Balatonőszöd

Viktor Orbán’s (temporary) retreat in his battle with Ferenc Gyurcsány?

Some of my readers and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the government’s decision to release two secret service documents that deal with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s controversial speech of 2006. They are convinced that this move is a fantastic coup against the opposition and that if the united opposition had any sense whatsoever it would drop the subject as soon as possible. Anything, they claim, that has to do with the speech is political poison.

I see it differently. Even if the two documents had substantiated the government’s claim that Gyurcsány was complicit in the leak, the political gain for Fidesz would have been minimal. But the documents didn’t support their claim. Moreover, since Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány knew not only about the two released documents but about others that contradict Eduardo Rózsa-Flores’s assumptions, questions were bound to arise about a half forgotten story. And in that story Fidesz was very much involved.

The release of the documents raised the possibility that someone would slip up. And indeed Lajos Kósa did. Only half a year ago he denied that he knew anything about the tape prior to its publication. So did Tibor Navracsics and Viktor Orbán. And now here in black and white was a detailed description by Flores of how the tape ended up in his hands and went from him via an intermediary to Lajos Kósa. Confronted with the document and pressured by Antónia Mészáros, Kósa cracked. He admitted that they have been lying about their knowledge of the tape and their own role in making it public. Fidesz politicians who in the last eight years have talked incessantly about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s lies are found to be liars themselves. It was time for damage control.

I can only imagine what Lajos Kósa got from Viktor Orbán after that interview. He must have been ordered to correct his “mistake,” which he did this morning on Magyar Rádió. While yesterday he admitted that he got hold of the tape from a fellow from Miskolc which he then distributed to the press, by today his story had been substantially edited. He denied any knowledge of the tape’s content before it was read on Magyar Rádió.

Sándor Pintér was also asked to do his best to squelch the growing scandal. After all, only Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap were talking about the sins of Ferenc Gyurcsány;  other publications started probing into the revelations of Fidesz’s involvement. And that probing went beyond the leak itself. People kept asking about Fidesz’s role in the preparation and organization of the disturbances themselves.

Pintér’s line of reasoning at a late afternoon press conference was interesting. While two days ago the big news was the source of the leak, i.e. whether Gyurcsány initiated the leak of his own speech or not, today Pintér claimed that “the circumstances of the leak are unimportant” because the unauthorized removal of the tape is not a crime. The important part of the story is the content of the speech, he emphasized. But then why did they release these documents that centered on the circumstances of the leak, circumstances that two days later were deemed unimportant? There is no good answer here.

In addition to Pintér’s feeble explanation Magyar Nemzet came up with one of its ownThe argument goes something like this: Why the big fuss about the leak? Who really cares who was responsible? After all, we just heard from the former editor-in-chief of Népszabadság that J. Zoltán Gál, undersecretary in charge of the prime minister’s office, approached him to ask whether he would be interested in an edited version of a terrific speech his “boss” delivered. So, the argument goes, let’s not spend any more time on this trivial matter, especially when MSZP wanted to have it made public anyway. Another misguided argument. With this claim they only support Gyurcsány’s contention that his audience was enthralled and that he didn’t think there was anything in the speech one had to be ashamed of.

The most worrisome announcement that Sándor Pintér made at this press conference was that there is no other “final report” on Balatonőszöd. We are talking here about the report that both Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány saw and that both claim contains some damaging material on Fidesz’s involvement in the affair that ended in violence on the streets of Budapest. That indicates that as things stand now the Orbán government is planning to eliminate in one way or another an important piece of evidence.  I’m sure that Bajnai cannot lay his hands on the document, but Gyurcsány may have a copy of it which, as he said, “landed on his desk.”

source: szabadeuropa.shp.hu

Source: szabadeuropa.shp.hu

Moreover, the Népszabadság article to which Magyar Nemzet referred also states that two days before the release of the tape Ferenc Gyurcsány sent an article to the paper entitled “Haladás vs. maradás” (Progress versus Backwardness) in which he pretty well told the reading public what he said in his Balatonőszöd speech. The editors asked him whether in light of the new developments he wanted to change anything in his text. His answer was “no.” Obviously even after the speech was released he saw no reason to change anything in the text.

As I said earlier, any party would have taken advantage of the opportunity the leaked tape offered Fidesz sometime in July-August of 2006. I don’t blame them. What on the other hand, a responsible democratic party cannot do is to systematically prepare a coup d’état. Unfortunately, it looks as if this is exactly what Viktor Orbán was doing. There are just too many signs pointing in this direction.

Finally, here is a new piece of information from Péter Zentai, today a journalist with HVG but at the time Magyar Rádió’s Berlin correspondent. Right after the Budapest siege one of the German television stations organized a round-table discussion on the Hungarian events. Zentai participated in this discussion, as did a British TV journalist. The British journalist insisted that the outbreak of violence couldn’t have been spontaneous because his television station and Sky TV had been approached by a Hungarian news station a week before the fateful weekend. They were invited to come to Budapest because “interesting things will happen.” Zentai was stunned and tried to air this story on Magyar Rádió. Even then, however, MR was partial to Fidesz, and one of the middle managers refused to report Zentai’s information from the British television journalist.

