Subcarpathia

Vladimir Putin’s impending visit to Budapest

Népszava, a social democratic paper, is generally well-informed about the “secrets” of the government. This time it surprised its readers with a front-page article announcing a planned visit by Vladimir Putin to Budapest sometime in March. Budapest, judiciously spurned by western political leaders of late, is becoming a hub of diplomatic activity. Angela Merkel is scheduled for a five-hour visit on February 2 and now the news about Putin.

The newspaper pointed out that this will not be Putin’s first visit to Budapest. He was the guest of Ferenc Gyurcsány in February 2006 when the Hungarian prime minister supported the idea of the Southern Stream to the great annoyance and disapproval of both the United States and Viktor Orbán. Orbán at that time considered such a policy to be the equivalent of treason. The paper also called attention to Viktor Orbán’s about-face when he paid a visit to Moscow in November 2010 and again in February 2013.

Actually Népszava missed an earlier indication that a change in Russo-Hungarian relations was in the works. In November 2009, prior to his becoming prime minister, during a visit to St. Petersburg as one of the vice presidents of the European People’s Party Orbán attended the eleventh congress of the ruling United Russia Party. During this visit he indicated to Putin that he wanted “to put Russian-Hungarian relations on an entirely new footing.” He had made up his mind to conduct a pro-Russian foreign policy once in power.

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 2014 Source: Europess / Getty Images / Sasha Mordovets

Viktor Orbán and Vladimir Putin in Moscow, January 2014
Source: Europess / Getty Images / Sasha Mordovets

Perhaps the first person to comment on the news of the visit was László Kovács, former foreign minister, who happened to be a visitor on the early morning program “ATV Start.” He assumes that the initiative for the visit came from Moscow. Zoltán Sz. Bíró, a Russian expert, shares Kovács’s hypothesis. Putin must have been the one to suggest the visit in the hope of convincing Orbán to veto the extension of EU sanctions against Russia, which expire in March. In Biró’s opinion, a veto by Orbán not supported by any other EU country would poison the relationship between Hungary and the West for a very long time. Therefore he doubts that Orbán would dare to go that far.

Attila Ara-Kovács, head of the “foreign cabinet” of the Demokratikus Koalíció, told Klubrádió that he knew about the impending visit for about a week but, according to his information, Putin’s visit will take place not in March, as Népszava reported, but on February 9. In his reading, it was Orbán who invited Putin and not the other way around, perhaps to show the world that he is not alone in his battle with the United States and the European Union. If Orbán sensed that Angela Merkel intended to deliver “bad news” during her stay in Budapest, perhaps a looming visit from Putin might temper her disapproval. Ara-Kovács considers this latest move of Orbán a provocation that will only add fuel to the fire in the strained relationship between Hungary and the West.

What are the reactions of the opposition parties? As usual, MSZP is hibernating. Not a word from József Tóbiás, the party chairman, or from anyone else. Együtt somewhat naively demands that the government consult with all parliamentary parties “in preparing the meeting between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the Russian president.” Együtt can wait for such a consultation. Együtt joined LMP in its opposition to the construction of the Paks2 nuclear power plant. Both parties want the government, during the prime minister’s meeting with Putin, to break its contract for a 10-billion-euro Russian loan to have Rossatom build the plant. Well, that will not happen either but it is possible, as Zoltán Sz. Biró suspects, that Russia for financial reasons will give up the idea of the project. PM’s reaction was the most sensible: the party would like to see a huge demonstration against Putin’s visit organized by all the democratic opposition parties as well as by the civic groups that were responsible for the recent mass demonstrations.

László Szily, the blogger of Cink.hu, correctly pointed out that, if it is true that Putin is coming to Budapest, Viktor Orbán just did those who have been expressing their anger against his regime in the last few months a huge favor. The most recent demonstration showed signs of fatigue, but Putin in Budapest could resurrect the old enthusiasm of the crowds and just might unite the hitherto anti-party civic groups and the democratic parties into one large and potent group. Moreover, too cozy a Russian-Hungarian friendship might cause a rift within Fidesz itself. A lot of Fidesz voters are adamantly anti-Russian.  In Szily’s words, “The vacillating opposition on the streets can be grateful to the prime minister because kowtowing to Russia, parading with the dictator is the kind of event that could successfully bring together the dissatisfied left, right, and liberal public.”

One party was elated by the news: Jobbik. This afternoon Jobbik published an official statement, the theme of which was “Hungary must represent the interests of peace and neutrality.” Márton Gyöngyösi, the party’s foreign policy expert, said that Jobbik is a supporter of Viktor Orbán’s “eastern opening” and “considers Russia an economic, political and cultural partner of Hungary.” Budapest, because of the Hungarian minority in the Subcarpathian region of Ukraine, shouldn’t side with its western allies. Gyöngyösi went even further than the rather subdued official statement when he told Hiradó, the organ of state propaganda, that “it is unacceptable that the Hungarian government, blindly representing western interests, is ready to throw the Subcarpathian Hungarians as bones to the West.”

It is hard to know what the next couple of months will bring on the international scene. We have no idea what kind of message Angela Merkel will deliver to Budapest on February 2. We don’t know what foreign reactions to Putin’s visit will be. But domestically the Russian president’s visit might just be a potent catalyst for political change.

Jobbik and the Russian connection: The role of Béla Kovács

A few days ago I mentioned a possible connection between Jobbik (and other extremist parties in Europe as well) and Putin’s Russia. In that post I quoted a 2009 study from the Hungarian think tank, Political Capital. Considering the importance of the subject I would like to call attention to a new revised, up-t0-date study of Jobbik’s relationship with Russia by Political Capital. It can be read in English here. At that time I didn’t go into any details because, quite frankly, I wasn’t well versed in the matter. But this morning I discovered an English-language blog written by Anton Shekhovtsov. Yesterday he posted an article entitled “Fascist vultures of the Hungarian Jobbik and the Russian connection.” The title was intriguing and what followed were some details I hadn’t found in the Hungarian media. For example, a speech delivered by Jobbik EPM Tamás Gaudi-Nagy in a T-shirt with the following message: “Crimea legally belongs to Russia! Transcarpathia legally belongs to Hungary!” May I remind everybody that Gaudi-Nagy was the man who threw the flag of the European Union out of one of the windows of the Hungarian parliament. Here is Gaudi Nagy’s English-language speech with Hungarian subtitles.

There is widespread belief that Jobbik is being supported by Moscow, although we have no direct evidence of such financial support. One thing is sure. Jobbik has more money than the party could possibly collect from its Hungarian followers. Jobbik couldn’t have run the extensive campaign it did on the meager subsidies the government hands out to the parties. Besides Russia, Iran has also been mentioned as a possible source of revenue.

