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Friday, July 12, 2013

Society Going Down the Drain

A twelve year old boy was arrested and arraigned by the police in a shopping mall in Hungary last week: The first victim of the new law that allows police action against minors. His crime: skipping school.

Because of the neonazi threat, Budapest Pride took place inside a police cordon, keeping everybody (i.e., including sympathetic onlookers) away from the march. The moment the event was over, the police became scarce. Marchers were systematically threatened, verbally abused, and, as in the case of three men, two of whom are leading civil rights activists -- one the principal of the Dr. Ambedkar School, a unique institution helping Romani children gain access to education, the other the head of the Buddhist association supporting the school, both in the extremely depressed north-east of the country -- first verbally abused, then physically assaulted in front of a police patrol who fully ignored the assault. When addressed by the victims asking for help, the police checked the victims' papers and obviously let the assailants disappear. The report filed by the police claims that it is impossible to determine who provoked whom. The only reason there is now an inquiry of some kind is that the victims rushed to a hospital for medical care and filed their medical release papers with their complaint to the police.

Residents of a village in northwest Hungary have recently learnt--apparently, from the media (!)--that an as-yet vacant, former-Soviet-era barracks in the outskirts of the village will be converted to a non-penitentiary housing facility for asylum seekers. A local resident managed to incite and organize the villagers to stage a set of protests, including a road block. The movement has what appears to be a full infrastructure. It has its own doctor who claims that people coming to Europe from Afghanistan will "infect everybody with ebola, malaria and leprosy," (a claim echoed on the fly-by-night websites of a neonazi paramilitary group recently banned by the government, a decision affirmed by the European Court, but ignored by its members or law enforcement), a group of efficient organizers, poster makers (creating such beautiful statements as, e.g., the poster saying: "Open Facility = Free Robbery!", etc.). Press photographs taken at the protest show well-to-do, young-to-middle-age, slightly overweight white people, standing up for what they think are their "rights": not to allow the government to fulfill its obligation under international treaties to accept and investigate asylum requests. All this makes the current right-wing government look almost reasonable by comparison. (Actually: not really. For its part, the government is acting in bad faith, basically using the villagers' predictable indignation as an excuse /1/ to stall the process and /2/ militarize the conditions under which asylum seekers are held in Hungary.) For their part, the protestors assured the head of the government refugee agency that the entire village will vote for the nazis come next elections. (I have no info as to the extent to which that threat shocked her.) The regional newspaper gives the protests generous coverage, including a prominent link to the website of the protestors. Dissenting or more moderate voices (e.g., somebody suggesting that malaria cannot be passed on from person to person, etc.) were immediately silenced. A direct comparison of today's asylum applicants to the 1956 refugee Hungarians (who were held in a refugee camp not far from this village, on the Austrian side of the border) was met by explicitly pseudo-"scientific" racist comments claiming essential differences.

The Hungarian Public Prosecutor's Office has just dropped a case against a Holocaust-denier MP, on account of an ostensible "lack of a crime."

Recent polls suggest that, while nationwide open support for the extreme-right party is around 10%, over half of the interviewees would affirm a coalition between the right-wing parties currently in the government and the extreme-right, if the currently ruling coalition were to fail to gain a majority of the seats in parliament.

Arguably, Hungary is showing some powerful symptoms of a fascist transformation. Special thanks for that to the elites--both the right wing and the middle (there is of course no "left" visible in politics in Hungary)--that managed the transformation from a somewhat bureaucratic and perhaps a bit boring, upwardly mobile state socialist society, producing, at its peak, food for twice its population, with better-than-expected scores on the quality of life, culture, health, etc., engaged, at the time of the collapse of state socialism, in bold and extremely creative experimentation in many areas of social and economic life to a small, insignificant, desperate, self-hating, xenophobic, classist, racist, sexist, ageist snake pit with widening social inequalities.

All it took was one generation, a tiny bit of west European capital, a lot of vulgar rhetoric, specifically, a /1/ really un-sophisticated anticommunist dogmatism, (essentially an echo of the Stalinist rhetoric two generations before, with a negative sign of course), coupled with /2/ a painfully dumb, Euro-solipsistic cargo cult, /3/ a cartoon version of the neoliberal economic mantra, plus /4/ the implicit and compelling, collective project of strategically forgetting what was widely known about history, politics, etc.

