Felcsút

Lőrinc Mészáros, friend of Viktor Orbán, is a financial genius

I have collected an enormous database on Hungarian politics in the last few years, and my folder on Lőrinc Mészáros–businessman, mayor of Felcsút, and CEO of the Ferenc Puskás Academy–is bulging with articles. The very first one I kept was “Scandal in Felcsút,” which reported that Mészáros and his extended family had received more than 600 hectares of land in the village of Kajászó, 18 km from Felcsút, while none of the locals received even one cm².

Felcsút has come to symbolize everything that is rotten in Orbanistan. It is a typical Hungarian village with a population of about 3,000 where Hungary’s prime minister, who grew up there, first established a football academy because after all this is his hobby and then spent a great deal of money that should have gone into the general budget on a luxurious football stadium with a seating capacity of 3,500 right next door to his weekend house. As for Mészáros, the media became aware of his existence and importance only in the fall of 2010 when, as Orbán’s candidate for mayor of the village, he lost by a few votes against an independent candidate. The lord of Felcsút, Viktor Orbán, couldn’t live with such a situation, so his “friends” on the town council with the assistance of an amendment to the town’s electoral law disqualified Mészáros’s opponent. The election had to be repeated, and naturally Mészáros won.

Why is Lőrinc Mészáros so important to Viktor Orbán? This is what the Demokratikus Koalíció (DK) wanted to know this summer. Specifically, Zsolt Gréczy, the spokesman of the party, was interested in finding out how much of Mészáros’s by now fabulous wealth is his and how much of it actually belongs to Viktor Orbán. This is a legitimate question to which not only DK would like to have an answer. By now, I’m pretty certain that almost everybody who follows the news and is familiar with Lőrinc Mészáros’s name is convinced that the former pipe fitter is the prime minister’s front man or, in Hungarian/German, stróman/Strohmann. From owning a one-man car repair shop to being a billionaire in three years is no mean feat. Mészáros’s explanation is simple enough: he must attribute his financial success “to God, to luck, and to Viktor Orbán.” I think we can discard God from the equation and focus instead on the role of Viktor Orbán.

Mészáros and his wife established a company called Mészáros és Mészáros (M & M) in 2001, which was barely profitable until in 2011 government orders started pouring in. In 2010 the company grossed 900 million forints; by 2013 the dividends the couple received from their company totaled 1,266 billion forints. The business was flourishing: every year M & M doubled its revenues. In 2013 they took in 10 billion forints.

M & M is a construction business and Mészáros, the CEO of the Puskás Academy, couldn’t find a better company to build the new Pancho Stadium in Felcsút than–you guessed it–M & M. Such an arrangement couldn’t have been made without the blessing of Viktor Orbán, the true “owner” of that football academy as well as the stadium. After all, it was his foundation with his meager contribution of 100,000 forints more than a decade ago that created the whole complex in his childhood village.

The 600 hectares the Mészároses received–because the talented Mr. Mészáros is not only a politician, CEO of a soccer academy, and head of a construction company but a farmer as well–cost them nothing. Larger tracts of land owned by the state were leased to people with Fidesz connections. These parcels will most likely end up as the lessees’ very own after twenty years. In addition, the European Union farm subsidies afford the lessees a handsome yearly income. The extended Mészáros family was also the beneficiary of several tobacco concessions. Mészáros’s brother opened five tobacco shops in key locations: in District II in Budapest as well as in Szeged and Kecskemét.

In February of this year we learned about a 7.4 million forint government subsidy that Mészáros had received in 2013 for his pig farm. HVG claimed to know that Mészáros already had 1,000 pigs and that in fact he was selling pork to supermarket chains. The problem was that nary a single Mészáros pig could be found anywhere. The Agricultural Ministry normally gives farmers 2,150 forints per pig, which in Mészáros’s case would have assumed an animal farm of about 3,400 pigs. Needless to say, there were a lot of jokes about the lost pigs in the Hungarian media. Well, a month ago Mészáros’s mangalica farm was officially opened and the ribbon cut in Viktor Orbán’s presence. I have to assume that Mészáros received the 7.4 million forints before he had even one pig. Moreover, the farm he opened is capable of housing only 200 pigs. Something is very wrong here. As it usually is when it comes to Mészáros’s affairs.

Meszaros2

Lőrinc Mészáros’s dividends in billions

Atlatszo.hu tried its best to find out the details of Mészáros’s finances. But although he as an elected official has to make a yearly financial statement which is public, the mayor of Felcsút refused to allow the investigative journalist Katalin Erdélyi to take a look at it. Eventually, however, Mészáros was forced to oblige. According to his statement, he had 400 million in the bank and 20 million in cash, he received 943 million in dividends from his various companies, and he owned a 2008 Audi 5. Details of his real estate holdings and yearly income can be seen on 444.hu.

