Tag Archives: Eger

Another EU project: Renovation of fortified castles and luxury mansions

It was about a year ago that I first encountered two new programs launched by the Orbán government: the “National Castle Program” and the “National Mansion Program.”

The castles we are talking about here are actually late medieval fortified structures, built for the defense of the country. They were especially numerous along the border between Royal Hungary and the Turkish occupied center of the country. The structures in Szigetvár and Eger are perhaps the most famous. It was in Szigetvár that Suleiman the Magnificent died in 1566, as did the captain of the fort, Miklós Zrínyi/Nikola Zrinski, the Croat-Hungarian military leader who led his troops to their death instead of capitulating. Eger, the scene of a Turkish-Hungarian encounter in 1552, was memorialized in the popular novel by Géza Gárdonyi, Eclipse of the Crescent Moon. Both are tourist attractions, so it made sense to put them at the top of the reconstruction list.

The government will salvage 35 fortified castles and renovate 34 mansions. All told, 93 billion forints will be spent on these two projects, “mostly from money coming from the European Union.”

The justification for these two projects is that they will boost tourism. The government estimates that the renovated mansions will attract an extra 800,000 visitors, and an additional 600,000 visitors are expected at the fortified castles. Fifteen billion forints will have to be spent on hotels and services near the structures which, the government hopes, will come from private entrepreneurs. Viktor Orbán assigned János Lázár to supervise these projects. He, in turn, entrusted Undersecretary László L. Simon with the task, but Simon was fired a couple of weeks ago for incompetence.

Most of the fortresses are in terrible shape. Once Hungary reclaimed the Turkish-occupied part of the country at the end of the seventeenth century, the structures no longer had any purpose. They could conceivably have been turned into estates since each of these fortified castles had a so-called “residence tower” (lakótorony), which at one point was occupied by the lord of the castle himself. But these uncomfortable old buildings were eventually abandoned in favor of mansions in the countryside or residences in the capital. And after the soldiers left, the locals pilfered the stones and bricks of the castle to build houses nearby. (This is how most city walls have disappeared over the centuries.)

To what extent should these structures be reconstructed? This question has been the subject of furious debate for a long time between those who consider extensive reconstruction a falsification of history and those who argue for complete reconstruction. The government’s emphasis is on tourism, not the sanctity of architectural history. And visitors are not going to flock to see piles of stones. Therefore, most of these fortresses will be more or less rebuilt. This is certainly true of the fortified castle of Diósgyőr.

Readers who want more information about this government initiative should take a look at an article titled “National Castle Program: Removal of ruins or falsification of history.” Here we learn that at least two of these fortresses will be completely reconstructed and that six will be partially reconstructed. In 17 cases only a section of the former structure will be reconstructed. Nine, most likely buildings too far gone, will receive some treatment to stop further deterioration.

And before

The Diósgyőr Castle after the rebuilding and before Diósgyőr Castle before and after

The reconstruction of the fortified castles may make some sense commercially, but the renovation of the mansions is questionable for several reasons. At the moment these fairly decrepit structures, most of them built in the nineteenth century, are not architectural masterpieces. Most eventually were used as schools or were even cut up into apartments or offices. Something ought to be done with them, but should they be completely renovated on mostly EU money? What does the state intend to do with 34 mansions? I fear that the plan is to sell them at a favorable price to domestic and foreign friends of the Orbán government. We mustn’t forget that István Tiborcz, Orbán’s son-in-law, is now in the real estate business and is involved in the sale of the Schossberger Mansion to a billionaire Turkish businessman.

There is another suspicious aspect of the National Mansion Project. In the last few months the number of officially recognized historic buildings has ballooned. The reason for adding more mansions to the list is simple. A construction company who wins a bid to renovate a historic building can charge up to 400,000 forints per m² both for alteration and construction, while for a non-historic building a company can charge only 320,000 for construction and 220,000 for alteration. In brief, more money can be squeezed out of Brussels if the mansion is of some historic significance or is deemed an architectural masterpiece.

