As an illustration of how little Viktor Orbán’s minions understand and respect democracy, it is worth recalling Szilárd Németh’s comment about the “outlandish” announcement of Ferenc Gyurcsány after the municipal elections on October 12 that “he will do everything in his power to defeat the Orbán government.” He added that to this end Gyurcsány has solicited “foreign help” in the person of André Goodfriend, the U.S. chargé d’affaires in Budapest. Németh, by the way, happens to be one of the most unsavory characters in Orbán’s entourage. He is currently the deputy whip of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation.
Well, if Németh thought that for an opposition party to strive to defeat the Orbán government at the next election is tantamount to treason, he and his fellow Fidesz politicians will have a heyday with Gyurcsány’s announcement at the Demokratikus Koalíció’s congress today. There he declared his hope that the Orbán government will fall by 2016, two years ahead of the scheduled national election.
Politicians of the opposition parties have been reticent to express their views on the civic movements that have cropped up lately, with a new cast of characters.Their restraint is understandable given the organizers’ reluctance to be associated with parties. Any party. At the same time we know that there can be no parliamentary democracy without parties and that sooner or later the civic groups and the politicians will have to come to an understanding.
Gyurcsány decided to break the silence. Whether it was wise or not only time will tell, but at least he came out with the outline of a program, which is more than his fellow politicians on the left have done. Here I will summarize the speech he delivered this morning. I am relying on three independent sources–Népszabadság, Népszava, and Hir24—because their reporters were on the spot and filed their reports prior to the appearance of MTI‘s summary.
Let me start with some of the new ideas that appeared in this speech. Earlier, Gyurcsány, while admitting the “mistakes” of the past, wanted to return to 1989 and restore the constitution of that year. Now he is thinking in terms of a new constitution and a new republic. That new constitution should decrease the power of the state and widen the rights of the people, who could express their wishes more directly through referendums. To hold referendums was very difficult in Hungary even before 2010, but since then Viktor Orbán has made sure that the governed have practically no opportunity “to interfere” with the work of his government. With this shift Gyurcsány was obviously responding to the majority view that politics even prior to 2010 was misguided and that it does not provide an appropriate model for future governance.
Source: Népszabadság / photo by Zsolt Reviczky
While he was at it, Gyurcsány introduced his own program without calling it that. One may question the feasibility of some of the items on his wish list, but at least he put them out for public response. He emphasized that although it will be the street demonstrations that will put pressure on the government to resign, these demonstrations must be peaceful. Meanwhile the opposition forces must prepare themselves for the eventuality that in a couple of years they must be ready to govern and not find themselves in “a democratic chaos.” As far as foreign policy is concerned, a clear commitment must be made to the West. The “double dealing,” the shuttling between Moscow and Brussels must come to an end. As far as domestic changes are concerned, the courts and the prosecutor’s office must become independent again. The media must be freed from its current stranglehold. People should be able to establish churches of their own choosing. NGOs should be allowed to do their jobs. An independent “anti-corruption office” should be set up. And something must be done about the growing poverty of ab0ut half of the population.
He spent some time on corruption and the world of the oligarchs, pointing out that “the number one oligarch is Viktor Orbán himself,” something that, in my opinion, many people don’t seem to realize when they demand the removal of “corrupt officials” only.
He spent a long time analyzing the current political situation and offering possible answers to it. He pointed out that Fidesz’s achievement of gaining a super majority again did not result in “the stabilization of Viktor Orbán’s power.” On the contrary, it roused people’s ire because of the arbitrary decisions of a government whose support has been decreasing over the years. In a democratic country there is “correction” from within, but in a tyranny one can only revolt. “The Hungarian parliamentary system is practically dead,” and therefore national resistance remains the only option.
Gyurcsány, unlike some other former liberal politicians, said that the disappointment, anger, and passion of the organizers of the demonstrations are perfectly understandable. He was happy to see the flags of the European Union at the demonstrations because that means that they opt for the democracy of the West, not the tyranny of the East. One ought not be surprised, he added, that no programs have been formulated by the organizers of these demonstrations because, after all, first one must reject the current political system. The young organizers have to decide whether they are willing to join an already existing party or whether they want to create one of their own. In either case, they must understand that “there is no parliamentary democracy without parties.” Yes, he knows that the civic leaders who organized the demonstrations are suspicious of politics and politicians. But politics is not dirty by itself; only corrupt politicians make it so.
