Lajos Kósa

Signs of internal divisions within the Hungarian governing party

In the last few months, as the popularity of Fidesz has been steadily declining, signs of serious internal divisions within the party have been proliferating. Ever since November one opinion poll after the other has reported serious losses in popularity for both Viktor Orbán and his party. Fidesz still leads, but the parties on the left are gaining ground. In fact, for the first time, the number of voters favoring all the democratic opposition parties combined is slightly higher than that favoring Fidesz.

It was almost inevitable that Fidesz’s political leadership would start looking for explanations for the waning popularity. Of course, the most obvious target should be Viktor Orbán himself. After all, Fidesz is a monolithic party where, according to grumbling party leaders, all decisions are made by the prime minister, who is also the head of the party.

His confidants nowadays are not the grand old men of Fidesz but upstarts like Antal Rogán, János Lázár, or the mysterious Árpád Habony who allegedly has no position either in the party or in the government yet is privy to the most confidential information if not state secrets. The old Fidesz leaders who joined the party twenty-five years ago either left a long time ago or Viktor Orbán set them aside. The less important characters had to be satisfied with positions inside state companies or insignificant administrative offices; the more important ones were either given positions that have clout on paper only, for example János Áder and László Kövér, or were shipped off to Brussels. Zoltán Pokorni, who at one point was chairman of Fidesz, had to be satisfied with a humble district mayoralty.

Until last November Fidesz spoke more or less with one voice, the voice of Viktor Orbán. If there were doubting Thomases, they became convinced by the cleverly orchestrated elections that, after all, “Viktor was right.” In fact, he is a political genius who can overcome all obstacles and lead the party to victory not just for the next four or eight years but for a very long time. Now, however, it looks as if Orbán has lost his touch. Instead of being able to correct his mistakes, he piles new ones on top of earlier ones. Moreover, several times in the last few months he had to retreat, which must have shaken the confidence of his closest associates.

I suspect that we are still not at a point that we will hear open criticism of Viktor Orbán himself. Instead, the criticism is directed against the men around him. The first public quarrel occurred in December when Zoltán Pokorni said a few disapproving words about the extravagant lifestyle of János Lázár. Kövér chimed in, taking Pokorni’s side. It is a well known fact that Kövér is no friend of Lázár, who runs the government’s daily business, serving as de facto prime minister, while Orbán himself acts like its all-mighty president, moving effortlessly on the stage of world politics. The quarrel didn’t end there. Lázár shot back and told Kövér that “a political veteran should think twice before he attacks us out of personal resentment or for political gain because he not only weakens us but also weakens or even executes himself.” I guess in this instance “execution” means the end of this veteran’s political career. This is not an idle threat. When after the lost 2006 election Orbán found out that some of his political friends at a party had discussed the desirability of replacing him because of his mistaken election strategy, they were promptly sent into political exile. The most prominent victim was János Áder. More recently, Tibor Navracsics, who as minister of justice criticized the legislative practices introduced by the prime minister’s office, soon enough found himself in Brussels.

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In January we learned that József Szájer and János Kövér also have their disagreements, primarily over Hungary’s relations with the European Union. Szájer is an old timer all right. He was one of the founders of Fidesz but, as opposed to the provincial Kövér, is now serving his third five-year term as MEP in Brussels. In his case, Brussels is not a political exile. He is still a very close associate of Orbán. In fact, Szájer’s wife is perhaps the most important person in the Hungarian judicial system today. In any case, the two old friends from college don’t see eye to eye on the European Union. Kövér belongs to the right wing of Fidesz, a Euro-skeptic who ordered the removal of the EU flag from the parliament building and instead put up a newly-designed flag of the Szeklers living in Romania. About three weeks ago Kövér in an interview expressed his dislike of the European Union and said that it might not be a bad idea to think about leaving. Szájer openly expressed his dissatisfaction with Kövér’s ill-considered statement in an interview on ATV.

Then came another open disagreement, this time between László L. Simon, undersecretary of János Lázár in the prime minister’s office, and Gergely Gulyás, the right-hand of László Kövér and head of a parliament commission dealing with legislative matters, who talked about the likelihood of modifying the law on freedom of assembly. This announcement was unfortunate. It looked as if the Orbán government was planning to restrict the current law and was thereby intending to limit the kinds of demonstrations that took place recently on the streets of Budapest. L. Simon immediately announced that the idea was Gulyás’s private opinion. The government has no intention of revisiting the law on assembly. A very wise move on the part of the government.

