush, even if the economy would continue to improve.”

    Yet you don’t back them up with reasons. You really don’t know what you’re talking about. Plus, Bush probably won’t win, in my opinion, because of his stance on immigration. It’s clear that you are a Republican who engages in wishful thinking while having no knowledge of demographic trends or poll numbers. Clinton will cruise through the primary with token opposition, while the Republicans will beat each other up and choose a candidate who is not attractive to swing voters (thanks to the Tea Partiers who will be dominant in the primaries, and who hate Jeb Bush for his pro-immigrant stance and his family). Meanwhile, women will turn out in record percentages to vote for the first female president, and the racists who turned out in record percentages to vote against Obama’s fellow democrats will not be able to rile themselves up to stop Clinton (not that they could, anyway, if they couldn’t stop Obama).

    You also wrote: “poor disappointed people can only vote Republican even if that’s not “good” for them, that’s how a two-party system works”

    Did you forget to proofread this sentence? The Republicans have control of Congress, so if things don’t get better for the majority of people, it’s clear that the Democrats will be able to blame them for the problems of the nation, while pointing out that Obama tried to protect the country from them, but could only do so much with his veto. Democrats are the party of the poor and working class, so they will be able to appeal to them more easily than the party that caused all these problems in the first place. “Poor disapointed people” can and will vote Democratic, probably the majority of them.

    The truth is, as anyone who follows US politics at all can see, the next elections can go either way, and demographic trends are pointing towards Democratic domination as the percentage of white voters shrinks and the rich get richer at the expense of the middle class and poor.

    Of course, I could be wrong, or things could change, but it’s clear that I know at least as much about US politics as you, so stop being so arrogant.

  24. poharnok, you oversimplify the American political system. The President has the right to veto any law approved by Congress and Congress can override the veto only with a two thirds majority. Also, Democrats had a majority in the House from 1949 to 1953, and then from 2007 to 2011. The Senate was almost always under a Democrat majority, this session is an exception and there are few more here and there. The Supreme Court has basically one member conservative majority. If a conservative Justice dies or retires, this ratio has a big chance for reversal.

  25. googly: “the rich get richer at the expense of the middle class and poor”

    This statement assumes that wealth is like a fixed size pie and if one eats more, the others can only eat less. This is what Marx and his followers told the masses. There is another view: the pie can expand and all can eat more.

  26. @googly

    You know more.

    But Hillary can’t win. She won’t even be the nominee. I think Kerry will get it over Biden.
    Hillary has too much baggage that can be inflated at any time. Also, the American public
    wants no more experiments. Obama was a brave choice but he’s been a disaster in
    foreign policy, and the Republicans did their best to harpoon him nationally.

  27. gdfxx: this is not a US topic, but the wealth concentration actually increased rather than increased during the period when the pile grew. The myth of the tide rising the small and the big boat is just that, a myth.

  28. Those of you who are commenting on American politics should surely know that there is at this point in time no way to predict the results of the future presidential or congressional elections. There are still too many unknown factors to even discuss what will or will not happen in future elections. All your predictions of a Democratic or Republican Party victory are pointless wishful thinking (or the opposite). Please stop.

  29. bolg, please read what I said. The pie did grow. Why it did not get to most (at this point in history) is a whole different question. My opinion is that this will change when the US and Chinese wages become equal.

  30. gdfxx: the US and Chinese wages cannot ever become equal. The earth just doesn’t have enough resources to sustain China at the current consumption (wage) levels of the US. That’s a physical limit. Also, looking at the other possibility, I don’t think it’s a winning policy politically to try to steer US wages down towards the Chinese levels.

  31. Nunez, the issue is not a policy issue. It’s just a question of offer and demand. Until an item can be manufactured in China (Or Hungary, or anywhere else) for less (including transportation), it will be manufactured there. Once the wages (and some other factors, for example the cost of energy and raw materials) in China grow and the ones in the US decrease to make the costs similar, this will reverse. Economics 101.

  32. @gdfxx – You’ve left out transportation costs and labour productivity/efficiency. And don’t forget that labour productivity is also related to technological development. As long as the average worker produces more per hour in Germany or the US than the average worker in China, then (in theory) there can’t be wage convergence.
    I, for one, hope the Chinese earn as much as Americans some day – but not if that means American wages must fall. That would benefit neither country. I hope Chinese productivity and wages will rise.

  33. Webber, my reply wasn’t a detailed analysis of the conditions that would lead to wage convergence, that is why I said “for example”. Productivity has to be the same, I think that’s implied. Companies that switch manufacturing locations usually equip their factories with the same (or better) technology they had in their home country. Why wouldn’t they (if they have to employ two or more Chinese workers for each German or American one to reach the same number of widgets/shift, it may not even make sense to outsource)? If you expect the Chinese standard of living to reach that of the German or American one, I am afraid you will have a long time to wait. My guess is that China still has more people living at the bottom of the income scale than the population of Germany and the USA combined.

  34. And back to Hungary:

    The wage difference or actually the factor of 3 to 1 (or bigger) between adjacent countries like Austria and Hungary (with almost identical costs of living – if you use similar products) is almost unbelievable!

    We just visited our neighbours and talked again about every family having at least one member walking abroad among their younger ones. And of course if one “makes it” (s)he’ll motivate and maybe even help others to follow, so how can the brain drain to DACH, Nenelux, UK etc be stopped?

    Some minister of Orbán talked today about 4.2 million Hungarians working – how many of these are abroad (or in a fostered job)?

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