A few days later, however, several internet sites reported that a few items were omitted from Mészáros’s financial statement. For example, a luxury villa with a spectacular view in Tihany. But that was  nothing in comparison to the discovery by RTL Klub that Mészáros “forgot” to mention 1.27 billion forints worth of dividends in his latest financial statement. He himself phoned RTL Klub to “clarify” the situation.

Recall Bálint Magyar’s characterization of a “stróman” as someone who, instead of reinvesting his profits in his company, takes out enormous sums of money in the form of dividends. In such a case the real business of the company is money laundering.

Finally, during today’s demonstration Mészáros’s lost billions were held up as a symbol of Viktor Orbán’s regime. László Szily, the blogger of cink.hu, wrote an article a few days ago with the title “Let’s erect a statue to the lost one billion of Lőrinc Mészáros!” He began his piece with the following words: “The government hasn’t fallen yet and Viktor Orbán has not escaped yet in a second-class railroad carriage to Switzerland. But the regime has been seriously weakened and the Lőrinc Mészároses who have lost all sense of reality will be responsible if one day this regime is swept away by revolution.”

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Hungarian microcosm: municipal elections in Felcsút

In the last few weeks we have talked about what in political science is called “high politics” or in Hungarian “nagypolitika.” But I think that the essence of Viktor Orbán’s Hungary can be captured, albeit anecdotally, at the microcosmic level. The story I will tell here brings home the kind of atmosphere that has by now engulfed the whole country. It is both suffocating and menacing.

The story takes place in Felcsút, a village of 1,600 inhabitants where Viktor Orbán spent a few years of his early life. It is here that a new football stadium for 3,600 sits right next to the house he built for a home away from home in the Buda Hills. Ever since he began his own football academy in Felcsút, the village became a fiefdom of the Orbán family and their supporters. Nothing can happen in the village which is not approved by Viktor Orbán himself or his faithful thanes. The most important of these is the mayor of Felcsút, a former installer of gas lines who today is among the one hundred richest people in Hungary. He achieved this feat in the last three or four years.

How did Lőrinc Mészáros become mayor in 2010 when the winner was György Varga, an independent candidate who had been the mayor of Felcsút since 2002? At the time there were jokes about the outcome of the election in Orbán’s village where the Fidesz candidate lost. Orbán was not happy. He became even more unhappy when Varga and the members of the town council refused to sell Felcsút’s small sports stadium and the land surrounding it for 20 million forints to the Puskás Academy. Apparently, the property was estimated to be worth 184 million forints. Well, that was that! Nothing of this sort could possibly happen in Felcsút to Viktor Orbán and his academy. Varga had to go. And he went. It was discovered that Varga owed a small amount in back taxes which allegedly barred him from public office. The election had to be repeated and, behold, it was Lőrinc Mészáros who took his place. That was the beginning of Mészáros’s spectacular career. Since then nothing happens in Felcsút without being approved by Mészáros or his many relatives.

Municipal elections will take place on October 12 and it is not yet known whether Lőrinc Mészáros, who is a terribly busy man nowadays, will run again. Until recently it wasn’t clear whether anyone would be brave enough to run against him or whoever else is designated by Viktor Orbán. György Varga, the former independent mayor who has been unemployed since 2010 because no one dares to hire him, announced in April that he will pick up the gauntlet, but then he thought the better of it. For a while András Váradi, a local sheep farmer who lost his land to Lőrinc Mészáros, was talking about running against Mészáros or whoever is the Fidesz candidate. He also abandoned the idea.

Now we have a woman, the owner of a small farm and stable, who has decided to try. Her name is Judit Horváth, who in the middle of August feared that “at the election I can only lose.” I guess what motivates her is that she, who has only 4 hectares, applied for an additional 26 for her 23 goats and received nothing. Later she learned that “they did not even open the envelope.” According to her, one got land around Felcsút only if one first went to Mészáros “to talk things over.” Horváth is quietly supported by all the democratic parties except for LMP. LMP’s decision is peculiar because from the interview Horváth gave to Magyar Narancs it is obvious that she is very interested in renewable energy and the environment.

To give you an idea of the hopeless situation facing anyone who dares to go against Fidesz and Viktor Orbán, Judith Horváth, when asked what would happen if by some miracle she wins, laconically answered, “then they will pass a new law that will enable them to remove me.” This is a slice of the new Hungarian reality. The hopeless lives of the former now unemployed mayor, the sheep farmer who has no land to feed his sheep, and a woman who knows that even if she wins the election they have all the means necessary to remove her.

