Sign War I

IF YOU COME TO HUNGARY YOU CANNOT TAKE AWAY THE WORK OF THE HUNGARIANS!

IF YOU COME TO HUNGARY YOU CANNOT TAKE THE WORK OF THE HUNGARIANS!

In June 2015, the Orbán government launched a 381-million-forint (1.2-million-euro) “informational campaign” connected to its National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism (source in Hungarian). This campaign consists primarily of billboard signs displaying the following three messages, in Hungarian, to migrants who arrive to Hungary (source in Hungarian showing design of all three signs):  

IF YOU COME TO HUNGARY YOU CANNOT TAKE THE WORK OF THE HUNGARIANS! 

IF YOU COME TO HUNGARY YOU MUST RESPECT OUR CULTURE! 

IF YOU COME TO HUNGARY YOU MUST RESPECT OUR LAWS! 

People started to deface these signs immediately after their appearance on billboards in Budapest on June 5. Vice-President Péter Juhász of the opposition liberal party Együtt (Together) announced days before the signs appeared that “if they put them up, we will tear them down” (source in Hungarian). In the early morning of June 7, the Budapest Police arrested six activists from the party’s youth organization after seeing them obliterate the lettering on some of the signs with spray paint (source in Hungarian). Later on June 7, two people, one of them an employee of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ), turned themselves in to police after defacing one of the signs in a conscious act of civil disobedience against what TASZ referred to as the “government’s hate campaign” (source in Hungarian). Already on June 6, an interactive map of Hungary allowing users to identify the site of the government signs under the flag markers “untouched,” “modified” and “erased” appeared on the Internet (see map). In addition to the large number of signs that have been defaced and torn down, many have been creatively modified to deliver alternate messages (source in Hungarian, including gallery).

Below are Orange Files photographs of six signs in central Budapest, five of which have been defaced (click on any photo to see in gallery view):

 

On June 8, the farcical Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party (Magyar Kétfarkú Kutya Párt) and the pro-democracy Vastagbőr (Thick Skin) blog launched a campaign seeking three million forints in donations to pay for 50 billboard signs to counter those of the government (source in Hungarian). As of June 10, the campaign had already collected 18 million forints in donations (source in Hungarian).

Illustration from Vastagbőr blog.

Illustration from Vastagbőr blog article on collection of donations for counter signs.

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National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism

Consultation2

Original questionnaire.

Consultation3

Original letter of introduction.

During the second half of May 2015, the Orbán government sent its National Consultation Regarding Immigration and Terrorism to eight million voters in Hungary. The government estimates that its newest national consultation will cost 960 million forints, or 3.14 million euros (source in Hungarian). Recipients will have until July 1, 2015 to return the questionnaire to the Prime Ministry in a provided postage-free envelope. Below is an Orange Files translation of Prime Minister Orbán’s introductory letter as well as the 12-question consultation.

LETTER OF INTRODUCTION 

Esteemed Compatriots! 

In 2010 we Hungarians decided that we would discuss all important questions with one another before we make decisions. This is why we initiated national consultations regarding the country’s new Fundamental Law, our social security and improvement of the situation of pensioners, among other things. And this is why we have now initiated national consultation on the question of subsistence [megélhetési] immigration. 

As you certainly remember, an unprecedented terrorist act jolted Europe at the beginning of the year. In Paris they extinguished the lives of innocent people in merciless cold blood and with frightening brutality. That which took place appalled every one of us. At the same time, this humanly incomprehensible monstrosity also showed that Brussels and the European Union are not capable of handling the question of immigration in an adequate manner. 

Subsistence immigrants cross the border illegally and although they portray themselves as refugees, they in fact come for social benefits and work opportunities. In just the past few months, the number of subsistence immigrants in Hungary has risen around twentyfold. This represents a new type of threat that we must stop. 

Since Brussels has failed in the handling of immigration, Hungary must take its own path. We will not permit subsistence immigrants to threaten the workplaces and subsistence of Hungarian people. 

We must decide how to defend Hungary against illegal border-crossings. We must decide how to limit explosively increasing subsistence immigration. 

I respectfully ask you to get into contact with us, tell us what you think with regard to the question raised [above], fill out and return the questionnaire. I count on your opinion. 

Kind regards, 

Viktor Orbán

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QUESTIONNAIRE 

National Consultation on Immigration and Terrorism

1] One can hear many different opinions with regard to the increasing acts of terrorism. How important do You consider the advance [térnyerés] of terrorism (the massacre in France, the alarming acts of ISIS) from the perspective of your own life?

