Hungary: PM Orban described as semen by former ally

Hungary: PM Orban described as semen by former ally
By Gábor Tanács
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Hungary gained an illuminating insight into the internal conflicts raging within the governing Fidesz party, as one of Hungary’s wealthiest oligarchs and former treasurer of the ruling block, Lajos Simicska, gave a series of angry interviews during which he called, the Prime Minister Viktor Orban ”semen.” He also expressed his fears about getting mown down by a car.

The elusive Simicska used to be one of the oldest comrades of Orban. They were roommates and friends during their university years. He was the mastermind behind Fidesz’s finances during the early nineties, leaving behind a trail of dubious transactions. (Including the sale of several companies with enormous public debt to penniless foreigners.) All these trails ran cold after he was named chairman of the Hungarian Tax Office when Fidesz first came to power in 1998.

After resigning from his post because of press attacks, he started to build a media empire loyal to Fidesz. He owns the only dedicated news channel of the country, three radio stations, two daily and one weekly newspaper. The group experienced hard times during eight years of socialist rule, but after Fidesz came to power again with a strong mandate in 2010, state-owned companies all diverted their advertising budgets to Simicska’s media empire. His construction giant, Közgép Zrt. got a huge chunk of all the public construction contracts in the 2010-2014 legislative period.

After the second consecutive landslide victory of Fidesz, something went wrong between Orban and his oldest ally, the only person in his camp who carried real economic power comparable to Orban’s formal and informal political power. Simicska’s men were expelled from government positions and new laws hurt the oligarch’s business interests. His media platforms in return voiced cautious criticism of government decision making..

For months, the Orban-Simicska war was a cold one, which reached boiling point after Fidesz decided to change its controversial law on media tax. The rightwing party originally wanted a progressive tax that would have hurt mainly the most popular television company, German-owned RTL. The television chanel in retaliation turned highly critical of the government. Pressure then increased from Germany – Angela Merkel visited Orban just before he made his mind up – and Brussels forced Fidesz to back off. But since the media tax had already been cemented into the budget, the tax rules were changed: all the burden was divided equally between media companies – Simicska’s empire included.

Simicska first aired his outrage in Népszava, a daily clearly tied to the socialist opposition. He threatened Orban with a media war. Hours later the leading figures of Simicska’s media, his trusted colleagues and business partners all resigned from their posts, citing reasons of conscience. The oligarch was shocked by what he called a stab in the back. The elusive ex-financier of the ruling party, after 15 years of almost total public silence, gave a series of telephone interviews to independent media, swearing heavily.

It is almost possible to track the oligarch’s road from his home to the headquarters of his flagship daily, Magyar Nemzet through these interviews. He blamed Orban for the backstabing, calling him „semen”, a word never before published in Hungarian political press. He said he would „fire everybody”, name the new leaders of his media, and start a total war. He also said his life might be in danger.

Most rivals and enemies of Viktor Orban, fervent critics of his controversial rule now hope that the once dreaded oligarch has some serious evidence against his old university friend.

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