Siss-boom-BANG!

First new photograph of Simicska in 12 years.

Lajos Simicska plans his next move (Magyar Narancs)

On March 8, 2015, oligarch Lajos Simicska conducted interviews with the moderate pro-government website Mandiner and the opposition television station ATV. During the interview with Mandiner, Simicska suggested that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán may have provided Hungary’s communist-era intelligence services with information, perhaps as an enlisted informant, about him and others when they served in the Hungarian People’s Army together in the city of Zalaegerszeg (western Hungary, pop. 60,000) in 1981 and 1982.

Simicska indicated in the interview that files proving Orbán’s collaboration with communist-era intelligence services could have been taken to the Soviet Union at the time of the System Change and that President Vladimir Putin of Russia might be using them to blackmail the prime minister.

Below is an Orange Files translation of Simicska’s March 8 interview with Mandiner (source in Hungarian). The interview opens with the Mandiner journalist responding to Simicska’s introductory statement that the origin of his conflict with Prime Minister Orbán extends back into the distant past.

Mandiner: How far back? 

Simicska: If we want the story to be understandable, then a long way. I grew up in a very poor working-class family—you certainly know this. My father was secretary of the workers’ council in ’56 and they ruined him because of it. Physically as well. He was already a disability pensioner during my childhood. In elementary school, when we started preparing to become Pioneers, I told the teacher that I don’t want to be a Pioneer. “You are going to be just as fascist as your father.” That was the response. I then applied twice for admission to university without success until I was finally accepted at the ELTE law school the third time. However, before this they took me to be a solder in Zalaegerszeg. There later on Major Pallos ordered me to come in and see him. On his table there was a dossier ten centimeters thick. About me. That much had been collected by the time I was 22 years old. The major then read from the reports. They even knew things like what I had said during high-school class trips. I was a targeted individual in the army as well—this became clear from the details in other reports. He ended by telling me that I should watch out, because like this the university could be in jeopardy. 

Mandiner: What did you say to that? 

Simicska: “It’s not sure that everybody has to go to university.” This. Then I held a quarter-hour monologue for him about how I think that they are confusing their role—that it is not their task to break the spine of the future intelligentsia. The major was decent, he said that as long as he’s in charge that no harm will come to me. Then he added that I should nevertheless watch out for the counter-intelligence officer, Captain Major.  

Mandiner: Could you deduce who informed on you? 

Simicska: There was one, yes. I even told the guy afterwards, “Listen here, where do you get off . . . ” Of course I expressed myself much more coarsely than that. The person in question fell apart. He explained that I don’t understand, that he had no other choice.  “What were you thinking? We are going to the same university! Haven’t you realized that nothing lasts forever? So that all of this becomes known?” 

Mandiner: Who was this person?

Simicska: His name isn’t interesting. He’s already dead. He choked on a stuffed cabbage and suffocated. 

Mandiner: Figuratively or concretely? 

Simicska: Totally concretely. 

Mandiner: Pure Tarantino. Didn’t you find out anything else from the details of the reports? 

Simicska: Not from those. There was one person, however, who came to me and said “Listen Lajos, the situation is that I have to inform on you.” I said to this person: no hard feelings, it’s good that he told me, we’ll figure out together what he should write. I think that you have already realized who it was. 

Mandiner: Viktor Orbán? 

Simicska: Yes. Later when we demobilized, we were waiting around in a restaurant, already in civilian clothes and they came and got him. We went home on the demobilization train without Viktor there among us. All soldiers go out and party when they demobilize and so did we and then he suddenly showed up there. “What are you doing here?” He said that they wanted him to sign, but that he said no. I believed him for thirty years that it happened this way. 

Mandiner: But no longer? 

Simicska: I don’t know what to think anymore. 

Mandiner: Have you asked to see the reports about you? 

Simicska: I had somebody look after it. As far as I know, there is nothing about me. This is strange only because I saw the dossier with my own eyes at the age of 22, a heard with my own ears the reports on me from the major. 

Mandiner: Many dossiers disappeared at the time of the System Change. 

Simicska: In Budapest, yes. However, there is another city where everything could be. 

Mandiner: Moscow? 

Simicska: Precisely. 

Mandiner: Are you suggesting that the onetime reports of the current prime minister are there and that Putin is blackmailing him with this? 

Simicska: If these existed and would come to light it would turn everything upside down here at home. This is certain. And I—after what has happened over the past year—I don’t know what to think about anybody anymore. 

Hungarian People's Army conscript Viktor Orbán.

Hungarian People’s Army conscript Viktor Orbán.

In his subsequent live telephone interview with ATV, Simicska reconfirmed the assertions he had made to Mandiner, declaring that “For 30 years I believed what Viktor Orbán told me, that he did not sign the statement to become an informant, though recently I have begun to have doubts. Yes, that is what I can say” (source in Hungarian).

In response to the ATV journalist’s question, “Why have you recently begun to have doubts, as you stated just now, that Viktor Orbán was telling the truth?” Simicska laughed and said “Well . . . well what can I tell you. I don’t really like what has been going on with the Russians over the past one or two years.”

