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Márki-Zay Responds to Direkt36 Report, Explains Campaign Failures

Speaking on ATV’s Egyenes Beszéd program, Péter Márki-Zay, the political opposition’s joint candidate for prime minister, said that he was shocked by an article published by investigative outlet Direkt36 on Tuesday on the reasons for his election defeat and the collapse of the opposition. He was also shocked and hurt to see how many times the heads of the six-party coaltion made decisions behind his back.

He added that business and lobbying interests had tried to influence the campaign, which he attempted to stop. At the same time, Márki-Zay also took responsibility for his election loss.

Well, I’m sure I made a million mistakes.

-he said, in large part because of his inadequate campaign messaging.

Péter Márki-Zay also mentioned that he felt he was the candidate in the primary election least likely to be lumped in with former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, still loathed by large numbers of voters, which is why he won the primary. This is also why Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony withdrew as a primary candidate, but their calculations didn’t work out in the end.

Fidesz then made a campaign about Gyurcsány […] half a year later they were already lumping me in with Gyurcsány […] I was sad to see that Fidesz’s communication capabilities were not only able to make this possible, but that they could make hundreds of thousands of people in this country believe that we would be taking away their children to die in Ukraine.

-said Péter Márki-Zay at the end of the interview. [Index]

Budapest Development Center to be Run by Notorious Budapest-Hater János Lázár

Construction and development overseen by the Budapest Development Center (BFK) will be transferred to the Ministry of Construction and Investment, headed by János Lázár, the Prime Minister’s Officer confirmed to RTL News in response to a Telex article published on Monday.

Telex reported that BFK head Balázs Fürjes had announced to his staff a few days prior that the state body coordinating developments in the capital would be transferred to Lázár’s new ministry.

This may also mean that the BFK will cease to exist in its current form, as János Lázár has said on multiple occastions that he considers the development of rural Hungary as much more important than the capital. A year ago, former Budapest Mayor István Tarlós said that János Lázár never had any love for Budapest.

Moreover, the government may have decided that developing Budapest is not a priority, as it was able to gain a two-thirds majority in Parliament without the need to win seats in the capital city.

The change is likely to have an effect on the major transportation projects administered by the BFK the most, but not on the government’s big-ticket, so-called “prestige” development projects, such as the Liget project or the construction taking place in the Buda Castle. [RTL, 444]

Czech Foreign Minister Calls Hungary’s Position on Latest Russian Sanctions “Unacceptable”

Hungary’s position rejecting EU sanctions on Russia’s energy exports is unacceptable, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský wrote in a Twitter post on Tuesday:

The decision and approach of Hungary’s government not to support any sanctions that target Russian energy exports is unacceptable. Especially now as Europe needs to be united more than ever.

EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell said on Monday night, following a one-day meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, that unanimous support from EU member states for a proposed ban on oil imports was still lacking, and that talks were continuing.

Compromise proposals from the European Commission, in which Slovakia and Hungary would be exempt from the oil embargo until the end of 2024, and the Czech Republic until mid-2024, have been accepted by the governments in Prague and Bratislava. However, Hungary has set new conditions before it can give its consent, wrote Czech news agency CTK on Tuesday. [Magyar Hang]

Novák Tries to Win Over Poles by Condemning Putin’s Aggression on Warsaw Trip

Katalin Novák took her first trip as Hungarian head of state to Warsaw, delivering a speech in the Polish capital following her inauguration on Saturday. Unlike Viktor Orbán, she was able to say the Russian President’s name as she said that Hungary condemned Putin’s aggression. The new President held talks with her Polish counterpart, President Andrzej Duda, Sejm President Elżbieta Witek, and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

The main topic of discussion was the war in Ukraine, according to state-run television M1, who accompanied the President. The Hungarian head of state explained that Hungary would forever say no to any attempt to restore the Soviet Union, that we all have an interest in a long-term peace, and that we must stand up for innocent Ukrainians.

Novák also mentioned Putin’s aggression in her inauguration speech in Kossuth Square on Saturday, and posted about it on her Facebook page.

The post caused a great amount of disappointment to those who had become accustomed to the Russian propaganda echoed in Hungary over the last decade, with many commenters mentioning Putin’s friendship, Ukraine’s alleged war crimes, and the responsibility of NATO and the United States for the war.

