Christian Democrats

Fidesz insiders think Orbán’s days are numbered

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day usually offers little sustenance for news junkies. But today I discovered a front-page article in Népszava with the titillating title “Does Orbán have only months left?” The paper’s “sources close to Fidesz” claimed that “Orbán is already finished” and the only “question is who will take his place.”

The article was met with skepticism, especially in pro-government circles. Válasz described the article as sci-fi and “entertaining.” Gábor Török, the popular political scientist, wanted to know what his Facebook “friends” thought about the appearance of such items in the media. Do government politicians actually say such things to reporters of an opposition paper or are the reporters only giving voice to their wishes? The comments that followed were a mixed bag but a reporter, András Kósa, who also receives information from dissatisfied Fidesz politicians, didn’t think that the article was fantasy, although it might be exaggerated. Here and there commenters thought that Fidesz will collapse as soon as Viktor Orbán is gone, but most “friends” of Török considered the article humbug. I’m less skeptical than most of Török’s friends because I’ve usually found Népszava to be reliable when it reports on information coming from unnamed sources.

So, let’s see what Népszava heard from “sources close to Fidesz.” They claim that Orbán’s “system” has no more than a few months before it collapses. Apparently Fidesz politicians are increasingly avoiding the limelight because “the fall is inevitable. In their opinion Orbán started down a road from which there is no return. Not only will he himself be the victim of his own mistakes but also his party and the country itself.”

The problems that beset the work of the government emanate from the character flaws of the prime minister: inconsistency, impenetrability, and unpredictability. Most government and Fidesz officials have no idea what course they are supposed to pursue. Orbán trusts fewer and fewer people, and the ones he still does give him wrong advice. He apparently is looking for enemies everywhere, and this is one of the reasons that government decisions are not preceded by any discussion. It often happens that Orbán himself changes his mind in the last minute, which makes consistent communication nearly impossible. Underlings parrot a line that has been superseded by a new brainstorm of the prime minister. More and more people would like to save themselves from such embarrassments.

According to these informants, serious problems within Fidesz are not new although they are only now becoming visible. Signs of trouble began to surface when Orbán decided, sometime before the April elections, to change the “structure” under which Fidesz had been functioning very well for over twenty years. Until then, Lajos Simicska was in charge of the party’s finances, but “from the moment that Orbán decided to take over economic decisions” the old dual structure collapsed and with it the well-functioning system. When Orbán again managed to receive a two-thirds majority, he completely lost his sense of judgment. As months went by, anti-Orbán murmurs in the party began to proliferate, and the Christian Democrats, realizing that Orbán was losing his grip on the party, decided to put pressure on the beleaguered prime minister. That’s why Orbán had to give in on the unpopular law that forces stores to be closed on Sundays.

What observers see is no longer a “system” but a political process based on day-by-day ad hoc decisions which, according to the saner Fidesz leaders, cannot be maintained because “it is incapable of self-correction.”

The informers seem to have less information about actual attempts to topple Viktor Orbán. Names were not mentioned, but they indicated that the people they had in mind “would be quite capable of taking over the reins of government without changing political direction.” Népszava‘s sources consider Angela Merkel’s planned visit to Budapest in February a date of great importance. I guess they think that Merkel will tell Orbán that he is persona non grata as far as the European People’s Party and the European Commission are concerned.

CalendarNépszava‘s description of the strife and chaos within Fidesz is most likely accurate. The question is what Orbán is planning to do to forestall the outcome described by Népszava‘s sources. For the time being, as we learned from the interviews of János Lázár, Viktor Orbán, and László Kövér, he will fight to hold onto power by convincing his Peace March troops that the “fatherland is in danger.” I’m almost certain that internal polls are being taken to gauge support. Would it be possible to turn out 100,000 people to defend the prime minister against foreign and domestic intrigues? I assume that the size of the planned anti-government demonstrations on January 2 will also influence Orbán’s decision about the next step to take to combat his opponents inside and outside the party.

In any case, for the time being it was Antal Rogán who was called upon to announce a countermeasure that might take the wind out of anti-government sails.  It is called the “National Defense Action Plan.” The details are secret for the time being, but it most likely includes some kind of answer to the United States’ decision to bar six Hungarian citizens from the United States due to corruption. It is also likely that a huge propaganda effort will be launched to discredit the U.S.-EU free trade agreement that until now the Hungarian government has welcomed. According to government and Fidesz sources, the “National Defense Action Plan” was put together in the prime minister’s office by Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, Antal Rogán, Péter Szijjártó, and Árpád Habony (who neither holds an official government position nor has national security clearance). These are the people who make most of the decisions in the Orbán government.

