László Kövér

Hungary and the Russian-Ukrainian crisis

A couple of days ago I wrote about the Hungarian far right and Russia and mentioned the Russian accusation that Hungary has been supplying T-72 tanks to Ukraine. At that time the Hungarian government categorically denied the charge, but the case of the “missing” Russian-made tanks is still a subject of debate. First of all, the stories out of the Ministry of Defense were confused. The spokesman for the ministry first claimed that the tanks never left the country: they were just moved from one storage area to another. Then the story took a different turn. The ministry informed the media that T-72 tanks (70 in all) were actually sold to a company called Excalibur Defense Kft. of Székesfehérvár, which received permission from the Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade to transport the tanks to Czech territory.

That deal and the transportation of the tanks to the Czech Republic is most likely for real:  Magyar Nemzet published a facsimile of the “International Import Certificate” attesting to the arrangement. On August 25 the government informed the media that the tanks had begun their j0urney to the Czech Republic. Yet the documents published by Magyar Nemzet did not convince anyone about the final destination of the tanks. Vice Magazine published an article which took it for granted that the T-72 tanks did or will end up in Ukraine. The deal with Excalibur is only a decoy. And this belief is shared by the Russians. Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Russian political scientist and adviser to Vladimir Putin who also happens to be the grandson of Vyacheslav Molotov, in an interview on CNN accused Hungary of illegally selling military supplies to Ukraine.

Today several  newspapers reported that Csaba Hende, minister of defense, may leave his post sometime after the municipal elections. The exact reasons for his sudden departure are not known, but perhaps the clumsy handling of the T-72 tanks might be one of them. Given Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s excellent relations with Vladimir Putin and his outright antagonism of any sanctions against Russia, providing Ukraine with illegal shipments of weaponry is more than strange. If true, Orbán’s relations with Putin might be greatly damaged and his tarnished reputation in the West is unlikely to improve.

This is not the only strange turn in Hungarian foreign policy. There is also the government’s sudden change of heart about its support for NATO’s anti-Russian moves. Already in his last radio talk Orbán hinted that there might be more willingness on his government’s part to spend 2% of the Hungarian GDP on defense. This figure is the minimum NATO members, including Hungary, agreed to. Since 2010 the government has spent less and less on the armed forces, with the current expenditure a mere 0.88% of the GDP. In that talk he admitted that the country is in noncompliance.

Indeed, two days ago Magyar Nemzet reported that Hungary will arrive in Newport, Wales for the NATO summit with several proposals concerning the Hungarian contribution to the common effort to contain Russian encroachment into Ukraine. The semi-official newspaper is usually very well informed, and therefore we can be pretty certain that the news is correct. Hungary will send a contingent of 100 men to the Baltics to join an international NATO force there. In addition, Hungary will develop the air force base near Pápa. Moreover, Hungary will spend more money to improve the Hungarian military.

Aerial photo of the Pápa Airbase

Aerial photo of the Pápa Airbase

Yesterday HVG reported that several NATO member countries would like to see additional NATO troops in all countries that define the eastern borders of the organization. That would naturally also involve Hungary. According to an unnamed diplomatic source, if such a request is addressed to Hungary it will be almost impossible to refuse it.

Given all these developments one can only marvel at László Kövér’s performance yesterday. The occasion was a meeting of four prominent participants in the change of regime in Hungary–Sándor Lezsák, László Kövér, Mátyás Szűrös, and Péter Tölgyessy–with 20 young historians, journalists, and artists who travel through European countries following the footsteps of 1989. The project, called Freedom Express, was organized by the European Network of Remembrance and Solidarity. The group arrived in Budapest yesterday from Gdańsk and Warsaw. Well, the young visitors were treated to quite a tirade from the third highest dignitary of the country. It was an extraordinary performance that revealed Kövér’s antagonism toward Ukraine and her aspirations.

First, Kövér got upset about some of the questions that had more to do with Hungary’s pro-Russian views than the fine points of regime change in Hungary twenty-five years ago. Then a Romanian participant in Freedom Express asked Kövér a question that included a reference to the Romanian occupation of Budapest in 1919. He indicated that the Romanian army came to Hungary to liberate it from the communists. That really set Kövér off. He began by saying that “there is no reason to bring up topics with which we only irritate each other.”  So, he was in a bad mood even before all the questions poured in about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and Hungary’s role in it.

Kövér gave his own version of the conflict. “What is going on in Ukraine is a manipulated affair in which the Ukrainians have the smallest role,” he claimed. “The goal of this circus is that it should forever separate Europe from Russia.” Although Kövér expressed his satisfaction with the NATO umbrella over Hungary and although he understands the Poles and the Baltic people who are worried about Russian expansion, Russia has its legitimate security needs. “Who was the American or European politician who asked what the Ukrainians want?” As far as Western media coverage of the conflict is concerned, “the western press lies just as much as Pravda did in the olden days.”

Kövér is also convinced that no democratic developments can be expected from Ukraine because one of the first moves of the Ukrainian government was the suspension of minority rights. (Kövér failed to add that a day later that move was reversed.) As far as he is concerned, there can be no question about the outcome of a military encounter involving “the nonexistent army of the nonexistent Ukrainian state.” Instead, the real solution would be “normal cooperation between Europe and Russia,” but “the chance of that has been lost for the foreseeable future.”

If there is a circus anywhere, I’m afraid it is what Hungarian government politicians have managed to create in the field of diplomacy. And the clowns in this circus are not at all funny.

The opening session of the new Hungarian parliament

Today was the opening session of the new parliament. Before the session began the new MPs were treated in the “Red Room” to music by the so-called folk musician András Jánosi and his orchestra. Actually, András Jánosi’s genre is what used to be called Gypsy music; it seems to be experiencing a revival with the assistance of the Orbán government. In fact, Magyar Rádió established a separate channel devoted to Gypsy music and songs created in the manner of folk music (műdalok). The channel is named after a famous Gypsy band leader, Pista Dankó (1858-1903).

But why Gypsy music at the opening session of Parliament? According to Népszabadság, “they revived the tradition that the Gypsy band of János Bihari (1764-1827) played music for the arriving members of the Diet.” It’s too bad that historians are such sticklers for the truth, but this so-called tradition couldn’t have been exactly long-lived. Between 1811 and 1825 no Diet was convened at all; the “reform era” spanned the period between 1825 and 1848. Bihari, to repeat, died in 1827. So much for a great Hungarian tradition.

Outside the parliament building Tamás Gaudi-Nagy, a Jobbik member of the European parliament, organized a demonstration protesting the new law concerning agricultural lands. When a guest to the opening of parliament, István Pásztor, a Hungarian politician from the Voivodina, appeared, a scuffle ensued. The police stood by passively. Demonstrators, mostly women, surrounded Pásztor, calling him a traitor and a Bolshevik. Several women spat in his face. Why did Gaudi-Nagy’s group decide to attack Pásztor? According to ATV’s website, last year Gaudi-Nagy tried to “defend” the Hungarians in Serbia in the European Council, which Pásztor deemed “harmful” to the Hungarian minority. Whatever the reason, Jobbik distanced itself from Gaudi-Nagy, emphasizing that he is not a member of the party’s parliamentary caucus. Gaudi-Nagy, you may recall, is the man who a few months ago threw the flag of the European Union out of one of the bathroom windows of the parliament building.

