Nothing says self respect like erecting a statue to the feudal owner of your ancestors on the last dime of your village. Maybe perhaps erecting the statue on debt.
I never understood humans who erect statues to other humans. Like old aristocrats. But when a village decides that it needs nothing more than a statue to the lord of its land a few centuries prior, it feels especially cringeworthy. After all, why wouldn’t you be proud to worship a dude who owned, used and perhaps even raped your ancestors? Makes total sense.
Anyway, the leadership of this poor little village came to the conclusion that such a statue is what they needed most, even though they happened to have no money. But worry not, there is nothing like nationalism to sacrifice real money for imaginary gains, so the government came to the rescue. And that is where the farce started in earnest.
Because nationalism is just the red sauce poured over corruption. That statue couldn’t have been more expensive if it was made of gold. And the generous promise of state assistance couldn’t have cost more to the village if it was a punishment instead. And the story is not one of a kind, far from it. The only unique thing about it is that it is documented because the (Fidesz) mayor was naïve enough to get surprised and complain about it.
It all started with the noble, not-at-all-undignified desire to spend some of the scarce money of the village on a statue to a long-dead aristocrat. Schools, plumbing, roads, internet can all wait. Aristocrat-worship takes precedent over real-life success.The mayor calculated that 2-3 million forints (that’s around 7 thousand euros) should be enough. Asked the government – the government refused. That should have been the end of the story.
But then a sculptor announced himself. He said no worries, he can build the statue and also bring the money – he has good connection in the ministry. His partner works there (he is denying they have any relation). It would be more than 15 times the estimated price though. He asked for a little over 100 thousand euros (40 million forints instead of 2-3).
The mayor balked at the irrational price but the sculptor was known to be OfFidesz, a politically connected “artist”.
The politically connected sculptor in 2019 Photo: MTI/Rosta Tibor
Every time I walk past a statue I think about how someone received the price of a house for this, and I am apparently right. In the end, our sculptor was promised 10 million forints (around 30 thousand euros) plus the right to arrange the area of the statue for another 6-7 million. The ministry responded positively to the request for money this time.
The statue was ready in zero time. It also suspiciously looked like a repurposed version of the moping shepherd – another cliché statue theme. The mayor didn’t want to pay, not least because the ministry hasn’t transferred the promised funds yet. But also because the silly mayor thought that such a career in street sculpting and political connections would be based on individually crafted works.
Then the threats started. The mayor received calls and was put under pressure to pay up by 1) the Fidesz office of the nearby city, 2) the Fidesz mayor of the nearby city and 3) the Fidesz representative of the election district (he is usually the local Fidesz strongman and EU cash distributor). Finally, the silly village mayor was personally called on the carpet by 4) the Fidesz MP of the election district in the office of the aforementioned city mayor. There were threats that would make the village insolvent in no time.
Our naïve village mayor was scared to upset Fidesz any further and he would now have paid for a statue of Mickey Mouse just to avoid the punishment. They would not be able to pay salaries and keep institutions open if Fidesz punished them as they threatened. They still haven’t had the statue at this point, but the mayor went home from the Fidesz office and the village paid the “artist”. It was not quite legal to send the money before receiving the service, but they had no choice. The Party’s disapproval is more dangerous than the law.
After the statue arrived the maestro had new demands. A special granite base for his masterpiece, costing more than the statue. At this point the village literally didn’t have any money left. The naïve mayor even went to a tombstone maker who could make the granite base in the fraction of the money, but the sculptor was adamant.
The sculptor could afford to make demands as a politically connected nobody has bigger power in an autocracy than the law – certainly more than his client. In the end, he felt so offended that he didn’t deign to attend the revealing of his unique and heartfelt masterpiece because he felt he was not invited in the right way. (Or maybe because the same statue was being revealed in a dozen other fortunate villages on the same day, who knows?)
In the end, even the promised ministry support failed to come through. The village has no money and the sculptor still demands the equivalent of the price of the statue to be sent again, even though it was four times overpriced to begin with. The mayor is aware of a number of other villages and towns in the area where the same thing had happened, that is why he would rather not run for mayor again. He also requested to end his membership in Fidesz.
Despite ear witnesses to the phone calls, everyone in Fidesz denies that any of this had happened.
The featured image is not the statue of the old aristocrat in question, nor is it the moping shepherd. It is a statue of the fictive LA detective Columbo, erected in the Falk Miksa street of Budapest, in an attempt to own the success of an American TV series by claiming that the actor, Peter Falk, might have had ethnic ancestry in this country. He may have, but it was not Miksa Falk, by whom the street was named. The statue cost 14 million forints.