Today’s topic, a car accident, is not the usual fare of this blog. Admittedly, one of the people injured in the accident was the Hungarian minister of defense, Csaba Hende, but that wouldn’t be sufficient reason to blog about it. (Fortunately no one died and the minister’s Audi wasn’t even a total loss.) I decided to write about it because I think it reveals more about Hungary and Hungarians than most scientific analyses of social conditions in the country. It offers anecdotal evidence of Hungarians’ general disregard of the law. It also says something about the arrogance of Hungarian politicians.
Csaba Hende, along with an adviser, was traveling to a meeting with local inhabitants where he was supposed to tell his audience about the blessings of lowering utility prices. Of course, the first question is: What on earth is a minister of defense doing at such a function? The short answer is that in Orbán’s Hungary all members of the cabinet are expected to spread Fidesz propaganda. Several ministers and undersecretaries have already spoken at such propaganda meetings. Viktor Orbán obviously considers lowering utility rates a key point in his election campaign and has enlisted members of his government to sing its praises and thus win over voters.
Hende was heading toward Szécsény, a smallish town near the Slovak-Hungarian border between Balassagyarmat and Salgótarján. Although according to reports the minister’s car didn’t exceed the speed limit, it is likely that they were in a hurry because instead of taking the better road the driver, who also acts as Hende’s bodyguard, chose a sparsely traveled secondary road that shortened their travel time. It is a twisting, winding road. As it turned out, this road is a favorite of race car drivers who don’t have much opportunity to test their cars before rallies. The driver brings along two of his friends who act as flagmen. They ask other drivers to wait a bit until the practice is over. Naturally these guys don’t pay attention to speed limits. The driver of that particular race car was executing a serpentine curve at a speed of 100 km or 62 miles an hour. This practice is illegal but, as I found out from several articles I read on the subject, it is a common practice without much interference from the police.
But let’s not assume that the driver of Hende’s car was any more law abiding. He traveled with his emergency siren on and the blue light on the top of his vehicle flashing. Under normal circumstances the use of the siren and light is strictly forbidden. They can be used only in emergency situations. And surely going to a meeting to sell the idea of lowering utility prices is not one of those.
As for the events prior to the accident, they are not at all clear. According to some descriptions, the driver of Hende’s car simply ignored the flagman. According to others, he did exchange a few words with him but refused to wait until the race driver finished his run. In any case, a second later there was a fairly serious accident in which five people were injured.
Both sides disregarded the law. I was actually surprised to hear that Hende and his companion had used their seat belts. Not like Viktor Orbán who in the March snowstorm could be seen on the video ignoring the seat belt law that was supposed to be strictly enforced.
But that’s not all. There are also the reporters who offered up all sorts of fanciful explanations for why the driver of the minister’s car actually did the right thing when he ignored the flagman. Here is perhaps the most interesting one: “Origo learned from non-official sources that there was no physical barricade that could be construed as a road closure. Moreover, the driver of a person under special protection according to protocol cannot just stop because a person on the roadside waves at him.” Another “expert” advanced the following explanation: “Obviously the driver [of Hende’s car] had to suspect a trap and surely must have wondered what this man wanted.” Whatever the experts say, if a flagman warns of danger ahead, it’s a good idea to stop and inquire about the details. Or, as most people do, simply stop until your car is waved through.
Why didn’t the driver stop? Was he really afraid that on a secondary road in the middle of nowhere someone wanted to set a trap for that very important personage? Or is it perhaps the case that “those idiots on top,” as a commenter described Hungarian politicians the other day, simply ignore ordinary mortals? I suspect it was the latter. After all, the driver had the blue light, the siren, and the almighty minister. These trump some guy waving on the roadside. The minister’s car will proceed. Unfortunately, hubris doesn’t always pay. In fact, it seldom pays, a lesson the Orbán government has yet to learn.