Cleft in the Monolith

Picture 7

State Secretary László L. Simon glares at Hír TV reporter during September 4 press conference.

On September 4, 2014, the following exchange took place between a reporter from the pro-government television station Hír TV and Prime Ministry State Secretary László L. Simon during a press conference held at the second official opening of the Castle Garden Bazaar (Várkert Bazár) in Budapest (source in Hungarian): 

Hír TV reporter: This is the second time you have opened it, despite this visitors still have to stumble over a construction site. When will it really be finished? 

State Secretary L. Simon: (extended pause) . . . I would predict about two- or three-hundred years or so. 

 Hír TV reporter: That is a long-range plan. Who is going to finance it? 

State Secretary L. Simon: The question is rather who is going to oversee it and if Hír TV will be in a position to report about it in two-, three-hundred years. 

Hír TV and the pro-government newspaper Magyar Nemzet, which operate a joint website, reported that State Secretary L. Simon had warned the television station’s journalist in person after the press conference that “If you continue to ask questions like that life will be hard at Hír TV.”

Picture 6

Magyar Nemzet: “They Threatened Hír TV.”

State Secretary L. Simon did not deny making this statement. 

The front page of the print edition of Magyar Nemzet on September 5 featured a menacing photo of State Secretary L. Simon under the headline “They Threatened Hír TV.”  

This confrontation between Prime Minister’s Office State Secretary L. Simon and the Hír TV reporter represents the most explicit public manifestation yet of the greater conflict taking place mostly behind the scenes between the Orbán government and the Lajos Simicska-led Fidesz oligarchy that gained control over the state-affiliated sectors of Hungary’s economy during the 2010–2014 parliamentary cycle. 

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán launched this battle under the direct command of newly appointed National Development Minister Miklós Seszták following the National Assembly election in April 2014 in an attempt to reduce the enormous economic-cum-political power that the Fidesz oligarchs had attained over the previous four years (source in Hungarian).   

First new photograph of Simicska in 12 years.

Businessman Lajos Simicska.

The Orbán government has utilized economic weapons in this struggle, suspending the authority of state-owned companies to conclude new contracts without prior permission from the National Development Ministry (source in Hungarian) and initiating a new tax on advertising revenue and other measures that specifically serve to reduce the profits of Lajos Simicska-owned companies and media, which not incidentally include both Hír TV and Magyar Nemzet (see Lajos Simicska/Közgép).

This is not the first internal conflict that has taken place within Fidesz since the party returned to power in 2010: the establishment of the state monopoly on the retail sale of tobacco and the adoption of the Land Law in June 2013 both entailed instances of high-profile individual dissent from Orbán administration officials (see Cracks in the Monolith); and a large number of National Assembly representatives from the Fidesz-Christian Democratic People’s Party governing alliance defied the Orbán administration’s opposition to a legislative bill introduced in 2012 calling for access to communist-era domestic-intelligence files to be opened all citizens of Hungary (see Communist-Era Domestic Intelligence Files). 

However, it is by far the most serious one. 

The question is: will this conflict grow to significantly undermine the unity and power of Fidesz or will Prime Minister Orbán manage to bring party oligarchs under control, just as President Vladimir Putin did in Russia during the early 2000s? 

Orange Files believes the latter alternative to be much more likely.

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