Arrogant, aggressive and a liar: György Konrád in NYT (a case study on why did the SZDSZ party destroy itself)

One of the founding members of the SZDSZ party, György Konrád wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times today. Konrád, who also held a leading position inside SZDSZ (as a member of the part’s national council) and was also on the party’s electoral list now claims to be a devotee of “neither right nor left”. This ignores the twelve years his party spent governing Hungary in coalition with MSZP, the main force of the left, and the legal successor (as determined by the Constitutional Court) of the Communist MSZMP. SZDSZ suffered the first crushing blow in the 2009 European elections: the party received 2.2% of the votes and lost all of its representation in the European Parliament. As the 2010 elections came about, the party’s fate was sealed, it came nowhere near the 5% limit. Konrád’s article contains pretty much everything that led to the destruction of the SZDSZ party. Would the electorate be happy to hear their homeland to be called a “junk country”? Or to hear the dismissal of 80% of the country living outside the capital as “Rural Hungary” who are unable to comprehend the superior thoughts of the leftist “urban intellectuals”. Konrád, being unable to cope with the reality of his party’s defeat, retreats into taking “satisfaction in fantasies of revenge.” His fantasy world however conducts war not only against the evil right wing, but against the facts as well.

2010 election results in Budapest. Fidesz orange, MSZP red

All major cities including the capital, Budapest, supported Fidesz overwhelmingly in the 2010 election. The times when the cities were strongholds of the left are long past. Confident in his ability to mislead western readers, Konrád at times lies so transparently that it becomes easy to spot. In this short part of his article, he drops two big ones: “100,000 people demonstrated out front along Andrássy Boulevard. But state television showed nothing of this.” – writes Konrád. Within literally a minute of googling, one can found this video of the evening news from the Hungarian state television. The protest is the absolutely first, leading news, with five minutes of straight coverage. While there were issues with one earlier report, for which the TV apologized, saying that they “showed nothing” of the events is pure fabrication. The second falsehood is where Konrád speaks of 100,000 demonstrators, while even other left wing sources are satisfied with a more moderate number of 30,000. Realistic estimates ranged from 20 to 30 thousand, and after some calculations were done on the space covered by demonstrators, even the official page of the protest modified their estimate down to “several tens of thousands”. Other smaller claims like “absolute authority” over citizens (impossible when the government can be voted out) or statements like “Orbán is the head of the Media Authority”, are barely worth mentioning.

Accusations of fascism also fly high in Konrád’s world. According to him Hungarian intelligentsia is “neo-populist, sometimes neo-fascist”. Miklós Horthy, who was thrown in prison by Hitler –and was supported by wealthy Jewish families in his exile– is “quasi-fascist” according to Konrád. Handing out appropriate “labels” was a favourite SZDSZ tactic. We can also learn that Klubrádió is “independent”, while Konrád also delves into family backgrounds of opponents with sentences like “The main players are the children of mostly small-time rural party cadres”. Konrad should remember his own outrage when in the first half of the 1990s political opponents tried to make similar investigations into the family background of SZDSZ members.

The sentence that illustrates the best that 79-year-old Konrád is living in the past is this one: “the country is consumed by a civil cold war between the pseudo-right and the pseudo-left”. Konrád, unable to cope with the fact that SZDSZ and the ideology it represents, was rejected by the Hungarian voters, takes the fight to the international arena. But this does not mean that there is an actual “civil cold war” going on, only that Konrad is eager to fight in one.

If the New York Times and other western outlets rely on and follow the lead of old SZDSZ warriors like Konrád, they can gain the support and admiration of 1% of the Hungarians. Those who still support SZDSZ to the bitter end. However the other 99% (including most on the “pseudo-left”) might watch these articles with growing distaste and concern.

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Poland supports Hungary

After some Members of Parliament participated in a recent Polish rally in support of Hungary, Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister also expressed his support. “We have decided that Poland will offer — if PM Orban and Hungarians are interested — some form of political support so that reactions towards the situation in Hungary are not blown out of proportion,” Tusk told a press conference.

Tusk also said the political reactions to recent events in Hungary were “exaggerated” and that he would seek to help his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban at the European summit. Orban is at the European Parliament today and his recent change in constitution is likely to be fiercely attacked by many of the MEPs mainly from the left of the chamber. Tusk said that Hungary had “a European level standard of democracy.”

