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Századvég's Tamás Lánczi finds no fault in Hungarian government's handling of refugee crisis

Translation of interview with Századvég Political Analysis Center Director Tamás Lánczi appearing under the title “Redrawing” (“Átrajzolás) in the October 15th, 20015 edition of 168óra, pp. 28-30.

The director of the Századvég Political Analysis Center believes the given reactions to the migration crisis illuminates the two conceptional differences:  the right-wing believes Europe consists of nations, while the left-wing believes it consists of communities of citizens.  But we also asked about his position as director of a company founded by Árpád Habony and Arthur J. Finkelstein, his public media blogs, as well as his connection to the tobacco business.

– Did the government make a mistake in the matter of the refugees?

– Policies are judged based on their results.  Today at home and in Europe few still question whether the Hungarian govenment’s handling of the immigration matter was effective and skillful.

– Everyone else—the Germans, Greeks, Croats, Serbs— handled it wrong except us?

– Who had to change their position these past weeks?  The German government today is saying something completely different than two months ago, whereas Viktor Orbán has been consistent.  There is no government in Europe that would have a handled the migration crisis any better.

– “In the matter of migrants, regardless of what country’s politicians we’re talking about, even among the most categorical statements, there is the unexpected nature of the situation and the outrage it gives rise to, which is natural.  Who claims that they were prepared for this, either institutionally or from the point of view of personal ethics, is not telling the truth”.  This is what Gergely Prőhle, deputy undersecretary at the Ministry for Human Resources responsbile for EU matters told us.  We also belong to “any country”.  Is Orbán also uncertain what to do?

– The Hungarian government very much so expected the crisis, since the number of migrants increased from week to week.  Voters will hold foreign politicians to account for attacking Hungary after their own failures are exposed.

– On your blog you also attack European politicians that criticize the Hungary’s position.

– Neither the Hungarian head of government or any other Hungarian politicians ever called anybody else a Nazi, even though Viktor Orbán was called this term on numerous occasions.  We weren’t the ones to throw the first punch, but rather those western governments who had yet to confront the migration problem, especially Austrian and German politicians.

– Government communication on refugee policies is very categorical, which has its own domestic political benefits as Fidesz has again significantly strengthened in the public opinion polls.

– It is not a crime to obtain votes though good government policies.

– The party lost one million voters after announcing the internet tax, of which 300,000 have now returned, mostly from Jobbik.
This is mainly due to the government handling the challenge well rather than the migration crisis or especially its communication.

– Communication and reality do not always agree.  The Minister of the Interior Sándor Pintér told the (Parliamentary) Committee for Defense and Law Enforcement recently that 84,000 migrants passed through Hungary without registering.  Meanwhile the government’s message is that it stopped the migration.

– That is not at all the case.  With the completion of the border closure along the Croatian section not a single migrant can lawfully enter and pass through the country.

– You stated that there was no point to filling up the Hungarian employment market with unskilled refugees, and that we had rather deal with the unemployed youth in the southern European states.  Why is that?

– Youth unemployment in the Southern European countries is 20-40 percent.  In this situation, saying that we need foreign resources requires no explanation.

– Analysing data obtained from the Manpower labor brokerage company, The Economist wrote that Hungary is rather in need of highly skilled immigration labor, and that for this reason Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia’s handling of the crisis go contrary to economic logic.

– According to data provided by German Employment Authority and British research institutions, the cost of integrating immigrants coming from the Third World exceeds the value their labor brings to the economy.  But I find strange the principle that you raised.   Even as it uses the ethical principle that we have an obligation to accept the refugees, the left-wing justifies it in terms of it being good as well.  But if we already knew this, than why did the events not embolden us earlier?  We did not we initiate it ourselves?  How is it we are only realizing now how welcome this is when the migrants are arriving in large numbers?  The left-wing tries to support its crumbling rhetoric with economic principles, but these are lame.   I am also able to quote studies which say that most migrants are not coming from Syria but rather 78 percent are from illiterate Afganistan.  They hardly fall in the category of skilled labor.

– Are we to lock them out of Europe?

– We musn’t lie to them.  Just as we mustn’t lie to Hungarian voters either.  To maintain that Europe can provide employment to many tens of millions of people from different cultures is irresponsible.

– For now the numbers of migrants amount to 0.06 percent of the population of Europe.  Is this redrawing our continent?

That’s what I’m talking about!  At first the theory was that Europe needs new blood, in the next statement we destroy the present.  We’re talking about a huge number of people.  Germany this year expects 1.2 million immigrants, and we can easily multiply this by four or five because of unifying families.   We’re already talking about one percent of the continent’s population in under a year, moreover in a very unequal distribution.  We’re also talking about the creation of parallel societies in Europe which the continent will not be able to handle.

– Are you sure?

– Our culture believes people should be free to bathe in the ocean in a bikini.  Theirs thinks its forbidden.  In this question it is difficult to find middle ground.

– Can’t the Chrisitan in a bikini simply swim alongside the covered Muslim?  

– But an adherent of Islam not only believes his wife should not be allowed to go to the beach in a bikini, but also complains about having to put up with bikinis in public places, because according to his beliefs that’s a sin.  In this there is no mutual solution: either he gives up his culture, or we ours.

– The issue of giving up one’s culture does not even arise when we are talking about children lying on the ground at a train station.  We have to help.

