The statue of Attila József is still not settled

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 Dunánál

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.

Jozsef Attila es a dinnyehej
Attila József and the melon rind

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.

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Someone should calculate the cost of useless, hubris-generated, activity by the government. If the government was run sensibly…without regard for the welfare of firms ‘befriended’ by the government…perhaps there would be less need to borrow money at the present rate of 9%. But that rate doesn’t seem to stop the government. There are stadiums that need building; underground parking lots; and of course, a whole bevy of ‘advisers’ that the government pays liberally for. Funny, Orban doesn’t sound like a guy who takes anyone’s advice at all…But he’s faultless: the IMMACULATE ORBAN. Can we expect billboards and special holidays soon?

Eva, I think your article is missing some important element. Those who are just “tuning in” to your blog and are not Hungarians, maybe do not understand the significance of this statue. Let me quote wikipedia about Attila Jozsef here: “Hailed during the communist era of the 1950s as Hungary’s great “proletarian poet”, his life, personality, and works are now being re-evaluated…” This is the problem of Orban and THe Jobbik. While nazis and anti-semites can be celebrated, squares and streets can be named after them and new statues in prominent places be erected in their memory, a Hungarian poet, who can be accused by our righteous ex-communist party members of being a proletarian should be disgraced. Never mind that his father abandoned his family when Attila was 3, his mother died at age 43, he was extremely poor and mentally ill, so he fought in his own way for equality as a “proletarian”, never mind that his poems are quintessential to anyone who wants to know anything about Hungarian literature, he was also the enemy of fascists, and similar characters as Jobbik, and that my friends is sin that cannot be forgiven by Orban and his group of clowns.… Read more »

It’s said that the monument is not close enough to the Danube. But its new location is only 20 meter nearer to the river and still separated from it by the heavy traffic of the boulevard.
Moreover, it will be placed with its back against the Danube wall, so it seems actually to become more difficult to appreciate the river context (pictures of the planned situation in:
However, because of its place on the present sloping approach to the boulevard (which will be closed) it will be 20-30 cm above the highest river level.


I meant to say: depending on its position on the sloping approach it could be 20-30 above the highest river level as claimed by the project manager.


It was a great statue in a great spot.
Putting it down by the river is, in effect, hiding it–the intent, the ‘message’, is one of mockery.
How did the government get around that woman’s legal right to keep the statue where it was?

cheshire cat

I find it quite worrying that a Prime Minister’s personal taste and mood decide where a statue, a public property, can or cannot stay. Or that when he walks around his new office, not only is he thinking about changing furniture but changing the view, as well.
Was there a reasonable public demand or a safety issue about Jozsef Attila’s statue or not? If not, I think it should have stayed where it was.
This is the Wild East now: let’s move a statue a few dozen meters away, out of the prime minister’s sight because he doesn’t like it? Legal or not?


If the Orban government moved the statue in face of the woman’s right to keep it where it was, isn’t this the clearest instance of this government’s actions being beyond the ‘rule of law’?
Isn’t a government’s first duty the maintenance of law?


Be logical: prime space has to be provided for the replacement, and the plinth will have to carry not only the Beloved Leader, Saviour of the Nation, but also the white horse. How high would his raised arm have to be to be seen in, for example, in Bratislava and Cluj?


Was there not a celebration of Jozsef’s birthday on April 11? Is there no public resistance to this, at best, extremely awkward move? The photos simulating the new location make it look like the poet has been shoved into a closet.


Gretchen: “Is there no public resistance to this[?]”
I would like to repost the link to an excellent article written by Istvan Szasz in Nepszava, about the Karolyi statue that was on the same square as Attila Jozsef’s statue. Of course the article goes beyond the statue. Unfortunately is in Hungarian: