Sándor Pintér

The good name of Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior

Two days ago a lengthy interview appeared in Magyar Nemzet with Sándor Pintér, Viktor Orbán’s “perpetual” minister of the interior. He was named interior minister in 1998, in 2010, and in 2014. Why is Sándor Pintér so indispensable to Viktor Orbán? It’s become almost a commonplace in Hungary to say that “if Viktor Orbán could relieve Sándor Pintér he wouldn’t have appointed him in the first place.” I guess one doesn’t need too fertile an imagination to guess what these wagging tongues have in mind.

Pintér’s past is full of question marks. In October 2013 I wrote a post on Pintér, “Possible criminal activities of some Hungarian politicians?” In it I gave a fairly detailed description of Pintér’s ties to members of the Budapest underworld while he was chief of the Hungarian national police force. In fact, he might have been involved in the so-called “mafia war” that began in 1996 with the murder of a crime family member and continued a few days later with the murder of the driver of his race horses on the Budapest trotting course. There is at least one witness who claimed that Pintér as police chief appeared at the murder scene and removed the murder weapon. The two murderers got off scot-free. Apparently, they were awfully pleased when they saw “Sanyi bácsi” (Uncle Sanyi) on the scene.

Pintér was also involved with two other Hungarian underworld characters in the 1990s–Dietmar Clodo, a German, and the Ukrainian Semion Mogilevich, “Szeva bácsi” to his friends, who now lives in Moscow. Clodo was not so lucky. He was convicted in Hungary and allowed to serve his prison term in Germany. He was released in 2011. Two years later he gave an explosive interview to Antónia Rádai, a reporter for HVG, which was inexplicably overlooked by the rest of the Hungarian media. Let me quote a passage from that post of mine on Pintér:

Semion Mogilevich, whom Clodo described as his friend, asked a favor from Clodo. Mogilevich gave him a Hungarian politician’s telephone number. Clodo was instructed to phone the number and invite the Hungarian politician to his house and hand him a brief case supplied by Mogilevich. Clodo had to insist that the politician open the briefcase on the spot because in Clodo’s study behind the books was a hidden camera which recorded the exchange. There were one million deutschmarks in the briefcase. The exchange took place in 1994. At that time the name of the politician was not familiar to Clodo. “To me he was only one of the many corrupt characters to whom I had to hand similar packages in the middle of the 1990s.” In addition to this encounter there was another meeting with a politician from the same party. “The others were police officers.”

Dietmar Clodo told Antónia Rádai the name of the politician but HVG, after consulting with the paper’s lawyers, decided to withhold it.

Whoever the politician was cannot rest easy because that video might still be in the possession of Uncle Seva in Moscow.

Magyar Nemzet was planning an interview with Pintér on a wide range of questions, from the police’s handling of the demonstrations to the size of the public workforce. So, the reporter must have been quite surprised when during the discussion of the American ban on certain corrupt officials Pintér complained to him that he himself “had to endure several attempts at character assassination by foreign organizations that tried to associate [him] with certain events that have never taken place.” While Pintér was not willing to elaborate on the specifics, he added: “for example, recently the persons in question were planning to discredit [him] sometime in the near future but they were forced to give up their activities. Thus, the story is no longer of any interest.”

"By now no one even wants to ruin the reputation of Comrade Bástya?!"  "It is taken care of....

“By now no one even wants to ruin the reputation of Comrade Bástya?!” “It is taken care of…”

What was Pintér’s point in informing the public of his alleged harassment by foreign organizations that have been trying to blacken his good name? Given all the stories about Pintér’s past, the headline of Jenő Veress’s Népszava article on the topic was apt: “Who here has a good reputation?” Péter Németh, editor-in-chief of the same paper, in his editorial  wonders how Pintér could “force the foreign organizations not to commit character assassination.” How did he learn about such attempts, he asks. Whom does Pintér have in mind? Németh suspects that Pintér is alluding to the United States. Perhaps he fears or even knows that the Americans have something on him and thinks that it is better to forestall the impending scandal by telling the world of his innocence. However, if I may remind Pintér and his friends, that kind of tactic backfired when the government leaked information about the American investigation into Hungarian tax fraud. All the trouble started with that article in Századvég’s Napi Gazdaság. So it does not seem to be a good way of handling the dirty laundry.

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*The reference to “Comrade Bástya” in Gábor Pápai’s cartoon is to Béla Bacsó’s famous film, A tanú (1969).

Even a former communist security agent can become a member of the Orbán government

It was on June 12 that President János Áder appointed the third Orbán government’s undersecretaries. There are so many of them that the ceremony had to be held in one of the bigger rooms of the Hungarian Parliament. Among the appointees was László Tasnádi, one of the four undersecretaries in the Ministry of the Interior. He will be responsible for the civilian supervision of the Hungarian police force. Tasnádi is a trusted associate of the minister of the interior, Sándor Pintér. In the last four years Tasnádi was the Pintér’s chief-of-staff.

Tasnádi is actually a high-ranking police officer who, according to his official biography, began his career in the Budapest police force in 1978 and remained an active officer until 1990 with the rank of captain (százados). By now he is a brigadier-general, a rank he received last year. According to the same official bio, he held high positions in the Ministry of the Interior and in APEH, the equivalent of the US Internal Revenue Service, between 1998 and 2002. After Fidesz lost the election, he joined Sándor Pintér’s business venture, a security firm. As soon as Viktor Orbán won the election in 2010, Pintér returned to the Ministry of the Interior with Tasnádi in tow. In  June 2014 Pintér became minister of the interior for the third time and Tasnádi got promoted to be one of his undersecretaries.

President János Áder shaking hands with László Tasnádi, the new undersecretary / Photo MTI

President János Áder shaking hands with László Tasnádi, the new undersecretary Photo MTI

A week after Tasnádi’s appointment became official, Index unearthed a few details about his past. It turned out that on June 16, 1989, when Viktor Orbán was sending the Russians packing, Tasnádi was waiting for the reports of two of his agents, Amur and Vera. By now we know quite a bit about Amur. He was born in 1930, was a tailor’s apprentice who got involved with the illegal communist party, and in 1952 became an officer of the infamous ÁVH (Államvédelmi Hivatal = State Defense Office). By the 60s and 70s he served at the Hungarian embassies in Paris and Geneva. He retired with the rank of colonel a few months before the reburial of Imre Nagy, but because a large crowd was expected retired personnel were also called up for the occasion. Details about Vera are not known.

Tasnádi in his very brief official bio on the website of the Ministry of the Interior simply reports that he left the Budapest police force in 1990 where he was the director of one of the “sub-departments” (alosztály). Indeed he was, but what kind of a sub-department are we talking about? It was the “D sub-department” of the III/II department (counter-intelligence) that was involved with “domestic enemies,” people who were suspected of hostile activities in the churches and in cultural fields. The department also reported on diplomats.

Interestingly, one of the first outcries after the publication of the Index article came from the right. Zsolt Bayer, the foul-mouthed anti-Semitic journalist of Magyar Hírlap, announced on his program Korrektúra on EchoTV that if  Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy (2002-2004) was unacceptable to Fidesz because he was a counter-intelligence officer of  the III/II Department, László Tasnádi should be as well. Tasnádi, however, announced a few hours after the Index article appeared that he has no intention of resigning. He was an honest counter-intelligence officer and what he did is “a profession” like any other. He is proud of his service to Hungary. The members of the opposition were not impressed: they demanded his resignation.

