Month: July 2008

“Defenders of the hospital” and Hospinvest

Those of you who read my blog regularly surely remember the story of the Ferenc Markoth Heves County Hospital and Hospinvest, a company that manages several other hospitals in the county and elsewhere in the country. However, here is a brief summary. The county hospital, situated in the city of Eger, was (and still is) in terrible financial shape. Every year the county government was called upon to cover the hospital’s losses. Moreover, both the physical plant and the hospital’s medical equipment were in desperate need of capital investment. The county simply didn’t have enough money to make something out of this hospital in which altogether 1214 people worked, including 148 physicians. Either someone had to take over the management of the hospital or it had to be closed. The Medical School of Debrecen showed some interest in assuming control. But the county, where MSZP has a majority, opted for Hospinvest, apparently because their offer was superior.


There was an immediate outcry, including some incredible scenes during the council meeting, demonstrations, and strange happenings inside the hospital. Hospinvest remained resolute and insisted that eventually they would convince the staff that it was in their best interest to become Hospinvest employees. Those who called themselves “defenders of the hospital”–that is, the anti-Hospinvest camp–claimed that the staff would never sign on with Hospinvest and therefore the bid to privatize the hospital would fail. To be certified by the National Health Service (ÁNTSZ) Hospinvest needed 608 signed contracts with employees (that is, a majority of the hospital work force). This morning Gábor Deák, vice president of Hospinvest, announced that they have more than 700 contracts in hand. Moreover, they have applications from 150 well-qualified people to fill jobs that will remain open if the “hospital defenders” don’t change their minds.


It seems that the “hospital defenders” lost this round. However life is never so simple in Hungary. The defenders claim that they have 721 names on their list who claim that they didn’t sign any contract with Hospinvest. Gábor Deák calmly announced that he has in hand over 700 signed contracts. The “hospital defenders” claim that out of the 150 doctors 123 announced that they would never sign any contracts. Hospinvest, on the other hand, claims that three-quarters of the heads of departments as well as head nurses have already signed. (I realize that this is not an apples to apples comparison.)


The real sticking point between Hospinvest and the employees of the hospital was the question of the latter’s civil servant status that, they believed, gave them job security. But what if the hospital goes bankrupt and must be closed? Their civil servant status won’t help a bit. I understand that those who work in Hungarian healthcare find these changes unsettling. However, looking at the issue from the outside one can say that these changes are long overdue. Moreover, healthcare isn’t like manufacturing. When private companies took over state-owned factories a lot of people lost their jobs and became permanently unemployed. But healthcare is in the service sector and addresses a vital domestic need that will undoubtedly grow over time.


Another thing worth considering is that these demonstrations against the privatization of hospital services occur only where MSZP has a majority. In Fidesz localities, privatization goes on all the time without the slightest upheaval. Thus one has the sneaking suspicion that the “hospital defenders” get  encouragement and support from Fidesz for its own agenda. They become pawns in a larger political game.

Another bomb scare in Budapest

Almost every few weeks while excavating the foundations of a new building in Budapest workers find an old bomb from World War II. And they are big: half a ton, a ton, and this last one, two tons. Why have so many gargantuan old bombs suddenly surfaced? The reason, it seems, is that new office buildings and larger apartment houses must have underground garages, often consisting of several levels, which requires much deeper excavation. And it is very deep underground that these mega-bombs found their not quite final resting place.


Mind you, there must be many bombs still buried underground. Most of the bombing of Hungary during 1944-1945 was done by the Americans who apparently dropped more than 26,000 tons of bombs on the country. These bombings were often very intense, so-called carpet bombings. Sometimes 700-1,000 planes bombed day and night for weeks on end. Budapest suffered the most: the city was carpet bombed 37 times. On Csepel Island, where the Manfréd Weiss Works (a large industrial concern by that time in German hands) was situated, 248 half-ton bombs were dropped at one time. Apparently, the most heavily bombed areas were District I (the Castle District), II, and XII, all on the Buda side, and on the Pest side District IX, where this last mega-bomb was found.


About three weeks ago a half-ton bomb was discovered in District XIII (also known as Angyalföld). Seven thousand people had to be evacuated; clearing the area took almost six hours. The bomb turned out to be an American-made GP type of bomb that was apparently extremely dangerous to defuse. Yet people don’t realize the potential danger when such a bomb is found. Some refuse to leave their apartments. A lot of people start an argument with the police. They don’t understand why they have to leave when that good old bomb has been lying there for more than half a century and has done no harm. Then there are the old folks who can barely get out of bed.


This time the bomb was huge–two tons, and therefore 16,000 people had to be evacuated before the bomb squad dared to work on it. Over 100 people had to be carried out on stretchers. The oldest evacuee was 98. Two thousand people were over 70, and as a group they apparently didn’t take well to their forcible removal from their apartments to temporary shelters. I saw pictures of these shelters and I must say that they were elegant as far as shelters go. Nine ambulances transported those who were unable to leave on their own steam. Five ambulances stood by to assist the 800 people working on the project. It seemed to me that the organization was pretty decent.


Yet, as usual, people are dissatisfied. They complain that they were not individually notified after the bomb was unearthed that the evacuation would begin the next morning at 9 a.m. Of course, TV and radio stations as well as internet sites carried the story and the evacuation information, but for those who live in a media vacuum it was a huge surprise when police cars equipped with bullhorns arrived. Then the police knocked on doors, trying to convince reluctant people to move out. Well, by 4 o’clock in the afternoon the evacuation was complete and the bomb squad went to work only to find that somebody, most likely way back in 1945, had already defused the bomb. However, that couldn’t have been known beforehand because the head of the bomb, where the detonator is situated, was buried deep in the ground.


Echo and HirTV, two right-wing television stations, immediately found “experts” who announced that this  bomb scare was a fiasco.  After all, with a robot the bomb squad could have handled the whole thing and ultrasound would have been able to ascertain whether or not the bomb was dangerous. The head of the bomb squad very rightly pointed out that no robot could move a two-ton bomb. Moreover, the evacuation would have had to occur even if there were such robot because the bomb could have exploded, robot or no robot. As for ultrasound, he doesn’t know of any ultrasound equipment that could penetrate such a monster of a bomb.


Put it this way, it is better to be safe than sorry. If I lived near a two-ton bomb I would meekly follow police instructions, but I guess I have been acculturated differently in Canada and the U.S. I think the Hungarian people would be a great deal happier if they complained less and took things in stride.

U.S.-Hungarian relations

Apparently ever since Hungary began successful negotiations with Russia concerning the Southern Stream, a new pipeline carrying natural gas through Turkey and the Balkans to Italy, Hungary, and Austria, the United States has been miffed with Ferenc Gyurcsány. Washington was worried, despite Hungary’s protestation to the contrary, that Hungary’s commitment to receive Russian natural gas through this new pipeline meant its abandonment of the Nabucco project of the European Union, still in the planning stage and strongly endorsed by the United States. Gyurcsány kept repeating that Hungary simply didn’t want to rely on only one source of natural gas. Washington remained suspicious. The relationship between the two countries became somewhat strained.


Viktor Orbán immediately sensed an opening here. His own relations with Washington in the last few years had been cool, if not outright frigid. It all started with 9/11 when István Csurka, head of the right radical MIÉP, then still a party with representation in parliament, made a speech in which he pretty well announced that the United States got what it deserved. Orbán, although present when the offending speech was delivered, said nothing in response. One of the problems with Orbán is that he subjugates everything to domestic considerations, and at that time he needed MIÉP’s votes. I’m sure he thought he could explain things away. He didn’t know the president of the United States. Although he desperately tried to get an invitation to the White House in the spring of 2002 when receiving an honorary doctorate from Tufts University, George W. Bush had no time for him. Washington, in order to show that the problem was not Hungary but Viktor Orbán, invited both Orbán’s successor, Péter Medgyessy, and Ferenc Gyurcsány to the White House. George W. Bush visited Budapest in the spring of 2006.


