Snowstorm in Hungary: Government incompetence reigns

For over two days now I have been trying to explain the situation that developed in Hungary as a result of the blizzard to an American friend of mine. Her reaction has been: “OK, Eva, start over again. This doesn’t make any sense.” Then I begin my story again and the answer is: “Sorry, I still don’t understand. Why didn’t they close the roads as soon as it became obvious that there are 30-km traffic jams on very important roads in the country?” Or, “One doesn’t wait until that much snow falls but begins clearing the roads at intervals throughout the blizzard.” Well, indeed, at least in a well organized country prepared to handle all sorts of snow events. For example, the Burgenland, the eastern province of Austria adjacent to Hungary, was hit by exactly the same snowstorm but somehow within a relatively short time all the roads there were cleared.

Around here after a certain amount of snow falls (2″ in our town) the plows start working. I remember many a time that I was caught in a snowstorm on the Massachusetts Turnpike but, even as the snow fell, the plows were hard at work making sure that at least one lane was clear. During and after the last huge snowstorm there was a total ban on driving in Connecticut so that the 100 cm of snow that fell (at least in our town) could be cleared and transported off the roads. In comparison, in Hungary only 15 cm fell on March 14. So, why the chaos?

I read all the reports I could lay my hands on and came to the conclusion that the so-called Országos Katasztrófavédelmi Főigazgatóság (National Catastrophe Agency), a newly created organization, failed miserably. They reacted far too late to the storm that was very accurately predicted way ahead of time.

But that wasn’t the only problem. Officials of the Orbán government did what they do all the time. They lied in order to convince the Hungarian people that they had the situation well in hand. “Success” propaganda was spread far and wide with the disastrous consequence that people were misled and thought that the roads were clear, just as they had been told. Of course, they were not and therefore some people who thought that driving was safe ended up spending as many as 20 hours in their cars without provisions. Total chaos resulted but the government still had time to make a video in which the “dear leader” and his minister of interior just happened to pick up a young couple from Transylvania of all places and give them a lift to their truck. Interestingly, the couple didn’t seem to know that the driver was Viktor Orbán and that next to him sat Sándor Pintér. They also seemed oblivious to the cameras. Mátyás Eörsi, formerly SZDSZ now DK politician, called the video “stomach turning.”

The blizzard began early in the afternoon of March 14, but Sándor Pintér announced a snow alert only around 9 a.m. on the 15th. By that time tens of thousands were stuck on the highways. Some people talk about 30 km, others 100 km traffic jams. A couple of hours later the army was called out and a few hours after that Csaba Hende, minister of defense, proudly announced what a great job his soldiers were doing. Meanwhile the people half frozen in cars couldn’t get any information. Either the lines were jammed or the websites were unreachable because of traffic overload. If (rarely) they saw a policeman and asked what was going on, they were told that he is the last little link in the command chain and he has no idea what’s going on a few kilometers ahead. If the people managed to get through on their cell phones, different sources gave them contradictory information.

The nationwide alert system the National Catastrophe Agency instituted only a few months ago that would have informed the population of the serious situation that had developed was never used. When asked why not, Pintér’s answer was that the situation wasn’t nationwide and therefore there was no need to activate the system. Pintér, just like Hende, was extremely satisfied with the work of the police and the Catastrophe Agency. The people are to blame for starting off in the first place. Never mind that they didn’t receive any information about the severity of the situation.

Many critics point out that one of the problems is the extreme centralization of the whole system, including the police force. The only person who could have declared a state of emergency was Sándor Pintér, but as we learned he was busy at an event that celebrated the promotion of twelve officers of the National Catastrophe Agency. The gathering took place on the evening of March 14 when the crisis on the road had already been under way for hours.

Officers of the National Catastrophe Agency are very satisfied with their performance, March 14, 2013

Officers of the National Catastrophe Agency are very satisfied with their performance, March 14, 2013

György Bakondi, the new head of the Agency (far right), apparently has absolutely no experience in handling emergency situations. He is a lawyer with a dubious past. There was talk about investigating his financial affairs after 2002. More recently he was involved with the notorious UD Zrt. that was suspected of illegal spying on behalf of Fidesz. So, he was paid off with an important job and a fancy uniform and title. The reorganization of the system also meant getting rid of 800 experienced people and replacing them with Fidesz loyalists. In November 2012 the firefighters addressed an open letter to Viktor Orbán and Sándor Pintér in which they expressed their belief that Bakondi was unfit for the job.

I just heard an interview with Bakondi and my impression was that not only does he know nothing about what to do in case of an emergency, he is also not the sharpest knife in the drawer. When asked why they didn’t forbid trucks from entering the country, his answer was that it is impossible to tell people that they cannot enter Hungary. To the question why they let Hungarian passenger cars on the roads this bright shining light of the Fidesz administration announced that every Hungarian can go anywhere he wants! The government cannot prevent their free movement!  These kind of people run Hungary nowadays and therefore one mustn’t be terribly surprised that everything is done in a totally incompetent manner. Because people are not hired for their expertise but for their loyalty to Fidesz and Viktor Orbán.

