On yesterday’s evening news ATV aired a two-year-old video of the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, taking the look at his new office. He was looking out of the window and announced that Attila József’s statue could stay because “after all he wrote a decent poem about the Danube.” It was in the right place.
What ATV didn’t include in the clip, but I still remember, was that Orbán wasn’t at all satisfied with the look of the square in front of the parliament. “What are all these statues?” he asked, and added that the whole panorama from his window didn’t please him. Mind you, the square hadn’t changed in the previous eight years and during his first tenure as prime minister the scene didn’t seem to bother him.
The square may not have changed but Viktor Orbán did. He is even farther to the right now than before and, what is even more important, he has practically absolute power. Except, of course, for that darned European Union that he wishes straight to hell.
Regardless of what Orbán thought about Attila József’s statue in 2010, the decision was made to move it. The new rulers allegedly don’t have anything against Attila József, perhaps the greatest Hungarian poet ever, but they claim that the statue was in the wrong place. After all, it was inspired by a poem József wrote entitled “By the Danube” and now the statue is facing the parliament a good fifty meters if not more from the river.
But moving the statue closer to the river has serious drawbacks. The site they picked faces a very busy highway and is so close to the river that when the spring floods come–and they come often–the whole statue would be submerged in the water. That is a very serious problem; another is that the proposed site would be so far out of the way that few people would ever see the statue.
And there is a third problem, also quite weighty. According to the widow of the artist, László Marton, the statue is under copyright protection for seventy years and without her permission it cannot be moved. The statue was unveiled in 1985 for the eightieth anniversary of the poet’s death.
Mrs. Marton was approached by László Veress, chief of staff of László Kövér, asking her permission, which she denied. Instead she visited a lawyer. But in the interim people in charge of the reconstruction of Kossuth tér triumphantly announced that György Vadász, the architect who was responsible for the technical drawing of the steps on which József is sitting, found the new location just fine. Mrs. Marton thinks otherwise.
Critics of moving the statue don’t entertain much hope for leaving the statue undisturbed. “If these people decide something it will be done,” said a well known actor.
Moving the statue means spending more money on the project because it would involve widening the sidewalk to create a large enough space for spectators. Money, of course, is never a deterrent in the government’s grandiose plans.
And Attila József’s statue could gaze upon the melon rind in the water from its proposed site in addition to the thousands of cars. Here is the first stanza of the famous poem in Hungarian:
A rakodópart alsó kövén ültem,
néztem, hogy úszik el a dinnyehéj.
Alig hallottam, sorsomba merülten,
hogy fecseg a felszin, hallgat a mély.
Mintha szivemből folyt volna tova,
zavaros, bölcs és nagy volt a Duna.
And in a much inferior English translation:
By the Danube.
As I sat on the bottom step of the wharf,
A melon-rind flowed by with the current;
Wrapped in my fate I hardly heard the chatter
Of the surface, while the deep was silent.
As if my own heart had opened its gate:
The Danube was turbulent, wise and great.
Thus one can better understand the cartoon that appeared in yesterday’s Népszava.
This is not much of an exaggeration. During a serious flood this is what the statue would look like:
I guess the men entrusted with the renewal of everything under the sun didn’t think of this possibility. The recent story of this statue is no different from other Fidesz-Jobbik brainstorms. It is half-baked.