János Széky, Radio Lemberg Hungary, 15.10.2019
On Sunday the municipal elections were held in Hungary. The results were a surprise for everybody, the government's side and the opposition alike. Fidesz, the authoritarian governing party, which has a two-thirds (that's constitutional majority in the Parliament) lost Budapest and a half of the medium-sized cities.
To tell the truth, the outcome has only psychological significance; but that proved to be momentous. In Hungary's over-centralized state, with few exceptions, the local governments are little more than transmission belts of the central government rather than the representation bodies of their citizens. Schools, hospitals, most of the cultural institutions are not under their control; and with not a single Forint of personal income taxes remaining in the regions or towns, their main source of income (apart from central budget subsidies) is a tax levied on businesses, from the biggest companies to self-employed individuals. It means the smaller and poorer a place is, the more dependent it is on the Orbán government.
Although the goal of the opposition was to “retake” the cities, including Budapest, the new mayors would only have a minimal leeway in this system. Local elections serve merely as huge public opinion polls, where victories can at least give hope to the non-Fidesz side, which painfully lacked real political successes since at least 2008.
Many people in the opposition hailed local victories now as the result of a strategy, which was a bit similar to Navalny's "smart votes" – in most places opposition parties backed a single joint candidate. Actually this is what Hungary's strongman Viktor Orbán wanted, when his staff designed the Electoral Act of 2013, which was even more in favor of the largest party, whichever it may be, than the previous one, designed in 1989. “Give up your party characteristics and join the stronger one or perish”, that could have been the motto, as it largely extended the first-past-the-post rule beyond the directly elected majors to representative bodies, including local councils (we have to note that presidents are not elected directly in Hungary; so the Prime Minister is actually a strong president without any balance to his/her power, and parliamentary elections are a little more than the election of the Prime Minister, or rather, a rigged referendum where the question is, “Orbán or Non-
This scheme had been working perfectly for Fidesz while two conditions had been met: 1) the largest force in the opposition was the Hungarian Socialist Party, an old gray warhorse on the center-left (originally a successor of the old regime's communist party), which lived off its undeniable pre-1989 popularity, but has had ever-weakening chances of returning to power again; 2) the second largest opposition party was Jobbik, which is leftish socially, and showed more genuine democratic instincts than most of the mainstream, but could not scratch off its “racist” (anti-Semitic and anti-Roma) label, so it was largely unacceptable for the center-left as well as the remaining few liberals.
The first cracks in this system appeared last May, when at the European Parliament election the socialist party collapsed. Fidesz won easily (52 pct), but a center-left splinter group called Democratic Coalition came in second (16 pct, led by the controversial former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, the list headed by his wife Klára Dobrev), and even Momentum, a party of young liberals, fared better than the HSP (10 and 6.6 pct, respectively). Jobbik also won one seat (6.3 pct, down from three with 15 pct in 2014). It meant the socialist could not dominate the opposition any longer.
This made it easier for the parties to agree on joint candidates; including that for the most prestigious position, the mayor (actually “Lord Mayor”) of Budapest. In fact, this latter was decided in a primary, which was won by Gergely Karácsony, mayor of Budapest's 14th District and head of a small Green party called Dialog. He is a charming, well-intentioned man, rather young and definitely not corrupt, but has not shown any strong political or managerial skills so far. Until the very last moment Fidesz was confident that there would be no changing of the guards in Budapest or in other cities.
Then came the proverbial black swan. Early October, less than two weeks before the elections, an anonymous blogger using the nickname “Devil's Adocate”, began posting a series of texts complete with photos and (so far) a video, telling the story of Zsolt Borkai, an acting mayor and Fidesz's mayoral candidate of Győr, the largest city in Northwest Hungary. The tale was about Borkai having a sex party with prostitutes (prostitution is a crime in Croatia) on a yacht sailing the Adriatic Sea, together with friends (local lawyers and businessmen), drinking cheap supermarket wine and sniffing cocaine (also a criminal offense; Borkai himself is not shown in this activity). The mayor was flown there on a private plane. The blogger claims it happened in Spring, 2018, while Borkai, who didn't deny the gist of the story and apologized, said it had been "years ago".
The identity of the blogger is still unknown at the moment I write this (October 10, late morning). It is not even certain if the author is a living individual or a team of Borkai's enemies employing a professional journalist to write the compromising story. He was posing as a close acquaintance of Borkai's, a lawyer with friends in Fidesz, intimate with the "high society" in Győr, getting disappointed with the mayor, and turning against him and his clique; no one knows who made the photos and the pornographic video.
More importantly, the blogger denounced corruption in the local governments, ministries and even the Parliament – how ministry officials and MPs are bought to write and submit legal amendments to help specific transactions, all this paid by the businessman who would benefit from them… or how a lawyer flies to China with a diplomatic passport to hide the money stolen through corrupt public procurement, where a bank demands a 20 pct kickback, but greets him "like a king". He mentions the most outrageous stunt of Borkai's circle (there have been many): creating an off-shore company in Luxembourg with the single aim of buying up agricultural fields cheaply, having them reclassified as construction lots by Borkai's office, and selling them at a price several times higher just before such lots were sold in the framework of the Győr Industrial Park, and Audi Hungaria, the largest company in the region, decided to expand its logistical center. The off-shore company made about 15 million Euros that way in 2014-2015, then simply did nothing for years, but the amassed capital was enough to pay Borkai's 20-year-old son a monthly "salary" of 1 million Forints (3,000 to 3,500 Euros) for practically nothing, and for them to withdraw a few million Euros each year, which was enough to cover Borkai's trips to the Adriatic or the Maldives.
On the other hand, whatever the blogger says, the girls don't appear to be the full-time prostitutes. On the contrary, they come from "good", regime-compatible families; they may just have been lured by money and power.
Belonging to those elite politico-financial circles is also rewarding in an indirect way; when the video was uploaded to Pornhub, one of the girls was immediately identified as a recipient of EU funds in support of the company she had formed with her sister for wedding dress rental and "event organizing" (including stag parties). Early 2018, they were introduced as an example of "successful young enterpreneurs" on TV2, a large commercial TV channel owned by Orbán's business circle.
In spite of all this, Orbán refused to withdraw Borkai from the playing field. It proved to be a mistake. An Olympic gold medalist in gymnastic and former chairman of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, Borkai won the mayoral election in Győr with a small margin (local Jobbik politicians deserted to his camp after all), but at the cost of other candidates in other cities losing critical votes, including István Tarlós, Budapest's acting mayor since 2010.
Actually, the corruption cases and the lack of legal punishment were no news; the independent press dealt with them years ago, but no one cared until they were packaged with this saucy sex-and-drugs scandal. Neither are eight-digit sums in Euros comparable to the Orbán Famiglia's billion-dollar assets. But at least now the wider public had a glimpse of the life of the elite of a regime that has Europe's most stringent drug law, and which preaches Christian family values night and day, not to mention the Seventh Commandment as a cornerstone of "Christian Europe's" morality.