Joining forces? Conservatives raise their voices

I will start this post with a piece of news that at first glance may not seem especially noteworthy.

Viktor Orbán’s grandiose plans for rebuilding large portions of Budapest include the creation of a “museum quarters,” part of which would be built in Városliget, the Hungarian capital’s more modest Central Park. The city, especially the Pest side, is very short on green areas, and from the very beginning many people objected to the project on ecological grounds. Others objected to Viktor Orbán’s burning desire to move his office into the historic castle district, within whose medieval walls Hungarian kings once resided. Today parts of the royal castle, built in the nineteenth century, are used to house the National Library and the National Gallery. Among Viktor Orbán’s extravagant plans is the reconstruction of the monstrously huge royal castle, which requires moving both the National Gallery and the National Library elsewhere. The trouble is that there are no suitable buildings where these two important institutions could be relocated. Hence, the idea of a “museum quarters” and perhaps even a new building for the National Library somewhere near the National Museum in downtown Pest. All this would, of course, cost an enormous amount of money and would, in the process, destroy the “city park.”

Until recently the people who were actively opposing these plans came from the ranks of those who were also critical of the political system Viktor Orbán has been creating in the last six years. But dissatisfaction with Viktor Orbán’s regime is spreading, and we find that more and more conservatives no longer think that criticizing Fidesz is tantamount to making a pact with the communist devils. In fact, they have been joining forces. Admittedly, their criticism is limited. They are not ready to admit that Viktor Orbán’s whole edifice is rotten, but they seem to have overcome their passivity and their reluctance to come to grips with the painful truth that they were duped.

The government invited well-known architects, city planners, and museum directors to help come up with a coherent plan but, as usual, members of the government who were in charge of the project went ahead with their own ideas without paying the slightest attention to the experts. Eventually, last December, the invited experts had enough and resigned en bloc. It was this group that began a protest on Facebook against the “takeover of the Castle” and the construction of large buildings in the city park. They approached well-known intellectuals and public personages to join their protest. The list includes such names as József Ángyán, former undersecretary of agriculture in the second Orbán government; Géza Jeszenszky, former foreign minister and ambassador to Washington and Oslo; Levente Szőrényi, a composer with right-leaning views; Tamás Mellár, a conservative economist; and József Zelnik, a Christian Democrat who is the deputy president of the much-criticized Magyar Művészeti Akadémia, a gathering place of ideologically driven artists. Géza Jeszenszky warned in a radio interview today that there are times when a government must listen to the voice of the people, and it can go against their wishes only at its own peril. The enormous amount of money being spent on this ego trip of Viktor Orbán should instead be spent on education and healthcare.

Aerial photograph of Városliget

Aerial photograph of Városliget

A more important sign of change in the attitude of former Fidesz politicians who foresee possible disaster at the end of the road on which Viktor Orbán has embarked can be found in two studies written recently in a volume of essays titled A magyar polgár (The Hungarian citoyen). They were written by Péter Tölgyessy, a jurist and political scientist, and István Stumpf, head of the prime minister’s office in the first Orbán administration and currently a moderate member of the Constitutional Court.

I will have to postpone an analysis of Tölgyessy’s essay titled “From dead-end to dead-end” because of the pressures of time and space. Today I’ll limit myself to Stumpf’s essay about the metamorphosis of a group of college students. Of course, he is talking about one particular group of students under his care. He admits at the beginning that he is biased because his life has been closely intertwined with the fate of these former college students, so he tries to rely on “Weberian sociology in the interpretation of their behavior.”

When it comes to Fidesz’s early political activities, Stumpf is anything but objective. He finds it difficult to face Fidesz’s “first metamorphosis” from a liberal to a conservative party which, in my opinion, was a radical ideological change that signaled its party leader’s lack of principles and insatiable appetite for power at any cost. He glides through the first Orbán government in which he was deputy to Viktor Orbán between 2000 and 2002, viewing it as a positive period in which the only serious problem was “the style of governing.” I don’t expect István Stumpf to critically dissect the Orbán government’s political moves during this period, but if he were capable of doing so he would discover that the first Orbán government did not “respect the constitutional demands of the rule of law.” The truth, which Stumpf is incapable of seeing, is that the only reason that Viktor Orbán and his cohorts “respected” the constitutional court was that they didn’t have enough power to squash it.

