Gábor Török

Hungarian Christian Democrats and freedom of the press

The Parisian terrorist attacks will have, I fear, a negative effect not only on Hungary’s immigration policy but also on freedom of speech and freedom of the press in the country. At least this is the way things are looking at the moment.

In an earlier post I recalled Viktor Orbán’s long-standing belief that Europe as a whole and Hungary as part of the European Union should remain “European.” European in this case means ethnically and religiously pure. Until last week, however, we didn’t know that this sentiment was actually reflected in current government practice.

It was on Sunday afternoon, before Viktor Orbán’s by now infamous press conference railing against immigration to Europe, that I realized that strict anti-immigration policies have been in effect ever since 2010. They were introduced quietly, under cover so to speak. Antónia Mészáros, a reporter for ATV, had an interview with Zoltán Balog on Friday afternoon, which didn’t air until Sunday, in which he admitted that the Orbán government has been conducting an anti-immigration policy all along.

Now there is an opportunity to put this unspoken policy into law. On Monday morning Antal Rogán seconded Viktor Orbán’s position on the undesirability of immigration. The next day the “international spokesman” of the Orbán government, Zoltán Kovács, followed suit and explained the Hungarian position on CNN, not with the greatest success. Richard Quest, the reporter, worried that the kind of debate the Hungarians are promoting will become a witch hunt. He ended his program (and this is a rough transcript) by saying that

What’s worrying is when politicians start whipping up the rhetoric. `Hungary for Hungarians,’ – when it starts to become immigration must be stopped. Then you go into you’ve crossed the line. It’s no longer a debate about whether immigration is good or bad, it becomes one to whip up a ferment. History is replete with examples where this has happened, and anybody who tries to deny an innocent-sounding comment for what it could turn into in the future is simply misguided.

As it stands, four out of ten Hungarians share Viktor Orbán’s and his government’s point of view. Tárki, a Hungarian polling firm, has been keeping track of Hungarian xenophobia for some time. In the decade between 2002 and 2011, 24% to 33% of the population were anti-immigrant. After that date the anti-foreign sentiment shot up to 40%, which is not surprising given the rhetoric of Viktor Orbán and his government.

I talked earlier about some right-wing journalists who intimated that the staff at Charlie Hebdo were responsible for their own fate. They provoked the followers of Islam by drawing crude caricatures of their prophet. This argument is now being taken up by the Hungarian Christian Democrats who are, on the whole, even more radical than Fidesz when it comes to religiosity. Their party is often described as the “political arm of the Hungarian Catholic Church.” According to their whip, Péter Harrach, “neither freedom of the press nor freedom of speech can be extended to blasphemy.”

ShawFareed Zakaria, the American reporter who came up with the label “illiberal democracy” for countries like Turkey or Hungary, wrote an article in The Washington Post on the subject of blasphemy. In it he pointed out that the Koran “prescribes no punishment for blasphemy.” However, as we know, today many Muslim countries have harsh laws against blasphemy. It seems that Péter Harrach finds this practice attractive. But Harrach doesn’t have to look to current Muslim practice for a model. As Zakaria points out, only “one holy book is deeply concerned with blasphemy: the Bible.” The Old Testament is full of stories of blasphemers who receive harsh punishment for their sin. It seems that Harrach wants to lead Hungary all the way back to Old Testament times.

This morning representatives of five parties  (Fidesz, KDNP, Jobbik, MSZP, LMP, Együtt) got together to discuss the fight against terrorism. According to Antal Rogán, the parties agreed that “the European Union cannot defend its member states” and that therefore they must formulate and enforce their own strategies. “Political correctness by now is not enough.” Fidesz suggests that “certain public symbols and values should receive special protection.” Rogán made it clear that “religious symbols” would certainly be covered by the new law. I wouldn’t be surprised if among Hungarians’ “common values” we would also find national symbols. Or even political offices. Or high dignitaries of the land, like the president or the president of the house.

