Ágnes Vadai

Evidence is presented in the Jobbik espionage case

Shortly after the news broke on May 14 that Péter Polt, the Hungarian chief prosecutor, had asked Martin Schulz, president of the European Union, to suspend the parliamentary immunity of Béla Kovács (Jobbik), Fidesz moved to convene the Hungarian parliamentary committee on national security. The committee is chaired by Zsolt Molnár (MSZP), whose plate is full of his own problems. Two weeks ago a picture from 1992 of the 18-year-old hooded Molnár was made public. Magyar Nemzet accused the socialist politician of being a skinhead in his youth. I guess it was just tit for tat: the opposition was outraged over Fidesz’s support of a Jobbik candidate for the post of deputy president of the House.

A couple of days ago I expressed doubts about the charge of espionage in the case of the Jobbik MEP. First of all, we know only too well the Fidesz practice of accusing their political opponents of some serious crime that years later turns out to be bogus. The acquittal comes far too late; the political damage is instantaneous. After the 2010 election wholesale accusations were launched against socialist politicians and now, four years later, most of the accused have been acquitted. Among those court cases one dealt with espionage, but because the case was considered to belong to the rather large realm of state secrets we still have no idea about the charges or the evidence. Early reactions from Ágnes Vadai (DK), who at that point was a member of the parliamentary committee, indicated that both bordered on the ludicrous.

Since I consider the national security office an arm of the Orbán government that is often used for political purposes, my first reaction was to be very skeptical of the charges leveled against Kovács. Until now, Viktor Orbán concentrated on the left (MSZP, DK, E14-PM) and ignored Jobbik. Now that everybody predicts a resounding success for the extremist Jobbik party at the polls on Sunday, it seems that Orbán decided to turn his attention to his adversaries on the right. After all, he has the magic two-thirds majority in parliament and doesn’t need Jobbik.

There is no question of Kovács’s pro-Russian sentiments. He spent the larger part of his life in that country, and he is an ardent supporter of Vladimir Putin and his vision of Russia and the world. In Brussels he is considered to be a “Russian lobbyist,” and I’m sure that he represented Russia more than Hungary in the EP. At least some of his speeches indicate that much. But espionage is something different from making propaganda at the behest of a country.

Viktor Orbán, never known to worry about linguistic niceties, is capitalizing on the situation. On Friday night on MTV he equated espionage against the European Union with treason. He claimed that “the Hungarian public is familiar with the treasonous activities of internationalists who don’t consider the nation important, but that a party that considers itself national (nemzeti) would want to send such people to Brussels where they are supposed to represent Hungarian interests is really unprecedented.”

Let’s analyze this sentence. First of all, he is accusing some (actually, probably most) left-wing politicians of being traitors, while suggesting that there might be more spies among the proposed representatives of Jobbik to the European Parliament. I’m sure that Viktor Orbán means every word he says in this sentence. He is convinced that everyone who disagrees with him and criticizes him is not only unpatriotic but also a traitor; if it depended on him, he would gladly jail all of them. Also, there are signs that Béla Kovács might be only the first target. Perhaps the grand prize would be Gábor Vona himself.  As it is, Lajos Pősze, a disillusioned former Jobbik member, claimed on HírTV that Vona is Moscow’s agent.

In any case, the parliamentary committee on national security was called together this morning. Both Béla Kovács and Gábor Vona were obliged to appear before the committee. It seems that everyone who was present, with the exception of Jobbik member Ádám Mirkóczki, is convinced on the basis of the evidence presented by the national security office that Béla Kovács committed espionage.

Gábor Vona, Ádám Mirkóczy, and Béla Kovács Source: Index / Photo; Szabolcs Barakonyi

Gábor Vona, Ádám Mirkóczki, and Béla Kovács after the hearing
Source: Index / Photo; Szabolcs Barakonyi

What did we learn about the proceedings? Not much, because the information will be classified for a number of years. We do know that the Hungarian national security office has been investigating Kovács ever since 2009 and that they have pictures and recordings of conversations. Chairman Zsolt Molnár (MSZP) found the evidence convincing but added, “there is espionage but no James Bond.” Apparently, what he means is that the case is not like espionage concerning military secrets but “an activity that can be more widely defined.” Bernadett Szél (LMP) was also impressed, but she added that “a person can commit espionage even if he is not a professional spy.” These two comments lead me to believe that we are faced here not so much with espionage as with “influence peddling.” On the other hand, Szilárd Németh (Fidesz), deputy chairman of the committee, was more explicit and more damaging. He indicated that “Kovács had connections to the Russian secret service and these connections were organized and conspiratorial.” Attila Mesterházy, who was not present, also seems to accept the story at face value. The liberal-socialist politicians all appear to have lined up. Interestingly enough, not one of them seems to remember similar Fidesz attacks on people on their side that turned out to be bogus. Yes, I understand that Jobbik is a despicable party, but that’s not a sufficient reason to call Kovács a spy if he is no more than a zealous promoter of Putin’s cause.