The Fidesz propaganda machine needed less than an hour after the reports on the DK congress became public to react. The short statement has all the hallmarks of classic Fidesz propaganda: Ferenc Gyurcsány only a few days ago pretended that “he was an elegant stranger who kept himself away from the demonstrations, but by Saturday it became clear that he lied. He admitted that in fact it is the Left that is behind the demonstrations.” According to the government party, “the chairman of the opposition party admitted that the only goal of the demonstrations is the overthrow of the government and he is willing to use all means to obtain this end with force.” That short statement says a lot about the propaganda machine of Fidesz. Unfortunately, misinformation, lying if you wish, is the trademark of the present Hungarian government.
Yesterday we left off with a description of the kinds of oligarchs who play an important role in Viktor Orbán’s mafia state. Today we move on to the front men (stróman/Strohmann) and their function in the system. According to Bálint Magyar’s definition, they are people without formal position either in politics or in the economic sphere who “serve as bridges between legitimate and illegitimate realms.”
Magyar identifies two kinds of stróman, political and economic. The political front men are people who originally came from Fidesz itself and were put in important government and parliamentary positions–for instance, president of the parliament and president of the Hungarian Republic. Soon enough the leader extended the circle from which he could choose people for key positions. They were either relatives or close friends, or friends of friends. Such appointees can be found heading the prosecutor’s office and the National Office of Justice. Eventually, he drew from employees of companies owned by members of the political family–managers, accountants, lawyers–to fill posts in the ministries. These people are front men of the poligarchs, only instruments, not autonomous actors. In this mafia state the majority of government officials fall into the category of political front men.
An originally Fidesz-appointed stróman after a couple of years can be removed and replaced by another Fidesz-appointed individual, as we have observed recently. Magyar’s explanation is that some of the original appointees owed their allegiance to top poligarchs, for example, Lajos Simicska and his business partner, Zsolt Nyerges. Because of the internal power struggle that is currently going on between Simicska and Viktor Orbán, several of Simicska’s front men have been removed from important positions, like the Hungarian Development Bank and the Ministry of National Development. Perhaps the best example of such a personnel change occurred a few months ago in the Ministry of National Development which was considered to be the stronghold of the Simicska-Nyerges poligarchic duo. Here, after the election, Viktor Orbán replaced Mrs. László Németh, clearly a puppet of Simicska, with his own man, Miklós Seszták, a crooked lawyer. Seszták then fired 200 people from the staff of the ministry, which Magyar calls a bloodless decapitation.
The economic front men act like proxies of the poligarchs, although oligarchs can also have their own front men if for one reason or other they want to hide their presence in an enterprise. Some of the money accumulated by these people eventually ends up in the poligarchs’ secret bank accounts.
What are the characteristics of the economic ventures of strómans? (1) With practically no capital or expertise they receive large state orders. (2) The increase or decrease of their economic activities depends not on economic but on political cycles. They often receive tenders when they are the sole bidders. (3) They act as gateways to the state. They collect the profits generated by large bona fide companies which themselves would be able to do the job but which are are forced to work as subcontractors. (4) Profits of these companies are much larger than of companies not politically connected. (5) The managements of these companies pay themselves inordinately large dividends. Normally, especially in the case of a new company, most of the profit is reinvested in the firm. But these companies don’t have to worry about business expansion. It is the subcontractor’s headache. (6) While successful companies without political connections often encounter aggressive takeover attempts by the government, the companies of strómans never have to worry about such an eventuality.
In sum, the basic goal of the mafia state is the elimination of autonomous positions in the political, economic and societal spheres and their transformation into a patron-client relationship. The men whose names appear in the regularly published list of the most influential Hungarians are all dependent on the good will of Viktor Orbán, be they politicians, entrepreneurs or university professors.
In addition to oligarchs and front men, there is another group of people Magyar calls transaction brokers who are mediators between the actors in illegitimate transactions. These people are often lawyers who are involved in writing grant applications, for example. They are the ones who have the personal network that can facilitate the transaction between, let’s say, the government bureaucracy in charge of monies coming from Brussels and the applicants. Transaction brokers, mostly law firms and institutes attached to ministries, by now have taken over some of the functions of ministries. They are the ones who actually write legislative proposals submitted by individual members of parliament.
There are two types of transaction brokers. One is the so-called gatekeeper who works from inside the administration and who defends and legitimizes illegitimate businesses. The other is the representative broker who by the size of his business could in fact be an oligarch but who is only an economic stróman.
Finally, Magyar spends some time on the nature of the family’s guard and the secret services. One of the very first decisions of Viktor Orbán after he became prime minister was to create a large force of personal bodyguards misleadingly named the Anti-Terror Center (TEK). In addition, there are private security firms often owned by Fidesz oligarchs that have the support of the police or TEK. Magyar even includes in this category the infamous soccer fans of Fradi, a club headed by government functionaries. These football fans can be mobilized if necessary as they were in the fall of 2006. Fidesz again called them out in 2013 when a few students surrounded the Fidesz headquarters. TEK itself has practically limitless powers. Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior under whom the police force functions, is a stróman of Viktor Orbán.
