The Spectacular Fall

Fidesz caucus Chairman Antal Rogán announces the party's support for mandatory drug-testing.

Antal Rogán announces the Fidesz’s support for mandatory drug-testing (photo: 444.hu) .

On December 8, 2014, Fidesz National Assembly caucus Chairman Antal Rogán announced that “a significant majority” of party representatives supported proposed mandatory annual drug testing for Hungarians between the ages of 12 and 18 as well as political officials and journalists (source in Hungarian).

Rogán’s announcement of support for the proposed drug-testing was presumably an attempt to divert the Hungarian public’s attention from the issues and events that have dominated news headlines in Hungary since the beginning of the autumn: the entry ban that the United States imposed on allegedly corrupt officials from Hungary’s National Tax and Customs Office; the luxurious lifestyles of officials in Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s inner circle; highly unpopular legislative initiatives; an unprecedented series of anti-government demonstrations; and disunity within the previously rock-solid Orbán administration, particularly between Fidesz and its allied Christian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP).

The focus of the media on these issues and events has significantly undermined the popularity of the Orbán government and Fidesz. The four major independent polling companies operating in Hungary reported the following month-on-month declines in the proportion of voters surveyed in November who said that they would vote for Fidesz in an upcoming election (source in Hungarian):

                                                                 Medián     Tárki      Ipsos      Nézőpont

                            November                    26              25             30                 29

                            October                         38              37              35                 32

                            Monthly Loss             -12            -12              -5                  -3

The opposition media has pointed out that Fidesz sustained an unprecedented loss in popularity in November, exceeding even that of the Hungarian Socialist Party immediately following the leak of former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s infamous “We fucked up” speech in September 2006 (source in Hungarian).

U.S. Entry Ban

Banned from entering the United States: National Tax and Customs Office President Ildikó Vida (photo: MTI).

Banned from entering the United States: National Tax and Customs Office President Ildikó Vida (photo: MTI).

On October 16, the pro-government business daily Napi Gazdaság reported that the U.S. State Department had prohibited unnamed officials from Hungary’s National Tax and Customs Office (NAV) from entering the United States based on former President George W. Bush’s Proclamation 7750 of January 12, 2004 suspending entry “of persons engaged in or benefiting from corruption” that “has or had serious adverse effects on the national interests of the United States” (source A in Hungarian and B in English). The corruption in question allegedly involved attempts to persuade the Hungarian subsidiary of U.S. agribusiness company Bunge to finance an unnamed pro-government foundation in exchange for NAV’s tacit permission for the company to engage in Value Added Tax fraud (source in Hungarian). The chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Budapest, André Goodfriend, declined to identify the NAV officials prohibited from entering the United States, though said that the embassy had sent them letters informing them of the ban (source in Hungarian). In a November 5 interview in the pro-government daily Magyar Nemzet, NAV President Ildikó Vida admitted that she was among the tax-office officials subjected to the U.S. travel ban (source in Hungarian).     

Embarrassment of Riches

János Lázár wearing his Rolex Bubbleback.

János Lázár (left) wearing his Rolex Bubbleback at the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Most Hungarians regard wealth as evidence of greed, immorality and treasonous cooperation with external powers (see Kuruc vs. Labanc) and feel particular hostility toward political leaders who appear to have used their position to obtain personal fortune. Since the beginning of the fall, the affluence and lavish lifestyles of the following four members of Prime Minister Orbán’s inner circle have been the focus of media attention: Minister in Charge of the Prime Ministry János Lázár; Minister of External Economy and Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó; Prime Ministry State Secretary in Charge of Government Communication András Giró-Szász; and Fidesz Vice President Lajos Kósa.

János Lázár

On December 2, the opposition television station RTL Klub reported that in April Lázár had purchased a house in Budapest under the name of his ten-year-old son at a cost of between 60 million and 70 million forints, or 260 and 300 times the average monthly salary in Hungary of just under 230,000 forints (source in Hungarian).

