show trials

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 /

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis /

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.

Former Gyurcsány officials convicted of espionage

According to one of the definitions, a “show trial” is “a public trial of a political offender conducted chiefly for propagandistic purposes.” In Hungarian there is a similar word for a show trial, “kirakatper” (kirakat = shop window), but more often than not it is called “koncepciós per,” which in my opinion better describes the nature of such trials. The accusers strive during the investigation to achieve a certain end; they have a concept that guides their procedure and they force the facts to support the charge.

The show trial I’m going to talk about today isn’t a show trial in the literal sense of the word for the simple reason that the court proceedings were conducted in secret. We will not know any details for a very long time because the material gathered against the accused and the transcript of the trial will not be made public until 2041.  Moreover, a gag order was imposed on the accused. 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. It is a true Catch-22 situation.

In the summer of 2011 four people were accused of spying. These so-called spies were all in one way or the other involved with counterintelligence. So, the charge read, men who were supposed to defend the country against spies were actually spying themselves and passing on information to a foreign power. Four people were accused: Lajos Galambos, head of the National Security Office between 2004 and 2007; Sándor Laborc, his successor between 2007 and 2009; György Szilvásy, minister without portfolio in charge of national security; and someone who is known only as László P.

A right-wing Internet news site, Alfahír, was ecstatic at the possibility that “the shammeses of Gyurcsány might be going to jail after all.” In case you don’t know, a shammes is a sexton in the synagogue, but in Hungarian the word also signifies a lowly subordinate; it has a derogatory tinge. Magyar Hírlap, even before the verdict became known, imposed their own verdict: “Spies in the Debrecen Courthouse,” heralded the paper this morning.

Indeed, the case was sent to the Military Court in Debrecen although under normal circumstances it should have been tried in Budapest. Surely, Tünde Handó must have had good reason to send the case to Debrecen. And indeed, she should be satisfied with the results. Lajos Galambos and György Szilvásy each received jail sentences of two years and ten months, Sándor Laborc a suspended sentence of one year, and to everybody’s surprise László P. was found not guilty.

László P. was the head of a computer security firm that was hired to make the National Security Office’s computer system safe. There were too many leaks and Laborc suspected that the leaked information was ending up in the hands of the Fidesz leadership. It was Szilvásy who recommended László P. He didn’t know him personally but  heard that he was good at what he did.

espionageThose Fidesz apparatchiks who were entrusted with finding some kind of an excuse for getting even with Galambos-Laborc-Szilvásy, who were trying to put an end to Fidesz spying, must have been delighted when they discovered that László P.’s mother was a Russian whom his father married when he was a university student in the Soviet Union. Moreover, one of László P.’s  associates was “also Russian speaking,” as Magyar Nemzet discovered. Thus the plot, the concept, was hatched upon which a case could be built. Spying for Russia via László P’s firm. Yet László P. was found not guilty. I leave it to my readers’ imagination to hypothesize what might be behind this very surprising outcome.

So, let’s see what the charges were. Galambos was charged with and convicted of espionage, Szilvásy with abetment, and Laborc with complicity. Since everything surrounding the trial is secret, it is impossible to figure out what these people were really accused of.

Spying 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. In this case Galambos couldn’t have revealed top secret information to anyone. As far as Szilvásy is concerned, the charge most likely was that he ordered Galambos to commit a crime. As for Laborc, we have not a clue what the charge of complicity actually means or in what way he was supposed to be complicit in this alleged affair.

The case has a long history. In the last two years hundreds of articles have been written and all sorts of conspiracy theories hatched. Many of them turned out to be sheer speculation. Unfortunately we are still speculating due to the secrecy that surrounds the case. I suspect that the decision was made early in the game to make the trial secret because the charges were bogus. I remember that sometime in late 2011 or early 2012 the parliamentary committee on national security matters convened to hear what the prosecutors had to say about this spy case. At that point Ágnes Vadai, still a member of MSZP, was a member of the committee. Of course, she couldn’t say much about it, but she indicated that the whole affair was unbelievable. Laughable, I think she called it.