On June 24 even the Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF), the phony NGO that organized the pro-government peace marches, demanded Tasnádi’s resignation. The leaders of the group indicated that if Tasnádi is not ready to retire quietly they will exert more pressure “for the sake of strengthening the moral foundations of democracy.” They did not spell out what kind of pressure they had in mind. In addition, other pro-government journalists raised their voices against the Tasnádi appointment. Perhaps the most vitriolic was a spoof by András Stumpf in Válasz (aka Heti Válasz) in which he makes fun of certain right-wing journalists who try to defend Tasnádi.  Stumpf also calls attention to a Heti Válasz article from 2009 in which Tasnádi, along with 49 other officers, was mentioned.

Naturally, liberal journalists were appalled. Sándor Révész of Népszabadság pointed out with bitter irony that, after all, Tasnádi is in the right place. In the service of dictatorship he harassed Hungarians involved in the cultural field or connected to the churches while he kept an eye on diplomats who were helping the members of the human rights movement.  Now he can do the same thing again.

CÖF only yesterday made public another declaration about the Tasnádi affair. This time they ask the Ministry of Justice to prepare a bill that would make appointments of earlier “functionaries” impossible. This is, of course, far too sweeping. Who is considered to be a functionary? I hope that no such bill will be presented before the voting machine of the Orbán parliament. But members of the security forces of the dictatorship have no place in the government of an alleged democratic state.

It was the Demokratikus Koalíció who asked the most important question in connection with the Tasnádi case. Tasnádi is today an undersecretary because he has been favored by the minister of the interior who was himself a high-ranking police officer during the Kádár regime and as such was a party member. DK is wondering, and with good reason, about the connection between Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán. Why is it that Sándor Pintér seems to be the everlasting minister of the interior? This is now the third Orbán government in which Pintér serves as minister of interior. As the DK communiqué pointed out, Pintér is the only man who has been a minister for every minute of the Orbán governments. What is so special about this man? And DK pointedly asks: what does Pintér know about Viktor Orbán that he can allow himself to appoint a  man like Tasnádi to be his deputy?

I wrote about Pintér several times before and in one post I outlined the many rumors swirling around him. One of these rumors is that Pintér had a hand in or had knowledge of a series of suspicious bombings at the houses of Fidesz politicians just before the election in 1998. They were suspicious because as soon the election was over and Fidesz won, these terrorist activities abruptly ceased. As if they were ordered by someone or someones to create chaos and give the impression that the MSZP-SZDSZ administration was unable to handle the situation. At the same time they created sympathy for Fidesz and Smallholder politicians against whom these attacks were directed. This might be one possibility, but given the less than savory activities of Fidesz politicians in the past, it can be many other things that would be deadly if revealed.

We will see whether this case will also be ignored by the administration or perhaps, given the outcry on the right, Pintér will have to retreat and let his friend the security agent go.

The city of Miskolc is ready to pay its Roma inhabitants to leave town

Today we are moving to Miskolc just as one of the ministries may do sometime in 2015 if the Orbán government disperses its ministries all over the country, as currently planned.

This is Hungarian Spectrum‘s second trip to Miskolc, a city that has fallen on hard times in the last twenty-five years. Miskolc and environs was one of the most important centers of Hungarian heavy industry in the socialist period. In the 1970s almost 80% of the workforce of the county of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén worked in that sector. After the change of regime, with the disappearance of heavy industry, the area became one of the most impoverished in the country. Miskolc, the county seat, had a population of almost 200,000 in the 1970s; today it is around 160,000.

Understandably, given this economic background, the population of Miskolc and other smaller towns in the county heavily favored the socialists, at least until 2010 when Miskolc for the first time elected a Fidesz mayor, a Transylvanian import, Ákos Kriza. Before he moved to Hungary Kriza completed medical school in Târgu Mureş/Marosvásárhely. Readers of Hungarian Spectrum already encountered Kriza in connection with a scandal involving the Canadian government and the Roma refugees whom Ottawa sent back to Hungary because the Canadian immigration did not consider them to be bona fide political refugees. Since most of the Gypsies who tried to emigrate to Canada came from Miskolc and its surrounding area, it was clear that once they returned to Hungary they would most likely go back to Miskolc. It was at that point that Kriza declared that ” Canada will not send its refugees to Miskolc.” As you can see, Dr. Kriza is no friend of the Roma.

Kriza, Miskolc, and the Roma minority have been in the news again since May 8 when the city council voted for the “liquidation of ghettos and slums” in Miskolc. A large area will be razed. If one didn’t know Kriza’s attitude toward Gypsies one could actually praise him and the city council for providing decent housing for these poor people elsewhere. But, of course, we would be wrong in assuming such a benevolent move from a city council with a very large Fidesz majority. Out of twenty-eight city fathers there are only 6 MSZP, 2 DK, and 3 Jobbik members.

The deal presented to the affected Roma inhabitants is that if they just move out of their dwellings and move to another house or apartment in town they will not get any compensation. Anyone who decides to leave town will receive 1.5-2 million forints, though only if he spends this money on the purchase of another dwelling. In some other town or village, of course. All the Fidesz members of the city council voted for the proposal, MSZP representatives abstained. Only DK and Jobbik voted against it, the latter because they objected to giving any compensation to Roma forced out of their homes.

Miskolc street scene in the district to be raised soon to give place to a stadium/minap.hu

Miskolc street scene in the district to be razed soon to provide room for a stadium/minap.hu

It didn’t take long before one could read in Népszabadság that the mayor of Sátoraljaújhely (Fidesz) feels sorry for the Gypsies of Miskolc but “they shouldn’t come here.” Therefore the city fathers contemplated passing an ordinance to the effect that anyone who has purchased a dwelling from money received from another municipality for the express purpose of buying real estate will not be able to get public work or welfare for five years. Sátoraljaújhely was not the only town to complain. Kazincbarcika’s mayor labelled Miskolc’s move a “poverty export.”

Those affected by the ordinance, at least 400 families, were outraged. Most of them want to stay in Miskolc and, instead of compensation, would like to receive another piece of property in exchange. These people consider the Miskolc city council’s decision “deportation” pure and simple.

By mid-June Fidesz began collecting signatures in support of the city council’s decision and at the same time Jobbik organized a demonstration with the usual skinheads in black T-shirts and frightened Gypsies. The Fidesz initiative was a great success. “Within a few hours … several thousand signatures were collected. The people of Miskolc overwhelmingly support the decision reached by the city council.” At this point, Jobbik also decided to collect signatures to deny monetary compensation for the properties currently used by Roma families.

The lack of any interest in the affair on the part of Zoltán Kovács, undersecretary in charge of Roma affairs, is glaring. In parliament Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, already informed a member of parliament who inquired about the scandal in Miskolc that he and his ministry have nothing to do with this strictly local affair. That is, the Orbán government has no intention of putting an end to such discriminatory initiatives. The only active political forces in defense of the Miskolc Roma are the Hungarian Solidarity Movement and the Demokratikus Koalíció. Solidarity organized a demonstration in which a rather large crowd of Roma and non-Roma marched together today.

