New, temporary agriculture minister
Imre Boros, the minister without portfolio in charge of PHARE co-ordination, has taken over the reins at the Agriculture and Regional Development Ministry following the departure of József Torgyán, at least for the time being.
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Government spokesman Gábor Borókai said that the Prime Minister made the decision to appoint Boros acting minister of agriculture, while Torgyán declared that he had recommended Boros after Deputy Speaker of Parliament Géza Gyimóthy, Torgyán's nominee, withdrew.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said, on Wednesday, that Gyimóthy had "failed to receive unanimous support either within his own parliamentary group or among the Smallholder (FKGP) ministers currently in office." Gyimóthy, meanwhile, said he did not have the full support of the Prime Minister and named "the party's unity and the interests of the coalition" as reasons for withdrawing his nomination.
Earlier in the week, Torgyán had to reject rumours that the FKGP would withdraw from the government coalition unless his candidate, Gyimóthy, was accepted by Orbán. Torgyán was quoted as saying, "This is absolute nonsense ... I have sealed by a handshake with Viktor Orbán not only that shall we jointly fight through the full [electoral] cycle, but we shall co-operate through the next term."
Commenting on who might take over the position on a permanent basis, Torgyán said the minister would definitely be a Smallholder MP, but made it clear that it would not be FKGP parliamentary caucus leader Attila Bánk or Minister of Environment Béla Turi-Kovács.
In the meantime, Torgyán said he would not accept the nomination for FKGP parliamentary leader until the next elections. "Several counter-options against his nomination" were the main reason behind him not accepting. He said, "Since some people think it would not be a good idea for me to head both the party and the parliamentary caucus, I had decided absolutely against heading the parliamentary caucus."
Malév flies again
Malév-Hungarian Airlines was once again back in the air on Monday after union representatives of the on-strike Aeroplex Kft workers accepted Malév's original wage increase offer of seven plus two per cent (seven per cent now and an additional two per cent in July). The strikers had originally demanded a 15 per cent increase, but they dropped the request after Malév appealed that the airline's survival would be put at risk unless the strike was brought to an end.
Union manager Tibor Hegedüs said: "The idea of long-term stability won. We did not want the company to shed jobs." Meanwhile, Malév Chairwoman Erzsébet Antal said that "the company is not in a financial state to meet these demands." She said futher that the strikers' demands would have increased the wage burden by HUF 600 million (USD 2.1 million), and the strike cost Malév an estimated HUF 135 million (USD 473,000) to HUF 140 million (USD 490,000).
As for Malév's future, the State Privatisation Agency (ÁPV) last week let it be known that it was working on a government proposal. ÁPV President-CEO Gyula Gansperger said "the Government can either strengthen the financial state of Malév with HUF ten billion (USD 125 million) or carry out a complete restructuring."
On-the-job protest at MTV
Just as Malév workers called off their strike, Hungary was hit by another walkout as 15 journalists working for Hungarian state television (MTV) in Pécs announced on Wednesday they would go on strike, demanding that they be paid their wages for the last few months. In support of this not totally unreasonable demand, 40 other MTV employees in Szeged declared that they would begin an "on-the-job protest."
Speaking for the strikers, Károly Németh said the 15 journalists went on strike because they had "received no guarantee whatsoever that we would be paid for five months of work."
In Szeged, state TV employees who have not been paid since September announced they were planning a protest march for next week, but said they would not go on an all-out strike because "the viewers cannot be let down." Staff in Debrecen, Pécs and Szeged were expected to stage street demonstrations on 19 February.
Cash-strapped Hungarian TV had wanted to raise money to pay the backlogged wages by selling property in Budapest, but its supervisory body rejected the proposal last Tuesday.
Objections to fighters
The Socialist Party (MSZP) and the Free Democrats (SZDSZ) on Thursday walked out of a Parliamentary Defence Committee meeting requested by the Socialists. The MSZP had demanded a meeting because the National Security Cabinet had not consulted Parliament before making the decision to buy used US F-16 fighters.
János Karasz, Defence Ministry deputy state secretary, told the meeting that the National Security Cabinet had not made a final decision, but it had approved that the Defence Ministry could start negotiations with the US. He said the Ministry would like to put forward a proposal to Parliament next month.
Before the meeting, the MSZP urged the government to overturn the decision to buy the F-16s. Ferenc Juhász, deputy leader of the MSZP parliamentary caucus faction, called the decision a "serious political mistake" since "there were no political, security or economic reasons to purchase aircraft that were no longer being deployed in their home country."
Meanwhile, the Socialist Party has urged President Ferenc Mádl to "restore order" to the government. MSZP National Board President György Jánosi told reporters on 15 February that the recent scandals and the last three years had proven that Viktor Orbán and FIDESZ are "unsuitable to govern the country." It would be necessary, he said, for Mádl to tell the government to end their "small-minded political games," and instead think about issues concerning the future of the country.
And in other news...
- A Roma family in Fejér County was attacked on 11 February by approximately 20 people, who were at first throwing stones; eight to ten of them later broke into the house. Police ordered an around-the-clock patrol after the incident, which left two people injured. The assailants had already left the scene when the police arrived.
Speaking to Parliament on the opening day of the spring session on Monday, Prime Minister Orbán urged co-operation among the parties in the ruling coalition, as well as with the opposition, making many of the same points as in his State of the Nation speech. On employment, the Prime Minister said that although unemployment had decreased to six per cent, he was aiming for full employment.
He foresees that there will a shortage of labour in the next few years. This, he said, is something MPs should take into account when the status bill on Hungarians beyond the borders is discussed. Orbán said he hoped the bill, which he believes will become perhaps "the most important rule of law of co-operation within the Carpathian Basin," would be passed by an overwhelming majority.
- Hungary has objected to Croatian plans to build a hydroelectric power station on the Dráva river. It is feared that the Danube-Dráva National Park would be threatened by the dam, which is similar to the disputed dam at Gabčikovo (Bős). Zoltán Illés, head of Parliament's Environment Committee, urges the Hungarian government to discuss the issue with Croatia as soon as possible. Environment Minister Béla Turi-Kovács told Magyar Hírlap last week that he had asked for a meeting with his Croatian counterpart "in order to settle the issue without damaging traditionally good bilateral links."
- Magyar Nemzet reported last week that former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was recording TV interviews with 14 world leaders past and present. The series, called Secrets of Power, is being produced by a German-Hungarian TV company. Series producer János Zolczer promised that "clandestine motives" would be revealed in the series, which will feature Pope John Paul, Yasser Arafat, George Bush, Helmut Kohl and Nelson Mandela, among others.
- Ida Szeleczki, of the Public Prosecutor's Office, told MTI on Thursday that the Office has received police records on Smallholder MP László Pallag, who was in charge of the parliamentary "oil committee." Népszabadság wrote last week that relatives of a deceased oil entrepreneur accused Pallag of receiving HUF ten million (USD 34,400)in front of Parliament in return for protection against blackmail by other oil entrepreneurs. Pallag was quick to refute the allegations, saying that the entrepreneur's brother had asked for HUF five to ten million in return for documents, in order to disappear.
Paul Nemes, 16 February 2001
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