Fidesz and its media answered in kind: article after article appeared in Magyar Nemzet critical of U.S. policy especially concerning Israel and the Palestinian question. However, after Orbán sensed a cooling of U.S.-Hungarian relations he moved into high gear. He visited New York and Washington, had conversations with middle echelon leaders at the State Department, and courted the American ambassador, April H. Foley, and her predecessor, George H. Walker, first cousin of former president George H. Bush. His efforts bore fruit. George H. Walker apparently intervened on Orbán’s behalf so he would be received by the older Bush. For one reason or another that trip didn’t materialize but now, after the Southern Stream, things looked a bit brighter. An influential strategist from the Republican National Committee spent a week or so in Hungary giving lectures to Fidesz politicians about political strategy in general and tips on successful campaigning in particular. Then came the news that Orbán is going to the United States in late August to attend the Republican National Convention. This time, it seems, he will be the guest of former President Bush.


However, Gyurcsány is nobody’s fool, and he knew he had to do something to show Washington that Hungary is still America’s faithful ally and not a pawn of President/Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry organized a three-day trip to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, the two countries whose cooperation is absolutely necessary to make the Nabucco pipeline a reality. Turkmenistan especially is a hard nut to crack and we still don’t know what the final word is. One Hungarian paper gingerly described the attitude of Gurbanduly Berdimuhammedow, president of the country, as “he doesn’t completely reject the idea of the transportation of the gas to Europe.” That’s not much, but I guess it’s more than was expected. In any case, the encounter between the two men were interesting. Their first meeting lasted one and a half hours longer than scheduled and as a result several planned programs had to be cancelled. In their place, out of the blue the president invited Gyurcsány to a horse show followed by a dinner for two and a visiting to a bazaar. The result: the Hungarian delegation left Ashkadab, the Turkmen capital, four hours late. All told Berdimuhammedow and Gyurcsány spent six and a half hours together.


Apparently, Gyurcsány needed all his powers of persuasion, and at the beginning the negotiations didn’t go at all well. It was at this point that the Hungarian prime minister came up with the idea of a Nabucco summit and invited the Turkman president to be part of it. That seemed to do the trick. Suddenly Berdimuhammedow was enthusiastic about such a summit and showed an eagerness to attend. Apparently, the summit will take place in Budapest.


And now comes Washington. Gábor Horváth, foreign correspondent of Népszabadság, had an interview with Matthew Bryza, undersecretary of the State Department in charge of Central Asia and questions of energy. During this interview Bryza said to Horváth that “in the name of my government I can officially express our satisfaction at the visit of the [Hungarian] prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. The United States strongly supports the summit and is pleased that Prime Minister Gyurcsány undertook such a trip.” Bryza also praised Kinga Göncz, the foreign minister, who “was always very honest with us. We had serious negotiations and she always emphasized that Hungary was greatly interested in the project. With her own and the prime minister’s trip to Central Asia all her promises have been fulfilled.”


Just a word here about Kinga Göncz. She is the daughter of former President Árpád Göncz, and one is always a little bit suspicious about such appointments. She is a psychiatrist by training and I had never heard of her before she became minister of social welfare in the Medgyessy government, a role in which she didn’t impress me. I couldn’t figure out why Ferenc Gyurcsány asked her to be foreign minister. Yes, she does know languages and that is important. But otherwise? The Hungarian media were equally puzzled: the only thing they could figure was that with Hungary being part of the European Union the position of foreign minister was no longer very important. Moreover, they added, Gyurcsány is so active in foreign affairs that poor Kinga won’t matter much.


I must say that I have had to change my mind about her. As minister of social welfare she was a boring goody-goody and, at least in my opinion, never said anything of interest. She smiled a lot and was pleasant. But otherwise? As they say, dull as dish water. Since she became foreign minister I changed my mind about her. I find her very diplomatic, well spoken, at ease, and someone who really knows her subject. There is a warmth and genuineness about her which I assume is refreshing in the diplomatic world. All in all, she appears to have been an excellent choice.

Hungarian higher education

This past weekend Hungarian students found out whether they got into college. Great excitement preceded the announcement that was made public on the internet; students could also inquire about their fate via SMS. Well, they didn’t have to worry too much: five out of six students were admitted to a college or university of their choice.


