Hungarian retro: May Day

I was struck yesterday, May 1, by the obvious nostalgia in Hungarian society for the "idyllic" years of the Kádár regime. The morning began with TV interviews recalling those old May Day demonstrations. From TV archives came film clips, among them János Kádár speaking to his people in 1978 or 1979. The speech was dull and full of clichés. János Berecz, formerly secretary of the Central Committee, reminisced about his happy moments among the bigwigs watching the pioneers, KISZ members, Workers’ Militia members, and ordinary factory workers marching by. And there was old footage of the parade passing by the reviewing stand where Kádár and Berecz waved to the crowds. There was also an interview with an MTV reporter, Sándor Vértessy, who was the "voice" of May Day for years.

This year’s MSZP May Day celebration drew a large, enthusiastic crowd. The gathering, complete with the usual speeches, took place in Városliget, a large park near Heroes’ Square, the site of earlier May Day celebrations. One of the attractions was a restored 1964 Ikarus bus parked nearby. The proud owner, who must have put quite a bit of time and money into the project, explained that the top speed for the bus is seventy kilometers per hour and driving it is no mean feat because it still works on the old system of double clutching. Ikarus_3

In addition to the official May Day events in Budapest, an enterprising businessman decided to organize a retro May Day demonstration with all the trimmings–red flags, red neckties, etc. He originally intended to hold it in Dunaújváros (its original name was Dunapentele, a small village, out of which Rákosi’s regime created a socialist city renamed appropriately Sztálinváros). However, in the last minute the city wouldn’t grant permission. So it was held in nearby Várpalota. The pioneers on the picture look a bit old for the role but otherwise the trappings seem accurate enough.Uttorok

These strolls down memory lane obviously resonate with certain segments of the Hungarian population. An older woman at the government celebration sighed and confessed that the old May Days were much, much better than they are today. Why? Because life is very hard now: prices are going up and up and up. Most people cannot make ends meet.

This characterization of the well-being of Hungarians is inaccurate, however often repeated. The problem is that Hungarians want German salaries with a retro work ethic and an upgraded Kádár social welfare system. No May Day celebration can make this unrealistic dream come true.

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Recent uncomfortable conversations I have had have revolved around ‘quality of life’ assessments. I have to repeatedly point out that in the UK, US and Canada holidays are nowhere near as generous as in Hungary. Also, people, especially in the public sector do not stop working early on a Friday and start their treck out of town at midday. This week as May day fell on Thursday everyone got Friday off too. Since this meant a 4 days weekend people pretty much the whole city began their evacuation from Wednesday morning onwards. There was a road block on the motorways and bridges from 10am onwards. At the same time, like you point out, people complain about their earning and spending power. I personally get annoyed, because these constant holidays means that work is disrupted and it is very hard to do anything. The Summer is almost on us and that basically means everyone expects 2 months holiday. Last year is took a lawyer 7 weeks to sort out one small thing for me (I switched laywers for the third time in a year) because they decided to move out to the country and have their office recorated. All quite natural… Read more »
boiledbeefand carrots
boiledbeefand carrots

I was at the May Day events for the MSZP and the fair, I wouldn’t say the MSZP crowd was large at all. There was a large crowd ejoying the sun and the fairground however in the park, but they didn’t go to listen to Fletoka.

Odin's lost eye
@Vándorló **** …”I have to repeatedly point out that in the UK, US and Canada holidays are nowhere near as generous as in Hungary.”… **** Thank God! I my trade, public holidays meant long hours of unpaid overtime. We always had new systems to roll out, old systems to upgrade whilst ‘ops’ were moving data files about or installing new software from IBM. We would work to midnight on the Friday and back in at 6am Saturday and so on through to 1 or 2am on Tuesday morning. Followed by a ‘back in for 8’. We were supposed to get ‘flexi-time’ but personnel for some trivial reason usually over ruled this. Over Christmas and the New Year we would often have to give up some days of our annual holidays to compensate our employer for shutting his works to save money on heating. As you quite rightly point out few in the upper echelons of this land do much work. This is the problem that whilst the old geezer opposite who is nearly as old as I works his socks off in his spare time for enough to buy one glass of crude white wine and soda. The high and… Read more »
Dr Keresztes
@Vandorlo “If people aren’t working, they aren’t generating business and that means less money going around. And before everyone starts stating the blinding (patronising) obvious, I am not against holidays. I am for a better and stronger work ethic” Hi agree! getting the perfect balance is always hard task, either the work force is working out of fear and dont take any annual leave, or the opposite. Working here for 3 years I have noticed people do take more days off for breing sick, instead of 2 days to recover they will take a week, the doctors seem very generous in that respect, and there is no limited sick leave 🙂 which shocked me!! also more annual days a year approx 27 days for me compared to 20 in my previous position. However I do notice that people are more laid back here, and not that stressed compared to working in the west. I personally enjoy to play then work, gives more time to enjoy life. Also depends where you work there are many positions with long hours especially in the retail industry, and little wage. And it’s true about the working the Saturday to substitute for the Friday. It’s… Read more »