The plight of a Budapest city park

In the last few days the Hungarian media has been full of stories about clashes among three groups in Budapest’s famed park Városliget (City Grove): the so-called “grove defenders” (ligetvédők), members of a private security firm recruited from skinheads hanging around football stadiums to protect the demolition/construction crew, and the Hungarian police.

Városliget is one of the oldest city parks in the world, dating to around 1810, although work on it continued through most of the nineteenth century. By now Városliget definitely needs a face-lift to restore it to its former beauty. But what’s going on right now, in the opinion of the grove defenders, is the destruction of the park as a public space for recreation as well as a source of respite from all the stone and brick that makes up Budapest, especially its Pest half. It is being turned into a “museum quarters.”

Viktor Orbán, most likely at the suggestion of the director of the Museum of Fine Arts, László Baán, decided on the creation of a museum quarters. But the idea of clustering museums was in reality just attractive packaging of what amounted to an eviction notice. Several galleries currently housed in the former royal palace must move because Viktor Orbán wants to put the core of his government where in his opinion it belongs, the ancient seat of the Kingdom of Hungary.

And so the Castle District will become the prime minister’s domain and the city park will be turned into the site of some hideous architectural reproductions. Miklós Gáspár Tamás (TGM) put it this way: “Everybody knows what is happening in Városliget. An uneducated, nouveau riche, parvenu political right wants to pay tribute to the sanctified memory of the House of Habsburg, but they must be satisfied with a third-rate fake of the days of Horthy.”

Indeed, billions of forints will be spent and thousands of trees will have to be cut down to create this absolutely unnecessary project to which, on top of everything else, the people of Budapest strongly object. In February Ipsos, a Hungarian polling company, posed several questions, all concerning the future of the Castle District and the fate of Városliget. The overwhelming majority opted for the renovation of the park and against erecting new buildings within the park. In fact, 85% of those surveyed wanted to have more parks in Pest and thought that another park could be fashioned out of the region lying behind the Western Station. A proposal to hold a referendum on the question was turned down by the Kúria, Hungary’s highest court. By now it should be clear to everyone that a referendum can be held in Hungary only if it is in the interest of the government. And surely, given public sentiment in Budapest, the results would have put an end to Viktor Orbán’s dreams.

Who are the “grove defenders”? As far as I can ascertain, we are talking about a group of 40 or 50 people who decided on March 17 to occupy a part of the park where one of the existing buildings is to be razed and a modern building, House of Hungarian Music, designed by the Japanese architect Suo Fujimoto, is to be erected. Ever since mid-March there has always been a small group of people on site to make sure that no demolition work can begin. They are a varied lot. There are environmentalists who chain themselves to trees. There are urban planners and architects who have grave reservations about the kind of “restoration” the Orbán government has in mind, at least in the case of two of the buildings: the Hungarian Museum of Engineering and Transportation and the Városliget Színház.

The Városliget Színház, built in 1874, was razed in 1952. Looking at an old photo of it, I see no particular reason to rebuild it, which is not in accordance with acceptable restoration practices in the first place.

The Városligeti Szinház

The Városligeti Szinház

The Museum of Transportation, which was heavily damaged during World War II, was restored in a truncated form sometime in the 1950s. The government plans to raze the building and rebuild the horrendous original.

The original Museum of Transportation

The original Museum of Transportation

It will not be any better

It will not look any better

Although the majority of Budapesters object to the whole project, very few have been ready to keep vigil at the park to keep the demolishing crew of Bont-Tör Zrt. (Wrecking and Breaking Co.) away from the old museum building. But those who did were not ready to move, and it was almost inevitable that sooner or later there would be a showdown with the company’s private security contingent. In the end even the police decided to enter the fray.

The grove defenders maintain that the private security forces and the police work together. Eventually some of the demonstrators managed to get to the building and chained themselves to the iron bars on the windows, from where the police eventually moved them one by one. About thirty people were removed in this fashion. In the scuffle some of the demonstrators were injured. For example, Imre Mécs (82), a hero of the 1956 Revolution, was knocked over.