Then about ten days ago Zoltán Illés, earlier undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture in charge of the environment, decided to go public with his criticism of the Orbán government’s nonexistent environmental policies. Illés is a committed environmentalist and was useful to Viktor Orbán when Fidesz was in opposition as he attacked the socialist-liberal governments for their neglect of environmental issues. Illés was everywhere a tree was cut down. He organized demonstrations and blocked several projects because of environmental considerations. In 2010 he most likely saw himself as the next minister of the environment and must have been taken back when the ministry was abolished and he became only an undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture. But, as he explained recently, he still hoped that even in this position he could be effective. That turned out not to be the case. His position was stripped of practically everything that used to belong to the minister of the environment. Between 2010 and 2014, while in office, the formerly vocal Illés was quiet as a mouse for example when hundreds of trees were cut out overnight around the parliament building. Eventually he no longer could stand it. He was the only Fidesz member of parliament to vote against building a new reactor at the Paks nuclear power plant. That sealed his fate. Not only is he no longer an undersecretary, he didn’t even receive a cushy job. Now he “tells all” everywhere he has the opportunity.

In the last few days there have apparently been open disagreements between Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán on immigration; between Zoltán Balog and Károly Czibere, his undersecretary, on the segregation of Roma children; between Antal Rogán and László Trócsányi, minister of justice, on the necessity of new legislation in defense of religions.

Finally, newspapers reported yesterday that János Bencsik, a Fidesz member of parliament, published a long critique of his party and the government on his own website.

The parrots are starting to learn words of their own.

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Corruption in District V under Antal Rogán, #3 man in the Orbán regime

I have been so involved with the political aspects of the Orbán regime that I have neglected the suspicious enrichment of some of the most prominent Fidesz politicians. If a researcher had half a year (and a team of investigators) he could easily write a whole book about these people’s wrongdoings.

A quick look at the list of names that crop up most often in the media leads me to believe that being the mayor of a city or a Budapest district offers excellent opportunities for corruption. Just to mention a few politicians who have been the targets of journalistic inquiries: Lajos Kósa, until recently mayor of  Debrecen; János Lázár, who was mayor of Hódmezővásárhely until he became head of the prime minister’s office; and Antal Rogán, who in addition to being the whip of the Fidesz caucus was also mayor of Budapest’s District V. Larger towns or cities offer ample opportunities for city officials, including mayors, to extract kickbacks for municipal contracts. Rumor has it that the average bribe is 10% of the value of the contract. In Debrecen, apparently the price was double that amount.

The finances of Lajos Kósa became the subject of scrutiny of late when his explanation for how he acquired a very expensive apartment in Budapest was found less than convincing or when he was found to have traveled to New Zealand for three days for a Rolling Stones concert.

János Lázár also had some hard times of late when it turned out that he purchased an apartment in Budapest for his ten-year-old son for 60-70 million forints. Naturally, that piece of property did not show up on the financial statement he submitted to parliament.

And finally, there is Antal Rogán, the number-three man in Hungarian politics today. His fraudulent financial statements have been the talk of the town. He greatly minimized the areas of his real estate and landholdings and was forced to correct them several times.

Given the limited space, I will spend less time here on Rogán’s fictitious financial statements and more on the possible sources of his and his political friends’ enrichment.

It was discovered back in March that Rogán, his wife, András Puskás (Rogán’s deputy), and his common-law wife jointly own 490 m² (almost 5,ooo ft²) apartments worth 300 million forints. For Rogán, who has never had any job save that of a politician, such a purchase under normal circumstances would have been beyond his means. And this is not the only piece of real estate he and his wife own.

A month after the revelations about Rogán’s luxury apartment(s) and his other rather shady real estate holdings, Bors, a tabloid, found out that the Central Investigative Prosecutor’s Office is looking into possible corruption in District V. A businessman who has several restaurants in Budapest won a tender for a piece of property in Rogán’s district where he wanted to open another restaurant. When he went to sign the contract, he was told in no uncertain terms that they expect several more million forints “under the table.” The businessman refused the generous offer and and pressed charges against the district, naming the man who approached him. By June Népszabadság learned that at least three real estate sales are under investigation.

There have also been some rather strange comings and goings in the mayor’s office. First, András Puskás, Rogán’s deputy who is implicated in the luxury apartment case, suddenly quit his job because he was “badly needed” in the foreign ministry. Almost at the same time the man in charge of the everyday running of the affairs of the municipality (jegyző, a kind of city manager) quit in a great hurry. His replacement a few months later was seen wearing a pair of Amadeo Testoni shoes worth 980 euros. The man’s monthly salary is 433,000 forints.

But the story doesn’t end here. Puskás’s replacement, Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi, became the owner of an apartment in a stately apartment building in Szerb utca which he purchased for a mere 19 million forints, paying in monthly installments of 63,000 forints. The market value of such an apartment in a historic district is worth many times that amount. Meanwhile Szentgyörgyvölgyi became the new mayor, and on November 21 he decided to give the apartment back to the District. He claimed to be perfectly innocent in the affair; “he just got tired of all the attacks against him.”

