Vol 0, No 33
10 May 1999
C S A R D A S:|
Chronicle of a Conflict Foretold
Hungary, NATO and the Kosovo crisis [Part VI]
Hungary's consensus concerning her role in the crisis was severely put to the test by news that NATO is considering the stationing of substantial numbers of American aircraft at her air bases. Prime Minister Viktor Orban adopted a firm tone, emphasising that this would fit in seamlessly with the consent given by the Hungarian Parliament to NATO to use Hungarian air space and facilities in the framework of resolving the conflict. From a strategic point of view, the NATO decision can hardly come as a surprise. Hungary is simply a more convenient base for operations.
EDITORS NOTE: Over the past six weeks, CER's analyst Gusztav Kosztolanyi has written over 37,000 words examining the situation of Hungary in the current phase of the Balkan crisis. To see his earlier contributions, have a look at:
At the same time, the new proposal put paid to rumours of ground troop deployment, enabling the Prime Minister to justify Hungary's ongoing support as a choice for the lesser of two evils. Misgivings centre on the fear of Serb aggression being directed against Hungary, the spectre of retaliation being impossible to exorcise.
Meanwhile, every utterance in the foreign press about Hungary or her possible role as a base for a ground-driven attack was watched with eagle eyes. A confusing picture emerged concerning Hungary's alleged breaking of ranks by supplying Yugoslavia with oil. On a political level, there can be no doubts as to Hungary's loyalty. It would not only be counter-productive in terms of pure prestige for Hungary to betray her Western partners by clandestine trading, but would do incalculable damage to her cause as a candidate for accession to the EU.
For these reasons, it is tempting to wonder whether the sour remarks contained in the columns of, for example, Die Presse in Austria have more to do with that country's sour grapes at Hungary's active role in the crisis as compared with Austria's passive neutrality, or whether there is a hidden agenda afoot in the Germanic sphere of influence that would slow down the enlargement process for which Germany will have to foot the lion's share of the bill. If we refrain from indulging in conspiracy theories, however, these unfortunate aspersions could simply have their origin in sheer ignorance of the realities of Hungarian politics and interests, not to mention language and culture.
April 23rd: According to a poll published in Nepszabadsag, support amongst the Hungarian population for NATO action remains stable at 54%. Once the figures are broken down, a more differentiated picture emerges, with 63% of city dwellers favouring an end to the attacks. 70% of respondents agreed that, if ground forces were to be deployed, Hungary should not make her territory available to the allies for launching the action.
Colonel Ferenc Vegh, prior to his departure for Washington, reiterates the official Hungarian position on the deployment of troops on the ground, namely that Hungary prefers the continuance of the existing air strikes [interview in Nepszabadsag]. If the conflict were to spread, this would have unforeseeable consequences for the region, not just for Hungary, but for her neighbours as well. Colonel Vegh spoke of the shift in political aims: whereas originally, NATO's intention was to halt ethnic cleansing, now the creation of a democratic, multi-ethnic province in which human rights are fully respected takes priority. Military action would continue for as long as it would take for this to be achieved. Should the need arise, the strikes would be intensified further, launched from Hungary or from other states bordering on Yugoslavia. Military isolation should be compounded by economic isolation, which would prevent losses being made up for.
The Colonel confirmed that, although Hungary wished to avoid ground troop action being launched from her soil, the Hungarian army nevertheless had to prepare for any eventuality, including closing down the Yugoslav-Hungarian border. He gave reassurances that the air strikes did not necessitate the call up of reserves, and that should reserves be required due to a change in circumstances, information would be provided with ample notice.
On the subject of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, the Colonel described defending them as a responsibility shared by both Hungary and NATO, but that, come what may, good neighbourly relations with Yugoslavia must be maintained. Hungary must give her full support to NATO in order to contribute to a swift ending of military operations.