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the largest opposition party in Poland also released a statement regarding Hungary. He stressed that Hungary restores democracy and order, while the European Union turned a blind eye to previous governments as they ran up the deficit. (The previous MSZP-SZDSZ government violated the 3% deficit ceiling in every single year it was in power, yet the EU applied no sanctions) Kaczynski added that he asked the parliamentarians of his party to “defend the sovereignty of Hungary, and act against the efforts to support a criminal post-communist system”. This last part seems to be a clear reference to pressure efforts of trying to keep communist judges on the bench.

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One of the biggest problems in Hungary: Mortgages taken out in Swiss francs

Hungary not only had a huge problem with public debt, which was run up by the MSZP-SZDSZ government from 52% to over 80% of GDP within 8 years. Private debt was almost as big a problem. Up to a million households took on debt, denominated in Swiss francs, with no intervention from the MSZP-SZDSZ government or their placeman in the central bank, András Simor. Meanwhile the banks in Hungary, ran ads like this one, from an Austrian owned bank:

Not only was there no moves to curb these loans, a diplomatic cable sent in 2008, recorded the following:

National Bank Governor Andras Simor ruled out any direct assistance to borrowers, however, noting that, “foreign currency debtors should not be saved, since we finally have to learn that there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

No wonder that interest groups are willing to fight dirty, to protect Simor at all costs. He was the one willing to throw hundreds of thousands of Hungarians under the bus, to help out the banks. And why should he care? His position is not accountable to the voters so what does it matter if the ranks of the homeless increase, say tenfold. He is allowed to see out his term just the same.

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US rating agencies in US war against Europe says German MEP

A member of the European Parliament have recently stated  learn that the recent downgrades are part of the American War Against  Europe. When the downgrades happened to hungary, the EU elites were only too happy to cheer the same agencies on from the sidelines. Now the tone of conversation is much different:

 “the downgrade is a targeted attack on Europe by the American rating agency.” Insisting that there were no “plausible grounds” for the downgrades, Brok continued, “Consequently, the S&P downgrade is a matter of interests. They have declared a currency war on us.”

Asked whether he meant that the United States is “waging financial war“ on Europe, Brok specified, “Certain forces in the USA, in particular in the world of finance. It is evident that their one and only aim is in this way to promote Anglo-Saxon interests at Europe’s cost.” “They want to shatter the eurozone, in order to make money,” he added.

There was also talk about “regulatory revenge” against the rating agencies, in the press. The head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi launched an all out attack against the credit raters saying the markets need to pay less attention to them.  There are longstanding plans to establish a special European rating agency with the implication that the others falsify ratings of European countries.

This is the exact same conversation that took place in Hungary earlier. Opposition parties and the left-liberal media referenced the downgrades as proof of economic mismanagement, while the government used arguments much like the above.

On thing have become clear however, since many European countries are in huge trouble. Over the recent decision, nine countries were downgraded where the minister is not called Matolcsy, nor the PM Orban. The issue is clearly not Hungary specific but continent wide. Europe could help Hungary the most by solving it’s own deep crisis and getting on a trajectory of sustainable growth instead of the current recession.

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Forint advances for a second day after “setback”

The second day boost for the forint comes after Adam LeBor and others warned of a “setback” and had expectations that the Hungarian currency will fall. The reason for that prediction was overestimating the importance of three “infringement proceedings” against Hungary over details such as the legal standing of the data ombudsman. Such infringement proceedings are in fact neither rare nor terribly effective, over seven hundred of them are currently in progress against various EU countries. LeBor even raised the possibility of a 325 forint to 1 Euro exchange rate, quoting SG.

As the forint rose the credibility of such doom and gloom predictions began to falter.

Some members of the international press also took notice of the forint’s rally with articles such as:

Forint Advances Second Day as Bonds Rise on Hungary Aid Prospect Optimism

Forint rises to 2012 high

Forint gains most in 6 weeks

Emerging Market Currencies, Debt Shine Led By Hungarian Forint

Will this news make it’s way into future critical articles about Hungary?

Trading looked like this at the end of the day:

Forint strengthens near 305 mark on second day after "setback"

It would be very interesting to see what Adam LeBor has to say about this, how would he explain this. The reasons for this rally of the forint are not immediately apparent.

