Anyone walking across Kossuth tér (square) in front of Parliament these days is once again faced with a security fence, a reminder of the hoarding put up by the previous Socialist administration to protect against a terrorist threat. This time it is for construction work which began last weekend on the north side of the square.
“Back to the roots” could be the motto of the transformation plans. According to the government decree passed last year, “the artistic appearance of the square is to be restored in such a way that it corresponds to how it looked before 1944”. Zoltán Cselovszki, the local district’s head architect, stressed, however, that the look is not a question of a single moment in time. Instead it is about “combining the erstwhile atmosphere of the square with the expectations of the 21st century”.
This involves questions of security and tourism, he said. According to Cselovszki, “where statues will be placed has been largely decided, but which statues exactly those will be also depends on the extent to which restoration of earlier damaged statues is possible”.
Underground garage & national security
The fate of the statues that were erected after 1945 remains unclear. Those of the first Hungarian president, Count Mihály Károlyi, and poet Attila József could disappear from the city centre for an indefinite time. The fate of the latter, erected in 1980, still hangs in the balance. State Secretary for Culture Géza Szöcs recently spoke in favour of leaving the poet in his place. Károlyi on the other hand is unlikely to return to the heart of District V. This will surely please far-right party Jobbik, which has long been demanding his removal.
However, even where specific plans exist there are still questions to be resolved. For example, consultations with the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration need to be held about the planned underground garage with more than 400 parking places.
Emil Bakos, the chief economic director of Parliament, told a press conference on Sunday that direct entry between the underground garage and the Parliament building is planned. This makes the construction project a question of national security, he said. “Since 1 January Kossuth tér has been a square of national remembrance, which means that it comes under Parliament’s sphere of responsibility,” Bakos said.
An information point will be put up by the fenced area. According to the plans, Kossuth tér will be kept completely free of cars in future, with only trams stopping. “We want to give Kossuth tér back to pedestrians and cyclists,” Bakos said.
The decree says the government needs to move out of the Parliament building by 31 May 2014, the time when the construction work will be completed.
First, the square is being made accessible to historians. “That is part of the preparations,” Bakos explained. The cost of this preparatory work would be part of the planned total expense of HUF 2.5 billion (EUR 8.64 million).
The tender for the first stage of construction will, according to Bakos’ plans, take place according to a so-called simplified procedure, made possible by a government decree passed in February. Security reasons have been cited for this – in the case of a standard tender procedure, information would have to be supplied that could have an impact on national security.
The building measures have met with strong criticism. Both the tender process and the sudden start of work are seen as suspect in some quarters.
The Facebook organisation Milla and the closely allied non-parliamentary party 4K! have expressed astonishment at the timing. A member of Milla expressed the suspicion that the construction work is designed to prevent demonstrations during the remainder of Fidesz’s term. András Istvánffy, coordinator of 4K!, shares that opinion. He added: “At the time of what are probably the hardest-hitting austerity measures of the past decades it is astonishing that reconstruction of the square cannot be delayed. The only explanation we can find is that the distribution of the investment sum was long promised to certain big economic players.”
Museum could vanish in Kossuth tér time warp
The Ethnographic Museum opposite Parliament could be the latest victim of the nostalgic vision of returning Kossuth tér (square) to its inter-war glory. As the government’s reshaping of the square itself got under way, the left-liberal daily Népszabadság reported on Thursday that the Kúria (as the former Supreme Court is known after regaining its pre-war name) wants its old building back. Kúria president Péter Darák has sent a request to that effect to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the paper reported.