La Cicciolina's Hungarian Rhapsody
Former porn queen Ilona Staller made international headlines in January when she announced she would run for Parliament in Hungary. There was approximately little to no media attention, however, when the 50-year-old Staller -- known by her fans as "La Cicciolina" -- failed to collect enough signatures in her district to qualify as a candidate for this month's election. But Staller, who flashed her breasts as a member of the Italian Parliament and had sex with everyone from John Holmes to a horse during her illustrious porn career, is not going away quietly.
Speaking in an impassioned flurry of Hungarian, Italian and broken English, Staller, whose wide, full-lipped face is surprisingly wrinkle-free, claimed she was bitterly attacked by the government, betrayed by her campaign manager and kept down by a corrupt election system.
"I contest this type of election," Staller said over a breakfast of cold cuts and eggs in a hotel near Heros Square in Budapest. "This is not fair, not healthy, and it is necessary to change. Democratically, this is not good."
She said it was nearly impossible for independent candidates and small parties to make it into Parliament because of the enormous pressure those in power brought to bear. Although there are more than 120 registered parties in Hungary, only two -- the ruling center-right party and the opposition socialist party -- really have any clout at election time.
Staller said one of these "large parties" used a number of tactics to keep her out of the race. She said her posters were covered up, her campaign car was pushed off the road and hecklers spoiled her attempts at public speaking. She said members of Parliament also accused her of spying when she was a waitress at a Budapest hotel in the days of communism.
Ignoring the question of spying, Staller said her big-party opponents were out to get her because she might be a challenge to their authority. Fewer than eight percent of the 386 members of Hungarys Parliament are female.
"I am a combative woman," said Staller. "A 'guerriera,' like Schwartznegger, only a woman. I think so many people scared that I arrive in Parliament."
Indeed, Staller does have the reputation of stirring things up in a mans world. While she was a member of the Italian Parliament in 1991, Staller offered to have sex with both George Bush Sr. and Sadaam Hussein to prevent the impending Gulf War. And, after being attacked by Hungarian politicians, the star of dozens of porn movies snapped back that most of the men sitting in Parliament had pasts that were much sleazier than hers.
But Staller, who made her last porno flick in 1989, says her wild days are behind her. While in the Italian Parliament, she fought for sex for prisoners, sex education for young kids and sexual liberation for everyone. But she is now focusing her energies on alleviating poverty.
"I am here not showing my breasts. Now I am speaking about poor people so it is not necessary -- not because I don't have beautiful breasts ... even now," she said, pausing momentarily to massage her breasts through her tight white tank top. "But it's not necessary showing because poor people have no interest in my breasts."
Staller said one of the larger parties -- she would not say which -- may have bribed people like her campaign manager to turn against her to ensure her defeat. Staller, who lives in Rome, hired a man she would only identify as "Janos" -- to start collecting the required 750 recommendation cards from registered voters in Kobanya, the district of Budapest she was running in.
Under Hungarian election law, voters receive cards in the mail that can be used to recommend certain candidates in their district. When she would call and ask how it was going with the cards, Janos assured her that he had a team of 20 people collecting the cards.
"Then around the end of February, this guy said to us, Ciao ciao, and left us there in the middle of the campaign," she said, adding that Janos at the same time had been working for a candidate in the extreme right ultra-nationalist party, which has ties to the governing party.
When she arrived in Budapest she found that he had only collected 30 cards with less than two weeks before the deadline.
Staller quickly put together a new team and started collecting the cards herself, but then her campaign hit another snag. Many of the cards in Kobanya were stolen en mass by, she said, supporters of the same large party.
"What happened some big party in Budapest in very short tiempo, have so many thousands more than necessary, they have these recommendation cards."
Ildiko Koltai, a member of Parliament representing the ruling party, Fidesz, was not impressed with the allegations. "People who didnt get enough of these cards are always looking for reasons why they didnt make it," Koltai said. "Its always easier to blame someone else."
Koltai also said that the men in Parliament are not afraid of strong women. "But its not just a matter of being strong. You need to be intelligent as well."
In an interview hours before she flew back to Rome, Staller said the government would collapse anyway within 16 months because things were not changing fast enough.
Staller was born in Kobanya and grew up in an old communist housing complex in dire poverty. She observed that nothing has changed since those times. "My building is the same, identical," she said, "maybe more terrible, because it is more old."
Staller said she was the only politician who actually visited the people of Kobanya in their homes and saw what kind of squalor they were living in.
"I saw a 14-year-old girl bathing in a sink that her mother then used to wash the dishes," she said.
Outside the Kobanya Community Center during the first round of elections last week, 21-year-old Gyorgy Peter Szilvasy said he is glad Cicciolina did not manage to run in his district. "She lives abroad and then she comes back home and wants to run alone," he said. "She might have lived here when she was a kid, but she lives abroad now in this huge villa -- how would she know about the problems of the poor?"
Health worker Krisztina Regus added that Kobanya, traditionally a poor workers district at the end of a Budapest Metro line, is now experiencing record growth, thanks to a business-friendly mayor. "All Cicciolina knows is she sees that the buildings are gray and wonders why?" Regus said. "The problem is not gray buildings. But the real situation is that Kobanya is really a shooting star and its developing really fast."
Robert Kiss, a social worker in Budapest, said Cicciolinas presence in the campaign represented the bottom point of Hungarian political culture. "But thats not really strange because our political culture is already at the bottom," he said.
Staller said she is not deterred by her defeat, adding that no matter what happens she will return to Hungary to run in the next election. In the meantime, she will be reunited with the 30-year-old "Italian boy" who was waiting for her back in Rome.
"I am happy because from 6 months I am very, very much in love," she said with a wink. "We are doing good sex."
Brandon Sprague is a freelance writer and a student at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley.