Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 12
13 September 1999

Hungarian News Round-up C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Hungarian News Round-up
News from Hungary since 6 September 1999

Paul Nemes

Last week, Hungarian authorities dismissed speculation that Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai and National Bank of Hungary Governor Gyorgy Suranyi are about to resign. A spokesman for the National Bank said that the rumours about Suranyi's resignation were completely groundless. The Finance Ministry said that they had already declared any talk about Jarai's possible resignation as untrue. There have been rumours about these resignations for months. Analysts say that they do not know where the rumours come from. The autumn session of the Hungarian Parliament began with a discussion about the budget for the year 2000 and tax laws. After a critique from Smallholders President Jozsef Torgyan a heated debate took place between the two main government coalition members over allocations of agricultural and regional funds.

Ten years after Communist Hungary opened its border with Austria, armed guards still patrol the frontier. Today , it is not Hungarian soldiers, with orders to shoot anyone attempting to cross border, who are guarding the frontier. Instead, Austrians are trying to prevent illegal immigrants from Eastern Europe, North Africa and even Pakistan from entering European Union countries. Friedrich Dieter, military commander of Austria's Burgenland province, said, "the Hungarians now joke that they should not have dismantled the Iron Curtain but rented it to us." Meanwhile, Gyula Horn, who was Foreign Minister in 1989, complained that he had not been invited to the ceremony commemorating the tenth anniversary of the opening of Hungary's border. Horn made several critical comments about the way that the current Government "try to present themselves as the sole resistance fighters." Miklos Nemeth, Prime Minister at the time, and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl were also among those not invited to the commemorative parliamentary session on 10 September, while both German and Austrian Chancellors Schroder and Klima have been invited.

Despite misgivings among Hungarians in Slovakia about the new Language Law, the Hungarian President, Arpad Goncz, said after meeting his Slovak counterpart, Rudolf Schuster, in the Slovak capital that "the biggest obstacles have been removed from the road of Hungarian-Slovak co-operation." Relations between the two countries have of course improved significantly since the removal of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar from office last year. Goncz told Schuster that Hungary and Slovakia cannot miss the present "historic opportunity", now that their views "are identical." Schuster unveiled a plan aiming at "co-operation without borders, because we do not want to have the Schengen border with either Hungary, or Poland, and least of all with the Czech Republic." The statement must have put some fears to rest among Hungarians in Slovakia. Miklos Duray, leader of Coexistence (a Hungarian party in Slovakia), stated in 1997 that the Hungarians "do not [] favour a Schengen Agreement dividing line with other parts of the Hungarian nation."

After meeting the Albanian Prime Minister in Tirana, Viktor Orban, the first Hungarian Prime Minister since the 1960s to visit Albania, emphasised the two countries' common interests in the present Balkan situation. Orban said that the Albanians in Kosovo and the Hungarians in Vojvodina were in a similar situation, especially with regard to the current uncertain future of both nationalities. Both Orban and Pandeli Majko, Albania's Prime Minister, agreed that the Vojvodina Hungarians should be given a chance to play a part in deciding the future of the Balkans. Earlier this week Orban said that no status of autonomy for the Vojvodina Hungarians could be worked out with the current Milosevic regime. Orban also stressed economic relations and mentioned the funds Hungary has made available for companies participating in Balkan reconstruction as possibly providing the basis for cooperation.

A cemetery for Hungarians killed in the Soviet Union during the Second World War is to be built in Rudkino, Russia. 80,000 Hungarian soldiers who were killed along the Don Bend are to be reburied in the new cemetery. 130 cemeteries of smaller size have already been reconstructed with money from a special USD 10 million fund that was part of Russia's state debt to Hungary. Despite this initiative, Laszlo Erdos, Chief of the Bureau of War Cemetery Care, said that remains of Hungarian soldiers are still buried in more than 50 different sites along the River Don.

The Hungarian Premier, Viktor Orban, met Austrian Chancellor, Viktor Klima, last week to discuss the two countries' joint bid for the 2004 European Championships. Orban said that he hopes the competition will help Hungarian football to recover from its current miserable state. Many have blamed the present Government for the state of today's football. Hungary has not had a truly world class side since the exceptional "Golden Team" of the 1950s, who as clear favourites lost the World Cup Final in 1954. A number of disastrous results have not made the situation any better. Humiliating defeats against the USSR and, more recently, against Yugoslavia come to mind. Still, Orban remains optimistic, and promises that if Hungary co-hosts the 2004 Championships, Hungary will be among the best.

