In the News: Legislative Amendments on Outdoor Political Advertising

On December 6, 2017, the State Audit Office (ÁSZ) determined that the opposition party Jobbik had accepted 331.7 million forints (1.05 million euros) in illegal non-monetary support during the first half of 2017. Although ÁSZ did not specify the source of this support, it obviously stemmed from outdoor advertising space that Jobbik had purchased at significantly below the market price from companies under the ownership of former Orbán-government oligarch Lajos Simicska.

As a result of the State Audit Office’s finding, Jobbik will have to pay a fine equal to the amount of illegal non-monetary support that the party allegedly received and will forfeit an identical sum in government budgetary support. According to Jobbik National Assembly caucus Chairman Pál Volner, this net loss of over 662 million forints (2.1 million euros) could prevent the party from competing in the general election expected to take place in Hungary in April 2018.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona announced a demonstration at Fidesz headquarters in Budapest on December 15 to protest the State Audit Office’s unprecedented discovery of illegal non-monetary party financing, which the party claims the Orbán government orchestrated in order to neutralize its main rival in the approaching National Assembly election. The opposition parties Politics Can Be Different (LMP), Together (Együtt) and Momentum will also participate in the demonstration.

Below is the Orange Files article on legislative amendments that the Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party governing coalition adopted in June 2017 that prohibited political parties from purchasing outdoor advertising space at below the list price for such advertising. 

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Jobbik sign featuring oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán: “You Work. They Steal” (photo: Orange Files).

On June 23, 2017 FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) National Assembly representatives adopted legislative amendments that required political parties to pay the registered list price from the previous calendar year for outdoor advertising (source in Hungarian).

The official justification for the amendments was that they would “contribute effectively to the reduction of the risk of corruption” (source in Hungarian).

The specific purpose of the amendments, one to which Fidesz officials alluded on several occasions, was to prevent former Orbán-government oligarch Lajos Simicska from providing Jobbik, the nationalist opposition party that he began supporting after his dramatic rift with Prime Minister Orbán in 2015, with free or discounted advertising space through his outdoor advertising company Mahir Cityposter.

These amendments are known conventionally in Hungarian as the “[billboard] sign law” (plakáttörvény).

Jobbik Advertising Campaign

Lajos Simicska (photo: index.hu).

On April 1, 2017, Jobbik launched a major outdoor-advertising campaign featuring signs that showed the faces of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, his chief strategic advisor Árpád Habony, Cabinet Minister Antal Rogán and Fidesz oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros above the text “You Work. They Steal” (source in Hungarian).

On April 2, Fidesz National Assembly caucus Deputy Chairman Szilárd Németh declared during a press conference that the advertising campaign represented “ultimate evidence that Jobbik is the party of a billionaire. This naturally refers to Lajos Simicska, who manipulates Gábor Vona and all of Jobbik like a marionette” (source from 0:10).

Neither Jobbik nor Simicska denied speculation that the party was conducting its advertising campaign on billboards under the ownership of the former Orbán government oligarch’s company Mahir Cityposter.

On June 17, Jobbik announced that the party had spent 54 million forints (approximately 175,000 euros) to display the anti-government signs on 2,468 large billboards and 300 small billboards during its two-month advertising campaign. The opposition newspaper Népszava estimated that Jobbik therefore paid less than one-third of the market cost for the outdoor-advertising space on which the party displayed the signs (source in Hungarian).

Submission of Bill

On April 25, 2017, Fidesz National Assembly caucus Chairman Lajos Kósa and Deputy Chairman János Halász submitted a bill to the legislature “on the prevention of covert party financing and the safeguarding of transparent campaign financing.” The proposed law included the following justification (source in Hungarian):

In numerous cases, the suspicion arises that billionaires and financial groups connected to them want to influence democratic electoral competition and want to distort the chances of those that participate in elections. This practice, in addition to posing a threat to the purity of elections, entails the risk of covert party financing and corruption. The objectives of the proposal [proposed legislation] are to prevent the veiled attempts of billionaires to acquire influence, to increase transparency and, furthermore, to ensure that certain parties do not become beholden to business enterprises that finance their election campaigns in a corrupt manner.

The stipulation of Hungary’s Fundamental Law requiring the support of a two-thirds majority of National Assembly representatives in order to adopt legislation concerning the “regulation of the operations and management of political parties” pertained to the proposed “sign law.”

The proposed legislation contained the following provisions (sources A and B in Hungarian):

prohibited parties from purchasing outdoor-advertising space at under the market-value outside the officially designated three-month political campaign season before general elections;

required entities that sell outdoor-advertising space to political parties to submit records showing how much they charged for the advertising space to the State Audit Office (Állami Számvevőszék) and to display this data on their website;

obliged entities that sell outdoor-advertising space to political parties to notify the State Audit Office of the party or parties to which they had sold the advertising space and of the amount of money they had charged for this space within 15 days of the enactment of the law.

Lex Lackey

Outdoor-advertising bill sponsors János Halász (left) and Lajos Kósa discuss “Lex lackey” (photo: MTI).

On May 3, 2017, the co-sponsors of the bill, Lajos Kósa and János Halász, held a press conference during which they referred to the proposed legislation as “Lex Lackey” (lex csicska), thus alluding to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s statement to Jobbik National Assembly representatives several weeks earlier that “We all know that you do not uphold your own opinions—you are sitting in the pocket of a big businessman. You have transformed Jobbik from a radical-nationalist party into a lackey [csicska] party” (sources A and B in Hungarian).

According to Kósa, “With Lex Lackey we want to prevent parties from becoming simple lackeys in the hands of billionaires . . . billionaire Lajos Simicska has bought Jobbik by the kilo in a clearly visible and by now openly assumed manner” (source in Hungarian from 1:57).