Bits and pieces of new information emerge day after day. Viktor Orbán seems far too eager to eliminate his arch-rival and thus keeps making mistakes.

It was a mistake to release documents relating to Gyurcsány’s speech of May 26, 2006

I predict that Viktor Orbán will regret, if he has not already done so, his decision to dredge up those two documents that Sándor Pintér released two days ago. They were supposed to prove that Ferenc Gyurcsány was himself responsible for his infamous speech of 2006 becoming public. Not that, even if it were true, which it is not, it would make any difference. It is not really news. News would be if we learned who the people were who were responsible for the theft of the tape from either MSZP headquarters or the prime minister’s office.  The release of the documents was supposed to serve only one purpose: to remind the public during the election campaign of Gyurcsány’s unforgivable sins against the nation. It seems to me that instead of achieving the desired outcome Viktor Orbán is now facing uncomfortable questions about his and his party’s role in this whole sordid affair.

We learned nothing new from the documents about the circumstances of the leak, but we found out something that Viktor Orbán has steadfastly denied ever since September 2006. For the first time a Fidesz politician, Lajos Kósa, admitted yesterday that they knew of the tape’s existence earlier. Not that we didn’t suspect as much. Most commentators who analyzed the events prior to the siege of the Hungarian Television building came to the conclusion that Viktor Orbán already knew about the contents of the tape in July 2006 and that by the beginning of August the Fidesz team managed to lay their hands on the actual tape. This timeline was also assumed by József Debreczeni, who relied heavily on a blogger’s detailed description of the events, available online, for his book A 2006-os ősz. Orbán decided to withhold the release of the tape until the time was ripe. And that day was September 17, just as Viktor Orbán was en route to Brussels.

Now, for the first time, Lajos Kósa under the pretty aggressive questioning of Antónia Mészáros of ATV admitted that they made several copies of the speech and delivered them to the more important media outlets, including Magyar Rádió, where two or three sentences were lifted from a long speech. So, instead of learning anything new about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s complicity, we are now faced with a Fidesz admission of something we until now only surmised. That was Fidesz’s first own goal, and more may follow because questions are pouring in.

How is it possible, for example, that Viktor Orbán weeks before the siege predicted what would happen on September 19? Tamás Lajos Szalay of Népszabadság calls attention to a three-part article of Orbán published in Magyar Nemzet entitled “Watershed.” The first part was published on July 29, the second on August 5, and the third on September 9. Why the long gap between the second and third articles? If it is true that the tape arrived sometime in early August, it is likely that Orbán had to rewrite his article to reflect his new found knowledge. In any case, Orbán in his piece exhibits prophetic faculties when he sees only two possibilities. He envisions unrest unless “we find a peaceful way out of the crisis.” The peaceful way was the Gyurcsány government’s resignation.

Most likely not too many people remember the tape sent to several radio stations in the name of “The Warriors of Democracy” which sent a chilling message to the government. On September 14 a distorted male voice called on the government to resign. If they don’t do so by September 20, Budapest will be in flames. Most commentators dismissed the threat as the work of a crackpot, but in light of what happened on September 19 I wouldn’t dismiss it. The police at the time said something about a crime that can be viewed as a terrorist threat, but by January 2007 they were no longer investigating the case. We will never know who the warriors of democracy were or whether they had any connection to Fidesz. But the long-forgotten warriors of democracy cropped up again in today’s Népszabadság.

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy expressed the opinion of the Demokratikus Koalíció on the matter. They demand the release of all documents. He pointed out that with Kósa’s admission we now know that Viktor Orbán has been lying about his own involvement in this affair. “It has become clear that Hungary has a liar as prime minister.” Admittedly, not exactly a new discovery. Another observer, István Gusztos, remarked in Gépnarancs that while the released documents tell us nothing about Ferenc Gyurcsány, they do tell us a lot about Fidesz, which “had a determinant role in the outbreak of disturbances.”

The next step will be a serious second look at the football hooligans’ role on September 19, 2006 during the siege of the television building. In Hungary the worst football hooligans are the fans of Ferencváros (Fradi). The Fradi fans were in a foul mood at the time because their favorite team had lost its place in Division I. Orbán, who is an Újpest and Videoton fan, paid a surprise visit to the Ferencváros-Jászapáti match, their first one in Division II. He settled in the middle of the Fradi fans and even gave an interview to reporters present. He expressed his disgust at what had happened to Fradi, which was in his opinion “a scandal” (disznóság). Commentators were a bit surprised at Orbán’s sudden appearance at a Fradi game. The precise connection between this visit and the Fradi fans’ active participation in the siege of Hungarian TV is not known, but in all probability the two occurrences were not unconnected–especially in light of a later development when as a result of a new investigation of the case during the Orbán government, the sentences already passed on a handful of hooligans by the courts were annulled. The suspicion lingers that those half-crazed, drunk men had been assured ahead of time that their actions would have no consequences once Viktor Orbán was the prime minister of Hungary.