Of course, there were also the usual opening speeches. Especially interesting was the speech of President János Áder, who drew on the writings and speeches of Ferenc Deák (1803-1876), known as the wise man of the nation because he was the architect of the Compromise of 1867. As is often the case, Áder used Deák as a springboard to make a political point. He quoted Deák saying that “we should not cast our glances at the past, but instead we must look forward to the future.” I don’t think one needs much imagination to grasp Áder’s intent. In my opinion, at least, he is telling all those people who are upset over the alleged falsification of history to leave the past alone and stop being pests.

Áder also invoked Ferenc Deák’s words about the necessity of differences of opinion in politics. “The truth gets extracted from differences of opinion,” Deák said. “I don’t mind, in fact I desire differences of opinion even in very important matters. I love all those citizens who oppose us. Let God grant us opponents and not enemies.” To hear these lofty words coming from the mouth of  János Áder was jarring. His party and the government he supports never listen to their political opponents, whom they treat as enemies.

Otherwise, according to Áder, no one can question the results of the election and the legitimacy of the electoral system. As for the new constitution, the election results also legitimized its legality.  Moreover, the results of the April 6 election in Áder’s view mean that “the Hungarian nation considers the long process of regime change final.” That is, the second Orbán government has brought to fruition what began in 1989-1990. Hungary has arrived at the pinnacle of democracy thanks to Viktor Orbán.

It seems, however, that some MPs openly and loudly disagreed with János Áder. When it came to the swearing-in ceremony, when the new members have to swear to the new constitution, the four Demokratikus Koalíció MPs, Ferenc Gyurcsány, Csaba Molnár, Lajos Oláh, and Ágnes Vadai, added the following two sentences: “I solemnly swear that I will do everything in my power for the reestablishment of the republic. I will try with all my strength to achieve the adoption of a new constitution confirmed by popular referendum.” Otherwise, Heti Válasz noted with some satisfaction that whoever was responsible for the parliamentary seating arrangement put the independent members of DK and Együtt2014-PM right behind the rather large Jobbik delegation.

Members of the Demokratikus Kolíció add their pledge to the official text of the swearing-in From left to right, Lajos Oláh, Csaba Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Ágnes Vadai / Stop.hu

Members of the Demokratikus Kolíció at the swearing-in ceremony
Lajos Oláh, Csaba Molnár, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Ágnes Vadai / Stop.hu

It was at this point that the new members had to vote for the deputies to the president of the House. The only interesting vote was for former skinhead Tamás Sneider (Jobbik). He received 150 yeas and 35 nays, while 5 MPs abstained. They were members of the LMP delegation. Fidesz, KDNP, and Jobbik have altogether 156 members, and therefore a number of MPs did not vote at all. Among them were Zoltán Balog, Zoltán Kovács, János Lázár, and Tibor Navracsics. On the other hand, Viktor Orbán voted for Sneider. As for the nays, they must have come from the democratic opposition parties: MSZP, DK, Együtt2014-PM, and the sole liberal member, Gábor Fodor. Péter Kiss (MSZP) and Ferenc Gyurcsány did not vote on Sneider.

In the secret ballot vote for president of the House, László Kövér received 171 yeas and 19 nays, with 3 abstentions. This is a first. In the past, votes for the president of the House were always unanimous. Fidesz and KDNP together have 133 members, and therefore 38 yea votes had to come from somewhere else. DK announced ahead of time that they, all four of them, will say no to Kövér’s nomination. If I calculate correctly, six people simply refrained from voting. Népszabadság announced the 19 nays as “Nineteen people dared to say no!”  Unfortunately it does seem to take a certain amount of courage to vote against Kövér and even greater courage to announce it publicly. He’s not the kind of guy who understands fair play and the democratic rules of politics.

Hungarian parliament voted on Paks; the Jewish-government dialogue is stalled

Yesterday we all thought that the parliamentary vote on the Russian-Hungarian agreement about financing and building two new reactors in Paks would take place only next Thursday. But, in typical Fidesz fashion, the Fidesz-KDNP majority made a last-minute change in the agenda and opted to hold the vote today. Perhaps the sudden decision had something to do with the revelations of Mihály Varga, minister of the economy, about the financial details of the agreement. Parliament had only four days to ponder the bill, and five hours were allowed for discussion on the floor.

The decision to move the vote forward naturally upset the opposition, but that was not all that raised eyebrows. The figures Mihály Varga revealed were much higher than earlier expected. First of all, Hungary will have to pay back the loan not in 30 but in 21 years, in 2035. In the early years the interest rate will be 3.9%, later 4.5%, and in the final years 4.9%. The Russians will pay the 10 billion euros it is lending to Hungary over ten years, and Hungary will have to pony up 2 billion euros in the final years of plant construction. (That figure, of course, assumes that there are no cost overruns, a highly unlikely possibility.) According to information received from government circles, one reason Viktor Orbán was so eager to push through the vote at the earliest possible date was that he was concerned that even Fidesz legislators would be unwilling to vote for the plant expansion once they knew its true cost. This information had to be revealed because the court so decided. Moreover, according to estimates, the expansion of nuclear capacity would be so costly that it would raise the price of electricity at least 40% and in the first decade perhaps 80%. Népszabadság gave the following headline to its article on the estimates prepared by MVM, the state-owned utility company: “More expensive electricity, brutal losses.” Nice prospects, if MVM’s calculations are correct.

LMP asked for a roll call vote, after which András Schiffer held up a sign: “Hungary sold out and indebted,” while Szilvia Lengyel, also of LMP, held up another placard proclaiming that “We will not be a Russian atomic colony.” Bernadett Szél (LMP) and Katalin Ertsey (LMP) had megaphones that produced the noise of ambulance sirens at full volume. The scene was quite something. I highly recommend the video of the brawl, available on Index. Parliament had to adjourn for over an hour. László Kövér called the protesters idiots and also indicated that the highest possible fine will have to be paid by the four LMP members.

LMP (Politics Can Be Different) / Source Index

LMP (Politics Can Be Different) / Source Index

A quick look at the record of the votes is most interesting. It is striking how many members chose not to be present. Let’s start with Fidesz which has a large 223-member delegation out of which 21 members were absent. Among the missing were Viktor Orbán, Zoltán Balog, Mihály Varga, Tibor Navracsics, and Zoltán Illés and Zsolt Németh, undersecretary for foreign affairs.. Out of the KDNP caucus of 34 members only two were missing but one of them was no other than Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister. Half of the Jobbik members were absent, but those present with the exception of one voted with the government parties. The majority of MSZP members decided to stay at home (32 out of 48). Out of the 27 independents 17 were absent and only one of those present voted for the bill: József Balogh of blind komondor fame.

