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18 May 2014

The Béres Life Programme


The Béres Story began in the early 1970’s, when Dr. József Béres Sr., a biologist in Northeast Hungary who studied the diseases of agricultural plants, developed a medicine based on trace elements, that helped strengthen the human immune system. The “Béres drops”, probably the first such medicine ever, was banned by medical authorities, and the Kádár regime began to persecute him, who treated patients with his drops without payment. He was suspended from his job and harassed by the police, and a documentary movie shot by Cannes Prize winner director Ferenc Kósa and consisting of conversations with cancer patients who had recovered was banned by the authorities. Thus in the late 1970’s Dr. Béres became an iconic figure in Hungary, representing intellectual freedom, courage and integrity. In the meantime Béres drops were successfully tested in Japan and Western Europe by physicians sympathetic to his work, and in 1987 the Hungarian authorities allowed the Kósa film to be shown to audiences and Béres drops to be sold as a non-prescription drug. In the early years of the transition the Béres family company took production into its own hands, and management was gradually taken over by József Béres Jr. and his wife Klára. In 2002 József Béres Sr. was given the Széchenyi Award, the most prestigious Hungarian scientific prize. These days Béres Drops are the most popular medicine in the country with the highest turnover in pharamacies. The conversation below explores the family mentality underlying one of the success stories of Hungary’s change of regimes.

 

Gy. K.: Where does one begin when launching into a history as rich and diverse as that of the Béres family? Clearly questions arise concerning the Béres Company, but for my part I would prefer to begin by asking when and how you conceived of the idea of the songbook Szép magyar ének (Beautiful Hungarian Songs). It was published at a time when the songs themselves had faded almost entirely from cultural consciousness. The book is uniquely beautiful, both in its contents and from the perspective of layout, typography, and design.

J. B.: Over the course of the past decades our family gradually became one of those musical families. We began to sing at home at first, just as a closely knit family. There was something conscious or deliberate about it, we didn’t want the holidays to pass us by without us having had the pleasure of singing together. And we certainly did not want to wish our family members many happy returns by singing “happy birthday.”

Of course I’m not just thinking of birthdays or name days, but other occasions too, like Christmas and Easter. Since as far back as I can remember we have always begun celebrating Christmas by lighting the candles on the tree and singing the Christmas songs that we learned in our childhood home, a mix of hymns, folk songs, and pastorals. But I could quote my father, who himself said that the most beautiful memories of his childhood were when his father would conduct the family as they sang by the Christmas tree. I began to think a bit about what songs we could sing, and I realized that we did not have a single usable songbook at home. So I began to look for a book we could use. Then in the hall of the main building of the Hungarian radio, where Klára, my father and I had gone for an interview, to my great delight I found a songbook for sale by one of the booksellers. In a manner perhaps typical of me, I immediately bought at least twenty copies, so that I would be able to give them to friends and family, and we have used it ever since. But for some reason I was not entirely satisfied with the songbook.

I am a chemist. I have a doctorate and have published several scholarly articles on chemistry, in other words I had a kind of innate desire for a book that would be both consistent and scholarly. I considered it important to know whether a particular song was a folk song or a song written in a folk style by a recognized composer, not to mention who had first come across it and in what part of the country. And if a particular song was the work of a recognized composer, who he was, who was responsible for the arrangement. The book I had found seemed to lack consistency and method so I hit on the idea of putting one together myself. Thus began a labour that was to last some five years. I began by digging up all the songs I loved, songs I felt had a place in the book. I gathered them from a variety of books and publications, as well as recordings. Over the course of the past five or six years we have also been exposed, through our youngest child, to numerous influences from the world of folk dance. Our son Merse, who is now fourteen years old, dances with the Csillagszemű (Starry Eyed) dance ensemble.

He brought home many of the songs that we eventually included in the book.

Gy. K.: The folk dance house (Táncház) movement was a significant part of our lives and our youth. The dramatic upswing took place in the 1970s, yet today it seems, quite regrettably we tend to think, that there is hardly room in our lives for song, let alone dance. Many of my friends have said that they still go to folk dance gatherings and they sing as well, but nonetheless one has the feeling that this is more of a sort of underground stream, and the many genres of song are only soft echoes among groups and gatherings today. The demand is there, but for younger generations it is perhaps not easy to find the sources of the songs. Given this, I would say your book has come out at a particularly fortuitous moment.

