Népszava

Vladimir Putin’s impending visit to Budapest

Népszava, a social democratic paper, is generally well-informed about the “secrets” of the government. This time it surprised its readers with a front-page article announcing a planned visit by Vladimir Putin to Budapest sometime in March. Budapest, judiciously spurned by western political leaders of late, is becoming a hub of diplomatic activity. Angela Merkel is scheduled for a five-hour visit on February 2 and now the news about Putin.

The newspaper pointed out that this will not be Putin’s first visit to Budapest. He was the guest of Ferenc Gyurcsány in February 2006 when the Hungarian prime minister supported the idea of the Southern Stream to the great annoyance and disapproval of both the United States and Viktor Orbán. Orbán at that time considered such a policy to be the equivalent of treason. The paper also called attention to Viktor Orbán’s about-face when he paid a visit to Moscow in November 2010 and again in February 2013.

Actually Népszava missed an earlier indication that a change in Russo-Hungarian relations was in the works. In November 2009, prior to his becoming prime minister, during a visit to St. Petersburg as one of the vice presidents of the European People’s Party Orbán attended the eleventh congress of the ruling United Russia Party. During this visit he indicated to Putin that he wanted “to put Russian-Hungarian relations on an entirely new footing.” He had made up his mind to conduct a pro-Russian foreign policy once in power.

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 2014 Source: Europess / Getty Images / Sasha Mordovets

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 2014
Source: Europess / Getty Images / Sasha Mordovets

Perhaps the first person to comment on the news of the visit was László Kovács, former foreign minister, who happened to be a visitor on the early morning program “ATV Start.” He assumes that the initiative for the visit came from Moscow. Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a Russian expert, shares Kovács’s hypothesis. Putin must have been the one to suggest the visit in the hope of convincing Orbán to veto the extension of EU sanctions against Russia, which expire in March. In Biró’s opinion, a veto by Orbán not supported by any other EU country would poison the relationship between Hungary and the West for a very long time. Therefore he doubts that Orbán would dare to go that far.

Attila Ara-Kovács, head of the “foreign cabinet” of the Demokratikus Koalíció, told Klubrádió that he knew about the impending visit for about a week but, according to his information, Putin’s visit will take place not in March, as Népszava reported, but on February 9. In his reading, it was Orbán who invited Putin and not the other way around, perhaps to show the world that he is not alone in his battle with the United States and the European Union. If Orbán sensed that Angela Merkel intended to deliver “bad news” during her stay in Budapest, perhaps a looming visit from Putin might temper her disapproval. Ara-Kovács considers this latest move of Orbán a provocation that will only add fuel to the fire in the strained relationship between Hungary and the West.

What are the reactions of the opposition parties? As usual, MSZP is hibernating. Not a word from József Tóbiás, the party chairman, or from anyone else. Együtt somewhat naively demands that the government consult with all parliamentary parties “in preparing the meeting between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Russian president.” Együtt can wait for such a consultation. Együtt joined LMP in its opposition to the construction of the Paks2 nuclear power plant. Both parties want the government, during the prime minister’s meeting with Putin, to break its contract for a 10-billion-euro Russian loan to have Rossatom build the plant. Well, that will not happen either but it is possible, as Zoltán Sz. Biró suspects, that Russia for financial reasons will give up the idea of the project. PM’s reaction was the most sensible: the party would like to see a huge demonstration against Putin’s visit organized by all the democratic opposition parties as well as by the civic groups that were responsible for the recent mass demonstrations.

László Szily, the blogger of Cink.hu, correctly pointed out that, if it is true that Putin is coming to Budapest, Viktor Orbán just did those who have been expressing their anger against his regime in the last few months a huge favor. The most recent demonstration showed signs of fatigue, but Putin in Budapest could resurrect the old enthusiasm of the crowds and just might unite the hitherto anti-party civic groups and the democratic parties into one large and potent group. Moreover, too cozy a Russian-Hungarian friendship might cause a rift within Fidesz itself. A lot of Fidesz voters are adamantly anti-Russian.  In Szily’s words, “The vacillating opposition on the streets can be grateful to the prime minister because kowtowing to Russia, parading with the dictator is the kind of event that could successfully bring together the dissatisfied left, right, and liberal public.”

