Iván Bächer: “The educated tobacconist”

Ever since its appearance Saturday in Népszabadság Iván Bächer’s little piece entitled “The educated tobacconist” has been the talk of the country. Or at least of those who are critics of the Orbán government’s policies. Overnight it became the most read article on Népszabadság. Hundreds of people called attention to it on Facebook; they find haunting similarities between the events of 1938 and 2013. Sure, the victims then were citizens of Jewish extraction while today’s discrimination is based on whether one is a supporter of the present government or not. Fidesz is busily taking away the livelihood of the many in order to give it to the few. Just as it was unconstitutional then, it is unconstitutional now. But at least the Horthy regime didn’t claim that Hungary was a democracy.

The story the tobacconist reads to the new owner of his store was written by Ernő Szép (1884-1953), poet, novelist, playwright, and journalist. He survived the Holocaust, but in his remaining years lived in dire poverty. You can read more about him here.

Iván Bächer (1957-) is a prolific writer. He regularly publishes political commentaries in the weekend edition of Népszabadság

* * * 

-Hello!

-Hello!

-Are you the tobacconist here?

-Yes, I …. used to be.

-Well, yes. And I will be.

-What do you mean?

-I won the concession for this tobacconist shop.

-Congratulations.

-Thanks, but only from July ….

-I know.

-In connection with this I have a question.

-What can I do for you?

-How long have you been doing this?

-I have been here for twenty-four years. I took over the shop from my father. And he opened the shop after he returned from service in a labor battalion.

-Oh, so he was a soldier.

-Well, not quite. In any case I was born into this business.

-Excellent. I have a suggestion.

-I am listening.

-Could you teach me a little about this business? During May and June I would sit here and would observe. I would pay you for it. It would be a mutually beneficial arrangement. I would learn the trade and you could more easily start a new life.

-I understand.

-Is it okay?

-Yes, okay, but only on one condition.

-Yes?

-I would like to read you a short piece of writing and you would agree to listen to it.

-Writing? Everything has been decided already. Look ….

-No, no, not that kind of writing. Fiction. A little feuilleton.

-Feuilleton? What’s that?

-Well, it’s like a short story but simpler. This one was written by Ernő Szép. Fifty years ago.

-Such a long time ago?

-It wasn’t that long ago. So, sit down, in the back you can find a stool.

-A stool? Don’t you have something more comfortable?

-No.

-Well, there will be.

-Of course, there will be but until then sit down and listen. I was preparing for your visit because I was waiting for you. So, here it is.

tobacconist shop www.telegraph.co.uk

www.telegraph.co.uk

“The wife of an officer of high rank is entitled to be called  ‘milady.’ She is good looking and dresses well. She purchases her hats from the store of Margit Roth that was the most elegant millinery shop on Váci Street in Pest. One nice day in 1938 she visited Margit Roth, who told me the story herself. First, she tried on a few hats just out of habit, but then she sat down and lit a cigarette and asked Margit Roth to join her at the small table covered with lace and decorated with a vase.

Please sit down for a while, my dear Margit. I would like to discuss something with you. Most likely you haven’t heard it yet because it is still not official that they will take stores away from the Jews. My dear Margit, believe me that I’m very sorry that I have to give you such bad news. When? It is a question of a month or two, my dear. They just began to prepare the bill in the Ministry of the Interior. It’s too bad that you are also Jewish or rather of Jewish origin but in this case being a convert means nothing. So, my dear, they will take away your beautiful shop too. And since this is the situation, which I truly regret because you know what a good friend I was to you, I immediately thought that I would put in a claim for your store. We have four children and my husband unfortunately gambled away his inheritance years ago when he was still a captain. So for me this millinery shop will be a gift from God.

And now I come to the point. My dear Margit, I came to you for a small favor. Please spend some time with me. Let’s say every morning from ten to eleven. That the millinery shop will be mine is certain. My husband already took the necessary steps. And it will be good for you too that you spend some time with me. You will be pleased that I will inherit your store and not some stranger. I will never forget my beloved Margit. My dearest, is it all settled? I think I will start learning the trade already tomorrow. At 9:30? Of course, I can come. How kind of you. Sorry, I have to run to the hairdresser, kisses my dear, and see you tomorrow. Bye.”

