The Umpteenth Campaign

On February 15, 2019, Spokesman István Hollik announced that the Orbán government would launch an “information action regarding the plans in Brussels to encourage immigration because we think that all Hungarian people have the right to know about those proposals that fundamentally threaten Hungary’s security” (sources A and B in Hungarian).

The Signs

(photo: Orange Files)

A few days later, signs showing unflattering images of Hungarian-American financier György/George Soros and European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker alongside the text “You Also Have the Right to Know What Brussels Is Preparing to Do!” (Önnek is joga van tudni, mire készül Brüsszel!) appeared in large number on the streets of Budapest.

The Letters

In late February, voters in Hungary received the following letter from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán providing more detail about “what Brussels is preparing to do”:

Esteemed Compatriots!

I am writing in order to inform You about the alarming developments in the immigration crisis.

Brussels has learned nothing from the dreadful terrorist attacks of the past years. It wants to bring even more immigrants to Europe. The bureaucrats are now preparing to stimulate immigration with new measures. Following the introduction of the migrant visa and the migrant bank card, they would give more money to György Soros’s immigration-supporting organizations. They continue to want to distribute immigrants in Europe through obligatory quotas.

We Hungarians decided that we do not want our homeland to became a country of immigration.

We want to protect our security and our Christian culture. This is why we built a fence and this is why we are defending our borders. However, the Brussels bureaucrats do not want to respect our decision. They want to break the resistance of the countries opposing immigration in the interest of reaching their objectives.

You also have the right to know what Brussels is preparing to do. This is why I am turning to you now: please read the enclosed information regarding Brussels’s planned steps.

Respectfully,

Viktor Orbán

Prime minister of Hungary

According the “enclosed information” attached to Prime Minister Orbán’s letter, the European Union—cited in the third-person plural—is preparing to take the following steps:

1. They want to introduce the mandatory resettlement quota.

2. They want to weaken the border-protection rights of member states.

3. They would facilitate immigration with a migrant visa.

4. They want to give even more money to organizations supporting migration.

5. They would also assist migration with a bank card with accessible funds.

6. They would launch experimental immigration projects with countries in Africa.

7. They want to reduce financial support for countries that oppose immigration.

 

                                                                      click to enlarge

The European Commission Response

On February 19, the EC published the following response to the Orbán government’s signs on Facebook in both English and Hungarian:

On February 25, the EC published a Hungarian-language communiqué entitled “Facts regarding European Union Migration Policy” (Tények az uniós migrációs politikáról) refuting each of the Orbán government’s claims in detail (source in Hungarian).

Conservative–Christian Democratic Condemnation  

Leaders of the Conservative–Christian democratic European People’s Party (EPP) European Parliament political group with which the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) alliance is affiliated as well as leaders of other regional EPP member parties denounced the Orbán government’s “information action.” Among the EPP and EPP-affiliated national-party leaders who voiced such condemnation were the following:

European People’s Party Group Leader Manfred Weber (source in German);

European People’s Party President Joseph Daul (source in English);

Christian Democratic Union leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (source in German);

Christian Social Union leader Markus Söder (source in German);

Austrian People’s Party Chairman and Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz (source in German);

and Croatian Democratic Union President and Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković (source in English).

Initiative to Expel Fidesz-KDNP from the EPP

As of March 1, nine parties¹ affiliated with the European People’s Party from seven different states indicated that they were prepared to initiate the expulsion of Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party from the EPP, thus surpassing the minimum of seven parties from five different states required to force a member party to leave the European Parliament political group (source A in Hungarian and B in English).

On March 4, European People’s Party President Joseph Daul announced that EPP officials would consider the initiative to expel Fidesz-KDNP in response to the the Orbán government’s current anti–European Union propaganda campaign at the party’s political assembly in Brussels on March 20 (source in English).

Daul remarked during an interview published in the German newspaper Die Welt on March 5 that Prime Minister Orbán “had crossed the red line” with his government’s current anti-EU campaign (source in German).

European People’s Party Group Leader Manfred Weber stated during an interview published in the German tabloid Bild on March 5 that Prime Minister Orbán would have to satisfy the following three conditions in order to prevent the expulsion of Fidesz-KDNP from the EPP: immediately and permanently halt his government’s anti–European Union propaganda campaigns; apologize for these campaigns to Fidesz-KDNP’s fellow EPP member parties; and guarantee the continued existence of the Central European University in Budapest (source in English).

