Gábor Kubatov

Viktor Orbán’s letters to the Hungarian people: An expensive habit

After the citizens of  Esztergom voted Tamás Meggyes, the long-standing Fidesz mayor of the city (1999-2010), out of office, the Fidesz-majority city council brought the normal functioning of city hall to a virtual standstill. Starting with preventing Éva Tétényi, the new mayor, from occupying her office, they did everything under the sun to paralyze the governance of the city. Articles appearing in the media often called attention to the fate of the city that had the temerity to drop a Fidesz official who also serves in the Hungarian parliament. They predicted that if by some miracle Fidesz loses the next elections this is the fate that will befall the new government.

Less attention was paid to the city of Pécs which had held a municipal by-election a year and a half earlier. Pécs was unlucky with its MSZP mayors. One died as the result of a car crash and his successor died of cancer shortly after he took office. Thus in May 2009, a year before the national election in which Fidesz-KDNP won a two-thirds majority, a Fidesz candidate, Zsolt Páva, decisively beat MSZP’s Katalin Szili, who was at the time the speaker of  parliament.

More attention should have been paid to this by-election in Pécs. With hindsight we can see that the city was in many ways Fidesz’s laboratory for its national election campaign. Moreover, once the new Fidesz mayor occupied his office, his political strategies also foreshadowed what was to come after the party’s landslide victory in 2010.

It was in Pécs that Gábor Kubatov, the party’s campaign manager, put into practice what American advisers taught him about grass root campaigning. The lists his activists compiled became infamous when his bragging about his knowledge of all the “communists” in Pécs became public. But once Fidesz found out that this new campaign style worked splendidly on a small scale, the party decided to apply it nationally.

I’m almost certain that during his first days in office every step Páva took was dictated from above. Otherwise, it seems unimaginable that the mayor of a city of less than 200,000 would on his own initiative forcibly oust a foreign company from the city (and hence the country as well). I think we can say with some degree of confidence that Viktor Orbán had already formulated his plan to nationalize utility companies. What strengthens this hypothesis is that shortly after the expulsion of the French company in Pécs, János Lázár, then still mayor of Hódmezővásárhely, population 40,000, uttered similar threats. Lázár’s threats never went any further, most likely because of the very strong reaction of French president Nicolas Sarkozy to the assault on French companies.

At any event, immediately after he was ensconced in his office Páva began writing letters to the citizens of the city, asking their opinions on various matters. They were supposed to register their views and send back their answers. At the time I thought that this was a very clever way of engaging the citizenry. Not that I thought the answers had much significance or effect, but I considered it a clever political move.

One of Viktor Orbán thirteen letters

One of Viktor Orbán thirteen letters

It seems to me that the barrage of letters with which the new Fidesz mayor in Pécs surprised his voters was again a test. If these letters had a positive impact, perhaps the practice could be adopted once Viktor Orbán became prime minister of Hungary. And indeed, the Pécs experiment worked. At the regular municipal elections the once solidly socialist city switched sides. Fidesz gained an overwhelming  majority on the city council and naturally Páva was reelected.

And so Prime Minister Viktor Orbán began his “correspondence with the Hungarian people.” His first letter was sent out in September 2010 followed by eleven or twelve more since, to the tune of 3.4 billion forints (taking the total number of letters to be twelve) according to an estimate by Index.  Népszava calculated on the basis of thirteen letters that 4.4 billion forints were spent on the letters themselves in addition to the cost of their accompanying ad campaigns. They estimated that about 5 billion forints were spent on Viktor Orbán’s penchant for “direct communication with the people.” The journalists of Népszava also figured out what kinds of  sorely needed goods and services this sum could have purchased. For example, 900 ambulances or the salaries of 350,000 people employed in the public works program.

In the beginning some of the more naive souls actually sent back their answers, and the government proudly announced the success of their solicitation. But as time went by fewer and fewer letters were returned. The overwhelming majority ended up in the garbage. On at least one occasion one of the trade unions organized a campaign to collect the letters and sell them for recycling, giving the proceeds to charity.