J. B.: I share your view. The older generation learned many of the songs of our cultural treasure chest in elementary school, but if one looks at the youth today, those who are not members of choirs or dance ensembles are probably never exposed to any of this heritage. The splendid tradition of singing is fraying, as is knowledge of the songs themselves. Of course it’s always good when people sing, but I consider it regrettable when they start whistling the tunes that seem to have become a part of international commerce, “Happy Birthday,” “Jingle Bells,” and the like. Also, we are a very closely knit family, and if we organize a gathering of friends and family sooner or later we begin to sing. It’s always a source of pleasure for me when the different generations sing together, aunts, uncles, our children and our parents’ generation. And indeed we have to admit that the older generation knew far more songs than we do.

Gy.K.: The book contains various chapters. There are children’s songs, folk songs, songs written in the style of folk songs, and a chapter including psalms and hymns.

J. B.: In my view, today a person of culture should know a few of the songs that are the most important to each denomination. This is why I included songs typical of the various historical branches of the Christian church. I myself am Greek Catholic, and this naturally was a guiding principle. As we are churchgoers, we know the choral traditions of the Greek Catholic church well, and also the rites.

I wanted the Greek Catholic liturgy to be included in the book.

GY. K.: So the inspiration for the book came from the idea of calling people’s attention to Hungarian songs and helping them learn them. The collection as a whole, however, has a more profound message: the preservation of our cultural identity as Hungarians.

J. B.: As I began the work, which started small but grew increasingly ambitious, I realized something very important. It seems characteristic of the Hungarian nation – not just now, but for centuries – always to be seeking its own demise, if I can put it that way. We always seem to feel that we are in everyone else’s way. I, however, have come to realize – and perhaps I have a fortunate disposition in this respect – that there is no call to lament hardships, because this doesn’t take you anywhere. Rather one has to take action to address them. One could wail with grief at the thought that our songs will die out, but that will not help anyone learn even a single one. My father’s struggles and the successes of our business have clearly shown that it is possible to move upwards. If we hope to save the values and culture of our nation then we don’t need to whimper and wail, we need to act. And quickly, for we do indeed have cause for lament.

Gy. K: Would it be appropriate to mention here that song is curative, for body and soul? Perhaps this is connected to the philosophy of the Béres Health Hungaricum Program.

J. B.: I confess, it is. Last year, when our firm turned twenty, I was asked on several occasions to hold presentations. I had a chance to consider what I might say that would be of interest to an audience. And finally I hit on this, the relationship between physical and spiritual health. I was prompted in part by our firm’s slogan. In all our various messages we say, “Béres, for the sake of the healthy individual.” I linked my line of thinking to that motto. This is the common denominator of the medicines, the charity work, the health program, viticulture, and singing.

Gy. G.: It seems to me on the basis of everything you have said so far regarding the song book that you are all bound by an unusual tie to the community, a part of which of course is simply family and friends, but also a broader community. I could say that you have turned with unusual sensitivity to the current problem of community, which is interesting from several points of view, since the disintegration of our various communities is a problem of increasing urgency. Singing undoubtedly creates new kinds of feelings of community. Could one say that behind everything that you do lies a sort of conception of community? Since as you said, this is part of the work with viticulture, the songbook, and the foundations. To what are you seeking the answers when you shoulder a very serious undertaking related to commerce or the pharmaceutical industry, but at the same time accomplish an enormously complex task contributing to the building of a sense of community?

J. B.: I could not say that the transformations of the various communities that have taken place since the so-called change of regimes have been auspicious for us. What besieges you from the broader public sphere or the media is often dismally depressing. I would by no means consider it constructive with respect to the formation of human relationships. Communities are falling apart, but we must take advantage of the opportunities within our own spheres of influence to do everything possible to prevent this. I could perhaps say that we are fortunate. For one thing, we live together in a happy marriage, we have children, and we now have some thirty years of practice with this. We strive to conduct ourselves as a “normal” family, as it were. For another, our business functions on a kind of community foundation. It is not incidental that even at home we speak of the “big Béres family.” We treat our company as family too.

Gy. G.: Could you give a concrete example? This is probably entirely unknown, I imagine, to the larger public.

