hungarian politics

The “miracle piano” and the Hungarian entrepreneurial spirit

January 22 was designated the Day of Hungarian Culture in 1989. Why January 22? Because it was on that day in 1823 that Ferenc Kölcsey (1790-1838) wrote the final version of his poem “Hymn” (Himnusz), which became the lyrics of the Hungarian national anthem composed by Ferenc Erkel (1810-1893) in 1844.

This year the event was used by employees of cultural organizations, libraries, archives, and related organizations to express their dissatisfaction with the Orbán government’s cultural policies. As we have discussed earlier, education and culture (unless, as the prime minister suggested, sports are part of culture) don’t enjoy governmental support. In fact, with each passing year cultural and educational institutions receive less money. The organizers gathered in front of the National Academy of Sciences, moved on to the Museum of Folklore, from where they went to the ministry of human resources to turn in a petition for higher wages and greater financial resources for education and culture. It was a nice idea, but only a few hundred people showed up. As formerly enthusiastic participants of these demonstrations now believe, too many small demonstrations are actually counterproductive.

The other event that was scheduled to coincide with the Day of Hungarian Culture was the long-awaited public unveiling of the “miracle piano,” a Hungarian invention described by Reuters as a “space-age piano.” A four-man team developed the new piano conceived by Gergely Bogányi, a Hungarian pianist. The piano bears his name. Some experts are enthusiastic about the sound of the “Boganyi” and there seems to be some interest in the Hungarian invention, but no buyer as yet. The piano was financed mostly by money coming from the European Union (New Széchenyi Terv) that gave the developers 217 million forints. The Hungarian National Bank contributed another 60 million. Apparently the four men put 75 million into the project from their own pockets.

Considering the financial involvement of the Hungarian government, it was predictable that Viktor Orbán would deliver a speech in the Ferenc Liszt Academy. In preparation for his arrival the police closed off two whole streets for a day and a half. The prime minister has always been paranoid, but lately his paranoia has become outright pathological.

In the speech he “with due modesty but with pride” pointed out the number of “cultural sanctuaries” that his government either built or renovated. What he neglected to mention was that all of the projects, like the Ferenc Liszt Academy where the gala performance took place, were financed with EU money. He described culture as “the thread that weaves together parts of the nation that drifted to or were torn away to different parts of the globe.” Somehow he must talk about the unification of the nation across borders. A space-age piano is good enough reason.

According to Orbán, “in this miracle piano there is everything that characterizes the Hungarians: ceaseless entrepreneurial spirit, inventiveness, a restlessness of the Hungarian spirit that strives for perfection and is never satisfied with what exists at the present.” I guess all that with “due modesty.”

The Boganyi piano

The Boganyi piano

Most of the speech was the usual fluff, but there were a couple of sentences that were particularly objectionable. He talked about “our greatest scientists, Ede Teller, Jenő Wigner or János Neumann who were born and went to school in Budapest but somehow (valahogy) could not make good use of their knowledge in Hungary.” Somehow? All three were of Jewish background and all three left Hungary in the 1920s. They ended up first in Germany and later, after Hitler’s rise to power, came to the United States. Their reasons for leaving Hungary were diverse, but they were a combination of the anti-Jewish numerus clausus law that severely limited the number of Jewish students in Hungarian universities, the general anti-Semitism prevalent in Hungary, and the superiority of German universities over Hungarian institutions. This constellation of reasons for young people to leave Hungary is not so different today. A lot of Hungarian Jews don’t feel at home in Orbán’s Hungary, and if a bright Hungarian student has the choice, he/she will choose a British, American, or German university over the domestic fare.