MTV ostrom

All in all, I believe that it would have been better for Viktor Orbán, however fervently he wants to “get” Ferenc Gyurcsány, to let sleeping dogs lie. There is just too much muck around Fidesz headquarters which seems to surface every time the subject of Balatonőszöd comes up.

Sloppy Hungarian journalism misleads the public

It was at the beginning of January that Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, first mentioned rather casually in a television interview that he might release some of the secret service documents related to the leak of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech to the MSZP parliamentary delegation after their electoral victory in 2006.

Regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum are only too familiar with what happened. The newly reelected prime minister rather irresponsibly made a speech in front of almost 300 people that was sprinkled with obscenities and that contained passages which, if taken out of context, could be very damaging. Of course, the speech was leaked. Fidesz, then in opposition, picked out the most damaging couple of sentences from the fairly long speech (almost 18,000 words) and passed them on to the president of Magyar Rádió. The rest is history. Football hooligans attacked Magyar Televízió and another round of riots, fueled by Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz politicians, occurred a month later on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution of 1956. Ferenc Gyurcsány became damaged goods.

Ever since that time wild speculations have been circulating about who leaked the speech. The most authoritative person in this case, Ferenc Gyurcsány himself, said several times in the last couple of years that there is strong indirect evidence that points to three prominent MSZP members. However, he refuses to divulge the names because he is–as he stated tonight on ATV–only 97% sure that the three people whom he has in mind are actually the ones who turned against their party’s chairman and their prime minister.

And now comes the latest incarnation of this rather tired story. Naturally, it is being resurrected with the national election in mind. Viktor Orbán will never forget what happened to him in 2002 when most opinion polls showed Fidesz about 10% ahead of the opposition parties–and yet he lost. This time Fidesz  is pulling out all the stops, which includes calling attention again to the Gyurcsány speech from 2006. But this time with a twist. The couple of documents Pintér released are only part of the pertinent material. He has not released the most important final report that, according to Gyurcsány and Bajnai, concluded that the Hungarian secret service agents who investigated the case didn’t have a clue who leaked the tape of the speech and in exactly what way it ended up in Fidesz hands.

The two documents are available on the website of the renamed secret service agency that originally investigated the case. One is pretty straightforward and contains nothing new. The second one is a summary report (összefoglaló jelentés) not of the investigation of the leak but of Eduardo Rózsa-Flores who three years later, in 2009, died in Bolivia where he wanted to foment a revolution against the Bolivian government. The report concludes that Rózsa-Flores was a right-wing extremist who was an opponent of the MSZP-SZDSZ government. Although the report is for the most part simply a collection of generalities about Flores’s politics, it touches on the question of the leaked speech. During a conversation with an undercover agent Flores gave details of how he ended up receiving the tape of the prime minister’s speech which he then passed on to Fidesz politicians. It was Flores’s theory that the leak was organized with the knowledge and blessing of Ferenc Gyurcsány who by creating a scandal wanted to divert attention away from the country’s grave economic situation. In brief, what the agents learned from Flores was no more than speculation. A wacky hypothesis offered by someone who couldn’t possibly know the details of the leak.

So, let’s see how the Hungarian media handled the news, starting with Népszabadság. It is normally one of the more reliable newspapers in Hungary, but this time I was amazed at the sloppiness of Gy. Attila Fekete. The headline reads: “Őszöd: Here is the secret service report.” That is really misleading because the “meat” of the story, Gyurcsány’s alleged role in leaking his own speech, is not in the interim report on Őszöd but in the final report on Rózsa-Flores whose surveillance came to an end when he was brutally killed in a hotel room in Bolivia. A brief editorial in the paper is to my mind outrageous. If this is all true, says the editorial, “we just shudder. We can barely comprehend it.” On the other hand, “if the story is not true then we have every reason to feel totally lost in our own country.” At this point I’m the one who is totally lost. What does this mumble jumble mean? Finally, the editors call on Gyurcsány to divulge who leaked the speech. “He indicated several times that he knows what happened. He must tell.”

journalism

Moreover, the great journalists at Népszabadság seem to think that the investigation of Őszöd ended on July 27 2009 and that all the information contained in the final report on Flores has been kept secret for four and a half years. This “final report” was written because Rózsa Flores was killed in Bolivia and therefore his surveillance ended. Őszöd was an entirely different matter; we still haven’t seen the secret service’s final report on the leak which was written in December 2009. Viktor Orbán for very good reason didn’t want to release that document: it contains nothing about either the culprits responsible for the leak or about Gyurcsány’s alleged complicity.

It’s no wonder that Klára Dobrev, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s wife, had some harsh words for Népszabadság. The editors didn’t check the facts; they didn’t question; they presented lies as facts. Népszabadság, according to Klára Dobrev, even managed to outdo Magyar Nemzet. “My friends, I believe that we have one fewer independent newspaper.” She thinks that the shift is due to the paper’s change in ownership. Heinrich Pecina, an Austrian businessman, acquired a majority stake in the paper. In an interview with Márton Galambos and Irén Hermann of Forbes he expressed his admiration for Viktor Orbán’s leadership, without which, in his opinion, Hungary would have ended up like Greece.

