Budapest and the Olympics: Creating perceptions of an ultra-liberal, hipster city

Budapest submitted a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. As a candidate city, the Hungarian capital is competing against Paris, Rome and Los Angeles. The bid was submitted jointly by the General Assembly of Budapest and the Hungarian Olympic Committee; the candidacy is supported strongly by Hungary’s Fidesz government and by Parliament. This week, the organizers published an English-language video of Budapest, in which they aim to promote the Hungarian capital as a veritable bastion of liberalism and of environmentally-friendly hipster citizens.

Budapest, as showcased in the city's 2024 Olympic bid video.

Budapest, as showcased in the city’s 2024 Olympic bid video.

Budapest is undoubtedly a colourful and dynamic urban centre in East Central Europe, with a vibrant arts and cultural scene that would be the envy of most cities in North America, and many cities in Europe as well. But the perception that the government-sponsored organizers of the Olympic bid are creating of Budapest is totally at odds with the values expressed in Hungary, by both the Orbán government and–even more so–by the capital’s Fidesz mayor, István Tarlós.

Budapest residents engaging in yoga on urban rooftops, bicycles everywhere, hipster youth and alternative cultural expression, tattoos, piercings and face paint–this is the Budapest that officials and bid organizers are looking to promote. The irony probably isn’t lost on many residents, who recall that just this week Mayor Tarlós–who is anything but liberal and “hip”– caused a stir when his administration revealed that the city was eradicating 276 trees in Orczy Park, in order to expand the campus of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s National University of Public Service. The Politics Can Be Different (LMP – Lehet Más a Politika) green party declared that it would protest the mass cutting down of trees in this public park, through civil disobedience.

The other initiative on the part of the municipal government in Budapest, which is in stark contrast to the images released this week in the Olympic bid video, is the decision to reduce bicycle lanes in the Hungarian capital. The move stunned many, with some noting that Mayor Tarlós’s vision of the capital is to take it back to the 1970’s, when automobile considerations were given first priority during urban planning discussions. Moving forward, Budapest’s municipal government decided that there is no longer any need to warn drivers of bicycle lanes by highlighting them with paint on the pavement or by special signage. Additionally, when creating new bicycle lanes (the creation of which now sound unlikely), it will not longer be a requirement to produce routes that allow bicyclers to arrive at their destination as quickly as possible, without unnecessary detours.

Budapest Mayor István Tarlós. Photo: MTI.

Budapest Mayor István Tarlós. Photo: MTI.

Mr. Tarlós declared that the needs of bicyclers would no longer be a priority in urban planning discussions.

Those who have followed Mr. Tarlós’ activities, politics and statements over the past six years since becoming Mayor of Budapest, know that they are few people in Hungarian politics who come across as more crusty, rigid and illiberal. One wonders how he felt when he saw this video produced by the many savvy communications specialists employed by the Fidesz government and its affiliated agencies.

But as always, it is important to remember: the image broadcast internationally is quite different than the reality on the ground.



  1. On no account should the Olympic Committee even consider rewarding the cruelest, most corrupt and most incompetent government of the EU with the opportunity to increase Orban’s electoral chances while putting the populace into further debt (and Orban’s loyal cronies keep pocketing their mafia cut on all projects) as Orban continues to trample on democracy, human rights and human decency with impunity. The best gesture would be to reject Orban’s bid as soon as possible and send him back to his “migration menace” FUD, bogus rebates and equally bogus citizenship as his only way to marshal electoral support, while blaming his monumental and unending abuses and failures on the opposition he has gagged and vilified with scarcely conceivable mendacity and malice.

    • Avatar Christopher Adam says:

      Stevan, I think that you are absolutely correct. Not only would a successful Olympic bid be used to legitimize the regime and the sort of affinity fraud that is being used here (and in other areas, as our colleague András Göllner has noted on this site), but those already on the periphery of society, the most vulnerable people, would be tossed even further into poverty.

  2. Mr. Harnad you are right as usual. Furthermore, the government would increase its debt load which is already at record levels. This happened years ago in Greece and this added greatly to their financial woes.
    As to the trees in Budapest, cutting has started in Varosliget to make space for new museum buildings that are moved from their present places to allow for government offices.
    In Nador square 46 trees were cut (some over a 100 years old) to create an underground garage for a new hotel to be built by a co. in which Orban’s son-in-law is a major owner at age 30.
    These are just some recent actions of the mafia government.

  3. Nice promotion movie of Budapest, where did they find so many happy faces there?

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