It is one thing to build or renovate concert halls, museums, or theaters, and another matter to have a cultural policy that fairly distributes resources among worthy recipients: writers, musicians, filmmakers, and artists. What is going on in Hungary is a “Kulturkampf” that aims at, on the one hand, rewriting the history of all facets of cultural endeavor and, on the other, creating a set of favored contemporary writers and artists. A good example of the latter is the establishment of a new academy of the arts that is now enshrined in the constitution itself. Its members are recruited from a group of artists in sympathy with the current regime and, as a gift for their loyalty, they receive generous annuities. As for the rewriting of the history of Hungarian literature, we have seen many cases where extreme right-wing writers of modest talents are dredged up from the period between the two world wars and elevated to the ranks of the Hungarian literary greats.

Just the other day I heard an incredible story from György Konrád, the well-known writer. He and his family live near Tapolca, a town in Veszprém County. Konrád often visits a small local library named after János Batsányi, a poet and philosopher, who was born in Tapolca in 1763. He was a radical who was an admirer of the French revolution and later of Napoleon, whom he followed to Paris. After the emperor’s fall he was taken back to Vienna and thrown into jail. He is considered to be one of the most radical representatives of the ideas of the Enlightenment in Hungary.

Well, a few days ago Konrád paid a visit to the library and what did he find? The library was renamed the Elemér Vass Library. Elemér Vass was a relatively minor painter about whom few people know anything, while everybody who ever went to high school can recite Batsányi’s warning to the Hungarian nobility:  “Cast your eyes toward Paris!” Perhaps it was the Enlightenment that bothered the local potentates. Hungarian libraries, it seems, are not meant to enlighten but to indoctrinate.

Advertisements

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

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

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

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

Viktor Orbán’s country house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fact checking the foreign press in Hungary

A Hungarian friend called my attention to a relatively new Internet site, factcheck.hu, surely inspired by the American factcheck. org. But what a difference. While factcheck.org has headlines like “Obama overpromises premiums” or “Obama care by the numbers,” factcheck.hu targets the foreign press: “Baseless allegations by the Czech daily, SME,” “The article in Die Presse is not supported by facts,” Huffington Post is wrong when it claims that  “Fidesz rehabilitates the Horthy regime,” “The article of The Guardian is based on misinformation.”

The publisher of this vehemently pro-government site is the Nézőpont Intézet. I think I wrote about this think tank before, but it is worth repeating that nobody takes Nézőpont seriously. To say that Nézőpont (which by the way means “viewpont” in Hungarian) has a pro-Fidesz slant is a major understatement. Their monthly polls on the population’s political attitudes deviate so radically from the other four or five, including the pro-Fidesz Századvég, that they are derided by serious followers of Hungarian politics.

Naturally, the Orbán government is quite satisfied with the work of Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, the CEO of the Institute, and government orders have been pouring into Mráz’s  companies. Yes, plural because Nézőpont established a couple of separate companies, one of which is called Médianéző (Media Observer). Médianéző received a government contract for three years (from January 2012 to December 31, 2014) to provide the government with digests of domestic and foreign newspapers. The government will pay 30.3 million forints a month for these services–more than a billion forints in three years.

Ágoston Sámuel Mráz established another company called Kutatóközpont Kft. (Research Center), which received a contract to do market research for the state-owned Szerencsejáték Zrt. (Gambling/Lottery). In 2011 and in 2012 the state lottery paid out more than about 340 million forints for services rendered. Details on Mráz’s dealings with the government and the state-owned lottery can be read in 168 Óra and HVG.

Personally, I would question the wisdom of relying on the services of a company whose owner and employees are so committed to one side of the political spectrum. Will the morning summaries of the news items that reach all important government officials accurately reflect the contents of the original? Will the selection be impartial? Perhaps this doesn’t really matter because government officials pay no attention to Nézőpont’s news summaries anyway. The contract is most likely payment for the lopsided polls Nézőpont puts out month after month.

Even though these polls bear no resemblance to reality, every Hungarian newspaper reports on what Nézőpont has to say, so they serve some propagandistic purpose. Only yesterday “Fabius,” a well known blogger, recalled the time when all other polls reported that Fidesz had lost 1.5 million voters between April 2010 and January 2012 whereas Nézőpont claimed that  Fidesz had actually lost only 200,000 voters while the opposition parties lost 450,000!

