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Signs of internal divisions within the Hungarian governing party

In the last few months, as the popularity of Fidesz has been steadily declining, signs of serious internal divisions within the party have been proliferating. Ever since November one opinion poll after the other has reported serious losses in popularity for both Viktor Orbán and his party. Fidesz still leads, but the parties on the left are gaining ground. In fact, for the first time, the number of voters favoring all the democratic opposition parties combined is slightly higher than that favoring Fidesz.

It was almost inevitable that Fidesz’s political leadership would start looking for explanations for the waning popularity. Of course, the most obvious target should be Viktor Orbán himself. After all, Fidesz is a monolithic party where, according to grumbling party leaders, all decisions are made by the prime minister, who is also the head of the party.

His confidants nowadays are not the grand old men of Fidesz but upstarts like Antal Rogán, János Lázár, or the mysterious Árpád Habony who allegedly has no position either in the party or in the government yet is privy to the most confidential information if not state secrets. The old Fidesz leaders who joined the party twenty-five years ago either left a long time ago or Viktor Orbán set them aside. The less important characters had to be satisfied with positions inside state companies or insignificant administrative offices; the more important ones were either given positions that have clout on paper only, for example János Áder and László Kövér, or were shipped off to Brussels. Zoltán Pokorni, who at one point was chairman of Fidesz, had to be satisfied with a humble district mayoralty.

Until last November Fidesz spoke more or less with one voice, the voice of Viktor Orbán. If there were doubting Thomases, they became convinced by the cleverly orchestrated elections that, after all, “Viktor was right.” In fact, he is a political genius who can overcome all obstacles and lead the party to victory not just for the next four or eight years but for a very long time. Now, however, it looks as if Orbán has lost his touch. Instead of being able to correct his mistakes, he piles new ones on top of earlier ones. Moreover, several times in the last few months he had to retreat, which must have shaken the confidence of his closest associates.

I suspect that we are still not at a point that we will hear open criticism of Viktor Orbán himself. Instead, the criticism is directed against the men around him. The first public quarrel occurred in December when Zoltán Pokorni said a few disapproving words about the extravagant lifestyle of János Lázár. Kövér chimed in, taking Pokorni’s side. It is a well known fact that Kövér is no friend of Lázár, who runs the government’s daily business, serving as de facto prime minister, while Orbán himself acts like its all-mighty president, moving effortlessly on the stage of world politics. The quarrel didn’t end there. Lázár shot back and told Kövér that “a political veteran should think twice before he attacks us out of personal resentment or for political gain because he not only weakens us but also weakens or even executes himself.” I guess in this instance “execution” means the end of this veteran’s political career. This is not an idle threat. When after the lost 2006 election Orbán found out that some of his political friends at a party had discussed the desirability of replacing him because of his mistaken election strategy, they were promptly sent into political exile. The most prominent victim was János Áder. More recently, Tibor Navracsics, who as minister of justice criticized the legislative practices introduced by the prime minister’s office, soon enough found himself in Brussels.

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In January we learned that József Szájer and János Kövér also have their disagreements, primarily over Hungary’s relations with the European Union. Szájer is an old timer all right. He was one of the founders of Fidesz but, as opposed to the provincial Kövér, is now serving his third five-year term as MEP in Brussels. In his case, Brussels is not a political exile. He is still a very close associate of Orbán. In fact, Szájer’s wife is perhaps the most important person in the Hungarian judicial system today. In any case, the two old friends from college don’t see eye to eye on the European Union. Kövér belongs to the right wing of Fidesz, a Euro-skeptic who ordered the removal of the EU flag from the parliament building and instead put up a newly-designed flag of the Szeklers living in Romania. About three weeks ago Kövér in an interview expressed his dislike of the European Union and said that it might not be a bad idea to think about leaving. Szájer openly expressed his dissatisfaction with Kövér’s ill-considered statement in an interview on ATV.