All the other online sites pretty much repeated as fact Rózsa-Flores’s theory. As Zsófia Mihancsik pointed out, it was only Origo that gave an accurate description of the two documents released by Sándor Pintér. Origo called Flores’s claim “a bombastic theory.” But since most online sites copy from each other, one can be sure that all the wrong conclusions will be reached regardless of what anyone says. For example, Gordon Bajnai who saw all the reports, including the unpublished final one, announced on his own website that the two released documents try to lead the public to wrong conclusions. Moreover, he claims, the present government deleted information even from these less relevant documents that would reflect badly on Fidesz politicians. He considers this latest Fidesz trick a manipulation of the election which he “finds illegal and unacceptable.” Since then, Gyurcsány gave his side of the story. One thing is sure: only facts can prove someone innocent or guilty and in these documents there is nothing that would prove that Rózsa-Flores’s theory has any merit whatsoever.

Ferenc Gyurcsány the campaigner in his element

Ipsos was the first company to release its monthly poll on the electorate’s preferences for parties and politicians. As far as the two large parties, Fidesz and MSZP, are concerned, the changes are minimal and most likely insignificant, Fidesz’s 27% is one percentage point higher than it was a month ago; MSZP lost one percentage point and now stands at 14% in the electorate as a whole. In the case of the three smaller parties, the changes may be more significant. Jobbik lost 2% of its followers, which means that only 6% of the electorate would vote for this far-right party. Együtt 2014-PM lost a point and by now is the second smallest party in Hungary, with 3%. DK is still the smallest political formation with 2%, but this number is nonetheless something of a breakout for Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party which this year never had more than a 1% share of the electorate. In a month–at least according to Ipsos–the Demokratikus Koalíció doubled its support. Mind you, Ferenc Gyurcsány, the party’s chairman, declared only yesterday that support for the party is much greater than the polls indicate although he would hate to guess how much greater. It could be 4% or even 12%.

One reason for the upsurge might be the incredible energy of Ferenc Gyurcsány who, realizing that elections are closer than most people think, moved into high gear. Here are a few numbers. In August Gyurcsány’s name appeared in the news 72 times, fewer than Viktor Orbán, Gordon Bajnai, or Attila Mesterházy, but it was Gyurcsány who had the most air time. He spoke on TV and radio for 2,218 minutes as opposed to Mesterházy’s 1,367, Viktor Orbán’s 683, and Gordon Bajnai’s 353 minutes.

Another reason might be that his message is the simplest and the most uncompromising as far as his attitude toward the Orbán government is concerned. Many voters who want change find Együtt 2014-PM’s messages confusing and the latest declarations of Gordon Bajnai, Viktor Szigetvári, and Péter Kónya worrisome. Bajnai’s mysterious reference to an offer that Fidesz will not be able to refuse led some people to think that Bajnai may be thinking in terms of a grand coalition, an idea that sent shivers down the spines  of members of the anti-Fidesz forces. I also suspect that Gyurcsány’s shabby treatment at the hands of MSZP politicians will only help’s DK’s fortunes. Next month’s polls will reveal whether or not my hunch is correct. I might also add to the list of reasons for increased DK support Gyurcsány’s superior oratorical skills.

I assume that the above figures regarding Gyurcsány’s media exposure did not include the speech he gave on Saturday when he, Ágnes Vadai, and László Varju attracted about 5,000 people. Or his recent long interview with HVG. Or another interview that MTV’s Híradó published only a few hours ago.

Here I would like to say a few words about the HVG interview. It is about twice as long as my average-length post. Although it is upbeat, it also includes a level of self-criticism that one couldn’t hear from Gyurcsány before. He came to the realization, he said, that in 2004 he “became prime minister without the necessary experience or wisdom.” Today he knows that to be beaten once or twice, or to be in opposition, are perhaps prerequisites for success as prime minister.

Gyurcsany HVG

He then returned to the subject of Őszöd because he wants to “rehabilitate” that speech, portraying it as the first attempt on the left to depart from the kinds of economic policies for political gain that led to the economic decline of the country. A lot of people said at the time, including President László Sólyom, that Gyurcsány should have resigned right then and there. Gyurcsány disagrees. In that fateful speech he told his audience that if the reforms he was planning to introduce fail, he will resign. He should have resigned, however, he admits, in 2008 after the reforms were roundly rejected by the disastrous referendum on the 300 forint co-pay and the introduction of a small tuition fee. He “missed the tempo.” Instead of resigning, he attempted to scale back the reforms, which he now calls “reforms light.”

As for DK’s chances, Gyurcsány thinks that the party will be able to get 7-8% of the votes, plenty to become a parliamentary party. If DK doesn’t manage to qualify for parliamentary representation, then the party is finished and with it Ferenc Gyurcsány as a politician.

If the democratic side loses the election and DK is in opposition, he will be the head of the DK delegation “to show how one ought to speak and act in opposing Viktor Orbán.” If the current democratic opposition wins, he will not occupy the post because he doesn’t want “the new prime minister to feel his presence in his back.” He is optimistic. “According to public opinion polls, 53% of the electorate want to see Viktor Orbán’s government go and only 31% stick by it. One can go back as far as 1990: no government could remain in office with such a level of rejection.”

