Beer and nationalist madness

I have been sitting here for at least an hour trying to find the right words to describe the madhouse Hungary has become, thanks to Fidesz politicians. This metamorphosis has occurred incrementally, starting in 2002 when Viktor Orbán lost an election he believed was his. Ever since, he has been whipping up prejudices buried deep–or not so deep–in people’s psyches, poisoning the very soul of the population. Wars against the enemies of the country are declared practically every day. Right now the Hungarian government is fighting against Brussels, against the migrants, and, yes, against Heineken, the well-known Dutch brewery. And while they are at it, they are declaring war against all foreign breweries.

Heineken’s encounter with the Orbán government is one of the strangest stories you will run across anywhere because I very much doubt that any government of a western country (probably not even the Trump White House) would engage in such a futile, idiotic fight over an issue which in fact has nothing to do with Hungary.

Heineken moved to Romania in 1998 and five years later bought a run-down brewery in Miercurea Ciuc/Csíkszereda, the county seat of Harghita/Hargita County in an area where the majority of the population is Hungarian. With the brewery came the name of one of the beers brewed in Miercurea Ciuc–Ciuc Premium, or as local Hungarians called it, “csíki sőr.” In 2014 a new, small brewery was set up in Sânsimion/Csíkszentsimon which produced what they called “Igazi Csíki Sőr,” or “Real Csíki Beer.” The company that produces the “real stuff” is owned by András Lénárd, a Romanian-Hungarian businessman, and Lixid Holding BV, a Dutch company. Heineken’s Romanian subsidiary sued for trademark infringement and won.

Soon enough a simple commercial legal case became a national issue. Apparently, the upheaval around the court’s verdict came in handy for the struggling brewery that was producing the Real Csíki Beer. The case was portrayed as a struggle of David against Goliath, a small local company against a heartless, profit-oriented multi-national.

The story is not new. The Transylvanian division of Átlátszó.hu produced a long report on the case already in July 2015, but it was only at the end of January 2017 that the decision was handed down. Real Csíki Beer cannot be produced under this brand name.

The verdict was met with indignation by supporters of the Dutch-Hungarian mini-brewery. They argued that one cannot confuse the names of the two brands since they don’t really resemble one another. One is in Hungarian and the other is in Romanian. However, as locals pointed out, the Hungarians in the area never asked for a bottle of Ciuc but always for a bottle of Csíki sőr. In any event, the case quickly became a national issue: András Lénárd, the co-owner, became a symbol of the oppression of Romania.

In no time the matter became a political football in Hungary. The first party that took up the cause of the brewery was Jobbik. It asked for a boycott of Heineken beer and urged the government to declare Igazi Csíki Sőr a Hungaricum, whose trade name then couldn’t be touched. Fidesz had to move. It couldn’t let Jobbik reap the political benefits of such a potentially inflammatory issue.

By March 13, 2017, Fidesz devised a strategy that could make Heineken’s Hungarian subsidiary miserable in punishment for what Heineken Romania did to the Szeklers of Romania. János Lázár and Zsolt Semjén proposed modifications to the law on the use of totalitarian symbols for commercial purposes. Heineken’s red star, which Hungarian law considers a totalitarian symbol, is the symbol of the company. As of now, the commercial use of such symbols is permitted, but if the Lázár-Semjén modification of the law is passed by parliament (and why shouldn’t it be passed?) Heineken would have to change its logo in Hungary. If not, Lázár announced, the culprit could be jailed for two years for noncompliance. I should add that Heineken’s red star has nothing to do with communism or the Bolshevik revolution. Apparently it was a medieval symbol whose points symbolize water, earth, air, fire, and magic power. Heineken adopted it to highlight the uniqueness of its brew.

The owners of the small brewery in Transylvania invited Lázár to visit the place to see the production of the same beer under a different name: “Tiltott sőr” (forbidden beer). Lázár, who is a busy man, readily agreed. Lázár’s enthusiasm for the tour is amusing since he claims to be completely unfamiliar with the taste of beer.

