Czech Republic thread: news only, no discussion


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The “velvet revolutions” that took place across central and eastern Europe in 1989 were largely unmarred by the human suffering that is usually part of root-and-branch political upheaval. Never before had so many deeply entrenched regimes been simultaneously overthrown and replaced using basically peaceable means. The left praised these velvet revolutions as expressions of popular power. The right extolled them as both a triumph of the free market over the command economy and the well-deserved victory of free government over totalitarian dictatorship. American and pro-American liberals, for their part, were proud to associate liberalism, routinely ridiculed by leftist critics as an ideology geared towards maintaining the status quo, with the romance of emancipating change. And, of course, these largely nonviolent changes of regime in the east were vested with world-historical significance since they marked the end of the cold war.

The non-violent nature of the revolutions of 1989 was not their only unique feature. Given the prominent public role played at the time by creative thinkers and savvy political activists such as Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia and Adam Michnik in Poland, the events of 1989 are sometimes rem embered as revolutions of the intellectuals. But what ensured that these revolutions would remain “velvet” was a background hostility to utopias and political experiments. Far from craving anything ingeniously new, the leading figures in these revolutions aimed at overturning one system only in order to copy another.

Germany’s foremost philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, warmly welcomed “the lack of ideas that are either innovative or oriented towards the future” after 1989, since for him the central and eastern European revolutions were “rectifying revolutions” or “catch-up revolutions”. Their goal was to enable central and eastern European societies to gain what the western Europeans already possessed.

Where once dissidents in countries such as Poland had associated emigration to the west with treasonous capitulation and desertion, after 1989 that view no longer made any sense. A revolution that defined its principal goal as westernisation could offer no persuasive objections to westward emigration. Why should a young Pole or Hungarian wait for his country to become one day like Germany, when he can start working and raising a family in Germany tomorrow? Democratic transitions in the region were basically a form of en masse removal to the west, and so the choice was only to emigrate early and individually or later and collectively.

Revolutions often force people to cross borders. After the French Revolution in 1789, and again in 1917 after the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, the defeated enemies of the revolutions were the ones who left their countries. After 1989, the winners of the velvet revolutions, not the losers, were the ones who chose to decamp. Those most impatient to see their own countries changed were also the ones most eager to plunge into the life of a free citizenry, and were therefore the first to go to study, work and live in the west.

It is impossible to imagine that, after the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution, Trotsky would have decided to enrol at Oxford to study. But this is what the future Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and many others did. The revolutionaries of 1989 were strongly motivated to travel to the west in order to observe up close how the kind of normal society they hoped to build at home actually worked in practice.

The massive flow of population out of the region in the post-cold war period, especially because so many young people were the ones voting with their feet, had profound economic, political and psychological consequences. When a doctor leaves the country, she takes with her all the resources that the state has invested in her education and deprives her country of her talent and ambition. The money that she would eventually send back to her family could not possibly compensate for the loss of her personal participation in the life of her native land.

The exodus of young and well-educated people has also seriously, perhaps fatally, damaged the chances of liberal parties to do well in elections. Youth exit may also explain why, in many countries across the region, we find beautiful EU-funded playgrounds with no kids to play in them. It is telling that liberal parties perform best among voters who cast their ballots abroad. In 2014, for example, Klaus Iohannis, a liberal-minded ethnic German, was elected president of Romania because the 300,000 Romanians living overseas voted massively in his favour. In a country where the majority of young people yearn to leave, the very fact that you have remained, regardless of how well you are doing, makes you feel like a loser.

The issues of emigration and population loss bring us to the refugee crisis that struck Europe in 2015–16. On 24 August 2015, Merkel, the German chancellor, decided to admit hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees into Germany. Only 10 days later, on 4 September, the Visegrád group – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – declared that the EU’s quota system for distributing refugees across Europe was “unacceptable”. Central and east European governments were not buying Merkel’s humanitarian rhetoric. “I think it is just bullshit,” commented Mária Schmidt, Viktor Orbán’s intellectual-in-chief.

This was the moment when central Europe’s populists issued their declaration of independence not only from Brussels but also, more dramatically, from western liberalism and its ethos of openness to the world. Central Europe’s fearmongering populists interpreted the refugee crisis as conclusive evidence that liberalism weakened the capacity of nations to defend themselves in a hostile world.

The demographic panic that raged in central Europe from 2015 to 2018 is now fading to a degree. We still need to ask in any case why it would find such politically combustible material in central and eastern Europe, given that virtually no immigrants actually arrived in these countries.

The first reason, as mentioned, is emigration. Anxiety about immigration is fomented by a fear that supposedly unassimilable foreigners will enter the country, dilute national identity and weaken national cohesion. This fear, in turn, is fuelled by a largely unspoken preoccupation with demographic collapse. In the period 1989–2017, Latvia haemorrhaged 27% of its population, Lithuania 22.5%, and Bulgaria almost 21%. In Romania, 3.4 million people, a vast majority of them younger than 40, left the country after it joined the EU in 2007. The combination of an ageing population, low birth rates and an unending stream of emigration is arguably the source of demographic panic in central and eastern Europe. More central and eastern Europeans left their countries for western Europe as a result of the 2008-9 financial crises than all the refugees that came there as the result of the war in Syria.

The extent of post-1989 emigration from eastern and central Europe, awakening fears of national disappearance, helps explain the deeply hostile reaction across the region to the refugee crisis of 2015-16, even though very few refugees have relocated to the countries of the region. We might even hypothesise that anti-immigration politics in a region essentially without immigrants is an example of what some psychologists call displacement – a defence mechanism by which, in this case, minds unconsciously blot out a wholly unacceptable threat and replace it with one still serious but conceivably easier to manage. Hysteria about non-existent immigrants about to overrun the country represents the substitution of an illusory danger (immigration) for the real danger (depopulation and demographic collapse) that cannot speak its name.

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Fear of diversity and fear of change, inflamed by the utopian project of remaking whole societies along western lines, are thus important contributors to eastern and central European populism. The trauma of people pouring out of the region explains what might otherwise seem mysterious – the strong sense of loss even in countries that have benefited handsomely from post-communist political and economic change. Across Europe, analogously, the areas that have suffered the greatest haemorrhaging of population in the last decades are the ones most inclined to vote for far-right parties.

Eastern European governments, haunted by the fear of demographic collapse, are looking for reasons why their discontented citizens, especially their youth, should hesitate to move to western Europe. Orbán sometimes sounds as if he would like to implement a closed-country policy with a ruthlessly enforced veto on emigration as well as immigration. But since he has no way of doing anything of the sort, he is reduced to pleading with young Hungarians not to move away. How to convince young Hungarians that they will not find a better homeland in the west, especially when Orbán’s own policies are destroying most chances for living rewarding and creative lives inside the country?

Populists in Warsaw and Budapest seem to have turned the refugee crisis in the west into a branding opportunity for the east. Citizens will stop leaving for the west only if the west loses its allure. Dispraising the west and declaring its institutions “not worth imitating” can be explained as imaginary revenge born of resentment. But it has the collateral benefit of serving the region’s number one policy priority, by helping discourage emigration. Populists rail against the way western Europe has welcomed Africans and Middle Easterners. But their real complaint is that western members of the EU have opened their doors invitingly to central and eastern Europeans themselves, potentially depriving the region of its most productive citizens.

This entire discussion brings us to a core idea of contemporary illiberalism. Contrary to many contemporary theorists, populist rage is directed less at multiculturalism than at individualism and cosmopolitanism. This is an important point politically because, if accepted, it implies that populism cannot be combatted by abandoning multiculturalism in the name of individualism and cosmopolitanism. For the illiberal democrats of eastern and central Europe, the gravest threat to the survival of the white Christian majority in Europe is the incapacity of western societies to defend themselves. They cannot defend themselves because the reigning individualism and cosmopolitanism allegedly blinds them to the threats they face.
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Illiberal democracy promises to open citizens’ eyes. If the liberal consensus of the 1990s was about individual legal and constitutional rights, the anti-liberal consensus today is that the rights of the threatened white Christian majority are in mortal danger. To protect this besieged majority’s fragile dominance from the insidious alliance of Brussels and Africa, the argument goes, Europeans need to replace the watery individualism and universalism foisted on them by liberals with a muscular identity politics or group particularism of their own. This is the logic with which Orbán and the leader of PiS in Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński, have tried to inflame the inner xenophobic nationalism of their countrymen.

Nor were central and eastern Europeans themselves, in 1989, dreaming of some perfect world that had never existed. They were longing instead for a “normal life” in a “normal country”. In the late 70s, when the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger visited Hungary and spoke with some of the best-known critics of the communist regime, what they told him was: “We are not dissidents. We represent normality.” Michnik’s post-communist slogan was “Liberty, Fraternity, Normality”. After decades of pretending to expect a radiant future, the main goal of the dissidents was to live in the present and to enjoy the pleasures of everyday life.

Central European elites saw imitation of the west as a well-travelled pathway to normality in this sense. But, encouraged by hopes of joining the EU, the reformers underestimated the local impediments to liberalisation and democratisation and overestimated the feasibility of importing fully worked-out western models. The wave of anti-liberalism sweeping over central Europe today reflects widespread popular resentment at the perceived slights to national and personal dignity that this palpably sincere reform-by-imitation project entailed.

In eastern and central Europe as a whole, euphoria at communism’s collapse created the expectation that other radical improvements were in the offing. Some thought it would suffice for communist officials to quit their posts in order for central and eastern Europeans to wake up in different, freer, more prosperous and, above all, more western countries. When rapid westernisation did not magically materialise, an alternative solution began to gain favour. Leaving with one’s family for the west became the preferred option.The ultimate revenge of the central and eastern European populists against western liberalism is not merely to reject the idea of imitating the west, but to invert it. We are the real Europeans, Orbán and Kaczyński repeatedly claim, and if the west will save itself, it will have to imitate the east. As Orbán said in a speech in July 2017: “Twenty-seven years ago here in Central Europe, we believed that Europe was our future; today we feel that we are the future of Europe.”