The irony of this whole affair is that the razing of the Roma ghetto and slum serves only one purpose:  building the new stadium Miskolc received as a gift from Viktor Orbán. He has his priorities.

Four years ago when Hungary took over the presidency of the European Union one of their most important contributions was supposed to be working out something called the “Roma strategy.” Apparently, it was a great success, at least on paper. But what I just described is reality.

And here is the most recent piece of news on Hungary’s contribution to the Roma strategy. There is a European program called Roma Matrix that aims to combat racism, intolerance, and xenophobia towards Roma and to increase integration through a program of action across Europe. Today Roma Matrix held a conference in Budapest at which one of the vice-mayors of the city extolled all the effort the city has made for the Roma community of Budapest. Magyar Nemzet‘s headlined the article describing the conference: “One must decrease the level of discrimination.” Not eliminate it, just decrease it. Well, we can start in Miskolc and Sátoraljaújhely.

Ukrainian-Hungarian relations during the Orbán years

Today I’m going to survey Hungarian-Ukrainian relations over the course of the last four years, since Viktor Orbán won the election. You may recall that the new prime minister began his diplomatic rounds with a trip to Poland, which was supposed to signal a foreign policy that would put the emphasis not so much on relations with western Europe as on relations with other central and eastern European nations. Of course, he also made several official visits to Brussels, but they were quick trips related to Hungary’s membership in the Union. There is a handy list, compiled by MTI, on Orbán’s foreign visits, showing that Ukraine was one of the first countries he visited. It was on November 12, 2010 that he traveled to Kiev. Shortly thereafter, on November 30, he went to Moscow.

Ukrainian-Hungarian flagsSo, let’s see what Orbán had to say about Hungarian-Ukrainian relations at the time. He claimed that former Hungarian governments hadn’t paid enough attention to Ukraine, but from here on everything would change because “the current Ukrainian leadership stabilized Ukraine” even as he is “working on stabilizing Hungary.” He was looking forward to cooperation between two stable countries, and he expressed his appreciation that Viktor Yanukovych’s government had withdrawn some legislation that was injurious to the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia. A few months earlier, during one of his visits to Brussels, Orbán had a meeting with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary-general of NATO, during which he commented favorably on the new Ukrainian government (Yanukovych became president of Ukraine on February 25, 2010), which he considered to be a “reliable” partner.

Since 2010 Ukrainian-Hungarian relations have been friendly. In fact, behind the scenes they were quite close. Here I will give just one example of how close: the story of Oleksandr Shepelev, former member of the Ukrainian parliament. Shepelev belonged to Yulia Tymoshenko’s party from 2006 until December 2012. The Ukrainian government charged him with three contract killings and one attempted murder. In addition, he was alleged to have embezzled one billion dollars of government funds which, they contended, he pumped into Rodovid, an ailing bank with which he was associated. He fled Ukraine, fearing for his safety. The Ukrainian government went to Interpol asking for his arrest. He and his family were found in Budapest in July 2013 where he was seeking political asylum. The Ukrainian online newspaper Kyiv Post triumphantly announced on September 30 that “the Hungarian authorities have denied refugee status to former Ukrainian member of parliament Oleksandr Shepelev, a diplomatic source told Interfax-Ukraine.” The Hungarian judicial system ordered the Shepelev couple to be incarcerated until the immigration authorities decided their fate. Half a year went by and there was still no decision about the Shepelevs.

According to Indexthe Hungarian government that was asked to extradite the Shepelevs to Ukraine was quite eager to oblige. Vitali Zakharchenko, the just recently dismissed minister of interior, came to Budapest several times to confer with his Hungarian colleague, Sándor Pintér, about the fate of Shepelev. Viktor Pshonka, the prosecutor-general of Ukraine whose garish house we admired online, who since was also dismissed by the Ukrainian parliament and is currently in hiding, also paid a visit to Budapest to confer with Hungary’s own chief prosecutor, Péter Polt. In fact, the Hungarian government was certain that Shepelev would be in Kiev soon enough, and they leaked the impending extradition to reporters. The Hungarian courts, however, intervened. In a December 9 hearing the judge ruled that the reasons given by the immigration office for a denial of political asylum were insufficient. Shepelev, who might have been thrown into jail for life in Ukraine, was temporarily saved by the Hungarian judiciary despite the best efforts of the Orbán government.

The immigration office had to make a decision by January 6 but nothing happened. At this point Galina Shepeleva threatened the prison authorities with a hunger strike. Shepelev’s lawyer, after looking at the documents submitted by the immigration office, came to the conclusion that the office was following the explicit orders of the Hungarian government. In brief, Viktor Orbán was effectively assisting Yanukovych’s thoroughly corrupt government go after a political opponent, possibly on trumped-up charges.

As long as Vladimir Putin and Viktor Yanukovych were both in power Viktor Orbán’s situation was easy. He could have excellent relations with both. But now Yanukovych, who according to Orbán brought “stability to Ukraine,” is gone and Putin has sent troops to the Crimea. Orbán, as prime minister of a country that is a member state of the European Union, is supposed to follow the lead of the European Union. The prime ministers or presidents of most European countries, including Hungary’s neighbors, have openly condemned the Russian military action. Viktor Orbán is silent.

The Russian military move is clearly illegal. The reference point is the so-called Budapest Memorandum of 1994 signed by Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin, and Leonid Kuchma, who was then the president of Ukraine. The complete text of the Budapest Memorandum is available on the Internet. The parties agreed, among other things, “to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of kind.” In this light, Putin’s economic pressure on Ukraine was already a violation of the agreement. Point 2 of the agreement states that “the United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.”

The ineffectual János Martonyi did go to Ukraine with the Czech and Slovak foreign ministers. Poland sent only an undersecretary. They went to Kiev and the Donetsk region where they held most likely absolutely useless talks with Ukrainian leaders. Martonyi subsequently visited the Subcarpathian region where he conferred with leaders of the Hungarians living there who hold conflicting political opinions. Ever since Orbán won the election in 2010 the Hungarian government has given financial help to one faction while it has ignored the other. It looks as if the main difference between the two groups is their attitude toward the Yanukovych government. The Yanukovych government, most likely as a sign of its appreciation for Viktor Orbán’s support, lifted some of the discriminatory pieces of legislation previously enacted. That made some of the Hungarians supporters of the Yanukovych regime. Others sided with the supporters of the European Union. Throughout his visit to the region Martonyi kept emphasizing the need for unity. However, under the present circumstances I’m not at all sure what this means. Supporting whom? The parliament in Kiev rather foolishly abrogated the language law enacted in 2012 but thanks to the intervention of the acting president it is still in force. Therefore it is also difficult to figure out what Martonyi’s silly motto, “Don’t hurt the Hungarians,” which he repeated on this occasion, means in this particular case.

