Or if he does, he will pay dearly for it. We know that philosophers are an endangered species in Hungary, but now we can add to the growing list of "enemies of the government" linguists and geographers as well. But let me start at the beginning.
A few weeks ago we learned that Ferihegy Airport will most likely be renamed. Two Fidesz politicians, János Fónagy and Pál Völner, came up with the brilliant idea of naming the airport after Franz Liszt (or Ferenc Liszt as he is known in Hungary). I thought at the time that the idea was ridiculous. What does a musician have to do with an airport? I was all set and ready to write something funny about it when I realized that, behold, Warsaw's airport is named after Frédéric Chopin (or Fryderyk Chopin as he is known in Poland). I figured the Hungarians got the idea from the Poles; moreover, the Rome airport is named for Leonardo da Vinci, so why not? At least, it's not a politically charged choice.
Once the Fidesz government decides on something, they don't dilly dally. They act and act fast. The bill was drafted, turned in, voted on, and a few days later they were already redoing all the signs outside and inside the airport. From here on the Budapest Ferihegy International Airport will be known as the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport.
But the government encountered an unexpected roadblock: the interdepartmental committee on geographic names. It is a body of twenty-one linguists and geographers who pass judgment on proposed names of places and objects. The members of the committee decided 20 to 1 that the new name was cumbersome and that the geographic name Ferihegy was "protected" and therefore must be included. They argued that there are too many proper nouns piled up (Budapest, Ferenc, Liszt) and therefore it will not exactly roll off the tongue. It will not stick.
And then there is the problem of "Ferihegy." The area was named after Ferenc Xavér Mayerffy (1766-1845), perhaps the richest citizen of Pest-Buda at the time and a friend of István Széchenyi. He was an early capitalist who owned a brewery and made a significant contribution to Hungarian wine-making. It was in the neighborhood of today's airport that he established his vineyard. Feri is the nickname for Ferenc and thus the place became known as Feri's Hill.
So, on linguistic and geographic grounds the "insolent" members of the committee suggested replacing Budapest Liszt Ferenc Nemzetközi Repülőtér with Liszt Ferenc Nemzetközi Repülőtér, Budapest-Ferihegy. An unforgivable sin. The chairman and the secretary of the committee were summarily dismissed. Two other members actually lost their livelihood as a result of this "misstep." One of them worked for an institute under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture (today called Ministry of the Development of the Countryside) and the other had the misfortune of actually being on the staff of the ministry. Considering that the bill was drafted by one of the undersecretaries of the ministry, it is not difficult to figure out who is behind these firings. At the same time the new leaders of the Ministry of Interior suddenly became interested in finding out whom they sent from their own ranks to the committee and naturally how he voted. Considering that almost everybody voted against the government's proposal, there might be another head rolling soon. This time in the Ministry of Interior.
And today's news. All members of the committee have been relieved of their duties and within fifteen days new members will be nominated. The 2007 law regulating the work of the committee has already been changed. From here on the members of the committee cannot decide on official geographic names of "special public interest." Case closed. Democracy in action.