Amongst the strategic options to be assessed during the NATO summit, the prospect of deploying ground troops attracted the greatest amount of speculation, especially in the wake of Clinton and Blair's decision that the deployment plan be re-examined in the light of fresh developments. This, however, was not tantamount to giving them the go-ahead. Some observers cynically commented that this meant NATO was biding its time until the Yugoslav military machine had sustained enough damage to make the risk appear worthwhile. To calm public fears, the preconditions of ground troop intervention were carefully set out, with careful explanations concerning the prior stepping up of air strikes. Hungary would be expected to allow military consignments to cross her territory on the way to Macedonia as part of the move to reinforce SFOR troops stationed there.
Speculations in the media outside Hungary about Hungary's possible role as a launch pad for operations were meticulously accounted for: the mountainous terrain and the superiority of numbers the NATO troops could expect to encounter if an attack were to proceed from Macedonia or Albania rendered Hungary an ideal starting base. Although logical to an extent, these cogitations did not form the object of specific plans, nor had any request been submitted to Hungary concerning her participation. Nepszabadsag reported on UK Foreign Minister Robin Cook's statement to the effect that ground operations would not have Hungary as their point of origin, as this would imply the occupation of the whole of Serbia before Kosovo could be reached. Involvement of Yugoslavia's neighbours would multiply the military possibilities, all of which would have to be taken into account.
Hungary's dilemma was summarised succinctly by Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian Parliament: a six-party consensus had been reached that precluded both direct (Hungarian soldiers being sent to the front) and indirect (Hungary being used as a base for operations) participation in ground action. This consensus would automatically be deprived of all substance if such actions were to proceed in spite of Hungarian unwillingness. However, if the Vojvodinian Hungarian minority were to be subjected to reprisals or if Hungary herself were to be attacked, how would the country respond? To prevent the two latter eventualities from ensuing, one solution would indeed be to close the Hungarian-Yugoslav border with some kind of NATO presence backing up the Hungarian army. This option would have to be approved by the Hungarian Parliament. The Prime Minister's primary task in Washington would therefore have to be to ensure that Hungary's credibility in the eyes of her allies remains unassailed, that her reliability is not questioned even in the slightest.
In Magyar Nemzet, Lajos Pietsch evaluates the implications of the Kosovo crisis for the future of the alliance: "During the 50 years of its existence, the Atlantic Alliance has proven beyond all doubt that its existence has been justified. It ensured, first and foremost, that in spite of decades of Cold War opposition, military conflict never broke out between the East and the West. NATO's existence, the unity of its members and the attachment to democratic values that they embodied made a decisive contribution to the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the former Soviet Union and to the collapse of the Communist systems in Central and Eastern Europe.
These historical changes at the same time have forced the alliance to adapt to new challenges. Even today this search for a new role has not yet been completed, indeed, the conflict in Kosovo, which has been continuing over the last month, has made it all the more apparent that there is a need for the world's sole prestigious military and political alliance to change direction once again. It needs to fulfil a role that will make it possible for its traditional values to spread over increasingly wider geographical areas in the future. The accession of three Central European states, including Hungary, was merely the first step along this pathway.
The Kosovo crisis is the first truly serious test the new NATO has had to face, and this will beyond doubt overshadow the 50th anniversary. The lessons of the protracted conflict will, however, contribute to the alliance being as successful in the future as it has been in the last 50 years, and these lessons will not just be theoretical, but will provide practically tested responses to the challenges of eras to come. This is the main task of the Washington summit, and it is also in Hungary's interests that a solution be found".
The Minister of Home Affairs, Sandor Pinter, travels to Tompa to meet 38 mayors from Bacs-Kiskun and Csongrad counties together with representatives of the police, the frontier police and the civil defence, to allay concerns about the safety of Hungarians living in the immediate vicinity of the Yugoslav frontier. The minister stated that there were no threats to the physical integrity or to the property of citizens in the border regions in Hungary. He boosted morale by stating that the police and frontier guards were aware of the responsibilities incumbent upon them and were capable of doing their job well. From the 24th of March onwards, when NATO attacks began, their state of vigilance had been increased, and it was due to the stepping up of their efforts that far fewer cases of frontier violations and property-related crime had been reported than would normally have been expected. Smuggling of stolen cars had ceased altogether. Since the start of NATO actions, 955 people describing themselves as refugees had crossed the border. There were no indications to suggest that a massive influx of refugees would take place in the immediate future.