One of these letters was sent to inhabitants of towns with populations of fewer than 5,000. It explained to them in what manner and to what extent the central government would finance these smaller boroughs. Here it seems that the soothing explanations actually presaged drastic cuts. Just the other day Róbert Molnár, mayor of Kübekháza (population 1,600), received 3,480 forints for the month of July. This is not a typo. Kübekháza needs about 5 million forints a month just to meet its critical expenses. The electric bill alone is about 40,000 a month. Róbert Molnár with the full support of the town council sent the 3,480 forints back to the government. They found the sum insulting. And Molnár is a Fidesz politician who in fact was a member of parliament between 1998 and 2002. Naturally he made quite a splash since he made sure that the media outlets were informed.

The latest missive was a thank you note straight from Viktor Orbán to those who allegedly signed one of the two million petitions Fidesz received in support of  lowering utility prices. A nice gesture, one could say. But it seems that among those being thanked, according to more and more Hungarians who are speaking out, were family members long dead. One becomes a bit suspicious. Suspicious about Fidesz’s lists in general, about the number two million, and about the whole phony pen pal game.

Football hooligans as Fidesz’s police force

This morning I decided to write more about the “interesting coincidence” that Ferenc Szabó (Feri the Blond), who was convicted for murder and spent ten years in jail, is employed by the Ferencvárosi Futball Club. This fan club is headed by Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz party manager, who is now in the process of organizing a party militia “to defend” Fidesz from future aggressors.  Feri the Blond and some of his ilk already showed up at the Fidesz party headquarters ready to remove the “aggressors,” if necessary by force.

Ready for a fight: Ferencváros Újpest, March 10, 2013 / fradimob.hu

Ready for a fight: Ferencváros – Újpest, March 10, 2013 / fradimob.hu

As I was gathering material for today’s post I discovered that “the game of the year”–as a Fradi fan called it–was scheduled to take place this afternoon. It is a “derby” between Ferencváros and Újpest, whose fans are deadly enemies of one another. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, any match between teams from the same city is called a derby. As I just learned, Ferencváros won, but even before the game started the fans of Újpest attacked the police with stones and broken glass. In turn, a couple of people were arrested for hidden weapons and firecrackers.

This, however, is most likely not the end of the story. Because, as one of the Fradi hooligans told a reporter, “they hunt the enemy.” They plot their route to the stadium in order to avoid the police and to attack the fans of the other team. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they win or lose; the important thing is to have a fight. There is so much aggression in them that they literally want to kill members of the other side. One of the “leaders” of the fans was quite frank: “We are different from others because of the immeasurable hatred in our blood.” The interviews on the following video provide a glimpse into the mindset of these people:

But let’s get back to Ferenc Szabó (Feri the Blond) and Gábor Kubatov. What is the connection over and above the fact that Kubatov is now the boss at Ferencváros and Szabó, the coordinator between the Fradi Security and Kubatov? After all, appointing a murderer to be part of the Fradi security forces would have been far too daring. According to rumors Szabó is getting a better than average salary of 400,000 a month. In June 2012 an article appeared on fradimob.hu in which the author called Szabó “Kubatov’s favorite murderer.” Szabó and Kubatov were soul mates in the notorious Section #2 of the Ferencváros Stadium where the worst hooligans gathered and from where they usually attacked the players, the coaches, or the police. Another member of the group was György Szilágyi (Sziszi), who today is a Jobbik member of parliament. It was this Section #2 that Viktor Orbán decided to visit only a few days before the same hooligans attacked the public television station on September 18, 2006.

These guys were no ordinary football hooligans but members of the underworld: extortionists, blackmailers, drug dealers, and yes, murderers. Not all of them were so unfortunate as to be caught like Feri the Blond. Some of the murders took place in broad daylight in downtown Budapest and the perpetrators were never discovered. This is the world Feri the Blond is coming from.

In August 2012 an article appeared in HVG about another member of Section # 2 who ended up in the Fidesz government. He is Bánk Levente Boros, a “political scientist” at Miskolc University, who in his spare time was deputy chairman of the Ferencváros Szurkolók Szövetsége (Association of Ferencváros Fans). His advice doesn’t come cheap: 400,000 forints a month.

