Stalinism and capitalism – a toxic brew in Hungary

NEARLY 700 million litres of toxic red sludge poured from a ruptured industrial reservoir flooding three villages and polluting rivers in Hungary. Eight people were killed, hundreds injured and hundreds more evacuated as an area of 40 square kilometres was inundated. The authorities are hastily constructing a barrier to contain a threatened further spill of 500 million litres of poisonous waste from the aluminium plant.

This environmental catastrophe is a legacy of 50 years of aluminium production in the area – covering both the era of Stalinist bureaucratic mismanagement of the Hungarian economy, followed by privatisation in the 1990s when safety and regulation was subordinated to the rule of private profit.

Unbelievably the Hungarian Aluminium Production and Trade Company at the centre of the disaster initially attempted to dodge its responsibility by stressing that European Union rules meant that the waste product could be classified as “non-toxic”.

The government has now ‘temporarily’ taken over the company having castigated it for corporate greed – an unwitting acknowledgement that capitalist ownership has catastrophically failed.

The managing director Zoltan Bakonyi has also been arrested on suspicion of criminal negligence; although this may have more to do with political rivalries in the country.

Zoltan is the son of Arpad Bakonyi, a businessman who played a central role in the privatisation of the country’s aluminium industry and is the largest shareholder of the company now under investigation. The elder Bakonyi is also a close business associate of a former prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, who is a political arch-rival of current prime minister Viktor Orban.