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Readers’ polls

March 29, 2014 87 comments

I created a number of polls and urge everybody to cast their votes.

Statement of the former anti-communist Democratic Opposition on the Russian military threat against Ukraine

March 1, 2014 77 comments

We call on the Hungarian government that until now has been seeking its own political and economic benefits and has tried to adjust its policies in line with Russian interests to take an unequivocal stand on the side of its allies and give up its hitherto shameful behavior. We call on the government to behave as a member state of the European Union committed to transatlantic ties and as a member of NATO.

While no one is threatening the physical wellbeing, rights or property of Ukraine’s Russian minority, the Kremlin, making allusions to the defense of the Russian minority, is preparing to attack a neighboring country, threatening its territorial integrity, prompting the danger of war. Events of the last few months had no ethnic components. The demonstrators demanded only politically and economically fair governance. At the same time it is true that they rejected the introduction of the kind of oligarchic and authoritarian system that has developed under the leadership of Vladimir Putin.

An imminent Russian military intervention is unacceptable because:

1. In violation of international law it attacks a sovereign state.

2.This attack will take place after the Kiev street battles died down and with international assistance social peace was achieved.

3. In addition, intervention might cause ethnic conflicts the consequences of which will most likely have to be endured mainly by the Russian minority in Ukraine.

For all these Moscow and President Vladimir Putin personally are responsible.

The legitimate government of Ukraine and the legitimately elected interim leaders remain at the helm and are trying to manage the crisis caused by Moscow’s political pressure and the treachery brought about by Viktor Yanukovich, who turned out to be a willing instrument of the Kremlin. Russia is planning to turn against Ukraine with the same aggressiveness as its predecessor, the Soviet Union, did in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution or in 1968 when it and its minions ran down Czechoslovakia. The pretext then was protection of the social order; today it is assistance to the Russian minority. But behind both only naked Russian imperial interests are at work.

European governments and institutions must use their influence to bring about the immediate withdrawal of the Russian military units.

Budapest, March 1, 2014

Attila Ara-Kovács, former diplomat
György Dalos, writer
Gábor Demsky, former lord mayor of Budapest
Róza Hodosán, former member of parliament
Gábor Iványi, Methodist minister
János Kenedi, historian
György Konrád, writer
Bálint Magyar, former minister of education and culture
Imre Mécs, former member of parliament
László Rajk, architect
Sándor Radnóti, philosopher
Sándor Szilágyi, art writer

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2013 37 comments

New Year 2014-2

Conversations with a Pole in the United States

December 27, 2013 20 comments

It was six years ago that I first met Barbara, a medical assistant originally from Poland. Every second year I go for my recommended bone density test, a job she does.

When I first met her I immediately noticed her accent. I knew that her original language was most likely Slavic, but I couldn’t put my finger on which one. When it turned out that it was Polish I told her that I came from Hungary. The immediate result was: Polak, Węgier — dwa bratanki, which almost always follows such Polish-Hungarian encounters in the United States.

Source: pl.wikipedia.org

Source: pl.wikipedia.org

The conversation immediately turned to our own stories. About how we ended up here and under what circumstances. Barbara and her husband had two boys, whom they wanted to make sure would be fluent in Polish. Almost every summer the boys went to Poland to spend time with their grandparents.

As for the Polish situation at the time, she was full of complaints. She talked about the high unemployment, the millions of Poles who went to Germany, Ireland, and Great Britain to work. During one of our encounters around this time I gingerly brought up the Kaczyński brothers, but I quickly dropped the topic because I got the impression that Barbara found the Kaczyńskis to her liking.

Over the years we compared notes on the state of affairs of the two countries. She complained about her compatriots who don’t work as hard as she does and who expect the state to look after them. We talked about the boys; the older entered college last September. They picked a Catholic-run university for him where the education costs a fortune; in return she expects the boy to ace every subject he is taking. I tried to explain that the first year is the most difficult and that she shouldn’t put too much pressure on the boy. However, she is adamant.

But then we began talking about Poland. Barbara is very well informed on Polish affairs because for an extra $20 a month the family subscribes to four Polish television channels from our local cable provider. She admitted that the younger boy who is still at home is not interested in the Polish channels, but she will pay another $20 next year when forty Polish channels are available.

At this point I said to her that as far as I know Poland is doing very well economically. She who until recently was full of complaints admitted that this is the case but mournfully added that it is only because the European Union is providing the country with money which “they will have to pay back.” After we clarified the meaning of that statement I assured her that for the time being Poland doesn’t have to worry. The money will be coming for at least seven more years. However, this didn’t satisfy Barbara who then began worrying about what will happen if the multinational companies move farther to the East in hopes of lower wages. However, all in all, Poland is doing quite well, she had to admit.

And then she stopped and looked worried. “But I hear that Hungary is not doing at all well.” She couldn’t quite understand why. She remembered how well Hungary fared in the 1970s and 1980s and how envious Poles were when they had a chance to visit the country. What happened? I gave her a very short summary of events of the last ten or so years with special emphasis on the last three. The story of the football stadiums especially appalled her. It was obvious that Barbara knows something about football and also knows that Hungary is nowhere in the international standings. In fact, she even came up with some statistics. But the highlight of our conversation was when I got to the stadium in Felcsút, a town of 1,600 inhabitants with a stadium for 3,600. “You must be kidding! But this is crazy! How can the people put up with that?” I told her that I don’t understand it myself but this is how it is.

The history of two countries in the last six years. The always complaining Polish Barbara now feels sorry for Hungary and the Hungarians. I think she also came to the conclusion that there is something very wrong with a prime minister who builds a huge stadium in his boyhood village, right next door to his weekend house.

When it was all over she embraced me. I’ll be curious how our next conversation will go.

