Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 15
4 October 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 27 September 1999

Paul Nemes

The crisis surrounding the budget and the Smallholders refusal to accept the amount of funds allocated to agriculture appears to be over. Smallholder President, and Minister of Agriculture, Jozsef Torgyan will still push for an additional HUF 163 billion (USD 665 million) for agriculture. Torgyan was quoted as saying, "we have accepted the supper invitation, but we are still hungry, and we would like a second helping. It is usual for second helpings to be served at dinner." Prime Minister Victor Orban has insisted on the initial HUF 250 billion (USD 1 billion), and said that he would have to know more about Torgyan's position before responding. After Torgyan's turn-around, Orban did nevertheless say that he would try to make time to meet Torgyan. The Budapest Sun reported that FIDESZ (Hungarian Civic Party) leaders have said that any motion submitted by Torgyan would have to be submitted by the Smallholder President as a regular MP. This would mean thatTorgyan would have to resign his government functions. Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai said that he thought any amendment to the budget very unlikely, because he could not see that there were any additional funds available, as the Smallholders previously had claimed.

A statement by the European Union Commissioner in charge of EU enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, said that it may be possible for new members to join in 2002. Commission President Romano Prodi has again said that the EU should set a clear date for the admission of new members at the coming Helsinki summit. Despite having had unenthusiastic responses from EU members when he earlier expressed his views on the matter, Prodi said, "I do expect to end the Helsinki meeting with a precise pathway for the unification process because I think the applicants have a right to know [] how long the process will be." Paavo Lipponen, Premier of Finland said that the current EU presidency is discussing enlargement, but added that it may be too early to decide on any dates.

On 29 September, four local councils in Hungary were acknowledged for their environmental work by the Council of Europe. Kazincbarcika and Tata in northern Hungary and Kiskunfelegyhaza and Kiskunhalas in southern Hungary were given the Council of Europe parchment. In all, 34 towns were awarded the diploma which recognises efforts at a European level.

Hungarian President Arpad Goncz last week made a two-day visit to Croatia. Goncz, accompanied by business representatives, met Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in Zagreb on Monday and opened a Hungarian Centre for Culture and Education in Osijek/Eszek near the Hungarian border on Tuesday. Croatian parliament representative Sandor Jakab, of the Alliance of Hungarians in Croatia (HMDK), said last week in Budapest that, economically, the Hungarian minority has suffered more than the majority after the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

The Prime Ministers of Hungary and Romania will attend a ceremony in Arad on 6 October, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the crushing of the 1848-1849 Hungarian Revolution by Russian forces. The Hungarian Ministry of Justice and the Department of Foreign Affairs will lead a delegation that includes descendants of the 13 generals executed in Arad. Minister of Justice Ibolya David, who set in motion the process to create a Hungarian-Romanian Memorial Park, will head the delegation. While the park is intended to help reconciliation between the two countries, the difficulties surrounding the monument to the 13 martyrs seem to have the opposite effect. The monument, built by the citizens of Arad over a 25-year period, was removed and dismembered when eastern Hungary was handed to Romania after the First World War. Sandor Desewffy, descendant of one of the generals, said, "we have not succeeded in restoring the original monument, partly due to its bad condition, but mainly due to the overwhelmingly assertive figure of Hungaria, which could still be considered offensive and inflammatory in Romania today." Meanwhile, Ibolya David has criticised opposition MPs for not supporting symbolic changes to the Hungarian coat of arms and the preamble to the constitution as part of the commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian state.

Near Arad, at the Hungarian border station at Gyula, a sniffer dog found 40 kilos of heroin in a Turkish truck trying to cross the Hungarian-Romanian border last Monday. The previous weekend Hungarian customs also seized 5.25 kg of heroin from a car entering Austria at Hegyeshalom. According to a Hungarian customs spokesman, 142 kg of smuggled drugs has been confiscated this year, so far significantly less than the 750 kg found last year.

