Gergely Prőhle

Fidesz at a far-right conference in Moscow

It was only today that Cink.hu, a Hungarian internet portal, reported on an extreme right-wing gathering in Moscow on September 10-11 where the Hungarian government was represented by Gergely Prőhle, undersecretary in the Ministry of Human Resources. I myself learned about this event earlier from the excellent German-language blog on Hungarian affairs, PusztarangerThe story is quite complicated, so let’s start at the beginning.

The World Congress of Families that sponsored the Moscow conference is an American based organization that opposes same-sex marriage, pornography, and abortion. Because of its militant anti-gay stand, especially its involvement with the 2013 Russian LGBT propaganda law opposing LGBT rights internationally, WCF was designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBT hate group. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT civil rights advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the United States, called WCF “one of the most influential groups in America promoting and coordinating the exportation  of anti-LGBT bigotry, ideology, and legislation abroad.” HRC claimed that their international conferences gather “the most fringe activists engaged in anti-LGBT extremism.”

WCF has organized annual congresses ever since 1997 when it was established. This year the eighth congress was scheduled to be held in Moscow on September 10-11. This particular congress was to carry the title: World Congress of Families VIII: “Every Child a Gift: Large families–The Future of Humanity.” But then came the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Three Russians–Vladimir Yakunin, Yelena Mizulina, and Aleksey Pushkov–who were involved with the conference were among those sanctioned by the United States and Australia right after the annexation. Under these circumstances WCF, which normally has very good relations with the Russian government and the Russian right, tried to make itself invisible. After all, other groups, such as Concerned Women for America, pulled out of the project, saying that they “don’t want to appear to be giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin.” So WCF’s name was removed from the program. They decided to call it “International Forum: Large Family and Future of Humanity.” Although the organizing committee still listed two prominent leaders of WCF, they hid their affiliations.

Sharing organizational tasks with WCF were the Russian Orthodox Church, the Vladimir Yakunin Center of National Glory, the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation, and Konstantin Malofeev’s Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation. Both Yakunin and Malofeev are among the oligarchs sanctioned by the United States and the European Union. According to Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog, Malofeev has high-level connections with EU-based far right parties and was deeply involved in unleashing the Ukrainian crisis. Apparently a meeting between leaders of far-right parties in Europe and Russian right-wingers, including Malofeev, took place in Vienna in June. Their goal was to “rescue Europe from liberalism and the gay lobby.” Among the participants were Aymeric Chauprade (National Front, France), Heinz-Christian Strache, and Johann Gudenus (FPÖ, Austria). I wouldn’t surprised if Béla Kovács of Jobbik, whom Fidesz accused of spying for the Russians, were also present. Chauprade was at the congress in Moscow and had a large role to play in the proceedings. So was the Austrian FPÖ’s Johann Gudenus. The conference ended with the issuance of a proclamation that blasts liberal social policies in Western countries and calls for Russian-style “homosexual propaganda” bans to be enacted throughout the world.

Enter Gergely Prőhle, who is no stranger to the readers of Hungarian Spectrum. He had a distinguished diplomatic career: he was ambassador to Germany and Switzerland and in the second Orbán administration served as assistant undersecretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In comparison to some of the others, Prőhle seemed moderate–at least until I read an op/ed piece of his in Heti Válasz about the controversial monument to the German occupation of Hungary in 1944. I devoted a whole post to that opinion piece in which Prőhle showed his less attractive side.

Prőhle was one of three hundred employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who got the boot from the interim minister, Tibor Navracsics. For a while it looked as if his government career was over. But then he received an offer from Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, to become an undersecretary in charge of international and European Union affairs. (One would think that “international” includes the European Union, but this government’s naming habits are rather peculiar.)