One party was elated by the news: Jobbik. This afternoon Jobbik published an official statement, the theme of which was “Hungary must represent the interests of peace and neutrality.” Márton Gyöngyösi, the party’s foreign policy expert, said that Jobbik is a supporter of Viktor Orbán’s “eastern opening” and “considers Russia an economic, political and cultural partner of Hungary.” Budapest, because of the Hungarian minority in the Subcarpathian region of Ukraine, shouldn’t side with its western allies. Gyöngyösi went even further than the rather subdued official statement when he told Hiradó, the organ of state propaganda, that “it is unacceptable that the Hungarian government, blindly representing western interests, is ready to throw the Subcarpathian Hungarians as bones to the West.”

It is hard to know what the next couple of months will bring on the international scene. We have no idea what kind of message Angela Merkel will deliver to Budapest on February 2. We don’t know what foreign reactions to Putin’s visit will be. But domestically the Russian president’s visit might just be a potent catalyst for political change.

Advertisements

Fidesz insiders think Orbán’s days are numbered

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day usually offers little sustenance for news junkies. But today I discovered a front-page article in Népszava with the titillating title “Does Orbán have only months left?” The paper’s “sources close to Fidesz” claimed that “Orbán is already finished” and the only “question is who will take his place.”

The article was met with skepticism, especially in pro-government circles. Válasz described the article as sci-fi and “entertaining.” Gábor Török, the popular political scientist, wanted to know what his Facebook “friends” thought about the appearance of such items in the media. Do government politicians actually say such things to reporters of an opposition paper or are the reporters only giving voice to their wishes? The comments that followed were a mixed bag but a reporter, András Kósa, who also receives information from dissatisfied Fidesz politicians, didn’t think that the article was fantasy, although it might be exaggerated. Here and there commenters thought that Fidesz will collapse as soon as Viktor Orbán is gone, but most “friends” of Török considered the article humbug. I’m less skeptical than most of Török’s friends because I’ve usually found Népszava to be reliable when it reports on information coming from unnamed sources.

So, let’s see what Népszava heard from “sources close to Fidesz.” They claim that Orbán’s “system” has no more than a few months before it collapses. Apparently Fidesz politicians are increasingly avoiding the limelight because “the fall is inevitable. In their opinion Orbán started down a road from which there is no return. Not only will he himself be the victim of his own mistakes but also his party and the country itself.”

The problems that beset the work of the government emanate from the character flaws of the prime minister: inconsistency, impenetrability, and unpredictability. Most government and Fidesz officials have no idea what course they are supposed to pursue. Orbán trusts fewer and fewer people, and the ones he still does give him wrong advice. He apparently is looking for enemies everywhere, and this is one of the reasons that government decisions are not preceded by any discussion. It often happens that Orbán himself changes his mind in the last minute, which makes consistent communication nearly impossible. Underlings parrot a line that has been superseded by a new brainstorm of the prime minister. More and more people would like to save themselves from such embarrassments.

According to these informants, serious problems within Fidesz are not new although they are only now becoming visible. Signs of trouble began to surface when Orbán decided, sometime before the April elections, to change the “structure” under which Fidesz had been functioning very well for over twenty years. Until then, Lajos Simicska was in charge of the party’s finances, but “from the moment that Orbán decided to take over economic decisions” the old dual structure collapsed and with it the well-functioning system. When Orbán again managed to receive a two-thirds majority, he completely lost his sense of judgment. As months went by, anti-Orbán murmurs in the party began to proliferate, and the Christian Democrats, realizing that Orbán was losing his grip on the party, decided to put pressure on the beleaguered prime minister. That’s why Orbán had to give in on the unpopular law that forces stores to be closed on Sundays.

What observers see is no longer a “system” but a political process based on day-by-day ad hoc decisions which, according to the saner Fidesz leaders, cannot be maintained because “it is incapable of self-correction.”

