soccer

No good players, no spectators but more and more stadiums

There was great excitement in government circles yesterday in the wake of the news that the third quarter Hungarian GDP grew by 1.8%. Observers who look around the country couldn’t quite believe that number and skeptics immediately questioned the figures of the Central Statistical Office.

No, the numbers are not falsified, but if they are not put into context they are misleading. What the ordinary citizen, even the one who more or less follows the news, doesn’t realize is that a year ago during the same period there was a decrease in the GDP of 1.7% compared to 2011. Thus, this single figure simply indicates that we are where we were two years ago. Moreover, economic growth during the first three quarters of 2013 didn’t herald a robust recovery. It was a modest 0.5%.

Prospects for the future are not especially bright because investment is still very low and comes mostly in the form of large government projects financed by the European Union. Since the Orbán government stopped all convergence projects that were under way in 2010, only a fraction of the available subsidies was used as late as the summer of this year. Then János Lázár took over the office handling EU projects and promised to begin large and hitherto postponed projects in a great hurry. According to critics, the government has been spending money with very little thought for utility. I for one find it outrageous that billions of euros given to Hungary by the citizens of better-off countries in the European Union go for projects that have nothing to do with convergence.

Let’s focus on the most objectionable: football stadiums. As of August 2013 a total of 123 billion forints was set aside for stadiums whose construction was already under way. And announcements over the last few months indicated that the Hungarian government will spend an additional 110-130 billion forints refurbishing existing stadiums or building new ones. These new stadiums, taken together, will be able to seat about 110,000 football fans. In the fall of 2012 the average number of spectators at the matches of Division I was 2,807; this number decreased to 2,728 during the 2012/13 season. Attendance varied widely by club. Ferencváros averaged 6,174; Diósgyőr, 5,669; Debrecen, 4,400; and Szombathely, 3,433. Then there was Mezőkövesd with an average attendance of 800 and the famed Felcsút with a mere 300-500 spectators.

Some 80% of the population object to spending public money for building or refurbishing stadiums. As far as Felcsút is concerned, even the majority of Fidesz voters disapprove of Viktor Orbán’s pet project. Yet voter dislike of this stadium building frenzy didn’t dampen Viktor Orbán’s zeal. In the 2014 budget the government allocated an additional 82.8 billion forints for stadiums.

Two days ago Népszabadság learned that the cabinet had discussed refurbishing and/or expanding twenty-six existing stadiums. The cost will be 21 billion forints. Most of the money will go to Honvéd (Army) in Budapest. In addition, Pécs, Paks, Kaposvár, Nyíregyháza, Zalaegerszeg, Vasas, Cegléd, Gyimót, Kisvárda, Szigetszentmiklós and several others will all have stadiums. Soon there will scarcely be any larger than average size town in Hungary without a spanky new stadium. Someone wittily remarked that if sometime in the distant future archaeologists undertake extensive excavations in the Carpathian Basin they will wonder what all those oval-shaped foundations were used for by the people who lived here thousands of years before.

Bishop Kiss-Rigó plays football / MTI

Bishop Kiss-Rigó plays football / MTI

It seems that the football stadium mania is infectious. The Szeged-Csanádi Diocese started a business venture, Szeged 2011 Labdarugó Sportszolgáltató Kft. The bishop, László Kiss-Rigó, is keenly interested in football. He put half a million forints of his own money into the Grosics Football Academy in Gyula. He also put money into Profi Futball Kft. Now Kiss-Rigó wants to rebuild one of the two abandoned football stadiums in Szeged. Never mind that Szeged doesn’t even have a team. The diocese’s company will build a stadium–and maybe “they will come.”

The reconstruction of the stadium will cost about 2-3 billion forints, and the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) already promised the diocese-owned company 700 million forints toward the cost. The company itself hasn’t been doing well. In fact, just last year it lost 95 million forints. However, the bishop is optimistic that his business venture will receive a few billions from private donations–donations that can be written off on the donors’ taxes. Just as Felcsút managed to get 4-5 billion, Kiss-Rigó, a great Fidesz supporter, will most likely get generous support thanks to his connection to Viktor Orbán. As far permission from the city of Szeged is concerned, one doesn’t have to worry. Although the mayor is a socialist, the majority of the city fathers are members of Fidesz. They already gave their blessing to the bishop’s project.

But not all is in order in the Szeged-Csanád Diocese. The Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service (NAV) is investigating possible tax fraud and other unspecified felonious acts. And that leads me to the surprising fact that businesses owned by church organizations have all sorts of privileges granted by the Orbán government that other businesses don’t receive. For example, lower corporate taxes, no taxes on company vehicles, and lower personal income tax rates for ministers and priests. The Democratic Coalition included repeal of these perks among the party’s sixteen points.

The investigation of the Szeged-Csanád Diocese is still under way. An earlier investigation into the crooked business practices of the Pécs Diocese ended the career of the bishop of Pécs.

