Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 17
18 October 1999

Hungarian News Round-up 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 11 October 1999

Paul Nemes

The second round of the Siofok by-election held on 10 October was won by the Socialists. The by-election in Szekesfehervar was again declared invalid due to low voter turn-out. The result in Siofok means that the Government coalition loses one seat to the largest opposition party. Jozsef Hazas of the Socialist Party secured 49 percent of votes while Arpad Balazs of FIDESZ(Hungarian Civic Party) only won 47 percent. In Szekesfehervar, Government candidate, Peter Miko won the majority of votes. As only 22.6 percent of eligible voters turned out the by-election will have to be repeated. Hungarian electoral law requires at least a 25 percent turn-out to make an election valid. Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that a by-election could be expected to be of little interest ten years after the fall of communism and the first free elections. Meanwhile, at its 10th anniversary party congress, the Socialist Party created two new posts, first deputy chairman and party director, while abolishing the position of executive deputy chairman. It is thought that the creation of the new post of deputy chairman may lead to the return of Miklos Nemeth, the former prime minister.

The European Commission report on 13 October said that Hungary is on course for EU membership. There are areas, however, where Hungary will have to work harder. These include dealing with corruption, the environment and Roma rights. The Hungarian government quickly expressed their views on the report. Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said, "overall the report is positive for Hungary" and that he believes "the report is a very important contribution to further preparation to join the EU but of course it contained some criticism." Martonyi also pointed out that Hungary and the Commission differ over the time scale for adopting the necessary criteria. While Hungary appears to be the frontrunner there is concern about the accession to the EU of the neighbouring countries, especially Romania. Bela Marko of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR) said on Duna TV that he did not think that the relationship between the Hungarians of Transylvania and Hungary would be adversely affected even if they were to be divided by the Schengen agreement. A spokesman for the Hungarian Coalition in Slovakia (SMK) said that, if Slovakia was to join the EU at a later date than Hungary, he hoped a special agreement could be struck between Slovakia and the EU. (EC Report summary)

According to the State Audit Office the Foreign Ministry's priorities for 2000 - EU integration, living up to Hungary's NATO membership and other national interests - will demand more funds than those presently available. Last week the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee were to discuss the budget, and also listen to the Audit Office's report. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, emphasised the need to help Hungarians beyond the borders. He said that the Government will make available HUF two billion for Hungarian higher education beyond the borders. He thought that most of these funds will be spent on the private Hungarian university at Oradea/Nagyvarad in Romania, which has been proposed by Transylvanian Bishop Laszlo Tokes. Szent-Ivanyi added that it is unclear how the Government will support Hungarian higher education in neighbouring countries in the coming year. Gabor Horvath, a Foreign Affairs spokesman, said that if the Foreign Ministry will not be able to fund new consulates in Slovakia and Romania in 2000, it could look at the possibility of closing an embassy outside Europe.

The Presidents of Hungary and Germany, Arpad Goncz and Johannes Rau, discussed eastern enlargement of the European Union and Balkan security in Berlin on 11 October. After the meeting Goncz spoke to reporters about the implications of EU enlargement for those countries which were not included in the first round. He made special reference to the Hungarians in countries beyond the borders and to the Schengen agreement. Goncz invited the German president to a meeting of Central European presidents, which is to take place on 28 and 29 April 2000 in Szekesfehervar. Rau said that he would urge the German government to press for the earliest possible accession of Hungary into the EU.

Istvan Stumpf, Head of the Prime Minister's Office, said during a visit to Rome last week that Italy would like to see enlargement of the European Union happening as soon as possible. Stumpf said after talks with Umberto Ranieri, the Italian Foreign Affairs State Secretary, and Marco Minniti, State Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office, that the discussion centred around enlargement of the EU and the situation in the Balkans. He added that the two countries' views on the Balkans are almost identical.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban is thought to have again criticised Gyorgy Suranyi, the National Bank of Hungary (MNB) governor. Both Magyar Hirlap and Nepszabadsag reported that Orban said that he is not pleased with Suranyi. Orban mentioned a central bank analysis of FIDESZ's 1998 election program and the MNB's inefficiency in dealing with the HUF 70 billion (USD 290 million) losses of its Austrian subsidiary, CW Bank. It was reported that Orban called for Suranyi's resignation. This was quickly denied by Government and MNB sources. Orban said that he had been misinterpreted in the press, and that it is up to Suranyi whether he should resign or not.