¹ The Moderate Party and the Christian Democrats of Sweden; the National Coalition Party of Finland; Christian Democratic Appeal of the Netherlands; the Christian Social People’s Party of Luxembourg; the Humanist Democratic Centre and the Christian Democratic and Flemish of Belgium; the Democratic and Social Centre-People’s Party of Portugal; and New Democracy of Greece.

Orbán Government Response

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán characterized those who have denounced his government’s current propaganda campaign as “useful idiots”² in an interview published in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag on March 2 (source in English):

Orbán: [. . .] in the political scientific literature they are characterized, following Lenin, as useful idiots. While they believe they are fighting an intellectual battle, they serve the power interests of others, of our opponents.

Welt am Sonntag: Critical Christian democrats are useful idiots?

Orbán: Those who prefer a division of the EPP to its unity—yes. I have no sympathy for our Scandinavian EPP members, but I would never propose to expel them. I know that this would only be grist to the mill of the left [. . .]

Orbán stated during the interview that the government would replace the image of Jean-Claude Juncker on the signs with that of Frans Timmermans, the European Parliament Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats party-group candidate for president of the European Commission:

In the next phase our party campaign will begin and then you will find someone else on the posters: Mr. Timmermans. We will send Mr. Juncker into retirement and Mr. Timmermans will replace him on our posters.

On March 3, Minister of External Economy and Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó made the following statement during an interview on the pro-government television station HírTV (source in Hungarian):

We are a nation that possesses over 1,000 years of statehood and which cannot be played around with just like that. This visibly moves them [members of the European Commission] out of their comfort zone and they don’t understand how it can be that a [country such as] Hungary dares to say what the European Commission is preparing to do. And in Hungary they dare to say that György Soros arranged the notation for the migration policy that the European Commission is implementing.

² The term useful idiot is commonly attributed to Vladimir Lenin and refers to somebody who unwittingly promotes the interests of a political force with which they are not affiliated.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

The Central European Press and Media Foundation

KESMA owner and technical director Gábor Liszkay (photo: hvg.hu).

The Central European Press and Media Foundation (Közép-Európai Sajtó és Média Alapítvány, or KESMA) was founded on September 11, 2018, to serve as a non-profit organization under which pro–Orbán-government private media in Hungary could be consolidated.

Orbán-government oligarchs, officials and their family members as well as pro–Orbán- government journalists and entrepreneurs have since transferred ownership of 476 media outlets to KESMA without financial compensation (source in English).

The official aim of the KESMA is “to promote those activities of the print, radio, TV and online sections of the Hungarian mass media which serve to build values and strengthen Hungarian national consciousness” (source in English).

Five pro–Orbán government lawyers and journalists lead KESMA (sources A, B, C and D in Hungarian):

owner and technical director Gábor Liszkay, who oversaw the government takeover of the daily newspaper Napi Gazdaság and the television station Hír TV;

manager Miklós Vaszily, the former CEO of the Media Services and Support Trust Fund (MTVA);

advisory board President István Varga, who served as Fidesz National Assembly representative from 2010 to 2014;

advisory board member Miklós Szánthó, director of the Fidesz-supported Center for Fundamental Rights (Alapjogokért Központ);

and advisory board member István Bajkai, the Orbán family lawyer who was a founding member of Fidesz and has served as one of the party’s National Assembly representatives since 2018.

The Lake Balaton summer home of Central European Press and Media Foundation owner and technical director Gábor Liszkay serves as the registered headquarters of KESMA (source in Hungarian).

The Central European Press and Media Foundation directly or indirectly received 469 of its 476 media outlets from the following seven people (source in English):

oligarch Lőrinc Mészáros;

oligarch and Orbán-government film commissioner Andy Vajna;

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s chief strategic adviser Árpád Habony;

House of Terror and the Twenty-First Century Institute (XXI. Század Intézet) director Mária Schmidt;

entrepreneur Ádám Matolcsy, son of National Bank of Hungary Governor György Matolcsy;

Austrian entrepreneur Heinrich Pecina;

and journalist Miklós Ómolnár.

KESMA’s media outlets, which generated composite revenue of  55.7 billion forints (180.1 million euros) in 2017, include the following major newspapers, freesheets, magazines, television stations and internet portals (sources A and B in Hungarian):

all 18 county-based daily newspapers;

the daily newspapers Magyar Idők, Világgazdaság and Nemzeti Sport;

the daily tabloids Bors and Ripost;

the freesheets Lokál and Lokál Extra;

the weekly magazines Figyelő and Szabad Föld;

the television stations Echo TV and Hír TV;

and the internet portals origo.hu, mandiner.hu and 888.hu.