So, what brought about the change in Viktor Orbán’s thinking between 2002 and 2010? “It became clear to him” that “the whole structure of the regime change must be destroyed,” including all its accomplishments. The political failures Fidesz had experienced taught its leaders “to look upon politics as a battlefield and use their majority ruthlessly.” At this point Stumpf sets out a long laundry list describing all those moves that “significantly eroded the belief in constitutional democracy.” Here again, we catch him trying to minimize the sins of the Orbán regime. The Orbán government’s policies didn’t “erode the belief in democracy,” as he claims, but it ate away at democracy itself. The huge problems created by incompetence and the neglect of education and healthcare are described by Stumpf merely as “functional woes which created dissatisfaction even among conservative members of the elite.”

After another paragraph listing accomplishments, this time on the international stage, Stumpf arrives at the most important part of his short essay. “These successes cover like thick fog the tensions that have been brewing in wider and wider segments of society. The majority of the country’s citizens are not in a euphoric mood.” Today Hungary is not an attractive country for its young citizens, and “if a country loses its talented youth, if they feel no affinity for politics, and if instead of knowledge and expertise the path of a career depends on loyalty alone, then Hungary will not become a country with a future.”

I know that many of you will say that this is not much, given the terrible damage that Stumpf’s favorite college boys have inflicted on the country and on the fabric of Hungarian democracy. But, for the time being at least, we will have to be satisfied with it. In the last six years we haven’t heard a peep, at least not publicly, from supporters of Fidesz and admirers of Viktor Orbán. Even a few months ago it would have been very difficult to imagine István Stump’s essay appearing in the same volume as essays by Iván Szelényi, Péter Felcsuti, Péter György, Éva Palócz, Virág Erdős, Zsuzsa Ferge, Krisztián Grecsó, Péter Nádas, and Pál Závada. This is a first step and, as they say, the first step is always the hardest.

March 18, 2016
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Perhaps Orban himself feels his illiberal democracy starting to tremble. Now therefore the Orban/Fidesz/KDNP rape of the Városliget and the Castle District are to be put into high gear. The man insists, like Ceausescu in Bucharest, in leaving his physical stamp on the city and football stadia are not enough. CONTROL, CONTROL, CONTROL. It may be over-dramatic but this government has become like a cancer on Hungary, sucking out nutrients for itself and leaving tumours behind. Orban’s legacy.

No joining forces. Why join forces? Why discredit the opposition with a coalition with Fideszniks? Stumpf said nothing about corruption until now (Ildikó Vida anyone? Where was he then?) He said nothing at all about the effective elimination of the autonomy of the universities AND the Academy (their autonomy now exists only on paper). He backed the elimination of checks-and-balances. He backed the demolition of democracy, and he still is defending that in print. Stumpf has never said a single word about anti-Semitism in Fidesz. He has said nothing about Bayer’s revolting articles. He said nothing to defend Agnes Heller from the vicious press campaign against her. He said nothing about the personality attack against György Péter, which was reminiscent of articles from Stalinist times. (both carried out in Magyar Nemzet – those who like the paper now should remember: some of the same editors and writers are still there). He said nothing about the attempts to eliminate the opposition press. He said nothing about Hír TV falsifying stories, and carrying out hate-campaigns. He said nothing about attacks on little people in the Fidesz press. All this means is that Stumpf (and his son) have recognized that the mood has… Read more »

Webber: just to correct you at one point: the journalist András Stumpf is not István Stumpf’s son.

While we are at the family, I should mention that István Stumpf’s daughter, Anna, had served at the HU Embassy in Washington as a political officer, but resigned some two years ago and has left the Foreign Ministry altogether. So there have been early indications that something went terribly wrong in the family vis-a-vis Fidesz leadership.


Thank you for the correction – I was certainly wrong about the journalist.
Thank you also for the information about Stumpf’s daughter – news to me.


Today 4:41 am

Exactly right. Spot on, Webber!

You have my admiration. Just one thing puzzles me. How ever in the world did a person of Anglo-Irish background, of all things, get to be so involved, so passionate and so damn right about Hungarian affairs?

Anyway, you are doing great and all my respects to you.