It would be interesting to know the extent to which churches are engaged in business ventures and how much the Hungarian government is helping them along. In the Szeged case, the Hungarian Football Association’s 700 million donation to Kiss-Rigó’s business venture comes from the Hungarian taxpayers, who are most likely not terribly keen on a church-built stadium in Szeged.

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The political reverberations after the Hungarian football fiasco

When soccer/football becomes a political matter, as was pointed out by a Swiss journalist straight from Felcsút, it is not surprising that a spectacular defeat of the Hungarian team will soon be part and parcel of high level politics. This is exactly what has happened. Fidesz politicians have been madly searching for scapegoats in order to avoid pointing the finger at the chief soccer enthusiast of the country, Viktor Orbán. The first victim of the “purge” was the coach, who resigned right on the spot. The second target seems to be Sándor Csányi, president of the Hungarian Football Association (Magyar Labdarugó Szövetség). I assume you know that Sándor Csányi is one of the richest Hungarians and CEO of Hungary’s largest bank, OTP.

Actually, if Viktor Orbán’s minions wanted to find a scapegoat in Sándor Csányi, they didn’t have to worry too much about a possible negative reaction to their attack from the chief. In the last few weeks a noticeable cooling of the friendship between the prime minister and the banker could be observed. The first punch came from Orbán’s side when the prime minister’s faithful chief-of-staff, János Lázár, called Csányi the country’s chief usurer. That got Csányi’s goat, who answered in kind and alluded to Lázár’s questionable role in the monopolization of tobacco products and the licensing of the tobacconist shops. If that weren’t enough, he gave an interview to Olga Kálmán in which he explained all the negative effects of the abnormally high taxes on banks. Even so, a few days later Csányi and Orbán could be seen amiably sitting side by side at some Videoton game.

After the miserable performance of the Hungarian national team, several Fidesz politicians attacked Csányi, making him and the secretary-general of the Association responsible for the state of Hungarian soccer. Perhaps the very first to go on the attack was Máté Kocsis, mayor of District VIII and the man in charge of the growing Fidesz communication team, who announced that the coach’s resignation is not enough. Of course, he meant a purge of the Hungarian Football Association headed by Csányi. He was followed by Tamás Deutsch, a Fidesz original and currently a member of the European Parliament, who in addition to Csányi wanted to summarily fire the secretary-general of the Association. The third person was Zsolt Wintermantel, mayor of Újpest and a member of parliament, who demanded that the whole upper echelon of the Association resign.

Viktor Orbán playing football / ATV

Viktor Orbán playing football / ATV

The reply from Csányi was not long in coming. This morning he gave a press conference in which called Deutsch “a Twitter hussar,” alluding to Deutsch’s fondness for mostly obscene tweets.  Csányi also recalled that when Deutsch was minister of sports in the first Orbán administration he ordered computerized gates for all Hungarian stadiums, which turned out to be useless junk. He suggested that Deutsch try to sell the whole lot and with the proceeds help Hungarian football. As for Máté Kocsis, Csányi didn’t spare words. He claimed that when Kocsis took over the mayoralty of District VIII there were six stadiums while now it has only four. “Such a man should shut up when it comes to soccer. As a spokesman for Fidesz he has so many other opportunities to lie.” As for Wintermantel, Csányi acted as if he didn’t really know his name: “What’s the name of that mayor? Oh, yeah, Wintermantel. He is the one who screams in front of every stadium and before each match. He should learn more about the facts. This is not politics, this is football.”

After all that, it is perhaps not surprising that both Magyar Nemzet and Magyar Hírlap “censored” Csányi’s words about Kocsis. Magyar Nemzet  left out the most important part of Csányi’s remarks–about Kocsis’s many opportunities to lie as a Fidesz spokesman. Instead they truncated Csányi’s message to Kocsis: “At the time of regime change there were six football fields in the District VIII. Now there are only four. Therefore go elsewhere to lie in connection with soccer.” Magyar Hírlap completely ignored Csányi’s remarks about the Fidesz politician.

This is what happens when politicians use sports, any kind of sport, for their own political purposes. This is especially true when the prime minister himself is the “guiding light” of soccer, which he claims is a “Hungarian sport.” If the coach is at fault and if the chairman of the Hungarian Football Association should be sacked, what should happen to Viktor Orbán who most likely is involved in even the smallest details of the Hungarian football business? Because he was the one who convinced Csányi to seek the chairmanship and who also made sure that he was elected to the position. And who is the person who outlines in great detail the whole future of the sport in Hungary? Naturally, the prime minister, who gave his longest ever interview to the journalist spokesman of the Puskás Academy. Nothing happens in the sport without his okay.