– Helping children comes first, there can be no question about that.  But is taking them in the only help we can offer?  The left-wing says yes, and that, moreover, it is a moral imperative.  I dispute this.  There are more effective methods.  We need to help them in the countries where they live, or near there.

– And what if they are already here?

– Those who are already here, we need to know who is what.  Europe is toying with the idea of allowing nearly a million people in without control.  Those who turn out to be purely economic migrants seeking a better life, the EU must decide whether or not to send them back.

– You wrote that “The left-wing sees possibilities in the migration, because it believes it brings them closer to the long-desired concept of a United States of Europe without Nations . . . . These are not new plans, the migrants merely come in handy. . . .  In this way a downtrodden looking little girl sitting in the train station becomes the poster face for the utopia of social engineering.”

– The migration issue is actually peripheral to the story.  It merely illuminates the conceptural differences between right and left in how the continent wil look in 20-30 years.  The left-wing imagines a Europe that transcends nations, for which the migration issues comes in handy, as it dissolves the framework of the Nation-State and creates a religiously varied Europe.  The world view of the right-wing is very different.  We believe Europe is its nations, the left-wing believes its a community of citizens.

– I would also like to ask about you.  You became the director of the London based Danube Business Consulting Ltd., the company jointly owned by Árpád Habony and Arthur J. Finkelstein.  The former is a communications strategist for the Hungarian prime minister, the latter for foreigners.  What does the company provide?

– Advice.

– Who does it advise?

– I wouldn’t like to talk about it.

– Not just anybody heads the company.

– Mr. Finkelstein is actually one of the ten greatest political advisors in the worked.  He worked for Reagan and for Nixon.  And he has dealt with Hungary for a long time.  He played a role in the government’s successes and skillful politics.

– Did he also give advice on the subject of refugees?

– You would have to ask him.

– Who offered you the position?

– The two owners.

– What is your task?

– I’m not going to talk about this despite your forcing the issue.

– Árpád Habony is already a cult figure.  If he generates communications ideas in a company, I can understand the secrecy.   Even the “mandatory utility cost reduction” was attributed to him.

– That’s a nice theory.

– Gábor Török recently declared “That part of open political analysis which I intentionally undertake within a valueless, not obligatory framework, is unsustainable and pointless.  It cannot fulfill the role and is not useful.  In part because the soldiers have already occupied this territory” by which he means party soldiers.  Do you also believe that commitment-free analysis is dead?

– I do not wish to comment on my competitors or their motives.

– In response to the government using our tax forints to turn public televisions in to a mouthpiece, he responded by saying: “This has always been the case, only now its happening indecently in full view.  Orbán’s speech of March 15th was analyzed on public television by Tamás Lánczi.”  In other words, he indirectly called you a party soldier and a government spokesman.

– Again, I do not wish to comment on my competitors.

– A publicist for HVG went further when he called you, among other things, a “slippered blogger”.   He also brought up the fact that you used to conduct government propaganda on a public media website at public expense for a gross monthly salary of HUF 380,000 (USD 1,400).

– Many are pained by the fact that the public media has completed its successful renewal, and they have an opinion.  I try to be understanding towards this.  As a public figure I have to tolerate attacks on my person.  The blog works well.  One of the last posts got 12,000 likes.

– You didn’t have a single bad thing to say about the government over the course of our current discussion either.

– And what criticism should be made about an issue where the government is supported by 88 percent of the population, and which alone has consistently represented its position in Europe?   Of course, one can look for a knot in the bullrush.  But I cannot find anything to fault in the Hungarian government’s activities with regard to the refugees.

– However, many have criticized you when it turned out that you became a member of the supervisory committee of the British American Tobacco owned Pécsi Dohánygyár Kft., a company which won a monopoly on tobacco wholesaling in the absence of a public tender, and with a low concession fee.  How did they find you for this position?

– Somebody called from the Pécsi Dohánygyár and asked whether I would be in the mood to undertake such a task.  I asked whether they really had me in mind and what it was I had to do.  They said only what supervisory committee members have to do: supervise the company’s operation.  I accepted.  I have nothing to do with the direction of the company.

– Just as you had nothing to do with the tobacco industry prior to that.

– They were looking for someone experienced in evaluating a multinational company, and who had already worked in a regulated industry.  I previously worked as a member of the board of directors of the Petroleum Refining Association, and I dealt with energy policy.  Both are regulated industries.

– Some believe that you used your government connections to help obtain the concession.

– Come on.  BAT was not looking for a  lobbyist.  Had that been the reason they called me, I wouldn’t have agreed.

He received a degree in political science from ELTE’s faculty of State and Law in 2003.  While a university student he worked in the Office of the Prime Minster.  He was an employee of the Office of Parliament between 2002 and 2010.   Later he became Viktor Orbán’s speech writer.  In June 2010 the Prime Minister named him deputy undersecretary at the Ministry for Government Procedure and Justice, where he also served as (Minister) Tibor Navracsis’ chief of staff.  Later in September 2011 he was relieved of his duties.  Since 2012 he has been a leading analysis at Századvég Foundation, and the director of the Political Analysis Center.  He has served as a member of the supervisory committee of the Hungarian subsidiary of British American Tobacco (BAT), BAT Pécsi Dohánygyár Kft. since March 2015.   Since May 2015 he has served as the director of London-based Danube Business Consulting Ltd. founded in April of this year by chief consultant to the Hungarian prime minister Árpád Habony and US campaign consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein.

Tamás Lánczi is 37 years old.

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