The latest outrage is the government’s change in the payment schedule for construction work on these projects. The original understanding was that for projects designed to stimulate the tourist industry 30% of the amount bid could be received in advance. In April the government changed the regulation. Companies involved in these projects could get 50% of their money up front. On Monday the government decided that, without replacing a single brick, the construction companies could be paid in full. As far as Magyar Nemzet knows, “the European Commission is taking a dim view of this practice,” although at the moment the cost is being borne by the Hungarian taxpayers since Brussels will pay only when all work is finished, which in some cases may be only in 2022.

The Nádasdy Mansion is also the part of the program

The Nádasdy Mansion is also the part of the program

The mansion project may seem lavish, but in fact it is seriously underfunded. It costs an average of 400,000 forints per m² to build an ordinary house in a fashionable section of Budapest. To renovate these residences is extraordinarily expensive. According to the former chief of the office that used to handle issues connected with the country’s cultural heritage, the only sensible move would be to sell these state-owned mansions, as is, to domestic and foreign buyers who would undertake their renovation under strict guidelines. The money allocated for these houses, 1.5 billion per structure, might be enough to guarantee that the roofs don’t leak or perhaps it will cover the cost of an assessment of the physical state of the structures. But if that is the case, what will happen to the money the Hungarian government is giving from its own resources to the construction companies for the renovation of these buildings? A good question.

July 20, 2016

Viktor Orbán’s new infatuation with modernity

The Orbán government fell in love with the word “modern.” As we just learned today, the leadership of Fidesz has been dissatisfied with the media portfolio of Lajos Simicska for some time. They considered it old-fashioned and hence ineffective. Therefore, quite independently of the quarrel between Orbán and Simicska, the party’s leadership was thinking of pro-government media that can have a greater impact, especially on the younger generation. They have been working on a new media portfolio under the supervision of Árpád Habony, who will also be part owner of the new enterprise. The name of the company will be Modern Média Group (MMG). It looks to me as if Fidesz is no longer capable of coming up with anything new because, as HVG discovered, there used to be a company called Modern Média. It was one of those bankrupt companies around Fidesz that was sold to Josip Tot, the penniless Croatian guest worker, in 1998.

MMG’s plans are ambitious. They will have an internet site called via.hu that will publish opinion pieces and political analyses. The new owners are also planning to launch a free paper to replace Helyi Téma, which ceased to exist a few weeks ago due to the financial troubles of its owner, Tamás Vitézy. In addition, their plans include a financial paper. There is also talk about a possible radio station. All of this requires a lot of money. Where do Árpád Habony and his business partner, Tibor Győri, who used to be undersecretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, get the money for such a media empire? We pretty well know where Lajos Simicska got his money, but what about Habony, who as far as we know doesn’t have a job? Before 2010 Győri was CEO of Mahír, one of Simicska’s companies, but I can’t believe that he is a billionaire.

I’m rather skeptical of the prospects for this new Fidesz-Orbán media empire simply because government-created propaganda is almost never financially successful. As for modernity, it is the last word one would associate with the Orbán government, which has been doing nothing else in the last five years but trying to turn back the clock.

But that’s not all. The Orbán government has a new project called the Modern Városok Program (Modern Cities Program), which Viktor Orbán launched in Sopron on March 25. Unfortunately for Orbán, his speech on that occasion was totally overshadowed by his revelation in the question and answer period that he was the person who ordered his ministers to withdraw all government money deposited at the Quaestor Group.

His visit to Sopron signaled the beginning of a road show that includes visits to all 23 cities labeled as “megyei jogú városok,” which simply means that these cities also take care of the business of the county in which they are situated although not all of them are county seats. According to plans, about 1,000-1,200 billion forints, coming largely from Brussels, will be spent on “modernizing” the infrastructure. Originally, the government planned to finish all the expressways that would connect these cities to “motorways” or superhighways only by 2020, but given the sorry state of Fidesz and the Orbán government, the decision was made to speed up the process and finish the work by 2018, i.e., before the next election. In addition to an expressway between Sopron and Győr (M1), money would go for renovations of “church and government buildings” in Sopron and for the development of a tourist center at Lake Fertő. The expressway itself would cost more than 100 billion forints.

