János Lázár used to be untouchable. But then his constituency was lost to the opposition and he was forced to repent. His punishment?
Having to join PM Orbán’s 2018 campaign theme: Racism.
János Lázár, minister of PM Orbán’s office used to be one of those strongmen whom nothing can hurt. He used to be privileged. He used to be first among the silent and obedient puppets that are PM Orbán’s ministers. He was even allowed to have his own views – and sometimes you could hear a muffled criticism of his party’s least popular moves (if you could read between the lines, like we do these days). Once he even voted against the party line!
He even survived the rumors of harboring prime ministerial ambitions – an accusation no one survives. But then his constituency and Fidesz’ traditional stronghold was lost at a by-election in February, and things turned ugly for Lázár.
Not only did he let Fidesz lose its legendary stronghold, Hódmezővásárhely, he is involved in the Tiborcz scandal, the corruption case of Orbán’s son-in-law. Once the new mayor was sworn in, OLAF’s investigation into Tiborcz’s business there (as well as Hódmezővásárhely’s other fishy secrets) have been made public. (The government tried to keep the OLAF-report secret.)
According to the report, Orbán’s son-in-law’s undeniable and much-hated enrichment started in Lázár’s home town, Hódmezővásárhely. Lázár even admitted that they worked together to “develop the model” of winning the tender.
Let me put this differently: the mayor of the town worked with the applicant to a public procurement tender on how to squeeze out (and then subcontract) other applicant and how to massage the tender documentation to make an expensive and low-quality offer come out as the winner.
Then, on the strength of this winning bid, Tiborcz’s company (Elios Zrt.) went on to win dozens of other cities’ street light tenders, blighting them with dark streets and overpriced LED lights that basically only lit the lampposts they were placed on. Most towns had to get into debt to pay the hefty fees of the royal son-in-law – and roughly 84% of the money came from EU funds.
You can read more about the juicy scandal here.
As things are, the royal son-in-law will also meet a hard time – probably only after the elections. But Lázár can also be worried, having been so intimately involved with starting the career of the young prince. (Orbán’s involvement in the enrichment of his own son-in-law must never be mentioned. The myth of the good king – bad advisors is strong.)
The election defeat and his involvement in the Tiborcz-scandal had thus weakened Lázár. His punishment? Having to join PM Orbán’s 2018 campaign theme: Racism. He was clearly told to get in line.
At first, he started posting family videos – like Orbán does. The minister who had been privileged enough to stay out of social media until now was forced to register and publish videos with his family on Facebook. You could almost hear him wincing as he did it. But then it got worse.
He was dispatched to make a fool of himself in Vienna.
The Vienna video
You probably read about it in the international media. Not only did he post a racist video – Facebook had censored it. Then they put it back (which is a story in itself).
The short clip is set in Vienna’s Favoriten district – traditionally the home of immigrant communities. Even Hungarians tend to arrive there when they emigrate from their wonderfully successful country.
The clip is scored by sad piano music and alternates between shots of the minister talking and footage of women with headscarves and young children walking on Vienna’s streets. The minister narrates the video and warns of the horrors of immigration.
“I am in a once renowned part of Vienna. 20 years ago there wasn’t a single immigrant. Today there are only old, white Christian pensioners. Everybody else is an immigrant. The number of immigrants in Austria increased by 700,000. A large number of them live here in this neighborhood of Vienna. We can see what Budapest might look like in twenty years if the political opposition admits immigrants. We are working to prevent this phenomenon. I tried to ask a few immigrants how they like living in Vienna, but nobody could answer because nobody speaks German. Experience dictates that if immigrants come, a city is born within a city. And immigrants define the nature of this community. There are a number of schools in Vienna where there are no longer any white Viennese, only the children of immigrants attend. And these immigrants have completely altered the city’s appearance. The streets are visibly more dirty, and the neighborhood is visibly poorer, and there is a lot more crime. They have visibly altered this neighborhood in their own image. The white, Christian Viennese moved out and the immigrants took over the running of this part of the city. I looked around this part of the city this afternoon and saw that there is much more untidiness and dirt, garbage, filth in the streets. And the few Viennese that live here tell me that there is a lot more crime and that people live here in greater fear. From that point of view, Hungarian city-dwellers stand before an important decision. If we let them in, and they live this way in our cities, then crime, poverty, filth, and an unacceptable environment could be the consequence. If we let them in, this process will be unstoppable.”
– Translation by Budapest Beacon, emphasis mine
It genuinely doesn’t matter what he believes personally – although he had shown quite unsavory character traits before. He may be more civilized that this. He may not be a racist. But once a politician finds himself in a pinch (or in the lure of power), he can act out anything.
After all, Orbán has a history of burning the reputation of his strongmen, making them give their face to unacceptable legislation and policies – before rewarding them. This way they have no choice but to stay loyal, they have no personal popularity, not even professional credibility, and they visibly depend on Orbán financially. Pure clientelism.
But this has only been the first strong move by Lázár. Once Facebook reinstated the video, he posted another one, lifted from a documentary of Austria’s immigrants – with cunning editing and twisting the original message.
When Steve Bannon called Orbán a “hero” and “the most significant guy on the 〈European alt-right〉 scene right now” this is what he meant.