As far as totalitarian symbols are concerned, one ought to remind Lázár that in the past the Orbán government lost two such cases in the European Court of Human Rights. I somehow doubt that they would fare any better this time. And to compound their potential legal problems, a few days later Semjén came very close to offering financial assistance to the brewery of Real Csíki Sőr, to the chagrin of some internet publications such as Kolozsvári Szalonna.

Antagonism toward foreign-owned breweries incited by the government is now spreading all over Hungary. The case encouraged the president of the Association of Mini-Breweries to blame the four large multi-national breweries for the difficulties these small companies encounter in the market place. He of course didn’t mention that craft beer is very expensive and that, as a result, demand is low.

Now that Lázár and Semjén have begun a war against foreign-owned breweries it looks as if the government is seriously contemplating giving financial assistance to the mini-breweries. Lázár also announced that regulations governing breweries should be reconsidered, which I assume means passing legislation that would discriminate against the large companies and promote the business interests of small Hungarian firms. The government news site 888.hu went so far as to claim that “there is no good and inexpensive Hungarian beer because of the multi-national companies.”

So, soon enough the four large companies–the U.S.-Canadian Borsodi Brewery, the Austrian Pécs Brewery, the Japanese-owned Dreher, and Heineken–can join the foreign-owned supermarket chains in facing extra taxes and other discriminatory measures. All this because Igazi Csíki Sőr many miles away in a foreign country lost a fight over a trade name. Utter madness.

March 18, 2017
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petofi
Guest

‘Pick a fight, any fight. Hungarians will rally round, their nationalistic blood pressure bursting through 200.
They can never be defeated.
Of course, Hungarians have the objectivity of malaria-laden mosquitoes…’

HAJRA MAGYAROK!

webber
Guest

Other commercial operations with red stars on their logo:
San Pellegrino water and soft drinks, bottled in Italy.
Macy’s
Texaco

Red stars are also on the national flags of New Zealand, Djibouti, Tunisia, and Panama, as well as the California state flag and Washington DC’s flag.

Unless I’m mistaken, the red star has been Heineken’s symbol since the late 19th century.

aida
Guest

I believe the Hungarian government measures contravene EU law.

The brewery might have escaped if instead of using Igazi, real, they used Eredeti, original.csiki.

If you are stuck for examples of nationalist zeal go to any grocers store in the U.K. where virtually all meat and fish is labelled British. How does haddock earn such accolade? The only items that are labelled with non British origins are those from non EU countries. The British thought police is at it.

Ferenc
Guest

-why start in 2014 with a brewery of a new beer named “Csiki Sor”?
-why is that brewery for 50% owned by a foreign in Rotterdam registered company?
-why is that Dutch company 0% owned Holland, and 50-50% by British and Slowak companies?
-why has the first director of that Dutch company within 2 years become director of 5 other companies?
-why did the Dutch beer multinational Heineken in 2015(?) bother about and start legal actions against that new mini-brewery?
-why did Hungarian politicians in 2017 jump on this beer case?
-why very recently started Hungarian lawmakers making a point about usage of a red star?
It all doesn’t make any sense to me….

Ferenc
Guest

…..may be beer giant Heineken didn’t and still doesn’t want to support Hungarian football……
(no sponsor, nor any TAO-money)

Ferenc
Guest
Ferenc
Guest

Here’s the whole photo series posted by Varga Mihaly 2015.Aug.06 on facebook
https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10154067256053776&id=324771568775
One very peculiar (not posted above): in which one man seems to lead interested visitors incl.VM through the (his?) brewery, that man is Világi Oszkár, the most wealthy ‘felvidéki’ (Slovak) businessman and director of MOL Slovakia

webber
Guest

It’s very simple. Heineken bought a brewery in Romania to move into the Romanian market – to brew beer there. When it bought that brewery, it also bought the rights to the name of the beer that brewery made, Csiki Beer. The name also has value. Heineken paid for the name as well as the facilities.

Then some group of people decided to brew a new beer and call it “Real Csiki Beer.”

Think of it this way – say a foreign investor buys the Kőbányai brewery (already happened, actually), along with the right to use the name Kőbányai on their beer. Then some group of people in Budapest decide to brew a new beer called “Real Kőbányai” beer.