The head of state also said in her speech on Saturday that her first official trip would be to Poland, in addition to talking about investigating war crimes, supporting Ukraine’s EU membership, and Hungary’s readiness to play a mediating role between Russia and Ukraine. [HVG]

Péter Márki-Zay Setting Up New Political Party

“We are forming a party of civilians,” wrote Péter Márki-Zay in a Facebook post on Monday morning, adding that issues related to setting up the party will be addressed when his organization, the Everybody’s Hungary Movement, elects officers at the end of May.

The former nominee for prime minister of the joint opposition claimed that the Everybody’s Hungary Movement, and the civilians it represents, were strongly disadvantaged during the elections, as cooperation with the opposition meant that they could not assert their interests through a single party.

Márki-Zay won a seat in Parliament on the opposition’s party list, but indicated after the elections that he would not accept it, and instead keep his current job as mayor of Hódmezővásárhely. [HVG]

Dialogue Leaves Parliament During Orbán’s Inauguration Speech

Dialogue MPs voted against electing Viktor Orbán as prime minister, and the party’s politicians left the Chamber as Viktor Orbán delivered his speech after the election, said party caucus leader Bence Tordai.

In voting against the man who has been prime minister since 2010, Tordai said that the party was representing the two million people who supported the opposition list in April, as these voters did not want to see Viktor Orbán continue as the head of government.

The politician justified his party’s departure from Parliament by saying that the Prime Minister “did not share anything” with people before the parliamentary elections about what kind of future he intended for the country. As a result, voters did not know what they were voting for, nor did they “give any specific mandate to Viktor Orbán and his party.”

Another member in the Dialogue caucus, András Jámbor, said that the planned ministry structure shows that the government doesn’t have any long-term plans for leading the country out of the current state of emergency. [HVG]

Orbán Elected as Prime Minister for Fifth Time, Says “We Are the Future of Europe”

Viktor Orbán was elected as prime minister of Hungary for the fifth time, reports Telex.

In his inauguration speech in Parliament, Orbán repeated many of the well-worn slogans heard during the campaign, such as how Hungarians did not want war, security was paramount, the utility price cuts will remain, Hungary will retain its sovereignty from Brussels, and the country will not admit migrants. He also mentioned the fight against the gender and LMBTQ-lobby, and railed against George Soros.

But the newly-reinstalled Prime Minister also heralded a new theme as well, announcing that the coming decade will be “an age of dangers, uncertainty, and wars.”

It’s also important if a nation knows its place in the world, said Orbán, and in Hungary’s case, the country has captured the attention of the West because it “has become the last bastion of Christian conservatism in the Western world.”

In addition, he believes that there is a greater awareness that Hungary is an island of peace and the home of freedom, and that the country is getting more and more followers. “National policy is not the the past, but the future,” said Orbán.

Thirty years ago, we thought that Europe was our future. Today, we think that we are the future of Europe.

-he said at the end of his speech. [Telex, Telex]

Ukraine Foreign Minister: Only One EU Country is Against Oil Embargo

EU foreign ministers met on Monday in Brussels to work out the sixth round of sanctions against Russia, which would include an embargo on the country’s oil.

European Commission President Urusla von der Leyen announced the sanctions package earlier this month, but Hungary immediately protested the move, saying it could not buy oil anywhere else but Russia.

The European Commission recommended that Hungary be exempted from the embargo if it votes for the sanctions, initially until the end of 2023, and then until the end of 2024. This means that Hungary could continue to purchase Russian oil for another two and a half years, but that offer is still is not enough to satisfy Budapest.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba was also in Brussels at the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, where he told reporters afterwards:

What I heard was clear, overwhelming support for the sixth package for oil embargo. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that there is only one country that continues blocking [the] introduction of the oil embargo.

Although Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, and Greece had previously opposed certain elements of the oil embargo and lobbied for compensation and exceptions, it became clear over the weekend that Hungary was the only member state to strongly resist the package. Kuleba, therefore, must have been referring to Hungary, writes 444, although he didn’t name it. [444]

Szijjártó Calls EU “Pompous,” Asks It for Money

No breakthrough is expected in the oil embargo talks at Monday’s meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, said Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó at a press conference in the Belgian capital. Only correspondents from pro-government media sources were invited to the event, as the independent press was not even informed of it.

Integration of the Western Balkans was a key item on the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council, with the foreign ministers of all the relevant countries present in Brussels.

Szijjártó had a poor opinion about the process, claiming that the EU’s efforts to integrate the region had been completely unsuccessful. He felt that “Brussels needs to change its pompous attitude,” then meet the conditions set by Hungary.