And here is snow removal Hungarian style. Surely attacking a massive snow storm with shovels is a hopeless task.

Snow storm / Reuters

Snow storm / Reuters

We can now wait for another rewriting of history Fidesz style. The question is how the Orbán propaganda can make a success story out of this sorry affair. Those people who read only government papers or who listen only to Magyar Rádió or watch only Magyar Televízió have already been treated to self-congratulatory stories. How fast and with what great efficiency the police, the army, and the National Catastrophe Authority did their jobs. I just heard Pintér say that Hungary handled the snowstorm much better than any other country in Europe. But how long can such success propaganda be maintained? I hope not for long.

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USD/HUF = 236.4 midnight GMT (March 8, 1 AM)

Cyprus, basic law 2.0, bad handling of snow storm.

Will USD/HUF reach 250 by Wednesday?


10 minutes later USD/HUF= 237.2

Will Orban collapse at EUR/HUF= 350?


Firemen, disaster workers & policemen threatened with strikes two years ago, so the Orban government nationalized them, put them under direct government control and fired a lot of them.

They cannot legally strike now. But they cannot do their job in handling natural disasters either.


“Bakondi, you’re doing a heckuva job!”


The young couple in the car say they haven’t seen snow like this in living memory. Orban asks where in Transylvania they are from… “Csikszereda.” Romania’s coldest city, home of the winning ice hockey team! Transylvanians get heavy snow all the time. Last time I was in Csikszereda there was snow thigh deep and nobody blinked.


Eva: Total chaos resulted but the government still had time to make a video in which the “dear leader” and his minister of interior just happened to pick up a young couple from Transylvania of all places and give them a lift to their truck.

Yes and the truck, the second after Waberer, was a Waberer Truck (from around the corner).


I saw on Hir TV TEK panzer cars, and wonder what they were doing there. Know I know the answer.


… and the movie:


@Eva: well, if this helps, I can tell you that in the whole Eastern Europe AND Southern Europe things are going like this. There is no need to talk about Romania and Bulgaria; but I lived in Florence, Italy for two years and I can tell you that every time there was 1 (ONE) cm snow everything was turned upside down: trains had delaying times up to 10 (TEN) hours, there were traffic jams, and everything you like. I am not saying this to save Orban’s image, God forbid! But the idea is that there is something wrong in these countries but nobody knows what exactly goes wrong.
@Muttdamon: you made my day!

Jeremy Wheeler

You might very well be right about the efficiency (or otherwise) of the new agency. The authorities were certainly wrong-footed. I think you have missed some of the factors that led to the emergency, though.

The problem was not the amount of snow that fell – well only indirectly, as no one here seeing a forecast of 10-15 cm would think it would prevent travel – but the sudden 10 degree drop in temperature combined with winds of up to 80km per hour. Also, in Budapest there was no indication of how much worse the conditions were just a few kilometers away (and with a fifth of the population living in the capital they are going to make up a fair proportion of travellers). Put that together with it being a public holiday where traditionally people travel to see their families and you have a recipe for disaster.

Drivers in Poland, Cseh, Bulgaria and Belarus were caught out too – albeit in smaller numbers.


On today, they are posting the full video of Orban personally handling the snow crisis and saving the country. It’s 19 minutes long! Is he going to have his own reality TV show next?

I haven’t bothered to watch all of it, but it contains a fascinating two minute introduction, where Orban decides which shoes to put on. Oh, the decisions this man must face!

Unfortunately, they edited out the bit where Orban picks up a nice young couple stranded in their car on the motorway, but they turn out to be evil post-communists who think he’s an idiot who’s running the country into the ground.


So the story about those guys having a party instead of doing their work is true!

The first and probably biggest mistake was that they didn’t tell people how bad the situation was/was going to be with those mountains of snow, although this is nothing new:

All around here between Keszthely and Zalaégerszég there are “snow fences” to stop the pile up of snow – we even had a pile up in our garden: Most of the garden looked green, the snow was collected a meter high in some corners …

But at least they showed those mountains of snow on tv – and some people must have wondered why they weren’t warned.

PS and (not totally OT):

Seems I’m really lucky that no one in my wife’s family is an Orbàn fan – they have the same “respect” for him and the whole Fidesz bunch as I or most people on this blog …


Summary of Ipsos poll (March 8 to 14, sample size= 1500)
Was it taken by phone, internet or in person?

Democratic opposition 24% (1.95 million)
[MSzP, Egyutt, LMP, DK, what about LMP secessionists?]
Fidesz 24% (1.9 million) – strengthening
Jobbik 8% (0.6 million)

Don’t say 44%


Fidesz/Jobbik 32%- MSZP/E14/DK – 22%, a 10 point difference, which is huge even if assigning a couple of extra points to the left.

Plus, given the expected turnout, if we believe that 65% of the people will vote (70% would be the absolute upper end, but in 1998 only 56% went to the polls) than there are an additional 10% points to be divided up between the above.

