YMHC #7: Utopia, nostalgia and vision: deindustrialisation in a former Hungarian mining area – by P. Alabán

In this issue, Péter Alabán provides a case study that speaks to the relationship between low incomes and mining settlements. This example serves as insightful illustrations of those workers left behind by deindustrialization and transition in Hungary.

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Utopia, nostalgia and vision: the case of failed transition and deindustrialisation in a former Hungarian mining area

by Péter Alabán, PhD (Postdoctoral researcher, headmaster of Gábor Áron College of Ózd Center of Vocational Training – alaban.peter@gmail.com)

This case study revolves around post-industrial spaces and environments next to the former stronghold of the socialist heavy industry in Borsod county, the north-east of Hungary, near the Slovakian border. Within the former small region of the industrial town in the past, Ózd deindustrialisation was not followed by reindustrialisation, no new industrial branch or large-scale employer came, nothing which could have provided full employment. This town was earlier one of the metallurgical centres in Hungary during the period of socialism with almost 50 thousand inhabitants in the early 1980s. Already in 1960, the proportion of the wage earners reached 50% mainly due to industrialisation, while the proportion of people living from heavy industry and construction industry was 70%. In that year, one third of the industrial workers in Borsod County were miners and a quarter were metallurgists. The majority of them became unemployed after 1989. So Ózd was a former industrial centre in the North-East of Hungary, where one of the largest factories in twentieth-century Hungary was operating – with more than 13,000/14,000 workers – until the mid 1990s. The transition from Socialism into a market economy created insurmountable problems in several regions, mostly in the fields of economic restructuring, employment, unemployment, and social composition. The picture is especially depressing in the northern region of Hungary, in the former flourishing settlements relying on mining and heavy industries, which had provided workers with certain livelihood. During the transition, the image of the industrial landscape also changed: locals watched in shock as several industrial buildings were demolished and factory chimneys explodes. Nowadays, people can only work in assembly plants, with machines on production lines in the surroundings as trained workers and operators, which does not require any professional qualifications.
Decaying bleak industrial landscape, abandoned coal mine and mining buildings, socialist nostalgia, hopes and confidence for the future. Following the post socialist transition, the aging society of the former industrial area disintegrated or significantly transformed, its usual natural and built environment ceased, its relationship to work and its work culture changed. Meanwhile the memory of the past was coupled with bitterness but some confidence.

Before new hopes: Reopening of the mine entrance of the Gyula Gyürky adit. Farkaslyuk, 2011. Photo by K. Szaniszló.
Before new hopes: Reopening of the mine entrance of the Gyula Gyürky adit. Farkaslyuk, 2011. Photo by K. Szaniszló.

Farkaslyuk (in English: ’wolfhole’) is a mining village near Ozd, and the town was earlier one of the metallurgical centres in Hungary during the period of socialism. The inhabitants of the village witnessed the collapse of the once thriving mining village after the closure of the factories. The mine was closed in 1990 in the village, but its reopening plan hopefully sparked in Farkaslyuk during the regime change. In 2011 the reopening of the Farkaslyuk mine filled the old miners (who were still alive) with new hopes, while others received the news in disbelief. On November 25, after more than 20 years, the bricks blocking the entrance to the mine, were demolished. At that time the entrepreneur, who had since gone bankrupt, and local inhabitants hoped that the reopened mine would create more than a thousand jobs. However, the new miners of the future must have been disappointed. The mine still does not work today, it is closed. In 2014, 635.7 thousand tons of lignite were mined in Hungary according to the data of the Hungarian Mining and Geological Office. In the middle of 2010s, the coal was planned to be sold to a Hungarian state-owned mining company located next to Ózd and built with a Japanese partner. The foreign company would have brought the so-called clean coal (CCS) technology, without which no coal-fired power plant could be built in the country. Yet again, nothing of these initiative materialized [1].

Past in the present: Mine opening ceremony with a miner orchestra in the former mining settlement. Farkaslyuk, 2011. Photo by P. Alabán.
Past in the present: Mine opening ceremony with a miner orchestra in the former mining settlement. Farkaslyuk, 2011. Photo by P. Alabán.

The number of the population in 2011 didn’t reach 2,000 people [2].

In Farkaslyuk ghettoization is spreading, at the time of the last census (in 2011), the proportion of unemployed households was 62%, with a total of 1,605 people, or 83% of the total population. In these multi-child households, the fundamentals of child poverty show a negative vision, such as income poverty, material deprivation, inadequate housing conditions, parents’ hopeless labour market situation, a very poor health, lifestyle risk and deviance. [3]

The economic crisis has fundamentally altered the image of the industrial landscape in former mining settlements, where the destruction of the environment, the collapse of industrial facilities and infrastructure, and the bleak landscape reclaimed by nature have hindered the development of the settlement.