The Hungarian position is to acknowledge that Serbia is a vital country that can guarantee peace and security, and should be integrated into the EU. “We can easily admit Serbia tomorrow, but it should have been yesterday,” Szijjártó said.

The Foreign Minister also said that all three nationalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be treated equally, and Serb leader Milorad Dodik, an ally of the Orbán government that the EU wants to sanction, should be “left alone.”

Hungary’s position is also that the EU should conclude its accession negotiations with Montenegro and begin accession talks with Albania and Northern Macedonia.

Péter Szijjártó claimed that the European Commission had crossed a red line when it proposed an oil embargo, as it is opposed to Hungary’s interests. “We will never allow Hungarians to pay the price of the war,” said Szijjártó.

He then made a list of compensation funds the Orbán government expects from the EU: €500-550 million (US $521-573 million) to convert Hungarian refineries, €200 million ($208 million) to expand the capacity of the Croatian Adriatic oil pipeline, and €15-18 billion ($15.7-18.8 billion) to modernize Hungary’s energy infrastructure.

However, Szijjártó did not promise that Hungary would lift its veto on the Russian sanctions even if it receives the money it is demanding. [Magyar Hang]

New Gov’t Structure Won’t Include Independent Ministries for Health or Education

The structure and personnel in Viktor Orbán’s new government will include a total of six ministers and four ministries that deal with the economy, but no independent ministry for health care or education. At the moment, it appears that the responsibility for these two areas will be transferred to the Ministry of the Interior.

Out of the 14 ministers in the fifth Orbán government, nine are being retained from the previous government. This include Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, Justice Minister Judit Varga (the only woman in the Cabinet), Agriculture Minister István Nagy, and Finance Minister Mihály Varga.

Zsolt Semjén will remain Deputy Prime Minister, as well as Minister without portfolio for National Policy, Nationality Policy, Church Policy and Church Diplomacy. László Palkovics will continue as a member of the government, but will lead a slightly-different portfolio in the new Ministry of Technology and Industry.

Gergely Gulyás will stay on as Minister in charge of the Prime Minister’s Office, while Antal Rogán will remain in his role as head of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Office, which will take over supervision of the civilian intelligence services. Until now, this area fell under the Ministry of the Interior, which will continue to be headed by Sándor Pintér.

Newcomers to the government are Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovinczky as Defense Minister, János Csák at the head of the newly-created Cultural and Innovation Ministry, and Márton Nagy, who will be in charge of economic development.

There will also be two returnees in the cabinet: János Lázár, who will be the Minister of Construction and Investment, and Tibor Navracsics, who will be responsible for regional development and the use of EU funds.

Since there will be a total of 14 ministers but only 11 ministries in the recently-submitted bill setting up the government, it appears very likely that Márton Nagy and Tibor Navracsics will only be ministers without portfolios, just as Zsolt Semjén will still not have his own independent ministry.

Analyst Not Surprised at Lack of Ministries for Health Care and Education

Andrea Virág, strategic director at the Republikon Institute, said that the fact that nearly a third of the ministries will be economically-related fits into Viktor Orbán’s narrative that the biggest challenges in the next few years will be in the economic realm, such as runaway inflation, the energy crisis, and the effects of the war.

By putting attention on the economy, Orbán wants to show voters that he is prioritizing these pocketbook issues, she said.

Virág was not surprised that neither education nor health care received independent ministries in the new government, as these areas have never been among the government’s priorities. Not even the Covid pandemic could convince Viktor Orbán to make health care a higher priority, she added. [Népszava]

Szijjártó May Take Charge of Paks II Nuclear Expansion Project

Several energy-related tasks in the new government may soon be transferred to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, 24.hu learned from sources close to the government.

A new Ministry of Construction and Investment has been created that will be run by János Lázár, who is returning to the government after having previously served as Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office. But the Paks II nuclear power plant investment project may end up being supervised by Péter Szijjártó.

The Foreign Ministry will have a stronger portfolio if it represents energy-related issues at the international level, claimed the site’s sources.

This includes tasks such as international procurement and cooperation with the European Union’s Energy Council, meaning it appears likely that Szijjártó will also handle some of the negotiations and issues connected with EU sanctions.

24.hu asked the Prime Minister’s Press Office for confirmation of the news, but has not yet received a response. [Magyar Hang]

Industry Experts: Russian Oil May Be Providing Huge Profits for MOL

Energy market expert József Balogh said that Hungarian oil and gas company MOL’s extra income of US $4 million a day mostly derives from the use of Russian crude oil.

