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Website for boycotting oligarchs gains ground in Hungary

It may be just one of many fashionable hotels in the Hungarian capital, but for anti-corruption activist Attila Juhasz, the Alice Hotel symbolizes…

It may be just one of many fashionable hotels in the Hungarian capital, but for anti-corruption activist Attila Juhasz, the Alice Hotel symbolizes the conquest of the tourism industry by an elite who enriched themselves under Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

“One of the owners is a commercial partner of (Orban’s son-in-law) Istvan Tiborcz,” Juhasz, a 30-year-old bearded in a yellow parka coat, told AFP.

To raise awareness, Juhasz’s corruption watchdog “K-Monitor” has created a tourist guide that is different, an interactive map nerhotel.hu with addresses to avoid in Budapest.

It includes the Alice Hotel, housed in a Neo-Renaissance building on Budapest’s prestigious Andrassy boulevard, lined with 19th-century palaces.

According to Juhasz, the map allows people to check whether their tourist spending is flowing to “politically prominent figures”.

In three years, more than 400 addresses have been added to the map, most of them located in parts of the historic center of Budapest that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Every month, between 3,000 and 3,500 unique visitors view the map.

“People are constantly asking us to check new addresses,” says Juhasz, adding that an English version is on the way.

The Alice Hotel and two other popular addresses, Cafe Opera and Hotel Moments, did not respond to requests for comment from AFP.

– ‘Wealth Accumulation’ –

Since Orban returned to power 12 years ago in this EU member state of 10 million people, Brussels and various NGOs have often alleged corruption in circles close to the government.

Concerned by the waste of EU funds, the bloc has so far refused to release about €7.5 billion for Hungary, planned for the next few years. Budapest has started implementing a series of anti-corruption measures to get the money.

The pandemic recovery fund given to EU members has also been blocked. According to a source in Brussels, a discussion about those funds will take place on November 22.

In a September report from the European Parliament, the EU’s anti-fraud agency OLAF recommended that the European Commission recover 2.2 percent of the funding provided to Hungary between 2016 and 2020.

That figure is well above the EU average of 0.29% and is the highest of the bloc’s 27 members.

“Since 2010, several individuals have become the richest men in the country out of nowhere,” said Marta Pardavi, co-chair of Hungary’s Helsinki Commission on Rights.

“Their lifestyle goes far beyond that of the average Hungarian, showing a rapid accumulation of wealth that is difficult to justify,” Pardavi said.

With a recession on the way, partly as a result of the war in neighboring Ukraine, the “highly visible enrichment” of oligarchs stands in stark contrast to the “decayed public health and education systems,” she said.

According to Peter Akos Bod, former governor of the Hungarian central bank, there is a direct link between the misuse of public money and the increase in economic misery as inflation hits record highs.

“If the winner of a public tender charges too much for his project and makes the difference, the score goes up,” says Bod, who now works at Corvinus University in Budapest.

– ‘Hungarian Entrepreneurial Class’ –

Orban rejects corruption claims, stressing that capital should be in the hands of a homegrown “class of Hungarian entrepreneurs” rather than profiting multinationals.

But by “converging funds into friendly circles,” he created an “overcentralized crony capitalism” that is no longer a “classic Western market economy,” Bod said.

After a series of bank takeovers, Budapest itself recently waded into the telecommunications sector, buying the Hungarian branch of British giant Vodafone.

At the same time, entire sectors of the economy, including the powerful auto industry – dominated by German and Japanese companies – have escaped the power grab.

In what was widely seen as a goodwill gesture in response to EU concerns, the government canceled an EU-funded public tender for heritage promotion in September.

The tender, worth 138 million forints (342,000 euros), was won by two Hungarian communication agencies, the only candidates in the battle.

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