2016. február 24., szerda

Hungarian Government uses skinheads to prevent MP from filing national referendum question

Skinheads vs. opposition MP in the National Election Office

Yesterday was a truly special day in Hungary’s post-communist history: skinheads gathered in National Election Office’s premises to prevent an opposition MP from filing a referendum question.

Fidesz introduced a controversial law in March 2015 that would forbid shops to open on Sundays. The ban has been highly unpopular among voters and hence opposition parties have frequently tried to hold a referendum on the question.

Regarding national referenda: although Fidesz actively used referenda when it was itself in opposition to combat the then-government’s plans, when Fidesz came to power in 2010, they were quick to install changes that would make it materially harder to hold one, and they narrowed the topics in which referenda can be held quite substantially.

Furthermore, one of the more odd novelties Fidesz introduced was, that regarding a specific topic, at a given time only one referendum text proposal can be before the National Election Office which scrutinises the referendum’s proposed question for not being misleading etc.. If there’s a second referendum question on the same topic, its submission to the Office has to wait until the actually analysed question is decided upon.

The government has played this rule by organising private persons to file repeatedly deliberately unacceptable questions. These wrong questions would then be ‘analysed’ by the Office for a couple of weeks, and then be rejected; leading to the next ‘private individual’ to instantly file the next deliberately unacceptable referendum question.

Now you may ask, what happens when several persons wish to file a referendum question on the same topic to the Office. Well, Fidesz’s law says that in this case, the winner is the person to first physically stamps his or her question in the Office’s premises at a defined spot.

The Fidesz government exploited this rule by using those ‘private persons’ and the eager assistance of the Office itself, to prevent opposition parties from filing a referendum on the Sunday ban 18 times now. This included disqualifying the opposition for several technical reasons. In one case, the opposition question was disqualified because the MP submitted his question a few minutes too early. In another case, an opposition MP had the perfect timing, however the Office decided to disqualify it and accept the question of another person, based on the other person having entered the building first. The problem is, if one takes legal action against such a decision, the court procedure may take years, delaying any referendum even further.   

What happened yesterday?
Yesterday was the day when Hungary’s Supreme Court would take a decision on the outstanding question on the Sunday’s shop ban. So, an opposition MP walked to the Office at 6 a.m. to wait for the decision and try to file his question quickly once it’s there; for the 19th time now. However, there also came an elderly lady and a young gentleman, followed by a bunch of muscled skinheads, and so they waited hour after hour for the court decision to arrive.   

Eventually, the MP was physically prevented by the skins to file his question – they ensured that the lady would get there first. So, that’s the 19th time now the government has prevented the opposition from filing a question, but for the first time this happened with physical force, rather than administrative or legal tricks. The whole spectacle played out amid intensive media coverage. 

There are some further fine details to this action. Independent media reported that the skinheads blocked the Office’s main entrance for several hours, journalists for instance had to enter through the back door. The opposition MP called the police, who entered the scene only to leave shortly later, without having taken any action on the skinheads blockading a public building’s entrance, or even having checked their identity.

While all of Hungary’s non-government-controlled media was strongly focussed on what’s happening, state media was for much of the day completely silent on the issue. Later the day, there was a brief piece of news, informing that a socialist MP wasn’t able to file his questions, because ‘some others have been quicker’.

Who dunnit?
Everyone is quite aware that it’s only the government who has any interest in preventing such a referendum to ever happen. The question has been, of course, whether there’s any actual link to the government. While there is no direct evidence, there are some much-telling facts here.

Independent media soon found out that some of the skins involved belong to the security personnel of FC Ferencvaros, Hungary’s most popular football club. The president of this club is Gabor Kubatov, Fidesz’s vice president. The club’s security guards have been used by fidesz earlier as well e.g. by guarding Fidesz’s party HQ against protesters in 2014.

Two of yesterday’s skins as security men of Ferencvaros, club of Fidesz vice President Kubatov

Furthermore, the old lady escorted by the skins turned out to be the wife of a former Fidesz mayor, and a prominent face of a former nationwide Fidesz campaign. Fidesz reacted rather relaxed to the events, with e.g. PM Orban stating there’s been some scramble in the past as well in such situations, and insisting the opposition is only focussed on creating a scandal.

These responses, state media coverage and the police’s handling the issue are further clear indication on who’s behind this act.    

Final it became known that several of the skins – as evidenced by their own facebook accounts – have far-right affiliations and/or have been in jail repeatedly.

Far-right henchmen blocking the entrance of the National Election Office

2014. november 4., kedd

An average Tuesday in the European Union

...or, more precisely, in one country belonging to the EU, one which claims to be in its geographical center; Hungary. 

Let's see two key news pieces of the day:

- In Miskolc, one of the largest city of Hungary, a public worker has been fired. He's been fired despite positive former comments on his work because he ran as an opposition candidate in the recent municipality elections. He's then taped a discussion with his own boss (a senior official within the municipality), who confirmed it happened because he ran against fidesz, the governing party. 