-Ahem. Interesting. I don’t know why you read that story to me. After all, you are not a milliner.  In any case, you are an educated person.

-I’m not educated, but I read now and then.

-No, you are an educated person. But you will not get far with that here. Well, it doesn’t matter. May I come tomorrow? Let’s say at 9:30 … Half past nine will be fine for me too.

-Don’t mention it. I will be expecting you.

-See you tomorrow.

-See you.

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oneill
Guest

Two ways of reading the regime’s grab here.

Either they have read perfectly the apathy of the vast majority of the potential electorate and they have made themselves and their local loyal sheep a huge pile which will go straight to the nearest offshore bk account (although guess that won’t be Cyprus anymore).

Or… in their bullying and thuggish arrogance they have taken one step one too far in assuming that they are now basically untouchable. I would be inclined to go for the first option, they do generally measure quite well the feeling on the *majority* ground; maybe the small shop-keeper will join the judges, students and journalists as the latest target to be let down not only by the regime but by the passivity of their fellow Hungarians.

buddy
Guest

Very good and heartbreaking but I would like to point out a small mistranslation in the text:

The original “Csak szoktam olvasni néha” should be translated as “I just read now and then.” (“szoktam” becomes superfluous)

“I used to read now and then” as written here would be “Régen olvastam néha” in Hungarian. (A common error, Google Translate also gets this wrong.)

tappanch
Guest

Breaking news:
The whole tobacco scandal goes straight up to Lazar, who is Orban’s chief of staff.
The order came down that friends of Fidesz should win the tobacco licenses.

http://www.origo.hu/itthon/20130429-pofonegyszeru-ukazt-kaptak-a-trafikokrol-a-fideszesek.html

tappanch
Guest

In a democratic country, Orban and friends would end up in jail. But in Hungary, his other friend, the Chief Prosecutor blocks any investigation against top level Fideszniks and would never charge them.

tappanch
Guest

The Orban government will modify the Freedom of information Act with extraordinary speed.
(Submitted on Sunday 28th, will be made a law on Tuesday 30th).

Their aim is to make the information about the tobacco license tender a state secret.

http://www.parlament.hu/irom39/10904/10904.pdf

tappanch
Guest

Joke about the tobacco tender:

Name:
Please, underline the appropriate reason:

1. I am related to Antal Rogan [leader of the Fidesz parliamentary faction]

2. I have known Janos Lazar for 10 years [Orban’s Chief of Staff]

3. I am in a leadership position at CBA [chain supporting both Fidesz and antisemitic causes]

4. I am Lajos Simicska. [Orban’s school friend, now an oligarch skimming the EU money]

http://atlatszo.hu/2013/04/29/heten-a-trafikpalyazat-adataiert-a-fidesz-lancra-verne-az-orkutyakat/

tappanch
Guest

There is a rumor that the appointed tobacco shop owners will create thousands of extra election campaign offices for Fidesz. [The new election law banned commercials in the electronic media, but permitted printed ads and billboards. Most billboards are owned by Simicska]

Cakewalk
Guest

Drawing an analogy with the confiscation of Jewish businesses strikes me as histrionic, tasteless and misplaced. What we have seen is a manifestation of one of the prime Hungarian diseases: political patronage. It was an essential feature of the communist era, and sadly lives on as strongly as ever. It certainly isn’t a Fidesz invention, MDF, SZDSZ and particularly the MSZP dispensed political favours in the same way. The difference is that Fidesz is now so self-confident and cocksure that it is being totally open about the Hungarian reality. One would hope that the electorate would stand up and rebel. Not sure it will sadly.

protest!!!!
Guest

the readers commented a lot in the nepszabadsag.
the affair is heartbreaking.
klub radio also discussed it.
the madness is in full bloom.
protest, protest, protest, wipe out the orbans…

An
Guest

@Cakewalk: “It certainly isn’t a Fidesz invention, MDF, SZDSZ and particularly the MSZP dispensed political favours in the same way.”