Viktor Orbán and his old body guard, János Hajdu From major to brigadier general overnight
Supervision of the secret services, since there are several of them, has always been close to Fidesz poligarchs’ hearts. Magyar recalls that in 1990 when Gábor Demszky became mayor of Budapest he resigned his seat in parliament. The chairmanship of the parliamentary committee overseeing the activities of the secret services thus became vacant. Fidesz insisted that the post should go to one of its own. László Kövér was chosen. Until 2005 Fidesz through this committee managed to keep the secret services under its influence. In 2006 the governing socialists closed the secret services’ avenues to Fidesz by firing a number of people known for their close ties to Kövér and others in Fidesz. These Fidesz loyalists who found themselves without a job established their own private concerns and continued their spying activities through old friends still employed by the government. As soon as Fidesz won the election, these people were immediately rehired. Earlier there was a minister whose sole job was the supervision of the activities of the secret services, but after 2010 Sándor Pintér took over this role. Thus both the police and the secret services report to him.
I still have covered only half of the introductory essay by Bálint Magyar. Time permitting, I will continue my summary sometime in the future. However, I think that today’s and yesterday’s posts give you an idea of how Orbán’s mafia state functions. Dismantling it will not be an easy task when the time comes.
Earlier I published several reports on Bálint Magyar’s theory of the mafia state. In fact, I devoted three consecutive posts, the first of which appeared on June 18, 2013, to his description of Orbán’s system of government as a new kind of autocratic regime. Magyar’s analysis of the current Hungarian political system elicited widespread attention in Hungary as well as hundreds of comments on Hungarian Spectrum.
A few months later (November 2013) Bálint Magyar and Júlia Vásárhelyi published an edited volume of essays written by twenty-two scholars from different disciplines who embrace the theoretical framework Bálint Magyar worked out in the first decade of the century. Its title was Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State. The book became an instant bestseller. More than 11,000 copies were sold within a few months. It had to be reprinted four times. I wrote a review of it on Hungarian Spectrum. Again the review prompted a lively discussion, some people finding Magyar’s argument compelling while others disagreed with him. In any case, since the appearance of Hungarian Octopus, the concept has been widely accepted by scholars as well as by the left-leaning Hungarian public. Those who are familiar with the workings of the Orbán regime find Magyar’s description of it a perfect fit.
Book launch of volume 2 of Hungarian Octopus: The Post-Communist Mafia State Source: Népszava
The second volume of Hungarian Octopus has just been published, and it is fascinating. In his introduction Magyar takes into consideration some of the criticisms and additional observations he received during discussions of the contents of the first volume. This introductory essay is so full of information and novel observations that I will most likely have to devote another post to it. But let’s start.
First, Magyar describes the key actors of the mafia state. He begins with the economic-political actors whom Magyar calls “poligarchs” whose ranks include several subcategories: the oligarchs, the front men (in Hungarian stróman/ok), corruption brokers, the family guard/the secret service, and the family privatization of databases. Let me go into some of the details.
Who belong to the class of poligarchs? These are people who attained illegitimate wealth by being members of the political family. Their political power is known but their economic power, their wealth is hidden. They use front men; their money is often hidden in foundations. The chief poligarch is the Godfather–in our case, the prime minister.
Beneath the poligarchs comes the class of oligarchs who began their careers with legitimate business activities and who, as a result of their economic power, acquired political might. In ordinary post-communist states their economic activities are legal, but the way in which they acquire business opportunities often is not. They acquire advantages over their competitors by illegal means. They are, however, more or less autonomous actors. But in Hungary, Magyar argues, the mafia state makes these oligarchs’ autonomy impossible or very limited. As he puts it, “it domesticates” them. They are partly or wholly dependent on the good will of the state.
Magyar distinguishes several type of oligarchs. There are the inner circle oligarchs. They have been close to Fidesz from the early 1990s on, and in part they have accumulated their wealth through their political connections. Currently, they don’t have any political roles but they belong to the small circle of people who are able to formulate policy. A good example of this sub-type is Lajos Simicska. Of course, any of these oligarchs can lose their positions if the Godfather finds their activities objectionable. A couple of the original oligarchs actually ended up in jail when they got involved in illicit activities.
Another sub-category of the oligarchic class is the adopted oligarchs. These people made their wealth during the early murky days of mass privatization, and it was only later that they were adopted by the political family. Their connection to politics now enhances their financial position. Examples of this type are Gábor Széles, owner of the extreme right-wing Magyar Hírlap and Echo TV, and László Baldauf, owner of the CBA chain of supermarkets. These people only serve the policies of the Family; they can’t influence them.