The Hungarian state railway company, MAV, denied that it had received any information about the arrival of a so-called "NATO train" carrying supplies and reinforcements for SFOR troops in Albania and Macedonia in Hungary. Even if military consignments were to be sent through Hungary on NATO's behalf, MAV would not release any information concerning it, as that would represent a breach of military confidentiality. MAV's spokesman revealed that consultations had indeed taken place in March between railway companies in Yugoslavia's neighbours and NATO representatives about what measures should be taken if trains were to make their way across Hungary. The Ministry of Defence claimed to have no knowledge of a NATO request to allow a special train across Hungary, but also pointed out that, unless such a train were carrying troops, the Ministry would not have to be informed officially about its movements, as it would be subject to normal international customs rules. No special arrangements would have to be made. If troops were involved, the prior consent of the Hungarian Parliament would have to be given.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Defence told journalists that, although troop movements had taken place in Hungary, only very minor sub-units had been involved following the more general regrouping that had taken place immediately after the crisis ensued. The steps taken were justified as part of the training of regular soldiers, who had to sent to firing ranges by train or by road for practice.
The Hungarian special rescue unit awaited the ferry in Bari yesterday that would take them to the refugee camps in the framework of providing humanitarian aid to the victims of the crisis. The team of nine is headed by Laszlo Pavelcze, and is normally based in Szekesfehervar. Once they arrive in Albania, they will receive further instructions as to the work to be done from NATO officers. The team specialises in rescue operations in the wake of chemical, flood or other types of disaster and has been sent to far-flung parts of the globe in the course of doing its duty. It will concentrate on emergency medical care in field hospital surroundings. Three vehicles loaded with medicines and other types of aid arrived in Bari via Austria along with the team of experts.
A NATO aircraft has for days been using Hungarian air space to broadcast the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe with the full consent of the relevant ministries in Hungary.
The Commission of the EU plans to submit an official proposal on an oil embargo to Yugoslavia, which will enter into force on Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week. Attila Csikan declares that he sees no means of closing off the mineral oil pipelines to Yugoslavia. Hungary would, however, join in with the EU embargo by refusing to authorise consignments to be transported via her soil. Mihaly Arnold, head of the National Customs and Excise Authority, also raised the matter, repeating his earlier statements to the effect that there are no records of oil having been exported to Yugoslavia by pipeline, road or via the Danube. The pipelines in question traverse Hungary on their way to the Adriatic through Croatia. At Sisak in the latter country there is indeed a branch of the pipeline that turns to Yugoslavia, but on this section, in principle at least, it is only possible to send oil back from the ports.
On behalf of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Laszlo Glatz, Yugoslavia expert, pointed out that only arms and police equipment were currently banned, leaving no obstacle in theory in the path of exporting oil or natural gas to Yugoslavia.
Hungary does not export any type of fuel to Yugoslavia according to the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry. Mol (the Hungarian oil company with a state-owned majority stake hold) had confirmed this. UN Security Council Resolution 1160/98 and Hungarian governmental decree 83/1998 adopted as a result set out the substance of the sanctions applied against Yugoslavia as well as the materials included under them. Fuel therefore comes under the terms of the embargo. A decision on the part of the EU would serve merely to bolster previous agreements.
Trade between Yugoslavia and Hungary has dried up since the air strikes began, one of the practical reasons for which is that Yugoslavia cannot afford to pay for exports from Hungary. In the first two months of the year, 19 million dollars' worth of food, chemical products and vehicle parts (such as chassis) were sold to Yugoslavia, whilst 5 million dollars' worth of goods were imported from Hungary's southern neighbour.