The Central European Press and Media Foundation therefore owns all but the following four major pro–Orbán-government media outlets:

the Andy Vajna–owned television station TV2;

the Gábor Széles–owned daily newspaper Magyar Hírlap;

the András Bencsik–owned weekly magazine Demokrata;

and the internet portal pestisracok.hu.

In December 2018, the Orbán government issued a decree declaring the consolidation of the 476 media outlets into the Central European Press and Media Foundation to be of “national strategic importance” (nemzetstratégiai jelentőségű), thus exempting their concentration under KESMA ownership from media-competition regulations enforced through the Hungarian Competition Authority (GVH) and the Media Council (source in Hungarian).

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

The Sargentini Report

MEP Judith Sargentini receives ovation following the European Parliament’s adoption of her report on “the situation in Hungary” (photo: AFP).

On September 12, 2018, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) of the European Union adopted a resolution asking the Council of the European Union to determine if the government of Hungary has initiated measures and engaged in activity that present “a clear risk of a serious breach” of the fundamental values of the EU (source in English).

This resolution was contained in a report articulating concerns about the state of democracy, the rule of law and civil liberties in Hungary submitted to the European Parliament (EP) by MEP Judith Sargentini of the Netherlands, a member of the Greens-European Free Alliance EP political group.

The European Parliament’s endorsement of the so-called Sargentini Report was the second of three steps in the European Union’s warning mechanism specified in Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union.

Article 7

Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union (also known as the Maastricht Treaty), one of two main agreements upon which the EU is founded along with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (also known as the Treaty of Rome), establishes mechanisms for the EU to warn and sanction member states determined to have violated the fundamental values of the European Union.

Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) specifies the fundamental values of the EU: “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities” (source in English).

The European Union established the sanctions mechanism of Article 7 via the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam that amended the Treaty on European Union (source in English). The European Union introduced this mechanism one year after beginning negotiations regarding accession to the EU with post-communist countries of Eastern Europe in order to provide the union with a means of penalizing these future member states if they reverted to authoritarian political practices in violation of the fundamental values stipulated in Article 2 of the TEU (source in English).

The Article 7 sanctions mechanism represents the European Union’s most severe means of penalizing a member state. Suspension of voting rights in the Council of the European Union and the European Council (see “European Union Political Institutions” below) represent the harshest penalties that can be imposed on an EU member state via this sanctions mechanism. The European Union has no institutional mechanism for expelling a member state from the EU.

The European Union established the warning mechanism of Article 7, known formally as the “preventative mechanism,” via the 2001 Treaty of Nice that again amended the Treaty on European Union (source in English). The European Union introduced this mechanism one year after the formation of a coalition government in Austria that included the Jörg Haider–led far-right FPÖ party in order to provide the EU with a means of warning member states found to be at risk of violating the fundamental values of the union rather than penalizing them via the sanctions mechanism (source in English).

The European Union’s Article 7 warning and sanctions mechanisms are independent of one another: that is, engagement of the sanctions mechanism against an EU member state does not require the prior warning of that state via the preventative mechanism (source in English).¹

European Union Political Institutions

There are four European Union political institutions, all of which play a role in Article 7 procedures. These institutions are composed of two legislative bodies—the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union—and two executive bodies—the European Commission and the European Council.

The European Parliament is composed of 751 MEPs distributed proportionally among European Union member states according to national population. MEPs are affiliated with eight different political groups that represent the socialist, green, liberal, conservative, Christian democratic and nationalist ideologies. The European Parliament is the equivalent of the lower house in a bicameral legislative system.

The Council of the European Union is composed of one cabinet minister from the national government of each European Union member state who deals with the specific policy domain under consideration, such as foreign affairs, economic and financial affairs, agriculture, justice, etc. The Council of the European Union is the equivalent of the upper house in a bicameral legislative system.

The European Commission is composed of one representative from each European Union member state and functions under the leadership of a president. The European Commission is the equivalent of a government cabinet and the president of the European Commission is the equivalent of a prime minister in a dual-executive system.

The European Council is composed of the heads of state or government of each European Union member state. The European Council is the equivalent of a president or collective presidency in a dual-executive system.