Szerb utca 9 where Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi currently mayor of District V purchased ab apartment for 19 million forints

Szerb utca 9 where Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi, current mayor of District V, purchased an apartment for 19 million forints

Upon closer observation, investigators found that during Rogán’s eight-year-long tenure as mayor of District V one-third of all the real estate owned by the municipality was sold to individuals. One especially egregious case that surfaced lately is the business real estate that was sold to the common-law wife of Tamás Portik, a convicted murderer, back in 2011. The scheme seemed to have been the following. According to a city ordinance, the tenant of a property owned by the municipality has the right to purchase the property at a reduced price. Portik’s common-law wife became a tenant of a 212 m² business site in October 2011, and by December it was hers for 52 million forints. In July 2012 Portik and girlfriend sold the property for 102 millions, its fair market value.

Rogán’s bad luck is that Péter Juhász (Együtt), who was Szentgyörgyvölgyi’s opponent in the municipal elections in October, is a former human rights activist with vast experience as an investigator of corruption cases. And he is now a member of the District V city council. According to Juhász, under Rogán’s watch downtown Pest was the scene of incredible corruption. By now Rogán is a member of parliament and because of his immunity he himself is untouchable. However, András Puskás and Zoltán Sélley, who actually ran the municipality’s affairs and who prepared the contract with Portik’s girlfriend, can be sued, and Juhász is on their case.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, just one of hundreds. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the spectacular enrichment of Lőrinc Mészáros, Viktor Orbán’s pipefitting friend from Felcsút. He also seems to be forgetful. Just lately he forgot about more than 1 billion forints he happened to have in his bank account.

No wonder that struggling Hungarians are outraged. Even some of the Fidesz true believers are angry. Yet the people involved don’t seem to realize that their conspicuous flaunting of their riches is not exactly going over well in one of the poorest nations in the European Union.

Barack Obama on the threat to civil society in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Hungary

American presidents are lining up against the Hungarian prime minister and his illiberal state. On The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Bill Clinton said that “there’s the authoritarian capitalism model which is Russia and in a different way China, and it has some appeal. Like the Hungarian Prime Minister – they owe a lot to America; he just said he liked authoritarian capitalism, just saying ‘I don’t ever want to have to leave power’ – usually those guys want to stay forever and make money. And there’s the democracy model …” This was not an off-the-cuff remark. A few days earlier he said essentially the same thing in an interview with James Bennet in the Atlantic Magazine. He talked about different political models, among which “there is a contest here in the world today…. There’s autocratic governments trying to take advantage of market opportunities—what [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orbán embraced the other day.” Clinton was obviously familiar with the Hungarian prime minister’s by now infamous speech, which was described in a footnote as “a headline-grabbing speech” calling for Hungary to abandon its “liberal methods and principles of organizing a society, as well as the liberal way to look at the world.”

The official Hungarian reaction to Clinton’s remarks was predictable. Péter Szijjártó, who at the time was not yet minister of foreign affairs and trade (which he now is), said that the former president “was conned.” It’s been a long time since Bill Clinton visited Hungary and therefore, I assume it follows, he is ignorant. Period.

Viktor Orbán’s “headline-grabbing speech” reached a lot of people, including the current president of the United States, who addressed the 2014 annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. His speech concentrated on the importance of civil society. He pointed out that “it was citizens here in America who worked to abolish slavery, who marched for women’s rights and workers’ rights and civil rights. They are the reason I can stand here today as President of the United Sates.” Moreover, support of civic groups is in the interest of the United States. “Countries that respect human rights–including freedom of association–happen to be our closest partners. That is not an accident. Conversely, when these rights are suppressed, it fuels grievances and a sense of injustice that over time can fuel instability or extremism.  So I believe America’s support for civil society is a matter of national security.”

Which countries suppress human rights?

From Russia to China to Venezuela, you are seeing relentless crackdowns, vilifying legitimate dissent as subversive.  In places like Azerbaijan, laws make it incredibly difficult for NGOs even to operate.  From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society.  And around the world, brave men and women who dare raise their voices are harassed and attacked and even killed.

Obama Clinton Global Initiative

A Hungarian blogger who happens to be a conservative took the president’s words seriously. He entitled his post “Hungary at a crossroads” and added, “Obama said that Hungary had decided already: it fixed its place next to Russia, China, Kenya, Egypt, Burma, Azerbaijan, etc.”  Moreover, he wrote, Obama made it clear in his speech that “there is no gray zone, there is no Hungarian trickery, there is no double talk. We either stand next to Burma or next to the United States.”

In his address Obama announced a series of new steps that the United States will take to strengthen civil society where there is need. Yesterday he issued a presidential memorandum in which he instructed federal departments and agencies to pay close attention to civil society groups. Specifically, the United States “will oppose efforts by foreign governments to restrict freedoms of peaceful assembly and association and expression.” The United States will create “new innovation centers to empower civil society groups around the world.” NGOs will be able to use these centers “to network and access knowledge and technology and funding that they need to put their ideas into action.” Finally, the United States will increase “support to society groups across the board [and] will increase emergency assistance to embattled NGOs.” The Treasury Department will be instructed to “finalize regulations so it’s even easier and less costly for your foundations to make grants overseas.”