(Bit of background: fidesz introduced the special status of public worker as a substitute for long-term unemployment benefits. In this program, hundreds of thousands of typically lowly skilled long-term unemployed people perform simple physical tasks like moving the grass in their municipalities. The trick is that the privilege to do such work for about 100 EUR a month is not a right to all long-term unemployed; municipalities can decide whom to take and whom to leave without any kind of state support. This selection right is said to be abused in a number of ways including using these people as propagandists for the governing party, fidesz. For instance there's plenty anecdotal evidence they are forced to participate in grand pro-government demonstrations called 'peace marches'.) 

Now it would be foolish to assume that there will be any disciplinary action against the boss who fired the guy, or that the public worker would get his job back. Last time a tape became known where a fidesz representative spoke about granting profitable concessions to political friends, the police started an investigation into who had done the 'illegal' taping, and the prosecutor's office confirmed the tape contained nothing that would necessitate it to take action against the fidesz representative.

- A letter became known in the press, written by the ministry of agriculture. It is apparently addressed to everyone in Hungary possessing a fishing or hunting permit (administered by the ministry). And it urges the  holders of such permits to provide in-kind catering services to the participants of to-be-announced Peace Marches, with concrete dates, places and timings. The writer, a department head within the ministry confirmed to a news site he does not see any problem with his letter. 
BTW the organizer of these Peace Marches (see above) is a supposed NGO, which is so non-governmental that its leader is employed by the government and actually in charge of distributing state funding among NGOs. No joke.    

2013. december 15., vasárnap

Nationalizing... teaching books

Nothing extraordinary or unexpected, just business as usual.

The Hungarian Parliament will vote on (and undoubtedly approve) the complete natinalization of school books. The draft is very clear in stating that private actors will be taken out from the drafting, production or distribution of school teaching material.

This fits very well into the education policy of this governent, which has been built around the nationalization and ’gleichschaltung’ of all schools, meaning a wide-reaching uniformisation of tuition programmes and materials. 

2013. november 22., péntek

Hungary to Turkey: how dare you criticize our glorious democracy?!

A short glimpse into the mind and logics of the people running Hungary today.

There’s a long history of the current Hungarian Government using diplomatic channels to protest reports in foreign media that paint an unfavorable picture of it. In fact they even have an under-secretary whose only task is to monitor foreign media voices (including blogs) and react to them.

Recently, Hungary’s ambassador to Austria protested publicly against an Austrian art exhibition centered on anti-Roma sentiments in Hungary, for showing Hungary in a bad light.

In another case, PM Viktor Orban himself got active condemning a ‘children’s news’ piece on German state TV’s, which was critical about freedom of press in Hungary and the weakening of the constitutional court. Mr. Orban said (do spot the hidden beauties):

‘I feel sorry for German kids, being subjected to brain-washing. A thing like that would be unthinkable in Hungary. If it happened here, everyone would be fired.’

And now the unthinkable has happened; a publication of a think tank belonging to the Turkish Foreign Ministry came up with the following sentence:

As it stands, it is impossible to characterize Hungary as pluralist, much less as democratic in the usual sense of the word; at the time of this writing, the Hungarian government, supported by a large proportion of the population, is clearly on an authoritarian track, already displaying clearly illiberal tendencies.’

The Hungarian Foreign ministry reacted promptly by calling-in the Turkish ambassador in Budapest for a talk. There the Hungarian side put out that this analysis does not fit at all into the context of continually improving Hungarian-Turkish relationships. Also they demanded explanation how such an opinion could be published.

This blogger is happy to report that the ambassador distanced himself from that analysis, emphasizing that the views appearing in the publication are not those of the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

2013. november 12., kedd

“Dear employees, we advise you to demonstrate for the government”

Yet again, a true gem. 

CBA is a household name in Hungary; it is a huge food retail chain with the largest network of stores. Also, it is known that the persons behind the company have been early and ardent supporters of Fidesz and Viktor Orban.

Orban’s government has not been unthankful; with a number of measures it ensured CBA's swift growth and weakened its competitors. To name just one issue from a long list, the punitive sectoral special tax on retail companies was designed so as to exclude CBA and instead hit the likes of Auchan, Tesco and Spar.  

But CBA knows money is not the only way it can support the government. And hence a cute little letter, published today by Hungarian media, was sent to all CBA store managers for dissemination to all employees.

In essence it called for participation on the October 23rd ‘peace march’, periodical grand demonstrations designed to show the mass support behind the government to the world.

The letter, signed by the owners of CBA and sent to store managers reads like this (admittedly my humble English cannot nearly deliver the sheer beauty of the Hungarian original, but I'll give it a try) :

‘László Baldauf and Vilmost Lázár {the owners of CBA} have an appeal of private nature to make to the members of our alliance system, the members of the grand, supportive CBA-family.   