The informers seem to have less information about actual attempts to topple Viktor Orbán. Names were not mentioned, but they indicated that the people they had in mind “would be quite capable of taking over the reins of government without changing political direction.” Népszava‘s sources consider Angela Merkel’s planned visit to Budapest in February a date of great importance. I guess they think that Merkel will tell Orbán that he is persona non grata as far as the European People’s Party and the European Commission are concerned.

CalendarNépszava‘s description of the strife and chaos within Fidesz is most likely accurate. The question is what Orbán is planning to do to forestall the outcome described by Népszava‘s sources. For the time being, as we learned from the interviews of János Lázár, Viktor Orbán, and László Kövér, he will fight to hold onto power by convincing his Peace March troops that the “fatherland is in danger.” I’m almost certain that internal polls are being taken to gauge support. Would it be possible to turn out 100,000 people to defend the prime minister against foreign and domestic intrigues? I assume that the size of the planned anti-government demonstrations on January 2 will also influence Orbán’s decision about the next step to take to combat his opponents inside and outside the party.

In any case, for the time being it was Antal Rogán who was called upon to announce a countermeasure that might take the wind out of anti-government sails.  It is called the “National Defense Action Plan.” The details are secret for the time being, but it most likely includes some kind of answer to the United States’ decision to bar six Hungarian citizens from the United States due to corruption. It is also likely that a huge propaganda effort will be launched to discredit the U.S.-EU free trade agreement that until now the Hungarian government has welcomed. According to government and Fidesz sources, the “National Defense Action Plan” was put together in the prime minister’s office by Viktor Orbán, János Lázár, Antal Rogán, Péter Szijjártó, and Árpád Habony (who neither holds an official government position nor has national security clearance). These are the people who make most of the decisions in the Orbán government.

Meanwhile what are the anti-Orbán political forces doing in this fluid situation? Ferenc Gyurcsány decided to ask those followers who have been at the anti-government demonstrations all along to bring party posters and flags to the January 2 demonstration. József Tóbiás, leader of MSZP, did not respond to Gyurcsány’s request to follow DK’s lead. But István Újhelyi, an MSZP MEP, announced today a socialist “diplomatic offensive” against the Orbán government. Orbán must be stopped because his “Russian roulette” will have tragic consequences.

At the beginning of the new year there will be at least two important events. First, the mass demonstration planned for January 2 in front of the Opera House. Three years ago a gigantic anti-government demonstration also took place there, and for a whole month newspapers kept asking how long Orbán could last. We are again asking the same question. Since Orbán not only survived but thrived in the last three years, some people might come to the conclusion that the Hungarian prime minister will always triumph, even in the most perilous circumstances. But I would caution the pessimists. Three years ago the pressure came only from the inside. This time Orbán has embroiled himself and the country in a high stakes international power play in addition to alienating about 900,000 of his former supporters.

The second event will be Orbán’s new “remedy,” the “National Defense Action Plan.” Will it work? Is Orbán strong enough to rally his troops for another supportive Peace March as he did in 2012? And even if he manages, will anybody care?

August 22, 1914

A change of pace. What else can we say about Viktor Orbán after his three recent public appearances and his decision to share his vision and wisdom with the world? Instead, let’s talk about history.

I must have mentioned how great the interest is in Europe on the 100th anniversary of World War I. German and Austrian papers in particular have been spending considerable time and energy telling their readers about events a hundred years ago. Often on a daily basis.

Hungarians who are so terribly interested in history seem to spend less time on the Great War, as it was called at the time. However, there is a company called Arcanum Adatbázis Kft. that specializes in the digitization of documents, maps, paintings, etc. They just offered free access to the issues of five Hungarian newspapers published one hundred years ago. I took advantage of the offer and read the August 22, 1914 issue of Népszava, the newspaper of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party. Today I’ll share some of that hundred-year-old news.

Before I embark on my project let me note that the Hungarian social democrats, just like other social democratic parties all over Europe, forgot about their internationalism after the outbreak of the war and became enthusiastic supporters of the war effort. Thus no one should be surprised about Népszava‘s patriotism and its fierce attack on tsarist Russia. After all, Russia’s oppressive regime was one of the justifications for socialist support of the war effort.

