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hvg.hu

Two years ago Laszlo Hoffmann, legal representative of the Protection Group (Ovas) made a complaint to prosecutors about illegal building privatisations in the Jewish Quarter. For a long time, Ovas has been saying that something is amiss in the rehabilitation of the historic city centre.

hvg.hu: It was two years ago that your organisation, the Protection Group (Ovas), made a complaint to prosecutors about illegal building privatisations in the Jewish Quarter. For a long time, Ovas has been saying that something is amiss in the rehabilitation of the historic city centre.

Gyorgy Gal
L.H.: The way the local authority has been selling buildings in the old Jewish Quarter has been illegal. They sold inhabited buildings without respecting the residents' legal first-purchase option. Furthermore, they sold these buildings to entrepreneurs for almost nothing, specifying only that they should buy out the buildings' tenants. They agreed that if they paid the tenants more than was legally required they would provide an equivalent discount on the sale price of the building. They made it possible for people to acquire the buildings without the local authority receiving any money at all in return.

hvg.hu: There have been plenty of articles about this, but nothing has happened. Why?

L.H.:
For one thing, it claimed that there was no money to refurbish the houses and that it was in the interests of the residents to live in acceptable surroundings. But of course, for many years the local authority spent no money at all on those buildings, letting them fall into ruin. Later, when businessmen "bought" residents out of the buildings, they could argue that it was no longer possible to refurbish the building cost-effectively and that it had to be pulled down.

hvg.hu: The press writes loads about what the seventh district local authority has been doing.

L.H.:
What's been happening in the sixth and seventh districts - and what continues to happen to this day - is all part of one big story. Both local authorities have a similar attitude. The two districts are working together, giving each other permission when rules don't allow them to give themselves permission to do something.

hvg.hu: As far as Erzsebetvaros is concerned, prosecutors say Nagy and Gal caused damages of Ft700m to the seventh district local authority, and attempted to cause a further Ft1.6bn of damage. What happened to that Ft700m?

L.H.:
I don't want to speculate. The most likely explanation is that those sums ended up in people's pockets and not in party coffers, and that the entire corrupt affair was motivated by people's private commercial interests. But I'm glad to say that the prosecutors have investigated the affair very thoroughly over more than two years. The businessman Gyorgy Nagy and Gyorgy Gal, head of one of the party groups in the local council, have been arrested, and this is an important turning point. But that's not the end of the process. What has happened expresses broader social attitudes.

hvg.hu: You wrote Ovas's complaint against the seventh district. What did you argue?

L.H.: It was the result of collective work. We claimed that property sales in the seventh district were illegal and that it was possible that the transactions had been criminal acts. We argued that there were cases of fraud and abuse of public office.

hvg.hu: The Jewish Quarter was once the commercial centre of Pest. A proper rehabilitation of the area could have made it into a tourist attraction. But Kiraly utca is now a depressing sight. Could it have been done differently?

L.H.:
It's hard to say. It's certain that things weren't monitored adequately. All the parties in the council bear responsibility for this mess. The chief executive of the seventh district council didn't do his job either - rather than insuring things were done by the book, he tried to make sure these shady deals passed a strict test of legality. In Warsaw and Krakow, the Jewish Quarter was rebuilt when the old inhabitants were no longer there. We managed to destroy a lively and exciting Old Town, getting rid of the Jews in the process.

Many of them were elderly and not particularly rich, some where Holocaust survivors. With the money they got for their flats they were only able to find alternatives in outlying districts of the city. The rehabilitation was not just amateurish and corrupt, but it also changed the composition of the area. Every old street could have been given a distinct profile, just as was done in Lipotvaros with Falk Miksa utca, which became an art dealing and gallery centre.

hvg.hu: Thirteen buildings were demolished between 2002 and 2006 in the Jewish Quarter - and the area had already seen many demolitions. Now the area as a whole has been listed - but this doesn't affect Klauzal utca and Akacfa utca, where building permits are easily available.

L.H.:
People are still indifferent to the architectural character of this neighbourhood. If a building is demolished and some kind of glass-and-steel box is built in its place, then the whole facade of the area changes. Most of the old buildings could have been restored, and new ones could have been built in a way that suited the neighbourhood's character. Instead, entrepreneurs were given a completely free hand - and their interest is in cramming ever more flats into ever higher buildings. This happened on Kazinczy utca, on Sip utca and now it's happening next to the synagogue on Dohany utca.

hvg.hu: But the Herzl passage was built by Peter Tordai, the former president of the Jewish religious community.

L.H.:
That doesn't change anything. It's highly questionable, adding three extra floors to a three-storey building. It makes the area less livable, because the infrastructure isn't designed for so many people, especially when it comes to car parking. In Vienna, the attractive old buildings in the centre were saved by building an underground garage under almost every one of them. But here, we are demolishing buildings in order to turn their courtyards into parking spaces.

hvg.hu: Civil organisations say that Pest's historic Jewish Quarter was torn apart by property speculation, and that the city and district authorities did nothing to stop this - not to mention the Listed Buildings Office. What do you say?

L.H.:
I can't state that as a fact, but it's not so far from the truth.


János Pelle

 

Gyorgy Hunvald, mayor of the seventh district, did not respond to our queries. In a statement, he said: "I am astonished by the prosecutor's actions against the council member, but everyone should be afforded a presumption of innocence."

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