On March 9, Prime Minister Orbán responded to Simicska’s allegations in a short interview with the website Hír24 (source in Hungarian): “The facts speak for themselves and all the information is available. I recommend that they study it. As for my opinion on this affair, I consider it to be regrettable that personal offense can take anybody to such depths. And otherwise I don’t see any point in putting on a siss-boom circus like this in Hungarian politics.”

Orbán was referring to communist-era state-security documents he released in April 2012 to support his claim that “They [intelligence services] tried to recruit me during the initial period of my service as a military conscript, but I rejected this. . .” (source A and B in Hungarian).

Simicska did not provide any evidence to support his suggestion that Prime Minister Orbán may have collaborated with communist-era intelligence services, though the opposition newspaper Népszava reported on March 10 that unnamed sources close to the oligarch say that he “is very serious about what he claims and possesses reliable information” (source in Hungarian).

However, even if Simicska cannot prove that Orbán served as an informant, his allegations have further undermined the political credibility of the once infallible prime minister and revived opposition calls for the FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party governing alliance to abandon its policy of maintaining restrictions on public access to communist-era intelligence files preserved at the State Security Services Historical Archives in Budapest (see Communist-Era Domestic Intelligence Files).

Moreover, Simicska is certain to take more damaging potshots at his former personal friend and political ally in the future. As the unnamed source close to the renegade oligarch told Népszava, “He has 35–40 years of ammunition.”

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Birds of a Feather

President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary during a joint press conference in Budapest on February 17, 2015 (photo: Hungarian News Agency).

President Putin and Prime Minister Orbán at a joint press conference in Budapest on February 17, 2015 (photo: Hungarian News Agency).

On February 17, 2015, President Vladimir Putin of Russia made an eight-hour official visit to Budapest. There hadn’t been so much portentous excitement among Hungarians surrounding the arrival of a foreign statesman to their country in a long time, perhaps even since the System Change. Not because Putin had any important business to do in Hungary, but merely because he is Putin―the larger-than-life and all-powerful leader of the newly revitalized and assertive Russia. 

President Putin initiated the visit to Hungary as a means of breaking his foreign isolation and showing the West that he was a welcome guest in the capital of a NATO and European Union member state (source in Hungarian).

Both the Hungarian and Western media reported that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, now trying to mend relations with Hungary’s NATO and EU allies, attempted to downplay Putin’s visit, which under the circumstances he found somewhat cumbersome and embarrassing (see New York Times article on the event). 

While this may be true, Orbán projected no discomfort as he and Putin held a joint press conference, dressed in nearly identical dark-blue suits, white shirts and burgundy ties, following their longer-than-expected two-hour talks. As expected, the press conference produced nothing of real importance―five minor agreements, perfunctory calls for peace in Ukraine, talk of a Russian-Turkish pipeline project in place of the discarded South Stream (source in Hungarian). 

In fact, the visit of the Russian president to Hungary, rather than a source of embarrassment for Prime Minister Orbán, provided him above all with the opportunity to show Western leaders something as well: that despite his efforts to improve relations with them, he has retained the independence of action necessary to host Putin, anathema in the West since his occupation of Crimea and proxy war against Ukraine, and to conduct an autonomous foreign policy in which national self-interest supersedes loyalty toward NATO and the European Union.

And one thing that is certain: if Orbán is ever forced to abandon his “shuttlecock policy” (called hintapolitika―“swing policy”―in Hungarian) and choose between the West and Putin, he is much more likely to go with the latter, whose illiberal, authoritarian political outlook he shares.

On the day of President Putin’s visit to Budapest, journalist Zsolt Bayer published an editorial in the pro-government newspaper Magyar Hírlap entitled “Letter to Vladimir Putin.” Bayer is one of the 37 founding members of Fidesz and many consider him to represent the true voice of the party and the current prime minister, the outspoken and often politically incorrect articulator of  “things he would like to say, but can’t” (see In Defense of Illiberal Democracy).

Below in an Orange Files translation of an excerpt from Bayer’s February 17 editorial (source in Hungarian):

[. . .]

Honored Mr President!

I travelled to those parts in 2005 and I wrote these lines as the introduction to a film and a book [referring to a brief account of a trip to Siberia]. And I did not think that I would once be so bold as to wait for your arrival.

Now I await it.

Because now you are right.

This is the first and most important thing that we must say.

You are right in almost everything. Most of all in that you did not let Russia perish.

[. . .]

And be assured that we are also right. And also be aware that those who now rant against you and Russia here got along splendidly with the Soviet Union and approved of it when the Soviet Union trampled on us in ’56.

This is how they lived for forty years. And they hated me precisely as much then, when I hated the Soviet Union, as they hate me now because I love Russia and think you are right.

It is for this reason that they do not count at all, Mr. President.

They refer to Europe, they scream Europe now when there is no Europe. When there still was a Europe and I, we, longed for Europe, then they hailed the Soviet Union.

