Baja

The Fót election doesn’t bode well for the future

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!”

Potpourri: Forex loans, the duped MSZP, and outraged patriots in Stockholm

I decided to touch on several topics today instead of concentrating on only one. The reason? All three recent political events are still in flux. We have no idea how and when they will be settled.

Two of the three topics I’m going to talk about are not new to readers of Hungarian Spectrum. One is the story of the fraudulent video taken in Baja after the repeated by-election at one of the polling stations. The other is the continuing saga of the Swedish TV program on Hungary. And finally, today’s news is that a decision was finally made on the fate of Forex debts that over 100,000 people are unable to pay back.

Let me start with the last topic, the government debt relief scheme. Today’s announcement of the impending government action came unexpectedly and, in usual Fidesz fashion, the measure will be passed by parliament tomorrow. It seems that in the last minute the Orbán government got cold feet and didn’t dare go ahead with their original, radical plan that would have made the banks bear the entire burden. Critics warned that if the government followed through on the plan the entire Hungarian banking system would collapse. So, it seems that they settled for a less onerous solution. As I understand the proposed plan, people with mortgages in foreign currencies will be able to temporarily repay them at below-market exchange rates. Mortgages denominated in Swiss francs can be paid in forints at an exchange rate of 180 forints instead of the current 241. Those with mortgages in euros can convert them at 250 forints instead of 296. The difference between the spot and discount rates will be held in a temporary account, with the banks and the government splitting the interest and some of the costs involved. Mortgage holders will have five years in which to repay the exchange rate difference. Anyone who would wants more details of the plan should consult Margit Fehér’s article in The Wall Street Journal.

Now let’s go back to Sweden. I mentioned in an earlier post that Swedish public television broadcast a program about Hungary on October 23 which, in the opinion of the Hungarian government, contained factual errors and generalizations that reflected badly on Hungary and its people. They found it especially galling that this “anti-Hungarian” documentary was broadcast on the anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956.

In my earlier post I called attention to Viktor Orbán’s order to the ambassadors to defend the good name of Hungary every time there is an alleged attack on the country. As one of the undersecretaries of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Gergely Prőhle, said on ATV yesterday, “the ministry’s employees are a disciplined lot” and therefore they took Orbán’s words seriously. Since Prőhle had earlier been ambassador to Switzerland and Germany, he was asked what he would have done had he been in Lilla Makkay’s shoes. It seems that Prőhle, who is among the more moderate voices in the Foreign Ministry, feels compelled to follow the official line. He announced that Ambassador Makkay did the right thing and that he would have done the same thing. He emphasized that Makkay was polite and spoke in Swedish.

I don’t blame either Makkay or Prőhle. After all, they are representatives of the Hungarian government. I do, however, blame the Orbán government which instructs the country’s ambassadors to interfere with the media of western countries. I also blame this government for creating an atmosphere that encourages the right-wing press to write an open letter to the Swedish ambassador in Budapest. We know that if Zsolt Bayer, Ur-Fidesz, opens his mouth, the consequences are always dire. I bet that after someone translated Bayer’s open letter the Swedish ambassador no longer had any doubts about whom she was dealing with. And if someone added that he is an old friend of Viktor Orbán, I’m sure she was just thrilled.

Kumin’s letter, Makkay’s scolding, and her invitation to journalists to come to the Hungarian embassy didn’t achieve anything. Or, rather, it did but not exactly what the great defenders of Hungary’s reputation had hoped for. The same program that broadcast the documentary on Hungary in the first place returned to the subject a week later and told its audience what had happened during the last week. The Hungarian government and its representative in Stockholm looked ridiculous.

confusion2And finally, there is the ongoing story of the fraudulent video. Whoever hired the four or five Roma to stage the gathering that was supposed to prove that Fidesz bought Roma votes at the by-election picked the wrong men. Their stories not only made no sense initially, they couldn’t keep their stories straight. One of their claims, that a MSZP politician ordered the tape from Róbert G., seems to have been disproved. At least this is what the politician’s polygraph test indicates.

