Introducing László L. Simon, poet, politician, viticulturist

I never cease to be amazed at Hungarian politicians’ capacity for multitasking. They are capable of amazing feats. For example, there is Lajos Kósa, the mayor of Debrecen (population over 200,000), who is a full time mayor, a full time member of parliament, and who holds an important position in the Fidesz party apparatus. And, in his spare time, he managed to create a worldwide financial panic (mind you, a mini one). Recall what happened in the summer of 2010 when he announced the imminent collapse of the Hungarian economy.

Antal Rogán is also a busy fellow. Full time mayor of Budapest’s District V and a full time member of parliament. But he’s not just an ordinary back bencher. He single-handedly turned out scores of bills. An amazing feat, especially considering that he had no legal training.

But at least one could say that these two and their colleagues of many talents specialize in politics. The real multitasker in the Hungarian parliament is László L. Simon, the new undersecretary for cultural affairs in the Ministry of Human Resources. He is a politician, a poet, a publisher, an editor, a photographer, an artist, a typographer, a university lecturer, a viticulturist, a hotel manager, and a fruit grower. One must indeed be awed reading this list. He also knows how to take advantage of his position when it comes to his and his family’s benefit. His political career, although short, has been spectacularly successful.

Who is this man? Although he is much younger than Viktor Orbán, it probably helped his career that he graduated from the same high school in Székesfehérvár as the prime minister did. Originally, his aspirations must have been fairly modest. His university studies qualified him as a high school teacher of Hungarian literature and history. But then he began writing poetry and prose. In his autobiography he claims to be the author of ten books on widely varied subjects: poetry, essays, monographs, viticulture, typography and art.  And on the side he has a Ph.D. in literature and did all the course work for a degree at an agricultural college.

L. Simon is also a co-owner of Simon Guesthouse and Winery, a family business situated in the picturesque village of Agárd near Lake Velence. Both the guest house and the cellar look impressive.

The Simon Guesthouse, Agárd

The 13-room guesthouse is located 800 meters from a thermal spa. Business meetings and exhibitions are organized there. Wine tasting and dinner events are held in their wine cellar. The guesthouse is pretty nice but the wine cellar is truly impressive.

The Simon Wine Cellar, Agárd

The winery is part of the Lake Velence wine tour, which naturally helps the traffic at the Simon Estate.

László L. Simon doesn’t fit our mental image of a poet. He looks more like a boxer whose face has seen some rough times. If his poetry that I managed to read is any indication of his work in general, it is not exactly genteel. Someone already quoted parts of an unspeakable line about the “Jewish whores,” but the line that says “I don’t even smell the stench of shit” perhaps more fittingingly describes some of these guys’ attitudes nowadays in Hungarian politics. Anyone who would like to get acquainted with this great poet can find samples here.

So, one poet (Géza Szőcs) left and another poet came as undersecretary in charge of culture. I do hope that Szőcs’s poetry is better than his successor’s, but I doubt that the state of cultural affairs will be in any better hands after his departure. Quite aside from Szőcs’s unacceptable role in the Nyirő reburial affair, the Orbán government’s attitude toward culture is far less generous than Viktor Orbán’s devotion to football.  Everything was cut to the bones when the Fidesz ideologues began their Kulturkampf. Fidesz supporters in  literature and in the arts don’t even hide their determination to take over the the field. Those who felt in the past that their talents were not truly appreciated are standing by waiting for rewards they feel they are entitled to. And I’m sure that L. Simon will be most obliging. He pretty well agreed to one of the principal demands of Jobbik, the departure of Róbert Alföldi from the post of director of the National Theater.

The hope in certain circles is that L. Simon will have an easier time getting the much needed funds that Szőcs was unable to obtain. One thing is sure: his relationship with Viktor Orbán seems to be extremely friendly. In addition to the geographical ties there are social ones. L. Simon and his wife–a German teacher originally but a fitness instructor of late–have four children. The Orbáns have five. And I’ll bet L. Simon loves football. I have the sneaking suspicion that Szőcs’s interest in football is minimal.

