Orbán is risking the legacy of Fidesz if he does not respond to Simicska

March 10, 2015

Translation of a commentary by András Hont “Simicskology, and the agent-affairs” (“Simicskológia és ügynökügy”) published in the opinion section of online daily hvg.hu, on 9 March 2015.

Viktor Orbán filed lawsuits in the past for much lighter accusations than the present one of being an agent. If he does not do so now, he is casting the whole Orbán-Simicska war, as well as his own past, and the origins of Fidesz, in another light.

“The opportunity is here to move this whole case into the clear and obvious field of law from gibberish without any conclusive proof […] this statement can only be interpreted in the Hungarian legal system, therefore initiating a legal case is necessary.”

(Prime minister Viktor Orbán, addressing corruption accusations against the director of the tax authority (NAV) in the Hungarian parliament)

The head of the government even added then that initiating a lawsuit is not an option for, but an expectation of the NAV director, and had she failed to do so, she would be dismissed. The opportunity is now open for the prime minister as well, to move accusations by his former confidant “into the clear and obvious field of law.” Furthermore, this is actually what is expected of him.  In a normal environment, failing to do so would result in his dismissal.

In spite of this, even if an announcement along these lines is made, it is not very probable that we will see Orbán and Simicska clarifying this utterly awkward case in a courtroom, even if barely preaching about a clear legal environment in the System of National Cooperation by itself signifies the highest level of cynicism. As if any legal procedure would be safe from being hijacked.  A court case or any opportunity for clarification is highly unlikely, because none of the parties are interested in clarity. The assumption that Orbán was recruited as an informer is unlikely to be the result of an intention to uncover facts, and it is not even addressed to the public. It is addressed to Viktor Orbán.

For the general public this does not make any difference anyway. Simultaneously paying attention to pro-government and opposition discourses about the case is so annoying, it is almost entertaining. Whoever is in love with the prime minister will find new proof in it that there is an existing conspiracy against the Holy One. There are even some people who seriously believe that Sunday shop closures were introduced so that church services will go on undisturbed, denying that it is a result of profiteering lobbying activities. However, those who hate Fidesz will consider it obvious that Orbán was a spook, as well as a party secretary, a Communist Youth movement secretary, and a commander of the Workers’ Guard all in one. The only thing they debate is whether Simicska is useful or damaging in the political race, and whether or not he is counter-productive in the struggle for votes.

As if Lajos Simicska would be interested in gaining votes, and as if the elections would be a way for oligarch and coup leaders to settle differences in a semi-autocratic regime. Naturally, the exchange of insults has something to do with the public. But the objective is by far not to gain popularity, but more like to occupy positions on the communication battlefield in the war that erupted last year. Gaining clear insight, however, is difficult due to the selective accessibility of the people involved and to the present state of Hungarian media.

All we know about Simicska’s side is what he cares to share. This is an understandable position from a financier not living his life in the spotlight. According to his version, he fell out with Viktor Orbán over Paks and the Russians. The recent developments fit into this narrative perfectly: there is this background person (lacking the fan base of the prime minister) who, on the other hand, insists on remaining an anti-Communist, presenting a story that allegedly happened before their joint ventures, not creating a situation that would be uncomfortable for him. It is rather unlikely that this would be possible with stories originating from a later point in time.

More preoccupying, though, is that information surfacing from the side of the prime minister, who is living and acting in public, is only what was carefully planned by him and his staff. He has not given a real interview since ancient times.  It is almost impossible to confront him with his earlier (occassionally meaning the previous morning’s) statements.  And the independent press is constantly hacked with his stories, including for example the Orbán version of the Simicska war. According to this, after his second two-thirds victory, the competent prime minister figured out that he needs to diversify his economic hinterland, and his former friend does not want to accept the new rules.

Let’s just say here that this version can be ruled out completely. In the past years, Orbán gave more of the impression of a public relations director for the Simicska holding than of an autonomous person able to decide the fate of his kingmakers. There were even cases when he was compelled to appoint ministers whose names had never been heard of before.  Not even by the prime minister, I suspect. Where could he possibly gather the power now to openly confront his former mentor and brother-in-arms? Would he risk an automatically escalating conflict, during which more could be revealed than what is healthy? I do not believe so.