Then came another open disagreement, this time between László L. Simon, undersecretary of János Lázár in the prime minister’s office, and Gergely Gulyás, the right-hand of László Kövér and head of a parliament commission dealing with legislative matters, who talked about the likelihood of modifying the law on freedom of assembly. This announcement was unfortunate. It looked as if the Orbán government was planning to restrict the current law and was thereby intending to limit the kinds of demonstrations that took place recently on the streets of Budapest. L. Simon immediately announced that the idea was Gulyás’s private opinion. The government has no intention of revisiting the law on assembly. A very wise move on the part of the government.

Then about ten days ago Zoltán Illés, earlier undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture in charge of the environment, decided to go public with his criticism of the Orbán government’s nonexistent environmental policies. Illés is a committed environmentalist and was useful to Viktor Orbán when Fidesz was in opposition as he attacked the socialist-liberal governments for their neglect of environmental issues. Illés was everywhere a tree was cut down. He organized demonstrations and blocked several projects because of environmental considerations. In 2010 he most likely saw himself as the next minister of the environment and must have been taken back when the ministry was abolished and he became only an undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture. But, as he explained recently, he still hoped that even in this position he could be effective. That turned out not to be the case. His position was stripped of practically everything that used to belong to the minister of the environment. Between 2010 and 2014, while in office, the formerly vocal Illés was quiet as a mouse for example when hundreds of trees were cut out overnight around the parliament building. Eventually he no longer could stand it. He was the only Fidesz member of parliament to vote against building a new reactor at the Paks nuclear power plant. That sealed his fate. Not only is he no longer an undersecretary, he didn’t even receive a cushy job. Now he “tells all” everywhere he has the opportunity.

In the last few days there have apparently been open disagreements between Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán on immigration; between Zoltán Balog and Károly Czibere, his undersecretary, on the segregation of Roma children; between Antal Rogán and László Trócsányi, minister of justice, on the necessity of new legislation in defense of religions.

Finally, newspapers reported yesterday that János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament, published a long critique of his party and the government on his own website.

The parrots are starting to learn words of their own.

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Why did Viktor Orbán visit Brussels today?

Klubrádió noted this morning that Viktor Orbán’s visit to Brussels was rather strange. It resembled the kinds of visits newly installed prime ministers of member states make to introduce themselves to the dignitaries of the European Union. In this case the visit was obviously about something else since Viktor Orbán is no stranger in EU circles. The government website also felt the need to explain the reason for the visit. Their version talked about “a courtesy visit” necessitated by the change of personnel heading the governmental structure of the European Union.

I think we can safely state that Orbán’s visit to Brussels was no courtesy visit. Rather, it came about as the result of a kind of summons by Jean-Claude Juncker. Of course, it was couched in polite terms.

We know more or less what topics Juncker wanted to discuss with Viktor Orbán. The Hungarian prime minister is not as secretive as some people maintain. One just has to read his statements carefully, because they are usually revelatory, just as they were this time. There were no joint press conferences either with Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, or with Donald Tusk, the new president of the European Council. But Orbán almost always gives a press conference to Hungarian journalists when he is in Brussels, and this time was no exception. From this press conference we learned that Juncker wanted to clarify at least two issues. One was Orbán’s harsh, far-right statements concerning immigrants to the European Union; the other, the meaning of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Hungary.

So, let’s see whether we can reconstruct what transpired, at least in part, during a conversation to which we weren’t privy. One topic was definitely the immigration issue which, according to Orbán, he “managed to clarify.” Judging from Orbán’s wording, it seems that Juncker told Orbán that his statements on the subject were practically the same as those of the extreme right in Western Europe. Otherwise, Orbán wouldn’t have had to say at his press conference that “we don’t share the approach of the European extreme right” on the subject.

