In the centre of the Pest side of Budapest, a stone's throw from the station, lies a gleaming glass and chrome shopping mall, a clone of identical glass and chrome malls that have sprung up everywhere in eastern Europe. H&M, Swarovski, Subway, French Connection and all the familiar icons of the British high street are here; Brits make the mistake of thinking these are UK brands, and no doubt Magyars think they are Hungarian ones, only to be astonished when they visit London that there's a Zara on Oxford Street. Go around the side of the Kaiserzeit station, though, and the bullet and shell scars, plastered over, are evidence of the fierce battle of Budapest. After the war the burnt-out brick shells of apartment buildings in the centre of the city were given new concrete floors, new windows and a new coat of Soviet stucco, which occasionally falls off to reveal the rough, scarred fire-blackened brickwork beneath.
If the shopping mall marks the high water of EU membership, the bodged-up Soviet buildings surely represent the old Hungary - a royal pain for the Hapsburgs to govern, a running sore for their politburo successors and now, in the EU's new empire, no doubt giving Von Rumpy some sleepless nights. As Ambrose reports, Fidesz and Jobbik have just won another parliamentary majority. I've written before that Orban's party's mantra of "Home, Family, Work, Health and Order" makes me uneasy. In English it has the tone of a laudable aspiration; in Magyar it seems like a command. The Jew-hating has always been an eastern European thing, and which Jews would want to live somewhere they can still be spat at on the street? The new statue of Admiral Horthy, the wartime Regent and shaky ally of the Reich, is perhaps not quite as controversial as many British journalists think it is. He was a Hungarian first, and not a terribly good fascist, and probably ensured Hungary came out of it all better than if the country were simply occupied. And secondly, Hungarians erect statues and busts of just about anyone who speaks Magyar; every fourth-rate 19th century poet has his own little corner of green in Budapest complete with bronze bust, hundreds and hundreds of them, not one of whom is known outside Hungary. If Horthy wrote even one poem or one bar of music he qualifies for a statue, irrespective of his role as Regent.
Ambrose thinks that the way Hungary is going may itself be reason enough why the UK should leave the EU. Jobbik, which won 20% of the vote, would dearly love to intern the troublesome petty-thieving Roma and Sinti in special detention camps, and the Roma rent-boys on the subway steps of Nyugati pályaudvar metro always have an eye out for a severe kicking from the Magyar Garda, Jobbik's unofficial brownshirts, if they are slow enough to get caught. Any beggars at street level, visible to patrol cars, are picked up by the police and dumped on the city outskirts. And everywhere the EU circle of stars flies alongside the Hungarian tricolour.