Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has refused to comment on businessman Lajos Simicska’s recent attacks, saying neither he nor the government would engage in “such disputes”. The editors-in-chief of several media associated with Simicska announced their unexpected resignations last Friday, after which Simicska went wild: the mystery man of Hungarian politics gave more interviews than in the past twenty years together and he didn’t shy away from explicit content.
Jizz. That was the keyword of last Friday but let’s back up a little bit. In fact let’s go back some 30 years to understand the relationship between Simicska and Orbán…
Real socialism is reigning under János Kádár, even if it’s gradually slipping into agony. Viktor Orbán and Lajos Simicska, two intelligent and ambitious members of the anti-government democratic movement, live in the same dormitory. The roommates and soulmates are almost inseparable friends; whatever they do, they do it together, helping each other.
Although Simicska is not one of Fidesz’s founding members, he has been in the party orbit from the beginning (1988), first as an informal advisor, later (1993) as its official economic director. During the first Orbán government (1998-2002) Simicska is the director of tax authority APEH (now NAV) for one year. Following his resignation in 1999 (which he explains with the deaths of his father and father-in-law), he draws into the background and has been working on his business interests since.
In the years when the party is in opposition (2002-2010), Simicska is one of its most important sponsors. It happens partly thanks to his financial support – and to Orbán’s organising talent – that Fidesz becomes a highly diversified, powerful political force. Moreover, Simicska pumps enormous sums of money into the Fidesz-supporting media organisations Magyar Nemzet (daily newspaper), Hír TV (news channel) and Lánchíd Rádió – and by doing so he prepares the way for the historic victories of Orbán’s party in 2010 and 2014…
… Back in 2015, in an interview last week with the online version of left-leaning daily Népszava, Simicska commented on the government’s plan of reducing the tax on advertisements and introducing a single band for the levy. Cabinet chief János Lázár told state news agency MTI that he would not reveal the level of the tax at this stage, though he referred to the Austrian 5% rate several times. Lázár said that since last August, Hungary had received numerous formal and informal signals that the European Commission’s competition directorate had serious concerns concerning the ad tax. Simicska said the decision to roll out the tax to further subjects could lead to a “total media war”.
The next morning, last Friday, people in top positions of Magyar Nemzet, Magyar Nemzet Online, Hír TV and Lánchíd Rádió announced their resignation, citing “reasons of conscience” for their stepping down. The six also said that they did not coordinate before announcing their decision, but Simicska said he suspected Orbán being in the background of the developments.
What happened next was nothing short of media history. Simicska was furious about the betrayal and, unlike in previous years, he was willing to talk to every media outlet in the country. The historic moment came when news portal hir24.hu managed to reach him. Here are parts of the Q&A.
In the past hour you used some very strong language about your former employees…
Strong language? I was actually soft so far. I could say much worse things.
Zsolt Bayer is saying that what you are doing right now is disgraceful (the Fidesz member and Magyar Hírlap journalist said this after the Népszava interview but before the resignations were submitted– note).
He said that?
Well, here is what I have to say to him: it would be great if you could please remember how much money you owe me and then pay it back. (Bayer later refuted that he owed money to Simicska – note)
How much money does he owe you?
I have no idea. Millions for sure but it would be great if he’d pay it back.
Are there a lot of people in Fidesz who owe you money?
Now you’re asking for too much. But after this jizz made such comments about me – by the way you can write jizz down, this is a constant epithet of that weasel – I’d ask him to refrain from comments until he paid my money back
Who do you think is behind the attack on you?
Viktor Orbán is behind it! Is that enough for you? But I’ve got to go. I have to fucking fire people
You called Bayer jizz. Could you say something about Viktor Orbán as well?
He is jizz too.
Viktor Orbán is jizz too. You can write that down as well.
Simicska later repeated the jizz comment to various journalists and confirmed to Népszabadság that he meant it: “Yes, it is still my opinion that he is jizz. Perhaps I will retract it tomorrow when I calm down but for now you can write it down.”
In an interview with Magyar Narancs, Simicska revealed that he had purchased the stake of Gábor Liszkay (the former editor-in-chief of Magyar Nemzet) in the paper for around HUF 100 million. “I told him ok. You can resign but then you have to sell it. You get some dough and fuck you. He didn’t object. I appointed the new chiefs and it was done.”
The businessman also spoke about the media war with the government and whether he feels threatened.
I’m against the media policy of this government and I have said so a number of times in the past few months.
Some say that you are not a fan of the Russia-friendly foreign policy…
I really don’t like it. I grew up when there was a Soviet Union. I really didn’t like what the Russkies were doing in Hungary and it would be really hard for me to differentiate between the political behavior of the Soviets and the current Russian regime.
Did you get mad because you were left out of the natural gas business worth tens of billions of forints?
This may surprise you but the world is not all business. I’m basically – you may laugh if you want – doing my things based on values and commitments. … Believe it or not my fellowship with Orbán began because we both wanted to get rid of the dictatorship and the post-communist society. I never thought that this will end up in creating another dictatorship. I will not be a part of that.
You’ve been friends for 35 years. Don’t tell me that there is nothing personal about this.
This is a disappointment, I will admit that. I thought he was a statesman, who can do some good for this country, but I had to realise that he isn’t. Make sure you write that down.
You said that you don’t feel safe: you could be hit by a car or you could get shot. Why do you feel threatened?
I know the people involved in this story and I’m aware of what they are capable of. But I was very agitated when that journalist called. That doesn’t mean that I can’t get shot but it also doesn’t mean that I’m afraid. This is a tough world. You can laugh but I’m a committed democrat and I fucking don’t like it how these boys handle things in this country.
This didn’t start last year and up until your interests were not affected you didn’t seem to mind the democratic deficits. When did your relationship break? What was the turning point?
After the election last year we sat down (with Orbán) and he told me his ideas. I will not disclose details but I didn’t like it. I told him that I will not be a part of that. That’s when things started to get rough.
So now you’re off to a vacation?
Yes, for a week.
It has been a long-time topic of conversation among journalists that Orbán and Simicska know way too much about each other to openly go at it…
What do you want to know? I’ve known him for 35 years. Does that say anything? I know him and I know a lot of things about him. So what?
So you’re basically a political risk for the PM.
So what? Will they shoot me (laughs)? Let’s hope that it won’t come to that.
And with that Simicska was off for a week-long snow sledding vacation in Austria. No one knows exactly what kind of tone his media group will strike next. Simicska said that “we won’t give a shit about what Orbán wants, so in a sense we will be critical of a government. An independent medium always deals with current and important affairs”. In Monday’s issue of Magyar Nemzet the new editor-in-chief reiterated that no one had asked him to make a 180-degree turn or to change the values of the paper. “We will make an exciting daily that is receptive of societal problems,” Gábor D. Horváth said.