Star-Crossed Hungarian Beer

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

You surely know that one cannot simply draw or display a swastika (or, indeed, a handful of other Nazi-associated symbols) these days within Germany or Austria – the police will soon want to discuss the criminal offense you have just perpetrated. Others of Germany’s neighbors have enacted similar legislation. In fact, in legislation during the early nineties Hungary added to that list of forbidden Nazi-symbols the Arrow Cross, a similar-looking symbol which represented the fascist Arrow Cross Party (Nyilaskeresztes Párt) which took over Hungary late in World War II, with the help of the Germans, and was responsible for the greater part of victims sent from Hungary to the Nazi annihilation camps.

Gregor Martin Papucsek, Budapest correspondent for the Czech business-news site E15.cz, in his recent piece “Totalitarian Beer,” notes the curious exception to this ban, and it’s the one I show here: the red five-pointed star. That is still OK, even as we all know that it stands for Soviet Communism in general, and perhaps the Red Army in particular. God knows the Hungarians suffered for decades under the Soviet yoke, starting from 1944 when that Red Army first invaded from the East the territory of Nazi Germany’s firm ally, and thus were not inclined to moderate the destruction they caused, nor the reparations they exacted – nor the damage and casualties they inflicted during the ultra-violent 1956 Hungarian Uprising.

Wait, though: Others use the Red Star, too, including the giant Dutch brewer Heineken. They were apparently quick enough to seize the commercial opportunities opening up in Eastern Europe during those early nineties to grab a large foothold in Hungary, and in fact Heineken is still a major player in that market, selling a handful of local brands as well as importing beers from the outside. Papucsek’s piece even speaks of what has been known colloquially as the lex Heineken (Latin: Heineken Law), leaving the Red Star alone for the Dutch firm’s convenience.

Not any more, though, not as of a law the Hungarian parliament passed on Monday which added the Red Star to the prohibited list. So what happened?

According to Papucsek, Heineken overplayed their hand – in Romania. Romania?! Yes, but specifically in Székely-land, part of what is known in English as Transylvania, what amounts to mostly Hungarian ethnic land which just happens to belong to Romania (via various accidents of history we cannot go into here). For yet another beer liked to use the Red Star in its insignia, and that was the Transylvanian brand Igazi Csíki Sör (name translates to “True Beer from Csík,” which is one of the counties there). Last year Heineken filed suit in a Romanian court to forbid that brewer from using the Red Star in its insignia.

Given the strange way things work in this part of the world, when the Transylvanians need legal/political help they are more inclined to turn to Budapest – i.e. their fellow Hungarians – than to Bucharest. What’s more – and as we see here – Budapest politicians are generally inclined to respond.

How will Heineken react? Will Heineken react? I rather doubt it.

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Beer Bust

Monday, October 27th, 2008

I thought there were some products whose sales were supposed to be “recession-proof” – like beer. Isn’t that supposed to be the poor man’s cheap solace for hard times?

It seems not, at least when it comes to one of Europe’s prime beer-drinking lands, namely Britain. We get word on that from the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau (Britons lose their taste for beer; article sourced from the dpa press agency). Beer-revenues there have fallen 7.2% over the last three months compared to the previous year, down to the level of ten years ago. And it seems all beer-outlets are being affected more-or-less equally: pubs, restaurants, and supermarkets. In fact, the article quotes the head of the British Beer- and Pub-Association that five of those delightful traditional British pubs are now closing their doors permanently each day.

A quick troll through the on-line English papers found no word about this – could this merely be another diabolical German scheme to discredit their European rivals in beer-guzzling? If so, you’d think they would come up with some calumny against the Czechs instead, who year after year consume more of the stuff even than their Teutonic neighbors.

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Stags and Hens in Prague

Friday, December 31st, 2004

I’ve little more to say about the ongoing tidal wave tragedy around the eastern Indian Ocean basin. Is it poor taste to move on now to other subjects? Now, I certainly agree with the proposition that the fancy parties scheduled around the upcoming Bush II inauguration (specifically, the money budgeted for them) should yield to the Asian tragedy. But closer to home, tomorrow’s the start of a brand New Year, and some celebration of that fact should still be in order.

Prague is a good place to celebrate that fact. (So is, for that matter, Amsterdam, although it’s a bit more expensive.) And right on time, in its last-edition-of-the-year, the main Czech business newspaper Hospodárské noviny features a trio of articles on its homepage about the foreigners flocking to visit the Czech capital – whether for New Year’s celebrations or more generally – under the collective headline “Do Tourists Come to Us Mainly for the Cheap Beer?” (more…)

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Bison Beer Best

Saturday, September 27th, 2003

Today we’re again a bit on the parochial side. But not in the Dutch sense – rather, in the Czech sense, since I need to head to Prague again this evening for a few days. So naturally I’ve been heavily into the Czech press lately. What has been going on? On the one hand, the Czech socialist coalition government just (barely) survived a vote of confidence in Parliament, and the main governing party looks like it’s about to throw out a maverick within its ranks whose non-cooperation made the confidence vote so close. On the other hand, the results of the Czech Beer Competition for 2003 have just been announced. Which story would you rather hear more about?

I’m guessing the latter. Both Hospodarske noviny and Právo (registration required – in Czech!) have write-ups on the just-completed Czech Beer Competition, Právo being slightly more-informative. (more…)

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