There are some analysts, for example, Gábor Török, who are convinced that the terrorist attack in Paris came at the right time for Orbán, whose party lost another 2% in support last month. According to Ipsos, some of the lost voters drifted over to Jobbik, and therefore the Fidesz top leadership decided to turn up the volume on far-right talk. With this strategy they are hoping to regain solid control of the right. Maybe, but I wouldn’t be so sure. According to some fairly reliable sources, Fidesz leaders are not panicking over their loss of popularity at the moment. In their opinion, the current level of support is still high enough for the party to bounce back. Demonstrations will end soon, and people will forget about their grievances over the introduction of toll roads and the Sunday store closings.

As opposed to Török, I don’t believe that Orbán’s outburst in Paris has anything to do with his party’s popularity. I think that he is convinced of the ill effects of immigration and is happy that he found an opportunity to take up arms against it, alone if necessary, quite independently of the European Union. He most likely explored how far he can go and came to the conclusion that he can introduce a law that would effectively stop immigration to Hungary and that he could also restrict freedom of the press as long as the law does not differentiate between religions. Therefore, I fear that Hungarian journalists can look forward to greater restrictions to their freedom.

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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?

Dissension in Fidesz: Is Viktor Orbán’s leadership safe?

There is no question, the Orbán government is in trouble. And when there is trouble there is dissension. Of course, this is not the first time that Viktor Orbán’s political edifice has stood on shaky ground, but this latest quake has been the most serious of all.

In the middle of 2011 dissatisfaction with the government was considerable. Fidesz’s popularity in the polls was almost as low as it is now. Most of the government’s decisions were unpopular and there was genuine fear that Orbán’s new system of national cooperation would inevitably lead to an authoritarian state. By the end of 2011 sizable crowds could be called out to demonstrate against the government and for the republic.

During these stressful times rumors circulated that people close to Viktor Orbán were voicing their concerns and suggesting caution. Let’s not irritate the population further with unpopular decisions. Although it is normally difficult to learn much about the internal workings of Fidesz, it seems that several people raised their voices against Orbán’s strategy at the Fidesz congress held in July 2011. Criticizing the prime minister were László Kövér, Tibor Navracsics, and Zoltán Pokorni. Today these people have almost no say in the running of either the party or the government. Zoltán Pokorni, although on paper still vice-president of Fidesz, is only the humble mayor of a Budapest district. Tibor Navracsics, after being first minister of justice and later minister of foreign affairs, is today a marginalized EU commissioner. Kövér, although he rules the House with an iron fist, has no significant influence on the party.

By the end of 2012 Viktor Orbán silenced his critics with his masterstroke of lowering utility prices across the board. The unpopular decisions continued, but the majority of the Hungarian people were disarmed by a few thousand forints worth of savings on their utility bills. And those who at the beginning of the year were demonstrating against the government retreated, acknowledging the hopelessness of their cause. Fidesz’s popularity bounced back.

2014 began as a great year for Fidesz. After all, it easily won three elections within a few months, largely because of an unfair election law and the lack of a viable political alternative. I’m sure that the current Fidesz leadership–Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, Antal Rogán, and Péter Szijjártó–never imagined that by October a storm of anti-government sentiment would be unleashed.

In the past, every time the party was under fire the answer of Viktor Orbán and his closest associates was that the prime minister’s strategy had always proved correct in the long run. Surely, this gifted magician will shape the future as well. But the situation today is different. Orbán is in trouble not only because of domestic unrest but also because of his failed foreign policy initiatives. Some of his associates realize that he is unacceptable to Hungary’s allies, the European Union and the United States. And thus ostracized by his allies, Orbán endangers his country’s standing in the western world. Orbán’s position is shaky not only at home but abroad as well. And his critics have been much more outspoken than ever before.

One big difference between the earlier times of trouble and now is that the sharp exchanges between Orbán and his closest associates on the one hand and their critics on the other are now out in the open. Earlier they took place in private and the public learned about them only second-hand. The critics have become emboldened.