The next category is the capitulated oligarchs who earlier were quite independent; some were even associated with the other political side. Their capitulation is due to their dependence on state orders. Since they were not considered to be affiliated with the Family in any way, they fell on hard times after 2010. In addition to the lack of orders, the state has all sorts of instruments to make them surrender: the internal revenue service, prosecutor’s office, police. A typical representative of this group is Tamás Leisztinger, who suffered economic hardship already during the first Orbán administration and who by now is the willing or unwilling financier of the prime minister’s hobby, football.
Then there are the fellow traveler oligarchs. These men were the greatest economic beneficiaries of the first twenty-year period after the change of regime. They were sought after by both the left and the right, and they kept an equal distance or equal friendship with both groups. After 2006 the equilibrium between the two political sides shifted toward Fidesz, which forced them to be fellow travelers unless they wanted to lose their preeminent economic positions. Sándor Csányi of OTP and Sandor Demján of Trigánit are perfect examples of this category.
The last two sub-categories are the autonomous and the rival oligarchs. Their numbers are rapidly decreasing. Some of these people are so afraid of the chief poligarch that they dare not support liberal causes at all.
Although I thought I would be able to describe the other key actors of the mafia state today, the story is so intriguing that I don’t want to shortchange you by not covering the details properly. We will continue tomorrow.
Although for months all kinds of hypotheses have been floated about the Simicska-Orbán feud, I have judiciously avoided joining the rumor mill. Conjectures about the apparent rift between Lajos Simicska and his old friend, Viktor Orbán, were vague and occasionally far-fetched. I believe that it is better to be cautious, especially in a case like this one where details are extremely hard to come by. Simicska, the foremost oligarch in Hungary, is a very secretive man. The media has not been able to get close to him, and those pictures of him that were, until recently, available on the Internet all dated from the late 1990s when he headed the Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service. It was just a few weeks ago that someone managed to get a new photo of him. He has put on some weight and naturally he is about fifteen years older. Here and there a journalist manages to get some information about Simicska and his relationship to Orbán, but a few days later it is usually denied by someone else. So, under these circumstances, the most prudent course is to wait until we have more reliable information about what is going on.
We do have a few confirmed pieces of the puzzle, however. The newly introduced advertisement tax hurt not only RTL Klub but also the Simicska media empire. About a month ago I noticed that suddenly articles critical of the government began appearing in Magyar Nemzet, something that earlier was unimaginable. I devoted a post to that topic at the beginning of August. Since then there have been several more instances when government officials were scrutinized and their behavior condemned by the newspaper’s editors.
Lajos Simicska today
In the middle of the August Ildikó Csuhaj of Népszabadságlearned from a source close to both Simicska and Orbán that the two men had reached a temporary truce. Simicska agreed to sell Magyar Nemzet and HírTV, Lánchíd Rádió, and Class FM to two close associates of Orbán–Árpád Habony, the brain behind Orbán’s political maneuverings, and Andy Vajna, the producer of the blockbusters Rambo and The Terminator. On the same day, however, another “reliable source” close to Magyar Nemzetdenied the rumors to a journalist of Népszava. According to the latter source, the feud between Simicska and Orbán was greatly exaggerated but was still on. There are, he said, no plans for a complete or partial sale of Simicska’s media empire. This source admitted that because of the advertising tax, the ever decreasing readership of all print media, and smaller advertising revenues Magyar Nemzet will have to “rationalize” its business practices. The decision was already made at the beginning of August that the price of the paper will have to increase. It had remained constant for the last twelve years, so the hike was clearly overdue.
It seems that Népszava‘s information was the more accurate because today came the news that about thirty journalists have been fired at Magyar Nemzet. As it stands now, the paperemploys about a hundred people. Seventy of them work on the print edition and thirty on the online publication. The “rationalization” involves merging these two groups and downsizing the staff.
Was this move necessary for financial reasons? Népszabadság came to the conclusion that although the advertising tax will cut sharply into the profits of Magyar Nemzet, the paper is getting just as much government advertising support as before. Pesti scrácok, a right-wing blog, claimed that Magyar Nemzet receives four or five times as much advertising as other newspapers and that its financial health is robust.
But then why this large-scale firing? And why ax famous journalists who have been zealous supporters of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz for decades? I will stick my neck out and suggest a couple of possibilities.