Right now Judit Horváth is collecting signatures in Felcsút. András Pungor of 168 Óra followed her while she tried to talk to the locals about the chances of an independent candidate. A middle-aged man’s first words: “I refuse to say anything…. I live here while you just a visitor.” He was, however, ready to talk about life in Felcsút nowadays. He claims that the people in the village did not want to have the stadium but no one asked them. The monstrously big stadium interferes with wi-fi on the street that ends at the stadium. People have difficulties with their cell phones. In addition, the place is neglected. Last year the town built a community center but since then only an exhibition and a wedding were held there. More than twenty houses are for sale. Young people leave in hordes. In the last few years the town couldn’t even pay its electric bill; the central government had to bail them out.

Judit Horváth is getting a signature from a brave Felcsút voter Photo: Dániel Kovalovszky

Judit Horváth is getting a signature from a brave Felcsút voter
Photo: Dániel Kovalovszky

Judith Horváth began campaigning in earnest and arranged with the town that last night she could have use of the new community center for a discussion about the needs of the village. When the journalists of Magyar Narancs arrived at the appointed time, they learned that permission to hold a political forum there had been withdrawn. They were shown a document according to which there was an “extraordinary meeting” of the town council on August 7 when a decision was reached that no political event can be held in a building owned by the town. Although there was such an extraordinary meeting of the council, this particular item was not on the agenda. The person who gave permission to Judith Horváth to hold the meeting in the community center only learned about this new regulation on Thursday.

Otherwise, very few people showed up. They said that the locals are afraid to openly declare their support for Lőrinc Mészáros’s opponent. Almost everyone Horváth invited to the meeting told her that they will not attend because they are afraid of reprisals. And for good reason. While all this was going on in front of the community center, cars from Mészáros’s firm stopped far too often in front of the building and one was permanently stationed next to the building so its driver could see who arrived for the cancelled meeting. As 444 noted,”Lőrinc Mészáros does not leave anything to chance.”  This is what has become of Hungary in a mere four years under the rule of potentates with unlimited power.

Despite Viktor Orbán’s best efforts, Hungarian football is not a success story

I never  in my wildest dreams thought that one day I would be searching for details on some fine points of football/soccer. In fact, in my teenage years I was so indifferent to the world’s favorite sport that I wouldn’t even attend the “game of the century” in Pécs when the “Golden Team/Mighty Magyars” played against the not so mighty locals. But what can one do if Hungary is today cursed with a prime minister for whom football is the most important thing after politics? (Or perhaps even ahead of it.)

Football for Viktor Orbán seems to be so important that he even subordinates matters that are vital to the well-being of his people (education, healthcare, and social services) to his favorite sport. Austerity measures are introduced three or four times a year in order to keep the deficit under the required 3%, but these measures never touch the sacred game of football. Other sports in which Hungarians are much more successful receive only meager–and ever decreasing–government subsidies.

I have to trust those who know something about the game and who claim that Hungarian football is currently beyond redemption. They emphasize that the kind of professional football that is played today pretty well precludes the possibility of Hungary ever becoming the football powerhouse that Viktor Orbán dreams of. Football is business, big business. And the borders are wide open. A talented Hungarian football player could make millions of euros in another country. But there is one major problem: there are no truly outstanding Hungarian players, and it looks as if there won’t be any in the near future.

Viktor Orbán, whose energy between 2002 and 2010 was spent primarily on his efforts to regain power, put aside enough time to ponder the future of the struggling Hungarian football enterprise. One of his many goals as prime minister was the revival of Hungarian football, but the way he has gone about it is not likely to produce results. He launched a stadium construction and renovation project in 2010, scheduled to be completed in 2018 to the tune of 140-160 billion forints. The  map below gives a fair idea of the magnitude of the undertaking. Altogether 33 stadiums will be built or renovated. Unfortunately, the quality of Hungarian football is so bad that the stadiums today are practically empty. I assume that Orbán thinks that better stadiums will attract  more fans; if you build them they will come. Stadionprojektek But where will the players come from? From the football academies, of course. Oh, yes, the football academies. Viktor Orbán received some bad news on that front recently. Some time ago the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) asked the independent Belgian firm Double Pass to assess the work being done in the Hungarian football academies. The verdict as summarized by MLSZ is devastating. Double Pass also ranked the Hungarian academies, which MLSZ wanted to keep secret. There was good reason for the secrecy. The “famous” Ferenc Puskás Academy backed by Viktor Orbán was ninth out of twelve! This is the same academy that, according to the prime minister, was among the top ten in Europe!

Even the best Hungarian academy, the Debreceni Labdarúgó Akadémia, is inferior in comparison to academies in other European countries with strong teams. In Hungary training methods are old-fashioned and not uniform. There are no trainers who specialize in developing particular skills. Recruiting is done on a part-time basis. Psychological coaching is sorely wanting. The Hungarian academies don’t use modern training software. And the report goes on and on for 134 pages.