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Corruptions and thievery in open sight.

What a society would that be when the PM was able to dodge demonstrations and prosecution for corruption charges. All you need is to say it's freedom, democracy and rule of law that we love, not thief economy with thieves in high public offices elected through free and open democratic elections. Thieves qualify for ballots.

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A company formed by the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, collected at least $42 million in subsidies last year.

The Money Farmers: How Oligarchs and Populists Milk the E.U. for Millions
The European Union spends $65 billion a year subsidizing agriculture. But a chunk of that money emboldens strongmen, enriches politicians and finances corrupt dealing.

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    and Benjamin Novak
    • Nov. 3, 2019Updated 4:42 a.m. ET
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    CSAKVAR, Hungary — Under Communism, farmers labored in the fields that stretch for miles around this town west of Budapest, reaping wheat and corn for a government that had stolen their land.

    Today, their children toil for new overlords, a group of oligarchs and political patrons who have annexed the land through opaque deals with the Hungarian government. They have created a modern twist on a feudal system, giving jobs and aid to the compliant, and punishing the mutinous.

    These land barons, as it turns out, are financed and emboldened by the European Union.

    Every year, the 28-country bloc pays out $65 billion in farm subsidies intended to support farmers around the Continent and keep rural communities alive. But across Hungary and much of Central and Eastern Europe, the bulk goes to a connected and powerful few. The prime minister of the Czech Republic collected tens of millions of dollars in subsidies just last year. Subsidies have underwritten Mafia-style land grabs in Slovakia and Bulgaria.

    Europe’s farm program, a system that was instrumental in forming the European Union, is now being exploited by the same antidemocratic forces that threaten the bloc from within. This is because governments in Central and Eastern Europe, several led by populists, have wide latitude in how the subsidies, funded by taxpayers across Europe, are distributed — even as the entire system is shrouded in secrecy.

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    A New York Times investigation, conducted in nine countries for much of 2019, uncovered a subsidy system that is deliberately opaque, grossly undermines the European Union’s environmental goals and is warped by corruption and self-dealing.

    Europe’s machinery in Brussels enables this rough-hewed corruption because confronting it would mean changing a program that helps hold a precarious union together. European leaders disagree about many things, but they all count on generous subsidies and wide discretion in spending them. Bucking that system to rein in abuses in newer member states would disrupt political and economic fortunes across the Continent.

    This is why, with the farm bill up for renewal this year, the focus in Brussels isn’t on rooting out corruption or tightening controls. Instead, lawmakers are moving to give national leaders more authority on how they spend money — over
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    The program is the biggest item in the European Union’s central budget, accounting for 40 percent of expenditures. It’s one of the largest subsidy programs in the world.

    Yet some lawmakers in Brussels who write and vote on farm policy admit they often have no idea where the money goes.

    One place it goes is here in Fejer County, home to Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orban. An icon to Europe’s far right and a harsh critic of Brussels and European elites, Mr. Orban is happy to accept European Union money. The Times investigation found that he uses European subsidies as a patronage system that enriches his friends and family, protects his political interests and punishes his rivals.

    State Land Sold to Viktor Orban’s Relatives and Friends

    About 1,200 acres of state land were sold to Mr. Orban’s son-in-law and his family.

    More than 3,800 acres of state land went to Mr. Orban’s childhood friend Lorinc Meszaros and his family.

    Nearly 1,000 acres of state land were sold to Janos Flier, a business partner of Mr. Orban’s wife.

    Other plots were sold to a lawyer from Budapest and his family members. The owners lease part of their property to Mr. Meszaros.

    Mr. Orban’s government has auctioned off thousands of acres of state land to his family members and close associates, including one childhood friend who has become one of the richest men in the country, the Times investigation found. Those who control the land, in turn, qualify for millions in subsidies from the European Union.

    “It’s an absolutely corrupt system,” said Jozsef Angyan, who once served as Mr. Orban’s under secretary for rural development.

    The brazen patronage in Fejer County was not supposed to happen. Since the earliest days of the European Union, farm policy has had outsized importance as an immutable system of public welfare. In the United States, Social Security or Medicare are perhaps the closest equivalents, but neither of them is a sacrosanct provision written into the nation’s founding documents.

    The European Union spends three times as much as the United States on farm subsidies each year, but as the system has expanded, accountability has not kept up. National governments
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    , but the largest beneficiaries hide behind complex ownership structures. And although farmers are paid, in part, based on their acreage, property data is kept secret, making it harder to track land grabs and corruption. The European Union maintains a master database but, citing the difficulty of downloading the requested information, refused to provide The Times a copy.
    In response, the Times compiled its own database that, while incomplete, supplemented publicly available information on subsidy payments. This included corporate and government records; data on land sales and leases; and leaked documents and nonpublic land records received from whistle-blowers and researchers.