Article 7 Warning Mechanism Procedure

The Article 7 warning mechanism is composed of three steps: one, either the European Parliament (EP), the European Commission or the Council of the European Union must “determine that there is a clear risk of a serious breach by a Member State of the values referred to in Article 2”; two, the European Parliament must endorse by a two-thirds majority of votes cast and an absolute majority of all MEPs the finding of the EP, the European Commission or the Council of the European Union that such a risk exists; and three, the Council of the European Union must confirm the existence of this risk by a four-fifths majority in a vote in which the representative of the member state in question cannot participate (sources A, B and C in English).

Article 7 Warning Mechanism Procedure against Hungary

Step One

On May 17, 2017, the European Parliament adopted by a vote of 393 in favor to 221 against with 64 abstentions a resolution submitted by socialist, liberal and green EP political groups to trigger the Article 7 warning mechanism against Hungary (source in English).

A total of 67 members of the European People’s Party EP political group to which the parties in Hungary’s governing alliance—Fidesz and the Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP)—belong voted in favor of the resolution, while 93 members of this conservative–Christian democratic political group voted against the resolution and 40 abstained (source in English).

The text of the resolution, which stated that “developments in Hungary have led to a serious deterioration of the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights over the past few years,” specifically requested that Hungarian authorities repeal the Law on National Education (Lex CEU) and withdraw the subsequently enacted Law on the Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad (the NGO Law).

The resolution instructed the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs to draw up a report on “the political situation in Hungary” to serve as the text for a subsequent EP vote to determine if there exists a clear risk that the country’s government will violate the fundamental values of the European Union.

The European Union had never previously launched its Article 7 procedure—neither the warning mechanism nor the sanctions mechanism (source in English).

Step 2

On July 11, 2017, the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs appointed Judith Sargentini of the Netherlands, a member of the Greens-European Free Alliance EP political group, as the rapporteur responsible for writing the report on the political situation in Hungary (source in English).

On June 25, 2018, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs adopted the report that Sargentini had written over the intervening period by a vote of 37 in favor to 19 against. Of the 37 committee members who voted to approve the report, 8 belonged to the European People’s Party (source in English).

On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament approved by a vote of 448 in favor to 197 against with 48 abstentions a resolution contained in the Sargentini Report asking the Council of the European Union “to determine, pursuant to Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union, the existence of a clear risk of a serious breach by Hungary of the values on which the Union is founded” (source in English).

A total of 115 members of the European People’s Party EP political group to which Hungary’s Fidesz-KDNP governing alliance belongs voted in favor of the resolution, while 57 voted against it and 28 abstained (source in English).

Step 3

On October 16, 2018, the Council of the European Union discussed the next steps to be taken in the Article 7 warning-mechanism procedure against Hungary. The representatives of Hungary at the meeting stated that the Orbán government would provide a “written contribution” to the issues raised in the Sargentini Report in accordance with the Article 7 stipulation that the council “shall hear the Member State in question” before deciding if it is at risk of violating the fundamental values of the EU (sources A and B in English).

The Sargentini Report

The Sargentini Report grouped “concerns related to the situation in Hungary” into the following 12 categories (source in English):

-functioning of the constitutional and electoral system;

-independence of the judiciary and of other institutions and the rights of judges;

-corruption and conflicts of interest;

-privacy and data protection;

-freedom of expression;

-academic freedom;

-freedom of religion;

-freedom of association;

-right to equal treatment;

-rights of persons belonging to minorities, including Roma and Jews, and protection against hateful statements against such minorities;

-fundamental rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees;

-economic and social rights.

The Sargentini Report identified the following specific issues, frequently in reference to previous findings of the Council of Europe,² the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, within the above-listed areas of concern (source in English):

-“the endangerment of the separation of powers and the weakening of the national system of checks and balances”;

-restriction of the authority of the Constitutional Court and the changes to the procedure for selecting judges that have made it possible for the Fidesz-KDNP governing alliance to appoint all the judges on the court;

-excessive power of the president of the National Judicial Office;

-“serious irregularities” and “conflicts of interest” with regard to EU-financed public-procurement tenders to install LED street lighting at various locations in Hungary that a company operating under the ownership of István Tiborcz, the son-in-law of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, won in 2014 and 2015;

-insufficient legal guarantees against possible unlawful secret surveillance for national security purposes (see Counter Terrorism Center);

