Bye, bye, Danone

“Due to a significant decline in sales”, international food company Danone is closing sites in Hungary, Germany and Italy, the company has announced on Wednesday.



Why is this interesting on this blog about Hungary’s politics?

Well, Danone has become a kind of a symbol of  cheap “halálmiszer”.  That’s a portmanteau of “halál” (death) and “élelmiszer” (food, “élet”  means ‘life’, “szer” means ‘stuff, substance’).

One couldn’t buy that kind of artificial, chemical food in the justly condemned Communist dictatorship I grew up in.  I’ll risk the statement that such “food”  products, for example like Danone yogurts, were not sold in Hungary even before our joining the EU in 2004.

Here are a few of their deceiving marketing gimmicks Danone has been selling their cheap, and possibly unhealthy, stuff with:

  • They substituted milk for something who-knows-what  in their kefir in 2008 and then they kept selling it at the same price, in the same packaging. Okay, they had to reverse this quickly enough.
  • Their 175 gram yogurts were reduced to 150 grams first and then to 125 grams… for the same price.

  • Their  big marketing campaign “Könnyű és finom” (Light and Tasty) was actually about removing fruit content from their  fruit yogurts.
  • The labels on their yogurts read like this: “Ingredients:  milk, sour cherry substance 13% (sour cherry 60%, …)”


Let’s see what Wikipedia writes about the health effects of one of these ingredients, called Xanthan-gum:

Evaluation of workers exposed to xanthan gum dust found evidence of a link to respiratory symptoms

On May 20, 2011 the FDA issued a press release about SimplyThick, a food-thickening additive containing xanthan gum as the active ingredient, warning “parents, caregivers and health care providers not to feed SimplyThick, a thickening product, to premature infants.” The concern is that the product may cause necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

Xanthan gum may be derived from a variety of source products that are themselves common allergens, such as corn, wheat, dairy, or soy. As such, persons with known sensitivities or allergies to food products are advised to avoid foods including generic xanthan gum or first determine the source for the xanthan gum before consuming the food.To be specific, an allergic response may be triggered in people sensitive to the growth medium, usually corn, soy, or wheat  For example, residual wheat gluten has been detected on xanthan gum made using wheat.This may trigger a response in people highly sensitive to gluten. Xanthan gum is a “highly efficient laxative,” according to a study that fed 15 g/day for 10 days to 18 normal volunteers. Some people react to much smaller amounts of xanthan gum with symptoms of intestinal bloating and diarrhea.


Danone is part of a bigger problem though:  Hungary has been flooded with junk food by the West, often with stuff they couldn’t even sell in Western Europe, and people, either because of ignorance or because that’s what they can afford , feed on this junk. “Free market proponents” would argue that people vote with their money.  I’d say the Hungarian state should protect Hungarians with administrative measures, too, from literally junk food.

I avoid shopping in Tesco  supermarkets in Hungary because they suck so much.  Shopping in British Tesco shops is fine with me.  The icing on the cake is that prices don’t really differ so  much…  The  difference often lies in the quality of goods these multinational companies sell in Hungary and in Western Europe.

Anyway, will Danone leave Hungary? That would be good riddance.


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EU is soft copy of Soviet Union

This blog entry is a translation of a radio interview, broadcast in Lánchíd Rádió,  with an extraordinary anti-Communist Russian man, Vladimir Bukovsky.  He was a leading member of the anti-Soviet dissident movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s,  he is a writer, a neurophysiologist and a political activist who spent twelve years in Soviet prisons, forced labour camps and forced-treatment psychiatric hospitals used by the Soviet dictatorship  as special prisons.  Eventually he was exchanged for a Chilean Communist in 1976 and now he lives in the UK.  Please read up on him on Wikipedia. So here goes the interview:

Vladimir Bukovsky

Q: You’ve been awarded the Petőfi Prize for your struggle for the freedom of Central European peoples. Do you think this freedom has been realized, two decades after the fall of the Soviet empire?

A:  This depends on which European country you mean because the situation differs in each. Some countries are free, some are less so.  Of course, Russia and Belarus are in the worst situation.  These haven’t changed much. Actually they’ve gone backwards, they are trying to restore the Soviet regime. The Baltic states are better examples [for achieving freedom] and the situation varies greatly in Eastern Europe, too.  Poland is very different and Bulgaria, too.  Unfortunately the Soviet regime should have been ended much more decidedly and it should have been condemned more. Things have slowed down. The old nomenklatura has survived and it still has a big influence. They are still in control  to some extent.  This hinders restoring things which works with differing efficiency in various countries anyway.  It’s a tragedy common to all countries that making Communists accountable [for their sins] hasn’t succeeded properly.

Q:  So do you think there should be a procedure for that like the Nuremberg trials for the Nazi?

A: Yes, that’s what we would have neededThis has become much more troublesome by now. It could have been done perfectly well in 1991 or 1992 and then the old nomenklatura could not have returned. However this didn’t happen, things have slowed down, then the Communists returned to power, they slowed things down even though these countries would have needed quick refurbishing. This is why it is very tragic and very bad what happened and how.

Q: You likened the European Union to the Soviet Union in an earlier speech. Do you think Brussels is similar to Moscow?

