While the government’s recently presented convergence program unveils the details of the reform of the employment and the social welfare system, the Fidesz-KDNP party alliance is keen to renew the country in terms of marketing, too.
The first step in Hungary’s rebranding is laid down in the new constitution. The basic document, signed by President Pál Schmitt on Easter Monday, renames the country to “Hungary” from the current official title of “Republic of Hungary.” “As far as I know, Hungary has always been called Hungary,” Fidesz floor leader János Lázár said ironically, referring to the fact that the move is only symbolic and does not change the Hungarian system from that of a republic.
Nevertheless, the word “republic” will not only be missing from the country’s name from now on, but also from street signs on today’s Köztársaság tér in the capital’s district 8. As part of a package passed by the Budapest Assembly to rename 24 spots in Budapest, the new name of the square will be II. János Pál pápa tér after the late Pope John Paul II. The move rhymes with references to the country’s Christian origin having also been inserted in Hungary’s new constitution. The pope, who is to be beatified on May 1 in Rome, is widely considered as an instrumental player in ending communism in Europe.
Budapest’s Ferihegy airport was also a name that didn’t sound just right for the government. Parliament in March decided to rename the capital’s airport Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport, in honor of the internationally renowned composer born 200 years ago. The new name neglected the suggestion of the official geographical names committee, which earlier said that such a long name would not be easily established in everyday language and that it would be unfortunate to remove the word “Ferihegy,” which is already generally recognized. However, the committee will probably not be able to express its disapproval for much longer, as the government plans to take away some of its jurisdictions and reduce its size.
Renewing street signs
In line with expressing that the current leaders of Hungary are to totally break with the past decades, the capital will likewise get a new image. On March 27, the Budapest Assembly passed mayor István Tarlós’s proposal to rename 24 public places in the capital. The mayor claimed that the names of these spots were preferred by the former regime and, since we are already 21 years after establishing democracy, these are ”less acceptable” now.
In addition to a pope getting a public place named after him, another king will also be visible from now on Budapest street signs – Elvis Presley, the king of rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis is being honored for his “sympathy with the Hungarian nation,” as in early 1957, a few months after the Hungarian revolution against the Soviet-imposed regime, he helped raise CHF 26 million for the country by singing Peace in the Valley on The Ed Sullivan Show, Tarlós recounted when making his proposal. Picking the location to be named after the King was motivated purely by practical reasons. Since there are no houses directly along the small green area lying close to Margit híd, renaming the spot will not necessitate any extra administrative tasks for any Budapest residents.
Transylvanian writer Albert Wass will be the new name-giver of the current Pákozdi tér in district 17. Wass’s books are more popular than the Bible in Transylvania and are also favored by Hungarian readers. In Hungary, however, his name has been strongly attached to right-wing politics, causing him to be simply overlooked by a large part of society lying at the other end of the political spectrum.
After spending ten years on the shelf, the idea of renaming Moszkva (Moscow) tér in Budapest’s district 2 has also come up again. Although Tarlós previously said that restoring the original name of Széll Kálmán tér that the square had between 1929–1951 “might create emotional tensions” that are not needed at the moment, after some consideration, he finally decided to go ahead with the name change. As such, the major Buda traffic hub will get back its old name. Kálmán Széll, despite his merits of being Hungary’s finance minister in the late 1800s and a prime minister at the turn of the century, most recently has been strongly attached with the current government, as Fidesz-KDNP named its economic reform package the Széll Kálmán Plan.
Playing on a recent modification that allows naming public premises after people as little as five years after their death (instead of the previous limit of 25 years), well-admired Hungarian actors such as Imre Sinkovits or Edit Domján, and sport stars like Nándor Hidegkuti have also become new name-givers.
In the future, the city is also set to get a new flag that, according to Tarlós’s vision, would have a “lighter” version of the current tricolor of red, yellow and blue and would be “simpler” in general. However, while it is a fact that Budapest had been led by the liberal Gábor Demszky for the past 20 years, the city flag and coat of arms were created at the time of the foundation of today’s Budapest in 1873 and so is not actually attached either to the left or to Demszky himself. Nonetheless, it has regularly been criticized by conservatives, mostly because of its resemblance to Romania’s national banner.
In the heat of rebranding, Tarlós also plans to rename the city’s 15-year-old Danube bridge from Lágymányosi híd to Rákóczi híd. II. Rákóczi Ferenc was the leader of the Hungarian uprising against the Habsburgs in the early 18th century, and also Prince of Transylvania during his war for independence. According to the regulation currently in effect, the approval of the geographical names committee is required for the renaming, with a decision likely at the next session in June.