One of her daughters happily married, in the US.


correction: his, not her, of course… marry vs. resign, well, interesting…


Stumpf might be called an opportunist at best – but there are many much worse expressions to describe him and his kind in Fidesz!
What a horrible bunch of cynical mafiosi!
Maybe now he’s trying to save his soul but he’ll surely go down as one of the uglier ones in Hungarian history …

PS and totally OT:
Happy Birthday Eva! Another “interesting” year has passed – hope you’re doing ok and thanks again whole heartedly for your efforts!


Looks to me like Stumpf will be the ‘Albert Speer’ of Hungary…


I wonder what the children of top fideszniks think?

We know Orban’s kids are steadfast supporters (beneficiaries) of Orban and his corruption and are hardline conservatives themselves but what about the children of others who are now in high school or even older? Are they also loyal troopers?

Mind you I heard Rasi (who with her husband is clearly on a sustained shopping spree gobbling up hotels and agricultural land all over Hungary) wasn’t liked in high school even by kids from conservative families.


Headline – on the cover – from this week’s Magyar Demokrata (pro-Fidesz)
“Union leaders are pushing children in front of them just as illegal migrants do” (e.g. to get sympathy, and prevent the police from acting with full and “justified” force)
Need I say more?
Magyar Demokrata is run by Stumpf’s good friend, András Bencsik, who prior to 1989 served as editor of the (communist) party column in Népszabadság.
Stumpf can go to hell.
Cover here:
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The Stephen Klinghammer essay titled “Permanent Revolution'” which is an attack on the Civic Platform’s movement for education reform is worth reading The problem with it of course is that it’s premise is complete bullshit, the idea that the movement’s opposition to educational centralization under the ideological control of Fidesz is somehow opposed to innovation and transformation is absurd. Ultimately, having competitive and more autonomous schools will create greater innovation in education, but along with that it will cause periodic failure. Failure because some schools will adopt methods that primarily serve the interests of the educational personnel and not the learning needs of children. Failure also because of the social situation of children and the test driven nature of much of education that sorts the winners and losers that neither Klinghammer nor the Tanitanék movement yet addresses. But failure is the risk of innovation. The one thing Klinghammer gets right in the essay are the instructional hours demands on the part of teachers contained in the original 25 demands see would reduce instructional time and be a material benefit to teachers possibly more than for students. But Klinghammer evades the deeper reason for that demand and that is… Read more »
@Istvan Today 9:35 am István, believe me, the issues around public education in Hungary go a lot deeper than teacher pay, conditions, autonomy and school budgets. Addressing these is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for turning around the pathetic quality of the Hungarian education system. The largest and most fundamental problem is that the Hungarian education system is still very largely in thrall to the old 19th century Prussian system of rote learning, regimentation, autocratic discipline and respect for authority, and neither teacher training, nor curricular requirements, nor the education bureaucracy have ever made the slightest effort in Hungary to change this. Consequently, the Hungarian education system is churning out generations after generations of risk- averse people with closed minds and a fear of freedom and responsibility, instead of independent thinking people people who had learnt how to teach themselves whatever they need to know, embrace risk and enterprise, do not fear freedom and responsibility, and know how to stand on their own two feet. Not a good look for the 21st century. The second issue is the parlous state of second language learning in Hungarian public schools. In this rapidly evolving globalized world, the average Hungarian high… Read more »

Correction: “I am not saying that finding and implementing a long term, sustainable SOLUTIONS TO SUCH INTRACTABLE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ISSUES would be easy, . . . ” – in sentence 3, para 5.


Klinghammer, who is a specialist in cartography, was a communist apparatchik-intellectual. Now he is a Fidesz apparatchik-intellectual.
In 1969-1970 he had a fellowship to Bonn. He certainly wrote reports on Hungarians he met there, and others who were “interesting” to Hungarian state security. That would have been a requirement of the fellowship then.
He must have fulfilled the requirement well because his career just got better after.
The function of an apparatchik-intellectual is to “prove” the “truth” and “justice” of everything the party does through sophistry. In return for using his or her (corrupt) intellect to justify party actions, the apparatchik-intellectual is awarded top spots in academia.
During the first Fidesz cabinet (1998-2002) Klinghammer was made vice-rector of ELTE, then rector, and from 1999 to 2002 he was the recipient of a “Szechenyi research award” (a special Fidesz party favor)
Klinghammer was a state secretary in charge of higher education.
Because of the “intellectual” service Professor Klinghammer is giving to Fidesz now, he will surely be given a Hungarian state award soon. These awards generally come with stipends for life.