We are in phase-delay here, in the middle, compared to one another as well, and with regard to everything else too.

Today Europe wants to be America, Mr. President. And this fate was intended for you as well. If your predecessor had remained, the hapless and weak-willed Yeltsin, then the foreign agents such as Khodorkovsky would have remained too and there would be no more Russia. Then there would be an immense colony, crippled in consumption, that contains Russia in its tracks. And maybe there would be flights between Kamchatka and Alaska every half hour, Mr. President.

And just as the Americans bought Alaska from the czar, they would have bought all of Russia since then, but just for less.

However, it would be said that you are a perfect democracy, a free country of the highest order. Because you know, Mr. President, the face of freedom has become so strange these days.

You did not let Russia perish. You made it strong. You liked it Russian and kept it that way. You could have done nothing more or greater than this.

—–

One should naturally be cautious when attributing the words of one to the sentiments of others. However, aside from its characteristic obsequiousness, Bayer’s “Letter to Vladimir Putin”―which not incidentally makes frequent use of the personal pronoun “we”―may legitimately be considered an accurate reflection of the viewpoints of Prime Minister Orbán, Jobbik President Gábor Vona and most Fidesz, Christian Democratic People’s Party and Jobbik voters regarding Putin, Russia and the United States.

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The Fury of an Oligarch Scorned

S

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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Back in the Fold?

On January 23, 2015, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held talks with European Union officials in Brussels during which they discussed his recent comments against non-European immigration (see Je Suis Viktor) and the impending official visit to Hungary of Russian President Vladimir Putin (source in Hungarian).

After the talks Prime Minister Orbán and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker shook hands and smiled for the cameras. However, instead of loosening his grip at the end of the joint photo-op, Juncker said “Let’s go now!” and led Orbán off stage by the hand in a gesture calculated to symbolize the assertion of European Union authority over the previously defiant, euro-skeptic prime minister of Hungary (see video below).

 

 

Until recently, Orbán would not have allowed himself to be placed in a position of such blatant and humiliating subordination, particularly toward an official from the European Union. 

However, over the past couple of months his position has weakened considerably both internally and externally:

According to all five major polling companies in Hungary, the popularity of the prime minister’s FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party (KDNP) governing alliance has declined sharply among Hungarian voters since October (source in Hungarian);

Unprecedented public conflict has taken place among Fidesz government and National Assembly officials since November, suggesting that the Orbán administration’s previously rock-solid internal cohesion is diminishing (see Another Cleft in the Monolith);

Officials from the dominant countries within in the European and Euro-Atlantic alliances that provide Hungary with vital developmental funding and military protection—Germany and the United States—have sent strong messages to the Orbán government that they will no longer tolerate its autocratic and explicitly illiberal domestic policies (see Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State) and reluctance to support collective measures designed to penalize the Putin administration for Russia’s occupation of Crimea and proxy attacks on Ukraine (see Teutonic Shift and The Spectacular Fall);

And the main foreign-policy endeavor of the Orbán government, building (economic) ties with the rapidly developing states of Asia, Eurasia and the Middle East through in what it refers to as Eastern Opening [keleti nyitás], has failed to produce the anticipated results (source in Hungarian).

The above factors, coupled with the greater emphasis that European states have placed on internal unity to combat Jihadist terrorism following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in early January 2015, have apparently compelled Prime Minister Orbán to at least temporarily steer Hungary back toward the western political sphere.

The political force in Hungary that stands to benefit the most from Orbán’s volte-face: the radical-nationalist Jobbik party, which opinion polls show has gained popularity among Hungarian voters as that of Fidesz-KDNP has declined (see source in Hungarian and 24 Bastions). Jobbik will likely generate significant political profit from the anti-liberal, anti-capitalist, anti-European Union, anti-West sentiment that Prime Minister Orbán has so proficiently incited among Hungarians over the past five years in order to legitimize his authoritarian domestic policies, though now appears ready to moderate or abandon.

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Je Suis Viktor

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán among heads of government and state in Paris on January 11, 2015 to show solidarity with Republican Marches.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán among heads of government and state in Paris on January 11, 2015 to show solidarity with Republican Marches (photo: MTI).

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was among the approximately 40 heads of government and state who met in Paris on January 11, 2015 to show solidarity with the Republican Marches held throughout France on that date to protest the Charlie Hebdo and related terrorist attacks the previous week.

Orbán used the occasion to open up a new front against another purported external threat to Hungary: “economic” immigration—i.e., migration from non-European countries.

In an interview with Hungarian Television reporter in Paris on the day of the Republican Marches, the prime minister said (source in Hungarian):

Economic immigration is a bad thing in Europe. It shouldn’t be seen as something that is of any use at all, because it just brings difficulty and danger to the European person. This is why immigration must be stopped. This is the Hungarian viewpoint.

And:

At the same time, one must make it very definitely clear that we will not permit—at least as long as I am the prime minister and as long is this government exists—it will not happen that Hungary becomes the target of immigrants.

And:

We do not want to see among us significant minorities that possess different cultural characteristics and background than us. We would like to preserve Hungary as Hungary.

Also on January 11, Prime Minister Orbán told the Hungarian News Agency MTI: “The European person is under attack, the freedom and lifestyle of the European person. . . . current European politics cannot defend European people” (source in Hungarian).

In foreign-policy terms, Orbán’s depiction of the threat of non-European immigration to Hungary in connection to the January 7–9 Jihadist attacks in France is presumably part of his effort to place the “illiberal state” that he has built as prime minister into the context an extra-EU, German-led alliance of central and eastern European countries aimed at repelling external threats (see Teutonic Shift and Designated Adversary 2015: USA).

In domestic terms, the moderate conservative Hungarian political scientist Gábor Török identified the possible motives that may have impelled Prime Minister Orbán to utilize this type of anti-immigration rhetoric for the first time (source in Hungarian):

1. Orbán said this because he believes it is proper, right and to be followed.

2. Orbán said this because he was concerned that Jobbik [Hungary’s radical-nationalist Jobbik party] will be able to exploit the situation and as a result of political calculations he now considered this to be expedient.

3. Orbán said this because now for him avoiding a further loss of votes is the most important and according to their research the base wanted to hear these words in this situation.

4. Orbán said this because he thinks that every sharp “ideological” debate is useful for him now: especially at home, though even internationally as well.

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Designated Adversary 2015: USA

UncleSam_2Prime Minister Viktor Orbán appears to have chosen the United States to serve as Hungary’s designated enemy for the year 2015. Over the final couple of weeks of 2014, Orbán and three of the most powerful officials in his administration—Prime Ministry chief János Lázár, National Assembly Speaker László Kövér and Fidesz National Assembly caucus Chairman Antal Rogán—made statements casting the United States in an adversarial role. 

With regard to the entry ban the United States imposed on several administration officials, notably National Tax and Customs President Ildikó Vida (see The Spectacular Fall), Prime Minister Orbán said during an interview on pro-government Hungarian Television on December 23 (source in Hungarian from 6:23):

Every thoughtful person knows that the charges of corruption that the United States has articulated are a cover story. Here it is a question of the United States having found new interests in this region. It wants to acquire influence. And it is using corruption as a cover story for this. This becomes obvious when we ask for concrete details, when we initiate legal proceedings, when we say lay the cards on the table, let’s clear the air. But somehow this never seems to happen. This is an outgrowth of a typical secret-service influence-gaining action.

Referring to the large number of anti-government demonstrations that took place in Budapest during the final three months of 2014, Prime Ministry chief Lázár told the website mandiner.hu on December 22 (source in Hungarian):

The demonstrations show that the American embassy seems to have assumed the role of the Hungarian opposition. It may appear that they have given up on the possibility that the opposition parties can ever win the confidence of the Hungarians, therefore they [the Americans] are the ones who have stepped up as the leaders of the malcontents.

Lázár continued:

They want to tell us how to behave and how to think about the world. They want to interfere and tell us how we should live. . . . The Americans must respect Hungary’s 1,000-year history and our traditions, which cannot be changed with outside force and pressure.

In an interview with the pro-government newspaper Magyar Hírlap published on December 27, National Assembly Speaker Kövér asserted (source in Hungarian):

Unfortunately we have never been too good at diplomacy. We shouldn’t work now to get the Americans to love us either. We must look for allies elsewhere. Those who are in the same boat with us, moreover on the lower deck. These are the central and eastern European countries.

Kövér also said with regard to Americans:

. . . from a national-security perspective, there is not a square centimeter of territory on Earth that falls outside of their interests. As a result of this, for them it does not exist that aside from themselves another country can have sovereignty.

In an interview with the pro-government Hungarian News Agency published on December 29, Fidesz National Assembly caucus Chairman Rogán stated that the party was formulating a “national protection action plan” (országvédelmi akcióterv) to repel “external attacks” from “economic interest groups and other governments that would have liked another government better” and were therefore attempting to bring down the Orbán administration through “non-electoral methods” (source in Hungarian). Rogán said that an official response to the U.S. entry ban on Orbán administration officials “could be one element” of the Fidesz national-protection plan to defend Hungary against an unnamed “external power,” which under the present circumstances could refer only to the United States (source in Hungarian).

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has incited hostility against purported enemies of Hungary as a means of gaining and maintaining political support since the very beginning of his political career in the late 1980s (see Fill in the Blanks). For several years after returning to power as prime minister in 2010, Orbán and his subordinates portrayed the International Monetary Fund and, subsequently, the European Union as the main external threats to Hungary’s sovereignty (see Sign of Things to Come). Following the U.S. entry ban on administration officials in October 2014, they have increasingly begun to depict he United States in this role. The Orbán government is likely to continue doing so throughout the year 2015 and perhaps even longer, until a more politically suitable candidate to serve as Hungary’s main adversary emerges.

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Teutonic Shift

Seehofer and Orbán: pointing the way.

Seehofer and Orbán: pointing the way (Photo: Die Welt).

