Equipment to be used by special unit investigating coronavirus clusters presented at a press conference. (Foto: MTI / Tamás Kovács)

Orbán urges risky people to avoid gatherings and keep to themselves

‘This is no time to be stupid’

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has urged those displaying symptoms of COVID-19 to self-isolate. No form of defence can succeed without voluntary participation from the public, and it is primarily "a country's level of intelligence rather than measures enacted by the government" that determines the quality of response to the virus.

Recent COVID-19 clusters identified in Pápa, western Hungary, and Mezőkövesd in the northeast emerged because people with coughs and fevers went to places where many others gathered, Orbán said on public broadcaster Kossuth Radio. The operative board coordinating Hungary’s response to the pandemic is constantly at work, and soon the special unit investigating coronavirus clusters will be seen isolating any groups that may be infected, he said.

The prime minister underlined the importance of the National Consultation launched in connection with the coronavirus and rebooting the economy, saying it would help the government enact measures that are supported by the people. So far more than 1.4 million people had filled out the survey, “a very high number” considering how many people went on holiday this time of year.

Orbán urged the public to be “responsible” with their days off from work. The government had “set a good example” by cancelling the fireworks for the August 20 national holiday as it would have posed “a risk we couldn’t take”.

He asked those travelling abroad to favour neighbouring countries, of which Slovakia, Austria, Slovenia and Croatia are currently considered safe amidst the pandemic.

Hopefully the world would handle a likely second wave “in a more organised manner” than it had the first one, when “countries would grapple for protective equipment at various Asian airports”.

Hungary has made the necessary changes to its health-care sector that give it a better chance of putting up “a near-perfect defence against the pandemic” in the event of a second wave, Orbán said. He had instructed the minister responsible for health-care to give a precise professional opinion on the first coronavirus vaccine to be put in use.

Hungary has already “posted an order with the EU” for 5 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine when it is developed, he said.

Regarding employment numbers, Orbán said the number of jobholders currently falls short of the pre-pandemic period by 30,000 to 35,000. “If all goes well” the number of those in employment might be back to pre-pandemic levels by autumn, and the aim was to top those figures.

Fidesz won the first of its three consecutive election victories in 2010 by promising one million jobs, Orbán noted. In eight or nine years more than 800,000 jobs had been created, “a world record”. Families’ livelihoods should be based on work and not benefits. “We went bust under leftist governments because they encouraged and enabled” an approach counting on unemployment and other benefits by the jobless.

Regarding migration, Orbán said all illegal migrants attempting to enter Hungary pose health and “biological” risks, which is to be averted “at all cost”. It would be wrong to “paint all migrants as biological bombs” by conflating migration and COVID-19, however “some are exactly that”. Until those carrying the virus could be identified, all illegal entrants should be treated as potential sources of infection.

“This is too strong a statement for social justice warriors … but Hungarians have to think about self-defence,” Orbán said. He had asked the interior minister to make sure the armed forces and police continue to take forceful action against all attempts of illegal entry as it now poses health risks, too.

Regarding the pop music industry, to which the government recently allocated HUF 2.12 billion to offset the losses incurred during the pandemic, Orbán said he saw the sector as a part of Hungarian culture. The funds should be decided upon by “people from that world” to avoid dissatisfaction despite government support.

Ukraine ‘wrong’ to call Hungary high risk

The decision by Ukrainian health authorities to classify Hungary as a “red” country for coronavirus risk is “professionally unfounded and ill-considered”, the Transcarpathian Hungarian Cultural Association (KMKSZ) has said. Ukraine has also classified Slovakia and Poland as “red”, but all three countries are regarded by the World Health Organisation and other prestigious health organisations as having more favourable epidemiological statistics than Ukraine, KMKSZ noted. It said the decision to move Hungary into the high-risk category will put hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens at a disadvantage, and could harm relations between the two countries’ border regions and cause significant economic losses for Ukraine. KMKSZ called on Ukraine to revisit the decision and consider internationally accepted factors when gauging the risk of coronavirus infection in the various countries. “We consider the adherence to the principle of reciprocity important even in this transitional period,” KMKSZ said, noting that Hungary and Ukraine have agreed to allow each other’s citizens living within a 30-kilometre radius of the border to commute without undergoing quarantine. The Ukrainian government updated its classification of several countries on August 1, moving Hungary, among others, from “green” to “red”. Ukraine will assign a “green” classification only to countries that have not experienced a rise of over 30 percent in the number of registered coronavirus cases, and ones where the number of infections per 100,000 people is not higher than in Ukraine.

The Colombian celebration at Gabriel García Márquez Park. (Photo: Colombian Embassy)

Double commemoration of 201st anniversary

Pride in Colombian independence

The Colombian Embassy in Hungary celebrated, for the second consecutive year, the 201st anniversary of its National Independence with two solemn ceremonies in emblematic places of Budapest on August 7. During the tribute, a wreath of flowers, with the tricolour of the national flag, was placed and the stanzas of the national anthem were sung.

The first ceremony took place in the recently named Gabriel García Márquez Park, which was attended by members of the Mayor’s Office of District XIII of Budapest and educational institutions of the capital, representatives of the Hungarian Diplomatic Corps and citizens of the Colombian community.