Ágnes Vadai (DK) used to be the chair of the committee when she was still a member of MSZP and thus has the necessary clearance to attend the sessions. Since she had to retire from the chairmanship due to her change of political allegiance, she asked admission to some of the more important meetings of the committee. Normally, she receives permission. But not this time. Her reaction was:  “We always suspected that Jobbik has reasons to be secretive but it seems that Fidesz does also.” She promised to ask the Ministry of Interior to supply her with documents connected to the case. I doubt that she will receive anything.

Gáspár Miklós Tamás, the political philosopher whose views I normally don’t share, wrote an opinion piece that pretty well echoes what I had to say about the case three days ago. He calls attention to a double standard. The liberal journalists view Fidesz’s attack on the left-liberal political side with healthy skepticism, but this time they seemed to have swallowed the espionage story hook, line, and sinker. Kovács is most likely an agent d’influence but no more than that. TGM–as everybody calls him–considers the “criminalization of political opponents the overture to dictatorship,” which should be rejected regardless of whether it is directed against the right or the left.

Interestingly, Jobbik’s pro-Russian bias finds many adherents in Hungary. Apparently, whereas in most of the Eastern European countries the public is anti-Russian, especially after the Ukrainian crisis, Hungarian public opinion is divided. And the right-wingers, including some of the Fidesz voters, consider Putin’s intervention in Ukraine at the behest of the ethnic Russians justified. This sympathy most likely has a lot to do with the existence of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.

How will Orbán achieve both of his goals–to ruin Jobbik with a Russian espionage case and at the same time defend Russia’s support of autonomy in Ukraine? He may well succeed. His track record when it comes to threading the needle is very good.

The opening session of the new Hungarian parliament

Today was the opening session of the new parliament. Before the session began the new MPs were treated in the “Red Room” to music by the so-called folk musician András Jánosi and his orchestra. Actually, András Jánosi’s genre is what used to be called Gypsy music; it seems to be experiencing a revival with the assistance of the Orbán government. In fact, Magyar Rádió established a separate channel devoted to Gypsy music and songs created in the manner of folk music (műdalok). The channel is named after a famous Gypsy band leader, Pista Dankó (1858-1903).

But why Gypsy music at the opening session of Parliament? According to Népszabadság, “they revived the tradition that the Gypsy band of János Bihari (1764-1827) played music for the arriving members of the Diet.” It’s too bad that historians are such sticklers for the truth, but this so-called tradition couldn’t have been exactly long-lived. Between 1811 and 1825 no Diet was convened at all; the “reform era” spanned the period between 1825 and 1848. Bihari, to repeat, died in 1827. So much for a great Hungarian tradition.

Outside the parliament building Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, a Jobbik member of the European parliament, organized a demonstration protesting the new law concerning agricultural lands. When a guest to the opening of parliament, István Pásztor, a Hungarian politician from the Voivodina, appeared, a scuffle ensued. The police stood by passively. Demonstrators, mostly women, surrounded Pásztor, calling him a traitor and a Bolshevik. Several women spat in his face. Why did Gaudi-Nagy’s group decide to attack Pásztor? According to ATV’s website, last year Gaudi-Nagy tried to “defend” the Hungarians in Serbia in the European Council, which Pásztor deemed “harmful” to the Hungarian minority. Whatever the reason, Jobbik distanced itself from Gaudi-Nagy, emphasizing that he is not a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus. Gaudi-Nagy, you may recall, is the man who a few months ago threw the flag of the European Union out of one of the bathroom windows of the parliament building.

Of course, there were also the usual opening speeches. Especially interesting was the speech of President János Áder, who drew on the writings and speeches of Ferenc Deák (1803-1876), known as the wise man of the nation because he was the architect of the Compromise of 1867. As is often the case, Áder used Deák as a springboard to make a political point. He quoted Deák saying that “we should not cast our glances at the past, but instead we must look forward to the future.” I don’t think one needs much imagination to grasp Áder’s intent. In my opinion, at least, he is telling all those people who are upset over the alleged falsification of history to leave the past alone and stop being pests.

Áder also invoked Ferenc Deák’s words about the necessity of differences of opinion in politics. “The truth gets extracted from differences of opinion,” Deák said. “I don’t mind, in fact I desire differences of opinion even in very important matters. I love all those citizens who oppose us. Let God grant us opponents and not enemies.” To hear these lofty words coming from the mouth of  János Áder was jarring. His party and the government he supports never listen to their political opponents, whom they treat as enemies.

Otherwise, according to Áder, no one can question the results of the election and the legitimacy of the electoral system. As for the new constitution, the election results also legitimized its legality.  Moreover, the results of the April 6 election in Áder’s view mean that “the Hungarian nation considers the long process of regime change final.” That is, the second Orbán government has brought to fruition what began in 1989-1990. Hungary has arrived at the pinnacle of democracy thanks to Viktor Orbán.