The Fót election doesn’t bode well for the future

December 3, 2013 25 comments

We are getting closer and closer to the national election, which most likely will be held sometime in early April. Therefore I think we ought to ponder what happened at the municipal election in Fót on and after November 24. Fót may well be an omen of what can be expected at next year’s national election.

Someone who is supported by the three opposition parties wins the election, but a week later, after the local election commission finds everything to be in order and gives its blessing to the results, on the basis of unproven election irregularities a court decision renders the results null and void. Moreover, it not only orders the election to be repeated but forces participants to start the whole procedure over from the beginning, including getting endorsements. The new election will be held in February. Yes, February because the procedure takes that long. Meanwhile Fót’s municipal government is in disarray. In the Fidesz-run town the city fathers, all belonging to Fidesz, have managed to get rid of three mayors in three years.

What happened in Fót is a serious situation and doesn’t bode well for next year’s national election. I will try to provide a timeline of the events.

The first complaint came from Jobbik’s county organization. They claimed that someone reported that a Volkswagen minibus allegedly transported voters from outlying districts. They claimed to know who the owner of the minibus was. It turned out that the man “with MSZP sympathies” sold his Volkswagen years ago. And although they produced a picture of the white bus, it was impossible to ascertain how many people were inside the vehicle or where the photo was taken. So, here the situation was entirely different from the Baja case where there was proof of regular transports by a single man with a single car.

Then came another complaint.  Some people found in their mailboxes a handmade poster without a logo and without the name of any organization which advertised that there would be extra bus runs on the day of the election for easier access to the polling station. As it turned out, the bus schedule was not changed in any way, but it looks as if the three-man panel at the courthouse didn’t find it necessary to ascertain whether the intent had been followed by action. For them the picture of a minibus and a piece of paper promising extra bus runs was enough.

These learned judges rendered their verdict on the basis of §47 of the old electoral law that still regulates election procedures. It says that free transportation service provided by the candidate or the organization he represents is considered to be electoral misconduct. But the verdict in the Fót case says not a word about the candidate or his party or organization that allegedly was behind this dastardly deed. So, from here on every time someone doesn’t like the outcome of an election he can produce a picture of a minibus or come forth with a handwritten crumbled piece of paper announcing extra bus runs and, voila, the election will be declared null and void.

The verdict was so bizarre that the notary of Fót asked twice what the judges actually meant. And the town notary is normally someone with a law degree.

justice

Almost all electoral commissions–local, territorial, and national–are in Fidesz hands, and yet the territorial election committee last Wednesday decided that all was in order. They claimed that even if there had been irregularities such actions couldn’t have influenced the outcome of the election. But then came an appeal from a “private person representing a law firm” who objected. The person asked the court to re-examine the bus route case and, in addition, he called attention to two women who “had in their possession some MSZP-DK-E14 leaflets” and who urged people to vote because “the number of voters is low.” Apparently, they didn’t dispense the leaflets. All in all, we are talking about minor infractions, some of which are unproven.

Was the decision an example of judicial incompetence or were the judges influenced either by their own political views or, even worse, were they subject to some outside influence? It’s hard to tell, but the message is: if an opposition candidate wins, the results will not be allowed to stand. I don’t think too many people remember the 2010 Felcsút municipal election when the man elected mayor was not Viktor Orbán’s favorite Lőrinc Mészáros. The election had to be repeated because it was decided that the winner owed a small fee to the local authorities. He was apparently a Fidesz supporter but not quite the right man.

Of course, from my peaceful rural suburb in Connecticut all this sounds crazy. Why couldn’t I ask my neighbor to take me to vote if my car broke down the day before? What is wrong with someone urging me to go to the polls because participation is low? Of course, nothing. But this is, thank God, not Hungary where for a few bucks you can buy the votes of downtrodden Romas. And then there are the crooked local election committees and the incompetent/crooked judges. As a very bitter opinion piece in HVG said: “there is a brutally misleading electoral procedure. A media that makes equal chances of all parties illusory. A population misled by the state, municipal authorities and even by owners of private companies. There are all sorts of lists. And a wacky opposition that hopes it can get justice from the independent investigative and judicial authorities. Keep hoping!”

The political reverberations after the Hungarian football fiasco

October 16, 2013 24 comments

When soccer/football becomes a political matter, as was pointed out by a Swiss journalist straight from Felcsút, it is not surprising that a spectacular defeat of the Hungarian team will soon be part and parcel of high level politics. This is exactly what has happened. Fidesz politicians have been madly searching for scapegoats in order to avoid pointing the finger at the chief soccer enthusiast of the country, Viktor Orbán. The first victim of the “purge” was the coach, who resigned right on the spot. The second target seems to be Sándor Csányi, president of the Hungarian Football Association (Magyar Labdarugó Szövetség). I assume you know that Sándor Csányi is one of the richest Hungarians and CEO of Hungary’s largest bank, OTP.

Actually, if Viktor Orbán’s minions wanted to find a scapegoat in Sándor Csányi, they didn’t have to worry too much about a possible negative reaction to their attack from the chief. In the last few weeks a noticeable cooling of the friendship between the prime minister and the banker could be observed. The first punch came from Orbán’s side when the prime minister’s faithful chief-of-staff, János Lázár, called Csányi the country’s chief usurer. That got Csányi’s goat, who answered in kind and alluded to Lázár’s questionable role in the monopolization of tobacco products and the licensing of the tobacconist shops. If that weren’t enough, he gave an interview to Olga Kálmán in which he explained all the negative effects of the abnormally high taxes on banks. Even so, a few days later Csányi and Orbán could be seen amiably sitting side by side at some Videoton game.