The directors and coaches of these academies were not at all thrilled about this probing by Double Pass, and now that the ranking is available they try to explain away the firm’s findings by claiming, as is usual in Hungary, that the employees of Double Pass don’t really understand the Hungarian system. Well, let’s put it this way, Double Pass clearly understood that the Hungarian system doesn’t produce winning teams. Hungary is currently host to the annual UEFA European Under-19 Championship. So far, the Hungarian team has lost to Austria (3 to 1) and to Portugal (6 to 1). Sportswriters kept saying that the Hungarians “should have won” against the Austrians but, well, they blew it. The Portuguese  are very good but they won against Israel with only three goals and not six. In brief, the Hungarians under 19 are lousy. And these people are students and graduates of the academies! Hungary might have 33 swanky stadiums by 2018, but the country is unlikely to have fantastic football players.

And while we are on the subject of these new stadiums, an incredible amount of money was spent on the Felcsút project, but weeks ago one could already read that something is very wrong with the drainage of the field. After a heavy rain a game had to be scrapped because the grass would have been damaged otherwise. Nature was blamed: the rain was too heavy. This time the game was played in the rain, and as one of the sportswriters remarked, the game was almost played in a lake. But that is not the only problem. The fancy wooden structure over the spectator seats does not shield people from the rain. The sportswriters with their computers were not exactly happy with the section allocated to them because the rain was coming down on them fast and furious. So, they packed up and went inside to watch the game on the monitor. So much for Viktor Orbán’s efforts so far on behalf of Hungarian football. He seems to be as successful in this endeavor as he is in governing the country.

The Hungarian far right today and in the 1930s

Not much of any political relevance happens over weekends in general but on a long weekend, as Easter is in Hungary, politics takes a real holiday. Today’s highlight was the resurrection of Hungarian football and the “great game” at Felcsút, with 4,500 fans in attendance. Ferenc Puskás Academy went up against Real Madrid’s football academy; both teams were made up of seventeen-year-olds. The final score was Real Madrid 1, Puskás Academy 0. At least it wasn’t a rout. Earlier Real Madrid beat Melbourne 10-1.

I’m taking advantage of the holiday to take a historical trip back to Hungary in the 1930s. Not that these were happier times. On the contrary, then just as now the Hungarian extreme right made considerable gains. One often hears from Horthy apologists that the governor and his conservative governments were just as hard on the extreme right as they were on the extreme left, i.e. the communists. This wasn’t the case. Politicians of the Horthy era were much more zealous when it came to the few hundred illegal communist party members than they were with representatives of the extreme right. Horthy and his friends had a blind spot when it came to the extreme right even though by all measures they were the ones who posed  a much greater threat to the regime than the weak and ineffectual communists did. Yet men like Mátyás Rákosi or Zoltán Vas received very long prison sentences while extremists on the right were rarely jailed. The longest sentence ever handed down for a right-wing extremist was three years, in the case of Ferenc Szálasi. Zoltán Vas, on the other hand, spent sixteen years in the infamous jail of Szeged.

Why did the interwar regime wage a half-hearted battle against the extreme right? Certainly not because government politicians found their racist ideas abhorrent. After all, more often than not they shared these people’s anti-Semitism. They found nothing wrong with nationalism; on the contrary, they pursued an openly revisionist foreign policy. What they found unacceptable was the socialism in “national socialism.” Official Hungary considered these men “revolutionaries” who wanted to turn the existing order upside down. Mátyás Matolcsy, a talented economist of extreme right views who died in jail after the war, didn’t mince words: “we must give up the idea of the sanctity of private property,” and “everybody can dispose of their property only so long as it does not infringe upon the universal interest of the nation.”  The Arrow Cross party program called for the introduction of  the Soviet system of a centrally organized planned economy. Their program also included total state control of the banking system. While Matolcsy wanted to expropriate only Jewish property, the Arrow Cross party was more  “egalitarian.” They would have taken away, for example, all agricultural lands from large landowners, including lands owned by the Hungarian Catholic Church. In 1938 the Arrow Cross party published a pamphlet on the fundamental principles and beliefs of the movement, which was intended to serve the needs of the swelling numbers of followers. In it the author explained that the party wants to exchange the liberal capitalist regime for a “collective economy.” So, it’s no wonder that contemporaries labeled the Arrow Cross leaders Bolshevik revolutionaries who presented a danger to the existing order.

