PM Moving to Buda Castle: Puritanism in a Former Monastery or Costly Restoration of the Horthy Era?
Gabor Sarnyai 2019.01.07.
The first Orbán government already wanted to relocate the Prime Minister’s Office to the Buda Castle, but the plan could not be implemented due to the change of government in 2002. After long preparations and reconstruction work, Viktor Orbán’s office moved to the Carmelite Monastery in January.
Viktor Orbán’s old desire was fulfilled with the relocation: at the period of his first government cycle, Sándor Palace was renovated for the Prime Minister’s Office. However, the 2002 change of government altered his plans, and the office of the President of Hungary moved into the representative building, located in the Buda Castle.
According to the official communication, the relocation of the PM’s office was necessary so that the separation of powers could be physically realized. Earlier, Gergely Gulyás, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office, stated that the executive branch serves no purpose in a legislative building, namely in the Parliament. During the Communist era, the two branches were made to work in the same building, but this has since come to an end, Gulyás said. László Kövér, the speaker of the Parliament, thinks the relocation is the celebration of democracy. But, of course, opposing parties have a different outlook on the move. Many have claimed that the Orbán-government wants to restore the Horthy-era.
Certainly, this is not just a simple office relocation, but a symbolic act: the government is trying to expunge the communist period from Hungarian history, and this is one of the most important prestige investments. Orbán’s left-liberal opponents interpret the move as a rebuilding of the Horthy-era, but it is rather a return to pre-World War II states, including the 1800s and the early years of the 20th century.
In the Middle Ages, the Franciscans used the monastery until its destruction at the hands of the Turkish army. The Jesuits renovated the facility and built a chapel. It was then occupied by the Carmelites until their dissolution by Joseph II. Following that era, the church was turned into a theater, designed by Farkas Kemplen. Some notable performances included Beethoven and the premiere of Bánk Bán.
According to official statements, the Prime Minister is going to continue his work in a monastic environment. The Prime Minister’s office moves to a building that, after the renovation, remained faithful to its traditions. According to government-friendly Origo.hu, there is no place for luxury in the monastery.
The renovation has not only been attacked because of its symbolism but also due to concerns surrounding its price tag. According to the latest numbers from 2017, the total cost of the construction and removal is about 21 billion HUF (EUR 65 million), with the interior design of the PM’s office costing around 3,925 billion (EUR 12 million). The government does not consider the amount to be expensive as they plan to sale valuable buildings to regain any expenses. As Gergely Gulyás put it, the PM’s move “costs taxpayers nothing.” It has since turned out that only part of the PM’s administration will move to the Buda Castle as the Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office and his colleagues are slated to stay next to the Parliament due to lack of space.