Meme (Fideszfigyelő). On the left János Lázár, Fidesz politician and on the left two independent political scientists. Far right is Ágoston Sámuel Mráz. The audience came from one of the civic cells

Meme (Fideszfigyelő). On the left János Lázár, Fidesz politician, and on the right two “independent” political scientists of Nézőpont, including Ágoston Sámuel Mráz on the far right. The audience is made up of members of a civic cell.

But let’s go back to Mráz’s latest venture, factcheck.hu. On the webpage we are told that since Nézőpont has the job of serving as media providers for the government, they decided to start a site where they would point out to Hungarian speakers all the lies and distortions of the foreign press. This venture began in June. If the Hungarian government supports their efforts I must say they don’t get much for their money. In June I found eight instances where corrections were “needed” and in July again eight short articles appeared. So far in August there is a huge void, although I could certainly come up with several important English, French, and German opinion pieces and articles about Hungary during that period.

One article they highlight is John Feffer’s piece in The Huffington Post entitled “Hungary: The Cancer in the Middle of Europe?” Since I read the article when it came out in early June 2013, I was curious what Mráz and his fellow analysts found objectionable in it. The piece is not overly long, about the length of one of the posts on Hungarian Spectrum. Interestingly enough, they found only two objectionable sentences “[Fidesz] has begun rehabilitating the dictatorial regime of Admiral Horthy (whose signed picture Adolf Hitler kept on his desk as inspiration). The social agenda of Fidesz veers rightward as well, with its attempt to declare homelessness illegal.”

Here I will deal with only with the first sentence about the Horthy regime’s rehabilitation. So, let’s see how the sharp minds at Nézőpont tackle that horrible attack on the Orbán government. Here is the lead sentence: “The first assertion of the article is misleading because Fidesz never showed any manifestation of extremist tendencies.” Did Feffer say anything about Fidesz’s extremism? Did he even say that Horthy’s regime was extremist and therefore its rehabilitation leads to extremism? No, nothing of the sort. He simply said that the Orbán government began the rehabilitation of the dictatorial regime of Miklós Horthy. I would say that this assertion is correct. First, the rehabilitation efforts are obvious; just think of all the street name changes. And second, Hungary between the two world wars was no democracy; the electoral law that included open voting in the countryside ensured that “the government party” always won the elections. The kind of dictatorial setup Viktor Orbán himself advocated in his September 2009 speech in Kötcse about a “central power,” a regime without any serious opposition, as his ideal.

So, once the “political analysts”of Nézőpont started off on the wrong foot there was no way for them to prove that Feffer was mistaken. Instead, they talked about the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust that the first Orbán government introduced. They went on about all the wonderful pieces of legislation that ensure the safety of minorities. And naturally, Nézőpont mentioned the speech Viktor Orbán delivered at the World Jewish Congress in Budapest (which the readers of this blog know was not received with enthusiasm because it contained only generalities and didn’t outline any practical steps the government would take to stem the tide of growing antisemitism in the country). What does all this have to do with Feffer’s assertion about the rehabilitation of the Horthy regime? Clearly, nothing.

This was just one sentence that appeared in one publication. Can you imagine if one actually cataloged all the “refutations” Mráz and his friends would have to come up with? But perhaps it wouldn’t be so difficult after all, because they seem to have pat answers that are copied from refutation to refutation. Here is, for example, the answer to an opinion piece in the French Libération which looks at the popularity of Le Front national. The author, Bernard Guetta, calls “the [French] situation just as grave as in Hungary” (la situation est tout aussi grave qu’en Hongrie).  What is Mráz’s answer? Practically the same as to Feffer’s article in the Huffington Post. “The Hungarian government never showed any extremist tendencies. On the contrary, it always actively stood up against extremism,” and here they repeat practically word for word what they wrote in “analyzing” the Feffer article. There was the World Jewish Congress, the Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust, etc.