It was in this new capacity that Prőhle was dispatched to Moscow to represent the Hungarian government at this illustrious conclave. It is hard to tell whether the bright lights in the ministry were aware of WCF’s involvement in the congress. It is also unclear whether they knew that the French and Austrian far-right parties would be taking center stage at the gathering. In the final analysis, however, even if they were uninformed, ignorance is no excuse. If nothing else,  Zoltán Balog and Gergely Prőhle were careless and negligent. Of course, it is also possible, perhaps even likely, that members of the government felt that good relations with Russia were of paramount importance to Hungary and therefore they should not turn down an invitation coming from Moscow.

Gergely Prőhle at a conference organized by far-right groups in Moscow, September 10-11, 2014

Gergely Prőhle at a far-right conference in Moscow, September 10-11, 2014

One thing is sure. Official Hungary did not boast about Prőhle’s presence at the Moscow conference. MTI made no mention of the conference, and neither the journalist at Cink.hu nor I found anything about the event on the ministry’s website. However, Cink.hu discovered on the Russian Orthodox Church’s website that Gergely Prőhle was among the speakers at the conference, along with Aymeric Chauprade, a member of the European Parliament, and Johann Gudenus (FPÖ), a member of the Austrian parliament. Gudenus delivered his speech in Russian because, according to his German-language entry on Wikipedia, he “regularly attended summer courses at the Lononosov University of Moscow and received a Russian Certificate from the Education Ministry of the Russian Federation.”

Cink.hu put a number of questions to the ministry and got some meaningless answers. They denied that the oligarchs had anything to do with the conference; it was organized by the Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church. When Cink.hu inquired about the gathering that was studded with extreme right groups, the answer was that “it is possible that they were also there but Gergely Prőhle represented the family policy of the Hungarian government.” The ministry proudly announced that Prőhle spoke “between Russia’s Chief Rabbi and the Russian Chief Mufti.” Well, in that case everything must be okay.

It’s too bad that the journalist failed to inquire about the manifesto the congress issued that lambasted liberal Europe and called for a ban on “homosexual propaganda.” It would be interesting to know whether Prőhle, the man in charge of European affairs, signed this document on behalf of Hungary.

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Changes in the Hungarian foreign ministry and the growth of the third Orbán government

Today I would like to say a few words about the reorganization of the government. First, one wonders why it took so long to create the third Orbán government considering that on the top level there were very few personnel changes. Only two ministries were affected–the ministry of foreign trade and foreign affairs and the ministry of administration and justice. Not much changed in the latter, but what happened in the former is truly astonishing. With the arrival of Tibor Navracsics and Péter Szijjártó about 200 new faces appeared in the ministry; their corresponding numbers were either dismissed or moved to other positions in other ministries. It is just now becoming evident how dissatisfied Viktor Orbán must have been with János Martonyi and the men and women around him.

In 2010 Viktor Orbán announced that there were two ministers whose presence in his second government was assured: Sándor Pintér and János Martonyi. Martonyi hadn’t been officially nominated at the time, but Orbán sent him nonetheless to Bratislava to negotiate with the Slovaks.

Martonyi has been loyal to Viktor Orbán ever since 1998 when he was first named foreign minister. From the WikiLeaks documents we know that after the lost election of 2002 Martonyi was a frequent and welcome visitor in the U.S. Embassy in Budapest where he was especially highly regarded by Ambassador April H. Foley (2006-2009). As a result, the relationship between Ferenc Gyurcsány and the American ambassador was outright antagonistic.

János Martonyi made an almost clean sweep in the personnel of the ministry in 2010 and yet, it seems, the atmosphere and the foreign policy strategies devised by Martonyi were not to Orbán’s liking. More and more areas of foreign policy were taken away from the ministry and given to others: first to Tamás Fellegi, minister of national development, and later to Péter Szijjártó. The former was supposed to woo China and Russia while Szijjártó concentrated on the Middle East. And yet Martonyi defended the prime minister and remained loyal to the end. If he was insulted by being sidestepped and ignored, he didn’t show it.