After the miserable performance of the Hungarian national team, several Fidesz politicians attacked Csányi, making him and the secretary-general of the Association responsible for the state of Hungarian soccer. Perhaps the very first to go on the attack was Máté Kocsis, mayor of District VIII and the man in charge of the growing Fidesz communication team, who announced that the coach’s resignation is not enough. Of course, he meant a purge of the Hungarian Football Association headed by Csányi. He was followed by Tamás Deutsch, a Fidesz original and currently a member of the European Parliament, who in addition to Csányi wanted to summarily fire the secretary-general of the Association. The third person was Zsolt Wintermantel, mayor of Újpest and a member of parliament, who demanded that the whole upper echelon of the Association resign.

Viktor Orbán playing football / ATV

Viktor Orbán playing football / ATV

The reply from Csányi was not long in coming. This morning he gave a press conference in which called Deutsch “a Twitter hussar,” alluding to Deutsch’s fondness for mostly obscene tweets.  Csányi also recalled that when Deutsch was minister of sports in the first Orbán administration he ordered computerized gates for all Hungarian stadiums, which turned out to be useless junk. He suggested that Deutsch try to sell the whole lot and with the proceeds help Hungarian football. As for Máté Kocsis, Csányi didn’t spare words. He claimed that when Kocsis took over the mayoralty of District VIII there were six stadiums while now it has only four. “Such a man should shut up when it comes to soccer. As a spokesman for Fidesz he has so many other opportunities to lie.” As for Wintermantel, Csányi acted as if he didn’t really know his name: “What’s the name of that mayor? Oh, yeah, Wintermantel. He is the one who screams in front of every stadium and before each match. He should learn more about the facts. This is not politics, this is football.”

After all that, it is perhaps not surprising that both Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap “censored” Csányi’s words about Kocsis. Magyar Nemzet  left out the most important part of Csányi’s remarks–about Kocsis’s many opportunities to lie as a Fidesz spokesman. Instead they truncated Csányi’s message to Kocsis: “At the time of regime change there were six football fields in the District VIII. Now there are only four. Therefore go elsewhere to lie in connection with soccer.” Magyar Hírlap completely ignored Csányi’s remarks about the Fidesz politician.

This is what happens when politicians use sports, any kind of sport, for their own political purposes. This is especially true when the prime minister himself is the “guiding light” of soccer, which he claims is a “Hungarian sport.” If the coach is at fault and if the chairman of the Hungarian Football Association should be sacked, what should happen to Viktor Orbán who most likely is involved in even the smallest details of the Hungarian football business? Because he was the one who convinced Csányi to seek the chairmanship and who also made sure that he was elected to the position. And who is the person who outlines in great detail the whole future of the sport in Hungary? Naturally, the prime minister, who gave his longest ever interview to the journalist spokesman of the Puskás Academy. Nothing happens in the sport without his okay.

Meanwhile Ádám Szalai, center forward of the Hungarian team, vented his frustration. Interestingly, his complaints about the state of Hungarian soccer are very similar to what Ferenc Gyurcsány told his fellow MSZP members in Balatonőszöd: we have been lying to ourselves and refusing to see the growing problems. False hopes and promises. Nobody is ready to face the music. Nobody really wants to work hard. The bigwigs, I think Viktor Orbán included, insist on Hungarian coaches when these coaches are no good. No Hungarian player plays in any first- or even second-rate European clubs. He himself used to be considered an excellent football player at home, but when he was picked up by a German team it turned out that he really couldn’t compete with his teammates. He had to relearn how to play the sport. At the age of 25-27 one cannot learn to play soccer. What Hungary needs are foreign coaches who make them work hard and who can produce a new generation of players. The present set is useless. Forget about them.

But then there was the match between the Hungarian Roma top players (válogatott) against the Vatican’s Swiss Guard in July 2010. And you know what? The Gypsies won 8-1. Interestingly enough, we didn’t hear about Viktor Orbán’s sitting there in Felcsút, where the game was played, yelling: “Hajrá Magyarország, hajrá magyarok!  Take a look at the short video. It’s fun.

When I told this story to a friend of mine, she said something the Hungarian government might take to heart. Why not put some effort into organizing soccer clubs in villages where there is a sizable Roma population? Such a program wouldn’t need billions. You need balls, a field, and enthusiasm. It would keep those boys active and success would be a great boost to their egos. After all, Puskás himself started to play on an empty lot somewhere in Újpest. He and his friends didn’t even have decent balls. They made them from rags.

The key to future success most likely lies not in fancy football academies (and certainly not in stadiums) but in having thousands of kids introduced to the game. Playing soccer is not an expensive sport like tennis, skiing, or skating. Lots of poor kids can play it. Just like so many Afro-American kids could easily play basketball, often on abandoned city lots, and eventually some of them became world-famous basketball players.

Meanwhile, it looks as if Viktor Orbán will have to be satisfied with a foreign coach. I just wonder who in the world will take the job.

Viktor Orbán’s daughter is getting married

September 6, 2013 25 comments

I usually don’t deal with topics that are fodder for the tabloids, like the weddings of famous people, but I have to write about the wedding of Viktor Orbán’s eldest child, Ráhel (24).  It personalizes the corruption of Orbán’s Hungary.

In case some of you think that it must be the terrible press that dragged the private life of a young girl who happens to be the daughter of the prime minister into the limelight, you would be mistaken. It was Orbán himself who made his daughter’s wedding a public affair.

Viktor Orbán likes to use Blikk, a Hungarian tabloid, to shed light on the private life of his family whenever it serves his purpose. So it wasn’t surprising that it was Blikk  that first reported on the details of the forthcoming wedding. Orbán told the newspaper that his modest abode (porta) in Felcsút is not spacious enough to hold the wedding since both families are large. However, he added, luckily the groom’s family owns a “tanya,” which will be most suitable.