J. B.: We cultivate a business culture at the company in which expressions like “Béres values, Béres creed, I’m a Béres, I’m a member of the team” really mean something. We tell our employees that we are a family, and we consider them family members. They are not simply people who work for or with us, people who live off the salaries they receive  from us, but rather people with whom we have something important in common, and people who have something important in common with us. We could neither imagine nor adopt any other kind of business culture.

K. B.: On the everyday level, a business, as a for-profit venture, naturally cannot function as an actual family, yet we very deliberately build up the feeling of family closeness, using a variety of means, means that are also part of actual family life.

For instance, when we moved into this new, quite lovely office building we did so as if we were moving into a house, and since we considered the gesture an important aspect of our fundamental values, we christened it. And as it is a place where people of many different beliefs and views work, we did it in the spirit of ecumenical openness. Another example would be when we sang with our employees as part of the end-of-the-year celebrations at Christmas time. At first perhaps they thought it a bit odd when we told them we would sing together, as we do at home, but today everyone would miss it if we didn’t. Naturally we always sing Hungarian songs. And in the workplace as at home we always pay our respects to the memory of those no longer with us. We light a candle at the bust of my father-in-law on his birthday, which burns quietly all day.

Gy. G.: And there is little turnover among the employees, in general people work together with the firm for a long time.

K. B.: Much less than the average. Naturally there are some changes in personnel. Sometimes we are not entirely satisfied with one of our co-workers, and there are some employees who find they were seeking something different.

Gy. G.: What changes have you been through or observed since 1990, in other words since the change of regimes? How did everything that has taken place in the life of the firm over the past twenty years affect you, since that was when it was launched. One might even say that your father was one of the celebrated victims of the previous system, but he did not actually fall victim to it, since in the end his labours won recognition in the new economic system and his work is being continued today within an entirely new framework. What did the big change bring for you: change, a turning point, a complete break and a departure in an entirely new direction?

J. B.: The change of regimes that took place in 1989 was unquestionably a significant transformation, not only for the country, but for us as well, since had there been no change we would not have been able to found the company. The fact that my father and his colleagues were able to create a business was in any event a sign of the enormity of the transformation. We went from a socialist, non-market economy to a kind of empty marketplace still waiting to be filled, and finally unbridled capitalism, in which we have to be successful in a developed market, in the midst of tremendous competition, surrounded by rivals. Clearly in the first half of the 1990s many naive blunders were made in the running of the market. We had to rework our own approach and the mentality of our leaders and employees, in other words the entire organization, in order to be able to take up the glove and find good answers to the new challenges of a developing marketplace. It was also a significant change that in the beginning we had only one product, whereas now we have more than fifty. Initially we did not have a factory, but now we do. When we go to Szolnok, we ourselves gape with wonder to see that in a place where in the beginning we hardly found workers to make the Béres drops there is now state of the art technology and expertise. These are enormous changes! Our notion of the company itself changed – had to change – continuously. One always had to seek a path to success and survival and to glean bits of wisdom on the basis of experience that would ensure the prosperity of the company. The situation is not easy, since even in Hungary Béres is competing in a global environment of big businesses. I would even go so far as to say that we are surrounded on all sides by various products marketed by larger companies with more capital. One small blunder can quickly become a fatal error.

Gy. K.: Perhaps one could say, in connection with this, that a new policy towards industry could help the economic environment in Hungary develop in an appropriate direction, since as we have all had occasion to observe, in particular over the course of the past eight years the economy has moved in precisely the opposite direction and essentially the chains of international companies now form the majority of businesses in the Hungarian economy.

J. B.: As a Hungarian entrepreneur and as a Hungarian citizen I would certainly expect that companies like ours, as large as ours or smaller, be able to thrive in Hungary. The new government has a considerable responsibility with respect to this.

Gy. K.: This is closely intertwined with the general mentality of the country. In other words it creates a mentality, or itself can flourish if an environment in which a good mentality prevails. This is not a question of minor importance.

J. B.: Absolutely. The world – and I am not speaking only of Hungary – cannot logically continue in the direction in which it has been moving, with ever larger companies coming into being. If this process continues unchecked – and this seems characteristic at the moment, and one sees such mergers in the pharmaceutical industry – then in the end there will simply be one gigantic company that dictates everything. We sometimes jokingly comment that if the process underway now is allowed to continue, in the pharmaceutical industry there will be two companies remaining, one enormous multinational and Béres.