-Really Important     -Important     -Not Important

2] Do You believe that Hungary could be the target of terrorist acts over the coming years?

-There is a serious chance of this     -It could happen     -It is totally excluded

3] There are those who believe that the advance of terrorism is connected to the poor handling of immigration by Brussels. Do You agree with these opinions?

-I completely agree     -I mostly agree     -I do not agree

4] Did You know that subsistence immigrants cross the Hungarian border illegally and that the number of immigrants in Hungary has risen twentyfold over the recent period?

-Yes     -I have heard of it     -I did not know

5] One can hear many opinions regarding the question of immigration. There are those who believe that subsistence immigrants threaten the workplaces and subsistence of Hungarian people. Do You agree with these opinions?

-I completely agree     -I mostly agree     -I do not agree

6] There are those who believe that the policy of Brussels toward immigration and terrorism has failed and that a new approach is therefore necessary with regard to this question. Do You agree with these opinions?

-I completely agree     -I mostly agree     -I do not agree

7] Would You support the Hungarian government if, contrary to the permissive policy of Brussels, it introduced stricter regulation of immigration?

-Yes, I would completely support it    -I would partially support it    -I would not support it

8] Would You support the Hungarian government if it introduced stricter regulation on the basis of which it would be possible to take into custody immigrants who cross the Hungarian border illegally?

-Yes, I would completely support it    -I would partially support it    -I would not support it

9] Do You agree with the opinion that immigrants who cross the Hungarian border illegally should be turned back to their own homelands as soon as possible?

-I completely agree     -I mostly agree     -I do not agree

10] Do You agree that subsistence immigrants should themselves provide for the cost of their provision while they are in Hungary?

-I completely agree     -I mostly agree     -I do not agree

11] Do You agree that the best means of fighting against immigration would be for European Union member states to help with the development of those countries from which the immigrants arrive?

-I completely agree     -I mostly agree     -I do not agree

12] Do You agree with the Hungarian government that instead of immigration, it is necessary to support Hungarian families and children to be born [születendő gyermekek]?

-I completely agree     -I mostly agree     -I do not agree

Returning the questionnaire is free. Deadline: July 1, 2015.

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Sign of Things to Come

The Orbán government has recently put up signs like that shown below all over Budapest, ostensibly in response to the European Union’s suspension of developmental funding for Hungary until it receives more detailed information regarding the country’s administration of such EU support since the Prime Ministry assumed this task from the National Development Ministry late last summer (see source in Hungarian).

DSC_0909

LET’S TELL BRUSSELS: RESPECT THE HUNGARIANS!

This is the same tactic the Orbán government used during its frequent conflict with the European Union during the 2010–2014 parliamentary cycle: attempt to rally support among the population by suggesting that the EU has attacked or disparaged the Hungarian people as a whole. This ominous sign suggests that the Orbán government’s relations with the European Union are likely to remain just as bad or perhaps become even worse over the next four years as they have been over the past four years.

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Peace, Bread and Utility-Fee Cuts!

DSC_0400The caretaker at the residential building in Budapest where Orange Files is edited recently erected the mandatory lockable enclosure containing monthly itemized bills showing the precise amount that each resident has saved as a result of the Orbán government’s twenty-percent cuts in household fees for gas, electricity and district heating (see Minus 20 Everywhere). Residents had to pay the cost of the enclosure that must be placed in a “conspicuous (figyelemfelkeltő) and clearly visible” place in all residential buildings in Hungary pursuant to Law CCXXXI which the Fidesz-controlled National Assembly passed on December 17, 2013 (text of law in Hungarian). Residential-building caretakers are subject to fines of between 15,000 forints (50 euros) and 500,000 forints (1,600 euros) for non-compliance with the law (source in Hungarian). 

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A Thousand Clowns

gyucsany_cof_plakatFollowing the establishment of the Cooperation (Összefogás) opposition-party coalition in the middle of January, the pro-Fidesz organization Civil Cooperation Forum (Civil Összefogás Fórum, or CÖF) placed signs like the above throughout Budapest, including a colossal sign in the middle of the city.