On November 10, the tabloid Blikk reported that Lázár had cancelled a 75,000-euro, or 23-million-forint, pheasant-hunting trip to the Czech Republic scheduled to take place earlier in the month (source A and B in Hungarian).

On November 25, the opposition website index.hu reported that the Rolex Bubbleback watch that Lázár was seen wearing during a plenary session of the National Assembly the previous month was worth an estimated 1 million forints (source in Hungarian).

Péter Szijjártó

On September 24, RTL Klub reported that Szijjártó had purchased a house in the Budapest suburb of Dunakeszi at a cost of 167 million forints, about 725 times the average monthly salary in Hungary (see Feeling No Shame).

András Giró-Szász

On November 24, index.hu reported that Giró-Szász had recently sold his stake in a media consultancy for 750 million forints (or about 3,265 times the average monthly salary in Hungary) and, according to his newly released asset statement, has 140 million forints in his bank account and owns a yacht worth 25 to 30 million forints (source in Hungarian). On November 25, index.hu reported that Giró-Szász would be the minority owner of a 3-billion-forint hotel being built in the center of Budapest (source in Hungarian).

Lajos Kósa

On October 7, RTL Klub reported that Kósa’s wife had purchased a home worth an estimated 100 million forints, or about 435 times the average monthly salary in Hungary, in the Óbuda district of Budapest (source in Hungarian). On November 22, index.hu reported that Kósa and three travel companions had spent an estimated 1 million forints each on a four-day trip to New Zealand primarily in order to attend a Rolling Stones concert in Auckland (source in Hungarian).

Unpopular Legislation

On October 21, the National Economy Ministry revealed that the government was planning to introduce a 150-forint-per-gigabyte tax on Internet usage (source in Hungarian). Though the proposal stipulated that the tax would be levied on service providers, most Hungarians expected them to build the cost of the tax into customer fees. Prime Minister Orbán revoked the proposed tax following massive demonstrations against it in Budapest, though said his government would revive the proposal in early 2015 (source in Hungarian).

On November 6, Christian Democratic People’s Party National Assembly caucus Chairman Péter Harrach announced that the Orbán government would support the party’s proposed mandatory Sunday closing of shops in Hungary (source in Hungarian). A total of 58 percent of those Hungarians surveyed in a Medián poll conducted in 2007 said that they opposed possible legislation stipulating the mandatory closure of shops on Sunday (source in Hungarian). Orange Files doubts based in empirical evidence that more Hungarians currently support such legislation, which the National Assembly approved on December 16.

Anti-Government Demonstrations

October 28 demonstration in Budapest against the proposed Internet tax (Orange Files photo).

Demonstrators cross the Elisabeth Bridge in Budapest during October 28 protest against the proposed Internet tax (photo: Orange Files).

Several tens of thousands of people took part in demonstrations held in Budapest on October 26 and October 28 to protest the proposed Internet tax (source A and B). With an estimated 30,000–40,000 participants, the October 28 demonstration was likely the largest ever against an Orbán-government measure (source in Hungarian). 

Several smaller demonstrations took place in Budapest over the subsequent weeks to protest the proposed internet tax and government corruption in connection to the U.S. travel ban (source A, B and C in Hungarian).

These culminated in the November 17 “Day of Public Outrage” (Közfelháborodás Napja) demonstration ending with a long standoff between protesters and riot cops in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building that was reminiscent of those that occurred regularly during the wave of anti-government demonstrations that took place in Hungary in 2006 and 2007 (source in Hungarian).