One thing is sure. The National Security Office discovered that Fidesz had hired a company, UD Zrt., headed by former national security officers, to spy on the National Security Office. The telephone conversations that the National Security Office recorded proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Fidesz was setting up a kind of shadow national security office of its own. For a little while it looked as if the people involved on Fidesz’s side, László Kövér and Ervin Demeter, were in serious trouble. But if you have the prosecutor’s office in your pocket, a lot of problems can be solved.

Moreover, Viktor Orbán doesn’t forget. Once in power he decided to jail those people who tried to expose Fidesz’s illegal dirty tricks. I’m sure that originally they were hoping to implicate Ferenc Gyurcsány, but that proved to be impossible. His old friend György Szilvásy could, however, be dragged in because he recommended  László P.’s firm to the National Security Office. One could ask: why didn’t the Office itself take care of the problem? Because the top brass in the agency didn’t trust their subordinates. Some of them, they believed, were in the pay of Fidesz.

Perhaps a few years ago one could say that such speculations about Fidesz couldn’t possibly be true, but by now we’ve seen enough of the party’s mafia-like ways to understand that their earlier spying on the National Security Office was true to form. And what do you do with your political enemies? Just ask Putin.

Ferenc Gyurcsány’s State of the Nation speech 2013, Part I

About two weeks ago I published the English translation of Attila Mesterházy’s policy speech. Some of you complained about the number of “ladies and gentlemen” in Mesterházy’s speech. In DK circles everybody uses the familiar “te,” including the former prime minister, and supporters call him “Feri.” There is another difference. Unlike other politicians, including Viktor Orbán who is considered to be a good speaker, Gyurcsány has no written text. He talks with the assistance of some scribbled notes and doesn’t have to look at those notes very often. Perhaps you will gain a better understanding of his style by watching a few minutes of the video of his speech.

The speech is long and therefore I will publish it in three parts. I want to thank the editors of Free Hungary for allowing me to republish it here. By the way, you can find a link to Free Hungary on the “Blog Role.” 

* * *

If we continue as now, the next prime minister will be called Orbán

“If we continue in the same way as now, the next prime minister will be called neither Gordon Bajnai nor Attila Mesterházi but will be called Viktor Orbán. Even though we would have every ground to put an end to Orbán’s governance and, theoretically, we have even the tools to defeat Orbán and his regime. Then, I’m repeating it again: if we go on in the same way as now, we will fail. A great lesson from the past year is that it was not Orbán’s government that caused a surprise. Frankly speaking, he cannot do that any more. The surprise is, if any, that the multitude of democratic people, including the voters, various movements, organisations, the media, a significant portion of intellectuals, who are still brave and committed enough to contravene Orbán, were not yet able to organize themselves, are not yet prepared for a fight ending with victory. But, if we have an influence on something at all, it is evidently the world of opposition. We are not so gullible to suppose that this government is interested in knowing what we are thinking about Hungary, it just does what it wants. We say what we are thinking, we try to show alternatives but, where we really have a great responsibility, where we really have tools, is to organize and train the democratic opposition for the fight, it is to show an alternative against Orbán. We need to do much more than we have done until now.”

The country is tired; there are too many hopeless people

“But still, let me begin with where the country is in the spring of 2013. I can’t say much new compared to the last year, at least not in quality. What we said about the country at that time and what we expected then, is true even today and our expectations have, unfortunately, not been fulfilled either. But we came to assess the state of the nation, we want to speak about the condition of the republic and therefore, let’s summarize, not in too much length, how we see Hungary. If I need to say it briefly, then I say that the country is tired, many, too many people have lost their hope and there is almost no field in the country’s life where we could say that it became a little bit better and more hopeful than was in 2010.”

