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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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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The Fury of an Oligarch Scorned

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Lajos Simicska (photo: Magyar Nemzet).

On the morning of February 6, 2015, the directors and chief editors of the pro-government television station, radio station and newspaper under the ownership of former Fidesz oligarch Lajos Simicska―Hír TV, Lánchíd Rádió and Magyar Nemzet―abruptly resigned, asserting that they had decided to leave their jobs “for reasons of conscience” (source in Hungarian).

The collective resignations infuriated Simicska, who learned of them only after their publication on the Magyar Nemzet website. En route to Budapest to appoint successors, the notoriously reclusive former oligarch conducted short telephone interviews with many of the major opposition media during which he accused the prime minister and his “entourage” of orchestrating the resignations (source in Hungarian) and denounced the prime minister in vulgar terms, frequently using an epithet denoting sperm—geci—that has no equivalent in English and might best be translated as “fuckhead.” (1)

The direct cause of the resignations: on the evening of February 5, the website of the opposition newspaper Népszava quoted Simiscka, a longtime personal friend and political ally of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, as saying “The media war could become full-blown if the government really introduces the five-percent advertising-revenue tax in the name of making peace with RTL” (source in Hungarian). 

Simicska’s statement to Népszava referred to the Orbán government’s recent proposal to transform the progressive tax on advertising revenue, which generates over half of its proceeds from the television station RTL Klub, into a flat-rate tax that would redistribute the burden among a greater number of companies, notably Simicska-owned media and public advertising concerns (see source in Hungarian and Black Screen of Protest and The Big Gun Swings into Action).

Prime Minister Orbán (left) and ÁPEH President Simicska chat in the late 1990s.

Prime Minister Orbán (left) and ÁPEH President Simicska chat in the late 1990s.

The restructuring of the advertising-revenue tax would be one of several measures that the third Orbán government has taken since its formation last spring which have harmed the financial interests of Simicska, who generated much of his current wealth through state contracts awarded to his construction company, Közgép, at the time of the second Orbán government from 2010 to 2014 (see Lajos Simicska/Közgép).

The Simicska-owned media have attacked these measures and the government ministers identified directly with them, though have never criticized Prime Minister Orbán personally (see Cleft in the Monolith). The “full-blown” media war that Simicska cited in his statement to Népszava on February 5 would certainly entail lifting the taboo on direct criticism of Orbán―a presumption that the opposition website hvg.hu has corroborated, quoting an unnamed “reliable source” (source in Hungarian). If this hypothesis is correct, reluctance to participate in personal attacks on the prime minister constituted the “reasons of conscience” to which the formerly Simicska-affiliated journalists and media directors referred in their joint resignation.

By the evening of February 6, Simicska had named replacements for those who had resigned that morning, including himself as the director of Hír TV (source in Hungarian). Simicska told index.hu  “I am going to fire every Orbánist, then I will appoint my people in their place who cannot be bribed and intimidated. I will say it once again, my people will be sitting everywhere” (source in Hungarian).

The long steadfastly pro-Orbán Hír TV, Lánchíd Rádió and Magyar Nemzet therefore appear certain to become harsh critics of the prime minister and government. Below are quotes from Simicska’s February 6 interviews which may provide an insight into the type of criticism that his media are likely to articulate:

Believe it or not, my alliance with Orbán was based on the fact that we wanted to bring down the dictatorship and the post-communist system. This proved not to be an easy thing, it required a lot of work. But building another dictatorship in its place was certainly not a fucking part of this alliance. I am not a partner in this (source in Hungarian).

I grew up when the Soviet Union was here and I do not have good memories of the activities of the Ruskies in Hungary. I can’t make a clear distinction, to say the least, between the political behavior of the Soviets of that time and the Russians of today (source in Hungarian).

I imagined him [Orbán] to be a statesman who could do good for this country, but I had to realize that he’s not (source in Hungarian).

Naturally an independent media always deals with current things, though the Orbán government has ambitions to essentially abolish the independent media; but naturally this media―our media―will resist this and will not give a fucking shit about what Orbán wants (source in Hungarian).

"Orbán

“Orbán Is a F.ckhead!” Front page of the tabloid Blikk on February 7, 2015 (photo: 444.hu).

As for those who resigned from the Simicska-owned media on February 6: they are likely to find immediate employment at the state-run television and radio stations and news agency, which according to several sources, Prime Minister Orbán has chosen to serve as the primary channels of pro-government news (sources A and B in Hungarian). However, the owner of the pro-government television station Echo TV and newspaper Magyar Hírlap, Gábor Széles, wrote on his Facebook site on February 7 that he will gladly hire any of them who do not find employment at the state-run media (source in Hungarian).