Gy. K.: It is not common knowledge in Hungary that the economic strength of the United States is created by the small and middle-sized businesses. The diversity of talents to which you are referring is really allowed to flourish there.

J. B.: Regrettably in Hungary over the past twenty years we have witnessed trends in quite the opposite direction. We have no problem with competition itself, only with the conditions of competition. Indeed we like to compete, and we can, but we do not like to find ourselves put in a disadvantageous position in our own country. If they are not going to offer us any assistance, at the very least they should not hamper us.

Gy. K.: Did you receive any tax benefits?

J. B.: At first yes, but only because one of the owners of the firm was a foreigner. If I recall correctly, in pharmaceuticals, which was one of the branches of industry to enjoy some advantages, if a jointly owned venture was created with at least 30% foreign investment it received the maximum tax benefit and for years didn’t have to pay any taxes. I consider this a sad state of affairs. In my view the proper thing would have been to support Hungarian ventures as much as possible, they needed the biggest tax benefits in order to grow stronger and withstand the competition.

Gy. K.: The philosophy behind the apparently nonsensical tax benefits was simply that at the start of the change of regimes according to policy assessments of the economy there was a grave lack of capital in Hungary. The country had to lure foreign capital in order to secure investments and ensure that industry could function. There were, however, loans and other advantageous forms of credit designed to ensure the survival of small and middle-sized businesses, at least under the Antall government. But certainly the first part of the whole thing turned wrong-side-out. And this is increasingly true, in my view.

J. B.: I can’t take stock of the situation in its entirety, but we can certainly feel the weight of the consequences. Neither strong economy nor a wealthy state. Twenty years after the change of regimes all I can say is that the path Hungary chose was not a path towards prosperity. Pharmaceutical commerce developed out of a socialist distribution of resources and a rudimentary market economy. The multinational companies appeared quickly and the processes of privatization began. Hungary’s pharmaceutical factories, which boasted a long past, ended up in foreign hands. Pharmaceuticals from abroad flooded the country and we were faced with strong competition. Also, the regulations concerning what one could sell, where, and under what conditions were continuously changed. This demanded considerable foresight and flexibility on our part. Sometimes I seriously wonder how we were able to be successful in this rapid, sweeping economic transformation. In any event we withstood the pressures, and

I don’t think it is immodest on our part to be proud of this. But let’s return to the difficulties: in my view the pharmaceutical industry and the pharmaceutical marketplace were hit hard, particularly in the second half of the first decade of the 21st century. Perhaps the economy by that point was so worn out that the state simply tried to put its hands in any pocket in which there was still a bit of money. Until then the pharmaceutical industry had functioned, even prospered according to its own internal rules. The first significant blow for us came in 2004, when fourteen years after the change of regimes they began to interfere in questions of pricing for products that had received no state support whatsoever. And I could mention the steps taken towards liberalization as well, which allowed some forms of medicine to be distributed and marketed alongside foodstuffs and through other, similar channels. These steps were bad for the manufacturer, bad for the distributor, and unnecessary for the consumer.

Gy. G.: We speak on the one hand of liberalization and on the other of state intervention in pricing policy. How do you see the relationship between state and actors in the market over the past twenty years in Hungary? What do you expect from the state in this regard?

J. B.: First and foremost, we can only formulate an opinion concerning our own field of industry. I would expect stability and predictability in order to maintain the validity of the laws, regulations, and rules of the game. This ensures the predictability of our operations and does not turn the market upside down every year or every four years. It is to the advantage of actors in the private sphere if, following the transition to market economy, the markets are consolidated. We can effectively operate and plan only on the basis of a firm system of rules and regulations. This would be the most important thing for us, and indeed for everyone. Over the past few years, the market agents, including manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors, have not been involved in the decision making processes. Politicians make decisions from the outside, under pressure or according to their own interests. It is exceedingly important that decisions be made in a professional manner and in the service and protection of the interests of the population of the country.

K. Gy.: Do you have any other particular wishes or hopes?

J. B.: Another hope of mine is that regardless of what kind of world we live in, in the European Union or anywhere else, the people will not be second class citizens or entrepreneurs in their own countries. My home is Hungary, and I would like to be respected in all regards here. A responsible politician, one whom I would think of as a statesman, must constantly brainstorm about ways he could act in the service of Hungarian families, citizens, entrepreneurs, companies, and our homeland, as well as about how to protect all of these and further their interests. I consider this to be of utmost importance. Wherever we go in the world, we can see that the protection and promotion of national interests function in a manner very different from the manner adopted here.