It seems, however, that some MPs openly and loudly disagreed with János Áder. When it came to the swearing-in ceremony, when the new members have to swear to the new constitution, the four Demokratikus Koalíció MPs, Ferenc Gyurcsány, Csaba Molnár, Lajos Oláh, and Ágnes Vadai, added the following two sentences: “I solemnly swear that I will do everything in my power for the reestablishment of the republic. I will try with all my strength to achieve the adoption of a new constitution confirmed by popular referendum.” Otherwise, Heti Válasz noted with some satisfaction that whoever was responsible for the parliamentary seating arrangement put the independent members of DK and Együtt2014-PM right behind the rather large Jobbik delegation.

Members of the Demokratikus Kolíció add their pledge to the official text of the swearing-in From left to right, Lajos Oláh, Csaba Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Ágnes Vadai / Stop.hu

Members of the Demokratikus Kolíció at the swearing-in ceremony
Lajos Oláh, Csaba Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Ágnes Vadai / Stop.hu

It was at this point that the new members had to vote for the deputies to the president of the House. The only interesting vote was for former skinhead Tamás Sneider (Jobbik). He received 150 yeas and 35 nays, while 5 MPs abstained. They were members of the LMP delegation. Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik have altogether 156 members, and therefore a number of MPs did not vote at all. Among them were Zoltán Balog, Zoltán Kovács, János Lázár, and Tibor Navracsics. On the other hand, Viktor Orbán voted for Sneider. As for the nays, they must have come from the democratic opposition parties: MSZP, DK, Együtt2014-PM, and the sole liberal member, Gábor Fodor. Péter Kiss (MSZP) and Ferenc Gyurcsány did not vote on Sneider.

In the secret ballot vote for president of the House, László Kövér received 171 yeas and 19 nays, with 3 abstentions. This is a first. In the past, votes for the president of the House were always unanimous. Fidesz and KDNP together have 133 members, and therefore 38 yea votes had to come from somewhere else. DK announced ahead of time that they, all four of them, will say no to Kövér’s nomination. If I calculate correctly, six people simply refrained from voting. Népszabadság announced the 19 nays as “Nineteen people dared to say no!”  Unfortunately it does seem to take a certain amount of courage to vote against Kövér and even greater courage to announce it publicly. He’s not the kind of guy who understands fair play and the democratic rules of politics.

Feminism in Hungary

The Central Statistical Office made a surprising announcement today. As a result of car production, a good harvest, and an uptick in the construction industry the Hungarian GDP grew by 1.7% in the third quarter of the year. On the basis of this data the government predicts continuous, sustained growth; a few others expressed fear that the upsurge signals only a short-term improvement. Since I don’t feel qualified to weigh in on this unexpected news, I’ll turn to a totally different topic–feminism.

Let’s start with the fallout from the domestic violence case against József Balogh, a Fidesz member of parliament. Once his immunity from prosecution was lifted at the urging of the prosecutors, he admitted that it wasn’t the poor blind komondor who was responsible for his partner’s broken cheekbones. Consequently, Balogh was ousted from the Fidesz caucus and also lost his membership in the party. However, he didn’t lose his right to remain a member of parliament as an independent.

Demokratikus Koalíció’s female members, Ágnes Vadai and Erika Szűcs, were not satisfied and protested in parliament. The result? László Kövér, president of the House, fined the two the maximum 130,000 forints or $587. The two women are outraged. For anti-Semitic remarks Kövér fined a Jobbik member only 50,000 forints in the first instance and 60,000 in the second. Moreover, the drunk István Pálffy, who disturbed the work of parliament more than they did, wasn’t fined at all. As far as I know, only opposition members were ever fined by Kövér.

But that was not all. The fine had to be sanctioned by the members of parliament. Fidesz members were united. Even the 20 women in the Fidesz caucus voted for Kövér’s very stiff fine. If you recall, a year ago when another Fidesz member of parliament, István Varga, made an outrageous remark about the link between the number of babies in the family and domestic violence, Antal Rogán and Gabriella Selmeczi expressed their strong opposition to the ideas expressed by Varga. Then the women members of the Fidesz caucus still showed solidarity with the female victims of domestic violence. By now this solidarity has vanished: they now follow the lead of the party which, it seems to me, feels somewhat threatened by the women’s issue. The party, especially lately, has acquired the unsavory reputation of being anti-woman. One must also add that József Balogh voted for the stiff fine of the two women!