I should mention that Ágoston Sámuel Mráz was Tibor Navracsics’s political science student. It was Navracsics who called attention to this talented young man. What does this say about Tibor Navracsics or about Hungarian political scientists? At any event, I’m glad that the Orbán government and Fidesz are satisfied with Mráz’s job. And I’m sure Mráz is satisfied with his employers: they don’t demand much and they pay well.

Hungarian nationals’ attacks on the LIBE draft report of Rui Tavares

Let’s hope that I will be able to tear you away from the historical discussion that has developed after my short note on the Hungarian situation in 1918-1919 and move on to the present.

I would like to turn to the draft report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Hungary. It is a 30-page document that shows a thorough understanding of every aspect of Hungarian politics, relating specifically to constitutional issues, and recommends tough sanctions. But it is only a draft proposal to which amendments can be attached. The members of LIBE–fairly equally divided between the right and the left–will have to vote on the amendments one by one.

The proposed amendments were made public the other day: a total of 551 amendments taking up 134 pages. That is 134 pages of amendments to a 30-page document.  About two weeks ago I read somewhere that the Fidesz delegation itself submitted 200 amendments. The members of the Fidesz delegation were assisted by two other Hungarian members of the European People’s Party, Edit Bauer of Slovakia and Csaba Sógor of Romania. These two were almost as busy as Kinga Gál (Fidesz), who submitted at least 75 amendments. Another Fidesz MEP, Lívia Járóka, an ethnic Roma, was also active. László Surján and Ildikó Gáll-Pelcz also submitted minor amendments. I find it interesting that Hungarian nationals like Bauer or Sógor who don’t live in Hungary are so heavily involved with Hungarian domestic policies. I might add that Kinga Gál was born in Cluj/Kolozsvár, Romania.

The two most active EPP members, Kinga Gál and Edit Bauer / www.maszol.ro

The two most active EPP members, Kinga Gál and Edit Bauer / http://www.maszol.ro

The Hungarian group was greatly aided by Frank Engel, EPP MEP from Luxembourg, who at times was just as radical in his opposition to certain recommendations as were the Hungarian defenders of the Orbán government. Jean-Pierre Audy (France EPP) was also fairly active.

On the other side (the greens, the left front, the socialists, and the liberals) few people seemed to find fault with the draft document. Their amendments were minor and often aimed at clarifying or strengthening Tavares’s arguments. If the committee follows the suggestions of the Gál-Bauer-Sógor-Engel group, however, not much would remain of the original recommendations.

Here are a few examples. Frank Engel would delete recommendation 58 of the Tavares report, which reads:

Considers that the European Council cannot remain inactive in cases where one of the Member States is faced with changes that may negatively affect the rule of law in that country and therefore the rule of law in the European Union at large, in particular when mutual trust in the legal system and judicial cooperation may be put at risk.

Edit Bauer is perhaps the most radical because she would eliminate almost all the recommendations to the Hungarian Authorities. Here is one of the key sets of recommendations (section 61) of the LIBE draft report that the Fidesz supporters find especially odious. It’s long but nonetheless worth quoting in full.

Urges the Hungarian authorities to implement the following recommendations without any further delay, with a view to fully restoring the rule of law and its key requirements on the constitutional setting, the system of checks and balances and the independence of the  judiciary, as well as strong safeguards for fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, media and religion and the right to property:

On the Fundamental Law:

–        to fully restore the supremacy of the Fundamental Law by removing from it those provisions previously declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court;

–        to fully apply the recommendations of the Venice Commission and, in particular, to revise the list of policy areas requiring a qualified majority in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and with a view to ensuring future meaningful  elections;

–        to secure a lively parliamentary system which also respects opposition forces by allowing a reasonable time for a genuine debate between the majority and the opposition and for the participation of the wider public in the legislative procedure;

 On checks and balances:

–        to restore the right of the Constitutional Court to review all legislation without exception with a view to counterbalancing parliamentary and executive actions and ensuring, through full judicial review, that the Fundamental Law always remains the supreme law of the land;