But I guess the results (Fidesz just became much more popular) are no surprise: the utility price decrease is on the agenda and these are the issues that matter to people. Politicians are branded ‘populists’ but people demand it and reward politicians for it.

Meanwhile the opposition just can’t say anything. Sure, they don’t have the media, but can’t seem to reply to obvious issues or make themselves seen.

This doesn’t look (even if assuming the left can agree to unify) like as though Fidesz would leave anytime soon.

(Forget LMP and LMP secessionists, for different reasons.)

young young young

Time to express my sympathy with all Hungarians who were out in the snow.
The next step is to clean up the agencies, and offices.
The old leaders are not able to run the country.
Young enlightened people must unite to save the nation.
Save the good Hungary from the ugly fidesz/jobbik leaders.


Eva S. Balogh :
But Andrei Hungary is not exactly Florence. The same is true about Washington. If there is one inch of snow the whole government shuts down. Canada, on the other hand, is fantastic. So are the Canadian drivers. When I lived there I was also fearless and excellent in navigating in snow.

In Canada the ground is frozen where as in Washington, the ground isn’t. That makes a huge difference as the warmer ground causes the snow to melt and then refreeze making driving more dangerous. Ground was not frozen in Hungary.. much more dangerous. Another thing to consider, it’s cheaper to shut the country down for a day every once in a blue moon rather than invest in all the snow removal equipement. But then you need to warn people.. Nothing like going to a party congratulating yourself for a job well done when a disaster is in the making…

My wife got a kick out of the tank thing… I think they missed out on an opportunity to really show off! The blast from a tank shell being level fired surely would have cleared a lot of snow off the roads.


I am generally not the paranoid type, but in this case I think the incompetence was only partially incompetence. The Government knew March 15th was going to turn out a lot more anti-FIDESZ types than they can tolerate. Orban had already decided to skip town. The storm was another great excuse to close the whole thing down.
We were meant to go to the High Tatras (in Slovakia), and when I called the hotel to cancel around noon on Friday he mentioned the roads in Slovakia are passable, but he had understood Hungary was a disaster (as we were not the first to call to cancel).
By Sunday afternoon, btw, Orban had had enough helping drivers. He was by then it seems comfortably in the Four Season Hotel in Budapest (his van was parked out front along with some other people who arrived in Videoton FC cars. A true man of the people.


OT: Mutt. would you be kind to guide me to the Hungarin subtitle version. I want to send it to my parents.

About the “St Orban Saves the Poor Travellers”. I am not sure how far that couple had to walk for food, but by the time they got back, the highway is super clean (even around the trucks that little Hobbits cleaned) and all the snow is clearly melted. Maybe they should of just stayed in their truck and drive straight to the store. THe man also was probably frozen to death (do not forget record low temperatures were recorded the same night) in his spring jacket. I love that they never once they ask why would anyone film them, or would recognize St. Orban. I do not know about you but if Harper (Canada’s PM) would pick me up at the side of the road, I would be a ‘bit more surprised then the young couple was.


Bowen: Unfortunately, they edited out the bit where Orban picks up a nice young couple stranded in their car on the motorway, but they turn out to be evil post-communists who think he’s an idiot who’s running the country into the ground.

No it is there. From 8.50 to 11 minutes. No editing here so far as I can see.


Fidesz did a lot to a lot of people:

fx currency loan debtors, who could prepay early,
the better-off employees with the 16% personal incomee tax,
those with at least 3 kids (huge family tax break),
pensions increased over inflation, plus potentially there will be a 13th month pension (or a pensions bonus just before the elections),
utility bill decrease (the slogan is there and people love even the idea of it)
the cronies (a lot of small businesses which do well with the system but afraid that they would not under a new government).

The campaign on the utility bill decrease will continue in the next 12 months and pensions will increase further.

So, it seems, after all, that we have a government which is very successful to a lot of constituencies and an opposition which is fragmanted as well as impotent.

No surprise that Fidesz is set to win. Meanwhile Milla (or the new SZDSZ, brrrr) can continue to organise demonstrations on the constite, contituti, constiate, or whatever it is.


Some1 :
OT: Mutt. would you be kind to guide me to the Hungarin subtitle version. I want to send it to my parents.

With pleasure! Here is the original Hungarian.

Sorcha Miller

Reblogged this on .


You can boycott the Parliament (and perhaps you should, I agree, especially as Fidesz did it too) but not the elections. As much as I respect TGM, it is a childish, philosophist’s idea that never in history worked, akin to the idea that ‘civilians’ should take power from the politicians.

It does not matter legally (and that is the key! – always the legal aspects, as Orbán and Co. are lawyers, but, of course, not TGM or Bajnai or Mesterházy) that a party or certain voters don’t want to vote, it just makes the victory of the winner much bigger (note also, that there is no minimum turnout requirement under the new system).

You have to actively resist and fight with discipline, hard as it is. That is what Fidesz did (still does) and no oppositiion will ever win without those.


Heck of a job, Bakondi.


Fidesz must have been desperate, since the supposedly banned Magyar Gardas wearing their supposedly banned uniforms were shoveling snow alongside the police.