Civilians doing what should be normal in any other country – trying to make their town a better place by raising attention to local issues. Authorities’ response: “Soros mercenaries!”
It all started after the War. To everyone’s relief, the Debrecen-Mátészalka railway line wasn’t bombed and thus stayed in operation.
Now to the bad news: It hasn’t been renovated ever since.
Which is a problem because the line was built in 1887. By the time yours truly went to school and used this train for daily commute, we already called it the “flower picking train” – you can get off the moving train, pick some flowers, and still get back on. The nickname was only a slight exaggeration. The speed limit for the train has been as low as 20-30 km/hour on most of the line. Not slow enough to pick flowers, but one could certainly jump off and get back on the train while it was moving. Our 38 km daily commute took 1 hour and 15 minutes each way – with only one stop between the two stations.
The Debrecen-Mátészalka line still operates gasoline engines because the line hasn’t been electrified. Travelers going east from Debrecen have to wait for their locomotives to be swapped, but it gets worse. In lieu of a renovation, the state railway company (MÁV) keeps lowering the speed limits. It is cheaper that way. As a result, trains ran faster in 1943 than in 2018, according to a 1943 timetable unearthed by a thematic blog. Today, the 78 km trip takes 1:39 minutes in one direction, 1:49 in the other. When it operates, that is. There are as few as thee trains per day, but even those three trains often break down, leaving commuters with little choice and much inconvenience.
825 thousand people use these trains every year, which may not warrant the line!s existence, but that’s a different economic problem altogether. Besides, the reason people try to find alternative routes – or forego work opportunities in nearby towns – is exactly the state of the public transport infrastructure. A job next town might as well be on the Moon. Car sharing service oszkar.com registers heavy traffic on that exact route. Commuters book over 400 rides a week on this stretch running parrallel to the railway tracks. The equivalent in train tickets would be 110 million forints (approx. 300 thousand euros).
In August, a video went viral where a local activist outran the train, wearing a snail costume.
The amusing stunt immediately became the target of the government media. The act was committed by so called “civilians”, a target group of the government’s vile, two-year media and billboard campaign. People who have no idea what civil society even means, people who may even be helped by civilians, believe that “civilian” means Satan and George Soros combined and on steroids – lurking to suck the marrow out of the nation’s bones, to drink pure, ethnic Hungarian blood, and make Lebensraum for the promiscuous hordes of Muslim terrorists. I am not exaggerating, all these things have been said and repeated, in this style and manner, endlessly, on Fidesz media, by its publicists, talking heads, “experts”, opinion leaders, not to mention the Orbán’s direct marketing mail campaigns and government billboards that plagued the country for two whole years without a break.
The snail run was viciously and immediately attacked as an attempt to deliver more migrants into the town on the new, faster train lines. Inane accusation, yes, but according to Fidesz’ poll numbers it works. You may not believe it, but you are certainly helpless against these claims, and you will start your response with a long denial of being pro-migrant, a Soros-mercenary, etc. You will never get out of this looking good.
The government’s attack on civil society, its extra tax on divergent opinions, its listing and demonizing of civil society organisations meets little resistance among people, who don’t even understand that civil society is merely non-politicians trying to get things done. Like these guys in Mátészalka.
Because contrary to the government media’s accusations, these people are neither evil nor anonymous. They have names and faces, neatly listed on their website where they also publish all their activities, their modest funding, and their correspondence with the authorities.
Levente Lintényi, Richárd Szabó and Tünde Nedávnyi work four shifts in the optical works factory of Mátészalka – and raise awareness of local issues after work. They make between 400-550 euros a month and should really leave the region if they wanted a better life. But they like their hometown. They also can’t afford cars instead of trains.
Their activism (dubbed MátészalkaLeaks) started with smaller issues, things that made locals’ lives better. They have intervened in over 200 local issues such as late buses and pedestrian overpasses. The renovation of the Debrecen-Mátészalka line is just their biggest, flagship project. They keep tabs of their activities on their website because in Hungary, the civilians are transparent and polite, while the government is opaque and arrogant.
The only link MátészalkaLeaks has with demonized civilians is a grant and a workshop by a foundation (Civil Kollégium Alapítvány, also gets some money from Soros) that taught them the dark arts of writing freedom of information requests and imbued them with the confidence to say “we are not afraid because we are just practicing our rights”. Technically, and legally, they still have those rights. For how long is anyone’s guess. To be sure, in a report in 168 óra they spend a sad amount of the interview denying accusations that they would be into politics or (horribile dictu!) have anything against The Party. You have to keep proving that – and even that may not be enough to fend off accusations of treason.
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