April 24th: Sandor Faggyas [in Magyar Nemzet] takes stock of the Kosovo crisis, contrasting Hungary's present relations with Yugoslavia to those of the past: "It is as if time were moving backwards along the thousand-year-old fault line between West and East, as the ethnic wars of the Balkans in the 90s are reminiscent of the days of the previous turn of the century. It is understandable if many are obsessed by feelings of deja vu, though history does not repeat itself, it merely continues on. A complex chain of cause and effect links together the present and the past and, since the ethnic, religious and civilisation-based antagonisms and conflicts that are rooted in the distant past have not dissolved in peace, the evil genie has been released once again from a bottle that was not properly plugged in the course of great power politics that have, unfortunately, traditionally failed to meet with success in our region.
Those who, here at home and elsewhere in the Carpathian Basin, are anxious about Hungary, that this is the third time this century that the country has been swept into war with Serbia (Yugoslavia) are not worrying needlessly. Nevertheless, we must be aware that our current geopolitical situation and our room for manoeuvre are not identical to what they were in the summer of 1914, nor to what they were in the spring of 1941. In 1914, Hungary was part of the Habsburg dual monarchy, and, did not have an independent role to play either in foreign or in military policy, getting involved under German and Austrian pressure - in spite of initial opposition of the Prime Minister, Istvan Tisza - in a war provoked by Serbia and the Pan-Slav tsarist empire that stood behind the former, one of the main aims of which to divide the Balkans, emerging from Turkish rule, into spheres of interest and to re-organise them into nation states.
Later, in 1941, Yugoslavia, which had turned anti-German, became a target of the Nazi empire's quest for world domination, forcing Hungary too into an attack on her Southern Slav neighbour, with whom she had signed a "treaty of eternal friendship", in a situation where Hungary's sovereignty was restricted. The Prime Minister, Pal Teleki, could only rid himself of the terrible moral and spiritual burden he then felt by committing suicide. Today, however, Hungary is on the one hand not the instrument of one (or several) imperial great power's aims of conquest, but is a fully-fledged member of the political and military alliance of Western democracies, and, as such, supports the NATO air strikes directed against the Yugoslav regime that is carrying out ethnic cleansing, in other words, Hungary supports humanitarian intervention. On the other hand, the Hungarian government does not wish to take part in ground operations, nor - if it is up to the government to decide - does it wish our territory to be used as a base by others to launch "operations from the North" against Yugoslavia.
Even in the light of all of this, it remains a fact that the war in the air initiated almost exactly a month ago by NATO against Yugoslavia has attacked increasing numbers of civilian targets, including industrial and infrastructure facilities, causing ever greater losses and suffering to innocent civilians with the destruction as well. It confronts NATO member Hungary with a serious political, indeed moral, dilemma as to whether the aim, deemed correct by Hungary as well, of putting a stop to the aggression and genocide perpetrated against the Albanians, the return of hundreds of thousands to their homes and the restoration of peace, can be achieved by using rightful, or permitted means. Boldizsar Nagy, a legal expert specialising in international law, in a recent analysis that deserves to be taken notice of, pointed to the issue of political responsibility by asking whether the ends justify the means, whether new international law may be written by laser weapons. In this "strange war" between NATO and Yugoslavia, neither of the parties may claim a clear conscience, that it and it alone is in the right, because it deems the ends "sacred" to it more important than the merciless means it has chosen and the "hellish" consequences entailed by their employ.
For the Hungarian government, the political and moral dilemma is even more serious even than this. As the Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, said to a British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph this week, the Hungarian minority living in the Vojvodina "is in extreme danger", as it may be selected as the next target for ethnic cleansing by the government in Belgrade. In the meantime, every political party has classified the point raised by the MIEP [Hungarian Justice and Life Party, extreme right wing] as to the issue of the forthcoming restructuring of Kosovo being linked to the Northern part of the Vojvodina, where the Hungarians that live there are in the majority, being "returned home", as dangerous and damaging, since no responsible political actor is in a position to say how the conflict will eventually be sorted out. As the SZDSZ [Free Democrat, Istvan Szent-Ivanyi] chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee confirmed but two days ago, the situation might change and the Hungarian stance on the Yugoslav issue might change along with it, should an immediate threat to the Hungarians of the Vojvodina become apparent.