The other important news of the day was the scheduled meeting between Jewish leaders and János Lázár. If anyone had great hopes for a compromise between the government and the Jewish community, he was mistaken. It turned out that János Lázár was simply a messenger. As he himself admitted, everything depends on Viktor Orbán. His is the final word and at the moment that word is “no go.” The monument will be erected, Sándor Szakály will stay, and the House of Fates “can become a reality only if there is intelligent, correct dialogue that concentrates on the essence of the matter… If there is no cooperation there is no reason to go ahead with the project.” So, if you raise objections and want to oversee Mária Schmidt’s activities, there will be no new Holocaust center in Hungary.

As for the monument depicting Archangel Gabriel and the German imperial eagle, “it would be a falsification of history if we pretended as if Germany didn’t deprive Hungary of its sovereignty on March 19, 1944.” The problem is that most respectable historians dispute the government’s contention of a lack of sovereignty, pointing to the composition of the governments formed between March 19 and October 15, 1944. For example, all ministers and undersecretaries of the Sztójay government also served in earlier Hungarian ministries going back as far as 1933. It is also clear that Miklós Horthy was not entirely powerless, as he demonstrated several times during this period. In my opinion, given the seemingly firm position of the government, there can be no agreement between the two sides.

I very much doubt that Viktor Orbán, who will have the final say on the issue next week, will move an inch. He is not that kind of a guy. As for the Jewish organizations that will sit down to talk on Sunday, they are unlikely to retreat from their position. So, it can easily happen that an international scandal is in the offing: the Hungarian Jewish community will boycott the Holocaust Memorial Year initiated by the Orbán government.

Hungarians are not happy with the Putin-Orbán agreement on the Paks reactors

Well, it seems that for perhaps the first time in almost four years Viktor Orbán may be running into serious political difficulties on at least two counts. One is the government’s handling of the Memorial Holocaust Year, which has caused an international outcry by Jewish organizations as well as historians of the period. The second is his decision to make a deal with Vladimir Putin for the Russian state-company Rosatom to build two new nuclear reactors in Paks.

The Russian government will provide a loan of 10 billion euros which Hungary will have to pay back in thirty years. Although we know nothing of the details, we are supposed to believe János Lázár’s claim that the agreement just signed in total secret “is the business deal of the century.” In fact, the deal was so secretive that even László Kövér learned about it only after the fact. And to make sure that no one will know any of the details for at least a decade, Sándor Pintér, minister of interior,  immediately declared the negotiations and their accompanying documents a state secret.

Not everybody is happy on the right. Kövér, perhaps the best known anti-communist in the bunch, was apparently disgruntled but, being a good soldier, kept his anger to himself. Ágoston Sámuel Mráz, “the independent” political scientist at Nezőpont, initially said that many of Orbán’s supporters were surprised that the two reactors will be built from a massive Russian loan “because Viktor Orbán for a long time used anti-Russian rhetoric.” But since Kövér said nothing publicly, soon enough Mráz was writing articles supporting the brilliant idea of cooperation with Putin’s Russia.

Heti Válasz wasn’t exactly taken with the deal and rightly pointed out that “Paks is not a simple business deal.” Building the two new reactors “is a geopolitical concern.” And András Lányi, a faithful supporter of Fidesz and adviser to Viktor Orbán, thinks that Paks is “bad business and poses an unacceptable risk.”

At last we also know what Hungarian citizens think because Medián’s poll, taken between January 24 and 28–that is, about two weeks after Viktor Orbán’s visit to Moscow, was just released. The first surprise for me at least was that 82% of the population knows about Paks. One might say that, given the importance of this piece of news, the figure is not all that high. However, given the total lack of interest of the Hungarian population about anything political, I think this is not a bad result and shows the concern of Hungarians over a questionable decision that was thrust upon them.

Half of the population (51%) agrees that new reactors are necessary as a supplement to the existing ones. However, the Russian connection is controversial. Those who oppose it are in the majority (56%); only a third of the population supports it. As shown in diagram #1, half of the Fidesz voters support the Russian deal. (In the summer of 2012 only 25% of them supported a reactor built with Russian technology, which demonstrates the power of government propaganda.)

Paks abra1Diagram #2 shows the results of a question about receiving news of the Putin-Orbán agreement. Were people very, somewhat, or not at all surprised hearing the news? Seventy percent of even Fidesz voters were very or somewhat surprised. By contrast, all of LMP’s (I supposed one could call them naive) supporters were surprised; none thought that such Russian-Hungarian cooperation could possibly occur. Another interesting figure concerns those who are undecided voters (elkötelezetlen;  second from the bottom). Their figures are closer to the responses of the opposition parties than those of Fidesz-KDNP voters, which strengthens my conviction that the majority of the undecided voters leans toward the opposition rather than toward the government party.

Paks abra2Diagram #3 is the most important one. Here Medián asked whether people would support holding a plebiscite on the future of Paks and the further use of nuclear energy. The answer is clear: 59% the population as a whole supports holding such a plebiscite. Even Fidesz voters.

Paks abra3In light of these figures I have the feeling that Viktor Orbán miscalculated the effect of his “business deal of the century” and made a big mistake in forcing it through before the election. He rather cockily told Professor John Lukacs that “I would bet a lot that on the question of Russian relations the day after the election there will be perfect agreement.” Of course, that is, if Fidesz wins the election. But given the significant rejection of the Russian connection and the even larger demand for a popular vote on the subject, the quickly signed agreement might have been a serious mistake from Fidesz’s point of view. The election might turn on the question of Paks. Some observers are already comparing the situation to the Horn government’s decision in 1998 to go ahead with the controversial Slovak-Hungarian treaty that obligated Hungary to build waterworks at Nagymaros after Hungary lost the case at the International Court of Justice. Without going into details, suffice it to say that the treaty originally signed by Czechoslovakia and Hungary played a large role in the political unrest in 1988-89. Some people claim that Horn’s decision to go ahead with the project played a  major role in the socialists’ defeat in the 1998 election. Orbán might find himself in a similar situation, which is largely due to his ever-growing self-confidence. In the last four years he managed to get away with everything and therefore abandoned all caution. But he might be running out of luck.

Fidesz accuses Mesterházy of wanting to execute Fidesz oligarchs

I have been planning to give a detailed description of the huge MSZP gathering on January 25, which was the unofficial beginning of the campaign. I’m working on a translation of an abbreviated version of Attila Mesterházy’s speech that was well received, even by those who are not really MSZP fans. The gathering was very professionally orchestrated and can be considered a success. But then came the story of the “rope.” More than twenty-four hours after Mesterházy’s speech, Magyar Nemzet discovered that someone in the crowd of 13,000 shouted “rope” as an appropriate fate for Lőrinc Mészáros, mayor of Felcsút and director of the Puskás Academy, who in three short years became the 88th richest person in Hungary. The modest artisan whose job it was to bring gas lines to the houses of the people in Felcsút is now the wealthy owner of a construction business and large tracts of land.