Magyar Demokrata is not pro-Fidesz, it is Fidesz (and intelligence services). It is catering to the hardliner fidesznik segment (but I saw Foreign Ministry bureaucrats reading it on airplanes, which is not a contradiction of course). I wonder what the political milage is in this? From Janos Lazar who asked the teachers to stop “balhézni” to the ministry advisor who called the teachers toads and this. I mean the teachers are conservative by default, OK I get it, but to continue to offend tens of thousands of teachers and their families? And parents. I don’t get it. I makes no sense. I think this is really the beginning of the end. All it takes for the opposition is to purchase the billboards around schools and put some of these quotations on them so that teachers would be reminded when they go to their work. Alas that would be too sophisticated for the leftist parties. Orban and his minions always reminded me of the old tale about the scorpion and the frog. (I’m not boasting but Orban never fooled me.) Orban and the people around him won’t and can’t change. They are fundamentally bullies and – whether they admit it to… Read more »

Városliget is a pretty dark and dismal park. Hungarians are generally poor gardeners


What do you mean by “Hungarians are generally poor gardeners”? What is this have to do with anything (even if it would be true)? Should all the trees in Budapest cut down? Are you suggesting that the general public should go and do some gardening in the parks? Aren’t people hired to do that? I’m sure it costs less to d some gardening then to cut all the trees down.


Today 5:45 am

“Városliget is a pretty dark and dismal park”? Are you nuts? And “Hungarians are generally poor gardeners”? What is crazy thing to say.

I remember many glorious gardens and brilliant master gardeners in Hungary who would not have been out of place even on the poshest of posh properties in England, America or Australia.

I am sorry to see that Stevan Harnad’s instincts about you were spot on, while mine were dead wrong. You really are just nothing more than an incredibly dull Fidesz toadie.


In my eyes the Varosliget is badly neglected. It could be a much more attractive park than it is. A major rejuvenation is needed. Some buildings should be torn down.

Would any civilized city in the world cut as much as a square inch of its major park? Hyde Park in London? Tiergarten in Berlin? Central Park in New York?


Absolutely. So maybe instead of building new stadiums, some money could be allocated to take care of the existing green spaces.


And the “English Garden” in Munich …

These “green lungs” are a need for every city – but only if you care for the inhabitants, which O obviously doesn’t!


@Jean P
Today 7:03 am

That is right, Városliget does need rejuvenation.

In fact, it has been in sore need of rejuvenation at least since the war. The place should get a major facelift to at least the standard of Margitsziget.

I would mention however that in my view the Városliget Zoo is far too small and pokey, and it is cruel to keep animals, particularly the larger ones, in such a horribly confined place which is furthermore almost completely devoid of green places despite its location in Városliget.

There is plenty of green space on the outskirts of Pest or across in Buda where a beautiful and spacious Zoo could be established.

This would at the same time free up the space currently occupied by the Zoo for purposes of significantly expanding the green space in the Városliget.

Here in Melbourne we have a brilliant and hugely spacious zoo with animals that are obviously very well cared for, happy and contented, and there is no reason why Budapest could not have one just as good.


rejuvenation: Tell me, where does “rejuvenation” mean cutting down ancient trees? Nowhere but Fidesz’s Hungary.
Can you plant a 100-year-old tree? You cannot. You can only plant a sapling, and wait 100 years. Once it has achieved a certain stature, you plan the park around the old tree, because it has an intrinsic, irreplaceable and unique value of its own.


A park is not a reservation for old trees. The managers of a park should have a long term replanting program that aims at creating an aesthetically pleasing age distribution among the trees. The present age distribution is very far from ideal.


Today 10:16 am

Exactly. The old trees are the greatest treasures in a public park. What is needed is just enhancing and beautifying the areas around them, and that is all.


