Róbert Zsigó

The smoking gun? A video of Fidesz money being given to voters in Baja

If this video, available on YouTube, is genuine, Viktor Orbán and Fidesz are in serious trouble. It was again HVG that received the video, I assume a few days ago. Why did they release it only today? I suspect because they wanted to be sure about its authenticity since this 10-minute video is dynamite.

The video records a meeting between four Roma voters and somebody, identified as R. G., who seems to be acting on behalf of Csaba Kovács, the Fidesz candidate in the by-election in Baja, and Róbert Zsigó, mayor of the city and one of the principal spokesmen of Fidesz. R.G. was filling in for the official go-between, Szilveszter Horváth, the head of the local Roma self-government, who was allegedly busy.

R. G. brought along 200,000 forints for the four men as payment for their votes in the first round of the election which eventually had to be repeated. It turned out that these men had been promised 50,000 forints each at the time, but in the end they got only 10,000. So, they were suspicious of R. G. and the promises of Kovács and Zsigó. Cash on the table, however, made them more cooperative. R. G. also promised more money, which he himself was to deliver on Monday right after the repeat election. In addition, the four families were promised firewood. That is, if Kovács wins the election.

HVG sent a copy of the video to Róbert Zsigó’s press secretary with the message that the online news site will release the video today at 1:30 p.m. After the release of the video they did get an e-mail from Zsigó in which he claimed that he doesn’t know any of the people on the video. In his opinion, the video is a fake. He informed HVG that the local Fidesz leadership had already reported to the police that some people had tried to bribe people in Fidesz’s name. But these people had absolutely nothing to do with the party. In brief, the democratic parties staged this phony scene in order to challenge the results of the election that Fidesz won fair and square.

When the Fidesz candidate won the election the second time around, the democratic parties, although they had some proof of fraud, decided not to demand yet another round. The decision was most likely political. The people of Baja had had enough of what some people called an absolute circus and most likely would not have been happy with more of the same. Moreover, it is unlikely that the local Fidesz forces would have behaved any better than before, and losing three times in a row is certainly not good for the image of the anti-Fidesz forces.

Now suddenly they changed their minds. Attila Mesterházy announced that they will ask the court to order another round. Unfortunately, as often happens nowadays, the opposition displayed a blissful ignorance of the electoral law. There is only a very narrow window, I think three days, during which a remedy can be sought by the aggrieved party. They are too late.

There is, however, another avenue: sue Kovács, Zsigó, Szilveszter Horváth, Tibor Ajtai (another Roma leader), and this mysterious R. G. for electoral fraud, a crime that carries a sentence of up to three years in jail. There is, however, a caveat: the law makes no distinction between the one who pays for the vote and the one who accepts money for it. That would mean jail sentences as well for those Gypsies who turned the video over to HVG.

HVG is usually very careful with cases like this one, and I assume that they consulted not only video experts but also their lawyers about the legal status of those who were involved with the recording. One potential defense would be that the Roma voters set a trap for these men in the name of justice. Why else would they have given the video to HVG?

Meanwhile, there is at least one blogger who has some questions about the authenticity of the video. He finds the setup somewhat artificial, as if the man with the camera was waiting for the visitor who begins talking even before he sits down. He considers the telephone call R. G. receives from Csaba Kovács in the middle of the negotiations suspicious. And who is the phantom man whose cell phone is used for the video? Why don’t the people present tell him not to video the exchange? In the final analysis, however, the blogger expresses his belief that HVG is far too professional to claim authenticity without having proof. The blogger predicts that the story “isn’t ending here. On the contrary it’s just begun.”

Fidesz immediately moved. By 5 p.m. today the party went to the police and reported criminal conduct in connection with the by-election. Even earlier they suspected that criminal fraud was being committed by the anti-Fidesz forces when they learned that some unknown people had offered firewood to the voters. Therefore, even before the actual election, they reported their suspicions to the police.