The accusation leveled against Fidesz is not exactly groundless. Here are a few examples from pro-government sources. A journalist who writes extensively in right-leaning publications finds the worlds of Ágnes Vadai and József Balogh on a par. He is sick and tired of all that talk about women being the victims of domestic violence when a study by a Hungarian female criminologist shows that 40% of the victims are actually male. Moreover, women are the ones, more than men, who physically punish their children, and they are especially harsh on their male offspring. He also accuses the female activists of rendering “the lives of abused women, children and men more difficult.” Men who are being systematically humiliated in this hysterical campaign will “feel a kind of solidarity with those who beat women.” They will think that they are innocent and they were only slandered. He ends his piece by saying that “the whole country would have been better off if Vadai and other amazons of the Demokratikus Koalíció had stayed in the kitchen.”

Let me add here that in the U.S., according to most studies, women account for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%. I doubt that Hungarian men are meeker and more defenseless than their American counterparts, and therefore the 40% figure the Hungarian female criminologist came up sounds unlikely. Admittedly, it is possible that the number of cases of abuse against males is higher than reported due to men’s reluctance to admit being beaten up by a woman.

Or here is an article in Magyar Nemzet about a women’s congress that was organized by the Magyar Női Érdekérvényesítő Szövetség (Hungarian Women’s Interest Group). The author is a woman, Ágnes Győr, yet she is absolutely gleeful that fewer people showed up at the conference than expected and therefore, according to her, the organizers had to ask people to sit closer together in order for the crowd to look bigger. She pointed out that the audience came from the same circle of people, intimating the heavily liberal nature of the gathering. Therefore, she “forgets” to mention participants who didn’t come from this “charmed circle.” Actually, all parties were represented. For instance, Ildikó Gáll, neé Pelcz, Fidesz EP member, was also there.

Although she mentions the name of Danuta Hübner, who sent a video message to the conference, she was reluctant to reveal that Hübner is a member of the European People’s Party’s caucus in Strasbourg, the same caucus to which Fidesz belongs. She emphasizes, on the other hand, that Hübner is the “prime minister of the Polish female shadow government.” Let’s make her look ridiculous, I guess.

On the other hand, she did have a few good words to say about the guest of honor, Eve Ensler, the American playwright and activist, author of The Vagina Monologues. Lately Ensler created “One Billion Rising,” a global protest campaign to end violence and promote justice and gender equality for women. Hungary joined the One Billion Rising movement, but as the reporter of Magyar Nemzet put it, “here because the organizers were locals, the verve and vitality disappeared, only the trite messages of liberals remained.”

Naturally, an Internet site called Nőkorszak (Age of Women) had a different take on the gathering. They claim that the congress opened to an audience of 1,000.

A reporter from 444.hu admitted that he had never seen so many women, and only women, in one place. He also noted that it must be terrible to be a woman in Hungary, “especially if she has some ambitions.” He admitted that he wouldn’t want to be a woman in Hungary.

Demokratikus Koalíció (DK), Együtt14, Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM), and Lehet Más a Politika (LMP) would like to see more women in parliament, and therefore they suggested setting up quotas. They believe that without such quotas nothing will change, because the current male-dominated parties will never of their own volition put up a sufficient number of female candidates to have a more gender-balanced parliament. Most likely they are right. The number of women in parliament has actually decreased in the last 23 years. Naturally, Fidesz is dead set against the idea. Although MSZP, which by the way was represented by a man, was less forthcoming on the issue, one got the distinct impression that the socialists are against the idea of strict quotas.

On the other hand E14-PM, which received the right to name candidates in 35 electoral districts, picked 10 women candidates. They announced their resolve to establish a 30% quota for women. DK came out with 106 names, out of which I found 13 women. LMP currently has 4 women members out of the seven-member delegation. As for Fidesz-KDNP, I would be surprised if in the next parliament the party would have more female representatives than it does this year.

Hungarian women, even those who are active supporters of women’s rights, can sometimes seem almost apologetic about their views. Márta Mészáros, a Hungarian scriptwriter and film director who was one of the principal speakers at the congress, told her audience that on the way to the congress the taxi driver, when he heard where she was heading, asked her whether the participants will all be feminists. To which she proudly answered: “I don’t know, but I’m not a feminist. I only fight for the equality of women.” I guess she never bothered to look up the meaning of the word feminism. Any dictionary could tell her that it means “belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.”

Possible criminal activities of some Hungarian politicians?

This is a very old story with a new twist. It goes back to what is known as the Hungarian “mafia war,” which began with the murder of József Prisztás in 1996 and continued a few days later with the death of Csaba Lakatos, the driver of Prisztás’s race horses, on the Budapest trotting course. It was in connection with this murder that Sándor Pintér’s name emerged as someone who might know more about the mafia war than he should. I remind you that Sándor Pintér was chief of the Hungarian national police force between 1991 and 1996 and has twice been Viktor Orbán’s minister of interior.