We have a great deal to improve on in this regard.

Gy. G.: Do you expect a fundamentally different kind of European Union policy on the part of Hungary? A different kind of policy advocacy, or do you see this from a broader perspective?

J. B.: All I can say, in answer to this question, is that whatever the world around us or the system in or under which we live is like, we speak Hungarian and our homeland is Hungary. We must protect our own interests first and foremost.

I have no idea what legal opportunities or operational mechanisms are at our disposal in order to do this, but until we have melted into the great crucible of globalism this remains our utmost duty. Primarily we need to represent our interests instead of promoting those of others. I feel that we will not vanish in the global melting pot if we follow through with this in our economic policy. We – the small and middle-sized businesses – are not the only ones who feel this way. We can make this assertion with no small measure of confidence, for there are numerous examples of such interest advocacy in the world. One could mention Switzerland, or note that in Austria globalism was not allowed to spread to the same extent as in Hungary. Further examples could be enumerated, including countries we should not be ashamed to follow. Where is Hungarian agriculture today? If initially we set out on the path of slower development and at the same time strengthen our agriculture, we could provide our population with the necessary food. And why should we have huge multinational chain stores here in Hungary? Instead of one thousand supermarkets, we could have ten thousand smaller stores in the country. There would be no lack of goods, but the Hungarians who actually work in production and sales would be able to thrive, the people who actually live here. And the profit would not go to foreign, offshore firms, but rather would remain here in Hungary. I think it would have been better to have slower development and an economy more closed but at the same time stronger. Clearly many industries would not have been competitive in the global marketplace, but rather only here at home.

Gy. K.: Indeed, there are three sources of natural wealth in Hungary: soil, climate and water. And we should have proceeded by considering first the significance of these three resources. However, the whole change of regimes seems to have followed a sort of path of compulsions. First of all, in politics all of us, even those who were the most well-prepared, like prominent players in economic life, had to learn on the fly, since all the changes came suddenly. Secondly, Hungarian agriculture was run either by so-called Smallholders or by the Socialist administration. And unfortunately this was precisely the strategic sector in Hungary that over the course of the entire change of regimes was never under the permanent supervision of a consistent national policy focused on future prospects. This is true of the wine industry as well. There are two aspects of viticulture that are worthy of mention here. One question is, what is the role of Hungarian wine in economic policy today? The other is, what is the role of wine in the Béres philosophy?

J. B.: Since 2002, we have been more closely concerned with wines and viticulture. Previously, we used to love wine, respect wine growers, and admire the fine quality of development many of them were able to demonstrate following the change of regimes. So I think of it as perhaps fated that we too got it into our heads to take up viticulture. Much as the Béres Drops and Béres Pharmaceutical Works were able to develop organically over the past twenty years, wine growers were able to follow a similar path. Obviously, the country’s break with Communism was initially a major push forward, since primarily people who had already been present in the industry, had the necessary knowledge of their trade, and had been able to make good business deals and privatize got a good tail wind. In addition to the relatively low entry threshold, it was fairly inexpensive to start out in this economic sector. We joined it much later. If I total up all the expenditures, we “jumped” into viticulture with an investment of about 1.5 bn forint. At the same time, I remain convinced that quality viticulture and wine ensure the success of the sector. The conditions of production are excellent, and if we are able to spread knowledge of our wines then we should be able to compete with the best vintages in the world.

Gy. K.: In their quality Hungarian wines were indeed able to prosper precisely because of the conditions you mentioned, the soil and the climate, worthy of the international reputation that Hungarian wines have held for centuries. But they have competed in quantity as well, since the area available for cultivation was large and the quantity of wine produced was large as well.

J. B.: Our wines are excellent, but they have dropped drastically on the list of the world’s best wines over the past twenty years. One rarely finds our quality wines among export wines. It’s hardly any wonder that this is reflected in the international view of Hungarian wines, and unfortunately there is a decrease in the land under cultivation as well. It is one of the great blunders of the state that it has neglected factors that could have influenced the public image of Hungary’s wines and Hungary itself. And how did it neglect them? Partly by spending insufficient sums of money and doing so in an inefficient manner. A specific wine can only emerge if the best wines are in the forefront, if foreigners come to know the country and its products through the finest wines, because only they will give rise to a good name.