And finally, the conversation turned to his person as an obstacle for the unity of the left. MSZP maintains that Gyurcsány will take more votes away from the opposition than he will bring to the opposition. (Vera Lánczos in today’s Galamus argues that the poll the Republikon Institute took in the spring doesn’t support that claim.) Gyurcsány in this interview gives new polling figures that I was not familiar with. He claims that 60-70% of left-liberal voters like Bajnai, Mesterházy, and him equally well, although he admits that he is less popular among the undecided.

The Demokratikus Koalíció has embarked on a membership drive and is also in the middle of amassing a database. The party called 550,000 households, using Gyurcsány’s voice, asking for support. Apparently in 14% of the cases people showed a willingness to allow DK to collect their personal data.

Gyurcsány might yet surprise us all, especially if the extreme right-wingers spit in his face a few more times as happened yesterday inside and outside of the courthouse where he went to show his solidarity with the two police chiefs who are facing charges in connection with their alleged negligence in the September-October 2006 disturbances. By the way, the court procedure, for which 100 days were set aside, was scheduled to begin on September 18, the exact day when the one or two sentences from the long Őszöd speech were read on the Hungarian public radio and prompted, with lots of help from Fidesz, the siege of the Hungarian Public Television station. The choice of the date cannot be an accident. The Orbán government has a sense of the dramatic.

The siege of the Hungarian Television Station, September 18, 2006

For those of you who are either not familiar with the fateful events of the fall of 2006 in Hungary or don’t remember all the details I should state again that there were two distinct phases of the riots. The first took place on September 17-18 and the second at the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 Revolution, an occasion attended by scores of foreign dignitaries.

Every time the topic of these riots comes up Fidesz supporters like to make a sharp distinction between the “peaceful demonstrators” of October 23 and the next few days and the criminal elements who laid siege to the Hungarian Television Station on September 18. However, immediately after that bloody night on Szabadság (Liberty) Square Fidesz politicians insisted that the siege was a spontaneous outburst of justified indignation. At the same time they accused the government of purposely sending the ill-equipped policemen into harm’s way, thereby compromising the opposition that supported them. One thing is sure: the violence that characterized the siege and the characters who took part in it didn’t rock the government. According to a Medián poll taken before the siege, 52% of those asked thought that Gyurcsány should resign. After the siege, only 45%.

First let’s examine how “spontaneous” the gathering was on Kossuth Square on the evening of September 17, right after the release of the incriminating lines from Gyurcsány’s speech. Initially the police noted only 20-30 people, but minute by minute more people came from all directions. To the police it looked as if recruiting were taking place, most likely through cell phones. Eventually there were at least 1,000 people, if not more. Soon enough they even had loudspeakers and managed to put together a podium. Speaker after speaker kept repeating parts of Gyurcsány’s speech. It began to rain and somebody distributed yellow raincoats used at Fidesz gatherings. The demonstration was peaceful at the beginning, but eventually some of the people broke the cordon the police had erected.

This “spontaneous” demonstration was illegal because it had not been registered with the police. The police leadership, especially Péter Gergényi, the police chief of Budapest, misjudged the situation by declaring it part of the campaign season for the municipal elections. During such times spontaneous gatherings indeed are permitted. Gergényi talked to József Petrétei, the minister of justice, and his deputy Ferenc Kondorosi and informed them that there was nothing to do. “Let them let off some steam.” He predicted that the demonstration planned for the following day would also be peaceful. Petrétei happily agreed. According to Debreczeni, the real culprit of this story was the incompetent Petrétei, in civilian life a professor of law at the University of Pécs who, according to his job description, is supposed to “direct” the police. Instead, he was watching the events on television at home.

Some of the crowd didn’t leave the square even during the night. Soon enough someone was serving them food and Gyula Budai, today undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and in the first two years of the Orbán government the commissioner in charge of “political crimes” of MSZP politicians, provided them with portable toilets. He also brought along a tractor with which he led some of the people to Jászai Mari Square in order to lay siege to the building that serves as an office building for members of parliament.

Meanwhile extremist groups came with their flags and slogans: the Honfoglalás 2000, Hatvannégy Vármegye, Magyar Nemzeti Front, and Jobbik. Football hooligans who used to fight among themselves now united in order to attack the television station the next day. Busloads of football fans arrived from Debrecen and Nyíregyháza, the UTE (Újpest) fans came straight from a game in Sopron. They arrived with a police escort! Maria Wittner, the heroine of 1956 and an extremist politician, made a speech and announced that there was a new “revolutionary situation.”  By evening the word came that “Fidesz assures the demonstrators its solidarity.” Naturally, a huge ovation followed the announcement.

I’m not going to go into all the details of the siege of the building the following evening. Instead I suggest you view a video by Ádám Csillag entitled “Under  Siege” (Ostrom alatt).

The police leadership turned out to be singularly untalented and the policemen’s equipment was woefully inadequate. Hundreds of policemen were seriously injured. In 2002 the question of providing the police with proper riot gear came up after a demonstration that blocked Elizabeth Bridge, but the undersecretary in charge of police matters in the Ministry of Interior vetoed it. It was too expensive and unnecessary. Instead they bought 40 Ford Mondeos for patrolling the streets.

