PM foresees a less miserable millennium
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, speaking at a ceremony marking the 1000th anniversary of the coronation of St Stephen, spoke optimistically about the 21st century.
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Orbán said, "We Hungarians have been able to learn from the troubles, from the problems befalling us, and we are able to create opportunities. This is the main skill. That is why I am confident that out of the 20th century of tribulations we will be able to build the 21st century of hope."
Like Árpád Göncz did last year, Orbán wished all Hungarians a happier century than the last one, but added that the "experiences" of the last century should be taken along to the next one.
Unlike in the rest of the world, the Hungarian millennium—celebrating the founding of the Hungarian state—did of course not end at midnight 31 December 2000, but will come to a close on 20 August 2001. "Provided that the Hungarians wish to stop the celebrations," the Prime Minister said.
Torgyán still in the news
Smallholder (FKGP) leader and Agriculture Minister József Torgyán is continuing to make the headlines, this time because of controversial sackings in his own party. On Wednesday, he said that he had suspended the FKGP Budapest presidium "on the basis of an authorisation from the party's National Presidium." He stated that Budapest presidium President Katalin Liebmann had been replaced by Péter Szentgyörgyvölgyi, while Magyar Hírlap quoted him as saying that whole Budapest leadership would be replaced.
Smallholder Róbert Molnár has responded by saying that the steering committee had not approved the suspension of Katalin Liebmann, only Budapest presidium General Secretary Endre Somodi. Liebmann, he said, was doing a "fine job" and her suspension would be opposed by the leadership.
One of those destined to be replaced, deputy caucus leader László Csúcs, held Torgyán responsible for the FKGP's slump in the polls and described the Smallholders as a "one-man party." Meanwhile, Torgyán left for a two-week South American tour. Csúcs later told Magyar Nemzet that if Torgyán cannot "account for his unsettled affairs ... a change will be needed in the post of party president."
Following the controversy surrounding Torgyán's luxury house in Buda, a Parliamentary committee on 2 January approved a proposal by the Smallholder leader to probe the finances of all politicians since the fall of Communism, thereby rejecting a proposal by the opposition suggesting an investigation into only Torgyán's assets. Socialist Sándor Orosz said the investigation would be impossible to carry out.
Foreign policy in 2001
Outlining Hungary's foreign policy for the coming year, Foreign Minister János Martonyi said on Wednesday that 2001 would be "crucial to Hungary's long-term future."
Martonyi told reporters that Hungary aimed to accelerate accession talks with the European Union, but judged that it was unlikely that accession talks would be completed before 2002.
He also said that Parliament would—hopefully by at least a two-third majority—pass the status law on Hungarians in neighbouring states. This law, he said, would comply with EU standards.
Commenting on the situation in Romania after the elections, Martonyi welcomed the agreement between the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) but pointed out that its implementation is yet to be seen.
On regional foreign policy, the Foreign Minister said that, because of the changes in Yugoslavia, Hungary should soon be able to overlap its Central European and Southeast European policies. A free trade agreement was expected to be concluded within weeks, he said, and he predicted that similar arrangements with Yugoslavia and Macedonia could be in place before the end of the year.
Amnesty is sorry
Amnesty International has apologised for a newspaper advertisement published in the Netherlands accusing Hungarian police of torturing Roma children. The Hungarian government was quick to respond to the ad, showing a toothless Roma child, fearing that it might adversely affect public opinion in Western Europe and work against EU enlargement into Central Europe. Amnesty has now sent an apology to the Hungarian government.
Commenting on the ad, Prime Minister Orbán said that the police in Hungary respected human rights as much as any force in Western Europe. He recognised there were problems, but said, "nobody in Hungary needed to be afraid because of their colour, ethnicity or lifestyle."
A "healthy health sector"
István Mikola, who on 2 January became Hungary's new health minister, pledged that workers in the healthcare sector would soon earn more money while their working conditions would also be improved.
He said all parties represented in Parliament supported a "healthy health sector," and declared that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were willing to help healthcare. However, in order to help, they would need "concrete programmes with funding, deadlines and the identification of responsible persons."
And in other news...
- Magyar Hírlap reports that a Hungarian soldier who had been stationed in Croatia, Sergeant Major István Körmendi, died of leukaemia in September 1999. The Defence Ministry and Army deny the reports. The news come as fears grow that uranium shells used by NATO is to blame for the deaths from leukaemia of six Italian soldiers who served in Bosnia. The paper reports that Hungarians have worked and still work in regions of Bosnia and Kosovo where uranium shells were used. Brigadier General László Svéd responded by saying that "Hungarians who have served in SFOR or KFOR units have been stationed at places outside the sphere of the bombings and their work never exposed them for long to potentially harmful radiation."
- Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid was expected to be awarded the Julianus prize, named after a 13th century Dominican monk, on 6 January in the Székelyföld's Miercurea-Ciuc (Csíkszereda) in recognition of her attempts to release the Arad memorial. The prize is awarded by the Julianus Foundation, which was set up in 1992 to seek out Hungarians to study the problems of Hungarians in Romania. The prize itself is awarded to persons who are deemed to have done most for "ethnic" Hungarians.
- The wife of President Ferenc Mádl and the widow of former Prime Minister József Antall lined up in the National Museum to have the memoirs of Ilona Gyula Eldesheim, the daughter-in-law of Regent Miklós Horthy signed. Millennium Commissioner István Nemeskürty, who was seen crying at the event, called Eldesheim one of the 20th century's greatest women. The book, entitled Honour and Duty, begins in 1918 and ends with the German take-over in 1944, describing the failed attempts to prevent the German occupation of Hungary.
- The Slovak government has responded to Hungary's proposal for a settlement of the Gabčíkovo (Bős)-Nagymaros dam dispute. Only the translation of the 1400 page response, in Slovak, is thought to take around a month.
- Jimmy Zámbó, one of Hungary's most popular pop stars, died in hospital on Tuesday. Zámbó, 43, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His skull was so badly fractured there was nothing doctors could do to save him. Last year's "Christmas with Jimmy" was for weeks Hungary's top selling album.
Paul Nemes, 5 January 2001
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