The brewing palace revolution began with a fairly innocuous sentence by Zoltán Pokorni about the flaunting of wealth on the part of people like János Lázár, Péter Szijjártó, Lajos Kósa, András Giró-Szász, and the mysterious Árpád Habony. János Kövér, most likely independently from Pokorni, expressed his misgivings about these people “living in great style.” Perhaps, he suggested, it would be a good idea to hold back a bit. That caused János Lázár, whose Rolex watch and whose gift of a 60-million forint apartment to his 10-year-old son was one of the reasons for public outrage, to turn against Pokorni in an interview he gave to Figyelő, a weekly that appeared yesterday. Here is the exact quotation: “A political veteran should think twice before, either out of personal resentment or political considerations, he weakens us because he at the same time weakens or executes himself.” Lázár didn’t mince words: he considers Pokorni’s remark “a stab in the back.” He views the criticism coming from Kövér and Pokorni as a generational clash. These old fogies should realize that their time has passed. His generation, the thirty- to forty-year-olds, is running the show now.  444.hu translated Lázár’s words as a message to the insurgents: those who go against the current leadership have no political future. Kövér did not respond, but Pokorni made a conciliatory statement that he shared with vs.hu. Apparently Lázár’s attack on Pokorni was approved and encouraged by Viktor Orbán himself.

This was a long time ago: Viktor Orbán and Zoltán Pokorni in 2004

This was a long time ago: Viktor Orbán and Zoltán Pokorni in 2004

Why did Pokorni’s remark raise such a furor in the top leadership? Budapest is full of possible, if mostly implausible explanations. One is that both the United States and Germany came to the conclusion that it is impossible to work with Viktor Orbán and they hope that someone else in the party might be able to replace him. Rumor has it that the American favorite is Zoltán Pokorni, while Germany favors János Lázár. That’s why Lázár reacted so violently to Pokorni’s remarks. To tell you the truth, I don’t believe a word of that story. Pokorni has not been in the forefront of national politics for a very long time and, as far as Lázár is concerned, who in his right mind would want to work with him?

Gábor Török, a popular political scientist who has an influential blog, is known to be somewhat partial to Fidesz, but lately he has become more outspoken than usual. He is convinced that all the negative news about the corruption of people like Lázár, Rogán, and Kósa must come from the inside and that Fidesz is “full of Brutuses.” According to him, “there will be no uprising until its leaders are confident that Orbán, after leaving Fidesz, will be unable to establish a party that could win against them.” Once they believe that Orbán is not a political threat, the young Turks will not hesitate for a moment.

Well, this opinion might not be terribly off the mark. Török has many friends in Fidesz and is more familiar with the situation in the party than most political scientists of a liberal persuasion. I should mention that Török finds the strained relations between Viktor Orbán and Washington extremely serious. I agree with him. As Török  said, Viktor Orbán has no idea how much the Americans really know, not just about his close associates but about his own dealings. And that must be very troubling to him because surely he has been the coordinator of the systemic corruption that has permeated the country, especially since 2010.

Some musings on Hungarian politics today

I hope I haven’t bored you to death with my continuing saga of the Hungarian democratic opposition’s struggles, but there are still many aspects of the issue that are worth investigating.

The general consensus is that Gordon Bajnai is the victim of a political game that has been going on for the last year and a half. On October 12, 2012, Gordon Bajnai seemed to be the messiah the anti-Orbán forces were waiting for. He offered himself as the beacon of the opposition; with his name on their banner they could march toward a better future in the name of democracy. He didn’t establish a party at that time but a kind of umbrella organization under which the groupings on the left could gather.

The initial reaction was fantastic. There were at least 50,000 people who cheered him on, and a few weeks later Medián registered a 14% approval rating for his organization. But from there on it was all downhill. Attila Mesterházy seized the initiative and suggested immediate negotiations with all the parties and former eminent politicians on the left. It was at this point that Gordon Bajnai, most likely on the advice of his former chief-of-staff, Viktor Szigetvári, decided to postpone negotiations. The rest of the story is only too well known, and there is no need to repeat it here.

Most commentators are burying Gordon Bajnai as a politician. In fact, many of them suggest that his failure is largely due to the fact that he is not a politician but a technocrat. They talk about his inept moves. Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus who rarely minces words, blames Bajnai for “ending up exactly where we were in 2010.” According to her, he “stepped back into the nothingness, he ceased to be a counterweight, even if a minimal one, and handed full powers to Mesterházy.” The title of her short piece is “Congratulations to Gordon Bajnai.”