The trial of four former border guards who are accused of firing at an unarmed crowd during the 1956 Hungarian Uprising resumed in Budapest on 12 October. The accused are charged with crimes against humanity in being responsible for the Mosonmagyarovar massacre on 26 October. About100 people were killed while attempting to remove the communist red star from the barracks building. The commander of the border station, Istvan Dudas, three of his subordinates and two other militiamen were originally charged with murder in 1993, but because there is a 15-year limit on murder charges they were acquitted. There is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity.

Hungarian border guards caught 85 people unlawfully trying to cross the Hungarian border on 9 and 10 October. In the weekend's most serious incident one man was hit in the leg when border guards fired warning shots at three Kosovo Albanians trying to cross into Austria at Fertorakos. After the shooting Austrian border guards arrived on the scene to help give first aid before the man could be taken to hospital in Sopron. Among those trying to leave or enter the country illegally were 25 foreign citizens who had false documents and nine people who were already wanted by police.

Hungary was warned last week that much work still remains before it can meet NATO's standards. Admiral Harold W Gehman, Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic, said during a two-day visit to Hungary that while the present military reform was exactly what was needed, "there is still a lot of execution left to be done which will require a long-range discipline and resources." After talks with Hungarian army commander Lajos Fodor and State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry Janos Herman, Gehman stated, "now the celebrations are over, now the hard work begins."

Hungary will rebury the remains of an unknown Hungarian soldier who died during the Second World War. The ceremony that will pay tribute to around one million Hungarians who died in Russia during and after the two world wars. The return of the remains of Hungarian soldiers has been made possible by the work by a joint Hungarian-Russian committee. According to a Defence Ministry source the unknown soldier died in the battle of the River Don bend, and was found in a Russian mass grave. Colonel Laszlo Erdos, Director of the War Graves office, said that the burial will "meet a long-felt moral need of the nation."

Hungarian oil and gas company MOL said on 15 October that it is blocking Russian gas in transit to Yugoslavia. MOL public relations officer Gabor Garamszegi said that gas transportation would continue when Yugoslavia paid its debts to the company. Garamszegi, who did not say when gas delivery to Yugoslavia was stopped, was quoted as saying, "we shall do everything we can to proceed the arrangement of this outstanding debt. Any further move on our part depends on this arrangement."

Tamas Dercze, mayor of Budapest's 4th District, has said that he will file a lawsuit against the City for not extending the blue metro line to Kaposztas-megyer. This comes just after Budapest City Council began the next phase of its legal action against the Government. Tamas Dercze, mayor of District IV, stated: "If the City can demand financing and action by the Government through lawsuits, the district should use the same tool against the city." Dercze is taking legal action against the City because, although the extension of the blue line has been part of the City Development Plan every year, there has been no progress in the overall construction process since before 1990. Deputy City Mayor Janos Atkari said that the City had to take legal action against the Government who do not want any further part in building the planned new metro line. This is despite a court ruling compelling the Government to fulfil its obligations. In an attempt to settle the issue, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has invited Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky and Dercze to the 23 October Cabinet meeting. There is still hope that the problem can be solved out of court.

According to analysts Hungary's economic situation will become even better in the coming year. Peter Bihari, chief analyst at the Budapest Bank, said, "1999 was not a bad year for the economy and 2000 will be even better." Hungary's economic growth rate is expected to accelerate, rising to 4.5 percent, while inflation is likely to fall with the budget deficit narrowing.

According to Prime Minister Orban Hungary will try to double its income from tourism next year. Orban said, "It is not worthwhile setting any goal for tourism revenue less than an annual increase from USD 2.5 billion to USD five billion." Orban went on to say that all the Government's main goals - economic growth, the creation of more jobs, family assistance, public safety, supporting small to medium size companies, and improvements of the infrastructure - would have a positive effect on tourism. Orban said that he expects the amount spent in Hungary by foreign tourists to increase by around 15 percent, while more and more Hungarians now also travel in Hungary. The Prime Minister pointed out that claims that visitors to Hungary are "facing unforeseeable hazards" is untrue and must be repudiated.

Paul Nemes, 16 October 1999

 

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