Now his tenure is over. For six months Tibor Navracsics will fill Martonyi’s place after which Orbán’s real favorite, Péter Szijjártó, will become minister. He will most likely continue the policy of the “Eastern Opening,” the brainchild of Viktor Orbán. For such a drastic change in orientation an entirely new staff was necessary. Not one of the six undersecretaries remained, and out of the ten assistant undersecretaries only one kept his job.

Among the victims was Enikő Győri, undersecretary in charge of Hungary’s relations with the European Union, who will be leaving to serve as ambassador to Spain. Her departure might be connected to a debate about which ministry should deal with the EU.  János Lázár wants to move the responsibility to the prime minister’s office, while Navracsics insisted that relations with Brussels belongs to the ministry of foreign affairs. After Navracsics’s departure Lázár may well have his way.

The third Orbán government / MTI Photo Attila Kovács

The third Orbán government / MTI Photo Attila Kovács

Gergely Prőhle, the assistant undersecretary about whom I wrote several times, is also leaving. Zoltán Balog created a new position for him in the ministry of human resources. With this change Prőhle’s diplomatic career seems to be coming to an end. Earlier he served as ambassador to Bern and Berlin.

The most noteworthy change is the departure of Zsolt Németh, undersecretary of foreign affairs in both the first and the second Orbán governments. He was one of the founders of Fidesz who has held high positions in the party ever since 1989. In fact, between 1995 and 2003 he was one of the vice-presidents of the party. He has been a member of parliament since 1990. He will now be the chairman of the parliament’s committee on foreign affairs. According to NépszabadságNémeth was offered the post of ambassador to Washington but he preferred to retire completely from the conduct of foreign affairs. He supports a foreign policy based on transatlantic ties and “would like to see better relations between Hungary and the United States.” Apparently, he is not happy with the cozy relations between Hungary and Putin’s Russia.

In other ministries the changes were not that drastic, but practically everywhere the number of undersecretaries and assistant undersecretaries has grown. Perhaps the most spectacular growth occurred in the Office of the Prime Minister where there are eight undersecretaries and, believe it or not, 27 assistant undersecretaries. One of these new assistant secretaries has already made his mark. He is the one who is “negotiating” with the Norwegians about their grants to Hungary. In total, according to a new HVG article, there are 100 assistant undersecretaries in the third Orbán government.

I see no attempt on the part of the government to be frugal. Not only is the government growing steadily but grandiose plans are being hatched practically daily. The government is planning to build a new museum quarter, to move ministries from Budapest to various cities across the country, and to move the office of the prime minister to the Castle district, near the current residence of the president.

The Hungarian government is also continuing its mania for acquisitions. It is currently negotiating “to buy Bombardier’s stake in Hungarian rail transportation firm Bombardier MAV Kft.” The new minister of national development told Napi Gazdaság that “it’s a clear aim of the government and the ministry to carry out further acquisitions. It’s not a secret that there are talks under way in this respect with E.ON, for example.”

After this spending spree, who is going to replenish the Hungarian piggy bank?

Memorial Conference in Washington and Gergely Prőhle, representative of the Hungarian government

First, a very brief note on March 19th in Budapest. To mark the 70th anniversary of the German “occupation” of Hungary Mazsihisz organized what turned out to be a gathering of several thousand people on Herzl Square, in front of the famous synagogue on Dohány Street. Mazsihisz sent invitations to many important people, including Viktor Orbán. To be sure that he received it, they sent it registered mail. The prime minister’s office claimed that it never arrived. So Mazsihisz sent a second letter and got a second-string response. Viktor Orbán didn’t attend. Instead, he sent one of his deputies, Zsolt Semjén.

Now, let’s move on to a conference that was held in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The conference was opened by Paul A. Shapiro, Director of the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the Museum, and Randolph L. Braham, the foremost expert on the Hungarian Holocaust. Their two short speeches were followed by presentations by American and Hungarian historians of the Hungarian Holocaust, including Gábor Kádár and László Csősz, two of the three co-authors of The Holocaust in Hungary: Evolution of a Genocide about which we talked at length ten days ago. I will try to get the texts of all of the lectures. I can tell you right now that I’m lucky enough to have received a lengthy study by Professor Braham entitled “Hungary: The Assault on the Historical Memory of the Holocaust.” He would like to share it with the readers of Hungarian Spectrum, for which I’m very grateful.