At the same time MSZP also went to the police and demanded an investigation. Csaba Molnár, vice-chairman of DK, handed in a written question to Péter Polt, the chief prosecutor, concerning the case. Benedek Jávor of Együtt-PM predicted that if the video is genuine the scandal through Róbert Zsigó will reach the highest echelons of Fidesz and in this case “it might be Viktor Orbán’s political death sentence.”

Voting fraud in Baja? Most likely

Yesterday there was a by-election in the city of Baja, the hometown of Gordon Bajnai. Baja’s population hasn’t changed much in the last century. It hovers around 35,000. Baja is considered to be a rather conservative city. The last time there was a socialist mayor of the town was in 2002. Since then Fidesz has easily won in the city at the municipal elections. The current mayor of Baja is Róbert Zsigó, who seems to be the latest “star” of Fidesz. Although he has been a member of parliament since 1998, he was pretty much of an unknown quantity until recently when he was picked to be one of the growing number of Fidesz spokesmen.

Baja had to hold a by-election because one of its council members, Tünde Bálint, a lawyer, died. The three most important opposition parties (MSZP, Együtt-PM, and DK) supported a single candidate, Melinda Teket, a young reporter at the local independent television station. With Baja being the hometown of Gordon Bajnai and the town considered to be a stronghold of Fidesz, this particular by-election became something of a test case. Many people thought that if Melinda Teket wins, it will be an indication of what might happen at next year’s election.

So, let’s take a look at the results of past municipal elections in this particular district. The adult population of this district is currently 2,913. Of these only 31.65% cast a ballot this year, which for a by-election is not actually that low a number. In 2010 Tünde Bálint won handily, receiving 58.9% of the votes. The situation was the same in 2006 when the Fidesz candidate got 63% of the votes. In 2002 when an MSZP candidate won the district, he barely squeaked by. He received 309 votes against his Fidesz opponent’s 294 votes.

Csaba Kovács, a close friend of Róbert Zsigó who otherwise works as a security man at the local German-language high school, was Teket’s opponent. In the end he won the election by getting 61 votes more than his opponent. Kovács received 467 votes and Teket 406. The rest went to Jobbik and to LMP.

voting fraud2It is worth taking a closer look at the figures. There were five polling stations. Teket won in three in close contests (184 opposed to 173, 137 as opposed to 133, and 41 as opposed to 28) and lost one with a 21 vote difference. But then there was the fifth (Bokodi út 62) where Teket got 29 votes and Csaba Kovács got 97!  Clearly it was in this district that Teket lost the election.

Együtt 2014-PM already complained to the local election committee on Sunday when one of its activists outside of the Bokodi Street polling station was threatened by two people who told him not to try to observe their activities because he will see what will happen to him. The activist claims that these two people kept bringing voters to the polling station by car. That in itself is illegal according to Hungarian law, but I suspect that this is not the only thing that these Fidesz activists did.

Since then we learned that this particular polling station is in one of the poorest parts of Baja, which is largely Roma inhabited. The leader of the local Roma self-governing body was entrusted with the organization of the voting. Two young fellows transported the voters back and forth. Origo has a short video on which one can hear one of the drivers apologizing for the fact that this is his third trip and he just hopes that this is okay. He is being assured by the Fidesz activists that he can come fifty times if he wants to. While this was going on outside, inside apparently the wife of the head of the local Roma organization kept updating somebody or somebodies who had cast a vote already and who had not.

It is possible that the transportation (and perhaps compensation) of the Gypsy inhabitants of the district was not the only violation of the electoral law. Those who were getting out the vote most likely wanted to make sure that voters were actually casting ballots for the “right” candidate. It seems, according to some reports, that so-called “chain-voting” could take care of that. I’m not 100% sure how this is being done, but I assume it resembles the college tricks of the 1950s when all exams were oral (and when students weren’t graded on a bell curve). Three students were called into the professor’s room to take the exam. Each student was supposed to pick a question written down on a small piece of paper. Each piece of paper had a number. These students pulled not one but two slips of paper and thus could decide which one was more to their liking. The second slip of paper was hidden and taken out to someone in the waiting group who naturally had plenty of time to prepare his answer. The new student pulled a question but gave the number of the smuggled-out question and again hid the one he just pulled. And on it went.