Let’s say a few words about this “tanya.” If one looks up the meaning of “tanya” in the Magyar Értelmező Szótár it turns out that the “tanya” where the wedding will be held is not the kind that is described there. A “tanya” is a modest farmhouse with some outbuildings situated in a remote area, a few kilometers from smaller towns or villages in the Great Plains region. Some of these farms still have no electricity.

Well, this “tanya” is neither in the Great Plains nor modest. It is an estate near Bicske not far from Felcsút that formerly belonged to an old noble family. The palatial building is surrounded by 30-40 hectares of land. The new owners, the Tiborcz family, restored the building and added an impressive park. It now functions as a hotel and a horse farm. They also organize larger events there, including weddings.

Tukrospuszta

The Tiborcz family bought the estate sometime in the mid-1990s. Earlier the father of István Tiborcz, the groom, was in the funeral business but he moved into hospitality. In addition to this “tanya” he has a smaller building with seven acres and eleven rooms that he reconstructed as a family hotel. The groom’s family lives 15 minutes from Felcsút in Csabdi.

István Tiborcz (27) finished law school, but he is a businessman who has been doing exceptionally well financially since Viktor Orbán became prime minister. In 2008 he and a friend of his started a small business  dealing with electrical and energy supplies. In 2009 they had a modest profit of 8 million forints on which they paid 2 million in taxes. Today their business’s annual profit is over 2.5 billion forints. A good chunk of the money comes from government contracts. According to calculations, in three years István Tiborcz’s government orders have amounted to 3.2 billion forints.

The couple met five or six years ago, and by 2010 Tiborcz was so close to the Orbáns that he was present at the Fidesz victory celebration after the election. Other members of the family also benefited from his connection to the Orbáns. His sister Eszter received 157 hectares for lease, which is 4.1% of all leases distributed among friends and families in Fejér County. His bother Péter works for the Ministry of National Development.

Admittedly, there are benefits to being connected to the “first family.” However, what is happening with the wedding is something else. I’m sure that the Nixon daughters’ weddings were big deals, but I doubt that the city of Washington decided to fix the sidewalk leading to the church. Or send out workers to pick up the fallen leaves around the building.  Or repaint the walls of the church that until now were covered with graffiti. Because the wedding itself will be held in the Országúti (Landstrasse) Franciscan Church on Margit körút. In the second half of the eighteenth century when it was built, it was considered to be in the outskirts of Buda but today it stands in one of the busiest spots in Budapest. Some people wonder about the wisdom of holding the wedding there. Think of the traffic jam tomorrow around the church. And then there are all those admirers of Viktor who will want to see him walk into the church with his daughter.

But fixing the sidewalk on Margit körút wasn’t enough. The surroundings of the “tanya” had to be fixed up too. The estate is well hidden. Reporters who decided to look around the site of the wedding had a hard time finding it. The road leading to it has been in very bad shape for years. Huge potholes everywhere. But, never fear, the Hungarian government came to the rescue. Big pieces of machinery arrived a few days ago and in no time the potholes were filled and the grass on the sides of the road cut.  After all, the surroundings couldn’t possibly look neglected. What would the three hundred expected guests think? As one headline announced, “Anywhere Ráhel Orbán goes the country is getting beautified.” Viktor Orbán or his minions make sure of that.

Since Viktor Orbán wanted to make a big fuss about this wedding he shouldn’t be surprised that nosy reporters have been snooping around and uncovering dirt, like the work on the road leading to the “tanya.” The trouble was compounded by Viktor Orbán’s press secretary who announced that no one ever touched that road so the guests will have to travel to the wedding on “a road that has the most potholes in the country.” The Hungarian media had a heyday with the most potholed road in the country. Naturally a few hours later came pictures of the road and the obviously recently filled potholes.

And then there is the controversy over the role of TEK, the private army of Viktor Orbán, as the newly established Anti-Terror Center is called by many. The chief of TEK, János Hajdú, former bodyguard of Orbán, denied that TEK will provide security during the wedding ceremony and at the wedding party. Eventually, however, it became clear that since the prime minister is entitled to be guarded by TEK, they will be there. Moreover, TEK is also responsible for the security of President János Áder and House Speaker László Kövér. Áder was invited but will not be able to attend but surely Kövér, an old friend of the Orbáns, will be there. So TEK will take care of this so-called private wedding’s security needs.

It is a strange democracy when the prime minister behaves as if the whole country were his private domain. In a way, it is. The dividing line between private and public is blurred when either the central government or the municipal authorities are ordered or volunteer to fix up the venues of a private wedding. If the graffiti on the walls of the church bother either Orbán or the church, they should pay out of their own pockets. The same applies to the road leading to the Tiborcz estate.

Not long ago we talked about the enrichment of the Orbán family. Well, more members of that family are coming of age. There are four girls in the Orbán family. If each has to offer a “dowry” to her prospective husband on taxpayer money it will be an expensive affair for the country. Let’s hope that Viktor Orbán’s rule will not last that long. The youngest daughter is only nine!

Some citizens are more equal than others

August 9, 2013 52 comments

I simply can’t understand the Hungarian opposition’s lack of initiative and its sluggish reactions to unacceptable actions that are being taken day in and day out by Fidesz and the Fidesz-ruled parliament. Often, opposition politicians wake up only when a government official reveals by a slip of the tongue the real intention of a piece of legislation. A good example of this kind of opposition lethargy is its recent discovery that the government is up to no good with its laws governing the voting rights of new Hungarian citizens who were born and lived all their lives in one of the neighboring countries. No opposition politicians raised the possibility of electoral fraud until the head of the National Election Commission made the mistake of revealing some of the details of the voting procedures contemplated by the government. Then suddenly the politicians of the democratic opposition woke up. But, for Pete’s sake, the particulars of the electoral law have been known for months. Where were these people when the proposal was duly voted into law sometime in December?