Signs of Disunity

There were growing indications of internal discord within the Orbán government beginning in the fall of 2014:

—in early October, Hungary’s ambassador to Norway, Géza Jeszenszky, resigned from his position, officially to write a book, unofficially because he disapproved of the Orbán government’s crackdown on Norwegian-financed NGOs operating in Hungary (source in Hungarian);

—in late October and early November, Peace March organizers András Bencsik and Zsolt Bayer announced that they would organize another such pro-government demonstration, though the Orbán administration rejected this initiative on the grounds that it would create the impression of weakness (source A, B and C);

—immediately after KDNP National Assembly caucus Chairman Harrach’s November 6 announcement that the government would support a bill calling for the mandatory Sunday closure of shops, the National Economy Ministry issued a communiqué stating that the government would first have to discuss the issue with trade unions organizations representing shop owners before it could formally support it (source in Hungarian);

—on November 26, Fidesz oligarch Lajos Simicska, who has been involved in an indirect and unacknowledged conflict with Prime Minister Orbán since the middle of the year, indicated that he might stand as a candidate in the February, 2015 by-election in the city of Veszprém that Fidesz must win in order to preserve its two-thirds super majority in the National Assembly (source in Hungarian);

—in a December 3 open letter to the Orbán government on the website mandiner.hu, Editor-in-Chief Gábor Bencsik of the pro-government monthly Magyar Krónika wrote “Let us clarify something: this is not why we went out to the Peace Marches. . . . This is not why we tried to convince our friends. We did not stand up for you in every forum so that you could enrich yourselves (source in Hungarian);

—and finally, on December 8, National Assembly Justice Affairs Committee Chairman György Rubovszky of the KDNP told the opposition newspaper Népszabadság that the he was against the proposed mandatory drug-testing legislation, which he said “bleeds from a thousand wounds” (source in Hungarian).

End of Infallibility

Not a Bubbleback: Fidesz National Assembly caucus Deputy Chairman Zoltán Pokorni.

Not a Bubbleback: Fidesz National Assembly caucus Deputy Chairman Zoltán Pokorni.

The awkward attempt of Prime Minister Orbán and members of his inner circle to divert public attention from the politically damaging topics that dominated the domestic news in Hungary this fall via the red herring of mandatory drug testing suggests that they are either unwilling or unable to understand the true reasons for rapidly growing public dissatisfaction with their rule and to make the necessary adjustments to their political methods and tactics. This fall marked the end of an eight-year period, beginning when Orbán was still in opposition, during which he and his party radiated an aura of unassailable legitimacy and infallibility. From now on they will be forced to defend their public policies and justify the personal conduct of government and party officials against criticism in a truly competitive political arena. Some members of the Orbán administration have apparently understood this. Speaking on the pro-government television station HírTv on November 29, Fidesz National Assembly caucus Deputy Chairman Zoltán Pokorni said (source in Hungarian):

These bigger and smaller affairs—who wears what kind of watch, who goes where to relax or on summer vacation or whose house is how big—these were obviously known over the past years, but they didn’t interest anybody. They were not connected to charges of corruption. However, since the United Stats entry ban, these many small facts that were previously thought to be minor annoyances have now become rearranged into such a cross-section. The United States struck a chink in our armor, just a small hole, though it is through this hole that the water flows. And we must stop this water. There can’t be such living like a lord, that is, it shouldn’t be done, because a responsible government member or leading political official cannot permit himself to engage in the kind of lordly conduct that he could perhaps get by with before.

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

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.

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

Will the Real Mr. Fidesz Please Stand Up!

Fidesz Rural Development Minister Sándor Fazekas presents Péter Szentmihályi Szabó with a Hungarian Order of Merit state award for his literary and journalistic achievement on March 14, 2013.

Fidesz Rural Development Minister Sándor Fazekas presents Péter Szentmihályi Szabó with a Hungarian Order of Merit state award for his literary and journalistic achievement on March 14, 2013.

On July 20, 2014, news emerged that the Ministry of External Economy and Foreign Affairs had nominated the well-known pro-government author, poet, translator and editorialist Péter Szentmihályi Szabó to serve as Hungary’s new ambassador to Italy (source in Hungarian). 

Szentmihályi Szabó has published several science-fiction and historical novels as well as volumes of poetry and translated Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World into Hungarian, though he is best known for the regular column he writes in the pro-Orbán newspaper Magyar Hírlap in which he castigates the domestic opposition, liberalism, capitalism, the West and the European Union in the vitriolic, name-calling vernacular of Fidesz-friendly journalists (see previous post In Defense of Illiberal Democracy).