The nearly certain anti-Orbán transformation of Hír TV, Lánchíd Rádió and Magyar Nemzet would represent the most sudden and radical change in Hungary’s political media landscape in the 35 years since the end of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party dictatorship.This transformation would serve to further elevate the already heightened degree of political tension and conflict in Hungary. And its outcome would almost certainly entail either the collapse of the Orbán government or that of the Simicska-owned business and media empire—more likely the latter. 

(1) “Orbán is a fuckhead!” (source in Hungarian)

“Viktor Orbán is also a fuckhead! He is also a fuckhead!” (source in Hungarian)

“Yes, I stand by it: he’s a fuckhead. Maybe I will retract it tomorrow morning, because I am already calming down, but now you can go ahead and write that he is a fuckhead.” (source in Hungarian)

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D-Day

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State media headquarters in Budapest

Last day at the news agency. 

Up by bike along the Danube to the new state media headquarters in a bleak industrial section of Óbuda to take care of the necessary “demobilization papers” (leszerelési lapok)

An immense new complex across from the Budapest Electrical Works and the FŐTÁV district-heating plant. A modern architectural wonder in a bare utilitarian world of concrete, elevated pipelines and smokestacks. 

The security guards are suspicious: the accent, the bicycle, the discomfiture. “Demobilization” is the key word that opens the gate. 

This place has the feel of a hospital: a maze of corridors that all look the same; people on the move everywhere, into offices, out of offices, chatting, laughing, carrying papers, carrying equipment, power cords hanging. The ding and sweep of an elevator door.  

The secretary in charge of the process: a lady near retirement age speaking in a rural accent. She places several sheets of paper on the desk: sign this one, sign that one—then another one with a list of 32 offices and required signatures. 

Disbelief. Anger. The penchant of oppressive state bureaucracy to place arbitrary burdens on the individual. 

The secretary knows it’s wrong and doesn’t want conflict: with a highlighter she underlines eight of the 32 signatures that are really necessary. 

The office numbers are in the thousands: signs with arrows point 2029–2045 this way; 2046–2063 that way; 2064–2077 straight ahead. 

Four floors, three unconnected buildings—a scornful and unbelieving security guard flaunts the power of his position at the external door.   

Journalists, technicians and administrative personnel mill about everywhere, artificially, mechanically, as if they are performing as extras in a film. Their every word, expression and movement slightly constrained, unnatural.  

The stiffness of action taken under external compulsion. Whether they support Hungary’s newest post-republican system or not, they all feel it: the subordination of personal and professional standards to the political will of central authority. 

The news agency was a good place to work: excellent pay by Hungarian standards; lots of vacation and nice benefits. And most importantly: the decent and eminently human people who work there—including those brought in to enforce the new creed in 2010.  

But like all demobilizing soldiers: the euphoria of finally getting out. 

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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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The Big Gun Swings into Action

DownloadedFileOn June 11, 2014, the commercial television-station RTL Klub launched an offensive of negative news against the Orbán administration just hours after the National Assembly approved Fidesz-sponsored legislation to tax advertising revenue.

Fidesz designed the progressive tax so that RTL Klub—one of the two most popular television stations in Hungary and the country’s biggest generator of advertising  income—would pay an estimated 63 percent of the total amount of government revenue from the tax in 2014 (see Black Screen of Protest).

Although RTL Klub had gone to great lengths to avoid offending Fidesz before the party adopted the tax on advertisng revenue, the Orbán government has long wanted to curtail the popularity of the German-owned station, which broadcasts mainly action movies and cheap serials, as a means of increasing the viewership of the state-run television stations, which broadcast mainly pro-government news and Hungarian culture.

Fidesz National Assembly Caucus Deputy Chairman Gergély Gulyás said that imposing the bulk of the tax on RTL Klub is justifiable on the grounds that the station “causes great social harm,” referring to the levy as a type of sumptuary tax (egészségügyi termékadó)—that is, a sin tax (source in Hungarian).

The unprecedented RTL Klub negative-news offensive against the Orbán administration has so far focused on the issue of nepotism—on those who have gained unfair advantage and preferential treatment as a result of their close relations to the prime minister. Here is an Orange Files chronology of the main items of negative news regarding the Orbán administration that RTL Klub has broadcast on its Evening Edition (Esti kiadás) news program as part of this offensive in its first ten days:

June 11

Screenshot

Screenshot from RTL Klub June 11 broadcast.

Subject: The enormous wealth that businessman Lőrinc Mészáros—the mayor of the village of Felcsút where Viktor Orbán grew up and a personal friend of the prime minister—has attained since Fidesz returned to power in 2010 (source in Hungarian).