Although the once closed coal mine in Farkaslyuk has opened again, there are still no jobs in the North-Hungarian area, and the local poor can choose between digging for coal in the spoil-bank or freeze in the winter. The once flourishing miner village has been left alone. A director, János Fuzik made a documentary (’Farkaslyuk’) in 2010, and he looked for the answers for many questions, for example: Why did an productive coal mine close in the village? Why should members of a mining colony without work and income switch to expensive gas heating in a village rich in fuel? A year later, a company reopened the mine and trained more than 30 new colliers. Many people were hoping for a new and better future but ’Ózd Coal Mining Company’ was not long-lived and the hope was gone.”Nook miners” have appeared, and their work is very difficult and dangerous. They became the symbol of poverty and deprivation. At the beginning of the 2010s, some families were able to mine 5-6 sacks of coal per day, which could provide heating in their homes for a few days. These families often collect other things to sell on the black market or to distributors, such as car catalytic converters, iron, scrap metal and other products. These heavy works concerned the members of the family, including children.

But what kind of future did these historical events pave the way in relation to the very process of industrial change? What can the people who still live here do and hope? The resurgence or permanent disappearance of the ancient mining profession? The destruction or re-emergence of the industrial landscape? We cannot read an optimistic view of many human faces in the coming years. Neither the degraded built environment nor the local job opportunities can provide this. Unfortunately, for children collecting coal and wood, higher education is not the main intention, but rather alternative funding/making money strategies, black work, perhaps legally trained work in an assembly plant, emigration to western parts of the country or abroad. The untidy environment, the dilapidated houses, however, are signs of poverty, that fit into the picture of a declining industrial landscape. The image of the settlement, which shows the rank of the mining profession, lives only in the memory. It remains the desolation, backwardness, isolation, aimlessness, and the disintegrated local society looking at the future. The ’resurrection’ seems an utopian hope [4]

Fuzik’s film also manages to successfully portray disintegration in connection with wider income deprivation, dysfunctional families, frustrated transition and systemic economic, social and institutional failure in Eastern Europe, and Hungary, too. Specific and unique examples can be found. In Hungary, photographer Ákos Stiller has documented such practices in Farkaslyuk [5], near the town of Ózd, a similarly deprived post-industrial landscape as the one portrayed in the Estonian filmmaker and director Marianna Kaat’s “Pit No. 8”. It is about illegal coal mining in the Ukrainian Donetsk/Donbass area. In the heart of a formerly thriving Ukrainian coal-mining region, everybody digs – retirees, unemployed miners and even the children [6].

Years ago, the desperate residents decided to start mining illegally; they excavate everywhere: in abandoned mines, under the basements of demolished buildings, in the neighbouring woods and leisure parks, as well as in their own vegetable gardens [7]. This film is also an inspiring portrait of Ukraine, a country in painful transition, where there are no rules, a documentary film on energy vulnerability and failed transition in this country. But, on the other hand, life in Farkaslyuk is one of the many examples of the desolation left by post-industrialization after 1990.

In summary, the transition from socialism to market economy created insurmountable problems in several regions, mostly in the fields of economic restoration, employment, unemployment, and social composition. The picture is especially depressing in the northern region of Hungary, in previously flourishing settlements relying on mining and heavy industries, which provided workers with a secure livelihood.

 

Notes

[1] https://www.vg.hu/cegvilag/2016/12/ujraindulhat-a-farkaslyuki-banyaszat

[2] 1,948 was the number of permanent population on 1 January 2020.

[3] Péter Alabán, Egykor volt gyárváros. Társadalmi változások Ózdon és környékén a rendszerváltástól napjainkig. [A Factory Town that Belongs to the Past… Social Changes in Ózd and its Surroundings from the System Change until Today.] Kronosz Press, Pécs 2020: p. 210.

[4] https://www.facebook.com/StillerAkosPage/photos/850354001700142

[5] https://hvg.hu/nagyitas/20120110_farkaslyuk_banyaszat_nagyitas 

[6] https://www.imdb.com/video/vi4158654745/?playlistId=tt1727854&ref_=tt_ov_vi 

[7] http://www.stillerakos.com/farkaslyuk

 


OpenEdition suggests that you cite this post as follows:
LIM COORDINATORS (November 18, 2022). YMHC #7: Utopia, nostalgia and vision: deindustrialisation in a former Hungarian mining area – by P. Alabán. Labour In Mining. Retrieved July 19, 2024 from https://doi.org/10.58079/qwe4


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