The sign portrays the leaders of the three main parties that joined together to form Cooperation—Attila Mesterházy of the Hungarian Socialist Party, former prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány of the Democratic Coalition and former prime minister Gordon Bajnai of Together 2014—posing for a collective mug shot along with a clown of unknown identity and former Budapest deputy mayor Miklós Hagyó, who is currently facing charges of corruption in connection to severance pay at the Budapest public-transportation authority BKV in what many consider to be another of the Orbán government’s show trials of former Hungarian Socialist Party officials. The text below the images reads “THEY DO NOT DESERVE ANOTHER CHANCE.”

Asked to identify the clown, Civil Cooperation Forum (CÖF) founder László Csizmadia responded:  

The clown teacher on our sign is greeting his disguised associates who receive lessons from him every day and we can say that they are very good students: they have already earned excellent marks in clowning around. They are the parasites whom the voters smoked out in 2010 with the chief clown, Ferenc Gyurcsány, in the lead (source in Hungarian).

a2Csizmadia said that the Civil Cooperation Forum had financed the sign campaign through private donations, though declined to specify the amount of money the organization had paid to have the signs put up or the identity of the donor. 

The Hungarian Socialist Party’s new political sign (above) is only slightly less brazen than CÖF’s, portraying Fidesz oligarch Lajos Simiscka and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán under the text “They Are Living Better. And You?” with the caption “Simicska-Orbán Mafia Government” slipped in between them.   

The Civil Cooperation Forum and Hungarian Socialist Party signs presage a very contentious and mean election campaign this spring; they also symbolize the decline in the level of political discourse in Hungary to that of playground hectoring and reflect the patronizing attitude that political leaders in the country hold toward the national electorate. 

Gigantic sign near Deák Square in Budapest (Orange Files photo).

Gigantic CÖF sign near Deák Square in Budapest (photo: Orange Files).

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Minus 20 Everywhere

Fidesz National Assembly representative responsible for utility-fee cuts Szilárd Németh.

Fidesz National Assembly representative responsible for utility-fee cuts Szilárd Németh.

On November 22, Fidesz representative Szilárd Németh submitted a bill to the National Assembly that would require an official notice informing residents of the money they have saved as a result of the government’s twenty-percent cuts in utility fees to be displayed in a visible place in every residential building containing privately owned apartments in Hungary. This bill, as all others that the Orbán government or FideszChristian Democratic People’s Party National Assembly representatives submit, will certainly become law. Below is an Orange Files translation of the notice (see original notice in Hungarian): 

Utility Fee Cuts Send HOme

The Orbán government’s National Development Ministry issued a decree that went into effect earlier this year stipulating that all utility bills had to display the amount of money saved as a result of the utility-fee cuts in a field of orange, the party color of Fidesz. Below is an Orange Files translation of the relevant parts of the officially decreed format for utility bills (see original bill format in Hungarian):   

Good Utility Bill POst

IMG_2775The National Consumer Protection Authority subsequently fined six energy companies the albeit nominal total sum of 37.5 million forints (around 125,00 euros) for failing to follow the new bill format (source in Hungarian). 

In order to even better publicize the utility-fee cuts, the government has put up signs and posters all over Budapest (and presumably the rest of Hungary) reading either  “-20% Utility-Fee Cuts” or simply “Utility-Fee Cuts.” 

National Economy Minister Mihály Varga has said that the government may cut the centrally regulated fees for electricity, gas and district heating by a further 10 percent next year.  

The utility-fee cuts have become the cornerstone of the Orbán government’s attempt to mobilize popular support ahead of the 2014 National Assembly election. The primary purpose of the cuts is to portray the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as a benevolent, though strong-handed leader who is willing to take on multinational energy companies in order to defend the interests of the Magyar nation.   

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Why Just Now?

Béla Biszku and János Kádár at the Hungarian Parliament Building

Béla Biszku and János Kádár at the Hungarian Parliament Building.

On October 16, 2013, the Budapest Investigative Prosecutor’s Office submitted an indictment to the Budapest Court of Justice accusing former Kádár-régime official Béla Biszku of war crimes committed during the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The indictment charges that as a member of the Hungarian Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government’s Provisional Executive Committee (Ideiglenes Intéző Bizottság) that exercised political power in Hungary following the Soviet army’s defeat of revolutionary forces in early November 1956, Biszku is guilty of ordering pro-communist militia to fire upon demonstrators in Budapest on December 6 and in the city of Salgótarján in northern Hungary on December 8 of that year, killing a total of 52 people. The prosecutor’s charges against Biszku are based on crimes defined in the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, which the communist Rákosi régime enacted into Hungarian law in 1954 (source in Hungarian). The indictment does not accuse the 92-year-old Biszku of crimes related to the execution of several hundred people, including revolutionary Prime Minister Imre Nagy, as punishment for their actions during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution while he served as the Kádár régime’s interior minister between March 1957 and September 1961. Biszku faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty of war crimes pursuant to the massacre of civilians in December 1956.

