Orbán and Matolcsy undergo confrontational questioning from opposition politicians in Monday parliamentary session

March 13, 2017

MTI Photo: Szilárd Koszticsák

János Áder’s re-election as President of Hungary wasn’t the only interesting thing that happened in parliament today. Exchanges between opposition politicians and ranking Fidesz officials also added a measure of spice to the National Assembly proceedings.

In the first exchange, Jobbik chairman Gábor Vona demanded that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán categorically deny allegations that he acted as an informant before Hungary’s 1989 democratic transition. In the second exchange, Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) MP Gergely Bárándy scrutinized National Bank governor György Matolcsy for alleging earlier that the United States was behind a coup attempt in Hungary.

The elusive list of agents

For many Hungarians, releasing the names of agents who informed on their fellow countrymen on behalf of the socialist regime would bring some level of closure with the country’s past. Efforts to make these archives public have been hampered for decades as it is presumed that many members of Hungary’s political elite (on the right and the left) would be implicated for collaborating with the state security apparatus prior to the democratic transition.

Since 2010, opposition MPs have pushed on numerous occasions to have legislation adopted which would open these files to the public, but such efforts have been squashed every single time by Fidesz.

During today’s parliamentary session, Jobbik’s Vona raised the subject again, telling Orbán that he is aware of Orbán’s secret past.

“Mr Prime Minister, it is clear to me that during your military years you were connected to the [security] services. It is also clear to me that there were those in your family who served as agents for the [State Protection Agency] in 1956 during the time of the revolution,” Vona said. “Making this information public would surely be traumatic for the country, but I implore you, Mr Prime Minister, to demonstrate your [pre-transition revolutionary spirit]. Is there anything else you wish to keep secret?” Vona asked.

According to Index.hu, Orbán responded by saying that all he can do is accuse Vona of lying, just as he does with others who have said similar things.

“All this information is available on the internet, go ahead and browse through it,” Orbán said.

“Are you brave enough to declare that ‘I was never an agent, I never informed on anyone in writing or verbally’? Can you say it?” Vona asked.

Orbán did not respond to Vona’s questioning, instead shifting the allegation and responding in the name of his party.

“Naturally, I was on the other side. All of us sitting here were on the other side. We were the ones being persecuted, it was our homes that were bugged with surveillance devices. We did not collaborate with any of the services,” Orbán said.

Matolcsy, the all-seeing eye

The exchange between MSZP MP Gergely Bárándy and MNB governor György Matolcsy provided a comical counterpoint to the Vona/Orbán exchange.

Bárándy demanded to know whether there is any basis to Matolcsy’s claim last month that the US tried to carry out a coup in Hungary. Secondly, Bárándy asked whether Matolcsy would admit to leasing an apartment from the president of the Hungarian Banking Association.

“Is there any basis to your statement [on a US coup attempt], or were you just talking nonsense?” Bárándy asked.

Matolcsy deflected by saying that Minister Overseeing the Office of the Prime Minister János Lázár once said that former US chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend got involved in Hungary’s domestic affairs. Furthermore, the MNB governor pointed out that even an opposition politician from the Democratic Coalition (DK) once said in an interview that the US was interfering in Hungarian politics. However, Matolcsy failed to explain whether he had any evidence to suggest that the US tried to carry out a coup in Hungary as he’d alleged.

The rental

In 2016, Népszabadság revealed that although Matolcsy was registered as living at a 150-square-meter vacation home in Balatonakarattya, in reality he was living in a luxury flat in the Castle District belonging to UniCredit Bank CEO Mihály Patai. Many suggested this arrangement was an obvious conflict of interest as the MNB is directly responsible for supervising the activities of commercial banks.

Bárándy, who has been pressing this issue with Matolcsy for some time, questioned the bank governor again, but Matolcsy deflected the question, avoiding any talk about a conflict of interest.

“I thought you would have quit beating this dead horse about where the poor central bank governor lives. I suppose you raised the question because you think that you are right. But not only were you unable to figure out the building, you did not figure out the apartment or even the district,” Matolcsy responded.