In the 1990s the most important figure of the Russian mafia, the Ukrainian Semion Mogilevich, lived in Budapest. Right now he resides in Moscow and, although the Russian authorities have to be fully aware of all his crimes, he is left to live a life of luxury with his Hungarian wife and three children. Another famous mafia chief and a friend of “Szeva bácsi” (Uncle Seva), as he was called by his friends in Budapest, was the German Dietmar Clodo, who in the 1980s was arrested for bank robbery at least twice in Germany. Eventually Clodo was arrested in Hungary and received a ten-year jail sentence which he was able to serve in Germany. He was released in 2011 and since then has been living in Berlin running a security firm.

What does all this have to do with Pintér? In 1998, after Pintér was nominated to be minister of the interior, the parliamentary committee on national security headed by György Keleti (MSZP) found evidence that Pintér might have been involved with some of the important characters in the Hungarian underworld. Specifically with Clodo. During the interrogation of someone who himself became the victim of the mafia war it came to light that Clodo’s wife testified that a high-ranking policeman, who turned out to be Pintér, visited her husband several times sometime in 1997. This testimony reached the parliamentary committee that was deciding on Pintér’s appointment. During the questioning Pintér had serious mental lapses concerning his relationship to Clodo. At first he denied that he ever met Clodo, but eventually he admitted that he had met him once at a trade show but didn’t know that Clodo was Clodo because he introduced himself as Edward. A few days later Világgazdaság learned that Clodo registered at the trade show under his own name. In brief, Pintér’s story was full of holes.

Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán

Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán

But that was not all. There is a good possibility that Pintér might have been involved after the fact with the murder of Csaba Lakatos. Although he denied it, according to the police report filled out at the time he either removed the gun found at the crime scene or replaced it with another gun. When the police eventually found the twins who apparently killed Lakatos, a policeman present at the arrest reported that they were relieved when they were arrested and that they said “as long as Uncle Sanyi is the chief of police … we will be safe.” The next day the two men were released from custody.

And back to the present. HVG‘s Antónia Rádai, who once already revealed details about the connection between civil servants and the Hungarian mafia, decided to have an interview with Dietmar Clodo.* Why exactly now is an interesting question. After all, Clodo has been out of jail for the last two or three years. It is possible that Clodo was the one who approached HVG with his story. In any case, Rádai had a long interview with Clodo.

Here it is what she learned. According to Clodo, he met Pintér three times. First, indeed, at the trade show in 1997 when Pintér was no longer the national police chief. Clodo at that point was in the safety glass business and Pintér was the owner of a security firm called Preventív Security. They met two more times, but at the end there was no business deal.

Apparently Pintér’s offer was more than shady. Now shady deals were part and parcel of Clodo’s business practice, but if he took a risk at least he wanted to reap benefits from the deal. What Pintér offered would have benefited only himself. He proposed that Clodo replace the safety glass used in police cars with the kind used in shop windows. Pintér would make sure that the police units in the provinces would buy his safety glass. The difference in price between the real and the inferior glass would go to Pintér. No wonder Clodo said no. If true, this story certainly calls into question Pintér’s “business dealings.” Sándor Pintér, it should be noted, is an extremely rich man.

Potentially even more damning are Clodo’s stories about the connection between the Russian mafia and a Hungarian politician. Semion Mogilevich, whom Clodo described as his friend, asked a favor from Clodo. Mogilevich gave him a Hungarian politician’s telephone number. Clodo was instructed to phone the number and invite the Hungarian politician to his house and hand him a brief case supplied by Mogilevich. Clodo had to insist that the politician open the briefcase on the spot because in Clodo’s study behind the books was a hidden camera which recorded the exchange. There were one million deutschmarks in the briefcase. The exchange took place in 1994. At that time the name of the politician was not familiar to Clodo. “To me he was only one of the many corrupt characters to whom I had to hand similar packages in the middle of the 1990s.” In addition to this encounter there was another meeting with a politician from the same party. “The others were police officers.”

Dietmar Clodo told Antónia Rádai the name of the politician but HVG, after consulting with the paper’s lawyers, decided to withhold it.

The amazing thing is that practically no one picked up on this story. Perhaps one reason is that the younger generation of Hungarian journalists simply don’t remember Clodo or Uncle Seva and don’t realize the significance of this interview. But it is hard to believe that no one is interested in the person who allegedly received the one million marks from Semion Mogilevich in that briefcase. The only reporter who followed up on the interview was György Bolgár, who interviewed Rádai on his radio show. He rightly pointed out that, if this story is true, whoever this politician is can’t feel safe. After all, that video might still be in the possession of Uncle Seva in Moscow.

What about the opposition parties? Well, MSZP and Együtt-PM don’t seem to be too sharp either. It was only DK’s Ágnes Vadai who asked Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt whether he is planning to investigate this old case in light of this new development. Vadai added that if this story is true there are people who play important roles in Hungarian politics who might have committed serious crimes twenty years ago. I guess we can pretty safely predict that if Vadai gets an answer at all it will be in the negative.

—–

*The full interview by Antónia Rádai is still not available on the Internet. I had to rely on summaries of the story given by other publications.