Of course, the real question is who was behind Róbert G. and the others. It’s possible that local Fidesz politicians, Róbert Zsigó, and Csaba Kovács, hired the Romas. Some evidence points in that direction. In a conversation with Olga Kálmán shortly after the second round of voting Zsigó told her that on Saturday, that is a day before the election, he received information that the opposition parties were planning to create a video that would implicate Fidesz in vote buying. He added that he immediately went to the police with the information. A few days later Máté Kocsis repeated the same story on one of MTV’s evening programs. As we know by now, the video was created on Monday. Strange, isn’t it?

In any case, Ildikó Lendvai was right when on Sunday in an interview on ATV she said that “we were duped,” adding that no one likes people who are considered to be saps. Endre Aczél wrote two excellent short articles about the case entitled Csali and Csali–II (The bait). I think that the scenario Aczél outlined in his first article is most likely very close to reality. But if that was the case, it was a dangerous game to play. On the other hand, no scandal is ever big enough to have much effect on Viktor Orbán, his party, or his 1.5 million strong followers.

A fake tape snowballing into punitive legislation against journalists

It is hard to imagine that the Baja by-election is still a hot topic in the Hungarian media. By now the focus is not so much on the results and how they were achieved as on what followed. And it seems that the deeper we dig the greater a morass we find. The strange events surrounding a simple electoral fraud by now have snowballed into something that looks to me like an excellent political weapon to make sure that the election that really matters, the national election, will go the way Fidesz wants it to.

What do I mean? With the appearance of the phony video showing a number of Roma inhabitants of Baja, Fidesz managed to divert attention away from its own electoral fraud, committed not once but twice. Now everybody talks about the fraud that MSZP allegedly committed and not about the votes the local Fidesz paid for, despite tangible proof of the latter.

By now in one way or the other it is MSZP and to a lesser extent DK that are being accused of hiring people to stage a phony scene where money was exchanged between a representative of the Roma self-government and four inhabitants of Baja. Gusztáv Kőrös, the man who came forth with the “details” of MSZP’s involvement, is also a Roma official but from another town. According to his own very confused story, he was asked by two MSZP officials to produce the incriminating video. I might add here that our man was “under police protection” for three days. From whom were the police protecting him?

Let me state upfront that Kőrös’s story is totally unbelievable. If this is the best the people who are behind him could come up with, then any half-competent police force could easily solve the case in no time. That is, if they wanted to. But I very much doubt that the police actually want to.

snowballingYou may recall that at one point I suggested that the whole scheme was a simple ruse to get some quick money, perhaps from DK, which offered a reward for bona fide proof of electoral fraud. I no longer think that this was the case. After all, when Gusztáv Kőrös showed up at MSZP headquarters he asked no money for the DVD he handed over to a party official. So, I reasoned that local Baja Fidesz politicians might be behind the creation of the video. There is indirect evidence in support of that hypothesis. Before HVG released the video it was sent to Fidesz headquarters for their response. There was no answer. What does this tell me? That the Fidesz leadership wanted this video to be made public because they knew it was a fake.

MSZP, however, is not entirely innocent in this sordid affair. A few minutes ago the news broke that Gábor Gavra, former editor-in-chief of HVG, received the tape from MSZP. To be precise, from the director of communications of the party, Balázs Déri, at party headquarters. Of course, that doesn’t imply that MSZP was actually involved in the staging of the phony meeting, but it casts a shadow on the truthfulness of Attila Mesterházy who in the last few days steadfastly denied that there was any communication between the party and the editor-in-chief of HVG. All the MSZP politicians who talked about this affair claimed that, after receiving the tape, examining it, and finding it suspicious, they turned it over to the police. So, MSZP is sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire while Fidesz is reaping the benefits of this whole sordid affair.

Fidesz is pushing its advantage, though perhaps too hard. In the name of the “purity of the election processes” Fidesz came forward with a proposal for a new provision to be incorporated into the Criminal Code. The proposed law is already nicknamed Lex HVG.

Antal Rogán, the whip of the Fidesz caucus, turned in the amendment to the new Criminal Code, which will come into force in December. If accepted, and why shouldn’t it be given the past record of the Fidesz-KDNP two-thirds majority, the burgeoning field of Hungarian investigative journalism will be stifled because the proposed amendment threatens any journalist who publishes material that a police investigation subsequently deems to be fake with jail time.

