Politics in Color and Concrete: Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary

By Krisztina Fehérváry | Go to book overview

Epilogue

THE FORMER SOCIALIST “new town” of Dunaújváros managed to weather most of the challenges of the 2000s, primarily because of the steel mill’s continuing viability. Many of the city’s panel construction apartment buildings have been given facelifts of colored insulation several inches thick–an expensive process paid in equal parts by European Union funding, the local government, and contributions by residents. Now, instead of the masses of gray-white buildings that once rose like a cliff face from the city plateau, visitors to the city are greeted by a motley array of ice cream colors, as buildings are differentiated by pistachio greens, apricot oranges, chocolate browns. In town, the grand hotel built in the early 1950s has reopened. Renovated and painted a light yellow and white, its shades are similar to many of the other renovated classical Socialist Realist buildings that line the main avenue. An Internet café and restaurant now spill out onto the once-bare square in front of the still-dilapidated movie theater. To the delight of many teenagers, McDonald’s finally arrived in town in the mid-2000s, putting the city on the map as a place recognized by this multinational corporation. Positioned conspicuously at the foot of the avenue leading up to the city from the village, its colorful play structure and golden arches compete with the arches of the cathedral just up the hill. But the boutique row that had been such a vibrant pedestrian corridor in the 1990s has fallen on hard times with the opening of several big-box stores like Tesco, Aldi, and several new shopping malls nearby. Other local businesses have also faltered, unable to compete. As one retired schoolteacher related, “I would rather buy from my old butcher, but I can’t afford it! His prices are double those at Aldi.”

The city’s population peaked in 1986 at 62,000, but in subsequent years declined steadily, dropping to 57,000 in the 1990s. In the 2000s, the decline was more precipitous, down to 48,000 in 2011. Young people were seeking work elsewhere and the aspiring middle classes continued to move to suburbanizing areas nearby, while the elderly were dying off. Nonetheless, urban apartments retained their value and prices were still determined by location and quality of building. There had never been enough housing to begin with, so the population decline merely reduced crowding in existing buildings. Although the steel mill, Dunaferr, never cut the workforce in half as threatened, wages had also not risen significantly, keeping most workers and their families in city apartments. The suburban neighborhoods of villages grew slowly but steadily. The areas around all of my informants’ new houses have filled in with people of fairly diverse levels of

-239-

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