I wrote about some possible problems with the absentee ballots on July 29 after Ilona Pálffy, the government official in question, made the mistake of outlining the procedure in terms that made it clear that the safety of the ballots cannot be guaranteed. It will be extremely easy to manipulate the ballots of dual citizens. It took another two weeks for the opposition to discover that there are serious problems with the voting rights of Hungarian citizens living abroad.

Currently perhaps as many as half a million Hungarian citizens work abroad. This number is a guesstimate, but the true number is surely more than 300,000, the number of dual citizens in the neighboring countries. And while these dual citizens can vote via absentee ballot, Hungarians working abroad must vote in person either in Hungary or at a Hungarian embassy or consulate. Let’s take, for example, Great Britain since it has a large Hungarian presence. In the United Kingdom both the Hungarian embassy and the consulate are in London. There are no consulates anywhere else.  So if a Hungarian lives in Glasgow and would like to vote he would have to travel to London, more than a six-hour trip by rail. And we’d better not mention Northern Ireland.

The situation is slightly better in Germany but not much. There a Hungarian citizen can vote either in Berlin or in Munich. In the United States there are three places you can vote: Washington, New York, and Los Angeles.  If you happen to live in Kansas City you can look forward to a 2,000 km trip to New York City. You are even worse off in Canada where there are a lot of Hungarians. There you can vote only in Ottawa; the distance between Vancouver and Ottawa is 3,538 km. For sake of comparison the Hungarian government maintains four consulates in Romania: in Bucharest, Cluj/Kolozsvár, Miercurea-Ciuc/Csíkszereda, and Constanta. Of course, this comparison doesn’t really speak to the issue since Hungarian dual citizens in Romania don’t have to show up in person at one of these consulates.

Fidesz obviously doesn’t want Hungarian citizens living in the West to vote in the forthcoming elections. I don’t think they’re focused on votes coming from Canada and the U.S. What worries them is those recent emigrants to Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, etc. who left the Orbán government behind. Their connection to Hungary, family and friends is much more intense and direct than that of earlier emigrants to North America. Moreover, most of them left Hungary recently because of economic hardship, and most of them seem to be satisfied with their new circumstances. They find life in Great Britain and Germany much more pleasant and career opportunities more merit-based. There is a good likelihood that a great majority of these people would not vote for Fidesz.

And there’s another reason to discourage these potentially anti-Fidesz Hungarians in the West from voting. A Romanian-Hungarian dual citizen can vote only for party lists while Hungarians living in the West but with a valid address in Hungary can theoretically vote for both individual candidates who represent a district and for party lists.

All citizens are equal / www.presseurope.eu

All citizens are equal / http://www.presseurope.eu

This blatant discrimination against Hungarian emigrants in the West was introduced as an amendment to the electoral law. It was an afterthought. I suspect that Fidesz figured out that the number of Hungarians seeking employment abroad was growing by leaps and bounds and that if these people can vote as easily as the by-and-large pro-Fidesz crowd in Romania and Serbia their actions might counterbalance the gains coming from the Romanian-Hungarian vote. In that case, the whole exercise of giving the vote to Hungarians in the neighboring countries would have been for naught.

The opposition was asleep at the switch when the Fidesz amendment was approved. It was only today that Gergely Karácsony on behalf of Együtt 2014-PM announced that he is planning to submit an amendment to the electoral law that would put an end to this discrimination against Hungarians temporarily living in countries of the European Union.

The answer from the other side came in no time. Gergely Gulyás, who is deeply involved with constitutional and electoral issues, said that he considers Karácsony’s proposed amendment a desperate move on the part of the opposition forces. The opposition already knows that they will lose the election so they are now trying to convince the world that their loss is the sole result of electoral fraud. He claimed that the Hungarian electoral law ensures equal opportunity to all Hungarian citizens. Well, you can judge for yourself whether a Hungarian citizen living in Great Britain has the same opportunity to cast his vote as his counterpart in Romania.

I highly doubt that Fidesz will be willing to change the existing law that clearly favors them. At least this is how I interpreted Gulyás’s words.

Breaking news: The World Jewish Congress’s Plenary Assembly in Budapest

May 5, 2013 35 comments

Below, thanks to a friend, a contributor, and a regular reader of Hungarian Spectrum, I’m able to publish the speeches of Péter Feldmájer, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ), and Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, at the Plenary Assembly in Budapest on May 5.

Unfortunately Viktor Orbán’s speech is not yet available in English (although it’s already on YouTube in Hungarian), but the World Jewish Congress’s reaction was negative.

I should add that the translations are not mine.

* * *

Péter Feldmájer

Péter Feldmájer

Mr. President Lauder, Mr. Prime Minister, His Excellency the Cardinal, Bishops, Rabbis, Mr. and Madame Ambassadors, Dear Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Ma nishtano halailo haze?

What makes this night different from all other nights, we ask each Passover Seder evening; today we can ask the question: ma nishtano hacongres haze – i.e. what makes this congress different from all other congresses?

First and most, it is that we would like to welcome you in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, a glorious city that safeguards the joys and also the tortures of the past.

You have arrived in a country which – legend has it – saw the Jewish people from the Kazar empire come into this land together with the state founding proud horse tribes, and also where for many decades in the 19th century the Jews of the east were greeted with a warm and wholehearted welcome. The Jews here had become Hungarian patriots, they quickly lost their own language and supported the cause of Hungarian independence without reservations; nevertheless, already in the very first days of the 1848 heroic freedom fight, a pogrom was launched against the Jews of Bratislava.

You have come to a city that is proud to have Tivadar Herzl, the visionary of modern Israel, as its son and student.