On November 6, 2014 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made a seemingly routine trip to Munich to visit Minister-President Horst Seehofer of Bavaria. The stated purpose of the meeting between Orbán and Seehofer was to discuss issues related to the Hungarian state’s purchase of MKB Bank from the Bayerische Landesbank (Bavarian State Bank) earlier in the fall (source in Hungarian).

However, the official visit that Prime Minister Orbán made to Bavaria at the beginning of November in fact represented a major shift away from rapprochement with Russia as part of his administration’s Eastern Opening policy in favor of mending relations with the West via Germany. Though little noticed at the time, Orbán provided the first indication of this reorientation of his foreign policy during a joint interview with Minister-President Seehofer published in the November 9 issue of the Berlin-based conservative daily newspaper Die Welt. During the interview, Prime Minister Orbán said (source A in German and B in Hungarian):

We find ourselves in a very difficult situation. The Russians have made it clear that they want to establish a buffer zone between them and NATO and are willing to violate international law in the interest of doing this. . . Our point of reference in this crisis can only be international law. We cannot accept violation of this. It is moreover in the Hungarian interest that there always be something between us and Russia. Therefore we have a great interest in a stable and independent Ukraine. When I was young there was a Hungarian-Soviet border. This must not repeat itself.

Following the new leader (photo: AFP)

Following the new leader (photo: AFP).

On November 12, the online edition of the opposition weekly HVG reported that “a high-ranking Fidesz political official who plays an important role in the conduct of international relations” told the website that sources close to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had informed the Orbán government through informal channels that within the “current international environment” they consider its “maverick” (különutas) policy to be unacceptable. “We received strong signals regarding what Germany expected of us,” the unnamed Fidesz official told hvg.hu, adding that Prime Minister Orbán had thus decided to make the necessary changes to his administration’s foreign policy (source in Hungarian).

The “current international situation” cited in the hvg.hu report obviously referred to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the “maverick” foreign policy of the Orbán government to its failure to condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 (see Vlad Beyond Reproach) and reluctance to support European Union sanctions intended to punish Russia for the unilateral takeover (see Notable Quotes: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán under heading “European Union Economic Sanctions against Russia” and National Economy Minister Mihály Varga under “Notable Quotes”).

Over the 12 days following the hvg.hu report, both Orbán and Minister of External Economy and Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó reinforced the explicit and implicit support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty that the prime minister initially articulated in his November 9 interview with Die Welt. Moreover, Orbán and Szijjártó made associated statements intended to affirm Hungary’s loyalty to the European Union in specific and the West in general. The following is a summary of these pronouncements:

November 12: Minister of External Economy and Foreign Affairs Szijjártó said during a joint press-conference with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany in Berlin that Hungary is committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Szijjártó added that “Hungary will always be loyal toward common European decisions (source in Hungarian).

November 14: Szijjártó stated during an interview with the Financial Times that “Central Europeans know what it means to have a neighbor like the Soviet Union and we never want to experience that again.” With regard to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Orbán government’s minister of external economy and foreign affairs said “The big and strong countries need to put the proposals on the table; they can count on our support for all solutions which bring the conflict to a swift conclusion” (source in English).

November 17: Szijjártó said with regard to EU sanctions against Russia during a visit to Brussels to attend a meeting of European Union foreign ministers that “Hungary supports expansion of the group of individuals subjected to European Union visa bans and if the occasion arises the imposition of further asset freezes” (source in Hungarian).

November 20: Prime Minister Orbán declared at a session of the Hungarian Permanent Conference [Magyar Állandó Értekezlet] in Budapest that “It is in the Hungarian interest, not the American or European, that there be something between Hungary and Russia, and this is Ukraine. A sovereign, democratic Ukraine, where a 200,000-strong Hungarian community lives” (source in Hungarian).

November 21: during a speech at the The Foundation for Family Businesses in Germany and Europe conference in Baden-Baden, Germany, Orbán remarked that “We had a common border with the Soviet Union. It was a big adventure, though it was enough.” The prime minister said that his administration supports Ukrainian sovereignty because “. . . we also believe that there must be something between Russia and Hungary” (source in Hungarian).

November 24: Orbán said in an interview with the German business daily Handelsblatt that “Chinese are necessary for the Chinese model and Russians for the Russian [model]. In Hungary and in Europe these solutions are unusable.” Orbán repeated during the interview that “It is in our interest to have something between Hungary and Russia—and that is a sovereign Ukraine . . . We had a common border with the Soviet Union and it lasted a long time until we were able to get rid of it. We do not want to have this again” (source A in German and B in Hungarian).

