Few foreign commenters can match the toxicity of rhetoric of some Hungarian-born critics-for-hire, who out of personal grievances, ideological predisposition or various forms of self-interest will only find corruption, autocracy, oligarchy and evil in contemporary Hungary. Although one of the less prominent ones, Zsuzsanna Szelényi’s latest contribution to the subject published in the Polish political newspaper, Rzeczpospolita, warrants our attention.
In her recent opinion piece the Hungarian politician claims that EU reconstruction funds have been withheld due to Hungary’s failing democracy and concerns about the independence of the judiciary. This, she states is a result of organized crackdown on opposition parties, journalists, universities and NGOs in Hungary. As a source for her claims she refers to Freedom House, a US State Department sponsored institution that has been accused of biased reporting not only by Hungarian government politicians, but even by left-leaning academic researches for “channeling a radical libertarian ideology”.
Szelényi, who draws attention to herself by frequent references to the fact that she is a former disgruntled member of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, also claims that Fidesz is long gone from the principles that characterized it when it was formed as a Union of Young Democrats, when it was a resistance movement against communist rule. The former politician, complaining about the rise of oligarchy in Hungary, maintains that “financial abuses have become part of Orbán’s governing style”.
In Zsuzsanna Szelényi’s own words, financial scandals and the rule of oligarchs were a “critical moment for liberals like me”. She protests that after the departure of liberals from Fidesz, Orbán had rebuilt the “party along anti-communist, nationalist and Christian lines”. As why this is something objectionable within the European political context she fails to address, but she continues by saying that Orbán systematically destroyed democratic institutions, from changing the constitution and electoral laws to obstructing the democratic state and independent judiciary. In her opinion, he has secured the support of the country’s new business elite by pouring billions in EU funds into their ventures.
Oligarchy is about as much of a social and political phenomenon in Hungary as in any other European country or in the US, both in its pro-, and anti-government form.
Yet it is a mystery as why a politician disappointed by its party’s alleged implication in financial scandals involving billionaire mandarins, reacts by joining another party led by Hungary’s best-known billionaire oligarch, Gordon Bajnai.
The former left-wing prime minister has left office in 2010 leaving Hungary on an IMF drip feed on the brink of bankruptcy, with one of the highest GDP per capita debts in the EU. Bajnai, Szelényi’s former boss, continues to be in the center of attention even today, as he is being investigated for his company, DatAdat’s possible misuse of personal data of Hungarian voters, and for reportedly receiving significant amounts of money from American sponsors in order to influence the outcome of the Hungarian elections in April 2022.
Zuzsanna Szelényi with her former boss, Gordon Bajnai. Photo: Facebook Zsuzsanna Szelényi.
Another close associate of Szelényi, co-founder of her Homeland and Progress Association, Dávid Korányi’s name has also popped up recently, when it turned out that he was behind the eye-watering sums that poured into the opposition coalition’s coffers before the April elections from the United States. The money can be traced going to NGOs, left-wing media outlets and political movements critical of the current Hungarian government.
Again, Polish readers eager to learn about Hungary’s descent into “anti-communist Christian nationalism” will not learn from Szelényi’s editorial as why changing the constitution, when one has the constitutional majority by a democratic electoral mandate in parliament, is a bad thing. Furthermore, when she complains about the destruction of independent judiciary, no doubt implying it to be now subservient to the government’s goals, she is ignoring the latest incident, when President Katalin Novák, a former Fidesz MP, had sharply criticized the judiciary for its incompetence for not being able to come to a conclusion in a conspiracy case 13 years in running. Not really an indication of a cozy relationship between the governing elite and the judiciary.
The pinnacle of Szelényi’s article is her characterization of Viktor Orbán as a political chameleon. Ironically, taking a quick peek into the author’s own career, one quickly learns that she herself had started out among the anti-communist reformists of Fidesz, only to take a volte face by joining their arch-enemies, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and his right-hand-man, billionaire businessman, Gordon Bajnai. She entered parliament under the colors of the Together (Együtt) movement, but again she turned her back on them in 2017 citing the scandalous behavior of some of her fellow MPs. It is only a natural progression rather than a new u-turn that she is now working for George Soros’ Central European University, as well as the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
She is certainly not the only Hungarian politician who has changed colors and loyalties in the past few decades, but few of those had the nerve of comparing Orbán to a political chameleon.
Incidentally, Szelényi has a new book out, and how else to sell it to Polish readers than obliging them with the woefully simplistic, almost cringe-worthy “Orbán as Kremlin puppet” narrative. Hungarophobia is now a best-seller in the West, hence a reference to her book is dutifully provided by the Polish newspaper at the end of the article. Yet those who followed Hungarian politics of the past twenty years will know that it was not so much the current government’s rather stormy relationship with the West, or its allegedly cozy ties to the East that put them in power.
To a large extent, it is the trauma of the corruption and kleptocracy of the Gyurcsány and Bajnai governments back in the 2000s that still reverberates with voters and keeps them ticking Fidesz at the ballot box. Szelényi was, and still is an enabler of forces that have shocked Hungary with their lack of accountability, clientelism and their complete surrender of national interest to the highest bidder.
Featured Photo: Facebook Zsuzsanna Szelényi.