To go from relative obscurity to international fame in a matter of days could be a dream or a nightmare, depending on which angle you look at it from. Personally – I’d prefer the obscurity. But for Győr resident László Andraschek, news of his good fortune was picked up the Guardian and subsequently newspapers in places as far flung as Taipei and Zambia. His win, relatively modest by many lottery standards – HUF 630 million (€2 million) – is certainly news – but international news?
What makes Andraschek different is that prior to purchasing his winning ticket, he was, in fact, homeless. He actually won the lottery last September but it’s only now coming to light. Andraschek attracted international attention when he made a significant donation to a homeless shelter in Hungary. It was that good deed rather than the win itself that made the news, coinciding as it does with a series of protests worldwide against the new law that allows local authorities do what they need to do to protect ‘public order, security, health and cultural values’.
In Budapest, the measures taken include banning ‘habitual living’ in public places. These include underneath bridges, subways, parks and playgrounds, and much of the tourist trail in the city centre. The city of Debrecen has followed suit banning its homeless from the city and from the neighbouring Nagyerd forest. Violations of the law result in fines, community service, and possible imprisonment. Hungarian embassies and consulates in Paris, New York, Vienna, Lisbon, Dublin, Brussels, Essen, and Istanbul have witnessed demonstrations from their windows in recent weeks. And more are planned.
Buying the ticket was a last-minute decision apparently, a spur of the moment thing that certainly paid off. He has bought flats for his three kids, paid off his debt and that of his relatives, donated to the shelter, and is now setting up a foundation to support addicts and victims of domestic violence. He also plans to travel to Italy. He says he hasn’t changed as a person and that he will invest cautiously. I hope so.
I Googled ‘lottery win ruins lives’ and was a little taken aback at the number of stories it coughed up. It seems for that for many, the overnight change in fortune goes to their head. Binging on designer clothes, fancy cars, and a lifestyle that would mirror that of a B-list celebrity, things start to go wrong very quickly. Perhaps they should have listened to the wise words of Somerset Maugham: Money is like a sixth sense – and you can’t make use of the other five without it.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve never daydreamed about winning the lottery. Who I’d tell (no one). How I’d spend it (anonymously). Where I’d go (everywhere). A fortune-teller told me once that I was destined to be rich (I thought she was referring to monetary wealth rather than that which comes in the guise of good friends, health, and happiness) – and part of me is still holding out hope. I wonder how much my life would change. How much I would change. I’d like to think that like Andraschek, I, too, could say that the money had little effect other than to give me to means to do good. But I’d have to win it first to see.
First published in the Budapest Times 21 February 2014.