Meanwhile what are the anti-Orbán political forces doing in this fluid situation? Ferenc Gyurcsány decided to ask those followers who have been at the anti-government demonstrations all along to bring party posters and flags to the January 2 demonstration. József Tóbiás, leader of MSZP, did not respond to Gyurcsány’s request to follow DK’s lead. But István Újhelyi, an MSZP MEP, announced today a socialist “diplomatic offensive” against the Orbán government. Orbán must be stopped because his “Russian roulette” will have tragic consequences.

At the beginning of the new year there will be at least two important events. First, the mass demonstration planned for January 2 in front of the Opera House. Three years ago a gigantic anti-government demonstration also took place there, and for a whole month newspapers kept asking how long Orbán could last. We are again asking the same question. Since Orbán not only survived but thrived in the last three years, some people might come to the conclusion that the Hungarian prime minister will always triumph, even in the most perilous circumstances. But I would caution the pessimists. Three years ago the pressure came only from the inside. This time Orbán has embroiled himself and the country in a high stakes international power play in addition to alienating about 900,000 of his former supporters.

The second event will be Orbán’s new “remedy,” the “National Defense Action Plan.” Will it work? Is Orbán strong enough to rally his troops for another supportive Peace March as he did in 2012? And even if he manages, will anybody care?

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Sunday shopping? The Christian Democrats against the multinational chains

It was only yesterday that Viktor Orbán had to retreat, even if only temporarily, on the issue of taxing internet usage. A hundred thousand people were out on the streets of Budapest and elsewhere in the country. Now the government may be preparing the way for a new debacle, although I personally can’t believe they will be so dim-witted.

The Orbán government on paper is a coalition government. Fidesz’s partner is the Christian Democratic People’s Party or KDNP whose chairman, Zsolt Semjén, is Viktor Orbán’s deputy. The funny thing about KDNP is that it is a non-party. It’s like a private club where the party leaders get together now and again, but for over a decade the party has been absent as a separate entity at national elections.

The Christian Democrats don’t disturb much water. Their parliamentary members dutifully vote alongside the Fidesz PMs. In fact, it seems almost random who sits with the KDNP caucus and who with Fidesz. The important thing is that KDNP’s caucus should be bigger than that of MSZP, Jobbik, or LMP. The Christian Democrats don’t contribute much to Fidesz and Orbán’s government. Their main purpose is to provide Christian trimmings to a Christian-national regime. Occasionally, thankfully only very rarely, they come out with ideas of their own. Three years ago they proposed that stores should be closed on Sundays. Good Christian families should attend church instead of shopping in department stores and malls. And the poor workers who are forced to work on Sundays must be protected from those awful foreign capitalists. At that time, the government–where of course the last word is that of Fidesz–refused to introduce the measure, which would have had disastrous consequences for the economy.

Source: Europress / AFP

Source: Europress / AFP

But these Christian Democrats are tenacious; they don’t give up easily. They came out with a new version of a bill which was leaked to Magyar NemzetThe proposed bill is an attack on supermarket chains and discount stores owned by international companies because the bill’s provisions would affect only shopping centers and stores larger than 400m². Tobacconists, pharmacies, gas stations, flower shops, newspaper stands, and bakeries would be able to remain open with some restrictions. For example, they could sell their wares only until noon. Restaurants, stores in airports and railway stations, and open-air markets could continue doing business as usual.

But restricting Sunday shopping is not enough for our Christian Democrats. They are upset over those foxy owners of chains who try to sidestep the controversial “plaza stop” law by establishing smaller stores and thus competing with those mom and pop stores the “plaza stop” legislation is designed to protect. They opened stores in buildings that are now deemed to be of historic significance or in world heritage sites. If the proposal is adopted, these intruders would have to vacate their current premises by January 2016.

If the KDNP’s bill on Sunday closings was a bad idea three years, it is doubly so today. The government has enough on its plate: corruption cases, strained relations with the United States, the internet tax, and the growing displeasure of Brussels over the Hungarian government’s flaunting of every rule in the book. This move is blatantly discriminatory against foreign companies.