The second ceremony was held in the afternoon at Heroes Square, where members of the diplomatic and Colombian communities gathered to witness the heartfelt tribute.

Ambassador Carmenza Jaramillo contemplated the pride involved in celebrating such a memorable occasion and highlighted the importance of preserving the traditions that allow Colombians to remember the struggle of their people, 200 years after achieving independence.

Additionally, Ambassador Jaramillo expressed her gratitude to Budapest city and its District XIII, and her admiration for the Hungarian symbols, stating that in Hungary Colombians feel at home. She said it is her hope to continue working to strengthen solid bilateral relations, based on trust and opportunities.

Tourists, visitors and Colombians recorded the commemoration in photos and videos that were posted to social networks as a show of pride on such a special day for the country. The ambassador said there was no doubt the event had an impact and once again showed the national pride that characterises Colombians so much.


  • Photo: Colombian Embassy

  • Colombia's celebration at Heroes' Square. (Photo: Colombian Embassy)

  • Ambassador Carmenza Jaramillo (right) at Heroes Square with the Colombian flag. (Photo: Colombian Embassy)

  • Ambassador Carmenza Jaramillo (centre) at Gabriel García Márquez Park. (Photo: Colombian Embassy)

“Three Bedrooms in Manhattan” by Georges Simenon (published by Penguin Classics)

Between the sheets in ’American’ streets

Which Georges Simenon will turn up this time? Will it be “The greatest of all, the most genuine novelist we have had in literature” (André Gide)? “A truly wonderful writer … marvellously readable” (Muriel Spark)? “One of the greatest writers of the twentieth century” (Guardian)? Or “That damn author who offers us insightful meditations on the human condition one moment (such as ‘The Son’) then sends us mad with ridiculous tossed-off clunkers the next minute (such as ‘Mr. Hire’s Engagement’)” (The Budapest Times)?
29. July 2020 9:49

Yes, Simenon was that sort of writer, at least we feel safe in thinking so after reading probably almost 100 of his books over the past half a century. When the Paris Review asked him which of them he’d most like to recommend for survival, he replied, “Not one”. In contrast, when number one fan Gide was asked which of Simenon’s books a beginner should read, he replied, “All of them”.

It’s well known that the author, born in Liege, Belgium, in 1903, died in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1989, was one of the most prolific novelists ever, in any language, writing more than 400 books, usually at a ferocious rate. The exact number is rubbery, as are the estimates of his sales (500 million? 700 million? A billion?), but two of Simenon’s biographers, Claude Menguy and Pierre Deligny, got stuck in to the canon, added it up and came to a total of 431 titles. Of these, 75 were Maigret novels,

At the peak of his productivity, it was said that Simenon generally devoted only a week and a half to write a novel, at the rate of 80 pages a day. However, we’re not sure if that makes sense, as in print he seldom reached the 200-page mark, and he tended not to revise much, being exhausted by the effort and seemingly not overly worried about the finished product. Similarly, it is said he could type for 11 hours straight, or around 70 words per minute nonstop, so it’s difficult to make sense of it all.

Whatever, the fellow was sex-obsessed, and he was probably in a rush to get down to the nearest cathouse, wherever he was, being an enthusiastic habitué. (The Budapest Times has previously advised readers to google “Simenon 10,000”, and remember the bit about figures being rubbery.) The full-speed-ahead approach was a practice that proved to be good for his bank account and not always so good for his reputation.

A good story bears repetition and we like the one about when film director Alfred Hitchcock phoned and was told by Simenon’s secretary or wife or mistress that the author couldn’t be disturbed because he was writing a book. “I’ll wait,” the clued-up Hitchcock apparently replied.

What does seem for sure is that Simenon remains one of the most widely read French-language writers of the 20th century. He is the third-most-translated francophone author (into 57 languages, according to one estimate), after Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas.

Simenon quit school in Liege at fifteen and went to work writing for a local newspaper. Soon he began writing novels as well. The first was published when he was eighteen. After ten years of producing dozens of potboilers under several pseudonyms he decided to get serious, started using his own name and began writing the Maigret detective novels, published from 1931 to 1972 and set in Simenon’s now adopted home of Paris.

He found success with the books about Detective Chief Inspector Jules Maigret of the Police Judiciaire but he said he wanted to seek the respect of the literary élite, and so began writing the “straight” stories that he characterised as romans durs, the darker “hard novels”.

Dividing his energies between the two sorts of tales, and so many of them, it’s perhaps natural that he couldn’t always maintain standards. “Three Bedrooms in Manhattan” finds him out of his familiar French milieu, a fact explained by Simenon’s rather ambivalent attitude during the German occupation of France in the Second World War.

It was alleged that he had been too close to the Vichy regime, if not an actual collaborator. The story goes that Simenon worked for the German film company Continental, whose owner kept a bust of Hitler on his desk, and lived in a castle in the Vendée where Nazis had been billeted.

To receive his royalties, he signed a declaration that he was Aryan.

Simenon later claimed protection under a popular post-war formula in France – that he worked “under” the Nazis rather than for them. The liberation government found insufficient evidence to deport or execute him. Yet guilt and fear about his war-time record made him a voluntary exile from France, and he spent the last 40 years of his life in America and Switzerland.