Meanwhile Ádám Szalai, center forward of the Hungarian team, vented his frustration. Interestingly, his complaints about the state of Hungarian soccer are very similar to what Ferenc Gyurcsány told his fellow MSZP members in Balatonőszöd: we have been lying to ourselves and refusing to see the growing problems. False hopes and promises. Nobody is ready to face the music. Nobody really wants to work hard. The bigwigs, I think Viktor Orbán included, insist on Hungarian coaches when these coaches are no good. No Hungarian player plays in any first- or even second-rate European clubs. He himself used to be considered an excellent football player at home, but when he was picked up by a German team it turned out that he really couldn’t compete with his teammates. He had to relearn how to play the sport. At the age of 25-27 one cannot learn to play soccer. What Hungary needs are foreign coaches who make them work hard and who can produce a new generation of players. The present set is useless. Forget about them.

But then there was the match between the Hungarian Roma top players (válogatott) against the Vatican’s Swiss Guard in July 2010. And you know what? The Gypsies won 8-1. Interestingly enough, we didn’t hear about Viktor Orbán’s sitting there in Felcsút, where the game was played, yelling: “Hajrá Magyarország, hajrá magyarok!  Take a look at the short video. It’s fun.

When I told this story to a friend of mine, she said something the Hungarian government might take to heart. Why not put some effort into organizing soccer clubs in villages where there is a sizable Roma population? Such a program wouldn’t need billions. You need balls, a field, and enthusiasm. It would keep those boys active and success would be a great boost to their egos. After all, Puskás himself started to play on an empty lot somewhere in Újpest. He and his friends didn’t even have decent balls. They made them from rags.

The key to future success most likely lies not in fancy football academies (and certainly not in stadiums) but in having thousands of kids introduced to the game. Playing soccer is not an expensive sport like tennis, skiing, or skating. Lots of poor kids can play it. Just like so many Afro-American kids could easily play basketball, often on abandoned city lots, and eventually some of them became world-famous basketball players.

Meanwhile, it looks as if Viktor Orbán will have to be satisfied with a foreign coach. I just wonder who in the world will take the job.

The 8-1 loss in Amsterdam and its possible political consequences

I just read that the last time the Hungarian national football team suffered such a devastating defeat was in 1932 when Austria beat the Hungarians 8-2. Actually, the 8-1 loss to the Dutch team tops the 1932 showing. In itself this defeat is a historic event in the annals of Hungarian football. Perhaps more important, it whipped up especially strong reactions because of Viktor Orbán’s maniacal devotion to and the abnormally high government investment in soccer. Anger over the loss quickly morphed into anger at Viktor Orbán and his government. This defeat may well have serious political consequences.

Ákos Tóth, a journalist for Népszabadság, rightly pointed out that “Viktor Orbán’s regime received a deadly blow from the Hungarian national team.” He succinctly explained why. Other failures of the government could be explained away or simply be engulfed in silence as the prime minister tried to divert attention from the country’s troubles by creating enemies everywhere. Inside as well as outside of the country. But “on the field one cannot lie. There a goal is a goal.” Moreover, Orbán made football “the ethos” of his whole administration. He hoped that near-term success in this sport would justify the expenditure of billions of forints the country doesn’t have on soccer instead of on sports in which Hungarians excel, for example, swimming and kayaking.

An earlier editorial by Attila Ballai in Magyar Nemzet gives us an idea of the value the Hungarian political right places on football success. The author, a great admirer of Viktor Orbán the statesman, kept repeating the importance of at least some success for the present government. He emphasized the “responsibility of the players” because the stakes are high. This game, as all others of the national team, is more than a sporting event. It is politically important for Viktor Orbán and all those who believe in him and his government. Ballai doesn’t expect gold medals. A little win would do, so that “people wouldn’t say that they [meaning the government] are doing all this for these guys [who keep losing]. Are you building stadiums for these football players? Are you spending money on them?”

As we know, the Hungarian national team lost the match in Bucharest. That was bad enough. But with their mortifying defeat against the Netherlands they became a laughing stock. And Viktor Orbán lost face and was perhaps even dealt a serious political blow.

Szilárd Devecseri, one of the Hungarian players, after he kicked an own-goal. The mood of the rest of the players was no better.

Szilárd Devecseri, one of the Hungarian players, after he kicked an own-goal. The mood of the rest of the players was no better.

In times of adversity Viktor Orbán remains silent. In this case some of his underlings spoke in his place. One of his spokesmen, Máté Kocsis, demanded that more heads roll. (The coach, Sándor Egervári, already resigned.) Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus and a football fan, suspects that Kocsis couldn’t have demanded resignations from MLSZ, the Hungarian Football Association, without permission from his boss who is most likely after Sándor Csányi, the president of MLSZ and CEO of OTP, Hungary’s largest bank.