Let’s start with the advertising revenue. It is a well-known fact that no Hungarian newspaper can survive without indirect government support in the form of advertising and subscriptions. Each ministry and each Fidesz municipal administration has subscriptions for several dozen copies of Magyar Nemzet. The state-owned companies also greatly favor the right-wing publications, Magyar Nemzet and Válasz. But what if the relationship between the paper and the government sours in the future? Let’s assume that critical voices appear increasingly often in the paper, similar to what has happened at RTL Klub. In this case, it is very possible that the generous advertising orders will slow or come to an end. Is it possible that Magyar Nemzet is preparing for this eventuality? Is it possible that Simicska has not given up the fight but has instead decided to use the weapons available to the press?
There is another clue that might indicate a change in the political orientation of the paper. It is enough to look at the list of those who were dismissed: Miklós Ugró, a regular writer of editorials; Emil Ludwig, earlier editor-in-chief of the paper; Matild Torkos, an investigative journalist; Anna Kulcsár and Gabriella Lőcsei, both senior editors; and István Lovas, the paper’s correspondent in Brussels. These have been core people at Magyar Nemzet over the last ten or fifteen years.As Pesti Srácok points out, “these victims of the Simicska-Orbán feud are the people who steadfastly stood by Magyar Nemzet in its leanest years, at the time of the efforts to destroy the Medgyessy-Gyurcsány governments.” Indeed, Magyar Nemzet actively participated in that demolition job, and these people were perhaps the most zealous propagandists of Fidesz and its leader within the offices of Magyar Nemzet. What does their removal signify, if anything? Is it possible that their total devotion to Viktor Orbán has made them unfit for more balanced reporting in the future by Magyar Nemzet? Perhaps, but only time will tell. Until then this is only a hypothesis.
The Orbán government has given up the idea of solving the forex loan problem quickly and in one fell swoop. For a couple of weeks it looked as if Viktor Orbán was thinking of a radical solution that would have meant making the banks pay the difference between the exchange rate at the time of the issuance of the loan and the current exchange rate. This could have been a tremendous burden. Just to give you an an idea, if someone took out a loan in Swiss francs in 2008 he paid 143.83 forints for one Swiss franc. Today the exchange rate is 241.51 forints to one Swiss franc.
The original idea was borrowed from the Croatian government’s decision a few weeks ago. There is, however, a huge difference in the number of people with forex mortgages in Croatia and Hungary. Apparently the “nuclear option” was abandoned because the government realized that the entire Hungarian banking sector could go under as a result.
In no small measure Sándor Csányi was responsible for this change of heart or at least for the government’s realization of the possibly grave consequences of such a move. After all, he sold a large number of his OTP shares which by itself prompted some panicky follow-through on the Budapest stock exchange. By now most observers interpret his move as a warning to Viktor Orbán. This is what can happen, and on a much larger scale, if the government goes through with its plan.
Those who don’t quite believe this scenario point out that no one knows how many OTP shares Csányi actually owns. A German source claims that what Csányi sold amounted to no more than 1% of his holdings. So, the argument goes, this shouldn’t have made a great impression on Viktor Orbán, who surely knows the details of Csányi’s finances.
But Ferenc Gyurcsány, who was interviewed on the subject, dismissed this argument. Csányi’s sale of this allegedly tiny portion of his holdings was not itself a threat. But implicit in this sale was the threat that if the government goes through with its plans he may dump the other 99%, the consequences of which might be immeasurable.
Gyurcsány knows Csányi only too well. When he was prime minister he had quite a bit to do with him because, after all, “he is a big player … with a tremendous amount of power.” In fact Gyurcsány agrees with János Lázár that Csányi and the other oligarchs have far too much power, which a prime minister must keep in check. He himself normally sent them away and told them that they cannot expect special treatment from him. He admitted that as a result his relationship with Csányi and the others was not the best. He didn’t sit with them with in the VIP section at soccer games spitting out sunflower seeds, a reference to Viktor Orbán’s not exactly elegant habit.
As for János Lázár’s reference to Csányi as an octopus, apparently Orbán suggested that his chief of staff sit down for coffee with Csányi to smooth things over but Lázár ignored the suggestion. When Orbán inquired about the meeting, Lázár told the prime minister that he has no intention of ever apologizing to Csányi. Orbán didn’t press the issue. I guess by then he decided that Csányi didn’t really deserve an apology, especially since he learned that Gordon Bajnai’s foundation had received a small grant from him. I’m sure that this “sin” will not be forgotten by the vengeful Viktor Orbán.