After a chlorine leak from a rail wagon was discovered in Sajobabony, northern Hungary, on 7 September, civil defence units were on standby to evacuate the village. Major Imre Nagy said that four people had been taken ill from the gas leak during unloading at a chemical plant. Nagy told reporters that "civil defence units have everything ready to evacuate [the 3200 residents of the village] if necessary."

P>The Prime Minister opened Parliament on 6 September by saying that the Cabinet's achievements so far are proof that the country is moving in the right direction. Orban also said that the Hungarian economy is strong. He mentioned the floods earlier this year as proof that the country can cope with unexpected difficulties. The Prime Minister went on to say that the Government had not departed from its growth projections for the year despite natural disasters such as heavy snowfall and flooding that caused losses of some USD 400 million. Orban also criticised those who earlier this year had said that the Government should reduce spending or risk a higher level of public spending deficit than that predicted.

The Budapest-based Central European International Bank that handles an account reportedly used for bribing Kremlin officials said, on 6 September, that there is no evidence to support the charges of money laundering through the account. Gyorgy Zdeborsky, head of the Bank, said, "no suspicion of money laundering could have arisen at all as the banks on both the sending and the receiving end were respectable institutions." Zdeborsky did not name the account or its holder but told the Hungarian daily, Magyar Hirlap, that the account, which is thought to be codenamed "Dean" and controlled by Kremlin property manager Pavel Borodin, had been opened "by a company registered in Switzerland" and that "the bank found all necessary documents in order." It is thought that Pavel Borodin handled million-dollar bribes from Kosovo Albanian-born Swiss businessman Bexhet Pacolli in order to secure expensive Kremlin refurbishment contracts for Pacolli's Swiss company. Pacilli told Magyar Hiralp that documents supposedly proving a transfer of USD one million were fake.

On 6 September, Semyon Mogilevich, a Russian fighting allegations of international money laundering, won a lawsuit against Hungarian TV station RTL Klub. The station had dubbed him one of the most dangerous criminals in the world. RTL Klub cited the US media as its source in a report on the Ukrainian-born Russian. In the RTL Klub Aktak (Files) programme on 11 July it was said that Mogilvevich was running a world-wide syndicate for money laundering and illegal trade in art and military weapons. RTL Klub have now been ordered to withdraw its comments. US investigators have linked Mogilevich to what may be one of the largest US money laundering operations ever uncovered.

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ) have complained that a Hungarian exhibition to be displayed at Auschwitz "barely concealed anti-Semitic undertones" and should be reorganised. MAZSIHISZ pressed the Government to involve other experts in the preparation of the exhibition, saying that the current presentation gives a twisted view of the treatment of Jews in Hungary during the Second World War. A press release to the daily paper Nepszabadsag said that the Jewish community planned to make an official complaint to the Hungarian National Museum and the Ministry of Culture.

According to a report published by Credit Suisse First Boston, Hungary is the leading country in Central and Eastern Europe when it comes to preparing for year 2000 computer problems, loosely known as the "millenium bug". Experts say the bug will not cause big problems for private companies, but state administration is in a worse situation. Hungarian Railways (MAV) has promised to solve the problem, which will cost several hundred million forints (millions of US dollars), by the middle of this year. On the other hand banks are well prepared due to their foreign owners. The Hungarian Government has spent HUF seven million (USD 30,000) on free testing for individual users since 1 August. HUF eight billion (USD 33 million) will also be available to limit potential damage and problems that are expected to be caused by the year 2000 bug.

In July, for the second month running, Hungarian exports grew but there was a reduction in import growth. According to the Economics Ministry, "the growth in exports [in July] was almost five percent higher than the growth in imports." These figures will keep the deficit within expected levels. Deputy State Secretary at the Ministry, Eszter Bago, said, "clearly this is also having a positive impact on the current account balance data."

The European Union has backed away from setting strict dates for candidates to join the Union. After a meeting in northern Finland, EU Foreign Ministers said that such offers, and a more exact timetable, would be premature. They believe the leading candidates are less than half finished in implementing EU guidelines. European External Affairs Commissioner designate, Hans van den Broek, said that everyone wanted to accelerate the enlargement process. He warned that it would not be practical to set precise dates before the more difficult accession "chapters" had been opened. Hungarian Premier, Orban, said that Hungary had reached the stage of EU readiness that Portugal, Spain and Greece were at when they joined. He went on to say that it is the EU who should accelerate the process of expansion. Orban stated that, "Hungary will be ready in 2002 to enter the EU. I think it is largely a question of political will in the EU, when Hungary joins."

Paul Nemes, 11 September 1999

 

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