Peace March

No end to the saga of the Hungarian corruption scandal

The reverberations from the news that six Hungarian citizens are not welcome in the United States don’t seem to subside. The perpetuation of the verbal battle is fueled mostly by the Hungarian side. Some of the attacks come straight from politicians, others from the accused and from so-called “civil groups” that are strong supporters of the Orbán government and operate most likely with generous financial assistance from the public purse.

These latter two sources cannot be taken terribly seriously, and in fact as time goes by their originally very loud voices have quieted down somewhat. The most spectacular retreat came from Ildikó Vida, the president of NAV, the Hungarian tax authority, and her lawyer, Barnabás Futó. As one blogger noted, when Barnabás Futó stands next to someone close to Fidesz, that person is in trouble. Futó seems to be rather good at pettifoggery at home, but he is at sea when it comes to international law. Initially he had ambitious plans for getting satisfaction for his client. Since Vida was told by M. André Goodfriend that she can ask for a visa and, if her request is rejected, she might be able to get information about the nature of the charges against her, Futó decided to do just that. Moreover, while he was at it, he contemplated suing the American chargé. Soon enough someone must have told him that members of the diplomatic corps have immunity and that his dreams of his client having her day in court were illusory. He gave up on his plan to sue. And, upon reflection, Vida decided that, after all, she did not want to know any of the details of her alleged wrongdoing and that therefore she will not apply for an American visa.

The other thread in the continuing saga is the Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF), an unofficial arm of the government that has helped bolster the popularity of the government. They were the ones who organized the first Békement (Peace March), which was supposed to defend the beleaguered Viktor Orbán against a dark international conspiracy that wanted to remove him from his post during the winter of 2011-12. Ever since the American revelations, the leaders of CÖF, people belonging to the extreme right wing of Fidesz, have been itching to march out again, this time against the United States. However, their beloved leader, to their great regret, held them back.

CÖF’s spokesman, Zoltán Lomnici, Jr, son of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court and a lawyer himself, shows such ignorance of the law that it is simply staggering. He and “Futó Barnabás,” to whom I gave the nickname “futóbolond” (lunatic at large), bring shame to the Hungarian legal profession. Here is Lomnici’s argument: the American chargé is a foreign national who, as can be attested by pictures and videos taken of him, left the embassy of the United States and therefore stepped on Hungarian soil. According to Hungarian law, if he knew of corruption he was supposed to press charges and provide proof of corruption. Since he neglected to do so, he could be sentenced to three years in jail. Obviously our star lawyer hasn’t heard of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961). I suggest that Futó and Lomnici study the document, which clearly states that “Diplomats must not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. They are immune from civil or criminal prosecution.” Let’s hope that the text is available in Hungarian because Futó at least does not know any English. Today the organizers of the Peace Marches officially announced that for the time being they will not gather the troops.

Politicians have not shown the same restraint. A few days ago Antal Rogán, the whip of the Fidesz parliamentary caucus, called Goodfriend a liar and announced that Hungary is a country of law, unlike the United States. “We all must declare that Hungary is not Guantánamo, here nobody can be accused without proof.” Rogán’s attack on the United States is most likely part of the game plan dictated from above because not long before Róbert Répássy, undersecretary of the ministry of justice, said exactly the same thing.

Calling everybody a liar who criticizes the Hungarian government is a Fidesz specialty. Diplomats, on the whole, at least in civilized countries, don’t call their foreign colleagues liars. But Hungary’s new foreign minister has no such compunctions. In an interview with Magyar Nemzet he said that “to accuse us of not conforming to the European legal system is a gross lie (orbitális hazugság).” In response to Szijjártó’s charge, the U.S. Embassy in Budapest released a statement today that included the following sentences: “As Charge d’affaires Goodfriend has said, the United States has consistently conveyed our concerns to the Hungarian government about developments that harm the health of democratic institutions, civil society, and media freedom in Hungary – including concerns about corruption,” and “the Embassy remains in close contact with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We will continue to conduct a constructive, diplomatic dialogue with Hungary on all issues across the broad spectrum of U.S.-Hungarian engagement.” In brief, the United States will not stop its current policy of defending civil society, media freedom, and civil liberties. It will also pursue its fight against corruption.

