The capital of Hungary – Budapest, celebrates its 150th anniversary today, reported France Press.
The celebrations coincide with a period in which major projects for the renovation of historical sites and other buildings are being implemented in the city. However, this renewal has turned into an ideological battle between the government of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and the opposition, notes AFP.
The city, located on both banks of the Danube, is divided into the districts of Buda and Pest. Buda is hilly and attracts tourists with its cultural and historical sites, having long lost its historical political vocation in favor of Pest, where the impressive parliament building stands.
But lately Hungary’s nationalist prime minister has begun to bring back the political luster of the Buddha as well. Behind this lies his ambition to pay tribute to Hungarian sovereignty. After extensive restoration and renovation works, Orbán set up his prime minister’s office in the building of the former Carmelite convent, dating from the 18th century. Now, when he is visited by foreign leaders, he poses with them against the background of the impressive view opening from there to the banks of the Danube.
The government also took over for its own purposes parts of the imposing palace that was once inhabited by the rulers during the time when the capital, founded in 1873 by the union of three cities, was, together with Vienna, the twin capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire . Hungary’s defense ministry moved some of its offices to part of the Buda palace earlier this year, and the finance ministry will soon move there as well. It will probably be followed by the Constitutional Council after that, notes France Presse.
According to architect Gabor Erhardt, Communism wreaked havoc on Budapest and left many historic buildings in disrepair. Now these mistakes are being corrected through the government’s actions to renovate the historical sites.
But Budapest is also a bastion of the national opposition, and Orbán’s critics do not take kindly to the city’s costly renewal. However, the exact amount was not disclosed.
At the forefront of these critics is the pro-European mayor of Budapest, Gergey Karachon. He criticized the appalling message being sent by a government nostalgic for the political system between the two world wars and looking down on Budapest residents entrenched in the former bastion of kings.
Since returning to power in 2010, Viktor Orbán has been regularly criticized for what is perceived as historical revisionism on his part. Orbán extols the great qualities of statesman Miklós Horthy for his role in building the Hungarian nation in the period 1920-1944, but seems to forget this leader’s alliance with the Nazi regime.
Driven by the same desire for grandeur, Orbán ordered the construction of high-rise office buildings, circumventing the rules and ignoring the municipality’s objections, Caraccioni told AFP.
For example, the MOL oil group built a 143-meter skyscraper to house its headquarters with a 90-meter height permit, says the mayor of Budapest. Then the argument for circumventing the rules was that the oil group was making an important investment for the national economy.
The mayor of Budapest accuses the government of making irrational decisions without any coordination with others, and this calls into question the state of the rule of law and urban planning.
Karaczony, for his part, wants to transform Hungary’s capital, which has a population of 2.6 million and draws tourists and partygoers, into a more welcoming and environmentally friendly city.
But its resources are limited, especially since Orbán’s government in 2020 introduced heavy taxes on large municipalities, which are often run by opposition representatives.
In the Buda district, ordinary citizens as well as tourists are kept away from some of the historic sites now reserved for the authorities. A barrier, for example, blocks access to the former monastery that houses Orbán’s offices.
The famous Hungarian architect Zofia Chomai, who was initially involved in the restoration of this site, abandoned the project and founded an organization that opposes the destructive political-ideological renewal of the landscape.
According to her, this transformation completely contradicts the understanding of the 21st century about opening up public spaces. “They’re throwing money out the windows, and in the meantime, the city, with its lifeless neighborhoods, is falling apart,” she says.