Updated: Friday, 28 March 2014 03:30 | By Agence France-Presse

PM Orban's home village speaks volumes about Hungary

For both critics and fans of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the village where he grew up says a lot about the man tipped to be re-elected early next month and his style of government.


PM Orban's home village speaks volumes about Hungary

Prime Minister Orban's home village Felcsut, Hungary, on March 26, 2014 - by Attila Kisbenedek

Since Orban swept to power in 2010, neat and tidy Felcsut, nestled in the rolling hills of Transdanubia in central Hungary has undergone a metamorphosis.

Its schools, church and houses have all been spruced up, the streets are spotless and Felcsut, population 1,750, sports a brand new cultural centre since February. 

Soon, the town 45 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital Budapest will have a new train link too.

Thanks to football-mad Orban, 50, the village castle has been transformed into a youth academy that aims to produce the Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea stars of the future.

And for Felcsut's team, a state-of-the-art new stadium with a capacity of 3,500 -- twice the population -- built at a cost of 13 million euros ($18 million) will open at the end of April, dominating the skyline.

"I was born here. My parents would never have believed their eyes," enthuses pensioner Ferenc Groszeibl. 

"Obviously we are proud. The village has profited from Viktor being in government."

- Jobs for the boys -

But for the prime minister's critics, the transformation of Felcsut -- just as changes elsewhere in the country -- masks the fact that under Orban, all is not well.

Felcsut Mayor Lorinc Meszaros, an old friend of Orban's and a former gas fitter, for example, has become a multi-millionaire -- in euros -- since 2010, owning large tracts of land.

Reportedly, every public tender his construction company bids for, it wins, including the Felcsut stadium -- which as mayor he was also the one to award.

Meszaros denies any wrongdoing but for Orban's detractors, the mayor's rags-to-riches change in fortunes typifies the jobs-for-the-boys ethic that has become endemic in Hungary, which joined the European Union in 2004.

Orban's shake-up of Hungary's tobacco trade, for example, was billed as a noble attempt to snuff out smoking. It has, however, first and foremost benefitted people close to the governing party, critics say, as have new land reforms.

Orban has also rewritten the constitution, and a raft of legislation has brought to heel a swathe of the media and the judiciary, opponents both in Hungary and abroad charge.

But "Viktor", as he is mostly known, a lawyer by training who made his name as a student protestor when communism fell in 1989, remains liked, with a recent IPSOS study giving him a healthy 43-percent popularity rating.

"There are multiple reasons but the determining factor for me is his charisma. He knows how to make people like him, he speaks the language of the people," Igor Janke, a Polish biographer of Orban, told AFP.

But for author and Orban critic Jozsef Debreczeni, this popularity relies on "intimidation", saying the prime minister resembles the leader of another former communist country currently in the news.

"Viktor Orban is moving Hungary towards the Russian model of (President Vladimir) Putin," Debreczeni says, adept at hiding the neutering of key democratic institutions under a "semblance of democracy".

Back in Felcsut, however, Ferenc Groszeibl won't hear a word of criticism.

"People are always envious," he says.

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