The foreign investor then sues the Real Kőbányai people for using the name the investor purchased.

There is no doubt that Heineken is right.

LwiiH
Guest

Trademark law is actually quite simple. I would assume that Heineken holds the registered TM in both Romania and with the EUIPO. If so, the laws are quite clear. That said, Heineken is obliged to do is defend it’s TM by filing a complaint. If Heineken where to not defend they risk losing their claim to the trade mark. In this case the naming is so similar for the same product in the same market that this will be seen as an attempt to confuse the market so no question of who wins. The process with the EUIPO is quite clear and quite easy.

Ferenc
Guest

Fully agree that Heineken is right, but doesn’t the whole thing smell like a provocation trap, and Heineken stepped in it.

And the source of the money of the mini brewery is very very unclear. A non-Dutch Holding company registered in Rotterdam using a notary office from Amsterdam (specialised in “corporate transactions and international tax structuring” aka.money laundering) with a first director again from Amsterdam. Furthermore the two (British and Slovak) owning companies seeming not more than postbox-companies.
To me this whole thing stinks like hell…….

webber
Guest
Heineken has been attacked several times by Hungarian nationalists. Several years ago Istvan Lovas wrote an editorial calling for a boycott of it because some Dutch radio announcer had said foul things (truly foul) about Hungarians in general. Like Heineken can do anything about what Dutch people can say! Aspire for a dictatorship, and you begin to think that other governments too can control things like you’d like your government to. Before that, some fool sued to have Heineken banned because of the red star. Heineken showed the court that the symbol had been in use long before the first communist government ever came to power, and that not every red star is a communist symbol. (if it were, a lot of kids would be in trouble in Hungary – children draw stars in all colors). The judge came to a very serious decision that the Heineken red star is not a communist red star. So, Heineken already won that battle in court. It’s all just boring because they’ve done it all before. It’s as if the Hungarian right were a broken record, constantly going back to the same old topics, even when they have proven to be all wrong.… Read more »
Jad
Guest

Well just to put some light on this, the brand name was never Csiki Beer, it was Ciuc beer. The name comes from a mountain in the area. Romanians call it Ciuc, and on the now Heineken brand it says Ciuc, not Csiki. The hungarians are the only ones that call it Csiki, so technically it only translates as Ciuc. Again its just the name of a bloody mountain. Copyright is a joke imho.

So you have two beers. Ciuc and Csiki 🙂 semantics huh ?

webber
Guest

I bought Csiki Sör a couple of times long before Heineken bought the damned brewery. It was sold with Csiki Sör on the label in the Szekler areas of Romania, which is where I got it. And yes, it was the same as Bere Ciuc – exactly. The brewery was using both names on the bottle.

Jeff
Guest

Heineken bought the rights to the name “Bere Ciuc” ( Ciuc beer) and not “Csiki Beer”….sorry but is important to know the reality…

webber
Guest

Csiki Sör was the Hungarian name on the bottle of Bere Ciuc. There is no difference (Ciuc means Csík, and Bere means Sör). Both names were owned by the same factory, and Heineken bought it and the names.

Member

The Hungarians are… sure cheeky.
BAH! I’m killing myself.

Member

“Sure cheeky…” Get it? Csiki sor? Sigh….

Observer
Guest

Aida

It’s much worse than contravening EU law:
1. The Hun owner’s use of ICSör was immoral and illegal – he was trying to piggyback on CS/Heineken’s advertising.
2. Typically, after the above prety obvious cheating was sanctioned by the court, the prickly and dishonest Hungarian, in R and H alike, started to blame everyone else and initiated vengeful/aggressive moves.
3. The Orban regime seized the opportunity to pick another “enemy” for their permanent struggle against whoever. The result of this voluntaristic or mafia style actions is that both local and international are scared away.
4. The public and the body politics are fed again the same irrational, hateful, aggressive fare which they have become addicted to.

Dark picture and future.