This is no longer a constitutional state but an autocracy: the will of one single man replaces the constitution

“A debate has been going for a long time about, how to characterize this regime, whether this is still a democracy or already an autocracy, whether constitutionality is still alive. All that happened in the past few days is that this government is amending the fundamental law, said to be as hard as granite, for the fourth time now within one year by a huge package of 26 pages; this may convince even our rightist friends who have not lost their discernment yet that Hungary is no more a constitutional state. Namely, constitutional state means that we decide abidingly what the major frame, institutions and organizations of the state’s operation and the state’s structure are, what our relations to them are. This is what provides stability, the legal system is built on this and we go by this. By today, it has turned out that we do not have to go by the constitution because that may change, if necessary, every day even, but we have to go by the political will behind the permanent change of constitution, which is the will for power of one single person who is called Viktor Orbán. And where the constitution is not the rule but a person’s will, that system is called autocracy rather than democracy. Today, autocracy prevails in Hungary. However, those who want democracy, those who want republic, those who consider themselves democrats, such persons can only oppose this regime. We don’t want to have autocracy. We want to have a free republic with free citizens and those who want to have that, such persons shall require Orbán’s defeat. We are fighting for the defeat of this regime and for restoring the republic.

Decreasing real wages, decreasing consumption, decreasing investment, decreasing unemployment

“Three years ago, this government attained power by promising hope, by promising boom, by promising social justice. Today, the Hungarian economy is more vulnerable than it was in 2010. The shrinking of the Hungarian economy’s performance has been occurring for so many quarters and is becoming more and more serious. The country is in recession. The country’s common cake is decreasing continuously. Never before have so few jobs been established in the first month of the year than just in January 2013. Never before have so many, over 300 thousand people been unemployed without any provision than now. While, theoretically, there is no world crisis, not even in practice, while, of course, Europe has difficulties, but there is not a general crisis in Europe either, in Hungary real wages are decreasing, in Hungary consumption is decreasing and the level of investment is so low that there won’t be any growth in the forthcoming years either. So few homes are being built in this country, less than in 1944 when German troops marched in the streets of Budapest or Makó. We have to face a dark future. The country that obtains its living from investment, the country whose wealth or economy was driven by investment, by capital construction, is now one of the last ones among the investors’ target areas. There is neither investment, nor lending, nor jobs. This is a spiral from which we won’t be able to emerge still for many years.”

The rate of the decline of the Hungarian economic performance is six times higher than the European one: unimaginable depths of poverty and despondency

“The prime minister may say that it is caused by external effects. Partly, and only in lesser part, he is right. The rate of shrinkage of the Hungarian economy is six times higher than the European recession. In this respect, the Hungarian prime minister does not say the truth. Under such circumstances, while touring the country in the past months, we met such a depth of poverty and despondency that I have not seen even for a long time or have never imagined. Poverty has always existed in the history and I suppose it will always exist in the future as well. There will always be people or families, who live on the fringe of the normal human life. Who live from hand to mouth. If I needed to distinguish between poverty of today and that existing many years ago, then I would simply speak about the fact that today there are more poor people and poverty is deeper. I would rather say that earlier, there was at least the hope that you can emerge from it. If nothing else but the hope that it will be better for my children. Today, the hope is lost. Hungary became the country of despondency during Orbán’s governance.”

Only Orbán’s oligarchs are getting richer – the regime introduced the institutionalized corruption

“Those who are getting richer, belong to the world of Orbán’s oligarchs. Poverty has always existed in history and I suppose it will always exist everywhere in the future. But the situation that the political leader and his direct environment, the internal circle of Fidesz world is getting richer by corruption, this is a new phenomenon in Hungary. Such a thing has never happened earlier.”

School was taken away from children, parents and settlements, and only children of the wealthiest families can go to university

“Meanwhile, chaos prevails in the world of education, public education became the site of Christian conservative re-evangelization, the teachers do not know how long they will have their job and from whom they will receive their salary, who their employer is and what is expected from them. School was taken away from children, settlements and parents, they have nothing to do with it, this regime tries to force the free idea of free school to fit to a Procrustean bed, which, from this time on, will evidently not be free any more. While, when we speak about a free country, we naturally also take notice of the fact that there are thousands of different ideas and, since every family and every child is manifold, this manifoldness can be mediated only by manifold schools. That the university’s autonomy is taken away, that by today, universities are, basically, in the state of inoperability. They are not on the verge but in the state of inoperability. That the gates of universities are not opened but closed. That, except for the wealthiest families, almost nobody has the opportunity to acquire such diplomas, whilst the leading power, the intellectuals of the country, those who tailor shape to Hungary of the future will be recruited on the long run from the holders of these diplomas.

