Will San Miguel again be #1?

A lot of songs stolen from Romania !

Youtube comment on performance of Hungarian gypsy music

The Conde Nast Readers’ Choice Awards for 2014 will be announced soon. Will San Miguel repeat as #1? Next week La Alborada, the annual celebration of el Arcángel San Miguel, (for whom San Miguel is named) takes place and there will be early morning fireworks galore (try 2 a.m.) and dancing by los indios and 1000s of photo ops.

sausage sculpture

Source: Pestiside.hu

So, let’s give some press to last year’s #2. Actually, it was a tie with Florence and Budapest, although Budapest is the clear winner from the purse point of view.  We’ll rule out Florence as a contender because Florence gets enough press for being home to the birth of the Renaissance,  La Rinascimento.

Speaking of purses, a Reader’s Digest poll said that Budapest tied with NYC for 3rd place in its Honesty poll!  Now, everyone in Europe is aware of the Roma “problem,” which seems to be more of a problem in Hungary than anywhere else.  In Hungary, most Roma are citizens whereas in other European countries they are visitors.  The Roma “problem” is even big enough news that PBS covered it recently.  While gypsies have been in Europe for about 1000 years, their presence in Hungary has been the focus of political debate since the fall of the Iron Curtain and the subsequent crash of the Hungarian economy.  Unemployment in Hungary rose from an all-time low of 5.5 per cent in 2001 to its all-time high of 11.8 per cent (March 2010); the high unemployment created dissatisfaction with the early post-Soviet influenced government and is a cause for the far right party Fidesz coming to power.

The success of Fidesz was followed by Jobbik (a “radically patriotic Christian party” in its words).  Jobbik captured 20 per cent of the vote in the 2014 elections (up from 16 per cent in 2010).


Source: The World Bank

If government figures are correct then the current 7.6 per cent is small when compared to Spain’s 24 per cent, Italy’s 15 per cent, France’s 10 per cent and the Euro region’s overall 11 per cent.  A key factor, however, is that many of the Hungarian jobs that were lost during the recession were in heavy industries, especially in the northeast of Hungary.  Couple that with rising prices as the government-market economy gave way to a capitalist market economy, many Hungarians suffered dislocation.  There was massive government debt and high taxes.  Many unemployed young Hungarians fled as did many professionals.  All of a sudden, the country seemed to have a much higher average age – except the Roma population, whose average age was decreasing.  While the Romani account for between 3 and 10 per cent of the Hungarian population (many Roma do not report themselves as Roma), 37 per cent of the Roma population is younger than 14 years of age while the general population is only 15 per cent.

Charles McPhedran, writing for the Global Mail (“Official Terror For Hungary’s Roma”) stated:

Márton Gyöngyösi, Jobbik’s deputy parliamentary leader, says “one solution” that the party is interested in trying out is the removal of Romani children from their families – to solve the problem of intergenerational unemployment amongst Romani families.

“We have been saying that taking gypsy children into boarding schools – where they are taken out of the Roma community that pulls them back and shows them a bad example – that could be a good solution,” Gyöngyösi says.

In 2012 Gyöngyösi also said that it is

timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.

During the Holocaust (which Jobbik calls the “Holoscam”) 550,000 of Hungary’s then 800,000 Jews were murdered.  Today there are slightly more than 110,000 Jews in Hungary.

James Kirchick in Meet Europe’s New Fascists, wrote “The rise of the far right has, somewhat ironically, coincided with a revival of Jewish life.”  During the Communist years the voice of all religions became muted; with the fall of Communism came the ability to freely practice one’s faith – and to speak one’s mind, including anti-Semitic thoughts.

The Roma in Hungary have generally been segregated from the rest of the population, living amongst themselves.  Many Roma children do not enter high school.  While 90 per cent of the Hungarian general population enters secondary school, one-third of the Romani children do so.  Unemployment is higher among the Romani population than the general population, most drastically among young adults.  Jobbik leaders have said the segregation has not gone far enough, that the Roma should live in ghettos.

In the best of times the Roma are tolerated in Europe.  In the worst of times they become hunted and chased and killed as during World War II when the Nazis put the Roma in concentration camps and Croatia’s Fascist-terrorist group Ustaša exterminated thousands of Roma.  In Easter 2011, the Red Cross came to temporarily evacuate most of the Romani families from the town of Gyöngyöspata after weeks of torch-lit parades by fascist paramilitary groups. The militia were affiliated with Jobbik.

Throughout Europe “Gypsy crime” – including stealing and pickpocketing – is notorious.  So back to our comparison of Budapest and San Miguel and the Reader’s Digest poll on honesty.