Very briefly outlined, here are the main points. (1) Someone who creates either an audio tape or a video in order to slander the reputation of another person will receive a jail term of one year. (2)  Anyone who makes such a tape or video available will get two years in jail. (3) Anyone who makes such a tape or video available to a wide audience (nagy nyilvánosság) will be jailed for three years.  And (4) anyone who didn’t ascertain the exact nature of such a tape or video because of “carelessness” (gondatlanság) will be jailed for at least one year.

So, the creator of a false tape or video will receive exactly the same sentence as the newspaperman who failed to ascertain, although he tried, the exact nature of the material he received. The whole amendment is outrageous, as Ákos Balogh, editor-in-chief of Mandiner, a moderate right-wing Internet site, pointed out this morning on ATV Start. In fact, the conservative Balogh was even more critical than his liberal counterpart, Dávid Trencséni of Stop. First of all, there is no need to introduce a new law on this particular issue because it is possible to handle such cases on the basis of the existing provisions of the Criminal Code. Second, such an amendment would greatly restrict the freedom of the media. Who will dare to publish any audio or visual material if he can face a stiff jail sentence? After all, no one can be 100% certain about the genuineness of such material. One would have to consult several experts, but even the experts might be wrong, and what will happen if the police’s expert says that it is a fake?

On the same ATV Start program the moderator interviewed Gergely Gulyás, the young legal expert of Fidesz, about this law, which is being fiercely debated among journalists and the general public. Gulyás is a self-assured fellow who can make the most outrageous things sound perfectly acceptable and reasonable. But this time even he seemed to be in trouble. He normally looks directly at the reporter without blinking an eye, but today he cast his eyes down far too often. Moreover, his excuses were feeble. It is not enough to say “don’t worry, no one will go to jail,” as he did. As the moderator rightly pointed out, why then do we need such a law?

I very much hope that this amendment will die because, if it doesn’t, the whole media controversy that was finally settled to the European Union’s apparent satisfaction will come to the fore again. If it passes, I hope that Brussels will be insistent that such punitive laws against journalists are unacceptable.

The Hungarian “foreign language examination factory”

For those of you who don’t follow the comments to my blog posts there is a huge debate among readers of Hungarian Spectrum over who is responsible for the video of a fake meeting of six Roma in Baja. Most of us couldn’t make head or tail of the story of R. (Róbert) G.  Since then more information has become available, and there is a good possibility that no political party was involved. Instead, it might have been a private initiative to get some quick cash, although R. G. seems to be a well-off man who owns several houses in Baja as well as in Budapest and the house where the meeting was staged looks substantial and well maintained. The bizarre nature of R.G.’s story didn’t prevent Fidesz politicians from accusing the opposition of hiring the culprits to discredit the government party. MSZP denies any involvement and threatens to go to the police if Fidesz’s accusations continue. DK demands a thorough investigation of the case.

We can be duly horrified at this particular case, but the truth is that corruption is endemic on all levels in Hungary. Quite independently from the fake tape there is proof that Fidesz politicians in Baja bribed the local Gypsies for their votes and that is a crime. Of course, creating a fake video for money is also a crime. But what can we expect in a country where corruption can be found at the highest levels of the administration, starting with the prime minister? It has long been suspected that he amassed his considerable (and under-reported) wealth in not exactly the most honorable way. And it’s better not even to mention the cesspool of party finances.

So let’s turn to corruption in another sphere: phony language proficiency results. Who is involved here? Language teachers, university professors, politicians, high government officials, high-ranking police officers, and people who work for the official language testing center, commonly called Rigó utca after its location in Budapest. We are talking about scores of people at the testing center as well as at the Gáspár Károli Hungarian Reformed University and the Budapest Engineering School. Because, after all, it was not only the proctors who had to be paid but also those who gave out the test questions ahead of time as well as those who came up with the right answers and passed them on to the test takers. The customers were in the hundreds or perhaps in the thousands. It’s no wonder that the Hungarian media talk about a “language-exam factory.”