Gergely Prőhle was the representative of the Hungarian government at the conference. He delivered a short talk defending the Orbán government’s handling of the Holocaust Memorial Year and growing Hungarian anti-Semitism in general.

As it turned out, Prőhle came to the United States to take part in the March 15th celebrations of the Hungarian community in Los Angeles. On his way home he stopped in Washington to talk to Ira N. Foreman, the U.S. State Department special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, with whom he discussed the details of the 2015 Hungarian chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. That was in the morning. In the afternoon he attended the conference in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Center, which he left early because he had to catch his plane.

The talk he delivered was short. He admitted that it is not easy for the government to react to all of the various interpretations of recent events. Anti-Semitism is not “a specialty of Hungary” and, according to him, the Hungarian government has done everything it could since 2010. They changed the civic code; they started a campaign against paramilitary groups. Admittedly, there are still problems but let’s wait for the election when hopefully the far-right Jobbik will be forced back to the democratic camp.

He denied the existence of any new interpretation of the Treaty of Trianon or the Holocaust. Hungary recognizes its responsibility, which by now should be clear. Trianon is an important issue but the rights of the Hungarians in the neighboring counties are more important.

Back in Hungary Prőhle gave an interview about his trip to Washington to György Bolgár of KlubRádió. Bolgár asked him how his talk was received and whether there was any follow-up discussion. Prőhle answered in the negative but admitted that he had left by the time the participants reconvened after a short break. If he had been there, he could have heard Zoltán Tibori Szabó from Cluj/Kolozsvár, writer, editor, journalist, who has written extensively on the Hungarian Holocaust, quip that perhaps it should be Fidesz that gets back to the democratic camp first. The audience loved it and responded with an extended applause.

Gergely Prőhle is an assistant undersecretary in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry who has the reputation of being a moderate. But how moderate is he? At the end of February he wrote an op/ed piece in Heti Válasz entitled “Arányok és tévesztések,” a play on words indicating that the Jewish community’s reaction to the government’s Holocaust Memorial Year was disproportionately vehement and hence mistaken. “It doesn’t matter who says what, the government didn’t declare 2014 to be the Holocaust Memorial Year because it wants to sweep Hungary’s responsibility under the rug. Given the amount of money allocated to the events, to talk about a ‘falsification of history’ and declare ‘a boycott’ is an overreaction.”

EichmannThen came something that took my breath away. Prőhle mentioned a recent film on Hannah Arendt’s years in New York (“Hannah Arendt: Ihr Denken veränderte die Welt” which according to the reviews I read is not exactly a masterpiece). I don’t know how many of you remember Hannah Arendt’s controversial book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, which originally appeared as a series of articles in The New Yorker. Adolf Eichmann was one of the chief characters in the Hungarian Holocaust. According to Arendt, who was present throughout the long trial, Eichmann showed no trace of antisemitism or psychological damage. Hence her famous phrase, “the banality of evil.” Her critics point out that she “grasped an important concept but not the right example.” That is, Arendt was wrong in saying that Eichmann wasn’t an anti-Semite but only followed orders. Indeed, some time after the trial his autobiography was published, which revealed that he was in fact a rabid anti-Semite.

In any case, Prőhle decided to refresh his knowledge of the Hungarian events of 1944 from this film. It “becomes clear from the film,” he writes, “how risky it is to show certain elements of historical truth that don’t fit the concepts contrived ahead of time.” If I understand Prőhle right, he thinks that Eichmann’s trial was a show trial.