In addition, today new information reached the public concerning the background of the American ban. The Demokratikus Koalíció, the party that seems to have good connections with the Hungarian foreign ministry where there are many disgruntled employees, learned that a week ago the American embassy did give some information to the Hungarians. Today Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy, a DK politician, made that information public at a press conference. At this point the foreign ministry decided to fess up: yes, they received something, but it was only a “scrap of paper” (fecni) that cannot be taken seriously. However, a few hours later the ministry made the document public.

Undersecretary Levente Magyar waving "the scrap of paper" from the U.S. Embassy

Undersecretary Levente Magyar waving “the scrap of paper” from the U.S. Embassy

The two-page note describes the history of the numerous encounters between the embassy and the government of Hungary since February 2012. From October 2013 on, the American complaints multiplied. They had meetings with the “criminal directorate of the tax and customs office (NAV) on specific concerns about agricultural VAT fraud and tobacco nationalization.” A few months later the Americans were back at the “criminal directorate” but noticed “no evidence of action” on the part of NAV. In January 2014 the Americans had a meeting with the ministry of justice and public administration and they raised issues of VAT fraud, “institutionalized corruption, whistleblower protections, and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).” The whole list of complaints can be found on the foreign ministry’s website as well as in an article published on the subject by Index.

In brief, there were numerous complaints, and the Hungarian authorities refused to investigate. It is also clear from the document that the American authorities were fully aware that corruption is “institutionalized” in Hungary, yet the last word from NAV was that there were “no auditing complaints” and therefore the “Criminal Directorate … was unable to act.” Goodfriend  noted that “NAV’s specialized auditing unit created expressly to investigate trans-border VAT fraud … was systematically undermined and then disbanded.”

It looks to me, and obviously it was evident to the head of the American mission, that not only was no effort made to investigate but that the top leaders at NAV were doing everything in their power to make sure that corrupt activities could be continued undetected.

According to Levente Magyar, undersecretary of the ministry of foreign affairs and trade, this “scrap of paper” cannot be taken seriously. Why not? Because there is no date, no authentication, and above all, no seal. “Missing formal requirement” is a favorite excuse of Hungarian authorities.

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Viktor Orbán is not only illiterate when it comes to computers. What about diplomacy?

As you know, I was contemplating writing something about the internet tax, but I felt I had to deal with the further reverberations of Hungary’s shaky relations with the U.S. Now, it seems, the two topics have converged with M. André Goodfriend’s appearance at the demonstration last night.

So, let’s start with the demonstration itself. I considered the crowd very large, especially in comparison to similar gatherings when the issues were purely political. Abstract concepts don’t move crowds in Hungary. The reason might be the low level of political culture and sophistication, the lack of a sustained democratic past, and perhaps even the sinking living standards that force people to concentrate on sheer survival.

I watched the entire demonstration and was impressed with Balázs Gulyás, the organizer and speaker. Although he tried to keep the focus on a single issue, the internet tax, it was clear from the first moment that the demonstration was much more than that. It was a rejection of the kind of life Viktor Orbán and his minions are offering Hungarians, especially young people. I especially liked a phrase in Gulyás’s speech–“we only turned the clock back, not the century”–referring to going off Daylight Savings Time the night before. The demonstrators obviously knew full well that the internet tax is just a symptom of the many anti-modern moves that make the Orbán regime a retrograde construct that can only lead the country to disaster. We are already pretty close.

Another welcome feature of the demonstration was a healthy mix of the young, middle-aged, and old. Yes, I know that young people are not interested in politics, and I wish this weren’t the case, but one must face facts. Unfortunately, by and large this is the situation all over the world. But those young people who went out yesterday realize that this government does not serve their needs. They consider Viktor Orbán a man of the past, an old fuddy-dud who is computer illiterate. Someone who is never seen with a smart phone. Someone who “cannot send an e-mail.” The boys–as longstanding acquaintances call the Fidesz founders–are looking old and tired. Although Orbán is only 50, he is “not with it.” Something happened to these young revolutionaries of the 1980s over the last twenty years. Time has left them behind, and they want to foist their outdated ideas and outlook on life on the new generation.

