Thursday, December 2, 2010

Budapest -- Adam LeBor on Possibilities in Budapest's Downtown Jewish Quarter

Adam LeBor has a nice commentary in the Economist about the Jewish quarter in Budapest, pegged to the Quarter6Quarter7 Hanukkah festival.
District VI and District VII have survived wars and revolutions, invasion by the Nazis and the Soviets, and decades of communism. But capitalism has proved perhaps their deadliest enemy yet, as property developers—many of whom, ironically, are Israeli—knock down large swathes of the area and build ugly modernist office blocks and parking lots.
Yet the twists of Hungarian politics, and the recession, may prove the Jewish quarter’s greatest allies. The developers have run out of money, at least for now. The Socialist municipal officials who permitted historic buildings to be destroyed lost office in October's local elections. György Hunvald, the disgraced former mayor of District VII, is in detention awaiting trial on corruption charges.  

Municipal government was decentralised after the collapse of communism, giving Budapest's district mayors substantial powers. The new Fidesz mayors and their officials are said to be pragmatic and open-minded—and doubtless aware of the political and financial value of a thriving Jewish quarter. The Quarter6Quarter7 festival is already attracting commercial support: Vodafone has sponsored audio guides to 30 locations that can be downloaded on to a mobile phone.

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