A blogger who happens to be familiar with the retail trade brought up multiple arguments against the proposal. It is injurious not only to the financial well-being of the stores but also to the employees who receive a higher salary (+50%) for working on Sundays. Stores also often hire outsiders for the weekends. These people are happy to supplement their meager salaries with some extra work. In these chains Sunday is the third busiest day of the week, after Saturday and Friday.

How would people feel about this restriction? The Christian Democrats claim that they discussed the matter with employees and with families who have many children and that they were most enthusiastic about the plan. I doubt that the party is basing its estimates on scientifically conducted polls because I’m almost certain that the great majority of the population would be outraged at the very idea. I talked to people who went through the times during the Kádár regime when everything closed at 5 p.m. and who said how happy people were when stores were open on Thursday nights. Apparently everybody felt liberated when, after the change of regime, stores were open all day long, including Sundays. The Christian Democrats bring up the examples of Austria and Germany where stores are closed on Sundays. But it is one thing to have a long tradition of Sunday closings, to which people are accustomed, and another thing entirely when people who are used to stores being open seven days a week for  the last twenty-five years are now being told that, sorry Charlie, no more family shopping on Sundays.

A couple of online sites offer their readers the possibility to vote on the matter. I checked out both, and a sizable (although again unscientific) majority opposes the measure. On one site: 69%. Another blogger makes fun of the Christian Democrats, saying “nonexistence must be hard for a party.” They feel that they have to come up with something now and again, but they surely picked a very bad time to introduce this bill. I must agree with him. I can already see another 100,000 demonstrators on the streets all over the country if the government makes Sunday shopping impossible.

The risk of political Christianity: An interview with Tamás Fabiny, Lutheran bishop

Gábor Czene of  Népszabadság conducted an interview with Tamás Fabiny, bishop of the northern district of the Hungarian Lutheran Church. Fabiny was ordained in Erlangen, Germany in 1982. He also studied in the United States. In addition to his church activities he worked for Duna TV. Since 2010 he has been the vice chairman of the Lutheran World Federation.

The Lutheran Church is the smallest of the three most important Hungarian congregations, after the Catholic and the Hungarian Reformed Churches. To my mind the Hungarian Lutherans have the most enlightened views on many issues, including the topics Bishop Fabiny is talking about here.

* * *

– We hear you are an eager fan of the football club Fradi – or at least you were in your childhood. Do you still attend matches?

– Hardly ever. But when the Fradi fell out of the first division, I went to their match as a demonstration. I felt an obligation to be there. I even wrote an article for the Lutheran weekly on the ability to lose. That we don’t always have to win. That a loss also has a lesson to teach.

– As for the state of Hungarian football today, that article will be appropriate for a long time. What do you think of the stadiums being built nowadays? For example, in a small village called Felcsút they are building an arena for 3500 spectators.

–I am astonished. I understand if the Prime Minister likes football and I can even imagine that he wants to prove that a small town can also have big dreams. But I just read that a match at the Puskás Academy was attended by only a hundred people. I support the founding of football academies in the country. With such a luxury investment, it would have been better to show some restraint.

– During the former socialist government, you said you could hardly wait to be the critic of a conservative government. With that, you not only expressed your demand for political change but also preserved the right of criticism. At a conference last spring you already warned about the risks of “political” Christianity.

Bishop Tamás Fabiny

Bishop Tamás Fabiny

– The conference was organized by young Christian Democrats and I had the feeling that they didn’t expect such an attitude from me. No problem. If I would always say what is expected of me, I would lose my credibility. Political Christianity refers to a situation in which those in power try to exploit the churches in a paternalistic way. When they want to use the churches as a tool for reaching their own goals. I cannot accept from any party, not even from a mayor to treat us as their natural partners and demand political support from the churches. We have to cooperate with everyone to create a common set of values but we are not “natural partners” of anyone. The churches suffered enough during the dictatorship when they were expected to support the state without criticism. Luckily, even at that time there were some people who resisted. We mustn’t forget that the churches also experienced a lot of humiliation and unjust exclusion during the governance of the present opposition parties. On the other hand, we cannot deny that the churches themselves try to flirt with the powers-to-be from time to time. If there were a healthy financing system of churches in Hungary – which is not the case now – they wouldn’t be forced to have constant financial negotiations with the government. I am thinking of a transparent and reliable financing system which would remain unaffected by political changes. Not what some people are saying, namely that the believers should keep up the churches. That is ridiculous. Just as if someone said that the Hungarian State Opera should be financed from the ticket income of the friends of the opera. Churches are not only carrying out tasks in education and the social sphere but also their spiritual work could have a healing effect on the society.