I should also mention that by coincidence I happened to pick a day that is described by historians as the war’s “deadliest.” It was on August 22, 1914 near Ardennes and Charleroi that the French army lost 27,000 men. It was a much larger loss than the one the British suffered in the Battle of Somme, which is usually cited as the war’s worst. The Battle of the Ardennes lasted three days, between August 21 and 23. Keep in mind that the articles in Népszava, a morning paper, were most likely written the night before.

Népszava was a slim paper in those days, ten pages in all, but six of these were devoted to the war. Headlines: “The German army destroyed the French. The troops of the Monarchy advance in Russia. Revolution broke out in the empire of the hangman Tsar.”

The paper enthusiastically announces that the German advance this time is even swifter than it was during 1870-1871 and optimistically predicts that “the war will soon be over.” The first decisive battle has taken place. Although it was not on French territory, as was predicted, it was very close, only 12 kilometers from the border. “Brussels already belongs to the Germans”; this occupation was a magnificent military achievement. Liège is also in German hands.  “The German army will soon move all the way to the North Sea.”

The situation on the ground was not so rosy. Here are a few lines from a German soldier’s diary entry: “Nothing more terrible could be imagined…. We advanced much too fast–a civilian fired at us–he was immediately shot–we were ordered to attack the enemy flank in the forest beeches–we lost our direction–the men were done for–the enemy opened fire–shells came down on us like hail.”

Népszava, like the other papers, spends considerable time accusing the enemy of all sorts of beastly things. According to the paper, German soldiers write letters home in which they tell stories about the cruelty of the French toward prisoners of war. For example, “they cut both hands, poked the eyes out, and tore out the tongue” of a German prisoner.

After the Battle of Ardennes

After the Battle of Ardennes

On the Russian front the newspaper is unable to come up with such spectacular victories. The report simply says that “the Russians have been unable to cross the border of Bukovina,” which was  part of Austria-Hungary until 1918. As for the paper’s claim of a revolution in the Crimea, that might have been only wishful thinking on the part of the Hungarians because history books do not seem to know about it.

It is interesting to read about Russian-Ukrainian relations from the perspective of 1914. The paper points out that there are 30 million Ukrainians living in Russia who look upon this war as “a war of independence.” These oppressed Ukrainians are looking forward to the day when they can join their four million Ruthenian brethren who live in Austria-Hungary.

A Hungarian paper would naturally spend considerable time on the war next door, in Serbia. They relate stories coming from returning wounded soldiers and prisoners of war. According to a Hungarian lieutenant, the Hungarians “decimated” the Serbian forces. Those who were not killed escaped in the direction of Podgorica (in Montenegro) and Ada (Serbia). However, some soldiers climbed trees and kept shooting at the Hungarian troops. He claimed that the Serbs are cowardly and brutish soldiers who leave their own wounded men behind. The Serbs, according to the paper, don’t have too many fatalities, but they do have a lot of wounded soldiers. Two of them were brought to Budapest. They told the Hungarians that they did not want to join the army but their officers forced them with revolvers. These two also claimed that the army is tired, but the officers are trying to convince them to go on because the Russians will be coming momentarily.

A fair number of Serb prisoners of war arrived in Hungary already by late August.  The paper talks about 300 prisoners in Esztergom. Apparently another 3,000 were on their way, being transported by ship.

All in all, the usual war psychosis. The enemy is vile, cowardly, cruel while our side is brave and wonderful. Our victories are magnified, the enemy’s minimized. Hopes center around a Ukrainian uprising so they can join the Ukrainians living in the Monarchy. There is also speculation of a revolution in Russia. Much time is spent on the weariness, disillusionment, and hardships in the enemy country. This is especially the case when it comes to stories about Serbia.

Finally, something the journalists of Népszava did not know when they put the newspaper together. It was on August 22, 1914 that Austria-Hungary declared war on Belgium. A bit late, don’t you think?