In fact, the two men are on such good terms that the prime minister visited L. Simon’s Guesthouse and Winery the day before yesterday. He looked around the orchards and talked to the workers, who happen to be the inmates of the jail in Baracska nearby. I’m all for inmates doing something useful, but the place of employment gives me pause. I’ll bet not everybody can arrange a ready work force, most likely on the cheap, like L. Simon managed.

L. Simon’s political career is also on a fast track. He became a member of parliament only in 2010 but he is already one of the deputy leaders of the Fidesz caucus. In addition, he is the chairman of the parliamentary committee on cultural affairs. And now he is also a member of the government.

In the past one could see meteoric rises in Fidesz when for one reason or other someone caught Viktor Orbán’s eye. Then a couple of years later the person was dropped or shoved aside. I wonder how long L. Simon will be one of the favorites.


  1. I disagree that the high quality poem of Mr. Simon, Hungary’s new undersecretary for cultural affairs cannot (should not be) translated. Please do not forget that Mr Simon is also one of the father of Hungary’s new media law. Well, we know who is the other important person in Hungary’s Media and Communication Authority, Ms Annamaria Szalai, who came to fame as the publisher of a Hungarian porn magazine. As we see the Hungarian government puts the right people to the right places. Our Hungarian role models’ each word and actions should be held of great importance and should be followed. I loved how one of the magazines on this subject when quoted from the poem, they simply said we just “schmitting” (schmitteljuk) the poem here:
    “és egy röhögő törpét követtem
    akivel szétbaszott zsidó kurvák seggéről készítettünk
    “and I followed a laughing dwarf
    with whom we made casts of the fucked Jewish whores asses”
    You go Hungary!

  2. Eva S. Balogh :
    I hope you don’t want me to translating L. Simon’s disgusting and totally untalented poems!

    No, Eva, I do not. I was half kidding. I just wanted to point out that what is Hungary becoming to when in clear conscience we cannot even publish what Hungary’s undersecretary for cultural affairs proudly puts in print. I also wanted to make sure that the readers do understand that we are not just playing “over sensitive”, but Simon is actually publishes some of his loathsome writings. Certainly when I started to read some of the poems of this literary genius, Nyiro started to look better by each minute.

  3. I’m afraid, Eva, that you haven’t watched enough of the “Sopranos”–the New Jersey mafia family soap or you would’ve known that quick accession through the ranks is reserved for those who are great ‘producers’–that is, makers of money of which a great chunk goes to the family head. The more you produce, the greater the amount the chief gets. Why should this be any different in the Orban familia?

  4. Yes, that was shocking when the MTI reported casually that the guys from the Baracska penitentiary were working in L. Simon’s orchards. This reminded me on Lajos Cinege, the Kadar government’s defense minister. Members of the military were ordered to work on his new villa for free. Well, not free, actually for perks, like extended leaves.

    His Majesty, Orban the 5th, also observed the picking of the gipsy cherries (cigany meggy). Gipsy cherry is a kind of sour cherry in Hungary. It’s awesome in cold sour cherry soups (with cream) but I digress … Well, anyway surveying the gipsy cherry gathering sounds like pretty much the Orban government’s Roma program in practice.

    While I was reading the “news” from the MTI I was also wondering if at the end of the program Mr. Simon showed his Majesty his collection of the plaster molds he made off the Jewish ladies’ backside. The MTI didn’t say … Considering Simon’s talent, who knows, maybe he and the midget made the mold of Orban’s face that is shown in the Instute of The Blind (no kidding, there is one, so blind people can feel Orban’s face).