– How deeply are the parties immersed in political Christianity?

– All parties show some signs of the phenomenon, but Jobbik is the most outstanding example. The vocabulary and the ideas of Jobbik and the way they are using the most important Christian symbol, the cross, for political purposes is clearly blasphemous. But I am just as unhappy about the cross appearing in the party image of the Christian Democratic Party. I also do not rejoice when Prime Minister Viktor Orbán starts his speeches with “dear congregation” and ends them with “Soli Deo Gloria”. It is good if he thinks like that as a private person, but it shouldn’t be brought to a government level. The late Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) had an infamous slogan: “My kingdom come!” I criticized them just as I criticized a poster of the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) at the time of the first free elections in 1990. This one said: “Thy kingdom come!” In my opinion, MDF was the more blasphemous of the two. The liberal party at least uncovered itself, showing how egocentric they are. But the other example, taking the biblical phrase in its original form, mixed up Hungary with the kingdom of God. But no more about political parties. I didn’t leave anyone out, did I?

– Yes, you did. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP).

– Speaking of that crew, I could – maybe a bit unjustly – refer to the whole era of communism…

– Let’s not go into that. We should just speak about the MSZP today.

– Let me just mention the Democratic Coalition (DK), whose leader is only generating sympathy for political Christianity with his radical anti-clericalism. As I see it, he doesn’t understand a word of what I call public Christianity and which I hold as an undeniable right. Coming back to the socialists, their signing of the treaty with the Vatican didn’t lack political intentions either. I admit that they were also driven by righteous purposes but basically it was a deal. It was a way for the socialists to win over the Catholic Church.

– Your thoughts that were broadcast on the radio were published a few days ago as a book. At the presentation, before reading a piece called “The homeless Jesus” you referred to the newest regulations about the homeless as “painful and unjust”. I cannot recall though the churches having protested very actively against the criminalization of homelessness.

– We are not hypocrites: everyone knows that this is a complex issue. No one is happy—including me–when he steps out of his house only to see that someone has urinated again in front of the door. Yet, we try to help. My family and I take blankets or food to the homeless finding shelter at the bus stop near us. We are in the middle of preparing a Lutheran statement which basically says that prohibiting the homeless from dwelling in public places is not a solution. The institutional background needs to be developed. As long as there is no sufficient financing and infrastructure, it is meaningless for the mayor of Budapest or others in Parliament to say that there are attractive shelters in the city. Because there are not. It shouldn’t be possible to – or should I say, it is a sin to – criminalize the homeless, especially before we have provided them with sufficient provisions. But your question was why didn’t we protest more loudly. There were some interviews though, in which I and my colleagues working closely with the homeless expressed their opinion. I am proud of our pastor Márta Román Bolba who has spoken at several demonstrations. Together with the members of the group City for Everyone and with the homeless she participated in the civil disobedience action at the meeting of the Council of Budapest.  She did everything she possibly could. It is important to underline that she is not just a “tolerated” person in the Evangelical–Lutheran Church. On the contrary: she is fully supported by the leaders of our church. I wish there were more people like her. At the time of Advent, we have to specially emphasize this service of the church. It is not only deeds of charity but a testimony about Jesus: in his birth, God humiliated and lowered himself to the very deep. I would very much like this insensitive society to hear this radical theological message.

– In your book, you also write about a “sick church.” How serious is this illness and what is its nature?

– It is an illness in itself that we are divided by schisms although God created the church to be one. There are many symptoms. The church often appears to be lame: it moves with difficulty and is slow in its reactions. With Pope Francis, maybe even the big Catholic church will change in this regard. Another symptom is self-importance: the church thinks it always has a solution for every question. Luther makes a clear differentiation between the theology of the glory and the theology of the cross. Smaller neo-Protestant groups often think that success is a blessing from God and that the extent of success shows our proximity to God. Therefore they cling to power as if the place of the church would be on the glorious side. However, Luther teaches that the church has to stand beside the suffering, those on the periphery, the underprivileged and the outcasts. The church is also ill because it has many unsettled issues. One of those is the secret agent issue.