The political opposition immediately protested: not only did Szentmihályi Szabó lack previous diplomatic experience and speak no Italian, but he had voiced explicitly anti-Semitic and anti-Gypsy viewpoints on several occasions, particularly during the years in which he was a regular contributor to Magyar Fórum, the weekly newspaper of the radical-nationalist Hungarian Party of Justice and Life, or MIÉP (source in Hungarian). 

In a December 2000 article in the Magyar Fórum, for example, Szentmihályi Szabó referred to Jews as “pharisees, hypocrites, agents of Satan” (source in Hungarian). Writing in the same newspaper in September 2002, Szentmihály Szabó declared “We will leave our Hungarian homeland to the Roma, the Romanian, the Austrian, the Jew, the Serb, German and the Slovak, let them fix what they messed up so bad” (source in Hungarian).

Szentmihályi Szabó in fact, ran unsuccessfully for the National Assembly as a representative of the Hungarian Party of Justice and Life in 2002 before gradually drifting between the similarly radical-nationalist Jobbik party and Christian-nationalist Fidesz following MIÉP’s collapse after 2006. 

On October 21, 2007, Szentmihályi Szabó recited a poem in honor of the Jobbik-sponsored Hungarian Guard at the radical-nationalist paramilitary organization’s initiation ceremony on Heroes’ Square in Budapest (source in Hungarian). 

However, Szentmihályi Szabó has not always been an ardent Hungarian nationalist. His 1977 book of poetry Dream of the Mind (Az ész álma) included the following lyrical poem in praise of communism (Orange Files translation, source A and B in Hungarian): 

“Raw Supplication to Communism” 

Where do you tarry, communism,

my happiness, my pure love? 

Our happiness, our pure love. 

The basket of plenty! The table of law! 

Daylight of the spirit! 

Eat, drink, embrace, sleep! 

Weigh yourself against the universe! 

Instead of exclamation points, 

question marks fall upon us. 

I know, it is not urgent. 

As the apocalypse, only to the 

prophets: 

your unfulfilled state 

sorrows not many. 

Where do you tarry, communism? 

The forces of production, the conditions of production,

the machines rumble,

and the consciousness . . . our subconscious

the state does not want to wither. 

Where do you tarry, communism? 

Spring comes upon spring, 

my child’s eye blinks old; 

communism, you, promised one, 

flex all your muscle, 

shake off the parasites. 

Communism, grow my little child. 

Péter Szentmihályi Szabó.

Péter Szentmihályi Szabó.

On July 23, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) wrote a letter to Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy asking them not to accept the credentials of the “known anti-Semite” Szentmihályi Szabó (source in English).

In a July 25 opinion piece entitled “Intolerance and Anti-Semitism. The Ancient Poison of Prejudice” in the liberal Milan-based daily Corriere della Sera, the newspaper’s former deputy editor Pierluigi Battista asked the Italian government to seriously consider the ADL’s request to reject Szentmihályi Szabó’s appointment as Hungary’s ambassador to Italy (source in Italian).

That same day, the Hungary’s Ministry of External Economy and Foreign Affairs issued the following terse statement (source in Hungarian): 

Péter Szentmihályi Szabó today informed the leadership of the Ministry of External Economy and Foreign Affairs that he does not want to fill any ambassadorial position of any kind and from his perspective regards the issue to be closed.

In a July 26 interview with Corriere della Sera, Szentmihályi Szabó said that “The reason I stood aside was because I did not want to disturb relations between Italy and Hungary.” Szentmihályi Szabó claimed in the interview “I don’t regard myself to be an anti-Semite. All racist and xenophobic sentiments stand very distant from me. If you want to know my opinion, the contention was not directed at me, but against the Hungarian government and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán” (source in Hungarian).  