In this game most people see Attila Mesterházy as the ultimate winner. Someone who first managed to get rid of Ferenc Gyurcsány and hence remained his party’s only authoritative voice. And then came his next victim, Gordon Bajnai. However, according to one analyst, there is still one more possible victim–Ferenc Gyurcsány, who by joining the Mesterházy-led formation will find himself in the same corrupt socialist party that he left two years ago. Surely, the commentator, Zsolt Zsebesi of gepnarancs.hu, is no friend of the socialists and its chairman. His Mesterházy is a schemer and a power-hungry man who has been wanting to be prime minister ever since childhood. According to him, Mesterházy loves power as much as Viktor Orbán does. But what is worse, he writes, is that Mesterházy, other than being good at jostling in the intra-party power games, has no other redeeming qualities. He has no vision and no competence when it comes to becoming the next prime minister of Hungary.

Árpád W. Tóta, a witty commentator and sharp observer, goes even further. He recalls in his opinion piece that an economist complained just the other day that the democratic opposition cannot offer anything more than a return to the pre-2010 world. But, Tóta continues, such a program would actually not be bad at all. The problem is that this crew within the socialist party is a great deal less talented than their predecessors. Gyula Horn, László Kovács, Ferenc Gyurcsány were ready for victory. Mesterházy is the only one who seems to be at a loss. (Actually Tóta, who sprinkles his writing with four-letter words, said something stronger than that.) His final conclusion is that the socialists, by trying to distance themselves from the infamous “last eight years” (2002-2010), are committing a folly. They can win only by identifying themselves with those years and should be glad  if they are not judged by the last three and a half years.

I must say that I have a better opinion of Mesterházy than those from whose writings I just quoted. Mesterházy seems to have managed to keep the party together which, considering the devastating defeat they suffered, was quite an achievement. Any comparison with Viktor Orbán, of course, is ridiculous, but having Mesterházy at the top of the ticket is certainly not a calamity. The only question is whether he can run a successful campaign that results in a change of government. And no one knows that yet.

Perhaps the most interesting comment came from Gábor Török, a political scientist whose comments usually annoy me because they are insipid and wishy-washy. One cannot pin him down on anything. But last night he made a good point on his blog. His argument goes something like this. For the time being Mesterházy seems to have won, but it will be some time before we know what his fate will be in the long run because, if the joint opposition forces lose the election, it can easily happen that he will be blamed for the failure. That his personal ambition was too high a price to pay for another four years of Viktor Orbán. On the other hand, for Ferenc Gyurcsány it is a win-win situation. He won this round and, if the new formation headed by Mesterházy loses the election, he will be declared a prophet, an excellent politician whose advice should have been heeded.

I should also say a few words about the PM contingent within the Együtt-2014-PM alliance. PM stands for Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Dialogue for Hungary). The politicians of PM are the ones who broke away from LMP due to András Schiffer’s steadfast refusal to cooperate with other democratic parties. Some of these people swore that they would never cooperate with Ferenc Gyurcsány. And now, here they are. Katalin Ertsey, a member of LMP’s caucus, even today can repeat with disgust that her former colleagues in the party “lie in the same bed with Gyurcsány.” Yet the PM members are ready to cooperate because they rightly point out that times have changed and it would be most irresponsible not to do so.

However, Péter Juhász, a civic leader who organized large anti-government demonstrations on the Internet, refuses to be on the same ticket with Gyurcsány. But that is not his only problem. He also rejects joining a ticket that is headed by Attila Mesterházy.

I always considered Juhász muddle-minded. I can’t understand how it was possible that Juhász didn’t notice until now that there was a very good chance of Mesterházy’s becoming prime minister if the Együtt-2014-PM-MSZP coalition happens to win the election. Because according to the original agreement the head of the list that receives the most votes will become prime minister. And there was never any point in time when Együtt-2014-PM was anywhere near MSZP’s popularity. Then what are we talking about? In any case, my reaction is: good riddance. I found Juhász a detriment to the cause.

And finally, Mandiner, the conservative site run by mostly young journalists, decided to devote a whole article with lots of pictures to Gyurcsány. It was supposed to be funny and whole thing was written in an ironic style. They included a video from the great MSZP campaign demonstration on Heroes’ Square and Andrássy út in 2006.

Of course, I saw this video earlier. In fact, I think I watched the whole fanfare. But it is an entirely different experience to watch it today, eight years later. The comparison between the self-confident MSZP in 2006 in the middle of the campaign and now is really staggering. I thought I would share this video with you to see the contrast and the sad state of the party today. Can it be revived? And if yes, how? And by whom? Or will it die and will something else come in its place?

