Vol 1, No 13
20 September 1999
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 13 September 1999
Istvan Dudas, Commander of the Mosonmagyarovar border guard barracks in 1956, is on trial for crimes against humanity with three of his former subordinates. The massacre in Mosonmagyarovar, near the Austrian border, is a well-known incident of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. Dudas, who is now 75 years old, is charged with having issued orders to fire on a peaceful demonstration on 26 October 1956. By then, heavy fighting was already taking place in Budapest and in other parts of the country. The lasting image of Mosonmagyarovar is that of the bodies of those killed by the border guards and AVO (secret police) in front of the town's church.
Arpad Goncz, President of Hungary, has urged the European Union to set an accession date for states from Central and Eastern Europe. Goncz's comments follow calls by the European Commission's new president Romano Prodi that a firm date should be set. European Union member states have so far been reluctant to make any decision on the matter, saying that any offer now would be premature. Both President Goncz and Prime Minister Orban have recently pressed the European Union to set a date for the expansion of the Union. When asked when he thought Hungary could join the EU, Goncz said that "for our part, we shall be ready by 2002." Meanwhile, Finland's Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen has said that Hungary's groundwork accomplishments for EU readiness are excellent. Halonen further said that the current Finnish EU presidency would urge other EU members to accept Hungary as a member as soon as possible.
On Thursday, Hungarian and Slovak Prime Ministers Viktor Orban and Mikulas Dzurinda signed an agreement to rebuild the bridge connecting Esztergom and Sturovo/Parkany. According to a previously released Slovak government statement the signing took place on a boat in the Danube between the two towns. The signing of the agreement to rebuild the bridge, originally constructed in 1895, was watched by thousands from the Slovak side, most of whom were Hungarians. Dzurinda said that as "these ruins have been a symbol of the lack of understanding for 50 years," his government would like to see a change towards understanding.
Miklos Duray of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) in Slovakia has stated that the SMK will endeavour to "remove all undemocratic elements [from politics in Slovakia]." The statement came in response to Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman's comments that the Benes decrees had "faded away". Duray said that the SMK aims to remove the Benes Decrees which declared, in October 1945, that Hungarian property should be confiscated. However, the SMK will not raise the issue with its coalition partners as the agreement between the coalition parties does not include this issue. As most property belonging to Hungarians was confiscated during the period of "collective guilt" this has been a major issue for the Hungarians of Slovakia since the fall of communism.
Gheorghe Funar, the Romanian nationalist mayor of the old Hungarian capital of Transylvania, Cluj/Kolozsvar, seem to have started a diplomatic row after installing an offensive plaque outside the Hungarian consulate. The plaque, which reads "The seat of Magyar espionage," was put up on Thursday night. The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR) immediately demanded that the plaque should be removed. It was taken down by the Interior Ministry on Friday morning. Upsetting Transylvania's almost two million Hungarians is nothing new to Funar, who is thought to have been behind the earlier removal of the Hungarian flag from the consulate. He recently suggested that all city employees should wear the Romanian flag on their clothes.
Poland and Hungary were unable to resolve their trade dispute, which began in April, during the recent meeting of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA). The 90-day period of CEFTA dispute resolution comes to an end on October 1. Peter Balas, Hungarian Economics Ministry Deputy State Secretary, stated that "there are significant differences in our points of view about the reasons for the problems and their solutions." Being in the EU fast-track, both countries are eager to show that they can settle their differences.
After meeting Montenegrin president Milo Djukanovic in Budapest last Wednesday Orban said that he supports Montenegro joining the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), The Council of Europe and NATO. Djukanovoc said the Milosevic opposition in Serbia has his full backing and added that "we are trying to promote the democratisation [of Yugoslavia] in any way possible." Orban announced that Hungary will be the first country to reassume flights to Montenegro. The European Union has now lifted the ban imposed last year as part of the sanctions against Yugoslavia.
Hungarian Railways (MAV) have offered to help rebuild railway bridges and tracks in Yugoslavia. The offer came when the MAV managing director, Marton Kukely, met his Yugoslav counterpart to discuss a debt of more than USD 60 million owed by Yugoslav Railways to MAV. Kukely made the offer despite failing to come to any agreement regarding the debts. After the meeting it was also announced that a pontoon bridge at Novi Sad/Ujvidek was expected to be ready for use.
The Prime Minister last week refused to extend the mandate of Gyorgy Szapary, one of the National Bank of Hungary's (MNB) three deputy governors. The reason behind Orban's refusal is the ongoing parliamentary investigation into the MNB's loss-making subordinate partner, Wechsel-und Credit Bank of Austria. In the early 1990s the Wechsel-und Credit Bank lost HUF 70 billion (around USD 290 million). According to Hungarian law, the Prime Minister has to approve the MNB's deputy governors before an appointment is made by the President. It now looks as if there will be no appointment of deputy governors until the investigation is finished. Soon after Orban's statement, and a statement by the Government's spokesman on Tuesday, rumours circulated about the imminent resignation of MNB Governor Gyorgy Suranyi. Orban has acknowledged that Suranyi is also under investigation. According to analysts, it is not likely that Suranyi will resign, despite criticism from the Government.
Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ) Member of Parliament Attila Szabo, who last month is thought to have started playing football in a Balaton supermarket, has resigned from all his party functions. Szabo, who caused enough trouble for the police to be called to the scene, will, however, continue as an independent MP. He stated that he regretted the events at the supermarket and said that he now only wanted to represent his local constituency Hodmezovasarhely. He further stated that, while he wished to remain a member of FIDESZ, it was up to the party to decide when, or if, he could return to his party functions.
The Smallholders have announced that the party has found an extra fund of about HUF 280 billion (around USD 1 million). The party argues that the fund could be allocated to agriculture without increasing taxes or the public deficit. FIDESZ had earlier refused to give additional funds to agriculture. Smallholder President and Agriculture Minister Jozsef Torgyan demanded that agriculture should be given a larger share of the budget.
The Ministry of Justice has proposed, in a bill presented to Parliament, that the Hungarian crown should be kept in Parliament instead of its current location in the National Museum. The crown, is part of Hungary's coat of arms and a symbol of the State. Since its return from the United States in 1978 it has been displayed in the National Museum together with the other coronation regalia. According to the new bill, the crown would be held in Parliament and displayed to the public on national holidays. It is hoped that this would give the crown and the other symbols importance in Hungarian law.
Even though Hungary's public sector deficit almost reached its full-year level in August, it is expected that the end-of-the-year figures will be near the original target. Deputy Secretary of State Jozsef Thuma said that he expected a deviation of less than half a percentage point from the target, which is set at four per cent of GDP.
Lufthansa Technik have stated that they will be the majority shareholder in a new aircraft maintenance project with Hungarian Airlines Malev. The joint company, in which Lufthansa Technik will hold 85 per cent, will be called Lufthansa Technik Budapest and will be based at Budapest's Ferihegy airport. To begin with, mainly Lufthansa aircraft will be maintained at the new facilities. It is not known whether Malev will use the company, which will employ more than 300 people.
Two subsidiaries of Hungarian oil and gas company MOL are to merge in a cost-cutting exercise. The merger of the two companies, Borzsonygaz and MOL-Gaz, is expected to be completed in October. A spokesman for MOL said that "we must compress the group's operations to become a more efficient organisation."
Paul Nemes, 18 September 1999
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