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New Europe

Day Seventy-one: Budapest

Beautiful Budapest 
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Beautiful Budapest. On-street ecstasy.
Michael Palin - New Europe'I never thought this would change. I thought until my death we were going to live under communism here.'

He concedes that many problems remain.

'Under communism there was no corruption, no famine... everybody got something, but everybody got very little, and today with capitalism, especially the old people feel they had a better time under communism.'

While clearly a successful capitalist himself, he is not in favour of hunting down the old communists and settling scores.

'We should have closed it, like the Germans did in 1990, when they strictly filtered out who should be punished, who not, but in Hungary today, it's still a process going on.'

As the only Independent member of Parliament, he is, not surprisingly, the only one dedicated to rooting out corruption.

'OK, ten million people in the country. Out of that about three million pensioners on about 200 euros a month, and you have a million super-rich, who were close to power in the old days... and there's a real hatred towards these new-rich, with their gold chains.'

This results in the policy of envy which he feels is the curse of the country.

'There is no middle class in Hungary, which we had before. You have only the very rich or the very poor.'

We walk out onto the gleaming, freshly cleaned limestone terrace overlooking the Danube. The ramparts of Castle Hill rise up across the river, a hazy skyline of walls and roofs tiled in red and gold. This is undoubtedly the grandest city we've encountered so far, and despite his misgivings Péter is upbeat about its prospects. Money is pouring in and more foreign investment is coming here than into Vienna, making it currently the financial and business hub of Central Europe.

'The Soviets called us East European,' he says with a touch of asperity, 'which we are not, we are Central Europe. Call us East European, people don't like it.'
Beautiful Budapest 
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Beautiful Budapest. Outside Parliament, a lion looks down its nose at me.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Seventy-one: Budapest
  • Country/sea: Hungary
  • Place: Budapest
  • Book page no: 173

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