Magyar Nemzet and Népszava on the weekend demonstrations

This morning among the comments I found a couple of references to the biases of Magyar Nemzet and Népszava. The latter was labelled a newspaper of MSZP while someone called Magyar Nemzet Fidesz’s Pravda.

There’s no question that on the front page of Népszava one can read: “Szociáldemokrata napilap.” As far as I know, the paper does get some money from MSZP but not enough to overcome its precarious financial situation. One manifestation of its financial woes: people who used to be regular contributors to the op/ed page are no longer willing to write their columns for nothing. Tamás Mészáros, who for a while disappeared from the pages of Népszava, returned recently, most likely because he feels it his duty to help the paper along. Magyar Nemzet, on the other hand, is doing just fine financially, especially since 2010. The government helps it along with its generous advertising. The number of subscriptions also soared after the formation of the second Orbán government: government offices order multiple copies of the paper, an indirect subsidy to the government’s favorite paper.

Quite a few years back I compared the news of one day as it appeared in Magyar Nemzet and in Népszava. The result? As if these two papers were reporting on two different countries. This time I decided to compare not news items but opinion pieces on the weekend’s political demonstrations. I will refrain from making a judgment on the coverage.

Magyar Nemzet came out with two opinion pieces, one by Zsuzsanna Körmendy and another by Tamás Fricz.  Here I will focus on Körmendy’s piece, entitled “Nasty campaign” (Komisz kampány). Its main theme is that while the Fidesz mass demonstration on Saturday was “demure and balanced,” the opposition’s Sunday demonstration was “nervous.” The prime minister’s speech was inspirational and stirring and the demonstrators peaceful. The opposition, however, made fun of them: some people played an old movement song entitled “Our future is one with the party and the people.” This is how it is: “the domestic right for the opposition is either fascist or communist.” Sometimes both at the same time. “What can we say? If we visit a psychiatric ward we have to suffer with a straight face when the patients loudly call us idiots.”

The Peace March has nothing do with Rákosi but with that great experience in April 2002 when Viktor Orbán made a rousing speech in defense of his government and announced that “the nation cannot be in opposition.” It was at that time that many people “discovered their calling to the cause.”

Körmendy didn’t expect much from the opposition, but “one hasn’t heard that much stupidity in the longest time.” The most amusing stupidity came from Ferenc Gyurcsány who told his audience to vote for the opposition because then the sun will shine. Gábor Fodor talked at length about the twelve points of the revolutionary youth in 1848 and dwelt on the union with Transylvania but quickly switched to the union with Europe. “So, Belgium and Austria became part of our country except these countries don’t know anything about it yet.” The third stupidest speech was delivered by Tímea Szabó who “wanted to overthrow not Viktor Orbán’s government but Viktor Orbán himself.” It was, she adds, “quite embarrassing.”  Bajnai kept talking to those who were not present. “This way there was no possibility that someone would talk back to him.” Mesterházy’s focus was on “Orbán’s dictatorship which harks back to the Horthy regime, feudalism, and Bolshevism.”

A scene from the opposition rally on March 30, 2014 Source: MTI/János Marjai

A scene from the opposition rally on March 30, 2014
Source: MTI/János Marjai

Finally, Körmendy criticizes the patriotism that was “overemphasized by the left-wing speakers.” Fodor was pre-occupied with 1848, Bajnai talked about the well-known song about Lajos Kossuth, Gyurcsány also began his speech with patriotism. Körmendy suspects that “their speeches were written for March 15, which they were too lazy to rewrite.” On the other hand, “we could hear about the essence of patriotism from Vikor Orbán who said: ‘to be Hungarian also means that one is never satisfied with one’s own government, but if necessary, one always stands by it.'”

The socialist and liberal papers downplayed–in fact, practically ignored–the demonstrations. There was only one short editorial in Népszabadság that referred to the two demonstrations. The author’s conclusion is that the voters have already decided and that the two demonstrations made no difference one way or the other. By contrast, Tamás Fricz in Magyar Nemzet views Fidesz’s ability to gather a larger crowd than the opposition psychologically important.