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Fitch: Greek default is 100%

Fitch says even an investor “haircut” proposed by the EU would constitute a default. The question is only, whether it is an orderly or disorderly default.

This signifies the absurdity of statements claiming the Hungarian economic problems are a result of disagreements with the EU over issues like the data ombudsman. Greece never had any issue like that nor was there a hate campaign against them over their media law or any other internal affair. Yet the fact that they are in a worse economic situation than Hungary is not debatable. The real reason for that is not any press campaign and “infringement proceeding” it is because of mountains of debt accumulated in past decades by previous governments. Which is interestingly the exact same issue that Hungary has. Yet with the recent change of government in Greece it became obvious that all the problems won’t just simply disappear because a new government is put in place.

Which seems to be the expectation of many observers regarding Hungary.

So after the Greek default happens, will the leaders of the EU admit that putting a puppet in place of the democraticly elected government is not the magic solution that creates a paradise on earth?

It is also quite likely that the looming Greek default will prompt the usual reaction. To ignore the problem and seek a suitable distraction like Hungary bashing.

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“Fanatic” socialist hammered in European Parliament

Members of the European Parliament have just elected German socialist, Martin Schulz with 387 votes out of 670 votes cast. Nigel Farage had this to say :

„Well good morning Mr Schulz, President Schulz. I know it is my job to congratulate you but given that we knew the result two and a half years ago as a result of a stitch-up there does not seem to be much point, after all, no one in Europe, or modern day Europe would dream of having a big powerful job that was decided by a full open process, I am sure Mr Barroso would agree.

I was musing this morning I was thinking what kind of President Schulz are we going to get? Are we going to get a dignified, calm, a figure that behaves like the speaker of all great parliaments around the world, someone who puts himself above politics and the nitty gritty of arguments, who is an ambassador, indeed an ambassador.

Or are we going to get the Martin Schulz we have got to know since 2004 and leader of the Socialist group. You know the one I mean – snarling, angry, unable to control his temper, intolerant of anybody with an alternative point of view. Somebody who is contemptuous of free referendums were people have the temerity to vote No. Somebody who is anti-British to his fingertips and does not like free markets.

I was wondering which one we are going to get?

Well, your opening speech has settled that question for me. It is pretty clear we are going to have two and half years of political fanaticism from the chair. And I have to say only a Third World country, only a banana republic would want to have an overtly political president of a parliament but it is what we have got.

I may represent the smallest group in this parliament Mr Schulz, but I can tell you it is a group who ideas and views are now being echoed by a growing number of citizens right around this continent. I am sure you will agree that polls show it is fifty fifty whether people think the EU is a good thing or a bad thing.

What we represent sir is not anti-Europeanism – that is not what it is about. We believe in nation state democracy, we want a Europe of trade, we want a Europe of cooperation, we want a Europe that is responsible.

We don’t want a Europe that seeks to be a global superpower. We don’t want a Europe run by Mr Barroso and the Commission under the so-called Community method. And I will do my very best to provide an opposition to your presidency over the course of two and a half years. I hope your will give us a fair hearing. Thank you.”

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Forint gains amid alleged setback

European Commission launched so-called “infringement proceedings” against Hungary over three issues today. Adam LeBor claims that the proposed action amounts to “a serious setback” for Hungary. However, the markets disagree.

Forint strengthens to around 309 at closing January 17th

The forint rallied up to the 309 mark from over 312.5. As the above picture shows the forint traded at 324 at its worst day, which was in 2012 January so not that long ago. Compared to that level, 309 is a significant increase.

As even LeBor admits, “Hungary sold three-month T-bills worth 55 billion forints ($226m), 10 billion more than the target and at slightly lower yields.”

So where exactly is the setback?

It should be noted that the Hungary update was once again posted by A.L.B. so “ghost” (the alleged ‘other’ Budapest correspondent for The Economist) is still yet to make an appearance.

Adam LeBor however is starting to gain some name recognition inside Hungary. http://www.mandiner.hu, a news website that also does political commentary, picked his article up as one to be showcased from today.

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Polish rally in support of Hungary

There was a rally today before the European Commission building in Warsaw in support of Hungary. The protesters also sent a letter protesting the recent actions of the commission to its former maoist-communist leader José Manuel Barroso . The participants shouted slogans like “Hands off Hungary!” “God bless the Hungarians” and “God bless Poland”.

