The former mayor of Esztergom refuses to leave

The world over newspapers and TV news programs are carrying the devastating pictures of villages covered with red toxic sludge. The disaster in Ajka is on everybody's lips. So I don't have to report about the events here.

Instead I will turn to a lighter subject: the rise and fall of the mayor of Esztergom. His name is Tamás Meggyes, and in the last ten years he became infamous nationwide. He was the terror of the town. I wondered when Viktor Orbán would have enough of Meggyes and would make sure that he was not a candidate for parliament and for mayor in 2010. I wrote about him and what he did to Esztergom, a city of 30,000, a year ago. Orbán didn't get rid of him, and at the time of the national elections it looked as if he had bet on the right horse after all. Meggyes won his seat easily. But then came the prospect of having Meggyes as mayor for another four years and the inhabitants of Esztergom unequivocally said "no way!"

The leading local members of the different parties got together and decided to support an independent candidate, Éva Tétényi, an architect. MSZP, MDF, LMP, some Fidesz members who formed a civic group called Civil Association for the City of Esztergom, and, yes, even the local Jobbik supported her in order to get rid of Meggyes who shows signs of mental instability. I remember the consternation in liberal circles about the morality of making common cause with Jobbik even if on the local level. Was it the right thing to do? Certainly the local liberals didn't have compunctions. They felt that first and foremost they had to get rid of Meggyes.

And it worked. Voter turnout was unusually high and Meggyes suffered a devastating defeat. Three-quarters of the votes went to Tétényi supported by all political forces, including some Fidesz leaders who had had enough of the incumbent. An awful weight was lifted. Newspapermen who visited Esztergom from Győr talked about the smiling faces of people on the streets. At the same time some were worried that Éva Tétényi will have a very difficult time because on the city council out of the fourteen members nine are from Fidesz, including Meggyes himself who managed to win a seat. She will have a difficult time, that is, if she ever manages to actually become the mayor of Esztergom.

Meggyes refuses to hand over the office and the local Fidesz is protesting the results. According to Meggyes and his cronies the opposition cheated. So, Tétényi set up shop in one of the corridors of city hall. Meggyes went by her one day and asked whether her conscience is clear because "dark forces are behind her."

The Fidesz members of the city council, eight of them plus one independent, protested (óvást emeltek). They claim that at early dawn on election day–that is during the campaign silence–disparaging pamphlets about Meggyes were distributed. Moreover, they claim that there have been continuing voting irregularities. The villains are "entrepreneurs and businessmen who in the last three years committed terrorist acts against Tamás Meggyes." They also claim that unnamed persons stole intimate pictures of the mayor from his very own laptop. Apparently these pictures are already available on the internet. At the end, they said, they "accept the results but maintain that these results were arrived at through electoral fraud."

As far as I know, these terrorist acts exist only in Tamás Meggyes's head. I would be surprised if even a single one turned out to have any foundation. As for the "protest," I don't know what these people want to achieve with it. However, one thing is sure: even if Tétényi eventually manages to get an office in city hall, Meggyes and his supporters on the council will make sure that no business is ever successfully concluded in Esztergom. In the end, most likely he will win.


  1. Dear Eva,
    Frankly, I find it difficult to get interested in issues about the mayor of Esztergom at present. I am in a state of shock to say the least re: the environmental disaster in Hungary.
    After reading the Hungarian media I was hoping that by now responsible journalists (of all political persuasion) will organize info re: donations. I am thinking of lists of charitable organization, explain to people step by step how to and where to donate etc. etc.

  2. Latefor: “I am thinking of lists of charitable organization, explain to people step by step how to and where to donate etc. etc.”
    I would be glad to provide a list if I knew of such. But I don’t. Perhaps I just missed it but I’m not aware of such a list provided by the Hungarian government. If there is one I will be glad to pass it on to non-Hungarian readers.

  3. This disaster has obviously left Eva in a very difficult situation. But, with respect to those who don’t agree with me, I feel this blog is not the place for the latest news on the what’s happening in Veszprém, or even for information on appeals and relief funds. All that can be found in far more detail elsewhere.
    Despite what has happened, I think most of us would like Eva to carry on as normal.
    And, with apologies in advance for what may look like insensitivity, I would like to do just that by asking posters what they think the political implications will be of this disaster.
    How will OV ‘play’ it? Will he hope it gives a (paradoxically) more positive image of Hungary and draws attention away from the economy and what his government are up to? Will his economic plans (whatever they are) be seriously knocked off course by the expense of clearing this mess up? Or will he use this as a Heaven-sent excuse for whatever financial mess he gets Hungary into in the near future? How will his political position towards the EU be affected by having to rely on help from them to pay for the cleanup and reconstruction?
    And I bet his people are at this very minute trying to track down who is responsible for all this (with the true Hungarian desire of having someone to blame, at all costs) – hoping it might turn out that money that should have gone to dam maintenance was siphoned off by the corrupt local MSZP politicians!