Sure, there has always been some level of political favoritism in Hungary in the last 20 years as well, especially at the local level (cities, towns, villages) but it didn’t reach this level of ruthlessness and strategic central organization as under Fidesz. As usual, Fidesz “perfected” the system for their maximum benefit and did it with maximum greed and arrogance, too.

It will backfire on them, because in this process they alienate and anger those who are not on the Fidesz short list of beneficiaries… many, who are apolitical and have no strong party affiliation are getting hurt in the process as well (it was clearly the case with the tobacco concessions. those who didn’t get the concessions were not “party loyals” of left/liberal parties… they were just average people who had been running the business before and they just happened to be in the way of another Fidesz getting rich scheme).

gdfxx
Guest

Cakewalk :
Drawing an analogy with the confiscation of Jewish businesses strikes me as histrionic, tasteless and misplaced. What we have seen is a manifestation of one of the prime Hungarian diseases: political patronage.

No, political patronage happens when a governing party gives government jobs to those it prefers. In this case, however, they first confiscated existing properties and then gave them to people they preferred. Just like the Nazis in Erno Szep’s writing.

tappanch
Guest

According to the “extraordinary and urgent” amendment to the Freedom of Information Act that will be voted on tomorrow, if a government agency denies a request for information in the future, one cannot appeal for an independent judicial review of the denial:

“3.§ (3b) Ha a (3a) bekezdés alapján tájékoztatásra kötelezett a tájékoztatást megtagadja,
a tájékoztatást igénylő a tájékoztatásra kötelezett felett törvényességi felügyelet gyakorlásár
a jogosult szerv eljárását kezdeményezheti.”

The government will decide how much info it will provide, since the agency must not provide as much “depth” as to the government’s own accountability office!

“4.§ (7) A közérdekű adat megismerése iránti igény teljesítése nem eredményezhet a külön
törvényben szabályozott ellenőrző szervek ellenőrzési jogosítványaival azonos mélységű
és terjedelmű adatbetekintést és adatkezelést.”

Hungary became any mobster’s dream country.

Member

@cakewalk Tastless or not, for a family, whos business in taken away and given to stranger, who doesn’t even live in the neighborhood, it is the same thing.

I was on the phone with a Fidesz believer over the weekend. She lives in the country in a small town on the south. I asked if the guy was able to keep the little kiosk at the rail station. She said probably, because the local Fidesz politician is his relative. I think An is right. This was so blatant that even these people shake their heads. Laser Johnny shot himself in the foot with this.

Kumba
Guest
This is about grabbing big money, from today’s Index article it must be clear that big tobbacco will spend tens of billions of HUF annually on ‘promotions’ of various forms and that will end up in Fidesz’ coffers (campaign) and its national network of die-hard supporters (i.e. those cronies how now received the licenses and are now set to make risk free annual profits of net 8-10m HUF plus the black/grey prmonotonal money.) It is part of building out a national network, like the churches and other organisations, for the election takes place in the country and rural areas (and not in liberal Budapest where people read the internet), where it is impossible to do anything without being very embedded. A new entrant, even MSZP has no chance of building out that in-depth organisation and financial warchest. Note also thet neither MSZP nor Bajnai has sad almost anything. The biggest scandal, even media is all over it, the BIg Tobbaco Swindle, Nagy Dohány Mutyi, and thy are just silent. I also heard that A. Mesterhazi is paid indirectly by Simicska to remain silent and dumb like his party is. They try to kill Bajnai and then have a nice cartell… Read more »
Deak Ferenc
Guest