Mihancsik accuses Viktor Orbán of using these players for his own political purposes and thus putting an incredible burden on them. She is alluding to the kind of pressure that was so well expressed by Ballai at the other end of the political spectrum. She feels for these twelve players who are practically paralyzed on the field.

When I visited the University of Florida in Gainesville, an American graduate student delivered me to the airport. It turned out that she is planning to write her dissertation on Hungarian sports and politics during the Rákosi regime. I mentioned to her that the first anti-regime demonstration occurred in 1954 when the Hungarian team failed to win the World Cup. Then just yesterday a friend of mine in Hungary reminded me of the same event, underlining the possible disruptive consequences of the latest Hungarian sports loss. Indeed, a small disturbance broke out after the “The Golden Team” lost to Germany. A crowd attacked the coach’s house, and the members of the team didn’t dare to travel all the way to Budapest and instead left the train in secret in Tatabánya.  He also gave me some details of the close relationship between the party leadership and the Golden Team. Mihály Farkas, minister of defense, kept visiting the players in the dressing room just as today’s bigwigs are doing. That kind of relationship may have unintended consequences. On the one hand, it might intimidate the players, as Mihancsik pointed out. On the other hand, failure on the field may translate into failure at the ballot box.

Here are a few comments from right-wing papers. “The chief honcho said that we like this game. These people don’t like the game but that awful lot of MONEY they receive. Here is the result of the work by a bunch of ignorant parasites, like Csányi and Kubatov.” Kubatov, of Kubatov-lists fame, is currently the head of Ferencváros.

“A series of losses, building a stadium in Felcsút, murderers who escape, half a million emigrants, tobacconist shops, giving away land to friends and relatives, the face of Pintér and the stupid head of Balog… This is the true face of the Orbán regime.” “The fish begins to rot in the head. Without this GENIUS all the others would have gone by now  to ….[obscenity follows].”

Someone suggested that perhaps a Hungarian referee could have helped the situation. The answer: “Hungarian referee, then the best! Mrs. Szájer.” Referee and judge is the same word in Hungarian: bíró. Or: “I demand that every Hungarian be given a stadium with a narrow-gauge railway and with that talented coach, Sándor Egervári.” Or: “Why didn’t the chief tobacconist of Felcsút tell the Dutch that ‘Hungary is doing better!'”

“Is this the famous community of working people? They are going to lose the election in 2014 with this attitude.” “I imagine that on Sunday morning the people in the West will read in the papers that according to Viktor Orbán the problem is that the Europeans don’t work and don’t pray. RIDICULOUS!!!! The truth is that the Dutch were playing ball (they worked) while the Hungarians were standing by.”

“I suggest to you, völkisch Scythians, to march on October 23 and demand that it be included in the Hungarian constitution that no Hungarian team can get more then four goals during one match.” “Our prime minister said that the Hungarians are football-wise. Can you imagine if they weren’t?” “You are awfully quiet … I know why, because one cannot lie here. It is not like the games of Fidesz-KDNP. This game is played for goals.”

Viktor Orbán put up a picture on his Facebook page. He seems to be carrying a baking pan containing some unidentifiable food. This page is naturally visited by adoring fans with appropriately fawning comments. On the other hand, some comments were from people who are obviously no fans of his. Most of them remarked on the fact that he is showing food here when “your people are starving, more than 3 million people live under the poverty line.” Or “a lot of people are hungry because of him but the most important thing for him is that he can live in luxury.” Another person asked whether he is cooking here for the starving children. One guy said: “He is celebrating the great victory!”

Meanwhile, as the result of very intense campaigning, more people voted in Baja by 3 p.m. than all day long the last time. That is a good sign regardless of the outcome. More people realize that their votes count.

Football and its fans: The Romanian-Hungarian game

Today I will talk about two related topics: the Romanian-Hungarian football match in Bucharest and the group of Hungarian fans who on the way to the Romanian capital just happened to stop in a village close to the Romanian-Hungarian border. The fans paid an unwelcome visit to the elementary school in Konyár (pop. 2,000).

As for the game itself, I don’t want to dwell on it. The Hungarian national team suffered a humiliating defeat that more or less precludes it from advancing in the preliminary rounds for next year’s World Cup game. Prior to the match, one of the players, Zsolt Korcsmár, who plays full time for the German Greuther Fürth, predicted that the Hungarian team would come back with three goals. Well, they did but not exactly in the manner Korcsmár imagined. They lost by three goals.

The right-wing fans who were already pretty drunk at the beginning of their journey explained to the reporters on hand that they were looking forward to the game because “for ninety minutes Transylvania will be ours.”The pre-game hype was extraordinary. Even the coach described the match as “historic.” (The original Hungarian that belies translation is something like “an event that will greatly influence our fate.”) It became practically an answer to Trianon. It was also intended to put an end to the extreme frustration of the Hungarian football fans. The last time that the Hungarian national team won against the Romanians in Bucharest was 55 years ago!

