BSP#2: US interference in the Hungarian elections
An article that blew up the Hungarian public discourse, contextualized and annotated.
It’s about US interference in the 2022 Hungarian national elections. The article, translated, should speak for itself, and it will, but there’s some preparation to do beforehand, so you’re comfortable in your seats before the show begins.
About the Article(s)
24.hu is an online, opposition newspaper — they might object to that categorization, but I prefer clarity over nuances, so opposition they are —, and I’d rank them as most unbiased one of the majors, the most autonomous one. As such, they dared to run the story, and even did a followup podcast episode, which includes a semi-serious trigger warning for the listeners.
Our focus today however is the one article on the topic that has the most paprika, written by András Schiffer, published on Index.hu a month ago titled “Action for democracy export”. It had the biggest splash in Hungary, a hearty summary with plenty of spice in it, just the way we like it.
Index.hu kind of still is the “front page of the Hungarian internet”, kind of liberal, by content definitely, by ownership it’s dubious, there’s some Fidesz-money, but it’s not affecting the content so far.
You’re not about to read a government hit piece, they don’t — refuse to even — have the skills to do communication on this level of finesse and efficiency.
The defloration of neutrality
In the following essay you will see at least one “movement”. These are political parties. There are two major reasons why in Hungary it’s preferable to call your political entity anything but a party:
Avoid restrictions on funding
To avoid the general disdain of people towards politicians and politics
In the past decade, neutrality has been treated as a refuge for the former leftist political elite after they’d burned themselves in the late 00s.
Now you can’t have your cake and eat it, or more precisely, fuck and stay virgin: over the years, terms such as “non-governmental organization”, “movement”, “civilians”, “independent“, “observer“ or even “real conservative” lost most of whatever power they had originally held.
The run up to the 2022 election was the last hurray of trying to milk the final drops of credibility out of such — otherwise noble — notions.
Fidesz also makes use of pretense-neutral entities, but a lot more carelessly, cynically, or even as a troll. In fact, financially, Fidesz abuses this loophole way more than the opposition. Culturally, not so much: it’s either unwilling or incapable or both.
On this issue, Fidesz and its intellectuals speak the truth: in Hungary, in 2022, nothing is outside of politics, and everything is fair game: to pretend otherwise makes you an idiot or a liar.
Hungarian political eras
If you’re not familiar with Post-Soviet Hungarian politics, have this guide at hand, as the story goes beyond the current status quo. Knowing which year what was which way adds a lot of context to Hungarian politics.
About the author
András Schiffer (born 19 June 1971 in Budapest) is a Hungarian lawyer and former politician, who served as co-president of the Politics Can Be Different (LMP) and the leader of its parliamentary group.
Hungarian MP between 2010 and 2016. On 31 May 2016, Schiffer announced his retirement from politics in an interview in Index.hu. Referring to the new housing rules unilaterally adopted by ruling party Fidesz, said "the current parliamentary term has clearly demonstrated that we do not have the intellectual atmosphere for politics critical of the system".
[LMP is a center-Left, light green party, was fairly autonomous in the beginning, less so nowadays]
Disagreeing with the LMP's "new direction", Schiffer quit the party on 7 May 2018.
Schiffer is like a vitamin that we’re clearly missing from our Hungarian political diet. If Vitamin B is centrism, we have a severe deficiency. We could use a hundred times more.
He’s not upsetting the right people, he’s upsetting everyone, which is great. It’s essential for a healthy public discourse.
“Romania delenda est!” - Schiffer during his brief, ultranationalist trad phase (2015)
I was one of the first fans of the New Schiffer. I have no proof of this, but this is my post so I’ll just claim it through local absolute power. After leaving the parliament and politics, he remained quiet for a while, then circa 2018, he started speaking up. I was the first one to notice the New Schiffer as far as my circle went back then, and I was receptive. Back then he wasn’t so focused on being this contrarian, so he was a bit hit and miss, but when he managed to hit, his deliveries were remarkable. I started quoting him, which I almost never do for any Hungarian political thinker, outing myself as a fan. Allow me some hipster credit for noticing him before he was cool.