For a good laugh, which we all need today, here is what the sophisticated deputy prime minister, Zsolt Semjén, said about the Ukrainian crisis last night in an interview on HírTV. “It is a good thing to have something between us and Russia.” Let’s hope that this statement, however primitive, means that Hungary stands behind the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Viktor Orbán’s (temporary) retreat in his battle with Ferenc Gyurcsány?

Some of my readers and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the government’s decision to release two secret service documents that deal with Ferenc Gyurcsány’s controversial speech of 2006. They are convinced that this move is a fantastic coup against the opposition and that if the united opposition had any sense whatsoever it would drop the subject as soon as possible. Anything, they claim, that has to do with the speech is political poison.

I see it differently. Even if the two documents had substantiated the government’s claim that Gyurcsány was complicit in the leak, the political gain for Fidesz would have been minimal. But the documents didn’t support their claim. Moreover, since Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány knew not only about the two released documents but about others that contradict Eduardo Rózsa-Flores’s assumptions, questions were bound to arise about a half forgotten story. And in that story Fidesz was very much involved.

The release of the documents raised the possibility that someone would slip up. And indeed Lajos Kósa did. Only half a year ago he denied that he knew anything about the tape prior to its publication. So did Tibor Navracsics and Viktor Orbán. And now here in black and white was a detailed description by Flores of how the tape ended up in his hands and went from him via an intermediary to Lajos Kósa. Confronted with the document and pressured by Antónia Mészáros, Kósa cracked. He admitted that they have been lying about their knowledge of the tape and their own role in making it public. Fidesz politicians who in the last eight years have talked incessantly about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s lies are found to be liars themselves. It was time for damage control.

I can only imagine what Lajos Kósa got from Viktor Orbán after that interview. He must have been ordered to correct his “mistake,” which he did this morning on Magyar Rádió. While yesterday he admitted that he got hold of the tape from a fellow from Miskolc which he then distributed to the press, by today his story had been substantially edited. He denied any knowledge of the tape’s content before it was read on Magyar Rádió.

Sándor Pintér was also asked to do his best to squelch the growing scandal. After all, only Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap were talking about the sins of Ferenc Gyurcsány;  other publications started probing into the revelations of Fidesz’s involvement. And that probing went beyond the leak itself. People kept asking about Fidesz’s role in the preparation and organization of the disturbances themselves.

Pintér’s line of reasoning at a late afternoon press conference was interesting. While two days ago the big news was the source of the leak, i.e. whether Gyurcsány initiated the leak of his own speech or not, today Pintér claimed that “the circumstances of the leak are unimportant” because the unauthorized removal of the tape is not a crime. The important part of the story is the content of the speech, he emphasized. But then why did they release these documents that centered on the circumstances of the leak, circumstances that two days later were deemed unimportant? There is no good answer here.

In addition to Pintér’s feeble explanation Magyar Nemzet came up with one of its ownThe argument goes something like this: Why the big fuss about the leak? Who really cares who was responsible? After all, we just heard from the former editor-in-chief of Népszabadság that J. Zoltán Gál, undersecretary in charge of the prime minister’s office, approached him to ask whether he would be interested in an edited version of a terrific speech his “boss” delivered. So, the argument goes, let’s not spend any more time on this trivial matter, especially when MSZP wanted to have it made public anyway. Another misguided argument. With this claim they only support Gyurcsány’s contention that his audience was enthralled and that he didn’t think there was anything in the speech one had to be ashamed of.

The most worrisome announcement that Sándor Pintér made at this press conference was that there is no other “final report” on Balatonőszöd. We are talking here about the report that both Gordon Bajnai and Ferenc Gyurcsány saw and that both claim contains some damaging material on Fidesz’s involvement in the affair that ended in violence on the streets of Budapest. That indicates that as things stand now the Orbán government is planning to eliminate in one way or another an important piece of evidence.  I’m sure that Bajnai cannot lay his hands on the document, but Gyurcsány may have a copy of it which, as he said, “landed on his desk.”

source: szabadeuropa.shp.hu

Source: szabadeuropa.shp.hu

Moreover, the Népszabadság article to which Magyar Nemzet referred also states that two days before the release of the tape Ferenc Gyurcsány sent an article to the paper entitled “Haladás vs. maradás” (Progress versus Backwardness) in which he pretty well told the reading public what he said in his Balatonőszöd speech. The editors asked him whether in light of the new developments he wanted to change anything in his text. His answer was “no.” Obviously even after the speech was released he saw no reason to change anything in the text.

As I said earlier, any party would have taken advantage of the opportunity the leaked tape offered Fidesz sometime in July-August of 2006. I don’t blame them. What on the other hand, a responsible democratic party cannot do is to systematically prepare a coup d’état. Unfortunately, it looks as if this is exactly what Viktor Orbán was doing. There are just too many signs pointing in this direction.

Finally, here is a new piece of information from Péter Zentai, today a journalist with HVG but at the time Magyar Rádió’s Berlin correspondent. Right after the Budapest siege one of the German television stations organized a round-table discussion on the Hungarian events. Zentai participated in this discussion, as did a British TV journalist. The British journalist insisted that the outbreak of violence couldn’t have been spontaneous because his television station and Sky TV had been approached by a Hungarian news station a week before the fateful weekend. They were invited to come to Budapest because “interesting things will happen.” Zentai was stunned and tried to air this story on Magyar Rádió. Even then, however, MR was partial to Fidesz, and one of the middle managers refused to report Zentai’s information from the British television journalist.

Bits and pieces of new information emerge day after day. Viktor Orbán seems far too eager to eliminate his arch-rival and thus keeps making mistakes.

It was a mistake to release documents relating to Gyurcsány’s speech of May 26, 2006

I predict that Viktor Orbán will regret, if he has not already done so, his decision to dredge up those two documents that Sándor Pintér released two days ago. They were supposed to prove that Ferenc Gyurcsány was himself responsible for his infamous speech of 2006 becoming public. Not that, even if it were true, which it is not, it would make any difference. It is not really news. News would be if we learned who the people were who were responsible for the theft of the tape from either MSZP headquarters or the prime minister’s office.  The release of the documents was supposed to serve only one purpose: to remind the public during the election campaign of Gyurcsány’s unforgivable sins against the nation. It seems to me that instead of achieving the desired outcome Viktor Orbán is now facing uncomfortable questions about his and his party’s role in this whole sordid affair.

We learned nothing new from the documents about the circumstances of the leak, but we found out something that Viktor Orbán has steadfastly denied ever since September 2006. For the first time a Fidesz politician, Lajos Kósa, admitted yesterday that they knew of the tape’s existence earlier. Not that we didn’t suspect as much. Most commentators who analyzed the events prior to the siege of the Hungarian Television building came to the conclusion that Viktor Orbán already knew about the contents of the tape in July 2006 and that by the beginning of August the Fidesz team managed to lay their hands on the actual tape. This timeline was also assumed by József Debreczeni, who relied heavily on a blogger’s detailed description of the events, available online, for his book A 2006-os ősz. Orbán decided to withhold the release of the tape until the time was ripe. And that day was September 17, just as Viktor Orbán was en route to Brussels.