Rejection of Bill

On June 14, 2017, the National Assembly rejected the proposed “sign law” by a vote of 131 in favor to 61 against (source in Hungarian). All representatives from the Fidesz-KDNP governing alliance voted in favor of the bill, while all representatives from opposition parties voted against the proposed legislation. Fidesz-KDNP officials had previously believed that a sufficient number of opposition representatives might be prepared to support the bill in order to attain the two-thirds majority required for its adoption.

Adoption of Modified Bill Provisions as Amendments

On June 22, 2017, the Simicska-owned television station HírTv obtained a copy of amendments to Law LXXIV of 2016 “on protection of the appearance of municipalities” that Fidesz-KDNP members of the National Assembly Legislative Committee would submit for immediate consideration during an extraordinary session of the legislature the following day and which would enable the governing parties to attain the same objectives as those contained in the rejected “sign law” with support from a simple majority of parliamentary representatives (source in Hungarian).

These proposed amendments stipulated that organizations that receive government budgetary funding—which includes political parties with representation in the National Assembly—would be required to pay the official list price from the previous calendar year for outdoor advertising space unless they obtained a lower price through public-procurement procedure.

The proposed amendments obliged organizations that receive government budgetary funding to provide relevant authorities with a copy of any contracts concluded for the purchase of outdoor-advertising space and instructed these authorities to remove the advertising within a period of two days if the terms of the contract were not fulfilled.

The proposed amendments specified fines of 150,000 forints (487 euros) per sign found to be in violation of the stipulated regulations (source in Hungarian).

On June 23, the National Assembly adopted these amendments to Law LXXIV of 2016 “on protection of the appearance of municipalities” by a vote of 123 in favor to 68 against. All representatives from the Fidesz-KDNP governing coalition voted in favor the amendments, while all opposition representatives voted against them (source in Hungarian).

On June 30, President János Áder signed the amendments into law (source in Hungarian).

Constitutional Court Challenge 

On July 14, 2017, Jobbik submitted a retroactive challenge to the approved amendments to the Constitutional Court after obtaining the 57 signatures of National Assembly representatives needed to tender the appeal (25 from the Hungarian Socialist Party, 24 from Jobbik, 4 from Politics Can Be Different and 4 from independents). Jobbik’s challenge to the constitutionality of the amendments was based on the claim that they represented legislation concerning the “regulation of the operations and management of political parties” and thus would have required support from a two-thirds majority of National Assembly representatives in order to be adopted (source in Hungarian).

Tax Authority Investigation of Simicska-Owned Companies 

Jobbik sign featuring chief advisor Árpád Habony and Cabinet Minister Antal Rogán: “You Work. They Steal” (photo: Orange Files).

On June 8, 2017, the pro-government daily newspaper Magyar Idők reported that Hungary’s National Tax and Customs Authority (NAV) had launched an investigation of Simicska’s outdoor-advertising companies Mahir Cityposter and Publimont to determine if they had underreported the amount of advertising space they had sold to Jobbik (source in Hungarian).

On June 12, armed NAV investigators seized financial documentation pertaining to the first four months of 2017 at the headquarters of Mahir Cityposter (source in Hungarian). On June 15, NAV auditors conducted an investigation of financial records at the offices of Publimont and Mahir Cityposter’s parent company, Mahir Ltd. (source in Hungarian).

On October 27, Magyar Idők reported—citing National Tax and Customs Authority records—that NAV had uncovered a 75-million-forint (241,670-euro) tax shortfall in Publimont’s sale of outdoor advertising space to Jobbik (source in Hungarian).

State Audit Office Investigation of Jobbik

On August 10, 2017, Hungary’s State Audit Office (ÁSZ) initiated an investigation of Jobbik’s party finances (source in Hungarian).

On October 3, the State Audit Office—which is responsible for monitoring the financial activity of organizations that receive government budgetary funding—filed a complaint with the Budapest District 11 and District 22 Public Prosecutor’s Office claiming that Jobbik had refused to provide ÁSZ with requested documentation (source in Hungarian).

Jobbik officials asserted that the party had been cooperating with the State Audit Office investigation (source in Hungarian).

On October 6, the Budapest District 11 and District 22 Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an inquiry to determine if Jobbik had refused to comply with the State Audit Office’s requests for financial documents (source in Hungarian).

On December 6, the State Audit Office charged that Jobbik had accepted 331.7 million forints (1.05 million euros) in illegal non-monetary support from a legal entity during the first half of 2017 (source in Hungarian).

According to law, if Jobbik cannot disprove the State Audit Office’s finding, the party must pay a fine equaling the amount of illegal non-monetary support that the party received. Moreover, the amount of money allocated to Jobbik from the government budget will be reduced by an identical sum (source in Hungarian).

Shortly after ÁSZ announced its finding, Jobbik National Assembly caucus Chairman János Volner stated during a press conference that the prospective 664-million-forint reduction in its budget could prevent the party from participating in the general election expected to be held in Hungary during the spring of 2018 (source in Hungarian).

Fidesz 2010 Campaign Publicity on Mahir Cityposter Advertising Spaces

On June 29, 2017, the opposition news website 24.hu reported, citing documents received from an unnamed source, that Fidesz had purchased outdoor advertising space for the party’s 2010 National Assembly election campaign from Simicska-owned Mahir Cityposter at a cost of just over two percent of the list price for such advertising.

According to 24.hu, Fidesz purchased approximately 4,700 outdoor advertising spaces from Mahir Cityposter in April 2010 at a cost of 23.2 million forints, whereas the list-price cost for this advertising space would have been around one billion forints (source in Hungarian).

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National Consultation on the “Soros Plan”

National Consultation questionnaire.