The most spectacular event of Wednesday was the ascent of Gergely Komáromy, the leader of a reggae band and one of the grove defenders, to the very top of the chimney of the building. After spending a few hours there, he eventually came down on his own. The police immediately handcuffed him, forced him into a car, and took him to a rehab center. The story from here on is murky. The police’s story doesn’t jibe with his own.

Gergely Komáromy on the top of the chimney

Gergely Komáromy on top of the chimney

Meanwhile, the skinhead security guards had lost patience with the demonstration. When Komáromy again climbed to the top of the roof yesterday, he was followed by three or four guards, one of whom hit him in the pit of his stomach. He collapsed. This time he was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The security guards denied any wrongdoing, but since then a video taken by a smartphone emerged on which one can clearly see the blow. Judging from the short video, I’m not surprised that, as Komáromy told reporters after his release from the hospital, he felt in mortal danger atop that building surrounded by muscle-bound skinheads. As one of the reporters of Index wrote tonight, just watching the video is a harrowing experience, and what is especially upsetting is that the police officers who were present didn’t move a finger. The work must go on because Viktor Orbán is intent on moving to the Castle.

July 1, 2016
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petofi
Guest

Eva,

What exactly do you mean that the park is in need of repair?
Last I saw it, it was perfectly fine. I don’t know what you mean…

petofi
Guest

“punch in the stomach”…and the cops stood by.

Law in Hungary slipping down the rungs of decency.

Is there any doubt that a group of tribal primitives have taken control in Hungary?

Guest

Reading about Varosliget brings me back to my first days at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Changed the life. When I keep seeing the skinheads, ‘tribal primitives’ etc etc moseying around the country I’d suggest there could be more changes in life there as a result of ‘Orbanic” architecture. Not exactly a confidence builder in the quest to build a cultural narrative.

Guest

The billions which will be spent on the Museum quarter are presumably coming from the EU?

So in effect, the EU is funding skinheads and thugs, while the police stand by and watch as Orbán’s gang of merry thieves assault citizens who are exercsing their right to protest.

Well done, once again, the EU and the bureaucrats, who sit and not only do nothing, but by continuing to ignore the abuse of the funds, encourage the activities of a thuggish, mafia regime.

Jean P.
Guest

There is no quick fix for a neglected park. It has to be mended in small steps over the years with the aim to create an estethically pleasing age and species distribution among the trees.

Judit
Guest

I can’t see any point in building these white elephants in the City Park
other than making it possible for Orban to carry out his ridiculously absurd plans to move to the Royal Castle. Whatever the costs it is no object for him.They kill two birds with one stone. They help Orbán with his plans and they further annoy ordinary people in Budapest who suffer from severe air pollution in the city. The idea of rebuilding the theatre is just as absurd given that we already have a theatre (Új Színház) which belongs to the far right audience with hardly anyone visiting their ‘performances’.
Does anyone know about the aim of this new theatre ?
oh wait, yeah just another opportunity for embezzling some more EU money. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Guest

London Calling!

In London our parks are common land preserved for eternity – and are precious lungs and an oasis for city living. They are numerous too.

As the main ‘lung’ and oasis for BP this ‘development’ is an obscene smokescreen for the bastardisation of the Castle – just for one man’s ego.

In England we have the phenomenon of the ‘Alpha Male’ who is usually good at sport and is very ‘manly’ and exudes testosterone and finds himself surrounded by females. He does have a brain cell but generally uses it as a last resort – but he does have one.

In Hungary’s Commocracy these thugs are an integral part of the Government administration – sometimes directing the police as we have seen.

I believe these men are not ‘Alpha’ males – they are ‘Omega Férfi’ recruited from the Majgar Guarda demographic and brainless. Used extensively by Orban when his dictatorial edicts are disobeyed.

Thugs. Brainless thugs as a component of Fidesz’ hierarchy.

Just like many members of Orban’s Commocracy.

Yes.

Omega Férfi

Guest

And as an afterthought! These ‘Omega Férfi’ are the main component of the TEK!

