Wed Nov 16th, 2005 at 07:16:43 AM EST
If you expected a story on Budapest's sex industry, sorry... this is about a political scandal.
In my introducion
to Hungarian politics (and later in my campaign
I mentioned that presently there is a scandal overdrive here - meaning that the nominally leftist-liberal governing coalition and the populist right-wing opposition engage in rapid-fire accusations against the other side, accusations often with not much
basis in reality.
The most lurid and least clear one concerns an alleged couple of spies for Romania. The little in the story that is certain: There was a pair of ethnic-Hungarians from Romania who moved to Budapest - the husband worked as the representative of the ethnic Hungarian party in Romania (RMDSz/UDMR), the wife worked at the cultural and education ministries in the sections responsible for relationships with the ethnic Hungarian minorities beyond Hungary's borders -; and the NBH (Hungarian FBI) put them under observation on suspicion of spying for Romania1.
The opposition's version:
The husband damaged relationships where he could, using his easy access to gullible government politicians to get confidential stuff. The wife seduced both the cultural and education ministers, and not just gained information but ruined beyond-borders Hungarian education programmes. To avoid scandal, the NBH just 'chased' the couple from Hungary.
The government's version (in the recently
released report of the secret services minister):
The wife did nothing of significance, while the husband's role was to sow division between the Hungarian government and the RMDSz and try to topple the government with scandals, which he did in part by getting access to confidential data from his government contacts, in part by closely cooperating with the Hungarian right-wing opposition (leaking to them, helping them in the double citizenship referendum mess and amplifying intra-Hungarian animosities thereafter), and by trying to taint top government figures in his own scandal once it got out.
Where is the truth? You wouldn't believe...
I don't have the foggiest idea what's the truth. Both versions sound crazy and improbable, don't they? Especially with further details:
The first reports with the opposition's version appeared in the Romanian-Romanian press - why would someone in the NBH leak there? The wife passed a top-level screening before changing ministries - why did the NBH not protest then? And how come the 'chased-away' couple was found by the press still in Hungary, declaring innocence?
As for the government's version: why would the husband need his contacts to get access to classified data, given that his wife had a login? Who will further his work as a spy after exposure by smearing his own wife? Why would opposition politicians go into such a gamble, which will obviously explode in their face soon?
...yet it's true:
While some claims are rather baseless (for example, the seduction part is a waaay-over-interpretation of the chatty tone and a few words in a telephone call), the thing is that apparently, each of the above doubts happens to be opposed to some extent by hard evidence.
The tapes the Romanian papers mentioned exist - the couple, and Hungarian government officials in contact with them, were really observed by NBH, and that despite the wife's previous screening. The NBH truly intended to force the couple outside, and it may have at least been behind their job change.
As for the other version: the NBH does have evidence that the husband got someone's login to the classified database and used it, though no proof that he actually downloaded anything damaging. But the most improbable of them all: there exists a taped telephone call between the alleged spy and the speaker of the main opposition party - and on it, they discuss how ministers could be tainted in the scandal!
Central-Eastern people in politics are truly idiots, aren't they?... (Some earlier idiocy detailed in this diary on Bush and Hungary.)
BTW, the opposition sued the government for libel, claiming the secret services minister's report differs strongly from the NBH's (classified) report it is based on, while NBH leaders deny any significant changes - then again, we should know ever since then MI6 head Sir Richard Dearlove's appearance at the Hutton Inquiry that such claims can't be trusted.
- A little historical background here: Transsylvania was part of Hungary, but given to Romania after WWI, with a sizable Hungarian minority. Fears of separatism on one side, fears of assimilation on the other ensured constant nationalist conflict since (between Romania and both the Hungarian minority and the governments of Hungary, see latest flare-up in adhoc's diary), complicated by Hungarian - Romanian-Hungarian issues (I wrote of the last big mess, the failed referendum on double citizenship in Hungary).
The reciprocally silly attitude of nationalist politicians is best showcased with the following anecdote: during the first elected, right-wing government's tenure in Hungary, an liberal opposition leader (later turncoat right-wing PM Viktor Orbán, but this is another story) accused the government of lying. In reply, a right-wing MP declared that "it does not behove to talk like this in Parliament, you talk like this in Bucharest!"↑