Now, for the first time, Lajos Kósa under the pretty aggressive questioning of Antónia Mészáros of ATV admitted that they made several copies of the speech and delivered them to the more important media outlets, including Magyar Rádió, where two or three sentences were lifted from a long speech. So, instead of learning anything new about Ferenc Gyurcsány’s complicity, we are now faced with a Fidesz admission of something we until now only surmised. That was Fidesz’s first own goal, and more may follow because questions are pouring in.

How is it possible, for example, that Viktor Orbán weeks before the siege predicted what would happen on September 19? Tamás Lajos Szalay of Népszabadság calls attention to a three-part article of Orbán published in Magyar Nemzet entitled “Watershed.” The first part was published on July 29, the second on August 5, and the third on September 9. Why the long gap between the second and third articles? If it is true that the tape arrived sometime in early August, it is likely that Orbán had to rewrite his article to reflect his new found knowledge. In any case, Orbán in his piece exhibits prophetic faculties when he sees only two possibilities. He envisions unrest unless “we find a peaceful way out of the crisis.” The peaceful way was the Gyurcsány government’s resignation.

Most likely not too many people remember the tape sent to several radio stations in the name of “The Warriors of Democracy” which sent a chilling message to the government. On September 14 a distorted male voice called on the government to resign. If they don’t do so by September 20, Budapest will be in flames. Most commentators dismissed the threat as the work of a crackpot, but in light of what happened on September 19 I wouldn’t dismiss it. The police at the time said something about a crime that can be viewed as a terrorist threat, but by January 2007 they were no longer investigating the case. We will never know who the warriors of democracy were or whether they had any connection to Fidesz. But the long-forgotten warriors of democracy cropped up again in today’s Népszabadság.

Szabolcs Kerék-Bárczy expressed the opinion of the Demokratikus Koalíció on the matter. They demand the release of all documents. He pointed out that with Kósa’s admission we now know that Viktor Orbán has been lying about his own involvement in this affair. “It has become clear that Hungary has a liar as prime minister.” Admittedly, not exactly a new discovery. Another observer, István Gusztos, remarked in Gépnarancs that while the released documents tell us nothing about Ferenc Gyurcsány, they do tell us a lot about Fidesz, which “had a determinant role in the outbreak of disturbances.”

The next step will be a serious second look at the football hooligans’ role on September 19, 2006 during the siege of the television building. In Hungary the worst football hooligans are the fans of Ferencváros (Fradi). The Fradi fans were in a foul mood at the time because their favorite team had lost its place in Division I. Orbán, who is an Újpest and Videoton fan, paid a surprise visit to the Ferencváros-Jászapáti match, their first one in Division II. He settled in the middle of the Fradi fans and even gave an interview to reporters present. He expressed his disgust at what had happened to Fradi, which was in his opinion “a scandal” (disznóság). Commentators were a bit surprised at Orbán’s sudden appearance at a Fradi game. The precise connection between this visit and the Fradi fans’ active participation in the siege of Hungarian TV is not known, but in all probability the two occurrences were not unconnected–especially in light of a later development when as a result of a new investigation of the case during the Orbán government, the sentences already passed on a handful of hooligans by the courts were annulled. The suspicion lingers that those half-crazed, drunk men had been assured ahead of time that their actions would have no consequences once Viktor Orbán was the prime minister of Hungary.

MTV ostrom

All in all, I believe that it would have been better for Viktor Orbán, however fervently he wants to “get” Ferenc Gyurcsány, to let sleeping dogs lie. There is just too much muck around Fidesz headquarters which seems to surface every time the subject of Balatonőszöd comes up.

Sloppy Hungarian journalism misleads the public

It was at the beginning of January that Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, first mentioned rather casually in a television interview that he might release some of the secret service documents related to the leak of Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech to the MSZP parliamentary delegation after their electoral victory in 2006.

Regular readers of Hungarian Spectrum are only too familiar with what happened. The newly reelected prime minister rather irresponsibly made a speech in front of almost 300 people that was sprinkled with obscenities and that contained passages which, if taken out of context, could be very damaging. Of course, the speech was leaked. Fidesz, then in opposition, picked out the most damaging couple of sentences from the fairly long speech (almost 18,000 words) and passed them on to the president of Magyar Rádió. The rest is history. Football hooligans attacked Magyar Televízió and another round of riots, fueled by Viktor Orbán and other Fidesz politicians, occurred a month later on the fiftieth anniversary of the October Revolution of 1956. Ferenc Gyurcsány became damaged goods.

Ever since that time wild speculations have been circulating about who leaked the speech. The most authoritative person in this case, Ferenc Gyurcsány himself, said several times in the last couple of years that there is strong indirect evidence that points to three prominent MSZP members. However, he refuses to divulge the names because he is–as he stated tonight on ATV–only 97% sure that the three people whom he has in mind are actually the ones who turned against their party’s chairman and their prime minister.

And now comes the latest incarnation of this rather tired story. Naturally, it is being resurrected with the national election in mind. Viktor Orbán will never forget what happened to him in 2002 when most opinion polls showed Fidesz about 10% ahead of the opposition parties–and yet he lost. This time Fidesz  is pulling out all the stops, which includes calling attention again to the Gyurcsány speech from 2006. But this time with a twist. The couple of documents Pintér released are only part of the pertinent material. He has not released the most important final report that, according to Gyurcsány and Bajnai, concluded that the Hungarian secret service agents who investigated the case didn’t have a clue who leaked the tape of the speech and in exactly what way it ended up in Fidesz hands.

The two documents are available on the website of the renamed secret service agency that originally investigated the case. One is pretty straightforward and contains nothing new. The second one is a summary report (összefoglaló jelentés) not of the investigation of the leak but of Eduardo Rózsa-Flores who three years later, in 2009, died in Bolivia where he wanted to foment a revolution against the Bolivian government. The report concludes that Rózsa-Flores was a right-wing extremist who was an opponent of the MSZP-SZDSZ government. Although the report is for the most part simply a collection of generalities about Flores’s politics, it touches on the question of the leaked speech. During a conversation with an undercover agent Flores gave details of how he ended up receiving the tape of the prime minister’s speech which he then passed on to Fidesz politicians. It was Flores’s theory that the leak was organized with the knowledge and blessing of Ferenc Gyurcsány who by creating a scandal wanted to divert attention away from the country’s grave economic situation. In brief, what the agents learned from Flores was no more than speculation. A wacky hypothesis offered by someone who couldn’t possibly know the details of the leak.

So, let’s see how the Hungarian media handled the news, starting with Népszabadság. It is normally one of the more reliable newspapers in Hungary, but this time I was amazed at the sloppiness of Gy. Attila Fekete. The headline reads: “Őszöd: Here is the secret service report.” That is really misleading because the “meat” of the story, Gyurcsány’s alleged role in leaking his own speech, is not in the interim report on Őszöd but in the final report on Rózsa-Flores whose surveillance came to an end when he was brutally killed in a hotel room in Bolivia. A brief editorial in the paper is to my mind outrageous. If this is all true, says the editorial, “we just shudder. We can barely comprehend it.” On the other hand, “if the story is not true then we have every reason to feel totally lost in our own country.” At this point I’m the one who is totally lost. What does this mumble jumble mean? Finally, the editors call on Gyurcsány to divulge who leaked the speech. “He indicated several times that he knows what happened. He must tell.”

journalism

Moreover, the great journalists at Népszabadság seem to think that the investigation of Őszöd ended on July 27 2009 and that all the information contained in the final report on Flores has been kept secret for four and a half years. This “final report” was written because Rózsa Flores was killed in Bolivia and therefore his surveillance ended. Őszöd was an entirely different matter; we still haven’t seen the secret service’s final report on the leak which was written in December 2009. Viktor Orbán for very good reason didn’t want to release that document: it contains nothing about either the culprits responsible for the leak or about Gyurcsány’s alleged complicity.