That the fans thought that by winning at soccer the Hungarian national team could somehow avenge the loss of Transylvania was one thing. But what was most likely truly injurious to the psyche of the players was that the coach himself fed this notion of a war by other means, a war of football. Sándor Egervári, the coach, kept calling the team’s attention to the “history of these two countries.” I guess he was trying to inspire a mediocre team by making the players feel as if their actions on the field would shape the destiny of the country.

Article after article assured football fans that the players were feeling optimistic and were not overwhelmed by the task. But the media also reinforced the game’s extreme importance. Almost as if Hungary’s national honor had to be defended in this one game. One of the Internet sport sites claimed that it was the most important game ever for the Hungarian national team. Egervári called the Romanians “the Hungarian team’s greatest rivals” not because of the prowess of the Romanian team but because of factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with football. Rather, they stem from the enmity that has existed between these two nations for at least a hundred years. On the Romanian side, I’m almost certain, there were similar feelings. Some Romanian fans held up signs reading “1918,” the year the Romanian National Council declared Transylvania to be part of Romania.

Although most Hungarian football fans admit that Hungarian football is lousy and refuse to attend the games, this time they watched the match intently. More than two million people were glued to MTV’s live broadcast. Normally, serious Hungarian aficionados watch foreign matches, but this game was different. And when the devastating 3-0 loss was reported by hatharom.com, an Internet site devoted to football, the article began with a reference to “the 15 million Hungarians who have been waiting for months for this very important game.” The nation is getting bigger and bigger, it seems. Apparently this 15 million also includes the non-existent two million Hungarian-Americans.

And now a few words about the most ardent fans. All told, about 2,800 Hungarian fans traveled to Bucharest. Eleven hundred of them went by chartered train. The trip by train was organized by a group that calls itself the Carpathian Brigade. Eight hundred eighty left Budapest and 250 joined them in Brasov/Brassó in Romania. (Apparently they trashed the train’s fourteen cars on the return trip.) Others went by chartered buses. We will follow one of these that made a side trip to Konyár.

The bus whose passengers stopped in Konyár originated in Debrecen. The superhighway to the border from Debrecen is still not finished on either side, so vehicles have to travel southward on a secondary road through Sáránd, Derecske, Berettyóújfalu, and from there to Oradea/Nagyvárad in Romania. However, at Derecske, the bus left the highway and turned left onto a  small road leading to this heavily Roma inhabited village and parked in front of the local elementary school.

According to Jenő Gyöngyös, the head of the Roma community in Konyár, the twenty or so rowdy and already slightly drunk “fans” began to yell obscenities and threatened to enter the school. Some of them for good measure urinated on the wall of the building. The teachers locked the doors and the frightened staff ordered the first-graders to hide under their desks. Some of the older pupils hid in the toilets. Eventually someone called the police. The police arrived and simply asked the guys to get back on the bus and depart.

And how do the police now describe the incident? They claim there was no incident. The rowdies just stopped to relieve themselves and to have a cigarette. The only thing they did was to sing the Szekler national anthem.

Konyar

If you look at the Google map you will immediately realize that this stop in Konyár was not happenstance.  It was planned. But why? Because in January a young history teacher at the school, Szilárd Vígh, was caught talking disparagingly about his Gypsy students and boasting about how he disciplines them by beating them. By that time it was the Klebelsberg Center that was the “employer” of the school’s teachers, and after an internal investigation Vígh was fired, in spite of a demonstration organized by Jobbik in defense of the history teacher. The fired teacher was one of the passengers on that bus. Simple enough! The police and the principal can deny the facts till doomsday.

I think one day I should spend some time on the changing behavior of the police. They seem to have recognized that they can do practically anything in pursuit of their vision of law and order. The minister of the interior, the former police chief, will defend them to the very end. And the population is defenseless against their excesses.

Viktor Orbán on football

This morning I read a lengthy interview with Viktor Orbán on the Ferenc Puskás Academy’s website. Several newspapers summarized the prime minister’s thoughts on the state of Hungarian football. The historian Gábor Egry, whom readers of Hungarian Spectrum know from his occasional comments, wrote on Facebook about this interview: “Compulsory reading. Really. Everything one ought to and must know about Orbán.” So, let’s get to it.

By way of background, I should note that Hungarian football in general is very poor and this year was especially so, despite the fact that the prime minister is spending billions and billions of taxpayer money directly or indirectly on his favorite sport. Stadiums are being built and plans are being hatched to make Hungarian football first-rate, as it once was.

Most professional sportswriters claim that there is no way Viktor Orbán’s dream of returning Hungarian football to its former glory will ever be fulfilled. I heard an interview with Iván Hegyi,  editor of Népszabadság‘s sports section, and he convinced me that Viktor Orbán doesn’t understand the realities of professional football today. The interview with the prime minister only confirms Hegyi’s opinion.