The relationship of Csányi, and the other oligarchs as well, with Orbán is complicated. For one thing, Csányi doesn’t seem to like him as a person. When Orbán was in opposition, Csányi often talked about him disparagingly in Gyurcsány’s presence. Admittedly, it is in the interest of these oligarchs to seek close relations with the powers that be. And yet if they feel that the government is working against their interests and that no amount of pressure will cause it to change its ways, they will not hesitate to abandon the prime minister and his party. Orbán cannot trust Csányi, Demján, and some of the others because they are not his men the way Lajos Simicska is. The behavior of Sándor Demján, who is up in arms about the nationalization of the credit unions, and Sándor Csányi seems to indicate that these oligarchs are fed up with the unpredictable, anti-business policies of the Orbán government.
There is another aspect of the relationship between the oligarchs and Viktor Orbán that has received very little attention. One mustn’t forget, Gyurcsány said, that the Orbán family’s wealth puts him and his family among the top five richest families in Hungary. Orbán has cleverly hid his and his family’s wealth, but he cannot hide behind front men and legal tricks forever. One day he will be caught. He became an MP practically straight out of college and today he is a billionaire. He is using his position to enrich himself and his family. That is not only immoral, it is a crime.
This is not how you become a billionaire
This interview took place with Olga Kálmán on ATV, and the reporter was visibly shaken by the news that the extended Orbán family may have become one of the five richest families in the country. Therefore she decided to follow up on the story. The next day she invited Mátyás Eörsi, a former SZDSZ MP and an old acquaintance of Viktor Orbán. Eörsi was also one of the members of a parliamentary committee that was supposed to find out how the former prime minister managed to acquire so many assets in a few years, allegedly from his modest salary. Unfortunately, creating these investigative committees in Hungary is a waste of time because they have practically no enforcement authority. They can’t even require witnesses to appear. This particular committee was just as useless as was, for example, the investigative committee on the sudden and unexpected decision of the first Orbán government to purchase Gripen fighter planes. Although the family’s enrichment was highly suspicious, the committee didn’t manage to pin anything on him. Olga Kálmán also took a good look at Orbán’s financial statements, the kind every MP must fill out yearly. These statements indicate that, especially given his five children, he could have led at best a modest middle-class life.
Like Gyurcsány, Mátyás Eörsi is convinced that the Orbán family is among the richest in Hungary. In fact, he is pretty certain that way back in 1992 when Fidesz sold the half of a very valuable building it received from the Antall government, the whole amount landed in the Orbán family’s coffers, laundered through about twenty phony companies. These were the companies that were later sold to two phantom buyers for one forint each.
Prior to becoming a member of parliament in 1990 Eörsi had a fairly lucrative legal practice. He didn’t start with nothing as Orbán did. Moreover, Eörsi’s parliamentary salary was a great deal higher than average. He claims based on his own experience that there is no way that Orbán could have saved enough money to buy the house he did after he lost the election.
Eörsi as a lawyer is especially interested in the “legal techniques” by which Orbán manages to hide his immense wealth with the assistance of his front men. As long as he is prime minister he has no problem controlling whatever is being handled by others. But what techniques did he use to guarantee access to his wealth once he is out of office?
One reason for Orbán’s many political successes is that his followers believe that he is a man of modest means who takes their side against the bankers, multinationals, and oligarchs. But what will happen if his people find out that their beloved prime minister is in fact one of those hated oligarchs?
About two weeks ago I published the English translation of Attila Mesterházy’s policy speech. Some of you complained about the number of “ladies and gentlemen” in Mesterházy’s speech. In DK circles everybody uses the familiar “te,” including the former prime minister, and supporters call him “Feri.” There is another difference. Unlike other politicians, including Viktor Orbán who is considered to be a good speaker, Gyurcsány has no written text. He talks with the assistance of some scribbled notes and doesn’t have to look at those notes very often. Perhaps you will gain a better understanding of his style by watching a few minutes of the video of his speech.
The speech is long and therefore I will publish it in three parts. I want to thank the editors of Free Hungary for allowing me to republish it here. By the way, you can find a link to Free Hungary on the “Blog Role.”
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If we continue as now, the next prime minister will be called Orbán
“If we continue in the same way as now, the next prime minister will be called neither Gordon Bajnai nor Attila Mesterházi but will be called Viktor Orbán. Even though we would have every ground to put an end to Orbán’s governance and, theoretically, we have even the tools to defeat Orbán and his regime. Then, I’m repeating it again: if we go on in the same way as now, we will fail. A great lesson from the past year is that it was not Orbán’s government that caused a surprise. Frankly speaking, he cannot do that any more. The surprise is, if any, that the multitude of democratic people, including the voters, various movements, organisations, the media, a significant portion of intellectuals, who are still brave and committed enough to contravene Orbán, were not yet able to organize themselves, are not yet prepared for a fight ending with victory. But, if we have an influence on something at all, it is evidently the world of opposition. We are not so gullible to suppose that this government is interested in knowing what we are thinking about Hungary, it just does what it wants. We say what we are thinking, we try to show alternatives but, where we really have a great responsibility, where we really have tools, is to organize and train the democratic opposition for the fight, it is to show an alternative against Orbán. We need to do much more than we have done until now.”