This narrative is still a stubborn one in the Hungarian press.  One of the colleagues even printed the sentence “Orbán’s master-plan is being realized.” Awkward explanations, a previously domesticated media empire suddenly switching directions, piquant details published: sounds like hell of a master-plan. Yet, a legend before the Merkel-visit about the German Chancellor’s intentions to back Orbán in Budapest, could easily be spread through the same press. Compared to this, the only thing Merkel did not do in Budapest was declare war at the joint press conference with Orbán. Besides that, she uttered every criticism that was possible in a diplomatic language, and it is quite unlikely that she was any more tender during the one-on-one discussion. At least the very brave, and profoundly independent Hungarian government immediately amended its advertisement tax exclusively for the sake of RTL Klub television.

With this we have reached a certain point that could serve us with a possible explanation on what was the root cause for the whole Orbán-Simicska controversy. According to this, our government was waging a freedom fight for so long, that it irreversibly narrowed down its own playing field, and by now is acting under constant pressure from abroad. What will follow is at this point a mere speculation, formed by a series of discussions, and anyway: why shouldn’t I have my very own conspiracy theory, especially, if it is more logical, and more fitting to the personality of these two men, than interpretations so far.

So, let’s assume during the spring of last year, or a bit earlier, Brussels told Fidesz and its leader that they are going to stop financing the country if every single funding will be spent sustaining an illiberal state machinery. The name Lajos Simicska has probably been thrown in, why not: the assumption that nobody can see from abroad what is happening here is also a common domestic misconception.  The Tavares-report, for example, was compiled using the publications of Hungarian analysts. The Hungarian government, as in many cases, tried to live up to these expectations, as it is on a forced track at this point, as a very surprising amount of last year’s developments are financed exclusively from EU funding. The prime minister tried to outline the situation to his old friend (a meeting in last April was confirmed by both sides) who gets all furious, which is a a predictable reaction on his behalf. For a long time Fidesz has been the shared endeavor of Orbán and Simicska.  The two of them have constructed the whole monstrum, the vanity characteristic of businessmen like him does not allow Simicska to move to the background, more so because he became alarmed as well. He chose to turn the table on Orbit and left sulking. Another piece of mutually confirmed information: the prime minister tried to approach the Közgép head all along the summer, but to no end.

In the meantime, the fairy tale about diversifying the financial background started to spread.  But also Simicska took up positions. He names Paks as a casus belli, even though this is the first time we are hearing that he has a problem with the investment. Zsolt Nyerges, his associate, surely did not have any concerns about it. What followed, already has happened before our eyes on stage and in the spotlight: from calling Orbán a “scumbag” to calling him an agent.

A few remarks on the letter: No, I do not think that Viktor Orbán was, in fact, an agent.  But nor do I believe that Simicska just pulled the story out of his hat. The problem is that the truth will never be revealed for two reasons.

First, usually the Hungarian public could not care less about the facts.  It is in a constant search for riddles, secret motives, not even discussing what is visible to the eye and only requires an effort to understand. Because Fidesz’s history leaves much to be understood, and is processed independently from that agent case. Unfortunately, its conception was not as immaculate and simple as we would like to think. Again, what follows is speculation only, based on the facts. Let’s assume that we have a half-finished dormitory building, where we hastily collect a pack of talented, but problematic youngsters. We appoint an ambitious, freshly graduated scholar to lead it, who is in fact the son-in-law of the incumbent minister of interior at the time. This has become the István Bibó College of Advanced Studies, the very birthplace of Fidesz. Putting the details together – to use an Esterházy-esque expression – gives a butter-color shade to the blinding white myth of origin; we cannot easily dismiss the idea that the Kádár-regime influenced independent political initiatives already in their embryonic forms, and this has consequences to this day. But I repeat: no one can be bothered about this, as this is not a secret.

The second cause: the whole Hungarian elite is heavily involved in this oblique and easily manipulated situation. The question of whether or not the prime minister – either formally of informally – offered his services to the party state, is primarily not a moral issue, but a national security issue. It is not a question of secondary importance how transparent or partially occluded the network of the country’s first man is. The exact same question was the most important in Péter Medgyessy’s D-209 case. Those who defended Medgyessy at the time, or later sabotaged him by creating an archival transparency in the party state informant files, should really be ashamed of themselves right now. It is their fault, among others, that we will not learn for a very long time what has happened in the past. The only thing we could be less sure about is what will happen in the future.