In any case, Shekhovtsov suggests that Gábor Vona, the party’s chairman, was invited to Russia by Aleksandr Dugin, a professor at Moscow State University “who is known for his proximity to fascism.” He seems to be a political eclectic. He is, for instance, one of the most popular advocates of the creation of a Eurasian empire. And he helped write the program for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

Vona had an opportunity while in the Russian capital to deliver a lecture entitled “Russia and Europe.” In this speech Vona called the European Union a “treacherous organization” and declared that it would be better for Hungary to join the Russia-dominated Eurasian Union should the occasion arise.

While in Russia, according to ATV, Vona also had a meeting with Ivan Grachov, chairman of the Russian Duma’s commission on energy, and Leonid Kalashnikov, deputy chairman of the Duma’s committee on international affairs. Kalashnikov is a member of the top leadership of the Russian communist party.

Gábor Vona, Ivan Grachov, and Béla Kovács in Moscow in May 2013 / Photo: Facebook

Gábor Vona, Ivan Grachov, and Béla Kovács in Moscow in May 2013 / Photo: Facebook

The plot only thickens with the entrance of Béla Kovács, a man about whom we know very little but enough for some people to suspect that he is a Russian agent.  He was born in Budapest, but after finishing high school he moved with his parents to Japan, sometime in the late 1970s. His father was apparently employed by the Hungarian Embassy in Tokyo. It is possible that he also spent four years at “one of the private universities” in the United States, but he graduated from the Institute of International Relations, known for its close ties to the KGB. In addition to Hungarian, Kovács speaks Russian, English, French, German, Japanese, and Polish.

He returned to Hungary in 1986 but in 1988 went back to Moscow where he apparently worked for several Russian companies involved in international trade. We don’t know why, but in 2003 he again returned to Hungary, where he established a small salad bar which failed. In 2005 he discovered Jobbik, whose “bright enthusiastic young men” changed his life. Soon enough he became a very important man in the party. He handles the party’s finances, and in 2010 he was chosen to represent Jobbik in Brussels. There he is considered to be a Russian lobbyist.

Kovács is a man of the world and seems to have  connections with leading members of far right parties all over Europe and the United Kingdom. As his Jobbik colleagues said, without him they wouldn’t have been able to find their bearings in Brussels so easily. It was his idea to create the Alliance of European National Movements, which includes all important far-right parties.

He was one of the representatives of extremist parties whom Russia invited “to monitor” the Crimean referendum last month. Most of the overseers came from right radical circles, although there were a few from the far left parties of Finland, Germany, and Greece.

I discovered an article about Kovács on the website of the new neo-Nazi party, Magyar Hajnal (Hungarian Dawn). It claims that in 2010 he was penniless but a couple of years later he managed to live lavishly, a fact that was confirmed by other sources. According to József Gulyás, a former member of the parliamentary committee on national security, Kovács’s background and activities are “entirely impenetrable.”  Mind you, Gulyás is convinced that Jobbik “is a phony nationalist party which serves only Russian interests.”

I assume that, given his background, the Hungarian national security office is keeping an eye on Kovács. Given their poor performance in the past, however, I have the feeling they know no more about Kovács than anyone can discover by diligently searching the Internet for clues.

Attila Ara-Kovács and Bálint Magyar: Can we learn from history?

After so many years, the Hungarian state is finding itself for the first time in a conflict where the external limits to the actions of its voluntarist leaders are determined not by impersonal economic processes but by equally voluntaristic factors the dimensions of which, however, are much larger and cast a shadow much longer than their own. With no pressure from outside, Hungary’s current government has sided with a policy which may seem advantageous from the viewpoint of holding on to its power but run contrary to the country’s interests and long-term objectives. Moreover, it promises that the country will once again end up sharing defeat and disgrace with forces that will be remembered by history with nothing but contempt.

CRIMEA: THE BEGINNING OF AN ERA

What goes on in Crimea today is by no means a result of random incidents but fits perfectly into Russia’s aspirations to resurrect the empire and, on the other, is inspired by the same fateful divisions, fraught with ethnic conflicts, that are as characteristic of Ukraine today as they were in Georgia in 2008. Russia’s re-positioning of its world political influence is justified neither by economic performance nor by military potential in a global context. Just as at the time of the Romanovs in the 19th century or Stalin’s empire-building decades in the 20th, the only factor motivating Russian policy vis-à-vis its neighbors is naked power politics exercised at what it considers its peripheries. Back then, Russia was unable to present itself as a great power of full value, capable of a global performance and holding out the promise of an alternative comparable to that offered by its rivals. Nor is it capable of the same feat today. In fact, there is a reverse relationship: whenever Russia reaches the outer limits of its potential for peaceful growth, parallel with that, its aggressiveness begins to grow. As a consequence, cooperation with the Russian empire in the international arena could never be conducted in a “businesslike” contractual manner but by bargains based on the power conditions, genuine or assumed, of any given time.

It was during the reign of Cathering the Great that Russia annexed the Crime in 1783 Source: Wikipedia.org

It was during the reign of Catherine the Great that Russia annexed the Crimea in 1783
Source: Wikipedia.org

A certain amount of aloofness was always highly advisable for the great powers, whether rivals or allies in a given period, when dealing with a Russia of this character. This was so in the 19th century when Russia was regarded by the world practically as an Asian power, but also in the 20th when forced alliance or openly hostile Cold War policies were predominant. The limited courses left accessible by geographical closeness for nations which did not have the military and economic power to resist Moscow’s designs are a different issue. These nations were doomed to maneuver in a field of force dominated by a provisional alliance between the western democracies and an empire struggling with permanent economic crisis yet unable to “outgrow” its despotism. Seeking balance between the great-power blocs was a failure even when they were in a stable state (perhaps with the exception of interwar Czechoslovakia), but trying to stay afloat in escalating conflicts which promised to last long usually forced them into compromises guaranteeing a losing position. The circumstances are very similar today with the difference that the former Central Europe and the Baltic have since been integrated into the European Union, and their nations are all NATO members.  NATO membership entails their obligatory protection, meaning that their freedom cannot be sacrificed even for the sake of avoiding a world war. The geographic regions still open to bargaining between the great-power blocs have narrowed down and shifted to the east. Russia’s empire-building ambitions aimed at a Eurasian Union are intended precisely to prevent “switching teams” between international blocs, a game that could be more or less openly played by the countries of the region in the past quarter century.

That is the position in which the post-Soviet states “stuck” in the Russian sphere of interest even after 1991 when the Soviet Union disintegrated find themselves. They have made occasional attempts to break out of their predicament through their “color revolutions”. Of these states, Ukraine is the most important, not only because of its size and economic potential, but also because if, after 300 years, it were to succeed to ultimately free itself from the bonds of co-habitation with Russia, it would eliminate even the appearance of Russia’s great-power status. The events that took place in Kiev’s Maidan have already forced the Kremlin to modify its strategy. 2015 was set as the original target date for the formal announcement of the new imperial union on the construction of which Putin has been working for years. Without Ukraine, the Eurasian Union will never be what it was meant to be according to the Russian blueprint. For one thing, it will grow much more distant from Europe, the entity with which the biggest share of the trade and cultural relations of the Russian Federation has been conducted ever since it was founded. On the other, it will become overwhelmingly Asian, making Moscow more vulnerable to Chinese pressure as well as hostage to the dynamically developing, increasingly dynastic post-Soviet mafia-states of Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan).

