Párbeszéd Magyarországért

A new political bomb: Did the Gyurcsány government spy on Fidesz politicians?

I’m in a real quandary.  Someone complained that I didn’t mention the very successful Walk for Life on Sunday while somebody else suggested that I should say something about the case of Miklós Hagyó, former deputy mayor of Budapest who went all the way to the European Court of Justice about what he considered to be his illegal detention for nine months without being charged.

But in addition to these two topics there are others that should have been talked about. For example, the anti-Semitic Patriotic Bikers whose ride across Budapest took place even though they had been forbidden to do so by the police at the instruction of Viktor Orbán. Or, that an amendment to the law was passed that forbids the use of symbols associated with right or left dictatorships. And there are the latest Eurostat figures that show that Hungary’s deficit is lower than anyone expected. It is 1.9%!

However important and interesting these topics are, I think I ought to write about the so-called Portik-Laborc affair although I’m somewhat handicapped here because I didn’t follow the police investigation of the case of Tamás Portik, a well-known figure in the Budapest underworld. However, I knew that something was afoot in government circles to connect György Szilvásy, former minister without portfolio in charge of national security in the Gyurcsány government, and Sándor Laborc, head of the National Security Office, to Tamás Portik. It was more than a year ago that stories began to float about these two government officials having questionable dealings with a known criminal. I wrote about the story at the time in a post entitled “Another ‘surveillance’ case is being hatched by Fidesz.” It took more than a year, but now the bomb has been dropped.

Magyar Nemzet, which by now can safely be called the official paper of the Orbán government, managed to get hold of an edited transcript of a tape recording of two meetings between Laborc and Portik. According to the article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the paper, Tamás Portik in 2008 was so terribly concerned about Fidesz winning  the election in 2010 that he offered information on Fidesz politicians designed to help MSZP ruin Viktor Orbán’s party. According to Magyar Nemzet,  Portik was allegedly worried that a future Fidesz government would pursue some of his earlier crimes. The article claims that the transcript in the paper’s possession clearly proves that there was “an intimate connection between the Gyurcsány government and the underworld.”  A rather sweeping statement.

Today Magyar Nemzet published excerpts from the two meetings between Portik and Laborc. I should mention here that Szilvásy was told back in 2008 by a third person that Portik would like to get in touch with someone from the National Security Office because he had information about people who might be cause for concern. Szilvásy in turn got in touch with Laborc who pursued the lead. The excerpts Magyar Nemzet decided to publish are hard to follow. Most likely this was the paper’s intent. One doesn’t always know what the subject of the conversations between the two men really is. According to one reading of the text, Portik is offering dirt on certain Fidesz politicians that Laborc gratefully accepts; others view the conversation as an attempt on Laborc’s part to find out about the reliability of the informer.

Since then the text of the excerpts from the transcript has become available. This gives a somewhat clearer picture of what transpired at these two meetings between Laborc and Portik during the summer of 2008. The conversation begins with a discussion of the right-wing influence in the police force which “XXX directs.” Portik claims that the police are badgering him to give them incriminating information about leading member of MSZP. But at the same time he tells Laborc that he delivered cash to MSZP politicians, which might be true but might be merely a stratagem to establish his credibility. Let’s not forget that he is a criminal.

By the second conversation it looks as if cooperation between Portik and Laborc had been sealed. “It’s good that we found each other. Something serious may come of this,” says Laborc. This is followed up by an outline of the points of cooperation. “What interests us most is which politicians, judges, and prosecutors are under whose influence.” And, adds Portik, “perhaps the police.” Laborc agrees. On the surface this sounds fine. Laborc wants to find out about corruption and political influence in government offices. But when in the next sentence there is talk about catching people in a brothel it doesn’t sound so innocent. Laborc here gives the impression that he is trying to find dirt on men in the service of Fidesz.

Eventually Laborc even gave Portik his own secure cell phone number. Portik seemed to be very eager to cooperate because he was certain that he would end up in jail in case Fidesz wins the next election. Laborc interrupted him, saying that it is possible that “they will take me as well.” I assume he was thinking of the UD Zrt. case in which he ordered the monitoring of telephone conversations that included calls between Fidesz politicians and the men running UD Zrt. that was spying on the National Security Office’s activities. He was not far off in his prediction.

All in all, it looks pretty bad. The MSZP leadership seems to be split on the issue. According to Attila Mesterházy, “both the style and the content of the conversations are unacceptable.” On the other hand, Zsolt Molnár, MSZP chairman of the parliamentary committee on national security, who seems to have more information on the case because of his position, claims that Laborc’s conversation with Portik contains nothing that could be considered illegal. He was just doing his job.