A statue of Viktor Orbán is toppled

I was sorely tempted to title this post “Viktor Orbán is toppled,” perhaps with a couple of exclamation points, but I couldn’t come up with a decent qualifying subtitle. Péter Kónya, the leader of the Solidarity Movement, now part of Együtt 2014-PM, would probably have appreciated the title. Others in the opposition no doubt would have considered it tasteless.

Péter Kónya likes to use unusual props to dramatize his movement’s political positions. Perhaps you recall Solidarity’s demonstration, which became known as the “revolution of the clowns.” Participants dressed up as clowns because Viktor Orbán called the trade unions’ leaders clowns. The clowns collected thousands and thousands of signatures to condemn the Orbán government. And that was back in 2011.

At yesterday afternoon’s demonstration Kónya once again sent a symbolic message. The group had erected a huge statue of Viktor Orbán made out of Styrofoam and painted bronze. At their demonstration they first unveiled and then toppled it. Very much like Stalin’s enormous statue was toppled on October 23, 1956.

Prior to the unveiling of the statue Gordon Bajnai made a fiery speech in which he called the politicians of Fidesz “the best pupils of the communists.” He was even funny at times, although he is not known for his humor. He said, “I’m warning you now: the stadium at Felcsút will not fit into the Park of Statues.” The park he was referring to houses the statues erected during the Rákosi and Kádár periods that were subsequent discarded.

Once the statue was toppled and its head severed as a result of the fall, Péter Kónya called Orbán a dictator who should have a separate room in the House of Terror. In no time the crowd moved the head and torso of the statue to Andrássy út 60 with a detour to the Opera House to mark the demise of the Third Republic on January 1, 2012. Kónya and Bajnai promised the crowd that soon there will be an end to the rule of the comrades, reminding them of the famous poster of MDF: Tovarishi konets, Comrades, this is the end.

One of the first articles to appear about the demonstration and the statue was written by a Magyar Narancs reporter. He admitted that some members of the intelligentsia might think that this kind of campaigning is crude, but the people he talked think that “the population must be awakened.”

The blogger Varánusz was of the same opinion: “What will happen now that some people will play football with Viktor Orbán’s Styrofoam head?” And he continued that the terribly boring leaders of the Bajnai party at last did something a little daring. He noted, however, that some of the people on the left called the statue toppling “tasteless.” And then he lists a few truly “tasteless” Fidesz stunts of late.

Orban feje

Then came the counterattack. The spokesman of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) was László Varga, the man who not so long ago thought that if women bore more children there would be no domestic violence. He called this gag a crime that can be compared only to the activities of Tibor Szamuelly’s terrorist group in 1919 or the horrors that were perpetrated by the ÁVH, the state security forces during the Rákosi regime.  For good measure he reminded his audience of the horrors of the Hungarist Arrowcross who shot thousands of innocent men and women and threw their bodies into the Danube in late 1944. He considered the incident “an incitement to murder.” Varga didn’t think that Bajnai could sink that low.

Yes, Gordon Bajnai certainly knew about the planned toppling of the statue. He delivered his speech against the Orbán government standing in front of that statue, then still covered. He admitted that these kinds of gags are not to his liking but added that “we must recognize that the rule of Viktor Orbán fanned such intense anger” that such a reaction is not surprising. He considered the erecting of the statue in this case an ironic gesture because it is only in dictatorships that statues of living politicians are erected. “Viktor Orbán’s regime is rapidly moving in this direction. The toppling of the statue only expressed opposition to Orbán’s plans for the future.” The pro-Fidesz Századvég’s Tamás Lánczi immediately commented that Bajnai’s radicalism will alienate the “center.” That mysterious “center” that nobody seems able to find.

One can understand the right’s indignation. Less comprehensible is the distancing that came from the left, especially from MSZP, the ally of Együtt 2014-PM. Péter Kónya, we must remember, is one of the chairmen of E14-PM. József Tóbiás, director of the MSZP delegation, immediately condemned the action. In a democracy, he said, one doesn’t overthrow a government; it must be replaced. This was, of course, an extreme interpretation of Solidarity’s action. Nobody, including Kónya, was talking about the actual overthrow of the government. The statue was intended as a symbol of Orbán’s regime that indeed must be eliminated. Gábor Fodor of the Liberals and Andor Schmuck of the shadowy Hungarian Social Democratic Party immediately joined Tóbiás. Ágnes Vadai (DK) got out of a sticky situation by saying that the Demokratikus Koalíció doesn’t want to demolish a statue but to defeat the Orbán regime.

Hungarians used to be known for their humor. They used to relish political symbolism. Now, it seems, some on the left are so concerned with appearing politically correct that they can’t enjoy a piece of political theater (and, in the process, stand behind one of their own). They’d better learn, and learn quickly, that it’s hard to tip-toe to victory.