Let's not tempt fate, let's not open the way to misunderstandings with declarations that could make the situation even worse, but let's be prepared for any eventuality. Viktor Orban's and his government's responsibility is not less than that of the two predecessors mentioned, but his room for manoeuvre is slightly greater and his chances for reaching a satisfactory solution are perhaps greater".
Following the NATO summit meeting on Friday, the Prime Minister reacts by emphasising that no change in strategy has been adopted, thereby quashing further rumours concerning the deployment of ground troops. It was the first occasion on which a Hungarian delegation had officially participated in a NATO summit as full and equal partners. The Foreign and Defence Ministers accompanied Orban, who confirmed that the main focus of effort would still be air strikes. He also agreed that in circumstances where soldiers were risking their lives to weaken the Yugoslav army's capabilities by shutting off their oil and energy supplies, it would be intolerable for the businessmen of the NATO allies to trade with Yugoslavia: "It is unacceptable both from a moral and from a rational point of view, and this was confirmed by several heads of state and government in the course of Friday's meeting, which is why the declaration is worded in such a way that the demand for an oil embargo is set out with greater resolve". The Prime Minister went on to say that Hungary had requested that the Vojvodina should be spared from bombing already in October, and that this position has been maintained ever since. At the present juncture, however, this was not feasible in military terms.
Janos Martonyi, the Foreign Minister, issued a statement on CNN to the effect that a deployment of ground forces departing from Hungary would be entirely unacceptable to the country, as it would entail huge military and humanitarian risks, such as a fresh round of genocide and ethnic cleansing which would undermine the stability of the entire region as well as jeopardising NATO's existing aims in the conflict. There would be a distinct possibility of the Voivodinian Hungarians being held to ransom. In every political decision that it takes, the Hungarian government must take full account of the safety and future of the Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina. As far as Hungary is concerned, it is of paramount importance to stress that the NATO strikes are not directed against the Serb people themselves, and it is in Hungary's vital interests to live in peace and friendship with the Serbs.
The team of doctors from the Hungarian army set to depart for Albania will leave Hungary on Monday. The team specialises in epidemic risk assessment and will be based in Hamalai, 22 kilometres north of the port of Durres. Initially, a group of seven will be flown by the Belgian air force to the base, to prepare for the arrival of some of the others, a further seven, who will join them on Wednesday. The full team comprises 35, 20 experts and 15 auxiliary staff, and it is expected that the remainder will be in situ performing their duties in a fortnight.
April 26th: Prime Minister Orban gives a more detailed response to the NATO summit and the Kosovo declaration adopted in Washington, welcoming it as in line with the interests of Hungary and the Vojvodinian Hungarians. Strategic changes could only be approved on the basis of consent by all allied partners and this in essence precluded the deployment of ground troops for the time being. In the course of informal meetings, Orban was informed by his colleagues that the intensification of air strikes was also their preferred option.
The declaration text explicitly states that the allied goal is the creation of a democratic Yugoslavia in which the rights of minorities, including those of the Vojvodinian Hungarians, would be protected, and steps would be taken to ensure that such protection is forthcoming.
Orban made use of his talks with President Clinton to impress upon him that, although the Vojvodinian Hungarians are the sole minority in Yugoslavia that has not up to now been the victim of a campaign of ethnic cleansing, this could change very rapidly.
The Pentagon correspondent of CNN announced that military planners were weighing up the possibility of stationing 300 American aircraft in Hungary, as this would place Belgrade within easy reach. Orban reiterated the Hungarian government's earlier stance, that there are no legal obstacles to prevent this, as the Hungarian Parliament had already given its consent to NATO use of air space and air port facilities. The only question to be clarified would be which bases would best suit American needs. Martonyi, the Foreign Minister, confirmed that the issue of sending American aircraft to Hungary had been broached and that it did not represent a radical policy departure, but was, rather, to be expected, and it was also possible that attacks on Yugoslavia could be launched direct from Hungary. If, moreover, such attacks were to be directed against the Vojvodina, they would be on a comparatively small scale.