Gy. G.: Could you give an example of this? What do mean by second rate wines representing the country?

J. B.: I could give numerous examples. Let’s start with a widespread phenomenon. For instance, if you visit Canada, France, England, or any country in Europe and you walk into a supermarket and take a look at the wines sold there, you will find lots of French wine right away, and after a bit more searching about, you will also find Italian, American and Chilean wines too. And perhaps you happen to find some Hungarian wines as well. And located where exactly? On the bottom shelf, in the cheapest category, along with some poor-quality wines by unknown producers.

So what is the message? That Hungarian wine is low quality. How can we place these wines next to the ones we claim to be comparable with the world’s best wines? Who will believe this? What merchant or customer would ever believe this?

Gy. K.: If Hungarian commercial policy were properly managed and money were spent in a goal-oriented way, then we would find good writers, translators, graphic designers and printing houses for the task. I think that the money available could cover these expenses. However, this does not seem to be the case at all.

J. B.: Generally, one sees that there is not enough intellectual or financial support or initiative for Hungarian products. Furthermore, what little funding there is they dispose of in an entirely inappropriate way. I am convinced that Hungarian wine can only be made world famous if wineries like Tiffán, Gere, Szepsy, Heimann, Béres and the other twenty to fifty excellent wine producers are marketed internationally in order to establish the good reputation of Hungarian wines. In my opinion, these wines should be supported, and only these wines. The second and third rate wines can follow, which would be fine, since simple table wines are also in demand. But this cannot work the other way around. Poor quality wines can never pave the way for quality wines, because poor quality will only hold down the reputation of quality wines. It would be nice if the state would provide support for the finest wineries as well, and Hungarian wine producers were able to appear on international markets in an intelligent way.

I am convinced that this would not only help the wine producers, but also the country. I have a saying regarding this: we should shatter the image of a tortured country with the help of our wines. It is not easy. Hungary’s international reputation is unfortunately quite poor.

Gy. K.: The proper positive image of the country could in fact help everything that is produced here, from politics to merchandise. However, the contrary is true as well: only good policy and good merchandise can improve the national image. These are mutually related things, and unfortunately, both of them have been at a low point for some time, or  at least they have been stagnating. Perhaps this will also change...

K. B.: It would be high time.

Gy. G.: Klára still owes us a bit of an explanation concerning the philosophy to which the image of the country could be naturally linked.

K. B.: A good mentality, the centrality of values, professionalism, diligence, fairness, culture and patriotism. Of course good health is on this list of priorities too.

Gy. K.: To enjoy life means to live a healthy life, doesn’t it? Was your family prompted to consider wine growing by health-consciousness?

K. B.: Good health and contentment walk hand in hand, certainly. But what actually prompted us to consider wine growing and production was a different kind of thinking. If there is a special wine region in Hungary that produces vintages unique on the international market, it is a kind of patriotic duty to promote it. As proud Hungarians, we had decided long ago that once we enter the wine business, we would chose the Tokaj-Hegyalja region, for we believe that the brand name of the Tokaj wines may enable us to achieve international success and also help promote our homeland. Besides, we purchased land here because we believe that historical Hungarian vineyards must be kept in Hungarian hands. On these beautiful properties we wish to produce wines that will contribute to Hungary’s international reputation. This is why we established our company in the Tokaj Region. And health? Mental and physical health are closely related, aren’t they? Even the mental state of our country is related to our health. The health of the population of a country is a clear reflection of whether or not people can live with a sense of pride, security, and contentment.