You have come to a country which had lost World War I and with that 2/3 of its territory. The heroism of the Jewish soldiers and officers fighting the war as Hungarian patriots had become legendary, yet it did nothing to stop the political elite from blaming the Jews for the defeat and introducing the very first anti-Semitic laws of Europe, which served as models for the Nazis.

You have come to a country where the vast majority of the then mainstream society approved of the anti-Semitic laws and while most of them did not identify with the massacres, ultimately the entire Hungarian public administration – led by the Governor – successfully organised and implemented the gathering and deportation of Jews to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. You have come to a city that is proud of its jewel, the blue Danube, whose water was once painted red by the blood of tens of thousands of Jews shot dead on its banks.

You have come to a city where despite decades of anti-Semitic propaganda, despite official prohibitions, there were still hundreds and thousands that risked their lives standing up for, hiding and saving the lives of Jews.

You have come to a country where the majority of Jewish people – despite the massacres – remained patriotic to the land.

You have come to a country in which Moscow-based concoctors of leftist anti-Semitic pogroms could not achieve anything because the otherwise loyal Communist leaders of the country were not willing to identify with and fulfil the mad plans and commands of red tsars that followed the footsteps of Hitler.

You have come to a country where after the fall of Communism, the largest Jewish community of Central Europe revived Jewish religious and cultural life with unparalleled enthusiasm; the education system they brought to life may be an example to all.

You have come to a country whose proud Jewish residents can freely express their love of Israel and may freely proclaim not to ever forget Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of the united Jewish people.

You have come to a country which – perhaps the first one in the world after Israel – adopted a bill to commemorate the victims of the holocaust and – in line with the measures of the first Orban-cabinet – does a tremendous lot to keep the memory of the holocaust alive, to make the history of the holocaust part of school education.

You have come to a country whose Jewish community is again under threat by horrific ideologies and acts, which are the remnants of the Middle Ages and the holocaust, where an elderly Chief Rabbi is attacked in the street, where Fascists are hailed, where the courts set murderers as role models for the young as squares, and streets are being named after keen anti-Semites, as the works of court poets of Hungarian Nazis are included in the national curriculum and thus polluting the souls of our students.

You have come to a country whose government is in support of the security of the state of Israel and is ready to stand up for the inalienable religious rights of Jews and would never consider placing animal rights before the religious rights of Jews.

You have come to a country, where Jews could live in peace and enjoy the support of the majority of Hungarian society if the holler of the vindictive minority did not suppress their sober and friendly voices.

Two decades ago, the director of MAZSIHISZ, Mr Zoltai, and I used to think that not only did Hungarian Jews have a great past, they also have a great future ahead of them. What has happened in this country in the past decades has proved that we were not wrong. We are still convinced today that not only is the present of Hungarian Jews great, but so is their future despite the raving of the anti-Semite rabble.

Thank you for coming and being here with us. We are proud to have been found worthy of holding the congress here, to be together, and for you to express your solidarity with the Hungarian Jewry.

I believe that the Jews of the world must unite their forces. This day also shows us that we are not alone, we are all listening to each other no matter where we may be living across the globe. The task we have is no little one to handle.

Hungary and Europe are on the wrong track.
As the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet put it:
“The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!”

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, time is out of joint and only together can we set it right; it is as if we the sounds and voices of the sinister ’30s were back again. All of us here tonight, Jews and non-Jews can only succeed in preventing the dark era of anti-Semitism from retuning to Hungary, Europe and the entire world and in ensuring that not a single Jewish person is ever in fear of terror if we unite our forces.

Thank you for your attention, I wish you all a pleasant evening.

* * *

Ronald S. Lauder

Ronald S. Lauder

Prime Minister Orban,  President of Mazsihisz, my friend Péter Feldmájer,  Cardinal Erdő,  Rabbis, Ministers and Members of Parliament, Distinguished Ambassadors, Representatives of our Jewish Communities from all around the world, ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends:

First of all, I want to thank Péter Feldmájer and the wonderful Jewish community here in Hungary.

The fact that we are here tonight – representatives of Jewish communities from 100 countries around the world – is a tribute to the strength, resilience and vitality of Hungarian Jewry and to your leadership, Péter. Thank you.

Prime Minister Orbán and Cardinal Erdő, we thank you for being with us. Your presence here tonight is also fitting because Budapest’s history is tied to Jewish history.

Less than one hundred years ago, a quarter of this great city’s population was Jewish. Hungary’s Jews contributed to the country’s economy, its culture, and its universities as well as its extraordinary tradition of mathematics and science.

Albert Einstein happens to be one of the few top physicists in the last century who was not born in Hungary but figures such as Szilard, Teller and Johnny von Neuman were just some of the brilliant Jewish minds that all came from Hungary and left a huge impact on the world.

Joseph Pulitzer, one of America’s greatest newspaper publishers and the founder of the most coveted prize in journalism that still bears his name today came from Hungary. And of course, Theodore Herzl, who founded the modern Zionist movement that led to the creation of Israel is from here as well.

My own mother’s parents were born here. The Lauder family dates back to the 13th Century and there was a special Jewish community there at that time, so you see my connection to Hungary is both deep and personal.

But sadly, all of the famous Jews I mention – and there are many more – noble laureates, artists and scholars – all left Hungary because they were forced to leave.

The rise of anti-Semitic parties in the 1920s and the 1930s led to the darkest chapter of all – the deportation and gassing of more than 400,000 Jewish men, women and children.  A staggering one-third of the 1.1 million Jews murdered at Auschwitz were Hungarian.

It is so clear that if these dark forces of anti-Semitism had not been allowed to rise in the 20th Century – all of Hungary would have prospered.

This always strikes me as so obvious – when Jews are allowed to live their lives freely and practice their religion, countries always flourish. It is obvious. But all too often, the irrational hatred that is Anti-Semitism defeats common sense.