The abrupt turnabout of Prime Minister Orbán away from Russia and toward Germany represents the most dramatic policy change he has made in the four and a half years since returning to power in May 2010. This volte-face must be viewed within the context of Orbán’s loss of support among both Western allies (following his highly publicized crackdown on Norwegian Civil Support Fund-financed NGOs in Hungary beginning this spring and proclamation of the illiberal Hungarian state this summer) as well as among domestic advocates (following his announcement of the subsequently withdrawn Internet tax and the emergence of several high-profile instances of corruption, cronyism and apparent politics-for-profit within his administration this fall). In short: Prime Minister Orbán could not afford to further alienate his formal allies abroad as support for his “two-thirds revolution” weakens at home. The prime minister is specifically seeking to obtain political support from Germany, which has long been Hungary’s most significant foreign-trade partner and is currently governed by the two foreign parties with which Fidesz has maintained its closest ties—Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the affiliated Christian Social Union in Bavaria. However, Orbán, whose political retreats have never been more than tactical, is almost certain to shift Hungary’s external orientation back toward Russia and the East if he regains his domestic political footing. 

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NYT vs. RT

Russia Today photo:

Russia Today photo: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary shaking hands.

On November 7, 2014, both the New York Times and the website of the state-run television station Russia Today (RT) published articles about Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his administration.

The title of the New York Times piece: “Defying Soviets, Then Pulling Hungary to Putin – Viktor Orban Steers Hungary Toward Russia 25 Years After Fall of the Berlin Wall.”

The title of the Russia Today piece: “The bullying of Hungary – the country that dared to disobey the US and EU.”

These articles are quintessential representations of the fundamental attitudes of the anti- and pro-Orbán camps, both inside and outside Hungary.

In short: globalist vs. anti-globalist; liberal vs. anti-liberal; pro-West vs. anti-West.

Presuming that the opinions expressed in the New York Times and Russia Today largely reflect those of the Obama and Putin administrations, respectively, the November 7 pieces in the NYT and RT also provide further evidence that Hungary has become a secondary theater, behind Ukraine, in the struggle between the U.S.-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Russia to retain or regain political supremacy in the post-communist states of eastern Europe.

New York Times photo: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the Hungarian Parliament Building.

New York Times photo: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the Hungarian Parliament Building.

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The Lines on His Face

The official government photo.

The official government photo.

Prime Minister Orbán’s physiognomy: deep asymmetrical furrows, taught lines spreading like stress cracks across his face and forehead; glassy, bloodshot, bulbous eyes; incongruous primary features that defy the mind’s attempt to place them into a unified whole. 

What these facial characteristics might reflect about the prime minister’s disposition and personality: mistrust, insecurity, hostility, belligerence; the stress and tension of always feeling besieged; the physical and mental exhaustion of ceaseless struggle against ever-present enemies. 

The normal wear and tear national leadership? Or the disfigurations of excessive fear and misguided conviction? 

Judgment of physical appearance: always a dangerous game, always vulnerable to subjective interpretation and error; often mean-spirited and meaningless. 

But nonetheless: the evidence of physical and mental strain in Prime Minister Orbán’s facial expressions and features may suggest that the Fidesz revolution that has transformed Hungary from a westward-looking liberal democracy into an eastward-looking authoritarian democracy could culminate in the all-powerful leader’s incapacitation via crisis of the spirit, mind or body.   

One would hope that this does not prove to be the case: fellow-man, father of five, highly competent individual, Prime Minister Orbán would make for a model civilian, an excellent lawyer, perhaps president of the Hungarian Football Federation. 

However, it is an eventuality that those interested in the politics of Hungary should take into account.

Orbs33Orbs44Orbs55Orbs11Orbs6Orbs22

 

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Proclamation of the Illiberal Hungarian State

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaking in Tusnádfürdő on July 26, 2014.

On July 26, 2014, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán proclaimed during his annual speech at the Tusványos Summer University and Student Camp (Tusványos Nyári Szabadegyetem és Diáktábor) in Tusnádfürdő (Băile Tușnad), Romania that the new state that we are building in Hungary is an illiberal state, not a liberal state.”

Prime Minister Orbán maintained during the speech that “we regard the great financial, global-economic, global-trade, global-power, global-military redistribution of strength that became obvious in 2008 as our point of departure,” citing China, Russia, India, Turkey and Singapore as examples of systems “which are not western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, perhaps not even democracies at all, and nevertheless make nations successful” in the post-2008 world. 
 
Prime Minister Orbán identified the activity of non-government organizations (“the civil sphere”) in Hungary and the control that European Union bureaucracies exercise over the distribution of the country’s EU funding as obstacles to the building of the illiberal state. 
Below are a video of Prime Minister Orbán’s speech and a verbatim Orange Files translation of the portions of the speech (roughly one-half of it) related directly to its main theme building illiberal democracy in Hungary (see transcription of speech in Hungarian). 

The translation begins at the 3:20 point in the above video with Prime Minister Orbán articulating his premise that the global financial and economic crisis of 2008—which he referred to as the fourth “major world system-change” in the past century after the First World War, the Second World War and the collapse of communism—necessitated the transformation of the liberal-democratic Hungarian state into an illiberal Hungarian state.  

. . . 

