Hungary – On July 22, the editor-in-chief of Index, the most-read Hungarian news portal, was fired by its management board. This happened a month after Index’s board, well-known for its anti-government positions and liberal activism, started voicing their concerns about losing their independence. The outlet is owned by an advertising company, Indamedia; half of Indamedia’s shares were purchased a few months ago by a businessman close to Fidesz, Miklós Vaszily. Fidesz has categorically denied any involvement in the case, however.
Following Mr Dull’s firing, two-thirds of Index’s staff announced their resignations, although most will continue writing for the site for a few more weeks. This sent a strong message that was heard worldwide as the mainstream liberal media spread the news with alarm. Is there better proof that the freedom of the press in Hungary – which had already been pronounced dead several times before during the past 30 years – is in jeopardy?
But the case is actually a bit more complex than that.
First, Szabolcs Dull was accused of leaking confidential information, an accusation which is sufficient for any employer to fire an employee. Dull explained unironically that he is unable to respond to this accusation because of his contract,which requires him to maintain professional confidentiality.
The core of the conflict between the management and the editorial board arose due to a plan to restructure the organisation with the aim of making Index more profitable. This plan was seen by Mr Dull and most of the staff as a thinly-disguised way of manipulating the board. But László Bodolai, the President of Indamedia, said that this was just a smokescreen for the board to stage a fake crisis. According to Mr Bodolai, the restructuring plan had already been dropped a month prior to Mr Dull’s firing.
But Mr Bodolai went even further in his claims about the dismissal. He stated last week in an interview given to 24.hu that Mr Dull deliberately destroyed Index, working in concert with prominent political opposition figures. Mr Bodolai later withdrew this accusation, however.
For his part, Mr Dull acknowledged that he had spoken on the phone many times with opposition leaders, and especially Klára Dobrev, the wife of the infamous former socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, who is also today the leader of the Eurofederalist liberal party Demokratikus Koalíció (Democratic Coalition). However,he denied that there had been any collusion in a plot to destroy Index.
The “Szekler mafia” theory
Let’s start by explaining who the Szeklers are. They are a community of approximately 800,000 people, today located mainly in Transylvania in Romania, where they are the major subgroup of the Hungarian minority in the region. After having been isolated from the rest of the Hungarian people, perched in the Carpathian mountains, they retain a strong identity as a result of being endangered by a hundred years of Romanian domination. But their sense that their identity is being threatened spurred their National Council to launch a European citizens’ initiative in support of a project called the “Cohesion Policy for the Equality of the Regions and Sustainability of the Regional Cultures”, which aims to secure European Union funds to aid all European historical minorities in their efforts to maintain their unique cultures. Signatures are still being collected for this project.
And here is where it connects with the Index case. The campaign director for this initiative, László Pesty, is himself a renowned Szekler film producer and director, as well as a veteran journalist and campaign manager. Mr Pesty has been reaching out to every important personality in Hungary to aid this initiative. Politicians from both the government and the opposition answered his call and asked their followers to sign the petition. Artists, athletes, TV celebrities: everyone who was approached by the well-known and -respected Mr Pesty agreed to help publicise the campaign for European minorities. As a result, Hungary reached 5,000% of its quota for signatures. Everyone agreed to join in the campaign – except for Szabolcs Dull. Three days after he received Mr Pesty’s phone call, Mr Dull was fired.
“Szabolcs told me it had no news value,” László Pesty explained to the Visegrád Post. “But the real reason that he refused is that he is a globalist. These people hate everything which is local, which is rooted, and which is unwilling to be folded into their cultural model.”
The rumour that “Don Pesty” was the real culprit behind Dull’s dismissal spread quickly in the circles of Budapest’s liberal intelligentsia. Some people invented the idea of a “Szekler mafia” that stands even above the power of the government, which they claim really calls all the shots. In other words, this was a conspiracy theory aimed at the Szeklers.
“I was angry, really mad at him, and I did say some bad things after I hung up,” Pesty told us by phone while hurrying between two meetings.“But that is all. There is no ‘Szekler mafia’. This is pure fantasy, and it is slanderous to even use this expression.”
Ten of thousands of Szeklers live in Hungary, and especially in Budapest, a city that is still viewed by these mostly Romanian citizens as their natural capital city, since they have remained Hungarian in their souls and hearts. This unique Hungarian diaspora within Hungary itself does indeed have a lobby of its own; the generous funding provided by the Hungarian government to support Szekler cultural and educational programs both in Hungary and Romania is one proof of this lobby’s influence.
So many theories are swirling around this Index case, that there is no way to know what is really behind this mess, but it certainly appears to be much more complex than what the mainstream Western news outlets are saying. But something might come out that will finally clarify the story in the coming weeks, especially if the journalists departing from Index start a new outlet of their own.