After 1920, the government of Admiral Miklós Horthy – a vicious anti-Semite – moved Hungary towards this irrational hatred. His government passed successive anti-Jewish laws and aligned itself closely at that time with the Nazis in Germany.  And in 1938, the Horthy regime enacted its version of the infamous Nuremberg Laws.

The first deportations of Jews from Hungary to concentration camps occurred in 1941, during the time of Admiral Horthy.

I am recalling these facts now not because we are not familiar with them, but because today we are seeing, once again, growing ignorance, growing intolerance, growing hatred.

Once again we see the outrage of anti-Semitism.

This is by no means only in Hungary, but also in other places in Europe – in Greece, where I was a few weeks ago, in Ukraine and elsewhere.  We see that Jews and other minorities are singled out, vilified, demonized.

We see that more and more people openly deny the Holocaust, which happens to be one of the most well documented tragedies in history.

We see that a growing number of people actually believe the old canard that Jews control world finance, or the media, or everything.

And we see that Jews again are being blamed for economic troubles.

Today, there are members of the Hungarian Parliament who want the government to draw up “Lists of Jews” who hold public office. That sends out warning signals around the world.

In the press and on television, anti-Semitism and incitement against the Roma minority are becoming commonplace, and sometimes even accepted. We were shocked to learn that an anti-Semitic TV presenter was awarded a prize.

Thankfully the Government withdrew this prize.  But the fact that it was awarded in the first place is the kind of thing that has us worried.

And there is this journalist, Zsolt Bayer, who recently called Gypsies “cowardly, repulsive, noxious animals.”  He said they were “unfit to live among people” and called for “dealing with them immediately.”

Such words are reminiscent of the darkest era in European history.  Let us never forget the Roma were also victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Today, Jews are again wondering whether they will have to leave the country, for similar reasons.

Because they wonder why anti-Semites like Miklós Horthy are being glorified, and why statues honoring them are unveiled by Hungarian officials. Horthy was equivalent to Hitler and seeing statues of him going up sends the wrong signal.

Perhaps because they wonder if Jews have a future in Hungary?

Whatever the reason, their concerns must be taken seriously.

When Hungarian Jews are attacked by fanatics, they should be able to count on the unequivocal support of their government and of their authorities. It is the authorities that must stop this before it even begins.

Mr. Prime Minister, I know that the Hungarian people love freedom.  They are courageous.

In 1956, Hungary was the first country to rise up against the Soviet oppressors.

Hungary was the first country in 1989 that set off the chain reaction, which opened the Iron Curtain and brought down the Berlin Wall. For this the world thanks the Hungarian community.

Mr. Prime Minister, you were part of this. You did many things positive at that time.

The fall of Communism paved the way for a rebirth not just of a new Hungary but also for the revival of Jewish life here in Hungary and frankly no one frankly after the Shoah could ever imagine that. I remember when I opened my summer camp here we had 400 children from all over Europe attend a ceremony and the translator as I was speaking started to cry. I turned to him and asked “why are you crying?” He said “old man, I never thought I would see Jewish children again in Hungary.”

I decided to support that Jewish renaissance as much as I could. In 1990, I established the Lauder Javne School in Budapest.  It is now welcoming 600 Jewish students a year and enriching their lives with Jewish values.

I am very proud of all the things we have accomplished, and tomorrow we shall all have a chance to see more of the children when we have dinner at the school.

I have also had the honor to rebuild many synagogues here – showing my strong commitment to Hungary’s history and it’s great heritage.  Let there be no doubt: I still believe in the future of this country. And so do many others.

Prime Minister Orbán, I thank you for your presence here tonight.

It is no secret that Hungary’s international reputation has suffered in recent years.

But Hungary’s good name was not smeared by the foreign press, but by extremists.

Mr. Prime Minister, we are especially concerned about one particular party.  I am talking about Jobbik, a party that won almost 17 percent of the vote in the 2010 elections.  Through its anti-Semitism, its hostility to the Roma, and its paranoid rantings at the outside world, Jobbik is dragging the good name of Hungary through the mud.

That same party held a demonstration just yesterday against our gathering here in Budapest. Granted there were only a few people but it was symbolic because they were told they should not protest.

Hungarian Jews, Mr. Prime Minister, need you to take a firm and decisive lead. They need you to take on these dark forces. They need you to be pro-active.  They need your leadership in this fight.

They need you to send the message to the entire population that intolerance will not be tolerated.

As President of the World Jewish Congress, I ask you to do precisely that and thus to demonstrate and talk about this great country’s finest traditions.

It is time for leadership and strong actions.  We truly hope that you will be successful.

Fascism and intolerance always single out the Jews first.  But they are never the last victims.  All good people suffer.  Countries suffer.  In the end, this hatred and intolerance only destroys a nation’s hopes, its progress and its future.

Mr. Prime Minister this hall is full of hope.  We welcome you here to our gathering as you and the majority of your compatriots have welcomed us to your country.

We thank you for being with us in your stunningly beautiful capital city.

Thank you very much.

 * * *

It seems that Viktor Orbán’s speech didn’t meet the expectations of the World Jewish Congress.

The World Jewish Congress appreciates Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s decision to address the international Jewish community by speaking here tonight. We welcome that the Prime Minister made it clear that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and intolerable.

However, the Prime Minister did not confront the true nature of the problem: the threat posed by the anti-Semites in general and by the extreme-right Jobbik party in particular. We regret that Mr. Orbán did not address any recent anti-Semitic or racist incidents in the country, nor did he provide sufficient reassurance that a clear line has been drawn between his government and the far-right fringe.