The country is tired; there are too many hopeless people
“But still, let me begin with where the country is in the spring of 2013. I can’t say much new compared to the last year, at least not in quality. What we said about the country at that time and what we expected then, is true even today and our expectations have, unfortunately, not been fulfilled either. But we came to assess the state of the nation, we want to speak about the condition of the republic and therefore, let’s summarize, not in too much length, how we see Hungary. If I need to say it briefly, then I say that the country is tired, many, too many people have lost their hope and there is almost no field in the country’s life where we could say that it became a little bit better and more hopeful than was in 2010.”
This is no longer a constitutional state but an autocracy: the will of one single man replaces the constitution
“A debate has been going for a long time about, how to characterize this regime, whether this is still a democracy or already an autocracy, whether constitutionality is still alive. All that happened in the past few days is that this government is amending the fundamental law, said to be as hard as granite, for the fourth time now within one year by a huge package of 26 pages; this may convince even our rightist friends who have not lost their discernment yet that Hungary is no more a constitutional state. Namely, constitutional state means that we decide abidingly what the major frame, institutions and organizations of the state’s operation and the state’s structure are, what our relations to them are. This is what provides stability, the legal system is built on this and we go by this. By today, it has turned out that we do not have to go by the constitution because that may change, if necessary, every day even, but we have to go by the political will behind the permanent change of constitution, which is the will for power of one single person who is called Viktor Orbán. And where the constitution is not the rule but a person’s will, that system is called autocracy rather than democracy. Today, autocracy prevails in Hungary. However, those who want democracy, those who want republic, those who consider themselves democrats, such persons can only oppose this regime. We don’t want to have autocracy. We want to have a free republic with free citizens and those who want to have that, such persons shall require Orbán’s defeat. We are fighting for the defeat of this regime and for restoring the republic.
Decreasing real wages, decreasing consumption, decreasing investment, decreasing unemployment
“Three years ago, this government attained power by promising hope, by promising boom, by promising social justice. Today, the Hungarian economy is more vulnerable than it was in 2010. The shrinking of the Hungarian economy’s performance has been occurring for so many quarters and is becoming more and more serious. The country is in recession. The country’s common cake is decreasing continuously. Never before have so few jobs been established in the first month of the year than just in January 2013. Never before have so many, over 300 thousand people been unemployed without any provision than now. While, theoretically, there is no world crisis, not even in practice, while, of course, Europe has difficulties, but there is not a general crisis in Europe either, in Hungary real wages are decreasing, in Hungary consumption is decreasing and the level of investment is so low that there won’t be any growth in the forthcoming years either. So few homes are being built in this country, less than in 1944 when German troops marched in the streets of Budapest or Makó. We have to face a dark future. The country that obtains its living from investment, the country whose wealth or economy was driven by investment, by capital construction, is now one of the last ones among the investors’ target areas. There is neither investment, nor lending, nor jobs. This is a spiral from which we won’t be able to emerge still for many years.”
The rate of the decline of the Hungarian economic performance is six times higher than the European one: unimaginable depths of poverty and despondency
“The prime minister may say that it is caused by external effects. Partly, and only in lesser part, he is right. The rate of shrinkage of the Hungarian economy is six times higher than the European recession. In this respect, the Hungarian prime minister does not say the truth. Under such circumstances, while touring the country in the past months, we met such a depth of poverty and despondency that I have not seen even for a long time or have never imagined. Poverty has always existed in the history and I suppose it will always exist in the future as well. There will always be people or families, who live on the fringe of the normal human life. Who live from hand to mouth. If I needed to distinguish between poverty of today and that existing many years ago, then I would simply speak about the fact that today there are more poor people and poverty is deeper. I would rather say that earlier, there was at least the hope that you can emerge from it. If nothing else but the hope that it will be better for my children. Today, the hope is lost. Hungary became the country of despondency during Orbán’s governance.”
Only Orbán’s oligarchs are getting richer – the regime introduced the institutionalized corruption
“Those who are getting richer, belong to the world of Orbán’s oligarchs. Poverty has always existed in history and I suppose it will always exist everywhere in the future. But the situation that the political leader and his direct environment, the internal circle of Fidesz world is getting richer by corruption, this is a new phenomenon in Hungary. Such a thing has never happened earlier.”