Not only the equipment was problematic. The Hungarian police force, especially those who can handle riots, was very small and ill-trained. On that day no more than about 850 policemen were available in the whole country who could be called to the scene. Altogether there were only 2,400 policemen on the streets nationwide, including ordinary traffic cops. In the Netherlands there are 16,000 available at any given moment.

Eventually, they came up with a twenty-five-year-old water cannon whose power was negligible. And when it was a question of getting equipment to fire tear gas, the staff couldn’t accommodate because the equipment was locked up in a room where arms were kept.

Some of those who showed  their "justified indignation" against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

Some of those who showed their “justified indignation” against the lies of Prime Minister Gyurcsány

It was an incident with this water cannon that make people very suspicious that someone was actually giving orders to the crowd. There were a number of policeman inside the water cannon which the rioters set on fire. Everybody was expecting that either these people will burn alive inside or, if they come out, they will be lynched. But no, when they came out the crowd retreated. Obviously, the organizers were careful not to go too far.

Another episode also indicates some kind of central planning. At one point a number of policemen were cornered; they were practically lying on the ground trying to defend themselves from the stones hurled at them. However, the organizers allowed another unit to rescue them.

In addition to Maria Wittner, Gábor Kubatov, currently the president of Ferencváros and right-hand man of Viktor Orbán, most likely also had a large role to play behind the scenes in the events of September 17 and 18. At least this is what József Debreczeni heard from some people in the Office of National Security.

I should also mention László Sólyom’s rather unfortunate role on September 18. He decided to talk about the “moral crisis” that had developed as a result of the Balatonőszöd speech and practically called for Gyurcsány’s resignation. That added oil to the fire. The attackers felt perfectly justified. After all, even the president thinks that they are on the right side. If Gyurcsány doesn’t resign, they will force him to do so. Standing behind this crowd, be it Viktor Orbán or László Sólyom, showed either very poor judgment or cunning. With Sólyom I suspect it was a lack of knowledge of what was going on exactly and who the actors were. With Orbán, I think one must be less forgiving. He was ready to exploit criminal elements if they served his purpose.

Fidesz prepares the battleground, July 22-September 17, 2006

József Debreczeni has no direct evidence that would prove that Viktor Orbán knew about the existence of the speech Ferenc Gyurcsány delivered in Balatonőszöd, but he makes a fairly good case that he did.

His argument relies on the relatively calm popular reception of the new government’s program, including the austerity measures. Naturally, there was disappointment because the population was expecting further improvements in their lives, but when right-wing organizations held a series of demonstrations in late June hardly anyone showed up, as even Magyar Nemzet had to admit. Gyurcsány’s personal popularity fell, but Orbán didn’t gain substantial support between March and October 2006.

Debreczeni also counters the claim that Gyurcsány didn’t tell the truth after the election. In an interview with Népszabadság (June 29, 2006) he explained the reason for “not unfolding all the details of the truth.” Because, he said, “politically that was a rational move because it created the chance of a real change…. But what it is true and proper in politics is not entirely true and acceptable by the measures of everyday ethics.” Here, of course, he was thinking of Max Weber’s famous dictum. Although there was talk about Gyurcsány not revealing the real state of the economy, Viktor Orbán didn’t begin a campaign against the alleged lying prime minister.

It was on July 22 in Tusnádfürdő, Romania, where Fidesz bigwigs gather yearly for political speeches and rock concerts, that Fidesz issued a proclamation called “Good Morning, Hungary!” It was signed by an odd assortment of office holders within Fidesz. In addition to Viktor Orbán the signatories were Kinga Gál, a member of the European Parliament; Zsolt Németh, today undersecretary of foreign affairs; Mihály Varga, who doesn’t belong to the party’s inner circle; Tibor Navracsics, who was a later addition to Fidesz; György Schöpflin, a member of the European Parliament and a real outsider; József Szájer, a member of the European Parliament and not active in domestic politics; and András Gyürk, a member of the European Parliament. Debreczeni thinks that signatures were hastily collected on the spot from Fidesz dignitaries who happened to be in Tusnádfürdő on the day part of the text reached Orbán.

In the Proclamation the word “lie” (hazugság) appeared eleven times, eight in combination with “political” as in “political lie.” So, three months after the election Viktor Orbán called out his troops to defend democracy from the dictatorship that rested on lies. He asked his supporters to sign the Proclamation and gather on Heroes’ Square on September 23.

Apparently, the plan was that those parts of the speech Fidesz already knew about in July would be broadcast at this mass meeting. Meanwhile Viktor Orbán began laying the foundation for a spectacular unveiling of the lies of the prime minister. He wrote a long article, published in three parts in Magyar Nemzet between July 29 and August 2006, entitled “Watershed” (Vízválasztó). In it he compared the Gyurcsány government to the dictatorship of the Kádár regime that was founded on lies. Today, he claimed, the problem of the country is not in the economic but in the political sphere. “The real problem is the lies of the government, its conscious distortion of the truth.” He predicted that by the time winter arrives it will not be the right and the left arguing with each other; an embittered and exasperated country will be facing an illegitimate government.” What did Orbán have in mind?