– Unlike the Catholic and the Reformed Church, the Lutheran Church started to reveal its past with a great intensity. Then the process seems to have stopped.

– We haven’t stopped at all. Seemingly there was a break of two years, but during this time exhaustive background work was accomplished. The synod of our church decided that the past of the church leadership has to be explored first. In a few weeks, a sizable book will present full documentation about the lives of two Lutheran bishops, Zoltán Káldy and Ernő Ottlyk.

– Were both of them secret agents?

– Yes. But it is an interesting comparison as it will be visible what a difference there is between one agent and another. You can even compare how they reported about the same event. Zoltán Káldy used the code name Pécsi, Ernő Ottlyk was Szamosi. But it wouldn’t be proper to say more about the details before the book is published. I don’t want to excuse either of the two. But it is true that Zoltán Káldy – helped by signing an agent’s mandate – tried to implement his own ideas about church leadership. Ernő Ottlyk was seeking his own benefit in a distasteful manner, causing real injury to others. As for my personal involvement: I was ordained by Bishop Káldy. In 1983, before travelling to Canada on official business they tried to recruit me. I called my father in a perplexed state. Bishop Káldy was the only other person whom I told what happened. To my great astonishment and joy, he also found it natural that I shouldn’t cooperate. If they approach me once more, I should say I don’t want to work with them and this is also Bishop Káldy’s message, he said. And so I did. They stopped coming to me and there were no unpleasant consequences.

– I was quite shocked to hear a Lutheran professor give a lecture on Luther’s anti-Semitism at a recent conference. How can you accept the fact that the “initiator of Reformation” had anti-Semitic views?

– It is not a pleasant topic to face but it would be even worse to hide it. We have to speak straight.

– Doesn’t it affect one’s faith?

– No. I don’t believe in Luther but in God. On the other hand, I cannot follow his example in this question but in other respects I still do. The Lutheran politician Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky also expressed anti-Semitic views in a difficult phase of his life. The great difference is that he was a racist in his youth and later became an anti-fascist. Unfortunately Luther followed a reverse order. Someone said once that it would have been better for poor Luther if God had called him out of this world three years earlier. It was only in the last three years of his life that he expressed anti-Semitic thoughts, not earlier. Of course he had some really unacceptable sentences.

– Even if they weren’t his own invention. He mostly drew on the texts of an earlier author.

– Although the context of the sixteenth century was different from today, a sentence like “set fire to synagogues” should not be written down at any time. In his earlier works, Luther speaks positively of the Jews. His later anti-Semitism casts a shadow over his life work but does not cover it as a whole. His unacceptable statements can only be quoted by the Lutheran church as a negative example. 2013 was the year of tolerance in our church. We organized a series of exhibitions, conferences and cultural events. At a meeting for Lutheran school principals and teachers, we emphasized that in a Lutheran school there is no place for expressing anti-Roma, anti-gay, or anti-Semite views. In this church, there is simply no space for any extremism.

“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” at a Fidesz-sponsored gathering in Slovakia

Every year Fidesz holds a “free university” in Tusnádfürdő-Bálványos, Romania. I normally write about the event because Viktor Orbán makes a regular appearance there and what he has to say is usually politically significant.

This Fidesz tradition has now been expanded. Between July 18 and 21 a similar “free university” was held for the first time in Martos (Martovce), a village of about 700 inhabitants, 17 km from Komárom/Komárno, Slovakia. Originally the organizers were hoping that Viktor Orbán would honor the event with his presence, but in the end they had to be satisfied with László Kövér as the keynote speaker.

The organizers received financial help from Fidesz and the Hungarian government in addition to MOL, which was described as the “chief sponsor.” Among the organizations that supported the effort were several Fidesz foundations, the Fidesz youth organization Fidelitas, the Association of the Young Christian Democrats, and János Sellye University in Komárno. The sponsors must have contributed quite a bit of money because the extended weekend event featured rock bands and singers as well as speakers from Serbia and Romania.