Mesterházy jokingly said that Mészáros’s feat is unparalleled and he should teach college students how to do it. Then, according to Mesterházy, someone in the crowd shouted that instead of a lectern Mészáros deserves jail. To which Mesterházy answered in agreement.

Lőrincz Mészáros. Achievements: 5 billion forint profit in 2012, 1,200 hectares of land, billions in public procurements -- Lőrinc Mészáros is doing better

Lőrincz Mészáros. Achievements: 5 billion forint profit in 2012, 1,200 hectares of land, billions in public procurements — Lőrinc Mészáros is doing better

But this is not what the reporter for HírTV heard. He heard “rope” although other reporters, for example those from Index and Origo, claimed that all the journalists were too far away to hear properly. They heard someone shouting something but they couldn’t catch the word. In any case, Magyar Nemzet was delighted. The headline read: “Members of MSZP cry for rope and Mesterházy agrees.” The paper claimed that several journalists heard it, but it admitted that its tech people had to change a few settings on the recording for the word coming from the audience be audible. A year ago–the paper continued–Mesterházy was much less vehement. Then he declared that there will be no repeat of socialist and later Fidesz attempts at investigating cases of corruption. But now that Gyurcsány is back, “hatred returned.”

So, who said what? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that someone in the crowd indeed yelled the word “rope.” It can easily happen in a crowd of 13,000. But who would think that Mesterházy, a seasoned politician, would be so foolish as to agree with such a proposition if he heard the word properly? He is no fool. Yet the right-wing media keep harping on the theme. MTV’s Híradó (News) repeated the segment eight times, over and over, to make sure it sticks.

How much political ammunition can be gained by this incident? I don’t think much, but surely what Fidesz has in mind is another “rope” story, this time attached to László Kövér, which might have given a slight edge to the socialists in 2002.

During the campaign Kövér delivered a speech to a small audience in which he criticized those who listen to naysayers and those who see only hopelessness and spread disillusionment and suggested that they should go down to the cellar and hang themselves. It was this speech which Ferenc Gyurcsány, as adviser to Péter Medgyessy, decided to use in the last week of the campaign. He claimed later that before they hit on the idea to use this “rope” speech of Kövér, Fidesz was leading. A week later the socialist-liberal coalition, in a close contest, led after the first round of voting.

Maybe Fidesz thinks that this new “rope” story will have the same impact, but I doubt that they are right. First of all, Kövér not once but at least twice used the metaphor of the rope, the cellar, even talking about a big nail on which these people should hang themselves. It was his own voice that was leaked. The present story, which might even be concocted, is different. It is very difficult to connect Mesterházy to wanting to hang anyone and even more difficult to make Gyurcsány responsible for someone asking for a rope for Mészáros.

Fidesz demands an apology while MSZP is suing Magyar Nemzet. MSZP interprets the Fidesz story of the “rope” as a sign of panic after seeing the large and enthusiastic crowd on January 25.  Naturally, they recall the story of Kövér’s speech about the cellar and the rope and promise to sue anyone who claims that Mesterházy said yes to hanging anyone.

The sad thing about this story is that it turns attention away from the rather impressive gathering of the socialists and the program that Mesterházy outlined there. Perhaps this is what Fidesz wanted to achieve.

The Fidesz robber barons. Part I

I think that among the comments there was already mention of a new book by József Debreczeni, A fideszes rablógazdaság (The Fidesz robber barons). In a way it is a companion volume to the book edited by Bálint Magyar entitled Magyar polip: A posztkommunista maffia állam (Hungarian octopus: The post-communist mafia state). In fact, Debreczeni borrows Magyar’s description, “the upperworld,” to describe the modus operandi of the Orbán government between 1998 and 2002. Debreczeni’s book is an account of the illegal activities of Viktor Orbán’s closest associates and provides critical background for understanding the current functioning of the mafia state.

Debreczeni combed through the findings of two decades of Hungarian investigative journalism, which unearthed some of the shady dealings of the Fidesz empire. There is no question that in a truly democratic country some of the actors in this story would have long been retired to lengthy stays in prison. The reason this didn’t happen in Hungary was that the cast of characters was extremely cunning. They made sure that there would be no legal consequences of their criminal activities.

How was this achieved? Most likely, at least in part, through blackmail. The highly respected chief prosecutor, Kálmán Györgyi (1990-2000), after having a conversation with János Áder, in those days president of the Hungarian parliament, suddenly resigned in March 2000 although his tenure expired only in 2002. The Fidesz government thus had a free hand to nominate a man, Péter Polt, a Fidesz party member and an older friend from the early 90s, who in the following years became the incarnation of the Chinese wall between justice and the thoroughly corrupt Fidesz leaders, including Viktor Orbán.

From the earliest days of Fidesz, only a handful of people–Viktor Orbán, László Kövér, Lajos Simicska, and Tamás Varga–dealt with financial matters. Of these four only Tamás Varga ended up in jail.

Once Fidesz became a parliamentary party and thus received a certain amount of money from the central budget, it became patently obvious that “the boys” had little notion of or even inclination toward keeping their finances in order. The party’s steering committee eventually became curious about what was going on with the money at the disposal of the parliamentary delegation. The members who were supposed to take a look at the books were faced with assorted slips of paper stuffed into plastic bags. Bookkeeping Fidesz style, I guess. After some scrutiny, it was determined that there were serious questions about how the money had been spent. The committee entrusted with checking the nonexistent books came to the conclusion that “responsibility for the party’s financial disarray should be the subject of a criminal investigation.”

In the end nothing happened because Viktor Orbán convinced the party membership that the report was the work of people who wanted to ruin the party. He asked for, and received, their vote of confidence. At the same time he threatened members of the steering committee with legal action.

Viktor Orbán survived this early investigation as he has survived all subsequent ones as well. The few million forints spent on who knows what at the launch of Fidesz were peanuts in comparison to the close to 700 million forints Fidesz received in September 1992 as a result of the sale of a very valuable building in downtown Budapest. The building was given to MDF and Fidesz by the Hungarian state. The two parties had every right to sell the building and use the proceeds to cover their own expenses. That was not the problem. The problem lay with where the money went.

