I don’t know about you, but I would label my personal knowledge of Hungary as wanting, if not painfully incomplete. It’s not an easy country to come to grips with, not least of all of course because Hungarian doesn’t look like any western language we know with the possible exception of Finnish. I did visit just after the Wall came down, and remember huge contrasts, almost paradoxes, between rural poverty and a capital, Budapest, that was much richer than other capitals such as Prague, a leftover of Budapest’s status as meeting place between western and eastern diplomats and businessmen.
The riches were not for all, though, the city center was full of beggars and panhandlers, mostly Roma. To keep up the paradox, Mercedes sold more luxury models in Hungary than just about anywhere else back then, reportedly mostly also to Roma; just not the same.
In the years since, precious little attention has been and is being devoted to the former eastern bloc countries in the Anglo press. We know most of the countries are now members of the European Union, but only a few have been allowed to enter the hallowed grounds of the eurozone.
One thing I did pick up on last year was the news that Hungary’s PM Victor Orbán had thrown chemical, food and seed giant Monsanto out of the country, going as far as to plow under 1000 acres of land. Now, I have little patience for Monsanto, infamous for many products ranging from Agent Orange to Round-Up, nor for its ilk, from DuPont to Sygenta, all former chemical companies that have at some point decided they could sell more chemicals than ever before by applying them on and inside everyone’s daily food. Patenting nature itself seems either unworthy of mankind or its grandest achievement. I don’t care much for either one. So Orbán (who has a two-thirds majority in parliament, by the way) has my tentative support on this one.