In Népszava only a very short editorial by János Dési, no more than about 200 words, appeared. Dési considers the Sunday demonstration a sign that “the opposition must be taken seriously.” Fidesz underestimates the united opposition which, after all, was able to motivate a large number of people to go out to demonstrate. “The politicians of the opposition know what they are doing.” The organization was good, the speeches were effective and “prove that there is hope. There are many people who want an independent European Hungary.” That’s all I could find.

MSZP’s new strategy: Frontal attack on Viktor Orbán and his government

Lately I have been increasingly aware that MSZP politicians are changing tactics. They have decided to be less timid when it comes to criticism of Viktor Orbán, his party, and his government. Earlier, liberal and socialist politicians tried to avoid the kind of discourse that is characteristic of Fidesz and that contributed to the deep political division in Hungary.

The constant verbal abuse until recently came only from the right. The humiliated socialist politicians weren’t confident enough to raise their voices. But now, instead of tiptoeing around, they no longer mince words. It seems that they came to the conclusion that madly looking for polite words to describe the absolutely unacceptable policies and political discourse of Fidesz and members of the Orbán government leads nowhere. The Hungarian public is so accustomed to Fidesz rants that they no longer hear roundabout ways of expressing displeasure. Stronger language  and a louder voice became necessary.

Leftist politicians and political commentators no longer shy away from calling Fidesz a mafia-like organization that is in the process of trying to attain exclusive political power and that also strives for its own and its followers’ enrichment. It is enough here to think of Bálint Magyar’s excellent article on the Fidesz “upperworld” or Ferenc Gyurcsány’s total disregard of any possible consequences by calling Viktor Orbán a cheat and a liar.

source: markdenham.com

source: markdenham.com

Here I would like to concentrate on Attila Mesterházy, who recently delivered a very effective speech in parliament addressed to Viktor Orbán and who in the last three days wrote two op/ed pieces, one in Népszava and another in NépszabadságBoth papers have MSZP connections. Népszava used to be the paper of the Magyar Szociáldemokrata Párt. It began publication in 1873 and even today describes itself as “a social democratic daily.”

Attila Mesterházy seems to like numbered lists. His article in Népszava is entitled “Orbán’s Nine Lies” and today’s article in Népszabadság is “Fifteen Theses.” The first article is about the nine “accomplishments” of the Orbán government as they were enumerated by the prime minister in Tusnádfrürdő/Băile Tușnad in Romania at the end of July. In the second piece Mesterházy basically outlines what his party intends to do after winning the elections in 2014.

Here I will not be able to summarize all the points that Mesterházy makes in these two articles. Instead I will concentrate on the different tone, the different communication tactics that are a departure from both earlier MSZP strategy and the declared conciliatory tactics of Gordon Bajnai’s Együtt 2014-PM. I’m coming to the conclusion that MSZP, as opposed to the middle-of-the-road Bajnai group, decided that their followers demand stronger language and more resolute action once the Orbán mafia-government is out of office.

I think it was 23 years ago, in 1991, that the young Viktor Orbán in parliament said of Prime Minister József Antall “the prime minister is lying.” The air froze around him. Those were the days when members of parliament, even the ones in opposition, found it unacceptable to call the prime minister a liar. But now the largest opposition party’s chairman himself calls Orbán a liar, “someone who rewrites reality, someone who falsifies facts, someone who is sinking in the maelstrom of his own lies.” After this powerful beginning, Mesterházy lists all the lies Orbán uttered in Tusnádfürdő and finishes with the claim that these lies are necessary in order to cover up Orbán’s “politics based on the interpenetration of money and power.”

Mesterházy’s second article on MSZP strategy outlines what MSZP plans to do with the political and financial edifice that Viktor Orbán built in the previous four years. MSZP promises the dismantlement of Orbán’s system. In addition, they will redress injustice and punish those who are found guilty. MSZP is currently planning a thorough investigation of the shady land-lease program and the distribution of the tobacconist shops. Mesterházy “calls on everyone who feels that they received undeserved preferential treatment to return the ill-gotten land or give back their tobacco concessions. Otherwise we will take the land back and give it to those who really want to cultivate it. ” As far as the tobacconist shops are concerned, MSZP will put an end to the current system and return to the days when one could buy cigarettes at gas stations, supermarkets, and small corner stores.