Blikk, a tabloid popular with the less educated and politically less curious public, broke the original story back in July. Some of the facts later turned out to be not quite accurate. For example, the newspaper called Corvinus University the center of the “exam factory.” Blikk was also wrong when it claimed that the “factory” began its operation only in 2010. Apparently it has been in existence since the 1990s.

Interestingly enough, Blikk‘s revelation didn’t make a splash in the larger Hungarian media, but Blikk didn’t give up. It pursued the scandal. A few days after the original article the paper revealed that about 80% of the people who took advantage of the opportunity offered by the “exam factory” were university students who needed to pass the language exam in order to receive their diplomas. The rest, older politicians and other public employees, didn’t mix with the students; their exams were organized separately. Apparently there were some unexpected encounters when government and opposition politicians ended up taking the exams together, presumably in happy harmony!

Soon enough we also learned that an intermediate language exam cost 300,000 but an advanced one could be purchased for only 500-550.

On October 4 the prosecutors charged 18 people with involvement in the falsification of foreign language examination results. Although by now we know that members of parliament were involved, they will not be charged with fraud because in their case the three-year statute of limitations has expired. However, the prosecutor’s office of Pest County which is handling the case confirmed that at least one Budapest mayor is a suspect. The number of people who will most likely be charged is not 18 as was originally announced but well over 600 if we include those who took advantage of the “exam factory.” As far as numbers are concerned, this will be the largest criminal case in the history of Hungarian jurisprudence.

The chief organizer was András P., owner of a private language school in Győr, whose private fortune as a result of the scam is considerable. Origo estimated close to a milliard forints. Under András P. there were several layers of intermediaries who also got a piece of the pie. Each language teacher received about 10,000 forints per student, which doesn’t sound like big money until you realize that we know of only four language teachers if Blikk‘s information is correct and the number of participants in the scheme was well over 1,000. I guess eventually we will know more because there are detailed lists of all the “customers” stored on the chief organizer’s computer.

Apparently, it was enough to know what "yes"means in English

Apparently, it was enough to know what “yes”means in English

As long as corruption is as widespread, even in fields that are connected to intellectual achievement, we cannot hope for improvement in Hungarian universities, public administration, and, yes, in politics. A country in which 30-35% of university students admit that they cheat on their exams and 40% of university graduates are unable to pass a fairly simple language test is destined to be second- or third-rate in a highly competitive world.

Fidesz and MSZP are silent. Or, to be more precise, when asked they said that they have no intention of starting an investigation of the matter within their own parliamentary caucuses. Members of  the small LMP delegation triumphantly announced that their language tests are valid. They were either taken in the 1980s or at none of the places where the phony tests were administered. DK also announced that none of their people are involved in the scheme.

When I write about a topic in which members of parliament play some role I usually check the website of the parliament which, among other things, details the members’ language proficiency. I never had much trust in those results from Rigó utca, but after this case I will have even less so.

The smoking gun? A video of Fidesz money being given to voters in Baja

If this video, available on YouTube, is genuine, Viktor Orbán and Fidesz are in serious trouble. It was again HVG that received the video, I assume a few days ago. Why did they release it only today? I suspect because they wanted to be sure about its authenticity since this 10-minute video is dynamite.

The video records a meeting between four Roma voters and somebody, identified as R. G., who seems to be acting on behalf of Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate in the by-election in Baja, and Róbert Zsigó, mayor of the city and one of the principal spokesmen of Fidesz. R.G. was filling in for the official go-between, Szilveszter Horváth, the head of the local Roma self-government, who was allegedly busy.

R. G. brought along 200,000 forints for the four men as payment for their votes in the first round of the election which eventually had to be repeated. It turned out that these men had been promised 50,000 forints each at the time, but in the end they got only 10,000. So, they were suspicious of R. G. and the promises of Kovács and Zsigó. Cash on the table, however, made them more cooperative. R. G. also promised more money, which he himself was to deliver on Monday right after the repeat election. In addition, the four families were promised firewood. That is, if Kovács wins the election.

HVG sent a copy of the video to Róbert Zsigó’s press secretary with the message that the online news site will release the video today at 1:30 p.m. After the release of the video they did get an e-mail from Zsigó in which he claimed that he doesn’t know any of the people on the video. In his opinion, the video is a fake. He informed HVG that the local Fidesz leadership had already reported to the police that some people had tried to bribe people in Fidesz’s name. But these people had absolutely nothing to do with the party. In brief, the democratic parties staged this phony scene in order to challenge the results of the election that Fidesz won fair and square.