Despondency: More people go abroad than after 1956

“The reason for despondency is that more than half a million Hungarian citizens sought and found jobs abroad. More people go abroad than after 1956 and this is the sin of this government because they leave the country who are the most mobile, the bravest and the most venturesome. There are very many young people among them, who are really needed in this country but who do not find any opportunity and hope in Hungary.”

To the executors of the show trials: even bigger rogues than their supporters have collapsed in the past

Meanwhile, not even in a concealed manner, show trials are taking place in this country. I always said: “don’t worry about me, I can protect myself”. I have protected myself as well. The latest decision was made recently, which proved that it was a dirty, unfair calumniation in the autumn of 2006 that the politicians of my government, including me encouraged the police of the republic to use and apply illegitimate methods with the intent of intimidation or revenge. Not even the prosecution of Péter Polt was brave enough to, ultimately, fabricate a legally valid incrimination from this ignoble political accusation. This case was closed a few days ago. This is good. But they keep two of my former ministers, György Szilvásy and Pál Szabó under an unfair and false accusation. Miklós Tátrai is kept under an unfair and false accusation. It is the elementary duty of the democratic opposition to assume solidarity with those whom they want to assassinate in show trials. And I want to say silently and calmly to those who take part in this action that even bigger rogues than their support, Viktor Orbán collapse sooner or later. Their support will also fail and they will then face not a show trial but a great number of fair parliamentary and non-parliamentary proceedings where, after reviewing all papers and all letters, in my hope, it will be proved to the country that today, people are being damaged and bemired in an inhuman, unacceptable proceeding for, even unconcealed, political interests, just in order to smear their political rivals. Those who take part in this action do not simply break the law but are similar rogues as their support.

Hungary became isolated: it fawns upon Central-Asian despots

“Meanwhile, Hungary has become isolated. The country that was, erstwhile, the most European one in this region, today, has an eye to the East. It seeks friends in Baku rather than in Berlin or London. It unscrupulously allows an axe murderer to leave the country and fawns upon Central-Asian despots. Unfortunately, in this situation, in this world, an honest Hungarian democrat should be ashamed of his government rather than his country. We need to admit that we are ashamed of this government and our shame is strong enough that we do not want to live together with it. The country sank to knees, most of the Hungarian citizens lost all of their hopes and feel themselves in a hopeless situation”.

I have seen, how it is when the disappointed right-wing crowd rampages

“To conclude, it would be high time to defeat this government. In 2002 and 2006, I was among those who defeated Fidesz, defeated Viktor Orbán. Even under these experiences I have to say to you that, what we are doing now, where we are now, it will not be enough for the victory and what is at least similarly important, it will not be enough for successful governance. Let me start with the latter, in just 2 or 3 sentences. My friend, the evangelistic pastor Gábor Iványi said a few weeks ago that it was worth ridding ourselves of evil, if only for a moment. It was not an evangelical citation but referred to this government stating that it is worth winning even if the government to be set up as a result of this victory would not be able to govern for a long time. Such a sentence from a gospeller is nice. But from a politician, it is, in my opinion, unacceptable. However, every man shall stick to his trade. We must understand that, in case a multi-coloured coalition government, backed by a small majority, needs to govern within the current constitutional frames, surrounded by party soldiers appointed to the top of agencies that shall be independent from the government, while the country will be in an adverse condition, then we must worry about this government very much that it won’t be able to put in the forthcoming 4 years. I lead a stronger government than that after 2006. I have seen how it is when the disappointed right-wing crowd rampages. I have already seen how it is when, not the whole but part of the state apparatus acts against its government. I can imagine how it is, when everybody, from the president of the central bank to the public prosecutor, from the head of the competition authority to the president of the media authority – and now, I discontinue listing – endeavours to upset the government.”

(To be continued)