Balázs Gulyás is telling the truth: not a computer in sight

Balázs Gulyás is telling the truth: not a computer in sight

On the other hand, the American chargé d’affaires, André Goodfriend, seemed to be very much with it as he stood in the crowd with a backpack. As he said in one of his many recent interviews, he spends a great deal of time on the streets of Budapest. A planned demonstration on the internet tax was certainly something he thought he ought to see in person. I’m also sure that he has the State Department’s backing for both his appearances at demonstrations and his presence on Twitter. There a so-called conversation developed between the American chargé and Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary for international communication. I find Kovács unsuited for the job he holds, but perhaps it is fitting that such a man represents the Orbán government abroad. He is a perfect embodiment of this aggressive, crude regime.

Here are a couple of tweets, starting with

Goodfriend:

            “Interesting to see the nature of crowds in Budapest. Internet tax march seemed large & orderly w/good police support.” Then later: “Seeing the news reports of vandalism during the march as well, which I condemn. Not as orderly as it seemed where I stood.”

Kovács:

            “Checkin’ the mood, André?! @a demonstration organized by MSZP and liberals’?! As Chargé d’Affaires? Interesting, Eh?”

Goodfriend:

            “Absolutely. I’ve also checked the mood at the Peace Marches, and at numerous other events organized in Hungary.”

Kovács:

            “Are you sure that’s the wisest thing in this histerically stirred-up atmosphere while you vindicate to be a key actor? Eh?!”

Goodfriend:

            “There’s always a choice between hiding away, & getting out to see what’s happening. I try to hear the full range of perspectives.”

Kovács:

            “Sure ‘hearing’ and influencing does make a large difference.”

Goodfriend:

            “When I want to influence, I speak. Otherwise, I’m listening. Sometimes there’s not enough listening.”

Kovács:

            “That we’ve learned through the past couple of days. Sometimes there’s too much ‘demonstration.'”

Goodfriend:

            “So, now is the time to draw lessons from the discussion, and follow words with constructive, meaningful deeds.”

Kovács:

            “Surely, giving an ultimatum by demonstrators to a govt is no ground for constructivity. Good luck with friends like that…”

Goodfriend:

            “Some people see ‘ultimatum’ others see a proposition awaiting response as part of dialog. Constructive part may be the response.”

An extraordinary exchange in which Zoltán Kovács showed his true colors and the baseness of his discourse.

Meanwhile the likes of Kovács, András Bencsik, and other organizers of the Peace Marches were ready to call their 100,000 followers to defend their leader because the United States may prepare a coup against Orbán just as it did in Ukraine, they claimed. Apparently they were told to cool it because it might be taken as a sign of weakness of the all-powerful prime minister. Just as they were told to scrap a planned demonstration on behalf of the poor Russians suffering under the yoke of sanctions.

But the volume was turned up by members of the government. László Kövér last night on HírTV talked about a verbal cold war and warned the West that further criticism of Hungary might change the positive picture Hungarians have of the United States and Western Europe. He also tried to explain away Hungary’s isolation by saying that Hungary has so few friends because this is the “nature of politics.” And naturally he did not forget about the NGOs that serve foreign interests.

At the same time there are a few voices warning the government that its relations with the United States have reached a dangerous juncture. Péter Boross, prime minister for a few months in 1993-1994, came out with this observation: “The European Union and the European Parliament are terrains where the government and the prime minister can defend their actions. But the United States is different. The United States is a great power and I would not suggest getting into an argument with her. That can be dangerous for Hungary.”

Others share Boross’s view. An opinion piece in HVG was entitled “The country that came into the cold.” In another, which appeared in privatbanker.hu, a journalist is convinced that “the ice is cracking under our feet” and that Hungary’s relations with the West are shattered at their very foundations. Even in the pro-Fidesz Válasz an editorial warned that it is not a smart thing to irritate the lion. The writer found it outlandish that Tamás Deutsch, one of the veteran politicians of Fidesz and a member of the European Parliament, called André Goodfriend a fifth-rate CIA agent. The author also found Kovács’s tweets to the chargé unfortunate. Such a communication style might be acceptable in Syria and Iran, he said, but these countries do not claim to be allies and friends of the United States.

More about this topic tomorrow.

Attack on the United States and friendship with “tolerant” Russia

Don’t think that the Hungarian government’s attack on the incoming American ambassador is independent of the Hungarian-Russian deal on the Paks power plant. Oh no, both have a great deal to do with the Hungarian government’s continuing war of independence. The newest ally in this fight is the “tolerant” and democratic Russia under Vladimir Putin. At least this is what András Bencsik, one of the organizers of the Peace Marches that demonstrated against the European Union, thinks.