Members of these football fan clubs are getting more and more involved in politics. In Debrecen the members of the fan club of the local DVSC (Debreceni Vasutas Sport Club), better known as Loki, an abbreviated version of the word “locomotive,” entered the building of the university and insulted and intimidated the students. In Budapest at the Faculty of Arts of ELTE  the same thing happened. Skinheads decided to “defend” the government.  And now Kubatov is calling on his “favorite murderer” to police Fidesz and government buildings.

Several articles appeared on the subject from which I learned a lot. Perhaps the most informative on the connection between Fidesz and the underworld was the blog of “Csehszlovák Kém.” He is the blogger who first reported on the Israeli-Hungarian “friendly match” that eventually resulted in severe punishment of the Hungarian Football Association for not being able or not being willing to keep order among the fans in Hungarian stadiums. For the details see my post, “A friendly football match: Hungary-Israel 1-1.” Another article that appeared on the subject is by László Bartus in the Amerikai-Magyar Népszava (March 10, 2013).

Finally, Vera Lánczos in a piece on Galamus entitled “Báránybőrbe bújtatott farkasok” (Wolves in sheep’s clothing) approaches her subject from more of a political angle. She is convinced that Fidesz ordered the police to withdraw in order to avoid a situation similar to the events of 2006 when the police had to handle the unruly demonstrators. They wanted to show the world that “their” police are not brutal as allegedly the socialist police were. So, instead, they got the football hooligans to do the dirty work. But they had to pretend that these people were “volunteers” worried about the fate of their party. According to Lánczos, the original plan of the protesters was to stay in the courtyard overnight, but when the murderer and his friends arrived they decided to leave on their own because “they feared for their safety.” As it was, the employees of the party headquarters not only insulted the students but used force against them. See the description of an eyewitness quoted by Some1 in her comment of August 22, at 12:02.

Kubatov’s early connection with the hardcore Fradi fans lends credence to the possible connection between Fidesz and the Fradi football hooligans in the storming of the television station in September 2006. Perhaps one day we will know exactly what happened, but I must say that in light of these latest developments one has the feeling that Fidesz involvement is more than likely.

The significance of today’s demonstration in the Hungarian capital

This afternoon’s demonstration was impressive. At least in my opinion. Some people are disappointed that only 6,000 people showed up, but I don’t think that numbers are the most important consideration. Yesterday we didn’t even know who those handful of people were who occupied the courtyard of Fidesz’s party headquarters. A few hours later their numbers swelled to 1,000. Less than 24 hours later this unknown group managed to stage a demonstration in which thousands participated.

And this crowd, both yesterday and today, demanded “Constitution, Democracy and the Rule of Law.” These are exactly the kinds of values that European politicians cherish and that they demand from Viktor Orbán. The crowd was mixed: young, middle-aged, old, all mingled together, and there were a lot of sympathizers cheering them on. It is also significant that 110,000 people watched the live stream of the event.

Most likely Viktor Orbán thinks that because the numbers are still relatively small, eventually the whole movement will peter out. I predict that the trend will be just the reverse. Some of you already sensed a different mood on the streets today. In any case, it seems to me that Fidesz is preparing itself for the possibility, even if to some of them an unlikely possibility, of rising dissatisfaction. The party’s organizers and spin doctors are heading in the wrong direction, however, in devising ways to combat dissatisfaction.

Let’s start by recapping yesterday’s response to the demonstrators at the Fidesz headquarters. First, András Bencsik, one of the Peace March organizers, mobilized those Fidesz supporters who are hard-core “professional” demonstrators. Their primitive behavior, their obscenities, and their stupidity will turn more and more people against them. Videos abound on YouTube of these people’s unspeakable behavior. Moreover, they didn’t even realize that the students on the balcony were reading Fidesz’s party program from 1989.

Then came the second mistake. Gábor Kubatov, Fidesz party manager who in his spare time is the president of the board of the Ferencváros Football Club, called on some heavies from the ranks of the Fradi football hooligans who tried to remove the protesters by force. It turned out that one of the hooligans spent ten years in jail  for murder.