The ressentiment of the poor servant. Here is Max Scheler (Ressentiment, p.6) on the subject:

"If an ill-treated servant can vent his spleen in the antechamber, he will remain free from the inner venom of ressentiment, but it will engulf him if he must hide his feelings and keep his negative and hostile emotions to himself."


Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Hawk Is in the Air

As I have argued sixteen months or so ago (here, here and here), the devouring of the the erstwhile publicly owned "national" airline, Malév Hungarian Airlines, is underway.

As a result of Malév's collapse, thousands of highly qualified employees have been laid off. Budapest almost completely ceased to function as a stopover location. Because of the disappearance of transfer passengers, the business plan of Budapest Airport became suddenly invalid, forcing the closure of Terminal 1--a historic monument, on par with Berlin's Tempelhof Airport terminal in its architectural legacy. Direct flights to a huge number of important central, south-east and east European destinations disappeared, so, if you wished to fly from Budapest to Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, Tirana, Skopje or Sofia, you now have to go through hubs such as Vienna, Munich or Istanbul, with the attendant extra fares, airport taxes and time lost. Even in those central and east European destinations which enjoy direct air service with Budapest, competition has been reduced, resulting in fare increases. Obviously Vienna, Munich and Istanbul Airports, not to mention Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines, have benefited from the increased revenues due to the absence of competition in these segments.

(Keep in mind that tourism is an enormous business in this part of the world; Hungary, with its population of 9.8 million, regularly gets in excess of 8 million foreign tourists annually. Bringing tourists here, and moving them to the tourism strongholds is a no-brainer; it takes real talent to lose money on this.)

A really interesting--and, hitherto only partly answered--part of the issue is what would happen with Malév's most important assets: its flight rights.

Wizz Air--a discount airline, owned by one of Malév's last CEOs--has taken up some of the most profitable routes. However, a number of slots have, for now, been abandoned. Even Lufthansa has stopped flying the Berlin-Budapest route, leaving that connection to Air Berlin and the discount company Easy Jet.

According to today's news, a significant step has been made. A new "national" airline has recently been registered under the name Sólyom International Airways Ltd, ('sólyom' means hawk in Magyar). A right-wing daily newspaper--often serving as a mouthpiece of the current government--carries a brief exclusive report on the news, suggesting that the company will be in the non-discount segment, and that it will rely partly on minority investment from the "middle east," whatever that means. The new company's representative named in the story is a former Aviation Director of the National Traffic Authority.

Of course.


As a cursory online search indicates, there exist a number of enterprises by the name "Hawk Air" or "Falcon Air." Therefore it is unclear how ownership of the name will pan out: If the new company sticks to the Hungarian, it starts with an enormous marketing disadvantage (as its name is neither recognizable nor meaningful for non-Magyar-speaking passengers). If it wishes to use an English version of its name, it might run into law suits.


In other news, the amount of capitalization mentioned in the news reports--4 thousand million EUR--is quite large for Hungary. This implies the presence of (a) major external partner(s), and very powerful domestic partners as well. Considering that, the entire story is introduced in a somewhat sloppy way--I'm starting to doubt some parts of it.


The news reports are talking about "ticket sales for August." That is, let's just say, strikingly ambitious, considering that no permit applications have been filed yet, nor has there been any advertizing, market presence, or fleet. We don't even know what segments they are planning to fly.


One day later, the leading Hungarian economic weekly pretty much treats the entire news story as a hoax. Way too late, way to indetereminate where the demand would come from, etc. I'm starting to think that the most interesting aspect of the story is the particular structure of the dream ("middle east" minority shareholder[s] will 'help' create successful airline in central Europe, etc.).


According to the transparency portal atlatszo.hu, the holding that owns the registration of the new company and its various sister organizations has a total capitalization of half a million HUF (approximately, USD 23 thousand). According to another Hungarian source, the new holding has not approached the Hungarian authorities for the necessary permits yet, plans for August takeoffs might appear somewhat un-orthodox.

UPDATE 6: <6> On July 12, rumors are circulating that the airline is recruiting pilots. The aviation authority is skeptical about the possibility of putting all paperwork right by August though, and there is no record of any planes having been bought or leased by the holding.

cover page of the book

cover page of the book
image used for the cover design by Anannya Dasgupta