His resignation, taking effect 15 February, comes after the scandals surrounding him and his family have been mounting. Torgyán's house-building project in Buda, his trips abroad, the recent "Torgyán tape scandal", as well as other scandals in the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development have all added to the pressure. Torgyán said that the most important factor that led to his decision to resign was strengthening the ruling coalition in order to win the 2002 elections.
Politicians said on Friday that Torgyán's resignation had saved the coalition. Political analyst László Kéri said, "Torgyán and the Smallholders became an obvious burden for FIDESZ ahead of the 2002 vote. It was a must to get rid of him before parliament starts its spring session [on 12 February]." On Thursday evening, the Prime Minister said, "Everybody felt that something must happen. I have been thinking a lot myself about the right steps ... but the minister's resignation preceded my decision."
Torgyán told reporters he had recommended Deputy Speaker of Parliament Géza Gyimóthy, also a Smallholder, for the position in his meeting with Orbán. Gyimóthy, meanwhile, said he would only support polices which "serve the interests of peasants, producers and agriculture" if appointed agriculture minister.
Early in the week, Magyar Nemzet reported that the outgoing agriculture minister had been warned that he could face the sack unless he dismissed State Secretary Béla Szabadi from the Ministry. Népszabadság, meanwhile, reported that Torgyán would only dismiss Szabadi if the State Secretary could leave "in dignity." Torgyán did, later in the week, say that he had no intention of sacking Szabadi, or indeed make any other changes to the Ministry's leadership.
Szabadi quit his post as Torgyán resigned on Thursday. The reason being, he said, that he wanted to give the new minister the opportunity to appoint his own staff. Torgyán recommended Deputy State Secretary Zoltán Kovács to succeed Szabadi.
Torgyán, nevertheless, remains Smallholder chairman. Katalin Liebmann, one of the Smallholders sacked by Torgyán said last week that a demonstration against the chairman is planned for 16 February. Liebmann said, "Where we actually hold the demonstration depends on the post Torgyán holds at the time. If he is still minister of agriculture, the demonstration will be in front of the ministry, but if he quits or is axed, we will demonstrate in front of FKGP headquarters." It looks like it will be outside the FKGP HQ then.
Strikers cripple Malév
Malév-Hungarian Airlines maintenance personnel have been on strike since Monday, when about 840 Aeroplex Kft (a Malév subsidiary) workers walked out. At the end of the week, it did not seem as if the strikers, demanding a 15 per cent pay rise, were anywhere near coming to an agreement with the Malév management, who were only willing to grant a seven plus two per cent rise, with the additional two per cent to be granted in July.
Malév General Manager Erzsébet Antal said early in the week that the strike, which resulted in the company having to cancel flights throughout the week, was costing the airline up to HUF (Hungarian forint) 20 million (USD 69,000) per day.
On Thursday, the airline appealed to the workers to end their strike, saying that the action was causing "moral and financial damage to Malév, which can have extremely serious consequences."
The following day Malév declared that the entire fleet would be grounded because of the strike. During the week, maintenance work on the aircraft was being done in Vienna and Warsaw, but as of Thursday Austrian Airlines personnel also refused to work on Malév aircrafts.
The FIDESZ and Socialist Party (MSZP) parliamentary faction leaders, József Szájer and Sándor Nagy, met on Thursday to discuss EU-related matters and legislation that will need a two-third majority in Parliament.
Nagy said the meeting was a failure, while Szájer thought the meeting had been useful. Nagy commented that FIDESZ were only interested in discussing legislation that requires a two-third parliamentary majority, while the MSZP, he said, is interested in issues affecting two thirds of society. "We didn't get an affirmative answer to any of the issues we raised," he said.
MVSZ soon back in business?
After its meeting in Budapest on 3 and 4 February, the World Federation of Hungarians (MVSZ) discussed a proposal to introduce membership fees. The proposal entails that 20 per cent of membership fees collected by local organisations would be transferred to the MVSZ, with fees being decided by the GNP of the countries in question.
MVSZ President Miklós Patrubány said, "As the Federation is short of funds, it is asking the delegates to contribute to the costs of organisation."
The organisation also set up a negotiating committee which, it is believed, will soon launch discussions with Parliament and Hungarian political parties in Hungary and in neighbouring states. This committee, of which Transylvanian Bishop László Tőkés is a member, has been given the task of briefing decision-makers of what is going on in the organisation, Patrubány said.
The prospect of the organisation operating independently with the help of funds collected through membership fees has caused some concern in the government. The MVSZ also caused a stir when it suggested that regional organisations should examine the Trianon Treaty.
And in other news...
- Barely a week after being re-elected Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) leader, Ibolya Dávid had more good news—that she is top of the popularity chart of Hungarian politicians. In the latest Szonda-Ipsos poll, József Torgyán is bottom of the list while, as far as political parties are concerned, the Socialist Party's popularity is dropping, and FIDESZ are making up ground.
- After the congress of the Hungarian Coalition Party (MKP) in Dunajská Streda (Dunaszerdahely), Chairman Béla Bugár said the party was concentrating on "reinforcing the legal status of minorities in Slovakia and amending the Constitution accordingly [ie, recognising that Slovakia is multi-national and not a nation-state as declared in the Constitution]." All major political parties in Hungary, except the Free Democrats, were present at the conference.
- Foreign Minister János Martonyi said on 7 February that he expects a break-through in accession negotiations with the EU during the current Swedish presidency. He said that 1 January 2003 to 1 January 2005 would be acceptable accession dates for Hungary.
- Hungary has, in effect, decided to buy 24 renovated F-16 fighters from the United States. This was the recommendation, which still has to be approved by the government, made by the National Security Cabinet. According to the Ministry of Defence, the approval of the recommendation is only a formality. Defence Minister János Szabó said that negotiations for the aircraft, estimated to cost in the region of HUF 160 billion (USD 558 million), would soon begin with the US.
- Two Hungarian secondary school girls will soon join NASA's Mars research programme. Zsófia Bodó, from Budapest, and Bernadett Gaál, from Hódmezővásárhely, won a competition organised by the Planetary Society and will now link up with staff working on the Mars Global Surveyor camera in San Diego.
- A radio station targeting Roma listeners in and around Budapest, Radio C, was expected to go on the air on 11 February on 88.8 FM. Radio C will operate on this frequency only temporarily, until 11 March, but the station has applied for the rights to a permanent, or at least seven-year, frequency. György Kerényi, who heads the station's editorial team, said Radio C would promote gypsy and world music and the Roma community, while acting as a forum for Roma groups. "The greatest impact of Radio C will be when there are the same number of Roma listeners and mainstream (Hungarian) listeners ... Then the Hungarians will not hate the Roma ... and think of them as thieves and socially disabled people," said Orhan Galjus, head of the Roma Media Fund at the Open Society Institute.
Paul Nemes, 9 February 2001
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