Torgyán tries to ride out the storm
Under-pressure Smallholder (FKGP) leader József Torgyán was in dismissive mood upon his return home
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While Torgyán was still on the other side of the Atlantic, on 14 January, the Smallholders' former Budapest leadership set up a crisis committee aimed at removing Torgyán. According to MP Róbert Molnár, Katalin Liebmann (suspended by Torgyán), ten local party presidents, Smallholder vice presidents and general secretaries were at the meeting. Party General Secretary Balázs Varga Bernáth, however, said it was "unrealistic" to think that ten local presidents could have attended.
Márta Mátrai of FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party said the crisis in the FKGP is a big problem for the government coalition parties, saying she could not understand why Torgyán did not return from South America earlier.
After arriving at Ferihegy on Thursday, Torgyán said, "during my period of leave I visited Latin America and while I was building up an image of the country, three or four people began to group together against me. For this reason, the false impression emerged in Hungary that there were signs of a split in the party."
Despite being of the opinion that there was no crisis within the party and no group that opposed him, Torgyán said he thought at least one FKGP MP should give up his parliamentary seat while others would have to decide whether they are willing to "toe the line," because anything less would not be tolerated.
Over the next few days, he said, the party leadership would hold talks with the MPs who would like a more democratic party without Torgyán at the helm. Torgyán emphasised that he was the party chairman and would remain so.
Balkan service safe
Major-General László Svéd, head of the Hungarian Armed Forces Medical Service, said on Wednesday that out of the 120 soldiers who had undergone health checks none showed symptoms connected with "Balkan syndrome."
Svéd confirmed that all who had served in the Balkans would undergo medical examinations. After meeting with the chiefs of the military medical services of the other NATO countries in Brussels on Monday, Svéd stated that there is no "Balkan syndrome" and that there is no link between depleted uranium and former soldiers' illnesses.
Wartime PM causes stir
The Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) has proposed to rehabilitate former Prime Minister László Bárdossy, executed for war crimes in 1946. Bárdossy was Prime Minister when Hungary declared war on the Soviet Union in "retaliation" of the bombing of Kassa (now Košice, Slovakia) and later he declared war on the United States. He was also Premier while the law banning marriages between Christians and Jews was passed.
MIÉP leader István Csurka said the Bárdossy trial unjustly cast a "dark shadow" over the whole Horthy era, while making clear that the party felt no sympathy for Fascist leaders, like Ferenc Szálasi, PM under the German occupation. MIÉP spokesman Béla Győri said the execution meant the beginning of the liquidation of the middle class by the Communists.
The Federation of Jewish Organisations in Hungary (MAZSIHISZ), infuriated by MIÉP's request, may protest in international organisations. MAZSIHISZ last week released a statement saying that, by declaring war on the USSR, Bárdossy sent hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths. The organisation also called Bárdossy one of the darkest figures in Hungary's history during Second World War.
"Tolerance zone" amendment illegal
The Constitutional Court last week declared the legislative amendment which gives the Interior Ministry the power to decide on "tolerance zones," or red-light district, unconstitutional.
A September 1999 law granted this right to local governments, but after local authorities failed to set up a red-light district, Parliament passed an amendment that gave the Interior Ministry the right to establish the districts.
President Ferenc Mádl, however, refused to sign the amendment until it was approved by the Constitutional Court, saying that the amendment was a violation of the autonomy of local authorities.
Romania passes law on nationalities
The Romanian parliament on Thursday passed a law described by Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) President Béla Markó as the most important step forward for minority rights in Romania in the last ten years.
The law, which regulates the use of national minority languages in local authorities, stipulates that the mother tongue can be used in local administration where a national minority makes up more than 20 per cent of the population. Bilingual place signs are now also compulsory where a certain nationality constitutes more than 20 per cent.
The Greater Romania Party (PRM) boycotted the vote, saying the law was anti-Romanian as "it makes Hungarian the second official language of Romania." PRM leaders said they would turn to the Constitutional Court to voice their complaints.
Tibor Szabó, head of the Office for Hungarians Beyond the Borders, last week told MTI that "administrative co-ordination" of the status bill on Hungarians in neighbouring states would begin this week.
And in other news...
- Socialist Party (MSZP) parliamentary caucus leader Sándor Nagy said on 16 January that the MSZP, the biggest opposition party, and FIDESZ would hold talks on the co-ordination of tasks related to integration and the adoption of legislation that requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority, proposed by FIDESZ parliamentary faction leader József Szájer. Nagy said there should be a basic national consensus on certain issues but added it remains to be seen whether FIDESZ is truly interested in the MSZP's views or if they only want coordination on issues important to FIDESZ.
- The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday unveiled a new EU integration website, part of the external communications programme of Hungary's accession to the European Union. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gábor Horváth said the aim of the programme is to maintain contacts with the population and organisations that are part of the accession process.
- Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was expected to visit Sweden on 23 January to hold talks with Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson and Speaker of Parliament (Riksdagen) Birgitta Dahl as well as meeting with King Carl Gustav. Not surprisingly, Hungarian accession to the EU will be on the agenda.
- József Kasza, chairman of the Alliance of Hungarians in Vojvodina (VMSZ) and mayor of Subotica (Szabadka), on 14 January received a death threat by e-mail which promised to "fill him with lead." Meanwhile, in Belgrade, Kasza held talks with Serbian prime ministerial candidate Zoran Đinđić. The VMSZ leader stated that he would not accept a post in the Serbian government but said he supports it, as parliamentary co-operation between the parties of the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) is a precondition to success.
- One-month old twins were attacked and killed by their family's Alaskan malamute dog on Wednesday. A Budapest Police spokesman said it was an accident and that the mother of the two babies, who at the time was at home in the family's Csepel flat, tried to save the twins but to no avail. According to breeder Krisztina Illés, malamutes are not aggressive dogs but she said that the dog might have considered the two babies prey. She suggested that a baby's crying could have upset the dog, but added that it perhaps only wanted to play with the little boy and girl.
Paul Nemes, 19 January 2001
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