Együtt 2014-PM’s puzzling message

Opposition politicians are busy rallying the troops. Gordon Bajnai and Tímea Szabó (PM) paid a visit to Óbuda to campaign. Yes, to campaign because, although the campaign will start officially sometime in January, unofficially it has already begun in earnest. Yesterday MSZP held a large gathering in Miskolc where Attila Mesterházy addressed an enthusiastic crowd. And this afternoon several thousand DK supporters gathered on the Freedom Bridge in Budapest where Ferenc Gyurcsány, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju gave speeches.

Neither the MSZP nor the DK rally was especially newsworthy. Mesterházy made a slew of campaign promises and Gyurcsány repeated his pledge never to make compromises with Viktor Orbán. But Gordon Bajnai made news with his speech in Óbuda. He talked mostly about the mistaken economic policies of the Orbán government and the damage they inflicted on the country. Naturally, he promised a reversal of the Matolcsy-Varga line and a return to economic orthodoxy. However, he said something that puzzles practically everybody. Talking about constitutional issues, he said that “if there is not a two-thirds majority … then we will put to the new opposition a proposal that they will be unable to refuse.” He added that at the moment he doesn’t want to reveal more of his plans.

This mysterious offer conjured up nefarious thoughts in my mind, and it seems that I was not alone because someone from the audience inquired whether this offer will resemble similar offers in The Godfather. A day later the question came up again on Egyenes beszéd during a conversation with Viktor Szigetvári, the co-chair of Együtt 2014, who tried to minimize the significance of this sentence. But, if at all possible, he only further confused the issue. In fact, Szigetvári got himself into a jam by at one point advocating negotiations with Fidesz and a few minutes later saying that “with this Fidesz he certainly wouldn’t be willing to negotiate after a lost election.” But then what?

Together for Hungary? E14-PM belies its name

Together for Hungary? E14-PM belies its name

Like everyone else, Olga Kálmán wanted to find out more about Bajnai’s offer that couldn’t be refused by Viktor Orbán and his party. A fairly long-winded explanation followed. If there is no two-thirds majority then the new government must sit down and negotiate with Fidesz and convince Viktor Orbán to lend his support to “constitutional corrections.” When he was further pressed by the reporter, Szigetvári came up with another idea: holding a new election.  With good governance this second early election could achieve an overwhelming two-thirds majority. Thus the government would have a free hand to “make adjustments” in the constitution and in some of the cardinal laws that need a two-thirds majority to change. But in any case, even with a two-thirds majority “consensus” must be achieved, although he did admit that “with this Fidesz” such consensus is unlikely. He added, in my opinion naively, that if Fidesz refuses to come to an understanding, then it must bear “the historical responsibility” for a failure to set the country on the right track. As if Viktor Orbán cared a hoot about their opinion of the “right track.” He thinks that he is the one who will lead the country to Paradise.

Olga Kálmán was skeptical about “Fidesz suddenly being ready to dismantle the edifice that it built in the last four years.” Szigetvári immediately assured his audience that “not everything has to be undone,” but one must make an attempt at an understanding. If that doesn’t work, then comes the next step: early elections in the hope of the two-thirds majority. But what if the new government parties not only fail to get a two-thirds majority but actually lose the early election? It seemed that such an idea hadn’t occurred to him. He was confident that Együtt 2014-MSZP would win a second election in 2014 or 2015. But after further questions on a possible Fidesz victory at the early election, he no longer insisted and said that “this is only one possibility.” He didn’t elaborate on what the others are.

While Bajnai was in Óbuda, Szigetvári gave a speech at a conference organized by the Republikon Institute headed by former SZDSZ politician Gábor Horn. Here he concentrated on the Együtt 2014-MSZP agreement, praising MSZP and claiming that for the breakdown of negotiations between MSZP and DK Ferenc Gyurcsány was solely responsible. Magyar Nemzet naturally was delighted and joyfully announced that “Gyurcsány is at fault,” the phrase the Fidesz propaganda machine invokes anytime the Orbán government faces an economic difficulty. In fact, Szigetvári went so far as to accuse his former boss of betraying his own party and putting his personal interest above the good of the Demokratikus Koalíció. Magyar Nemzet concluded that there seems to be confusion within the leadership of Együtt 2014 because in Óbuda Bajnai talked about the importance of DK and expressed his hope that it will join the coalition of the two democratic parties while Szigetvári fiercely attacked the former prime minister.

The Együtt 2014-PM-MSZP duo needs to start sending a clear, unified message. Voters are not decoders.

From a fair verdict to an unfounded accusation: Fidesz and the Roma murders

Today is a landmark in the history of Hungarian jurisprudence. The court found four men guilty of various crimes, including murder motivated by racial hatred. Three  men received life imprisonment without parole, the maximum sentence that can be meted out in Hungary, and the fourth received a 13-year sentence without the possibility of early release.

