Hungary’s most important weekly news magazine, hvg (Heti Vilaggazdasag) has published a review of some of 2013’s most memorable stories, including the following (which we have taken the liberty of expanding upon for the benefit of our readers).
Janos Lazar and Sandor Csanyi exchange blows
“I don’t know Lazar personally, but his talents as a politician are evident in his handling of the Trafik controversy (over the nationalization of Hungary’s retail tobacco sector)”, said Sandor Csanyi, CEO of OTP Bank. Csanyi’s comments came after Lazar, Fidesz MP and state secretary at the Prime Minister’s Office, attacked Hungary’s top banker by likening Csanyi’s influence over Hungarian domestic affairs to an octopus’ far-reaching tentacles and implying that Hungary’s largest bank was owned and controlled by foreigners.
In response to Csanyi’s comments, Lazar later accused Csanyi of flaunting wealth earned at the expense of Hungarian households affected by loans pegged to foreign currencies, calling Csanyi “the country’s number one usurer”. The latter statement prompted Csanyi to file a civil lawsuit against Lazar for defamation. The lawsuit was dismissed by a Budapest court on the grounds that, while some of Lazar’s statements were defamatory in nature, they were not outside the bounds of what is permissible in the case of a public person like Csanyi.
Previously a news website was fined for defamation by a Budapest court for criticizing Lazar for his alleged role in an automobile accident that left one woman dead.
Gyorgy Matolcsy dreams of the East
In January Gyorgy Matolcsy (then Minister of the National Economy) enthusiastically announced ministry plans to capitalize on the government’s ambitions to strengthen economic ties with trading partners in the East by creating twenty new ministry departments. Matolcsy’s dream divisions included the Budget Office for Eastern Affairs, the Office for Eastern Legal Affairs, the Eastern Coordination Office, the Eastern Educational Relations Office, the Eastern Budgetary Relations Office, etc. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Matolcsy’s new divisions were never developed because, as HVG put it, “the limited imagined apparatus was not able to comprehend the task and for this reason did not execute it”,
Gyorgy Matolcsy calls on EU commission Olli Rehn to resign
The fact Matolcsy resigned as National Economy Minister in March to assume the Governorship of the Hungarian Central Bank has not prevented him from expressing his opinion on a range of issues. In November, while addressing a conference in Budapest, Matolcsy called on EU commissioner for financial and monetary matters Olli Rehn to resign, claiming Hungary’s “unorthodox” economic policies had succeeded whereas the traditional polices of the EU had failed. He also called for the main credit rating companies to raise Hungary’s credit rating which was downgraded to “junk status” in 2011.
“I’m a very simple person”
In early December the Fidesz official responsible for ensuring utility companies comply with government mandated household utility price cuts, Csepel mayor and Fidesz MP Szilard Nemeth gave an interview to index.hu clearing suggesting he has no idea what he is talking about when it comes to energy policy or pricing.
When asked whether he considers the war against Hungary’s utility providers a “world-view” question, Nemeth responded that “nobody is hurting the multis. Just look at how many strategic agreements this government has made with them. What the fight against utility costs is about is that this is our home, and we make the rules. They can come here, do work, manufacture cars, perform services, nobody has told them they can’t do that. The continuous rise in energy costs by the way obstructs the economy. America is the best example of how cheap energy stimulates the economy.”
Nemeth acknowledged the professional credentials of Janos Bencsik (former Deputy State Secretary for Energy Affairs) and Peter Kaderjak (President of Hungary’s Regional Centre for Energy Policy Research), but dismissed their opposition to government mandated cuts to household utility prices. Nemeth said an energy agency with “new direction” would ensure consumer protection and economic and national development.
Nemeth claimed the government war on household utility costs was completely unrelated to Hungary’s 2014 elections, but warned that should Fidesz lose the election the political opposition was likely to undo the changes.
The interview included the following exchange:
Nemeth: We broke the utility providers’ monopoly.
Index: What kind of monopoly did you break?
Nemeth: The pricing monopoly.
Index: The pricing was determined by the Energy Agency.
Szilard Nemeth: Of course, but until now, the prices only went up.
Index: Prices were going up around the globe.
The entire text of the interview can be read here.
Solyom’s plans to fly high crash and burn
In July Hungarians were surprised to learn that the country would have a new airline: Solyom Airways. Pro-government Magyar Nemzet called Solyom, or Falcon, “the new Malev” and wrote that it would shortly begin selling tickets and would offer overseas flights in 2014. It also reported the new national airline was backed by Middle Eastern investors, and that European and Middle East routes would begin as early as August 2013, Starting with 6 planes and 700 employees Solyom planned to operate 50 planes and employ 3000 people by 2017.
Following a series of delays, Solyom executives announced the airline company would also sell cooking oil, plum jam, and flour under the Solyom “premium brand name”. Shortly thereafter the airline’s partner in the plum jam business was taken into police custody. Solyom’s launch was further delayed by announcements that Solyom had not been granted permits required to operate an airline. By October, Solyom couldn’t pay its bills. In November the bankrupt company was sold to Hungarians based in Africa. Shortly thereafter it was reported that Solyom’s new majority shareholder, Tamas Welsz, was being sought by Panamanian authorities for fraud and forgery, and that the new minority shareholder, Andrea Horthy, was wanted by Interpol.
It was also revealed that Solyom’s CEO had cheated potential suppliers out of HUF 50 million.
Hungary for housing
In 2011 the national government announced plans to build 500 homes for families who had lost their homes to foreclosure on FX loans near the south-eastern town of Ocsa at a projected cost of HUF 15 billion (USD 64 million). The ambitious plan involved developing 132 hectares of government-owned land in Alsopakony serviced by neither roads nor public utilities.
The first 80 homes ranging from 40 to 80 square meters (430 to 860 square feet) were completed in 2013 at a cost of HUF 2.36 billion (USD 10.7 million). Blikk.hu puts the total cost of the first 80 homes at HUF 2.7 billion (USD 11.5 million) or HUF 70 million (USD 318,000) per home, including roads and public utilities. For the price of each new home some ten families could have been kept in their existing homes without having to move to the back of beyond where there are few public services and almost no employment opportunities.
After two rounds of tenders, a total of 39 families have moved in to date.
In 2013 Hungary’s state-owned media conglomerate MTVA ordered a five-part video series entitled “Starting over in Ocsa” for a reported HUF 122 million (USD 550,000) for broadcast on State owned television. Released in early December (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V) and uploaded by MTV to YouTube, by year end they had been viewed 3,900 times and received a total of seventeen “thumbs down”.
In early December hir24.hu reported that the company which made the series, Dextramedia Kft., hosted its website at the same IP address as several Hungarian radical right-wing groups, and is believed to have produced at least one report for MTV having to do with the celebration of Adolph Hitler’s birthday.
On 7 December Blikk.hu revealed that Dextramedia Kft. was owned by the son-in-law of Fidesz politician Sandor Lezsak, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
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