DOMINO EFFECT IN THE BUFFER ZONE

1. The occupation of Crimea should therefore be regarded as the beginning only. The reputation of the Russian regime is unlikely to be damaged any further, so what we can expect is most likely the uninhibited assertion of its real or assumed interests. That includes the restoration of the unity of the one-time Soviet military-economic complex for which major supply capacities used to be provided by industrial facilities located in Ukraine. The dress rehearsal for that has already been completed in the shadow of weapons in Crimea with a referendum intimating the Wilsonian principles. Even though the result had not been questionable for a moment; the approval of Putin’s will by the population of the peninsula was shamelessly fraudulent. (Just in Simferopol, the rate of “yes” votes was 123 per cent.) The next moves could be the “soft” annexation of the industrial regions of the Donetsk Basin, the population of which is also overwhelmingly Russian, as well as of Odessa and the coastal area, again in the shadow of weapons. That would practically cut off Ukraine from the sea and rob it of the highly important hydrocarbon repositories of the continental shelf.

2. With the tiny Moscow-supported puppet state of Transnistria announcing its desire to join Russia (the breakaway mini-state, though still formally a part of Moldova, is centered in the town of Tiraspol), we see a new phase of the encirclement of Ukraine unfolding. With the potential annexation of Odessa and with Moscow’s inciting the ethnic minorities, like the Gagauzes, of the southwest Ukrainian areas against Kiev, Transnistria will help establish a contiguous zone under Russian influence, putting Kiev increasingly at the mercy of the Russian empire and placing a bigger price tag on western solidarity with Ukraine.

3. The events in Crimea and especially Transnistria may force the truncated Republic of Moldova to escape into a rapidly established union with Romania. The conditions and prospects for such a union are already openly discussed by Moldovan politicians and analysts. Some see full union as an inevitable prerequisite for instant guarantees by the EU and NATO, for which not only the regional and economic conditions are in place but is also reinforced by tradition ranging from common language to shared national symbols. Others, considering the mixed ethnic background, envision a federal-type community as more viable.

4. In Subcarpathia, the agents of Russian nationalism have already started to provoke the region’s ethnic minorities with mother countries outside the Ukrainian borders (Hungarians, Romanians) into thinking that this might be the right historical moment and manner for their reunification with the mother country. In reality, for them it would be a game of Russian roulette where the player is offered a revolver with all chambers loaded.

At the same time though, due to the threatening presence of extreme nationalists in western Ukraine, the fears of these minorities are by no means groundless. Even if they refrain from raising a strong voice in defense of their minority rights, with no military protection to back them up, they might easily become targeted by frustrated Ukrainians with their national feelings hurt by the Russians against whom they can do nothing. Their position could become even more precarious if their claims could be interpreted as a preparatory stage to secession.

In addition, there is no great power around to remotely support an attempt at breaking away. Even Russia’s interests end at sowing political chaos in Ukraine. On the other hand, every single “mother country” affected is a member of NATO and the EU, both of which rule out meddling with the borders developed after World War II. Also, in 1994 they provided special guarantees for the territorial integrity of Ukraine when the Budapest Memorandum was signed, the very document on the legal strength of which they attack Russia for the annexation of Crimea. Moreover, Ukraine, though not an energy producer itself, has a key role in the transport of energy, so any hostility, or even deterioration in relations, might endanger the energy security of a number of European nations, mainly that of Hungary, Slovakia and Romania.

In the light of all this, the extreme nationalist visions of the “return” of territories, fuelled by Russian interests, as broadcasted in Hungary by Echo TV (a television channel owned by circles close to the governing Fidesz party) with their not-so-subtle tone of encouragement are suicidal and threaten the very existence of the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia.

5. Another highly sensitive problem is the impact of the afterlife of the Ukrainian situation on Transylvania. In the wake of the annexation of Crimea, sealed by a referendum, the Romanian political elite is already looking with growing concern at claims of regional autonomy for the Szekler region, only made more provocative by personal visits by leading Fidesz politicians and Hungarian neo-Nazi leaders. By likening the position of Hungarians in Transylvania to that of the Crimean Tartars, the former Bishop and future Fidesz MEP László Tőkés poured oil on fire, providing further arguments to all those in Romania, whose goal it is to curtail the rights of that country’s Hungarian minority. In the wake of declarations of this kind by Hungarian political actors and developments in Crimea, aspirations of Szekler autonomy are decoded by public opinion in Romania as a first step on the road to the establishment of political and administrative conditions for eventual secession. In such an atmosphere it will hardly be surprising for the Romanian parties to resist granting any concession, even those which did not appear hopeless before, like giving prevalence to the ethnic-cultural principle in the development of EU regions.

Such fears will not appear altogether groundless to an unbiased observer either—for instance to representatives of the European Union—if, for instance, the major change in Hungarian policy regarding dual citizenship is also noticed. At the beginning, the introduction of dual citizenship was declared by Fidesz to be a symbolic act expressing the belonging together of the Hungarian nation as a cultural community. However, by granting voting rights to dual citizens residing outside Hungary, something which they had earlier denied they would ever do, they turned all those wishing to take advantage of that opportunity into citizens with equal rights of two countries at the same time. With that, these dual citizens have gained an entitlement in which emphasis is laid on their affiliation to Hungary even from the viewpoint of public policy. In certain critical periods like the current one, this poses a serious risk to the social life of the community, raising suspicions in Romanians that they may be facing the possibility of losing Transylvania again. As unrealistic as such a scenario may be, the fears it fosters politically are all the more real.

ADVENTURISM CLOAKED IN NATIONALISTIC RHETORIC 

There is little doubt that Hungary does not have any interest served by nationalistically loaded, provocative policies. Still, the Fidesz government is pursuing precisely such policies. Why is it doing that? The reason is that the mafia state absolutely needs the tense atmosphere of conflicts, genuine or made-up, internally as well as in its relationship with its neighbors. On the world political stage too: it continues its game of doublespeak with the European Union and its allies. It drags its feet in reacting to Russian aggression while sucking up to Putin’s imperial authoritarianism. A part of the Hungarian leadership—the head of state whose role is exclusively ceremonial and the impotent foreign minister—is reassuring the world about the government’s full solidarity with the trans-Atlantic alliance, while Orbán, the real source of all power makes decisions contrary to that solidarity. A secretary of state of the Foreign Ministry summons the Russian ambassador to express his concern over the annexation of Crimea while the same Russian ambassador is ensured by another secretary of state that the whole thing is nothing but a smokescreen or pure theatricals. And indeed, the nuclear energy deals signed recently with the Russians are to stay in force, as has been declared by Orbán, their fulfillment being—and remaining—a priority for the government.

