Old habits die hard and the new Russia is not, it would appear, so very different from the old. Certainly this was the clear, overriding message of 'My Perestroika', shown to a packed audience last Saturday as part of the Budapest Film Festival.
And if old habits do indeed die hard, then so it is [at the risk of mixing metaphors] that still waters run deep. For Hungary, whilst embracing the new democracy, paradoxically resists change and endeavours, when and where possible, to maintain the status quo.
So it is with the Gyermekvasút, the Children's Railway, a unique venture by which a daily train service, operated in its entirety, with the exception of the engine driver, by children between the ages of ten and fourteen, runs through and across the Buda hills. Inaugurated in 1948 by the Communist Party as part of the Pioneers' Movement, the principle of service to the state remains unaltered.
|a mural in the booking hall of the Children's Railway depicting Pioneers|
|at the ticket office|
True, the regime change of 1990 brought about some slight differences: Uttorvaros [Pioneers' City] has become Csilleberc, the name of a local district, the red star has been removed from the trains and the buildings, and the uniform red ties replaced with blue. Beyond that, and we are back in those optimistic years of the 1950s and 1960s.
Total nostalgia! The train, its red and cream livery of 1961, the polished seats of slatted wood, the precast concrete stations along the way, the uniformed guards, raising their hands in salute, the ticket punch, the signage translated into Russian, all recall a yesterday belonging to today.
|saluting a passing train|
And the woods through which we slowly travelled. Emerging leaves of freshest green, white cherry blossom and everywhere the sweet violet, Viola odorata, carpeting each bosky clearing along the way. Whilst far below us the Danube glinted and the city, basking in Sunday idleness, stood still in the warmth of an April sun.
|a smiling guard|
Today a new week beckons. Friends depart, life continues, and the wheels of change turn with tantalising slowness.