Claims: The Felcsút mayor’s company, Mészáros and Mészáros, has generated a 500-fold increase in revenue since 2006, making him the 88th richest man in Hungary; that he won more than 1,000 hectares of land in state tenders in 2011 and 2012; and that his friends, relatives and business partners won licenses to operate National Tobacco Shops at 19 of the 21 Auchan supermarkets in Hungary under the state monopoly on the retail sale of tobacco that the Orbán administration imposed in 2013.

Quotes: “No doubt almighty God and the person of Orbán Viktor have played a role in my getting to where I am today” (from interview published in the pro-government weekly Heti Válasz).

Screenshot

Screenshot from RTL Klub June 13 broadcast.

June 13

Subject: The investigation that the Democratic Coalition opposition party has launched into state companies that have done business with the dolomite-mining company of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s father, Győző Orbán (source in Hungarian).

Claims: Győző Orbán’s company, Dolomit Ltd, has paid dividends of one-billion forints since the start of the global financial crisis and had revenue of 1.9 billion forints in 2013.

June 15

Subject: The appointment of the prime minister’s personal advisor on sports-related issues, Mihály Takács, to serve as the new director of the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy that Prime Minister Orbán founded in his home village of Felcsút in 2006 (source in Hungarian).  

Claims: Takács, who has been friends with the prime minster since they played football together on the FC Felcsút club, receives a salary of 650,000 forints per month as the prime minister’s sports advisor.

Quotes: “Since April, it [the Ferenc Puskás Football Academy] has had a new stadium as well: the Pancho Aréna with seating capacity of 3,900, here in Felcsút, right next to Viktor Orbán’s summer home” (see One Man’s Plaything).

Screen

Screenshot from RTL Klub June 16 broadcast.

June 16

Subject: The lucrative state licenses that a company under the majority ownership of Hungarian-American film producer Andy Vajna, who serves as Orbán government commissioner in charge of renewal of the film industry (filmipar megújításáért felelős kormánybiztos), won to operate casinos in Budapest and Pest County.

Claims: Vajna, who is primarily known for having produced the Rambo and Terminator movies, won five of the seven ten-year licenses that the government recently issued to operate casinos in Hungary though his company, Las Vegas Casinos.

June 17

Subject: The inquiry that the National Investigative Office (Nemzeti Nyomozó Iroda), Hungary’s equivalent to the FBI, has conducted regarding the theft of two smart phones from Prime Minister Orbán’s daughter, Ráhel, during her September 2013 wedding.

Claims: The National Investigative Office has spent 4 million forints to take DNA samples from 26 people as part of the probe, sixteen times the 250,000-forint market value of the phones.

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Screenshot from RTL Klub June 18 broadcast.

June 18

Subject: The official visit of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan to Hungary (source in Hungarian).

Quotes: “Today the president of the republic received one of the biggest dictators in the world, according to human-rights activists.” And:  “Human rights are violated in the country [Turkmenistan] every single day. There is no commercial media and only positive news can be reported on state-run channels.”

June 19

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Screenshot from RTL Klub June 19 broadcast.

Subject: The newly released wealth statement of the previously mentioned businessman and mayor of Felcsút, Lőrinc Mészáros (source in Hungarian).  

Claims: According to the wealth statement, the “former gas fitter” and “Viktor Orbán’s good friend” has 400 million forints in his savings account and 20 million forints in cash. The amount of money in Mészáros’s personal bank account has grown from one-million forints in 2011, 20 million forints in 2012 and 200 million forints in 2013. The statement furthermore indicates that Mészáros owns 40 separate pieces of land in Hungary.

June 20

Subject: The emergence of evidence showing that Interior Ministry law-enforcement State Secretary László Tasnádi worked as a domestic-intelligence agent during the late communist-era.

Claims:  Tasnádi was present as an undercover agent at the ceremony marking the reburial of 1956 Hungarian Revolution prime minister Imre Nagy in Budapest on June 16, 1989 at which Viktor Orbán gave the speech that gained him national recognition and solidified his leadership over the newly founded Fidesz party (see Fill in the Blanks).

Government Reaction

The Orbán government has reacted very sensitively to these RTL Klub reports. Following the June 13 exposé on the financial gains that Győző Orbán’s company has recorded over the past years, the Prime Minister’s Office released the following statement (source in Hungarian):

In the opinion of the government, it is improper for RTL Klub to launch a campaign of revenenge because it has to pay taxes in Hungary. It is completely unacceptable that it wants to take revenge on the family members of cabinet members [a kormánytagok családtagjain] for this reason.

RTL Klub quickly responded to this statement, noting that it suggests that RTL Klub does not pay taxes, when in fact the station paid 8.9 billion forints in taxes last year (source in Hungarian).

On June 20, the Prime Ministry issued another communiqué entitled “RTL Klub Regards Hungary as a Colony” containing an inteview with the government minister who heads the office, János Lázár, in which he makes the claim stated in the title and refers to the station as a “corrupt enterprise.”