Observer
Guest

Sorry
Local and international investors…

Guest

Heineken is not my favourite among global brands – here they tried toshake the market by selling 0.4 l beer cans and bottles which look very similar to the usual 0.5 l – of course if you don’t look too closely you might think:
That’s a very good price!
But notwithstanding that blatant misuse of a trademark is a stupid and ourageous rip off so I wonder what will come out of it.

PS and rather OT:
In Germany, the UK and the USA “Craft Beers” are a success story, but of course limited – most consumers just buy the regular sh***y stuff …

And your products have to be really better!

But we know already that the fidesz government likes to start fights which they can’t win – it helps their image with (some) Hungarians who believe that they’re the underdogs and deserve better …

Winston
Guest

Wolfie: “here they tried toshake the market by selling 0.4 l beer cans and bottles which look very similar to the usual 0.5 l”

Damn, You are right. I bought a bottle today out of solidarity. I just took it from the fridge and opened it and You are right. It is 0,4 L. There are 100 ml missing.

Decades ago there were two major beers in Holland: Grolsch and Heineken. Grolsch was the better one (my taste). Heineken is too sweet. But Heineken became a global exporter already a long time ago.

FreeWheeling
Guest
Also I have noticed that the newly renamed Igazi sör, which has a similar “premium” taste profile as mass market beers, is sold for a premium price in the supermarkets and in pubs. Typically you’ll see a 0.5L bottle for 400-500ft, whereas the others are sold for 25-50% less. Generally one should expect cheaper prices for Romanian products here, but the owners seem to be hoping that this nationalistic stunt will make Hungarians go deeper in their pockets. It will be interesting if this product is still on the shelves in five years. OT: About 2 years ago a Budapest Sör was unveiled in the capital that also had a similar “premium” taste profile in 0.33L bottles and prices that ranged from 250-300ft. (about 30-50% cheaper than other local microbreweries) Unlike most microbreweries they had a real promotional budget and were able to get themselves in good places of advertising in the city and prominently displayed in CBA beer shelves that I visited. They also listed their head office as being in the castle district. At least the rumor is that they are now barely hanging by a thread and are looking at pivoting into a line of premium Hungarian… Read more »
FreeWheeling
Guest

Heineken was the first to shrink both their cans and bottles. The have always positioned themselves as a premium beer in the market and it is typically the default beer for the fashionable and not enough knowledge and exposure to superior products. Now peer “premium” beers such as Stella Artois and Gösser are selling 0.4L cans in the Hungarian market but not bottles. (the later is owned by Heineken) In Austria, it is the same 0.5L cans for each.

3prikulics3
Guest
“called “Igazi Csíki Sőr,” or “Real Csíki Beer.” The company that produces the “real stuff” is owned by András Lénárd, a Romanian-Hungarian businessman, and Lixid Holding BV, a Dutch company.” Lénárd is probably a Strohmann as is usual for Fidesznik investments. On one occasion Oszkar Világi, who is a very influential Slovakian Hungarian oligarch (also an attorney) close to MOL (basically MOL’s point man for Slovnaft which is the biggest subsidiary of MOL) and Fidesz showed the business to Semjén or Mihály Varga (I think) as though he, Vilagi was the proprietor. Interestingly Világi has no public connection to the brewery. I would mention that Zsolt Hernádi who is head of MOL and is one of the most trusted co-investor/front/helper of Orban’s has substantial investments in Transylvania. Thus I suspect that the brewery is co-owned by Hernadi/Vilagi in some capacity. The tricky thing with oligarchs in the Orban-system is that it’s never clear what is their own investment and what is investment on behalf of Orban and the Family. I don’t think any Transylvanian investor or politician (let alone a person like Lénárd) could muster this kind of political support so quickly unless the business directly affected some very very… Read more »
David
Guest

Should one really be surprised that Hungarians are upset by the Romanian court decision? We are talking about Transylvania, after all and an earlier court decision went in the micro-brewery’s favour. Moreover it’s not just Transylvania. The Dutch brewer is being sued for 100 million euros by the Greek Macedonian Thrace Brewery, which claims it has abused its position of power. Back in Hungary, memories are still fresh of the multinational free-for-all that followed the end of communism. Perhaps Fidesz’s motives are not entirely pure, but Ms Balogh’s strictures lack nuance…and context.