Out of the 700 million, Simicska, who by then was in charge of the party’s finances, immediately transferred 574 million forints to FICO Kft., which had acted as a Fidesz foundation since 1990. For two years there was little movement of money in or out of FICO, but in 1992-93 everything changed. Simicska began establishing assorted businesses: Quality Invest Rt., Millennium Rt., Quality Party Service Kft., Terra Negra Ingatlanértékesítő és Hasznosító Bt., Quality Profit Kft, Taxorg Kft., Best Lízing Kft., Auto Classic Kft., etc. Moreover, as it turned out, a few million forints also ended up in the hands of Viktor Orbán’s father who didn’t have enough money to buy the state stone quarry he had managed during the Kádár years.

forints

These were not Fidesz owned companies. They were owned by a network of old friends around Viktor Orbán and László Kövér: Lajos Simicska and Tamás Varga were old high school friends; Szilárd Kövér was László’s younger brother; Zsuzsanna Pusztai, Simicska’s wife; Sándor Varga, father of Tamás; István Bakos, Szilárd Kövér’s brother-in-law; Gyula Gansperger, high school friend; Katalin Horváth, Gansperger’s wife, and so on. So, the state property became party property and then the party property became private property. Surely, the argument goes, Simicska must have convinced Orbán and Kövér that these companies would ensure Fidesz’s financial well-being, which at this juncture looked as if it would win the 1994 election.

What happened to the money that ended up in these private companies? Very little is known of its fate. We know that after a while these companies did not pay taxes, VAT, or social security. Eventually they were sold, twenty-two of them on the same day, allegedly to a Turkish guest worker in Germany, Ibrahim Kaya, and a Croatian called Josip Tot. They, of course, were not the real buyers. As it turned out, the passports belonging to these two men had been stolen, and allegedly they knew nothing of the transaction. Of course, the companies that went bankrupt and were sold for pennies to unknown individuals had also taken out substantial bank loans, on which the banks were unable to collect.

All this came to light in 1999 when two investigative journalists unraveled the complicated story in Élet és Irodalom. Unfortunately, it was too late. By that time Viktor Orbán was prime minister of Hungary. Immediately after the formation of his government he made Lajos Simicska head of APEH (Adó- és Pénzügyi Ellenőrzési Hivatal), the Hungarian equivalent of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. All documentation on these companies disappeared from the computers of APEH. After all, Simicska was put there for the sole purpose of covering the tracks of their illegal financial activities. Simicska stayed at the head of APEH only as long as was necessary to accomplish his task. A few months later, in the summer of 1999, claiming that attacks on his person ruined his health and caused his father’s death, Simicska resigned. By that time, the APEH files were most likely clean as a whistle. When later during the socialist-liberal period a government commissioner wanted to reopen the case, Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, blocked his way.

According to an article that appeared in Magyar Narancs in 1999, at least 60 Fidesz-related companies were established between 1990 and 1998. Simicska’s name appeared on 24, of which 14 were “purchased” by Ibrahim Kaya and Josip Tot.

After reading the details of the relationship between Orbán and Simicska, some people came to the conclusion that Orbán had been dragged into the morass of financial wrongdoing concocted by Simicska. He was in so deep that he was unable to extricate himself without landing in jail. He was the good guy under the thumb of the bad Simicska. But, as Debreczeni sums it up: “At the beginning one could perhaps think that Fidesz was led by a democratic Dr. Jekyll and a mafioso Mr. Hyde, but in the end it turned out that in reality a politician Hyde and a financier Hyde ruled the party, and by now, rule the country.”

To be continued

A new name has surfaced in connection with the Roma serial murder case

A startling piece of news appeared yesterday in Népszabadság. A young man of dual Hungarian-Syrian citizenship with close ties to Fidesz might have been involved in one way or another in the murders of several Roma families which occurred between July 21, 2008 and August 3, 2009. After three years of police investigation and 186 days in court, the case was closed on August 6, 2013, when three men received life imprisonment without parole and a fourth thirteen years without the possibility of early release. No one else was ever charged.

It would take far too long to catalog all the mistakes the police and the medical authorities made during the investigation that resulted in less than complete discovery. It is very possible that in addition to the four sentenced in August others might have been involved. We don’t even know all the pertinent information about the men who were convicted. For instance, one of the culprits had apparently worked for the Katonai Biztonsági Hivatal (Office of Military Security), but the details of his employment were never completely unearthed.

The authorities never managed to discover the source of all the weapons used in these murders. Some were stolen from the collection of a hunter by three of the accused. It was known that there was another person involved in the theft, but the police investigation failed to identify him. In addition to the stolen weapons there were other guns in the three men’s possession whose origin remained a mystery. The investigators knew that the Kiss brothers, István and Árpád, tried to purchase guns in Budapest. It was in connection with this part of the investigation that the name of Omar Ádám Sayfo surfaced.

A document recently found its way to the newsroom of Népszabadság which indicates that Sayfo was, even if not a potential suspect himself, a source of information about one of the men, István Kiss. In his testimony Sayfo told investigators that he had known Kiss for at least ten years and that they had been good friends. Sayfo knew about Kiss’s extremist political views, yet he found him surprisingly open-minded, a man who regretted the swastikas tattooed on his hand and leg. Nonetheless, Kiss was a member of an organization called Véres kard (Bloody Sword), which is a Hungarist organization, i.e. its members are followers of Ferenc Szálasi.

During Sayfo’s interrogation the investigators inquired about his views on firearms. He answered that, like all men, he is interested in them. At the time of his questioning he was thinking about signing up for a course for future hunters. Later Sayfo also testified in court and, when asked whether István Kiss had ever talked to him about acquiring weapons, he answered in the negative.

A parliamentary subcommittee comprised of three politicians, Károly Tóth (MSZP), József Gulyás (SZDSZ, today Együtt14-MP), and Ervin Demeter (Fidesz, former minister in charge of national security in the first Orbán government), had access to the testimony of “O.S.,” but they allegedly paid no attention to the man. Népszava asked Ervin Demeter about Omar Sayfo, since Demeter was a contributor to Magyar Demokrata when Sayfo was one of the paper’s editors. Demeter claims not to have known him. Magyar Demokrata, by the way, is full of anti-Semitic articles, many of them written by Omar Sayfo. The paper’s editor-in-chief is András Bencsik, one of the organizers of the Peace Marches.

Sayfo wore many hats in those days. In addition to being an editor of Magyar Demokrata, he was a Ph.D. candidate at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, specializing in Arabic literature, culture, and politics. He was also active in Fidelitas, the youth organization of Fidesz. And he often showed up as a “political scientist” on Hír TV. Lately one can see him more often on the truly extremist Echo TV. Not long ago he welcomed Iran’s nuclear capability as a means of “keeping Israel in line.”

The delegation of Fidelitas in Passau, 2009 Omar Sayfo is the first on the left

The delegation of Fidelitas in Passau.
Omar Sayfo is the first on the left

Népszabadság found that in 2009, about the time the investigation of the Roma serial murder case uncovered Sayfo’s connection to István Kiss, he was a member of a Fidelitas delegation to Passau to attend the yearly regional congress of Bavarian parties. After Fidesz won the election, he became a civil servant for a while. He was attached to the foreign economics unit of the Ministry of National Economy in 2011. His stay there was short. Within a year the ministry no longer needed his services. The cause of his dismissal, if it was a dismissal, is not known.