I’m sorry, Eva, I’m a huge fan of your blog, but this disappoints me. There are far more damning and powerful indictments of the Orban regime emerging daily, but this Iván Bächer post is just preaching to the converted – playing to the established preferences of readers who would like to see Fidesz branded as neo-Nazis, spiritual successors of Arrow Cross, etc. This is just evoking the totems of the past instead of highlighting the crimes of the present – which is exactly what Fidesz does. And if the left continues this way, in spite of everything, Fidesz will win. Concentrate on the tobacco-concession-corruption issue, not the comparisons-with-Horthy/1938 issue: that’s what matters. You have Transparency International and the European Court of Human Rights on your side, and you’re indulging in a futile throwback to a pre-war writer? This is inept politics.

tappanch
Guest

1. The extraordinary and urgent amendment to the Freedom of Information Act became a law today. From now on, it restricts people’s rights to learn how the taxpayers’ money is spent. This new law will allow the Orban government to deny info on public tenders as well.

2. Since a local Fidesz representative came forward with evidence that Fidesz rigged the tobacco license tenders, I expect the prosecutor’s office to start an investigation despite its inclination, then will close it without any result in a few months.

http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130430_trafikmutyi_Szekszard_fideszes_kepviselo

3. This is big money:
http://index.hu/gazdasag/2013/04/30/dohanypiac/

Deak Ferenc
Guest
protest!!!!
Guest

Dohany Mutyi – 99.9% must rise and overthrow the orban/vona traitors

Where is the Hungarian courage? Where is the Hungarian honour?

Go, Go Hungary!

These crooks must go!

petofi
Guest
Cakewalk : Drawing an analogy with the confiscation of Jewish businesses strikes me as histrionic, tasteless and misplaced. What we have seen is a manifestation of one of the prime Hungarian diseases: political patronage. It was an essential feature of the communist era, and sadly lives on as strongly as ever. It certainly isn’t a Fidesz invention, MDF, SZDSZ and particularly the MSZP dispensed political favours in the same way. The difference is that Fidesz is now so self-confident and cocksure that it is being totally open about the Hungarian reality. One would hope that the electorate would stand up and rebel. Not sure it will sadly. “Tasteless” ? Oh my. As if the sheer lawlessness, or better put, the sheer tilting of society towards ‘laws of the jungle’ in which all the lions are Fideszniks, wasn’t the height of tastelessness. These are much more than political favors. And yes, indeed, but for your sheer myopic view, these laws DEPRIVE people of the rights and benefits of their property! Shall we go into details? Does it not deprive one of the value of one’s store if certain goods are forbidden to be sold by it? What happens to the value… Read more »
NWO
Guest

Elections are not won; they are lost. The hubris and greed and the utter disregard for public opinion is shocking, but also gives me hope. Orban has in the past managed to grab defeat from the jaws of victory. It is actions like this that demonstrate so plainly the petty corruption, and in this case the screwing over of small time local business men and women not multinationals (at least that is the perception) that can undo FIDESZ. Unfortunately, as usual, Jobbik (not the MSZP) seem to be more on top of the issue and more trenchant in their attacks.

Guest

The Nazis’ fight against the Jews had some uncanny parallels – their factories and shops were attacked, closed, they had to sell – of course at a very low value to party members …

Though Fidesz is more clever (?) – they don’t use force (yet), just that plethora of new laws that feels like an avalanche to business owners …

In a certain way it’s horribly funny:

Minister: We have a small problem here …
Orbán: No problem, just have someone write a new law …
Two days later the problem is fixed!

PS:

Many years after WW2 a lot of big and small business people in Germany faced questions like:
How did your company get started, where did you get the money and the machines, how come you had the materials and the workers ready to expand so quickly ?

Many had to pay the former owners – and this hasn’t finished yet, after more than 70 years!