This “modernization” for Orbán means that “anyone crossing the border between Austria and Hungary wouldn’t notice any difference in quality.” But, of course, we know that not everything depends on new paint on buildings and an expressway leading into the city. What is missing on the Hungarian side cannot be remedied by road building and renovation. What is lacking is a forward-looking government and population.

On April 10 Orbán visited Eger, where the goodies coming from Brussels were more modest than in Sopron–only 30 billion forints. In addition to another expressway, Eger would receive a “national swimming and waterpolo centrum” to the tune of six billion forints. This center will be grandiose: several pools, “not just one or two.” After all, “let’s dream of great things, and do it right,” he said. I guess after the stadiums we can expect many, many swimming centers, which actually makes more sense than the stadium building mania for the nonexistent Hungarian football players. At least Hungarian swimmers and water polo players are world famous. Another six billion will be spent on the famous castle where in 1552 the Hungarian forces successfully defended the town from the Turkish invaders. Mind you, in 1596 Eger fell anyway and became part of the Ottoman Empire. An industrial center will be built, waiting for investors who will be able to reach Eger more easily after the expressway is built to M3.

The next stop was Zalaegerszeg. Another expressway by 2018 and another swimming pool with a recreation center. The city will also build a pilgrimage center devoted to József Mindszenty, the last Prince Primate of Hungary. Mindszenty became a parish priest in the Church of Mária Magdolna in Zalaegerszeg in 1919 and spent almost twenty years there. Although his beatification has been pending since 1996, it looks as if the city fathers of Zalaegerszeg are optimistic about the final outcome. I have no idea how popular such a pilgrimage center will be, but it looks as if the mayor and the city council consider it a good business opportunity.

Of course, the roadshow is not over. There are twenty more cities to visit.

I find the Orbán government’s sudden interest in modernity curious. If anything, Viktor Orbán is a man of the past. Even before he became prime minister in 2010, he fought tooth and nail against modern shopping habits. It’s enough to think of his crusade against the government’s plans to allow over-the-counter medications to be sold outside of pharmacies. And the government’s newly introduced Sunday store closings are supposed to favor small business owners and punish the large supermarket chains.

modernityYes, in the last fifty years or so small business owners have been pushed out of the market. It is sad. Where are the small bookstores? Few of them survive. The small pharmacy I used to visit even in the 1980s is gone. Pharmacies have been replaced by chains. Some large retail outlets, like Walmart, have their own pharmacies. There are fewer and fewer flower shops because every supermarket sells flowers. Certain professions have completely disappeared. For example, typesetting. But there is nothing new about that. After all, when Gutenberg introduced movable type, within a few years scribes lost their jobs. To try to stop these developments by government edict is more than foolhardy. Such an attempt can bring only disaster–backwardness and poverty. Moreover, it is hopeless. Anyone who attempts to stop the clock, unless it is Kim Jong-un in isolated North Korea, is doomed to failure.

Two controversial Jobbik appointments: Tamás Sneider and Dóra Dúró

Today Jobbik finalized the composition and officers of its parliamentary delegation. The caucus consists of 23 people. Just as in the last parliament, Gábor Vona, party chairman, will be heading the group and just as before he will have five deputies.

Jobbik nominated Tamás Sneider to be one of the deputies to the president of the parliament, who will most likely once again be László Kövér. This nomination is very controversial and sparked a slew of objections in the last week or so. Even Bence Rétvári, undersecretary in the Ministry of Administration and Justice, remarked that perhaps Jobbik should “rethink” the nomination. Well, Jobbik thought long and hard about it and decided to stick with its candidate.

So, what’s wrong with Tamás Sneider other than being a member of a neo-Nazi party?

Way back in August 2009 I wrote a post about Hungarian skinheads. There I briefly mentioned a skinhead cell in Eger. The group was  infamous because, under the leadership of Tamás Sneider, known in those days as Roy, it was involved in Roma beatings on the streets of Eger. That was sometime in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sneider later joined Jobbik and became a member of the Eger city council.