I don’t know what the National Election Committee will do, but I suspect that it will be difficult to ignore the issue. The fraud, however deep it went, seems far too blatant. But quite aside from the possible fraud at this particular polling station, given the past electoral history of the town and this particular district the candidate of MSZP-E14-DK did remarkably well. Especially if one considers the extremely dirty Fidesz campaign.

Fidesz also believed that this election was important and in fact Róbert Zsigó called this election an important indication of whether the horrible socialists can return or not. Well, I guess without the Roma vote most likely they would have. I suspect that even Viktor Orbán feared an MSZP-E14-DK victory because in the last minute he cancelled an appearance in Baja. Most likely it was at that point that the decision was made to give the Fidesz candidate a little extra help.

In a small election a few votes can decide the outcome, and some would argue that a similar fraud couldn’t have a significant impact on a national election. I would argue that this is not true. The number of the parliamentary districts is not all that large and, since 50% plus 1 vote decides who wins, in a close election every vote counts. Therefore, I do hope that the National Electoral Committee will investigate the possible fraud that occurred at this particular polling station.

The price of collecting signatures of the quick and the dead

My initial impression of HVG‘s young editor-in-chief was negative, mainly due to his habit of appearing for TV interviews wearing a baseball cap backwards. But I have since completely revised my opinion of Gábor Gavra. He has turned HVG into a powerhouse of investigative journalism. It was HVG that in the final analysis was responsible for President Pál Schmitt’s resignation. While they were at it, they managed to prove that not was all kosher with the dissertations (yes, plural) of Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, the pious spokesman for the Hungarian Catholic Church. Alas, proof or no proof, Semjén stayed and Schmitt’s replacement, János Áder, is only superficially better than his predecessor.

HVG‘s track record of exposing documented misdeeds encouraged others to come forth. For instance, they broke the story of the allocation of tobacconist shop concessions in Szekszárd where the Fidesz members of the city council determined who among the party faithful should be rewarded. The brave vet who approached HVG with the tape recording has since left the party and, as a result of his disclosure, has been having all sorts of problems in his hometown.

HVG‘s latest revelation deals with the Fidesz petition to lower utility rates. According to the tapes it received, Fidesz paid young high school students who were eager to make some pocket money 100 forints per local signature, 500 forints if the signature came from someone out of town. We know from the article that appeared in HVG yesterday that the editors of the paper have not just one tape but most likely several at their disposal. Moreover, as we know from past experience, Gábor Gavra likes to hold a few pieces of evidence back for later use. So, although right now the evidence points to Dunakeszi and Fót, who knows what else the editorial staff of the paper has up its sleeve?

What we know already is damning enough. The kids didn’t just pound the pavement in their hometowns. It seems they were sent to other localities. The evidence comes from a mother whose underage son began collecting signatures on Friday and didn’t return home until Monday. The worried parents actually informed the police about the disappearance of their son. Surely, if he had been working close to home he would have gone home for the night.

Fidesz collected 2.5 million signatures and paid an unknown sum of money to the students for their efforts. But why would such a signature campaign be needed? Wouldn’t it be a no-brainer for 2.5 million people to support the idea of lowering utility rates? It seems from the tapes, however, that it wasn’t all that easy to collect those signatures. One boy boasts that in two days he managed to collect 102 signatures; another claims that one can make 8,000 forints a day.

The payment per signature might explain the many “mistakes” that came to light once Viktor Orbán sent thank you notes to those who signed his petition. Thousands of people complained that they didn’t sign the petition and still got a letter or that their long deceased relatives were also profusely thanked by the grateful prime minister.

Voting fraud

Róbert Zsigó, one of the many Fidesz spokesmen, immediately came to the rescue, claiming that the signature campaign that HVG described was a purely local initiative. A local politician decided to reward the youngsters “from his own salary.” Sure thing. As the video of Zsigó’s press conference attests, that can’t be the real story because Zsigó himself got confused. First he denied that “we paid” anything, but a second later he said “we paid” (fizettünk). So, did they or didn’t they? I suspect they did, and they did it nationwide.