Photo by Pawel Supernak

Members of the Polish Parliament have also participated. As seen on the picture above, they even got some Hungarian-Polish banners and Hungarian flags to demonstrate with.

But what could be the main angle behind the rally?

Photo by Pawel Supernak

The message of the above picture with a person holding a Polish and Hungarian flag throwing out communist symbols to the dustbin is pretty clear. It’s time to get rid of Communism for good. But from Gdansk, a commenter on the Economist website has also provided a possible interpretation by posting some sort of Polish letter on the subject.

When the Hungarians decided to save their country, there was a propaganda attack from the European Union, World Bank and IMF. “The Economist”, “Financial Times” and “Wall Street Journal” are full of articles with threats of a financial attack and ultimatums disguised as requests. Financial institutions demand the resignation of the democratically elected government and changes to the already adopted constitution.

It isn’t our intention to opine on the specific decisions by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. In these opinions we would probably differ considerably. However, we agree that the free citizens of independent Hungary have the right to:

• adopt a constitution of their choosing.
• Select a government they deem necessary.

For centuries, they tried to deprive us of liberty and property by using maces, swords, tanks and bombs. Today, instead of the primitive tools they use the banks.

Admittedly it was translated by “google translate”, so I tried to clean it up where it was possible. If someone can provide a decent translation it would be appreciated. Still most of the message came across: Hungary has the right to adopt the constitution of its choosing (as the last to do so in the region), and its citizens have the right to vote in free and democratic elections, the result of which should be respected and not undermined. Pretty basic stuff.

UPDATE: I’ve done some research and managed to find the original message in Polish, so I’ve fixed the translation up the best I could with the help of the original text (and Google Translator of course).

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European downgrades and the Greek crisis

The end of last week broke news like the downgrade of 9 European countries, most notably, the French. Talks broke down between private investors and the Greek government over the yields on newly issued bonds, intended to roll-over Greek debt.

It seems that the eurozone is in deep trouble, further downgrades are likely, and amid a looming recession, Greece is likely to default on most of its debts. Portugal which is now rated as junk will be the next candidate for a major crisis within the eurozone, assuming the Italians can sort their mess out.

The leaders of Europe got everything they wished for in Greece. The country is run not by an elected government but a placemen from Brussels tasked with getting stuff done. The government contains all major parties, even the far-right (hey, in bad times you can’t be that selective). And still, the consensus now seems to be that Greece will default. What could be the problem if not sheer incompetence and mismanagement from Europe’s leaders. First they force private investors to take a loss, but we don’t know how large. Then ‘afraid’ that this will undermine confidence they promise, never to do it again…

The European Financial Stability Facility, Europe’s already insufficient rescue fund was downgraded as well. It seems increasingly clear that the likes of Merkel and Barroso set Europe on a wrong path. Their solutions for the eurozone does not include a joint eurozone-level budget, or the eurobond, or any tool to solve imbalances inside the eurozone. What does it include? More austerity on the national level. While good for Germany, this “medicine” will ultimately hurt the patient. The success of Germany depends on being a net exporter to the rest of the world, mainly other European states. These states cannot emulate Germany because they are run a current account deficit due to exactly the same German exports, Merkel is so proud of.

So what will the leaders of Europe likely do to distract attention from the newest round of downgrades, economic trouble and the impending Greek default? They need a suitable scapegoat to turn attention to. Hungary seems like the perfect target. Even if the eurozone breaks up, Greece collapses under default and the EU falls into a deep recession we can all be sure that the laws “guaranteeing the independence of data ombudsman” will be in order. EU leaders know the real important issues when the see them.

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Wikipedia goes dark for a day to protest internet censorship

Wikipedia, one of the largest websites in the world, decided to shut down for a day in protest against US attacks on freedom of the press and internet censorship. The two laws aimed at internet censorship and limiting free press and freedom of speech are named orwellian style as  Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa) and Protect IP (PIPA). The bills are coming up for a vote soon, and more pressure needs to be applied to stop these unprecedented attacks on freedom of speech. The legistlation would allow US internet providers to block access to certain websites, Chinese Firewall style and would force search engines to censor such blocked sites from their results. It would also force private companies such as advertising agencies and firms like Pay-Pal from doing business with sites the US government dislikes.  It’s easy to see that Wikileaks would have been the first target of this censorship law, it seems it was written that situation in mind. Wikileaks’s operation was damaged most severely when it’s ability to recieve donations were suspended.