  4. @Paul
    Whatever Orban may do after this catastrophy to use it to his/or his government’s perceived advantage or not, will matter little. What will matter is the number of interpretations his deeds will generate. And of those there will be plenty.
    As for your essentialist statement about the “true Hungarian desire having someone to blame , at all costs” you might also have disagreed with US president Obama’s and generally most Americans’ rage over the catastrophic oil spill in the Bay area of Mexico. And what about their outright blaming BP for negligance and their strict demands that BP should clear up the mess and offers due compensation ???

  5. PaulHaynes-
    People first before politics, p l e a s e!
    Discussing the political implications of this disaster is a bit premature, don’t you think?

  6. To Paul and latefor:
    As correct as both of you are, still it is hard to miss unalloyed delight in the Hungarian press, notably Nepszabadsag, as it is bragging about the prominent placing of Hungary in the world press thanks to the disaster.
    But beyond that, it is also obvious that politics doesn’t stop for a minute and I have not seen the slightest indication of any special effort on the part of the government to ease the plight of the victims. This time, however, I am not as impatient as I normally would be, because the scope and implications of the catastrophe are so enormous that there is simply no precedent and therefore no experience in dealing with such a calamity.

  7. @Sandor
    Not necessarily bragging, in the sense you brag with an achievement. I’d rather say some consolation in the fact that the world out there is aware of and acknowledges the severity of the catastrophy. In my reading it is menationed exactly becuase it is not necessarily taken for granted that Hungary’s “ill luck” will make it to international media. Besides, everybody interested in journalism makes tacit judgements about what’s in and what’s left out of headline news. And three days after the disaster it is still among the top news in major western reportings, which perhaps indicates something more than food for bragging.

  8. MAL ZRT the company which is responsible is linked to firms owned by the former prime minister Gyurcsany and clique. After 2004 this red toxic slodge was classified as “harmless”.

  9. Erik the Reader: “MAL ZRT the company which is responsible is linked to firms owned by the former prime minister Gyurcsany and clique.”
    Indeed, but I fear poor Erik is not reading widely enough to say anything very sensible about this.
    Given Hungary’s bauxite reserves and the large ammount of aluminium production that occurrs in the country someone should be talking about what to do with the waste disposal problems posed by residue bauxite slurry (the “red mud” which we have seen). There is some evidence out there – most of it from Australia – that this stuff is very nasty indeed:
    And then there is the question of the “independence” on the teeth of those institutions responsible for protecting the environment and human health when faced with businesses that are major pollutants which provide lots of local jobs (and profits).

  10. Thanks for the link, Pete. My wife and I were discussing just this morning what we could do to help the people affected by this awful mess.
    Kata – from what I’ve read and heard, BP WAS at fault. That fact that it, and I, are British is irrevelant.
    But I was actually just having a general dig at is the Hungarians’ need to blame somebody whenever something happens, instead of concentrating on sorting things out. Even at a domestic level this happens. When the baby knocks something over, my first thought is is he OK, and then how am I going to clear the mess up, and lastly how did it happen? My wife’s first thought is who was at fault! (And for ‘wife’ read almost every other Hungarian I know).
    As for the news of this disaster. It’s a bit like being a West Ham supporter – no good news ever seems to appear about the club, so if I see the words ‘West Ham’ in the News section of the BBC football page my heart sinks.
    I don’t think I’ve every seen good news about Hungary on the BBC news site, so if I see ‘Hungary’ anywhere on the screen, I immediately think “oh no, what’s happened now?”.
    Mark – I’m very glad you’re on this blog.

  11. PS – at the risk of upsetting people even further, this headline on the Pestiside site amused me:
    “Red Sludge Covers Western Village as Orange Sludge Covers Country”

  12. There is quite a detailed article on Index listing everyone with links to MAL ZRT., from which the following line is instructive:
    A Figyelő egyik korábbi írása szerint a Mal tulajdonosát jobboldalon „szociprivatizátornak”, a baloldalon „konzervatív tőkésnek” tartják. Érvet mindkét oldalon lehet találni: a Bakonyi Bauxitbánya Kft.-ben 1996-1997-ben a Gyurcsány Ferenc érdekeltségébe tartozó mosonmagyaróvári Motim is tulajdonos volt (a Malnak, illetve Tolnaynak a Bauxit Bányavagyonkezelő Kft.-ben és az Első Magyar Timföldipari Kft.-ben is volt Gyurcsánnyal közös érdekeltsége.
    A vállalkozó ugyanakkor vélhetően a jobboldallal sem volt ellenséges viszonyban. Erre utal, hogy 1998 és 2001 között – részben a mostani Orbán-kormányban NFÜ-elnökké kinevezett Petykó Zoltán vezérigazgatósága idején – igazgatósági tag lehetett az állami tulajdonú Hungexpóban, előtte pedig az Antall-kormány államtitkárnak kérte fel.