There is a new point system. Its introduction was so successful (at least this is how the ministry of education interpreted the results) that while last year only 75% and two years ago only 70% of applicants gained entrance to university, this year it was 83%! Thus although this year 12,000 fewer students applied than last year, the number of new freshmen will be almost the same: 80,924. Moreover, this is not even the final figure; for those who didn’t manage to get in this time there is a second chance, “pótfelvételi.” If the results on this second try are somewhat similar to those in the last few years then another 8,000-10,000 students may gain entrance to college. So of the 16,006 students who didn’t manage to get admitted in the first cut, probably fewer than half will find themselves outside the walls of academe. The large majority of those accepted don’t have to pay tuition, 52,618 of the already admitted 80,924 to be precise. So the cost of the undertaking is substantial.


If we compare the current situation with that of 1898, the last year of the Kádár regime, one realizes the enormous changes that have taken place in Hungarian education in the last twenty years. Then only 69,000 students matriculated and thus became eligible to enter college. The number of those who obtained university degrees that year was a mere 25,000. Here are a couple of other figures that might be of some interest for the sake of comparison. In 1990, 46,767 students applied and 16,818 were admitted. After the change of regime the number of those who applied went up, reaching 79,419 in 1994, but only 29,787 were accepted. The percentage of people with university degrees was very low in Hungary–about 12% of the adult population (age twenty-five and over) and that number certainly had to be increased. However, some people who teach in Hungarian colleges and universities complain bitterly about the preparation of the students. Moreover, in many cases neither the size of the faculty nor the physical infrastructure has kept up with the sudden growth in the student population. Another problem I see is the appearance of newly established colleges that receive prompt and not well deserved accreditation. Apparently the level of these new institutions is very, very low.


Looking at the Hungarian point system, past and present, it seems to me that the emphasis is on educational achievement on the high school level. Out of the 480 points, a maximum of 200 can be obtained from grades received in high school, while another 200 come from the results of the matriculation exam in two subjects. This seems to me a very bad way of adding up those points: after all there are some fantastically good high schools, a lot of mediocre, and many outright poor ones. Yet an A (a five in the Hungarian system) is worth the same regardless of the quality of the high school the student attended. Maybe Hungary is a potential market for a firm such as Educational Testing Service, creator of the SAT (scholastic aptitude test) in the U.S.


It seems that it is very, very easy to get into college in Hungary. That is certainly one way of organizing things. There are places where a C average is enough to gain entrance to a state university in the United States and elsewhere, but then the student knows that his chance of flunking out is great. The other way of organizing college admission is to be very selective; then almost everybody graduates. In Hungary, it seems to be that there is easy admission and a practically endless possibility of trying to pass the necessary subjects while no one is paying the slightest attention to how long it takes to finish the course of study. Thus the average time spent in college in Hungary is about seven years. Well, this is the worst possible outcome. I wouldn’t mind if it were easy to get in and difficult to get out, but the current Hungarian practice is the worst possible scenario that can only result in a lot of graduates with diplomas that are worth nothing.


When Károly Manherz, undersecretary of the Ministry of Education and Culture in charge of higher education, was asked whether this easy admission to college will not result in a lowering of standards, he answered: “It is one thing that we accept everybody, the question is how many will finish.” But he added, the requirements must be raised and “that depends on the teaching staff and the university leadership.” Well, that is the crux of the matter and I’m not at all hopeful. Being accustomed to a well structured four-year study program at my alma mater in Canada I’m aghast at the laxity of Hungarian universities. Moreover, even if the university were to tighten the reins there is the all powerful student associations who do everything in their power to make sure that the educational demands on the students are minimal. So I’m not at all optimistic about the future of Hungarian education, even if 27 billion forints are going to be spent in the next few years at seven universities. Yes, you can change the walls, but you cannot change either the faculty or the students so easily. And that’s the problem.

That cursed turul statue

For months now the fate of the turul statue erected in Buda about three years ago has been in limbo. The turul is a mythical bird resembling an eagle or a falcon. According to legend there was a woman named Emese who was visited by an eagle/falcon in her dream. She became pregnant and gave birth to Álmos (in Hungarian dream is “álom”), the man who eventually led the seven Hungarian tribes to their new homeland in the Carpathian basin. The legend was most likely born when the Hungarians lived side by side with Turkic tribes because the word “turul” is of Turkic origin. As time went by the turul wasn’t so much the symbol of the Hungarian royal house as of power, war, and nobility in general. Such totem animals are well known the world over as parts of coats of arms; one can even find an eagle in the Great Seal of the United States. To this day the turul appears in the coat of arms of the Hungarian Army and the Office of National Security. So far, so good. So what’s wrong with that statue of the turul in District XII?