It’s no wonder that Klára Dobrev, Ferenc Gyurcsány’s wife, had some harsh words for Népszabadság. The editors didn’t check the facts; they didn’t question; they presented lies as facts. Népszabadság, according to Klára Dobrev, even managed to outdo Magyar Nemzet. “My friends, I believe that we have one fewer independent newspaper.” She thinks that the shift is due to the paper’s change in ownership. Heinrich Pecina, an Austrian businessman, acquired a majority stake in the paper. In an interview with Márton Galambos and Irén Hermann of Forbes he expressed his admiration for Viktor Orbán’s leadership, without which, in his opinion, Hungary would have ended up like Greece.

All the other online sites pretty much repeated as fact Rózsa-Flores’s theory. As Zsófia Mihancsik pointed out, it was only Origo that gave an accurate description of the two documents released by Sándor Pintér. Origo called Flores’s claim “a bombastic theory.” But since most online sites copy from each other, one can be sure that all the wrong conclusions will be reached regardless of what anyone says. For example, Gordon Bajnai who saw all the reports, including the unpublished final one, announced on his own website that the two released documents try to lead the public to wrong conclusions. Moreover, he claims, the present government deleted information even from these less relevant documents that would reflect badly on Fidesz politicians. He considers this latest Fidesz trick a manipulation of the election which he “finds illegal and unacceptable.” Since then, Gyurcsány gave his side of the story. One thing is sure: only facts can prove someone innocent or guilty and in these documents there is nothing that would prove that Rózsa-Flores’s theory has any merit whatsoever.

American-Hungarian relations and John McCain’s visit to Budapest

It was a week ago that Gergely Gulyás, the young rising star of Fidesz, attacked the American ambassador designate, Colleen Bell, accusing her of bias against the current Hungarian government. At that time I pointed out that without Viktor Orbán’s approval or perhaps even instructions the open letter Gulyás published could never have appeared. Now, in light of the recent visit of Senator John McCain to the Hungarian capital, a fuller picture emerges about the circumstances of that letter.

The public learned only on January 30 that Senator McCain will be spending a day in Budapest. He came not alone but as part of a nine-member bipartisan delegation consisting of three senators and six congressmen.

Surely, the Hungarian government must have known for some time about the impending visit of the American delegation. I venture to say that they knew about it before January 22 when Gulyás published his outrageous letter accusing Colleen Bell of partiality toward the opposition. Those Fidesz politicians who watched the video of the Senate hearing realized that the Republican McCain had a rather low opinion of the ambassadors Barack Obama proposed and may therefore have thought that an attack on Bell would yield brownie points with McCain. If that was the case, it was based on a total misunderstanding of American politics. Sure, at home McCain will show his dissatisfaction with Obama’s choices, but in Budapest he will not cozy up to Viktor Orbán just because he thinks that Bell knows nothing about Hungary or diplomacy. He will follow American foreign policy toward Hungary, which is currently very critical.

A day before the visit of the American delegation János Lázár continued the attacks on the United States in connection with the electronic listening devices that were most likely used on Hungarian citizens as well. Here they found themselves in a strong position. All of Europe is up in arms over the facts disclosed by Edward Snowden, and the decision was most likely made at the highest level that this topic could be used effectively against McCain during the talks. Another miscalculation. McCain didn’t apologize but instead emphasized that surveillance is necessary in the face of terrorism. They will be more selective in the application of these devices in the future. Period.

Meanwhile the parliamentary committee investigating American surveillance held its first meeting on January 30.  In addition to the official members, János Lázár, head of the prime minister’s office, Sándor Pintér, minister of the interior, and János Martonyi, foreign minister, were also present. By the way, the so-called “moderate” János Martonyi, the favorite of former American ambassadors, also condemned Colleen Bell’s testimony as if he were not aware that Bell didn’t express her own opinions but simply presented the official position of the United States government. Pintér promptly made the proceedings secret while Martonyi announced that the topic of surveillance will “remain on the agenda,” adding that “it will take a long time to repair the trust that is so important between allies and friends.” János Lázár announced that the surveillance affair “may influence in a significant way the relations between the USA and Hungary.” All in all, the Orbán government was ready to receive John McCain in full armor. Lázár also said at the press conference after the meeting that the new ambassador “will have to appear before the parliamentary committee,” something that will surely not happen. Máté Kocsis, the youthful chairman of the committee, went even further. He wants to see Edward Snowden himself in Budapest to answer the committee’s questions.

It was only on Thursday that McCain’s impending visit leaked out. The Hungarian media was convinced that the chief topic of the conversations would be Ukraine. The newspapers recalled that McCain had visited that country in December, but they really couldn’t give any reasonable explanation why Hungary would be that important in connection with the crisis in Ukraine other than having about 200,000 co-nationals living in its subcarpathian region who at the moment don’t seem to be threatened. What we learned afterwards was that Viktor Orbán “informed the American delegation of the V4 [Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Hungary] discussion on the situation in Kiev.” So, Ukraine was not at the center of the discussions.

McCain

So, let’s see what McCain himself had to say about his time in Budapest. Besides the usual round of praise for the faithful ally, he stated that “we understand the concerns about the state of democracy in Hungary that have been raised by people both inside and outside of this country. Some of these concerns are very serious…. The United States and the rest of the free world have an abiding interest in Hungary’s continued development as a strong, inclusive, and tolerant democracy, with a free market economy, an independent judiciary, and a free media.” During the conversations “we also expressed our hope that Hungary will address its energy security needs in ways that further diversify Europe’s supply of energy.” To translate all that into plain English, McCain criticized the state of democracy in Orbán’s Hungary and also must have shared his concerns over Hungary’s sole reliance on Russian energy sources, especially now that Orbán seems to have committed Hungary to Russia in building two new reactors on borrowed money.

From other Hungarian sources it became clear that the forthcoming election was also discussed. McCain must have expressed his worries about the fairness of the election because apparently Orbán readily agreed to have international observers. McCain was also worried about the lack of transparency in the negotiations with the Russians concerning Paks. And at this point I’m not at all sure that McCain knew that all the financial details of the Paks negotiations have already been made secret for years to come.

McCain and the others present were familiar with the memorial to be erected on Szabadság tér. They even talked about anti-Semitism in Hungary. The Democratic congressman from Florida, Ted Deutch, told Orbán that he must be sure that the monument will not be used “to whitewash history.” Apparently, Viktor Orbán gave his word, but unfortunately we know how much his word is worth.

