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 70m2 as 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!