 

First of all, this particular statue was erected without a permit. The erection of a statue on public property must have the permission of a board whose members can decide about the artistic merit and the appropriateness of a particular work of art. The board wasn’t too taken with either the artistic merit or the appropriateness of this statue. One can certainly argue about the artistic value of this or that work of art, but when it came to the appropriateness of the statue there were grave doubts. The statue was supposed to commemorate the civilian victims of the district during the bombing and the subsequent siege of Budapest in World War II. But why use the symbol of the army as a memorial to civilian victims?

 

Then there was the problem that the turul had been used as a symbol of radical right-wing student organizations between the two world wars. In 1920 the right radical students of Budapest established the Turul Bajtársi Szövetség (Brotherhood Association of Turul) whose favorite pastime was beating up their fellow students of Jewish origin. The Turul Association had a very important part to play in the enactment of the law discriminating against Jews in admission to institutes of higher education (numerus clausus). A vivid description of the not infrequent “celebrations” of students of the Turul Association can be found in András Nyerges’s masterful account in “Március, kardlap, gumibot” (March, sword, night-stick) in the March 16, 2007 issue of Élet és Irodalom. The events described by Nyerges bear an uncanny resemblance to what has been going on in Budapest in the last couple of years. Rather frightening. In any case, the modern history of the turul was not something that was deemed appropriate as a memorial to the victims of 1944-45. In addition, early in the history of the Arrow Cross Party the turul was featured in the party’s emblem.

 

Turul5

 

Permission or no permission the Fidesz mayor of District XII went ahead and came up with a masterful plan. Not far from the turul statue the local government began building another edifice on which were carved the names of non-Jews who allegedly helped the district’s Jews in 1944-45. This was also erected without a permit. Upon completion, the chief rabbi and the Israeli ambassador were invited to unveil the wall on which the names appeared. That was a clever move. If the turul must be removed because of a lack of permit then surely the wall commemorating those brave non-Jews must also be removed. And who will do that? Who can do that? Of course, the whole thing could have been solved at the beginning: get the police out and prevent the erection of the turul and that’s that. But no, the huge statue remains, overwhelming the square. Occasionally groups keep watch to make sure that no one tries to remove it in the dead of night. Or sometimes those who oppose it give speeches about the necessity of removing it. This has been going on while the case has been dragged through the court system. The new mayor (also Fidesz) offered compromise solutions that were not accepted by the city. And finally, when it looked as if the court had finally put an end to the appeal process, two thousand people gathered to demonstrate against the turul’s removal. All in all, it is a real circus. One has the sneaking suspicion that the illegal statue will stay. By now nobody dares to remove it. Its removal, in the eyes of the right, would be the victory of a small minority (I guess that means the Jews) against the overwhelming majority of good Hungarians who are fighting for their national symbol. The whole thing, as usual, is a complete fiasco.

Followers of Arrow Cross? Hungarian neo-nazis?

This blog was inspired by the recent far-right gathering at the controversial statue of the mythical eagle that ostensibly gave birth to the founder of the House of Árpád, the ancestor of the first kings of Hungary. Fortunately at this gathering there was no major violence although two newspapermen were roughed up a bit. Predictably there was a lot of verbal abuse against Jews and others who aren’t protected/endorsed by the eagle. What was interesting and unusual about this particular gathering of the extreme right was that for the first time Fidesz and KDNP (Keresztény Demokrata Néppárt/Christian Democratic Party) politicians could be seen among the demonstrators. The best known among them was Béla Turi-Kovács, a member of parliament since 1998. In his first four years he represented the Smallholders’ Party, a coalition partner of Fidesz. After 2001-2002 when Viktor Orbán managed to get rid of József Torgyán and with him the Smallholders, Turi Kovács abandoned his old party and joined Fidesz. As for the Christian Democrats, it’s true that no KDNP member of parliament was present; however, the party was represented by several of the local council’s KDNP’s delegation. In addition, one could find in the crowd Zsolt Lányi, a former Smallholder member of parliament and undersecretary of defense in the Orbán government.