On September 13, 2017, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced to members of the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) National Assembly coalition that the government would conduct a National Consultation on the “Soros Plan” pertaining to the European migrant crisis (source in Hungarian).

On September 23, Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office State Secretary Bence Tuzson officially confirmed that the government would soon launch a National Consultation on the “Soros Plan” (source in Hungarian). Also on this date, the government began broadcasting advertisements on state-run Hungarian Television regarding “György Soros’s dangerous plan” (source in Hungarian).

On September 28, 2017, government spokesman Zoltán Kovács announced that government would begin mailing National Consultation questionnaires during the second week of October (source in Hungarian).

The Orbán government has held a total of seven National Consultations including the National Consultation on the “Soros Plan.”

In these National Consultations, the government mails questionnaires on various topics to all of the approximately eight million adult citizens of Hungary. Respondents can return these questionnaires postage-free to the Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office, which assumed the duty of conducting the National Consultations from the Prime Ministry in October 2015. Respondents can also fill out National Consultation questionnaires on the official government website (see on-line questionnaire in Hungarian ).

The Orbán government uses the results of these National Consultation questionnaires, which are phrased in order to ensure that an overwhelming majority of respondents will select the government-supported answer, in order to demonstrate that its policies reflect the popular will of the citizens of Hungary (see National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism and The “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation).

Letter of Introduction

The National Consultation questionnaire on the “Soros Plan” included the following letter of introduction from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán:

My Esteemed Compatriot!

Prime Minister Orbán’s letter of introduction (click to enlarge).

I am writing to You about a matter that fundamentally influences everyday life, the security and the future of Hungary.

We have always believed in straight talk, we have never disguised the fact that we have a serious disagreement with György Soros, one of the most influential billionaires in the world. We are now raising our voices, because György Soros has a dangerous plan, which an extensive network is working to implement.

On the basis of the Soros plan, they would settle 1 million immigrants in Europe per year and they would distribute the settled migrants among the member states. Hungary would also have to take part in this. According to the plan, they would give each immigrant 9 million forints from the money of the taxpayers.

The fact that numerous leaders in Brussels support and represent this plan makes it truly dangerous. If it is implemented, Hungary’s culture and population would change in an irreversible way.

It is clearly visible that an enormous fusillade has come down upon those countries that resist the Soros plan. They want to punish Hungary because we are defending ourselves and at the same time all of Europe with a fence. They want to force us to dismantle the fence and to accept as many illegal immigrants as they prescribe.

The Soros plan endangers our communities and our traditions. It endangers Hungary and all of that Europe with which we have become acquainted and which we love.

It is precisely for this reason that the time for joint action has again arrived. I ask that you participate in the national consultation and fill out the enclosed questionnaire.

We are counting on your opinion!

Respectfully,

Viktor Orbán

Prime Minister of Hungary

Questionnaire

The National Consultation questionnaire on the “Soros Plan” consists of the following seven questions (see original questionnaire in Hungarian): 

1. György Soros wants to persuade Brussels to settle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East per year on the territory of the European Union, thus in Hungary as well.

Soros has been working for many years to change Europe and European societies. He wants to reach his goals through the settlement of masses of people from other civilizational backgrounds. In the introduction of his plan, he put it this way: “the EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future” (Project Syndicate, 09-26-2015). The European Parliament advocates a similar point of view. The body supported the resettlement programs as well as the establishment of immigration routes (2015/2342 (IN))

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

2. György Soros along with leaders in Brussels together want to get European Union member states, thus Hungary as well, to dismantle border-protection barriers and to open frontiers to immigrants.

Well-guarded borders represent effective protection against illegal immigration. It is not by accident that dismantling the border-protection barriers is one of the important goals of the Soros plan. In this way, the borders would be opened to illegal immigrants. The billionaire put it this way, “our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle” (Bloomberg Business, 10-30-2015).

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

3. Part of the Soros plan is that Brussels will mandatorily distribute immigrants gathered in Western European countries with particular regard to Eastern European countries. Hungary must participate in this.

György Soros wrote the following about the distribution of the immigrants: “if this does not become permanent and mandatory feature of the common European asylum system, it will fall apart” (Financial Times, 07-26-2015). In 2015 a decision was made in Brussels that as a first step Hungary must accept 1,294 immigrants. In 2016, the European Commission made a proposal that would enable the distribution of an unlimited number of immigrants (IP/16/1620). The union’s Migration and Refugee Affairs Agency has also stood up in a unanimous manner for the proposal of György Soros, which further weakens the national sphere of authority in the question of immigration. If the settlement quotas become valid, Hungarians will no longer have a say in whom they want to live with in the future.

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

4. On the basis of the Soros plan, Brussels should oblige all member states, thus Hungary as well, to pay all immigrants 9 million forints in state assistance.

According to Soros, significant sums [of money] should be spent on the immigrants. “The EU should provide 15,000 euros per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs – and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states” (Project Syndicate, 09-26-2015). According to the billionaire, this sum [of money] should be raised through credit. Soros believes that tax increases are necessary in order to repay the credit: the billionaire would raise the VAT as well as the taxes imposed on gasoline consumption and tourism. Last year in Brussels, Soros also proposed that agricultural and cohesion support for Central European countries be reduced in the interest of resolving the EU migration crisis.

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

5. György Soros also wants to make it so that migrants receive more lenient punishment for crimes that they have committed.

György Soros provides significant sums [of money] to organizations that assist immigration and defend immigrants who have committed unlawful acts. One such [organization], for example, is the Helsinki Committee, which in connection with the prohibited crossing of the border barrier argued that “the application of serious legal consequences in connection to unlawful entry can be regarded as worrisome.” Another Soros organization, Amnesty International, on several occasions demanded the release of the Ahmed H., who attacked Hungarian police defending the border with rocks and was convicted for this reason. Amnesty would even have the Hungarian state pay compensation.