As soon as the news broke, Tibor Szanyi (MSZP), taking advantage of the situation, expressed his belief that if Fidesz can pay for signatures for utility prices why wouldn’t they do the same at the national election where the stakes are a lot higher? We do have to distinguish the two cases. Payment for collecting signatures is not against law as long as we are talking about adults, although I don’t know the status of payment for collecting phony signatures. Payment for votes, in whatever form that takes–well, that’s something else entirely. And, of course, voter fraud (to mention only three of its possible iterations: vote early and often, resurrect the dead, vote on behalf of those who do not intend to vote) is illegal. Unfortunately, MSZP’s suspicions are not unfounded. A lot of people worry about electoral fraud. Viktor Orbán can’t imagine life without being the prime minister and I’m sure he will do everything in his power to remain in office.

Water and politics: The case of the Roma in Ózd

There are times, though not too often, when Fidesz and the Orbán government retreat and give up positions earlier thought to be sacrosanct. This usually happens when there is a big stink. Not just nationally but internationally. This is what happened with the public faucets in Ózd.

Ózd, a town with a population of 34,000, fell on hard economic times when the heavy metallurgical industry collapsed in the 1990s. Ózdi Kohászatai Üzemek had employed more than 10,000 workers. In 1975 67.3% of the men between the ages of 18 and 65 were gainfully employed. Now the unemployment in Ózd is extremely high. Ózd also has a large Roma population. Officially only 7% of the population declared themselves to be of Roma ethnicity, but according to some estimates one-third of Ózd’s population might be of Gypsy origin.

The Gypsies live in several ghetto-like sections of the town. Most of their houses don’t have running water, so these people must carry  water in buckets from public faucets. Apparently there are 123 faucets that serve about 8,000 people. Some of these people live in areas where city water was never hooked up; others don’t have service because they couldn’t pay their water bill. A family of four or five needs at least 100 liters of water a day and, especially in the areas where a lot of people live without city water, there might be as many as 100 people who use one faucet.

Since the city must provide water to the inhabitants, these people receive their water free of charge. The Fidesz-led town hall found the 13 million forints the city had to pay for the water used on roadsides too high. They claimed that the families living in those parts waste water. They use it for washing cars, watering their gardens, and for the children to splash around in. The city fathers, including the sole MSZP member, voted to restrict access to water at public faucets. They completely closed 28 of the 123 faucets and set the water pressure in another 61 very low to discourage the use of too much water.

There are conflicting claims about how slow these faucets became after the town hired a company to lower the pressure from 100% to 60%. The mayor and other Fidesz officials in town claim that lowering the pressure made little difference. (Then why do it?) One of the city fathers declared that the difference between full pressure and reduced pressure is negligible, but others figured that it now takes at least ten minutes to fill a ten-liter bucket with water. A family of five that needs 100 liters of water a day would have to stand for an hour and a half to fill the requisite number of buckets. The men are not around at this time of the year because they managed to get some seasonal work in agriculture, so it’s mostly women and children who carry these buckets. Ten liters of water is terribly heavy, especially for a skinny eight-year-old whom I saw on one of the photos. And he must make at least ten trips. Sometimes quite far. There are cases where they have to walk at least half a kilometer each way.

The water is barely trickling / Népszabadság Photo by István Konyhás

The water is barely trickling / Népszabadság photo by István Konyhás

It’s easy to blame everything on the Gypsies, but one of the city fathers admitted that it’s not the inhabitants of the “segregatums,” as one journalist called these Gypsy ghettos, who steal the city’s water but owners of weekend places outside of Ózd. They come by car and take away 200-300 liters of water. In fact, 444.hu received an e-mail from someone who called attention to a 2011 Google Earth video of a hose that led from a city faucet to a well appointed house in one of the wealthiest sections in town. You can see it on YouTube:


It was inevitable that the decision of the Ózd City Council would become a national issue. Although the city fathers never mentioned the word “Roma” or “Gypsy,” it became a Roma issue. It couldn’t have been otherwise when it is the Roma population’s neighborhood that is without running water and when it is mostly the dirt poor Roma who can’t pay their water bills.