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The Times confirmed land deals that benefited a select group of political insiders, visited farms in several countries, and used government records to determine subsidy payments received by some of the largest of these beneficiaries. The Times investigation also built on the work done by
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despite a
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by Mr. Orban’s government.

What we found
How oligarchs, Mafia figures and populists get rich off the European Union
  1. Farm subsidies helped form the basis for the modern European Union. Today, they help underwrite a sort of modern feudalism in which small farmers are beholden to politically connected land barons.
  2. The European Union provides $65 billion to farmers each year. It’s the largest line item in the E.U. budget and one of the biggest subsidy programs in the world.
  3. The centerpiece of the program is that people get paid based on how much land they farm. The system is supposed to help hard-working farmers and stabilize Europe’s food supply.
  4. But in former Soviet bloc countries, where the government owned lots of farmland, leaders like Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, have auctioned off land to political allies and family members. And the subsidies follow the land.
  5. A company formed by the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, collected at least $42 million in subsidies last year.
Even as the European Union champions the subsidy program as an essential safety net for hardworking farmers,
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that 80 percent of the money goes to the biggest 20 percent of recipients. And some of those at the top have used that money to amass political power.

In the Czech Republic, the highest-profile subsidy recipient is Andrej Babis, the billionaire agriculturalist who is also the prime minister. The Times analysis found his companies in the Czech Republic collected at least $42 million in agricultural subsidies last year. Mr. Babis, who denied any wrongdoing, is the subject of two
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. The Czech government has, in recent years, ushered in rules that make it easier for big companies — his is the biggest — to receive more subsidies.

“The European Union is paying so much money to an oligarch who’s also a politician,” said Lukas Wagenknecht, a Czech senator and economist who used to work for Mr. Babis. “And what’s the result? You have the most powerful politician in the Czech Republic, and he’s completely supported by the European Union.”

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that 75 percent of the main type of European agricultural subsidy in the country ends up in the hands of about 100 entities. This spring, the authorities carried out raids across the country that exposed corrupt ties between government officials and agricultural businessmen. One of the largest flour producers in the country was charged with fraud in connection with the subsidies and is awaiting trial.

In Slovakia, the top prosecutor has acknowledged the existence of an “agricultural Mafia.” Small farmers have reported being beaten and extorted for land that is valuable for the subsidies it receives.
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last year
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who had infiltrated the farm industry, profited from subsidies and built relationships with powerful politicians.

Despite this, proposed reforms are often watered down or brushed aside in Brussels and many other European capitals.

European Union officials dismissed
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that recommended tightening farm-subsidy rules as a safeguard against Central and Eastern European land grabbing. The European Parliament rejected a bill that would have banned politicians from benefiting from the subsidies they administer. And top officials swat away suggestions of fraud.

“We have an almost watertight system,” Rudolf Mögele, one of Europe’s top agricultural officials, said in an interview earlier this year.

Unstated is that, while audits can catch incidents of outright fraud, rooting out self-dealing and legalized corruption is far more difficult. The European Union seldom interferes with national affairs, giving deference to elected leaders.

Few leaders have attempted such widespread, brazen exploitation of the subsidy system as Mr. Orban in Hungary. At rallies, he deploys a false narrative that Brussels wants to strip away farm aid and use it to bring in migrants, and that he alone can stop it.

Farmers who criticize the government or the patronage system say they have been denied grants or faced surprise audits and unusual environmental inspections, in what amounts to a sophisticated intimidation campaign that harkens to the Communist era.

“It’s not like when a car comes for you at night and takes you away,” said Istvan Teichel, who farms a small plot in Mr. Orban’s home county. “This is deeper.”

One man who did speak up was Mr. Angyan, the former under secretary for rural development. A jowly, gray-haired rural economist with a mischievous smile, Mr. Angyan became an unlikely crusader for small farmers. He served under Mr. Orban, initially thinking him a reformer, only to leave angry and disillusioned. He canvassed the countryside, documenting the government’s dubious land deals and mistreatment of small farmers.

And then he disappeared from public life.

A Thief Economy
To understand how leaders like Viktor Orban exploit Europe’s largest subsidy program requires going back 15 years, to when Hungary was spinning with optimism and change.

In a moment that symbolized Western triumph in the Cold War, the European Union officially absorbed much of the breadbasket of Central and Eastern Europe on May 1, 2004. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia — all former Soviet satellites — were among 10 nations that joined the bloc that day (Romania and Bulgaria joined three years later).

Amid the celebrations, Mr. Orban was in political purgatory. He had been the prime minister who helped guide Hungary into the union — only to see voters turn him and his party, Fidesz, out of office in 2002. Now he noticed one of the first protest groups to emerge in the new Hungary: farmers.