One should spend time analyzing Sayfo’s articles in order to paint a richer portrait of the man, but Népszabadság came up with one rather telling quotation. “Those who belong to the dregs of society (literally “mass of lumpen proletarians,” coming from the German Lumpen meaning rags) with free beer and frankfurters in their stomach will take revenge on the government of law and order at election time. No government has dared to touch this issue. In the  last twenty years the democratic institutions have become in part the dictatorship of the parasitic masses in which the lumpen, criminal strata of society will punish not only the decision makers but also the majority of society that would like to live in a country of law and order. One must put an end to this in the interest of both parties.” Perhaps it would have been wise to investigate Sayfo’s background and his close friendship with István Kiss, after all.

I think that an article from 2010 that appeared in 168 Óra and to which “Mutt” called attention on Facebook might have some relevance here. It is a description of a speech by László Kövér, currently the president of the Hungarian parliament, delivered in Jászszentandrás on January 27, 2010. Here is what Kövér had to say. “Of course, in a democracy everybody has voting rights…. In a democracy unfortunately or not, depending on one’s inclination, this is the case. … Of course, everybody should have the right to vote, but they should be able to sell their vote to the state.” According to him, the state could purchase votes for the amount of the prevailing minimum wage. Everybody would do well: the dregs would get money and “we would get rid of those who vote differently.” Crazy yes, but Kövér’s and Sayfo’s ideas are practically identical.

But what about the exclusion of these lumpen elements? Surely, depriving certain people of voting rights is out of the question. Kövér’s idea is outright bizarre, but what about buying these people’s votes in a different way? Viktor Orbán tried to deter them from voting by introducing a system of registration. When that caused alarm both inside and outside of the country, he abandoned the idea. But purchasing votes is not far from the Fidesz leaders’ mind. Sure, they cannot do it officially, but as the Baja by-election demonstrated, it can be done unofficially and with the desired result.

It is unlikely that the investigation into the Roma serial murders will be reopened. For one thing, I don’t think the current government would be interested in the prospect of finding more people with Fidesz ties too close to the case. Because, as is clear from the career of Omar Sayfo, it is almost impossible to say where Fidesz ends and Jobbik begins.

Viktor Orbán’s self image: A worthy successor to István Bethlen

It was about a year ago in November that I wrote a post on the political career of István Bethlen, prime minister of Hungary between 1921 and 1931. It was right after the week-long power outage during which I decided to reread Ignác Romsics’s biography of Bethlen, the most talented politician of the interwar period. At that time I didn’t think that within a year István Bethlen would be declared the twentieth-century forerunner of Viktor Orbán. At least in the eyes of the head of the current government, whose activities of the last three and a half years have earned him the epithet “Godfather.” Poor Bethlen is turning in his grave.

It has been obvious for a long time that Viktor Orbán and his entourage have been madly looking for an ideological forebear on the right who is not tainted by servility to Hitler’s Third Reich or by rabid anti-Semitism.  But, given Hungarian historical reality, it was hard to find the right man. During the first Orbán administration they experimented with early heroes and religious figures: St. Stephen and the Virgin Mary. But it was tough to adapt the activities of an eleventh-century king about whom we know relatively little to the political needs of today. Stephen is still venerated, however. Only recently 35,000 graduating high school students received from the Orbán government a free copy of György Györffy’s István király és műve (1977), a 667-page tome.

The reburial of Miklós Horthy during the Antall government gave impetus to a reexamination of the Horthy regime, presumably in the hope that Horthy’s person and the whole period might be presented in a more favorable light. But it is hard to be sanguine about a twenty-five-year period that led to a lost war, incredible human and material suffering, the Holocaust, and an outright Nazi regime. A hopeless task, if you ask me. The reevaluation of Horthy is still under way, and a Horthy cult emerged recently that was originally initiated by Jobbik and rapidly taken over by the government itself. Writers who by and large were supporters of the Horthy regime began to be rehabilitated, but it turned out that the politicians who were promoting their revival knew little about their literary worth or their political orientation that led them badly astray.

But now they seem to have found their man in István Bethlen, who had nothing to do with Hitler, had to hide from the Nazis when they occupied Hungary on March 19, 1944, and finally died in a prison hospital in Moscow after he was arrested by the Soviets. It is, on the surface, a perfect fit.  The government decided to unveil a statue of the former prime minister on October 8, 2013, Bethlen’s birthday.

A couple of days before the statue was unveiled a conference was organized under the sponsorship of László Kövér, who was also the keynote speaker.  Kövér came up with a surprising assessment of Bethlen who, according to him, was a divisive man because “those who were interested in the everlasting submission and debilitation of Hungary wanted to forget him. But those whose goal was an independent and strong Hungary remember him and want to remind others of the man.” This is a typical example of how Fidesz politicians operate, excluding those who don’t happen to agree with the official view even when it comes to an assessment of a historical figure. Naturally, there were allusions to Marxism and “the lies of pseudo-liberals.”

Géza Stremeny: István Bethlen (1875-1946)

Géza Stremeny: István Bethlen (1874-1946)

At the unveiling that took place on Saint George’s Square in the Castle district Viktor Orbán was introduced as “the prime minister who shapes our age.” He then gave a fifteen-minute speech. But before I analyze Orbán’s speech I would like to say a few words about the statue itself. The sculptor was Géza Stremeny, a well-known artist. I checked out some of his work and like most of it, but this particular one reminds me, at least in composition, too much of the truly brilliant sculpture of Mihály Károlyi by Imre Varga, which was unceremoniously removed from Kossuth Square in front of the Hungarian Parliament. Both have a frame around the figure, but Stremeny’s is stark, with an echo of a gallows, as opposed to Varga’s rounded frame. Both men stand in a similar pose, leaning on a cane. I suggest taking a look at the Károlyi statue to see what I mean.

But let’s move on to the speech that was received with mixed emotions in opposition circles. There is no question that Orbán portrayed himself as a worthy equal of István Bethlen. “When István Bethlen occupied the office of the prime minister Hungary was losing on all fronts. It was a country that was isolated; it was on the verge of economic collapse. Let’s face it, it was a humiliated country.” But Bethlen realized that “Hungary shouldn’t expect a better future with the help of foreign lands but only from its own diligence and self-sacrificing work….  He believed that creative work is the only right strategy.”

In reality, Bethlen managed to get a low-interest loan from the League of Nations which at that point served as a kind of IMF. Even Orbán had to admit that much, but he immediately added that Bethlen didn’t use the borrowed money for welfare purposes but for job creation. “This policy was a brave one which bore fruit. In a decade Hungary managed to stand on its own feet again.” Clearly, this is what’s going on at the present time in Hungary. “We can say with all modesty that although there is still much work to be done, by now Hungary has regained its vitality and is getting stronger every day.”