Perhaps I should also say a few words about the man who conducted the interview, György Szöllősi, spokesman for the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy. Szöllősi is a supporter of the prime minister’s plans for the future of Hungarian football and most likely shares his convictions. Moreover, just lately he wrote a longish article defending Orbán against the less than kind criticisms of his grandiose plans. In this article he came out with some rather bizarre explanations of why Ferenc Puskás became an excellent player. Not because of his talent but because of the excellent school system established by Kunó Klebelsberg. Anyone who knows anything about Puskás’s early years spent kicking a ball made out of rags on “the grund” should recognize the lunacy of this claim.

Szöllősi gave the following title to the interview: “Football is like gulyás soup.” Gulyás soup? How? Simple. According to Viktor Orbán, the great cook, one always adds to the gulyás soup in a kettle over the open fire. One never takes anything out of it. Mind you, I don’t think that it is immaterial what we put into that soup or, if the soup has been already ruined, whether it is worth adding expensive ingredients to it because it is unlikely that a basically bad soup could be much improved by Viktor Orbán’s methods.

Orbán’s mania for football has completely politicized the sport. By now, I’m sure, a lot of people who heartily dislike Orbán were happy when his favorite team, Videoton, was beaten to a pulp by a third-rate Montenegrian team. Gusztáv Megyesi, the sharp-tongued columnist, admitted that much. And how does Viktor Orbán feel about the total collapse of Hungarian football in spite of his financial efforts? Bad. When he was asked about Videoton, he said “Luckily I didn’t see the second match. I heard about the Waterloo only through an SMS. It was like a shot through the lung. I was still spitting up blood more than a week later.” I’m not going to dwell on the abnormality of such a reaction  from an man who is by now 50 years old.

He knows, of course, that this season’s results reflect badly on him, so he has to explain away the failure as “a temporary setback that should not influence a leader who must concentrate on the essentials, the whole picture.” The overall plan included making Videoton one of the hundred best European teams in 2012-2013. In 2013-2014 they wanted to be among the top fifty and finally in 2014-2015 they were planning to be among the top 32. Well, the 2013-2014 goal is down the drain, but that’s life. He is still very optimistic about the future not only of Videoton but also of all the best clubs in Hungary.

He and his fellow leaders of Hungarian football “are in the process of building a whole system. The system of Hungarian football.” It is the state of Hungarian football as a whole that interests him, not so much the fate of individual clubs. For him “this is a question of honor” because “football has no meaning outside of national honor and national pride.” The aesthetics of the game is important, so is club spirit, but “without the homeland everybody is only a mercenary instead of being a messenger.” His rule is that first comes the club, then the team, and only after that the player.

Orbán has rather peculiar ideas about the players as well. “We look up to the players because they are better than us. Not only are they stronger, faster, more skillful but altogether superior to us” because for “the sacred goal they are able to put aside all individual self-interest.” Sacred goal? A sporting event? And those Olympic champions putting aside all individual ambition? Since when?

About half way through the interview we come to the decision of Orbán’s government to spend billions on football stadiums during hard economic times when about half of the population lives close to or under the poverty line. Critics point out that it is useless to pour money into infrastructure when there is no quality football in the country.

Why is Hungarian football so bad? Orbán naturally has the answer. It is the fault of the European Union because of what is known as the Bosman ruling. The European Court of Justice banned restrictions on foreign European Union players within national leagues and allowed players in the European Union to move to another club at the end of their contract without a transfer fee being paid to the club. Prior to the Bosman ruling, professional clubs in some parts of Europe were able to prevent players from joining a club in another country even if their contracts had expired. Given the free movement of workers within the European Union, this decision shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. But Orbán would like to return to the state of affairs before the Bosman ruling. Unfortunately, Hungarian teams were not doing well even before 1995.

The Bosman ruling, in Orbán’s opinion, made football an economic activity when, in his opinion,  it is a part of culture that needs special regulations. When Orbán talks about football as a part of culture, he doesn’t think of culture as “the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns” but in its narrow sense as “intellectual and artistic activity.” He considers the football player an artist, and therefore “football is closer to culture than to economic enterprise.” Hungarians are just too old fashioned when they don’t want to accept football as a part of culture. They place science and culture above everything else. They have difficulties understanding that football is a part of the culture in the modern world.

Viktor Orbán the artist

Viktor Orbán the artist

Orbán is proud of his fund-raising for Hungarian football. During the interview he boasted about his ability to gather large sums of money from individual donors to build a stadium in Felcsút. He hopes that in the next fifty years there will be prime ministers who will be able to convince people to spend money for this good cause. He wanted to start a tradition and hopes that he will have followers.

But he does not take the exceptionally bad performance of Hungarian football this season lightly. Since he put so much emphasis on the necessity of achieving international success in football, he must consider these losses to be personal defeats. As he said at the beginning of the interview about Videoton’s poor performance, “It was not a shame. It was a failure.” His own failure as well.