Hungarian farmers clogged Budapest’s narrow streets in 2005 for a mass demonstration. They did not oppose European Union membership. Far from it. As new European citizens, they wanted the subsidies they were eligible for under the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy, or C.A.P., but the payments hadn’t arrived. Hungary’s left-leaning government was too disorganized and unprepared.

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From the outset, the European subsidies represented a pot of money scarcely fathomable to farmers accustomed to Communist austerity. The program was designed after the Second World War to boost farming salaries and ramp up food production in countries laid waste by conflict. Over time, it became a critical foundation in creating the borderless economy that would grow into the modern European Union.

European leaders understood that absorbing former Soviet satellites would bring challenges, but never fully grasped the potential for corruption in the subsidy program.

At its heart, the program is defined by a simple proposition: Farmers are mostly paid based on how many acres they harvest. Whoever controls the most land gets the most money.

And Central and Eastern Europe had lots of land, much of it still state-owned, a legacy of the Communist era. European officials worked closely with incoming governments on issues such as meeting food testing standards, or controlling borders, yet only limited attention was paid to the subsidies.

“They thought they would change us,” said Jana Polakova, a Czech agricultural scientist. “They were not prepared for us.”

Mr. Orban showed hints of what was to come even before Hungary joined the bloc. Before he left office in 2002, Mr. Orban sold 12 state-owned farming companies, which became known as the “Dirty Dozen,” to a group of politically connected buyers. Buyers got cut-rate deals and exclusive rights to the land for 50 years, making them eligible for subsidies when Hungary became part of the system two years later.

“This is a crony economy, where friends and political allies get special treatment,” said Gyorgy Rasko, a former Hungarian agriculture minister. “Orban didn’t invent the system. He’s just running it more efficiently.”

Out of office, Mr. Orban watched the farmers’ protests in Budapest and saw the potential political and economic power of subsidies in the countryside. He also was intrigued by the man who negotiated successfully on behalf of the protesters: Jozsef Angyan.
After the fall of Communism, Mr. Angyan made the case that small landholders could keep villages alive through sustainable practices. He founded an environmental program at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities and helped build an organic farm called Kishantos with 1,100 acres of wheat, corn and flowers.

“He wanted to help the local farmers,” said Mr. Teichel, the farmer from Fejer County, who said Mr. Angyan was a rare champion of the small farmer in a countryside where corrupt politicians ran a “thief economy.”

Eight years after losing office, Mr. Orban again ran for prime minister in 2010 and wanted to court the rural vote. Mr. Angyan was now a member of Parliament, and his ties to the farmers gave him political clout in the countryside. Mr. Orban summoned him to his modest home west of Budapest.

It was a chilly February morning and Mr. Angyan had a cold. So Mr. Orban fixed tea over a wood-burning stove and, for two hours, the two men spoke about the future of Hungarian farms.

Mr. Angyan envisioned a government that gave small farmers more political and economic clout. Mr. Orban made it clear that he wanted to implement Mr. Angyan’s ideas and offered to make him under secretary of rural development.

“When Orban speaks, he speaks with such conviction,” Mr. Angyan said. “You believe him. I believed him.”

After a landslide victory, Mr. Orban moved quickly, just not as Mr. Angyan had anticipated.

Mr. Angyan’s proposal called on the government to carve up its massive plots and lease them to small and midsize farmers. But Mr. Orban instead wanted to lease whole swaths of land to a coterie of his allies, a move that Mr. Angyan predicted would make the countryside beholden to Mr. Orban’s party, Fidesz, and its allies.

He also knew that European subsidies would follow the land, widening the gap between rich and poor and making it easier for those at the top to wield power.

“I had absolutely no chance to carry out what I wanted to do,” Mr. Angyan said.
In 2011, Mr. Orban’s new government began leasing out public land. At first, officials said that only local, small-scale farmers would be eligible for leases. But the plots ultimately went to politically connected individuals who, in some cases, had been the sole bidders present at auctions. By 2015, hundreds of thousands of acres of public land were leased out and much of it went to people close to Fidesz, according to records obtained from the government and Mr. Angyan.

New leaseholders paid low rates to the government, even as they became eligible for European subsidies. The deals drew sharp criticism in the local media, yet ordinary farmers stayed quiet, despite being left out.

In one example, a powerful Fidesz lawmaker, Roland Mengyi, inserted himself into the leasing process in Borsod-Abauj Zemplen County, where one of his associates won leases for more than 1,200 acres. Mr. Mengyi is an outsized character, who referred to himself as “Lord Voldemort.” He was later convicted and sentenced to prison in a separate case for corruption related to European subsidies.

Mr. Orban’s sudden change in policy left Mr. Angyan disillusioned, and feeling betrayed. He quit the government in 2012 but remained in Parliament, where he tried to push his vision, even as the government moved in the opposite direction.

At a closed-door meeting in early 2013, Mr. Angyan confronted Mr. Orban in front of the prime minister’s most trusted allies in Parliament.

“You’re going to destroy the countryside!” Mr. Angyan recalled saying.