 

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

Keep the Message Simple

The Orbán reelection campaign has been based on the principle that the key to effective political communication is to keep the message simple.

The Orbán campaign’s main election slogan: 

Only Fidesz!

(Csak a Fidesz!) (source in Hungarian).

Prime Minister Orbán explaining why “we need every single vote” during April 1 campaign speech:  

Big victory, big future; small victory, small future.

(Nagy győzelem nagy jövő, kis győzelem kis jövő.) (source in Hungarian).    

Prime Minister Orbán’s summary of the Fidesz election program on his personal Facebook site: 

[We will] Continue.

(Folytatjuk) (source in Hungarian).

The main Orbán reelection sign: 

HUNGARY'S PRIME MINISTER. ONLY FIDESZ! APRIL 6. (Orange Files photo)

HUNGARY’S PRIME MINISTER.
ONLY FIDESZ! APRIL 6.
(photo: Orange Files)

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

Ides of March

DSC_0643March 15: national holiday in Hungary commemorating the outbreak of the 1848 revolution against Habsburg domination. Along with October 23, the national holiday commemorating the outbreak of the 1956 revolution against Soviet domination, the most important date on the country’s annual political calendar (see The Soft White Underbelly).

All the parties are active, their leaders hold speeches at various places throughout the center of Budapest. Politically involved citizens of the city are out and about, showing support for their side, checking out the adversary, curious to see what scandal and outrage this year’s happenings will produce.

2014: the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party alliance is three weeks away from another landslide election victory. The only question is whether Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will get another super majority in the National Assembly, again giving him the power to implement his legislative agenda without impediment. All else is simply detail: how much will Jobbik gain, how much will the democratic opposition lose? Will Politics Can Be Different even get into parliament?

DSC_0576Across the Franz Joseph Bridge by bike, Orange Files rides toward the annual state commemoration at the National Museum, where Petőfi read his “National Song” at the start of the 1848 revolt. On Kálvin Square only red and white Polish flags: the Law and Justice weekly Gazeta Polska has organized another Great Trip to Hungary to show support for Prime Minister Orbán, just as it did for the second pro-government Peace March in 2012. Images of Pope John Paul II, the Kaczyński twins, banners in Polish, anti-EU signs in English, men in military uniforms, from the Polish-Soviet War perhaps?

Are they aware of Orbán’s rapprochement with Russia?

Through the main gate to the steps of the National Museum to get a good photograph of Orbán. His security has become much tighter than it used to be—it is no longer easy to get a good close-up of him. Standing in the crowd, camera in hand: a bellicose patriotic poem shouted in a shrill voice; a pop version of the “National Song” and some folk dancing; then down the stairs strides the short and girthy prime minister, right on past—dammit!—across a ramp to a platform overlooking Museum Avenue for his speech.

Excuse me, thank you, excuse me, thank you—press back out through the crowd to Museum Avenue, the speech begun in his throaty, constricted voice, a variation of the same one he has given a hundred times before: life and death struggle, identifying the enemies, always in danger, Labanc, Muscovites, global capital: “The weak and cowardly are no longer dealt into the game.”

DSC_0605Something interesting: a copse of orange flags with the heads of Orbán and Putin side by side. A dozen silent protesters, those around them shouting occasional threats and epithets.

“The word ‘utility-fee cut’ would not look good in the National Song, but it is easy to see that just as today the reduction of unjust and inequitable burdens was for them [the 1848 revolutionaries] the first and most important task.” 

“Hungary is the most unified country in Europe.”

Orbán makes no direct reference to the upcoming elections. He doesn’t need to because he knows he’s going to win, and win big.

The speech is over, the protesters furl their Orbán-Putin flags and give a short interview to a German-speaking reporter through an interpreter. They say they are associated with Bajnai. One of them has a bloody lip.

By bike toward Lajos Kossuth Street, cannot even find the Politics Can Be Different assembly. The sky is turning oddly overcast, the dust and refuse of spring swirls in puffs of warm breeze.