    How talent and education is degraded in the Orban regime is really amazing. Only those who lived in the Kadar era experienced something similar to this. 3 Nyiro books, read twice, and a high school diploma trumps a masters degree in anything. Education and experience doesn’t have value anymore. Amateur Google enthusiasts, like Kovach, comparing themselves to accomplished Ph.D historians. Imagine how these bumpkins feel when the Orban regime suddenly makes them the intellectual elite when Nyiro is made part of the national curriculum.

  5. Mutt Damon :
    . Amateur Google enthusiasts, like Kovach, comparing themselves to accomplished Ph.D historians. Imagine how these bumpkins feel when the Orban regime suddenly makes them the intellectual elite when Nyiro is made part of the national curriculum.

    Actually this is a very interesting question, how those Hungarians feel who actually received recognition based on true talent, and true achievements, when some schmuck calls himself a poet (with questionable quality), a farmer (with no farming experience whatsoever), a politicians (with no diplomatic experience or political education). Under the Orban government people become ministers, farmers, Presidents, etc by default. WHat does it tell about the rest of Hungarians when the best the government can come up with undersecretary for cultural affairs is someone like Simon? Really, are Hungary only left with a quality where even Simon stands out as the perfect man for the job? I think the rest of the world should stop wondering what is going on in the country as the smartest people the country can produce now are Simons and Matolcsys.

  6. What a brilliant idea….convicts picking cherries! Wow! Ingenious! That’s what I call PERFECT SOLUTION for the problems of finding people to work in agriculture! (Kecske is jol lakik es a kaposzta is meg marad). Good form of rehabilitation…fresh air, hard work etc,
    what’s wrong with that?

    Re: Simon’s poems
    I do think his poems are appalling, I am shocked! He should stick to running businesses and leave poetry for the sensitive souls.

  7. latefor :
    What a brilliant idea….convicts picking cherries! Wow! Ingenious! That’s what I call PERFECT SOLUTION for the problems of finding people to work in agriculture! (Kecske is jol lakik es a kaposzta is meg marad). Good form of rehabilitation…fresh air, hard work etc,
    what’s wrong with that?
    I am not sure if you are being sarcastic or you are serious. In case you are serious… what’s wrong with that is the location where they are picking cherries. THey are not doing the cherry picking for the public or for anyone. These convicts are working (I assume) for highly reduced rate for a member of the Parliament. While the government decided to introduce a “forced labour” scheme for highly reduced, way below the minimum wage program instead of providing welfare to the many unemployed, it seems that it allows its members to avoid paying the minimum wage by employing those who are legibly looking for a jobs as long as they are able to put some money in their own pocket.
    Maybe these convicts should be the ones who are doing the jobs that government uses its “forced labour” workforce for, and allow Mr Simon to pay real wages to those who need to support their families from real work for real pay.

  8. What Some1 is talking about is a real problem. Lack of expertise. People receive jobs in this administration only on party loyalty. Do you remember when István Csurka announced that “expertise is a communist trick”?

    I have been thinking about going through the list of Fidesz MP’s because I suspect that a great number of them were practically picked up from the streets. I’m struck by how many people in the caucus are total unknowns. It cannot be an easy job to be a responsible member of parliament. House rules are rather complicated, the texts of the bills are fairly obscure and here are all these novices with rather skimpy educational backgrounds. Mind you pushing yes or no buttons is not terribly difficult.