Orbán’s speechwriters managed to find a Bethlen passage from 1931 that also came in handy: “We must realize that there are always those who want to use the economic crisis to their own advantage…. That’s why some people blacken the good name of the country abroad because they hope that the foreign powers will force such reforms on us that will enable them to gain power.” A little later we will understand what Bethlen was actually talking about.

Finally, he made sure that Bethlen will receive his deserved place in the national pantheon right after Ferenc Rákóczi, István Széchenyi, and Lajos Kossuth. He closed his speech “Glory to István Bethlen, glory to Hungary’s prime minister.”

What Viktor Orbán didn’t mention was that by 1931 Hungary was so indebted that the country was on the verge of insolvency. Foreign financial experts suggested another loan from the League of Nations, advice Bethlen refused to take. It turned out that the Hungarian government had falsified its financial records in the past and therefore the League of Nations insisted on a careful monitoring of the government’s use of any possible loan. This is what Bethlen wanted to avoid, just as Viktor Orbán didn’t want any low-interest loans from the IMF for the very same reason. As a result the bottom fell out, Bethlen had to resign in August 1931, and shortly after his resignation Hungary had to suspend payments on its foreign loans.

Viktor Orbán often talks about the magic ten years that would be necessary to complete his work. One wonders, as did the economist Péter Mihályi, whether Orbán had Bethlen’s ten years in mind. If he did, he forgot to mention the price the country had to pay for the relative well being of the 1920s which was financed not by self-sacrificing work, as Bethlen promised, but largely by foreign loans. It might have been wise to do a little research on the circumstances of Bethlen’s resignation instead of cherry picking a few sentences that meshed with his own ideas.

Sexism in the Hungarian parliament

I have written a number of times about female members of the Hungarian parliament and their treatment by male colleagues. I’ve also written about the attitude, especially of Fidesz MPs, toward women in general.

As a reminder, here are a few statistics about the minority status of women in Hungarian politics. Today there are only 35 women in a 386-member parliament (9.06%). According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s statistics, of the 144 countries listed Hungary ranks 118th! Among the countries that are doing worse are Malta, Brazil, Bhutan, Benin, Ghana, Ukraine, Botswana, Nigeria, Tuvalu, Georgia, Egypt, Oman, and Yemen.

Although the number of women parliamentarians is low across the board, Fidesz has the smallest percentage of women in its parliamentary caucus. It is also noteworthy that the credentials of Fidesz female MPs are less impressive than those of their colleagues in the opposition. There are at least three who have no higher education at all. There are several who are elementary school teachers. Some finished only “főiskola,” a three-year program, instead of university. I found only one woman in the caucus who has a law degree. Several majored in economics and there are a couple of physicians. I found only two Fidesz female MPs who studied subjects that could be considered to fall under the category of  a classical “liberal arts education.” Keep in mind that all the members of the Fidesz delegation were handpicked by Viktor Orbán.

If an attack is launched against female members of the opposition, the Fidesz-KDNP women are silent. They don’t even show solidarity privately with the victims of Fidesz testosterone. If they are asked about sexist incidents that unfortunately occur quite often, the brave Fidesz-KDNP women keep looking at the floor and remain silent. Not the slightest sign of female solidarity.

But, as I said, Orbán himself picked men and women who would be rubber stamps in parliament. Orbán most likely cannot abide independent and outspoken women because he thinks in terms of traditional gender roles. Just lately, in connection with his daughter’s wedding, he talked about the women who will cook and who will cry at the wedding and made it clear that he wouldn’t be caught dead dropping a tear or two at his daughter’s wedding. I’m also sure that he didn’t want to choose people who were too brainy to be the representatives of the people; the Fidesz delegation has an awful lot of people who, under normal circumstances, would never have found themselves in such a position.  According to Zoltán Ceglédi, a political scientist who wrote about the qualities of the ideal Fidesz MP, most of the current officeholders are incapable of answering the opposition’s questions. They become frustrated and hence behave in an unacceptably aggressive manner. Moreover, as a result of the practically unlimited power of the Fidesz politicians and government officials, they feel omnipotent. The result is boorish behavior. The few women in the opposition are the prime targets, it seems.

On September 9 Bernadette Szél (LMP) rose to inquire from Zoltán Illés, undersecretary in charge of the environment in the Ministry of Agriculture, what the Hungarian government was planning to do about the Romanian gold mines and their possible use of cyanide, pointing out that until now not much has been done about it. This is how the gentleman answered:

Just because you are good looking it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are clever. I have to refute one by one all those stupidities and imbecilities that you talked about here in the last five minutes.

I was there together with others, … when Viktor Orbán took a great number of steps in connection with the cyanide pollution in Nagybánya [Baia Mare, Romania]. I take my hat off to him. This is not brown nosing on my part. I was there, I heard it, my hat off again for all that he did there.

Honorable … ah, dear madame member of parliament.

Madame member of parliament, don’t dare to utter a word about the Prime Minister. And my last comment: it is not the clothes that make a person. Your having a T-shirt on doesn’t make you an environmentalist. Shame.

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy seems to enjoy the exchange

Zoltán Illés is performing. On his right, Undersecretary Zoltán Cséfalvy

The whole exchange can be heard on the parliamentary radio. Both Szél and András Schiffer wore a T-shirt over their normal clothes to emphasize their interest in the environment. LMP is a left-green party. As for Szél’s qualifications, she has a Ph.D. (2011) from Corvinus University.

Well, that was too much even for some members of the Fidesz delegation. Sándor Lezsák (Fidesz), deputy president of the parliament, instructed Illés to take back the epithet of “imbecilities,” but it seems that the “stupidities” or the reference to physical appearance and brains didn’t bother him. Illés obliged. At the same time Máté Kocsis apologized in the name of the Fidesz delegation right on the spot. Eventually, Illés did apologize to Szél, not in person but via sms, an act greatly criticized in the media.

Perhaps the most politically objectionable part of Illés’s answer was his effort to forbid Szél to utter the name of Viktor Orbán. An article in Magyar Narancs rightly pointed out that it is written in the Old Testament that one cannot mention the name of God. What kind of a political community is it when the leader cannot be criticized? What kind of political culture exists within Fidesz? As for Illés’s reference to the brave steps Viktor Orbán took in connection with the gold mine in Nagybánya, I suspect that he was talking about the 2000 cyanide pollution of the Tisza River and Viktor Orbán’s efforts at that time and not about the current situation.

Illés in his answer accused Szél of ignorance when the LMP MP claimed that the European Union should ban the use of cyanide. Didn’t she know, asked Illés, that the European Parliament already passed such a resolution? Yes, such a resolution was passed by the European Parliament a few months ago, but for such a resolution to become law the European Commission must endorse it, which it failed to do. So, if someone is ignorant it is the undersecretary for the environment.

Of course, members of the opposition were eager to hear from László Kövér, who is such a stickler for manners in parliament. It seems that he is much fussier when he detects irregularities in the ranks of the opposition. Bernadette Szél herself was already fined by Kövér because she held up a poster on which there was a quotation from Viktor Orbán. Kövér didn’t think that Illés’s behavior was unacceptable. He didn’t think that Illés’s answer was “flagrantly offensive” and added that offensive comments more often come from the opposition than from his own side. Even Bernadette Szél said some very offensive things in the past, he claimed.

