Vol 2, No 2
17 January 2000
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
10 January 2000
After last week's 60-hour rail strike, the unions warned that more labour action is possible. István Gaskó, speaking for the Union of Free Railway Workers, said before talks with MÁV (Hungarian State Railways) on 12 January, "If there is no agreement by the end of this strike., we may announce another one, this time for an indefinite period until an agreement is reached." No agreement was reached on Wednesday, and more talks were scheduled for 14 January. The strike last week was Hungary's most crippling for years. 56,000 railway workers participated in the strike, bringing practically all rail traffic to a standstill. In sympathy with the railway workers, the Budapest Transport Company (BKV) bus tram and metro drivers carried out a half-hour strike on 10 January. Also airport maintenance workers staged a two-hour sympathy strike at Ferihegy airport, but the impact on flights was minimal. The railway workers have now reduced their demand of a pay rise from 14.5 per cent to between 12 and 13 per cent, but MÁV is adamant not to offer more than the original 8.5 per cent rise.
The International Conference of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) last week sent a letter to Prime Minister Orbán, voicing its concern over what it sees as a break-down of social dialogue in Hungary. MTI writes that the ICFTU "strongly objects to the type of unilateral amendments which the management of the MAV Hungarian railways are attempting to introduce into the collective bargaining agreement." Gábor Borókai, a government spokesman, said that Orbán had not received the letter, and that the Prime Minister's Office only learnt of its existence from MTI. Borókai also stated that there was little truth in the letter, saying, "the only point in the letter with which we can agree is that the dispute with the railway should be settled through negotiations, but the unions are clearly not willing to do this." The Unions, on the other hand, have said that they are ready to continue negotiations. If no agreement is reached, the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers were expected to recommend another strike, this time without any time restrictions, while the Locomotive Engineers' Union and the Railway Workers' Union were thought to announce their next move on 18 or 19 January.
The quarantine at the Szabadszállás barracks was lifted on 10 January. The Ministry of Defence told MTI that all soldiers had been vaccinated and no new cases of meningitis had been reported. Hungary is the third country in Europe, after the Czech Republic and the United Kingdom, where new recruits will be vaccinated against meningitis. On the same day, Public Health Physician Ilona Molnár told reporters that vaccines against the A and C variations of meningitis would be available at pharmacies within two weeks. Ilona Straub, General Director of the National Centre for Epidemiology, said at the same press briefing that it is likely there will be further cases of meningitis until March.
Slovakia will not change its position on the Beneš Decrees of 1945, under which Hungarians lost their citizenship and had their property confiscated, despite upcoming talks on EU membership. Some Slovak MPs accepted the inclusion of the Hungarian Coalition Party (MKP) in the Slovak government coalition only on the condition that the Decrees, which are part of both the Czech Republic's and Slovakia's legal framework, would not be revised during the current government's term in office. Hungarian Foreign Minster János Martonyi said on 10 January that Hungary is not planning to bring up the issue with either country. Martonyi said, "The Parties that make up the government coalition in Slovakia have agreed not to include the matter of the Beneš Decrees on their agenda during this session of government," but added that if it was required, there is no reason why Hungary and Slovakia could not begin talks on the Decrees.
After Budapest Major Gábor Demszky's promise to rename a Budapest location after former Prime Minister József Antall, it now looks as if Moszkva tér might be the place that will be re-christened after Hungary's first post-Communist PM. The name Moszkva tér has been a contentious issue ever since the Soviet withdrawal, and now FIDESZ - Hungarian Civic Party MP István Balasi has proposed to rename Buda's busiest square after the late Premier. The name change is supported by the mayors of Buda districts no. I, II and XII.
The introduction of a new ID card has proven to be problematic. Although the new system had been tested last year, several problems have occurred since 1 January. Some of the 152 offices issuing the new cards have lacked vital equipment, such as digital video cameras and at other places operators had difficulties logging into the system. According to the Interior Ministry, the missing equipment will be at the offices soon and the log-in problems have been solved, but it is still necessary to train more operators to use the system. The new plastic ID cards replace the old ID booklets, which were easily worn out. György Eiselt, Ministerial Commissioner for Information and Telecommunication Technology at the Interior Ministry, said, "The new documents were necessary for EU-compatibility, data protection and security against forgery. Hungarian citizens are no longer required to carry, or even to get an ID card. They can also identify themselves using either their passport or the new driving license, which all contain the same data."
Hungarian oil and gas company MOL has denied reports that an offer has been made for the Romanian petroleum company, Petrom. According to reports in Romania, five bids have been made for the Romanian national petroleum company, including one from MOL. MOL, which is one of the leading investors in Romania, released a communiqué saying, "It is in MOL's interests to be present in potentially growing markets which are not geographically too far from Hungary. Romania is a regional market, which is of particular importance to MOL for it is one of the largest investors in Romania. MOL has been paying attention to the process of privatising the petroleum and gas industry of Romania. Nevertheless, the company has not made any offer to share in increasing the capitalisation of SNP Petrom, and it currently has no plans to do so."