The Hungarian and Romanian Defence Ministers, Janos Szabo and Victor Babiuc, have given the go-ahead to the creation of a new Romanian-Hungarian battalion. The joint peacekeeping battalion will be set up by 1 January next year.

The chairman of the Hungarian Foreign Relations Committee, Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, said during a visit by a Romanian parliamentary delegation that Hungary supports Romanian efforts to join NATO and the European Union. He added that if Hungary has to introduce visa restrictions on Romanians, including Hungarian nationals with Romanian citizenship, due to the Schengen agreement, then this could harm Hungarian-Romanian relations.

The Hungarian Ministry of Defence has been criticised for its lack of vision in Hungarian military reform. NATO's official journal, NATO review, was critical of Defence Minister Janos Szabo, and said that the current remodelling is "plodding ahead without any strategic concept." Ministry of Defence spokesman Lajos Erdely said that the review of military reform is still not complete, but said it would be finished by the end of September. Meanwhile, confusion surrounded a Dutch military exercise in Hungary. Ten Dutch F-16 fighters had been granted permission for a week-long exercise. When it became clear that they also wanted to use Slovenian air space, the parliamentary Defence Committee declared that there had to be a special parliamentary vote. The vote was due to be held on 27 September.

The Danube Commission has announced that the Danube will remain blocked through the winter. It would also appear that the estimated costs of clearing the Danube of the wreckage of bridges bombed by NATO during the Kosovo crisis has risen considerably duringthe week. Istvan Valkar, head of the Hungarian Department of Shipping, had earlier said that removing the bridges would cost in the region of USD 10 to 16 million, but it is now thought that this could cost up to USD 30 million. Shipping companies are reporting that their losses amount to far more than this amount, with one Ukrainian company claiming it has lost USD 42 million as a result of the Danube blockage. Helmuth Strasser, head of the Danube Commission's secretariat, said, "environmental damage of considerable consequences goes far beyond what it would cost the international community to clear the bridges."

On 28 September the Hungarian Interior Ministry came to an agreement with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share information. Investigators in Hungary will now be able to access the data base for stolen vehicles, ships and number plates of the FBI's National Criminal Information Center through Interpol and the US Justice Department. After the agreement was signed FBI Director Louis Freech met Prime Minister Orban to discuss joint initiatives to combat organised crime.

The by-elections held on 26 September in Szekesfehervar and Siofok near the lake Balaton have been declared invalid due to low voter turn-out. Another vote will be held in a week's time. In accordance with opinion polls, the Socialists were ahead in both towns. According to the latest opinion polls, support for the Socialist Party has increased by four percent, while support for the largest party of the government coalition, FIDESZ, has fallen, also by four percent.

Not only is FIDESZ's support falling, but they also find themselves in trouble with the Hungarian weekly Elet es Irodalom. They took legal action against the journal for not publishing a correction to a previously published article about the Orban family's mining interests. Instead of making a correction, the weekly published the letter of complaint sent by FIDESZ to the editor. FIDESZ spokesman Attila Farkas said that the publication of the letter might create legal problems, since it contains the addresses of FIDESZ politicians who signed the letter.

Attila Chikan, Hungarian Minister of Economics, has said that the Government is working on a petrol pricing plan which will come into effect on 1 January. Chikan stated that the purpose of such a plan, which will be submitted to Parliament before the end of the year, is to provide a safeguard against the fluctuating world oil price and to keep inflation down. Above all, the new policy will affect Hungarian oil and gas company MOL Rt and its profits. According to Chikan, no firm date has yet been set for the sale of the Government's 25 percent in the company - a Government spokesman later said that a sale of the stake is not under consideration. Despite the negative impact the new pricing policy will have on MOL's profits, Chikan said that he would like MOL to be a "regional multinational" company leading the Hungarian economy. MOL does not see a Government pricing plan as a possibility in a free market economy.

Paul Nemes, 2 October 1999

 

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