Hungarian Football Championship: Another scandal

Unlike me, Zsófia Mihancsik, editor-in-chief of Galamus, is interested in football and therefore notices bits of news I wouldn’t catch.

Saturday was the final match for the Hungarian championship. The Győri ETO won against MTK. This is the first time in 30 years that the team from Győr won the honors. The heyday of Győri ETO was in the early 1980s when twice in a row the team captured the title of Hungarian Champion. After such a long dry spell the fans were understandably excited and decided to make a very nice gesture. Since out of the 30 members of the team 17 are foreigners coming from 10 different countries, they held up a sign saying “Many nations, one team–Thank you!”

Well, some might say that this was a thoughtful gesture, but it wasn’t taken as such by the nationalist football fans. Eventually the organizers of the Győr fan club had to explain that they are “not committed to these countries”; they simply wanted to call attention to the fact that the players come from many different nations. From the apologetic letter it is evident that most of the criticism stemmed from the presence of Romanian and Slovak flags. The fan club’s leaders had to admit that they made a mistake because “unwittingly they hurt the feelings of many Hungarians.” The authors of the letter emphasized that it was only a small number of fans who insisted on celebrating the victory this way and immediately announced that after fourteen years of existence the fan club had folded. Finally, they asked forgiveness “from every Hungarian and fellow fans, but especially from our Hungarian Friends who live outside of the borders of Hungary.”

A group of extremist football fans who call themselves “ultras liberi” led the pack against the Győri ETO fan club. The comments aren’t available at the moment, which is probably just as well. The few Zsófia Mihancsik quotes on Galamus are obscene and mostly abusive, especially when it comes to the Slovaks and the Romanians. There was only one person who took the side of the Győr fan club, but unfortunately his reasoning was based on his belief in the restoration of Greater Hungary under Hungarian leadership. He admitted that he is anti-Semitic and anti-Roma and that he considers “Negroes” stupid, but he saw nothing wrong with the sign of “Many nations–one team” because he believes in a Hungary that extends to the outer perimeter of the Carpathian Basin. “But the players of  these different nationalities (Romanian, Slovak, etc.) helped to achieve the victory of a Hungarian team.” He added that “this is a perfect example of what was going on in Hungary for 900 years when we lived in one country with the Romanians, Slovak Serbs, Croatians, Ruthenians, etc.”

Out of curiosity I looked at the national composition of some of the better known Hungarian football teams, starting with Videoton, Viktor Orbán’s favorite club. Here out of the 26 players there are only 10 Hungarians. As opposed to Győr, where most of the foreigners come from Central and Eastern Europe, Videoton seems to be looking around for talent in Spain, Portugal, and Brazil, although they also have a fair number from the Balkans (Serbs and Montenegrins).  Ferencváros is also full of foreign players, whom Hungarians seem to call “foreign legionnaires.” Out of the 24 players only 9 are natives. Ferencváros’s leadership likes the Brazilians and the French, but Serbia is also represented on the team with two players. The most Hungarian teams are the Loki from Debrecen and MTK in Budapest where the Hungarian players are in the majority.

Nikola Trajkovic who won the game for Győri EOT - www.sport1tv.hu

Nikola  Trajkovic, who won the game for Győri ETO – http://www.sport1tv.hu

I might add that the match’s only goal was by Nikola Trajković, a Serb. The football career of Trajković illustrates how futile it is to think in terms of national teams. He played for several lesser known Serbian football clubs before moving on to the Serbian and later to the Montenegrin national team. He made a little side trip to Greece where he played for the Thrasyvoulus Fylis.

Another player on the Győr team is the Slovak Marián Had, who’s had an even more eventful career than Trajković. He started with lesser known Slovak clubs and then moved on to Brno in the Czech Republic. Soon enough he got a very lucrative job with FC Lokomotiv in Moscow. In 2007 he played in Portugal, and later again in Moscow. In 2009 he played for Sparta in Prague. Now he is in Hungary.

So, what are we talking about? National teams? Forget about them. It is simply business. Hungary doesn’t have the money to get the very best, but they are not stuck in the mud either. If they can’t find competitive Hungarian players the coaches go abroad and get the best they can. It’s time to get used to it.

The childish games of a would-be dictator: The case of Viktor Orbán

I think it is time to talk about the dear leader’s megalomania that’s recently reached an all time high. The dear leader is, of course, Viktor Orbán. Or at least this is what he is called by those who’ve had enough of his and his government’s autocratic and corrupt practices.

