An open letter to János Lázár from the editor of the Budapest Beacon

December 23, 2014


The Honorable János Lázár
Office of the Prime Minister
Budapest, Hungary

Dear Minister Lázár:

The media law parliament passed in 2011 while you were the head of the Fidesz parliamentary delegation prohibits print media from publishing open letters addressed to government officials. As you are a government official and this is an open letter, the chances of a Hungarian newspaper republishing this verbatim are about as good as the United States agreeing to lift US embassy spokesman André Goodfriend’s diplomatic immunity from prosecution for allegedly defaming Hungarian Tax Authority head Ildikó Vida.

The two of us are indeed living in interesting times.  But that’s not why I’m writing you.

Yesterday I had the dubious pleasure of translating the article appearing in Monday’s Magyar Hirlap purporting to be an interview with you. Having read and listened to a lot of interviews over the past 15 months, including the one you gave ATV’s Antonia Mészáros in October, I can assure you that that is not you talking but rather Viktor Orbán (or whoever writes his speeches and formulates his off-the-cuff remarks).

No offense, but public speaking is not your strong suit, unless of course it involves accusing opposition MPs of being in the employ of foreign powers or multinational companies. Clearly, your talents lie elsewhere, which is no doubt why the Prime Minister has given you the keys to his Office and put you in charge of a staggering array of government agencies, including the Information Office, as you point out in yesterday’s “interview”.

Doesn’t it seem odd that a journalist from the Magyar Hirlap would open an interview with a question regarding Hungarian intelligence?  After all, the reason you’ve been in the news lately is has nothing to do with intelligence, but the fact that, when not hunting pheasant in the Czech Republic or hobnobbing with aristocrats, you are reportedly buying expensive watches and shopping for property ranging from vineyards in Tokaj to luxury flats in the hills of Buda–the very same hills you accuse left-wing politicians of looking down from on to the people of Hungary!

If I didn’t know better, I would say the purpose of that opening question was to establish a paranoid, xenophobic sense of urgency bordering on hysteria in an attempt to persuade Fidesz supporters that Hungary is under attack when, in fact, it is your government that has come under pressure to meet Hungary’s international obligations with respect to human rights, rule of law, and democratic institutions, like holding elections that are not only free but fair as well.

With regard to the luxury 60 sqm flat reportedly acquired by your 10-year-old son in April of this year, does it not seem strange to you that the previous owner was reportedly the brother-in-law of your immediate subordinate at the Office of the Prime Minister, state secretary for communications András Giro-Száz who, while working as a government spokesman, appears to have got rich from a string of lucrative government contracts?

Since you claim to be a man of the people who cares about the poor, I thought the following emails addressed to the American House Foundation over the course of 2014 might be of interest to you.

On that subject, I am curious to know how much you personally donated to charitable organizations actually helping Hungary’s poor in 2014. I’m not referring here to money you or other Fidesz politicians may have given to the pro-Fidesz Civil Solidarity Forum (CÖF) foundation run by the government official responsible for deciding which NGOs qualify for state funding or not, but rather to NGOs that actually provide material assistance to the 3.3 million Hungarians either living in poverty or threatened with poverty.

When you were “investing in your children’s futures”, did you stop to think about the future of the 43 percent of Hungarian youth who reportedly live in conditions of poverty or social exclusion today?

I think we both know the answer to that question.

And do you honestly expect people to believe that the reason it is necessary for the government to invest billions of forints improving public transportation in the countryside is so that people who cannot afford to own a car will have better access to public health care?

I didn’t think so.

Here, then, are the letters. I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year!

Sincerely yours,

Richard Field

Dear foundation! In desperation I am turning to you.  I have asked for help from many different places but unfortunately so far I have not received any.  We are in a very difficult position.  Our situation is hopeless.  I have five young children, 12, 9, 8, 6 and 1.5 years old.  I am at home on maternity leave with the youngest.  I would like material help.  Unfortunately, they turned off our water due to arrears.  We must prepay for our electricity but cannot afford to, and for this reason have no electricity.  I would like to ask material help because we he have difficulty surviving from day to day.

I would like to ask help for my family.