A show trial in Orbán’s Hungary

Today, inspired by an anonymous piece of writing entitled “A kémügy” (The spy affair) that appeared online on September 16, I will revisit a case I have written about extensively in the past. In July there was a show trial in the military court of Debrecen where the accused were a former minister and two high officials in the Hungarian National Security office.  We will not know details of the trial or even the charges brought against these men for a very long time because the transcript of the trial and the material gathered by the prosecution will not be made public until 2041. Moreover, a gag order was imposed on the defendants. If they reveal anything whatsoever related to the case they will be charged with divulging “state secrets,” which may mean another trial and another sentence.

The last time a cabinet minister and high-ranking officials were accused and convicted of espionage in Hungary was during the Rákosi period. In 1949 László Rajk, minister of the interior, and several high-ranking army officers were accused of spying, found guilty, and executed. The charges were, of course, trumped up. Times have changed, at least in the sense that Viktor Orbán’s political enemies can no longer be physically eliminated. But even on trumped-up charges they can end up in jail for a few years, their lives ruined.

The defendants in this case were György Szilvásy, minister in charge of national security in the Gyurcsány administration, Lajos Galambos, head of the National Security Office, and Sándor Laborc, Galambos’s successor. The court procedures were conducted in the Debrecen military court instead of in a Budapest civilian court.

As I said, I have written a lot about this case, and I suggest that those who are interested in this trial should read some of the older entries. My first post on the subject appeared on July 2, 2011, with the title “More and more arrests, most likely on phony charges,” which was followed by two more in the same month, one of which I entitled “The case against György Szilvásy and the national security chiefs might be of historic importance.” I borrowed that title from Gábor Török, a political scientist, who argued at the time that if the charges turn out to be unfounded “the present government majority can’t escape political responsibility.” In a democracy, said Török, “no political power can use means that are considered to be illegitimate.” Török suspected that someone did use such means and warned that “it will be a black day for Hungarian democracy when we find out who he was.”

Reading this old blog post of Gábor Török from 2011, we can now understand Viktor Orbán’s fury, described by the author of “A kémügy,” when he found out that despite the assurances of Chief Prosecutor Peter Polt the prosecutors’ case against Szilvásy was so weak that a military judge named Béla Varga refused to initiate proceedings against Szilvásy. Poor Varga didn’t remain a military judge for long. In fact, he is currently under criminal investigation. But after Varga’s ruling Orbán realized that “his political career is at stake” and that this “mistake” must be corrected somehow. And the situation for Orbán didn’t look good. The prosecutors appealed and the appellate court agreed with the lower court.

It was at that junction, claims our author, that there was a meeting of Fidesz leaders, high officials of the Ministry of Interior, and top prosecutors. Fidesz leaders made it clear that the “problem” must be solved. A guilty verdict must be delivered, at least in the first instance. The burden eventually fell on the minister of the interior, Sándor Pintér, who just a bit earlier had received supervisory rights over a new national security organization called Nemzeti Védelmi Szolgálat (National Security Service). He managed to get bits and pieces of information from Laborc’s successor, László Balajti, about some of the cases Galambos and Laborc handled.

Since I already wrote rather extensively about the case, I will not dwell on the details. It is enough to say that Galambos hired an outside firm owned by a person whose father studied in the Soviet Union and whose mother was Russian to conduct lie detector tests on some of the people whom he suspected of being spies for Fidesz within his own office. That became the wedge used to build a case against these three men. The prosecutors concentrated on Galambos with the idea of breaking him. Initially, however, they were not successful and again the investigative judge released him from custody. Again, the prosecutors appealed the ruling and in the second instance the investigative judge sent Galambos back to  jail. But although Galambos was often quite incoherent, he did not accuse his minister of espionage.

It was at that point that Sándor Pintér’s new National Defense Service took over the investigation because the politician was worried that nothing would come of this not so well constructed phony case. But by law the National Defense Service is not allowed to engage in investigative operations. So, illegally the officials of the Service visited Galambos in jail and asked for his cooperation. Galambos could easily be coerced because he had another court case hanging over his head. They promised that if he cooperates they will drop the charges in the other case. By that time Galambos was in such bad psychological shape that overnight the prison guards checked on him every fifteen minutes. But still no tangible evidence came to light that would implicate György Szilvásy. Eventually, they asked Galambos whether they could “summarize” his testimony.

