Do you want to build a radar station in Hungary? I wouldn’t suggest it

Before I sat down to write this piece I decided to check my earlier writings because I remembered that I had written something about this topic earlier. Indeed, I found one reference to "Tubes," the mountain peak of the Mecsek Mountain above the city of Pécs where the radar station is supposed to be built. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was two and a half years ago, on July 14, 2007, that I wrote "Radar and roses" in which I summarized the saga of the Hungarian government's effort to set up the the last of three radar stations necessary to cover the whole airspace of the country.

Hungary joined NATO in 1999, during the tenure of the Orbán government. Once Hungary became a member of NATO it was imperative to build the radar station. The ministry of defense found a suitable place, also in the Mecsek, at the Zengő. Zengő, meaning "Echoing," is east of Pécs in a relatively sparsely settled area. It was also the most suitable place for the radar installation because this particular spot is the highest point of the mountain range.

Everything went along splendidly until Viktor Orbán lost the elections. Suddenly, environmentalists discovered that the Zengő should actually be a protected area (officially it wasn't) because a rare wild rose (bánáti bazsarózsa] could be found on the southern slopes of the mountain.

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Mind you, people who are familiar with the area claim that this rare wild rose hasn't bloomed for years. The rose is most likely already extinct. Also, its usual growing place was miles away from the peak where the station was supposed to be built.

László Sólyom, then the newly elected president (2005), decided to take the side of the environmentalists against the military. An interesting move from a man who is the commander-in-chief of the Hungarian armed forces. He and his wife joined the protesters who demonstrated at the Zengő. At this point the Hungarian government retreated.

After a mad search the ministry came up with the Tubes (pronounced as Toobesh), a smaller peak right above the city of Pécs (160,000 inhabitants). No environmental problems were found, and there was already an old military structure there from the Warsaw Pact days. Thus, the area officially belonged to the ministry of defense. Even Sólyom couldn't find anything wrong with it. At least not for a while.

Well, if there are no objections over flora or fauna, something else can always be found. One doesn't even have to go very far. Enough to claim that radar beams are dangerous to the health of the inhabitants of Pécs. If scientists claim that there is no such danger, then one can always say that because of this radar station Pécs will be a target in case of war. And if that sounds too far-fetched, one can argue that the very presence of the radar station up on the mountain will lower real estates prices down below.

The socialist leadership in town didn't dare go against popular sentiment and joined forces with the protesters. The city fathers agreed to hold a referendum on the issue. The vote took place on March 4, 2007, but in spite of all the noise only 32.5% of the eligible voters bothered to show up. The result therefore was null and void. It is true that those who expressed their opinion overwhelmingly voted against the radar station (94.3%) but of course we will never know what the absentees thought of the Tubes and the radar station.

So the ministry decided that they could go ahead with the installation and the protesters continued their demonstrations. The chronology of the events that followed is really impressive. Mothers with children demonstrated a few days after the failed referendum. One thousand activists formed a living chain not once but several times to protest. Sólyom who originally thought that there was nothing wrong with the Tubes now mysteriously announced that he knew a better place but didn't want to divulge the secret!

If the year 2007 was spent in demonstrations 2008 was spent in the courts. A few days ago, the last possible legal recourse was exhausted. The judge announced that the radar station can be built. Everything was in order with all the dozens and dozens of permits Hungarian bureaucracy demanded. This was the end of the road. One would have thought.

But Zsolt Páva, Fidesz mayor of Pécs, thought otherwise. It is becoming a habit in Hungary to ignore legal decisions. The Hungarian Guard is dissolved but who cares? No more legal recourse in Pécs? Never mind. The legally elected mayor of the town ignores the law and declares "passive resistance." A most peculiar situation when a guardian of law and order goes against the law.

There is a public road leading up to the old military station on the Tubes that Páva simply declared to be a "private road" that can be used only with the permission of the "owner"–that is, the city government of Pécs. A most imaginative solution. Security guards were stationed there and for good measure huge cement blocks were used to prevent entrance. In addition, the mayor with some of his friends decided to spend the night on the spot in a military tent. Unfortunately for them, the temperature up on the Tubes happened to be -12C (10F). However, the temperature in the tent couldn't have been that bad because one can see an oil-filled electric heater inside.

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The demonstrators were well looked after apparently: local restaurants provided them with food and drink. Páva claimed that the temperature, heater or no heater, was bitter cold but "it was worth it because [they] managed to call attention to themselves."

The populist mayor was joined by the equally populist Katalin Szili (MSZP) who is one of the parliamentary representatives from Pécs.

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If Mr. Páva can be a law breaker, why not Katalin Szili as well? And it looks so nice when Páva and Szili join hands to defend the city. Because after all as the sign of one of the demonstrators read: "Radar! Experiment on Humans!"

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Why should anyone obey the law when the politicians themselves ignore it right and left?