All that is good news for the embattled Hungarian NGOs and the four distribution centers currently under attack. Norway will no longer have to stand alone in its defense of Hungarian civil society. It also may mean that more funding will be forthcoming from American sources to Hungary. After all, Hungary is a unique case. The other countries Obama referred to are in Latin America, in sub-Saharan Africa, in the Middle East, and in Asia. Hungary is the odd man out in this company, and that might attract the attention of donors in the United States. The importation of Putin’s methods into the European Union would be a dangerous precedent which, especially given the current international situation, should not be tolerated.

Obama spoke and Hungary’s shaky reputation abroad received yet another blow. How did Hungarian politicians react to the news that Hungary was compared to some of the worst dictatorships in the world? The usual way. Szijjártó basically called the American president a liar because the president’s remark about “the Hungarian government’s placing any restriction on Hungarian civil society lacks all foundation … because the Hungarians are freedom-loving people.” When Lajos Kósa, one of the deputy chairmen of Fidesz, was asked to comment on Obama’s inclusion of Hungary on a list of countries that harass NGOs, his answer was that “Obama is most likely not entirely familiar with current Hungarian affairs.” For example, it is unlikely that he knows what the third largest city of Hungary is. Then he turned to the reporter from Klubrádió and asked him whether he knows which city it is. The reporter gave the wrong answer when he said it was Miskolc. (Actually it is Szeged.)  Kósa triumphantly exclaimed, “You see!” I assume that means that he did not know the correct answer either. The botched moral of the story: if you don’t know which city is third largest in Hungary you are most likely totally ignorant of everything that goes on under Viktor Orbán’s rule.

Magyar Nemzet is silent. So is Magyar Hírlap. But the Orbán government’s new so-called English-language online paper added these sentences to the news about the speech itself. “Obama has criticized Hungary because of the recent scandal of the Foundation ‘Ökotárs’…. Barack Obama could have the opportunity to share his concerns with János Áder, since the Hungarian president is on official visit in New York this week.” The fault lies with Obama; he should have consulted with Hungary’s president to learn the truth about the Hungarian government’s treatment of the civil groups before he spoke. One could laugh at all these pitiful reactions if the situation weren’t so terribly serious.

Imre Kerényi and Lajos Kósa: boorishness and prejudice in Orbán’s Hungary

A couple of days ago I wasn’t quite sure whether I should mention a distasteful episode in the “cultural life” of Hungary. I use quotation marks here because what I’m going to talk about has nothing to do with culture. In fact, the topic is the total lack of civility and proper behavior. And here I’m not talking about the man on the street but rather about the boorishness and vulgarity of Hungarian politicians and those who are ready to serve them.

I will be focusing on  two public figures here. One is a former theater director who, according to many, is “not quite normal” and therefore cannot be taken seriously. That may be, but he was appointed by Prime Minister Victor Orbán to be his personal representative responsible for cultural matters. So, when he opens his mouth one must assume he speaks in the name of his boss. And that is the problem. Imre Kerényi, the man in question, would be unacceptable in any civilized society, especially as a spokesman for the prime minister of the country. This is not the first time that his words create consternation and dismay in the civilized half of Hungarian society. He comes out with outlandish, often laughable, plans, and unfortunately receives money from the government to execute them. The subject of his ire this time around was the theater world, where he finds the influence of gays intolerable.

The other person is a key Fidesz politician, Lajos Kósa, deputy chairman of Fidesz, member of parliament, and mayor of Debrecen. He is an important man in Fidesz’s inner circle, and now that members of parliament cannot be mayors at the same time, he was persuaded by Viktor Orbán to relinquish his post as mayor despite the fact that he has ruled Debrecen ever since 1998. Viktor Orbán obviously finds him useful to himself and to the party.

A few days ago, in interview on HírTV, he had a few words to say about Jean-Claude Juncker, the candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. The exchange revealed that Kósa knows absolutely nothing about Juncker or what’s going on in Brussels at the moment, but that didn’t prevent him from speaking of the matter in the most boorish, crass, and vulgar manner. The behavior of these two, and they are naturally not alone, is symptomatic of the atmosphere that has been created by the uncouth characters who managed to win an election and who have been working furiously ever since to ensure that they will stay forever and bring the country down to the level where they feel comfortable. In the gutter.

So, let’s start with Kerényi. I have written about him several times, so anyone who’s not familiar with him can easily catch upstarting with my summary of his earlier life. Kerényi, the former communist party member, discovered his real right-wing roots and became an ardent admirer of Viktor Orbán. Those in the theatrical world who do not share his convictions are his enemies who must be purged from the nation’s theaters.  He has outlandish ideas about the theater in general. According to him, 80% of all Hungarian plays are “sacred works” inspired by Christianity, and therefore it is important that the director himself be a Christian. Kerényi finds the present state of affairs abominable. What Hungary needs is “Christian” theater,” whatever that means. He would like to see a Christian Theater Festival. After all, there are festivals galore: Festival of the Mangalica (a hairy Hungarian pig), Jewish Festival, and what not. Therefore, there should be a Christian Theater Festival. The theatrical world should be liberated from the “lobby of the fags.” And while we are at it, why not establish an “anti-college of the performing arts” and let the present one rot.