The Broader Context
All the US money and soft power allocated to Hungary is here to make our democratic process cleaner, not to interfere in our elections on behalf of anyone.
No pressure! It’s all neutral. May the best win in your young democracy!
Any foreign intervention into any democratic election is a big no-no, even sending money, so says America. I know this personally, that’s why I couldn’t — easily — get an original MAGA hat, back in 2016. I guess my dollars did eventually found a way to Trump’s campaign, one way or another, since I have it, “MADE IN USA”.
I’m guilty of foreign election interference, please forgive me, Americans! I had to get this off my chest before the big run.
I decided to flip the format for clarity’s sake, so from now on, the content is the default text, and any addition by me is [either in square brackets, italicised] or a quote like this interrupting the flow.
This post features the full translation of the article, with the permission of the original’s author.
Narrator’s taking a back seat. Let’s go!
András Schiffer: Action for democracy export
Péter Márki-Zay is undoubtedly an honest man.
PM candidate for the united opposition. Won a public primary election in 2021 to be the candidate for the 2022 election, the first one ever in Hungarian politics.
He had no party support within the opposition. Mayor of a town in Southern Hungary.
It is hard not to pay tribute to such a human virtue when we are living in an era of bold-faced liars worldwide. In recent years, in the Hungarian political arena, anyone who referred to American influence had to be very careful to avoid accusations of 'conspiracy', 'paranoia' or 'Soros-bashing'. Until now. A few weeks ago, Márki-Zay spoke, first in the podcast of Magyar Hang and then on ATV,
Magyar Hang: ex-Fidesz journalists who ended up on the losing side of a palace coup that took place between 2015-2018.
ATV: opposition-friendly television owned by the largest Hungarian evangelical church.
about the hundreds of millions of forints [in the ballpark of a million dollars] in campaign contributions he received from the American NGO Action for Democracy - through his own association, MMM - and even in June, he received the equivalent of 400 million forints [a million dollars] to pay the bills.
MMM, Mindenki Magyarországa Mozgalom, is an aforementioned movement.
The Everybody's Hungary Movement is a Hungarian political movement established to foster independent opposition and alternatives to Fidesz candidates in local elections. The Movement, which does not describe itself as a political party, was founded by Péter Márki-Zay and associates in 2018 as a means of fostering cooperation between Hungary's fractured opposition parties.
United for Hungary, the official name for the united opposition for the 2022 election. The last logo on the right is MMM’s.
Márki-Zay is particularly grateful to Action for Democracy's Advisory Board Chair Kati Marton, who has been fundraising "among Hungarians and Americans abroad".
According to the former prime minister candidate, without Action for Democracy they "could not have run such a successful campaign".
In the meantime, the Márki-Zay family has published the MMM's accounts, and it seems that the "hundreds of millions" are close to two billion [6 million dollars at the exchange rate back in January 2022, the middle of the campaign]. In the podcast above Márki-Zay only referred to the involvement of American campaign consultants, however in an earlier video he was more explicit: "[...] I was not the one to decide the day-to-day campaign issues, but the Hungarian and American campaign experts who have run many campaigns, and who we inherited from Karácsony’s staff."
Gergely Karácsony, mayor of Budapest since 2019. The most powerful opposition office holder in Hungary.
Also competed in the opposition primaries but he withdrew to support Márki-Zay on October 8, 2021.
The President of MSZP also weighed in on their interference, saying that "it was unfortunate what the American advisors did, that they constantly incited Hungarian society against Putin."
MSZP is the old school Socialist party. A dying beast. Single digit popularity.
Note that András didn’t name the then-president: neither should I. Irrelevant.
The significance of Márki-Zay's testimony goes far beyond some campaign finance excesses, and unwittingly helps to add meaning to all the government billboard campaigns of recent years. That is why the donor organisation and the network of relationships behind it are more important than the volume of US aid. That is why it is worth taking the time to get to know it. Action for Democracy is self-described as “a global organisation of concerned citizens who want to empower those fighting for freedom and democracy”. They named their campaign "Hungarian Spring", and its launch was announced in the Hungarian press (although the "Hungarian Spring" website has been inaccessible since April [the election]). The 444.hu report says that "The organisation is preparing a series of campaigns around the world to mobilise the progressive-liberal camp against the illiberal regimes in power." Today, the Action for Democracy website identifies five key - no mistake - "battleground states": Italy, Brazil, Hungary, Poland and Turkey. The key figure and operational leader of the organisation is Dávid Korányi, Karácsony's [mayor of Budapest, covered above] chief diplomatic adviser, who was even rumored in spring 2021 as a possible foreign minister in a future Karácsony government [which became moot once Karácsony withdrew from the opposition primary in the fall of 2021].