If you think that I’m joking, you are wrong. Serious efforts are being made by Fidesz-Jobbik supporters  to recreate the old Soviet/Russian friendship from which twenty-three years ago Hungarians were happy to escape. The Fidesz-Jobbik label is not a mistake on my part. I consider Zsolt Bayer, András Bencsik, Gábor Széles and others involved in the Peace March movement outright anti-Semite neo-Nazis. And yes, they are supporters of the present government. The two are not mutually exclusive alternatives.

It all started with the letter addressed to Colleen Bell, the U.S. ambassador designate, who was accused by Gergely Gulyás, an influential member of Fidesz and an MP, of representing the interests of the Hungarian opposition. She was told in no uncertain terms that the Hungarian people will not stand for the tutelage of a foreign power. There is even talk of dragging the new ambassador before a parliamentary committee investigating American illegal spying on Hungarian politicians, including perhaps Viktor Orbán.

Of course, we all know that Gergely Gulyás would never dare to make such a frontal attack on the United States on his own. There is no question in my mind that a vicious anti-American propaganda is under way which might be connected to the forthcoming election as well as the possible domestic opposition to the Russian-Hungarian deal on Paks. In any case, the innocent victim of the political and diplomatic game will be Colleen Bell, who has not the foggiest idea what is waiting for her. I suspect she will soon be sorry that she ever had ambassadorial ambitions.

As soon as Gulyás set the tone, everybody on the right felt free to join the offensive. Even our “moderate” János Martonyi decided to line up and move Hungary’s attack against the United States abroad. He gave an interview to the Budapest correspondent of The Wall Street Journal in which he “urged the incoming U.S. ambassador to Budapest to stay independent in her judgment after Colleen Bradley Bell voiced concerns about the state of checks and balances in Hungary and independence of some of the country’s institutions.”

Naturally, Martonyi is more diplomatic than the far-right-wing Fidesz supporters like András Bencsik who feel just as comfortable in Jobbik’s Hungarian Guard as in Fidesz (and earlier, in the case of Bencsik, in communist circles). Bencsik is a man of action. This morning he wrote a short piece on Facebook in which he announced his plans to organize another Peace March, not surprisingly a week before the election, on March 29. Of course, one goal is to fire up the core Fidesz electorate. But it will be a demonstration against the United States “which takes up the role of the Soviet Union. It doesn’t send ambassadors but arrogant regional governors, instructors, commissars to the subjugated country whose job is to relay tidbits of the ideas of the enslaved people to the heart of the empire. Their job is to force these primitive people to lead a prescribed life: ‘checks and balances and marijuana.'” The last refers to President Obama’s views on the legalization of marijuana. “In comparison Russia is the home of tolerance.”

Bencsik in this Facebook note interprets “checks and balances” as some kind of geopolitical balance that was, for example, practiced by the princes of Transylvania who maneuvered  between the Ottoman and the Habsburg Empires. With closer relations with Russia, Bencsik argues, Hungary can have a larger role to play in foreign affairs and will thus receive greater independence. Of course, not everybody will be happy with this new Russian-Hungarian friendship, just as Izsák Schulhof mourned the departure of the Turks from Buda. What? Who is this Schulhof? Bencsik, an anti-Semite, naturally found his anti-Hungarian Jew who allegedly mourned the departure of the escaping Turks from Buda in 1686. As usual, the story is not accurate. A friend of mine sent me a link to a letter of a historian of the Budapest Historical Museum which sets the story straight. It seems that these anti-Semites manage to find some usually untrue story to depict Jews as historically against the Hungarian nation. The implication of Bencsik’s reference to Schulhof is that only Jews complain about the foreign policy of Viktor Orbán which otherwise gives greater leeway for diplomatic maneuvering and therefore is beneficial to Hungary.

paks1

paks2

Some Hungarian weeklies had fantastic covers depicting this new love affair between Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin. András Bencsik’s Magyar Demokrata, on the other hand, decided to feature the new “museum quarter” in the heart of Budapest.

Heti Válasz opted for word play on “pax vobiscum” from the Catholic mass,  meaning “peace be with you,” while Figyelő talked about “atomic power.” HVG reminded its readers of the “Eastern bloc.” I especially like Magyar Narancs’s “The country is on Putin’s hook.” The pictures appeared on 444.hu.