That was one source of the inspiration. Another was an old article from 2003 that appeared in Hetek (Weeks), a publication of the fundamentalist Hitgyülekezet (Assembly of God) which is in Hungary somewhat surprisingly politically liberal. An internet friend of mine sent me the link, adding: “Sometimes it is worth reading old articles.” The piece in Hetek (2003) is an interview with Tamás Szemenyei-Kiss who claims to be the last director of the Hungarist Movement’s News Service (Hungarista Mozgalom Hírszolgálata [HMH]). I did a little research on Szemenyei-Kiss and he is certainly a controversial character. Recently he has published in Sófár, a Jewish media site, about members of the network of Hungarists all over the world. How does a former director of HMH end up writing in Sófár? A far-far right-wing site called Metapedia brands him a turncoat, a communist spy, a Romanian agent, an alcoholic homeless person, someone who had to flee Germany because he was going to be arrested for larceny. Maybe, but Metapedia ‘s mission is to set us straight about all the liberal lies that have been fed to us. They also want “to defend Europe [not the European Union] from the brown, black, and yellow hordes.” Anyone who’s interested in this garbage can go to: http://hu.metapedia.org/ However, László Bartus, currently the editor-in-chief of Amerikai Magyar Népszava Szabadság, while still living in Hungary published a book entitled Jobb magyarok: A szélsőjobb útja a hatalomhoz, 1990-2000 [Budapest: 2001] which relied on some of Szemenyei-Kiss’s information about the Hungarists abroad. Szemenyei-Kiss claims that he has a 3,000-page archive that he is organizing at the moment and that this archive is deposited in the Hungarian National Library. I simply cannot make a judgment on who is right, who is wrong, but some of Szemenyei-Kiss’s information sounds plausible. At least the names and dates seem to jibe.


According to Szemenyei-Kiss among those who left Hungary in 1945-46 and ended up in western countries there were a fair number of Arrow Cross leaders, members, and sympathizers. Quite a few of them ended up in Venezuela–for example, Árpád Henney, deputy to Szálasi, and Zoltán Nyisztor, a Catholic priest. These two men organized the HMH, whose mission was to keep Hungarist sympathizers in touch with one another through publications in Australia, South America, and Canada. When in 1990 Hungary joined the family of democratic nations, the Hungarists became active in Hungary. According to Szemenyei-Kiss the plan was to help the Smallholders become sufficiently important to be part of the government. Two wealthy American-Hungarian businessmen financed the undertaking: Sándor Pákh and  Géza Bánkuty.  In 1997 Pákh and Bánkuty visited Hungary urging cooperation with the Smallholders, but, again according to Szemenyei-Kiss, the Hungarists (200-300,000 strong) could not work with Torgyán. If Zsolt Lányi had been the leader the party it would have been a different story because he is a Hungarist. [Here let me interject that I have also read quite a bit about Lányi and I can only say that he is so far to the right that his appearance at the demonstration at the Turul statue is not at all surprising.]


Szemenyei-Kiss claims that several million dollars were sent to the Hungarist cause from abroad. In 2003 he asserted that since 1990 there had been at least 25 Hungarist members of parliament. One of the people who was financing the Hungarist movement in Hungary, Bánkuty, met Viktor Orbán several times when Fidesz was still in opposition. Once Orbán won the election with Smallholders’ help Bánkuty was received in the Parliament. A picture was taken which didn’t not appear in any Hungarian paper but only in the extreme right-wing paper Szittyakürt published abroad and financed by Bánkuty. According to Szemenyei-Kiss this picture also appeared in Spotlight, the American Nazis’ official publication. Apparently it was at that time that Orbán’s chief of protocol was sacked because he was responsible for the pictures taken at the meeting. Szemenyei-Kiss thinks that the appearance of this picture in an American Nazi publication had something to do with the fact that Viktor Orbán became a persona non grata in Washington.


How much of is this true? I don’t know. However, the appearance of two former Smallholders, Turi Kovács and Lányi, at this gathering of the extreme right is certainly interesting.