DSC_0626The Polish march past, there are a couple hundred young people lined up along the sidewalk wearing orange, red and green t-shirts and holding well-made signs that say “Vote Against Jobbik!” They say they are a Facebook group, but nobody seems to know who paid for all the shirts and signs. Fidesz has turned its sights away from the foundering  democratic opposition toward Jobbik in order to protect its two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. 

Coffee with an old friend and then the surprise of the day: the democratic opposition has cancelled its assembly due to expected high winds. Organizers in fluorescent vests announce the news on bullhorns. Lajos Kossuth Street is reopened to vehicle traffic. 

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, they find some way to sink even lower. The reason for the cancellation is not really rain and wind: it is that they have nothing to say, no hope in the elections, no reason for being in their present form. Gábor Fodor and the liberals are down at the Petőfi statue for a separate gathering. There are about a hundred people holding blue flags bearing the image of Lajos Kossuth. Fodor looks tired as he chats with elderly supporters, like he wishes he were somewhere else. 

JobbikOver to the Jobbik assembly on Deák Square. Almost everybody in black; cracked and distorted faces, it has the feel of one-third penitentiary, one-third insane asylum and one-third school for the mentally challenged. The New Hungarian Guard is there. Vona, Előd Novák and the rest are there. At least they have the mettle to withstand a little stormy weather. They know where they want to go and are committed to getting there. And they just might do it.

A billow of red, white and green balloons rises into the air and dissipates slowly into the heavy gray clouds above.  

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

Too Close for Comfort

On February 28, 2014, Hungarian journalist Ferenc Szaniszló declared during his foreign-affairs program Világ-Panoráma [World-Panorama] on the pro-government television station Echo TV that Hungary must be prepared to reincorporate the Hungarian-inhabited regions of Subcarpathian Ukraine into the Hungarian state in the event that Ukraine collapses (see video in Hungarian and Orange Files transcription in English below): 

I welcome our kind viewers from Paso Robles, California to Stavanger, Norway, from Rochester in the state of New York to Moscow. Whether it wants to or not, Hungary must prepare to take back Subcarpathian Ukraine, at least its majority Hungarian-inhabited parts located alongside the Trianon border. In the event that Ukraine falls apart, we cannot pretend that we have nothing to do with the Verecke Pass, Munkács (Munkacheve) or the Carpathians. The new political powers in Ukraine are limiting use of the Polish, Russian and Hungarian languages once again. And it doesn’t really console us that the European Union also supports the genocidal, Hungarian-killing Beneš decrees. The Russian, Polish and Hungarian inhabitants of Ukraine cannot satisfy themselves with the fact that the European Union is supporting the Nazis and financing the fascists. It is the deeply held desire of Brussels that the new Ukraine be nationalist against the Russians, the Poles and the Hungarians, though internationalist toward the repositories of surreptitious global financial power—the EU, NATO and the IMF. And all of this from our money, because Hungary is also an accomplice to the EU, NATO and the IMF.

Revision of the territorial changes stemming from the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, according to which Hungary lost two-thirds of its Austro-Hungarian Monarchy-era territory to the newly created or expanded states of Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia and Austria, has been one of the greatest political taboos throughout the region of east-central Europe since the end of the Second World War. The only voices that have openly advocated the reincorporation into Hungary of Hungarian-inhabited territory in surrounding countries have been those of the radical-nationalist Hungarian fringe arising from extra-parliamentary political organizations such as the 64 Counties Youth Movement (Hatvannégy Vármegye Ifjúsági Mozgalom) and extremist websites such as Kuruc.info.

Echo TV owner Gábor Széles (center) at the head of a pro-government Peace March processions in Budapest.

Echo TV owner Gábor Széles (center) at the head of a pro-government Peace March processions in Budapest.