András Bruck’s new encounter with George Orwell’s 1984

Before the holidays I wrote two posts dealing with different interpretations of the system Viktor Orbán established in Hungary in the last three and a half years. Now I offer yet another analysis, this time by András Bruck. It appeared only a week ago in Élet és Irodalom.  Bruck is one of the most astute, and most radical, observers of Hungarian political life. His conclusion is that all those on the left who claim that Hungary is still “a kind of democracy” are kidding themselves. Bruck makes no bones about it: he considers Orbán’s Hungary a dictatorship pure and simple. His essay, which I summarize here, deals with the similarities between George Orwell’s nightmarish Nineteen Eighty-four and Orbán’s Hungary today.

Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-four were on the list of forbidden books in Hungary until the mid-1980s, but a few people did manage to get copies already in the 1960s. I personally received requests from friends to bring them along in either 1967 or 1968. It seems that Bruck managed to get hold of a copy only sometime in the early 1980s. He was disappointed. The book was about “a different bad world” from the one in which he lived. While making love he felt neither fear nor hatred. He didn’t consider the three famous slogans of Ingsoc, WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH appropriate for Kádár’s Hungary.

This spring he found his copy of Nineteen Eighty-four in the bottom of a box: “it lay there like a skeleton but this time the dead came to life.” Bruck reached the conclusion that “every word of that book from the first to the last is about this sick, deformed regime in which, just like in the novel, the binding agent of power is lying.” Everything  means the opposite of what it is officially called. The Manifesto of National Cooperation is the document of national division; the Peace March is actually a battle march, just as in Orwell’s book the Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war. The leaders of these marches are the messengers of hatred, men like Gábor Széles, Zsolt Bayer, and András Bencsik.

Today’s government party has its own Emmanuel Goldstein–Ferenc Gyurcsány, the number one enemy of the people whom it is a patriotic duty to hate. Many of those who are the loudest in his condemnation know nothing about him just as Julia, Winston’s lover, doesn’t have the foggiest idea who Goldstein was.

In Orbán’s Hungary words have lost their meaning. In his world “Hungarian ownership” actually means handing property, factories, land to his own family, friends, and minions. To be national and Hungarian means to agree with his and his government’s decisions. If he says that Hungary’s economy is the most competitive in the region, it means that the country is sliding downward. When he says that everybody in Europe is envious of us this means that everybody is horrified at the changes that have taken place in Hungary since 2010.

Orwell 3

Hungarians are often amazed at Orbán’s temerity when they hear that he is capable of saying one thing one day and on the next its exact opposite. But in Orwell’s novel Winston Smith wonders how it is possible that one day the announcement is made that the chocolate ration was reduced to twenty grams and the next day people are told that it was raised to twenty grams. “Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it.”

Then, Bruck quotes a few sentences from Nineteen Eighty-four that he finds appropriate:

“If the facts say otherwise then the facts must be altered.”

“The fabulous statistics continued to pour out of the telescreen.”

One “should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It doesn’t matter whether the war is actually happening.”

“To change one’s mind, or even one’s policy, is a confession of weakness.”

“The proles are not human beings.”

“The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred.”

Bruck finds all these in Orbán’s system. Even anti-Orbán analysts don’t understand the nature of the system. They simply refuse to acknowledge that there is dictatorship in Hungary. “But if you deny it you must act as if there is democracy or in the worst case it is a mafia state.” After the disgraceful speech Orbán delivered on October 23 in which “he tossed half the nation in front of a coming train” left-wing analysts on ATV had barely anything to say. “They analyzed. They know and declare that there is no morality and decency in the world of politics and if cannibalism would bring votes then it is the good politician who would chew half an arm right there in the studio.”

Winston Smith, although well versed in the system of Ingsoc, understood how the regime operated but “he didn’t understand why.” In Hungary the left-wing intellectual elite, very much like Smith, can’t understand why Orbán hamstrings the schools, why he drains all the assets of the banks, why he creates hatred, why he makes the lives of the poor even more miserable, why he appoints all those half-wits to important jobs, why he isolates his country, why he turns to the dictators of the tundra, why he wants to see his political opponents in jail, why he takes others’ money, in brief why he is behaving like a dictator. Surely, Bruck continues, all this is not done only to let the mafia state move money more easily from one oligarch to the next. Was all this barbarity introduced only to make it easy for one company to get all the tenders offered by the state? Clearly, Bruck doesn’t believe in the theory of the mafia state.

