D-Day

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State media headquarters in Budapest

Last day at the news agency. 

Up by bike along the Danube to the new state media headquarters in a bleak industrial section of Óbuda to take care of the necessary “demobilization papers” (leszerelési lapok)

An immense new complex across from the Budapest Electrical Works and the FŐTÁV district-heating plant. A modern architectural wonder in a bare utilitarian world of concrete, elevated pipelines and smokestacks. 

The security guards are suspicious: the accent, the bicycle, the discomfiture. “Demobilization” is the key word that opens the gate. 

This place has the feel of a hospital: a maze of corridors that all look the same; people on the move everywhere, into offices, out of offices, chatting, laughing, carrying papers, carrying equipment, power cords hanging. The ding and sweep of an elevator door.  

The secretary in charge of the process: a lady near retirement age speaking in a rural accent. She places several sheets of paper on the desk: sign this one, sign that one—then another one with a list of 32 offices and required signatures. 

Disbelief. Anger. The penchant of oppressive state bureaucracy to place arbitrary burdens on the individual. 

The secretary knows it’s wrong and doesn’t want conflict: with a highlighter she underlines eight of the 32 signatures that are really necessary. 

The office numbers are in the thousands: signs with arrows point 2029–2045 this way; 2046–2063 that way; 2064–2077 straight ahead. 

Four floors, three unconnected buildings—a scornful and unbelieving security guard flaunts the power of his position at the external door.   

Journalists, technicians and administrative personnel mill about everywhere, artificially, mechanically, as if they are performing as extras in a film. Their every word, expression and movement slightly constrained, unnatural.  

The stiffness of action taken under external compulsion. Whether they support Hungary’s newest post-republican system or not, they all feel it: the subordination of personal and professional standards to the political will of central authority. 

The news agency was a good place to work: excellent pay by Hungarian standards; lots of vacation and nice benefits. And most importantly: the decent and eminently human people who work there—including those brought in to enforce the new creed in 2010.  

But like all demobilizing soldiers: the euphoria of finally getting out. 

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