Browsing the archives for the budapest tag.

Photo fragments from communist Hungary

Culture, European culture(s), History

This post was originally published in April 2009 on a blog that’s now dead, where it’s no longer online. Turns out I still had a draft saved here, so I thought I might as well republish it.

Or: a collection found on the street tells the story of minor apparatchiks in love.

Once every couple of months it’s big garbage day in my district. This means everyone takes out all the shit they don’t want anymore and dumps it on the sidewalk. It’s like Queen’s Day in Holland, except nobody’s selling anything. Mounds of stuff, discarded sofas, broken cupboards, old books, soiled shirts, cardboard boxes and piles of random garbage heaped onto the pavement in clusters.

This means lots of activity. Early in the morning the diggers trek into the neighbourhood. Elderly people, Roma. Stuff gets carted into car trunks, folded into plastic bags. Trabants with trailers that are stacked full take off to the suburbs.

In Holland you had rag and bone men until the sixties or so I think, who would come by to collect stuff that’s nowadays hauled off by the municipality’s “big trash” service on request. This is like that – just on a really large scale. Mostly it just means a lot of trash you have to circumnavigate when you walk down the street, but at its best, or worst, it has a near-Third World feel. A bony old man pulls a makeshift platform on wheels with cardboard stacked up a meter high down a busy road, passing cars swerving around him.

One of those days, a couple of months ago, we took a walk and rummaged through the piles out of curiosity. Found some dumpy Hungarian textbooks, a couple of novels in seventies covers. And photos. Not once, but twice, we found photos. One pile of photos sprawled over the pavement in Nyár utca, dirtied by shoes, some still shoved into a box along with other papers; postcards too, Christmas cards, holiday greetings from Slovakia. The other, larger pile at the beginning of Dohany Street, across from the synagogue, in a box in between newspapers, random stuff.

Budapest and Dunaújváros

I’ve dubbed the first collection “The apparatchik”. These photos belonged to a couple called Lajos and Zsuzsa Dömötör (I googled them, but found no leads). I assumed at first that Lajos had been a minor official, back under the old regime – but going through the photos and translating the texts of postcards with the help of fellow Flickr members (in particular GCsanadi), it turns out that it was Zsuzsa who must have been the apparatchik. Unfolding the story locked into these photos and postcards turned out to be fascinating – if like me, you’re the kind of person who finds fragments from the past’s quotidian life the most interesting thing.

The oldest photo in the set shows a group of young men and women at the shore of the Danube, in Budapest. Students? Were the Dömötörs among them, unmarried yet? Or just one of them? Handwritten on the back: March 1967, Budapest. On the left, in the background, is the Matthias Church on the Castle Hill – unframed, still, by the mirrorring windows of the Hilton hotel that was built right next to it later.

Whether one, or both of them were just visiting Budapest when this photo was taken or living there as a student, their hometown, once they were married, would soon be Dunaújváros. They lived there for a long time – judging on the postmarks, at least until 1984.

Dunaujvaros is a mid-sized industrial town some 35 miles south of Budapest, but not your typical one. It was built from scratch in the 1950s as a communist model city of sorts – except back then, it was called Sztálinváros, “Stalin City”. It had the country’s largest iron and steel works. Foreign visitors like Yuri Gagarin and President Sukarno were proudly shown around the town. By 1980, the city had some 60,000 inhabitants. But the collapse of heavy industry in the postcommunist era hit the town hard and now there are fewer than 50,000 left.

The apparatchik

What did the Dömötörs do there? Lajos, as this photo illustrates, appears to have been something official. Maybe he, too, was a minor apparatchik. Maybe he was just a teacher, or a supervisor in a factory. One of the two was a photo enthusiast: some of these photos were home-developed, and printed back to back on photopaper. Think small: this one’s less than 9×6 cm…

We do know a little more about Zsuzsa’s work, as she sent hom this postcard to her man:

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Posting elsewhere: Mapping election results in Budapest; photos of New York City, then and now

European Politics, History, International Politics, US culture

Elsewhere online:

  • Between the tower blocks and family houses: what mapping election results taught me about Budapest
    Socialist pensioners in high-rise estates. Far-right voters in other, less fortunate estates. Romanis in crumbling courtyards who don’t come out to vote. Upwardly mobile green voters in newly-built housing developments that have popped up in the suburbs. Prosperous Fidesz voters in the city’s wealthiest parts, doubtlessly doing well off the government’s business schemes. Fidesz voters who just get by, in modest family houses with small gardens. It’s a big city, Budapest, and … (more)
  • New York City, a bit of then and now
    When I was a teen, my dad took me to America — the only time I’ve ever been there. For him, it had been over thirty years. The previous time, he’d gone by boat. … (more)
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Not so quiet before the storm: Local elections in Budapest, Hungary

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

For the third time in a year, on October 12, Hungary is having elections, this time for mayors and municipal councils. They’re predictably depressing, but I wrote a post about the contexts, data and implications over at Daily Kos Elections.