On October 23rd we commemorate the heros and martirs of the 1956 revolution. However this celebration also presents a good opportunity to show the support for our national government. Affirmation and sticking-together is important, given that only by uniting we are able to limit and counter the ugly jiggery-pokery of postcommunist, liberal thugs who are again and again traitors to our country, serving the interests of multinationals, thereby sacrificing the Hungarian peoples’ well-being and development.

All who care for our nation’s strengthening and systematic and even development are called upon to come and participate together on the peace march and then listen to the Prime Minister’s {capital letters in the original] speech.  It is important that all of us, national-minded true patriots support our Hungarian politician of greatest format, our nation’s prime minister, Viktor Orban.

[Information on timing and route of peace march]

We ask upon the store managers to inform all employees on this letter and its important contents.’

By the way, there’s a continuous dispute among Hungarian intellectuals whether there is dictatorship in Hungary or not. The overwhelming majority is of the opinion, that there’s no (not yet a) dictatorship. 

2013. október 1., kedd

Interim elections ‚irregularities‘

Once again a priceless little chain of events that is more telling than a thousand pages of analysis.

The southern Hungarian town of Baja is otherwise not terribly spectacular (save for the fish soup made there, that is well known throughout the country),  but it now got its 15 minutes under the sun due to a recent interim election for parliament, which has taken place due to the local MP’s decease. Being just half a year ahead of national elections, the voting attracted nationwide interest and major efforts on the parties’ behalf (NB classical polls are not so reliable in Hungary as opposition supporters are known to often shy away from outing themselves) .

Fidesz won the vote tightly before the democratic opposition’s contestant. However the opposition pointed to irregularities and showed video tapes that seemed to prove multiple-voting and organized transport of certain voters to the voting stations. Charmingly, Fidesz seems to have outsourced this fine task to its Roma allies ‘Lungo Drom’ (a nationwide Roma organization). Apparently, after all those ambiguities about the role and worth of Roma in Hungarian society, Fidesz has found a use for them!

Anyhow, the opposition went before court, which ruled the election be repeated.

Fidesz was quick to interpret the court’s ruling saying no cheating had been identified. Being asked about the irregularities, and whether there would be consequences within Fidesz, the press was told by the head of Fidesz’ parliamentary group to ‘do their campaigning for the opposition elsewhere’.

He added that they would change the electoral law such that the practices in question would not be illegal anymore at the national elections in 2014. He referred to Western European examples naming e.g. Germany and the UK as countries which inspire the said change of law.   

2013. szeptember 9., hétfő

Cherry-picking from the news of the last couple of days

Hungary is such a great place because there's just not a single day without some memorable news, idea, or comment - mostly, though by far not only, from within the conglomerate that rules the country today.

To prove the point, here comes a selection from the last three days' harvest.

- László Kövér, Speaker of the Parliament and a major figure in Fidesz (we had him already here) said that it would be much better to rule by decree. In his view, the current way of governing that is bound by laws is, erm, outdated. And it had been created after the systemic change in 1990 out of fear of dictatorship, which fear is by today obsolete.

(Now tell me, could Kafka, Vonnegut or Monty Python have gotten up with anything like this? By the way, this is the same reasoning they employed when they destroyed the Constitutional Court. Then they said the Court had been important in times when the rule of law was unstable, but now it is firm so... the Court can be done away with. And everyone knew they were crushing the Court in order to be able to pass retroactive laws.) 

- Ethics. Ethics is very important for the government. So important that it has been introduced as a mandatory subject in lower education. Complete, of course, with detailed mandatory curriculum and a uniform teaching book to be used in all schools across the country. And that has delicacies such as: "Hungarians are one of Europe's most open-minded, welcoming and friendly nations, hower the many adopted nations teared the country apart"

- The famous Pető Institute has financial difficulties so severe that it is near bankruptcy. The institute is the center of educating specialists who treat children with various disabilities with the Pető method. At the same time, the state is building expensive football stadiums en masse. See, PM Orbán likes football. And he doesn't like gay things such as inclusive therapy. Or humanities.

- Quite in the above spirit, Lajos Kósa, also a senior Fidesz politician, said in a school's yearstart celebration: "good children, when beaten, tend to perform" The audience stood up and left. (I'm joking, of course the audience did nothing, except clap-clap)

- And, PM Orbán's daughter got married. The lucky winner is the son of a local Fidesz nobility, and got elected into the management of the regime's favourite company (producing a stunning 99% winning ratio in the public procurements they competed for. Basically they biuld everything in today's Hungary).
Notably, the roads on which the pair would drive on the day of the wedding, were repaired with great haste by the authorities.

...and, as said, this is the harvest of three short days, in contemporary Hungary.