Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Frozen Random Splendor (and some political irony in Parliament Square)

Snow-covered but still imposing soldier and mother on the István Tisza monument
 - ironic considering Tisza's politics.

I've avoided posting images of the admittedly stunning Parliament building and Kossuth Lajos Square. Why replicate what a million postcards and tourist snaps have already captured? But there's been snow in the night, and the mounds of white on the black cast-iron statues looks awesome. Plus, there is some real irony to what is included in the composition of these monuments.
First, overlooking the (frozen) Danube is a massive monument to István Tisza. The man himself stands bold and intellectual, flanked by WWI soldiers and mothers with screaming infants in their arms.

István Tisza, cloaked in snow as he looks down his nose at the liberals.

You'd be forgiven for assuming Tisza (twice prime minister 1903-05 and 1913-17) to be a real man of the people. In actuality, when this reconstructed monument opened in 2014, Hungarian socialists protested. Tisza was actually a defender of landowners, opposed reform and supported compromise with his Austrian rulers. The inclusion of soldiers in the monument is particularly ironic as Tisza not only supported Hungary joining the First World War, he also blocked plans to give soldiers on the front the right to vote. (At that time only 10% of Hungarians had suffrage). So how come he has almost the most impressive (after the revolutionary Kossuth) statue in the square? A clue may be found in the opening of the reconstruction by current prime minister Viktor Orbán. He drew a parallel between himself and Tisza, as nationalist leaders who are trying to guide Hungary after a "disastrous liberal period" and who believe hard work (but not socialism) to be the saviour of Hungary. He didn't mention that Tisza actually encouraged migrants, especially Jewish workers, as the future of the Hungarian economy. Nor that Tisza was so unpopular that there were three assassination attempts, before he was finally killed by 'Chrysanthemum' revolutionaries on the first day of Hungary's separation from Austria in 1918. 

Statue of Francis Rákóczi II - with that damned horse!

A more traditionally heroic statue is that of Rácóczi, complete with formidable rearing horse. Rácóczi's revolutionary status is less controversial that of Tisza: he led a revolt against Habsburg empire with an army of Hajduk (emancipated peasant warriors) rather than nobility. But the inclusion of the horse seems a bit odd. Rácóczi's revolution was effectively ended during the Battle of Trencsen in 1708 when his horse stumbled, fell and knocked him unconscious. His soldiers believed he'd been killed and fled. The statue is impressive, even flecked with snow, but I'd have probably left the horse out of it.

Ice floes on the Danube at dusk.

Meanwhile, the Danube majestically flows on, past the Parliament and its statues, and it's been so cold that the mighty river has frozen. Huge slabs of ice drift past, making the beautiful cityscape even more dramatic than usual.

However, spotted by the river's edge: an early duckling looks like it really, really regrets hatching in mid-January. Shivering passing pedestrians empathise.

Squint and you can just about see the tiny duckling, unappreciative of the semi-frozen water.

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