J. B.: To confirm what Klárika said, we consider Tokaj a matter of national interest, and this was a priority for us when choosing the wine-growing region. We did not want to start our business anywhere else. Tokaj is well known internationally, the brand name has a familiar ring all around the world, it is recognized everywhere, and this is true even if the content has lost a bit of its shine. As for the other issue that Klárika mentioned, it was the question of ownership, though I only realized this later. It struck me with almost elemental force when a book was published on the Tokaj-Hegyalja region and I read it in the course of one night. It made mention of each town in the region, each of the major businesses, about one hundred and fifty enterprises, and I was astonished to learn that each and every one of the twenty leading wineries was in foreign hands. What kind of a country do we live in if a Hungarian grower is not able to establish a large scale enterprise of grapes and wine production here? It is quite upsetting. Tokaj-Hegyalja is considered by both laymen and experts to be one of the best regions in the world, yet foreign investors make a profit, while Hungarians can hardly be found among the leading growers. And this is the case even today, despite the fact that the situation has somewhat improved. As we both argued, we consider the Tokaj region and Tokaj wines a matter of Hungarian national concern, and we cherish them accordingly.

Gy. G.: Erdőbénye itself is a place of no small significance in Hungarian history, a famous historical site.

J. B.: If you step on the balcony facing the hills around Erdőbénye, you find the landscape so charming that the beauty of the basin will entrance you. But for us Erdőbénye means far more. We are familiar with its traditions and the role it played in the Middle Ages or the era of the famous Rákóczi family. I recently spoke with János Perényi, a descendent of the famous Perényi family, once one of the biggest wine families in the region. Who owned the great cellars here? The Perényis, the Lórántffys, the Rákóczis, and other aristocratic families of similar prestige. This historical heritage binds us to this place. And what about wine and health?

Or rather, I would say, wine culture can be associated with health, in a sense, in the broadest context. Speaking of the Béres drops, we take a few and they help to cure the body. In the case of wine, however, we are speaking of a broad range of health issues. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that wine consumed in a moderate amount is healthy. In the case of the Tokaj wines, there are additional components that have a positive impact on health, for instance the serotonin content, the biogenic amines, and also certain vitamins that are present in high quantities. So a glass of good wine consumed in the evening can promote good health. Then there is mental health. People can be healthy in all respects if they live in a community. Drinking and enjoying wine is truly a community activity. This is what we do when we get together: we sing songs and taste wonderful wines.

We try to serve wine culture and culture in a broader sense as well.

Gy. K.: Another important feature is the fact that the headquarters of the winery was designed by a famous architect from Australia, who merges folk and organic traditions in Hungarian architecture. Obviously, this was also a conscious choice on your part. I am speaking of Anthony Gall.

J. B.: Anthony won a tender for this particular project, a tender for which a number of very famous designers applied. When at the beginning I sat down to talk with the seven candidates, I explained what I had on my mind. Not from the perspective of an expert on architecture, rather I dreamed of a building that matched the landscape and that was neither posh nor extravagant. I suggested planning a modern building, but relying on local architectural traditions that are embedded in the traditions of the region and the country. I relied on Károly Szelényi, who has taken many photos of the countryside. I paid special attention to the roof, the walls, the stone, the window frames and stairs as well. Only when we opened up the envelope with the name of the designer did we realize that the plan was by Anthony Gall.

K. B.: We took the process seriously and handled the applicant information confidentially, i.e. we ourselves didn’t know the names of the individual applicants, in order to ensure that no personal factors influenced our decision.

We had a board of renowned professional architects to help us arrive at our decision. We were glad to see that both the professional panel and our subjective assessments overlapped, and Anthony Gall won the tender.

Gy G.: In Erdőbénye, when visiting the Béres manor, I had the unique experience of seeing the ridge surrounding the slopes of Lőcse. This was a remarkable experience for me in part because as a historian I know that larger towns and aristocratic families of the Tokaj-Hegyalja region chose the best territories with infallible precision. The town of Lőcse itself – now part of Slovakia – was always famous for its sophisticated, determined and diligent people, who generated huge profits. This was a tradition there. In my guess the slopes of the hillside of Lőcse must be of major value.

J. B.: One of the features that the slopes of Lőcse boast is that they look to the south and south-west, so they are bathed in sunshine for much of the day, particularly towards sunset. The other nice part of our manor is the Omlás slopes, which face eastward, towards the sunrise. Basically our territories are located in a crescent shape facing to the south.

K. B.: Indeed, the Lőcse vineyards have interesting historical roots. They once belonged to city itself, one of the Szepesség townships. The city is familiar from the famous novel by Jókai entitled The White Woman of Lőcse.

Gy. G.: Unquestionably Lőcse has been one of the most significant towns in the Uplands, which was once the northern territory of Hungary, for centuries and now is part of Slovakia.

