All in the family in Orbán’s Hungary

To be the director of a public institute, a high-ranking diplomat (ambassador or consul general), a management-level civil servant, a leader in public broadcasting or in much of Hungary’s private media, you not only frequently have to be clearly loyal to the ruling Fidesz party, but you often need a personal family connection to players in Viktor Orbán’s Prime Minister’s Office. There are some exceptions, but they are now fewer and further between. The most recent example of this is the appointment of a new current events editor at TV2, which was recently purchased by business interests tied to Fidesz oligarch, Andy Vajna.

Mr. Vajna, after successfully hindering another Fidesz oligarch, Lajos Simicska, from purchasing the station–and after receiving a totally unjustifiable loan from the state-owned Eximbank– turned the private broadcaster’s management on its head. TV2’s new ownership appointed Vivien Szalai to be the station’s current events editor. Ms. Szalai’s media experience is exclusively in the tabloid press. She worked for a gossip tabloid daily called Bors and then ended up as an employee of another tabloid, called Story.

In 2014, right in the middle of the national election campaign, Ms. Szalai published a tawdry tell-all book about disgraced Socialist politician János Zuschlag, who was charged with fraud in 2007 (still in the days of the previous Socialist-Free Democrat government) and sentenced to eight years in prison in March 2010, right before Mr. Orbán returned to power. The book was published and distributed by Századvég, an institute with close ties to Fidesz and one which never before published tabloid rubbish, but focused instead on economic research. Ms. Szalai changed that, and based her book on interviews with Mr. Zuschlag, who felt abandoned by his former colleaugues in the Hungarian Socialist Party, and was happy to “sell” his story to the pro-Fidesz think tank.

I ended up buying the book–entitled From Party Headquarters to Prison (Pártházból börtönbe)–and was surprised by just how garish it was, even though my initial expectations were already set extremely low. On the one hand, the book reads like the story of a frustrated, angry teenager, who is trying too hard to prove to the reader that he is really “dark.” On the other hand, the story is about a borderline sociopathic, wannabe flashy young man, who seems stifled by the mediocrity and doldrums of small-town Hungary, and wants only to strive for greatness, wear expensive suits and impress, in an entirely superficial way. The book probably had little to no impact on the results of the 2014 elections, which Fidesz handily won, but it is clear that it was meant to be a drive-by shooting against the Socialists. Mr. Zuschlag, who had been disowned by the Hungarian left, was more than happy to cooperate with Ms. Szalai.

But the personal details on Ms. Szalai’s resume are far more important than her professional background. Ms. Szalai’s two closest friend are Cecília Rogán, the wife of the Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, Antal Rogán, and Fanny Kaminsky, the administrator of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page. Mr. Kaminsky is also the ex-wife of Árpád Habony, Mr. Orbán’s strategist.

Vivien Szalai on the right, pictured in this seflie with close friends Fanni Kaminsly (middle) and Cecília Rogán (left).

Vivien Szalai on the right, pictured in this seflie with close friends Fanni Kaminsly (middle) and Cecília Rogán (left).

Mr. Habony is today also a business partner of Arthur J. Finkelstein. Mr. Habonyi and Mr. Finkelstein co-founded a company in Great Britain called Danube Business Consulting Ltd.

The prime minister’s strategist was in the news for another reason today as well. The Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts, for completely inexplicable reasons, loaned 10 valuable paintings, valued at almost 300 million forints, to a private apartment in Budapest’s 5th District, which is owned by the local municipal government, but is occupied by Mr. Habony’s former mother-in-law.

A warm welcome to Mr. Orbán’s Hungary! You know what you have to do to get ahead.

5 Comments

  1. Avatar András B. Göllner says:

    Hungary has long ago ceased to be a democracy. It is a predatory autocracy, a Mafia-State, that specializes in the use of “soft power” (patronage, affinity-fraud, intimidation, censorship, misinformation, propaganda, graft, etc) to create and uphold a compliant vassal class that is needed to cover its tracks and sustain itself in power. Members of that class include well known westerners like Arthur Finkelstein, Andy Vajna, or the American Connie Mack. Orbán’s regime stands as a testimony to the inability of the European Union and the North Atlantic Community to uphold the values that are its raison d’étre. It is a stark reminder to all, that crime pays.

  2. Well said Dr. Gollner!!!

  3. Yes, quite sad that again democracies, new and old, can not defend themselves against gangsters or immoral, treacherous upstarts who use/abuse the democratic system to clime to power and then the push off the ladder.

  4. How could they build democracy when they don’t even know what it is and how it works. They didn’t have time to learn it, they didn’t receive teaching (the rest of the education system is just being mutilated) and unfortunately impetuous hot tempered Hungarians are not very flexible and they never learn, even when they have a chance. But was there any nation that could develop working democracy within 20 or 30 years? It took developed democracies much longer time, much much longer. And even they are just squandering what they have. All Europe is on the way to become a police state.

    Hungary rather needs help than blame. That won’t come easy. Poor guys. They need help supposing they would accept it warmhearted instead of abusing it and their saviors if there is any.

  5. Avatar Charlie London says:

    These giggling ‘schoolgirl’ airheads – with jobs that are way above their competence – or just well-paid non-job sinecures in their nepotistic bubble are testament to why so many young Hungarians are leaving.

    As chief ‘Airhead’ – Orban Rahel – who hasn’t worked an honest day in her life – together with her land-seizing corrupt thug of a husband – represents the pinnacle if the corrupt pile.

    May they rot, come the day of reckoning, when many honest – and intelligent – Hungarians can return.

    In the meantime giggle away in your ignorance and corruption.

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