One of Debreczeni’s sources, an unknown blogger, noticed a telling item in the August 11 Magyar Nemzet. In an article about the chances of the opposition succeeding against the government, Zoltán Kiszelly, a political scientist of decidedly right-wing leanings, was asked to comment. Kiszelly declared that the population is fully aware that lying in politics is an everyday affair, so “the accusation of lying by itself does not carry enough weight.” The article had an illustration of a tape recorder. The blogger surmised that even if Kiszelly didn’t know about the tape, someone at Magyar Nemzet did.

A lot of people call attention to a highly unusual visit of Viktor Orbán to a Ferencváros (Fradi) game. Orbán is not a Fradi fan. Moreover, Fradi had just been demoted from NB I to NB II and was playing against Jászapáti of all places. The Fradi Fan Club, however, was an easily lit fuse. They were known for their brawls and their anti-Semitism.  At games against MTK they would chant about “the trains that are speeding toward Auschwitz.”  Magyar Nemzet, in the wake of Orbán’s attendance at the Fradi game,  gave the club a voice. The editors published an opinion piece by the vice-president of the Fradi Fan Club: “Ferencváros: Symbol of the Country.” Fans of this symbol of the country were active in the siege of the public television station on September 18, 2006, along with other football hooligans.

Beginning on September 4 the media reported demonstrations anywhere Gyurcsány appeared. Usually the same faces showed up and chanted the same slogans. It was clear that these noisy demonstrations were organized by Fidesz. By September 14 Orbán was calling on Fidesz activists to redouble their efforts in gathering more and more signatures to the proclamation “Good Morning, Hungary!” because it is “time to set out against the government.” On the same day Orbán gave an interview to Reuters in which he talked about the right to resist. “In Hungarian, ‘rebellion’ is a very strong word, so I would rather not use it, but the people have the right to resist and I think that resistance is an acceptable form of democratic politics.” It was at this time that Gyurcsány wrote in his blog that Orbán “is playing with fire.”

Playing with firedeeharman / flickr

Playing with fire
deeharman / flickr

Magyar Nemzet came out with an issue on September 16 that dealt almost exclusively with the theme of  lying. “Demonstrations against the government!” “The wave of demonstrations will culminate this weekend.” “The prime minister is a maniac,” a quote from László Kövér. “One hundred days, one hundred lies.” It was reported that Imre Kerényi, who today is an active participant of the Orbán government’s Kulturkampf, was organizing a “walking demonstration.” On the op-ed page there was an article with the title “From lie to dictatorship!” Finally, a full-page ad for “Good Morning, Hungary!”

If the tape was in the hands of Fidesz politicians earlier–which, of course, they deny–then the riots of September-October must be re-evaluated. In this case they were not spontaneous reactions of the indignant population; the riots were organized.

The unnamed blogger and Debreczeni agree that by calling the government illegitimate and announcing the right to resistance Viktor Orbán exceeded the limits of legitimate democratic political action. Moreover, according to the Constitution of the time (2.§/3/), “No activity of any person can be directed toward the forcible acquisition of power.” Debreczeni claims that although Orbán didn’t explicitly call for force, he did cross the Rubicon by calling the government illegitimate and those who attacked it legitimate.

Who leaked Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech in Balatonőszöd? Part II

I finished the first part of my story on the 2006 Budapest riots with some finger pointing. I shared József Debreczeni’s strong suspicion that it was Imre Szekeres and two of his close associates in the top leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Party who were responsible for passing the audio recording of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech in Balatonőszöd to Fidesz politicians.

Some readers of Hungarian Spectrum suggested the very unlikely possibility that Gyurcsány himself leaked the recording, but there is far too much contrary evidence. We have enough information even today to allow us to more or less follow the path of the tape from MSZP headquarters to Fidesz.

Let’s start with what transpired a few hours before the release of the recording on September 17, 2006. Around 2 p.m. a man arrived on a motorcycle, handed Balázs Weyer, the editor-in-chief of  Origo, an envelope, and quickly disappeared. Weyer later stated that he couldn’t identify the man. As we know from Attila Rajnai, an investigative journalist who published an article about the case in Élet és Irodalom (May 25, 2007), while Weyer was playing soccer in the morning people from Magyar Rádió and RTL-Klub were looking for him. Their message was that they had something that would be the big news story of the day. But Origo was late with the news. Weyer got a CD of the entire three-hour meeting in mp3 form. At first he had no idea what it was all about or where and when it was recorded. All that took time to figure out. In the meantime he tried to ascertain what passages were worth publishing.  And before publishing the material, he phoned Emese Danks, the  Gyurcsány government’s spokeswoman at the time, asking about the authenticity and the details of the recording. She confirmed that they knew about the leak but for the time being they didn’t want to make any statement.

So, yes, Gyurcsány’s office knew about the CD, but I suspect that they found out about it only a few hours before the actual broadcast of the incriminating passages. Although József Debreczeni doesn’t mention it in his book, A 2006-os ősz, I distinctly remember reading an article which described the confusion that reigned in the prime minister’s office. They had no idea what speech was in question. They didn’t remember any unusual speech. Obviously to MSZP MPs it was just one speech among many. They didn’t attach any great significance to it.