The expert said that Hungary’s daily oil consumption is about 180,000 barrels, of which Russian oil makes up about 65%.

Balogh told RTL News that the fixed official price of 480 Ft. ($1.29) per liter causes significant additional costs for the oil company.

However, energy experts who talked to napi.hu believe that MOL may be getting Russian oil at a discount. Two oil industry experts told the news site that, based on the margins of previous years, they estimate that at certain times the Hungarian national oil company could have purchased Russian oil at a discount of up to 20-30%.

With discounted prices and high margins, they say it is understandable why the Hungarian oil company and the Orbán government are against the proposed EU embargo on Russian oil.

According to an expert interviewed by napi.hu, converting MOL’s refineries could be a major loss for the company, but does not pose any technological difficulties for them. This is all the more so because 30-35% of MOL’s oil already comes from Arabic countries. [Index]

Right Before Leaving Office, Áder Strips Ukrainian of Hungarian Citizenship

One week before President János Áder ended his term in office, he revoked the citizenship of Vasily Lazarchuk at the recommendation of Gergely Gulyás, Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister’s Office, reports mfor, citing the Official Gazette.

This wasn’t the first such decision by the now-former head of state, who stripped several Ukrainians of their Hungarian citizenship in his last few weeks in office. There was no reason provided for the decisions in any of these cases, writes the news portal. [HVG]

A Quarter of Hungarians Think Russia is Defending Itself by Attacking Ukraine

In the past two months, the number of Hungarians who consider Russia the aggressor in the Ukrainian war has been steadily and significantly declining, according to a new Publicus Institute poll reported on by Népszava. In previous polls, 64% of respondents thought of Russia as an aggressor in early March, compared to only 58% at the end of March and 56% now.

The survey reveals that 25% of Hungarians believe that Russia was defending itself by attacking Ukraine and launching the war.

Moreover, the article points out that the number of people satisfied with the government’s response to the war thus far has gone from 60% to 66% over the past few months.

72% of respondents answered in the negative to the question: “Would you support sanctions against Russia if it meant you would have to pay more for your energy costs?” But the answers were highly dependent on political affiliation: only 6% of Fidesz supporters were willing to make any sacrifice large or small, while 61% of opposition voters would be willing to do so.

However, the poll showed that Hungarians still identify with Western values, with a strong 62% majority agreeing that “Hungary traditionally belongs to the West in terms of values, and must therefore strive towards the West in the future.”

Very few respondents (5-18%) agreed that it would be in Hungary’s interest for the country to get closer to Russia and away from the European Union and the United States. [HVG]

EU May Put Off Russian Oil Embargo Due to Hungarian Opposition

Some EU member states are already suggesting that new sanctions on Russian oil be postponed due to Hungarian opposition, and that other punitive measures against Russia be set up in the meantime, writes Bloomberg. Implementing any sanctions requires the consent of all 27 Member States.

Hungary argues that the move would do too much damage to the economy, making the idea of postponing the oil export ban increasingly popular. However, a diplomat claims that some countries are worried that putting off an oil embargo would be a sign of weakness.

The EU wants a ban on the purchase of Russian oil in Member States within the next six months, and on refined petroleum products by early January next year.

However, states heavily dependent on Russian oil would get a temporary exemption from the ban: the Czech Republic would be exempt until June 2024, while Hungary and Slovakia would receive an exemption until the end of the year.

The article states the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, would have a video call with Viktor Orbán and other leaders in the region, but that it had been postponed and no new date has been set for it yet. [Magyar Hang]

Momentum: Katalin Novák is Unfit to Be President

The Momentum Movement considers Katalin Novák as an unsuitable candidate to embody the unity of the nation, and wants the head of state to be directly elected by voters.

In response to Katalin Novák’s inauguration as President of Hungary on Saturday, Momentum’s Márton Tompos wrote on Facebook:

A one-sided election by a two-thirds majority of the Fidesz Parliament gave her this position. Just half a year ago, she was still a member of Fidesz and a minister without portfolio in Viktor Orbán’s government.

A statement by the party added that “Momentum believes that Katalin Novák, like János Áder before her, is unfit to embody the unity of the nation.”