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

6. The goal of the Soros plan is to have the language and culture of the European countries to be pushed into the background so that the integration of illegal immigrants can take place sooner.

György Soros wrote in his book entitled “The Open Society” that “the decline in the authority of the nation states can be qualified as a development to be welcomed.” Soros also wrote openly that we should not give up our conviction that migration does good for Europe. He summoned non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and companies to be the sponsors of immigration. He also talked about how the continent must finally take active steps in the interest of forming open societies. In certain European countries and multinational companies they have already begun to remove European, Christian symbols so that they “do not offend the sensibilities of immigrants.”

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

7. Part of the Soros plan is to launch an attack on countries that oppose immigration and to impose heavy punishments on them.

The main obstacles to the implementation of the Soros plan are those governments that stand up for national independence and take action against illegal immigration. György Soros cannot today bring one million immigrants into Europe because there are governments that protest against this. The Hungarian government is complying with the Schengen agreement when it defends the borders and builds a fence, thus making implementation of the Soros plan more difficult. Soros and several decision-makers in Brussels are attacking our homeland for this reason. According to the proposal of the European Commission, those member states that do not participate in the settlement program would have to pay a penalty of 78 million forints for every immigrant. (2016/0133 (COD)) A Hungarian employee works for decades for a sum [of money] of this size.

Do you support this point of the Soros plan? YES NO

The “Soros Plan”

The “Soros Plan” cited in the Orbán government’s National Consultation questionnaire refers to measures that George Soros proposed to manage the European migrant crisis in the following writings: an article published in the Financial Times on July 16, 2015 under the title “By failing to help refugees, Europe fails itself”; an article published on the Project Syndicate website on September 26, 2015 under the title “Rebuilding the Asylum System”; and an e-mail statement published on the Bloomberg News website on October 30, 2015 (sources A, B and C in English).

Financial Times

In the July 16, 2015 Financial Times article, Soros cited three elements of the European Commission’s proposed response to the migrant crisis: “a military mission targeting smugglers in the Mediterranean”; “a robust effort to return migrants who are found not to qualify for international protection”; and “a mandatory plan to take 40,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to be processed in other member states.”

Soros asserted in the Financial Times article that “These programmes embody the spirit of shared responsibility that lies at the heart of the EU. If they do not become permanent and mandatory features of the common European asylum system, it will fall apart.”

Question three of the National Consultation questionnaire on the “Soros Plan” transformed the latter sentence from the plural to the singular, thus narrowing its reference to just one of the three cited elements of the European Commission plan to manage the migrant crisis: “György Soros wrote the following about the distribution of the immigrants: ‘if this does not become a permanent and mandatory feature of the common European asylum system, it will fall apart’ (Financial Times, 07-26-2015).”

Bloomberg News

In the October 30, 2015 e-mail statement published on the Bloomberg News website, Soros differentiated the plan of Viktor Orbán to manage the migration crisis from his plan: “His plan treats the protection of national borders as the objective and the refugees as an obstacle. Our plan treats the protection of refugees as the objective and national borders as the obstacle.”

Question two of the National Consultation questionnaire refers to this statement.

Project Syndicate

In the September 26, 2015 Project Syndicate article, Soros contended that “The EU needs a comprehensive plan to respond to the [migrant] crisis, one that reasserts effective governance over the flows of asylum-seekers so that they take place in a safe, orderly way, and at a pace that reflects Europe’s capacity to absorb them.”

Soros identified six components of this “comprehensive plan.”  Referring to the first component of this plan, Soros wrote:

The EU has to accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future. And, to do that, it must share the burden fairly . . .

Adequate financing is critical. The EU should provide €15,000 ($16,800) per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years to help cover housing, health care, and education costs—and to make accepting refugees more appealing to member states. It can raise these funds by issuing long-term bonds using its largely untapped AAA borrowing capacity, which will have the added benefit of providing a justified fiscal stimulus to the European economy

The “comprehensive plan” that Soros presented in the Project Syndicate article also proposed that the European Union take the following measures to manage the migrant crisis: provide funding to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan to help support refugees living in those countries; establish a common Asylum and Migration Agency and Border Guard; ensure safe channels of migration in order to “calm the panic” and reduce the number of people making the “dangerous Mediterranean crossing”; and mobilize non-governmental organizations, church groups and businesses to “act as sponsors.” Finally, Soros stated in the article that these measures should serve as “global standards for the treatment of asylum-seekers and migrants.”

Questions one and three of the National Consultation questionnaire refer to the first component of this “comprehensive plan” to “accept at least a million asylum-seekers annually for the foreseeable future” and “provide €15,000 ($16,800) per asylum-seeker for each of the first two years.”

Other Articles

Soros published two subsequent articles regarding the European Union’s response to the migration crisis—the first on the Project Syndicate website on April 10, 2016 under the title “Bringing Europe’s Migration Crisis under Control” and the second on the Foreign Policy website on July 19, 2016 under the title “This Is Europe’s Last Chance to Fix Its Refugee Policy” (source A and B in English).

In these articles, both published after the March 2016 agreement between the European Union and Turkey to decrease the number of migrants traveling across the Aegean Sea from the latter country to Greece, Soros reduced the number of refugees the EU would have to accept under his proposals from one million per year to “a firm and reliable annual target of 300,000–500,000 refugees” and “a guaranteed target of at least 300,000 refugees each year.”

On September 27, 2017, Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office State Secretary Bence Tuzson said that the government had used the larger number in its National Consultation on the “Soros Plan” because “the number of one million returns regularly in European thinking and György Soros’s most important written statement referred to this as well” (source in Hungarian).