-inadequate guarantees of freedom of expression in the Law on Freedom of the Press and the Fundamental Rules of Media Content and the Law on Media Services and Mass Media adopted a few months after the Fidesz-KDNP governing alliance came to power in 2010;

-procedures regarding the election of the Media Council that fail to ensure fair representation on the body and the political neutrality of its members and president;

 -provision of the Hungarian News Agency MTI with the “exclusive right” to provide news for public television and radio;

-public television and radio news regarding the 2018 National Assembly election campaign that “clearly favored the ruling coalition”;

-the publication in the pro–Fidesz-KDNP weekly Figyelő on April 11, 2018, of the names of 2,000 people in Hungary who are allegedly working to “topple” the Orbán government;

-constraints on academic freedom via the 2017 Law on National Higher Education (Lex CEU);

-“stigmatizing rhetoric used by politicians questioning the legitimacy of NGO work in the context of audits [of] NGOs which were operators and beneficiaries of the NGO Fund of the EEA/Norway Grants”;

-the apparent “attempt to discredit certain NGOs, including NGOs dedicated to the protection of human rights in Hungary” and restriction of foreign donations from NGOs in Hungary via the 2017 Law on the Transparency of Organizations Supported from Abroad (the NGO Law);

-stipulations in the 2018 “amendment of certain laws connected to measures against unlawful immigration,” unofficially known as the “STOP Soros law,” that serve to “deprive people who are forced to flee their homes of critical aid and services, and further inflame tense public discourse and rising xenophobic attitudes”;

-“the constitutional ban on discrimination does not explicitly list sexual orientation and gender identity among the grounds of discrimination”;

-“ women are underrepresented in political life and there are no legal requirements to promote gender equality in elections”;

-“deterioration of the situation as regards racism and intolerance in Hungary, with anti-Gypsyism being the most blatant form of intolerance, as illustrated by [. . .] violence targeting Roma people and paramilitary marches and patrolling in Roma-populated villages. [Also] despite positions taken by the Hungarian authorities to condemn anti-Semitic speech, anti-Semitism is a recurring problem, manifesting itself through hate speech and instances of violence against Jewish persons or property”;

-“the Roma community continues to suffer from widespread discrimination and exclusion, unemployment, housing and educational segregation”;

-“the prevalence of hate crimes and hate speech in political discourse, the media and on the internet targeting minorities, in particular Roma, Muslims, migrants and refugees, including in the context of government-sponsored campaigns”;

-“policies and practices that promote intolerance and fear and fuel xenophobia against refugees and migrants [and] the increasing number of allegations of abuse in Hungary against asylum-seekers and migrants by border authorities, and the broader restrictive border and legislative measures, including access to asylum procedures”;

– “restrictive practices of admission of asylum seekers into the transit zones of Röszke and Tompa often make asylum-seekers look for illegal ways of crossing the border, having to resort to smugglers and traffickers”;

– “asylum procedures, which are conducted in the transit zones, lack adequate safeguards to protect asylum seekers against refoulement to countries where they run the risk of being subjected to treatment contrary to [the] ECHR [European Convention on Human Rights]”;

– and the stipulation of the 2018 amendment to the Fundamental Law that “designates many public areas as out-of-bounds for ‘sleeping rough’ and effectively punishes homelessness” (see Orbán Government Homeless Policy).

Orbán Government Reaction

On September 17, 2018, Minister without Portfolio in Charge of the Prime Ministry Gergely Gulyás announced that the Orbán government would submit a challenge to the validity of the European Parliament vote on the Sargentini Report to the European Court of Justice on the grounds that abstentions should have been counted as “votes cast,” thereby reducing the proportion of MEPs who voted in favor of the report to under the two-thirds majority required for its adoption (sources A in Hungarian and B, C and D in English).

Also on September 17, 2018, Gulyás and Fidesz National Assembly caucus leader Máté Kocsics submitted a resolution “on the defense of Hungary’s sovereignty and the rejection of slander against Hungary” (source in Hungarian). In addition to voicing rejection of the Sargentini Report, this resolution asked the Orbán government to take legal action aimed at nullifying the European Parliament’s adoption of the report:

The Sargentini Report attacked the decisions, Fundamental Law, legislation and personal decisions that the democratically elected Hungarian parliament ratified within its own sphere of authority. With this, it [the report] transcended its sphere of authority and violated Hungary’s sovereignty.  [. . .] We reject the slander contained in the mendacious pro-immigration indictment called the Sargentini Report. We reject this report which attacks Hungary because it did not admit immigrants, rejected the quota, built a legal border barrier and made the organization of illegal immigration punishable.    [. . .] We call upon the government of Hungary not to submit to blackmail: reject the false accusations against Hungary and take legal measures against the fraudulently adopted report slandering Hungary!

