When three days ago I summarized a double interview with Bavarian premier Horst Seehofer and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán which appeared in the internet edition of the conservative Die Welt, I did not anticipate what followed. I simply pointed out that although Seehofer is a conservative politician, he disagrees with Orbán on some key issues: the European Union, the eurozone, and Russia. I spent time on this particular interview because I wanted to call attention to what I perceive as the generally deteriorating German-Hungarian relations.
What happened afterward was indeed unexpected. A regional Bavarian paper, Oberbayerisches Volksblatt, published an article saying that the interview was originally supposed to appear in the Sunday edition of the paper, Die Welt am Sonntag, but because the interviewer neglected to ask really important questions from Orbán, the editors decided not to publish the interview in the print edition of the paper. According to the Bavarian paper, the representatives of the Hungarian government were outraged and accused Die Welt of censorship. At this point, the complaint got as far as Edmund Stoiber, the honorary chairman of the CSU, who contacted the CEO of Axel Springer, the owner of Die Welt. However, says the journalist responsible for the article, Stoiber’s intervention was in vain. The interview did not appear in Die Welt am Sonntag.
Well, this was the version that came from Bavaria. The following description of what happened comes from the press department of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office. The interview was approved by both Seehofer and Orbán, but the next day the editor, through the Hungarian embassy in Berlin, asked Orbán to answer three more questions. The head of the press department claimed that the editor admitted that “the Hungarian prime minister performed too well,” so they would like him to answer three additional questions: (1) about Orbán’s anti-European Union rhetoric; (2) about his creation of an authoritarian democracy; and (3) about the firing of hundreds of journalists not to the government’s liking. Viktor Orbán called these queries “false accusations masked as questions” and refused to answer them. The Hungarian government considered Die Welt‘s behavior unacceptable and unethical.
And finally, here is Die Welt‘s version of the incident. The editors of the paper saw things differently. Their journalist did not do a good job, did not put the right questions to the two politicians, and therefore the interview turned out to be dull. The editors wanted to ask a few additional relevant questions but, since they received no answers, they decided not to publish the interview in the print edition of the paper. They added that this particular issue was published during the weekend when the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was being celebrated and that this “incomplete interview was not up to snuff.” Asking questions later if necessary is a common practice in German journalism, claimed Christian Gottschalk, editor of the Stuttgarter Zeitung.
I might add here that recently there was another “journalistic scandal”–this time in connection with Imre Kertész, whose interview was not published in The New York Times. Kertész complained that the paper censored the interview because he refused to call the present Hungarian regime a “dictatorship.” According to David Streitfeld, the New York Times‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Kertész simply told him that he is in bad physical shape and therefore does not participate in public life and is not really interested in politics. In brief, the interview was not “interesting” enough to publish.
In connection with the Bavarian-Hungarian encounter and interview I would like to summarize an article that appeared in today’s Galamus by Gábor Endrődi. Since Horst Seehofer defended Viktor Orbán when he encountered criticism from opponents on the left, Endrődi wrote that he would like to pose four questions to Seehofer.
Question 1: Bild Zeitung is the most popular daily in Germany. According to statistics, it sells more than 2.5 million copies daily while the next largest paper has fewer than a million readers. It is a well-known fact that articles in Bild Zeitung had a role to play in the eventual resignation of the German president at the beginning of 2012. Could you find it conceivable that, instead of the president’s resigning two months after the appearance of these critical articles, the Bundestag would pass a law stipulating that every newspaper that sells more than a million copies a day must pay in the form of a tax half of its revenues, a tax that is one hundred times greater than the taxes paid by newspapers with smaller circulations?
Question 2: Is it conceivable that a legislative proposal about tobacco concessions was actually written by one of the tobacco companies that subsequently received ten percent of the concessions and then as manufacturer pays only one-twentieth of what its competitors must pay?
Question 3: Would you submit and vote for a piece of legislation in the Bundestag that would impose sixty times more “extra” levy on the leading firm in a certain area of business activity, let’s say on Neckermann, than on its smaller competitors?
Question 4: If the answers, even in part, are in the affirmative, then we have no more questions. If, on the other hand, they are in the negative, we have a final question: can a country with such a system of taxation remain a part of the euroatlantic alliance? Would you vote for this country’s membership in the European Union?
Endrődi at the beginning of the article expressed his hope that one day a German journalist will pose these questions to Horst Seehofer, the defender of Viktor Orbán. Well, I decided not to wait for that moment. These questions, to my mind, deserve a wider audience than a Hungarian-language internet site can provide. Perhaps their message will resonate with the politicians who have a say in European affairs.