Opposition politicians were on hand, led by István Nyakó (MSZP) who is from these parts. László Varju (DK) arrived as did Aladár Horváth, a Roma activist. There were all sorts of useless negotiations between Nyakó and Pál Fürjes, the Fidesz mayor of Ózd. I don’t know in what language they tried to converse, but the two gave entirely different reports of their conversation. Nyakó understood that Fürjes promised to restore the standard pressure in the faucets while Fürjes claimed that there was no such agreement. Moreover, he made it crystal clear that the city will not move an inch. It is not fair that the majority of the city’s population has to pay for water while others don’t. As he put it, “perhaps the majority of people feel good when they steal, but someone has to pay for the water.” He neglected to mention that these people have no choice because they have no water hook-up.

Fürjes’s claim is especially distasteful in light of the fact that Ózd received 1.75 billion forints from the Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program for the express purpose of providing running water to the Roma ghettos. Opposition politician Péter Juhász of Milla and Együtt 2014-PM demanded to know the fate of this money. According to the website of the town of Ózd, work on the modernization of the whole system will be done between 2013 and 2017. Well, more than half of 2013 is gone and there is no sign of any work on the pipes. Fürjes immediately rebuked Juhász, saying that the Ózd Fidesz government is not like the Gyurcsány-Bajnai government which stole the country blind and was corrupt to the core. The money is there and work will begin in November. I must say November’s not the best time of the year to start such a project.

Negotiations between Nyakó and Fürjes led nowhere;  the city was ready to open only one faucet. Nyakó then said that he was going to call on Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, to force the town of Ózd to restore all the faucets that had served the town’s Roma population.

I must say that yesterday I wasn’t very optimistic that Pintér would intervene, especially after the  Fidesz spokesman Róbert Zsigó threw the party’s weight behind Pál Fürjes. Since yesterday, however, a few things happened that changed the situation.  Zoltán Balog, whose ministry is responsible for Roma integration, announced that he considered limiting water to the Roma ghettos inhumane. Then came the bad publicity from BBC, Deutsche Welle, Der Spiegel, and a very long and detailed article in the Swiss Tages Anzeiger. After all, a lot of Swiss money was given to Ózd specifically for the purpose of making running water available in the Roma ghettos and now the mayor of the town limits water for them even at the roadside faucets!

In any case, Pintér gave a friendly or perhaps not so friendly telephone call to Pál Fürjes, who suddenly saw the light. In order to save face he repeated that the town’s action was entirely legal. But the extended heat wave that hit Hungary after the town council made its decision led him to revoke it. Tages Anzeiger immediately reported the good news. It would be interesting to know whether the Swiss, directly or indirectly, put pressure on the Hungarian government to change its mind on the issue of water supply in Ózd.

From a fair verdict to an unfounded accusation: Fidesz and the Roma murders

Today is a landmark in the history of Hungarian jurisprudence. The court found four men guilty of various crimes, including murder motivated by racial hatred. Three  men received life imprisonment without parole, the maximum sentence that can be meted out in Hungary, and the fourth received a 13-year sentence without the possibility of early release.

I wrote many times about the murders when they happened between July 21, 2008 and August 3, 2009. A group of men injured several people and killed six. The incidents occurred in villages located in three counties: Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, and Pest. The first two are located in the northeastern corner of the country where there is a large concentration of ethnic Roma. As it turned out, the perpetrators lived in Debrecen.

It would be too long to catalog all the mistakes the police and the medical authorities made during the investigation which resulted in a less than complete discovery of all the details. It is very possible that in addition to the four sentenced today there might have been others involved. But despite the sloppy police work there was enough evidence to find these four men guilty. Although members of the victims’ families complained that the fourth man’s sentence was too light, most people think that the judge did a good job and that the sentences are fair and deserved.

Fidesz reacted to the resolution of this case, which took three years of investigation and 186 days in court, by hinting darkly about the “true culprits.”