But that’s not all. He accuses Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of different Jewish communities, of criticizing the government of historical falsification for material gain. This is how he argues: “Regardless of how legitimate Mazsihisz’s misgivings are, it seems that its main aim is to mobilize and gather the Jewish community around it in order to receive more of the 1% offerings of taxpayers to Mazsihisz.” Taxpayers can designated that 1% of their taxes go to their favorite cause, from churches to animal shelters to radio stations.

This is Prőhle, the moderate. I don’t know what less moderate officials think or talk about. At least they have the good sense not to write op/ed pieces in Heti Válasz.

The chroniclers of the age of Viktor Orbán

While the negotiating partners of the Hungarian opposition are closeted in over the weekend trying to hammer out a compromise acceptable to all, I will turn to an entirely different subject. It is the ill-conceived governmental attempt to establish a monthly magazine that will carry only good tidings and will also be a heralding chronicle of the great age that was created by Hungary’s leading light and trustee of its future, Viktor Orbán.

You may recall a post of mine about Imre Kerényi, who became a close associate of Viktor Orbán. I believe I was too charitable in my piece, but I did indicate that I thought there was something not quite right with the man. Some call him a “futóbolond,” a nut, a madman, a lunatic. For some strange reason Viktor Orbán attracts and welcomes these characters.

Kerényi has been entrusted with large amounts of money for propaganda purposes in the field of culture. Originally, he convinced Orbán to endorse a propaganda campaign in connection with the new constitution. He was the creator of the ill-fated Table of the Constitution that had to be set up in every public building. He came up with the idea of ordering art work hailing important moments in Hungarian history. The pictures were, with few exceptions, atrocious. The whole project became a laughing stock. Yet Viktor Orbán didn’t get rid of him. On the contrary, Kerényi was handed more and more projects and more and more money. Millions were spent publishing a series of books Kerényi deemed “the core works” of Hungary’s “national literature.” He is still in the middle of erecting statues of great Hungarian conservatives who until now didn’t receive their due. The statue of István Bethlen is the first in a series of monuments Kerényi is planning to erect.

At the end of October HVG reported that Kerényi received another 340 million forints “to publish a monthly periodical.” It was only a one-liner, and its significance wasn’t apparent until January 6 of this year when a blogger (cink.hu) reported that the government is planning a publication that will concentrate only on “good tidings.” It will be called Magyar Krónika, a title that at first blush seems not too imaginative but that, once one reads Kerényi’s half-mad letter to those one hundred writers, journalists, politicians, and historians whom he invited to contribute, gains special significance. It will be a true chronicle of an age. The age of Viktor Orbán. Just as medieval kings hired chroniclers to write about their achievements, this Magyar Krónika will serve the same purpose. According to Viktor Orbán, no public money will be used for the project.

What kind of a publication does Kerényi have in mind? It will be such an important publication that it will become a collector’s item, he claims. It will be a document that represents the age. It will be about “the people of the central political force,” in plain language those who built Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian regime. These people are “heroes” whose achievements must be lauded in an appropriate manner. Magyar Krónika will concentrate “on the good and on love.” It will report good news. For example, if someone notices that dandelions are in bloom, he should sit down and write about it. If in the organic market a duckling was nice and yellow, one should write about it. If utility prices decrease, naturally one should write about it. And it goes on and on.

Out of the 100 people invited maybe 30-40 showed up for a meeting on Thursday. Viktor Orbán, who is supposed to be on the editorial board, was there as well. Mind you, he was smuggled in by members of his anti-terrorist team via a side entrance because in front there was a fairly large crowd of demonstrators and reporters who had a jolly good time with their posters. The whole thing quickly became a huge embarrassment which, it seems, Viktor Orbán himself recognized. According to people present, Orbán called Kerényi’s letter “infantile and ludicrous.” He also expressed his misgivings about launching the project before the election.