. . . at the same time, a change of just as much significance is taking place in the world as the experience of the System Change. Therefore the task that stands before us intellectually in connection to the debates regarding an understanding of the future and the designation of the roads leading to the future is to use the System Change as an experience, but no longer as a reference point. Much rather, we regard the great financial, global-economic, global-trade, global-power, global-military redistribution of strength that became obvious in 2008 as our point of departure. . . . Therefore I believe it would be of more use if we would regard the System Change as a closed historical process and a storehouse of experience and not as the point of departure for thinking about the future.

. . . 

The contention that intended to serve as the point of departure for my presentation today is that a change of similar weight and importance is taking place in the world today. We can identify the time when this manifested itself and became obvious as the 2008 global financial crisis, more precisely the financial-West crisis. And the meaning of this change is not so obvious because people perceive it differently than the previous three. It was not obvious at the time of the western financial collapse in 2008 that we are going to live in a different world from this time on. The change is not so sharp as took place at the time of the first three global system-changes. But it is unfolding slowly in our minds, somewhat as when fog settles on the landscape, the awareness is slowly descending upon us that if we really take a look around, if we thoroughly analyze all that it taking place around us, it is a different world from that in which we lived six years ago and if we project these processes on the future, which of course always entails some risk, though it is fundamentally justified intellectual work— if we do this, we see clearly that the changes will be even more vigorous.

. . . 

There is an even more important race. We would put it this way—a race to discover the state that is the most capable of making a nation successful. Since the state is none other than the mode of organizing the community, which in our case sometimes coincides with state borders and sometimes not—I will get back to this later—perhaps the most significant theme in today’s world can be can be expressed as a race that is taking place between community-organization modes to come up with that state which is best able to make a nation, a community internationally competitive. This is what explains, my honored ladies and gentlemen, that today the hit theme in thought is understanding those systems which are not western, not liberal, not liberal democracies, perhaps not even democracies at all, and nevertheless make nations successful. Today the stars in international analyses . . . Singapore, China, India, Russia, Turkey. And I think that years ago our political community correctly felt, correctly put its finger on this challenge and perhaps even processed it intellectually and if we think back to what we did over the past four years and what we will do over the next four years, then it can be understood from here as well. Breaking away from western European dogmas and ideologies, making ourselves independent of them, we are seeking, we are trying to find that community-organizational form, that new Hungarian state, which over a range of decades is capable of making our community competitive in the great global competitiveness race.

My honored ladies and gentlemen!

In order for us to be capable of this in 2010, and especially these days, we have had to boldly utter a phrase similar to those previously quoted that belonged to the category of sacrilege in the liberal world order. We had to declare: a democracy is not necessarily liberal. Just because something is not liberal, it can still be a democracy. Moreover, it was necessary, it was possible to say that, in fact, societies built upon the state-organizational principles of liberal democracy will not likely be able to maintain their global competitiveness over the coming decades, rather they will suffer a reversal if they are not capable of changing themselves significantly. 

My honored ladies and gentlemen!

Things are such that if we look from here at the events happening around us, then we usually choose as the point of departure that until now we have known three forms of state organization: the nation-state, the liberal state and the welfare state. But the question is, what will take place now? The Hungarian answer is that an age of the work-based state can begin, we want to organize a work-based society, which, as I mentioned previously, accepts the odium of declaring that, with regard to its character, it is not liberal in nature. What does all this mean?

My honored ladies and gentlemen!

This means that we must break with liberal social-organization principles, methods and the entire liberal understanding of society. I will only touch upon this in two dimensions, I don’t want to go into a longer presentation, I just want to touch upon it so that the gravity of the situation becomes apparent. The point of departure of liberal social organization with regard to the relationship between two people is built on the notion that we are free to do anything that does not violate the freedom of others. Twenty years of the Hungarian world prior to 2010 was built upon this conceptual-ideological point of departure. Accepting, by the way, a general principle in Western Europe. However, 20 years were necessary so that in Hungary we could express the problem that intellectually this is an exceptionally appealing thought, though it is not clear who will say from what point something violates my liberty? And since it is not a given, somebody has to determine this, to decide this. And since we did not designate anybody to decide this, we continually experienced in everyday life that the stronger decided it. We continually felt that they trampled upon those who were weaker. Conflicts arising from the mutual recognition of one another’s freedom are decided  not according to some abstract principle of justice, but what happens is that the stronger is always right. It is always the stronger neighbor who says where the gate is, it is always the stronger, the bank that says how much the interest rate is, which it changes along the way if necessary. And I could otherwise continue to list the examples that continually impacted the defenseless, the weak, individuals and families with smaller economic defense forces than others as a life experience over the past 20 years. To this we propose and are trying to build Hungrian state life on the thought that this shouldn’t be the organizing principle, the organizing principle of society. This cannot be enacted into law, here we must speak of an intellectual point of departure. Don’t let the organizing principle of Hungarian society be that everything is permitted that does not violate the liberty of others, but that of don’t to do others what you wouldn’t want done to you.  And we will attempt in Hungarian public thought, in the education system, in our own behavior through our own examples to place the world that we can call Hungarian society on this theoretical foundation. If we look at this same idea with regard to the individual and the community—because I was now speaking of the relationship of individual and individual—then we see that the Hungarian liberal democracy built up over the past 20 years was not able to accomplish a good many things. I made a short list of what it was not capable of.