Martonyi dismissed fears about Serbia attacking Hungary as "absurd". Hungary, according to the Foreign Minister, supported the intensification of air strikes precisely because this was preferable to committing ground troops. Chief of staff, Colonel Ferenc Vegh, said that, apart from the base at Taszar, NATO had not made use of other Hungarian airports. The defence of Taszar was guaranteed by the Americans, but Hungary would be responsible for the defence of other land installations. Precise information about the number of aircraft involved was not provided, but the Colonel estimated that several hundred might be a realistic figure and any Hungarian military air base could be called upon to house them.
The American SFOR base at Taszar contains accommodation for four thousand soldiers as well as ammunition stores, and is able to cater for the largest aircraft. Four railway lines and several public roads link it to the outside world. 14,825 square metres of storage space are available there alongside 293,241 square metres of runway. It is situated 350 from the SFOR base at Tuzla and is barely 200 kilometres from Belgrade.
In response to probings about oil exports to Yugoslavia through Hungary, the Prime Minister denied that any oil had been sent via pipeline to Serbia that was not subject to international agreement and that Hungary did not have the right to stop transit shipments by tanker or by barge. However, after the Washington summit, Hungary would be equipped with a new legal basis for halting such transports, subject to the debate on the subject in the Hungarian Parliament on Tuesday.
Over the weekend, strikes against fuel depots in Novi Sad continue.
April 27th: In Magyar Nemzet, Gabor Lambert examines the outcome of the Washington summit in a column entitled "Safe?": "The question in the title is repeated by the main character in an old Dustin Hoffman film in an absurd and obviously senseless fashion. A few weeks ago, similar incomprehension would have been elicited had anyone called Hungary's safety into question, at around about the time when the country was admitted into the world's strongest military alliance. Now, on the other hand, at NATO's Washington summit, the journalists of the partner countries repeatedly ply Hungarian politicians with questions about whether they are afraid of Yugoslav attacks or counter-strikes.
Safe? The question is not all that absurd in itself. At least there had to be a reminder that, although there is no such thing as absolute safety, we already enjoy the greatest possible degree of protection, and, although no attacks have been launched against the Vojvodinian Hungarians thus far that would require a response, the experiences of the Milosevic era encourage us to remain in a constant state of readiness. Since there is, for a neighbouring country, no "exit strategy" from this situation, nor is there one for the over 300,000 Hungarians who live across the border. The best safeguard that they can receive would be if - albeit with a delay of eight years - the fact that the Hungarians of the Vojvodina represent the last untouched minority of Yugoslavia, that they might become the target of provocations, that they are the potential victims of colonisations and ethnic redistributions of the population are facts that become embedded in the consciousness of Western democracies. All of this is already more than a mere Hungarian concern: it has become a NATO responsibility. Now, for the first time, Hungarian politicians have been able to speak as members of the alliance, and the fact that this carries greater weight than would otherwise be the case, if Hungary were to be talking "outside the inner circle", is incontestable. The concerns felt have been formulated in documents, and the thought of them has ensconced itself in the minds of the 18 heads of state and government during the lunch. The direct influence of lobbying can be measured immediately.
The fact that we are equal partners in the mechanism of reaching agreement is also in itself a kind of guarantee of safety. We know, for example, that as a result of the NATO decision, we will probably have to make preparations for further long weeks extending the current air strikes. Hungary will have to play a greater part in this than she has done up to now, by allowing American aircraft to take off from Hungarian bases. This does, without doubt, represent an increased security risk. On the other hand, however, it is the sole alternative to a ground force intervention which would, according to Viktor Orban, "only make the situation more complex".
There are other consequences of the Washington summit agreements too. Although Hungary is the only NATO member bordering on Yugoslavia, the other countries on the front line are not neutral. Romania and Bulgaria are making gestures in the hope of accelerating the enlargement process, and NATO has set up a broad political quarantine around Yugoslavia. Central and Eastern Europe will have to sit an exam comprising an ever increasing number of questions in conjunction with the Kosovo crisis.