Jimmy Wales, the founder of wikipedia writes:

“Today Wikipedians from around the world have spoken about their opposition to this destructive legislation. This is an extraordinary action for our community to take – and while we regret having to prevent the world from having access to Wikipedia for even a second, we simply cannot ignore the fact that Sopa and PIPA endanger free speech both in the United States and abroad, and set a frightening precedent of Internet censorship for the world.”

The Guardian, in a brave move against freedom of speech, quickly put up an article criticizing not the US legistlation trying to implement internet censorship, but the protest trying to stop it. They inserted all types of quotes from tech bosses, slamming Wikipedia’s action, when the same people are heavily against the same laws, just not to the extent of shutting their businisses down.

So how is this all relevant to Hungary? There was an unprecedented hate campaign against Hungary because of the media law passed in late 2010. The press campaign organized by MSZP-SZDSZ who suffered a historic defeat in the 2010 elections, and other opposition forces, was greatly boosted by the help of foreign media allies. Such leftist papers as the Guardian were leading the charge. It will be very interesting to see how these same papers react to genuine threats against freedom of speech as represented by the proposed US legistlation. Since the acceptance of the Hungarian media law, the media in Hungary have only became more aggressive and vicious. Yet when a real threat to basic human rights appears, against everyone, most of the same sources remain silent.  The Economist for example all but cheered the prospect of the new censorship law making it clear that if media corporations are given a few extra pennies in revenue they will be happy to support trampling on your basic human rights.

A very interesting tactic seems to be emerging here, while propaganda units are working overtime to enlarge non-existing threats beyond all reason, the real threats can slip through with little attention on them.

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Secretive Adam LeBor and unknown friend complain about unfair criticism

In an article in European voice an unnamed author writes about the criticism levelled against the Economist authors.

For a start, the two correspondents in Budapest for The Economist – part of the same group as European Voice – both speak Hungarian and have lived there for years.

One of these correspondents is the secretive Adam LeBor, who also goes by the A.L.B. moniker and somewhat confusingly, also uses bpwriter nickname to comment on his own articles. I wonder why can’t he write simply as Adam LeBor in the comment section at least? We also learn that he speaks Hungarian and that he has an unknown pal, known as the ‘other’ Budapest correspondent for the Economist, who is also a Hungarian speaker. However this mysterious other correspondent, or “ghost”, is yet to contribute a single article, it seems. Every single post about Hungary on the Eastern Approaches is written by A.L.B. that is, Adam LeBor. There is no sign of the existence of another correspondent. Interesting.

But more importantly if the Economist is so secretive about their authors, how can they expected to be given them credit for speaking Hungarian? Adam LeBor seems trustworthy enough so if he says he speaks Hungarian I’ll tend to believe him, but what about the other guy? Who is he anyway and why didn’t he write a single piece for Eastern Approaches, even though Hungary was featured heavily there in the last few months.

There are also a few other interesting pieces of information in the European Voice article:

Just because some of the Hungarian government’s critics are mendacious and self-interested (which they are) does not mean that all criticism is ipso facto mendacious and self-interested.

Seems true enough, but you could help us out here and name some names. “Some critics” who are self-interested, sounds like it could be a decent number. Help us out here, and give some pointers as to who they are.

Anyone looking at the comments on The Economist website that articles about Hungary attract will quickly get a flavour of the local reaction to outsiders’ attempts to cover the country’s political and economic troubles. “What is the purpose of this article?” asks one Hungarian suspiciously: it can be only part of a plot to deter investors and tourists, he reckons.

Interesting, though not convincing. First of all we deserve a link to this post, if only part of is directly quoted. The rest is just summarized by the author, so why not link it? Don’t make me wade through all the comments just to find this one.

Allegations of Zionism, fascism, and communist collaboration fly around freely. (For the record: The Economist is not run by Jews; nor are we the propaganda arm of the international bankers’ plot.)

“The Economist is not run by Jews”, well that’s not hard to imagine, since one of the most prominent Hungarian politicians of Jewish decent, was attacked by you guys in a borderline anti-semitic fashion calling him “Hungary’s terrorizer” on twitter or something like that. By the way if you hide the identity of your authors it hardly inspires massive confidence. You are then left with the content of your writings, which are indeed out of touch in a couple instances.