Re: ‘Varosliget…badly neglected’

Reminds me of our visit to Visegrad in the big ‘K’ times. Walking up through the gates was as if we were going through crushed rubble. Very very surprised on the condition of really hallowed ground at the time. Again I saw how people just ‘didn’t care’. Sadly it looked a dump. Maybe time for a visit to see how work may have progressed in respecting history and those ruins we saw.


Do visit Visegrád. The reconstruction was done before Fidesz came to power. It’s far from ideal, but it’s much better than it once was.


Concerned, either you don’t have a clue what you are talking about, or you are a Fidesznik trying to justify your party’s destruction of Hungary’s cultural heritage.

Városliget is a creation of the 1896 celebrations of 1,000 years of the Hungarians’ arrival to Europe (in c. 896). The park is meant to be a bit of nature in the city, and fulfills its function brilliantly. Budapesters flock there in the summer for time outside, and in the winter to skate on the pond by one of the buildings pictured below.

The buildings in Városliget are masterpieces of Hungarian architecture from the end of the 19th century. Every tree, every bit of grass, every waterway in Városliget is part of an organic whole planned by brilliant Hungarian architects in the 19th century. It, and the buildings in it, are national treasures. Nothing Fidesz has built – nothing – compares to this.
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So, what are you Concerned? A Fidesznik, lying to excuse your party for planning to demolish Hungarian cultural heritage? Or simply someone who doesn’t have a clue what he is saying?


FYI The towered buildings on the pics are full size replicae of Hungarian castles in Greater Hungary built in various epochs.


I think you are loosing it.
What are you suggesting? Taking down the buildings and replacing hem wit the likes of Makovecz’ original designs? The towered buildings by the way are:
Széchenyi Thermal Bath by Gyozo Czigler, is Europe’s largest bathing complex.
The other building is the Vajdahunyad Castle , built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition.

Can you point us to the building that these building “replicate”? I hope you know that all architectural styles do follow some patterns? This is why we say some building are renascence, revival, art deco, second empire, stick, romanesque…. Are you by any chance a teacher at Corvinus University?


Thanks, webber!
Our young ones (living in Budapest) sometimes go there with their child – it really is a fantastic green place.
They just sent my wife some videos on the demonstrations there – seems Fidesz is trying to hide what’s going on behind a screen …


Re: ‘the first step is always the hardest’

Perhaps the steps the teachers have made will be auspicious under the circumstances. A big start for change.

We just finished the St Patrick’s Day parade here celebrating St Patrick and all things ‘Irish’. And it’s interesting to note Ireland has been celebrating the ‘big start’ which was ‘The Rising’ in 1916.

Kind of indicates that both Hungarians and the Irish have always been in a sense blood brothers usually involved in great questions on freedom through their histories. A while back I had the opportunity to meet with the members of the Wolfe Tones, the famed singing group. Indeed a chat showed they were very much knowledgeable on Hungarian history and understood the ‘fights’ very well.

While Irish technically has no word for ‘no’ it belies the fact that with actions they have understood the Magyar ‘nem’. Action towards a goal would always seem to start there with that word.


The Városliget IS neglected, there’s no doubt about that. As are parts of Margitsziget. It badly needs dragging into the 21st century, instead of being left with its crumbling 19th-century grandeur, and 1970s szocreál lángos-and-canned-beer amenities.

The normal and obvious solution would be to renovate it, and make it a nicer and larger green space than it already is. I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would support a ‘museum quarter’ there.

I hate to hurt Hungarian pride, but tourists don’t come to Budapest for its museums. Not when they could go to Vienna. There is no internationally famous Hungarian equivalent of Klimt, or Mucha. And Budapest clearly haven’t put any effort into hosting great museum exhibitions over the last six years, so I don’t hold out hope that there will be more in the future.

It breaks my heart that there are beautiful areas of Budapest which really are “dark and dismal” – the Palotanegyed for one – which should be some of the nicest districts in the whole of Europe, but are being left to rot, whilst meanwhile, stupid stadiums or swimming baths are being build everywhere else.


When was the last time you were at Városliget???
I think it’s fine. The buildings could use fixing up – true, true – but I like the park very much. It’s green. It’s full of old trees (not for long, perhaps), and it’s pleasant. It’s always full of tourists and Budapesters alike in the summer. People seem to enjoy themselves there. I know I do.
I even mourn the Amusement Park, closed and mostly dismantled by Fidesz, and appended to the zoo with no real changes. Flamingos now wade in the old bumper-car hall – which still looks like a bumper-car rink. Ridiculous, and sad.