Amnesty International and Helsinki Committee Response

Question five of the National Consultation questionnaire on the “Soros Plan” cited Amnesty International and the Helsinki Committee as examples of Soros-supported organizations “that assist immigration and defend immigrants who have committed unlawful acts”:

One such [organization], for example, is the Helsinki Committee, which in connection with the prohibited crossing of the border barrier argued that “the application of serious legal consequences in connection to unlawful entry can be regarded as worrisome.” Another Soros organization, Amnesty International, on several occasions demanded the release of the Ahmed H., who attacked Hungarian police defending the border with rocks and was convicted for this reason. Amnesty would even have the Hungarian state pay compensation.

On September 28, 2017, both the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Amnesty International Hungary responded to their citation in this National Consultation questionnaire.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee wrote (source in Hungarian):

We consider it to be outrageous that they accuse our organization, which for decades has been assisting asylum-seekers, of wanting to absolve anybody whatsoever of criminal acts.

We continue to believe that punishing refugees with imprisonment just because they have transgressed the border barrier is a disproportional and excessive vehicle that is also inconsistent with the Geneva Convention.

Amnesty International Hungary wrote (source in Hungarian):

Amnesty International Hungary and the Hungarian Helsinki Committee have received enormous recognition, we have been included by name in the most recent National Consultation!!! The government has accused us of the following:

1. we on several occasions demanded the release of Ahmed H. (correction: we find the act of terror to be unfounded and absurd)

2. who attacked Hungarian police with rocks . . . (correction: the verdict did not state that he attacked police (threw in their direction) and does not even mention rocks (solid objects)

3. and would have the Hungarian state pay compensation. (Gyula Budai [Fidesz National Assembly representative] devised this, though we have no idea where he came up with it)

+1. we are not a Soros organization (whatever this means)

Soros Response

On September 29, 2017, spokesman Csaba Csontos of the Soros-founded, -funded and -chaired Open Society Foundations told the opposition website hvg.hu that all seven of the questions on the National Consultation questionnaire were either inaccurate or unfounded (source in Hungarian).

Csontos stated with regard to the claim in the National Consultation questionnaire that “György Soros wants to persuade Brussels to settle at least one million immigrants from Africa and the Middle East per year on the territory of the European Union”:

György Soros wrote about one million immigrants per year in a 2015 article, though there was never any question of “persuasion” or settlement. Soros was writing about managing the situation. At that time around that many refugees had arrived and he based this on the premise that the course of events would continue at this level. He continually decreased this number. In his most recent—July 2016—article he modified this number to 300,000.

On October 3, 2017, an unidentified spokesman for Soros told the Financial Times that “There is no such thing as a global conspiracy against Hungary orchestrated by George Soros. . . .We regret that the government is spending over $3m of public money to play on instincts of fear and hatred to manipulate Hungarian voters six months ahead of the parliamentary election” (source in English).

Orbán on the “Soros Plan”

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán described the “Soros Plan” during a Hungarian Radio interview on April 28, 2017 (source in Hungarian):

So György Soros published his own migration program. In this he wrote, espoused publicly in his own name, that every year one million migrants must be transported into the union, that this must be financed and that he would gladly give a loan—he added this as well. And since then they have been working to dismantle the Hungarian fence, to change the laws protecting Hungary, to denigrate Hungary in every possible international forum and to force it through international pressure to nevertheless allow migrants to enter and pass through [the country]. This is what György Soros the financial speculator has done after becoming György Soros the pro-immigration European politician and we must rise in opposition to this.

Prime Minister Orbán said with regard to the “Soros Plan” during another Hungarian Radio interview on October 6, 2017 (source in Hungarian):

The starting point of the whole thing was when the dispute began between Brussels and Hungary. At that time, I published a multi-point plan about how Europe should be defended and I made proposals to the union. In response, György Soros published another plan, breaking it down into points just like me, about what must be done. Now those in Brussels can say that they aren’t interested in György Soros’s written work, a claim that is undermined somewhat by the fact that they regularly receive him and for some mysterious reason consult with him, though the happenings that take place in actual life progress precisely according to how György Soros set it out in publicly. . . . We are not dupes. This is a country with serious people and a serious history and, horribile dictu, with a serious government whose task it is to understand what is going on. And we understand what is going on. György Soros bought people, bought organizations and they are eating from his hand. Brussels is under his influence and the Brussels mechanism is implementing his plan with regard to the affair called immigration. They want to dismantle the fence, they want to let to let immigrants in by the millions and want to mandatorily distribute them.

Navracsics on the “Soros Plan”

On September 29, 2017, the Orbán government’s representative on the European Commission—European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Tibor Navracsics—stated with regard to the “Soros Plan” (source in Hungarian):

I consider this to be a rhetorical element of the coming election campaign. There is no such thing in the European Commission—we don’t talk about such a thing and no such task appears in the working plan of the European Commission” .

On October 9, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán responded to European Commissioner Navracsics’s denial: “I know very well. The European Commission is implementing the Soros Plan. That is, Tibor Navracsics is mistaken” (source in Hungarian).

Government Publicity Campaign

National Consultation advertisement in Budapest (photo: Orange Files).

On September 19, 2017, Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office Parliamentary State Secretary Csaba Dömötör announced that the Orbán government would conduct a publicity campaign connected to the National Consultation designed to acquaint citizens with the main aspects of the “Soros Plan.”

Dömötör said the campaign would include billboard signs and television and internet advertisements that would cost approximately the same amount of money the government’s previous National Consultation publicity campaigns (source in Hungarian).

According to data from the Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office, the government paid 7.25 billion forints (23.5 million euros) for the three publicity campaigns it conducted in connection to the “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation in the spring and summer of 2017 (source in Hungarian).