A state of permanent mobilization, bellicose talk and the cult of seeking enemies all serve for Orbán to win a mandate (with a two-third parliamentary majority, if he can) for a long-term suspension of law and morality, and thus for stabilizing his rule. By pursuing such policies, however, the country is once again ending up on the wrong side, the side of the losers, while its international credibility is being further reduced.

In the sharpening conflict between East and West, quite to the contrary of what Orbán says, the region will never become the manufacturing centre of European industry but is far more likely to turn into a collision zone in which there is no economic growth, democratic traditions are diluted and the solutions of an eastern-type autocracy prove practicable. This is exactly the kind of place which not only foreign capital is fleeing from but talented people with an enterprising spirit also leave behind.

As a part of the region, owing to its internal conditions and external circumstances Hungary may find itself stagnating or on a downward slope for a long time to come. The damages that follow can be neither prevented nor reduced without a clear-cut, unequivocal and unmistakable commitment to the west, the type so characteristic of Poland, for instance. Particularly if in the meantime Orbán collaborates with the extreme right, the neo-Nazis, undisturbed. In the thinking of Fidesz, however, such considerations of genuine national policy are overwritten by the direct power and financial interests of the adopted political family of the mafia state. For them, therefore, the adventurism cloaked in nationalist rhetoric with which they react to a situation the seriousness of which they fail to recognize, is perfectly suitable.

A brief history of the subcarpathian region of Ukraine; Kim Scheppele’s “Hungary, An Election in Question, Part 4″

Way back I wrote an M.A. thesis in Russian and East European Studies at Yale University on the nationality problems of the revolutions of 1918-1919. Therefore I spent quite a bit of time studying the area of Subcarpathia which today belongs to Ukraine. Since there is so much talk about the region nowadays, I thought you might be interested in the area’s modern history.

According to the official statistics of 1910, there were almost 500,000 Ruthenians living in Hungary, scattered in several counties which today belong to Ukraine and Slovakia. The languages spoken in the area were dialects of Ukrainian, called lemko, boiko, and hutsul. The indigenous population called itself Rusyn. According to the same statistics, at that time there were only 542 persons whose mother tongue was Ruthenian in all of Hungary practicing “intellectual professions.” Most of them were actually Greek Catholic priests. Only 1,264 Ruthenians lived in towns, and only 50.8% of them above the age of six were literate. So, we are speaking of a very backward area.

The Károlyi regime (1918-1919) belatedly tried to appease the nationalities and Oszkár Jászi, who was an expert on the nationality question, began negotiations with several nationalities, including the Ruthenians. As a result, the Ruthenians were granted territorial autonomy under the name of Ruszka Krajna. It was on December 25, 1918 that Ruszka Krajna officially became an autonomous region within Hungary with its own parliament (seim) chosen on the basis of universal suffrage with the capital in Mukachevo (Munkács).The seim was granted autonomy in matters of language, religion, education, and justice. In addition, there was a separate ministry dealing only with Ruthenian affairs, headed by Dr. Oreszt Szabó, apparently of Ruthenian nationality. Augustin Stefan, the governor, was also supposed to be Ruthenian. Unfortunately, by the time the election took place on March 4, 1919, most of Subcarpathia was occupied by foreign troops, with the exception of Bereg County.

Ruthenians

Ruthenian folk costumes
Source: Wikipedia.org

After the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, Ruszka Krajna retained its autonomy, and on April 2 a Ruthenian constitution appeared in Rus’ka Pravda, a Ruthenian newspaper published in Budapest. The constitution was a reworked version of the one enacted by the Károlyi government. All this effort was in vain, however, because within a month the whole area was occupied by Czechoslovak and Romanian troops. Recognizing a fait accompli, a newly established national council voted in Uzhgood/Ungvár on May 8, 1919 for the unification of the Ruthenian autonomous region with Czechoslovakia.

Edvard Beneš, foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, admitted that Czechoslovakia was not really entitled to this area on the basis of nationality but, considering the situation in Russia and the Soviet danger, Czechoslovakia assumed the role of temporary caretaker of Ruthenia until it could be safely attached to Russia. In the Czechoslovak period Ruthenian autonomy was “nominal.” All Ruthenian legislation was made subject to approval by the president of the republic, and the governor of Ruthenia was nominated by the president. As a result, even the constitutional provision for autonomy was never implemented; the Ruthenian parliament was never convened. Ruthenians were not happy with their lot in Czechoslovakia, and they kept looking outside for remedies. The Russophiles envisaged Ruthenia as part of the Russian nation; the Ukrainophiles considered Ruthenia part of the Ukrainian nation, and the Ruthenophiles said that Carpatho-Ruthenians were a separate nation and therefore they wanted to develop a native Rusyn language and culture.

On March 15, 1939 the Ukrainophile president of Carpatho-Ruthenia, Avhustyn Voloshyn, declared its independence as Carpatho-Ukraine. On the same day Hungarian Army regular troops began to occupy the new state. It was from this area that 22,000 Jews were deported to Kamenets-Podolskii in July 1941.

In 1944 the Soviet Army occupied the area, and in 1946 it was annexed to the Ukrainian SSR. During the Soviet period Rusyn as a separate nationality was not recognized. Nowadays the majority of the population of the Zakarpattya Oblast consider themselves Ukrainians.

* * *

Hungary: An Election in Question

Part IV: The New Electorate (in which Some are more Equal than Others)

 Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University

Hungary’s governing party Fidesz didn’t just rewrite the rules for the upcoming Hungarian election. The governing party changed the electorate as well. Different categories of citizens can now vote in different kinds of ways, which creates the very real possibility of unjust discrimination.

The 2014 election features two new voting systems that restructure the electorate and its options.

One permits each major nationality (i.e. minority) group in Hungary to elect a representative of its group to the parliament on a “preferential” basis that requires only one-quarter as many votes to claim the mandate. This system of positive discrimination may look admirable, but in practice limits rather than expands voting options of minority populations, as we will see.

The other gives the right to vote to ethnic Hungarians who never had permanent residency in Hungary. These are people to whom the new constitution has given a route to expedited citizenship upon application. New Hungarian citizens can now register and vote more easily than citizens who have permanent residency but who are abroad on election day. As a result, new dual citizens with the most tangential relationship to Hungary can more easily influence the election than can long-standing citizens whose primary political identity rests in Hungary.

In both cases, these voters with new options are being herded toward Fidesz-friendly results and away from support for the united opposition both because of the new rules and because of the confusing and misleading communications issuing from the offices in charge of running the election. Let’s take these new sorts of voters one by one.