I don’t go there very often, as I’m in the other end of town (I go to Margitsziget at least once a week). The last time I was in the Városliget in November, I think.

I’m glad you enjoy it. My sole point would be that (if money really has to be spent on the Városliget at all – and I can think of several more pressing concerns), then I’d much prefer it be spent on sprucing it up, rather than drowning it in concrete for a bizarre ‘museum quarter’ which Budapest clearly doesn’t need.


Talking about building in a public park: Half of Csarnok ter, this little green area in the 9th district behind the main market hall, by Corvinus University and close to the Danube, has been cut in half to make way for an ugly and towering 7-story low-cost hotel. That is in the middle of Budapest where green space is scarce and in a historical area (most building around are protected).

The former SDSz mayor of the 9th district initiated this by rezoning half of the park. The move was opposed by Fidesz at the time but when Fidesz won the 9th district municipality they apparently found the bed made by the previous administration to be comfortable. They probably saw and appreciated (or were made to see and appreciate) the “public” benefit of destroying green space to build another hotel.

True, a 4 or 5-level underground parking is also planned (a technological feat by the Danube) but for that, the entire square could have been taken without the need to build above ground.

Well, business as usual!


There are many neglected places of importance in Hungary, even in rich Buda – not only the Városliget.
Just two examples that we visited when in Budapest earlier this year:

The famous Gül Baba utca with a lot of ruins – someone told us that many of these houses belong to the Fidesz mafiosi, these plots are very valuable even if there’s no livable house …

The Ferenc-Hegy Cave in the Buda Hills and its ruins.


Orban always knew this instinctively. People just don’t care about corruption. It’s an urban elite thing, the quintessential downtown intellectual rubber bone.

People care about poverty, joblessness, migrants (sure, about health care and education too) and only as a number 7 item, yes, corruption.

Orban, however, cut natural gas prices and made a lot of noise addressing poverty (public works etc.).

Thus people forgive his corruption. Orban just doesn’t care.

He will cut energy prices again and increase the teachers’ salaries by 25% if he thinks he may lose. And he will stay.

He gives a shit about the teachers because the teachers can’t vote for anybody (only for the divided leftists who are on his payroll especially many in MSZP). By controlling a few people in MSZP (and LMP and the Liberálisok) Orban can prevent any cooperation between the leftists.

Orban isn’t worried, his system is extremely resilient. People can make a stink (pampoghatnak amennyit akarnak), raise hell if they want, Orban will still win and have a hearty lough at those cotters (zsellérek).


And Hungary will go further down the drain – maybe not even be among the 100 first in the World happiness Report.

Oh, the glorious future – down in the sh*thole.

If you’re right then Hungarians really are genetically deficient – how else could there be so many idiots here?

Those (in)famous cuts in energy prices are a very good example of the stupidity of the Fidesz voters. Of course a proportional cut in price serves those most who use a lot of energy – like the rich with their swimming pools and air condition which save maybe hundred thousand HUF a month while the poor widow who burns coal and plastic for warmth saves maybe a few hundred HUF on her lighting bill …
My wife told me about retired teachers who cannot afford to heat their flats to more than 17 degrees in winter …


Emeraldo is a Fidesz troll, Wolfi. What he says is a bunch of nonsense.
Fidesz won overwhelmingly in 2010 because of public disgust with corruption. Everybody in the country knows it.
They will lose in 2018 because of the same.

Just ignore Emeraldo and his kind. They are irrelevant.


Yup, @Emerald6 is another pseudonym of @CONCERNED, team-written (or vetted) and repeating exactly the same breathtakingly stupid TTT tripe: Orban-winner, Opposition-loser; Corruption-tolerable; Populace-content. Is Fidesz running out of funds to pay these hacks, or simply not spot-checking their creative work? (This time it was Wolfi who was fooled into taking the bait, but nice to see that Webber wasn’t… The Fidesz FUD formula is so simple, and familiar, eventually we will all recognize and ignore or simply name it. Might be fun to trash it with a list of the three latest pseudos each time…)