I wrote many times about the murders when they happened between July 21, 2008 and August 3, 2009. A group of men injured several people and killed six. The incidents occurred in villages located in three counties: Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, and Pest. The first two are located in the northeastern corner of the country where there is a large concentration of ethnic Roma. As it turned out, the perpetrators lived in Debrecen.

It would be too long to catalog all the mistakes the police and the medical authorities made during the investigation which resulted in a less than complete discovery of all the details. It is very possible that in addition to the four sentenced today there might have been others involved. But despite the sloppy police work there was enough evidence to find these four men guilty. Although members of the victims’ families complained that the fourth man’s sentence was too light, most people think that the judge did a good job and that the sentences are fair and deserved.

Fidesz reacted to the resolution of this case, which took three years of investigation and 186 days in court, by hinting darkly about the “true culprits.”

By now Fidesz has so many spokesmen that it is hard to keep track of them. Viktor Orbán not without reason considers communication a vital, perhaps the most important part of politics. One could be malicious and say that since governing is not Viktor Orbán’s forte he puts all his efforts into propaganda about his nonexistent accomplishments. And when the talk is not about “we are doing better,” then these spokesmen concentrate on attributing the greatest crimes to Fidesz’s political opponents. The spokesman today was Róbert Zsigó, one of the newer appointees.

I must admit that I had never heard of Róbert Zsigó before he became a Fidesz spokesman although he has been a member of parliament ever since 1998. His educational background is meager: at the age of eighteen he finished a course that qualified him to become a pastry chef and for ten years he worked as an employee in a confectionery shop. Most likely because he was planning a political career he decided to finish gymnasium at the age of 29. According to his biography, he is currently a student at the University of Pécs. A Fidesz spokesman, member of the Baja city council, member of parliament, and a student at Pécs. What a multi-tasker!

Zsigó is not very careful with his words when he viciously attacks Fidesz’s political  opponents. Only a couple of months ago he hurled all sorts of abuse studded with lies against Gordon Bajnai who promptly sued him. And I’m sure that many more law suits will follow if Zsigó keeps up his usual way of handling news.

Róbert Zsigó one of Fidesz's  spokesmen

Róbert Zsigó, one of Fidesz’s spokesmen

So, let’s see what Zsigó came up with on the occasion of the sentencing of these serial murderers. Instead of dwelling on the importance of this verdict, Zsigó talked about the unanswered questions still lingering around the case. One of these questions is “why did these murders occur in 2008 and 2009, during the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments?” It would also be good to know, he continued, “in whose interest” these murders took place. “Who are those whose skins were saved and whose names will remain hidden forever?” It is a good thing he didn’t go any further than that. As it is, these sentences border on accusing two Hungarian prime ministers of hiring hit men.

Zsigó immediately added that Sándor Laborc, head of the National Security Office, György Szilvásy, minister in charge of national security matters in the Gyurcsány government, and Ádám Ficsor, his successor in the Bajnai government, are responsible for what happened. Zsigó called Laborc and Szilvásy “central figures of the mafia Left whom Gyurcsány, Bajnai, and Mesterházy as one man defended. ” You may recall that it was a month ago that I reported on the secret trial of Szilvásy and Laborc on espionage charges. Orbán, after being unable to put Ferenc Gyurcsány behind bars, settled on his friend and minister, György Szilvásy.

This reaction by one of the spokesmen of Fidesz was carefully prepared. It is likely that the script Zsigó delivered was written a long time ago to be delivered at the time of the announcement of the verdict.

Not surprisingly in the wake of such an official pronouncement, Magyar Hírlap came out with the following headline: “Why did the murders occur under Bajnai?” Magyar Nemzet went even farther with this headline: “Roma murders: [Fidesz] would like to investigate the responsibility of Gyurcsány.” The article tried to interpret some of the comments of opposition politicians as an attempt to divert attention from the alleged criminal involvement of high government officials in covering up the real story behind the Roma murders.

The most outrageous accusation involved Ágnes Vadai whom the reporter asked about Viktória Mohácsi, an SZDSZ member of parliament, EP MEP, and Roma activist who is currently seeking political asylum in Canada. Viktória Mohácsi claimed in an interview with CBC that the Gyurcsány government withheld documents and information in order to cover up the fact that government employees had something to do with these crimes. Vadai very politely said that she doesn’t know anything about this because by the time the matter was discussed she wasn’t a member of the parliamentary committee on national security. Interestingly enough, Magyar Nemzet and other right-wing papers normally have nothing but scorn for Mohácsi and her claim of political persecution in Hungary. But now for obvious reasons she became a handy source of information trying to implicate Gyurcsány in the serial murder of Gypsies.

The whole thing is disgusting. I understand that politics can be dirty. But that dirty? Suggesting, almost accusing, one’s political opponents of hiring hit men for unknown and unspecified reasons in some unnamed people’s interest? It boggles the mind.