–        to fully restore the prerogatives of the Constitutional Court as the supreme body of constitutional protection, and thus the primacy of the Fundamental Law, by removing from its text the limitations on the Constitutional Court’s power to review the constitutionality of any modifications of the Fundamental Law as well as the abolition of two decades of constitutional case-law;

 –        to restore the case-law of the Constitutional Court issued before the entry into force of the Fundamental Law, in particular in the field of fundamental rights;

–        to restore the prerogatives of the parliament in the budgetary field and thus secure the full democratic legitimacy of budgetary decisions by removing the restriction of parliamentary powers by the non-parliamentary Budget Council;

–        to provide clarifications on how the Hungarian authorities intend to remedy the premature termination of the term of office of senior officials with a view to securing the institutional independence of the data protection authority;

On the independence of the judiciary:

–        to fully restore and guarantee the independence of the judiciary by ensuring that the principles of irremovability and guaranteed term of office of judges, the rules governing the structure and composition of the governing bodies of the judiciary, as well as the safeguards on the independence of the Constitutional Court, are enshrined in the Fundamental Law;

–        to promptly and correctly implement the above-mentioned decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union of 6 November 2012 and of the Hungarian Constitutional Court, by enabling the dismissed judges who so wish to be reinstated in their previous positions, including those presiding judges whose original executive posts are no longer vacant;

–        to establish objective selection criteria, or to mandate the National Judicial Council to establish such criteria, with a view to ensuring that the rules on the transfer of cases respect the right to a fair trial and the principle of a lawful judge;

–        to implement the remaining recommendations laid down in the Venice Commission’s opinion No CDL-AD(2012)020 on the cardinal acts on the judiciary that were amended following the adoption of Opinion CDL-AD(2012)001;

On the media and pluralism:

–        to fulfil the commitment to further discuss cooperation activities at expert level on the more long-term perspective of the freedom of the media, building on the most important remaining recommendations of the 2012 legal expertise of the Council of Europe;

–        to ensure timely and close involvement of all relevant stakeholders, including media professionals, opposition parties and civil society, in any further review of this legislation, which regulates such a fundamental aspect of the functioning of a democratic society, and in the process of implementation;

–        to observe the positive obligation arising from European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence under Article 10 ECHR to protect freedom of expression as one of the preconditions for a functioning democracy;

–        to respect, guarantee, protect and promote the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information, as well as media freedom and pluralism, and to refrain from developing or supporting mechanisms that threaten media freedom and journalistic and editorial independence;

–        to make sure that legally binding procedures and mechanisms are in place for the selection and appointment of heads of public media, management boards, media councils and regulatory bodies, in line with the principles of independence, integrity, experience and professionalism, representation of the entire political and social spectrum, legal certainty and continuity;

–        to provide legal guarantees regarding full protection of the confidentiality of sources principle and to strictly apply European Court of Human Rights-related case-law;

–        to ensure that rules relating to political information throughout the audiovisual media sector guarantee fair access to different political competitors, opinions and viewpoints, in particular on the occasion of elections and referendums, allowing citizens to form their own opinions without undue influence from one dominant opinion-forming power;

On respect for fundamental rights:

–        to take positive action to ensure that the fundamental rights of all persons, including persons belonging to minorities, are respected;

On the freedom of religion and the recognition of churches:

–        to establish clear, neutral and impartial requirements and institutional procedures for the recognition of religious organisations as churches which respect the duty of the State to remain neutral and impartial in its relations with the various religions and beliefs and to provide effective means of redress in cases of non-recognition or lack of a decision in line with the constitutional requirements set out in the above-mentioned Decision 6/2013 of the Constitutional Court;

Very often Edit Bauer, Frank Engel, Csaba Sógor, and Kinga Gál want to delete exactly the same passages from the draft report. Since I suspect that these four worked together, the repetitions are not the results of an oversight. Rather they most likely want to emphasize four times over how unacceptable these recommendations are. Engel, for example, wants to get rid of  “to restore the right of the Constitutional Court to review all legislation without exception with a view to counterbalancing parliamentary and executive actions and ensuring, through full judicial review, that the Fundamental Law always remains the supreme law of the land.” He also wants to get rid of the passage “to restore the case-law of the Constitutional Court issued before the entry into force of the Fundamental Law, in particular in the field of fundamental rights.”  Edith Bauer wants to remove the passage “to implement the remaining recommendations laid down in the Venice Commission’s opinion … on the cardinal acts on the judiciary that were amended following the adoption of Opinion CDL-AD(2012)001.”