But that is not all. Organizations and companies that currently provide questionable services to the government will also be investigated and “if it is found that payments were provided for services not actually rendered or a gram of cement was stolen, those responsible will not be able to avoid court proceedings.” These are unusually strong words for Attila Mesterházy.

On the other hand, he holds out an olive branch to the average Fidesz voter by pointing out that they are not responsible for what the Orbán govenment has done to the country because Viktor Orbán didn’t tell them his plans. “He shafted them, he misled them.” So, they shouldn’t feel ashamed.

Felcsút is becoming a symbol of all that is wrong with present-day Hungary. The small village where Viktor Orbán spent his early childhood and where he is building a monument to himself is a reminder of what can happen to a man who has lost all sense of reality because of unfettered power.

And that leads me to an article by Gábor Török, a political scientist who cannot be accused of anti-Orbán prejudices. Török is actually an admirer of Viktor Orbán’s political skills and points out that the prime minister in his long political career always kept in mind what people think of his actions and how the electorate reacts to his words and deeds. That’s why he finds what is happening in Felcsút, the construction of an enormous stadium right next door to the prime minister’s own house, so out of character. Doesn’t he realize what perception that whole project creates? Is he blind and deaf? “A stadium next to one’s own house may kill a politician. It only depends on the creativity and talent of his opponents.” Mesterházy mentioned Felcsút eight times in an article only slightly longer than this post.

The Orbán government’s favorite pastime: Crossing swords with everyone

Although I know that some of you have already discovered Kim Scheppele’s answer to Gergely Gulyás’s attacks on her scholarly credentials, those who haven’t should visit Paul Krugman’s blog on The New Times and read her rebuttal entitled: “Hungary, The Public Relations Offensive.” Her analysis of the public letter addressed to her highlights the way members of the Orbán government operate. And in case you didn’t see Gulyás’s letter to Scheppele, make sure that you read it now.

A couple of days ago I also wrote about the scandalous personal attack on George Kopits, this time by the new deputy governor of the Hungarian National Bank. This young and apparently unqualified upstart, who owes his position to his allegiance to Fidesz, Viktor Orbán and György Matolcsy, attacks a man with an impressive academic and professional background. I suggest taking a look at his curriculum vitae.

They like to fight

They like to fight

But the list doesn’t end here. The latest is an attack on Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship, who happens to be a Christian Democrat. Just like Fidesz politicians in the European Parliament, she is affiliated with the European People’s Party (EPP). So her attackers can’t even claim that her criticism of the current Hungarian government derives from her left-liberal political leanings. One can read about Viviane Reding’s career here.

Regardless of how many degrees, prizes and distinctions she has received, the Hungarian minister of justice and administration, Tibor Navracsics, still thinks that she is unqualified for her job. Navracsics shouldn’t throw stones: his own legal background is minimal. After he graduated from law school he immediately switched to political science, which he taught at his alma mater until Viktor Orbán discovered him and made him the whip of the Fidesz caucus between 2006 and 2010.

It is obvious from the statements Navracsics’s ministry released lately that the minister of justice and administration either decided on his own or was instructed from above to launch an anti-European Union campaign. First, he came up with the bizarre explanation that the “renewed attacks” on Hungary have something to do with the German elections that will take place in five months and the EP elections more than a year from now. According to Navracsics, “the European left uses all means at its disposal to discredit the European right” through its attacks on Hungary. It seems that Navracsics, who is supposed to know something about political science and politics, considers Hungary a linchpin in the political war between right and left in Europe. Political commentators laughed at the very suggestion.