And what is Kubatov planning now? He is trying to mobilize the faithful by painting a picture of the imminent danger facing the government and the party. He sent a letter to party members in which he outlined the “damage” and “physical abuse” allegedly committed by the protesters. According to Kubatov, the demonstrators “attacked” the building, “tried to break into it,” but thanks to the the staff ‘s “firmness of purpose” they were thwarted in their attempt. “Meanwhile they broke into smithereens whatever was in their way” (törtek-zúztak) and “maltreated the employees of the party headquarters.” (Don’t try to find any logic here because if they didn’t manage to get into the building how could they have smashed things into smithereens or maltreated the employees who were inside?)

In the future, Kubatov maintains, the employees of the offices of Fidesz must be ready to defend, peacefully of course, their buildings. He called on Fidesz members who are ready to come to the rescue of Fidesz buildings to sign up at riadolanc@fidesz.hu. (“Riadó” means “alert” and “lánc” “chain”.) These people should be ready on an hour’s notice to be “on the scene of aggression.”

Some people on the Internet compare Fidesz’s hard core defenders to either the Sturmabteilung (Storm troopers/SA) or the Workers’ Militia of the Kádár regime. The blogger who compares Kubatov’s defense force to the SA quotes the appropriate passages from the Hungarian edition of Wikipedia, which describes the chief function of the SA  as defending the national socialist party’s meetings from attacks by the opposition.

Kubatov’s guards reminded Vastagbőr (Thick Skin) of Kádár’s Workers’ Militia whose duty was “the defense of the socialist achievements of the Hungarian People’s Republic.” Each workplace, including collective farms and offices, had a number of volunteers who were supposed to defend the buildings and the employees inside.

Now let’s see what the pro-Fidesz media is up to. Magyar Nemzet published a detailed article about today’s events. The author of the article called the organizers “members of the Bajnai Guard” but otherwise gave a fairly objective report on the demonstration. Heti Válasz claimed that “several  activists with a loudspeaker surrounded and insulted the camera man and Boglárka Bartus, a reporter for HírTV.” Maybe, maybe not.

And let’s see how Zsolt Bayer sees the situation. Fidesz supporters, however sadly, must realize that from here on there will be first weekly and later daily demonstrations. He calls the members of civic groups “the children of Saul Alinsky,” a well-known American community organizer and writer. What is so bad about following in the footsteps of Alinsky, who after all worked for the improvement of living conditions in poor communities across North America? Only Bayer knows. But he claims that he is “too lazy, too tired, and too skeptical to loathe” Alinsky’s offspring. Perhaps one could talk to them if there was anything to talk about. But there isn’t. “At least we should force ourselves to be patient because they will be coming and coming. First only a few dozen, but always. They will jump over the fence, climb into our headquarters, our houses, our dreams, our desires. We will smell their halitosis. And we will retreat and retreat because we can hardly bear it. And we would gladly trample down all of them. Let’s be honest with ourselves at least once. This is what we would like to do.” But they cannot do it because the other side is waiting for aggression on their part. Don’t fret. After the elections “they will disappear forever, but until then it will be very difficult.”

One final note on the road Fidesz traveled in the last twenty-five years. Once upon a time Viktor Orbán, László Kövér and their friends did exactly the same thing that today’s college students are doing. Protesting injustice, lack of democracy, lack of transparency, lack of dialogue between the rulers and the ruled. In the courtyard of Fidesz party headquarters the students found discarded campaign literature from 1989. They demanded democratic, ideology-free education and university autonomy. And, what I like perhaps best, they demanded “fear-free life.” With Viktor Orbán’s government fear returned.

I don’t think that László Kövér wants to remember his old self squatting on the ground with a poster hanging from his neck:

In a police state the policeman's salary is higher than that of a teacher. In a democratic country the opposite is true

In a police state the policeman’s salary is higher than that of a teacher. In a democratic country the opposite is true.

How would today’s Fidesz faithful greet the man above? Would they threaten to pour acid on his face? Most likely. What’s going on in Hungary today is really shameful.