One of our readers commented on the leisurely pace of Hungarian life when it comes to long weekends and holidays in general. For us living in the United States these extended holidays seem endless. Years ago while visiting Hungary I found it mighty odd that days before Christmas the banks had already closed their doors. Listening to the radio on Friday afternoon (Hungarian time) it seems obvious that by noon everybody is scurrying homeward. When a holiday, like May Day, falls on a Thursday people disappear on Wednesday and till Monday one cannot hear from them. (This is evident on the Hungarian-language list on politics, history, and economics that I’ve been running for years. The traffic from Hungary comes to a halt, and only the diligent Americans, Canadians, and Australians are corresponding. Most of the affluent list members take short jaunts outside of Hungary during these long weekends.)
The other day I read somewhere that the Germans work the least amount: 196 days a year. Even in France people work 203 days while in the United States 238. Surely, for the German or French employee this is good news and for the American it is not, but already years ago I saw, I think in The New York Times, a German high official (who refused to give his name) saying that the trouble with the Germans is that they want to receive higher and higher salaries while want to work less and less. In Germany thanks to the existence of very strong trade unions for a while at least this state of affairs will not change. At the same time, some people claim that the very high unemployment rate in Germany is partly due to the companies’ reluctance to hire because firing someone is almost impossible. As an old internet friend from Germany said half jokingly: "Perhaps if the employee raped the boss’s wife one could do something but even then I’m not quite sure."
During these peaceful "lazy days of summer" not much happens in politics either, and Hungarians are eternally grateful for the lack of news since they are certainly fed up with politics. Napkelte, the morning political program on MTV, is unusual in the sense that it doesn’t close up shop for the weekend. They schedule "a light program." On Saturdays István Verebes (actor, theater director) talks with people about health, books, and a little politics but since he doesn’t really know much about anything else but the theater he normally manages to smuggle in some theater stories. Or at least examples drawn from his theatrical career. On Sundays, a former sports writer entertains the audience, and he is also a theater buff. He seems to know every actor in Hungary (and there are many hundreds of them) and seem to have seen every production–quite a feat given the number of theaters in the country.
Politics start to creep back to television on Sunday night in anticipation of possible political events of Monday. So, since there are several new ministers who will take the oath on Monday, András Bánó madly tried to round up a few of these people for a chat. But it is difficult. The future ministers are also off somewhere. However, he managed to find at least two (out of the six) but they couldn’t say a lot about their future jobs since they haven’t even crossed the threshold of the ministries as yet. One of them doesn’t even have a threshold to cross because it is an entirely new ministry. I guess they have to find a suitable building first. The big political question is, of course, the split of the coalition partners and the guesswork concerning the future of a minority government. The third guest of Bánó was Tamás Bauer, one of the founders of SZDSZ, who a few years ago quit the party and returned to civilian life. He teaches economics at a university. Last week Bauer wrote an article about the breakup of the coalition. He concluded that minority governing is a hopeless undertaking and that the coalition should be newly negotiated after the June party election when it is clear who the next SZDSZ party chief is going to be. Other SZDSZ leaders, András Böhm for one, is certain that Gábor Fodor will be the winner. (So am I, by the way.) However, Fodor’s mysterious references to personnel changes on both sides don’t bode well for the reestablishment of the coalition. Somehow I don’t think that MSZP will be terribly happy to be blackmailed to make personnel changes. Especially if Fodor means, for example, the prime minister. In addition, unlike Bauer, I don’t think that a new coalition is the answer for the left-liberal forces in Hungary.
I don’t think that I mentioned that during Ferenc Gyurcsány’s speech on May 1 there was a man in the crowd who pulled out what looked like a gun (it turned out to be a toy gun) and aimed it at the prime minister. The secret police arrested him and led him away. I was certain that this fellow must have belonged to the extreme right. Great was my surprise this morning when I found out that he is an English teacher and a communist sympathizer. In his backpack the police found the first volume of Das Kapital and an open bottle of Scotch. First he told the police that he pulled the gun in order to protest the plight of the poor and the homeless. Later he changed his story and claimed that he was drunk. My second surprise was that the police let him loose. He returned home and is awaiting his fate. The papers claim that he may be fined or perhaps even receive some jail time. I’m trying to imagine what would happen to this man if he tried this trick against the president of the United States.