But it is not easy to convince Kerényi not to proceed. Yesterday morning on ATV’s Start, he denied that he had been chewed out by the prime minister. He also claimed that the number of those who were reported to have declined the invitation is all wrong. He said that the first issue, which will be #0, will come out sometime in May, regardless of what Orbán said earlier. As for the letter, it was intentionally written in this ridiculous style because he wanted to call attention to the project in this way. The brouhaha will help the popularity of Magyar Krónika.

That newspapermen working for Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Demokrata, and Magyar Hírlap went to the meeting I can understand, but it is disheartening to see people with some reputation in their fields willing to become part of such a cheap propaganda stunt. For me, the most shocking was the presence of Gergely Prőhle, assistant undersecretary in the Foreign Ministry, perhaps because I met him in person in New Haven. He is considered to be a moderate conservative with a wide knowledge of the world, someone who served as ambassador to Switzerland between 2003 and 2005 and subsequently held a high position in the ministry until 2006. Keep in mind that his tenure in the ministry was during the socialist-liberal administration. And now the only thing he could say at the time of leaving the meeting was that in general he writes about foreign policy and he plans to do the same for Magyar Krónika? And Kerényi’s letter? “It is a question of style.” Sad.

Potpourri: Forex loans, the duped MSZP, and outraged patriots in Stockholm

I decided to touch on several topics today instead of concentrating on only one. The reason? All three recent political events are still in flux. We have no idea how and when they will be settled.

Two of the three topics I’m going to talk about are not new to readers of Hungarian Spectrum. One is the story of the fraudulent video taken in Baja after the repeated by-election at one of the polling stations. The other is the continuing saga of the Swedish TV program on Hungary. And finally, today’s news is that a decision was finally made on the fate of Forex debts that over 100,000 people are unable to pay back.

Let me start with the last topic, the government debt relief scheme. Today’s announcement of the impending government action came unexpectedly and, in usual Fidesz fashion, the measure will be passed by parliament tomorrow. It seems that in the last minute the Orbán government got cold feet and didn’t dare go ahead with their original, radical plan that would have made the banks bear the entire burden. Critics warned that if the government followed through on the plan the entire Hungarian banking system would collapse. So, it seems that they settled for a less onerous solution. As I understand the proposed plan, people with mortgages in foreign currencies will be able to temporarily repay them at below-market exchange rates. Mortgages denominated in Swiss francs can be paid in forints at an exchange rate of 180 forints instead of the current 241. Those with mortgages in euros can convert them at 250 forints instead of 296. The difference between the spot and discount rates will be held in a temporary account, with the banks and the government splitting the interest and some of the costs involved. Mortgage holders will have five years in which to repay the exchange rate difference. Anyone who would wants more details of the plan should consult Margit Fehér’s article in The Wall Street Journal.

Now let’s go back to Sweden. I mentioned in an earlier post that Swedish public television broadcast a program about Hungary on October 23 which, in the opinion of the Hungarian government, contained factual errors and generalizations that reflected badly on Hungary and its people. They found it especially galling that this “anti-Hungarian” documentary was broadcast on the anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956.

In my earlier post I called attention to Viktor Orbán’s order to the ambassadors to defend the good name of Hungary every time there is an alleged attack on the country. As one of the undersecretaries of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Gergely Prőhle, said on ATV yesterday, “the ministry’s employees are a disciplined lot” and therefore they took Orbán’s words seriously. Since Prőhle had earlier been ambassador to Switzerland and Germany, he was asked what he would have done had he been in Lilla Makkay’s shoes. It seems that Prőhle, who is among the more moderate voices in the Foreign Ministry, feels compelled to follow the official line. He announced that Ambassador Makkay did the right thing and that he would have done the same thing. He emphasized that Makkay was polite and spoke in Swedish.

I don’t blame either Makkay or Prőhle. After all, they are representatives of the Hungarian government. I do, however, blame the Orbán government which instructs the country’s ambassadors to interfere with the media of western countries. I also blame this government for creating an atmosphere that encourages the right-wing press to write an open letter to the Swedish ambassador in Budapest. We know that if Zsolt Bayer, Ur-Fidesz, opens his mouth, the consequences are always dire. I bet that after someone translated Bayer’s open letter the Swedish ambassador no longer had any doubts about whom she was dealing with. And if someone added that he is an old friend of Viktor Orbán, I’m sure she was just thrilled.