By now Fidesz has so many spokesmen that it is hard to keep track of them. Viktor Orbán not without reason considers communication a vital, perhaps the most important part of politics. One could be malicious and say that since governing is not Viktor Orbán’s forte he puts all his efforts into propaganda about his nonexistent accomplishments. And when the talk is not about “we are doing better,” then these spokesmen concentrate on attributing the greatest crimes to Fidesz’s political opponents. The spokesman today was Róbert Zsigó, one of the newer appointees.

I must admit that I had never heard of Róbert Zsigó before he became a Fidesz spokesman although he has been a member of parliament ever since 1998. His educational background is meager: at the age of eighteen he finished a course that qualified him to become a pastry chef and for ten years he worked as an employee in a confectionery shop. Most likely because he was planning a political career he decided to finish gymnasium at the age of 29. According to his biography, he is currently a student at the University of Pécs. A Fidesz spokesman, member of the Baja city council, member of parliament, and a student at Pécs. What a multi-tasker!

Zsigó is not very careful with his words when he viciously attacks Fidesz’s political  opponents. Only a couple of months ago he hurled all sorts of abuse studded with lies against Gordon Bajnai who promptly sued him. And I’m sure that many more law suits will follow if Zsigó keeps up his usual way of handling news.

Róbert Zsigó one of Fidesz's  spokesmen

Róbert Zsigó, one of Fidesz’s spokesmen

So, let’s see what Zsigó came up with on the occasion of the sentencing of these serial murderers. Instead of dwelling on the importance of this verdict, Zsigó talked about the unanswered questions still lingering around the case. One of these questions is “why did these murders occur in 2008 and 2009, during the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments?” It would also be good to know, he continued, “in whose interest” these murders took place. “Who are those whose skins were saved and whose names will remain hidden forever?” It is a good thing he didn’t go any further than that. As it is, these sentences border on accusing two Hungarian prime ministers of hiring hit men.

Zsigó immediately added that Sándor Laborc, head of the National Security Office, György Szilvásy, minister in charge of national security matters in the Gyurcsány government, and Ádám Ficsor, his successor in the Bajnai government, are responsible for what happened. Zsigó called Laborc and Szilvásy “central figures of the mafia Left whom Gyurcsány, Bajnai, and Mesterházy as one man defended. ” You may recall that it was a month ago that I reported on the secret trial of Szilvásy and Laborc on espionage charges. Orbán, after being unable to put Ferenc Gyurcsány behind bars, settled on his friend and minister, György Szilvásy.

This reaction by one of the spokesmen of Fidesz was carefully prepared. It is likely that the script Zsigó delivered was written a long time ago to be delivered at the time of the announcement of the verdict.

Not surprisingly in the wake of such an official pronouncement, Magyar Hírlap came out with the following headline: “Why did the murders occur under Bajnai?” Magyar Nemzet went even farther with this headline: “Roma murders: [Fidesz] would like to investigate the responsibility of Gyurcsány.” The article tried to interpret some of the comments of opposition politicians as an attempt to divert attention from the alleged criminal involvement of high government officials in covering up the real story behind the Roma murders.

The most outrageous accusation involved Ágnes Vadai whom the reporter asked about Viktória Mohácsi, an SZDSZ member of parliament, EP MEP, and Roma activist who is currently seeking political asylum in Canada. Viktória Mohácsi claimed in an interview with CBC that the Gyurcsány government withheld documents and information in order to cover up the fact that government employees had something to do with these crimes. Vadai very politely said that she doesn’t know anything about this because by the time the matter was discussed she wasn’t a member of the parliamentary committee on national security. Interestingly enough, Magyar Nemzet and other right-wing papers normally have nothing but scorn for Mohácsi and her claim of political persecution in Hungary. But now for obvious reasons she became a handy source of information trying to implicate Gyurcsány in the serial murder of Gypsies.

The whole thing is disgusting. I understand that politics can be dirty. But that dirty? Suggesting, almost accusing, one’s political opponents of hiring hit men for unknown and unspecified reasons in some unnamed people’s interest? It boggles the mind.