  13. Passing Stranger: “There is quite a detailed article on Index listing everyone with links to MAL ZRT.”
    And I think this gets to what ought to be the real political issue here. Here we have a domestically owned Hungarian company which has sprung out of a former state enterprise, which has incestuous relationships with different parts of the business elite and both the right and the left of the political elite. None of these relationships are transparent. Given this is an environmentally dangerous business implicated in the tangled webs of politics and money, and that those agencies charged with environmentally protection are themselves subordinate to these political relationships, who stands for the environment and the health of the people?

  14. And given that we do have a green party in the Hungarian parliament, I might expect them to ask this question. I’ll be curious to see if they do.

  15. I had a quick look on Google Earth. It clearly shows the ‘Sludge Pit’ as it was on 5th October 2008. By comparing this to the TV pictures the breech seems to have occurred in the North Western Corner. This is supported by web photos of the damage dam bank.
    From what I see I have a nasty feeling that it was an earth bank reinforced with concrete blocks. These seem to have been laid without deep foundations It probably dates back to pre-1990s. I think it is part of the original construction. In 2008 the surface of the pond was 3 meters below the top of the bank which was its self 9 metres above the surrounding land.
    Hungary has been unusually wet this year and without deep foundations the bank could have been undermined by rain and slipped. It is probable that this sip would have been sudden and catastrophic. There would have been little or no prior warning and probably no way of knowing what was going on inside the base of the wall. Long ago I had to design a system for a tribologist, people who work on the interface between solid surfaces and lubrication, cohesion etc.
    Criminal investigation yes, but also a specialist investigation into the dyke wall, its foundations etc. But the problem of who to blame may well be lost in the mists of time. We mustalso remember that we all have 20/20 vision in hind site and that we have learned very much since that dyke wall was built.
    I know that the Hungarians must have someone to blame but I hope there will be no wild accusations until all the evidence is collected and most importantly made public. It may be that the mythical ‘Clerk of the Weather’ is to blame

  16. I don’t know this for fact, but I strongly suspect that a sludge pit of this sort wouldn’t be allowed in the UK. All the things of this nature that I know of are in ex quarries or the like – in other words in holes in the ground, not raised above the surrounding land.
    It stands to reason that, if you build a sludge pit, or anything else of a similar nature ABOVE the ground, sooner or later there will be an accident, and sludge, like water, prefers to travel in the downwards direction.
    The only things I can think of that are similar to this are the large storage tanks for oil, chemicals, etc that you see so often in industrial areas. But these are built with ditches and dams around them, and the whole site is designed to stop liquid from ruptured tanks getting into local water courses, etc.

  17. You are all completely OFF topic. Yes the tragedy in Devecser is horrible.
    However, the article is about the mini local dictator who got his clock cleaned in a landslide election, and has refused to transfer power to the opposition winner Eva Tetenyi who defeated him by a 2 to 1 margin.
    The ex-Mayor of Esztergom, Tamas Megyes and current member of the Hungarian Parliament who had his house and car torched in April 2008, and who has never refuted the brutal beating of his wife Rozsa Kui (check out his wikipedia page) and was seen a few months back doing bong hits on a Slovakian ski trip. You guessed it, he didn’t inhale.
    He has been called out in front Parliament 9 times in the last 4 years for ethical reasons, and hides behind “mentelmi jog” essentially protecting him from lawsuits while he has had literally a dozen lawsuits ongoing against his critics.
    I have followed the thug politics of Esztergom very closely for the last several years, and can tell you that there was euphoria on the streets of Esztergom when Meggyes lost the election.

  18. Going off-topic is hardly unusual on this blog!
    But thanks for bringing us back on topic.
    What puzzles me is that he still got one third of the vote – AND got re-elected as a local councilor. If he’s as awful as everyone says, how does this happen?
    Also, why are the other councilors supporting him. And, if he’s Fidesz, why doesn’t Orbán make him resign or kick him out of the party (and ensure the Fidesz councilors don’t support him)?
    In the UK, he would have been persuaded to resign at the first hint of this sort of thing, or had the whip withdrawn (i.e. been kicked out of the party).
    If he was MSZP, all the Fidesz trolls on here would be popping up all over the blog ranting about how typical this was of the Commies, etc, etc, etc…

  19. I signed in via Twitter that’s why I have that icon.
    Meggyes was re-elected to the Parliament in the previous election a few months back, because he ran as a regional candidate, and he was carried the Fidesz sweep and received votes from outside the city..
    What was amazing in this case, was that all of the in-fighting and political factions were put aside and everyone united to boot him out. Eva Tetenyi received the most votes since 1989 in their local elections, and the voter turnout in Esztergom was 5 or 6 percent higher than the nationwide average. A lot of Fidesz voters also crossed over to vote him out.
    I am actually like Fidesz myself, but this was a very bad guy. I’m sure they are shredding documents and destroying their hard drives all weekend in Esztergom before they give the mayor her key to the office.
    A guy like this can get away with this because he is not in a high profile city with major media coverage, he controls all the power, he literally has his own private security force, controls the local television station, local newspaper and makes the local taxpayers fund of of his civil lawsuits.
    Kind of like a little Hugo Chavez. He must have pictures of the Prime Minister, there is no other rational explanation why they haven’t publicly rebuked him.

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