There is a good possibility that Juncker was not convinced of the legitimacy of the Hungarian position because, according to Orbán, “we asked them to understand that Hungary does not want to be the destination of immigrants.” This sentence indicates to me that Juncker was reluctant to accept the Hungarian point of view. Orbán tried to convince Juncker that Hungary’s position is unique because it is the transit country for economic immigrants from the Balkans. After all, sooner or later these economic immigrants will end up in countries west of Hungary. So what is in Hungary’s interest is also in the interest of Western Europe. Brussels should support the Hungarian position.

Orbán, it seems, also outlined his ideas about “more reasonable rules than the current ones” governing immigration to the European Union. He suggested “wide and thorough negotiations aimed at the formulation of a new European immigration policy.” I assume that Juncker expressed his readiness to convene such a conference. I’m not convinced, however, that Orbán received assurance that the topic will be discussed at the next EU summit, as the prime minister indicated during his press conference. It is even less likely that at the next summit “results can be achieved” on comprehensive immigration policies. This is surely only Orbán’s pipe dream.

The second topic was the Putin visit to Budapest, now definitely scheduled for February 17. Juncker, and most likely Tusk as well, wanted to know “what will happen” during their meeting, to which he coyly answered: “So would I.” His explanation for this ignorance was that, after all, his final position will be formed only after he has had a chance to talk with Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will spend a few hours in Budapest on February 9. The message was that he is a loyal follower of the EU position vis-à-vis Putin’s Russia and that he will conduct his conversation with Putin accordingly.

During his press conference he added quite a few harsh words, which he probably didn’t utter to either Juncker or Tusk. They sound to me like his typical nationalistic hyperbole that is so popular with hardcore Fidesz voters. Somehow I can’t imagine that Orbán actually delivered this sentence to Juncker or Tusk: “In the last twenty years I have been telling everyone, time and again, that when we joined the European Union we chose allies and not a boss. Hungary has no boss.” Some people would argue this point.

There was a small incident that fired the imagination of Hungarian journalists. At one point Orbán and Juncker had a photo-op, where they were supposed to shake hands. But after a second Juncker had had enough of the posing, turned to Orbán and said “OK. Thanks. Let’s go,” and practically dragged Orbán out of the room. It was the online site 444.hu that discovered this priceless scene. Most papers considered Orbán’s position “humiliating.” Gábor Török, a political commentator, on the other hand, found Juncker “impolite.” Acccording to the reporter for Klubrádió who was present, the two men were rushing to another photo-op, hence the hurry. Yet there was perhaps something symbolic about the scene. When the chips are down, Orbán will have to follow the policies of the European Union, even if he has to be dragged there or led by the hand.

Zoltán Kovács, Viktor Orbán’s international spokesman in Brussels

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

The Albert Wass Library in Tapolca

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

The Gala Event at the Ferenc Liszt Academy

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

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

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

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

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

Zoltán Kovács

Zoltán Kovács

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

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

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

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

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

*Video streaming is now available here:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/content/20150116IPR09871/html/Committee-on-Civil-Liberties-Justice-Home-Affairs-meeting-22-01-2015-0900

Viktor Orbán between Russia and Brussels

In Budapest there is the usual Friday political turmoil since it’s the day that Viktor Orbán holds a well-rehearsed conversation with a journalist of the Hungarian state radio. I no longer call Magyar Televízió and Magyar Rádió public television and radio stations since in the last four years both have become mouthpieces of the government. Just like in the Kádár regime.

Normally the world does not pay much attention to these early morning chats, but today was different. By 04:45 EST Reuters reported on what Viktor Orbán had to say about the European Union’s sanctions against Russia. After the leaders of the Union decided on tough economic sanctions against Russia, Orbán publicly voiced his opposition to the plan. Referring to the Russian ban on agricultural products coming from the European Union, Canada, the United States, and Australia, he announced that the sanctions policy pursued by the West “causes more harm to us than to Russia…. In politics, this is called shooting oneself in the foot.” He continued: “I will do my utmost–of course we are all aware of Hungary’s weight, so the possibilities are clear–but I am looking for partners to change the EU’s sanctions policy.”

