István Tarlós

A Portuguese view of Viktor Orbán and his dictatorial tendencies

Listening to Viktor Orbán in action” remains the most popular post of the week. I’m not surprised. It’s one thing to read commentary about the prime minister and quite another to hear him in casual conversation.

A couple of days ago (May 6) Visão, the largest weekly magazine in Portugal, published an article on that conversation and gave some additional background on the Drechsler Palace that Viktor Orbán wanted to get back from the Portuguese. We mustn’t forget that this conversation took place on May 1 and it just happened that on the following day Viktor Orbán visited Portugal where he again expounded on the virtues and benefits of religiosity.

Below you will find an English translation of that article. Here are a few notes that may be helpful. Aníbal Cavaco Silva has been the president of Portugal since 2006.  Pedro Manuel Mamede Passos Coelho is the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and has served as prime minister of Portugal since 2011. Belém Palace is the residence of the Portuguese president. São Bento Palace is the home of the assembly of the republic, the Portuguese parliament in Lisbon. Estoril is an elegant resort area where  many right-wing leaders, including Miklós Horthy, lived after World War II. It was here that António de Oliveira Salazar, dictator of Portugal, had a villa.

The names mentioned in connection with the purchase of Drechsler Palace are very well heeled Portuguese businessmen. Millennium BCP is Portugal’s largest bank.

László Hubay Cebria is a Spanish-Portuguese-Hungarian businessmen and a supporter of Viktor Orbán.

The translation from Portuguese is the work of Lili Bayer, a graduate student at Oxford University.

* * *

The Portuguese palace that Orbán wants “back”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán threatens to publish a law that permits him to recover the Drechsler Palace in Budapest, property of Millennium BCP

By Paulo Pena

The occasion is solemn, like the day, the 1st of May 2013. Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary, finishes his speech on Heroes’ Square and goes on the maiden trip of a blue Mercedes bus. Dressed appropriately, Orbán secures himself one of the spaces for passengers who travel standing. In front of him is István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, also in a blue suit and tie. In the back dozens of journalists take photos, make notes, and film the conversation.

The bus continues along Andrassy Avenue (the main street of the city), passing by its brand-name stores. Near the Opera House, in one of the most exclusive neighborhoods, Orbán turns to the mayor and points out a palace. It is the Drechsler Palace built in 1882 that used to house the Institute of Ballet. It is classified as a national heritage site. The dialogue, which was broadcast in almost all the Hungarian media, follows. The translation into Portuguese was made and reviewed by two translators.

Viktor Orbán: Oh, István, these buildings still belong to the Ukrainians?

István Tarlós: I had no idea they belong to Ukrainians…

VO: Read something about Ukrainians….

IT: The Institute of Ballet belongs to the Portuguese.

OV: It is in the hands of a Portuguese. I want it back.

IT: But isn’t there some law that prevents this for 20 years?

VO: Why don’t we make a new law? The city can propose and I would make a law.

IT: Yes, for this a law is needed. A municipal ordinance does not suffice.

VO: Start the proceedings and I will make a law.

IT: As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfect.

VO: Make me a proposal. It has to be you, it cannot be me.

IT: Mr. Prime Minister, can I make several?

VO: No. You are being too greedy. We are talking about one. Present it!

IT: OK, we are going to do it…

The journey comes to an end, in Deák Square, near the Danube, on the Pest side. The video of the conversation begins to circulate. The daily newspaper Népszava writes in its headline: “Orbán can make laws for anything.”

Charm with Cavaco and Passos

All of this happened on the eve of an official visit by Orbán to Portugal. On Friday the 3rd, when  the building which “is in the hands of a Portuguese” was debated in Hungary, Orbán shook hands with President Cavaco Silva in Belém, with Prime Minister Passos Coelho in São Bento, and was one of the speakers at the Conferences of Estoril.

São Bento Palace, Lisbon

São Bento Palace, Lisbon

It was a “charm” offensive that won applause. Among the most enthusiastic was the Social Democratic Deputy Duarte Marques, who wrote glowingly about the Hungarian prime minister on Twitter: “He is a born leader,” “Before some idiots criticize him they must better understand the controversy concerning Hungary.” The deputy was referring to the international criticism of Orbán’s party, Fidesz, which changed the Constitution four times in the last two years, tampering with everything from the independence of the courts to a prohibition of homelessness.

The deputy did not know that the “controversy” now also involves Portugal. The palace was purchased in 2007 by Aquapura, a company founded by Luís Simões de Almeida, António Mexia, and Diogo Vaz Guedes. António Mexia, the President of EDP [Energias de Portugal], subsequently left the company which, at the end of 2011, reached a financial agreement with Millennium BCP. This is already the fourth change of hands of the palace since 2001 when the municipality sold it to a group of Hungarian investors. These investors, in turn, sold it to an Israeli company which subsequently negotiated with Aquapura.

