Eastern Hungary was last week threatened by the worst flooding in years. As Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared a state of emergency for the eastern part of the country, the Cabinet decided that "extreme measures" needed to be taken between the Danube and the Tisza. Last week, dams were unable to hold back melting snow from the Carpathians which was compounded by heavy rain, while the Minister of Transport, Telecommunications and Water Management, Kálmán Katona, told reporters that the water was expected to reach record-high levels in the next five weeks. Already on Tuesday, record high levels were recorded along the Tisza. Katona further said that thousands of public workers and soldiers, mobilised because of the state of emergency, were working on strengthening and raising dams built last year to control what were then record levels. As water was being redirected into an emergency reserve, Katona said a large-scale evacuation would not be necessary. National Water Management Directorate Head Miklós Varga said the floods were a "once in 500 years" occurrence.
As the Tisza rose to record high levels on Monday, Orbán said that, after a one per cent flood tax had been considered by the Cabinet, it had been decided that each ministry's budget would be reduced by 2.1 per cent in order to fund flood prevention and reconstruction. HUF 37.3 billion will go to a disaster fund managed by the Interior Ministry. Tamás Bán, deputy commissioner for flood defence, said on 10 April the anti-flood measures have increased from HUF 100 million per day and are now costing the government almost HUF 300 million per day.
Meanwhile, Romania last week asked Hungary for help after a dam on the river Fehér Kőrös broke on the Romanian side, where more than 3000 homes were flooded. Floods resulting from the burst barrier also threatened Hungary. Hungarian officials assessed the damage as water flooded through the 200 metre-wide breach, after which a flood-control team was sent in.
Socialist Party (MSZP) Chairman László Kovács has criticised Prime Minister Orbán for inviting Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel to Hungary. Kovács said, "The invitation eases - against EU intentions - the international isolation of the Austrian government," and went on to say, "The step, which is a kind of provocation against the EU, may unfavourably influence Hungary's international reputation and cause much bigger damage than the temporary suspension of high-level Hungarian-Austrian political contacts would cause. Antonio Guterres, Premier of Portugal, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said he did not want to comment on the issue as Hungary is not an EU member.
The government was quick to respond to the criticism, with Foreign Minister János Martonyi saying that this is the only way to maintain official contacts with Vienna. Martonyi said, "We fully associate ourselves with the 14," but added that "the difference between our situation and the 14 is that Hungary is not yet a member of the Union, which means that we do not have any other possibilities to contact the Austrian government other than bilateral contacts." The Foreign Minister pointed out that Schüssel has already met all EU heads of government in Council of Europe meetings.
Meanwhile, László Kovács has also said that it is misleading to portray the Hungarian-Romanian treaty as a "Horn-Iliescu Pact concluded against the will of the Hungarian community in Romania." In a reaction to a statement made by FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party Board Chairman Attila Várhegyi in Székelyudvarhely, Kovács said that all opposition parties, including the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ), accepted the treaty. He also criticised Várhegyi for taking a hard stand against the current "realpolitik" RMDSZ leadership, and instead said he favours the line of László Tőkés, who takes a more critical view of the RMDSZ's participation in the Romanian government.
MSZP Chairman Kovács did, however, welcome the event organised by Peace on the Right 2000 to commemorate Hungary's first democratic parliament after the collapse of Communism, which was elected on 8 April 1990. Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) Chairwoman Ibolya Dávid, speaking at the event, stressed the importance of cooperation between parties. Quoting former Prime Minister József Antall, Dávid said, "I will consider it as a genuine victory if the governing coalition and the opposition will be able to cooperate in Parliament in a way which promotes the solution of tasks faced by the nation."
On Tuesday, the Parliamentary discussion on state-owned properties began. The Cabinet proposed that each party that meets the five per cent threshold in two consecutive elections should be allowed to use 30 state-owned properties. The government has proposed a change to the current law, because the Socialists currently use 386 of the 476 state-owned properties allotted to political parties. The Socialists, on the other hand, argue that they only use 200 to 220 state properties, and that other parties lease local government buildings rent-free.
Hungary's Chief EU Negotiator Endre Juhász last week expressed his discontent with the EU's way of keeping "meticulously silent" about the economic criteria that will be used as a basis for support to the regions of Hungary, and said he expected more details during forthcoming accession talks.
President Árpád Göncz has been on a week-long visit to Japan. At the beginning of last week, the President met with Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michoko. Göncz also met Foreign Minister Yohei Kono, who said that the Japanese side is looking to "develop relations of a partnership" with Hungary and that it was no accident that Hungary was chosen by Japanese firms as the country for most investment in the Central Europe. Göncz responded by saying that he would like for Hungary to encourage an "equal partnership with Japan through various exchanges" and thanked Japan for helping Hungary to catch up with more developed states.
Not surprisingly, Viktor Orbán planned to discuss issues primarily related to the environment during his visit to Bucharest on Friday. Orbán was scheduled to meet Romanian Prime Minister Mugur Isărescu to hold talks on environmental issues. Orbán was also expected to meet with President Emil Constantinescu and high-ranking officials of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ).
Free Democrat (SZDSZ) Chairman Bálint Magyar last week made a two-day visit to Vojvodina, where he met József Kasza, the chairman of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians (VMSZ) and other members of the Yugoslav opposition in Subotica (Szabadka). Magyar said that the SZDSZ, like other Hungarian political parties, would support the process of cooperation between opposition parties that is now beginning to emerge. He also noted that a system of minority rights protection is beginning to emerge as part of the concept of Vojvodina autonomy.
The Hungarian Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Peter Harrach, last week opened an international conference for the promotion of Roma integration into the labour market. At the conference in Western Hungary, Harrach announced a programme which will aim at training and managing Roma employment and added that public works programmes aimed at the Roma would be started.
The Foreign Ministry has rebuffed allegations that two Hungarians held hostage in Chechnya in 1998 were set free in exchange for arms, reported the Budapest Sun on 30 March. A Foreign Ministry statement proclaimed that the allegations that the Hungarian Secret Service should have given Gepárd rifles in exchange for the hostages is "a complete fabrication."
According to Világgazdaság, National Bank of Hungary (MNB) Governor György Surányi did hand in his resignation two weeks ago, but he was persuaded by Viktor Orbán to stay on until his term ends on 1 March 2001. According to reports, Orbán wrote a letter to Surányi, saying that he could not accept the Governor's resignation. The two have had disputes in the past, with Orbán refusing to renew MNB vice presidents' contracts until the parliamentary inquiry into the MNB's Vienna subsidiary is concluded.
Analysts believe that it will only be possible to reduce inflation to 8.5 per cent, and that the government's goal of six to seven per cent is unrealistic. Last month, consumer prices rose by one per cent, with the annual inflation for March coming to 9.6 per cent. Wile food prices increased only a little, the price of fuel went up by 4.4 per cent, which means that it is 40 per cent more expensive than compared to the same month last year. Mária Zita Petschnig of Pénzügykutató researchers stressed that inflation had hardly dropped at all in the first quarter of 2000.
Transylvanians are the most faithful in Central Europe. In a study by sociologist Miklós Tomka, five per cent of Hungarians in Transylvania and only three per cent of Transylvanian Romanians described themselves as non-religious. In Hungary, the number is 27 per cent. While only 30 per cent of people in Hungary visit church at least once a month, 60 per cent of Transylvanian Hungarians go to church at least one time per month. Tomka concluded that Transylvanian traditions could "contribute to healing Hungarian Christianity."
Paul Nemes, 12 April 2000