Hungarian embassy in Ottawa stages cabaret at Scheppele-talk in Montreal

When I was riding back from Montreal late Tuesday evening, after a roundtable discussion hosted by Concordia University on the state of the rule of law in Hungary, I didn’t think that a short video I produced starring the Embassy of Hungary in Ottawa and their completely surreal act would find its way onto nearly all of Hungary’s major internet news sites, including: hvg.hu, 444.hu, index.hu and hir24.

So, what exactly happened that was so out of the ordinary? Concordia hosted an academic discussion on rule of law in Hungary, within the context of changing international definitions of what we even mean by this term, as well as the structural and legal limitations of the European Union to act when a member state appears to violate the basic principles of constitutional liberal democracy. The panel, including Kim Lane Scheppele of Princeton University, András Bozóki of the Central European University and András Göllner, professor emeritus at Concordia, was chaired by political science professor Daniel Salée, also of Concordia. Professor Scheppele provided some specific and innovative ideas on how the EU might, in fact, be able to hold the Hungarian government accountable for its rule of law violations.

The panel was followed by a lively question period, including both students from Concordia University, as well as members of the Hungarian community in Montreal, such as Tony Kéz, chair of the city’s Canadian Hungarian Chamber of Commerce. (Mr. Kéz was critical of the negative portrayal of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his policies.)

But then came the real surprise…at around 8:00 PM, when Professor Salée had indicated that the session had ended. Hungarian deputy head of mission Lajos Oláh, presumably acting with the full knowledge and approval of Ambassador Bálint Ódor, organized what can only be described as a surreal spectacle for not just a diplomat, but for any high-ranking civil servant.

Lajos Oláh at Concordia University on March 3, 2015.

Lajos Oláh at Concordia University on March 3, 2015.

First, Mr. Oláh declared (after the session had formally ended), that the last question would be a statement from the Hungarian government and that he would be reading this out. This did not meet the approval of the organizers – understandably – and despite the fact that time was up, Mr. Oláh was permitted to ask a final question. After being asked to introduce himself (most people did not know who he was and why he was so upset), he used this opportunity to inform the panelists that they were unbalanced, unfair and partial in their depiction of Hungary and took them to task for not inviting a representative of the government to sit on the panel.

Professor Göllner explained that this was an academic panel, and that the diplomatic missions had been invited to attend and had every opportunity to ask questions at this event. But the panel was comprised of academics and not politicians or bureaucrats. Professor Göllner then noted that there have been repeated efforts to engage in dialogue with the ambassador, diplomats and community leaders, but these efforts were in vain.

“All of you are like-minded,” Mr. Oláh stated in his remarks to Professors Göllner, Scheppele and Bozóki, resulting in a moment of laughter in the room.

Professor Göllner noted that all were welcome to attend the event and ask questions, including Ambassador Ódor.

“Why should the Hungarian ambassador sit down with you?” Mr Oláh asked Dr. Göllner, amidst laughter from the audience and in contradiction to his previous criticism that a Hungarian official was not invited to be part of the panel.

This is when things really went pear-shaped for Mr. Oláh and in the most surreal way. He unilaterally walked over from his microphone on one side of the room to the podium, demanding to speak, before a sea of raised eyebrows. When he was told that he could speak for two minutes only, he packed up his notes at the podium and shuffled back to his seat to pick up some more papers and then back to the microphone at the side of the room.

And then he began reading lengthy excerpts of Concordia University policies on academic integrity, suggesting that the panel had contravened the regulations of the university. Professor Salée asked Mr. Oláh to stop reading these rules, as he is perfectly familiar with them, but to explain why he suggested in no uncertain terms that the presenters were being dishonest.

Mr. Oláh instead packed up his sheets again and went back to his seat, at which point Professor Scheppele asked him to be specific in the areas he felt that the panel was being dishonest or inaccurate.

“I won’t”–responded Mr. Oláh, and that ended an unforgettable evening.