The reaction was predictable. Several people demanded an explanation from Viktor Orbán. After all, as I said, Kerényi is his personal representative in matters of culture. Well-known actors and the president of the College of the Performing Arts bombarded Orbán with letters demanding an explanation. Some people called for Kerényi to be sacked. To date they have received no answer, although one of the many spokesmen for Fidesz said that Kerényi’s language was not to his liking. When asked whether Kerényi should leave his government post, the spokesman answered that “it is the decision of the person who appointed him.”

Kerényi is not the kind of man who can be easily intimidated. A few days later in an interview he reiterated his opinion on the subject and proudly announced that his opinions coincide with the views of the majority. Well, actually, attitudes toward gays are changing in Hungary, especially among young people. Moreover, what kind of a government is it where one of its members incites base prejudice against a minority? Yes, that kind!

The story was reported in Der Spiegel by Keno Verseck, a German journalist fluent in Hungarian. The title of his article was “Cultural representative stirs up hatred against gays.” As for Kerényi’s style, Verseck compared it to “graffiti in public toilets.”

Now let’s move on to another illustrious member of Fidesz, Lajos Kósa. As far as I know, Kósa does not know any foreign languages and therefore his knowledge of the outside world is based solely on the Hungarian media and his party’s interpretation of the news. (An aside, the Hungarian Parliament’s webpage has been redesigned. Earlier we could find out, among other things, what language skills the MPs have. Currently no information of any kind about the members is available.)  Two days ago Kósa was a guest on HírTV’s Friday evening political program called P8. He gave a 45-minute interview in which the conversation turned to, among other things, the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker for the post of president of the European Commission. Regardless of what one might think of Juncker as a man and as a politician, Kósa’s remarks were unacceptable by any standard.

Sours: commons.wikipedia.org

Source: commons.wikipedia.org

As we know, Viktor Orbán, along with the heads of state of Great Britain, Sweden, and the Netherlands, indicated that he would vote against Juncker’s candidacy. Let’s look at Kósa’s opinion of the man. Not surprisingly, he does not think that Juncker is suitable for the job because he is not a “characteristic” politician. What one needs today is a man of exceptional talent. Someone who can be accepted by all Europeans, from the Portuguese to the Greeks. It was appropriate for Viktor Orbán to raise his voice against Juncker because if “everybody keeps his mouth shut and we keep looking at each other, if we all just ask  ‘Lord Almighty who the hell imposed that joker on us’… Otherwise, this is how things are normally. Let’s take a look at the commissioners. One of them is a greater loser than the next. We have had experience with them. Up and down from Neelie Kroes and through Olli Rhen who after three years admitted that ‘sorry, I was wrong.’  What a great guy and in the meantime Europe goes to shit. Enough of that. What we want to say is that one cannot talk seriously about the European Union as long as everybody shuts up and exports domestically discredited people and acts as if all that was okay.”*

These kinds of people are in charge of Hungarian politics and culture. György Dalos quoted in Der Spiegel is right. Such “tirades are only reflections of the political atmosphere under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.”

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*In the Hungarian original: “Ha mindenki kussol meg nézzük egymást, azt gondoljuk, hogy: Úristen, ezt a jóembert – aki lehet, hogy tényleg jó ember, de – ki a bánat tette a nyakunkra? Egyébként mindig ez van, nézzük ezeket az európai biztosokat, hát egyik nagyobb gáz, mint a másik. Azért volt ebben tapasztalatunk, nem? Neelie Kroestól kezdve lefele-felfele, Olli Rehnen át… és akkor egy európai pénzügyi biztos majd három év múlva azt találja mondani, hogy „bocsi, nem volt igazam”. Hát nagyon jó fej, közben meg Európa gajra megy. Elég volt ebből. Pont azt akarjuk mondani, hogy nem lehet az Európai Unióról komolyan véve beszélni, ha mindenki sumákol és exportálja az otthon már levitézlett embereket és úgy csinálunk, mintha ez nagyon rendben lenne.”

How to make sure that Fidesz wins the municipal election in Budapest?

Viktor Orbán and his minions have no shame. They fear their opponents and hence are once again ready to change the electoral law.

What am I talking about? Municipal elections will be held in October, and Viktor Orbán is afraid that Fidesz may not have clear sailing in Budapest. Although Fidesz won the city at the national and the EP elections, both times there were signs that the opposition might stand a chance of winning the city back from current Budapest mayor István Tarlós, who is Fidesz’s man. And as far as Viktor Orbán is concerned, that must not happen. The easiest way to guarantee a Fidesz victory is to change the electoral law that until now governed the elections and the functioning of the municipal government of Budapest. It was announced that within the shortest possible time parliament will discuss the matter and naturally, with the help of their two-thirds majority, the bill will become law by the middle of June.