‘Totalitarian’, like ‘Stalinist’, is a word that should be used sparingly and accurately. These days it applies to North Korea, but almost nowhere else.

Such carelessly abusive criticism is easy for the Hungarian leadership to ignore, at a time when outsiders need to be getting their point across.

But first you will need to decide, what is your point, really and why is it so important to get it across? The writer of this piece is right in his last point however. While the criticism is polluted with absurdities, not only the Hungarian leadership that will ignore these points, the Hungarian people will ignore them as well. Attacks based on lies may even have the unintended consequence of strengthening the current Hungarian government.

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Hungarian Judges Reject Attacks

The Association of Hungarian Judges reject the outrageous attacks by the Hungarian Socialist Party against independent judges and the rule of law. The Association of Hungarian Judges represents the majority of judges in Hungary. Media is also called upon to report in an objective and truthful way on the subject.

Page one of the letter

Page two of the letter written by the Hungarian Judges Association

 

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Ambassador Szapáry’s first letter to the NYT

Answer by György Szapáry – Ambassador of Hungary to Washington

Open letter to Professor Paul Krugman

As an economist, as well as a former IMF official and Deputy Governor of the Hungarian central bank, I have always followed your column in the New York Times with great interest because of the fresh insights and empirical foundations upon which you normally base your arguments. I was therefore surprised to read your comments about Hungary in your op-ed titled “Depression and Democracy,” published in the December 12, 2011 issue of the New York Times. I am sure that you would also agree, as someone used to the rigors of academic research, that basing one’s judgment on one individual’s opinion, in this case that of Kim Lane Scheppele, a respected Professor from Princeton, can be nevertheless misleading. Please allow me to respond to some of your arguments.

You write that the ruling party, Fidesz, “seems bent on establishing a permanent hold on power” by “relying on overlapping measures to suppress opposition.” You cite the proposed new election law. A new electoral law is necessary in Hungary, first, because there was a consensus among parties that the number of deputies had to be reduced from 386, a very high number for a small country of 10 million; and, second, in order to do away with the unconstitutionally disproportional districts. The proposed law stipulates explicitly that individual constituencies shall not extend across current county borders, and each shall cover a coherent geographical area, exactly to avoid the kind of gerrymandering we see happening in some parts of the United States right now.

On the issue of judicial independence, your concerns presume that the judges appointed in Hungary would simply follow party lines. Just like in the United States, where judges are selected and confirmed by elected officials, let us give the Hungarian judges also the necessary respect and not assume that they are mere puppets of politicians. As to the freedom of the Hungarian media, anyone who reads the Hungarian press can see that the part of media which has little sympathy for the current government has been as vocal and outspokenly critical about the government and its policies as ever.

Concerning the “criminalization” of the leading leftist opposition party, the proposed constitutional addendum only makes a symbolic and political declaration that acknowledges the horrors of the previous communist regime, something that most former communist countries in Europe have done years ago. The actual law only stipulates that crimes that were committed under the previous regime are still prosecutable.

Hungary has had some difficult choices to make in the past months, as the experience of the last two decades brought to the fore the need to change some of the cardinal laws formulated at the very outset of the transition from communist rule to democracy. Surely, not all Hungarian laws are Oscar winners, but to say that they are a danger to democracy is like pretending that only Oscar winning movies are good movies. While constructive criticism from our friends is appreciated, sweeping statements based on incomplete information and oversimplification do more harm than good for Hungary – and for your readers.

Sincerely,

György Szapáry
Ambassador of Hungary

The The New York Times completely refused to publish the second letter of Szapáry, written to Kim Scheppele.  In that letter Szapáry warned about the danger of factual mistakes and sliding into tabloid journalism. But these concerns were ignored of course. The first letter wasn’t treated much better.  The paper cut down the above letter and only published an edited version of it here. This is the version published by the NYT:

As an economist and former official of the International Monetary Fund, I have always read Mr. Krugman’s work with great interest; I was therefore surprised to read his summary judgment on Hungary.

He refers to gerrymandering, while in fact the proposed electoral law stipulates explicitly that individual constituencies shall cover a coherent area, exactly to avoid what Mr. Krugman assumes that the government is doing.