School was taken away from children, parents and settlements, and only children of the wealthiest families can go to university
“Meanwhile, chaos prevails in the world of education, public education became the site of Christian conservative re-evangelization, the teachers do not know how long they will have their job and from whom they will receive their salary, who their employer is and what is expected from them. School was taken away from children, settlements and parents, they have nothing to do with it, this regime tries to force the free idea of free school to fit to a Procrustean bed, which, from this time on, will evidently not be free any more. While, when we speak about a free country, we naturally also take notice of the fact that there are thousands of different ideas and, since every family and every child is manifold, this manifoldness can be mediated only by manifold schools. That the university’s autonomy is taken away, that by today, universities are, basically, in the state of inoperability. They are not on the verge but in the state of inoperability. That the gates of universities are not opened but closed. That, except for the wealthiest families, almost nobody has the opportunity to acquire such diplomas, whilst the leading power, the intellectuals of the country, those who tailor shape to Hungary of the future will be recruited on the long run from the holders of these diplomas.
Despondency: More people go abroad than after 1956
“The reason for despondency is that more than half a million Hungarian citizens sought and found jobs abroad. More people go abroad than after 1956 and this is the sin of this government because they leave the country who are the most mobile, the bravest and the most venturesome. There are very many young people among them, who are really needed in this country but who do not find any opportunity and hope in Hungary.”
To the executors of the show trials: even bigger rogues than their supporters have collapsed in the past
Meanwhile, not even in a concealed manner, show trials are taking place in this country. I always said: “don’t worry about me, I can protect myself”. I have protected myself as well. The latest decision was made recently, which proved that it was a dirty, unfair calumniation in the autumn of 2006 that the politicians of my government, including me encouraged the police of the republic to use and apply illegitimate methods with the intent of intimidation or revenge. Not even the prosecution of Péter Polt was brave enough to, ultimately, fabricate a legally valid incrimination from this ignoble political accusation. This case was closed a few days ago. This is good. But they keep two of my former ministers, György Szilvásy and Pál Szabó under an unfair and false accusation. Miklós Tátrai is kept under an unfair and false accusation. It is the elementary duty of the democratic opposition to assume solidarity with those whom they want to assassinate in show trials. And I want to say silently and calmly to those who take part in this action that even bigger rogues than their support, Viktor Orbán collapse sooner or later. Their support will also fail and they will then face not a show trial but a great number of fair parliamentary and non-parliamentary proceedings where, after reviewing all papers and all letters, in my hope, it will be proved to the country that today, people are being damaged and bemired in an inhuman, unacceptable proceeding for, even unconcealed, political interests, just in order to smear their political rivals. Those who take part in this action do not simply break the law but are similar rogues as their support.
Hungary became isolated: it fawns upon Central-Asian despots
“Meanwhile, Hungary has become isolated. The country that was, erstwhile, the most European one in this region, today, has an eye to the East. It seeks friends in Baku rather than in Berlin or London. It unscrupulously allows an axe murderer to leave the country and fawns upon Central-Asian despots. Unfortunately, in this situation, in this world, an honest Hungarian democrat should be ashamed of his government rather than his country. We need to admit that we are ashamed of this government and our shame is strong enough that we do not want to live together with it. The country sank to knees, most of the Hungarian citizens lost all of their hopes and feel themselves in a hopeless situation”.
I have seen, how it is when the disappointed right-wing crowd rampages
“To conclude, it would be high time to defeat this government. In 2002 and 2006, I was among those who defeated Fidesz, defeated Viktor Orbán. Even under these experiences I have to say to you that, what we are doing now, where we are now, it will not be enough for the victory and what is at least similarly important, it will not be enough for successful governance. Let me start with the latter, in just 2 or 3 sentences. My friend, the evangelistic pastor Gábor Iványi said a few weeks ago that it was worth ridding ourselves of evil, if only for a moment. It was not an evangelical citation but referred to this government stating that it is worth winning even if the government to be set up as a result of this victory would not be able to govern for a long time. Such a sentence from a gospeller is nice. But from a politician, it is, in my opinion, unacceptable. However, every man shall stick to his trade. We must understand that, in case a multi-coloured coalition government, backed by a small majority, needs to govern within the current constitutional frames, surrounded by party soldiers appointed to the top of agencies that shall be independent from the government, while the country will be in an adverse condition, then we must worry about this government very much that it won’t be able to put in the forthcoming 4 years. I lead a stronger government than that after 2006. I have seen how it is when the disappointed right-wing crowd rampages. I have already seen how it is when, not the whole but part of the state apparatus acts against its government. I can imagine how it is, when everybody, from the president of the central bank to the public prosecutor, from the head of the competition authority to the president of the media authority – and now, I discontinue listing – endeavours to upset the government.”