The Phoenix in the Ashes
Miskolc, the name evokes dirty thoughts among Hungarians. This is not due to any kind of immoral conduct that takes place in the city, but due to its status as once thriving industrial center that was hit hardest of any city in the nation by the end of Communism.
Growth exploded in Miskolc following World War II. It became the center of iron production and metalworking for a nation whose economy turned away from agriculture and began to rely on heavy industrialization. Between the end of the war in 1945 and 1980 the population of the city doubled. Miskolc was suddenly the second largest city in Hungary.
Government subsidization kept the factories running at full speed, even if they would have been uncompetitive in a less controlled economic environment. Two-thirds of the cities workers were employed in industry.
This heavy reliance on an industrial economy came back to bit the city with a vengeance as the socialist era came to an end. Since the return to a capitalist economy the city’s population has plummeted. In the twenty year period between 1990 and 2010, the city lost 40,000 people nearly 20% of the population. Factories closed down as heretofore protected industries could not be sustained in the face of more efficient western enterprises.
A period of darkness and despair set in as abandoned factories pockmarked the urban landscape. Miskolc had been a consistently rising Phoenix for the four decades following World War II, now with its wing clipped it was floundering in the ashes.
Yet upheaval and change are nothing new to Miskolc. By historical standards the latest problems look mild in comparison. Consider that in 1544 the Turks burnt Miskolc to the ground than exacted heavy tributes on a regular basis from the city for the next 130 years. Austrian rule turned out not to be much better as they burnt the city in 1707 during the War of Independence.
Yet the city rebounded and soon became the center for county government.
In the late 1870’s two tragedies occurred as a cholera epidemic in 1873 followed by the “Great Flood” of 1878 decimated the population. The flood was the most deadly in Hungary during the 19th century as the Sziva and Pece streams overflowed their banks and wrecked the inner town.
Yet in the twenty years that followed the population doubled yet again as the heart of city was reconstructed with many fine buildings of art nouveau and eclectic architectural styles which can still be seen today.
Miskolc’s rise continued in fits and starts in the 20th century. The city has always seemed to be able to make the best of a bad situation. Strangely, even the loss of Hungarian territory due to the Treaty of Trianon turned into a positive. Miskolc rather than Kassa (which was annexed to Czechoslovakia) became the economic center of northern Hungary.
Seen retrospectively and by taking the long view of history the current situation in Miskolc is bound to be overcome and in many ways it already has. The city’s location on the edge of the magnificent Bukk Hills has brought a mini boom in tourism.
The wonderful Barlangfürdő (Cave Bath) has brought pleasure seeking soakers from all over Europe. A student population of over 14,000 gives a vitality and optimism to the city that is palpable to those who look beyond the old vestiges of industry and see the seeds of new economic and cultural life beginning to sprout.
Miskolc still has a ways to go, but it has been here before and each time it has risen from the ashes better than ever.
written by CHRIS WILKINSON
edited by CHRIS KOVACS
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