Setsuko Watanabe's World Travels

Japanese page

The Fragrance of Lilacs in Budapest
and the Great Hungarian Plain

2. The Great Hungarian Plain and the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor Accident

The Great Hungarian Plain is an agriculture region which makes up eighty-percent of Hungary's land mass. Across this great plain from north to south, meanders the Tisza River, a tributary of the Danube.
Dotting the landscape among the horse and cow pastures are farmhouses with steel milk canisters hung from eaves and old-fashioned wells with swinging buckets.
Although the Great Hungarian Plain is now a grain belt, throughout history, it has been the location of many bloody invasions.

Zoltan Kodaly
Music Pedagogical Institute
Perhaps it is the vastness of the landscape and the tragedies of its history which have made Hungary the home of such moving music.
The beautiful folk songs of the Magyar embedded in the farming villages, were inspirational to Kodaly and Bartok. They arranged these songs and helped to spread their popularity. In Kecskemet, Kodaly's hometown, is the Zoltan Kodaly Music Pedagogical Institute where students come from around the world to study the Kodaly Concept.
Doppler (Fantasie Pastorale Hongroise) and Berlioz (The Damnation of Faust) wrote compositions extolling the grandeur of the Great Hungarian Plain.

On April 29, 1986, I was drenched by a sudden rain shower in Budapest.
On the following day, the 30th, the weather was beautiful, and I traveled south on Highway E5 which cuts across the Great Hungarian Plain.
The plain, washed by the heavy rain, shone brightly and was draped in the colors of lilacs, rape flowers, poppies, and cornflowers.
Along the way, I took a short break in Kecskemet to enjoy some its famous Tokaji wine. Szeged, where the Danube and Tisza rivers meet, was my spot for lunch.The local pear wine, palinka (apricot brandy) and famous goulash (beef stew) went well together.
On the dry plain, the cool wine was like the water of life.

In the evening, when I arrived at Belgrade, the city was in a panic.
Radio in the West had, finally, four days after it happened, gotten news of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident which had occurred on the 26th. I realized that the rain that had drenched me the day before had been radioactive.
In Dubrovnik, Vienna- wherever I went, all the talk was of the nuclear accident.
The radio constantly supplied the public with news of the direction of the wind carrying the radioactive ash.

In the month of May, three years later, I visited Budapest again.
What I heard there was horrifying.

Photo provided by
the Embassy of
the Republic of Hungary, Japan
Radioactive rain had fallen on the Great Hungarian Plain and everything- the harvested grains, fruit trees, meat from livestock that had eaten the grass, the milk, and the wine, was polluted.
The people suffered frequently from swollen thyroid glands, liver damage, and women's diseases among others. Babies and little children suffered the most.
Death rates from cancer, such as leukemia, were more than 10 times the norm.
They were relying on imports for all of their foodstuffs.

The war between the former Mongolian and Ottoman Empires had reduced the Great Hungarian Plain to a wasteland devoid of a single tree or blade of grass.
The same Great Hungarian Plain which had recovered to point where, as the granary of Europe, it supplied over half of Europe's grain, was this time destroyed by a nucleus.
The sun still rises over the Great Hungarian Plain, the Danube quietly flows and the lilacs give off their sweet fragrance.
But it crosses my mind that their very roots have been polluted.
Are they blooming for us even now ?

Next time I will visit the Fjords with their Apple Blossoms.

Hungary, map and photos
Budapest, photos

Copyright1998 Setsuko Watanabe

- Return -
- back to home -