Liberal democracy was not capable of stating openly and obliging—even with constitutional force—governments that they serve the national interest with their work. Whatsoever: to debate the notion of the existence of national interest. It did not oblige governments to recognize that Hungarians living throughout the world belong to our nation, to the Hungarian nation, and to attempt through its work to strengthen this affinity. Liberal democracy, the liberal Hungarian state did not protect communal property. . . . Then the liberal Hungarian state did not  protect the country from indebtedness. And finally, it did not defend families, here one can think about the foreign-currency loan system. It did not defend famiies from debt servitude either. Consequently, the interpretation of the 2010 election—particularly in light of the 2014 electoral success—could admissibly sound like this: that in the great world competition that is taking place in the interest of establishing the most competitive state, the Hungarian citizens expect the Hungarian leaders to find, to form, to forge the new Hungarian state organization that, following the era of the liberal state and liberal democracy—of course maintaining respect for the values of Christianity, freedom and human rights—can again make the Hungarian community competitive and carries out and honors those unfinished duties, neglected obligations that I listed.

So, Honored Ladies and Gentlemen!

Namely, what is taking place in Hungary today can be interpreted as the political leadership having made an attempt to make it so that the individual work and interest of people, which must be recognized, stands closely interconnected to the community, the life of the nation and that the connection endures and that this connection strengthens. That is to say, the Hungarian nation is not a mere agglomeration of individuals, but a community, which must be organized, strengthened and, in fact, built. In this sense, therefore, the new state that we are building in Hungary is an illiberal state, not a liberal state. It does not deny the fundamental values of liberalism, such as freedom, and I could bring up a few more, but does not make this ideology the central element of state organization, but contains a unique national approach that diverges from it.

Honored Ladies and Gentlemen!

After this, I must speak about what obstacles must be overcome in order for this to take place. It may easily be that what I say seems evident within this circle, however when all of this must be elevated to the level of a political program and work, then it is not this way whatsoever. I will not enumerate all of the obstacles, I will just mention few, more precisely two of them, not even the most important necessarily, but the most interesting. The relationship between professional political officials versus those operating in the civil sphere. That is to say, somebody, leaders empowered and elected to do so, must organize and govern the state. However, civil organizations appear at the periphery of state life. In Hungary the civil world is showing a very unique face. Those operating in the civil sphere—contrary to the professional political official—are individuals, are a community that is organized from below, stands on its own financial feet and is naturally voluntary. Now in contrast to this, if I take a look at Hungary’s civil sphere, that which plays a regular role in public affairs—the controversy surrounding the Norway Fund has brought this to the surface—then I see that we are dealing with paid political activists. Activists paid by identifiable foreign spheres of interest . . .

And these paid political activists are, moreover, political activists paid by foreigners. Political activists paid by identifiable foreign spheres of interest about which it is difficult to imagine that they regard this as a social investment, rather the notion is much more justified that through this system of means they wish to exercise influence over Hungarian state life at a given moment and with regard to given issues. Therefore it is very important if we want to organize our national state in place of the liberal state to make it clear that here we are not standing opposite people from the civil sphere, it is not people from the civil sphere coming at us, but paid political activists who are trying to assert foreign interests in Hungary. This is why it is very correct that a committee was established in the Hungarian parliament that is engaged in the continual monitoring, recording and publicizing of foreign influence gathering so that everybody, you as well, can know precisely who the true characters are behind the masks.

I will mention another example that is another obstacle to the reorganization of the state. When I bring up the European Union, I don’t do it because I think that it isn’t possible to build an illiberal state standing upon national foundations within the European Union. I think this is possible. European Union membership does not exclude this. It is true that many questions arise, many conflicts develop, you could follow this over the past years, many battles must be waged, but now I am not thinking of this, but about another circumstance with which you are likely unfamiliar in this form. When the agreement expired between Hungary and the European Union that stipulated the financial relationship between the union and Hungary for seven years, it expired this year, and the conclusion of a new agreement for the next seven years appeared on the agenda, which is taking place right now, then a dispute erupted. . . .Now a dispute has developed between the union and Hungary because we changed this system and the government made a decision according to which it will have control over European Union money, in this new state conception, in the illiberal state conception . . .

. . .

Now the only question is, my honored ladies and gentlemen, though here the answer is not incumbent upon me, that in a situation like this in which anything can happen if we should be afraid or rather if we should be filled with confidence. Since the current order of things in the world does not exactly suit our tastes, I think that we should think that the anything-can-happen age that stands before us, though according to many it carries insecurity and could cause trouble, that it holds at least as many possibilities and chances for the Hungarian nation. Thus instead of fear, withdrawal and crawling into a shell, I recommend courage, forward-looking thought and sensible though bold action to the Hungarian community of the Carpathian Basin, in fact to the entire Hungarian national community spread out across the entire world. It could be that after anything happens, our time will come. 

Thank you for your respectful attention!

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