To his many sins we may add a total lack of  restraint. He acts like any two-bit dictator with limitless power. Because, let’s not kid ourselves, Viktor Orbán has enormous power within Hungary. The only limits he has to endure come from the European Union. Until now, however, he has managed to evade any serious consequences of flaunting the spoken and unspoken rules of the Union, and it looks as if he will be able to avoid the excessive deficit procedure as well. Or at least this is what one could hear from Mihály Varga, who managed to exchange a few words with Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, today.

Lack of restraint. A man who with the assistance of his minions placed by now in all positions from the executive to the judiciary and a willing horde of third-rate journalists ready to serve him will arrive at a point where his sense of reality completely fails him. He becomes so single-minded in pursuit of his selfish interests that he loses sight of the possible consequences of his actions. And since he rules with an iron hand in his own party, there is no one in his entourage who dares warn him.

It seems that no one in Fidesz has the guts to tell the dear leader that his football mania got to the point that people are beginning to think that Hungary’s Orbán is not very different from Nicolae Ceaușescu, the Romanian dictator. After all, Ceaușescu also built an enormous football stadium in the village in which he was born and lived until the age of eleven. Viktor Orbán is following in the Romanian dictator’s footsteps.  Ceaușescu built a 30,000-seat football stadium in Scorniceşti, population 12,000, while Orbán is building a 3,500-seat stadium in Felcsút, population 1,800, where he spent his early years.  The scales are roughly comparable.

But Orbán is outdoing Ceaușescu because, after all, the Romanian dictator didn’t have a house right next to the stadium. Orbán does. He will now have a very elegant, very expensive small stadium of his own. He has to walk only a few feet to be in the arena. The stadium will be named after the Hungarian “Golden Team” of the early 1950s on which the famed Ferenc Puskás played. In addition to the stadium, Orbán managed to get money to establish a football academy in Felcsút, naturally named after Ferenc Puskás.

I read somewhere that when Orbán established the Puskás Academy in 2007 he didn’t really think that a village football team could ever be a first-rate team that could play in Division I of the National League. Most likely at that time Orbán was still recovering from his deep depression after the lost 2006 election. But now the sky’s the limit. Last Saturday Puskás Academy, which everybody simply calls Felcsút, was the undefeated champion of Division II and therefore next season the team will be able to play with the “big boys.”

Since 2007 the Academy has built a private high school and several practice fields and has a staff of 23, including a “communications director.” It is in the middle of constructing a stadium that will cost 3.5 billion forints. Money is pouring into the coffers of the Academy.

Earlier Orbán made sure that his wealthy friends would have an incentive to donate sizable chunks of money for spectacle sports: football, handball, hockey, etc. Those contributing to a fund set up for that purpose could write off the amount donated from their income tax. Once billions were collected this way the various clubs could apply for grants. Felcsút was not shy and asked for 3.5 billion. It received 2.8 billion, one-fifth of the total allocated. Just to give some sense of the size of this particular grant, the football club that received the second largest amount was Debrecen with 500 million forints.

The stadium is already described in the media as a dream or a wonder stadium. It is being built following the design of the famed Imre Makovecz, an ardent supporter of Fidesz, who died a few years ago. The plans released by the Academy show an intricate structure using the most expensive materials.

Puskas1

The construction of the dream stadium is already underway, and by next spring  important games will be played in the village where Viktor Orbán grew up. A Puskás-Suzuki Cup was established, and these games will be played in Felcsút. Several international matches will be held in the village. And since the Academy is swimming in money, it even bought an old railroad line and has already restored the old railroad station.

MTI / Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák

The work has begun / MTI photo by Szilárd Koszticsák

Mihály Varga, minister in charge of the economy, under European Union pressure announced a new  austerity program a few days ago. He indicated that it might be necessary to halt some of the major government investments, like the building of new stadiums and the reconstruction of Kossuth Square in front of the parliament building. However, it is unlikely that stadium construction will be halted in Felcsút. And if the Academy’s project can go ahead, most likely so will Debrecen’s. The project manager of a very large stadium in Debrecen, where work has already begun, announced that the city will go ahead with the construction regardless of what Mihály Varga says.

Just today Ernő Bihari, a blogger, wrote that “it is outrageous that the prime minister of a country that belongs to the European Union builds a football stadium on taxpayer money next door to his house, establishes a football academy maintained by taxpayer money, and purchases a narrow-gauge railroad also on taxpayer money. His family and his friends have received practically all the state lands in the neighborhood of his village. This is just a short list. And Viktor Orbán has the gall to do all this in the middle of Europe. This guy believes that his power is limitless.” The blogger points out that Orbán surpasses even Silvio Berlusconi, who after all made his money and became the owner of  AC Milan prior to his political career.

“The weapon is in the EU’s hands. Chancellor Merkel must decide on which side she wants to stand and give the signal to her own people that they can say what everybody knows already although no one wants to bear the odium of the decision.” So, says Bihari, it is time to state openly that “not only is Orbán’s mindset incompatible with the spirit of the Union but he is intolerable altogether.”