According to his biography, Korányi graduated in economics in 2006, but before that he worked as a trainee in parliamentary committees, at GKI [economist think thank connected to the Socialist party, then in power], and then on the staff of a Socialist MEP. At the age of 20, somewhat unexpectedly given his background — although he had the undoubtedly prestigious 16th place on the Socialists’ not very promising 2009 EP list — he became the new Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai's chief advisor on foreign and security policy, with the rank of State Secretary. [by 2009, the Socialist-Liberal government’s popularity had imploded] In this capacity, Korányi accompanied Prime Minister Bajnai to New York for the general debate of the 64th session of the UN General Assembly, where he met with such distinguished partners as the CEOs of JP Morgan and Rockefeller, the Chairman of Citigroup, George Soros and former US Ambassador to Budapest Nancy Brinker. They also visited the editorial office of The Wall Street Journal, and Bajnai reportedly presented an award to the political scientist Charles Gati.
Apparently the same award that Jared Kushner has just received:
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó presented the Hungarian Order of Merit to Jared Kushner, senior advisor to former United States President Donald Trump, in New York on Thursday
September 23, 2022
After the change of government [beginning of the Fidesz hegemony era, 2010], Korányi came to the United States on a German Marshall Fund grant and went straight to Johns Hopkins University, where, like Bajnai, he became a research fellow at the SAIS Center for Transatlantic Relations. His wikipedia biography says that he specialised in energy policy in the Eurasian region, shale gas development potential and EU-Russia energy relations, which is interesting because his career so far does not suggest any particular expertise in energy policy. In any case, Korányi has been the Atlantic Council's director for Eurasian energy affairs since 2012, and in this capacity he even testified before a Senate committee. Korányi is also a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a foreign policy lobby organization, a strategic advisor at Globsec and, since 2019, a senior advisor at the Budapest City Hall.
Who are the "concerned civilians" who - apart from Korányi - are the hallmarks of the global organization? Another member of the NGO board is Chris Maroshegyi, a strategist at Meta, which owns Facebook. For some reason, Márki-Zay mentions Jami Miscik, former deputy director of the CIA, as a “member”, but the organization's website does not mention him. In any case, Miscik is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US foreign policy lobbying organization, and his biography shows links to Morgan Stanley and Lehman Brothers, among others, in addition to the “three-letter agency”. The organization's website reveals a more populous advisory council than its narrow board. It is this network of “advisors” that is truly remarkable.
In the case of Kati Marton, who heads the advisory board, the weight of her social capital is probably due to the career and embeddedness of her husband Richard Holbrooke, who died in 2010. Holbrooke served as Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the Carter and Clinton administrations, was UN Ambassador (and thus a Cabinet member) from 1999-2001, but before that, as Special Envoy in the spring of 1999, he delivered the ultimatum to Slobodan Milosevic on the eve of the NATO attack. Among other government posts, Holbrooke has been vice-chairman of Credit Suisse First Boston, a director of Lehmann Brothers, and the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Holbrooke's name has also been on the roster of the CFR, the National Endowment for Democracy and the Bilderberg Group's governing bodies. Hungarian-born, Budapest-based journalist Kati Marton is herself a member of the CFR. Other members of the Advisory Board include Timothy Garton Ash of the ECFR, a regular guest at Atlantic Council forums, Anne Applebaum of the CFR, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy and a speaker at events organised by the Atlantic Council. Perhaps the most notable of these advisors is retired General Wesley Clark, whom Márki-Zay — by his own admission — consulted in the run-up to the election campaign. Wesley Clark was one of the main people responsible for the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Since his retirement, he has been active in business, particularly in the energy sector, is a board member of the Atlantic Council and supported Hillary Clinton in the 2007 Democratic primary. General Clark is followed on the advisory board by Francis Fukuyama, who is a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, a board member of CFR and a speaker at Atlantic Council forums.
