This morning I had a delightful brunch with a group of friends, among them a Hungarian visitor to this country. In between serious conversations about democracy and checks and balances we joked about some of the idiosyncrasies of the actors on the Hungarian political stage. When I said that I still had no idea what I was going to write about today, they urged me to say something about György Matolcsy’s crazy ideas and Viktor Orbán’s childish dream. So, I’m obliging.
The sharp-eyed Jenő Veress of Népszava is one of my favorites. He is a man with a fantastic sense of humor who delights his readers practically every day with short op/eds, usually about some ridiculous aspect of Hungarian political life. A few days ago he noticed that the address of the Hungarian National Bank is no longer Szabadság tér 8-9. It is simply Szabadság tér 9. The change seems to be so important to Matolcsy that he ordered the employees of the bank to change their business cards. Moreover, according to the personnel of the bank, all rooms that earlier were marked with the number 8 are now labeled 7/1 or 7+1.
Well, I decided to look into the numerological meaning of the number 8, and I learned that it is associated with “money and power.” As one of the sites claims, “the 8 is the great Karmic equalizer, a force that you will reap what you’ve sown.” That sounds pretty ominous to me and perhaps also to Matolcsy. Another source’s interpretation sounds outright frightening: “If you often face obstacles, meet with accidents, and feel unlucky, you are ruled by No. 8 and Saturn. Numerology for 8 when exalted makes you a saint. When afflicted it makes you a proficient criminal.” Well, what do you think of that?
Of course it’s bonkers, but Matolcsy is apt to believe all sorts of nonsense. Do you remember his infamous “red spots”? In 2012 he came up with a story he allegedly heard from Japanese scientists. According to these learned men, 30% of all Japanese and Hungarian babies are born with a “small red dot on their bottoms,” so Japanese-Hungarian economic cooperation is even genetically determined. Soon enough we learned that these spots are not red, not small, and not round, as Matolcsy claimed. Instead they are blue, can be quite large, and are of irregular shape. They are common among East Asians, Southeast Asians, Polynesians, Native Americans, and East Africans. But not among Hungarians.
A year earlier he made the claim, referring to unnamed Persian and Byzantine sources, that Hungarians’ ancestors couldn’t be rivaled in gastronomy and brain surgery. Yes, brain surgery. So, the man is an odd bird with many crazy beliefs. Why not numerology?
Matolcsy also suffers from an excessive concern for his own safety. In the fall of 2015 he allocated 200 million forints for the creation of a security force whose sole job was guarding the VIP of the Hungarian National Bank. A few months later another 140 million forints was spent on a second force for the security of the deputy chairmen, including constant surveillance of their residences. The bank bought several hundred guns and 200,000 rounds of ammunition.
Matolcsy is not the only man who suffers from an excessive fear of ordinary Hungarians. Viktor Orbán is well known for his paranoia. Even when he was the leader of the opposition he hired several body guards, and rumor had it that on October 23, 2006, knowing darned well that there would be trouble on the streets of Budapest after his fiery speech against the government, he escaped as soon as possible in a borrowed armored car. Eagle-eyed observers are certain that he sometimes wears a bullet-proof vest, and I suspect that his VW mini-bus is armored. He seems to be so afraid that, even inside the parliament building, while walking the corridors between rooms, he is followed by four body guards. And let’s not forget that one of his first acts as prime minister in 2010 was the creation of TEK (Terrorelhárító Központ), which was a force of hundreds of highly-trained men whose sole job was the security of the great man.
Oh, yes, TEK. Dozens and dozens of members of TEK worked overtime yesterday at the opening of Viktor Orbán’s mini train line. At the moment the narrow-gauge train can take passengers from Orbán’s Pancho Aréna in Felcsút to the Arboretum that was created by Archduke Joseph of Habsburg, whose former estate now belongs to the Orbán family and their friends. The whole length of the line is only 5.7 km. Orbán would like to extend it to Bicske, from which another leg to Székesfehérvár would be a cinch. And from there passengers could go all the way to Vienna. From Felcsút to Vienna. What a thrilling prospect. And how economically promising.
Only a select few could participate in the opening run of the train. As a gift to Felcsút, three children from each class of the Felcsút elementary school were chosen to join the illustrious crowd. Those who had not been invited but who came out of curiosity were not allowed near the great man. Nor were the members of the media, who could watch the prime minister only from afar. The sole thing they could report was that he gesticulated a lot.
Apparently, Orbán was somewhat agitated because he is angry at those who don’t understand the importance of this project. These nay-sayers are cynics who don’t appreciate his efforts at building a prosperous Hungary. The audience also learned why rebuilding this railroad was so important to Orbán. It turned out that the Orbán family lived at the very edge of Alcsút. The train, which still functioned in his childhood, went by right next to their house. He was especially fascinated by the inspection trolleys that periodically checked the lines. He still hopes that one day he will be able to drive one. The railroad had to be rebuilt, he said, because “the communists closed it.” A lame excuse for reliving his childhood memories.
The European Union obliged in fulfilling the Hungarian prime minister’s dream. Brussels contributed 600,000 million forints for the construction, although, according to the terms of the grant, if the annual number of passengers does not reach 10,000 the money will have to be repaid. I suspect it will not be terribly difficult for the Puskás Academy Foundation, the owner of the railroad, to come up with a number that will satisfy the European Union.
There were a couple of problems even on the trial run. One of the semaphores stopped working, and the train had to stop when two female DK activists lay on the tracks and the police had to drag them off.
Today the passengers didn’t have to pay the fairly steep price of a ticket–1,000 forints for adults (more than $3.50) and 600 forints ($2.20) for students–for a twenty-minute ride from nowhere to nowhere. Today’s visitors, among them many children, were not exactly thrilled to learn that no one knows when the trains depart or when they arrive. Moreover, for no discernible reason, half-way through the trip, in Alcsút, the train sat idle for 15 minutes. While waiting for the train at the stations (there are three of them), children are provided with no entertainment. But some clever children discovered that Orbán’s train looked almost identical to the Chuggington trains on a BBC’s children program or, what I’m more familiar with, PBS’s Choo-Choo train.
There is not much to see along the route, but some people were happy to discover that one could get a pretty good look at the Pancho Aréna, which normally cannot be approached by sightseers.
Finally, let me report my sad discovery last night that Puskás Academy was just booted from the NB1 category of soccer clubs. It seems that money isn’t everything. All the money that pours into Orbán’s foundation can’t make up for a lack of talent. The same is true about governance. No matter how much the Orbán regime steals from the Hungarian people, they are unable to provide a better life for the country’s citizens. The talent for governance is missing.