“Three Bedrooms in Manhattan” was first published in French as “Trois Chambres à Manhattan” in 1946 during Simenon’s 10-year spell in the US from 1945 to 1955. Despite some opinions that he captures the spirit of New York, we don’t find this so at all. This is a superficial New York, and if you substitute his mentions of Greenwich Village for Montmartre, of the Brooklyn Bridge for the Pont Neuf, of the East River for the Seine, of Fifth Avenue for the Champs Elysees and so on, basically this could equally be a book set in Paris.

True, he throws in jukeboxes, nickels, iron fire escapes, pinball machines and drugstores but he was surely thinking of Paris when he wrote about a bus with an open platform: “He walked to Washington Square and took the Fifth Avenue bus. He stood on the platform.” Maigret used to look for a bus with a platform in Paris so that he could smoke his pipe in the open air without troubling the other passengers, but we don’t find any evidence that they had them in New York. Or the “trams” that Simenon mentions, when it seems that most of New York’s streetcars had already been replaced by buses.

The protagonist, Francois Combe 48, is a French actor who left Paris abruptly after his wife, a successful actress, deserted him for another actor half his age. He’s been in New York about six months and lives alone in a dirty, untidy apartment. One night he goes to a bar and there at three in the morning he meets a 33-year-old woman named Kay.

Francois notices her immediately on the next bar stool, and “what he really liked about her were the signs of wear and tear”. She’s just as lonely and desperate as him. After more than a few drinks they wander the streets together then check into a cheap hotel. Bedroom number one. This is the beginning of a weird Simenon-style up-and-down relationship between two wounded souls.

Both need somebody– anybody. They – rather implausibly – very quickly become tightly bound to each other. At the same time they are tortured by the insecurity of it all. Sometimes Combe loathes Kay but then knows he couldn’t do without her. It’s all a bit odd: two people who didn’t know each other, then within a day or so are anxiously clinging to each other.

It can get a bit ridiculous, which is nothing new with Simenon – “And he hit her in the face as hard as he could with his fist, once, twice, three times . . . At last, completely spent, he collapsed on her, sobbing and begging for forgiveness.” She accepts. A little later: “He missed Kay so much that a wave of dizziness swept over him.”

The author ploughs ahead. “In Hungary there are a lot of women who smoke pipes,” is one throwaway line. Before our time, perhaps. And a typical observation from the priapic author:  a “cleaning lady polished a brass doorknob so energetically it made her ample breasts quiver.”

Still, one thing you can say about the enticing Monsieur Simenon – and this book is a middling to solid Simenon – you have to keep turning the pages. How will it all end up for Combe and Kay?

Finance Minister Mihaly Varga (Photo: MTI / Tibor Illyés)

Varga: growth will benefit public safety, education, health-care

Virus, economy budget priorities

The government has two key aims with next year's budget, to maintain the state of medical preparedness in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and to support economic growth as much as possible, Finance Minister Mihály Varga said after the budget was approved by Parliament on July 3.

Varga called the government’s economic support measures essential, as in his opinion no substantial growth can be expected without them, as had happened in the 2000s when the Hungarian economy was almost stagnating despite the upward trend of the European economy.

He noted that the 2021 budget envisages 4.8 percent growth while the general government deficit will be 3 percent again and the government debt will fall below 70 percent.

The minister said the growth will make it possible to spend more on public safety, education and health-care next year, while the resources necessary for the coronavirus response efforts will also be available. Varga noted that the government remains committed to supporting families raising children as well as the elderly.

Public debt to decline

The 2021 budget targets expenditures of 23,465.4 billion forints and revenue of 21,974.2 billion forints, resulting in a deficit of 1491.2 billion forints. It targets a decline in public debt as a percentage of GDP to 69.3 percent at year-end from an expected 72.6 percent at the end of 2020.

The budget has an independent chapter for a “Health and Pandemic Defense Fund” with expenditures of 2944.3 billion forints. It also has an independent chapter for an “Economic Defense Fund” with expenditures of 2610.4 billion forints. It allocates 108 billion forints for supporting jobseekers, up from 83 billion this year. Family support schemes will get 2295 billion forints in funding, 67 billion more than in 2020.

Some 2230 billion forints have been earmarked for education next year, Varga said, noting that this is 78 billion forints more than this year’s education budget. A total of 4477 billion forints has been allocated for public sector wages, 387 billion more than this year.

Photo: MTI / Tamás Kovács

The budget earmarks 3915 billion forints for pensions, he said, noting that this also takes into account the reintroduction of the 13th-month pension. It further earmarks 77.0 billion forints of expenditures for a gradual re-introduction of an annual bonus for pensioners.

Local councils will have a budget of 860 billion forints, nearly 120 billion more than this year. At the same time, local councils with a weaker tax capacity will also be required to pay a “solidarity contribution”, which will raise 165 billion forints.

Karácsony, opposition mayors protest cuts

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony and opposition and independent mayors from around Hungary protested budget cuts affecting municipalities and called for strengthening the Alliance of Hungarian Municipalities (MOSZ). Karácsony said the 2021 budget had a “clear political motive to destroy Hungary’s system of local councils”.