The structure of Budapest’s municipal government does need reforming, but the desired changes point to more centralization. In the current system the districts have far too much power and the lord mayoralty does not have enough authority. In the first place, it is ridiculous to have twenty-three district mayors, their numerous deputies, and their separate councils for a city with a population of less than two million. Especially since these mini-kingdoms have such wide powers that they can even decide on parking fees and regulations. Thus, it can easily happen that parking fees and traffic regulations are different on the right side of the street from the left. Moreover, Fidesz further weakened the power of the center by allowing districts to keep certain taxes deriving from tourism. This benefited Antal Rogán’s 5th district enormously since it is that district where most tourists enjoy the sites and spend the most money. Under such circumstances, it is exceedingly difficult to have rational, comprehensive city planning.

As for the election law, voters currently elect the lord mayor and the twenty-three district mayors directly, but they also vote for party lists on the basis of which members of the city council are elected. For some time Fidesz has been toying with the idea of making the lord mayor a less important position; in 2011 there were talks about getting away from direct voting for the mayor of Budapest. Instead, they suggested a setup that would allow the twenty-three mayors to vote for the lord mayor from among themselves. That idea was eventually dropped.

The latest suggestion, which I fear will soon be law, still allows direct voting for the lord mayor, but it completely changes the composition of the city council. The city council would be comprised of the twenty-three district mayors and nine people from the compensation list. That is, from among those who ended up second in the election for district mayoralties. There would be no party lists. According to Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán, the two MPs who presented the bill, this new electoral law would be much more democratic because in the new system the members of the council would be directly voted on by the electorate as opposed to having an arbitrary party list put together by the different parties. Moreover, Rogán added, it would be much cheaper to run the new council because members of the city council would get no salaries. Being a member of the council would be included in the duties of each district mayor.

Although the claim is that the suggested system will be more democratic than the one now in effect, that is not the case. On the contrary. It is less democratic and, according to constitutional lawyers, might even be unconstitutional. First of all, the members of the city council must represent the entire electorate and not just parts of the whole. After all, only people who live in a particular district are eligible to vote for that district’s mayor. As the quick analysis of Political Capital, the well-known think tank, pointed out, the Fidesz constitution states in Article 35(1) that “voters shall exercise universal and equal suffrage to elect local government representatives and mayors by direct and secret ballot, in elections allowing the free expression of the will of voters, in the manner defined by a cardinal Act.” But if this bill is voted into law, the representatives of the local government, i.e. the city council, will not be elected by all the voters. And there is a second problem that probably makes the new law unconstitutional: the huge differences in population between districts. Political Capital points out that in District I (the Castle district) there are only 20,949 eligible voters while in District XIV there are 92,806. In fact, the Constitutional Court several times ruled on the issue of electoral districts that were in the judges’ opinion too divergent as far as their populations were concerned. By abolishing the party lists, Fidesz prevents the opposition parties from accessing their support across the city as a whole.

In the April parliamentary election Fidesz received 39% of the votes, the United Alliance 37%, Jobbik 12%, and LMP 12%. Portfolio figured out that with the same percentages and under the current rules Fidesz and the United Alliance would both have 13 mandates, Jobbik 4 mandates, and LMP 3 mandates. In the new system, however, Fidesz would have 17 seats on the council, which amounts to 70% of all the available mandates, while E14-PM, DK, and MSZP would have to share 6 mandates. LMP and Jobbik wouldn’t even have seats on the city council. If Fidesz is generous and there is still compensation, assuming 10 more seats and the old “list system,” Fidesz would have 21 seats, Együtt-PM-DK-MSZP 10, LMP 1, and Jobbik 1. No matter how Fidesz fine tunes the law, it will make sure that it dominates the council and controls the fate of Budapest.

No wonder that they are having fun

Lajos Kósa and Antal Rogán: No wonder they are having fun

The opposition parties are up in arms. The most straightforward and hardest hitting criticism came from DK, Együtt14-PM, and Gábor Fodor’s liberals. They call it what it is: electoral fraud. DK is seeking remedies at the Constitutional Court, but by now Fidesz-appointed justices are in the great majority on the thirteen-member body. MSZP’s Csaba Horváth focused more on the negative results of decentralization, which was not the most effective response to this latest Fidesz coup. The others are right: Fidesz just figured out a way to make sure that they will win in Budapest regardless of the strength of the left.

Just as I said at the beginning, Viktor Orbán and his friends have no shame. They no longer even try to hide their plans to deprive their opponents of their rightful representation. Hungary is marching rapidly toward a one-party system.

Viktor Orbán’s (temporary) retreat in his battle with Ferenc Gyurcsány?

Some of my readers and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the government’s decision to release two secret service documents that deal with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s controversial speech of 2006. They are convinced that this move is a fantastic coup against the opposition and that if the united opposition had any sense whatsoever it would drop the subject as soon as possible. Anything, they claim, that has to do with the speech is political poison.

