Shock Waves: Eastern Europe after the Revolutions

By John Feffer | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Hungary ...
Goulash ecology

We have to somehow find a third way.

— Zoltan Illes

Zoltan Illes was young for a state secretary of the Hungarian Ministry of the Environment. But at 29, he had an impressive resume: stints at the World Bank and Yale University as well as time served in the trenches as an organizer in Hungary's environmental movement. From my ecology movement contacts in Budapest, I had received mixed reports: Illes was either the best environmentalist in the ministry or a rank opportunist. I was prepared for a slick technocrat, Greenish perhaps around the edges, but ministerial to the core. After a meeting in his office in the ministry building below Buda hill, I decided that of all the people I interviewed in government in that particular part of the world, Illes was the most refreshing: lively, articulate, and without the protective pretensions that youth frequently brings to elected office. Of course, Illes had been in office at that point for only one month. Politics had not yet dampened his exuberance.

In that one month, however, Illes had already made enemies. The Soviets were unhappy that he demanded they pay for the cleanup of contaminated areas once used for Warsaw Pact maneuvers. Certain Western corporations had complained when, on Illes' recommendation, the ministry rejected their unsound technology.

Then there was the Foreign Ministry's plan to rent a kindergarten in the verdant Buda hills to a school for the children of French diplomats. Illes was incensed. "You know that 50 percent of Budapest is covered with highly polluted air. So children are going to kindergartens that are polluted (we have analyses of lead content in their blood, for instance). You might ask: why does the ministry want to rent to French children and throw out Hungarian kids?" The answer was predictable: money. "This is not a question of French or Hungarian," Illes continued. "This is

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