“You are a well-poisoner,” Mr. Orban shot back, according to Mr. Angyan, startling the crowd with a blunt rebuke of a former member of his cabinet. “You have abandoned me.”

As a shocked silence fell over the party faithful, Mr. Orban launched into a soliloquy comparing politics to a battlefield. Those who are loyal, he said, could count on their brothers in arms for protection.

“But those who aren’t?” the prime minister asked. “We will also fire at them.”

A Modern Feudalism
In 2015, Mr. Orban started moving even faster. His government sold hundreds of thousands of acres of state farmland, much of it to politically connected allies. Technically, it was an auction. But many local farmers say they were told not to bother bidding because winners had been predetermined. Few could afford the large plots, anyway, and many more did not even know about the sales.

One pensioner, Ferenc Horvath, 63, lives in a shack in Fejer County, and belatedly discovered that the government had sold all the state-owned land surrounding his tiny plot.

“It happened so fast,” Mr. Horvath said. “We had no idea you could buy land here.”

On nearly all sides, Mr. Horvath had a new neighbor, Lorinc Meszaros, a childhood friend of Mr. Orban and former pipe-fitter who is now a billionaire. Fences sprung up overnight, and the stench of pig manure fell over the area.
Mr. Meszaros, along with his relatives, has bought more than 3,800 acres in Fejer County alone, according to a Times analysis of land data compiled by Mr. Angyan and other sources, and confirmed by visits to the farm. Mr. Orban’s son-in-law and another friend of the prime minister’s have also bought large estates a short drive away, The Times found.

The prediction made by Mr. Angyan — that Mr. Orban’s policies would make the countryside beholden to Fidesz and his allies — was being realized.

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It is a type of modern feudalism, where small farmers live in the shadows of huge, politically powerful interests — and European Union subsidies help finance it. In recent years, according to a Times analysis of Hungarian payment data, the largest private recipients of farm subsidies were companies controlled by Mr. Meszaros and Sandor Csanyi, an influential businessman in Budapest.

Last year alone, companies controlled by the two men received a total of $28 million in subsidies.

The two men have radically different relationships with Mr. Orban and his party.

Mr. Csanyi is seen as someone Mr. Orban cannot afford to antagonize. He is chairman of OTP Bank, one of the nation’s most important financial institutions, and has a reputation for outlasting mercurial leaders. He has hired out-of-work politicians from all parties, and his farming conglomerate, led by his son, now controls two of the “Dirty Dozen” companies privatized by Mr. Orban.
Mr. Meszaros’s fortune, by contrast, is tightly bound to the prime minister. He has built an empire by winning government contracts for projects largely financed by the European Union and has recently snapped up companies that once belonged to a business tycoon who had fallen out of favor with Mr. Orban.

They are eligible for a range of subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, whether direct payments based on acreage, subsidies directed at livestock and dairy farming or rural development programs — all of which is distributed at the national level by the Fidesz government.

“I’m always accused, and I am very angry about it, that I got the biggest subsidies,” Mr. Csanyi said in an interview. The reason, he said, is not politics. It is pigs. “I produce about one-sixth of the Hungarian pig production.”

On paper, landowners should face restrictions. The Hungarian government has capped subsidy payments to the biggest farms, a seemingly progressive policy advocated by reformers. But farmers say it is easy to skirt the rule by dividing plots and registering the land to different owners.

Rajmund Fekete, a spokesman for Mr. Orban, said that Hungarian subsidy procedures “fully satisfy” European regulations but declined to answer specific questions about Mr. Angyan, or about land sales that benefited Mr. Orban’s relatives and allies.

“Hungary is also fully compliant in the sale of state land, which is regulated by law,” he said.

In Brussels, European officials were specifically warned about problems in Hungary even before the auctions. A May 2015 report, commissioned by the European Parliament, investigated land grabbing and cited “dubious land deals” in Hungary. The report even cited Mr. Orban’s home of Fejer County.

More broadly, the investigators found that wealthy, politically connected landowners had the power to annex land across Central and Eastern Europe. “This is particularly so when they conspire with government authorities,” the report said.

In Bulgaria, for example, land brokers had pushed for laws allowing them to effectively annex small farms.

Investigators pointed to the farm subsidy program as a major factor, saying it encouraged companies to acquire more and more land.

“The C.A.P. in this sense has clearly failed to live up to its declared objectives,” said the report, which was prepared by the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute.

In a written response, European agricultural officials denounced the findings as unreliable, and in bold letters declared that it was up to the countries’ leaders to set and enforce national land use policies.

That deference to national governments is a hallmark of the European Union. But it has left the bloc unable or unwilling to confront leaders who try to undermine its efforts, said Tomás García Azcárate, a longtime European agriculture official who now trains the Continent’s policymakers.

“The European Union has very limited instruments for dealing with gangster member states,” he said. “It’s true on policy, on agriculture, on immigration. It’s a real problem.”
As Mr. Orban’s government began auctioning off thousands of acres to his allies, Mr. Angyan began his own project. Out of government, he meticulously studied the land sales, compiling a record that officials could not easily purge. He interviewed farmers who had been abandoned by the government and mapped political connections among the buyers — findings now supported by the Times analysis.