The American delegation met Attila Mesterházy, Gordon Bajnai, Benedek Jávor, and Gábor Fodor. I assume that Ferenc Gyurcsány was not present because in 2007-2008 he was accused by the Americans, with help from Viktor Orbán who was then in his anti-Russian mode, of being a great friend of Vladimir Putin.

Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap, the government’s mouthpieces, have for some time been publishing articles with a sharp anti-American edge, but since the Orbán government decided to take on the American government through an attack on Colleen Bell the articles and opinion pieces written in these two organs have become outright vicious.

Magyar Nemzet after the official meeting  made a flippant remark about “the former presidential candidate who suddenly had an attack of worry for Hungarian democracy.” István Lovas, the paper’s correspondent in Brussels, wrote an opinion piece in today’s Magyar Nemzet entitled “At last,” in which he expressed his delight that at last Hungary is hitting back: “Goodbye servitude, goodbye hopelessness.” Magyar Hírlap just today published four articles on American-Hungarian relations where they talk about John McCain as “a somebody called McCain, … a loud American” who lectures Hungarians about democracy and who “worries himself sick” over undemocratic Hungary. Hungarians are bored with all that talk about checks and balances they keep repeating. A few weeks ago an article in Magyar Hírlap described the oft repeated phrase “checks and balances” as American whining (nyivákolás).

I’m pretty sure that this fierce anti-American rhetoric is popular in certain circles in Hungary, but I have to believe that it will have very adverse effects on both the diplomatic and the economic relations between Hungary and the United States.

Possible criminal activities of some Hungarian politicians?

This is a very old story with a new twist. It goes back to what is known as the Hungarian “mafia war,” which began with the murder of József Prisztás in 1996 and continued a few days later with the death of Csaba Lakatos, the driver of Prisztás’s race horses, on the Budapest trotting course. It was in connection with this murder that Sándor Pintér’s name emerged as someone who might know more about the mafia war than he should. I remind you that Sándor Pintér was chief of the Hungarian national police force between 1991 and 1996 and has twice been Viktor Orbán’s minister of interior.

In the 1990s the most important figure of the Russian mafia, the Ukrainian Semion Mogilevich, lived in Budapest. Right now he resides in Moscow and, although the Russian authorities have to be fully aware of all his crimes, he is left to live a life of luxury with his Hungarian wife and three children. Another famous mafia chief and a friend of “Szeva bácsi” (Uncle Seva), as he was called by his friends in Budapest, was the German Dietmar Clodo, who in the 1980s was arrested for bank robbery at least twice in Germany. Eventually Clodo was arrested in Hungary and received a ten-year jail sentence which he was able to serve in Germany. He was released in 2011 and since then has been living in Berlin running a security firm.

What does all this have to do with Pintér? In 1998, after Pintér was nominated to be minister of the interior, the parliamentary committee on national security headed by György Keleti (MSZP) found evidence that Pintér might have been involved with some of the important characters in the Hungarian underworld. Specifically with Clodo. During the interrogation of someone who himself became the victim of the mafia war it came to light that Clodo’s wife testified that a high-ranking policeman, who turned out to be Pintér, visited her husband several times sometime in 1997. This testimony reached the parliamentary committee that was deciding on Pintér’s appointment. During the questioning Pintér had serious mental lapses concerning his relationship to Clodo. At first he denied that he ever met Clodo, but eventually he admitted that he had met him once at a trade show but didn’t know that Clodo was Clodo because he introduced himself as Edward. A few days later Világgazdaság learned that Clodo registered at the trade show under his own name. In brief, Pintér’s story was full of holes.

Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán

Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán

But that was not all. There is a good possibility that Pintér might have been involved after the fact with the murder of Csaba Lakatos. Although he denied it, according to the police report filled out at the time he either removed the gun found at the crime scene or replaced it with another gun. When the police eventually found the twins who apparently killed Lakatos, a policeman present at the arrest reported that they were relieved when they were arrested and that they said “as long as Uncle Sanyi is the chief of police … we will be safe.” The next day the two men were released from custody.

And back to the present. HVG‘s Antónia Rádai, who once already revealed details about the connection between civil servants and the Hungarian mafia, decided to have an interview with Dietmar Clodo.* Why exactly now is an interesting question. After all, Clodo has been out of jail for the last two or three years. It is possible that Clodo was the one who approached HVG with his story. In any case, Rádai had a long interview with Clodo.

Here it is what she learned. According to Clodo, he met Pintér three times. First, indeed, at the trade show in 1997 when Pintér was no longer the national police chief. Clodo at that point was in the safety glass business and Pintér was the owner of a security firm called Preventív Security. They met two more times, but at the end there was no business deal.

Apparently Pintér’s offer was more than shady. Now shady deals were part and parcel of Clodo’s business practice, but if he took a risk at least he wanted to reap benefits from the deal. What Pintér offered would have benefited only himself. He proposed that Clodo replace the safety glass used in police cars with the kind used in shop windows. Pintér would make sure that the police units in the provinces would buy his safety glass. The difference in price between the real and the inferior glass would go to Pintér. No wonder Clodo said no. If true, this story certainly calls into question Pintér’s “business dealings.” Sándor Pintér, it should be noted, is an extremely rich man.

Potentially even more damning are Clodo’s stories about the connection between the Russian mafia and a Hungarian politician. Semion Mogilevich, whom Clodo described as his friend, asked a favor from Clodo. Mogilevich gave him a Hungarian politician’s telephone number. Clodo was instructed to phone the number and invite the Hungarian politician to his house and hand him a brief case supplied by Mogilevich. Clodo had to insist that the politician open the briefcase on the spot because in Clodo’s study behind the books was a hidden camera which recorded the exchange. There were one million deutschmarks in the briefcase. The exchange took place in 1994. At that time the name of the politician was not familiar to Clodo. “To me he was only one of the many corrupt characters to whom I had to hand similar packages in the middle of the 1990s.” In addition to this encounter there was another meeting with a politician from the same party. “The others were police officers.”

Dietmar Clodo told Antónia Rádai the name of the politician but HVG, after consulting with the paper’s lawyers, decided to withhold it.

The amazing thing is that practically no one picked up on this story. Perhaps one reason is that the younger generation of Hungarian journalists simply don’t remember Clodo or Uncle Seva and don’t realize the significance of this interview. But it is hard to believe that no one is interested in the person who allegedly received the one million marks from Semion Mogilevich in that briefcase. The only reporter who followed up on the interview was György Bolgár, who interviewed Rádai on his radio show. He rightly pointed out that, if this story is true, whoever this politician is can’t feel safe. After all, that video might still be in the possession of Uncle Seva in Moscow.

What about the opposition parties? Well, MSZP and Együtt-PM don’t seem to be too sharp either. It was only DK’s Ágnes Vadai who asked Chief Prosecutor Péter Polt whether he is planning to investigate this old case in light of this new development. Vadai added that if this story is true there are people who play important roles in Hungarian politics who might have committed serious crimes twenty years ago. I guess we can pretty safely predict that if Vadai gets an answer at all it will be in the negative.

—–

*The full interview by Antónia Rádai is still not available on the Internet. I had to rely on summaries of the story given by other publications.

