Hungarian holidays and their extensions

Sitting in the United States and keeping tab on Hungarian affairs is an interesting undertaking when holiday follows holiday. On Sundays and on holidays there is practically no news in Hungary. Life stops. While here The New York Times appears every day, the big Hungarian dailies have no Sunday editions at all, and they don’t appear on holidays either. And if only these holidays were one-day affairs. But no, they usually last two days: two days at Christmas time, two days at Easter, two days at Pentecost. Admittedly there are a few papers that appear only on Sundays, but they are really not full-fledged papers. During extended holidays the situation is especially dire because normal television programming also comes to a screeching halt: political reporters and their daily or weekly programs disappear altogether. They take a long extended holiday and cheerfully announce that we can meet them again, let’s say, on January 8. But Hungarians consider their lives very stressful: one hears nothing else but that life nowadays is so rushed. There is no time for anything. Not like in the good old days. I hate to think what it was like in the good old days.

But these holiday schedules are not confined to journalistic endeavors. I heard with amazement that it is illegal to have a store open after 2 p.m. on December 24! No last minute shopping there. Even greater was my surprise that the Hungarian stock exchange was closed for five solid days. Do you remember the panic on Wall Street after 9/11 when it was the question of reopening the stock exchange? The urgency! On the other hand, I just heard that the Japanese stock exchange is closed for a whole week. Well, obviously these cultures have different ideas of holidays and rest.

I just heard the new president of Magyar Rádió trying to explain the philosophy behind the radio’s programming schedule. Of course, this "new" programming is not at all new elsewhere, but it is new in Hungary. What he was talking about was that every day the programming slots will be set. The listener knows what to expect if the clock shows 9 a.m. or 9 p.m. I am a faithful listener of NPR (National Public Radio) and find it comforting that the news begins every day at 5 a.m. and lasts for two hours when it is repeated for those who get up later. Right now I’m writing this hoping that it will be finished by 4 p.m. when I can walk and listen to "All Things Considered." This type of programming in television and radio gives structure to our lives. However, Hungarians are not enamored with the new programming. A reporter already announced that this "mechanical" programming is boring. I guess they like the excitement of the unknown!

The same reporter found it absurd that the new president of MR, following Western European examples, renamed the three radio channels. Formerly known as Kossuth, Petőfi, and Bartók, they now have the more mundane names MR1, MR2, and MR3. Kossuth Rádió was the flagship station, named following the communist takeover for the Hungarian-language wartime broadcast of Radio Moscow (which no one listened to in Hungary). When two more stations were added, I guess it seemed natural to the "branding gods" to name them after a poet and a composer. At least Bartók Rádió is an all-classical music station. No poet would ever have laid claim to Petõfi Rádió. Now that we are moving into the digital age and Magyar Rádió will have several more stations, the decision was made not to follow the old system of naming stations after historical characters. Kossuth is already called MR1, Petőfi MR2, Bartók MR3. Well, our reporter is outraged: who is ever going to call Kossuth Rádió MR1? Of course, eventually everybody. After all, they changed street names all over the country and people managed to learn the new names. Every time I hear comments like this I become a little sad because it shows the extreme conservatism of the Hungarian people.

By the way, one can only hope that MR1’s news program will be broadcast at the same time every day, 365 days a year.