Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony gave a long interview to Azonnali today in which he complained about the lack of communication between the central government and his administration. He keeps writing letters in which he asks for more information, but he usually receives no answer either from Miklós Kásler, the minister of human resources, or from Chief Medical Officer Cecília Müller, despite the promises of better communication he received a few days ago when he was invited to a cabinet meeting.
It was in connection with this cabinet meeting that the reporter asked about Karácsony’s impression of the role Miklós Kásler is playing in this healthcare crisis. Karácsony said that he had the distinct feeling that neither Kásler nor his undersecretary in charge of healthcare issues, Ildikó Horváth, has much say in the day to day handling of issues related to the pandemic. But then who does?
During the meeting Karácsony inquired from Kásler about the reasons for the lack of rigorous testing, but the answer he received was mumbo jumbo, which Karácsony suspected no one in the room understood. Kásler even invoked Maria Theresa, who was one of the pioneers and promoters of inoculation against smallpox, but this historical tidbit had nothing to do with the question he was asked. I wonder whether Kásler has reached the age of senior moments.
And what is worse, as far as Viktor Orbán is concerned, is that he is planting seeds of discontent in the party elite as well as in the medical community, whose top officials have been favorably disposed toward Fidesz if for nothing else than Orbán’s reluctance to reform the current healthcare system, which favors the leading lights of the profession, people like Miklós Kásler himself.
When Kásler fired Péter Cserháti, the director of the Rehabilitation Center, he targeted a man who, in addition to being very popular among his colleagues and staff, had served as assistant secretary in the second Orbán government (2010-2012) and had worked as government commissioner before being named director of the Rehabilitation Center. He is a practicing Lutheran and a member of the Lutheran Synod. His wife is a Lutheran minister. Kásler, who considers himself to be a religious man, chose Easter Sunday to fire his colleague.
His unjust act had immediate and unexpected consequences. Kásler’s predecessor, Zoltán Balog, who earlier had never criticized him, came out in defense of Cserháti, “a committed doctor who would be the last person to endanger the lives of human beings.” The director’s dismissal has shaken the conservative community in general because Cserháti is a defining figure in the world of doctors and Christian intellectuals.
The rector of Semmelweis University came to Cserháti’s rescue, expressing his misgivings about Kásler’s behavior. Since October 1, 2019, Cserháti has been working for the university part-time, but now he is being entrusted with the development of a whole rehabilitation complex.
A somewhat similar reaction followed the dismissal of István Csernavölgyi, director of the country’s largest hospital in Székesfehérvár. In this case, it was András Cser-Palkovics, the successful Fidesz mayor of Székesfehérvár, who expressed his apprehensions over the firing. Cser-Palkovics is an old Fidesz hand. At the age of 15, he worked for Fidesz’s 1989-90 campaign as an activist and subsequently has had quite a career in the party both locally and nationally. In 2010, he opted to be the mayor of Székesfehérvár instead of a member of parliament. He was reelected in 2014 and again in 2019. Cser-Palkovics, on his Facebook page, informed the inhabitants of the city about the dismissal of the hospital director. In a seemingly resigned tone, he remarked that, since the hospital is run by the state, Miklós Kásler was not obliged to inform him about his decision.
On the basis of his Facebook page, Cser-Palkovics sounds like an ideal mayor. He makes sure that he answers every comment personally, including the one from Dániel Balogh, who expressed his joy that the mayor informs the inhabitants of Székesfehérvár every day about events in the city and who added that “the state communicators could learn from your example.” Another, who didn’t give his name, told the mayor “to be careful, you might also get a pink slip.”
As you may know, the law that allows Viktor Orbán to govern by decree also has a provision which makes it a crime to pass on false news or utter criticism of the healthcare system that is in place in Hungary today. Yesterday, however, an article appeared by a 48-year-old physicist with the following title: “I would commit a sin if I remained silent—Diary of a Hungarian with coronavirus.” The article is the frightening story of a man who was close to death and who felt that he had to share his experiences and warn those with symptoms “to fight tooth and nail” to be tested. What is his message? “By postponing the tests, the government not only deceived the Hungarian people and made the statistics misleading but also endangered our lives. Without protective equipment, the lives of the health workers, serving the country, were also endangered.”
I had the very strong feeling reading his diary that we are dealing here with a conservative man who most likely voted for Fidesz. The fact that he sent his story not to one of the liberal news sites but to Válasz Online, the successor to Válasz, a Fidesz weekly established during the first Orbán government, lends credence to my suspicion. He is also a deeply religious man who kept praying for God’s intervention throughout his ordeal.
Hungary has a government commissioner for space research, who said the other day that the coronavirus “is a message from the Lord which we now must understand. The time for the resurrection of faith must finally come.” György Gábor, a philosopher of religion, wants to know what the Lord’s message was when millions ended up in the gas chambers, or when thousands of Polish officers were killed in the forest of Katyn, or when the Turks killed about 200,000 Armenians, or when ISIS fighters beheaded Western journalists, or what was the message of God at the time of Chernobyl? The “boss” sets the tone for phony religiosity, which his sycophants then repeat while making themselves ridiculous if not contemptible. They remind me of Donald Trump, who in his ignorance wished the American people “Happy Good Friday.”