This move of Orbán may not have come at the best time. Just yesterday political observers noticed that Putin adopted a softer tone during a visit to the Crimea that was not carried live on Russian television. Moreover, the sanctions have just begun to bite, but even before there were signs of financial strain as a result of the annexation of the Crimea. Desperate for cash, the Russian government dipped into the national pension fund which means taking away from every Russian two years’ worth of social security payments. Although Putin’s personal popularity is extraordinarily high, according to one survey only 7-12% of the population are ready to make financial sacrifices for the sake of Russia’s policies in Ukraine.

Inflation is up 9% this year while there is no economic growth. The government is contemplating a new 3% sales tax to plug some holes in the federal budget. There are already shortages in the supermarkets. Forty percent of Russia’s food supply comes from abroad, and Russian consumers will be unhappy very soon. In the last twenty years or so they became accustomed to a great variety of products from all over the world and they have no intention of returning to Soviet times of limited supplies and inferior quality. Putin’s propaganda that the ban on Western food is just a means of “supporting the product manufacturers of the fatherland” will wear thin soon enough.

The temporary loss of the Russian market for Hungarian agriculture is less significant than the Hungarian government wants the world to believe. Orbán put in a bid for compensation and therefore, I assume, he exaggerates the potential losses for Hungarian farmers. Reuters in its report claims that Russia is Hungary’s largest trading partner outside the European Union, with exports worth 2.55 billion euros in 2013. However, this figure may be wrong. According to a Hungarian source, that figure is 70 billion forints, which is only 223 million euros at today’s exchange rate. So, the Russian sanctions against Hungary will not be as painful as Orbán would like to portray them. On the other hand, Western sanctions against Russia are more serious from Hungary’s point of view than the Russian sanctions against Hungary, Zsolt Kerner claims. One of the Russian banks affected by the sanctions is the state-owned Vnesneconombank (Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs), which owns part of Dunaferr and is also the bank through which the Russian loan to build a new nuclear power plant in Paks will be administered.

Orbán’s attack on the Russian policy of the European Union is also ill-timed.  Finland’s president, Sauli Niinistö, is currently in Moscow to negotiate with Putin. Although Niinistö is not an official envoy of the European Union, he was in contact with western colleagues. The European Union has been seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and they don’t need Viktor Orbán’s good offices as a messenger between Moscow and Brussels.

While Niinistö was negotiating with Putin in Moscow, the EU foreign ministers held an emergency meeting in Brussels, discussing among other things the Ukrainian situation. Of course, I have no idea what position Tibor Navracsics took at this meeting, but I assume he was instructed to oppose sanctions and perhaps suggest bilateral discussions with Moscow. Whatever the Hungarian position was, according to the agreed-upon statement “any unilateral military actions on the part of the Russian Federation in Ukraine under any pretext, including humanitarian, will be considered by the European Union as a blatant violation of international law.” And, most importantly, “the Council  … remains ready to consider further steps, in light of the evolution of the situation on the ground.” According to diplomats, the new measures would target Russian sales of sovereign debt, its ability to raise funding through syndicated bank loans, and high-tech machine imports.

I may add here that Viktor Orbán’s old friend David Cameron, with whom he saw eye to eye on the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker to be president of the European Commission, is unlikely to be on his side on the issue of EU sanctions against Russia. Great Britain is one of the harshest critics of Russia’s destabilizing efforts in the region.

By now Orbán has one staunch ally and that is Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia who announced his opposition to sanctions already yesterday. However, it seems that the Slovak leadership is divided. Andrej Kiska, who recently defeated Fico to become Slovakia’s president, came down on the side of sanctions. He said that “when words aren’t enough, economic sanctions can be used to bear greater pressure on countries which seek to expand, dictate or threaten.”