Kumin’s letter, Makkay’s scolding, and her invitation to journalists to come to the Hungarian embassy didn’t achieve anything. Or, rather, it did but not exactly what the great defenders of Hungary’s reputation had hoped for. The same program that broadcast the documentary on Hungary in the first place returned to the subject a week later and told its audience what had happened during the last week. The Hungarian government and its representative in Stockholm looked ridiculous.

confusion2And finally, there is the ongoing story of the fraudulent video. Whoever hired the four or five Roma to stage the gathering that was supposed to prove that Fidesz bought Roma votes at the by-election picked the wrong men. Their stories not only made no sense initially, they couldn’t keep their stories straight. One of their claims, that a MSZP politician ordered the tape from Róbert G., seems to have been disproved. At least this is what the politician’s polygraph test indicates.

Of course, the real question is who was behind Róbert G. and the others. It’s possible that local Fidesz politicians, Róbert Zsigó, and Csaba Kovács, hired the Romas. Some evidence points in that direction. In a conversation with Olga Kálmán shortly after the second round of voting Zsigó told her that on Saturday, that is a day before the election, he received information that the opposition parties were planning to create a video that would implicate Fidesz in vote buying. He added that he immediately went to the police with the information. A few days later Máté Kocsis repeated the same story on one of MTV’s evening programs. As we know by now, the video was created on Monday. Strange, isn’t it?

In any case, Ildikó Lendvai was right when on Sunday in an interview on ATV she said that “we were duped,” adding that no one likes people who are considered to be saps. Endre Aczél wrote two excellent short articles about the case entitled Csali and Csali–II (The bait). I think that the scenario Aczél outlined in his first article is most likely very close to reality. But if that was the case, it was a dangerous game to play. On the other hand, no scandal is ever big enough to have much effect on Viktor Orbán, his party, or his 1.5 million strong followers.

Hungarian move toward the Arab world and a possible assault on the United States

It was only yesterday that I learned from Péter Szijjártó that the “Eastern Opening” also means Hungary’s move toward Africa. Very soon I think they will have to change the name “Eastern Opening” to “Opening to any country outside of the European Union.” Admittedly, it is cumbersome but apt.

You may recall that a few months ago one Hungarian delegation after another made pilgrimages to affluent Middle Eastern countries, targeting Saudi Arabia in particular. They made at least twenty official and semi-official trips to Riyad in the last year and a half, but, as Hetek, the publication of Faith Church, reported, until now with no great results. Prince Abdulaziz, son of King Abdullah, spent a few days last week in Budapest since he is the sponsor of an event called “Saudi Arabian Days” that showcased the culture and history of the Saudi Kingdom. Abdulaziz met Foreign Minister János Martonyi, who was especially eager to establish student exchange programs between the two countries.  From here the next step was to entice the Arab country to invest money in Hungary’s poverty stricken higher education.

Corvinus University was the first to offer the Saudis an opportunity to be generous. The university’s senate decided to establish a Center of Islamic Studies and an M.A. program to go with it. Apparently the suggestion was welcomed by the faculty because the university is so strapped for funds that “it will be a miracle if [they] survive the summer.”  The university also bestowed an honorary doctorate on Khalid bin Mohammed Al-Anqari, Saudi minister in charge of higher education.

The dean of Corvinus, László Csicsmann, is convinced that if Corvinus establishes an Islamic Center “one could speedily agree on a few million dollars of assistance to the university.” He used the expression “strike while the iron is hot.” After all, the minister received an honorary doctorate only recently, the university delegation just returned from Riyad, and here is the occasion of the Saudi Arabian Days in Budapest.