Guest

Ah, a defender of the Hungarian rights (to rip off their countrymen and others …).
You should know that most factories in Communist countries were hopelessly outdated and didn’t produce real quality – so no one wanted to buy their products anymore when better products from the Capitalist countries were suddenly available …
The only alternative was to modernise them – with money and technology from the West …
East Germans had the same experience.

Kun Béla
Guest

Ah, a champion of human rights and brave opponent of the collective stigmatizing. Or what is wrong with the rights of Hungarians? Equal status and advocacy for everybody but Hungarians? In addition, there is no casual link between the outdated Communist technology and the following multinational free-for-all incl. Heineken.

Observer
Guest

David F

“Perhaps Fidesz’s motives are not entirely pure, but..”

Five mistakes in seven words:
No perhaps, it’s certain.
There’s no Fid party really, it’s an Orban run mafia.
Their motives ARE ENTIRELY CORRUPT.
There are no ifs and buts here, a robber is a robber and should be dealt with accordingly.

Attempts at relativization, Fid favorite, doesn’t work here, nor in any intelligent community.
Ditto for inept comparisons of the current grand robbery to anything in the past. Perhaps you may find worse in the Osman occupation times.

Kun Béla
Guest

Concerning the context, it seems to me that this remark is ironic “Perhaps Fidesz’s motives are not entirely pure, but …” Not a single smell of humor …

petofi
Guest

Hungarians of Romania and Greeks–perfect models of ethicality…

Kun Béla
Guest

May I ask you about our ethnicity?

Stephen Pogany
Guest

This is pretty small beer compared with what’s going on in the United States right now!

bimbi
Guest

Never fails, does it? Once again the Fidesz/Orban government, the Boil on the Backside of the EU, rushes, sabre in hand, into a new struggle for Hungarian Freedom! And this with the beer-virginal Head of the Prime Minister’s Office going into bat for the Little Hungarian Guy. Laughable, lächerlich,
nevetnivaló… …Pathetic.

wrfree
Guest

Future ad campaigns for the famous suds:

Csiki Tiltott: ‘He who thinks Magyar , drinks Magyar!’ And ‘It’s Magyar for beer!

Never mind Foster’s suing the Magyars for plagiarization…😎😎 But lately the courtroom suits the latter..

Winston
Guest

The city where I come from , once was the biggest beer city in Europe. We had 6 major breweries.
In the biggest of those breweries, they produced my favorite beer. It is actually the best beer in the world.

The breweries all were closed or sold.
Only one is left. There they still produce some of the old brands.

My favorite was bought by Dr. Oettker.
It is still produced, but not in Dortmund anymore, I don’t know where. But the same recipe, quality and taste as ever.

The advantage is the price. Beer is much much cheaper than years ago, due to cheaper production in bigger companies.

But I am sure, the genuine hungarian would gladly pay the double price for a bottle of the same bad beer, if the breweries owner is hungarian, too.

webber
Guest

The genuine Hungarian will always buy the cheapest beer on the market, even if it’s produced in China out of water, flavor, carbonation and alcohol… Well, come to think of it, that’s the description of most of the beer made in Hungary – water, flavor, carbonation and alcohol. No need for Chinese beer (of which, actually, Tsing Tao beer isn’t bad).

Member

So, someone should tell them, that Csiki might get cheaper under Heinekens ownership and they wouldn’t make such a fuss.

Guest

The Tsing Tao brewery was founded by Germans (of course …) when Tsing Tao was a German colony …
I also enjoyed it in China during my business trip there (many years ago) and you can get it in the Lidl in Hungary sometimes when they have their Asian week – but it doesn’t taste the same …

PS and even more OT:
The beer market (like many others of course) is really crazy, especially in Hungary.
What I find even more horrible:
The companies make it more and more difficult to get beer in bottles – lazy people buy it in cans and of course throw these away after use, we find them all over the vineyards when we walk our dog …
That’s completely different in Germany e g – because we have hefty deposits on cans and bottles, but Hungary?
People here produce so much garbage and leave it everywhere – my wife regularly gets really angry at her compatriots!