The answer to Smith’s question about the “why” of the Orwellian state comes from O’Brien: “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.” Bruck here says, “At last! Someone at last said it. In the depth of my soul I wished for such a sentence. So besides the sheer wanting of power, besides the psychology of the totalitarian mind, there is nothing else…. there is no ideology, no vision, no ideas about the future.”

In order for a dictatorship to function one needs consciously created ignorance, which goes together with the falsification of history. According to Bruck, Orbán and Fidesz began by falsifying the history of the first twenty years that followed the regime change. Then they rewrote the history of 1944, and on October 23 they began the falsification of the history of ’56. Winston Smith says in 1984 that “if the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened–that, surely, was  more terrifying than mere torture and death.” Or later: “And if all others accepted the  lie which the Party imposed–if all records told the same tale–then the lie passed into history and became truth.” After all, Bruck adds, a new historical institute is already planned whose name will be Veritas. Perhaps in a better future it can more appropriately be called the Institute of Mendacity. “What else is waiting for us? A few more years and we won the battle of the Don. And not one Jew was deported because the governor didn’t allow it…. Not even the present is taboo anymore. Only recently the prime minister announced that there was no revolution in 2010 when he himself earlier said that there was one, which was endorsed by parliament.” O’Brien has something to say about this also: “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

Bruck bitterly concludes his essay with these words. “So, luckily we don’t have to worry because the prime minister himself denies that there was a revolution in Hungary while the whole Hungarian left denies the existence of dictatorship. So, it seems all is well.”

Reading the “conservative” Magyar Demokrata

A few weeks ago a friend of mine made a quick visit to Hungary and bought some magazines for me–Élet és Irodalom, 168 Óra, Magyar Narancs, HVG, Heti Válasz, and Magyar Demokrata. For those who are not familiar with the political orientation of these magazines, the last two are to the right while the others are to the left of center. Heti Válasz, begun on government money supplied by the first Fidesz government, is the more moderate of the two on the right. Magyar Demokrata, whose editor-in-chief is András Bencsik, one of the organizers of the Peace Marches who also had a hand in the organization of the Hungarian Guard, is a far-right publication known for its anti-Semitic references.

Quickly enough I read all the magazines, with the notable exception of Magyar Demokrata. I kept postponing reading it until this morning when I had a routine doctor’s appointment. Knowing that I invariably have to wait a long time before seeing my doctor, I decided to take along Magyar Demokrata. Let me share some of its content.

József Szájer graces the cover because the issue features a long interview with him about the attacks against the new Hungarian constitution (more below).

András Bencsik, who writes a short op/ed piece in every issue, promises that “the Peace March will continue,” although this time on the Internet. He asks supporters of the Hungarian government to send letters to foreign journalists, politicians, and representatives of civic organizations with the message of Hungarians who feel that their country is being attacked for no good reason. “The truth of a nation is like the blinding sunshine that sends light through the fog of lies.”

Magyar DemokrataAs for the Szájer interview, he and other members of the Hungarian government have repeated often enough that there is absolutely no basis for criticism of the constitution or its amendments. But here he goes further. “As far as sovereignty is concerned, I told members of the Venice Commission it is not the president of the United States, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, or the president of the European Commission who has the right to adopt Hungary’s Basic Laws.” They will listen to suggestions but they “will not accept that instead of the members of the Hungarian parliament who were democratically elected others want to decide what is in our constitution.” Hungarians who were dependent on foreign powers during the last five hundred years are very sensitive on that issue. “We don’t like it when Comrade Brezhnev tells us what to do. Our current partners must be very careful on this score because otherwise very bad historical parallels might be conjured up.” Otherwise, Szájer couldn’t come up with anything new about the possible causes of western antipathy toward Hungary.

Another article entitled “The Secret” is by Gábor Bencsik, a nephew of András Bencsik who is a Jack of all trades. He’s written about onions as well as Miklós Horthy. He styles himself as a newspaperman and historian and is a proud graduate of Gödöllő, Hungary’s foremost agricultural school. In this piece he tries to discover why liberal intellectuals have such good connections abroad while their right-wing counterparts don’t. The left-liberal intellectual elite in the West was ready to overlook the shortcomings of the Kádár regime but sympathized with the democratic opposition of the liberals. They understood each other’s  language. The right-of-center opposition never developed a close-knit group. They did have a few meetings but then they went home. And they had no connections abroad.