In a move welcomed by the Venice Commission, the new election framework lays out a system in which members of 13 designated ethnic minority groups may vote for a “nationality list.” Though it is called a list, in practice it consists of one person because each minority group can only elect one representative in this new “preferential” way, while all subsequent representatives from the group are elected according to the more demanding conditions necessary to elect a representative on a party list.

While Germans, Romanians, Ukrainians and other registered groups possess the right to elect a minority representative in theory, the Roma constitute the only group who are likely to be able to muster the numbers to elect such a representative in fact.

This new system of nationality representation, however, comes with a number of catches.

First, members of minority groups who want to take advantage of this possibility must sacrifice their ability to use their second vote for a party list when they use their second vote to elect a nationality representative. This system therefore limits the incentives for political parties to court minority voters since minority voters cannot vote for parties if they vote for the nationality representative, further marginalizing them.

Then, minority voters must register in advance to take advantage of this option. According to the Electoral Procedure Law (Law XXXVI of 2013), minority voters must register at least two days before the election. Once they register, they cannot change their minds on election day itself to vote for a party list instead.  (They can change their minds before the registration deadline.) The only choice that the registered minority voters have when election day comes is to vote for the representative of their group on offer, or to fail to cast their second ballots. This system, as a result, locks in the minority vote before the end of the campaign. Unlike the situation for any other voter, minority voters cannot decide in response to the full campaign whom to support.

Finally, and most consequentially, the specific candidate chosen to stand for election as a representative of the minority group must be, by law, selected by the national minority self-government, a body that was elected by each minority group in a special election four years ago. (These self-government organizations have been elected periodically since the mid-1990s to ensure representative decision-making bodies for minority affairs.) But the national minority self-government for the Roma at the moment is run by a group called Lungo Drom, whose leader, Flórián Farkas, is a Fidesz MP.  

In short, if Roma choose to vote for a nationality representative, they cannot vote for a political party and their only choice is to elect a Fidesz MP, using their second votes that could have been used for any party list. Registering to “vote minority” therefore gives Roma no party choice at all. They must vote for a governing party representative.

Roma don’t have to register to vote for the nationality list if they don’t want to. But a letter sent in January from each local Election Office to all voters announced on the first page that Roma would have to register if they wanted to vote, and only on the second page explained in not-entirely-clear prose that Roma had to register only if they wanted to vote for the minority representative. In even more confusing language, the letter revealed that in doing so, Roma would lose the ability to use their second vote to for vote a political party.

When the letter went out, Roma started to register to vote in substantial numbers, largely unwittingly, for the minority representative. So far, the Election Office has not issued any correction, raising questions about what it was doing with its initial letter telling Roma to register to vote. Given that Roma who registered would find themselves excluded from being able to vote for the party lists on election day and would only have the option of voting for a Fidesz MP instead, this mix-up is worrying, especially when the governing party staffed the new Election Office.

The Election Office seems to be contributing to the confusion over the system for Roma voting in other ways as well. While the law clearly says that the nationality voters clearly have until two days before the election to lock in their vote for the nationality candidate (Law XXXIV of 2013, section 249), Ilona Pálffy, the head of the National Election Office announced in a press briefing to the Hungarian International Press Association on 29 January 2014 that nationality voters would have to register no later than eight days before the election and could not change their minds after that.

In fact, when I was interviewing officials and party representatives in Budapest about the new election framework recently, I often got different answers from different people about what the law required. When one gets an answer from the head of the National Election Office that differs so strikingly from the plain wording of the law, however, that is especially alarming. Will Roma be told, if they try to change their minds in the last week and “unregister” from the nationality list, that they can’t do so even though the law says otherwise? I hope that the National Election Office clarifies just what they believe the rule is – before the election.

It’s not just the Roma who have new rules about voting this time. The other newly registered group of voters consists of ethnic Hungarians living abroad who were given the right to apply for citizenship under the new Fidesz constitution. For historical reasons, the only Hungarians whose ancestors lost their citizenship en masse were living in the territories that had been part of historic Hungary but that were allocated to neighboring states by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920.  (Hungarians who left Hungary for other countries before or since retained their citizenship unless they explicitly renounced it.) This constitutional change made millions of ethnic Hungarians eligible for expedited citizenship, the vast majority still living in the neighboring countries.

As a result of the new citizenship law, about 575,000 Hungarians, primarily from the Trianon territories, have become citizens in the last year. (I’ll call them the Trianon Hungarians.) And as of mid-February, about 150,000 of them had registered to vote. But the deadline for registering to vote is 22 March so only then will it be clear how many of the new citizens will be new voters as well.

In three of Hungary’s neighbors, Ukraine, Slovakia and Austria, dual citizenship is not permitted. Ethnic Hungarians from these states who acquire Hungarian citizenship would lose their first citizenship if a second citizenship were discovered. (There is an exception for Austrian-Hungarian dual nationals who were refugees in 1956 and whose dual citizenship is specially protected by a treaty, but other Hungarians are not included under this treaty.)

To protect its nationals in the neighboring states, then, the Hungarian government has decided that the non-resident citizenship rolls should remain a state secret. As a result, the associated voter list remains secret as well. But how can a government run a fair election with secret voter rolls?

After opposition protest, the government agreed to allow members of the National Election Commission (including representatives of the parties running national lists) as well as international observers to see the foreign voters’ registration list (Law XXXVI of 2013 on Electoral Procedure, amended by Law LXXXIV of 2013). But the opposition parties and international observers are not permitted to take notes on the list or reproduce it in any way. Given these limitations, however, how anyone apart from the election officials check the list against the voters who actually vote or and how can political parties outside the government locate these voters to send them election materials? One cannot memorize hundreds of thousands of names and their identifying characteristics. So it is not clear if this level of access to the secret voter lists will be enough to ensure a fair vote.

The logistical problems raised by the non-resident voters don’t end there. In particular, there are few checks on either the process of voter registration or on the actual voting so as to ensure that those casting ballots are who they say they are, or that the ballots faithfully reflect what these voters decide. While applying for citizenship requires an appearance at a consulate or embassy, registering to vote does not. In fact, nowhere in the process does any official have to see precisely who it is that is either registering to vote or voting.

Instead, Trianon Hungarians can register on the internet, filling in a form that asks for information that is quite widely known about a person, especially in tightly knit communities. All you need to provide to register are your name, your maiden name (where applicable), the town and district where you were born, either your date of birth OR your personal ID number, and your mother’s name.

How does the National Election Office that registers the applicants know if the person actually named on the form was the person who filled out the registration request? Nowhere in the process is there an official check of identification or even the requirement of a signature, photograph or other validating evidence. (The general problem is captured in that famous cartoon where a dog sits at a computer and says “On the internet, no one can tell if you’re a dog.”) And, as we will see, the information doesn’t even have to strictly match what the Election Office has on file for that person.