Karácsony said the budget involved drawing away resources from local councils exactly at a time when they should be helped instead of paying “punitive, extortionate taxes”. Like almost all governments in Europe, the government should get the municipalities involved in crisis management and help them, regardless of party affiliations, he added.

Yet, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government take this opportunity to “destroy local councils”, Karácsony said. He warned that when local municipalities get punished, it is not the mayor but the citizens who elected the mayor that are penalised.

In order to multiply the power of the municipalities, they should join forces, Karácsony said, and called on all towns and villages to strengthen MOSZ. He added that he would propose to the metropolitan council to also join the organisation.

Budget ‘Fidesz’s revenge’

Ruling Fidesz has “taken revenge” on opposition-led municipalities through next year’s budget, a deputy group leader of opposition Párbeszéd has said. Sándor Burány insisted that towns and cities where the opposition won the local elections last autumn would have much smaller budgets next year, including Budapest, whose payments to the central budget would exceed its receivables.

Democratic Coalition deputy leader László Varju said the budget represents “weakness and cowardice”, and it is “political cowardice not to face ramifications of the coronavirus epidemic”.


WOMEX to return to Budapest in 2020

Biggest event in global music

More than 2500 music professionals and performers are expected to attend WOMEX in Budapest between October 21 and 25, the first time the World Music Expo has been in the city since 2015.
25. July 2020 12:32

Registration has started for the return of the cross-border festival event, which will be held for the 26th time, a statement by WOMEX owner Piranha Arts and the Hungarian organiser Hangvető says.

Hangvető, together with its strategic partner Café Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival, will organise events in the same venues as those used in 2015: Müpa, Bálna and the A38 ship.

The main acts will be announced later. The list of performers will be decided by a seven-member jury called the “Seven Samurai”. This year, more than 1600 entries have been received, from which the samurai, including Balázs Weyer, will select performers.The World Music Expo is not just a series of exciting concerts but also a fair and conference, bringing together major players in the field of folk and world music from nearly 100 countries. It is the biggest event in the global music scene, allowing music publishers, concert and festival organisers, and performers to meet and focus on the global industry.

The history of the Germany-based festival goes back to 1991, as it was originally part of the Berlin Independence Day celebrations. It took the name WOMEX in 1994. In addition to Berlin and Budapest, there have also been events in Brussels, Marseille, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Seville and Santiago de Compostela.

The organisers say Budapest has a rich musical culture, whether it is classical, modern experimental, electronica, alternative or traditional Hungarian and Roma folk music. The city is regarded as a vibrant musical hub with a unique blend of east meets west, old meets modern culture and lifestyle, making it a valuable city for another exciting edition of WOMEX.

October 2020 will be a prime time for world music in Hungary’s capital. The Café Budapest Contemporary Art Festival (previously known as Budapest Autumn Festival) is planned for October 2-18, though the dates are not official yet.

Photo: MTI / Lajos Soós

Red alert travel restrictions as coronavirus flares up

Off-colour world, again

The government has introduced international travel restrictions aimed at preventing a new wave of coronavirus. Additional restrictive rules within the country were not announced, but border controls will be tightened and travellers from most affected “red” countries will be barred.

Gergely Gulyás, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, said on July 12 that Hungary must prevent the virus entering from abroad. “Hungary is today among the safest countries in Europe,” he said. But given new outbreaks around the world the government was putting the health and safety of Hungarians foremost and doing everything possible to prevent the virus’s return.

The operative board in charge of containing the pandemic has advised the government to classify countries “red”, “yellow” and “green”, based on their level of infection, Gulyás said, adding that it is continually monitoring data from abroad. There were “worrying signs” from neighbouring countries. “The better we are able to protect our borders and restrict entry to the country, the better we can uphold the conditions for a safe and free life in Hungary,” he said.

Special rules will apply to Hungarian citizens and their relatives. Hungarian citizens can freely enter from a country classified “green”. Entry from “yellow” or “red” countries will entail undergoing a health check at the border and 14 days in quarantine unless two consecutive negative coronavirus tests taken 48 hours apart within the previous five days can be proven.

Hungarian citizens coming from a “yellow” country depart quarantine after a single coronavirus test, while those from “red” countries will need two negative tests to do so. The same rule applies to non-Hungarian citizens from “yellow” countries but those from “red” ones will be forbidden entry altogether.

Transit and freight traffic are exempt but will have to follow an officially designated corridor. At the same time health examinations may be carried out if needed.

Caution on holidays

Most Hungarians are cautious when it comes to planning their holidays after the lifting of coronavirus-related border restrictions, a survey by shows. Fifty percent of respondents in the survey of 6000 people said they have postponed their next holiday to the late summer or autumn and 18 percent plan to defer their trip to next year. Fifty-six percent said they would travel within Hungary. More than half of respondents planning a holiday abroad have chosen Croatia or Austria, and none plan to travel outside Europe, Netrisk said.

The government will keep the list of countries and their classification under review, and it is possible the number of countries in the yellow or red category may be expanded. In the case of a sudden deterioration of the situation in any given country immediate action will be taken, Gulyás said. The government was doing its best to make sure that freedom of movement is maintained as regards European Union member states.

Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania and Sweden are currently “yellow” EU countries (as of July 13), while from outside the EU the United Kingdom, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Japan, China and the United States are the same.  Among European countries, Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belarus, Kosovo, North Macedonia, as well as Moldova and Montenegro are “red”.

Asia, Africa and South America are also “red”. In Croatia, still “green”, the number of infected people is low but increasing, Gulyás noted, adding that the new rules will also apply to people returning home from Greece via Serbia by road.

He said the government will bear the costs of testing until August 1. After this date, unless people are prepared to enter into official home quarantine for 14 days when they return home from a country marked yellow or red, they will have to pay for the test. Gulyás said reports that Hungary had not provided data to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control were based on a misunderstanding and were mistaken.

Electricity demand falls by 10 pc in May

Demand for electricity in Hungary declined by around 10 percent in May compared with a year earlier, the daily Magyar Nemzet has reported, citing Hungarian energy regulatory authority data. The paper attributed the decline to measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic as well as to the statistical fact that there were two fewer working days in May than in May 2019. Load fell 560 megawatts on average in May. The Paks nuclear plant provided 55 percent of domestic electricity, while lignite-fired and gas turbines provided 10 percent each. Solar power accounted for 7.8 percent on average, though this rose to 18-25 percent during the peak period when the weather was fair. The price of residential electricity, which is government regulated, has remained stable. Electricity in Budapest, costing 10.76 eurocents per kilowatt hour, is still among the cheapest in the capital cities of the European Union.

Various media outlets are biased from the one side or the other, Cornstein said – Photo: US Embassy

US ambassador thinks world powers are big admirers of Hungary

Secret’s out of the bag

Hungary is attracting "a great deal of attention" from global powers such as the United States, China and Russia, US Ambassador to Hungary David Cornstein has told billionaire John Catsimatidis on his "CATS Roundtable" New York radio show. According to Cornstein Hungary and the central European region "all of a sudden became very, very attractive".

“The Chinese like them, the Russians like them and of course they’re a member of NATO, so the United States likes them a lot as well,” Cornstein said of Hungary. Asked about the state of the European Union, the ambassador said: “If you think that we have a polarised situation here in America, it’s an understatement compared to what’s going on in Europe.”

Divisive issues like immigration have pitted “East against the West, the North against the South, the liberals against conservative governments”, Cornstein said. “Certain countries like Germany say ‘let’s just let everybody into the country’, and then you get a country like Hungary that says, ‘Hey, wait a minute. I want to keep this country Hungarian and I’m not interested in bringing a lot of new people into the country, especially people from Africa’, so to speak.”

Asked about border policies within the bloc, the ambassador said they depended on the country in question. “You have a leader in Hungary that’s a very, very forceful leader. He is not ready to open borders until it’s safe. Right now, with the virus, everything was closed.”

Cornstein said Hungary was “very successful” in fighting the virus, and has had “hardly any cases in a relative sense” and “very few deaths as well”.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán “is not very much interested in open borders” and “would like to have the people that he thinks would be good for the country come into the country”, whether they be tourists or someone who would permanently settle.

Asked about Russia’s influence in Hungary, Cornstein said Hungary’s close relationship with Russia is mainly due to geographic proximity and an “energy dependence”. But, he believed that Hungary does not “have a love really for Russia and what they represent”.

He called Hungary “the best kept secret in the world”, saying that in spite of its welcoming people, good food and relatively low cost of living, it is less known abroad.

Photo: BUD

Flights returning as propensity to travel on rise: survey

Wings of desire

A Budapest Airport survey in June established that 81% of the respondents plan to fly, with 67% intending to jet off from Budapest this year. The survey was the largest carried out by the airport, with the 17,000-plus respondents saying their three most important criteria are the price of the ticket (30% selected this as the main factor), a safe airport environment and appropriate safety measures on board.

The airport management says aviation is restarting in more and more countries in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. More airlines are announcing the restart of flights to and from Budapest, with some new destinations as well.  In the past few weeks Wizz Air has launched four, to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Menorca in Spain and Mykonos and Santorini in Greece. LOT Polish Airlines has launched two, to Dubrovnik in Croatia and Varna in Bulgaria.

Photo: BUD

The pandemic had the biggest impact on passenger traffic in April, when the number of passengers did not even reach 10,000. However, slow growth began in May and continued in June. Budapest Airport handled 84,781 arriving and departing passengers in June, nearly four times as many as in May, but still 94.3% fewer than the 1,476,257 in June 2019.

Turbo roundabout gives faster access

The two-lane turbo roundabout built on main road number 4 to Budapest Airport Terminal 2 has been opened to traffic, making access to Ferenc Liszt International Airport by road safer and faster. The roundabout was designed to efficiently handle the increasing future traffic to Terminal 2 and the heavy vehicle traffic turning off towards the Cargo City.

It cost HUF 1 billion, 85% of which will be reimbursed by the European Union as part of a support package for a complex landside airport development project.

Turbo roundabouts require motorists to choose their direction before entering the roundabout, thus increasing traffic safety as well as speed and capacity.

All hands on deck

Budapest Airport used the slack period this year for a series of developments that would have been difficult to implement with a normal number of passengers. These included replacing the floor tiles in the Terminal 2A check-in hall. The first phase was completed by the beginning of July, thus passenger security screening can now be performed at both terminals again, and some of the check-in counters on the T2A side are operational again as well.

