Government press conference: Olympic bid “national failure”, Hungary to build a second border fence

February 23, 2017

MTI Photo: Koszticsák Szilárd

Only one day after it was announced that Budapest would withdraw its application to host the 2024 Olympics, Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister János Lázár held the weekly government press conference in which he discussed the Olympics issue, a new round of “national consultations,” new government initiatives on immigration and refugee policy, and the quality of grocery imports.

Olympic bid a “national failure”

“Without national unity, no country can organize the Olympics, and national unity is unimaginable without the left-wing parties,” Lázár began the press conference, adding that the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) had once supported the Olympic bid but then changed position. The national unity on the issue had broken up over the past month, he said, and therefore the government didn’t think it responsible to participate in the application, but he considered it a “serious achievement” that Hungary had advanced to the second to last stage of the Olympic process.

When asked why the government would not allow a referendum to proceed, Lázár said Parliament had not considered a referendum necessary because opposition MPs had not pushed for one. According to Lázár, if a referendum were to be called now, after a five-month debate on the issue, the country would have no chance of winning the 2024 Olympics and longer-term chances would also be reduced. He said those who initiated the signature drive to call a referendum (the Momentum Movement) had reached their goal with the withdrawal of the application, so there was no need for a referendum.

“What do they want a referendum about? About the government? We’ll have one of those next Spring,” Lázár said, referring to the next national election, and adding that he considers the withdrawal of the Olympic bid “the country’s failure.”

“Hungary will not organize an Olympics in the foreseeable future,” he said.

National consultation

It was revealed last week during a Fidesz-KDNP party congress in Visegrád that the government plans to initiate a “national consultation” on what Prime Minister Viktor Orbán calls “five serious problems.” The consultation, which Lázár announced will take place in March, is something of a state-sponsored public opinion poll.

According to Lázár, one of the consultation questions will involve Brussels’ “attack on reduction of household utility costs.” He said the European Commission plans to bring Hungary to court over its energy price regulation practices because the EC believes “large companies” should set utility prices. The Hungarian perspective, Lázár argued, is that the state should set prices after measuring the needs of the people.

Build the wall

Significant sums of money will be provided by the state for building a second border fence behind the already existing one along the Hungarian-Serbian border, Lázár said. Additionally, he confirmed earlier announcements that the government will be modifying four laws which would allow for the detention of asylum-seekers in so-called transit zones on the southern border. Asylum-seekers would no longer be permitted to move freely within Hungary, and plans indicate any immigrants in the transit zones would be housed in storage containers. The roughly 600 asylum-seekers currently residing in Hungary would be removed to detention points along the border.

Hungarians shouldn’t have to eat trash

Lázár said Minister of Agriculture Sándor Fazekas would prepare a report on food safety in Hungary, referring to a recently released study which indicates that certain food products imported from abroad are of lower quality than the same brands in neighboring Austria.

Fazekas complained to EU officials in 2015 about lower quality products being shipped to Hungary, but the EU reportedly decided that companies could not be confronted on the issue by legal means. Lázár said that according to Brussels, poorer people should receive poorer products.

“Whoever is poorer should eat trash. This point of view is unacceptable,” he said. He mentioned Coca-Cola, Rio Mare, Nesquik, Nutella and Knorr products specifically as of lower quality, and pointed fingers at retailers Lidl, Aldi and Spar.

America may have tried to topple Hungarian government

After Hungarian National Bank director György Matolcsy made comments on Wednesday about a “large NATO ally” attempting to topple the Hungarian government and central bank beginning in the Fall of 2014, Lázár reminded the press conference of then-American chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend’s personal involvement in domestic political affairs beginning in that period.

“For some reason he considered it important to give his perspective, to interfere and direct events,” Lázár said of Goodfriend. “He directly interfered in daily events.”

Lázár’s comments suggest that he agreed with Matolcsy’s assessment that the United States was behind an attempt to “surround and…use the Hungarian National Bank” to provoke a banking panic in the country and bring down the government.

“Luckily, we are beyond that period,” Lázár said.