These amendments will be discussed in the LIBE Committee on Thursday, after which Tavares will try to come up with a compromise text. Then, most likely on the 19th, the members of the committee will vote. The revised report will come before the plenary session of the full European Parliament, probably in July.

“Should Europe intervene in our affairs?”

I would like to return to the draft report of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Hungary. It is a 30-page document that shows a thorough understanding of every aspect of Hungarian politics, relating specifically to constitutional issues. Rui Tavares, who was one of the rapporteurs in charge of the document, seems to be fully conversant with the issues under discussion. It is a very thorough document and recommends tough sanctions. The sanctions mentioned in the document are not monetary. It suggests setting up a strict monitoring regime and calls on sanctions based on Article 7 that would take away Hungary’s voting rights.  Therefore, I found it incomprehensible why MSZP immediately announced that its EU parliamentary members would not sign the document in this form. I understand that people in Brussels who have been working very hard at uncovering illegal legislative actions by the Orbán government were stunned. If the Hungarian socialists don’t support the LIBE report, it is hard to imagine that the members of the committee will.

The MSZP leadership happened to be in Brussels when the Tavares report was released. Attila Mesterházy told one of the reporters of Népszabadság that “the socialists are committed adherents of the European Union and European integration. However, we don’t support any measures that would be accompanied by a possible withholding of financial resources that would harm the Hungarian people.” At a press conference Mesterházy announced that the party leadership instructed the MSZP EP members not to vote for the report in its present form.

Why it was necessary to make this declaration is hard to fathom. In the first place, as I said, no financial sanction is mentioned in the Tavares document. Moreover, if I understand it correctly, this announcement was made in response to a question from one of the reporters present. I’m no politician but, if I had been Mesterházy, I would have avoided this trap. He could have said that he hadn’t had an opportunity to study the document or that the steering committee hadn’t had a chance to formulate the party’s official policy on the subject. This is a delicate question that needs thorough analysis, and the less one says about it the better.

The Hungarian opposition has been struggling with this issue for some time. On April 1 Gordon Bajnai gave an interview to Der Standard, an Austrian newspaper, where the reporter asked him the following question: “The European Commission has threatened Hungary with sanctions because of the idiosyncratic course its government follows. For example, with withdrawal of funds. Would you support such a move?” To which Bajnai answered: “No. One should not punish the people because they have a bad government. Hungary needs EU money to develop, and the country is … still a democracy.” He subsequently visited Brussels and approached EU officials with a request to spare the Hungarian people from financial hardship just because of the policies of the Orbán government.

Mesterházy did the same during one of his earlier visits to Brussels. Yes, the government is trampling on Hungarian democracy, but let’s keep financing the government that without support most likely would collapse. Let’s get billions and billions of euros that the Orbán government can pass on to its supporters and friends. Both Együtt 2014 and MSZP seem to be in a hopeless quandary because they are afraid that public opinion will turn against them if they support EU efforts to defend Hungarian democracy.

Ferenc Krémer wrote a couple of articles in Galamus in connection with the opposition’s dilemma, which in his opinion is no dilemma at all. In the first one he called MSZP “the fifth column” of Fidesz and continued: “We, all of us, even those who didn’t vote for Fidesz in 2010 must take responsibility for the current state of the country. Not one of us can avoid responsibility, especially not MSZP, for Viktor Orbán’s ability to begin ‘the country’s renewal,’ meaning the establishment of a dictatorship. We have no moral basis for demanding from the European Union not to defend its most basic values; we have no right to demand its financing the power of the Orbán clan, the enrichment of the Simicska clan and Hungary’s moral depravity.”