Ferenc Szaniszló, though notorious for his outlandish conspiracy theories and racist innuendo, is nevertheless much closer to the Hungarian political mainstream than others who have made similarly explicit irredentist statements. Echo TV, though only the 40th most-watched television station in Hungary, is the most popular pro-government news station ahead of the more moderate Hír TV [News TV] (source in Hungarian). The owner of the Echo TV channel that broadcasts Szaniszló’s twice weekly program is staunchly pro-Orbán media tycoon Gábor Széles, who has been one of the main organizers of the massive pro-government Peace March processions that have taken place in Budapest about every six months since 2012.

Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog (left) presenting journalist Ferenc Szaniszló with a Mihály Táncsics Prize on March 14, 2013.

Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog (left) presenting journalist Ferenc Szaniszló with a Mihály Táncsics Prize on March 14, 2013.

On March 14, 2013, Orbán government Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog presented Szaniszló with a state-sponsored Mihály Táncsics Prize in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. However, after several days of sharp protest from the socialist and liberal opposition and the US and Israeli ambassadors to Hungary, Balog requested on March 19 that Szaniszló return the prize, claiming that he had been unaware of the highly publicized incendiary statements the journalist had made during his program over previous years, including an anti-Gypsy diatribe in February 2011 for which the National Media and Infocommunications Authority fined Echo TV 500,000 forints (1,800 euros) for violating regulations prohibiting incitement to hatred (source in Hungarian).

Szaniszló complied with the minister’s request, asserting during his following television program “Israel has triumphed over Ferenc Szaniszló” (source in Hungarian).

Although Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the members of his administration have been very careful to avoid making statements that can be construed as irredentist and have never given any indication that they, themselves, maintain anti-Gypsy or -Semitic attitudes, Ferenc Szaniszló’s open reference to the possibility of territorial revision on February 28 and previous racist commentary during his television program on the pro-government television station Echo TV provide evidence of the direct connections that exist between the Orbán government and the exponents of radical Hungarian nationalism.

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

Notes from the Carnival Ball

DSC_0379Carnival ball (farsangi bál) at the community cultural house in one of the old Swabian towns on the outskirts of Budapest. 

A couple of hundred people, most of them 60 and older, sitting at long tables before a dinner of red cabbage and fried meat dumplings. Everybody is dressed up, almost all the men wear suits and ties. They watch a trio perform a variety of music in the shadowy hall, from German oompha to Hungarian and American pop hits from the 60s and 70s.    

They watch young people perform a waltz. The performers then select partners from among the spectators. Instantly other couples join and the floor is full of shining bald heads and white hair turning to the music. 

The music stops, the couples sit, the mayor stands for a speech. A proficient public speaker, confident, fluent, well-told anecdotes, a single political reference to the event as a needed distraction from the mounting tension of “public life.” 

All heads are turned in the same direction, listening intently to the town father. Conservative folk, many of them of German descent. Disciplined, practical, hard-working people, they are cultured to an equal or greater degree than their equivalents in the West, though are more linguistically isolated and less able to understand the greater world around them. 

Members of a small and vulnerable nation seeking community with those of the same language and background, looking for unaffected pre-System Change companionship in a crass post-System Change world.  

Rock-solid Orbán supporters, they will follow him through thick and thin as he turns Hungary back toward the East, as he wages populist battle against the European Union, as he dismantles the country’s democracy and takes control over their sources of information in order to create a highly centralized, semi-authoritarian state.  

It is a state in which they feel comfortable: secure under a strong leader fighting in the interest of the Hungarian nation against foreign predators and their domestic accomplices, one who has defended them against the manipulations and exploitation of the free-market and ensured their basic subsistence through cuts in the cost of household gas, electricity, heating and water. 

Friendly people. Generous people. Benevolent people, though inherently suspicious of the motives of outsiders.

This demographic—nominally anti-communist, though nevertheless uniformly nostalgic for the monolithic simplicity and unfailing continuity of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party dictatorship—has abandoned the affinity it once felt for the ideals of western liberal democracy. As one of the most powerful constituencies in an aging population, it will provide the Orbán administration with a steady base of support well into the 2020s. 

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