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From the Archives: The “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation

LET’S STOP BRUSSELS! (photo: cyberpress.hu)

The Orbán government conducted its sixth National Consultation, entitled “Let’s Stop Brussels!” (Állítsuk meg Brüsszelt!), in April and May 2017.

In these National Consultations, the Orbán government mails questionnaires on various topics to all of the approximately eight million adult citizens of Hungary. Respondents can return these questionnaires postage-free to the Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office, which assumed the duty of conducting the National Consultations from the Prime Ministry in October 2015.

The Orbán government uses the results of these National Consultation questionnaires, which are phrased in order to ensure that an overwhelming majority of respondents will select the government-supported answer, in order to demonstrate that its policies reflect the popular will of the citizens of Hungary (see National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism).

Questionnaire  

Questionnaire (click to enlarge)

The “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation questionnaire consisted of the following six questions:

1. Brussels is preparing to make a dangerous move. It wants to force us to annul the utility-fee cuts.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. We should defend the utility-fee cuts. We should insist that Hungarian energy prices be determined in Hungary.

b. We should accept the plan of Brussels and rely on large companies to determine utility-fee prices.

2. Terrorist attacks have followed one after another in Europe over the recent period. In spite of this, Brussels wants to force Hungary to receive illegal immigrants.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. In the interest of the security of the Hungarian people, illegal immigrants should be placed under supervision until the authorities can make a decision regarding their cases.

b. We should permit illegal immigrants to move freely in Hungary.

3. By today it has become apparent that, in addition to human traffickers, certain international organizations have encouraged illegal immigrants on their way to Hungary to engage in unlawful activity.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. Activities that assist illegal immigration—such as human trafficking and the popularization of illegal immigration—should be punished.

b. We should accept that there exist certain international organizations that can encourage the circumvention of Hungarian laws without consequences.

4. More and more foreign-supported organizations are operating in Hungary with the objective of interfering in the internal affairs of our homeland in a non-transparent way. Their operations could endanger our independence.

What do you think Hungary should do? 

a. We should compel them to register themselves, disclosing the country or organization on behalf of which they are functioning and the objective of their operations.

b. We should permit them to continue to conduct their risky activities without supervision.

5. Job creation has been successful in Hungary over the past years because we took our own pathway. However, Brussels is attacking the job-creation measures.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. We Hungarians should continue to decide regarding the future of the Hungarian economy.

b. Let Brussels decide what should be done in the economy.

6. Hungary has committed itself to cut taxes. Brussels is now attacking our homeland because of this.

What do you think Hungary should do?

a. We should insist that we Hungarians are able to decide on tax cuts.

b. We should accept that Brussels dictate the magnitude of taxes.

Letter of Introduction

Introduction letter (click to enlarge)

The National Consultation questionnaire included the following letter of introduction from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán:

Esteemed Compatriots!

I am writing to you because we again stand before very big decisions. Brussels has come forward with several plans that endanger our national independence and the security of the country.

The bureaucrats want to force us to annul the utility-fee cuts and to receive illegal immigrants. If it was up to them, they would deprive us of the opportunity to decide ourselves regarding tax cuts and the means of job creation. Because the government would like greater transparency regarding the issue of foreign-supported agent organizations, we can expect heavy attacks in this domain as well.  

We must stop Brussels! We will not permit them to make decisions above our heads. We must defend our borders, while we must prevent settlement [of migrants in Hungary]. We also insist that we keep the regulation of taxes, wages and utility fees in our own hands. We must make the networks sustained from foreign money transparent as well.

The help of the Hungarian people is needed in order for us to successfully hinder the dangerous plans of Brussels. This is why I am asking that You to stand up for national independence as well, assist the government in its struggle and to fill out the enclosed questionnaire.

Hungary is depending on You!

Sincerely,

Viktor Orbán

The prime minister of Hungary

European Commission Rebuttal

On April 27, 2017, the European Commission (EC) published a document entitled “Facts Matter. European Commission Responds to Hungarian National Consultation.” In this document, the EC refuted the primary claims in all six questions posed in the National Consultation (see source in English).

Results and Cost of the Questionnaire

In late June 2017, Prime Minister Orbán announced that nearly 1.7 million Hungarians had returned the National Consultation Questionnaire (source in Hungarian). Also in late June, Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office State Secretary Csaba Dömötör announced that 99 percent of respondents had chosen the government-supported answer (answer a.) to the National Consultation questions (source in Hungarian).

The government paid slightly less than 950 million forints (3.1 million euros) to print and mail the eight million National Consultation questionnaires (source in Hungarian).

Publicity Campaigns

Let’s Not Allow George Soros to Have the Last Laugh! (photo: Szombat Online)

The Orbán government conducted three publicity campaigns in connection to the “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation featuring the following slogans that appeared on billboards and advertising columns throughout Hungary as well as in the country’s broadcast, print and digital media: in April and May, Let’s Stop Brussels!; in June, The Most Successful National Consultation of All Time. Hungary Is a Strong and Proud European Country (Minden idők legsikeresebb Nemzeti Konzultációja. Magyarország erős és büszke európai ország); and in July, Let’s Not Allow George Soros to Have the Last Laugh! (Ne hagyuk, hogy Soros György nevessen a végén!).

Cost of the Publicity Campaigns

According to data from the Prime Ministerial Cabinet Office, the government paid 7.25 billion forints (23.5 million euros) for the three publicity campaigns it conducted in connection to the “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation from early April until the middle of July (source in Hungarian).

Oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros (photo: Népszava Online)

Media that operate under the ownership of Orbán-government oligarchs Lőrinc Mészáros, Andy Vajna and Gábor Széles generated nearly three billion forints from the publication and broadcast of this National Consultation publicity (Mészáros 2.35 billion forints; Vajna 512 million forints; and Széles 107 million forints).