Lajos Papp, the world famous cardiologist

I humbly confess that I had never heard of Lajos Papp as a world famous cardiologist, as some people call him, before his name kept cropping up in extreme right-wing circles. To my mind, he is the parody of all those semi-mad nationalists who think that God just dropped them into the twenty-first century by mistake and that their real selves rode next to Chieftain Árpád leading the Hungarians into the Carpathian basin at the end of the ninth century. For everybody’s edification here is Dr. Papp’s, pardon, Professor Papp’s portrait.Papp Lajos 


I corrected myself because today when György Bolgár introduced him as Dr. Lajos Papp, renowned cardiologist, he corrected him: he was Professor Papp. To my mind Dr. or Professor Papp is a little mad and I’m surprised to see that some people take him seriously as a man whose only purpose in life is “to heal the Hungarian People.” Written this way: both words capitalized although according to Hungarian spelling rules neither “Hungarian” (magyar) nor  “people” (emberek) is capitalized. But, obviously, for our super nationalist this is not good enough.


But if his aim is “to heal the Hungarian People” who put him through school and without whom he would be nothing, then why did he announce, in an open letter published in Magyar Nemzet, his retirement not only from his job as director of the Heart Center (Szívcentrum) of the Pécs University’s medical school but also from his work as a surgeon? In his letter and many of his subsequent interviews we learn the answer: the Hungarian government, the ministry of health, the president of his university are all guilty of “Hungarian Genocide” and he will not assist them in their murderous activities. Why are they murderers? Because they demand that he spend only a certain amount of money, less than he would like. The murderers above him want to make sure that he schedules cases so that the center can break even financially, with urgent cases of course receiving top priority. Whether this is a good method of controlling cost, I can’t tell. However, this is the situation and I’m sure that really urgent cases are handled immediately and that no one died or is dying because of neglect.


It seems to me that Professor Papp and some of his enterprising colleagues came to the conclusion sometime back in March that they as entrepreneurs could do a better job than the government. In plain language, they wanted to privatize the services of the Heart Center in Pécs. It seems that neither the dean of the Medical School nor the president of the university had any intention of allowing them to privatize the center. Instead, they warned Papp several times to improve the Heart Center’s financial performance: month after month it was in the red. And then came the open letter that appeared in Magyar Nemzet, in which he called the president of the university a mass murderer who is responsible for a number of deaths. In the same open letter Papp also announced his plans for retirement within a few weeks. It seems that this letter was the last straw for the president of the university: a couple of days ago he announced that after consultation with the dean of the Medical School he decided to relieve Papp of his duties as of the end of this month.


One would have thought that Papp, who wanted to retire anyway, would leave quietly. After all, he didn’t want to be part of the Hungarian Genocide committed in the medical field by the Gyurcsány government. But no, what did I hear this morning? Dr. Papp is contesting his dismissal. According to him, he was appointed for five years to head the Heart Center of the Pécs Medical School, and therefore he is legally the head of the center until 2012. Unless he was sentenced by a Hungarian court for a misdemeanor or was deemed incompetent he has the right to his job until that time. And surely he was neither sentenced nor is incompetent. He explained that years ago he had been in a similar situation and then it took him nine years to win his case against his former employer. But now he doesn’t have that much time: he himself has had six heart operations and surely he will die before a Hungarian court rules in his favor. Thus the whole thing is about as confused as Dr. Papp himself. Does he want to retire or not? Did he want to privatize the Heart Center? What does it mean that he doesn’t want to work anymore as a surgeon but “he wants to heal the Hungarian People”? Why is he suing the university if he wanted to retire anyway?


It seems that working with Dr. Papp is not an easy business. Rumors are flying about conflicts at every job he has ever held. I’m sure that his nine-year fight in a dispute with a former employer is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other rumors: apparently he not only accepted money in envelopes from grateful patients, which is not illegal, but he demanded a certain fee ahead of the surgical procedure, which is illegal. I have relatives in Pécs with medical connections, and the rumor in town is that the fee was 100,000 Ft for the world famous surgeon to operate on you. That may not seem overly expensive, after all it is only 400 some euros, but considering that it is illegal to ask money ahead of time and that medical treatment should not involve extra expense it is pretty bad. Especially from someone who loves “the Hungarian People” so much.


As for his interesting turn of phrase that instead of performing surgical procedures he wants “to heal the Hungarian People,” I think I have the answer. He wants to be the real “doctor of the nation.” He wants to get involved in extreme right-wing politics. I do hope that he will be able to speak only in the name of very few people.