But why the renewed attack on Viviane Reding? She made the mistake of giving a lengthy interview to the Hungarian paper Népszava. In it she emphasized that she has no grudge against Hungary or the Hungarian government as Navracsics often claims. It is her duty to enforce the laws of the European Union. She expressed her disappointment that the Hungarian government didn’t heed José Manuel Barroso’s request for a postponement of the vote on the latest amendments to the constitution. She used some pretty strong words in connection with the Hungarian government’s lack of responsiveness when it comes to adjusting Hungarian law to conform to the laws of the Union. Here is one of the many statements she made during the interview that may indicate that the European Commission means business. “As President Barroso mentioned, if necessary we will not hesitate to use all means at our disposal–I repeat, all means at our disposal–if Hungary disregards the legal norms of the Union and those of the Council of Europe.” Reding repeated what she had said earlier: “a constitution is not a plaything that can be changed every few months. This is especially true when the independence of the judiciary is at stake.”

Finally, there seems to be a difference of opinion about the information flow between Reding and Navracsics. Navracsics complains that he finds out about Reding’s positions on certain issues only from the media. Naturally, Reding denies the charge, claiming that she and her staff are in constant touch with Navracsics’s ministry. As for the veracity of Navracsics, it is worth recalling his run-in with Nellie Kroes, European Commissioner for Digital Agenda in Brussels, about a year ago. Kroes and Navracsics had a long private talk after which there was a press conference during which Navracsics’s position suddenly changed. Kroes was furious and announced to Navracsics and all those present: “That is not what you told me half an hour ago.”

There are a couple of nasty international situations where Navracsics thinks that Reding is not sufficiently supportive of the Hungarian position. One is the so-called Tobin case. Tobin is an Irish national who caused the death of two Hungarian children. He was released on bail but left Hungary and went back to Ireland. For years Hungary has been trying to get Tobin extradicted to Hungary where he is supposed to serve his sentence. However, according to Irish law, Ireland extradites somebody only if the person actually escaped from the country asking for his extradition. Tobin didn’t, and therefore the Supreme Court of Ireland ruled in Tobin’s favor. As Reding explained, this is the law, whether we agree with the outcome or not. Under the circumstances she can do nothing.

Then there is another case in which Navracsics suddenly discovered that Reding didn’t do her best on Hungary’s behalf. A Hungarian woman in the middle of a divorce ended up with her husband and child in Bora Bora. The husband took her passport away and has been keeping her and her son captive. According to Navracsics, he wrote to Reding about the case on February 14 but has gotten no answer. By now it seems that Reding is really fed up with Navracsics and his ministry because she found it interesting that “these accusations surfaced only after the Commission announced that it is analyzing the legality of the constitutional amendments.” Reding claims that she answered Navracsics’s letter on March 19. Moreover, she got in touch with the French minister of justice and asked her to investigate the case. Reding sarcastically mentioned that perhaps Navracsics should check his mailbox because the Hungarian Embassy in Brussels acknowledged the receipt of her letter. And she added her final observation: “Such mistaken information surely doesn’t improve the relations between Budapest and Brussels.”

I doubt that Navracsics’s answer to Reding dated April 8 will mend the already strained relations between the commissioner and Navracsics. Here are a few choice sentences: “Your statements of late have plenty of factual errors.” He goes on to elaborate. He claims that he wrote a second reminder on March 17 to Reding which must have prompted her to write him on the 19th. He added that two of his letters have still been unanswered. The first he wrote on November 13 and second on November 16 about the Tobin case. In addition, Reding keeps talking about judicial independence in connection with the early retirement of judges when the European Court of Justice in its ruling wrote only of “discrimination on the basis of age”; the decision had nothing to do with the independence of the judiciary. And a final dig: “Madam, you asked me to check my mailbox. I ask you to check your facts.” So, relations between Brussels and Budapest are splendid!

I should mention that Hungary has problems not only with the European Commission but also with the European Parliament, which will discuss the Hungarian constitution on April 17. As far as we know Viktor Orbán was not invited, but Orbán is “theoretically ready to debate” with the MEPs. This weekend he will consult with József Szájer whether he should go. Meanwhile the European Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs prepared a document “on the situation of Fundamental Rights: standards and practices in Hungary (pursuant to the EP resolution of 16 February 2012)”–Rapporteur is Rui Tavares, Portuguese MP. Apparently even the European People’s Party members of the committee signed the report. Doesn’t sound too promising from the Hungarian point of view.