Talk of the town or the whole country?

It is Thursday now and the whole country–or at least its media–talks about nothing else but President Sólyom’s Sunday night interview in the weekly political program, Freedom of Speech (A szólás szabadsága). He has been in office for a year now, and he crowned it–if you can call it that–with this very long interview that took place on the terrace of the Sándor Palota (Sándor Palace). Since 2003 the Sándor Palace has been the official headquarters, though not the residence, of the president.

For today (because the weather is becoming increasingly threatening) I’m going to leave the interview as a cliff hanger. But let me say a few words about the Sándor Palace and its history. We don’t know the actual architect of the building. The only sure thing about it is that the building was completed in 1806. The palace belonged to Count Vince Sándor and his wife, Countess Anna Szapáry. This building was eventually purchased by the Hungarian government and served as the residence and office of the Hungarian prime minister between 1867 and 1944. During the bombardment of Budapest the palace was seriously damaged and wasn’t renovated until very recently.

Viktor Orbán, who in my opinion showed signs of megalomania during his administration, decided to spend an incredible amount of money to restore the Sándor Palace to its former glory. He already saw himself as the resident of the palace when its restoration was completed in 2002. There were many critics of the idea of moving the prime minister’s office into the Sándor Palace. For starters, it was not big enough to house the huge staff of the prime minister and it was in a very popular tourist area. Orbán must have been very disappointed. Not only did he lose the election in 2002 but he never had a chance to live and work in the Sándor Palace. For a virtual tour of the palace and to understand its attraction, click on http://www.keh.hu/vtour/vtour_hu/plenaris.htm It must have been a real heartache.

The new socialist-liberal government immediately scrapped the plan of moving the prime minister’s office and residence to the Sándor Palace and made it the official headquarters of the president. The prime minister’s office remained where it had been, and the prime minister decided to live in his own house.

(The storm is coming closer, we’re under a tornado watch, and however unlikely I consider a tornado, I don’t want to fry my computer with a lightning strike. So I’ll continue tomorrow.)