Rabbie Burns would have been proud. Scotland’s most famous poet was introduced at the annual party that commemorates his birth as a self-confessed sinner (a lover of women and drink, often to access). But he was also a great humanitarian.

The anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth was marked for the fourth year in Budapest on Saturday 27 January 2001, this time at the InterContinental’s refurbished ball room, and the almost 400 guests raised a record HUF 7 million for the Second Department of Paediatrics at Semmelweis University Hospital, Budapest.

The money, which by the end of the evening seemed to be pouring in left, right and centre, will be used to buy a mobile X-ray machine. The target had been HUF 5 million.

Over the years, the Burns Supper (organized by the Hungarian Scottish Society with help and support from the British Embassy, the British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary and the British Council) has raised millions of forints for Semmelweis, enabling the university hospital to buy a new operating table and equipment and re-open a closed operating theatre.

Jock Mackenzie chaired all three previous events. This year fellow Scot Mark Muss, of international moving company Interdean, was chairman. There was a tribute paid to Mackenzie for all his past efforts, and news of an attempt to spread the charitable aspect of Burns Night throughout the region.

Next week, for example, Muss will fly to the Ukraine to join an annual Burns Supper there. About 300 guests pay $150 each for a ticket and no money is raised for charity. Muss will advise the organising committee on how Budapest manages to keep prices much lower (tickets here cost HUF 12,000) while bringing in much needed cash for charity.

This year, for example, saw HUF 2.2 million forints raised on ticket sales alone. A raffle raised a further HUF 400,000 and an impromptu auction of a signed photo of pop star Robbie Williams had raised a further HUF 300,000 by the time the SCI table eventually won the bidding war.

The money didn’t stop there either. Tesco was the principal sponsor of the evening, which prompted Cora to pledge HUF 2 million of its own money. BT offered HUF 500,000. And just as the event was drawing towards a close, Pepsi offered a further HUF 2 million, by which time Muss was nearly beside himself with joy.

The evening featured all the usual traditions, the piping in of the haggis (this being Hungary, a hurka, a special type of sausage, was also escorted in by a Hungarian bag piper), the Selkirk Grace, loyal toasts, the Immortal Memory and the Appreciation, the Toast to the Lassies by British Ambassador Nigel Thorpe, and the Reply of the Lassies by Tina Giles.

There was also a brief speech by Professor György Fekete of the Semmelweis University Hospital, ending simply with the words, “Thank you for your support and understanding for children.”

Yes, Rabbie Burns would have been very pleased.

By Robin Marshall

Around HUF 1.5 million was raised at the third annual Burns Supper in Budapest on Saturday, 22 January 2000.

The money, made through a contribution from the ticket price, a raffle and an auction, will go to the Semmelweis University Hospital’s second paediatrics department.

Last year an operating table was purchased through the fund raising efforts of the ball. This year the plan is to replace 30-year-old operating equipment and buy new theatre furniture.

Jock McKenzie, the ball organizer for the Hungarian-Scottish Society, said while delighted people had enjoyed themselves so much, he was disappointed not to have raised more, particularly as tickets (which included as much food and drink as you could manage) only cost HUF 6,000.

(A version of this article first appeared in The Budapest Sun in early 2000)

About 380 people gathered on Saturday 23 January 1999 at the Hűvösvölgyi Vigadó on the outskirts of Budapest for the city’s second Burns Supper, complete with whisky, pipers, formal Highland dress and, of course, haggis, neeps and tatties.

But there was also a Hungarian feel to the evening with a Magyar piper, hurka sausage and steamed cabbage.

Tickets for the Supper cost HUF 5,000, with HUF 1,000 going directly to the hospital. Additional money was raised through a raffle and auction, and a hotline was set up for those who wish to make donations but cannot attend the event.

The evening, backed by many sponsors and the British Embassy, the British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary, the British Tourist Authority and the Hungarian Scottish Society, has so far raised HUF 2.3 million for Semmelweis University of Medicine’s Second Department of Paediatrics (SOTE II).

The organizers hope to eventually raise HUF 8 million ($36,360 at January 1999 exchange rates), which will permit SOTE II to complete the refurbishment necessary to reopen its primary operating theatre, closed since 1994. The department cares for children with genetic diseases, congenital malformations, metabolic and heart diseases, leukaemia and malignant tumors and runs an intensive care unit.

Since last year’s Burns Supper kicked-off the department’s charitable drive, it has been able to raise HUF 15 million ($71,430) and nearly complete the repairs necessary to meet the strict requirements of the national health commission.

A new surgical lamp has been purchased and air-conditioning has been installed. The room has been made sterile and everything appears ready to go. One problem, though: The department’s budget has not permitted the purchase of a new operating table. Presently, there is a great open space beneath the lamp in the green-tiled room.

“We want to raise enough money to let them get the operating table of their choice,” MacKenzie said. “If we have the table, then immediately we will be able to start utilizing the primary operating theatre,” explained Professor György Fekete, head of the paediatrics department.

Today, the department’s surgeons and ear, nose and throat doctors share one operating theatre. Nearly 700 operations were conducted in it last year. “If we have both operating rooms in good condition, then these two teams will be able to work in parallel every day of the week,” said Fekete. “Now, because there is only one operating room, some operations have to be postponed for a second or third day.”

The primary operating theatre is more than three times larger than the room currently being used. It is difficult for doctors to maintain strict hygiene in such a small space, and the room is simply not large enough for all the equipment the doctors would like to have on hand.

In addition, the theatre has a 25-year-old metal operating table that, according to Dr Károly Ungor, makes taking x-rays on the table extremely difficult. The second-story room also lacks air-conditioning and can be unbearably hot in the summer.

“It’s not for our team’s comfort,” stressed Ungor, a paediatric surgeon. “It is the children who will be the main winners.”

(Taken from articles which first appeared in The Budapest Sun in early 1999)