Krisztián Ungváry in his latest book, A Horthy-rendszer mérlege: Diszkrimináció, szociálpolitika és antiszemitizmus  (The Balance Sheet of the Horthy Regime: Discrimination, Social Policy and Anti-Semitism in Hungary), quotes from a speech by the legitimist (opposition) Hugó Payr who visited a slum area full of unemployed workers. One of them said to him, “Sir, we are all Bolsheviks here.” When Payr inquired whether they were followers of  the Arrow Cross movement, the answer was in the affirmative. Payr warned his fellow members of parliament that the middle classes who had been stirred up to embrace anti-Semitic passions didn’t realize that they were in fact helping to establish a new proletarian dictatorship. He invited them to accompany him to working class neighborhoods where “people already talk about which apartments they will requisition or rob.”

I think that while we are grappling with the growing influence of the neo-Nazis in today’s Hungary we should keep in mind what transpired in Hungary in the 1930s. There the result of the economic crisis was not the growth of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party but the incredible spread of the ideas of national socialism’s local version, the Hungarism of Ferenc Szálasi.

Jobbik zaszlo

One has to assume that Viktor Orbán is unhappy about the growth of Jobbik because it may become a threat to his own party’s position, as was already seen at the election. If he has any sense, he will turn his attention to the poorest segments of Hungarian society and offer them tangible economic incentives. Until now he competed with Jobbik in the domain of nationalistic humbug, but surely that will not be enough.

The socialists have also neglected the poor and frustrated masses, whose numbers are growing. People talk about four million people under or very close to the poverty line. If one of the two major parties doesn’t take the initiative, Jobbik may triumph.

Moreover, until now the socialists and liberals refused to engage in a dialogue with Jobbik. After all, they are a racist and neo-Nazi group with whom the “better half” of society should refuse to conduct business. But this also meant that there was no public forum in which the ill-conceived ideas of Jobbik politicians could be confronted.

The socialists must pay more attention to Hungary’s poor as well as to the Hungarian extreme right. Those who voted for Jobbik must be convinced that Jobbik’s remedies are no remedies at all. On the contrary, they would mean a total collapse of the Hungarian economy and society. But at the same time the socialists have to offer about half of the citizenry a way out of their present misery.

Viktor Orbán’s private stadium is completed: “The resurrection of Hungarian football”

The great day is coming. Monday, which is a holiday in Hungary, will not be about the resurrection of Jesus Christ but about the resurrection of Hungarian football. I’m not kidding. This is what György Szöllősi, communication director of the Puskás Academy, said to the hundreds of reporters who showed up for the first tour of the facilities of the Pancho Arena. Why Pancho Arena? Because, as we just learned, this is what the Spaniards called Ferenc Puskás when he was playing for Real Madrid. Mind you, in Hungary everybody knew him as Öcsi Puskás (“öcsi” means younger brother or a really young boy in Hungarian). And while we are on the subject of names, Puskás’s family name until he was ten years old was Purczeld. Yes, one of the Mighty Magyars was of German extraction, a descendant of one of the many German immigrants who settled in Hungary in the early eighteenth century.

I guess the creators of the Pancho Arena in Felcsút, a Hungarian village about 40 km from Budapest, decided on the name because Viktor Orbán, who was already working on making a national superhero out of Ferenc Puskás, decided during his first premiership to name the old Népstadion (built between 1948 and 1952)  after the football legend. So, the Puskás name was already taken. Thus they had to settle for a name that isn’t terribly familiar to Hungarians.

I doubt that Puskás in his youth ever heard of this village. His favorite town was Kispest, where he started to play football. Kispest was a separate town until 1950, when it was incorporated into greater Budapest. Nonetheless, Orbán managed to get all “the Puskás treasures” in the possession of the Puskás family to Felcsút, where the prime minister spent part of his childhood and where he built a weekend house a few years ago. These “treasures,” which include old jerseys, pictures, trophies and other memorabilia, will be on permanent display in the halls of the stadium. Daily guided tours will be available to all who would like to see this “sanctuary” to Ferenc Puskás and football. The description of the arena as a sanctuary also comes from the Academy’s communication director.

The sports reporters were clearly in awe of the excellent conditions created in Felcsút for the sport. I’m also sure that they are looking forward to reporting from the press box equipped with all the latest marvels of modern technology. They lauded the turf that is being watered and heated from below ground.

