Jarosław Kaczyński

Hungarian thread in the Polish scandal

This time we will make a trip to Poland, a country that in the last two weeks has been in political turmoil. It all began with some tapes released by Wprost, a news magazine, on which Marek Belka, governor of the Polish national bank, and Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, minister of the interior, have a conversation in June 2013. During the conversation, one can hear Sienkiewicz asking Belka whether the central bank would help the government by cutting interest rates if Poland faced an economic meltdown before the elections this year. It appears that Belka says that “his condition would be the removal of the finance minister, Jacek Rostowki.” Rostowski was indeed removed in November 2013, but the national bank did not lower interest rates. Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the leader of the opposition Law and Justice party, said he would call for a no-confidence vote.

But what does all this have to do with Hungary? Well, as it turned out, Wprost had other tapes in its possession in which Polish politicians can be heard talking about international affairs. They certainly don’t mince words when talking about the United States, David Cameron, or, as it turned out, Viktor Orbán. The discussion is studded with such expletives and sexually explicit language that when I wanted to read the details of these conversations in IndexI was confronted with a page on which I had to attest that I was over eighteen. That will give you an idea.

But let’s first introduce you to the cast of characters. First and foremost, there is Radosław Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, who just threw his hat in the ring to replace Lady Catherine Ashton as high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy and vice-president of the European Commission. On the released tape Sikorski has a conversation with Jacek Rostowski, the man who lost his job as finance minister last November. I have the feeling that after these revelations, Sikorski can forget about any position in Brussels. I even doubt that he will remain foreign minister of Poland for long.

Perhaps the  most damaging part of Sikorski’s remarks is what he had to say about U.S.-Polish relations, especially after Barack Obama’s visit to Poland and his promise of a billion dollars to beef up defenses in central and eastern Europe. Sikorski asserted that “the Polish-American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security. It’s bullsh..t.” Sikorski on the same tape allegedly said that the Polish people have the mentality of “murzyńkosć,” a derogatory and racially-loaded term meaning roughly “like a Negro.” “The problem in Poland is that we have very shallow pride and low self-esteem,” he added.

It turned out today when the whole tape was released by Wprost that Sikorski also has a very low opinion of David Cameron. The embarrassing details were  immediately reported by the British media. To get the full flavor of the conversation one should read an article published a few hours ago by The Guardian.

These are  juicy stories that are spreading rapidly in the international press. But other tapes were also released, one of which is about Hungary. Russian-Hungarian relations and the legal difficulties of Zsolt Hernádi, CEO of MOL, the Hungarian oil and gas company, were discussed by Dariusz Jacek Krawieć, CEO of PKN Orlen S.A., the Polish refinery, and Włodzimierz Karpiński, current minister of finance. It is that conversation that Index refuses to allow people under the age of eighteen to read. The upshot of it is that Orbán made a very bad deal and that Hungary by this loan agreement became a “vassal” of Russia.

And now on to Zsolt Hernádi, who is being accused in Croatia of paying €5 million to Ivo Sanader in exchange for a 48% stake in INA, the Croatian refinery company owned by the Croatian state. Soon enough formal charges were leveled against Hernádi and an international warrant was issued for his arrest. Hernádi was stuck in Hungary. Otherwise Interpol would have arrested him. It also seems that a former employee and a small investor in MOL sued Hernádi for damages she allegedly suffered as a result of the bribery charges leveled against Hernádi. In the first round, not terribly surprisingly, the court decided in his favor.

Zsolt Hernádi, a close ally and friend of Viktor Orbán / Source; maszol.ro

Zsolt Hernádi, a close ally and friend of Viktor Orbán / Source; maszol.ro

Jacek Krawiec adds spice to this story. Let me quote:

Listen, I’ll tell you a case which shows how different our situation is from that of the Hungarians. I visited Hernádi because he cannot leave Budapest. I asked him: “How many years will you get?” He was cool as a cucumber and smiled broadly. “Listen”–he said–“my lawyers found something. If in any one of the EU countries I am acquitted of these charges then all EU states must accept the verdict and so I can travel again in Europe.” I asked him: “Will this trial take place in Hungary?” He said, “Yes.” So, I told him that this might mean two or three years. His answer was: “There will be a verdict by April.”  Next to him sat a character, a legal director, a puffed-up character, Ábel somebody or other [actually Ábel Galácz, director in charge of sales]. Hernádi turned to him and said, “Ábel, tell Jacek who will bring the suit.” Ábel told me that it is his own wife! Do you understand? Imagine such a situation. The wife is the plaintiff, comes the acquittal, and all is taken care of. Can you imagine something like that happening in Poland?” To which Karpinski added: “This is what Kaczyński is dreaming of in Poland.”

The dates seem to support his story. In the middle of December Krawieć with a large delegation did come to Budapest to conduct business negotiations with MOL. It was on December 6 that MOL announced that a former MOL employee and small investor had sued Hernádi for bribery, corruption and damages resulting therefrom. By January 11, Népszabadság reported that something was fishy about this suit and learned from international legal experts that if Hernádi wins, Croatia must drop the charges and withdraw the warrant issued by Interpol against Hernádi.