During his time on the council he was arrested by the police because of a family dispute. As we learned from Magyar Nemzet, just before the 2010 election, Sneider, who by then was #9 on Jobbik’s party list for the 2010 election, wanted to put his parents under guardianship because, according to him, his father wanted to kill him. The parents had a different story to tell. Sneider apparently spent his share of the family fortune and further demanded the sale of their winery in Eger. When they refused, all hell broke loose and the parents sued the son. It was at this point that Sneider insisted that his parents were no longer able to be on their own due to their psychological impairment.  Since then psychiatrists have determined that the parents are perfectly normal. In light of the above, it is especially ironic that as a freshman MP Sneider was deputy chairman of  the parliamentary committee that dealt with, among other things, “family affairs.”

There were rumors in the last few days that the Fidesz delegation might vote against the appointment of Sneider due to his skinhead past. But that doesn’t seem likely. Today Antal Rogán, who was re-elected leader of the Fidesz delegation, indicated that Fidesz will not veto the nomination. “Each party must take political responsibility for its nominees. We would not like to choose among opposition nominees. There might be several nominees with whom we disagree. After all, we had a deputy president who was a party member in the old regime.”

I would have been very surprised if Fidesz, especially before the EP election, would have instigated a political fight over a Jobbik nomination. The reality is that Jobbik did exceedingly well in the last two elections and legitimately became a parliamentary party with all the privileges and prerogatives of that position. Perhaps Vona’s youth organization, so warmly supported by Viktor Orbán, should have been stopped as soon as it espoused an anti-Semitic and anti-Roma ideology. It is too late now.

Jobbik, just like all other parties, can send delegates to the various parliamentary committees. By law, the chairmanship of the committee on national security goes to someone delegated by one of the opposition parties. The position was held in the last four years by Zsolt Molnár of MSZP, and MSZP once again claimed the post. But this year, just as four years ago, Jobbik also wanted this important committee chairmanship. Four years ago their nominee, Gábor Staudt, didn’t receive clearance. This time around their nominee was the party chairman himself, Gábor Vona. But handing over the national security chairmanship to Jobbik would have been too much even for Fidesz. Instead, it supported MSZP, saying that by custom the largest opposition party is entitled to that position.

Having lost the chairmanship of the committee on national security, Jobbik insisted on another important post: chairmanship of the committee on education and culture. This time Fidesz supported their claim. An outcry followed. How could Fidesz give that critically important committee to Jobbik? “Our children’s future and Hungarian culture in the hands of a neo-Nazi party?” —asked Magyar Narancs.

Jobbik’s nominee for the post is Dóra Duró, wife of the notorious Előd Novák, who is most likely a member of the group responsible for kuruc.info. Here are a few choice (quasi-literate) sentences uttered by Dóra Dúró on matters of education. “Jobbik’s educational policy does not consider equality and integration as real values, but rather the fulfillment of people’s mission.” According to her, “from here on, the truth of educators must be unquestioned.”

Ildikó Lendvai, former MSZP chairman, commented on the probable appointment of Dúró this way: “Finally there is a seal on the alliance of Fidesz and Jobbik.”  The ideological roots of the two parties are similar in many respects, and over the past four years their views on cultural matters were practically identical. Fidesz often borrowed Jobbik’s ideas. For example, the removal of Mihály Károlyi’s statue was originally a Jobbik demand. The idea of resurrecting the Horthy regime also came from Jobbik. It was the extreme right that wanted to include Albert Wass and József Nyirő in the curriculum. And Jobbik was the first to propose the nationalization of schools, segregated schools, and the centralization of textbooks.

Dóra Dúró and her infamous laptop: "The nation lives in the womb"

Dóra Dúró and her infamous laptop: “The nation lives in the womb”

As for Dóra Dúró. The Dúró-Novák duo’s motto is “Be fruitful and multiply!”  She is only 27 years old but is pregnant with their third child. I read somewhere that she considers four children to be the minimum for a patriotic Hungarian family. Producing children seems to be a very important, if not the most important duty of a Hungarian woman. See the picture on the cover of her laptop: “The nation lives in the womb.”

She, like her husband, is a rabid anti-Semite. About a week ago a journalist asked Novák why the couple doesn’t take part in events remembering the Holocaust. His answer was: “We remember only genocides that actually happened.” Denial of the Holocaust is now a crime in Hungary, but as far as I know nothing happened to Előd Novák. Except that his like-minded wife will be chairing the parliamentary committee on education and culture.