Orbán’s comment that the sanctions policy hurts the European Union more than it does Russia and that EU policy is in fact a move by which the EU shoots itself in the foot was not left unanswered. Lithuania’s foreign minister, Linas Linkevicius, upon arriving for the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, retorted that it was better to shoot oneself in the foot than to let oneself be shot in the head. Naturally, Lithuania politicians are a great deal more worried about Russian intentions than is Orbán, who looks upon his country as a kind of bridge between Moscow and Brussels.

What kind of sanctions? Let the man eat his sandwich in piece Source: Posteemes /Photo: Urmas Nemvalts

What kinds of sanctions? Let the man eat his sandwich in peace.
Source: Postimees / Urmas Nemvalts

Estonia, which is in the same boat as Lithuania and Latvia, has lately changed its until now pro-Hungarian attitude. One reason for that change is Orbán’s overly cozy relations with Putin’s Russia. But there is another. While Hungary just opened a new embassy in Ecuador’s Quito, it unceremoniously closed its embassy in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Estonia is not only a fellow EU member, but Estonians speak a Finno-Ugric language. This linguistic connection has always been the source of a special bond between Estonia and Hungary, just as in the case of Finland. The Estonians not surprisingly took offense and closed their own embassy in Budapest.

And now the largest and most prestigious Estonian newspaper, Postimees, published an editorial with the title: “A delicate European problem called Viktor Orbán.” Here is a pull quote from the English-language editorial: “A headache indeed – the increasingly autocracy-minded statements and the ever tightening cooperation with Putin’s Russia by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The issue being: how united is Europe in its values, firstly, and secondly in bridling the warlike neighbouring Kremlin. Obviously, the latter is searching for weak links in Europe. Alas, the still economically troubled Hungary and its populist-type anti-Brussels PM provide for one.”

Orbán’s fame is spreading, but it’s not exactly the kind that Hungarians can be proud of.

A Russian spy allegedly found in Jobbik’s European parliamentary delegation

It was about a month ago that I wrote a post on “Jobbik and the Russian connection: The role of Béla Kovács.” I suggest taking a look at that piece by way of background to today’s post. I ended it with the following sentence: “I assume that, given his background, the Hungarian national security office is keeping an eye on Kovács.” Well, as it turned out, only a few days before I wrote this sentence the office turned to Chief Prosecutor Peter Polt to instigate proceedings against Kovács on charges of espionage for Russia. But being an ardent supporter of Russia in the European parliament where he represented Jobbik does not necessarily mean that he was a spy. In fact, the more I read about the case the less I think that Kovács is guilty of the crime he is charged with.

As usual, Fidesz’s timing is impeccable. As we all know, the European parliamentary election will be held on May 25, and Jobbik is positioned to do extremely well at the polls. But Magyar Nemzet‘s revelation of the espionage charge may siphon off some Jobbik support.

It seems that the Fidesz top brass has known for months that the national security office was looking into Béla Kovács’s activities in Brussels. Several government actions support this hypothesis. For instance, last fall there was a belated addition to the new Criminal Code that extended the scope of espionage to include EU institutions. Prior to that, the charge of espionage could be leveled only against those who committed such a crime either against Hungary or NATO. As of January 1, if Kovács spied on the European Union he could be sentenced to a jail term of between two and eight years. One can’t help thinking that this change in the Criminal Code was not a coincidence.

More recently, on May 11, Peter Polt asked the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, to revoke Kovács’s parliamentary immunity. Péter Polt should have known that the current parliamentary session had already ended and that there will be no meeting of the European Parliament between now and May 25, the day of the election. Therefore, Kovács’s case couldn’t be investigated by the European Union’s legal affairs committee and voted on by the members of the parliament before the election.

Moreover, Fidesz was well apprised of what was going on in the prosecutor’s office. On May 11, the same day Polt wrote to Schulz, Antal Rogán referred to a Jobbik MEP “who spends more time in Russia than in Budapest or in Brussels.” As usual, Fidesz and the prosecutor’s office worked hand in hand.