Ballots will be sent out to whoever registers in the name of a citizen without any way to definitively tell whether it is the citizen herself who registered or whether the address to which the ballot will be sent is in fact the address of the voter. Given that voting will reveal that one has taken out dual citizenship in some countries where it is illegal, a voter might well want the ballot sent somewhere other than her home address in any event.

In fact, the Trianon Hungarians are the only ones allowed to vote by mail ballot, which longtime elections observers know is always the easiest place for fraud to sneak into an election operation. Hungary plans to use the usual double-envelope safeguard – where a voter fills in an attestation of identity attached to an outer envelope while the ballot itself is sealed in in an anonymous inner envelope that can be separated from this attestation once it is confirmed. So far, so good.

But there is precious little control over the envelopes themselves as they make their way to be counted. Not only does the ballot not have to be actually mailed, but the law permits bundlers to go around collecting ballots and then delivering them en masse to an embassy, consulate or other designated location. There are no checks on what these bundlers do with the ballots in their care and nothing to check whether they in fact they turn in all of the ballots they were given. There is even no way to tell whether bundlers who may well know the personal details of voters are filling in the ballots themselves or changing what they were given. Self-appointed bundlers can show up at any of the designated locations and deliver votes in unlimited numbers.

The number of ballots delivered to or cast at the polling places in the neighboring states must by law be registered each day in the run-up to the election, which means that consulate staff must tally the number of votes each day without anyone present from an election committee to supervise the opening and checking of the ballot boxes. Given how few checks are in place to check potential foul play in the foreign votes (or simply to give assurances that no foul play was attempted), this could be quite serious.

But surely these foreign ballots can’t really influence a national election? In Hungary, perhaps they can. Hungary has about 8 million registered voters, but only 5.1 million voters actually cast ballots in 2010. If most of the 500,000+ new citizens register to vote and actually vote, Trianon Hungarians could account for up to one-tenth of the electorate. These voters can only cast one ballot for the party list and cannot vote in a single-member district, which limits their impact on the overall result. (And it is another site of inequality.) But given that so much of this process of foreign-voter balloting is unverifiable in any rigorous way, even a modest effect on the election casts some doubts on the process.

The fairness of this system for counting foreign votes is made worse when one considers the other group of foreign-based voters who are treated differently from the Trianon Hungarians. Citizens who still have permanent residence in Hungary, but who are living abroad, must cast their vote in a decidedly more onerous way. Let’s call this latter group the Expat Hungarians.

Rather than permit Expat Hungarians to vote by mail, as the Trianon Hungarians are allowed to do, the government has insisted on sticking with the old system in place since 2006 for such voters: they have to vote at embassies or consulates.   As a result, Expat Hungarians living or working in the UK, for example, must go to London, no matter where in the UK they live. Ditto with German-based Hungarians who have to travel to Berlin, Dusseldorf, or Munich. Expat Hungarians living in the US must travel to Washington, New York or Los Angeles. How much easier (and less expensive) it would be to vote by mail! But they are not allowed to do so.

Moreover, unlike the Trianon Hungarians, Expat Hungarians are not allowed to vote unless they show up in person and present ID (a passport, for example). Since Trianon Hungarians can vote without ever seeing an election official, no in-person identification is ever required of them. But such identification is required of the Expat Hungarians.

How many citizens are in the Expat Hungarian group? The government says at least 300,000 – but other estimates say as many as 500,000 – Hungarians are living or working outside the country without having given up their official permanent residence in Hungary. This, too, could be a substantial voting bloc, especially as their status gives them the chance to cast two votes just as if they were in the country. (One of those votes goes for the party list and the other for the constituency in which they are still registered.) But they have a much harder time casting their votes because they have to travel, often long distances, to do so.

Not surprisingly, however, the two groups of Hungarians living abroad have different political profiles. Hungarians in the Trianon territories would cast their votes overwhelmingly for Fidesz, if the polls are to be believed. A recent poll said 80% of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, for example, would vote for the governing party.

By contrast, Expat Hungarians are more likely to support the united opposition, or at least so the united opposition believes. While Expat Hungarians are no doubt a diverse group, the people most likely to move are probably the Hungarians who know languages and have networks, which implies that they may be younger and/or better educated. While young people are divided in their political views, the better educated voters are much more likely to vote for the united opposition. Either way, the sheer number of Expat Hungarians and the onerousness of the procedure for voting combine to depress voter turnout, which as we have seen, will benefit Fidesz.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union working with Együtt/PM (Together-Dialogue for Hungary, now part of the Unity Alliance) has challenged this disparate treatment of the two groups of foreign voters before the Constitutional Court. But even though the petition was filed in November 2013, the Constitutional Court has not yet decided. (A reminder: The Constitutional Court now has a solid majority since the government was able to name the 8th judge out of 15 in April 2013.) So it appears that the election will go forward with this double standard for Hungarians living abroad.

As the election nears, there are reports of worryingly bad advice for these foreign voters coming from election officials. Consulates in the US were given flyers prepared by local election offices that provided voting instructions for Expat Hungarians in the US. But these flyers specified the wrong election day. While election day in Hungary is 6 April, Hungarian voters in North America have to cast their ballots on 5 April, because of the time difference, in order to meet the deadlines set out in the law. If they followed the instructions they were given by their election office, they would be disqualified from voting.

Expat Hungarians in the UK were sent letters by their local election offices that gave them the wrong location of the London polling station. It turns out that, even though Expat Hungarians are generally supposed to vote at embassies and consulates, in some places (like London) voters actually have to go someplace else. But they were not told the correct location.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has protested these flyers and asked that they be recalled.

The head of the National Election Office admitted that mistakes were made. But she did not apologize. Instead she said, rather oddly, that she “simply does not trust some of her colleagues.”

Coming on top of the confusing letter sent by the Election Office to all voters in Hungary about Roma registration, a letter that seemed to imply that all Roma had to register to vote at all, these flyers misinforming US and UK voters about when they need to cast their ballots causes particular concern.

The Election Office website doesn’t even appear to be neutral. On its site, the Election Office features a video from an unclear source, containing much nationalist imagery – and not so coincidentally Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself. It tells voters that “the nation” (meaning ethnic Hungarians) can vote on 6 April – a thinly veiled appeal to voters who overwhelmingly support the governing party (when they are not supporting Jobbik). Just why the Election Office has such a partisan message on its website has so far not been explained. The link is here to a website less likely to take the video down under criticism so you can see it for yourself.

From anecdotal evidence, the Election Office seemed to be making it easier for Trianon Hungarians to register to vote than for Expat Hungarians to register to vote abroad. Expat Hungarians were reporting that their registration was refused if they missed a diacritical mark, omitted some details of their home address, and failed to match the exact form of their mothers’ name that was in the official register. In fact, the complaints from Expat Hungarians were becoming so numerous that it caused us to go back and look at the law.