Journalists who deal with political matters were less enthusiastic. They made sarcastic remarks about the man who is able to satisfy all his whims because of his position of power. They can’t quite get over the fact that such a large and ostentatious stadium, which will be able to seat 3,600, is being built in a village of 1,800 people. Index calculated that each individual inhabitant of Felcsút received 3.77 million “football” forints. One old peasant woman who was interviewed kept emphasizing that the erection of such a stadium is a real joy for the Felcsútians because “after all, the building will remain here.” But this is exactly what worries the critics. What will happen whenViktor Orbán is no longer the prime minister or when he is no longer, period? What will happen to this stadium? The same thing that happened to the one Nicolae Ceaușescu built in his birth place, the village of Scornicesti, which now stands empty and crumbling? Moreover, what can one say about the leader of an allegedly democratic country who allows a football stadium that is supposed to be an exhibition piece to be built in his backyard? Indeed, a valid comparison can be made between the Romanian dictator and Viktor Orbán. This is what a blogger was alluding to when he gave this title to his post on the stadium: “Santiago Orbaneu: Ilyen lett a felcsúti stadion.” (This is how the stadium in Felcsút turned out.)

Felcsut stadium1

Photo László Döme / pfla.hu

There are several boxes, complete with I assume well-stocked bars for those who either “deserve them” or can afford them. One box belongs to Viktor Orbán and his guests. The plaque next to the door reads: “The prime minister’s office.” That aroused the interest of the journalists, but it turned out that the plaque is somewhat misleading. It is the private box of the founder of the Puskás Academy, Viktor Orbán. It will be his as long as he lives. Another box is designated for “local entrepreneurs.” I guess it is reserved for Viktor Orbán’s front men in Felcsút.

In the VIP section the seats are apparently made out of real leather, and the lucky ones who sit there can watch game replays in slow motion on monitors attached to the backs of chairs in front of them. I’m not sure how well these leather chairs will stand up to nature’s vicissitudes and the inevitable stains.

Photo Läszló Döme / pfla.hu

Photo László Döme / pfla.hu

The elaborate wooden structure will also be difficult to keep in tip-top shape. And the copper roofs in no time will tarnish. In brief, the upkeep of the structure will be enormous. What will happen if the flow of money that is coming in now due to the founder’s position stops? Because, although perhaps Viktor Orbán doesn’t want to face the fact, financial supporters of his hobby will drop him once he is no longer of use to them. Once Viktor Orbán is out of office–because it will happen one day regardless of what some pessimistic people say–I doubt that a new Hungarian government will pick up the tab.

Source: Nëpszabadság

Those leather chairs / Source: Népszabadság

On Monday at the opening ceremony there will be the usual speeches. Two of the stars of the show will be former president Pál Schmitt, an Olympic champion and member of the International Olympic Committee, and Ángel Maria Villar, president of the Spanish Football Association and vice president of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. The former had to resign in disgrace because of plagiarism and the latter’s reputation is marred by his possible involvement in corruption cases. What a pair!

The communication director of the Puskás Academy admitted that decent people no longer go to watch football, but he predicted that “on Monday the change of regime of Hungarian football will begin.” Critics of Orbán’s football mania very much doubt it. They consider every penny spent on stadiums a waste of limited resources. And the stadium at Felcsút a disgrace that speaks volumes about Viktor Orbán and the regime he has built.

The Orbáns and Hungarian gentleman farmers

I just raced through Krisztina Ferenczi’s new book, Narancsbőr (Orange peel). Since I usually read her articles about the Orbán family’s dubious financial dealings, I was familiar with most of the details. Ferenczi’s earlier book was about the Orbáns’ brief encounter with viticulture in Tokaj. They got burned when it came to light that Viktor Orbán as prime minister used his influence to receive a substantial state subsidy for their newly acquired vineyard. It was only through a clever legal trick that Orbán’s skin was saved. Since then he has been super clever and has avoided any kind of business venture that may get him into a tight spot as a possible recipient of subsidies either from the European Union or from the Hungarian state. It is true that his wife, Anikó Lévai, owns some agricultural land in Felcsút, but officially at least it is leased to János Flier, the former electrician I was talking about yesterday and one of Orbán’s likely front men in Felcsút. Lévai claims that the subsidies she is entitled to actually go to Flier. When Ferenczi asked Flier about it, he replied: “You ought to ask her how it is exactly” (Tőle kellene megkérdezni, hogyan is van ez). Flier is obviously not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

So, the Orbáns who got burned with Tokaj are now very careful. And yet the incredible wealth Orbán’s two close friends in Felcsút, Lőrinc Mészáros and János Flier, amassed made the inhabitants of the village more than suspicious. They are convinced that Viktor Orbán is an active business partner in the growing Mészáros-Flier estates. Perhaps he is the majority owner of them.

Ferenczi found many signs that this is probably the case. She talked at length with people who work on the cattle ranch owned by Mészáros, which Viktor Orbán visits frequently. It seemed obvious to them that Orbán is not just a casual visitor there. “He had something to do with the enterprise.” It also came to light that the charolais cows of Orbán’s new son-in-law are also part of the herd of 3-4,000 animals which, by the way, are kept, according to Ferenczi, under terrible conditions. I might also add here as a footnote that in the past at least the people who worked there officially received only 65,000 forints a month; the rest, 35-45,000 forints, illegally changed hands under the table.