On October 16, 2018, the National Assembly adopted this resolution by a vote of 129 in favor to 26 against with 18 abstentions (source in Hungarian). All Fidesz-KDNP National Assembly representatives and four independent representatives who recently withdrew from the nationalist opposition party Jobbik voted in favor of the resolution, while all representatives from socialist, liberal and green opposition parties voted against the resolution and Jobbik representatives abstained (source in Hungarian).

 

¹ The European Union member-state rights that may be suspended via Article 7 are not specifically defined. Some argue that imposition of the Article 7 sanctions mechanism might also entail suspension of EU Cohesion Fund, Regional Development Fund and Common Agricultural Policy subsidies (source in English at bottom of page 4).

² The Council of Europe is a 47-member international organization that aims to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe and to promote European culture. It is not the same as the European Union, though all members of the EU are also members of the Council of Europe.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Notable Quotes: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán

Fidesz Revolution

“It is not simply a matter of the sixth free election in Hungary. A much more important thing happened on this day in Hungary. Today a revolution took place in the voting booths.” 

—April 25, 2010, speaking after the Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party alliance secured a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly following the 2010 general election (source in Hungarian).

“In 2010 Hungary pulled itself together and carried out a revolution.” 

—March 28, 2014, during an interview with the pro-government journalist Zsolt Bayer, referring to the 2010 National Assembly election that brought the second Orbán government to power (source in Hungarian at 4:29). 

“Over the past four years a revolution truly has taken place in this country. This revolution has taken place not on the streets and squares, but in the soul. It was fought not with swords and blood, but with the heart and faith.” 

May 10, 2014, after taking his oath of office as prime minister (source in English).

Duration of Power

“To tell the truth, I have always seen the 20 years between 2010 and 2030 as a unified era.”

May 10, 2018, after taking his oath of office as prime minister (source in Hungarian).

Restitution

“We are gentle and cheerful people, though we are neither blind nor are we pushovers. After the [2018 National Assembly] election we are naturally going to seek restitution—moral, political and legal restitution.” 

March 15, 2018, speaking at commemoration of the outbreak of the 1848 Hungarian Revolution (source in Hungarian).

Minority Government

“I have never led a minority government and I never will . . . It is not good for democracy. We need a majority government. If I do not have a majority, then someone else must form a government. If no one else is capable of doing so, we will go to new elections. There will not be a minority government, which in my view would be terrible for Hungary.” 

May 3, 2013, during interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth (source in English).

Becoming President 

“The chance that I will be president of the republic are under zero.”

May 26, 2015 (source in Hungarian).

Christianity

“The way in which Christian origins, traditions and outlook upon life are not sufficiently acknowledged in the institutions of the European Union still hurts millions of European people to this day. Christianity is not only a religion, but is also a culture on which we have built a whole civilization. This is not a choice, but a fact. If people feel that European politics are fighting against their own origins and are ashamed to admit that we are really a Christian continent, this will only alienate more people from the European Union.” 

May 8, 2014, speaking at the European Forum Conference in Berlin (source in English).

“We openly divulge and acknowledge our objectives. We want a Hungarian Hungary and a European Europe. This is only possible if we also affirm that we want a Christian Hungary in a Christian Europe.” 

September 16, 2017, during speech at meeting of the Alliance of Christian Intellectuals in Budapest (source in Hungarian).

“Out of either carelessness or naiveté, the Western half of the not-so-long-ago still strong and Christian Europe is giving up its churches and getting rid of its religious symbols one after another and turning its back on its own culture, not even noticing that with this it is throwing away its own future.” 

October 1, 2017, during consecration of Hungarian Reformed church in Szászfenes (Florești), Romania (source in Hungarian). 

“We offer grateful thanks that divine grace has compensated for our weaknesses and our infirmities and has carried away our flaws. We also see God’s help in the fact that even though we must enter the fray against heavy forces, even global forces, we are still standing, we are still standing on our own feet. We regard the essence of our God-ordained responsibility in our government work to be the preservation of the life outlook which on the basis of Christ’s teachings has made Europe and the Hungarians [magyarság] great, has shielded them at times of danger and helped them through spiritual, intellectual and national crises.”