And sure enough, right there in paragraphs 84 and 92 of the Electoral Procedure Law (Law XXXVI of 2013), we see the reason. Election officials were explicitly told in this law to ignore typos, spelling mistakes, different forms of writing (e.g. Cyrillic), the use of foreign names to denominate geographical locations, or the provision of names, birth place, birth names and mother’s names in a different language. If any of those things are wrong with the form, so that the form does not in fact match the government’s register of citizens, the form must nonetheless be approved.

But this easy registration – permitted even with mistakes on the form – holds true only for the Trianon Hungarians. Expat Hungarians have to provide information that matches exactly the information in the government’s database. Hence the large numbers of rejections when Expat Hungarians tried to register to vote.

By the start of the political campaign on 15 February, more than 150,000 Trianon Hungarians had managed to register to vote, but only 5,000 Expat Hungarians had been able to do so, according to the MTI national news service. (Remember the two groups of voters are now roughly the same size.) The Election Office admitted that it had rejected at least 10% of the Expat applications. Expats who have been sharing notes abroad believe that number is actually much higher.

Hungary now has two different and quite large groups of foreign voters operating under two different systems of rules. And not surprisingly, the voters more likely to vote for Fidesz will have a much easier time casting their ballots than the voters who have less clear political affiliations or who are clearly more likely to vote for the united opposition.

Discrimination among different classes of citizens is therefore endemic in the new election system. Roma voters are forced to choose between voting for a nationality representative or a party list, and they are locked into their choice ahead of the election, which other voters are not. Trianon Hungarians can register to vote online with many mistakes in their application, and yet will be issued a ballot to vote by mail while Expat Hungarians have to meet the exact letter of the data in the government’s database in order to register. Then these Expat Hungarians have to show up in person at an embassy or consulate (or some other unannounced location) to show further identification in order to be able to vote. That is all assuming, of course, that they are given correct information about where and when to vote.

It’s not an equal system. And given that so much of this system will be new for everyone, the election offices’ bungling of instructions again and again raises a real cause for concern. It should cause special concern because so far, all of the “bungles” point in one direction – toward getting Roma to register to vote for the Fidesz MP, toward giving Fidesz-friendly voters the easiest possible path to voting and toward giving those of opposition or uncertain political leanings every roadblock imaginable, from refusing their registration on technical grounds to giving misinformation about voting dates and polling places.

As George Orwell famously said in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The same is now true of citizens in Hungary.

Viktor Orbán finally spoke against Vladimir Putin; Kim Scheppele’s “Hungary, An Election in Question, Part 1”

Over the next five days, in addition to my regular daily posts, I will republish Professor Kim Scheppele’s five-part series on the pitfalls of the new election law that makes free and fair elections in Hungary doubtful. The article, entitled “Hungary, An Election in Question,” originally appeared on Paul Krugman’s blog on February 28, 2014 in The New York Times.

The reason that I asked Professor Scheppele to allow me to publish her article on Hungarian Spectrum is because, although we always knew that the newly enacted law was slanted in favor of the current government party, news coming from Budapest of late indicates that the situation is worse than we ever imagined. The opposition’s advertising options have been greatly restricted. And it seems that even the few posters the opposition candidates managed to put up are systematically being torn down. Budapest and other cities are full of posters of so-called civic groups campaigning for the government while the opposition has virtually no advertising presence. So, the more people read Professor Scheppele’s analysis of the new Hungarian  electoral law the better.

And now back to the Hungarian government’s attitude toward Ukraine. It was only yesterday at noon that Viktor Orbán said anything substantive about the Ukrainian crisis. In his statement he kept his concerns narrow and provincial, presumably not wanting to criticize his newly acquired friend, Vladimir Putin. His only concern seemed to be the safety of the Hungarian minority in Subcarpathia. He sent them a message: “you can count on us.” He added that “Hungary is not part of the conflict.” Well, in a narrow sense, perhaps not, but the conflict directly involves the European Union and Hungary’s neighbor, whose territorial integrity has been challenged.

Today the prime minister decided to elaborate on his position, crafting it to be more in line with EU thinking, a wise move since on Thursday he will attend an EU summit in Brussels. He will “represent the standpoint that the European Union will have to respond to the Russian military moves,” a response that has to be “immediate, unambiguous, and integrative.” He further elaborated on the theme when he announced that “the only alternative to war is negotiation. We want negotiations and not military conflict. We want peace, not blood.” Hungary wants a democratic Ukraine. Again, he stressed that “in the whole Ukrainian crisis the most important consideration for Hungary is the safety of Hungarians in Hungary and in Subcarpathia.” Note that he didn’t mention anything about the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

While Viktor Orbán talked to the media in Budapest, Vladimir Putin gave a press conference just outside of Moscow in Novo-Ogaryovo. It was a long and fairly rambling talk in which he announced that he had given up, at least for the time being, plans for the annexation of the Crimea. However, although he knows about and even condemns Yanukovych’s thievery, he still considers him to be the legitimate head of Ukraine and therefore refuses to recognize the interim government formed a few days ago.

Hungary is after all a neighbor of Ukraine

Hungary is after all a neighbor of Ukraine

Mid-afternoon the prime minister’s office released the “Statement of the Prime Ministers of the Visegrád Countries on Ukraine.” If we compare the text of this joint statement of the Polish, Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian prime ministers to Orbán’s words, we see that the joint statement is a great deal stronger. Let me quote a few sentences from this document.

The Prime Ministers of the Visegrád Countries are deeply concerned about the recent violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the fact that the Russian parliament has authorized military action on Ukrainian soil against the wishes of the Ukrainian Government…. We condemn all action threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and call on Russia to decrease the tensions immediately through dialogue, in full respect of Ukrainian and international law and in line with the provisions of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

The Visegrád Countries believe that the recent military actions by Russia are not only in violation of international law, but also create a dangerous new reality in Europe. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are appalled to witness a military intervention in 21st century Europe akin to their own experiences in 1956, 1968 and 1981….

The European Union and NATO should demonstrate solidarity with and assist Ukraine in this difficult moment and stand united in the face of this dangerous development threatening European peace and security.

A few hours later Zsolt Németh, undersecretary in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, spoke to Aleksandr Tolkach, Russian ambassador to Hungary. Németh called on Russia to move its troops back inside the Russian naval base in Sebastopol. Németh repeated that Hungary insists on Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and considers Russian behavior contrary to international law. So, it seems that Viktor Orbán eventually had to conform to the position held by the United States and the European Union. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow.

* * *

Hungary: An Election in Question, Part 1

Professor Kim Scheppele, Princeton University

Hungary’s parliamentary elections will be held on 6 April. And it is already clear who will win. Unless something truly surprising occurs, the governing party Fidesz is headed to victory. The only uncertainty is whether it will again win two-thirds of the parliamentary seats, a result that would continue to allow it to change the constitution at will.