Similar situation with a lot of art and other treasures that were confiscated from their owners – not only Jews but any type of political enemy …

Johnny Boy
Guest

Jurist János Zlinszky, Jr. points out the immense amouont of factual “errors” and misinterpretations in Scheppele’s testimony:
http://hungarianglobe.mandiner.hu/cikk/20130426_comments_to_kim_lane_scheppele_s_testimony

An
Guest
@Tappanch: “2. Since a local Fidesz representative came forward with evidence that Fidesz rigged the tobacco license tenders, I expect the prosecutor’s office to start an investigation despite its inclination, then will close it without any result in a few months. http://hvg.hu/itthon/20130430_trafikmutyi_Szekszard_fideszes_kepviselo ” I think this is extremely important. This guy who came forward seems to be one of those true naive conservatives who fell for Fidesz’s strategy of portraying the socialists/liberals and everybody who is not Fidesz as BAD and CORRUPT, while portraying Fidesz itself as standing for utmost honesty and purity (when in reality, Fidesz only wanted to get greater control and share in the corruption business). From the interview he seems to be truly shocked how the tobacco concessions were arranged… and came forward because he thinks Fidesz should be better than this. He wants to save his party from getting down to what he sees as the “socialist” level (of corruption). He is still very naive and I don’t see much good in his future as a Fidesz party member… Fidesz do not tolerate dissent and “treason”. We should keep in mind that there are still quite a few of these naive supporters within and around… Read more »
LwiiH
Guest

Johnny Boy :
Jurist János Zlinszky, Jr. points out the immense amouont of factual “errors” and misinterpretations in Scheppele’s testimony:
http://hungarianglobe.mandiner.hu/cikk/20130426_comments_to_kim_lane_scheppele_s_testimony

Hey Johnny boy.. too bad the fact checker didn’t get his facts right. 2/3 was not suppose to be enough to change the constitution but that check was wiped out by some procedural peculiarly. Also he mentioned that MSzP and SzDSz failed to change the constitution.. which doesn’t put Kim’s report in any jeopardy. And as it turns out it’s good news that the parties couldn’t agree and couldn’t change the constitution as it was a non-inclusive process also and would have been just as flawed. But then they were able to balance each other out so you could say, the system worked. I can’t be bothered to go through the other points but it’s obvious this guy is reaching for something that isn’t there.

Member

Johnny Boy :
Jurist János Zlinszky, Jr. points out the immense amouont of factual “errors” and misinterpretations in Scheppele’s testimony:
http://hungarianglobe.mandiner.hu/cikk/20130426_comments_to_kim_lane_scheppele_s_testimony

Johnny, this is a joke. You don’t need a PhD to see it …

Guest
Johnny Boy : Jurist János Zlinszky, Jr. points out the immense amouont of factual “errors” and misinterpretations in Scheppele’s testimony: http://hungarianglobe.mandiner.hu/cikk/20130426_comments_to_kim_lane_scheppele_s_testimony Reading the introduction to the linked article I learned that “Jurist János Zlinszky” is a biologist. In American usage a jurist is an eminent expert on law. In European usage a jurist is anybody who has a law degree. It seems that János Zlinszky does not fit any of the usages. That does not exclude that he really is an eminent expert on law so I decided to give him a chance and read on. I did not get far. His first comment on KLS´s paper was sufficient to size him up. “In 1994, this post-communist government (MSZP and SZDSZ) immediately started working on a new constitution, wishing to change the one designed at the opposition roundtable and enacted in 1989. They had the required majority and intended to use it.  A new draft was produced, but at the end it was not put before parliament.  The text of this draft (or drafts?) was difficult to come by. I saw one, which if enacted would have been a serious setback compared to the 1989 text. Rumour has it that… Read more »
Guest

Actually this article by Mr Zlinsky is at first fun to read:

“Zlinszky: Indeed, the number of times the constitution was amended was quite crazy. !”

The rest is kind of an exculpation …

How much did that guy get from Fidesz for his work ?

buddy
Guest

Everyone is focused on the allocation of tobacco licenses, but I think there’s another, perhaps more important point Bacher is trying to make.

In Hungary, traditionally it has been very important to be well-read. Educated people often keep large libraries in their homes. But in this story, the old tobacconist simply reads occasionally, and so is considered “educated” by the new tobacconist. Moreover, the new guy doesn’t realise the significance of the story he hears – he lacks the capacity to analyse a critical piece of literature.

The implication I think being made in this story is that the new people being promoted by this government and currently rising to power are uncultured and uneducated, which is something perhaps more pernicious to society than the concept of political patronage.

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