October 31, 2017, speaking at a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation (source in Hungarian).

“They [George Soros and his “army”] believe in a multi-cultural Europe. They don’t like Christian Europe. The don’t like the traditions of Christian Europe. They don’t like Christians at all.” 

June 8, 2018, during interview on state-run Kossuth Radio (source in Hungarian from 00:29).

The Persecution of Christians

“The truth always begins with stating the facts. It is a fact that today Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. It is a fact that today 215 million Christian people in 108 countries suffer some form of persecution. It is a fact that four out of five people who are oppressed because of their religion are Christians. It is a fact that in 2015, a Christian was murdered in Iraq every five minutes due to his or her religious conviction. And it is a fact that we see very little news about these events in the international press and it is a fact that we must use a magnifying glass in our search for political expressions [megnyilvánulás] condemning the persecution of Christians.” 

October 12, 2017, during speech at conference in Budapest regarding the persecution of Christians (source in Hungarian).

See entire article (193 quotes).

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Updated: Lajos Simicska

Lajos Simicska was regarded as the most powerful oligarch in Hungary from the time Viktor Orbán formed his second government in 2010 until his dramatic public rift with the prime minister in 2015 (see The Fury of an Oligarch Scorned).

Lőrinc Mészáros has supplanted Simicska as the most powerful oligarch in Hungary since the latter year.

Following his rupture with Orbán, Simicska turned against the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) governing alliance and began to openly support the nationalist party Jobbik.

On July 4, 2018, Simicska sold nearly all the companies under his ownership to his longtime business partner Zsolt Nyerges (source in Hungarian). The opposition newspaper Népszava reported that Simicska had sent his 26-year-old son, Ádám, to the United States to prepare the ground for continuing his business activities there (source in Hungarian).

The term oligarch in its contemporary, Eastern European sense denotes a businessman (and rarely a businesswoman) who acquires significant wealth and political influence through his (or her) connections and allegiance to the government and uses this wealth and influence to provide the government with various means of support.

Background

Simicska was born in the city of Székesfehérvár (central Hungary, pop. 98,000) in 1960.

He attended the same high school in Székesfehérvár as Viktor Orbán, graduating in 1979—two years before the future prime minister of Hungary.

Simicska and Orbán then performed their mandatory service in the Hungarian People’s Army together in the city of Zalaegerszeg (western Hungary, pop. 60,000) in the years 1981–1982 (see Siss-boom-BANG!)

Simicska—as Orbán—subsequently attended the Loránd Eötvös University School of Law and Political Sciences in Budapest in the 1980s, though it is not known if Simicska graduated. While at the university, Simicska and Orbán both lived at the special residence hall for law students called the Bibó College (Bibó Szakkollégium). Simicska participated in the formation and early activities of Fidesz at the Bibó College, though was not among the 37 founding members of the party in 1988.

Political Career

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and ÁPEH President Lajos Simicska in March 1999 (photo: MTI).

Simicska assumed his first formal political position in 1993, when he became financial director of Fidesz (source in Hungarian). He then served as president of Hungary’s internal revenue service ÁPEH for just over a year at the time of the first Orbán government in 1998 and 1999.

Simicska did not appear in public for a period of 15 years from the time of his resignation as president of ÁPEH in August 1999 until attending the official inauguration of an equestrian center in western Hungary in September 2014. The weekly Magyar Narancs published the first updated photograph of Simicska in over 13 years on the magazine’s cover in December 2012.

Business Activities  

Simicska spent the next decade quietly building an opaque business empire centered on the formerly state-owned construction company Közgép (“Public Machine”). Simicska was so secretive about his business activities that although it had long been speculated that he had acquired a majority stake in Közgép, definitive proof that he actually owned the company emerged only in documentation submitted as part of a public tender in 2012 (source in Hungarian).

During this period, Simicska also acquired partial or total ownership over broadcast and print media including the news television station Hír TV, the radio stations Lánchíd Rádió and Class FM, the daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet, the weekly news magazine Heti Válasz and the weekday free sheet Metropol. These media explicitly supported Viktor Orbán and Fidesz.

In addition to construction and media, Simicska focused his business activities on outdoor-advertising, primarily via the companies Mahir Cityposter and Publimont.

Becoming an Oligarch

Simicska attained immense wealth following the return of Viktor Orbán to power as prime minister in 2010, primarily through the large number of state construction contracts awarded to Közgép beginning that year.