A show trial in Orbán’s Hungary

Today, inspired by an anonymous piece of writing entitled “A kémügy” (The spy affair) that appeared online on September 16, I will revisit a case I have written about extensively in the past. In July there was a show trial in the military court of Debrecen where the accused were a former minister and two high officials in the Hungarian National Security office.  We will not know details of the trial or even the charges brought against these men for a very long time because the transcript of the trial and the material gathered by the prosecution will not be made public until 2041. Moreover, a gag order was imposed on the defendants. If they reveal anything whatsoever related to the case they will be charged with divulging “state secrets,” which may mean another trial and another sentence.

The last time a cabinet minister and high-ranking officials were accused and convicted of espionage in Hungary was during the Rákosi period. In 1949 László Rajk, minister of the interior, and several high-ranking army officers were accused of spying, found guilty, and executed. The charges were, of course, trumped up. Times have changed, at least in the sense that Viktor Orbán’s political enemies can no longer be physically eliminated. But even on trumped-up charges they can end up in jail for a few years, their lives ruined.

The defendants in this case were György Szilvásy, minister in charge of national security in the Gyurcsány administration, Lajos Galambos, head of the National Security Office, and Sándor Laborc, Galambos’s successor. The court procedures were conducted in the Debrecen military court instead of in a Budapest civilian court.

As I said, I have written a lot about this case, and I suggest that those who are interested in this trial should read some of the older entries. My first post on the subject appeared on July 2, 2011, with the title “More and more arrests, most likely on phony charges,” which was followed by two more in the same month, one of which I entitled “The case against György Szilvásy and the national security chiefs might be of historic importance.” I borrowed that title from Gábor Török, a political scientist, who argued at the time that if the charges turn out to be unfounded “the present government majority can’t escape political responsibility.” In a democracy, said Török, “no political power can use means that are considered to be illegitimate.” Török suspected that someone did use such means and warned that “it will be a black day for Hungarian democracy when we find out who he was.”

Reading this old blog post of Gábor Török from 2011, we can now understand Viktor Orbán’s fury, described by the author of “A kémügy,” when he found out that despite the assurances of Chief Prosecutor Peter Polt the prosecutors’ case against Szilvásy was so weak that a military judge named Béla Varga refused to initiate proceedings against Szilvásy. Poor Varga didn’t remain a military judge for long. In fact, he is currently under criminal investigation. But after Varga’s ruling Orbán realized that “his political career is at stake” and that this “mistake” must be corrected somehow. And the situation for Orbán didn’t look good. The prosecutors appealed and the appellate court agreed with the lower court.

It was at that junction, claims our author, that there was a meeting of Fidesz leaders, high officials of the Ministry of Interior, and top prosecutors. Fidesz leaders made it clear that the “problem” must be solved. A guilty verdict must be delivered, at least in the first instance. The burden eventually fell on the minister of the interior, Sándor Pintér, who just a bit earlier had received supervisory rights over a new national security organization called Nemzeti Védelmi Szolgálat (National Security Service). He managed to get bits and pieces of information from Laborc’s successor, László Balajti, about some of the cases Galambos and Laborc handled.

Since I already wrote rather extensively about the case, I will not dwell on the details. It is enough to say that Galambos hired an outside firm owned by a person whose father studied in the Soviet Union and whose mother was Russian to conduct lie detector tests on some of the people whom he suspected of being spies for Fidesz within his own office. That became the wedge used to build a case against these three men. The prosecutors concentrated on Galambos with the idea of breaking him. Initially, however, they were not successful and again the investigative judge released him from custody. Again, the prosecutors appealed the ruling and in the second instance the investigative judge sent Galambos back to  jail. But although Galambos was often quite incoherent, he did not accuse his minister of espionage.

It was at that point that Sándor Pintér’s new National Defense Service took over the investigation because the politician was worried that nothing would come of this not so well constructed phony case. But by law the National Defense Service is not allowed to engage in investigative operations. So, illegally the officials of the Service visited Galambos in jail and asked for his cooperation. Galambos could easily be coerced because he had another court case hanging over his head. They promised that if he cooperates they will drop the charges in the other case. By that time Galambos was in such bad psychological shape that overnight the prison guards checked on him every fifteen minutes. But still no tangible evidence came to light that would implicate György Szilvásy. Eventually, they asked Galambos whether they could “summarize” his testimony.

According to the document, Szilvásy, with the knowledge of Ferenc Gyurcsány, served Russian interests. He tried to pass MOL. the Hungarian oil company, into Russian hands and Szilvásy allegedly had something to do with the collapse of Malév, the Hungarian airline company. The lie detector tests were necessary to prevent leaks because the Russians wanted to be sure that no one learns the details of the planned Southern Stream gas pipeline. The anonymous author reminds us that these accusations are practically the same that Fidesz leveled against the Gyurcsány government. Mind you, even here the officers of the National Defense Service were sloppy. At the time that all these dastardly deeds were allegedly committed, in 2006 and early 2007, there were no talks about Hungary’s involvement in the Southern Stream project.

This so-called testimony, the linchpin of the whole case, wasn’t included with the other pieces of evidence because in that case the defense would have been able to read it before the trial. In which case they would have been able to deny the charges in writing. Moreover, evidence obtained illegally cannot be used in the investigative phase. On the other hand, the judges would most likely accept it as evidence because they were more interested in its content than the way in which it was obtained. So, the decision was made that during Galambos’s trial, Galambos himself would ask for the “summary.” Naturally, neither Szilvásy nor Laborc was present and therefore they had no way of knowing what Galambos’s testimony was all about. Therefore they couldn’t possibly mount a defense against it.

Galambos had to be found guilty because otherwise Szilvásy couldn’t have been charged with abetment and Laborc with complicity. Galambos and Szilvásy each received jail sentences of two years and ten months, Sándor Laborc a suspended sentence of one year.

This is what we can glean from this anonymous document. How much of it is true we cannot know now and perhaps never will. But espionage is certainly a very serious offense. According to ¶261§(1) of the Hungarian Criminal Code, someone who gathers intelligence for a foreign power will receive a sentence of from two to eight years. ¶261§(2) states that if the information passed to a foreign power happens to be top-secret then the sentence will be harsher, between five and fifteen years. Considering that Galambos received only two years and ten months, the alleged evidence was most likely very flimsy.

If political motivation played a role and the prosecutors, the military judges, the ministry of interiors actually conspired to send György Szilvásy to jail just because of his role in unveiling Fidesz politicians’ illegal spying on the National Security Office, then Orbán’s Hungary is no longer a country that respects the rule of law. A friend of mine made an observation that I think is absolutely brilliant.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis / wikimedia.org

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis / wikimedia.org

In classic show trials the victims were forced to cooperate and in a spectacular public trial they admitted their guilt. Once the authorities got what they wanted, the judges could announce the verdict and the victims naturally were found guilty. But what happens when the accused refuse to admit guilt as these three men did? How do the authorities manage to send them to jail? The Orbán government came up with the perfect solution. They made everything about this trial secret, including the exact nature of the charges. The persons involved are bound by a gag order. The victims cannot even deny their guilt in public. Thus we will never know what they were charged with and why they were found guilty. This is, my friend says, worse than the classic show trials. I tend to agree with him.