In a bizarre event during Gergely Karácsony's primary election campaign to become the opposition’s prime minister candidate, the mayor discussed with Fukuyama the prospects for liberal democracies in Central Europe.
The mayor of Budapest, notoriously, doesn’t speak any foreign language, making his international performances easier to ridicule than usual.
Zeid Raad Al Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who — according to his bio — was guest speaker at his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University's 2020 virtual commencement in the company of the likes of Michael Bloomberg and the notorious epidemiologist Anthony Fauci. Charles Gati is also an advisory board member at the CFR, while his wife Toby Gati, also a CFR member, served as a senior White House staffer in the Clinton era, then as Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research at the State Department, to finally emerge in the energy sector. Evelyn Farkas was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia at the Pentagon in the Obama administration, then a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund and the Atlantic Council, and a member of the CFR.
How did prime minister candidate Péter Márki-Zay comment on security policy in the days after the Russian invasion? "I'm absolutely not an expert on this issue, that's why I consult other experts on this, like former US four-star general Wesley Clark, with whom we have consulted on this issue, NATO experts like Evelyn Farkas, a Hungarian-born, American-born expert, we have consulted very serious NATO experts on these issues, and I will listen to their opinion in further areas."
Robert Boorstin served in a trusted position in the Clinton administration for seven years, then headed the Center for American Progress' national security program, advising giant corporations and political campaigns in the US and abroad.
“Following his time in government, Mr. Boorstin established and ran the national security programs at the Center for American Progress, a leading Washington think tank, served as a consultant to Fortune 500 companies and major foundations, and advised more than a dozen political campaigns in the U.S. and abroad.”
The Action for Democracy advisory board also includes Eleni Kounalakis, who was Hillary Clinton's confidante when she became US ambassador to Hungary [2010-2013], CFR member Timothy Snyder, whose writings are published on the Atlantic Council’s blog, and former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband [2007-2010], member of David Rockefeller’s Trilateral Commission and a regular speaker at CFR and Atlantic Council events, Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, former Polish Foreign Minister, ECFR board member and one of the Atlantic Council's May Forum speakers, and Hong Kong activist Simon Cheng.
At the nexus of the web of connections around Action for Democracy are three Atlanticist think tanks: CFR, ECFR and the Atlantic Council.
CFR regularly brings together government officials, global business leaders, intelligence directors, bankers, among others, to discuss international issues. Current board members include the aforementioned Jami Miscik, former Deputy Director of the CIA, Lawrence D. Fink, chairman and CEO of BlackRock, and James P. Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley. On the Hungarian side, ECFR also includes — among Dávid Korányi and others — Gordon Bajnai, former Prime Minister, his business partner in the Datadat group, Tibor Dessewffy, and George and Alexander Soros.
On Datadat via 24.hu’s English deep dive, related to this topic:
The Datadat group was a key player in the opposition campaign, something confirmed by Péter Márki-Zay. For example, Viktor Szigetvári—who is the co-owner of the aforementioned Viennese company—attended the morning management meetings.
While Datadat is usually associated with Hungarian players, the Viennese company (contracted for the opposition campaign) is the owner of two concerns. The minority owner (AVSF GmbH) belongs to the former president of Együtt [an opposition party between 2013-2018] Viktor Szigetvári, and Ádám Ficsor, who was formerly Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány’s chief of staff, and minister without portfolio in charge of civilian national security services in the Bajnai government. The majority ownership belongs to Higher Ground Labs Fund III LP, which is linked to the US Democratic Party.
Higher Ground Ground Labs is a progressive organization founded in the United States in 2017 with the express purpose of shaking up the shell-shocked Democratic Party with Silicon Valley-inspired digital knowledge and technologies following the election of Donald Trump, with the aim of mobilizing voters with democratic values to the greatest extent possible.