Kovács himself made no secret of his Russian sympathies. In fact, he made several speeches in the parliament scolding the European Union for not wanting to have closer relations with Russia and for not embracing Putin’s idea of a Eurasian Union. He repeatedly urged closer cooperation with Russia, which led his colleagues in Brussels to call him “the Russian lobbyist.” Such open crusading would be strange behavior from a cloak-and-dagger spy.

Béla Kovács who according to Jobbik is so important that Vice President Joe Biden himself asked Viktor Orbán to prevent his work in the European Parliament Source jobbik18.hu

Béla Kovács, who according to Jobbik is so important that Vice President Joe Biden himself asked Viktor Orbán to prevent his work in the European Parliament
Source: jobbik18.hu

It would also be utterly foolish of a Russian spy to use Russian citizens as parliamentary aides, but this is exactly what he did when he hired two Russian youngsters to work for him. Apparently, they were  rarely seen but received a monthly salary of 1,400 euros. One of them was a nephew of his wife who is a Russian-Austrian citizen.

The Orbán government has a penchant for using the national security office for political purposes. Let us not forget the charges of espionage leveled against Lajos Galambos, former head of the national security office, and György Szilvásy, minister in charge of the secret service. We know very little about the exact charges because the proceedings were held in camera and were declared to be a state secret. But what we learned about them unofficially indicates that the charges were trumped up. A Népszabadság editorial put it this way: “We will never learn the truth about Béla Kovács. But we know all about the methods of Fidesz.” They seize every opportunity without a moment’s hesitation and use the theoretically neutral police, secret service, and prosecutor’s office. The “cases” are lined up, waiting for an order from above: we now want a picture of the hooded Zsolt Molnár or some real estate fraudster. “Oh, espionage and not for the United States but Russia? Too bad, but it will do.” Of course, Kovács still might be a spy, but “it is more and more difficult to believe the national shepherd when he cries wolf.”

Béla Kovács naturally denies the charges: “I have never been a member of any secret service, Hungarian or foreign. I never cooperated with them, nor have there been attempts to recruit me on their part.” By now, all kinds of stories are circulating, including that his Russian-born wife, Svetlana Istoshin, worked for the KGB. Something he also denies.

Fidesz naturally cast a wide net. The parliamentary committee on national security will be convened and, according to the chairman, the socialist Zsolt Molnár, they want to question Gábor Vona as well.

How much this will hurt Jobbik’s chances at the polls no one knows. Index yesterday ran an article with the title “Kágébéla might be Jobbik’s undoing.” The “Kágébéla” of course refers to his alleged ties with the KGB. Or at least this is what some of his colleagues in the party called him. In Jobbik he was mostly valued for the amount of money he managed to get for the party. Whether this money came from Russia or not, we have no idea. Without a doubt, there are many questions concerning Kovács’s past, but I am not at all sure that spying is one of his sins.

The Ukrainian crisis: Hungary between Russia and the West

There are occasions when it becomes blatantly obvious how little the Hungarian people are told about their government’s activities. I’m not talking about state secrets but about everyday events. I find it outrageous, for instance, that I had to learn from a Polish Internet site that Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister, had a talk with Viktor Orbán in Budapest before flying to Brussels. There was not a peep about this meeting in Hungarian papers, presumably not because Hungarian journalists are a lazy lot but because the prime minister’s office failed to inform the Hungarian news agency of the meeting. The less people know the better.

There is official silence in Budapest on the Ukrainian protest, perhaps soon civil war, with the exception of a short statement issued by the Hungarian foreign ministry at 5:12 p.m. today. I assume there had to be some kind of communication between the prime minister and his foreign minister. If we compare the Hungarian statement to the words of Donald Tusk we can be fairly certain that the two men didn’t see eye to eye on the issue.

