Civilians do it better

“Kindly reinstate the potholes in their original condition or the council will do it”

It is hard to get even the simplest things done when authorities insist on doing it for you. Potholes are a case in point.

Everyone knows only the state can produce the amount of paperwork that safely dissolves responsibility for engineering decisions – that is why only the state is allowed to pour asphalt into potholes or plant flowers in parks. Only they don’t really do it because fixing potholes doesn’t bring in the big bucks – it doesn’t even win you elections.

The Hungarian satirical joke party assumed a new role after the April elections: they launched into citizen activism.

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Joke party activists paint the cracks on the sidewalk In Budapest. They also love to plant trees and flowers in neglected public parks – and authorities love to remove them because authorities… Photo: Zsuzsa Gaman

Their signature move of coloring the sidewalks (so that authorities would be forced to fix the cracks) has been upgraded, and now they actually perform work the local councils ought to be doing. Like fixing bike roads and filling potholes.

Needless to say, said authorities are not thrilled and use every inane and irrational bureaucratic tool to hit back for the mockery. Like this letter.

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“I ask you to return into its original state the potholes of the village, which you have unprofessionally… (sentence grammatically incomplete). If the original state of the potholes will not be reinstated by the deadline, we will charge you for the reinstatement of potholes.”

The joke party decided to fill some potholes (in Orbán’s infamous birth village, but that’s beside the point). The activism wasn’t exactly a secret. The event was public on Facebook to ensure it was well attended. But once the job was done, the local council found it offensive and barked something about safety (as they always do). In the above letter they actually requested the potholes to be reinstated or else they will do it themselves and charge the joke party for the works.

That’s right, the council is threatening to dig up the holes again, just to punish activists. In the meantime, they pay more attention to the potholes than they ever did. Also, they spend manpower on this correspondence and money on doing something about the roads – the latter is only being claimed so far.

Last week the joke party was mocking the state railway company for spending more money on security guards (to stop activists from finishing a long overdue bike road) than it spent on the bike road itself. And the list continues. Clearly, authorities’ priority is not to get things done, but to make sure it remains their jurisdiction to do so. As a consequence, citizens can’t fix things themselves.

This degree of bureaucratic arrogance is rare but not unheard of. It is not stupidity either. And no, it is not about safety. That little voice in your head that is looking for reasons why civilians shouldn’t be allowed to fix roads – that voice is only looking because it doesn’t want to find itself in confrontation with something it feels cannot be changed. You should stay angry with stupidity, not find excuses for it.

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