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Party preference and income levels in the districts of Budapest: Elections 2014

European Politics, International Politics, Politics

Despite its populist image, the governing Fidesz party is still very much a bourgeois party, at least in Budapest. Conversely, electoral support for the far-right Jobbik in Budapest tends to be stronger the poorer a neighbourhood is. On the other side of the political playing field, the five-party socialist/liberal opposition alliance had roughly equally strong (or weak) support in wealthier and poorer districts alike. But when those parties run separately, their support reveals very differing geographic patterns.

All of this is suggested by a series of scatter plots I created, which chart the results of Hungary’s general and European elections earlier this year in Budapest’s 23 districts against gross income per capita levels in those districts. Check out the Infogr.am embedded below the fold – although you might prefer to view it on the Infogr.am website itself, where the charts are square as they are supposed to be rather than rectangular – that’s just the format of this blog distorting them a little.

Two qualifications should be made beforehand, however:

  1. The electoral geography of Budapest, as it relates to income levels, does not necessarily follow the same logic as that of Hungary as a whole. For example, in the European elections at least, the Socialist Party (MSzP) did seem to do better in the poorer, working class districts of Budapest than in the more prosperous ones. But at the same time, the party’s results in Budapest as a whole were the best it received across the country, even though Budapest is also the most prosperous region of the country. The relation between Fidesz and Jobbik votes and income levels in Budapest also appear to be quite different from how they work out in some of the other regions.
  2. The fact that a party does best in the richest (or poorest) areas doesn’t necessarily mean it also does best among the richest (or poorest) voters. The United States is the classic example of this paradox: Democratic presidential candidates tend to do best in the most prosperous states (e.g. the Bos-Wash corridor and the West Coast) and worst in the poorest states (e.g. the Appalachians and the Deep South). But exit poll after exit poll has confirmed that, although the correlation is becoming weaker over time, the party does better among lower-income voters and worse among higher-income ones. However, since we’re dealing with data by city district rather than by whole states here, such a paradox should be less likely to occur.

(One more small-print disclaimer: for income data by district I’ve relied on the Hungarian Central Statistical Office’s data regarding “Gross income serving as basis of the personal income tax per permanent population”. But the comparison between districts works out a little differently if you use its numbers on “Gross income serving as basis of the personal income tax per tax-payer”. I decided not to do that because it doesn’t take the large and varying number of non-tax payers in a district into account, for example the unemployed – and what about pensioners? – and this makes some of the districts with the highest non-active rates, like the 8th, look better-off than they are. But choosing the indicator “per permanent population” has its own effects; if you’re surprised to see Újpest ranking higher on the income axis than Zugló, for example, this is why, because the district has a high percentage of employed, working-age population (whereas Zugló, I assume, has more pensioners). Districts 17, 19 (Kispest) and 21 (Csepel) would also rank noticably lower with the alternative indicator.)

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And you thought you had a voter registration fraud problem

European Politics, Politics

Talking with Americans about voting fraud – or more correctly: voter registration fraud – gets you roughly two kinds of answers, depending on whether you talk to a Republican or a Democrat.

Ferencvaros (Image used under CC license from Flickr user Peiboliche)

Ferencvaros, Budapest (Used under CC license from Flickr user Peiboliche)

It happens on a large scale, is a scandal, and surely indicates that there must be a problem with actual voting fraud as well. Or it’s a hype, stirred up by a losing party eager to avoid facing up to its failure; something that only occurs on a small scale and doesn’t affect the actual election results anyway.

Either way, the subject’s offered much fodder for controversy.

Well, here’s a reality check from Hungary. You thought you may have a problem?

Police probe fake candidate petition slips in Budapest local constituency

More than 2,200 fake candidate petition slips were discovered in Budapest’s ninth district, where parliamentary constituency elections are due to be held on January 11 [..].

Under Hungary’s electoral system, it is necessary to collect 750 slips showing support among the local public before standing a candidate. [..] The forgeries involved the conservative opposition Democratic Forum (MDF), non-parliamentary radical nationalist MIEP and the non-parliamentary radical nationalist Hungarian Social Green Party (MSZZP) [..].

The National Printing Office [..] has examined the slips received and found that 1,152 of those given for the MSZZP candidate had been forged while only 13 were genuine. There were 669 fakes out of 1,015 slips sent in for MDF’s candidate, and 415 fakes out of a total of 781 MIEP slips. [..]

Parties which had qualified to stand a candidate were the Humanist party, the Free Democrats, the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party and Fidesz-KDNP.

13 out of 1,152 genuine! I mean, wow.

It actually gets a little more byzantine than that. Note these paras:

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