J. B.: Let me add that the wines of Tokaj were the foundation of its wealth. You mentioned Jókai, he wrote about the custom according to which, before each session of the municipal council, the members visited the wine cellar of the town hall and drank a glass of Tokaj wine in order to be able to craft good laws and regulations. One of our dreams was to reintroduce this custom at the town hall with Tokaj wine. We have contacted the municipal authorities of Lőcse, who gladly accepted our initiative. Today a barrel from a former manor of Lőcse is again in the town hall. The cellar is still almost in ruins, but we hope that someday there will be Tokaj wine again in the basement of the Lőcse town hall.

Gy. K.: Finally, I would like to return to an earlier idea of yours that seized my imagination. As far as I have been able to gather, your undertakings partly address questions concerning Hungary’s survival in some sense. I don’t mean the well-known phrase according to which we must survive by all means, but rather that we should keep working and thinking positively. The question may arise here concerning the extent to which this stamina derives from family heritage and traditions that have become well-known over the years, ranging from the movie by Ferenc Kósa to the fact that numerous intellectuals supported your father during the late 1970s and early 80s. If we consider only the poems, the many poems that were inspired by the determination and inventions of József Béres Sr., I think I am not mistaken in claiming that there were few scientific ventures in Hungary over the course of the last century that received as much public attention. So I would like to ask whether in your family’s history and that of your father this very strong endurance is the dominant factor, or do we find the other side as well, the love of life? In other words, I am guessing that stubbornness or doggedness are not the only explanations for his successes, but rather also the harmony of a fortunate temperament, in which struggle and determination were balanced with love of life and the appreciation of the joys of family life and fine wine.

J. B.: You are right. As his daughter-in-law first and a kind of daughter second, Klárika understood this very well, because she always admired this harmony in my father. My father was truly blessed with his love of life and nature, and he maintained it until the very last moments of his life. He believed there is no need to fret over death, for it is life that must be loved and respected. We never saw him upset or depressed, although we were aware of the difficulties he had had to deal with in some periods of his life. Of course no one can be so balanced alone, there was always someone supporting him in the background, and he received strength from the patients he helped towards recovery as well. He often thought fondly of the tremendous help he had received from others, including family, friends and members of the intellectual and artistic circles of Budapest. His love of nature was also a great source of strength for him. He was always enchanted by natural wonders, plants, animals, and birds in particular. Gardening was important to him, work in the garden was a pleasant way of exhausting himself. He was always happy and proud of the fruits of his labours, which of course he was always ready to share with us. What he did was never a matter of martyrdom or self-sacrifice. If he wanted to achieve something but he happened to fail, he was never upset for very long. He managed to counterbalance failures in other walks of life with the successes of his research, for instance. Not taking into consideration his struggles for the Béres drops, he had an extremely successful life. When he pursued agricultural research, he was successful. He was able to publish his findings, and his scientific achievements won him recognition. However, the Béres drops were met by stubborn ire in his immediate surroundings, as well as in some political and academic circles. They did not meet the standards of the time for “normalcy.” Of course it is not surprising that the Béres drops proved to be his most significant achievement.

Gy. K.: I made an interesting discovery related to your book. I am familiar with the broad activities of Bartók and Kodály, but I only now realized that as members of the intellectual or cultured circles of Hungary we have known our folk songs for less then a hundred years. It was Bartók and Kodály who first wrote down authentic transcriptions of our folk songs. I am very proud of the beautiful song that composer Sándor Veress, who happens to be my uncle, transcribed entitled “Rise up, graceful multitude.” In fact it was the intelligentsia of the 1930s who first learned these songs from Kodály, adding this to the eclectic heritage of the 19th century. If you ponder this seriously, you realize we have every reason to be optimistic. We should realize how astonishing it is that some eighty years ago we were able to reach so far back into our past and retrieve these treasures. Perhaps we are still able to do so today. Now we only have to reach back some twenty or thirty years. The outlook seems good.

J. B.: It would have been difficult for me to accept that these pearls, the jewels of our culture, be accessible to only a limited circle of people to enjoy. One always wants to share one’s knowledge with others. If you have found something of value you want others to enjoy it as well. Consequently, the media and intellectuals have the important role, not of suppressing, but elevating, presenting and helping to transmit to the younger generation the infinitely rich array of traditional values rooted in our past.




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