In spite of the unfinished drama in Kosovo, NATO acts as a strong, unified organisation, with which two dozen countries would like to establish closer military and political relations. Light has been shed on new opportunities for Hungary in her relations with her neighbours by the episode according to which Hungarian diplomacy was able to lobby at the summit on behalf of Slovakia. The opening up of Romanian air space to the Alliance, and the greater alignment this implies is a factor in the Hungarian security environment, taken in the broadest sense, as is the acknowledgement of the efforts undertaken by Slovenia to join, and the invitation extended to Croatia to enter the group of partners for peace... The reordering of risks is a process that is already underway. Law and order on an international scale as it has prevailed up to today has toppled, and the new NATO doctrine is that of "restricted sovereignty" being prescribed for dealing with minorities. This type of self-restraint was long ago proclaimed as being in Hungary's interests.
Safe? The question is, unfortunately, not absurd. It has to be asked again and again in future, even if the air strikes do not lead to the desired results and the guessing game about ground action is indulged in afresh. The danger to Hungary as a member of NATO is not greater than the danger to the region as a whole. More means to ward it off, however, are available within the organisation than are available outside of it".
As a result of four major explosions, the last remaining bridge over the Danube at Novi Sad was sent to a watery grave. It had already been subjected to three previous bombardments, but this attack finally dispatched it. Flying fragments of concrete damaged dwellings in the immediate vicinity, windows were shattered, and damage was even done to the interior of certain buildings. The collapse of the bridge has not, as feared, dammed up the flow of water in the river, which would certainly have caused flooding in the city. The bridge was originally the second in the city, constructed in 1961. Now, the population depend entirely on ferries to cross to their workplaces, a journey that can take up to an hour. Whereas the ferries depart once an hour, a fleet of rowing boats transports passengers free of charge. Not surprisingly, demand for these services is high.
In the course of Monday's bombings, another target in the Vojvodina was hit, this time a military air base, near Zombor, which was attacked for the 5th time since the campaign of air strikes began.
Orban continues his evaluation of the outcome of the Washington summit, expressing his satisfaction concerning what was achieved. "I would like everyone at home to realise that there are stakes involved in what is going on, and I am glad that every party in the Parliament has furnished proof of its responsibility in the recent past. Ever since I have been a member of the Hungarian Parliament, I cannot recall such a broadly based consensus being reached on such a complex issue as has been the case in these days". He added that no Hungarian, regardless of whether he lives within Hungary or beyond her frontiers, who favours peace could have an interest in a tactical change of course on the part of NATO. He pointed out that the Yugoslav leaders had "partly because of their intentions, partly because of their limited capabilities" avoided a confrontation on their northern flank, and had not taken any steps in the Voivodina that would lead to an immediate diplomatic or military reaction, "But we must follow events very closely, and international opinion must be ready, as must the Hungarian government, and Milosevic must also know that, in the case of the slightest affront to the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, an appropriate response must be given. This is how we worded it during the consultations and everyone accepted that the question of the Vojvodinian Hungarians is not a purely Hungarian concern, but the concern of NATO as a whole".
During the closing session, the issue of the future reconstruction of the region was raised together with the restoration of economic and political stability. Orban remarked that Hungary had taken an initiative to propose that international organisations should not act separately in attempting to provide aid, but should instead create a common fund to finance the reconstruction work and to bolster democracy as well as promoting respect for human rights in the region. With her stable economic system, Hungary would be ideally suited as a candidate for managing the fund and the reconstruction work that proceeded using its resources, and the Hungarian government had not hesitated in offering the country's services in that respect.
