There was a difference of opinion between Paul and “Latefor” about the merits of discussing the political implications of the Ajka disaster. “Latefor” is more concerned about the human and environmental aspects and thinks that talking about politics in connection with the red sludge is “premature” if not immoral. I hate to disappoint him: politics has already entered the scene.
Ferenc Papcsák, the high priest of the witchhunt against opposition politicians, only hours after the disaster announced that he is investigating the connection between Lajos Tolnay and Ferenc Gyurcsány. Lajos Tolnay owns 40% of MAL Magyar Alumínuium Zrt. Two other Hungarians, Árpád Bakonyi and Béla Petrusz, each have a 30% share of the business. Apparently Papcsák is initiating an investigation because Tolnay earlier had an interest in a business venture in which Ferenc Gyurcsány was also involved. And what does that have to do with the bursting of a reservoir in Ajka? Surely, nothing. However, Papcsák and his fellow “investigators” have seemingly infinite imaginations and are quite capable of coming out with some startling discovery that will somehow manage to involve the former prime minister in this environmental disaster as well.
The other side wasn’t that speedy but by yesterday the opposition discovered that Zoltán Illés, the undersecretary in charge of the environment, had appointed his former secretary, Andrea Zay, to head the Central Transdanubian Inspectorate for the Environment, Conservancy, and Waterways. This agency only two weeks ago inspected the reservoir and found everything in good order. Implication: something is very wrong with Andrea Zay’s agency.
Meanwhile rumors are flying in the three or four villages that are currently covered with the red sludge. The population of these villages, the very ones who seemed to have been totally unaware of the danger until now and who were absolutely unprepared for such an eventuality, suddenly discovered deep in their souls that they have in fact been worried sick about the reservoir’s bursting one day. It was just a question of time, they say. Some of the inhabitants now claim that “it was visible to the naked eye that an incredible weight was pushing the walls of the reservoir.” Although I have never seen such a reservoir I very much doubt that passers-by could possibly see the walls of the reservoir bulging out because of the weight of the sludge inside. Some people also claim that the company must have known that there was a problem because they were bringing in tons and tons of “soil” to strengthen the walls. The problem is that the walls are not made of earth but scoria, slag or cinders.
Zoltán Illés, the undersecretary in charge, is about the worst person to handle such a situation. He tends to be hysterical and is prone to make unsubstantiated statements that only upset everybody. Even before serious examinations of the sludge and the environmental damage had taken place, he was talking about 50 million m3 of grey and 30 million m3 ofred sludge being in the reservoirs and that the latter is “slightly radioactive and causes cancer.” As it turned out, the amount of sludge that now covers about 10 hectares is not millions of cubic meters but only 600-700,000, which is still a lot but far from the amount Illés was talking about. Moreover, the cancer causing agent is less of a problem than the fact that the sludge is alkaline. That is, caustic; it was this property of the sludge that caused the burns hundreds of people suffered. It is the same property that will do so much damage to the environment and to the animal life on land and in the water.
Illés also seems to have known that the company is responsible for what happened and therefore the “total cost of the damage” must be borne by the firm. That is again a typical Illés move: jumping to conclusions. In order to ascertain guilt there must be a thorough investigation. For example, some engineers claim that the break in the wall of the reservoir was most likely caused by the inordinate amount of rainfall this year and that such a break is very sudden and unpredictable. The real problem is the way this sludge is being stored. I heard somebody from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences who claims that their team of geologists came up with a way to use this sludge for some practical purpose but no one was interested in it. This particular reservoir was built twenty-five years ago. Apparently when a reservoir is completely filled it is buried with scoria and a thin layer of earth is put on top. So, from the outside everything looks fine but underneath this sludge is sitting there for ever and ever. Illés added that if the company can’t cough up the money then the Hungarian government will have to take care of the situation and naturally Hungary must ask the European Union’s help. As we will see later, Viktor Orbán has other ideas about European Union assistance.
Then there appeared a whole slew of “experts” with their pronouncements on the nature of the red sludge. Most of these experts haven’t been on the scene and they are unfamiliar with the measurements taken on the spot. With the help of the media they are only confusing the public that naturally doesn’t have the foggiest idea what this thing is all about. Greenpeace spokesmen were especially irresponsible when they claimed that satellite photos show that there was a crack in the wall already before the accident. It turned out that their information came from a tabloid called Napi Ász and it is phony. Another environmental group called “Levegő” (Air) which is heavily politicized and usually takes up causes close to the heart of the Right insisted on a “reexamination” of the privatization of this old state-owned factory with a view to learning more about who is responsible for this tragedy! Sure, twenty years later! I suggest taking a look at the two articles Zsófia Mihancsik wrote about the political aspects of the tragedy in Galamus. The first is about Zoltán Illés’s irresponsible statements and the other about the misinformation being spread by the Hungarian media and the environmentalists’ fertile imaginations and their political motives.
And finally, Viktor Orbán made an appearance in Kolontár, the village most heavily damaged. He came to the conclusion that certain parts of the village cannot be restored: “This area must be left untouched as a monument to this tragedy.” Again, we don’t know what will happen in the future. As we know, Mother Nature is very strong. It might take ten or twenty years, but it is very possible that life will reappear in the area, especially with some help from the people.
The Hungarian prime minister again returned to his favorite theme of a strong Hungary that needs no help. “Hungary is strong enough to solve the problem alone. Within days a fund will be established to assist the region.” Hungary will ask for the help of “rich Hungarians living abroad.” My first reaction was: what about rich Hungarians in Hungary, like Sándor Csányi, Sándor Demján, Gábor Széles, all close politically to Fidesz and the current government? He added that the European Union also has a fund for such eventualities and “Hungary may get some assistance from there.” However, Hungary will not ask for help because Hungary is entitled to it. At least Orbán is consistent: a strong Hungary that needs no outside help and if outside help comes it is because it is due. I’m curious what will happen if countries or non-Hungarian individuals offer help. Will he turn them down?