Fidesz won the last elections in 2010 fair and square. But this time the election is unlikely to be judged so favorably. The whole election framework – the laws, the institutions and even the new electorate – favors Fidesz because the governing party has used its four years in office with its two-thirds majority in the parliament to redesign every aspect of the electoral system to its advantage.

Fidesz also overwhelmingly dominates the offline media and has closed off almost all avenues through which opposition parties can reach the electorate. New decrees from local Fidesz-affiliated officials around the country and misleading instructions from election officials are creating last-minute campaign obstacles that put the opposition even more on the wrong foot.

Under the new election framework, the allied opposition parties cannot win a parliamentary majority, even if they gain more votes than the governing party. Simultaneously, the changes also make it nearly inevitable that the governing party will keep its two-thirds parliamentary majority even if it gets less than half of the overall vote.

Róbert László of the Political Capital think tank in Budapest shows how Fidesz can win a two-thirds majority with less than half of the party-list vote. His model also predicts that a united center-left opposition would need about 6% more votes than Fidesz to win a simple majority in the parliament.

Central European University Professor Gábor Tóka estimates that, under the new system, a united center-left opposition might get 8% fewer parliamentary seats than Fidesz if both got an equal share of the votes.

Political Capital’s “mandate calculator” permits everyone to try out different models and different assumptions. We tried it here in Princeton and, depending on the assumptions one makes about the nature and shape of the opposition, Fidesz could get its two-thirds majority in parliament pretty easily with only 48% of the vote if the other parties perform as polls indicate they would if the election were held now. If the foreign votes split 85/15 for Fidesz (not unreasonable for reasons I will explain), Fidesz could get its two-thirds with only 44%. If Fidesz wins by the same margin it won last time, with 53% of the party-list vote, it would get 76% of the seats in the parliament instead of the 68% it won under the old system.

In short, Fidesz has designed the election to allow itself to win big, even without majority support. Or, to put it differently, Fidesz has designed the election so that the opposition loses even if it wins.

These effects occur because the way that the districts are drawn and the votes are aggregated. It doesn’t even count all of the other things that Fidesz is doing to help the opposition lose, like monopolizing the media, operating an election office that is giving out misleading instructions and only selectively registering to vote Hungarian citizens who are living abroad.

If Fidesz is reelected under this self-dealing system, then it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the election has been rigged. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “mandate” will be tainted.

It’s serious to accuse an incumbent party of potentially rigging an election, so the evidence needs to be strong. In this series of five blog posts, I will show precisely how the outcome of the election is cooked into the rules even before a single ballot is cast. The rules were designed to look “normal” but to allow Fidesz to win in a very particular political context, which is where we will start.

As Fidesz officials are quick to argue, they will win the election because they are the most popular single party in Hungary. Which is true (see graph below). But Fidesz’s popularity has only recently climbed above 30%, a level that would cause analysts in most democratic states to predict that an incumbent party is in trouble, especially given how low Fidesz fell over the last several years. What makes Fidesz look like a winner, however, is that all of the other parties are even less popular.

voting intentionsFor the last month, however, Fidesz has been confronted by a more substantial opponent than it has had during its tenure in office so far. Five left-leaning parties calling themselves the “democratic opposition” have combined to form the Unity Alliance (Összefogás). They have put forward a common slate of candidates for the individual constituencies and they are running a joint party list. Their joint strength might just be enough to challenge Fidesz’s domination of the elections – if there were a level playing field. But they were late to the election party, so to speak, announcing their joint effort only on 14 January 2014 just before the election date was set. So they have some catching up to do.

(The five parties in the Unity Alliance are the Socialists/MSzP headed by Attila Mesterházy; Together 2014/E-14 headed by Gordon Bajnai; Dialogue for Hungary/PM led by Benedek Jávor; Democratic Coalition/DK headed by Ferenc Gyurcsány and the Hungarian Liberal Party/Liberálisok headed by Gábor Fodor. Since the coalition was formed, the Movement for a Modern Hungary/MOMA, headed by Lajos Bokros, a conservative MEP, has agreed to support the joint ticket.)

And then there is Jobbik, which its detractors call the “non-democratic opposition.” This far-right party has become internationally known for its anti-Semitism and anti-Roma agitation, its toxic assertion of nationalism, and its ideology so far beyond the edge of the European political spectrum that its three representatives in the European Parliament cannot affiliate with any party caucus. Fidesz might reasonably worry that it would lose votes to Jobbik on the right, which may be why many – including Jobbik’s leadership – claim that Fidesz is “stealing [their] issues and ideas.”  For its part, Jobbik’s campaign ads this year portray it as substantially more moderate than its reputation in order to steal voters from Fidesz.

At the moment, Jobbik seems to have the allegiance of just under 10% of the electorate, though some worry that Jobbik’s support may climb again to the 17% of the vote it won in the 2010 election. Jobbik cannot form a government with that vote, but is the only party that can seriously challenge Fidesz’s electoral strategy by dividing the vote on the right.

Just as Fidesz faces a challenge to its base from Jobbik, the Unity Alliance is challenged by a party called Politics Can be Different (LMP) that provides an alternative for its voters as well. In the last year, LMP – a small party to begin with – split so that one fraction joined the broader opposition alliance and the rest remained unaligned. While LMP lost support since the split, it still seems to be polling around the 5% threshold needed for a single party to enter the parliament.

Though Fidesz and the Unity Alliance are the two big parties in this race, polling data show that the largest single voting bloc – a clear majority of the electorate for the last several years – is still “undecided.” That large number becomes even more formidable when one considers that more than half of the Hungarians asked do not answer surveys. Is it hard to know if those who do not answer are still engaged in politics at all, and if so, how.

In past Hungarian elections, the turnout had to reach 50% for the election to be valid. But Fidesz changed that rule too so that there is no minimum turnout required any longer. Low voter turnout, then, is no barrier to a valid election.

But even with the large number undecided or apolitical voters, the results are not in doubt. The governing party designed the system precisely to prevent surprises in this particular political landscape, and they wrote the rules to allow themselves to win almost no matter which way opinion breaks and almost no matter what the turnout is on election day. It is hard to see a realistic outcome for this election that doesn’t put Fidesz front and center in the next government. Fidesz will thrive if there is low turnout because the party has a powerful system for bringing out its voters. If Jobbik surges, Jobbik could not govern unless Fidesz were the dominant partner in a coalition. But, perhaps most importantly for judging the fairness of the election, Fidesz will win even if the “democratic opposition” were to pull ahead of them by a substantial margin.

Why is that? According to election experts, the Unity Alliance could only gain a parliamentary majority if it won by more than a comfortable margin in the popular vote. That is because of the way that the system has been designed. Unless there is swing toward the left that is larger than anything we have seen in the post-communist period or unless Jobbik’s support rises by so much that it substantially depletes the Fidesz vote, Fidesz will surely win outright and is very likely to get its two-thirds back again.

How could Fidesz win under almost any likely scenario for 6 April? I will turn to that next.

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.