I suspect that Csicsmann is too optimistic about Corvinus’s chances of receiving a few million dollars with no strings attached.  How much say would the Saudi government have in setting up the Islamic Center and how much influence they would demand when it comes to the curriculum?  The dean was unable to give a clear answer, and why should he?After all, Saudi assistance cannot be taken for granted; discussions of the matter haven’t even begun.

According to the students, the new president, Zsolt Rostoványi, is very interested in developing close contacts with Arab countries. Since he took office there have been many conferences and the number of honorary doctorates to Arab officials has multiplied in the hope of some Saudi money coming to the university’s aid.

Corvinus is desperate in the wake of severe budgetary cuts. You may recall that about two years ago there were rumors that Corvinus might not survive a future reorganization of Hungarian higher education planned by the Orbán government. In the end, it seems, Viktor Orbán didn’t dare close or amalgamate into another institution one of the best universities in the country. But he doesn’t like the institution, which he considers to be a stronghold of liberal, “orthodox”  economics. Slowly starving it to death is a perhaps less obvious strategy.

As Hungary seeks alliances with countries in the “East,” it’s burning its bridges with those in the West. Viktor Orbán’s ill-fated words about the German tanks didn’t remain unanswered by the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, who considers Orbán’s statement “a regrettable derailment that [Germany] rejects.” The Hungarian Foreign Ministry is desperately trying to explain away Orbán’s remarks, but this time their job seems especially difficult. Undersecretary Gergely Prőhle, who is usually quite skillful at defending the government’s position, did a poor job today during an interview with György Bolgár on Klubrádió. He is normally diplomatic and can even be semi-convincing; today he was irritated and aggressive.

fight easyway1234.blogspotcom

easyway1234.blogspot.com

But if the troubles with Germany weren’t enough, it seems that the Orbán government is taking on another “enemy,” the United States. On Friday Magyar Nemzet launched a frontal attack in a lead editorial. Magyar Nemzet has taken a consistently anti-American stance, but I’ve never seen such antagonistic writing as the piece by Gábor László Zord.

There is no question that Viktor Orbán is not exactly crazy about the United States. He has been snubbed too many times by successive American presidents ever since September 11, 2001. What did the young Hungarian prime minister do, or rather didn’t do, in 2001? He remained silent while the anti-Semitic István Csurka delivered a speech in parliament in which he stated that the U.S. deserved what it got on 9/11. Later, when there were attempts to make Orbán mend his way and at least belatedly express his sympathy with the United States, he neglected to do so. Subsequently, he tried to get an invitation to the White House but without success. I remember that János Martonyi was certain that Orbán would have an opportunity to make a state visit to Washington sometime in the fall of 2010. As we know, the doors of the White House seem to be closed to him. So it’s no wonder that Orbán carries a grudge against the United States and is irritated by what he considered “lectures” on democracy from Hillary Clinton and others. It seem that Magyar Nemzet’s reporters have a free hand to publish violently anti-American articles.

I don’t know what has happened in U.S.-Hungarian relations lately, but this latest attack on the United States is unprecedented. The reporter latches onto some of the problems currently facing the Obama administration to announce that “the United States doesn’t have the moral authority to tell the Hungarian government anything about democracy. If anyone is guilty of undemocratic acts it is the United States.” He offers a laundry list of sins, from the “murdered millions in pointless wars” to “doing business with representatives of dictatorship.” He is convinced that “if international law would work properly, masses of American officials and soldiers would be dragged to the Hague where they would receive the hospitality of the International Court of Justice.” But, says the reporter, sadly there is no justice in the world. “The truth lies with the powerful.” So, what can we do?

One thing Hungary can do, the reporter writes: “Keep up the list of their sins and always be ready to come back with our own answers. Don’t worry, we have a lot we can be proud of and they’d better huddle in some corner quietly.”

The Orbán government currently has enough problems with the country’s most important ally, Germany. I wouldn’t advise them to pick a new fight, this time with the United States.