Poor Fidesz! It has a lot of problems lately with its mayors. There is Oszkár Molnár with his racist, anti-Semitic remarks, Zsolt Mády of Fót who at the moment by court order can't step into his own office, and Zsolt Páva whose occupation of a utility company partially owned by a French firm is reminiscent of the events of 1948-49 when the owner of a factory or a store was prevented from entering the premises and had to hand over the keys to the communist party officials waiting outside. And now we have the continuing saga of Tamás Meggyes, the mayor of Esztergom. I should mention that both Molnár and Meggyes are also members of parliament, which makes these scandalous affairs even worse from the point of view of Fidesz.
Esztergom is not a large town but it is historically important because it was the first capital of Hungary, serving in this capacity until the mid thirteenth century when Béla IV moved the court to Visegrád and a few years later to Buda. To the best of our knowledge St. Stephen was born here and perhaps also baptized within the city walls. The Archbishop of Esztergom is the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church. Esztergom is home to the largest Catholic church in the country, built in the first half of the nineteenth century. The town's population is only about 30,000 and it seems to me that an overwhelming majority of the inhabitants sympathize with the right. In the 23-member city council there are only two MSZP and two MDF members, none of whom won on his own. All four got their seats from the "compensation list." These four people are ignored if not intimidated by the very aggressive Fidesz mayor, Tamás Meggyes. His autobiography published on the Hungarian parliament's web site is perhaps the shortest I have ever encountered among the almost 400 biographies. On the basis of the very sparse information I figure that Meggyes is about 42 years old and one of the very few people in parliament with no university degree. About his education he says only that he finished high school in 1985 in Esztergom. Ever since 1998 he has been continuously serving Esztergom in the capacity of mayor but especially in the last few years his name has been appearing far too often in the national media. Scandal after scandal.
My feeling is that Meggyes's behavior has been unacceptable for a long time but perhaps earlier he was able to keep the scandals under cover and local. We found out only lately that five years ago his neighbors reported that the honorable mayor was a wife beater. That apparently he used a crowbar to force the door open and subsequently beat his wife who was in the middle of breast feeding their first child. Because the wife, Rózsa Kui, screamed, Meggyes allegedly picked up a pillow to cover her face. The public prosecutor at this time found not enough evidence to pursue the matter. Meanwhile a second child was born but the marriage wasn't getting any better. Meggyes told the whole world that his wife "is not normal," an accusation it's always difficult to disprove. Meanwhile, it turns out that ever since 2002 the "normal" mayor archived all the SMS messages he received from his wife. A bit unusual, as the wife pointed out in an interview last June.
He was apparently unfaithful to his wife and right now they are in the middle of a divorce. They have been living apart for about a year. According to Rózsa, he hasn't paid a cent in child support since August and she had to ask for a few thousand forints from the "assistance for minors" program. The wife works four hours a day and her salary is only 35,000 Ft. a month. Meggyes is doing his best to take the children away from her because he alleges that she is unfit to care for the children. His wife counters that he is a hypocrite for talking about the sanctity of marriage, the importance of the family, while he is behaving this way toward his own.
Earlier I wrote about another scandal concerning one of the high schools in town, named after St. Stephen. (See my blog of September 8, 2009, "Viktor Orbán's vision for Hungary.") This case landed in the courts because apparently firing the teachers was illegal and people familiar with cases involving labor relations claim that the courts will most likely come down on the side of the teachers. Then there was the case of the town clerk. The town clerk is a very important person in Hungarian municipal governments, not only because of the job description but also because he is not a political appointee. Among the town clerk's responsibilities is to oversee the finances of the city. Apparently, the town clerk of Esztergom refused to put his signature to a project that cost something like four billion forints. He was immediately fired; after the case ended up in court the clerk won and was supposed to be reinstated. He hasn't been to this day. It's easy to flaunt court verdicts in Hungary. In fact, the scandal got as far as the Hungarian parliament where Zoltán Szabó, our Hungarian Don Quixote, got up and inquired how long Esztergom would have two clerks because Meggyes hired someone else in the meantime. The answer of the undersecretary of the ministry of justice was most unsatisfactory. He basically said that they are helpless. Their only weapon is a fine, and perhaps the citizens will not reelect Meggyes the next time around because of bad money management. Zoltán Szabó wasn't impressed.
By the way, Esztergom is awash in debt and the mayor recently announced austerity measures. From here on the Basilica will not be illuminated at night. So savor this image. However, there seems to be money for everything else. The main square was completely redone a couple of years ago and it was only lately that right across from the mayor's new house a navigable lake was being dug without a permit. The Water Authority stopped the project and Meggyes is suing. Moreover, money doesn't seem to matter when it comes to organizing a demonstration on behalf of the mayor. Local Fidesz was in charge of the preparations that included printing thousands of leaflets. Bull horns announced the time and place of the demonstration organized "to defend the city from MSZP." Even Magyar Nemzet felt compelled to mention that there were only two MSZP members on the city council out of twenty-three.
There were two recent demonstrations against the mayor. The organizers were MDF and Fidesz members who had had enough of Tamás Meggyes. The first was organized at the time of Viktor Orbán's visit to Esztergom and the participants held up posters saying: "Viktor! Help!" Viktor didn't help. In fact, he escaped through a back door. The second demonstration, about 300 strong, was called the "banana demonstration" because the participants held up bananas to remind people that the adminstration of Esztergom more and more resembles that of a banana republic.These two demonstrations enraged Meggyes and today's counter-demonstration was his answer.
It seems that the people of Esztergom are so fed up with Meggyes that in spite of the thousands of leaflets and the promise of a rock concert only about 1,000 people showed up at the pro-Meggyes demonstration tonight although the CEO of one of the city-owned companies threatened to fire employees if they didn't show up. Again, one is reminded of the fifties when we were herded out to demonstrate on certain holidays under the penalty of expulsion.
The last time I checked the papers I learned that Meggyes came out with his big gun: he found out that someone wanted to kill him. According to the mayor, the police informed him at the end of August that the people who wanted him dead had at least two plans. One was to kill him with a Scorpion machine gun (a Czech-made weapon) that would have been fired from a motorcycle. According to Meggyes, they had already purchased the motorcycle and they did a trial run on the planned route. The other plan was to plant weapons and drugs in his house. Meggyes suspects the culprits are the same two men who are allegedly responsible for setting fire to the mayor's house and car earlier. And, of course, these two men are the "hirelings of MSZP." The police refuse to say anything because of the impending investigation. The whole thing sounds mighty strange to me.
I really wonder what on earth Viktor Orbán will do with these people next year. How is he going to get rid of them? Does he want to get rid of them? Consider the case of Oszkár Molnár. The man who never lies claimed in the interview I wrote about yesterday that the by-laws of the party don't allow for the expulsion of Molnár from the party. However, it turns out that this is not true. The by-laws clearly make a provision (paragraph 10) for expelling people who besmearch the good name of the party or who don't represent the interests of Fidesz. So it seems that Orbán doesn't want to get rid of Molnár. And what about Meggyes? We will see next year.