According to Tusk, “the moral judgment here is black-and-white, there are no gray areas.” Moreover, “the responsibility for the violence in Kiev rests with the government, not the opposition.” And what did the Hungarian communiqué say? “The responsibility of the Ukrainian government is decisive, but the parliamentary opposition forces must keep their distance from extremist groups.” While according to Tusk “the crisis in Ukraine could determine the course of the whole region” and  requires the European Union to prepare for commitments lasting “not for hours, days or weeks, but for many years,” the Hungarian foreign ministry simply stated that “Hungary finds the European Union’s active participation in the interest of a lasting solution to the country’s political and economic crisis important.”

One can only guess why Tusk had to stop in Budapest on his way to Brussels, but whatever transpired in that meeting it didn’t result in Hungary’s forceful condemnation of the Ukrainian government and its active participation in the process contemplated by the United States and the European Union. Tusk specifically mentioned Poland’s interest in Ukraine because of its common border and historical ties. Both are also true about Hungary’s relations with Ukraine.

It seems to me that Viktor Orbán got himself into a rather uncomfortable situation with his hurried agreement with Russia on the Paks nuclear plant. Pro-government papers, like Heti Válasz, show that journalists in government service feel obliged to defend Vladimir Putin and his policies. One spectacular sign of “loyalty” was an article that appeared in the paper about a week ago in which the author expressed his disgust with the American campaign for the rights of gays and lesbians that prompted a partial boycott of the Sochi Olympics. If the Hungarian right feels that it has to come to the rescue of Putin in this case, one can imagine its position when it comes to such a momentous event as the near-civil war situation in a Ukraine torn between East and West.

While Tusk welcomes Ukrainian refugees and Polish hospitals are taking care of the wounded, nothing was said about any Hungarian willingness to take in refugees if necessary. In fact, I detected a certain fear that such an onslaught might reach the country. There is some worry about the Hungarian minority of about 200,000 in the Zakarpattia Oblast, especially around Beregovo/Beregszász. The Hungarian Inforadio announced tonight that according to a Ukrainian Internet paper “the change of regime has been achieved peacefully in Zakarpattia Oblast.” This may simply be sloppy reporting, but we know that regional capitals all over western Ukraine are engulfed in violence and that in some places the opposition took over the administration. Ukraine is falling apart at the seams. All this is far too close for comfort as far as Hungary is concerned. Yet Viktor Orbán is sitting on the fence.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Meanwhile Donald Tusk has taken the initiative with spectacular success. He flew to Brussels to facilitate a quick decision on the Ukrainian crisis and assembled a delegation of French, German, and Polish foreign ministers to visit Ukraine tomorrow. They will assess the situation before a meeting in Brussels to decide whether to impose EU sanctions on Ukraine. While French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was giving a press conference, U.S. Secretary John Kerry was standing by his side. He stressed President Viktor Yanukovich’s “opportunity to make a choice.”

At the same time German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had a telephone conversation with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov who urged EU politicians “to use their close and everyday contacts with the opposition to urge it to cooperate with the Ukrainian authorities, to comply with agreements reached and to decisively distance itself from radical forces unleashing bloody riots, in fact, embarking on the route to a coup.”

It seems that Hungary is trying to strike a “balance” between the western position and that of Russia. It will be difficult.

Meanwhile in Hungary a liberal blogger compared the two Viktors and found many similarities. Neither is a democrat, both are corrupt, and both built a mafia state with the help of their oligarchs. And yet Ukrainians are fighting in the streets while in Hungary Orbán still has a large and enthusiastic following. In his post he tries to find answers to the question so many people ask: how is it that the Hungarian people have not revolted yet? Are they less freedom loving than the Ukrainians? Are they longer suffering? Can they be more easily fooled? Our blogger is convinced that one day Hungarian patience will run out. He gives Viktor Orbán a piece of advice: “Keep your eyes on Ukraine!”

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.