The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) marked its tenth anniversary with celebrations in the main square of Tîrgu Mureş/Marosvásárhely on 15 January. Many leading Transylvanian artists were expected to participate. RMDSZ MPs are expected to hold a round table discussion on "the RMDSZ in Romanian political life" in the Romanian Parliament on 19 January. The Maros Ensemble will perform in Bucharest's National Theatre on the same day.
The public sector budget deficit of HUF 402.5 billion, which was announced on 12 January, is better than predicted by many analysts. However, analysts say that this was primarily because of the sale of the government's shares in OTP Bank and the pharmaceuticals company Gedeon Richter Rt. Csaba Varga, of Budapest's Citibank Securities, said, "Scratching the surface [the budget] looks fine, if you dig a bit, though, you realise that it's been achieved by one-off measures like the sale of assets of the social security system." Some analysts believe that the outlooks for 2000 are good, because of the increase in growth in the European Union. Others are, however, less optimostic. Zsolt Papp, of ABN Amro in London said, "This is a good starting point but I wonder if it is good enough to convince markets that the government puts fiscal discipline at the top of its agenda."
The Government is contemplating selling the presidential residence in the hills of Buda. A government spokesman told Hungarian radio, "The government wants to review the structure and value of the property of the treasury and then it wants to decide how to use this property more economically." The complex, which includes a number of villas as well as a conference centre, is said not to be unsuitable for receptions. It is, however, not believed that the sale of the residence, worth millions if dollars, will be completed during this Government's term in office.
According to Hungarian police, the investigation into the sale of land by State cooperatives to national parks is likely to result in the suspicion of fraud. The investigation was initiated by comments made by the Minister of Agriculture József Torgyán, who earlier this month said that cooperatives had sold land that belonged to private proprietors. It is now believed that 94,000 hectares may have been part of the scam, affecting around 57,000 landowners.
Meanwhile, the Hungarain justice and Life Party (MIÉP) will in February set up an office to expose privatisation sales that are considered to be "harmful to the Hungarian nation." MIÉP Chairman István Csurka said on 13 January that the Office will be run by the Hungarian Way of Life Foundation and Ady Endre Press, and that he personally will be in charge of it's operations.
The Prime Minister's Office has expressed its firm disapproval of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists' request that Orbán should instigate an investigation into a hand-grenade explosion on the premises of the weekly Élet és Irodalom, which is involved in a number of lawsuits with FIDESZ. The Office said it was very unfortunate that the Committee trust in "apparently tendentious and distorted information," which, according to the Office, has been rejected even by Élet és Irodalom.
László Juszt, host of the television show Kriminális, has been cleared of the charges accusing him of violating state secrets. Juszt was charged with breaching state secrets after having published documents on the alleged unlawful surveillance of FIDESZ party members. However, the Budapest Prosecutor's Office has now ended the inquiry into Juszt.
Miklós Németh, Hungary's former Prime Minister, will leave his position as vice-president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London and return to Hungary in April. Népszabadság reported on 14 January that Németh has had several meetings with the Socialist Party (MSZP) leadership to discuss his return to politics, and the possibility of him becoming the MSZP's candidate for the Hungarian presidential elections.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Development said last week that there had been a slight fall in the number of areas affected by floods, largely thanks to dry weather. Southern and Southeastern Hungary are still the worst affected areas.
Budapest's Globe Theatre, named after Shakespeare's theatre in London, burnt down on Tuesday morning.The City Park theatre, built in 1958, is believed to have suffered damage of around HUF 40 million (USD 160,000). It is thought that an arson attack was behind the fire, as firemen found fuel-soaked cloth. Firemen, who have handed over evidence to the police, said they were suspicious of how quickly the fire spread through the building.
Europalia 99 Hungaria, the biggest exhibition of Hungarian history abroad since the 1889 Paris World Expo, last week closed in Brussels, three months after opening. Only the concerts of Europalia 99 Hungaria were seen by around 22,000 people.
Péter Esterházy has received Austria's State Prize for European Literature, which is awarded to European writers whose work draws attention outside their home country. Previous recipients of the prize include Václav Havel, Simone de Beauvior and Salman Rushdie, as well as Hungarians Péter Nádas and Sándor Weöres.
In Veszprém, a thief fell asleep in the bar that he was trying to burgle. The burglar nodded off after pinching HUF 5000 (USD 19), and was woken up by police the following morning. Police would not say if he was drunk or not, but they did confirm that the robber still was asleep when policemen, called in by the bar's owner, arrived at the scene of the crime the next morning.
Paul Nemes, 14 January 2000
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