Ferenc
Guest

“people here produce so much garbage and leave it everywhere”
May be some opposition parties could try to teach proper wate management to the Hungarian people with election slogans:

“don’t spread your garbage around,
dump it in the proper bin,
who throws OV&Co in the waste can,
rightfully will win!”

petofi
Guest

Get rid of waste?

Who would be left in the country?

Guest

Petofi, that really wasn’t necessary!

Btw I’ve never seen a better woman than my wife – and her family are very similar. Her son just visited us and he told me the latest stories and jokes from some very critical US stand up comedians – he also watches SNL, John Oliver and so on …

FreeWheeling
Guest

In Hungary, when the same beer product is sold in the same amount of milliliters in bottle and in an aluminum can, the cans are usually more expensive even when you factor in the bottle return deposit!

Guest

It’s the same everywhere and it’s logical:
Cans are used only once while bottles are refilled at least ten times- at least in Germany where we also have that incentive to recycle – unlike Hungary!
But as I see my neighbours and their habits – they prefer a cheaper beer in a can (maybe from Lidl) or even a plastic bottle (Just thinking of this makes my head explode almost …) to a good beer in a bottle – and the same goes for other drinks, plastics, plastics, plastics …

Andy Hockley
Guest
I live one village over from the brewery (the “Tiltott” brewery), and this is basically an example of a ridiculous marketing campaign which is rapidly going horribly wrong (or, in terms of selling beer, sadly, horribly right). Originally “Igazi” won the court case arguing that Csiki Sor and Bere Ciuc were clearly two different things – which on the face of it was fair enough, and as Heineken had foolishly never trademarked “Csiki Sor”, they won. However, various appeals later and eventually Heineken won the case at a point in the legal system at which there were no more opportunities for appeals. This was a couple of years ago, and since then the beer had been mostly rebranded as Szekely Sor, but they were still producing bottles with the Igazi Csiki Sor label. It was at this point that the marketing team at “Igazi”, were clearly aiming to use the moment when they finally got the order to stop using the name as the key element in their marketing strategy. This resulted in the ludicrous situation at the end of January when the entirety of Romania came out onto the streets to protest against the government’s decision to grant an… Read more »
Ferenc
Guest

Thanks Andy!!
Was hoping for some info from close to the production source of this beer brawl.
So from Igazi/Tiltott side it seems basically marketing only. But what’s going on in Hungary it’s beyond comprehension.

I checked 50% owner Lixid Holding BV (Dutch postbox firm?) owned by Bluehill Investment Ltd (UK postbox firm?) and AZC as (Slowak company, director Spisák Róbert), but so far impossible to get clear who are behind all of these.
Can you say anything more on Lenard and his involvement? Do you know more about foreign involvement (moneywise) in the small brewery? Any rumors are going around locally?

Istvan
Guest

Magyar Nemzet has an update on this story today see http://mno.hu/belfold/sem-voros-csillag-sem-horogkereszt-1391012

webber
Guest

Breaking – the Hungarian government is dropping the anti-Heineken bill. So, on to the next campaign. What will it be? Locust trees? International grocery stores? Nutella?

Ferenc
Guest

Kosa Lajos, leader of Fidesz fraction in parliament, reasoning (onTV2/MTI?):
-common sense rules must be followed, such as the use of art, in certain cases presentation in an exhibition should be allowed
-there are also products, which do not use the red star “as a totalitarian symbol”, for example a mineral water and a sneaker brand
-Heineken is the company that in 1951 removed the red star of the beer, because the star could be seen as a totalitarian symbol (note: Heineken didn’t remove, but during the Cold War whitened the red star on their bottles)
-conclusion: the Heineken red star is a political symbol, other red stars are not.

source: http://index.hu/gazdasag/2017/03/22/kosa_szerint_hiaba_rossz_a_torvenyjavaslat_csak_azert_is_nekimennek_a_heinekennek/

my conclusion: to come up with this sort of …… (still searching for the proper word), these people must be permanently drunk (or under influence of other substances)

Ferenc
Guest
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