Soon enough came a correction by “nyüzsi” in HVG. (Nyüzsgés means swarming in Hungarian.) Krémer is wrong. MSZP is not a “fifth column” but a bunch of “useful idiots.” This is a term reserved for people perceived as propagandists for a cause whose goals they do not understand and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause. “The leaders of the liberal-socialist opposition make asses of themselves right in front of our eyes and undermine their own credibility as critics of Fidesz. They fell into the trap of Viktor Orbán who claims that ‘criticism of Orbán = criticism of Hungary.’ They don’t want the average Joe to suffer, but the average Joe and everybody else is suffering because of the constitutional and economic running amuck of the Orbán government and not because of the dictum of the aristocrats in Brussels.”

Ferenc Krémer today continued his analysis of the situation that developed after the publication of the Tavares report. MSZP leaders deep down most likely realize the impasse they find themselves in, and therefore Zita Gurmai, MSZP MEP, in a radio interview on Thursday did her best not to answer the questions of János Dési who was substituting for György Bolgár that day. The MSZP politicians “are unable to bridge the precipice they perceive between the defense of democracy and the defense of their country.  They should realize that there is no precipice between the two. All decisions must be based on that recognition. Therefore all steps the EU takes against the government of Viktor Orbán must be welcome. The responsibility lies with those who are guilty: Viktor Orbán, his government, and the whole of Fidesz.”

The only opposition party that has a clearly formulated policy on possible EU sanctions is the Demokratikus Koalíció. Tamás Bauer wrote on that subject with the title: “Article seven and the Hungarian democrats.” DK is convinced that there is no gap between democracy and the defense of the country. On the contrary, the EU is defending Hungarian democracy and all Hungarian democrats must support Brussels in this effort.

And finally here is a document signed by the leading members of the Democratic Opposition of the late 1980s.

Us and them

Should Europe intervene in our affairs?

Memorandum of the former Anti-communist Opposition 

The nation is the community into which we were born, whereas the European Union is the community which we chose for a democratic Hungary. Both are important and even indispensable for us. In the past decades we have struggled to have our innate community (the nation) and our chosen community (the Union) be imbued with the same set of values. We owe responsibility for both of them.

It is not by mere chance that when as opponents of the communist regime we were not yet a member state of the European community in a political sense and just hoped to join it one day, we claimed as a matter of course that the communist regime be confronted with the values of liberal democracy, so blatantly ignored or breached by that regime.

Nothing has changed since.

We reject the populist view that strives to divide and alienate along the “them” and “us” dimension. The anti-European, xenophobic populism of Fidesz is the ideology of an autocratic regime that under a national disguise labels any kind of external demand for maintaining democratic norms as an attempt of colonization.

At the same time, by publicly announcing that the Hungarian socialist members of the European Parliament refuse in its present form the Tavares report dated on 8th of May, which strongly criticizes the situation concerning the rule of law in Hungary, not only runs in the face of the commonly approved set of European values, but also serves to satisfy, instead of rejecting, a populist demand.

Just as we condemn “dirty solidarity” that turns a blind eye to the violation of democratic values under the pretext of party solidarity, we do not wish to be part of “hypocritical solidarity” either, which implies solidarity with an autocratic government. If the present Hungarian democratic opposition is determined to defeat Fidesz in this populist arena and challenge the ruling party that governs in collusion with Jobbik, then it is doomed to defeat itself as well as its own country.

9th of May 2013, Budapest

Attila Ara-Kovács, former diplomat

Gábor Demszky, former Mayor of Budapest

Miklós Haraszti, former OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media

Róza Hodosán, former MP

Gábor Iványi, pastor

János Kenedi, historian

György Konrád, author

Bálint Magyar, former Minister of Education

Imre Mécs, former MP

Sándor Radnóti, philosopher

László Rajk, architect

Sándor Szilágyi, art writer