Well, this is a somewhat distorted view of what happened. The sad fact is that there was no right-of-center opposition to the Kádár regime, and therefore it didn’t even occur to the few people who could perhaps be labelled “narodnik” writers to get in touch with western critics of the socialist order in Eastern Europe. Moreover, let’s face it, most of these people were isolated even linguistically. A friend of mine who lives in California told me that he was flabbergasted when he found out that the poet Sándor Csoóri spoke no language other than Hungarian. My friend served as his interpreter when he was in in this country. Well, under such circumstances it is difficult to develop a network with western supporters. Bencsik admits that the Hungarian right still has no avenues that would lead to foreign contacts but “there is hope.” Time will solve the problem; the liberals will get older and eventually die.

Up to this point the tone of the magazine was acceptable. One might not agree with Bencsik and Szájer, but one cannot criticize them for using unacceptable language or expressing racial prejudice. Another op/ed piece by László Gy. Tóth, a political scientist and chief adviser to the prime minister, however, borders on the unacceptable. It is about “Gyula Horn and History.” Here Tóth uses words that are especially objectionable from a so-called political scientist who is an adviser to Viktor Orbán. The article, which is basically a book review, looks at a biography of Gyula Horn by Árpád Pünkösti. First, Tóth describes Pünkösti as “a not too significant left-wing journalist” who tries to make an important politician out of Gyula Horn when in his opinion Horn was no more than “an uneducated communist apparatchik [and] the greatest socialist wordsmith of nothingness.” Horn is described as an immoral and unscrupulous politician who sold Hungarian national wealth to foreigners. This one-sided portrayal is jarring and demonstrates the author’s incredible bias.

When we come to István Gazdag’s article entitled “Red Danny and the Children,” Magyar Demokrata’s anti-Semitism surfaces. Gazdag goes into great detail about Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s sexual aberrations and comes to the conclusion that, although child molestation is a serious crime everywhere in Europe, most likely Cohn-Bendit will not have to worry about jail time because his fellow politicians, including Angela Merkel, will shield him. After all, most likely nothing will happen to Dominique Strauss-Kahn as nothing happened to Roman Polanski. Continuing in an ironic tone, Gazdag writes: “Only a vicious anti-Semite could possibly think that all this has anything to do with their belonging to ‘that nonexistent lobby‘. Naturally, such a claim is without any foundation. Honni soit qui mal y pense.”

Maiming the Hungarian constitution: Is the Orbán government willing to pay the price?

While opposition politicians are unable to agree on any meaningful joint action and the so-called intellectual class is deeply divided, the Orbán government is merrily proceeding with its plans to rewrite the new constitution. According to constitutional experts, if the latest amendments are voted into law Hungary will be without a valid constitution.

There was only one group that was ready to take things into their own hands. They decided to engage in civil disobedience. Since ordinary opposition gatherings are not even reported in the public media, tightly controlled by the government, they decided to do something that was guaranteed to get media coverage. They climbed a fence and settled in the courtyard of the Fidesz party headquarters. There they sat  for ten hours and repeated a few slogans. Mostly: “Constitution, Freedom” and “We protest the destruction of the constitutional system of the Hungarian Republic.”

The organizers of the Peace March, András Bencsik and Zsolt Bayer, immediately counterattacked. On Facebook they called on their followers to come and teach a thing or two to these little “Bolsheviks.” And they arrived. Someone described “the fruitful political dialogue” this way:

Youngsters: “We protest the destruction of the constitutional system of the Hungarian Republic.” And here are some of the answers from “the peace guardists”: “Do you want to have some acid in your face?” “Get lost and work!” “I’ll slap you on the face, you rat!” “Rotten, lousy communist stooge!” “Go to Moscow!” “Filthy f…ing Jews!” “Stupid fag!” “Come on out, if you dare, you little queers!”  That will give you an idea about the Fidesz fans who gathered in the name of Christian love and peace.