Photo: BUD

The area in front of the terminals, used for parking, pickup and drop-off, has been refurbished, with the cooperation of Budapest Airport staff. Those employees of the BUD group who temporarily had fewer tasks due to reduced passengers agreed to help out their colleagues doing painting and maintenance. Repainting in front of Terminal 2 was done with the involvement of 10 security controllers.

Photo: Alexander Stemp

A brief introduction to cemetery 'life' in less frequented areas of the city

Buried treasure

Cemeteries can be intriguing, even if not too much is said about them. Understandably so, as they require no real explanation other than what's obvious and “final” at these points of no return. But what is clear when our time has come, irrespective of religious or non-religious beliefs, is that all possessions are left behind. Thus follows a transitional, immaterial “release”, a letting-go and return-to-nature process. And hopefully proceeding spiritually to “the next frontier”.

Apart from what’s noted in the church calendar (and in the case of Hungary the majority of churchgoers are Catholic) and with official bank holidays, memorial parks tend to be overlooked. It doesn’t matter how close in proximity and apparency they really are. Over the years and long before writing this tricky, delicate article, I visited some of these locales in the capital.

With headstone inscriptions often come crosses, flowers, candles and wreaths. What is revealing here is the regular use of locally produced forms of funeral art, such as the touching, embroidered “red, white and green” ribbons symbolising the Hungarian flag. This allows the spirit of patriotism of the late individual to “fly” beyond the grave.

Then there are the olde worlde, carved boat-shaped wooden structures that are more apparent eastwards, such as in Transylvania. Nearer at hand, there is a fine display of earthy artworks in the Új Köztemető/New Public Cemetery, the largest in Budapest and one of the largest in Europe, at Kozma utca in District X.

Within the city centre perimeter is the capital’s better-known Kerepesi cemetery. This is in District VIII, Józsefváros, on Fiumei Road, near Keleti train station, and opened its gates in 1849, within the same time frame as the Hungarian Revolution, led by Kossuth Lajos, one year before. All traces of Hungarian history since this proud period are to be found at this enlightening 60-hectare arboretum with its gainly parkland scenery.

Photo: Alexander Stemp

The highly impressive Kossuth mausoleum is the main feature and Hungary’s largest grave memorial. In addition, there are the equally grandiose Deák and Batthyány Mausoleums. Further along with the Hungarian elite is esteemed actress Blaha Lujza, world-famous artist Munkácsy Mihály, film director Miklós Jancső… the list goes on.

These are followed by various recent-time politicians, such as communist “soft” dictator János Kádár, to name one. All come together regardless of “place” or privilege beforehand as “one” with “the people” buried among them. Not only is the Kerepesi a treasure trove for historians and sculptures, it serves as a landmark of great national importance.

Many of these headstones are excelling works of art. Some have been recently restored. The depth and detail of some of these life-like sculptures are of pure outstanding craftsmanship in its finest elaborate form, such as the realistic lion “resting” upon the grave of Antal Vetter, a general in the Hungarian army, which was inaugurated in 1882.

The Kerepesi hosts a splendour of columns and arcades, as well as a 1956 Uprising memorial. In contrast is a Soviet Labour Movement Pantheon. At the cemetery entrance there is a reception desk with maps and information, as well as an honourable Kerepesi “Piety” museum that is also worth a visit.

To make a comparison, the renowned Kerepesi is similar in ambience to the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but without the crowds. This latter is partly due to its disputed “guest”, the late music legend Jim Morrison, 1943-1971, and his mass following, alongside many other celebrated names. This juncture has become a popular cultural attraction with more than three million visitors each year, making it the most visited memorial park in the world. (Tip: To find Jim, follow the trail of marijuana.)

Photo: Alexander Stemp

Directly behind the Kerepesi, and which requires a significant walk around the walled perimeter, is a small, five-hectare but equally elaborate Jewish cemetery on Salgőtarjáni utca. The majority of its buried relate to the Budapest ghetto atrocities. Unfortunately, after 1950 this unruffled cemetery became abandoned and swamped by trees and vegetation that damaged much of the elegant marble- and granite-structured heritage pieces. It was not until as late as 2002 that this bereft enclosure was eventually given a protection order.

Finally, in 2016, this cemetery was put under the administration of the National Heritage Institute. It is most assuring to see maintenance work is now taking place after decades of neglect, and there will be a renewal of this illustrious and historical resting place.

Journey on eastwards beyond the suburbs to the splendid 80-hectare Israeli Cemetery, on Kozma utca, District X, with a very subdued atmosphere. It’s easy to find with its imposing, elaborate all-over whitewashed and domed chapel tops that stand before the car park and entrance while approaching. This cemetery opened in 1891 and still serves the Jewish community today.

There is a poignant memorial laid out in an arcade form that pays testimony to the many Jews from this region who perished in Nazi death camps. These impinging “walls of tributes” bear the inscriptions of those “gone”’ by the thousands. Those who are fortunate to be recorded are finally immortalised in stoneware, for all to see in generations to come.