Közgép won 179.4 billion forints in public tenders from 2010 through 2013: 1.2 billion forints in 2010; 31.6 billion forints in 2011; 17.6 billion forints in 2012; and 129 billion forints in 2013 (source in Hungarian).

Közgép’s revenue rose almost threefold from 44.8 billion forints in 2010 to 129.8 billion forints in 2014 (source in Hungarian).

Simicska’s pro-Fidesz news media—Hír TV, Lánchíd Rádió, Magyar Nemzet and Heti Válasz— also began to generate significant profit during this period, much of which proceeded from government advertising. The aggregate post-tax profit of these four media nearly doubled from 876 million forints in 2012 to 1.7 billion forints in 2014 (source in Hungarian).

Simicska was ranked the tenth-richest person in Hungary in 2015 with estimated wealth of 73 billion forints (source in Hungarian). He had not previously appeared in the annual Napi Gazdaság ranking of the 100 wealthiest Hungarians due to the lack of transparency surrounding his business operations.

See entire article.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

European Union Net Funding to Hungary, 2011–2016

The European Union provided Hungary with 26.54 billion euros in net funding (gross funding from the EU budget minus contributions to the EU budget) during the first six years in which the second and third Orbán governments were in power for the entire year (2011–2016).

Hungary’s average population was 9.9 million in the years 2011–2016 (source in English). Hungary thus received per-capita net funding of 2,681 euros over this six-year period.

Source: European Commission data on “operating budget balance” for the years 2007–2013 and 2014–2020.

Hungary received the highest amount of per-capita net European Union funding among all 28 EU member states in the years 2011–2016. During this six-year period, 17 member states of the European Union were net recipients of funding from the EU (see table below), while 11 member states were net financial contributors to the EU.

Sources: European Commission data on “operating budget balance” for the years 2007–2013 and 2014–2020; and Trading Economics population data.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has claimed that European Union funding to Hungary serves to counterbalance the profit that Western companies derive as the result of the opening of the country’s markets to them. Prime Minister Orbán said during an interview published in the pro-government daily newspaper Magyar Idők on December 24, 2015 (source in Hungarian):

It is worthwhile to clarify whether we are really getting their [the European Union’s] money. After forty years of communism, central Europe undertook competition with the capital-rich big Western companies. We opened our markets in such a way as to provide Western companies with an enormous advantage and they were able to gain profit-generating positions in our economies that we could never acquire in theirs. In spite of the legal possibility of competition, the difference in the scale of capital has long made this an illusion. We get the sums [of money] that we get in order to counterbalance this. Moreover, the business profit that leaves Hungary for the West reaches the magnitude of the amount of support that arrives from there.

Germany was the greatest net financial contributor to the European Union in the years 2011–2016. During this period, Germany made a per-capita net financial contribution of 945 euros to the EU (see sources A, B and C in English).

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Scenes from the Opposition Demonstration

On April 21, 2018, the Facebook group Mi vagyunk a többség (We Are the Majority) held an opposition demonstration in Budapest. The demonstration drew tens of thousands of participants, though was somewhat smaller than the demonstration the group held in the city one week earlier.

Participants from across the political spectrum attended the demonstration—a new phenomenon in Hungary, where the opposition to the Orbán government has been fragmented into nationalist, socialist, liberal and green factions that do not cooperate with one another.

The main speaker: Mayor Péter Márki-Zay of Hódmezővásárhely, a city in southern Hungary that was considered an unassailable Fidesz bastion until he won a mayoral by-election there in February 2018 as an opposition independent.

The main explicit message of the demonstration: “You are the new opposition!”

The main implicit message of the demonstration: opposition must be extended from Budapest to the “countryside” (vidék) in order to have any chance of defeating the Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party governing alliance.

The most sobering message of the demonstration (from journalist Réka Kinga Papp): “I must note that I already stood here on a stage [at an opposition demonstration] seven years ago, on October 23, 2011.  And the end of the crowd wasn’t visible then either. I didn’t suspect that seven years later we would be demonstrating against the same political power. I would be very happy if seven years from now we were able to go out onto the streets to celebrate a success.”

The most poignant symbolic occurrence: the “Ode to Joy”–based anthem of the European Union played at the end of the demonstration—following the national anthem of Hungary.

Below are some photos from the demonstration.

Click on any photo for gallery view.

See all 24 photos.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–