When the Fidesz candidate won the election the second time around, the democratic parties, although they had some proof of fraud, decided not to demand yet another round. The decision was most likely political. The people of Baja had had enough of what some people called an absolute circus and most likely would not have been happy with more of the same. Moreover, it is unlikely that the local Fidesz forces would have behaved any better than before, and losing three times in a row is certainly not good for the image of the anti-Fidesz forces.

Now suddenly they changed their minds. Attila Mesterházy announced that they will ask the court to order another round. Unfortunately, as often happens nowadays, the opposition displayed a blissful ignorance of the electoral law. There is only a very narrow window, I think three days, during which a remedy can be sought by the aggrieved party. They are too late.

There is, however, another avenue: sue Kovács, Zsigó, Szilveszter Horváth, Tibor Ajtai (another Roma leader), and this mysterious R. G. for electoral fraud, a crime that carries a sentence of up to three years in jail. There is, however, a caveat: the law makes no distinction between the one who pays for the vote and the one who accepts money for it. That would mean jail sentences as well for those Gypsies who turned the video over to HVG.

HVG is usually very careful with cases like this one, and I assume that they consulted not only video experts but also their lawyers about the legal status of those who were involved with the recording. One potential defense would be that the Roma voters set a trap for these men in the name of justice. Why else would they have given the video to HVG?

Meanwhile, there is at least one blogger who has some questions about the authenticity of the video. He finds the setup somewhat artificial, as if the man with the camera was waiting for the visitor who begins talking even before he sits down. He considers the telephone call R. G. receives from Csaba Kovács in the middle of the negotiations suspicious. And who is the phantom man whose cell phone is used for the video? Why don’t the people present tell him not to video the exchange? In the final analysis, however, the blogger expresses his belief that HVG is far too professional to claim authenticity without having proof. The blogger predicts that the story “isn’t ending here. On the contrary it’s just begun.”

Fidesz immediately moved. By 5 p.m. today the party went to the police and reported criminal conduct in connection with the by-election. Even earlier they suspected that criminal fraud was being committed by the anti-Fidesz forces when they learned that some unknown people had offered firewood to the voters. Therefore, even before the actual election, they reported their suspicions to the police.

At the same time MSZP also went to the police and demanded an investigation. Csaba Molnár, vice-chairman of DK, handed in a written question to Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, concerning the case. Benedek Jávor of Együtt-PM predicted that if the video is genuine the scandal through Róbert Zsigó will reach the highest echelons of Fidesz and in this case “it might be Viktor Orbán’s political death sentence.”

Baja revisited: a tense campaign

Today I’m returning briefly to Baja because, with the court-ordered repeat balloting in one of its polling districts scheduled for this Sunday, the stakes are high for both sides. If Melinda Teket, the candidate of the united opposition, wins, Fidesz fraud in the original election will be reasserted. Even the famous Fidesz communication techniques will not be sufficient to explain away the fact that Fidesz activists cheated and most likely paid off the impoverished Roma who were taken to vote by Fidesz activists. If Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate, wins, the opposition’s charge of fraud will collapse. Fidesz politicians who have steadfastly denied the existence of electoral fraud will be able reaffirm their innocence. Moreover, and even more importantly, opposition politicians viewed this by-election as a test case that would show that dissatisfaction with the government party is so great that even in a city like Baja, which usually votes for Fidesz, people are ready to change sides. If Teket loses on Sunday, opposition politicians will have to admit that they overestimated dissatisfaction with the Orbán government.

Source: Orio / Photo: Zoltán Tuba

Source: Origo / Photo: Zoltán Tuba

In this particular section of Baja the scene now resembles a U.S.-style campaign–with a few twists, of course. What is similar is the incredible number of posters. What is different (at least it is no longer prevalent in U.S. campaigns) is that cars with loudspeakers circulate all day long and blare campaign slogans promoting Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate. Another, more insidious difference is that university students from out of town got the job of following Melinda Teket, the opposition candide , as she, accompanied by a male activist, goes door to door asking people for their votes. The photo below  captures the scene well.