This remarkable place is particularly known for the variety of artistically irregular burial chambers and mausoleums. They are often set in stand-outish and luxuriant Art Nouveau styles. Many of the tops of Jewish headstones are traditionally lined with loose, symbolic pebbles. Finally, the artistic Israeli Cemetery with its immense stillness has become more of a feature in recent Budapest travel guides.

As this intriguing timepiece begins to reawaken from its regretfully long decline, one can easily sense, both at this shrine and at others in the city sphere, a vibrant but troubled past. Today there are still many stones that remain loose and broken, dislodged and abandoned by general accident over the years. And sometimes buried beneath the shrubbery but hopefully ready to resurface once again.

Like many other ancient, historical cemeteries in Central Europe post-1989, their value wasn’t recognised until recent times when heavy-duty restoration work finally came in. But to maintain them to their original standard still requires much time, effort and patience.  It’s far from over. Volunteers are often needed, as noted when I last visited the Kozma cemetery. To get involved, click on It would be fascinating to help out.

Photo: Alexander Stemp

Literally next-door on the same trail is the Új Köztemető/New Public Cemetery. This Christian cemetery is the largest in the city with a square area of about two kilometres. It has expanded five times since opening in 1886. The entrance and main building has a 26-metre-high bell tower that is clearly seen when approaching. In addition to the many local people, the world war memorials, tall trees and wide avenues, this cemetery is distinctly famous for “Plot 301”. This is a real hike to get to as it is directly at the other end from the main entrance.

This is where Nagy Imre, Prime Minister of Hungary during the 1956 Uprising, was buried anonymously alongside many other revolutionaries after being executed by the Soviets.  They were disinterred and given a state funeral with full honours in 1989. To find out more, see

The Új Köztemető, like many others, gets very busy on All Saints Day, the last weekend of October. On this and other national holidays, hordes of people bring flowers, light candles and pay homage to late loved ones. Or at least one hopes this is the case, regardless of family matters still left unresolved with those in their coffin. Such is the case with me and my grandmother, who died many years ago but still confounds me with many past issues each and every day.

Final attention goes to the equally impressionable Farkasréti Cemetery, a fine and elaborate sanctuary within the peaceful climes of the Buda Hills. The atmosphere is similar to the Kerepesi but with greater views of the city and certainly worth a visit.

Although cemeteries offer a very specialised sight-seeing that few people undertake, they give a recap of local legends, general history and very fine artistry, such as is usually found only in museums. These intriguing outings are equally as insightful. Search harder and there are various lesser known cemeteries in the suburbs, some no longer in use and rarely visited.

How to conclude this matter? General restoration work is needed on many of the headstones and shrines to clear greenery and dust, to restore and identify them. A documented account of all those resting should be made fully complete, accessible to one and all. Otherwise some things really will be lost forever.

Mária, Joe and their daughter Aisling Keys. (Photo: Tibor Urbán)

The capital with the eye of an expat

Where there’s a need…

One of the silver linings in this whole COVID-19 phenomenon is that we’re all slightly more aware of the fortunes and misfortunes of others. Life as we know it came to a standstill and is now limping forward, trying to regain some semblance of normalcy. Initially, much was said about us all being in the same boat. More recently though a realisation has dawned: yes, we’re all weathering the same storm but no, we’re not all in the same boat.

At one end of the spectrum there are those in rubber dinghies, patched to within an inch of their lives, just one rip or tear away from sinking. At the other end are those in massive yachts, fitted out with all modern conveniences and enough power and resources in the engine room to get their passengers through to the other side.

When we stop appreciating our good fortune and start taking it for granted, something will happen to remind us. Call it Sod’s Law. Whatever. It doesn’t matter whether we’ve worked for what we have or had it handed to us on a plate, being grateful is the first step forward. Helping those less fortunate is the next.

Several years ago I met the dynamic Irish-Hungarian duo Joe and Mária (Bobbie) Keys. There was a youthfulness about them that belied their years, an energy and an enthusiasm for life that was enviable. I’ve bumped into them at various gigs and functions in the interim, and had a vague idea from their social media posts that they were one of 1.4 million global Lions Club International (LCI) members.

At the D-119 Annual Convention on 27 June 2020, Mária was sworn in as District Governor. The ceremony took place at the stunning Fertőrákos Quarry and Cave Theatre near Sopron. She takes the mantle from Gusztáv Boronkay and I suspect that LCI in Hungary, ably represented in the country since 1988, continues to be in safe hands. I was curious, though; I had to know more.

What began in 1917 as a club where people could come together to give their time and energy to improving their communities, and in turn the world, has become a global phenomenon involving more than 47,000 clubs in over 200 countries and regions worldwide. Their mission is to

Empower volunteers to serve their communities, meet humanitarian needs, encourage peace and promote international understanding.

In Chicago in 1913 Melvin Jones joined The Business Circle in 1913, a luncheon group of businessmen designed to “advancing the business interests of its members”. Jones was an insurance man and, together with other members, reaped the benefits of this association. Some years later, in a moment of reflection, Jones asked himself:

What if these men who are successful because of their drive, intelligence and ambition were put to work helping improve their own communities?