Beyond the biggest oligarchs like Mr. Meszaros, other supporters and sympathizers of Mr. Orban got blocks of public land.

In Csongrad County, for example, family members and associates of Janos Lazar, a Fidesz lawmaker, were among the biggest buyers, obtaining about 1,300 acres. In Bacs-Kiskun County, associates and family members of a former business partner of Mr. Meszaros bought big chunks of land. And in Jasz-Nagykun-Szolnok County, associates and relatives of current and former Orban government officials were among the biggest winners in the land auctions. Many have since leased the plots, with a markup, to big agricultural firms that receive European subsidies.

“This is what the European Union resources do, and the revenues from the land do,” said Mihaly Borbiro, a former mayor of Obarok, a tiny village in Fejer County, a short drive from Mr. Orban’s hometown.

While political patrons get rich, many small farmers count on the subsidies to survive. That discourages them from criticizing the system too loudly, many of the farmers said, especially in the face of retribution.

Ferenc Gal, who raises cows, alfalfa and a few pigs on his family farm, said he applied to lease about 320 acres because the European subsidies alone would have made it profitable before he even planted anything. Local farmers were supposed to get preference, but the land went to wealthy out-of-town investors.

When he complained, he quickly found himself a pariah. He said government inspectors showed up at his farm, suddenly concerned about environmental and water quality. He said local officials told him not to bother applying for future rural grants.

“Once you’re on a black list,” Mr. Gal said, “that’s it.”

A Policy of Fear
Retribution also found Jozsef Angyan.

Months after he quit the cabinet, government officials retracted the lease on Kishantos, the organic farm he had helped operate for 20 years. They gave the land to political loyalists, who plowed over the fields and sprayed the cropland with chemicals.

Then school officials shuttered Mr. Angyan’s department at Szent Istvan University, destroying his legacy.

“Orban understands when to keep people in fear,” Mr. Angyan said.

In interviews in Hungary, some agricultural scientists and economists refused to discuss land ownership or asked to not be identified when discussing their research. Farmers, too, saw what happened to the man who spoke up for them.
“If Angyan can’t do anything, what can I do?” said Mr. Teichel, the family farmer near Mr. Orban’s hometown.

Mr. Orban’s control of the European subsidies helps prevent another rural uprising, Mr. Angyan said. As long as the government administers the grants, nobody can afford to speak up. “If you’re critical of the system,” he said, “you get nothing.”

Besides, he added, there is no real opposition in the countryside. Mr. Angyan’s small farmers’ association forged an alliance with Mr. Orban’s far-right party to get the prime minister re-elected. That relationship has outlasted Mr. Angyan, and those in charge of the farming group now hold powerful government positions.

Mr. Angyan has receded from public life. This year, he met twice with The Times, providing the data he had been compiling.

After the second meeting, Mr. Angyan stopped returning phone calls.

When Mr. Teichel saw him recently at a funeral, he looked defeated. “He’s given up the fight,” Mr. Teichel said. As usual, Mr. Angyan asked how the farmer and his family were doing.

“I don’t matter,” Mr. Teichel replied. “I’m just a soldier. How are you doing? You are the general.”

Mr. Angyan replied: “How should I continue when nobody is behind me?”

Reporting was contributed by Agustin Armendariz in London, Hana de Goeij in Prague, Milan Schreuer in Brussels, Akos Stiller in Budapest and Boryana Dzhambazova in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Matt Apuzzo is a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter based in Brussels. He has covered law enforcement and security matters for more than a decade and is the co-author of the book “Enemies Within.” @mattapuzzo

A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 3, 2019, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Populist Politicians Exploit E.U. Aid, Reaping Millions. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

A version of this article appears in print on Nov. 3, 2019, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Populist Politicians Exploit E.U. Aid, Reaping Millions. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
LOL through a server where I check my emails I had noticed kinda summary (
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) right before logging on here

TLDR anyway


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An elected thief?
Or freedom of stealing under rule of law a democratic right?

EU leaders face legal action over Czech PM's alleged conflict of interest
European council accused of failing to act over claims Andrej Babiš gains from EU subsidies

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in Brussels

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The EU’s most powerful decision-making body is being taken to court accused of failing to act on an alleged conflict of interest centred on the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš.

Lukáš Wagenknecht, a Czech senator, said he had launched legal action at the European court of justice after the European council – the body representing EU leaders – failed to respond to his concerns about the alleged conflict of interest.

The senator said Babiš was able to “personally enrich” himself through his vote at the European council, because he owns a company that receives EU subsidies.

The billionaire prime minister of the Czech Republic was
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in 2018 to have a conflict of interest, because his Agrofert agro-food conglomerate had benefited from at least €82m (£71m) in EU subsidies that year alone.

As a member of the European council, Babiš has a veto over the EU budget, giving him a say over how much money is allocated to farm subsidies compared with research.

