Viktor Orbán and the Sándor Palace

There’s no question, Viktor Orbán’s megalomania is for real. Power is not enough. He needs the trimmings as well. Very early in his first term as prime minister he fixated on moving his office and his whole apparatus into the Sándor Palace, the official residence and office of Hungarian prime ministers between 1881 and 1945. For anyone who’s interested in the history of the building there’s a short article on the website Múlt-kor. Accompanying the article is a picture taken right after the war which shows that practically nothing remained of the building after the siege of Budapest.

The building was never big enough for its appointed task. Soon after Kálmán Tisza moved in there were plans to raze the building and erect a new one more suitable for housing the prime minister’s residence and office. However, there was never enough money for such a project and therefore they fiddled with the interior, first in 1910 and later between 1929 and 1931.

Yet Orbán in his first term was adamant about moving into the Sándor Palace, whose reconstruction remained unfinished. Moreover, he wanted to fix up some of the other buildings in the old Castle area in order to create a “government district.” Eight and a half billion forints were allocated for the project. The Sándor Palace itself cost more than three billion forints.

This decision was made in spite of an earlier study done during the tenure of the Antall government which determined that the Castle District wasn’t a good place for the ministries. It is hard to approach; there would be congestion and too much traffic. Before the war the ministries were in the Castle district and thus close to the prime minister’s office, but today this is not the case. They are currently all on the Pest side of the Danube. Today the Castle District is a tourist attraction. Moreover, if the building was too small in 1910, surely it would be totally inadequate today. And, critics said, in a republic such opulence for the prime minister’s office is unseemly.

Viktor Orbán was undeterred. In the last days of the first Orbán administration the furnishings purchased by the prime minister’s office arrived in the Palace. Just to give you an idea about the lavishness of it all, here is a picture of the conference room. I assume Orbán was planning to hold the weekly cabinet meetings here.

But then came the elections that Orbán lost and with it he lost his cherished dream of moving into the just restored and refurbished Sándor Palace.

Eight years later the idea has resurfaced. I mentioned briefly that while the reconstruction of the Palace was taking place between 1999 and 2002 Orbán began refurbishing a small office in parliament that served originally as the study of the prime minister. Keep in mind that at that time the prime minister’s real office was in the Sándor Palace and his study in the parliament was used only when he participated in the parliamentary debates. Therefore a small office was adequate. But Orbán, the traditionalist, decided to recreate an exact replica of the original office and use it as his main study. It was expensive and totally useless. It also seems that the leather armchairs were so slippery that their occupants risked finding themselves on the floor. Here is a picture from 2000.

Today this sumptuous little office with the slippery armchairs most likely sits abandoned. Medgyessy found Orbán’s old-new office impractical and moved into the old larger office of the president who in turn moved into the Sándor Palace. All prime ministers since then have been satisfied with Medgyessy’s choice. Not so Viktor Orbán.

After the elections in 2010 he was shown the prime minister’s office. When he noticed a large oil painting of Lajos Kossuth above the desk, he remarked: “What is this poor Kossuth doing here?” For a while he changed only the desk chair because he believed that it was more fitting in the office of a CEO. But then for one reason or another, perhaps because Gyurcsány’s spirit haunted him, he decided to move into the Nándorfehérvári terem that had previously been used only for protocol purposes. The prime minister received foreign delegations there. It is considered to be one of the nicest rooms in the building.

I myself wouldn’t be thrilled with the Medgyessy-Gyurcsány-Bajnai study which with all the dark paneling is somewhat oppressive, but I understand that one cannot do much with a historical building.

 

But at least it was only 70mas opposed to 180m2. A couple of days ago a funny cartoon appeared in Népszava. The title of it: “The size is the essence.”

 

The caption reads: “Sir, in case you want to reach the desk, under no circumstances step off the red carpet.”

A final note. By way of office decoration Ferenc Gyurcsány chose three busts depicting Imre Nagy, Ferenc Deák, and Lajos Kossuth. On the chest of drawers he placed personal items and family photos. Orbán apparently had only a small bust of St. Stephen and, of all things, an angel! I must say that Orbán’s Calvinist ancestors must be turning in their graves: angels? Calvinists don’t believe in such things!

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Kirsten
Guest

@Éva: I could not quite make it out, currently the prime minister’s office is in the Parliament building?

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “I could not quite make it out, currently the prime minister’s office is in the Parliament building?”
Yes.