The host was Magyar Közösség Pártja (MKP) and Via Nova, its youth organization. Originally MKP was the only Hungarian political party in Slovakia, but it split a number of years ago. Béla Bugár, a moderate, left the party since it was moving farther to the right and established a Slovak-Hungarian party called Most-Híd, the Slovak and Hungarian words for “bridge.” Fidesz doesn’t want to build bridges. It is not their style, and in no time the Hungarian government announced that it doesn’t consider Most-Híd a Hungarian party. Currently, the Hungarian government has no connection with Bugár’s party even though at the last elections it managed to retain its status as a parliamentary party while the Fidesz-supported MKP did not. Fidesz often bets on the wrong horse when it comes to Hungarian minority politics in the neighboring countries.

Via Nova has a new chairman, László Gubík. A few months ago it became known that Jobbik had approached Gubík and urged closer cooperation between Jobbik and Via Nova. Gubík was apparently impressed by István Szávay, a Jobbik member of parliament and formerly head of the Jobbik-dominated student organization at ELTE’s Faculty of Arts. Gubík was photographed standing in front of a Jobbik flag. After the close cooperation between Jobbik and Via Nova was discovered, József Berényi, the chairman of MKP, tried to distance himself and his party from Jobbik, but according to inside information he didn’t manage to convince the leadership of Via Nova to abandon their connection with the extremist Jobbik. One can read more about the “independence” of Via Nova from MKP on an English-language Slovak site.

Despite this scandal, Fidesz didn’t hesitate to work together with Via Nova in the organization of the first “free university” in Slovakia. Apparently, the gathering was not a great success although a lot of “important” people showed up besides Kövér. Among them, András Schiffer (LMP); Katalin Szili, former socialist now independent MP; Hunor Kelemen, chairman of the largest Hungarian party in Romania; and Zsuzsanna Répássy, assistant undersecretary in charge of “national politics.” But these individuals as well as Fidesz must now live with the fact that racist, anti-Semitic, irredentist books were displayed and sold at the festival. Here is a picture of the collection. The picture is genuine; it can also been seen on a Slovak-Hungarian Facebook page.

Pick your favorite!

Pick your favorite!

Among other titles you could buy Henry Ford’s The International Jew, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and Ernő Raffay’s openly anti-Semitic book on the Freemasons (Politizáló szabadkőművesség). Other choice titles on display were Borbála Obrusánszky’s Szkíta-magyar múltunk ragyogása, a book about the fallacy underlying the theory of the Finno-Ugric origins of the Hungarian language, and László Gulyás’s Küzdelem a Kárpát-medencéért (Struggle for the Carpathian Basin) in addition to a bunch of books by Albert Wass and József Nyirő. You can also see Viktor Orbán’s selected speeches.

Of course, this scandal highlights the fact that Fidesz is ready to work with groups that are closely associated with Jobbik in order to gain adherents. One might argue that the Fidesz bigwigs certainly couldn’t have had any knowledge of the kinds of books that would be displayed in Martos, but unfortunately this line of argumentation is weak because the Jobbik-Via Nova connection was already well known in March of this year. The Hungarian media first reported on the preparations for the festival on May 9, 2913. By that time at least Zsuzsanna Répássy, the assistant undersecretary in charge of Hungarian minority issues, must have known about the scandal in Slovakia concerning Via Nova. Yet, Fidesz pushed ahead, cooperating with this Jobbik-tainted youth organization.

Fidesz seems to be giving in to pressure coming from the far right in Romania too. The Tusnádfürdő-Bálványos event will take place this weekend. Originally a moderate right-of-center RMDSZ politician was supposed to be one of the speakers, but the small right-wing Erdélyi Magyar Néppárt (Transylvanian People’s Party) vetoed it. Therefore the politicians of RMDSZ will not attend.

There seems to be a tendency for Fidesz to drift farther and farther to the right in the neighboring countries. This is a self-defeating strategy. Both in Romania and in Slovakia the more moderate Hungarian parties are leading in the polls. And especially in Romania, Fidesz will need those votes come April 2014.

Meanwhile it will be difficult for Fidesz to explain away the display of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion at their first “free university” in Slovakia.

Fidesz, the European People’s Party, and the Alliance of Reformers and Conservatives

Let me to return to my post of April 12 entitled “Europe fights back: Viktor Orbán may be in real trouble this time.” In it I wrote that according to the reporter of Új Magyar Szó, a Hungarian-language paper in Romania, the caucus of the European People’s Party is seriously thinking about removing Fidesz from the group because the politicians of EPP no longer consider Fidesz a conservative-liberal party with a Christian Democratic program. According to a person close to Viviane Reding, Joseph Daul, the leader of the caucus, Viviane Reding, and Antonio López-Istúriz, secretary-general of EPP, discussed the matter over dinner in Dubrovnik.