A: It’s a copy, a soft copy of the Soviet regime.  They don’t have Gulags yet but the structures are very similar. And their philosophies are similar, too: neither is democratic, both is controlled from the above and the leadership is not elected. We [citizens] don’t elect the European Commission. We do elect the members of the European Parliament but this has much less power then the management. Each MEP has 6 minutes to speak a year. This is ridiculous, they’ve got no power.  So both unions are undemocratic, governed from the above by a non-elected body, the nomenklatura, which cannot be sacked. They are expensive to keep and they spend an awfully lot of money on themselves, thriftlessly and absolutely nonsensically. This “crazy bureaucracy” comes up with things which have nothing to do with reality. Several policies are ridiculous.  For example, a few years ago the European Commission banned hunting horses and zebras for food… but where in hell are there zebras in Europe? So why cannot you hunt them? Do they think of a continent packed with zebras or what? This is similar madness as if it was an idea of the Soviet bureaucracy.

Q: However today, in the 21st century European Union, there are no labour camps for those who think differently from the mainstream. There are no mass murders, there is no forced psychiatric treatment like the one you were subjected to in the Soviet Union in the 1970’s.

A: Not yet.  Yes, like I said, this is a soft version of the Soviet Union. But they are working on it. You’ve got Europol, for example, which is tasked to police people in 32 crime categories. Out of these two, racism and xenophobia, aren’t crimes in any of the member states.  So Europol can arrest one for being racist and xenophobic while there’s no legal definition for these. If you are labelled “racist” then you may go to prison and this is bound to happen. Are they going to utilize psychiatry?  It’s very likely. I doubt they’d ever build a Gulag. There isn’t enough room for that, where could they do that in Europe?  Even the Scottish Shetland Islands aren’t big enough for this. So I think abuse with psychiatry will be more likely. There exists already “counselling”  that, if you are deemed not to be tolerant enough with other races or other sexual orientations, you are sent to. There exists such a thing already in Great Britain and you, Hungarians are going to have such a thing, too. If there is something in an EU country then there’s going to be such a thing in the rest, too. Then there are “culturally sensitive therapists”.  If you are not sensitive enough to certain minority issues then you are sent to a therapist who awakens your sensitivity.  What do you say about that?

Q:  You have mentioned the Europol which you consider as a good example for the standardization concepts of the EU. You  had the opportunity to see KGB documents where it was revealed how the Soviet Union influenced Western politics, both ideologically and materially.  That empire has ceased to exist. Do you think there would be something or some persons in the background now, too, driving these standardization efforts?

A:  Standardization belongs to the very essence of the European Union.  It was conceptualized that things must be made uniform before the EU was born.  That’s evident. This was not KGB influence, that was an own policy [of the EU]. But the Russian influence is very strong today, through economic ties, especially through the oil and gas supply.  They use this as a political weapon, as blackmail. Then you’ve got the expanding Russian business presence in the West. That’s also quite strong. Most Russian businesses are controlled by the KGB.  So if such “private sector businesses” get into a country then that means KGB got there, too.   Then they start working to accumulate [political] influence.  Their influence is very strong these days, much stronger than anyone would have expected after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s not ideological influence anymore.  There used to be such things as “left wing, Socialist  ideas” and so on. That’s gone. Today’s Russia is not controlled ideologically. It’s devilishly corrupt. This corrupt business-making keeps spreading, that’s the worst part.

Q: When you talk about ideological dictatorship in the EU, do you mean that leftist thinking has penetrated the European conservative parties, too?

A: Yes, the conservative parties have to accept this. Once you started aligning yourself to the [European] Union, you have to do as the EU says. Let’s think of the latest controversial decision [in the UK] concerning the marriage of homosexuals. This is now allowed  in the UK [ed: in fact only in England and Wales], Cameron introduced it, a conservative politician, who pushed it through the Parliament.  He is conservative but the initiative is typically  a leftist one. And why? Because he wants to suit the EU. Conservative or not, you must do what the EU wants.

Q:  The [second] Orbán government started working three years ago. There has been an awfully lot of criticisms about their political and economic policies. Does this signal the Hungarian government goes against the mainstream thinking?

A:  I think criticizing a government is normal in a democracy. There’s nothing wrong with that if people are dissatisfied then they criticize. That’s how democracy works. But in the case of Hungary, and especially in the case of Viktor Orbán, there is international pressure.  It’s not the Hungarians who criticize him for certain things but international organizations, institutions express their annoyance at him because he behaves uncontrollably, he seems to be uncontrollable. I know this very well since I’ve been accused  of being uncontrollable in all my life.  I always wanted to be that. If they don’t like this, that’s their problem. So I think there is an undeniable international campaign against Viktor Orbán.  That’s been like that ever since he took office. They  are looking for topics where they can arm-twist him and they’ve just started it again, I think. I’m not particularly surprised. He doesn’t have an easy job.

Q:  You mentioned concerning the [European] Union that its fall is approaching. But I’d like to have a more optimistic end to this conversation: what do you think needs to be done in order to change the European situation and to achieve freedom?

A:  I think the first step is to break up the European Union because the EU is the very cause of the lack of freedom and oppression. It has to be dismantled. We must return to the Common Market [also known as European Economic Community]. The EEC worked well, there was nothing wrong with it. It all went downhill when they decided they’d create a state in place of the market.  The best thing would be if we could turn back to 1985, the times of the Common Market.  To build a unified state, that’s just craziness. It’s a real Soviet project. It sounds exactly like the Soviet Union.

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