Kirsten
Guest

I know that the Parliament building is (in contrast to the Sandor Palota) very large and can accommodate a lot of institutions but it is not uncommon that the prime minister (and his staff) is located at a different place than the parliament. But the separation of these two institutions (parliament, government) does not seem to be the main argument of OV.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “it is not uncommon that the prime minister (and his staff) is located at a different place than the parliament. But the separation of these two institutions (parliament, government) does not seem to be the main argument of OV.”
Yes and no. There are occasional references to the necessity of physically separating the branches of government. Early in Orbán’s tenure as prime minister a building close to the parliament was discussed as a possibility for the prime minister’s office. That building is currently housing the Museum of Folklore. But that was rejected in favor of the Sándor Palace. I have an idea why.

GW
Guest

While the idea of keeping the parliament physically separated from the castle makes some political sense, the particular geography of Budapest kept the castle at a superior elevation, which was probably intended, symbolically. As attractive as the parliament is in its location in Pest, it probably would have been healthier for the young democracy had a position been found for it on the castle hill but at the opposite end from the palace. The Pest bank could have then been reserved for culture and commerce, i.e. the New York to the Washington of the Buda side.

Member

A word about he cartoon for anglophone readers. The title is “Size Matters” reference to the you-know-what.
The guard also uses the archaic word “meltoztatik” which is a word used by lower class people exclusively addressing people of very high class. Cheeky reference on how Orban sees himself in the eyes of the ordinary voters.

Jano
Guest

This just send a message as if it was the biggest issue Orbán has to deal with. But look at the bright side. Maybe when the lack of room in his earlier office won’t put this much claustrophobia on him anymore, he’s going to be able to think a lot more clearly about what he should do as a prime minister:D

Member

GW: “t probably would have been healthier for the young democracy had a position been found for it on the castle hill but at the opposite end from the palace.” Unfortunately I cannot see how could that be done. AS Eva has mentioned already, the the Castle Hill is very congested as it is. There are only 3 roads that lead up to the Castle, and the two other large spaces are the Museum of Military History and the National Archives, but those are also inside the three gates.
In any case, I just cannot see that this should be the biggest worry of the Hungarian Government at this time.

GW
Guest

someone: I agree with you entirely. My point was an historical one, that it would have been better, symbolically, for the young parliamentary democracy had the parliament not been physically inferior to the head of state. Now we can see Orban — who was never an enthusiastic parliamentarian — attempting to optimize his own symbolic position (and in so doing waste a lot of money), as the executive, relative to both the parliament and the president. (Surely it is no coincidence that he sold off the President’s house on Bela Kiraly high up in District XII at the same time that he was building his own private home a few blocks away!)

Julie
Guest

Plenty of people live on Castle Hill, don’t they? I wonder whether they would get a say on congestion, security measures, that sort of thing. Hugely inconvenient for them.

Odin's lost eye
Guest

As Orban says He must live on top of the Castle Hill because of its proximity to God. As Orban says it is niot that I will be nearer to Him, but He will be nearer to Me!

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mutt Damon: “The guard also uses the archaic word “meltoztatik” which is a word used by lower class people exclusively addressing people of very high class. Cheeky reference on how Orban sees himself in the eyes of the ordinary voters.”
That is something one cannot put into English. Before the war there were different words to address people depending on social status and/or official rank. Ordinary middle class people were called “nagyságos úr” or “nagyságos asszony.” Then over a certain rank there was “méltóságos úr” or “méltóságos asszony.” In our apartment house (six apartments) there was only one “méltóságos” couple. The husband was a retired colonel of the army who taught drawing in the local military school. Last but not least there was the “kegyelmes” rank. I’m not sure when an official could be called “kegyelmes” but government ministers for sure. Maybe even department heads. The “méltóztatik” Mutt Damon is talking about is related to “méltóság” meaning “dignity, honor.” And indeed, that verb appearing in the cartoon tells a lot.

Jano
Guest

“The guard also uses the archaic word “meltoztatik” which is a word used by lower class people exclusively addressing people of very high class. Cheeky reference on how Orban sees himself in the eyes of the ordinary voters.”
This is not true for two reasons.
1. Even two people of the same rank were supposed to call each other in this proper way, just read Jókai and you’ll know.
2. Maybe for those of you who don’t live in Hungary and don’t speak the informal language too often it might not be known but it is used in a sarcastic sense in everyday speech quite frequently.
Sorry but now you’re seeing something not there.