About two dozen people lingered in the room after the event, including Mr. Oláh who came up to me without any greeting and demanded to be told who had organized the event. This then morphed into a heated exchange with a handful of people listening on the sidelines, in which he called the presenters “stupid.” He was asked to confirm if he felt Professor Scheppele, and others, were indeed stupid, but he did not offer a response.

The next morning, an hour or so after I uploaded my video to YouTube, the news spread in Hungary like wildfire.

“Since he couldn’t defend the government in two minutes, Lajos Oláh decided to make a fool of himself instead,” wrote 444.hu.

“This time a Hungarian diplomat chose to disrupt a talk in Canada,” wrote hvg.hu.

“Hungary’s diplomat put on a show at the Canadian Democratic Charter’s roundtable,” noted index.hu

A Hungarian diplomat threw a fit at a Canadian presentation,” reported hir24.

I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that Mr. Oláh, who came to the talk with dozens of pages of university policy printed out and a statement, did not have the full backing of Ambassador Ódor to act the way he did at Concordia University. If this is not the case, then we will be happy to publish Mr. Ódor’s explanation of what occurred and why his embassy chose to disrupt an academic event in Canada.

6 Comments

  1. Gyula Bognar, Jr. says:

    Mr. Oláh demonstrated the typical Fidesz attitude and mentality.
    In their selfish and virtual World, there is no acceptance and respect for anyone else, who has a different opinion than their distorted view of the World, which they want to control.
    We are no strangers to these kind of inhumane people, the Russian Communists, the followers and enforcers of Mussolini’s and Hitler’s fascist dictatorships, etc. were made by the same mold.
    Hungary became a lawless, ersatz banana republic, where bananas don’t grow and the republic was discontinued in 2011 with the abandonment of the Constitution and the ratification of the Kludge, or Tákolmány in Hungarian.
    No doubt, if the viktor mentions Putin, Erdogan and Aliyev as examples of good leaders to be followed, soon he will expand his role models with Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-un and the late Idi Amin.

  2. György Lázár says:

    Congratulations! It is so important that videos like yours are circulated. The human quality of these “Orbán-diplomats”… simply appalling. The lack of intellect, tactfulness and diplomatic skills are apparent. How can these people play any role in international relations?

  3. Robert Ferber says:

    Orban’s mafia government by and large eliminated the opposition’s media in Hungary.
    They are spending $ millions to influence Hungarians opinion in Canada and the USA.
    What is next shooting and killing the opposition figures like his idol Putyin?

  4. To be a “diplomat” in the Orban government the only requirement is to be a loyal ass kisser.

  5. No Country for Free Men says:

    The same counterselection we were used to in the communist-era has become apparent again in all fields of the governance, down to the smallest chinovniks. The loyalty to the regime is the most important quality required by the position holders, and the more it is displayed openly, the better. Political and Economic delusion is a must, and the blatant propaganda in the government financed media resembles the late 70’s. Its a very surreal, and very helpless experience to live in Hungary nowadays, and see time flow backwards, and history repeating itself – but apparently, for a very few only, and it makes it even more sad.

  6. Topsy-Turvy in Turul-La-La-Land

    Hungarian government defends the “unorthodox” performance of its Canadian Embassy Head of Mission at Professor Scheppele’s Roundtable at Concordia University in Montreal.

    What an irony that the prince of diplomats, America’s André Goodfriend, who did nothing but good, with exemplary diplomatic eloquence and skill, is recalled, while the the embarrassing, incompetent and indefensible performance of Hungary’s football troll, Lajos Olah, is officially defended by the Fidesz FUD Factory.

    Everything really is topsy-turvy in Turul-La-La-Land. The entire world is waking up to it, which Orban’s captive populace remains in its dull and shameful trance, mesmerized by the government-dominated media, playing on their chronic scapegoating and self-pity, caked in delusions of grandeur.

    Hungary is headed for yet another crashing fall unless it can shake itself free of Orban’s deathlock on its destiny.

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