As for the Atlantic Council, Tamás Fricz [journalist] notes that the NGO recently awarded its highest honour to Ursula von der Leyen, as well as the heads of BioNtech and Pfizer. The Council's main sponsors include One American Bank, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. The Atlantic Council also currently lists former Deputy Mayor Dávid Dorosz, one of the leaders of Karácsony's mayoral campaign [2019 municipal elections, Budapest, victory], among its Millennium Leadership Program experts. An author at Mérce goes so far to conclude that the Márki-Zay campaign accepted support from "foreign organisations within arm's reach of the CIA and Morgan Stanley".
Mérce is a Leftist political portal, somewhat outsiders, a bit like the Corbynites in Britain.
There is no doubt that in addition to the three think tanks, the spider web of connections between Action for Democracy's main nodes also include the White House, foreign affairs and intelligence apparatus of the Democratic administration (the “non-existent” deep state), the Johns Hopkins University, the German Marshall Fund, National Endowment for Democracy, admittedly created to exert soft power abroad, the Center for American Progress, and the dominoes that triggered the 2008 global financial crisis, Lehmann Brothers, the masters of Wall Street, and also some of the key players in Big Tech and Big Pharma. A strikingly large number of Action for Democracy's stakeholders show an interest in energy, alongside security policy. There is not a single “civilian” [non-governmental actor] whose biography is free of state or state-adjacent connections. There is not a single artist, scientist or journalist listed on the website of Action for Democracy who could be assumed to care about the fate of distant democracies without representing an interest.
- September 20, 2022
Aftermath / press coverage
It’s been a month since this article blew up in Hungary. The topic itself has a very selective coverage. Some run with it — government media obviously — some are completely silent.
Doing a Google search restricted to Hungary and the past month on “Action for Democracy“ will give you the followup, if you care.
András’ second article goes deeper into the weeds of why this situation is fine with Fidesz (Is the sovereignty of the country worth enough for Fidesz to give up its own advantages?), as they’re the number one abusers of the “not an actual party” loophole, even if just domestic ones.
There’s an ongoing, hard power, government investigation on the case, but it’s unlikely to go anywhere, it would ruffle too many sensitive feathers abroad. It will go on for a while to keep the controversy in the news cycle, but no one will be dragged through the mud, let alone punished. We’re a colony, after all, Iustitia’s scales are always provided enough grains of paprika Left and Right to keep them balanced when the Empire’s key interests are at stake. Fidesz are no Teacher’s Pet Rebels, for sure, but they’re also not suicidally spergy about their wish for universal justice that idk, maybe the Vatican might care about should they keep pursuing it to the bitter end.
Such excitement of universal justice reigning supreme is up to us, little people; to experience the fleeting moment, within our personal bubble, once we’re made aware of a scandalous trespass of the supposedly fundamental standards laid down by our betters, a crime committed by the very superiors themselves. This feature article was born in the pursuit of sharing the joyous sensation of this righteous elevation over the unaware, nothing more. If you want more,
It won’t deliver justice, and it’s definitely not meant to induce impotent rage, the angst upon being made aware of the injustices ever permeating our side of the world order; it’s meant to bring you closer to clarity, or if you already possess it, reinforce your view so you get some positive feedback, some solace that not everyone’s mad beyond saving. That you’re not alone. Help to bring this clarity to the lives of others and
I know it is childish to point this out with such a simplistic substitution, but actual children might read this post, so kids, imagine if Russia or China supervised our election on behalf of a power block in a similar way. Imagine the outcry! With the US doing it, it’s different of course, since we’re allies, which is a fair point, however, what is America’s ultimate intention with Hungary: to help our democracy be free and fair, or to enforce their hegemony, no matter how the people vote?
This was a Big Sunday Post, BSP#2.
If you’ve made it all the way down here, you seriously need to get a life! But before you do, you might want to check out the rest:
BSP#1: An incident in Transcarpathia
BSP#0: Orban's 2022 inauguration speech
You can start living like a rock star on Monday. The fans will wait.
Archived snapshot: https://archive.ph/s18UW
Archived snapshot: The message of the mysterious US billions that emerged in the opposition campaign: quiet transgression, unexamined shift https://archive.ph/LvmaK
Archived snapshot: https://archive.ph/EWrpM