Budapest has a lot of suspended sites — empty buildings and enclosures that now fulfill no practical function, no useful purpose. Commonly cited to tourists are the old Hungarian State Television building and the Ballet House, both grand and beautiful in a haunted way. Both have stood empty for more than a decade but will soon transform — the former into a cultural center and the latter into a luxury hotel.
These transformations aren’t unusual. Hungary has faced dramatic recent change and is on a path that we can only (with great hope) describe as transitional still. Spaces and places, making up the material faces of cities and states and nations, are one of the usual ways in which a profound change of organization, institution, and everyday materializes.
To the usual list of sites wasted, neglected or frozen in Budapest-time, I’d like to add another: the Parliament building, the House of the Nation. With gold-washed ceilings and kilometers of decadent stairwells and hallways, domed and glistening on the Pesti bank of the Danube, this grand palace has retained a superficial pretension to being a house of the nation. It houses only one house of legislature, a bitterly weak institution that elects both the president and the prime minister in a system guaranteeing executive-legislative agreement. Embedded in the storm of constitutional change that has removed nearly every other source of restriction and balance in Hungary, this system makes the House of the Nation into a House of the Party. And, currently, Orban’s den.
The Parliament building is comparable to suspended sites that have come about through deliberation or neglect. It surpasses them, actually. Its function is not suspended per se. Rather, it is perverted, crippled, and wasted. Whittled down into an effigy of both what it used to be and what it could be.