Downtown Pest and Antal Rogán

The fifth district is the heart of Pest, the place where the original medieval town was situated. Its walls, built after the Tartars completely destroyed the town in the middle of the thirteenth century, stood until the end of the eighteenth. Today, in place of the walls is the Little Ring (Kiskőrút), a circular boulevard. Within its borders are many important buildings, including the Parliament, all the ministries, the city hall, the law school, many museums, many theaters, and the U.S. embassy. Until last year, the mayor of the district was a socialist, though the city council had a Fidesz majority. After Fidesz’s sweep in the municipal elections, the mayor also became a Fidesz politician, the young Antal Rogán.

Until last year Rogán had been the rising star of the Fidesz. In 1998, at the age of twenty-six, he became a member of parliament, and a year later he was the second man in the Fidesz’s parliamentary caucus. Everybody was talking about him as a possible successor to Viktor Orbán. Moreover, even his political opponents considered him to be more reasonable than most of his colleagues in his party’s leadership. In 2006, Rogán became the campaign manager of the doomed Fidesz bid for power and, as a result, he fell from grace. There were some very embarrassing incidents: someone from the Fidesz campaign headquarters broke into the server of the company that was responsible for the MSZP ad campaign. Then, there was the Vizsla affair. A so-called civic group published and sent to every Hungarian household a very primitive tabloid in which forged pictures appeared about certain politicians, including the "millionaires" Ferenc Gyurcsány and János Kóka. Questions were immediately raised: how did this Éva Horváth, the owner of a small shop, manage to get millions to pay for the publication of the Vizsla. Soon enough the answer came via a fax from Horváth to the printer; it was sent, not surprisingly, from campaign headquarters. How embarrassing. Nonetheless, neither the server break-in nor the scandal surrounding the Vizsla had any serious consequences for the party. Either the Fidesz is very clever at handling such cases or their political opponents are not clever enough. Rogán, on the other hand, decided to withdraw from the national scene. Whether this was on his own volition or at Viktor Orbán’s urging, no one knows. But Antal Rogán decided to seek the Budapest fifth district mayoralty instead of a seat in parliament.

Since taking office Rogán has been very active. Only a few days go by without hearing a new Rogán idea about how he could make the district better off and make the fairly elderly population happier. His latest is that the ministries and the U.S. embassy have been using public spaces, which according to Rogán belong to the district, for parking. His first success was with the American embassy. The Americans agreed to pay $1.8 million for the use of the parking area for the next fifty years. This will certainly help Rogán’s popularity. Rogán also demanded money from the National Bank and, after some haggling, received a handsome amount for the district. The APEH (the Hungarian equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service) and the building housing the parliamentary members’ offices will also pay twenty million forints a year for parking. However, there were two ministries that wouldn’t budge: the ministry of health and the ministry of national defense. They will take their cases to court. Yesterday Rogán announced that since these ministries didn’t answer before the deadline, he would impose a fine on them. A very steep fine: the money that Rogán demands from the ministry of health, for example, would be 10% of their whole budget. My feeling is that Rogán most likely will win this round too, trading a commitment to pay the parking fees for the fine. The ministry of health’s answer that it has a cellar under the parking area doesn’t sound particularly compelling.

Rogán’s ideas don’t always pan out. After the September-October "occupation" of Kossuth tér by extreme right groups in front of the parliament building, he came up with the idea that the large, now paved area should be transformed into a playground! Can anyone imagine a full-fledged playground in front of a neo-Gothic parliament building, one of the nicest in Europe? Well, the city fathers couldn’t either and eventually they settled for a park that would be fenced in and after dark would be closed. (Eventually an underground parking area will be built for the parliamentary members’ cars.) According to the city’s chief architect the new landscaping plans closely resemble those proposed, but never implemented, when Parliament was built. The owner of Kossuth tér, by the way, is not the fifth district but the Parliament itself. Thus, three people were involved in the negotiations: Gábor Demszky, the SZDSZ mayor of Budapest, Katalin Szili, the MSZP speaker of the house, and Antal Rogán, the Fidesz mayor of the fifth district. Apparently, the negotiations went smoothly. It seems that there are some Fidesz politicians with whom cooperation is not impossible.