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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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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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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