So, the suit was a clever charade as even the right-wing press suspected. A reporter for Heti Válasz told Hernádi point blank that “allegedly you move Ilona Bánhegyi [the plaintiff] in order to get an acquittal and the appeal is just part of the ‘game.'” To which Hernádi answered, “I don’t wish on anyone that half an hour I spent waiting for the verdict. Who would place one’s fate in the hands of a judge in such an uncertain and politically charged case? I am only the incidental victim of this story.” Ilona Bánhegyi is appealing the case. I wonder what the judge of the appellate court will say once he reads this story in the newspapers.

Fidesz, the European People’s Party, and the Alliance of Reformers and Conservatives

Let me to return to my post of April 12 entitled “Europe fights back: Viktor Orbán may be in real trouble this time.” In it I wrote that according to the reporter of Új Magyar Szó, a Hungarian-language paper in Romania, the caucus of the European People’s Party is seriously thinking about removing Fidesz from the group because the politicians of EPP no longer consider Fidesz a conservative-liberal party with a Christian Democratic program. According to a person close to Viviane Reding, Joseph Daul, the leader of the caucus, Viviane Reding, and Antonio López-Istúriz, secretary-general of EPP, discussed the matter over dinner in Dubrovnik.

Soon enough came the denial. The report from Romania is entirely without foundation, said Kostas Sasmatsoglu, EPP spokesman.  Antonio López-Istúriz wasn’t even present at the meeting of the caucus in Dubrovnik. He added that Vivane Reding ” didn’t hold a dinner meeting where the question of the future of Fidesz was discussed.”  He added that EPP can hardly wait to welcome Viktor Orbán in Strasbourg.

As soon as I read this communiqué I was struck by the odd sentence about Reding not holding a dinner meeting where the future of Fidesz was on the agenda. Sure, there may have been nothing official, but Daul and Reding might have discussed the question informally. I said at the time that although it is possible that not all the details are correct, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if at the end it turns out that there is something to the story.

Well, it looks as if I was right. The reporter for Új Magyar Szó, Árpád Zsolt Moldován, insists that his story is accurate. Fidesz’s possible departure was not only discussed during dinner but Daul and Reding also had a private meeting about the matter in the afternoon.

Fidesz's next home in Brussels? After the liberals, the Christian Democrats, now the Euro-Skeptics?

Fidesz’s next home in Brussels? After the liberals and then the Christian Democrats, now the Euro-Skeptics?

Moldován’s source is a member of Reding’s closest circle. The source claims that it was Daul who initiated the talk with Reding. Daul had found out from the Polish group in the caucus that the Fidesz delegation had begun exploratory talks with the EP caucus called the Alliance of European Reformers and Conservatives (AERC). Who are they? The caucus was formed in 2009 from EP members of parliament who are on the whole Euro-skeptic and farther to the right than EPP.  To give you an idea of the composition of the group, the largest contingent comes from the British Conservative Party, the Ulster Conservatives and Unionists (26 members) followed by 9 Občanská demokratická strana (Civic Democratic Party) members from the Czech Republic and 6 members of Kaczyński’s party (PiS) and 5 members of the Polska Jest Najważniejsza (Poland Comes First). Daul was told that Viktor Orbán had met Jarosław Kaczyński just the other day. The suspicion was that the talk might have had something to do with Fidesz’s decision to look around for a caucus where they might feel more at home.

If Fidesz leaves on its own or is expelled, the EPP caucus, the largest in the European Parliament, will lose 17 members. Certainly the leaders of the EPP delegation are not happy about such an eventuality, but “at least then the situation would be clearer.”

Moldován’s source emphasized that nothing has been decided yet, but the number of those who are worried about developments in Hungary is growing. He claimed that the delegation membership is split right down  the middle. Fifty percent support Fidesz while the other half are against Viktor Orbán’s policies. But in EPP as a whole–that would include members of the commission and other officials of the Brussels bureaucracy–the percentage of those who oppose Fidesz’s membership in EPP is 70%. And their numbers are steadily growing. More and more people question Orbán’s honesty and reliability. But “it will be Wilfried Martens, the president of EPP, who will make the final decision.”

My hunch is that Fidesz’s position within the EPP delegation is not in imminent danger. I think he could still get at least a slight majority of the members to side with him. But he is preparing for the eventuality that perhaps that slight majority will evaporate in the next few weeks, and he wants the decision to be his whether he stays or leaves the Christian Democrats and joins the Euro-skeptics where he actually belongs.

What I also find fascinating is that according to the insider’s information it was the Polish delegation that warned most likely Daul about the exploratory talks between Fidesz and the leadership of the AERC. You may recall that right after he became prime minister Viktor Orbán’s first foreign trip was to Warsaw. He had grandiose plans for a north-south axis of like-minded East-Central European States from the Baltic to the Adriatic. He made several overtures to Donald Tusk, whom he was certain would be an ally. But Orbán received a cold shoulder from Tusk. Tusk is a whole-hearted  supporter of the European Union and envisages Poland’s future in close cooperation with its western neighbor Germany. Thus, although Orbán made at least two trips to Warsaw, Tusk failed to return the visits. Presumably he keeps away from Orbán, at least in part, because he realizes that Orbán’s policies are leading him farther and farther away from Europe. Perhaps the Polish Christian Democrats’  “helpful”  information was intended to speed up the “divorce” process. After all, if Fidesz joins AERC at least he will be with his true Polish friends in the PiS. From there on Tusk doesn’t even have to pretend.