USD 13 million worth of European Union funds appear to have been squandered in one of Hungary’s most depressed industrial cities. The so-called “Digital Power Plant” and theme park/film archive built by the Hungarian government in the northern city of Ózd features rows of empty shelves, pointless exhibitions, and an unused conference center.
Ózd is an industrial city in Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén county, 40 km northwest of Miskolc. The city of 35,000 inhabitants was once the center of heavy industry in Hungary but since the fall of communism it has fallen into decline. Factories were closed, many people left, and those who stayed often struggle to find jobs. No wonder Prime Minister Viktor Orbán promised every conceivable improvement when he visited the place in 2014, little of which has come to pass.
Digitalizing the nation
The most interesting promise was the building of a HUF 2.6 billion (USD 9 million) National Digital Archive in the hall of the former iron foundry. According to Orbán’s plans, the center would have served the whole country, digitalizing treasures of Hungarian culture, a task currently undertaken by a thousand experts in 160 different institutes.
Why these employees would move to Ózd and why anyone would create such an institute in so remote a part of the country without any major roads have never been answered. Only one thing was for sure: the new establishment would be supervised by the Hungarian National Digital Archive and Film Institute (Magyar Nemzeti Digitális Archívum és Filmintézet), nicknamed Manda.
After the announcement, nothing was heard of the project for months. Finally, at the end of 2014, a governmental decree appearing in the National Gazette (Magyar Közlöny) announced that two institutes were to be built in two adjacent industrial halls of the city. One was to host a theme park and film archive, the other an educational and methodological center with a digital exhibition hall. The whole project cost HUF 3.7 billion (USD 13.3 million), funded primarily by the European Union.
Empty shelves, no visitors
Recently, journalists from online daily 444.hu travelled to Ózd to see what the project looks like now that it has been completed.
They discovered that the plan to have everything digitalized in the institute has never been fulfilled. Instead, a so-called Digital Power Plant stands in a nicely restored industrial building featuring an event hall, an education center and an exhibition hall, all of which appears to be a total waste of EU funding. The “exhibition” consists of little more than a continuous projection of images (people, pets, famous sportsmen, etc.) from Hungary, serving no purpose whatsoever.
“They probably have as much interest and content as a governmental propaganda campaign promoting the wonders of Hungary at an airport,” wrote László Szily of 444.hu.
Another proof of the misuse of EU funds is the empty warehouse, built to house the original copies of thousands of Hungarian movies. The building houses nothing but rows and rows of open shelves, which is probably just as well as no provision has been made for films requiring special handling. Moreover, the National Film Archive has since been taken away from Manda and given to the National Film Fund (Nemzeti Filmalap) run by Andy Vajna. Furthermore, in the meantime the Manda institute was wound up (possibly in order to prevent pesky OLAF investigators from investigating what happened to the funds-ed.)
According to 444.hu, the theme park – centered around Hungarian film – is not much better. First of all, there are costumes and sets of famous Hungarian movies, but none of them are original, except for a tank. Tour guides said that the original plan was to let local children shoot their own movies here for fun, but the institute has basically no visitors. The one interactive game was out of order.
With no digital archives, no movies, no experts, no original costumes, and no rhyme or reason, it is safe to say that the Digital Power Plant is a complete and utter waste of EU money. The fact that the USD 13 million worth of EU funding was expended in this manner in a city that clearly needs development projects to survive, makes the project even more useless.
This is not the only time EU funds were spent in Hungary on projects of dubious merit. In 2015, Hungary spent HUF 850 million (USD 2.2 million) on the construction of a 5.6-km narrow-gauge railway between Felcsút and Alcsútdoboz — two towns where Orbán spent much of his youth before his family moved back to Székesfehérvár.