Member

Sorry, I just wanted to pass on a small collection of the various “rankings”. It also has some variations depending on the gender. Felséges, Fenséges, Főméltóságú, Nagyméltóságú, Úrfőméltóságú, Méltóságos, Nagyságos, Tekintetes, Nemzetes, Bizodalmas, Vitéz, Kegyelmes, Tiszteletes,

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “Cheeky reference on how Orban sees himself in the eyes of the ordinary voters.” This is not true for two reasons. 1. Even two people of the same rank were supposed to call each other in this proper way, just read Jókai and you’ll know.”
Jókai is not a good example. His Hungarian is today considered old-fashioned. Some of the less educated or young people don’t even understand a lot of his language. The social relations and their verbal expressions of his day cannot be compared to today’s situation.
I am siding here with Mutt Damon, the “méltoztatik” here has an edge.

Kirsten
Guest

In the two rather small dictionaries that I have here I could not find meltoztatik but the words related to it are indeed honourable. So thank you for this bonus on language usage.

Member

@Jano “Sorry but now you’re seeing something not there”
Trust me. This is from the Nepszava. That word is there for a reason :-).
Check out the other cartoons from Gabor Papai: http://bit.ly/hm0soa
(I hope the link works)

Jano
Guest
Éva: “Jókai is not a good example. His Hungarian is today considered old-fashioned. Some of the less educated or young people don’t even understand a lot of his language. The social relations and their verbal expressions of his day cannot be compared to today’s situation” That is not true, I grew up had been living for decades in Budapest up until very recently. Jókai is understood, the films made out of his novels used to be very popular amongst the somewhat older generations. I’ve read a lot of Jókai, it’s language is not much different than the usual mandatory to read stuff in high school. I used to know every kind of people even from the “Kocsma” level:) I’m saying this completely without condescending, but you’re obviously have been living outside the country for a long time if you think people doesn’t understand Jókai (except of course for the lowest lowest class who of course doesn’t understand anything other than Story magazine and Blikk). Just to be clear, with realizing his literature value, Jókai is not my favorite since his style is very lengthy and way to descriptive for me (and this is the reason it is not very readable… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Jano: “I’ve read a lot of Jókai, it’s language is not much different than the usual mandatory to read stuff in high school.”
I’m sorry but you don’t read then too many articles about the problems kids have in school with even more contemporary texts than that of Jókai.
As for stuff in high school people involved with education tell us right and left that one reason children don’t want to read is exactly because they make them read texts they hardly understand and don’t care about.

Mutt Damon
Guest
This reminds me on my baccalaureate literature exam. I “drew” the Bank Ban. Big, big Hungarian national drama. I haven’t read it. I think it was awfully boring. But I saw the play it in the theatre. So I BS-d my way through with whatever I remembered from 13th century Hungarian history … and got a 4 (the rating was the scale of 5). This shows the quality of the high school education in the early 80s or my infinite intelligence .. In Hungarian, baccalaureate is called “erettsegi” which is something like “maturity”. Well if you can BS yourself out of a tight situation – you are mature. After leaving the room, my buddy and me, went straight down to the bar at the corner and ordered cognacs … now that was growing up. I have another story about Bank Ban. I was in 8th grade and some theatre played it on stage for a bunch of elementary school kids. We were so unruly and noisy, they cut out the end of the second act and shortened the 3rd. At one point Otto (the bad guy in the play) was so pissed he stopped in the middle of the play… Read more »
Vándorló
Guest

The weight of ‘méltoztatik’ and its use as an adverbial/modal form is very similar to the grandiose form of address “Your Grace”.
For example, in appropriate formal register one might find oneself saying “Would you be as gracious as to… “.
For the sarcastic edge, I would use: “Would you graciously deign to pass the salt”.
In the example sentence above “Mikor méltóztatsz levinni végre a szemetet?” it would be, colloquially translated: ‘And just when will you be gracious enough to take out the garbage?’

Vándorló
Guest

Thinking about it there is also the archaic form of address ‘liege’, as in ‘My Liege!’, but this only has noun and adjective forms. Whereas one can grace Parliament with one’s presence were one, such as Orbán, so disposed.

Jano
Guest

“I’m sorry but you don’t read then too many articles about the problems kids have in school with even more contemporary texts than that of Jókai.”
This doesn’t disprove me. I’ve actually read a lot and I agree with most of them but that wasn’t the point. The problem is
“they hardly understand and don’t care about.” -the latter. And most of the problems are with the method literature is taught (the teacher says what to think and that’s all).
The other main problem is that they have understanding problems with everything but I don’t want to repeat what I’ve already written elsewhere.
My “favorite”- mandatory reading was Fanni hagyományai by József Kármán. I’m curious who else had the misfortune. (It is actually a very important piece from a literature point of view, it is just clearly impossible to enjoy for someone who is not interested at all in the literature POV:) )

חדר מלח
Guest

WOW!! What an architecture and design along with furnishing.And the poor office became one of the nicest room in the palace.

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