According to the document, Szilvásy, with the knowledge of Ferenc Gyurcsány, served Russian interests. He tried to pass MOL. the Hungarian oil company, into Russian hands and Szilvásy allegedly had something to do with the collapse of Malév, the Hungarian airline company. The lie detector tests were necessary to prevent leaks because the Russians wanted to be sure that no one learns the details of the planned Southern Stream gas pipeline. The anonymous author reminds us that these accusations are practically the same that Fidesz leveled against the Gyurcsány government. Mind you, even here the officers of the National Defense Service were sloppy. At the time that all these dastardly deeds were allegedly committed, in 2006 and early 2007, there were no talks about Hungary’s involvement in the Southern Stream project.

This so-called testimony, the linchpin of the whole case, wasn’t included with the other pieces of evidence because in that case the defense would have been able to read it before the trial. In which case they would have been able to deny the charges in writing. Moreover, evidence obtained illegally cannot be used in the investigative phase. On the other hand, the judges would most likely accept it as evidence because they were more interested in its content than the way in which it was obtained. So, the decision was made that during Galambos’s trial, Galambos himself would ask for the “summary.” Naturally, neither Szilvásy nor Laborc was present and therefore they had no way of knowing what Galambos’s testimony was all about. Therefore they couldn’t possibly mount a defense against it.

Galambos had to be found guilty because otherwise Szilvásy couldn’t have been charged with abetment and Laborc with complicity. Galambos and Szilvásy each received jail sentences of two years and ten months, Sándor Laborc a suspended sentence of one year.

This is what we can glean from this anonymous document. How much of it is true we cannot know now and perhaps never will. But espionage is certainly a very serious offense. According to ¶261§(1) of the Hungarian Criminal Code, someone who gathers intelligence for a foreign power will receive a sentence of from two to eight years. ¶261§(2) states that if the information passed to a foreign power happens to be top-secret then the sentence will be harsher, between five and fifteen years. Considering that Galambos received only two years and ten months, the alleged evidence was most likely very flimsy.

If political motivation played a role and the prosecutors, the military judges, the ministry of interiors actually conspired to send György Szilvásy to jail just because of his role in unveiling Fidesz politicians’ illegal spying on the National Security Office, then Orbán’s Hungary is no longer a country that respects the rule of law. A friend of mine made an observation that I think is absolutely brilliant.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis / wikimedia.org

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis / wikimedia.org

In classic show trials the victims were forced to cooperate and in a spectacular public trial they admitted their guilt. Once the authorities got what they wanted, the judges could announce the verdict and the victims naturally were found guilty. But what happens when the accused refuse to admit guilt as these three men did? How do the authorities manage to send them to jail? The Orbán government came up with the perfect solution. They made everything about this trial secret, including the exact nature of the charges. The persons involved are bound by a gag order. The victims cannot even deny their guilt in public. Thus we will never know what they were charged with and why they were found guilty. This is, my friend says, worse than the classic show trials. I tend to agree with him.

MSZP’s new strategy: Frontal attack on Viktor Orbán and his government

Lately I have been increasingly aware that MSZP politicians are changing tactics. They have decided to be less timid when it comes to criticism of Viktor Orbán, his party, and his government. Earlier, liberal and socialist politicians tried to avoid the kind of discourse that is characteristic of Fidesz and that contributed to the deep political division in Hungary.

The constant verbal abuse until recently came only from the right. The humiliated socialist politicians weren’t confident enough to raise their voices. But now, instead of tiptoeing around, they no longer mince words. It seems that they came to the conclusion that madly looking for polite words to describe the absolutely unacceptable policies and political discourse of Fidesz and members of the Orbán government leads nowhere. The Hungarian public is so accustomed to Fidesz rants that they no longer hear roundabout ways of expressing displeasure. Stronger language  and a louder voice became necessary.