The Washington Post report concerning a request by the Americans to Hungary to allow 50 aircraft to be stationed at two Hungarian bases was mentioned in the course of the press conference with the Prime Minister, who rejected the notion that this betokened a qualitative change, and that further debate in the Hungarian Parliament was not necessary to authorise such a move. He verified that aircraft had been taking off from Hungarian bases from the very start of the conflict, with various military aims, and that the Hungarian air force had "at certain times and on certain occasions" taken part in patrolling Hungarian air space as a means of guaranteeing it. He doubted that this would make the Vojvodinian Hungarians' position more precarious.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Defence, Brigadier Lajos Erdelyi, had no knowledge of any official NATO requests for Western aircraft to be sent to Hungary, nor did he know of any change to the Parliament's decision to authorise such usage of Hungarian facilities. Hungarian air force fighters are stationed at two bases, at Papa and at Kecskemet. MIG-29s and MIG-21s have patrolled Hungarian air space together with American counterparts since the crisis began. The Hungarian air force also uses the its bases at Tokol and Szolnok, primarily for supply aircraft.
The oil issue also attracted attention in the wake of the decision by EU foreign ministers to place an oil embargo on Yugoslavia. According to EU experts, Russia last year exported 50,000 tonnes of crude oil to Yugoslavia, corresponding to 12,000 barrels, the bulk of which was sent there via the Friendship pipeline that crosses the Ukraine and Hungary. Supplies via the pipeline were, however, cut off as soon as the NATO air strikes commenced.
The Minister of Economic Affairs, Attila Csikan, estimated that Hungary could lose up to 10 billion dollars as a result of the war against Yugoslavia, although this figure was not deemed by him as absolutely reliable, given that no one could predict exactly how long the conflict would continue.
Hungarian political parties gave their reactions to the Washington summit. Istvan Simicsko (Fidesz), vice chairman of the Defence Committee of the Parliament, and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee expressed his regret that the Kosovo crisis had cast a long shadow over the anniversary celebrations. Otherwise, he labelled the summit as an extremely important occasion on which the members of the alliance were once again able to demonstrate their unity, which will be the key to a successful resolution of the crisis. On behalf of his group, Simicsko stated that the possible stationing of allied aircraft on Hungarian soil would be an integral part of the intensification of the air strikes, which were the means to achieving the political ends of the intervention. In his opinion, the current situation amply showed the extent to which NATO had been strengthened by the accession of new members such as Hungary.
In the eyes of the MSZP (Socialists), the Prime Minister's statements reflected the fact that Hungary now faced an entirely new situation in the context of the Kosovo crisis. The party's representatives emphasised the urgent need for information to be passed on, without delay, to the Defence, Foreign Affairs and National Security Committees of the Parliament, which would enable a re-examination of the state of play to take place. The implications of the new situation for the safety of the Vojvodinian Hungarians would have to be assessed alongside those of the security of Hungary herself. Laszlo Kovacs made it clear that in his party's views, Hungarian participation in the crisis was limited both in form and extent by the peculiarities of the country's unique situation. The party would re-evaluate the Parliament's decision to allow NATO to use Hungarian airports and air space. The party would not adopt a final stance on the matter until the three committees had met.
Zsolt Lanyi (Independent Smallholders' Party), chairman of the Defence Committee, said that Vegh and Szabo (Minister of Defence) were scheduled to attend the meeting of the committee on Thursday. His viewpoint was that the Parliament's decision was not 100% clear on the issue of whether or not NATO could actually launch air attacks against Yugoslavia from Hungary.
The MDF continued to give undiminished support to the government line. Ground forces would not be permitted to launch attacks on Yugoslavia from Hungarian territory.
Regardless of whether those parts of the Vojvodina where Hungarians are in the majority are returned to Hungary or whether they receive internationally guaranteed and broadly-based autonomy, the Hungarians of the Vojvodina must feature in any future plan for the reorganisation of Yugoslavia after the hostilities have ceased, according to the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (extreme right wing). In a document, the party leaders lament: "They are trying to wring ever greater participation in the war out of us at an ever cheaper price. This is why society as a whole needs to act in unanimity and with resolve. We must demand our right to live, we must demand guarantees for the safety not only of our brothers within our frontiers, but for our brothers beyond our frontiers as well".
Gusztav Kosztolanyi, 10 May 1999
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