Luís Simões de Almeida, when contacted by VISÃO, concluded: “We are deeply sorry that a Portuguese operation can have a destiny like this…”

Millennium BCP, contrary to Mr. Simões de Almeida, was still unaware of the controversial video. After viewing it, representatives of the bank declined to comment.

György Abelovszky, Counselor at the Hungarian Embassy in Lisbon, clarified to VISÃO that “in Hungary private property is sacrosanct and inviolable. This is the consistent position also of the Prime Minister, and nothing indicates that this could change in the future.”

László Hubay Cebrian is the President of the Luso-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce in Lisbon and already saw the video. In his opinion, the Hungarian state only wants to “repurchase the building. … There was never any intention to expropriate it. Hungary is a country of law.” The problem is to convince Millennium to negotiate, because the guaranteeing Portuguese bank “has received proposals but did not deign to respond.”

There will be yet another problem: the market value of the building is today not the same as it was before the crisis when the Portuguese company purchased it. It is less. One thing is already known: Orbán wants the palace back.

Listening to Viktor Orbán in action

This morning after reading the transcript of a conversation between the prime minister and István Tarlós, the mayor of Budapest, I decided to devote today’s post to it. It’s a rare piece of “documentary evidence” about the inner workings of this government. After all, even historians decades hence will not be able to hear or read what transpired at cabinet meetings. In those terrible socialist-liberal days cabinet meetings were taped and transcribed. A hundred years ago there were at least short summaries of cabinet meetings. Now only the participants know what happened in these meetings.

Let’s start with the occasion for this conversation. Budapest, thanks to the “generosity” of the Orbán government, will be getting 150 sorely needed Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses. The first fifty arrived, and today they began their scheduled runs on certain bus lines. It was a few months ago that I read with some interest that Tarlós himself decided on the color of the buses. I looked at a number of Citaro buses from different cities, and I must say that the ones in Budapest will be unique all right.

MTI / Photo Szilárd Koszticsák

MTI / Photo Szilárd Koszticsák

The ceremony began with the usual Orbán speech about a strong Hungary and a strong Budapest. He expounded on the fantastic achievements of his government and its blessings on the capital. Three years ago the city was full of stories about a Nokia box stuffed with stolen money, but now the talk is about buses. Never mind that the story of the Nokia box was a figment of the imagination of a frightened witness against Miklós Hagyó, MSZP deputy mayor of the city.

After the brief ceremony the prime minister, the mayor, and other officials and newspapermen had a fairly lengthy ride from Heroes’ Square to Deák Square. Orbán and Tarlós stood in the aisle close to the bus driver, a woman. Népszava published an article headlined “Orbán can create laws for anything.”

Here is part of the conversation.

At the Kodály Körönd:

V.O.: Hey, István, do these houses still belong to the Ukrainians?

I. T.: I didn’t even know that they were owned by Ukrainians.

V.O.: I read something about Ukrainians….

I. T.: The Ballet Institute belongs to the Portuguese.

V.O.: It belongs to a Portuguese individual and I want it back.

I.T.:  Isn’t there some kind of law that it cannot be done for twenty years …?

V.O.: Why don’t we create one? The city could propose it and I will create one.

I.T.: One must have a law for it. A city ordinance is not enough.

V.O.: Initiate the enactment of such a law and I will create one.

I.T.: Fine with me.

V.O.: Just give me a proposal. I can’t figure it out instead of you.

I.T.: Mr. Prime Minister, could we turn in a couple of bills?

V.O.: Don’t try to be too greedy. We are talking about one. Turn it in!

I.T.: Okay, we will turn one in.

A jocular conversation between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Mayor István Tarlós Világgazdaság / Photo by Katalin Darnay

A jocular conversation between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Mayor István Tarlós  / Világgazdaság, Photo by Katalin Darnay

About facades that would need refurbishing:

I.T.: If we hadn’t built the Metro #4 we could have fixed up the facades in Districts V, VI, VII and VIII completely.

V.O.: I’ll tell you what Gábor Bethlen [Prince of Transylvania, 1580-1629] did in Transylvania. When he was elected prince he went around the country and saw that the houses were in disrepair. He declared that within one year every owner of a house must fix it up; otherwise they would see what happens.

I.T.: Will you give me such freedom?

V.O.: If it is a question of permission, we will think about it if I get a proposal from you…. Something must be done.

I.T.:  In May that proposal will be turned in.

At the Anker House:

I.T.: Look at this building. It has been in this deplorable state for the last twenty years.

V.O.: But why, István? You see this building every day…. Why do you allow it?

I.T.: The problem is that it is not ours.

V.O.: You are not the owner but you are the mayor. Order them to fix it up! [In the original: Rendeld el, hogy legyen rendben!]

I.T.: Zoli, let’s not forget that the prime minister would like an amendment to the municipality law. We will turn in a recommendation.

* * *

I know that this text sounds like something from The Onion. Alas, it’s not.