As for judicial independence, just as in the United States, where judges are often selected and confirmed by elected officials, let us give the Hungarian judges the necessary respect and not assume that they are mere puppets of politicians.

Regarding the Hungarian media, anyone who reads the Hungarian press can see as much outspoken criticism about the government as ever.

The supposed criminalization of the Socialist Party that Mr. Krugman cites is only a symbolic and political declaration that acknowledges the horrors of the previous Communist regime, something that most former Communist countries in Europe did years ago.

Criticism from our friends is appreciated, but sweeping statements based on oversimplification do more harm than good for Hungary — and for your readers.

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Letter of Ambassador György Szapáry to Scheppele

The New York Times refused to publish the following letter. Perhaps to be deliberately insulting, they linked to the letter in the comment section of a hard-left blog only.

Dear Ms. Scheppele,
I have read with interest your analyses published on Paul Krugman’s blog in the New York Times. As the Ambassador of Hungary to the US, I must call attention to factual errors or misconceptions if they occur. Your articles contained such errors and misconceptions, so please allow me to make the following observations.
First, the question of legitimacy. You rightly point out that the current government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, enjoys a supermajority in Parliament as a result of free and fair elections. It is worth mentioning that Hungary’s mixed election law is the very reason why the socialist opposition party still has a relatively large representation in the National Assembly. Were Hungarian elections organized based solely on a “winner-takes-all” system used both in the United Kingdom and the United States, and not on the so called “mixed” system, the Socialist Party would today be represented by only two MPs out of the 176 individual constituencies. 
The new electoral law, which you criticize, maintains this mixed system. The redrawing of the electoral districts was necessary in order to allow a reduction of the size of the Parliament from 386 deputies to 199, a much more reasonable number for a small country like Hungary. It also balances out the unconstitutionally uneven districts that prevailed under the former law. Your statement that the new electoral districts “are drawn in such a way that no other party on the political horizon besides Fidesz is likely to win elections” strikes one as a rushed, emotional opinion. The numbers run by the think-tank you refer to are contradicted by the calculations of other think-tanks. The problem with all these calculations is that they assume people will vote the same way as before, a hazardous assumption in any country, but particularly in Hungary where governments have changed hands five times out of six elections. Parties win or lose elections not because of election systems but because of the appeal of their messages presented to voters. 
Second, your assertion that Hungarian voters had no idea before the elections of 2010 that Fidesz would make significant changes to the constitution is not correct. There had been a long-standing consensus among the major political parties in Hungary that the current constitution was in need of an overhaul. The text of the constitution itself explicitly stated that this was a provisional constitution. Therefore, it had been widely understood among constitutional scholars and politicians of all stripes that whoever is able to get the needed majority would and should touch this issue. You might recall that the last Hungarian government to have a two-thirds majority, the Socialist-Liberal coalition of the mid-nineties, actually wanted to change the constitution, but the two coalition partners were unable to agree between themselves how to go about the changes. Furthermore, the Socialist Party during the last elections was campaigning hard on this issue, telling voters that if Fidesz were to receive a supermajority in Parliament, it would adopt a new constitution. This claim by the Socialist Party was widely covered in the media and Fidesz never denied it. In fact, Orbán said publicly during the campaign that: “Little majority, little changes; big majority, big changes”.
Third, I would respectfully ask that you to take a closer look at the judicial branch and the new law governing it. You say that the courts are increasingly dependent on the Government – but your assertion is a collection of “what ifs”. I know of no law that could not potentially be abused. But to pre-judge the outcome of the reforms is to deny judges their professional independence and doubt their personal integrity. This is a sweeping insult to not only the newly appointed justices but also to thousands of judges across Hungary. Just the other day,
the expanded Constitutional Court – which you call “functionally dead” – struck down several provisions of the new penal code and the media law, and abolished the entire law on churches. These are hardly the decisions of judges that would be mere puppets of politicians. 
Similarly, why do you assume that the new Budget Council will be out to overthrow a non-Fidesz government, rather than do what it is meant to do, that is, endeavor to prevent the type of totally irresponsible fiscal policy that the previous two socialist governments had followed? 
Fourth, I was surprised to read your insinuation that it is undemocratic for the length of the terms of certain high office holders to go beyond the election cycle. As you know, it is actually very common in democracies to divorce the terms of appointment of certain high office holders from the political cycle in order to assure their independence and freedom from political pressure. This is the case in the US and in many other democratic countries. 
That said, you made some factual mistakes. The term of the head of the State Audit Office is 12 years both under the old and the new law – thus, no change. In the case of the head of the Budget Council, there is actually a shortening of the term of office: under former law, the head of the Council was appointed for nine years, while the new law says that it is appointed for six years. 
I do not mind fair and informed criticism, but as an economist my belief is that facts should always come first. There is usually a good, innocuous explanation for Fidesz’s initiatives if you look into the facts. Factual mistakes and prejudices undermine the credibility of your arguments in the eyes of those who know the facts and mislead those who are not familiar with the facts, i.e. the vast majority of your readers. I doubt that this was your intention. I agree that the speed and depth of changes can be overwhelming, even to experienced observers of Hungary such as you. But to impute at every turn nefarious intentions to Fidesz is tabloid journalism, not serious scholarship.