Momentum continues to prefer that the head of state be directly elected by voters, as the political opposition coalition stressed during the election campaign. The six-party opposition nominated economist Péter Róna as their candidate for head of state. [Index]

Katalin Novák Inaugurated as President, Condemns Russian Aggression in Speech

Katalin Novák was inaugurated as President of Hungary in Kossuth Square on Saturday. In her speech, the new President dealt at length with the Ukrainian war and even named those responsible for it, which Magyar Hang notes is quite rare among Fidesz politicians.

In the introduction to her speech, Novák said that she had arrived to the ceremony with gratitude in her heart, as her family had accompanied her and many others had come to celebrate with her.

Katalin Novák said that we have to show what homeland means, as well as compatriots and our common life and place in the world. But she didn’t shy away from being direct about the war either:

We Hungarians have many reasons to be joyful, proud, and celebratory. A dark sky, however, casts a shadow over our lives: the war. This is not the virtual reality of video games, not CGI, not Photoshop, and not a war movie. This is the bloody reality that our grandparents personally experienced in World War II.

She mentioned that Hungary rushed to immediately help Ukrainians when the first refugees arrived, and stressed how much the country has been doing since then to take care of them. “Hungary has earned an ‘A’ in humanity,” she said.

We condemn Putin’s aggression, attacking a sovereign country. We give an eternal ‘no’ to efforts to restore the Soviet Union.

-stated Novák.

Hungarians want peace, said President Novák, and although it is not their war, it is being waged against them, the peace-loving Hungarian people. Novák also demanded that “war criminals be investigated and punished.”

Katalin Novák also announced that she would be traveling to Warsaw on May 17 to meet with the Polish President. [Magyar Hang]

Biden Taps Human-Rights Lawyer David Pressman as US Ambassador to Hungary

A new American ambassador is coming to Hungary a year and a half after former Ambassador David Cornstein left Budapest, reports Magyar Nemzet. The White House released a statement on Friday indicating that U.S. President Joe Biden had nominated David Pressman for the position.

The 45-year-old Pressman is the former director of George and Amal Clooney’s foundation and worked as a human rights lawyer for former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Between 2014-2017, under President Barack Obama, Pressman represented his country at the United Nations at an ambassadorial level. He currently works as a partner at the New York office of law firm Jenner & Block.

Pressman will have to be confirmed by the US Senate before he can begin working in Hungary, a process that typically takes months.

HVG suggests that David Pressman’s nomination may have symbolic significance: as an advocate of LMBTQ issues, he is coming to a country where the rights of the LMBTQ community have been restricted by the homophobic so-called “child protection” law.

Chargé d’affaires Marc Dillard has been heading the U.S. Embassy in Budapest since the departure of Donald Trump-nomiated David Cornstein in 2021. [HVG]

Navracsics and Lázár Return for Another Term in Orbán’s Fifth Government

The ministers for Viktor Orbán’s fifth government were announced on Friday, with four ministers from the previous government departing and five new ones arriving.

Since 2010, 28 ministers have served in Fidesz-led governments, but only four of these have been women. Justice Minister Judit Varga will be the only woman among 14 ministers in the new government. In addition, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén will be the only minister coming from smaller coalition party KDNP.

Two politicians who had served in previous Orbán governments are returning for another round: former EU Commissioner and Justice Minister Tibor Navracsics will be a minister responsible for land development and the use of EU funds, while former head of the Prime Minister’s Office János Lázár will lead the Construction and Investment Ministry.

Among those departing the government are Minister of Human Capacities Miklós Kásler, Defense Minister Tibor Benkő, and Minister for National Wealth Andrea Mager. [Telex]

Two-Thirds of Hungarians Want to Reduce Russian Energy Dependency as Soon as Possible

67% of Hungarians think that the EU should reduce its oil and gas dependency on Russia as soon as possible, reports Átlátszó. However, this was still far below the EU average of 85%, a new poll shows.

The European Commission conducted a comprehensive poll among EU citizens in April on support for EU responses to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. The Portuguese were most in favor of cutting off Russian gas and oil, with nearly 100% of those surveyed believing that ending energy dependency on Russia was urgent. But a very high proportion of the population (over 90%) thought the same in Malta, Finland, the Netherlands, and Poland.

Comparatively, many fewer Hungarians were in support of the idea, which perhaps shouldn’t be a suprise when the Hungarian Prime Minister makes statements such as “it won’t help if we shut off Russian oil and gas and the Hungarian economy grinds to a halt three or four days later.”

Support for reducing Russia’s energy dependency was only lower than Hungary in Bulgaria and Slovakia, with 63% of the population of the former favoring the idea, and only 59% of the latter. [Átlátszó]