I see it differently. Even if the two documents had substantiated the government’s claim that Gyurcsány was complicit in the leak, the political gain for Fidesz would have been minimal. But the documents didn’t support their claim. Moreover, since Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány knew not only about the two released documents but about others that contradict Eduardo Rózsa-Flores’s assumptions, questions were bound to arise about a half forgotten story. And in that story Fidesz was very much involved.

The release of the documents raised the possibility that someone would slip up. And indeed Lajos Kósa did. Only half a year ago he denied that he knew anything about the tape prior to its publication. So did Tibor Navracsics and Viktor Orbán. And now here in black and white was a detailed description by Flores of how the tape ended up in his hands and went from him via an intermediary to Lajos Kósa. Confronted with the document and pressured by Antónia Mészáros, Kósa cracked. He admitted that they have been lying about their knowledge of the tape and their own role in making it public. Fidesz politicians who in the last eight years have talked incessantly about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s lies are found to be liars themselves. It was time for damage control.

I can only imagine what Lajos Kósa got from Viktor Orbán after that interview. He must have been ordered to correct his “mistake,” which he did this morning on Magyar Rádió. While yesterday he admitted that he got hold of the tape from a fellow from Miskolc which he then distributed to the press, by today his story had been substantially edited. He denied any knowledge of the tape’s content before it was read on Magyar Rádió.

Sándor Pintér was also asked to do his best to squelch the growing scandal. After all, only Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap were talking about the sins of Ferenc Gyurcsány;  other publications started probing into the revelations of Fidesz’s involvement. And that probing went beyond the leak itself. People kept asking about Fidesz’s role in the preparation and organization of the disturbances themselves.

Pintér’s line of reasoning at a late afternoon press conference was interesting. While two days ago the big news was the source of the leak, i.e. whether Gyurcsány initiated the leak of his own speech or not, today Pintér claimed that “the circumstances of the leak are unimportant” because the unauthorized removal of the tape is not a crime. The important part of the story is the content of the speech, he emphasized. But then why did they release these documents that centered on the circumstances of the leak, circumstances that two days later were deemed unimportant? There is no good answer here.

In addition to Pintér’s feeble explanation Magyar Nemzet came up with one of its ownThe argument goes something like this: Why the big fuss about the leak? Who really cares who was responsible? After all, we just heard from the former editor-in-chief of Népszabadság that J. Zoltán Gál, undersecretary in charge of the prime minister’s office, approached him to ask whether he would be interested in an edited version of a terrific speech his “boss” delivered. So, the argument goes, let’s not spend any more time on this trivial matter, especially when MSZP wanted to have it made public anyway. Another misguided argument. With this claim they only support Gyurcsány’s contention that his audience was enthralled and that he didn’t think there was anything in the speech one had to be ashamed of.

The most worrisome announcement that Sándor Pintér made at this press conference was that there is no other “final report” on Balatonőszöd. We are talking here about the report that both Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány saw and that both claim contains some damaging material on Fidesz’s involvement in the affair that ended in violence on the streets of Budapest. That indicates that as things stand now the Orbán government is planning to eliminate in one way or another an important piece of evidence.  I’m sure that Bajnai cannot lay his hands on the document, but Gyurcsány may have a copy of it which, as he said, “landed on his desk.”

source: szabadeuropa.shp.hu

Source: szabadeuropa.shp.hu

Moreover, the Népszabadság article to which Magyar Nemzet referred also states that two days before the release of the tape Ferenc Gyurcsány sent an article to the paper entitled “Haladás vs. maradás” (Progress versus Backwardness) in which he pretty well told the reading public what he said in his Balatonőszöd speech. The editors asked him whether in light of the new developments he wanted to change anything in his text. His answer was “no.” Obviously even after the speech was released he saw no reason to change anything in the text.

As I said earlier, any party would have taken advantage of the opportunity the leaked tape offered Fidesz sometime in July-August of 2006. I don’t blame them. What on the other hand, a responsible democratic party cannot do is to systematically prepare a coup d’état. Unfortunately, it looks as if this is exactly what Viktor Orbán was doing. There are just too many signs pointing in this direction.

Finally, here is a new piece of information from Péter Zentai, today a journalist with HVG but at the time Magyar Rádió’s Berlin correspondent. Right after the Budapest siege one of the German television stations organized a round-table discussion on the Hungarian events. Zentai participated in this discussion, as did a British TV journalist. The British journalist insisted that the outbreak of violence couldn’t have been spontaneous because his television station and Sky TV had been approached by a Hungarian news station a week before the fateful weekend. They were invited to come to Budapest because “interesting things will happen.” Zentai was stunned and tried to air this story on Magyar Rádió. Even then, however, MR was partial to Fidesz, and one of the middle managers refused to report Zentai’s information from the British television journalist.

Bits and pieces of new information emerge day after day. Viktor Orbán seems far too eager to eliminate his arch-rival and thus keeps making mistakes.