Twelve wallets were left scattered about 16 of the world’s cities and the wallet-droppers watched what became of their discards.  The wallets contained the equivalent of about $50 (US), photos, and contact information for the wallet’s “owner.” Helsinki came in first with 11 wallets returned; Lisbon came in last (only 1 wallet returned); Budapest & New York each had eight wallets returned.  The world-wide tally?  Ninety of the 192 wallets were returned.   Keep that in mind as you gaze about you.  Wallets disappeared with drivers of luxury cars as easily as with anyone else.  Mumbai – where one would think $50 could go a very long way – came in second to Helsinki in the poll.

Budapest is home to the online magazine Pestiside.hu (Budapest consists of hilly Buda and flat Pest – they face each other across the Danube).  The magazine’s humor is reminiscent of The Onion, although Pestiside‘s articles describe reality – as difficult as they may be to believe as you read the articles.  Pesticide came up with 25 reasons that Budapest almost topped the Conde Nast list, among them:

  • Lots of great nightlife, because young people have nowhere to go the next morning due to the high unemployment (it’s down from a high of 28 per cent in July 2013 to 20 percent, but it has begun to creep up again)
  • The country’s most important tourist attraction is a creepy withered hand in a fancy box that lights up when you drop a coin in it (St. Stephen’s right hand, over 1,000 years old)
  • You can see all the other important cultural sights in just a day, leaving you plenty of time to drink yourself sick
  • You can see things that make it seem like World War II happened just yesterday
  • The national airline is a budget carrier whose name in American slang means “urinate” (Wizz)
  • You don’t have to be nice to the homeless because the new constitution says they are criminals (the 2012 Constitution enacted by Fidesz protects the life of a fetus from the moment of conception, defines marriage as being between one man and one woman – while allowing for same-sex civil unions, and does not include bans on discrimination against age or sexual orientation:  the preamble refers to the Holy Crown, God, Christianity, the fatherland and traditional family values)
  • Unlike San Miguel de Allende, there is no gang warfare because the government firmly controls all the major rackets


Hungary recently received international press from Barack Obama when he appeared at the Clinton Global Initiative and said “From Hungary to Egypt, endless regulations and overt intimidation increasingly target civil society.”  He said governments around the world are trying to clamp down on civil society, citing Hungary, Russia and Azerbaijan as examples. What, exactly, was he referring to?

In September, two Hungarian non-governmental organizations – Ökotárs and Demnet – were raided by police officers from the National Bureau of Investigation.  The organizations receive money from the Norwegian government under a 20-year-old deal to help strengthen civil society in the poorer parts of Europe, In May of this year, the Hungarian government’s “blacklist” of its 13 “most wanted” organizations (out of 58 groups under investigation) came to light. The list includes organizations like the Roma Press Center, Labrisz Lesbian Association and Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (HCLU).

The Hungarian government has concerns about Russian spies, and given that the country shares a border with the Ukraine and the long Soviet influence in Hungary, there might be some need to be suspicious of NGOs.  The tenor of the times seems very much like the 1950s in the United States:  fears of lesbians, Russkies and the Civil Liberties Union.

Free speech is also becoming less so:  a rapper (László Pityinger, known as Dopeman) is under criminal investigation after he kicked the detached head of a statue symbolising the Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Antal Rogan, group leader of the ruling Fidesz party, said that Obama “may not have all the information”, while the Hungarian foreign ministry said that the president’s remarks about Hungary’s civil society “lacked any factual basis”.

It isn’t that we believe in nepotism, but we feel a need to practice it

Ráhel Orbán, the prime minister’s daughter, can often be found at the tourism department of the Ministry of National Economics.  The head of the department, Andrea Nemes, was Ms. Orbán’s thesis supervisor at Corvinus University, where she presented Ms. Orbán’ with the prize for winning the essay contest, which was organized by the nation’s tourism agency (Magyar Turizmus Inc.).

The tourist industry reported a 5.5 per cent growth in the number of guests and a 10 per cent growth in lodging revenues compared to a year ago. Viktória Horváth, the Deputy Secretary of State responsible for tourism, was relieved of her duties simultaneously with the report.

Handicapping the contest

It’s possible that Budapest will overtake San Miguel this year.

Travel Opportunity Budapest San Miguel de Allende
Say you’ve arrived by Wizz
Rent a glorious opera house for dinner
See a 1,000 year old hand
Experience hot springs/ thermal baths
Experience far-right politics in action
Connect to bulls Egri Bikavér
(Bull’s Blood of Eger, a red wine)
 Periodic corridas
Volunteer with or be an NGO Discouraged Encouraged
Sausage food sculptures

Béga Sitya from Latcho Drom


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