Guest

And for me explains the Government’s tolerance (encouragement?) of the Magjar Guarda.

Jean P.
Guest

“In London our parks are common land preserved for eternity”

When the Budapest Varosliget has been defaced Margit Island will be next.

Guest

Re: ‘Omega Ferfi’

Their forefathers can be seen in Kubrick’s ‘2001’. They’re the gang really shaking things up at the pond.

Paul
Guest

There’s a double ‘private’ in the first para, Éva. Apologies for nitpicking.

Member

In general, I tend to be pretty pro-EU. But reading about how the EU keeps mindlessly subsidizing such abominations makes one wonder. That German and French tax-payer money ends up in the pockets of the Fidesz mafia is bad enough, but when it is used to hire skinhead fist militias to defend defacing a beautiful city it really becomes a head-shaker… (The irony of ironies is that the anti-EU sentiments in the UK are driven by this very same skinhead mentality. It’s also the malign motor behind both the Teapot Trumpest in the US and the corporate-driven Republican Juggernaut, bent on squeezing the last cent (sic) of life out of the planet. Our little Orban is blithely water-skiing in the wake of this tidal wave. He has the local petty personality to match global predatory sociopathy.)

Guest

Re:
Brainless thugs as a component of Fidesz’ hierarchy.

Charlie, you are wrong here – Brainless thugs are the main component of Fidesz, starting at the top …

Nothing to better symbolize what has become of the former “Young Liberals” than TEK!

In Germany we callthose City Parks “Green Lungs” and of course every town needs them – isn’t Budapest one of the towns with the dirtiest air anyway?

What about the idea of fighting the smog by reducing car traffic? Is it forgotten already? Just wait for the summer- our young ones were lucky to find a new apartment a bit further up in the Buda hills (with our help of course …).

I can imagine looking down from there on the cloud of smog in summer!

webber
Guest
They have already given the sports complex in the park to someone associated with Ferencváros (Fradi) football – I suspect Kubatov, Fidesz’s campaign chief. I bet his thugs from Fradi security are those guarding the park now. These people been involved in major scandals, including the attempt to prevent a referendum on Sunday closing, and the brutal take-over of an opposition club during the internet protests. The irony is that before 2010 Fidesz supporters complained that InKal security people were acting like a private army. Well, Fradi Security has been far more brutal, far more active, and has actually acted like Fidesz enforcers. These are mafia footsoldiers – their job is to intimidate, and carry out violence when ordered. And just watch. They will take off bits of the park, and build elite housing projects on them. That is the pattern Kósa set in Debrecen – just look at the new houses around the Great Forest (Nagy Erdő) there, and ask people from Debrecen what was on those lots before the houses were constructed: century-old oaks will be the answer. They have already cut down thousands of trees in the park, claiming they were storm damaged. Storm damaged my ….… Read more »
Brian McLean
Guest

Much like what Ceaușescu did to Bucharest.

Guest

“85% of those surveyed wanted to have more parks in Pest”, yet only 40-50 people try to defend Városliget — do we need to say more?

Guest
Re: funding. There is no way the level of EU funding for cultural activities (the new “heritage” programme included) will be significant enough for such a project to be sustainable in terms of construction. No way. Usually in Europe the financing for such projects originates from State / Region / City coffers, supplemented with private funding – either businesses or foundations. But the govt is talking about EUR 600 millions for construction only, and sponsorship for the arts – corporate & private alike – still hasn’t recovered from the financial crisis*. And once you open, there are programming and operating expenses… So, public funds. Too bad the MNB went on a spending spree already! “Liget Budapest”, in its current planning stage, won’t happen. [*] They could still land some oil money – Azerbaijan just paid EUR 30m. to sponsor the EURO 2016 – but it will be far less than football, and you can’t expect more than one corporate patron in a given sector, i.e.. if you get Socal you won’t get MOL nor Gazprom. Forget about the Gulf States and the luxury goods companies, all busy with their own global museums. And it’s not like banks & insurance companies… Read more »
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