My parents and siblings live in very bad material conditions in Sály in Borsod Abaúj Zemplén county.  They struggle with serious problems of survival.

Every day they must face hopelessness.

Unfortunately, they  cannot even afford the most basic foodstuffs and frequently go hungry.  They have no firewood.   I am very worried they are threatened by exposure to the cold.   My siblings’ children are also in need of clothes.

There is no one to help them.  There is no one for them to turn to.

Primarily we would like to ask for donations of food, clothing, wood, and if possible some financial assistance for them.

Please do not take my letter as harassment.  I just want to ask help for my family.  My name is A. L. from Szigetszentmiklos.  I am the mother of four children.  I am turning to you because I am certain you can help us.  Four years ago my husband and I took out an FX mortgage loan so that we could purchase my parents house from my siblings.  Previously my mother lived here alone and unfortunately a lot of arrears accumulated.  We paid for the services we consumed, but the problem is that the bank will terminate the contract if we miss the monthly payments for three months.  Our monthly income of HUF 89,000 (USD 356) is so little that we cannot pay for many things, but perhaps the most important is what we owe the bank and the electricity, because they are also going to turn that off.  Unfortunately, we have not been able to pay for two months and this month will be the third.  In order for the bank not to terminate the contract we have to pay two month’s mortgage.  We are continuously looking for work but these days it is very difficult to find a job.  I work full time.  My husband lost his job before the holidays.  Unfortunately, there is nobody to help us, which is why we are turning to you because we have no other way out.  I cannot sleep because I wouldn’t want to end up in the street with our four children.   Before we moved here we lived at my mother-in-law’s ten to a room.  It was neither possible to bathe or sleep normally.  . . . Unfortunately the situation is now to the point where we cannot even buy basic things for the children for school or kindergarten (paper handkerchiefs, napkins, pencils).  It’s sad that we have come to this and already unbearable.  I know there are a lot of people like us, but I’m sure you can help us with something.   Please help us.  Unfortunately, we don’t even have money for food.  It would be a great help if we could receive that.   We ask for help from the local government or the family services office in vain.  They reject our pleas for help.

Dear foundation!  I would like to ask for your help.  I am raising two children in a sublet.  My 15 year-old daughter attends technical school, my 20 year-old daughter attends a special school.  She suffers from Down’s syndrome, a heart disorder, and is allergic to many things.  I am raising them on my own.  Last year I worked through December and even though it was very difficult we somehow survived.  But now we are in very big trouble.  In December they operated on a cancerous tumor.  After the operation my kidneys were blocked and a drainage tube had to be installed.  I am presently undergoing radio- and chemotherapy.  I cannot work.  I receive disability of HUF 40,000 (USD 180) a month.  Because of my kidneys I regularly require bandages and disinfectant because I must dress it.   I must take antibiotics monthly because my kidneys get infected becauase of the pipe.  I am in the process of registering myself as permanently disabled.  My only income is the disability and family assistance.  I have to pay the rent on the sublet because I don’t want to end up in the street, but I am falling farther and farther behind with the utilities.  We hardly have money for food.  And then there is the education of my younger daughter, and Christmas. We are in very big trouble.

I live in Sendrőlad at (address).  I woud like to ask help from the foundation for the following reasons:

Presently I am unfortunately without a job.   I get HUF 22.800 (USD 91) a month from the local government.  My wife, who is at home with our youngest child Benjamin, receives maternity assistance of HUF 76,000 (USD 300) a month, and in this way our family’s monthly income barely amounts to HUF 100,000 (USD 400).  It is very difficult to live on this, pay bills, and equip three children for school, and buy firewood in winter.  Unfortunately, I cannot take on additional piece work in winter because I did not receive any, even though I am a bricklayer by trade.  For the above mentioned reasons we owe HUF 15,474 (USD 62) for water and HUF 56,911 (USD 228) for electricity, which we urgently need to pay because if we cannot pay we will be left without water and electricity.

We have not been able to pay the mortgage on our flat for over a year and presently owe about HUF 260,000 (USD 1,040) in missed payments.  . . . My parents are disabled pensioners and helped us with all of their savings to get through the winter.  But unfortunately they cannot help us solve this problem.  The local government doesn’t help us with anything.