I decided to touch on several topics today instead of concentrating on only one. The reason? All three recent political events are still in flux. We have no idea how and when they will be settled.
Two of the three topics I’m going to talk about are not new to readers of Hungarian Spectrum. One is the story of the fraudulent video taken in Baja after the repeated by-election at one of the polling stations. The other is the continuing saga of the Swedish TV program on Hungary. And finally, today’s news is that a decision was finally made on the fate of Forex debts that over 100,000 people are unable to pay back.
Let me start with the last topic, the government debt relief scheme. Today’s announcement of the impending government action came unexpectedly and, in usual Fidesz fashion, the measure will be passed by parliament tomorrow. It seems that in the last minute the Orbán government got cold feet and didn’t dare go ahead with their original, radical plan that would have made the banks bear the entire burden. Critics warned that if the government followed through on the plan the entire Hungarian banking system would collapse. So, it seems that they settled for a less onerous solution. As I understand the proposed plan, people with mortgages in foreign currencies will be able to temporarily repay them at below-market exchange rates. Mortgages denominated in Swiss francs can be paid in forints at an exchange rate of 180 forints instead of the current 241. Those with mortgages in euros can convert them at 250 forints instead of 296. The difference between the spot and discount rates will be held in a temporary account, with the banks and the government splitting the interest and some of the costs involved. Mortgage holders will have five years in which to repay the exchange rate difference. Anyone who would wants more details of the plan should consult Margit Fehér’s article in The Wall Street Journal.
Now let’s go back to Sweden. I mentioned in an earlier post that Swedish public television broadcast a program about Hungary on October 23 which, in the opinion of the Hungarian government, contained factual errors and generalizations that reflected badly on Hungary and its people. They found it especially galling that this “anti-Hungarian” documentary was broadcast on the anniversary of the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
In my earlier post I called attention to Viktor Orbán’s order to the ambassadors to defend the good name of Hungary every time there is an alleged attack on the country. As one of the undersecretaries of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, Gergely Prőhle, said on ATV yesterday, “the ministry’s employees are a disciplined lot” and therefore they took Orbán’s words seriously. Since Prőhle had earlier been ambassador to Switzerland and Germany, he was asked what he would have done had he been in Lilla Makkay’s shoes. It seems that Prőhle, who is among the more moderate voices in the Foreign Ministry, feels compelled to follow the official line. He announced that Ambassador Makkay did the right thing and that he would have done the same thing. He emphasized that Makkay was polite and spoke in Swedish.
I don’t blame either Makkay or Prőhle. After all, they are representatives of the Hungarian government. I do, however, blame the Orbán government which instructs the country’s ambassadors to interfere with the media of western countries. I also blame this government for creating an atmosphere that encourages the right-wing press to write an open letter to the Swedish ambassador in Budapest. We know that if Zsolt Bayer, Ur-Fidesz, opens his mouth, the consequences are always dire. I bet that after someone translated Bayer’s open letter the Swedish ambassador no longer had any doubts about whom she was dealing with. And if someone added that he is an old friend of Viktor Orbán, I’m sure she was just thrilled.
Kumin’s letter, Makkay’s scolding, and her invitation to journalists to come to the Hungarian embassy didn’t achieve anything. Or, rather, it did but not exactly what the great defenders of Hungary’s reputation had hoped for. The same program that broadcast the documentary on Hungary in the first place returned to the subject a week later and told its audience what had happened during the last week. The Hungarian government and its representative in Stockholm looked ridiculous.
And finally, there is the ongoing story of the fraudulent video. Whoever hired the four or five Roma to stage the gathering that was supposed to prove that Fidesz bought Roma votes at the by-election picked the wrong men. Their stories not only made no sense initially, they couldn’t keep their stories straight. One of their claims, that a MSZP politician ordered the tape from Róbert G., seems to have been disproved. At least this is what the politician’s polygraph test indicates.
Of course, the real question is who was behind Róbert G. and the others. It’s possible that local Fidesz politicians, Róbert Zsigó, and Csaba Kovács, hired the Romas. Some evidence points in that direction. In a conversation with Olga Kálmán shortly after the second round of voting Zsigó told her that on Saturday, that is a day before the election, he received information that the opposition parties were planning to create a video that would implicate Fidesz in vote buying. He added that he immediately went to the police with the information. A few days later Máté Kocsis repeated the same story on one of MTV’s evening programs. As we know by now, the video was created on Monday. Strange, isn’t it?
In any case, Ildikó Lendvai was right when on Sunday in an interview on ATV she said that “we were duped,” adding that no one likes people who are considered to be saps. Endre Aczél wrote two excellent short articles about the case entitled A Csali and Csali–II (The bait). I think that the scenario Aczél outlined in his first article is most likely very close to reality. But if that was the case, it was a dangerous game to play. On the other hand, no scandal is ever big enough to have much effect on Viktor Orbán, his party, or his 1.5 million strong followers.