Yesterday an article about the new stadium in Felcsút appeared in The New York Times with a picture of the half-finished stadium right next to the Orbáns’ country home. It is perhaps the best picture I have seen of the two together and leads me to believe that the modest abode the Orbáns built in 2003 will not be there for long. If the stadium is a “jewel box,” as Orbán once described it, the peasant adobe house 20 feet away is a jarring eyesore. And that leads me to the very good possibility that the Orbáns have a very much more elegant dwelling in mind: the former country house of the Hungarian Habsburgs nearby. The building was badly damaged during World War II, but it looks as if the Orbán family has plans to rebuild it in its earlier splendor. Viktor Orbán’s father, Győző, who apparently besides his quarry also has a real estate business, purchased the whole remaining estate a few years ago.

Who were the Hungarian Habsburgs? The founder of the Hungarian branch was Archduke József, the much beloved palatine (nádor) of Hungary (1776-1847), who became a patron of art and an important promoter of the development of Budapest and the country in general. It was he who acquired a large piece of land in Alcsút and built a beautiful palace there. He and his family settled in Hungary for good. The last Archduke Joseph (1872-1962) who played a role in Hungarian politics was actually born in Alcsút. By all indications some of the remnants of Archduke Joseph’s estate are in the hands of the Orbán family and, according to some information Ferenczi received on the spot, work has already begun. The site is off limits to strangers. It is guarded by security personnel as well as by a kuvasz named Nárcisz (Daffodil). Orbán admitted that the family has a ferocious dog called Nárcisz, but, he added, “it is in Felcsút.” I guess he didn’t want to say that the animal is actually guarding part of the Archduke Joseph’s estate owned by his family.

The remnant of the Habsburg Palace, Alcsútdoboz Source: Wikipedia Commons

The remnants of the Habsburg Palace, Alcsútdoboz
Source: Wikipedia Commons

As I was reading about the landholdings of Viktor Orbán and Anikó Lévai it occurred to me that this unexpected yearning to be “lord of the manor” (földesúr) is typical of Hungarians who may have achieved great wealth or fame in some other endeavor but think their life is not fulfilled without having some land and preferably a sizable and elegant palace to go with it. One of my favorite Hungarian novels is Kezdetben volt a kert (In the beginning there was the garden) by Anna Lesznai, first wife of Oszkár Jászi. The book is largely based on her own family’s story. The grandfather, a well-known Jewish doctor who amassed a fortune, feels that his life is not complete without owning land. He buys a large estate somewhere in the Uplands (today Slovakia) only to realize that this kind of life is not for him. But then comes his son who finds it very much to his liking. The assimilated well-off Jewish family becomes like their non-Jewish noble neighbors next door. Many of these Jewish gentleman farmers eventually received nobility in the second half of the nineteenth century.

I also read stories about 1956 refugees who made it in the United States or in western Europe and who after 1990 went in search of neglected manor houses and country estates in Hungary. Now they are gentleman farmers. A favorite hobby investment was viticulture. Neglected old vineyards were bought up in Tokaj, and with some state subsidies the new owners planted new vines and are currently trying their hands at producing quality Hungarian wines. A good example of this kind of 1956er is Dezső Kékessy, earlier a business partner of Viktor Orbán. He has a vineyard in Tokaj and also bought a country estate.

In her book Ferenczi recalls a film in which Anikó Lévai talked about her ardent desire to return to the soil. After all, she came from peasant stock. Her father finished only six grades. We don’t know how much land her father had, but she referred to him as a “kulák,” a rich peasant. She hoped, she said, that once her husband retires from politics, she could perhaps start “a somewhat larger organic farm.” I learned while researching this post that the Habsburg archdukes had a “model farm” (mintagazdaság) in Alcsút. Perhaps one day on the old Habsburg lands Anikó Lévai can run an organic farm.

Orbán’s clan is plundering the state coffers: The world is taking notice

The talk in Hungary is about corruption. Corruption that seems to consume every nook and cranny of political life. It is an open secret that one of the main aims of Viktor Orbán, in addition to making sure that he will be the prime minister of Hungary for a very long time, is the enrichment of his friends and family. Thanks to the work of some investigative journalists, like Krisztina Ferenczi and Attila Mong, more and more evidence is surfacing that Viktor Orbán is feathering his and his friends’ nests.