I should add that this is not the first time female members of parliament have had to endure this kind of talk–and worse. You may recall the story of Ágnes Osztolykán (LMP) when she asked for a lift home. Some MPs suggested that they would take her home, but to their own apartments. And finally György Gyula Zagyva (Jobbik) got involved. Zagyva told her that he wouldn’t mind f…ing her even though she was a Gypsy. At that time I wrote that, although the present parliament is lopsided given Viktor Orbán’s personal preferences, the trouble goes beyond the walls of the Hungarian parliament. The problem is in Hungarian society as a whole.

László Kövér’s ideas about the ideal democracy: Governance by decree

I really didn’t think that László Köver, president/speaker of the Hungarian parliament, could still surprise me. Yet he manages. Here is his latest.

By way of preface, I should note that there are some commentators who say that one ought not take Kövér terribly seriously. He is just this kind of a fellow. Perhaps his bark is worse than his bite.

Well, I don’t belong to the camp of those who take him lightly. He is the alter ego of Viktor Orbán. He always was. In reminiscences about the early days of Fidesz participants often describe him as the man who had an enormous influence over young Viktor Orbán. Kövér took his sweet time graduating from law school and therefore was four years older than Orbán. According to those who shared their recollections of Kövér in the book compiled by György Petőcz (Csak a narancs volt), Kövér was a cantankerous, hard-to-get-along-with fellow who was utterly devoted, body and soul, first to the college that he, Orbán, and others ran and later to the party. To those who didn’t particularly like him, he was Viktor Orbán’s evil spirit. If Kövér wasn’t around, it was easy to come to an understanding with Orbán. Some even claim that there is a cowardly side to Orbán; if he feels threatened, he is ready to give in. Not so Kövér. He often propped up Orbán, and thus there could be no compromise in the party leadership.

I don’t know whether it was clear to his fellow college students that the man was an ardent nationalist even then. Apparently Kövér’s real interest was in history, not so much in the law. Therefore he attended classes in the university’s history department. His references to modern Hungarian history reveal his deep-seated nationalism, which leads to historical distortion. In the center of his historical universe stands Trianon. I suspect that in this respect Kövér didn’t change much. As far as his politics are concerned, he did change from ardent socialism to fierce anti-communism with a good dose of right-wing extremism mixed in. On his way from extreme left to extreme right he never managed to feel at home in a democratic republic. The very idea of democracy is alien to the man, as we will see from his latest pronouncement.

Yesterday afternoon Kövér gave an interview to Aréna, a political program on Inforádió, a right of center radio station.  In it he covered many issues dealing with the Hungarian parliament. During the course of the interview he said: “I would find it normal, quite independently from what kind of governments we will have in the next few years, if the parliament would lay claim only to the creation of the most fundamental legal guarantees and would otherwise hand over its mandate to the government for the next four years.” When pressed, he explained that this would mean a kind of governing by decree. In his opinion it is no longer necessary to have a government whose functioning depends on laws enacted by parliament. The present system was worked out in 1989-1990 because of the fear of a return of dictatorship. This fear was justified until 1998. But by now this danger is gone.

An incredible statement demonstrating a complete ignorance of the role of parliament in a democracy. The parliament enacts laws not because it is “afraid of dictatorship” but because the representatives of the electorate thus have the opportunity to discuss the laws proposed by the government and can have a measure of control over them.

Kövér also has peculiar views on the essence of democracy. If there is no fear of dictatorship, the government can do whatever it pleases. Earlier on this blog we discussed Kövér’s willingness to get rid of the Constitutional Court because then, he claimed, parliament would have the final, irrevocable say in matters of policy. But now he would be willing to emasculate the parliament of which he is the speaker and empower the government to govern by decree.

Kövér also seems to believe that once democracy is firmly established it needs no improvement or even much oversight. According to this static view, the democratic political system cannot slide back into dictatorship. It would be amusing, were it not so sad, that Kövér believes that this perfect state of democracy arrived in 1998, when Fidesz won for the first time.

I doubt that Kövér learned much about modern Germany while dabbling in history. Otherwise he might have been more cautious in advocating governance by decree. It was in March 1933 that an amendment to the Weimar Constitution took effect which gave power to Chancellor Adolf Hitler to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag. The act stated that this arrangement was to last four years unless renewed, which subsequently happened twice. This so-called Enabling Act (Ermächtigungesetz) gave Hitler plenary powers and made him the dictator of Germany. What did Hitler himself say at the time of the enactment of the Enabling Act? It will sound familiar to us: “after the methodical destruction of the nation” the age of renewal has arrived. “The most important question is the handling of the short- and long-term foreign indebtedness. One must save the German peasantry, and the national government will also assist the middle classes.”

The resemblance between the German Enabling Act and what Kövér proposed in this interview was first picked up by János Avar and seconded by György Bolgár on ATV’s UjságíróKlub last night. It has since been repeated by many bloggers. It is one of the most frightening suggestions I have heard in the longest time. And let’s not fool ourselves. This is not some kind of off-the-cuff remark that Kövér hasn’t thought through. Already in February he was talking about giving more power to the government at the expense of the parliament.  In the interview he complained about the current practice which requires that every piece of legislation be enacted by the legislature and long debated. What a bore! Let’s cut out the middle man.

MSZP and Együtt2014-PM made a joint statement in which Gordon Bajnai and Attila Mesterházy found it “appalling that the president of the Parliament wishes to enlarge the authority of the government at the expense of the Parliament.” They considered the very suggestion “threatening.”

This man isn't joking!

This man isn’t joking!

I guess the Fidesz leadership decided that Kövér revealed more of the party’s plans than was advisable and immediately announced that naturally the opposition completely misunderstood what Kövér was getting at. Gergely Gulyás, the constitutional expert of Fidesz, in fact claimed that Kövér said the exact opposite of what we all heard from Kövér’s mouth. In fact, said Gulyás, he was talking about “the extension of the opposition’s rights and the greater oversight of the government by the parliament.”

Some observers, including one of our commenters, suggest that Fidesz here is working on a devilish plan that would allow the party and Viktor Orbán to continue their present policies in case after 2014, as they suspect, they don’t have a two-thirds majority in parliament. By curtailing the powers of parliament and enabling the government to rule by decree, the unfettered governing by the third Orbán government could go on despite a stronger parliamentary representation by the opposition. This hypothesis sounds plausible to me.

Of course, if the opposition wins, the big loser in this scheme will be Fidesz. But Viktor Orbán and his alter ego like to gamble. If I were an opposition politician I would double, triple my efforts to unseat this government. Otherwise Hungarians may end up living in Fidesz’s perfect democracy, known to the rest of the world as a dictatorship.