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<nettime> The Economist on Hungary: Curse like an oligarch
nettime's_open_mic on Tue, 10 Feb 2015 15:38:12 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Economist on Hungary: Curse like an oligarch


Curse like an oligarch

The country's biggest media mogul turns against Viktor Orban, in
no uncertain terms

Feb 9th 2015

HUNGARIANS possess a rich vocabulary of swear words and curses,
many involving imaginative connections between relatives, their
bodily orifices and farmyard animals. But even by local
standards, the invective that Hungary's most powerful businessman
has unleashed over the past few days towards his country's prime
minister is exceptional. In an interview on Friday with index.hu,
a news website, Lajos Simicska, a former university roommate of
Viktor Orban (pictured) and one of his closest allies for the
past thirty years, called the prime minister a _geci_, one of the
worst insults in the Magyar lexicon. The literal translation of
_geci_ is "sperm", but even that English term fails to convey the
Hungarian word's connotations of disdain. Beyond the colourful
language, the spat is the most serious break yet in Mr Orban's
governing Fidesz party, which despite winning a two-thirds
majority of the seats in the most recent elections has begun to
show signs of strain.

Until recently Mr Simicska was one of the most reclusive
businessmen in Hungary. He was once Fidesz's financial
mastermind, and served as head of the Hungarian Tax Authority
under the first Fidesz government in the late 1990s. Kozgep, his
massive holding company, has profited handsomely from government
contracts. Mr Simicska's interests include construction, energy
and the media. The Sopranos-esque flavour of business in these
circles comes across in an obscenity-laden interview Mr Simicska
gave last week to Hir24, a news website (translation here). ("So
you can end up dead at the end of this conflict?" the interviewer
asks. "Of course," the oligarch replies. "They kill me, shoot me
or I fall under a car.")

The immediate trigger for his fury was the government's statement
that it plans to introduce a flat 5% tax on advertising. The new
tax would replace an earlier advertising tax featuring
progressive rates depending on the media organisation's income,
which the government was forced to withdraw after opposition from
the European Commission. The progressive tax was sharply
criticised by RTL Klub, a private television channel owned by
Luxembourg-based RTL, which claimed it was aimed at forcing
foreign-based outlets that had been critical of Fidesz to leave
Hungary. The prospect of a flat 5% tax rate infuriated Mr
Simicska, but the editors who run his media outlets failed to
follow the new course. Immediately after Mr Simicska said he was
declaring war on Fidesz, a slate of senior executives from media
organisations he controls -- including Magyar Nemzet, a conservative
newspaper, Lánchíd Radio and Hír television -- resigned.

The split between Mr Simicska and Mr Orban is rooted in the
question of whether business or politics will have primacy in the
Fidesz-dominated political order, according to Akos Balogh of
Mandiner.hu, an independent conservative blog. The Fidesz
leadership has long worried that Mr Simicska was becoming too
powerful, and began limiting his influence on government over a
year ago, removing his allies from key positions in
administration and state-owned companies. The process accelerated
after the 2014 election, when Fidesz won a two-thirds majority
for the second time in a row, Mr Balogh says. "Simicska was the
dominant oligarch of the 2010-2014 term and now it's over. Orban
does not want to depend on any single business group."

Unsurprisingly, the row between the former allies has delighted
the Hungarian political opposition. Their euphoria will probably
be short-lived. The government has maintained an icy silence in
response to Mr Simicska's outbursts, and by Monday morning, the
oligarch appeared to be backtracking. A story in Magyar Nemzet
claimed Mr Simicska had been criticising the politics of the
prime minister and his advisers, not Mr Orban himself. However
grammatically implausible, such denials may signal that the
political waters are calming. If Hungary's opposition expects to
gain traction against Fidesz, it will probably need better ideas
and leadership, rather than hoping for another foul-mouthed
outburst from Mr Simicksa.

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