There have been football World Cups held since 1930. The trophy is one of sports’ most iconic prizes. The current trophy has been used since only 1974, and a bronze replica of it in a pub next to a list of the teams reaching the finals is surprising. Showing that Hungary was in the final in 1954 is pleasing. It is unexpected to be reminded of it here. But that is why we are here, to find out about Hungary’s connections to Algeria.

I am in Tipaza, a trading post of Ancient Rome about 50 kilometres from Algiers, the Algerian capital. The city is an important tourist place in modern Algeria, mainly because of the Tipaza ruins.

In the capital at the square opposite the Grande Post Office – a superb example of French architecture – and in the surrounding streets there are many coffee shops, restaurants, jewellery shops. As our translator explains, the coffee shops are for everyone. The antique shops are for the foreigners, who have no time, no idea to look for the genuine articles and places, so they pay four times as much as in a little shop. But where are the little shops?

There is a big table right next to where we stand with half a dozen older gentlemen unhurriedly sipping and enjoying every little drop of their tiny coffee. They look at us and start guessing what nationality we might be? They go through almost all European nations, start listing states of other continents before I announce that we are Hungarians. Their ovation is genuine and very loud. They invite us to their table but, like the foreigners with the jewellery shops we have no time. Our newly found friends all have something nice to say about Hungary. Some of them even know a few worlds in Hungarian. Finally, one of them cries out: Welcome to Algeria!

Following Algeria winning her Independence in 1962, in the 1960s to 1980 hundreds of Hungarian architects and engineers were involved in planning and implementing projects in the north African country.

The list is not complete but indicates the size of the cooperation. Hungarians designed and worked on constructing: public buildings, industrial facilities, residential settlements, hospitals, surgeries, thematical parks, high schools, colleges and universities, airports, stadiums including the 5th July Olympic Sport Complex, the covering of mosques and the Martyrs‘ Memorial.

At the same time hundreds of experts of architectural and engineering research institutes designed roads, bridges, water establishments, river bed settlements, irrigation systems for palm plantations in the desert and wastewater treatment plants, and the technical management of these projects. Hungarians worked in 40 different sites. Now only those few people know about these projects who worked on them, and very few of them are still alive.

When in the evenings we get back to the hotel, at every public place on huge monitors the Word Cup is shown. Next day when we arrive at the 5th July Olympic Sport Complex in Algiers we are already in the right spirit. And it is like visiting the Puskás Stadium in Budapest. The similar look is not by chance since the Hungarian designers for both stadiums were the same. But the stadium here in Algiers looks smaller and must have recently had a facelift.

It is an ordinary mid-morning in Algiers. It takes some time to get into the building of “Le Centre Federal Escrime Kárpáti Rudolf”. When we finally do and see the plaques and photographs we feel proud, moved and a bit at home. On a photo taken on 22 March 2018 the former Hungarian President Pál Schmitt, twice Olympic and seven times world champion fencer, inaugurates with Minister of Youth and Sport El Hadi Ould Ali the Rudolf Kárpáti Fencing Centre. Both are smiling, and it is not only for the pictures. They are writing Algerian history. No institution in Algeria has ever been given the name of a non- Algerian.

Rudolf Kárpáti was six times Olympic, 12 times individual and team World Champion fencer. The number of medals President Schmitt and Kárpáti won in fencing together far surpasses what many big nations won in all disciplines at the Olympic and World Championships. Algerian leaders at the Ministry of Youth and Sport with the help of the Hungarian Embassy in Algiers are hoping to popularise sport and enable Algerian children to be successful in all sports, but especially in such fields as fencing and gymnastics.

When we were coming back from Algiers to Budapest we remember what Abdelkader Benmessaoud, Minister of Tourism and Handicraft, stated in his message when he invited us to Algeria. “We will reaffirm the will of the public authorities to develop tourism as a sector of importance and to mobilize all the means to achieve it. In terms of communication, a convention will be concluded at the next school year, with the Ministry of Communication to involve the public media in supporting the tourism sector.”

# ’You can taste some’ the fruit seller

Our plane home was filled with excited Algerian children gymnasts flying to Budapest for a training camp. As the piping hot coffee and turbulence arrived at the same time, they shrieked with joy as the plane fell and climbed as though on a roller coaster. Even more was their joy to see people burning their hands or pouring the coffee over their shirts: they were not bad, just kids flying for the first time, learning early that drinking coffee can be dangerous.

As we landed at Budapest after five very busy days in Algiers we recalled our hectic hours there. We remembered that Algeria is the biggest African country and we were originally invited for 12 days to introduce the connections and help to promote tourism. Finally, we were allowed to stay only for five days and we were not given accreditation to do any work outside the capital. We had expected the officials to help us to endorse Algeria, not make it impossible for us to work there. Recalling the pub with the football trophy, the conclusion has to be that this time the Algerian administrations scored an own goal.


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