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RTL Klub’s negative-news offensive signals first instance in which one of the popular news media in Hungary has expressed explicit and prolonged criticism of the Orbán government since it came to power in 2010. Moreover, RTL Klub has based its offensive not on abstract matters related to democracy and fundamental rights that interest very few people, but on an issue to which average Hungarians are extremely sensitive—that of gaining unfair access to wealth and power as a result of inside connections to government officials. 

The Orbán government has virtually ignored attacks of both types from opposition political forces and media, because it knows that essentially only a few thousand members of the Budapest liberal intelligentsia listen to them (see A Few Thousand Malcontents). However, the government is almost certain use every means at its disposal in order to neutralize the current RTL Klub negative-news offensive, including repressive measures that will serve to further dampen the voice of the independent democratic media in Hungary.   

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A Few Thousand Malcontents

Demonstrators protest alleged Orbán government constraints on the independent media.

Demonstrators protest alleged Orbán government moves to gain control over the independent media.

On Monday, June 9, the opposition website Kettős Mérce [Double Standard] organized a demonstration outside the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest to protest the Orbán government’s alleged recent efforts to curb the influence of the independent commercial media in Hungary.

Specifically, Kettős Mérce held the demonstration to voice concern over two issues that emerged last week in this regard: first, the firing of editor-in-chief Gergő Sáling of the moderately opposition news-portal Origo, allegedly as the result of pressure that the Orbán government placed on website owner Magyar Telekom to do so after Origo two weeks previously broke the news that Prime Ministry director János Lázár had accumulated two million forints (6,600 euros) in hotel bills during three secret trips to Switzerland in 2012 and 2013 (source A and B in Hungarian); and Fidesz’s submission of a bill to the National Assembly that would impose a progressive tax on advertising income, one that is manifestly aimed at undermining the most popular commercial television station in Hungary, RTL Klub (see The Black Screen of Protest). 

Orange Files was at the demonstration. 

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Marching across the Chain Bridge.

Marching across the Chain Bridge.

Late as usual and the first glimpse seems to confirm suspicion that two demonstrations in one week about the same issue is too many and attendance will be light, especially considering that it’s really hot outside and also the Pentacost holiday so everybody is just getting home from the first long weekend at Lake Balaton. 

But a look down Constitution Street (Alkotmány utca) shows a surprising number of people—two thousand, maybe even three. Mostly young, sophisticated, fashionable, western. The speaker is from one of the secondary organizers of the demonstration: right there on the stage he makes a call to Magyar Telekom to cancel his mobile-telephone subscription to protest the presumable pressure the company put on Origo to fire chief editor Sáling; then a fiery speaker in a Hawaiian shirt and then a lady who ends to a crescendo of cheering with a long, eclectic list of different types of people who merit representation in an inclusive Hungary—Gypsies, homosexuals, Hungarian minorities from beyond the borders, etc. 

Marching through the Castle Hill tunnel.

Marching through Castle Hill tunnel.

Liberal hearts warmed, the demonstrators march down to the Danube, across the Chain Bridge [Lánchíd] and through the Castle Hill tunnel on their way to the Magyar Telekom headquarters intoning the new slogans: “Free country! Free media!” (Szabad ország! Szabad média!) and “We don’t need Orbán! We don’t need Lázár! The Hungarian People Doesn’t Need an Emperor!” (Nem kell Orbán! Nem kell Lázár! A magyar népnek nem kell császár!). 

Inside the tunnel it is deafeningly loud, terribly hot. Dizzy. Parched. Need a drink bad. 

Down Krisztina Boulevard and arrive to the headquarters. A PR coup: Magyar Telekom has put up tents with free bottled water for the demonstrators. Sit on top of a high wall, quench thirst and look out over the crowd. Several familiar faces— friends, acquaintances, former liberal political figures like Imre Mécs and Tamás Bauer, aging rock star János Bródy. 

The main target of reproach in speeches at this location is János Lázár, the embodiment of cynical and arrogant political power, the man who ostensibly put pressure on Magyar Telekom to fire Sáling, the man who most vociferously and scornfully defended the proposed advertising-revenue tax, the man who will most likely replace Orbán as prime minister when the latter jumps to the position of president in 2017.  

PR coup: Magyar Telekom provides free water to demonstrators.

PMagyar Telekom provides free water to demonstrators.

But you can bet Lázár doesn’t care. Nobody in the Orbán administration does, because they know that twenty-five hundred disgruntled Budapest liberals pose no threat whatsoever to their power and, in fact, may even play the useful role of subjects for the state-run and other pro-government media to portray as perpetual grumblers, people for their supporters to scoff and roll eyes at.

And if they really don’t like it here, let them move to London with all the other malcontents. 

For a few more images of demonstration see Orange Files photo gallery.

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