I think that this terrible disaster is a godsend for the Orbán government. Tough measures are demanded by the population that is, by and large, anti-capitalist. The owners of MAL are a perfect target for people's venom against all rich people and especially those who in their opinion got valuable state properties for "peanuts." According to the common belief, these new owners in twenty years didn't put a penny into the factory and their only concern was making money. They didn't care about the well being of the people living nearby. They were parasites who didn't give a damn what will happen. If the sludge covered half of Hungary it was fine with them.
If you think that I'm making up these stories, you are wrong. I heard all of the above this morning from people phoning into György Bolgár's talk show on Klubrádió. The listeners of this particular show are usually quite a sophisticated bunch, but from the above it is clear that the worst passions have been let loose as a result of this accident. People don't seem to care about the responsibility of the builders of the storage facility or the questionable expertise of the people who declared the "vat" safe. No one is inquiring what the environmental agencies did or didn't do when a few days before the accident they inspected the facility. When the reporter who was conducting the program today mentioned that after all the environmental inspector certified that all was well, the answer from a listener was that "sure, they were bribed by these dirty capitalists." In fact, according to another man, the "experts" are also bribed. So, everybody is corrupt but the capitalists are the worst because they are not only corrupt but also rich. A sin in some people's eyes.
Viktor Orbán is well aware of this deep-seated hatred of the monied class, and now he can reap the benefits of an environmental disaster. There has been a lot of talk about nationalization of certain sectors, like the energy sector or utilities in general, and here is a golden opportunity to act.
The government has not yet nationalized MAL Zrt, but it took the first steps toward such an outcome. It placed the company under state supervision and appointed a government commissioner who will have full control of the company's finances. And as Orbán mysteriously announced, it will be this commissioner who will make suggestions about the future of the aluminum factory. Moreover, in the future the state can act, unckecked, every time it deems it necessary from an environmental point of view. I already see what a wonderful time Zoltán Illés will have with this possibility.
Just before Viktor Orbán made his speech in parliament the police arrested the CEO of MAL Zrt., Zoltán Bakonyi, charging him with public endangerment causing the death of several people in addition to damaging the environment. Viktor Orbán talked about criminal liability. Mihály Tóth, professor of criminal law and earlier a judge, thinks that the decision to arrest Bakonyi was hasty. Indeed, no investigation has taken place, yet criminal charges are levelled against Bakonyi and I assume soon enough against the other owners as well. The reporter who interviewed Tóth suggested that perhaps public pressure is behind the decision. Tóth very properly remarked that the law is not familiar with the concept of public pressure.
The decision is especially questionable when on the very same day the World Wildlife Fund made public its opinion that the European Union's regulations concerning the storage of toxic waste are not stringent enough. Today I heard another Hungarian expert complain about the very structure and material of the storage area which according to him is simply not safe. He worked on storage areas in several places, outside of Europe, where the walls of the storage area are made out of reinforced concrete, not slag like in Hungary.
It is very possible that the structure itself, built twenty-five years ago, couldn't take the amount of rain that fell on Hungary this year. It looks as if MAL Zrt. followed the environmental regulations, but perhaps the regulations themselves were not stringent enough. However, I sure wouldn't like to be in the shoes of the owners of MAL Zrt. Viktor Orbán already announced that punishment this time will be real. Not like in the past when there were years of litigation. It will be swift and the punishment will be commensurate with the crime.