Soon enough came the denial. The report from Romania is entirely without foundation, said Kostas Sasmatsoglu, EPP spokesman.  Antonio López-Istúriz wasn’t even present at the meeting of the caucus in Dubrovnik. He added that Vivane Reding ” didn’t hold a dinner meeting where the question of the future of Fidesz was discussed.”  He added that EPP can hardly wait to welcome Viktor Orbán in Strasbourg.

As soon as I read this communiqué I was struck by the odd sentence about Reding not holding a dinner meeting where the future of Fidesz was on the agenda. Sure, there may have been nothing official, but Daul and Reding might have discussed the question informally. I said at the time that although it is possible that not all the details are correct, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if at the end it turns out that there is something to the story.

Well, it looks as if I was right. The reporter for Új Magyar Szó, Árpád Zsolt Moldován, insists that his story is accurate. Fidesz’s possible departure was not only discussed during dinner but Daul and Reding also had a private meeting about the matter in the afternoon.

Fidesz's next home in Brussels? After the liberals, the Christian Democrats, now the Euro-Skeptics?

Fidesz’s next home in Brussels? After the liberals and then the Christian Democrats, now the Euro-Skeptics?

Moldován’s source is a member of Reding’s closest circle. The source claims that it was Daul who initiated the talk with Reding. Daul had found out from the Polish group in the caucus that the Fidesz delegation had begun exploratory talks with the EP caucus called the Alliance of European Reformers and Conservatives (AERC). Who are they? The caucus was formed in 2009 from EP members of parliament who are on the whole Euro-skeptic and farther to the right than EPP.  To give you an idea of the composition of the group, the largest contingent comes from the British Conservative Party, the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists (26 members) followed by 9 Občanská demokratická strana (Civic Democratic Party) members from the Czech Republic and 6 members of Kaczyński’s party (PiS) and 5 members of the Polska Jest Najważniejsza (Poland Comes First). Daul was told that Viktor Orbán had met Jarosław Kaczyński just the other day. The suspicion was that the talk might have had something to do with Fidesz’s decision to look around for a caucus where they might feel more at home.

If Fidesz leaves on its own or is expelled, the EPP caucus, the largest in the European Parliament, will lose 17 members. Certainly the leaders of the EPP delegation are not happy about such an eventuality, but “at least then the situation would be clearer.”

Moldován’s source emphasized that nothing has been decided yet, but the number of those who are worried about developments in Hungary is growing. He claimed that the delegation membership is split right down  the middle. Fifty percent support Fidesz while the other half are against Viktor Orbán’s policies. But in EPP as a whole–that would include members of the commission and other officials of the Brussels bureaucracy–the percentage of those who oppose Fidesz’s membership in EPP is 70%. And their numbers are steadily growing. More and more people question Orbán’s honesty and reliability. But “it will be Wilfried Martens, the president of EPP, who will make the final decision.”

My hunch is that Fidesz’s position within the EPP delegation is not in imminent danger. I think he could still get at least a slight majority of the members to side with him. But he is preparing for the eventuality that perhaps that slight majority will evaporate in the next few weeks, and he wants the decision to be his whether he stays or leaves the Christian Democrats and joins the Euro-skeptics where he actually belongs.

What I also find fascinating is that according to the insider’s information it was the Polish delegation that warned most likely Daul about the exploratory talks between Fidesz and the leadership of the AERC. You may recall that right after he became prime minister Viktor Orbán’s first foreign trip was to Warsaw. He had grandiose plans for a north-south axis of like-minded East-Central European States from the Baltic to the Adriatic. He made several overtures to Donald Tusk, whom he was certain would be an ally. But Orbán received a cold shoulder from Tusk. Tusk is a whole-hearted  supporter of the European Union and envisages Poland’s future in close cooperation with its western neighbor Germany. Thus, although Orbán made at least two trips to Warsaw, Tusk failed to return the visits. Presumably he keeps away from Orbán, at least in part, because he realizes that Orbán’s policies are leading him farther and farther away from Europe. Perhaps the Polish Christian Democrats’  “helpful”  information was intended to speed up the “divorce” process. After all, if Fidesz joins AERC at least he will be with his true Polish friends in the PiS. From there on Tusk doesn’t even have to pretend.