Yours sincerely,
György Szapáry
Ambassador of Hungary
Washington, DC
December 27, 2011

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The new constitution and the 4/5 requirement

From time to time, radical left wingers or propagandists come up with the so-called “four fifths rule” regarding the Hungarian constitution. They claim that adopting a new constitution required a four fifths majority in the Hungarian Parliament. They add that Fidesz abolished this provision with its two-thirds majority, because that is the limit for modifying the constitution.

It’s easy to see the holes in their original claim: if a provision says that 80 percent of MPs are required, while the provision itself can be abolished by a lesser vote, than it’s not a real binding requirement of 80%, such a provision only has symbolic power to begin with.

But there are bigger problems with this claim, because it is based on the lie that there was such a 4/5 requirement to adopt a new constitution in power at the time. There was a provision about the parliamentary ruling deciding “rules and preparation” in connection with a proposed new constitution, but not the constitution itself. This original rule was adopted in 1995 but it was also repealed in 1998, when the mandate of the 1994 Parliament came to an end. It is worth to note that MSZP-SZDSZ held a two-thirds majority in this Parliament. To examine the issue closer, we have to look up the original amendment to the constitution. Fortunately all Hungarian laws are available online http://www.complex.hu/kzldat/t9500044.htm/t9500044.htm

1995. évi XLIV. törvény

a Magyar Köztársaság Alkotmányáról szóló, többször módosított 1949. évi XX. törvény módosításáról1

1. § Az Alkotmány 24. §-a a következő új (5) bekezdéssel egészül ki:

„(5) Az új alkotmány előkészítésének részletes szabályairól szóló országgyűlési határozat elfogadásához az országgyűlési képviselők négyötödének szavazata szükséges.”

2. § E törvény a kihirdetését követő 3. napon lép hatályba, és az 1994-ben megválasztott Országgyűlés megbízatásának megszűnésekor hatályát veszti.

Which translates as the following:

Law XLIV of 1995:

About the modification of the Constitution of the Republic of Hungary, the 1949. XXth law*:

1. under 24§ paragraph (5) the constitution is amended with:

“(5) To establish the rules and procedures for the preparation of a new constitution, the parliamentary ruling shall require the four fifths of members of Parliament”.

2. This law shall take effect on the third day after it’s enactment, and it is repealed when the Parliament elected in 1994 loses its mandate.

*Note the year of the constitution from 1949, when Hungary was occupied by the USSR and Stalin personally watched over the direction of state affairs.  The text, written by Mátyás Rákosi was almost a carbon copy of the Soviet communist constitution

So as we clearly see the original law had a suicide clause. One of it’s two paragraphs are about being repealed “when the Parliament elected in 1994 loses it’s mandate”. That Parliament’s mandate came to an end when the 4 year term  was up, that is in 1998, almost 14 years ago. So it had nothing to do with the new constitution.

But more importantly if there were an actual 4/5 rule about adopting a new constitution what would have been the actual result of it? Fidesz-KDNP with their two-thirds majority in Parliament could already modify the old constitution.  What this means is they could easily take the present text and instead of submitting it as a new constitution simply modify the old one to have the exact same text!

The only difference between the two is preserving or discarding the original numbering, the 1949 XXth law.  For communist fanatics, preserving the original numbering could be important, but it has no relevance as to the actual contents of the constitution.

So arguments about the 4/5 rule are not only based on a lie, even if they were actually true, their result would have been exhausted in preserving the original 1949 date.

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