Another copy was delivered, also by a motorcyclist, to Péter Uj, the editor-in-chief of Index. Earlier he received a telephone call at home from someone who didn’t introduce himself but who used the informal form of address. The person announced that he had important information for him. Where should the messenger to be sent? Uj thought it was a joke. But about an hour later, at four o’clock in the afternoon, the messenger arrived and handed him a package. At that very moment György Such, the president of Magyar Rádió, phoned him and told him to turn the radio on. To this day we have no idea who these messengers were. Certainly not employees of a professional messenger service. Attila Rajnai, the journalist, checked that aspect of the story thoroughly and came up empty handed.

stealing documents2However, later investigations revealed that prior to September 17  some of the incriminating parts of Gyurcsány’s speech had  already been circulating among right-leaning information specialists. E-mails went back and forth between eastern Hungary and Budapest. Someone also sent this material to a Hungarian, György T., working in Mexico at the time, on either September 12 or 13. He forwarded it to at least  twenty of his friends. Subsequently György T. returned to Hungary and told Rajnai that he had indeed sent the information on to others, but he refused to reveal the exact source of the message. He did, however, indicate that the man from whom he got the material was also sympathetic to right-wing politics.

In Fidesz circles the word was that “our friends in Debrecen were the first ones who learned about [the speech’s contents].” Rajnai talked to some information technologists in Debrecen who worked for the City Hall of Debrecen, but they refused to answer his questions. So, the investigative journalist lost the thread in Debrecen.

It seems that the Office of National Security, which was entrusted with investigating the case, got a bit farther. Debreczeni quotes from Ferenc Gyurcsány’s letter to Attila Mesterházy that outlined his suspicions about the three leading MSZP politicians who might have been responsible for the leak. “The Office of National Security questioned many people and performed many technical investigations…. A few things surfaced. For example, that the material got to Budapest from the Office of the Mayor of a Fidesz-led city on the Great Plains.” We are talking here about Debrecen and Lajos Kósa. That this was indeed the case is reinforced by our knowledge that the telephone calls announcing the arrival of the CDs came from Debrecen.

Debreczeni’s theory is that the approximate content and perhaps even the most damaging details of the speech were known to the Fidesz leadership already prior to July 22 when Viktor Orbán made his speech in Tusnádfürdő, Romania.  He called on the Hungarians to gather on Heroes’ Square on September 23 to fight “against the lies of the dictatorship.” It was a proclamation entitled “Good morning, Hungary!” However, Debreczeni continues, the complete audio recording arrived in  Debrecen’s City Hall only later.

To the best of our knowledge the intermediary in that transaction was Eduardo Rózsa-Flores! Familiar name? You may recall that in April 2009 he, a Bolivian by birth but a Hungarian citizen, tried to assassinate the Bolivian president. Soon after his arrival in the country he was killed by Bolivian commandos. I wrote about him twice: “The Hungarian far-right in Bolivia–Eduardo Rózsa-Flores,” and again a day later in a post entitled “The psyche of an ‘anarchist’: Eduardo Rózsa-Flores.”

A close associate of Rózsa-Flores was Zoltán Brády, editor-in-chief of Kapua far-right publication. After Rózsa-Flores’s death Brády gave an interview to MTI in which “he admitted that they–Brády and Rózsa-Flores–were the ones who leaked the speech in Őszöd…. However, he didn’t say where they got it from and to whom they passed it on.”

We do know where the recording ended up and, thanks to an interview with Brády on MTV, we even know that the source was one of the leading members of MSZP. On April 19, 2009, Brády was interviewed by Szilvia Krizsó on A szólás szabadsága (Freedom of speech) where the following dialogue took place:

Zoltán Brády: Eduardo managed to get that piece of evidence.

Krizsó Szilvia: But how?

ZB: He received it.

KSz: But from whom?

ZB: You don’t think that I will tell you that!

KSz: Of course, I do.

ZB: OK, I will tell you as much as that it was from the MSZMP, forgive me…

KSz: You mean MSZP.

ZB: MSZP, doesn’t matter, from the leadership of MSZP.

When Debreczeni inquired from Gyurcsány whether any surveillance was conducted against Imre Szekeres, or whoever X was, the answer was a definite no. After all, it would have been against the law. However, Rózsa-Flores was naturally under surveillance and there the Office of National Security encountered the names of some parliamentary politicians. One high-level national security officer came across, for example, the names of Viktor Orbán and László Kövér while investigating Rózsa-Flores’s highly suspicious activities. The investigators even opened separate files for them with the names of “Bajusz” (mustache) and “Ovi” (abbreviation of óvoda/kindergarten). More can be read about this in the October 11, 2011 issue of Heti Válasz, a pro-Fidesz publication.

The Office of National Security even placed an undercover agent in Rózsa-Flores’s circle, but before that person managed to find out the name of the MSZP politician who passed the copy of the recording to Rózsa-Flores, he died in Bolivia and his secret with him.