Leftist politicians and political commentators no longer shy away from calling Fidesz a mafia-like organization that is in the process of trying to attain exclusive political power and that also strives for its own and its followers’ enrichment. It is enough here to think of Bálint Magyar’s excellent article on the Fidesz “upperworld” or Ferenc Gyurcsány’s total disregard of any possible consequences by calling Viktor Orbán a cheat and a liar.

source: markdenham.com

source: markdenham.com

Here I would like to concentrate on Attila Mesterházy, who recently delivered a very effective speech in parliament addressed to Viktor Orbán and who in the last three days wrote two op/ed pieces, one in Népszava and another in NépszabadságBoth papers have MSZP connections. Népszava used to be the paper of the Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt. It began publication in 1873 and even today describes itself as “a social democratic daily.”

Attila Mesterházy seems to like numbered lists. His article in Népszava is entitled “Orbán’s Nine Lies” and today’s article in Népszabadság is “Fifteen Theses.” The first article is about the nine “accomplishments” of the Orbán government as they were enumerated by the prime minister in Tusnádfrürdő/Băile Tușnad in Romania at the end of July. In the second piece Mesterházy basically outlines what his party intends to do after winning the elections in 2014.

Here I will not be able to summarize all the points that Mesterházy makes in these two articles. Instead I will concentrate on the different tone, the different communication tactics that are a departure from both earlier MSZP strategy and the declared conciliatory tactics of Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 2014-PM. I’m coming to the conclusion that MSZP, as opposed to the middle-of-the-road Bajnai group, decided that their followers demand stronger language and more resolute action once the Orbán mafia-government is out of office.

I think it was 23 years ago, in 1991, that the young Viktor Orbán in parliament said of Prime Minister József Antall “the prime minister is lying.” The air froze around him. Those were the days when members of parliament, even the ones in opposition, found it unacceptable to call the prime minister a liar. But now the largest opposition party’s chairman himself calls Orbán a liar, “someone who rewrites reality, someone who falsifies facts, someone who is sinking in the maelstrom of his own lies.” After this powerful beginning, Mesterházy lists all the lies Orbán uttered in Tusnádfürdő and finishes with the claim that these lies are necessary in order to cover up Orbán’s “politics based on the interpenetration of money and power.”

Mesterházy’s second article on MSZP strategy outlines what MSZP plans to do with the political and financial edifice that Viktor Orbán built in the previous four years. MSZP promises the dismantlement of Orbán’s system. In addition, they will redress injustice and punish those who are found guilty. MSZP is currently planning a thorough investigation of the shady land-lease program and the distribution of the tobacconist shops. Mesterházy “calls on everyone who feels that they received undeserved preferential treatment to return the ill-gotten land or give back their tobacco concessions. Otherwise we will take the land back and give it to those who really want to cultivate it. ” As far as the tobacconist shops are concerned, MSZP will put an end to the current system and return to the days when one could buy cigarettes at gas stations, supermarkets, and small corner stores.

But that is not all. Organizations and companies that currently provide questionable services to the government will also be investigated and “if it is found that payments were provided for services not actually rendered or a gram of cement was stolen, those responsible will not be able to avoid court proceedings.” These are unusually strong words for Attila Mesterházy.

On the other hand, he holds out an olive branch to the average Fidesz voter by pointing out that they are not responsible for what the Orbán govenment has done to the country because Viktor Orbán didn’t tell them his plans. “He shafted them, he misled them.” So, they shouldn’t feel ashamed.

Felcsút is becoming a symbol of all that is wrong with present-day Hungary. The small village where Viktor Orbán spent his early childhood and where he is building a monument to himself is a reminder of what can happen to a man who has lost all sense of reality because of unfettered power.

And that leads me to an article by Gábor Török, a political scientist who cannot be accused of anti-Orbán prejudices. Török is actually an admirer of Viktor Orbán’s political skills and points out that the prime minister in his long political career always kept in mind what people think of his actions and how the electorate reacts to his words and deeds. That’s why he finds what is happening in Felcsút, the construction of an enormous stadium right next door to the prime minister’s own house, so out of character. Doesn’t he realize what perception that whole project creates? Is he blind and deaf? “A stadium next to one’s own house may kill a politician. It only depends on the creativity and talent of his opponents.” Mesterházy mentioned Felcsút eight times in an article only slightly longer than this post.