Orbán is not like Viktor Yanukovycz, who lived lavishly in tasteless gilded palaces. Considering his estimated wealth, Orbán and his family live modestly. They have a comfortable but unpretentious house in one of the more elegant parts of Buda and an outright humble-looking house, designed in the style of the adobe peasant houses of yore, in Felcsút. The family’s landholdings are something else. Year after year Orbán’s wife, Anikó Lévai, added cheaply acquired lands in and around Felcsút where Viktor’s family spent some time when he was a young child. Moreover, almost everybody is convinced that the Orbán family’s landholdings are much more extensive than official documents attest to. The rest, perhaps thousands of acres, is held under the names of front men.

Viktor Orbán's country home in style of old adobe peasant houses

Viktor Orbán’s country house

For some time Hungary has been brimming with anecdotes and speculation about the Orbáns and their friends, but the charge of wholesale stealing from the national wealth could not be contained within the borders for long. Only two days ago an article appeared in one of the most influential German papers, Der Spiegel, with the title: “Orbán’s clan plunders the state coffers.” As Krisztina Ferenczi told the author of the article, Keno Verseck, “Hungary has become in recent years a kind of large estate” and the lord of the  manor is Viktor Orbán himself.

One reason for the disguised land ownership, assuming the charge is true, besides the obvious one of undeclared wealth without any legitimate means of accumulating it, is that the landholdings are heavily subsidized by the European Union even if they are left fallow. Surely, it would look bad if the European Union were paying millions for the lands of the Hungarian prime minister. There are several indications that Orbán has two front men in Felcsút, Lőrinc Mészáros and János Flier. Both by now have thousands of acres they received fraudulently from the state on twenty-year leases. Neither has any experience in agriculture. Flier used to be an electrician and Mészáros had a small business bringing gas pipes to the inhabitants of the village a few years back. Now they are in charge of large farms.

Viktor Orbán is as upstanding in politics as he is in his financial dealings. The electoral law and its execution are based on fraud. Since he has a pathological need for power, he will never allow a reprise of 2002 and 2006 when he lost the elections. This time he is covering all his bases. We talked a lot about the coming elections and concluded that the final results would be questionable, but I still suggest taking a look at some of the comments on the topic by readers of Hungarian Spectrum. Unfortunately, since the Orbán government is in charge of the mechanics of the election we will never be able to prove fraud, however obvious it might be in places.

Orbán is a role model for Fidesz officials, and part and parcel of that model is his outsize accumulation of wealth. The latest official to come under scrutiny for unexplained affluence is Antal Rogán.

Rogán belongs to the younger generation of Fidesz officials. He had just finished high school at the time of the regime change. In college he majored in economics and soon after graduation was heavily involved in Fidesz politics. By the age of 26 he became a member of parliament and three years later one of the deputies of Viktor Orbán. Currently, he is the leader of the large Fidesz parliamentary caucus.

It seems that Antal Rogán was equally successful when it came to enriching himself. We don’t know how, but Rogán, his wife, and two young children live like nabobs in “Pasa Park.” This gated community is in a part of Buda called Pasarét (Meadow of Pasha), hence the name of the building in which many top Fidesz officials live, including Mihály Varga, minister of national economy. The Rogáns have two and a half apartments worth about 300 million forints. People who are investigating the case claim that Rogán’s total career earnings so far amount to no more than 16 million forints. His wife doesn’t work. His current salary is 1.3 million forints a month, but his expenses far exceed his income. He is still paying about half a million forints a month on his 60 million forint mortgage, he has to pay 300,000 a  month for maintenance, he pays 250,000 to lease an Audi 6, and the two small boys go to a private kindergarten for 300,000 a month. And presumably the family doesn’t starve.

Rogán got into trouble because he did exactly the same thing as  Gábor Simon (MSZP): he didn’t tell the whole truth about his wealth on the financial statement he has to provide to parliament. But while Simon is in jail, Rogán only had to “correct” his financial statement. He may have to keep making corrections as new pieces of information surface. It seems he owns property that he inherited from his grandmother and father in his hometown as well as a country house in Balatonlelle.

Given the way Orbán’s “justice” works, we can be assured that nothing will happen even if the accusations turn out to be correct in every detail. Nothing will happen not only because investigation and punishment depend on the ruling Fidesz party but also because all Hungarian politicians made sure that these financial statements are not worth the paper they’re written on. If, for example in this case, Rogán says that the money for the real estate and the lavish lifestyle comes from loans extended by family and friends, the authorities will be satisfied. He will not have to give any proof of actual transactions. Knowing the high moral fiber of Hungarians, I’m sure there would be plenty of people who would gladly swear that they were the ones who extended the money to Rogán.

That’s how things are in Hungary. It’s no wonder that people are not outraged about the rumors of electoral fraud or the plundering of the state coffers. They are accustomed to corruption and think it best to remain silent. They cannot do anything about it in any case.