It was a mistake to release documents relating to Gyurcsány’s speech of May 26, 2006

I predict that Viktor Orbán will regret, if he has not already done so, his decision to dredge up those two documents that Sándor Pintér released two days ago. They were supposed to prove that Ferenc Gyurcsány was himself responsible for his infamous speech of 2006 becoming public. Not that, even if it were true, which it is not, it would make any difference. It is not really news. News would be if we learned who the people were who were responsible for the theft of the tape from either MSZP headquarters or the prime minister’s office.  The release of the documents was supposed to serve only one purpose: to remind the public during the election campaign of Gyurcsány’s unforgivable sins against the nation. It seems to me that instead of achieving the desired outcome Viktor Orbán is now facing uncomfortable questions about his and his party’s role in this whole sordid affair.

We learned nothing new from the documents about the circumstances of the leak, but we found out something that Viktor Orbán has steadfastly denied ever since September 2006. For the first time a Fidesz politician, Lajos Kósa, admitted yesterday that they knew of the tape’s existence earlier. Not that we didn’t suspect as much. Most commentators who analyzed the events prior to the siege of the Hungarian Television building came to the conclusion that Viktor Orbán already knew about the contents of the tape in July 2006 and that by the beginning of August the Fidesz team managed to lay their hands on the actual tape. This timeline was also assumed by József Debreczeni, who relied heavily on a blogger’s detailed description of the events, available online, for his book A 2006-os ősz. Orbán decided to withhold the release of the tape until the time was ripe. And that day was September 17, just as Viktor Orbán was en route to Brussels.

Now, for the first time, Lajos Kósa under the pretty aggressive questioning of Antónia Mészáros of ATV admitted that they made several copies of the speech and delivered them to the more important media outlets, including Magyar Rádió, where two or three sentences were lifted from a long speech. So, instead of learning anything new about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s complicity, we are now faced with a Fidesz admission of something we until now only surmised. That was Fidesz’s first own goal, and more may follow because questions are pouring in.

How is it possible, for example, that Viktor Orbán weeks before the siege predicted what would happen on September 19? Tamás Lajos Szalay of Népszabadság calls attention to a three-part article of Orbán published in Magyar Nemzet entitled “Watershed.” The first part was published on July 29, the second on August 5, and the third on September 9. Why the long gap between the second and third articles? If it is true that the tape arrived sometime in early August, it is likely that Orbán had to rewrite his article to reflect his new found knowledge. In any case, Orbán in his piece exhibits prophetic faculties when he sees only two possibilities. He envisions unrest unless “we find a peaceful way out of the crisis.” The peaceful way was the Gyurcsány government’s resignation.

Most likely not too many people remember the tape sent to several radio stations in the name of “The Warriors of Democracy” which sent a chilling message to the government. On September 14 a distorted male voice called on the government to resign. If they don’t do so by September 20, Budapest will be in flames. Most commentators dismissed the threat as the work of a crackpot, but in light of what happened on September 19 I wouldn’t dismiss it. The police at the time said something about a crime that can be viewed as a terrorist threat, but by January 2007 they were no longer investigating the case. We will never know who the warriors of democracy were or whether they had any connection to Fidesz. But the long-forgotten warriors of democracy cropped up again in today’s Népszabadság.

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy expressed the opinion of the Demokratikus Koalíció on the matter. They demand the release of all documents. He pointed out that with Kósa’s admission we now know that Viktor Orbán has been lying about his own involvement in this affair. “It has become clear that Hungary has a liar as prime minister.” Admittedly, not exactly a new discovery. Another observer, István Gusztos, remarked in Gépnarancs that while the released documents tell us nothing about Ferenc Gyurcsány, they do tell us a lot about Fidesz, which “had a determinant role in the outbreak of disturbances.”

The next step will be a serious second look at the football hooligans’ role on September 19, 2006 during the siege of the television building. In Hungary the worst football hooligans are the fans of Ferencváros (Fradi). The Fradi fans were in a foul mood at the time because their favorite team had lost its place in Division I. Orbán, who is an Újpest and Videoton fan, paid a surprise visit to the Ferencváros-Jászapáti match, their first one in Division II. He settled in the middle of the Fradi fans and even gave an interview to reporters present. He expressed his disgust at what had happened to Fradi, which was in his opinion “a scandal” (disznóság). Commentators were a bit surprised at Orbán’s sudden appearance at a Fradi game. The precise connection between this visit and the Fradi fans’ active participation in the siege of Hungarian TV is not known, but in all probability the two occurrences were not unconnected–especially in light of a later development when as a result of a new investigation of the case during the Orbán government, the sentences already passed on a handful of hooligans by the courts were annulled. The suspicion lingers that those half-crazed, drunk men had been assured ahead of time that their actions would have no consequences once Viktor Orbán was the prime minister of Hungary.

MTV ostrom

All in all, I believe that it would have been better for Viktor Orbán, however fervently he wants to “get” Ferenc Gyurcsány, to let sleeping dogs lie. There is just too much muck around Fidesz headquarters which seems to surface every time the subject of Balatonőszöd comes up.