Negotiations on the EU’s next seven-year budget are already proving difficult, as the EU27 confront the €12bn-€14bn (£10.3bn to £12bn) annual shortfall caused by Brexit, demands for new spending, as well as the red lines of the “frugal” club of member states that refuse to pay a euro cent more.

Among EU leaders, Babiš is an exception by owning a company that benefits from EU farm payments for poorer regions. Czech transparency campaigners
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he remains the ultimate beneficial owner, in breach of EU law.

Agrofert has described the claims as false, while Babiš dismissed them as “lies” and “nonsense”. He has always maintained the company is in a private trust fund and he has not broken any law.

The legal case partly rests on the view of the EU’s in-house lawyers, who concluded in a leaked legal report that the “impartial and objective exercise of his functions as a prime minister” were “compromised”.

Wagenknecht is urging Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders to take the issue seriously. “Yes, I know they have too many other issues … [but] the immediate consequences are also the European level,” he said.

“Babiš will approve principles of EU subsidies and at the same he will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.” The European council – unlike other EU bodies such as the European commission or the European parliament – lacked “any guidance or principles on the conflict of interest”, the liberal senator added.

“Do we have different rules in place for prime ministers, presidents, than other citizens of the
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? It’s also about the rule of law, European laws should be for all of us or not. If they do not follow the rule of law then what will happen – democracy will decrease,” he said.

The European court of justice has yet to confirm if it will accede to Wagenknecht’s request for a fast-track procedure, to allow a ruling before EU leaders settle the next European budget in 2020.

EU insiders hope for a settlement on the 2021-27 budget by June 2020, but finding a compromise is likely to test EU unity to the limit. The erosion of the rule of law in central European countries that are the largest beneficiaries of EU funds is one reason why the financial settlement will be so hard to agree.

MEPs are also concerned about the use of EU funds in Hungary, as friends, family and supporters of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, have
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facing little competition – a red flag for anti-corruption campaigners.


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Racism against Roma people are well documented.
First graders under intense hate speech and death threats in Czech Republic.

Czech court overturns acquittal for author of racist online comments, prosecution will continue

The photograph that sparked a wave of online racism. The faces and names of the pupils in the first grade of the Plynárenská School in Teplice, Czech Republic have been blurred in order to protect their identities.

News server, the online service of public broadcaster Czech Radio, reports that the Regional Court in Ústí nad Labem, responding to an
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has overturned the first-instance acquittal of Vítězslav Kroupa for posting hateful comments online beneath a photograph of a first-grade class in Teplice, apparently because of the children's non-"white" appearance. The lower court acquitted him by ruling that it had not been proven that Kroupa himself had authored the comment.

The acquittal was remarkable because not only did Kroupa admit to police that he was the person who had written the comments, his attorney later confirmed that information during trial. Kroupa is also facing charges of disseminating neo-Nazi symbols.

"It's a good thing they're from the Plynárenská [Gasworks] Primary School. The solution is right there," Kroupa wrote of the children, implying that they could be gassed to death.

Kroupa confessed to authoring the comment even before his prosecution had begun, but according to, in her acquittal Judge Lucie Yakut ruled that his admission of authorship could not be taken into account exactly because he had expressed it before the prosecution began. The prosecutor then appealed, the Regional Court has now agreed with him, and the case has been returned to the lower court to be newly reviewed.

The indictment argues that Kroupa wrote the comments because of the ethnicity of the children in the photograph and was referencing the murders committed by the Nazis in their gas chambers during the Second World War. Most of the children photographed were either of Arab, Romani, or Vietnamese origin.

Kroupa also faces up to three years in prison because of the neo-Nazi photographs that police found he had published on his Facebook wall. "In the publicly accessible part of his profile he displayed the photographs mentioned of Adolf Hitler, Herman Göring, and the eagle of the Reich with a Nazi swastika, symbols or figures that are adored and used as symbols of the neo-Nazi scene, which is conclusive," prosecutor Norek highlighted previously.



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Okay here is a bone.

Czech lab grows mustard plants for Mars

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech scientists have opened a lab to experiment growing food for environments with extreme conditions and lack of water, such as Mars.

The “Marsonaut” experiment by scientist Jan Lukacevic, 29, and his team at the Prague University of Life Sciences is based on aeroponics - growing plants in the air, without soil, and limiting water use to a minimum.

The plants grow horizontally from a vertical unit and are stacked one above the other to minimize space. Researchers experiment with light and temperature changes, Lukacevic said.

The team has already succeeded in growing mustard plants, salad leaves, radishes and herbs like basil and mint.

Scientists ate their first harvest last week.

“They taste wonderful, because they grow in a controlled environment and we supply them with bespoke nutrients,” said Lukacevic.

Strawberries are the next crop planned.

The main benefit of the growing method is that it uses 95 percent less water than normal plant cultivation and also saves space, which could boost agricultural yields in areas hit by urbanization and climate change.