Monday, May 03, 2004


Roger the Shrubber, environmental scientist extraordinaire, designer of People's Republic of South Yorkshire T-shirts (copyright, Flying Trilobite Enterprises Inc.) and ex-roving researcher asks me in the comments to my previous blog what it feels like to be part of the 'new' Europe.

Well, I'm not sure yet. I'll have to see how it affects Stella prices before I can come to a definitive conclusion but it should mean that the penultimate border crossing between here and Blighty (England's itself will never disappear or so it seems) should have vanished by the time I make my next trip home.

Before venturing further, I should perhaps make it clear that I am on my fifth Stella and that coherency will be somewhat lacking in whatever thoughts I have from here on in but here goes.

Bollocks the lot of it. Quite an apt expression if I draw your mind to the rugby song referring to them as 'swinging to and fro', as the analogy to a pendulum is quite apt considering Hungary's political situation post 1989.

No matter what Reagan said, it was Hungary's decision to open its borders in 1989 which led to the much more publicised fall of the Berlin Wall and the 'collapse of communism', much vaunted by the West and especially Berliners.

Should you think I might have a slight bias to and blind spot regarding Hungary, I feel I should make a few comments concerning the situation here before the 'regime change'.

Progress was dependent upon party membership, which generally was selling out rather than genuine belief...despite some honourable people such as my late 'father-in-law' whose communist beliefs never wavered and who, paradoxically enough, suffered for it. Those who obtained membership fraudulently, as it were, tended to do rather better out of manipulating the system than those who fervently believed in it. But, just in case you get the idea that all was pretence and subterfuge, I feel I should let you know just how the mother of a friend of mine described the communist years.

She told me once, in reply to my query as to what it was like, that it was, "impossible to listen." I didn't get it at first. But the more I thought about it, the more tragic it became. Can you picture ever chatting with your neighbour over the Leylandi hedge and being afraid not to make any reply? To have the simple act of listening construed as registering and logging for future informing? Can you ever hope to imagine what effect that had on even the most innocent dialogues? You won't even come close. Small talk only. Nothing of any import...ever. Never. Even between friends there would have been a suspicion, nothing could ever have been concrete, have absolutely no fucking idea.

Anyway, the Magyar Democratic Forum won the first democratic election and a few years of selling Hungary by the pound ensued. They were quite Thatcherite in principle but decidedly corrupt in practice and, as with Russia, the backhanders won the day.

I can only state with any degree of certainty that which transpired in Nagykanizsa as it is there that I live and breed. After two or three years the foreign companies moved in and instead of investing in existing industries, simply bought up Hungarian companies with a view to closing them down and buying into the market. Thus it was that the Nagykanizsa brewery was bought by an Austrian company and my favourite Hungarian beers disappeared from circulation within a few months. Beer was brewed here under licence at first but now the brewery acts as a warehouse for foreign multinational beers. The food processing plants met the same fate. Bought up, closed down, turned into a halfway house for distribution of Austrian processed food.

At about the same time as the redefining of Nagykanizsa's manufacturing industry as warehouse, the original buyers were themselves bought out by the multi-nationals. The largest employer in town with the largest factory in Europe, Tungsram, was bought out by GE and it is to its credit that the factory is still actually producing something. But what exactly, did they buy? Hungarian expertise, cheap and highly qualified electrical and mechanical engineers...a cheap and highly educated workforce who are presently having the pips squeezed out of them to improve productivity with little or no increase in remuneration. And a way into the eastern market. It is no surprise to me that the same company is now out-sourcing most of its base production to China and leaving Nagykanizsa as a mere assembly plant.

Anyway, as with all post communist states, the next general election saw a socialist government returned to power amidst hope that the corruption of the first government would be a thing of the past. And it was, to a degree. Here the seventh Stella begins its great journey south. The situation was by all accounts SNAFU or even FUBAR but the socialists put into operation an economic recovery programme, which, whilst decidedly being cruel to be kind, got the economy back on a level footing. Unfortunately this had the effect of being cruel to be kind and the measures taken, whilst necessary, led to increasing unemployment and hardship for the Hungarian equivalent of Mondeo man.

There existed in Hungary an intellectual elite, of young untarnished politicos whose very innocence led them to win the third election apart from a very natural reaction to the cruel to be kind regime of the socialists.

These pillocks proceeded to do fuck all, just skim a little less off the top than the previous regime and sit back as the country reaped the benefits of the previous government's programmes.

Come the next election and these guys were beginning to suspect that the populace had them sussed to a nicety and, lacking any other credible platform, began to play the nationalist card. There was a huge FIDESZ rally in Budapest and I happened to catch it on TV. I switched on and was faced with several thousands of people all waving the Hungarian flag.

I asked my partner what National Holiday I was unaware of and she informed me of the true nature of the situation. All party activists had been invited, nay instructed to attend and told not to bring party flags and emblems but only those referring to the Hungarian nation. Oh, dearie me! Maybe you can see now what tactics Blunkett et al are hoping to employ in the lead up to 'Britain's' next general election. Manipulative bastard. And to think, I had such high hopes for him.

Luckily, they lost...people here remember fascism with just as much abhorrence as they do communism but at least then there was bread on the table and everybody had a job, albeit on the never-never of international loan agreements...which was the real reason for the collapse of communism...all those western loans they hadn't a hope of paying off just got out of hand and it is the renegotiation of these that lies at the heart of any accession to Europe treaties. And cocking a snook to those damned Ruskies, of course.

So, what does it mean for Hungary? Catastrophe I fear. Hungary is an agrarian country the entire population of which would fit into the area of Greater London. Let's set that against the Common Agricultural Policy and see where we stand, shall we?

I don't know. Maybe Hungary will be the next Ireland, building prosperity on EU grants and a belief that, to be successful, you don't actually have to produce or manufacture anything, that you can just simply act as a conduit for money transfers and that the entire population will find its place within such a system, either working for the many banks to have opened up in town or for the Tesco and Spar hypermarkets which have followed in their wake. Thus we will be able to both save and spend money we haven't got to keep the local economy going.

Unfortunately, I have a suspicion that it will all turn out to be, as I said earlier, bollocks the lot of it!

Anyway, bugger this! I'm off ferran eighth.

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