Furthermore, media that operate under the ownership of people with indirect or direct ties to the Orbán government generated slightly over 700 million forints in revenue from the publication and broadcast of such publicity (Ádám Matolcsy, the son of National Bank of Hungary Governor György Matolcsy, 380 million forints; Árpád Habony, Prime Minister Orbán’s chief strategic advisor, 261 million forints; and Mária Schmidt, director of the state-supported House of Terror, 62 million forints).

The print, broadcast and digital media operating under the ownership of the above six people thus received just over half of the 7.25 billion forints that the Orbán government spent on publicity for its “Let’s Stop Brussels!” National Consultation.

Total Cost

The Orbán government spent a total of 8.2 billion forints (26.6 million euros) on the “Let’s Stop Brussels” National Consultation.

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The Empire Strikes Back

Terry Black's Facebook profile photo.

Terry Black (Facebook profile photo).

On November 10, 2016, the Andy Vajna-owned, pro-government TV2 television station broadcast a report entitled “Gábor Vona’s Secret Life” [Vona Gábor titkos élete] in which transgender performer and former gay adult-film actor Terry Black (Mihály Rácz) alleged that he had seen the president of the radical-nationalist Jobbik party engaging in homosexual acts at gatherings of Hungarian intellectuals in the early 2000s (source A and B in Hungarian).

The pro-government commercial media, including Origo.hu, PestiSrácok.hu, ripost.hu and the Árpád Habony-operated lokál.hu, carried the TV2 report, which was broadcast just two days after Jobbik National Assembly representatives had followed through with their threat not to support the government-sponsored proposed amendment to the Fundamental Law that would have prevented the European Union from resettling Middle Eastern and African refugees in Hungary if government “residency-bonds” were not first eliminated (see Updated: Amendments to the Fundamental Law and The Hungarian Investment Immigration Program).

Shortly after the broadcast of the TV2 report, Gábor Vona’s wife, Krisztina Vona-Szabó, published an open letter on her Facebook page to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s wife,  Anikó Lévai (source in Hungarian):

According to the freshest “news” in the pro-government press, Gábor regularly participated in homosexual orgies during his university years. At the time when we were engaged. Naturally I understand that there is great confusion, resentment and vindictiveness, because the amendment to the Fundamental Law submitted by Viktor Orbán has failed. However, no matter what the sides think of this, it still cannot be a reason to humiliate a family and try to discredit my husband with fabricated personal-life character assassination and totally groundless lies. . . . Since I see no other solution, I ask you as a wife and a mother to stop your husband. Obviously it is not possible to influence Viktor Orbán on the political stage. I presume that you might be the last person he may listen to.

Jobbik President Gábor Vona: "I am a proud heterosexual" (photo: Magyar Narancs).

Jobbik President Gábor Vona: “I am a proud heterosexual” (photo: Magyar Narancs).

On November 11, Jobbik President Vona held a press conference at which he denied Terry Black’s allegations, declaring that he was a “proud heterosexual” and that the TV2 report and its coverage in the pro-government media had been an act of revenge for his party’s decision not to support the Orbán-submitted proposed amendment to the Fundamental Law (source in Hungarian). Vona stated during the press conference (source in Hungarian):

Incidentally, at the time that Terry Black mentions, in the period around 2003, I was part of an intellectual circle in which most of those present were intellectual men. This was Viktor Orbán’s civil circle [Polgári Kör], the Alliance for the Nation civil circle. Since I have left this circle, I don’t know how the work of this circle continued. While I was there, I experienced no movement of this type [homosexuality].

TV2 report "Strange Photo of Gábor Vona."

TV2 report “Strange Photo of Gábor Vona.”

On November 14, TV2 broadcast another report, entitled “Strange Photo of Gábor Vona” [Furcsa fotó Vona Gáborról], which showed a photo that Terry Black had posted on his Facebook page of the Jobbik president standing in an intimate pose with a man. The TV2 report cited Vona’s statement quoted above, though only the first sentence: “Incidentally, at the time that Terry Black mentions, in the period around 2003, I was part of an intellectual circle in which most of those present were intellectual men” (source A and B in Hungarian). The pro-government media empire, as previously, carried the report.

"A proud hetero": photo from Terry Black's Facebook page.

The “strange photo.”

The opposition website 444.hu discovered that the “strange photo” in question depicted a supporter congratulating Gábor Vona at a 2009 Jobbik party event (source in Hungarian).

Also on November 14, the head of Prime Ministry Press Office, Bertalan Havasi, responded to the open letter than Vona’s wife had written to Orbán’s wife (source in Hungarian): “As a political official and Hungary’s head of government, Viktor Orbán is used to attempts to discredit him through groundless lies and fabricated personal-life character assassinations. . . . Some can handle this in a manly way and others choose to hide behind the wife.”

On November 15, Jobbik National Assembly representative Dóra Dúró announced that the party intended to sue TV2, Origo.hu, PestiSrácok.hu, ripost.hu and lokál.hu for “falsification of news” in connection with the reports suggesting that Gábor Vona had been engaged in homosexual activity in the early 2000s (source in Hungarian).

Also on November 15, the National Media and Infocommunications Authority announced that it had made no decision regarding whether to initiate an investigation of the TV2 reports (source in Hungarian).

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Birds of a Feather (2)

orbantrumpPrime Minister Viktor Orbán enthusiastically welcomed the election of Donald Trump to serve as the next president of the United States. Below are five statements that Prime Minister Orbán made regarding Trump’s November 8 election victory.

“Congratulations. What a great news. Democracy is still alive.” November 9, 2016 (source in English).