Melinda Teket's red Suzuki followed by a while Volkswagen Source: Origo / Photo Zoltán Tuba

Melinda Teket’s red Suzuki followed by a white Volkswagen /  Photo Zoltán Tuba, Origo

One can hardly see a Melinda Teket poster. Most have been torn down. The reporters for Origo did not see one intact poster for the opposition candidate. On the other hand, Fidesz posters are abundant. Among their messages: “There will be an election again on October 13. Don’t let yourselves be intimidated! Don’t allow yourselves to be stiffed and harassed! Don’t be afraid of the men of Bajnai, Gyurcsány and Mesterházy! Don’t believe Melinda Teket who arouses hatred! Fidesz will defend you and needs your vote!”

The Origo reporter struck up a conversation with the students in the white Volkswagen who confirmed that their only job is to follow Melinda Teket. They don’t campaign. In fact, Csaba Kovács cannot be seen either–except, of course, on the posters. Naturally, Teket is not happy with being followed; there were times when she used someone else’s car to get rid of her Fidesz escorts (who, by the way, are staying at a youth hostel owned by the municipality). She also complained to the local election commission about the vehicles equipped with loudspeakers, but the commission found nothing wrong with this kind of campaigning.

As time goes by, more and more details are emerging about the irregularities that took place at that particular polling station. During the court hearing in Kecskemét witnesses told the judges that there was at least one person who voted without an ID card. There were ballots that were put into the ballot box by someone other than the voter.

Originally, the opposition couldn’t prove that Fidesz actually paid for the Gypsies’ votes, but there is now evidence that that was indeed the case.  It looks as if the “payment” for voting for Fidesz was the promise of firewood. At least this is what Szilveszter Horváth, the head of the Roma self-government in Baja, says in the transcript of the tape released by Egyenlítő TV, an online newspaper. Moreover, the person who is asking Horváth’s advice is from Fót, where there will be a by-election very soon.

The opposition’s conclusion is that this method of electoral fraud may not be a localized affair but may exist nationwide. The tape is available on YouTube. Of course, there was an immediate answer to this charge from Róbert Zsigó, Fidesz mayor of Baja. The municipality occasionally gives free firewood to those in need. Fidesz is innocent. “Only the socialists committed electoral fraud because they ordered their former socialist mayor to stand outside the polling station, by which means they pressured the citizens.” The 450 people eligible to vote in this particular district on Sunday have been watching the campaign with total amazement. Some of them actually find it funny, a circus. But to Fidesz and the opposition it’s deadly serious. It may foreshadow what will happen next April or May at the national elections.

Viktor Orbán’s bolshevik speech at Fidesz’s XXV Congress

Yesterday 1240 delegates gathered in Millenáris Park for Fidesz’s XXV Congress. It was supposed to be held earlier, but the flood that threatened Hungary in the spring intervened. After all, the chairman of the party was busily organizing a defense against the elements.

For a number of years now there has been only one candidate for the post of chairmanship, and that person is naturally Viktor Orbán. Yesterday only a single delegate dared to express his or her dissatisfaction with Viktor Orbán’s leadership by voting against him. Otherwise, there was unanimous, enthusiastic support for the achievements of the party and the government.

By now we are accustomed to increasingly outlandish speeches by the prime minister, and once again he didn’t disappoint us. It seems that the worse the Hungarian political and economic situation is, the shriller Orbán ‘s speeches are.

The war of independence has been the center of his politics over the last three years, but now Orbán extended this war beyond banks, multinationals, and European bureaucrats. Now he is also targeting “the former communists who sold the country to the banks and the multinationals.” Fidesz must win the election because naturally the politicians of the current opposition would do the same again if given the opportunity. The coming election will be a struggle about the future. Whether the Hungarian people want to be “the servants of Europe … the banks and the large corporations … or [ whether they] will be their own masters.” These few sentences give a fair introduction to the speech as a whole. And let me add that the audience was in ecstasy. They loved every word of the speech. The more outlandish the better.