Here is our gentleman who threatened a young man with acid:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpR87Bjqe2M

Perhaps the officials inside the building no longer trust the police because they were ordered to retire after a while. “Volunteers”  arrived to save the building and those inside it from the peaceful demonstrators. Most of them came from the notorious Fradi (Ferencváros) fan club. One of the volunteers spent ten years in jail for murder and now serves as a “coordinator” for the fan club. The football hooligans physically tried to remove the protesters. Eventually the demonstrators left on their own but not before some of them climbed a wall and positioned themselves on a balcony. The clever student leaders began reciting Fidesz’s 1989 party program which was full of liberal demands. The counter-protesters naturally had no idea that what they were screaming at was really Victor Orbán, their idol.

Older women were especially vocal. They simply couldn’t understand what the protesters were complaining about. How can they be dissatisfied when at last the country has a “good government”? One woman, obviously a pensioner, claimed that it is her money that these students are wasting.

One really has to be deaf and blind to claim that the small crowd that gathered in the courtyard of the Fidesz headquarters was “rabble” as Péter Boros, prime minister of Hungary for a few months after József Antall’s death in 1993-1994, did. Interestingly enough, he had nothing to say about the behavior of the counter-protesters. One can get a vivid picture of the Fidesz crowd by watching this video:

But perhaps the most shocking and most telling example of the mindset of the peace marchers and Orbán supporters is a very professionally executed banner. On it one can see practically all the important MSZP politicians in addition to Ferenc Gyurcsány, Gordon Bajnai, Lajos Bokros, and András Simor. The banner reads: “The nation is in mourning! It suffers from the presence of traitors.”  In Hungarian it has even more punch: “Gyászol a nemzet! Hazaárulóktól szenved!”  Just think about this horrendous statement. I don’t know whether the people actually know what they are saying, because from this banner it is clear that what they want is a one-party system. The opposition has no right to exist. In fact, they should be eliminated as traitors used to be. Perhaps hanged.

The nation is in mourning! It is suffering from the presence of traitors / Népszabadság Árpád Kurucz

The nation is in mourning! It is suffering from the presence of traitors / Népszabadság Árpád Kurucz

Yesterday’s protest was laudable in many ways. Take, for instance, the poise and dignity of the protesters. As you can see on the video, the young man didn’t lose his cool despite repeated physical and verbal abuse. Second, their protest lasted over ten hours. At the beginning they were alone, but once word got out about the gathering others joined them. By the time the demonstrators decided to walk over to the building of the Constitutional Court their numbers had swelled to about 1,000. By contrast, the counter-demonstrators got tired of screaming and their numbers decreased fairly rapidly.

The football hooligans of Gábor Kubatov’s Ferencváros football team, I think we can now say with conviction, are in the employ of Fidesz. Not necessarily in the sense of having paid positions but in being ready to assist “their party”  if necessary. Certainly, someone from the building called on them. One can’t help thinking of the storming of the public television station by Fradi football hooligans.

And finally, the protesters are determined to continue their fight for democracy, the constitution, and the rule of law. Moreover, they seem to have realized that without parties they cannot be successful. At their next demonstration tomorrow parties are welcome.

And, in a critical turn of events, the European Union and the Council of Europe are also waking up to the harsh reality in Hungary. I already wrote about German Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Michael Link’s warning letter in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung a few days ago. I was sure at that time that something was brewing in Germany. And, indeed, today ” in a statement reflecting deep seated anxiety at the direction Orbán is taking Hungary, Germany and three other EU countries called for Brussels to be given new power allowing it to freeze EU budget funds to a member state in breach of Europe’s ‘fundamental values.'” The three other countries are the Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland. Since then we found out from the spokesman of the European Commission that José Manuel Barroso phoned Viktor Orbán this morning and warned the Hungarian prime minister that the proposed changes in the Hungarian constitution are not only incompatible with the rule of law but also might violate laws of the European Union. Following the conversation Barroso sent a letter in which he summarized the points he made during the telephone conversation.

I should also mention that today we learned that President János Ader will be in Berlin on Monday and Tuesday next week. On Monday he will meet President Joachim Gauck. Tuesday his first trip will be to Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle followed by a conversation with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Some might say that this trip was arranged some time ago and has nothing to do with the current brouhaha over the Hungarian constitution. Perhaps, but I find it odd that the president of Hungary has an appointment with the German foreign minister. I doubt that this is normal protocol. My hunch is that although the trip might have been arranged earlier, the meeting with Westerwelle was added only recently. But this is only a guess on my part.