“What has happened is that reality has broken through the ideology. We are moving back to reality, which means [respecting] the views of real people and what they think, how they approach these questions – not to educate them, but accept them as they are, because they are the basis of democracy.” November 9, 2016 (source in English).

“It’s not my idea. It’s not an élite-launched political movement. It’s going on in the minds of the people, because they don’t like what we’re living in now—that kind of liberal non-democracy system.” November 9, 2016 (source in English).

“Now this [escape from ideological captivity] has happened in the United States and this gives the rest of the Western world the opportunity to break away from ideologies, from political correctness and the captivity of ways of thinking and speaking that have distanced themselves from the truth and finally we are returning to the ground of realities.” November 9, 2016 (source in Hungarian).

“The world will be a better place with the new American president, we have a good chance of this.” November 11, 2016 (source in Hungarian).

See Birds of a Feather (1).

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The Demise of People’s Freedom

Final issue of Népszabadság (photo: mandiner.hu).

Final issue of Népszabadság (photo: mandiner.hu).

On October 8, 2016, Mediaworks Hungary, the owner of the influential opposition print and online newspaper Népszabadság (People[‘s] Freedom), announced unexpectedly that it had suspended publication of the newspaper effective immediately.

The Vienna Capital Partners-owned Mediaworks Hungary attributed the decision to discontinue publication of the newspaper to the fact that “The circulation of Népszabadság has fallen 74 percent over the past ten years, that is, by over 100,000 copies [per day]. As a consequence, the newspaper has generated losses of more than five billion forints since 2007 and has likewise accrued significant losses this year” (source in Hungarian).

However, referring to the previously rumored attempt of pro-government business interests close to oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros (source in Hungarian) to acquire Mediaworks Hungary, the editors of Népszabadság published the following post on the newspaper’s Facebook page after receiving notification via motorcycle courier that they had been “exempted from their obligation to perform work” for the newspaper (source in Hungarian):

Dear Followers! The editors of Népszabadság learned at the same time as the general public that the newspaper has been shut down with immediate effect. Our first thought is that this is a putsch. We will be in contact soon.

Demonstrators protest the suspension of Népszabadság's publication (photo: index.hu).

Demonstrators protest the termination of Népszabadság (photo: index.hu).

The employees of Népszabadság had already taken their personal belongings home after having been told that they would move back to the newspaper’s former headquarters in Budapest on October 10. The editors of Népszabadság stated on the newspaper’s Facebook page: “As you know, over the weekend Népszabadság would have moved. Instead they shut us out of our workplace.”

Several thousand people participated in a demonstration in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest on the evening of October 8 to protest the presumed pro-government acquisition of Mediaworks Hungary, while officials from all of the opposition parties—including radical nationalist Jobbik—have condemned the termination of Népszabadság as a further blow to media plurality in Hungary (source in Hungarian).

Newspaper stand in Budapest on October 10, 2016:"Freedom of the Press has Ended in Hungary" (photo: Népszabadság Facebook page).

Newspaper stand in Budapest on October 10, 2016:”Freedom of the Press Has Ended in Hungary” (photo: Népszabadság Facebook page).

Opposition websites speculate that the Austrian-owned Mediaworks Hungary discontinued publication of Népszabadság in order to eliminate the 60-year-old former daily of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party  from its portfolio in preparation for the company’s sale to either Duna Aszfalt or Opimus Press, the owners of which maintain close links to the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (source in Hungarian).

According to this hypothesis, the primary purpose of this acquisition would be to transform the 13 regional dailies that operate under the ownership of Mediaworks Hungary—newspapers that had daily circulation of more than one million copies in the second quarter of 2016—into vehicles for the dissemination of pro-government news and propaganda (sources A and B in Hungarian)

The disappearance of Népszabadság and its online edition nol.hu leaves Hungary with no major liberal daily newspapers and just three significant liberal news websites—index.hu, hvg.hu and 444.hu.

Update: On October 25, 2016, Opimus Press—an offshore-owned company over which Lőrinc Mészáros reportedly exercises either indirect or direct influence—purchased Mediaworks Hungary from Vienna Capital Partners for an undisclosed price (sources A and B in Hungarian).  According to opposition websites, Opimus Press appointed Gábor Liszkay—the owner of the pro-government daily Magyar Idők—to serve on the board of directors of Mediaworks Hungary (source in Hungarian).

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Referendum Homestretch on Hungarian Television

Below are screenshots taken from programs broadcast on the M1 news channel of state-run Hungarian Television from 3:00 p.m. until 6:30 p.m. on October 2, 2016—that is, until half an hour before the closing of polls in Hungary’s referendum on European Union migrant-resettlement quotas (see Hungary’s 2016 Referendum on European Union Migrant Resettlement Quotas and The Referendum That Couldn’t Fail).

Aside from intermittent weather bulletins and a report on the new leadership of the U.K. Labour Party, newscasts and programs broadcast on M1 during this three-and-a-half-hour period dealt with just two issues—the referendum results and migration.

The screenshots are from the various reports on migration. Note that in 2013, the National Assembly approved an amendment to Hungary’s electoral laws that eliminated campaign silence (source in Hungarian).

Click on any screenshot to see gallery view.

Sources: screenshots 1 and 2 (00:25 and 7:31, respectively); screenshots 3, 4 and 5 (0:11, 21:40 and 25:59, respectively); screenshot 6 (0:09); screenshots 7 and 8 (0:08 and 13:54, respectively); screenshots 9,10 and 11 (0:09, 9:05 and 9:38, respectively); screenshots 12 and 13 (5:53 and 10:24, respectively); screenshots 14, 15 and 16 (17:58, 21:46 and 25:14, respectively).

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