The question is: why just now?

Why is Biszku to be put on trial for crimes committed during the Kádár régime’s retribution against participants in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution nearly 25 years following the fall of communism?

Out of Obscurity 

Righteous imposters: Crime and Impunity directors Fruzsina Skrabski and Tamás Novák

The (self-) righteous imposters: Crime and Impunity directors Fruzsina Skrabski and Tamás Novák.

Biszku lived the quiet life of a pensioner in the upscale Rose Hill district of Budapest for two decades following the System Change. Most Hungarians assumed that Biszku, as all other high-ranking Kádár-régime officials, had died long ago until two young journalists posing as members of the non-existent Bereg Youth Association tricked him into conducting interviews with them under the pretext that they were making a documentary film about notable people born in his home village of Márokpapi in eastern Hungary.  The journalists, Fruzsina Skrabski and Tamás Novák of the pro-Fidesz website Mandiner.hu, then used the interviews, during which they enticed Biszku into talking about his political role in the communist restoration that took place in Hungary following the 1956 revolution, to make a documentary film about him called Crime and Impunity (Bűn és büntetlenség). In the film, which premiered in June 2010, Biszku declares that Imre Nagy “deserved his fate” and that he feels no guilt for the post-revolution executions, claiming that as interior minister he exercised no influence over the courts that pronounced the death sentences (source in Hungarian, including film trailer).  

Statute of Limitations

Communist militia of the type that massacred demonstrators in Salgótarján

Communist militia of the type that massacred demonstrators in Salgótarján.

A few months after Crime and Impunity vaulted Biszku back into the public spotlight, a private individual submitted a complaint to the Budapest Chief Prosecutor’s Office charging him with complicity in murder following the 1956 revolution. However, the prosecutor’s office rejected the complaint on the grounds that Hungary’s statute of limitations had expired on the alleged criminal offenses and that the latter did not constitute crimes against humanity as defined in international law (source in Hungarian). 

The prosecutor’s finding contradicted the 1995 verdict of the Budapest Court of Justice condemning two members of the 1956-1957 communist militia each to five years in prison based on the Fourth Geneva Convention for the killing of 46 pro-revolution demonstrators in Salgótarján on December 8, 1956. The court declared that the war crimes were not subject to Hungary’s statute of limitations (source in Hungarian).

The Orbán government took two measures in order to ensure that the statute of limitations would not serve as an impediment to the prosecution of war crimes committed in the aftermath of the 1956 revolution: on December 30, 2011 it adopted (with the support of the opposition) a law, the so-called Lex Biszku, declaring that the statute of limitations does not apply to crimes against humanity, including war crimes (source in Hungarian); and it stipulated in the Fundamental Law that came into effect on January 1, 2012 that the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and its predecessors “were criminal organizations and their leaders shall have responsibility without statute of limitations for maintaining and directing an oppressive régime and for the breaches of law committed and for the betrayal of the nation.”  

With this obstacle removed, in February 2012 the radical-nationalist Jobbik party submitted another complaint against Biszku to the Budapest Chief Prosecutor’s Office accusing him of crimes committed during the suppression and aftermath of the 1956 revolution (source in Hungarian). The office initiated proceedings against Biszku based on these charges on February 29, 2012 (source in Hungarian). 

The Reprehensible Scapegoat 

Biszku speaking on Duna TV

Biszku speaking on Duna TV.

Béla Biszku has steadfastly denied that he bears any guilt in connection to the massacres and executions that took place as part of the Kádár régime’s consolidation of power following the 1956 revolution. On January 27, 2011, the Budapest Chief Prosecutor charged Biszku with violating the law adopted in June 2010 declaring public refutation of national-socialist or communist crimes to be an offense punishable by up to three years in prison (source in Hungarian) as the result of statements he made during an interview on Duna TV the previous summer. After clearing a legal hurdle in the Constitutional Court, this case is also headed to court (source in Hungarian). 