As the Jewish people have learnt throughout history: Actions speak louder than words, no matter how well intended they are. The WJC will continue to urge all democratic forces in Hungary and elsewhere to combat with great determination rising extremism, anti-Semitism and hatred. We will continue to evaluate the situation in this regard.

The  prime minister’s speech is available on YouTube in Hungarian:

I may add that Ferenc Gyurcsány, who was present at the plenary assembly, left before Viktor Orbán delivered his address. In a Facebook comment he said that he had no intention of listening to the Hungarian prime minister’s lies.

Jostling for power within the Hungarian opposition: Együtt 2014

April 19, 2013 15 comments

Commentators are divided over how much time the opposition has to get its act together and begin serious negotiations that may end in a joint effort at the polls at the next election. Everybody knows that separately no party or group is strong enough to win against the monolithic Fidesz. Although some people accuse the MSZP leadership of thinking that their party can single-handedly beat Orbán, I doubt that any of the most influential MSZP politicians truly believe in such an outcome.

There are many who are convinced that the opposition has plenty of time. There is no need to hurry. After all, there is almost a year until the next elections. It would be perfectly all right for them to come up with a solution by the end of the year. Others, and I belong to this latter group, maintain that every moment that is wasted in party jostling to achieve a better position at the negotiating table works against the opposition’s chances at the next elections. Hungarians by now have a bad opinion of politicians in general and the disarray among the opposition only reinforces their negative feelings about them. Many voters who do not want to support Fidesz believe that since there is no unity on the left, there is no one for them to vote for.

Since I’m one of those who think that a move toward forming a united opposition should start as early as possible, I was happy to read that Gordon Bajnai is finally ready to talk with MSZP. At the end of November 2012 Attila Mesterházy suggested immediate negotiations with all opposition parties and groups that would like to see Viktor Orbán and his government go. Several smaller parties, including Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció, positively responded to Mesterházy’s call. Bajnai’s Együtt 2014, however, refused to join them, claiming that first the opposition should spend its time “uncovering the past.” He demanded that MSZP take stock of its past mistakes. After a lengthy back and forth, by early March it became clear that the Bajnai group was not ready to negotiate.

So, in the first few minutes after seeing the headlines, I was excited. At last, I said, things are moving in the right direction. But after looking at the details of Gordon Bajnai’s plan I became less enthusiastic. First of all, Bajnai is ready to negotiate only with MSZP. Second, negotiations wouldn’t begin until June 16. The date is significant. It was on June 16, 1989 that Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs were reburied. It was also the date when Viktor Orbán as a result of a much lauded speech began his meteoric rise to political prominence. Bajnai also chose another significant date in recent Hungarian history for a joint appearance with MSZP: October 23, the day the Hungarian revolution of 1956 broke out. I do realize that historical symbolism may have significance in politics but these dates are unfortunate. During July and August life more or less comes to a stop in Hungary. Parliament is not in session and most politicians leave for their yearly holidays. I simply can’t believe that much could be achieved during the summer months. Moreover, public interest in politics during the summer is even less than usual. ATV, for example, for financial reasons suspends some of their political programs. All in all, the dates picked seem untenable.

By WhildImages / Charlie Summers

By WhildImages / Charlie Summers

But why doesn’t Bajnai want to start negotiations earlier? He claims that the parties must work out their programs and that they also have to lay down the fundamentals of their policies that would entail “a rejection of the period before 2010.” A rather strange demand considering that during this period he served as minister in the Gyurcsány government and was also prime minister supported by the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition. I have to assume that these are not the real reasons behind his demand to postpone the negotiations. Rather, he is trying in the interim to build up his party that at the moment has the support of  only 4% of the voting population. Tonight András Bánó, who was substituting for Olga Kálmán on Egyenes beszéd at ATV, managed to get Bajnai to more or less admit that this is indeed the case. So, Hungarian voters will say “politics as usual.” In my opinion that will not endear Bajnai to them. The video of the conversation in which Bánó put some very uncomfortable questions to Bajnai is available on ATV’s website.

Magyar Nemzet immediately noticed that Bajnai didn’t mention Ferenc Gyurcsány’s Demokratikus Koalíció, and since then it became apparent that he is ready to negotiate only with MSZP. Of course, one understands why Bajnai considers Gyurcsány a political liability, but avoiding any contact with Gyurcsány will not save him from Fidesz’s campaign to link the two of them. Indeed, the author of a Magyar Nemzet article simply called Bajnai a sly politician who furtively avoids the issue. The journalist intimated that the link between the two men is so strong that his repudiation of his old friend is no guarantee of anything. Gyurcsány and Bajnai were “partners in crime”  in the past and will work together again given the opportunity.

Attila Mesterházy immediately responded to Bajnai’s call for negotiations and with great political skill suggested that as far as he is concerned he is ready to start negotiations on Monday. And since DK has steadfastly supported negotiations “without any preconditions” Mesterházy also insisted that DK be represented at the forthcoming negotiations.

Bajnai’s answer was disappointing. He rejected Mesterházy’s call for an immediate start to the negotiations. In his opinion, “the parties have to use the spring months to inform their voters of their programs.” Well, it is true that Együtt 2014 does need to work out a program, but MSZP has already crafted its own. Although Bajnai avoided mentioning DK or Gyurcsány, he made it clear that Együtt 2014 is ready to negotiate only with MSZP. When one of the reporters asked him about DK he was forced to say something. From his answer I gathered that he would like MSZP to make a separate deal with DK so he and his party wouldn’t have to sit down with his former friend and his prime minister.

Naive Bajnai who thinks that this will help his case. It won’t. I doubt that too many undecided voters will be swayed by his determination to talk only with MSZP or that he can build up his party significantly in the next two months. I also doubt that Fidesz’s propaganda against the Bajnai-Gyurcsány duo will be any less fierce because of his “sly” avoidance of DK.

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