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It's kind of a long story.

Mike Pomranz
March 24, 2017

It’s never a good idea to come between a man and his favorite beer – but that appears to be especially true in Hungary where reports suggest that members of the Hungarian government are trying to ban the commercial use of red stars nationwide simply to piss off Heineken.

First, let’s make our way through some slightly complicated Eastern European backstory: According to Hungary Today, the bad blood between Hungary and Heineken stems from a small brewery based in Romania, but run by members of the area’s Hungarian minority, that uses of the name “Igazi Csiki Sör” – which is Hungarian for “The Real Beer of Csik.” Csik is the Hungarian name for the once-Hungarian region, currently within the borders of Romania, where the brewery is located. Meanwhile, the massive Dutch beer brand Heineken owns a brand in Romania called “Ciuc beer.” In Romanian, “Ciuc” means “Csik.” So what is the “real” Csik beer? Is it the beer in Romania brewed by Hungarians or is it Romanian beer named after the historically Hungarian region? I warned you this was complicated.

After years of ongoing dispute, in January, a Romanian regional court ruled in favor of Heineken, saying that the trademark belonged not to the small local brewery but to the global beer behemoth. “The Real Beer of Csik” has since had to change its name to the “Banned Real Beer.”

Furious with the decision, Janos Lazar, chief-of-staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, lashed out at Heineken, calling the brand’s lawsuit “anti-Hungarian” and suggesting “All Hungarians should unite against it,” according to a February AFP report. But more recently, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party has taken even more drastic measures. This week, members of the government have proposed a legal change that would ban the commercial use of “symbols of tyranny” – from things like the swastika to Communist symbols like the hammer and sickle and, ahem, the red star. According to the Guardian, the Hungarian government claimed the measure was because it had a “moral obligation” to Hungarians who had suffered “under Nazi and Bolshevik reigns of terror.”

But Heineken has another take. “We use the same brand symbols across the world, in every market,” the brand was quoted as saying. “We will closely monitor this local issue and hope … this matter will be resolved soon.” If the legislation passes, use of these symbols could carry a maximum penalty of fines of nearly $7 million and two years in prison.

Meanwhile, The Guardian writes, “Observers say the bill has little chance of becoming law given a number of big brands use red stars such as Italian mineral water San Pelligrino.” Though, that said, I bet some people out there could make a pretty strong case that drinking sparkling Italian mineral water is also a symbol of tyranny.