  9. Perhaps this story reveals illustrates the actual Fidesz economic plan, the one we’ve really been unable to detect up til now: it’s a trickle-down scenario, based on the recreation of a K & K era-style landed gentry class entirely loyal to their party as their forebearers were loyal to the monarchy, as they will owe that party and its leadership everything. Gentlemen farmers, granted large estates by way of cheap longterm leases, guaranteed an income due to subsidies from the “hated” EU, who have the landless locals work their crops as tenant farmers or even sharecroppers, who go about their business, politicking, and girlfriending in Budapest, coming home on weekends to supervise the serfs, sample from their wine cellars, have an idle hobby like writing lousy poetry, and cheer their sons on in their local football clubs. Of course, this plan depends upon three things: the EU money coming in steadily for the foreseeable future, those long terms leases coupled with strategically-placed officials in long-term positions (prosecutors, in particular), and the non-transparent selection of absolutely loyal people to receive these government grants and largesses. This is, of course, a profoundly reactionary scheme, but one which is consistent with both Fidesz’s claims that the Hungarian economy faltered because of the lack of such a class and well evidenced by their policy performance as well as the flourishing of romantic infatuation with Hungary’s feudal past. It is profoundly inegalitarian and, despite the nationalist, anti-semitic and anti-roma rhetoric, essentially a plan constructed on the backs of the vast majority of ethnic Hungarians, hence the lack of transparency and the tactical toleration of anti-semitic and anti-roma words and actions, as a distraction from actual government conduct. I personally suspect that the plan will fail as the EU will be forced to change its subsidies programs and a modern economy cannot be built on country inn-keeping in regions where no tourists have an interest to travel. But, in the meantime, the pain of the local farmers will be very hard.

  10. To “Some1”
    May be Hungarian farmers could recover if they were allowed to hire cheep labor (convicts). It would also make it easier for them to compete on the European markets.
    Imagine, a small farmer could hire 30 inmates to pick paprika, for example. Hire a bogracs (Iron pot), and make a goulash to feed them. Everybody is happy. Problem solved.

  11. Our polyhistor genius, Mr. Simon, gave a short interview to Heti Valasz (a FIDESZ rag). He says he pays the Baracska penitentiary for the inmates’ work and everybody is very happy. He cleverly bypassed the numbers and the fact that some people seem to get this cheap labor easier than others. He claimed that it’s difficult to find seasonal workers. Duh! If you pay them the same – legally – as the inmates …

    I wonder how much the inmate gets? What’s exchange rate between HUF and solitary confinement?

    Speaking of jails. Fidesz communication in action:

  12. By the way a little nasty shortcut here … just because the FIDESZ likes to argue with peoples families.

    L. Simon’s dad was an agricultural cooperative president in the ancient regime (TSZ elnok in Hungarian). This is where Simon’s sizable land comes from. In the post communist era land grab, his dad “acquired” (wink!) a lot of acreage, very cheap, using his connections.

  13. latefor :
    To “Some1″
    May be Hungarian farmers could recover if they were allowed to hire cheep labor (convicts). It would also make it easier for them to compete on the European markets.
    Imagine, a small farmer could hire 30 inmates to pick paprika, for example. Hire a bogracs (Iron pot), and make a goulash to feed them. Everybody is happy. Problem solved.

    I cannot agree with that. Not the least. A country has a responsibility to its law abiding citizens to create an environment where providing work to its citizens is encouraged. When a country sends its poor to “labour camps” because there are no reasonable work for reasonable (minimum) wage is available, but put convicts to work for the rich for below minimum wage, there is something wrong. That is not the solution.

  14. The most alarming and symptomatic aspect of this story, to my mind, is where it was first aired: not in an opposition outlet but on the official Fidesz website, in a short report on Orban’s visit that explicitly mentioned the convicts working in the vineyard. One can only conclude that the reinstatement of serfdom is no longer the regime’s dirty secret but has become part and parcel of the official ideology. Here is the report on the Fidesz website:

    As for L. Simon: no, he is not a good poet, to put it mildly. However, when it comes to literary works I would not cite isolated passages with racist or obscene content to question the integrity of the author (this is what Olga Kalman in her interview with L. Simon, and many others criticizing him in view of his poems, were getting at). Poetry and fiction, including bad poetry and bad fiction, often involve the impersonation of voices and perspectives whose authority is undermined by the broader context. The condemnatory citation of offensive-soundig passages is a favorite practice of right-wing journalists castigating Nadas, Esterhazy and the like (and let’s not forget Attila Jozsef vs. Antal Horger), a tactic that always plays well with semi-illiterate audiences. I am not saying that the attitude conveyed in the passage about “Jewish whores” is entirely foreign to L. Simon–I don’t know and I don’t really care, since his nastiness and the damage he is doing to Hungarian culture doesn’t seem to have much to do with whatever sentiments he harbors toward women and Jews–and obviously it’s easier to absolve a poet from the charge of racism when the offensive-sounding lines occur in a good poem (by, say, T. S. Eliot, Gottfried Benn, or Janos Terey) as opposed to a lousy one (as in the case of Laszlo L. Simon). But the point remains that there is no straighforward inference to be made from the explicit content of a passage in a poem to the author’s personal beliefs and feelings.

  15. Marton :
    a tactic that always plays well with semi-illiterate audiences.

    You are absolutely right … but. That’s exactly why I do it. The gloves came off a long time ago. When Laszlo Kover (president of the parliament) compares Jozsef Nyiro’s (a nazi writer) “few unfortunate utterances” to some controversial quotes from Imre Madach I don’t feel obliged to avoid skewing. Is that really skewing by the way? Isn’t this what makes the semi-literate audience tick? I’m just doing it because I want guys like L. Simon to go from the government. We want good politicians.

    Hungarians probably know P. Howard (aka. Jeno Rejto). In one of his stories there were legionnaires playing poker while drinking brandy from a bucket. The cards were marked, but since all of them knew it this wasn’t cheating – it was a fair play …

  16. London Calling!

    Yes Mutt!

    I looked at the first course of my meal in Győr after my partner had described it as soup – I couldn’t believe my eyes – Cherry Soup! (or gyümölcsleves – apparently)

    Cherries floating around in a white sauce. Very very strange to an Englishman. I told my partner that the dessert normally follows the main course but she assured me it was the starter.

    Yes sour cherries are an amazing delightful discovery in Hungary and the ‘soup’ was delicious. I was later told that Hungarians think this is a great aid to digestion.

    I always leave Hungary with a large consignment of Meggybefott for the neighbours back in England!



  17. To Some1
    ” A country has a responsibility to its law abiding citizens to create an environment where providing work to its citizens is encouraged.”

    Oh yes, I agree with you Some1… a perfect world!
    BUT we are NOT living in a perfect world or am I missing out on something?

  18. latefor :
    Oh yes, I agree with you Some1… a perfect world!
    BUT we are NOT living in a perfect world or am I missing out on something?

    London Calling!

    Sometimes the ‘Department for Stating the Bleeding Obvious’ has to intervene.

    How does…..
    slamming the banks and international companies with extra taxes; adopting policies that ensure your people desert your country; drying up credit by ensuring companies ‘de-leverage’ their organisations out of Hungary; introducing a transaction tax that will be wholesale avoided through international trade but punishes your own people; creating non jobs through workfare; promising to generate 1,000,000 jobs but create a ‘declining economy with ‘unorthodox fairy-tale policies’; awarding of contracts to government favourites; controlling the Media with or without government largesse; permeating culture and education with propaganda and nastiness; re-writing history and place-name and statue changing; stealing peoples’ pension pots; creating a flat tax that is patently unfair; a VAT rate of 27% which kills spending and encourages evasion – and encourages cross-border fraud on a massive scale…..
    ………..create a job-friendly environment?

    I had to stop for fear of becoming boring!

    ‘Perfect world’s’ come in all different shapes and sizes depending on who’s controlling them.

    Some1 is able to fight his own corner – but goodness, are you on the same planet as us?



  19. Thank you much for this excellent story, Eva.
    As a dane who has lived in Hungary for 12 years, until 2008, its good to see someone with a humorous angle on the whole mess down there. Who know, but hopefully its people like you who will make a difference by opening ‘peoples’ eyes…
    Although im pretty pesimistic about that and consider it a lost cause.

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