The prosecutors are going to have a difficult time gaining a conviction of Biszku on either the charge of war crimes or public denial of communist crimes. Former Budapest Chief Prosecutor Endre Bócz, who oversaw the proceedings in the mid-1990s against the militia members found guilty of shooting demonstrators in Salgótarján in December 1956, has stated that he did not bring charges against Biszku at the time because there was no evidence indicating that as part of the Kádárist Provisional Executive Committee he had ordered the use of lethal force. Bócz told the website Origo.hu that “None of the perpetrators said that the committee or anybody else had told them to start shooting. They just started to shoot” (source in Hungarian). The charge of public denial of communist crimes during his August 4, 2011 interview on Duna TV appears to be based on his reference to the revolution as a “counterrevolution” and his assertion that in 1956 “the struggle on behalf of the [communist] system was just” (source A and B in Hungarian). It will be difficult to prove in a court of law that these statements constitute denial of any sort.  

Biszku leaving the Budapest Municipal Court after being charged with war crimes

Biszku leaving the Budapest Municipal Court after being charged with war crimes.

But the outcome of the legal proceedings launched against Biszku don’t really matter, because the point of prosecuting the old communist, the living ghost of the Kádár régime, is not to bring him to justice. The point is to provide the Orbán government with the means to mobilize political support through the incitement of popular indignation against portrayed enemies of the Hungarian state and nation. If Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his party are primarily interested in justice, why did they not initiate the prosecution of Biszku during Fidesz’s first term in power between 1998 and 2002? Why, then, did Orbán and his party oppose the Hungarian Democratic Forum-initiated 1991 law, subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Court, eliminating the statute of limitation on crimes that remained unpunished for political reasons during the communist era in view of bringing Biszku and other members of the Kádár régime who were still alive at the time to justice (source in Hungarian)?

The prosecution of Biszku—notwithstanding his true moral corruption and complicity in perpetuating communist dictatorship—represents a political device aimed at further consolidation of the Orbán government’s power.  

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Mass Mobilization 101

Orbán's newest letter.

Orbán’s newest letter.

Citizens of Hungary have this week received another letter from Viktor Orbán, the sixth the prime minister has sent to all adults in the country over the past three years as part of his government’s National Consultation [Nemzeti Konzultáció] campaign. This letter informs them of “Hungary’s victory” in the “battle” to have the European Union lift the Excessive Deficit Procedure that had been in place against Hungary since the country joined the European Union in 2004.  Below is an Orange Files translation of the letter: 

Dear Compatriots!

I would like to share with you good news affecting all Hungarian people.

The European Union has been obliged to lift the Excessive Deficit Procedure it has maintained against our homeland since 2004. We therefore have access to all EU funding due to Hungarians. This means that Hungary was victorious in an important battle.  

The EU launched the procedure against us, because our homeland’s budget deficit significantly exceeded the permitted level every year at the time of the previous governments.

People decided in favor of change in 2010. With your mandate we have put the country’s financial affairs in order. As a result, we have met, in fact exceeded, stipulated conditions for the last three years.

The EU has bowed before the facts and finally recognized the achievements of the Hungarian people and the effectiveness of Hungarian crisis management.

We, Hungarians, have accomplished this success together. The work, effort, support and common sacrifice of every single Hungarian person was necessary for this.

I would like to thank you as well for contributing to Hungary’s victory.

With Regards and Esteem,

Viktor Orbán

Budapest, July 2013

The explicit message of this letterPrime Minister Orbán has led the Hungarians to victory in battle against a powerful foreign adversary. 

The implicit message of this letter: Hungarians should continue to support their leader, because there are more such battles to be fought in the future. 

The fundamental claim of this letter: The European Union was arbitrarily refusing to recognize that Hungary had satisfied the EU requirement for members states to have a government deficit of less than three percent of GDP. 

The reality not expressed in this letter: The European Union was not disputing the fact that Hungary’s government deficit had fallen below three percent of GDP, but the sustainability of the means used to bring it below the required level. 

The literal cost of this letter: 140 forints per letter, sent via priority mail to all adult citizens in a country of ten-million people. The online news website Index.hu has calculated that the twelve previous letters the government dispatched as part of the National Consultation, including six sent to targeted groups of citizens, cost Hungarian taxpayers around 3.3 billion forints (11.1 million euros). 

The figurative cost of this letter: another authoritarian blow to the crumbling edifice of liberal democracy in Hungary. 

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