Wine lovers in Hungarian town pay in Blue Francs

Tue Apr 12, 2011 5:59am EDT
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By Marton Dunai

SOPRON, Hungary (Reuters Life!) - Hungary may not adopt the euro in this decade, but people in a town in the west of the country have already begun to ditch the forint currency. Wine-loving locals have launched the Blue Franc instead.

Alternative local currencies have been used around the world for a long time to boost liquidity and trade -- but it is a new phenomenon in Hungary, where, as elsewhere in the eastern half of the European Union, the ultimate measure of economic success has been admission to the euro zone.

The residents of Sopron, a picturesque border town within shouting distance of Austria, have seen and used the euro more often than most Hungarians, and they have welcomed the Blue Franc, too, with open minds - if not always open wallets.

"I've seen the notes and I don't think it's a foolish idea," Sopron wine industry worker Geza Czene, 30, said. "Vintners accept it more often than not; they use it amongst each other."

Vintners, in fact, named the Blue Franc. Napoleon's troops used francs to buy the local wine, which has been called the Blue Franc since. Now, the name has passed back to the currency.

Its originators have high hopes for it.

"The Blue Franc will not replace the forint completely, but it can account for up to 15-20 percent of local transactions," said Tamas Perkovacz, a local businessman and president of the nonprofit association that sponsors the currency.

"Because of the recent economic crisis, there is about 4-5 percent less cash in the economy as people save up instead," he said. "That slows our way back to growth."   Continued...