As a response to the social problems created by World War I, Jones invited business clubs from all over the USA to come together on 7 June 1917 at the LaSalle Hotel in Chicago to explore the possibility of uniting. And so the Association of Lions Clubs was born. (The history of the organisation and its relevance are laid out in “Lions Clubs in the 21st Century” by Paul Martin and Robert Kleinfelder.)

In 1925, Helen Keller challenged the Lions at their International Convention in Ohio to become “knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness”, and almost a century later Lions worldwide are helping make a difference. In Hungary the Lions Vision Bus travels the country offering free eye tests and, for those who are in need, free glasses, too.

In 1968 the Lions Club International Foundation came into being with the aim of

…support[ing] the efforts of Lions clubs and partners in service communities locally and globally, giving hope and impacting lives through humanitarian service projects and grants.

Over EUR1 billion later, LCI is still a force for good. Hungary is in District 119, home to 42 Lions Clubs and more than 800 Lions. And for 2020/2021, District 119 will have Mária Keys at the helm.

Born in 1950s Pécs, Mária’s boat was of average size. Her father György was a lawyer, her mother Mária a nurse. Her brother became a doctor, her sister an economist and Mária herself trained as a teacher. She moved to Budapest in 1984 to be part of a new Swedish method of teaching at Káposztásmegyer.

In 1994 she headed to the USA to attend Trinidad State College in Colorado with a view to studying Computer Science and improving her English. There she met and married her husband Joe – the Irishman. Their daughter Aisling was born in 1996.

It’s testimony to the familial strength of LCI that all of them are active Lions. Joe became a Lion while in Shamrock, Texas, in 1999 (how an Irishman ended up living in Shamrock is a story for another day), and through him Mária got involved. Together with Aisling all three are charter members of the Budapest Cosmopolitan Lions Club, set up in 2014 and Mária was Charter President.

Mária Keys. (Photo: Tibor Urbán)

After several years of owning and operating motels and retirement homes stateside, the pair moved back to Hungary in 2011. With Mária armed with her Agro Operator’s Licence, they bought a property and a vineyard by the Balaton and have been here since.

Ascending the ranks of LCI takes dogged commitment and perseverance. Since 1999 Mária has attended local, regional and national club meetings. She’s attended leadership seminars at European forums in Bulgaria, Estonia and Switzerland, taken the District Leadership and Management course in Austria and this year enrolled in the Preparation for District Governor course with an intensive session in Chicago.

And although the chains of office are a symbolic reward for over two decades of commitment to the cause, that’s not what Mária is about.

My family have been so fortunate in our lives, and one way to show how appreciative we are is to serve the less fortunate. Just look around and see how much need there is everywhere in our communities. Through the Lions we hope to make a difference. “‘Where there’s a need, there’s a Lion.”

As the Federation’s strapline tripped off her tongue, I wondered what clubs in Hungary were doing to help better the communities they served. The Vision Bus is just one of the many projects they’re involved in. They also run free diabetes testing and organise sports days for those with physical and mental disabilities. They sponsor orphanages and organise hospital visits for those who have no one else dropping by. Their five main priorities are helping the blind, alleviating hunger, protecting the environment, helping children with cancer and those with diabetes. But as she said – where there’s a need, there’s a Lion.

While LCI has five main funding/operational streams, each club operates individually, developing their own projects according to the local need. As District Governor, Mária wants to encourage clubs to work together more and share their talents and resources. A national cooperation of this kind will make the Lions stronger and help them achieve even more and bring the Lions “closer in friendship, respect, and understanding”.

Instead of being wrapped up in the present, Mária has an eye on the future and the need for LCI to stay relevant and to create a strong succession plan. They need more young people (and indeed, people of all ages) to get involved and carry on the great work being done by current members.

In the 1950s LCI developed the Leo Program for young members. Today there are more than 175,000 Leos and 7000 Leo Cubs in 140 countries. In Hungary there are over 60 Leos and seven Leo Cubs.

Like just about every other charity and voluntary group, the Lions have been hit hard by COVD-19. Meetings are all online. Many projects involving face-to-face interaction have been put on hold. Fundraising has come to a halt. The District is helping local clubs with grants to keep projects going and LCI sent personal protection equipment to be distributed where needed most.

Like many other international organisations LCI has a sense of cohesiveness and solidarity. I can imagine Mária rocking to a local meeting of the Ulaanbaatar Bichigt Lions Club in Mongolia and being welcomed with open arms. Just being a member gets you on the boat. And it’s a big boat. Given that pre-1987 women had separate clubs and were known as Lionesses, it’s great to see a woman at the helm.

I’ll admit to having an innate suspicion of large charities and I prefer to donate to individuals and grassroots organisations with little by way of administrative overheads. That said, LCI consistently gets four stars from the Charity Navigator. It’s reputable. It’s transparent. And it’s been around for more than 100 years, so it must be doing something right.

I’ve no doubt that Mária Keys will champion the cause:

I am very humbled to have been elected by my fellow Lions to lead District 119 for 2020/2021. These are trying times. The challenges are many. You will not find me shying away from the time, energy and dedication needed as Governor. Remember, kindness matters in all things.

Where there’s a need, there’s a Lion. She is woman; hear her roar. If you’re interested in signing up or knowing more, contact Mária at

Mary Murphy is a freelance writer, travel blogger and public speaker.
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