Szilvásy pointed out in an interview on Klubrádió that the transcript about whose authenticity we know nothing is being used for political purposes. After all, said Szilvásy, if Laborc considered his conduct illegal he wouldn’t have ordered the conversations to be taped and transcribed. Laborc’s lawyer seems to know that the transcriptions are edited. The transcript of the first conversation, which lasted an hour and a half, took up 41 pages while only 24 pages of the second one, which was two and a half hours long, were published. On his client’s behalf he will demand to see the complete transcript. DK considers the released text “a complete jumble-mumble without names.” I tend to agree. Without the complete text we don’t really know what happened.

The Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM) and LMP both demand setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate the case, but apparently Fidesz is not too eager to oblige. Only they know why.

Advertisements

The LMP parliamentary delegation is no more

A few days ago I wrote a post entitled “Talking heads of Hungary” in which I mentioned that Vera Lánczos, a member of the Galamus Group, called attention to a young political scientist who said that “the sole difference between the two factions [of LMP] is that one of them likes [Gordon] Bajnai while the other doesn’t.” It was a flippant description of what is going on because, after all, the divide between the group led by András Schiffer and the so-called platformists of Benedek Jávor and Tímea Szabó is much deeper than their differing attitudes toward Bajnai. They differ fundamentally on strategy. Or at least this is what it looks like from the outside.

I also predicted–it wasn’t too difficult, mind you–that by the time parliament convenes there will be no LMP parliamentary caucus. Indeed, on Monday  Benedek Jávor will officially inform László Kövér, the speaker of the house, that the eight members of the Párbeszéd Magyarországért (Dialogue for Hungary) will leave the LMP delegation. Since according to house rules a separate delegation needs at least twelve MPs and the Schiffer faction has only seven members, neither group can form a caucus. They will have to sit with the independents, who number fifteen at the moment. With the addition of the present and former LMP members their number will double. It will be an interesting group; it includes former Jobbik members, the left socialist Katalin Szili, and the “independent” Gypsy-hater Oszkár Molnár whom even Fidesz refused to back as the party’s candidate in the 2010 general elections.

The public perception is that the cause of the split is a deep division over the future of Hungary. Most people claim that the platformists’ main concern is the removal of the Orbán government at the earliest possible moment, and to this end they must not follow the road András Schiffer envisages for the party. Schiffer wants to keep some distance from both left and the right. As Katalin Ertsey (LMP MP) said in an interview, as a “green party” LMP is steadfastly in the middle avoiding the right as well as the left and keeping its eyes on what is ahead. Given the new electoral law, critics of Schiffer claim, this strategy only helps Fidesz.

But from the inside it seems that some of the pro-Schiffer members of LMP see the struggle differently. Yesterday Katalin Ertsey described the situation as a simple “power struggle” between Benedek Jávor and his followers and András Schiffer and his group. Ágnes Osztolykán (LMP MP) elaborated on the same point, claiming that the platformists caught the common disease of politicians, a “hunger for power.”

Alone by Fahad-Nasir / Flickr

Alone by Fahad-Nasir / Flickr

These two were joined by Beáta Eszes in an article that appeared in Galamus. She isn’t sure that the Jávor group is at all serious about negotiations with the opposition forces. To bolster her claim she reminds her readers of past utterances of the platformists that contradict their present orientation.

At the time he became LMP’s whip in February 2012, Benedek Jávor vehemently attacked Ferenc Gyurcsány because of the events of September-October 2006. And let’s not forget that Gordon Bajnai was a member of Gyurcsány’s cabinet. Of the three-member LMP caucus in the Budapest City Council two refused to vote against the proposal to strip Ákos Kertész of his honorary citizenship and thus joined with the representatives of Fidesz and Jobbik against Kertész. The still unified LMP decided to bring suit against Ferenc Gyurcsány. Gábor Scheiring and Gergely Karácsony suggested a strategic coalition with Jobbik in order to remove Orbán in 2014. LMP refused to join a demonstration against the Horthy cult, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia because MSZP and DK also took part in the demonstration. Dávid Dorosz engaged in a discussion with a Jobbik MP about “national policies” (nemzetpolitika) on the notorious Echo TV. At the end of the article Eszes points out that while the platformists declared that their group would establish a left-wing party, “the person of Gordon Bajnai is no guarantee of a left-wing, socialist type of government.”

Like Eszes, I also have my reservations about both groups. Yet the claim that the difference of opinion on strategy stems solely from the platformists’ hunger for power doesn’t sound plausible. In fact, by leaving LMP and sitting as independents they lose a lot. They will have less opportunity to speak in the House and will have to give up their seats on parliamentary committees. This means less political influence as well as a financial loss to individual parliamentary members. They are also giving up their share of the state subsidy allotted to parties that from here on will go to Schiffer’s LMP. They’re losing the assistance of fifty-five men and women who have been helping the LMP caucus. So, I don’t see how individual ambitions are being served by this move.

But one thing is sure. If the Párbeszéd Magyarországért Párt (PMP) is serious about forging a united democratic opposition, they cannot continue the strategy that LMP has pursued. Otherwise, the break-up of LMP was a useless exercise that will serve no one.