The man who was a purported champion of truthfulness while in opposition now feels free to blatantly disregard the truth. As they say in Hungary, not even his interrogatives are true! He has rewritten his and his party’s history several times, and he treated the party congress to yet another twist of the truth. Orbán began his speech by explaining what the 1990 Fidesz campaign slogan meant. The slogan used the first line of the Hungarian translation of Roxette’s song “Listen to your heart”: “Hallgass a szívedre, szavazz a Fideszre” (Listen to your heart, vote for Fidesz!). It was catchy, in part because it rhymed. There was no more to it. But Orbán came up with a novel explanation to fit in with his current campaign platform. According to him, the slogan meant that “we don’t allow anyone to dictate to us.” I’m afraid one needs an extraordinary amount of imagination to come up with such an interpretation. But to his audience it didn’t matter.

Viktor Orbán is listening to his heart / MTI/ Szilárd Kosztics

Viktor Orbán is listening to his heart / MTI/ Szilárd Kosztics

So, if someone starts a speech with a historical fabrication what can one expect from the rest? Not much. According to him, Hungary’s economy is in great shape. When Fidesz took over, the situation was terrible. The socialist-liberal governments ruined the country. When trouble came, “one of the leftist captains” jumped ship while they madly searched for his “brave successor.” It took a long time to find him, but once he became prime minister he introduced one austerity program after another. After his ruinous premiership “he took French leave and actually left the country.” The only reason that so many people are suddenly interested in being prime minister is that now “Hungary performs better, it is stronger than before and won many important battles.” Of course, he was talking about Ferenc Gyurcsány and his “cowardly” successor, Gordon Bajnai, who left the country in shambles. As we know, the Hungarian economic situation then was a great deal better than it is today.

Orbán is expecting an onslaught from the “honey-tongued bankers, the large, international monopolies, their supporters among the bureaucrats of Brussels and their domestic varlets.” This attack on Hungary will be forthcoming as the result of the Orbán government’s second lowering of utility prices that will be enacted into law shortly. “They will do everything in their power to prevent this from happening because we are talking about trillions, huge investments, and guaranteed profits. We are talking here about the real heavies in the field who are ready for anything.”

The Hungarian opposition extends a helping hand to these bankers and multinationals against their own people who are being defended only by Fidesz and the current government. He asked his audience never to forget that “the former communists gave away the country to the speculators, bankers, and multinationals.” Some people claim that all the talk about communists is nonsense because there are no communists in Hungary. “After all, they are younger than we are. Perhaps. But where there are dinosaurs there are also baby dinosaurs.” An interesting concept: the alleged communists are being accused of working for the capitalists–for the bankers and the multinationals. But it seems that Orbán’s audience didn’t find this jarring. They loved it.

The last few minutes of the speech were spent on the coming elections. This election must be won. Every vote counts and all pro-Fidesz votes must be cast. He urged his audience to work very hard because “we will win but only if we rise up to the task.” As a farewell message he added that Fidesz supporters owe him that much because, after all, he devoted twenty-five years for the cause which must be continued. It almost sounded like a threat: if you don’t work hard enough and we lose the election, it will be your fault and the ruin of me.

This speech was delivered a couple of hours before the announcement of the Kecskemét court’s ruling that indeed there were irregularities at one of the polling stations in the Baja by-election and that voting there must be repeated. I have no idea whether Orbán expected such an outcome because some of the judges in Kecskemét have the reputation of having warm feelings toward the current government. But even without this ruling it must have been clear to Orbán that next year’s election might not be a cakewalk for Fidesz even with all the obstacles they managed to build into the electoral system. Lately, the opposition has been doing quite well in traditionally right-wing districts even if not in the polls. As I mentioned earlier, the abrupt cancellation of Orbán’s visit to Baja indicated that Fidesz campaign strategists had an inkling that the party might be handed a defeat.

So, Orbán’s strong emphasis on the election and urging the party faithful to put all their energies into the campaign indicate a certain fear that the actual situation is not that rosy. That’s why the volume is being turned up, appealing to the population by attacking the bankers, the monopolies, the plutocrats, and capitalism in general. This speech could have been delivered by Mátyás Rákosi, as the Demoktratikus Koalíció rightly pointed out.