Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 13
3 April 2000

Hungarian News Round-up C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N    N E W S:
News Round-up for Hungary
News from Hungary since 27
March 2000

Paul Nemes

There has been yet another leak from the Romanian mine responsible for the heavy metal poisoning only a couple of weeks ago. The Romanian Ministry of Waters, Forestry and Environmental Protection said that the latest incident was caused by rain and melting snow. The pollution reached the Tisza in Hungary on Tuesday, according to the Upper Tisza Water Directorate. Water samples near Tiszabecs confirmed that the contamination this time is not as serious as on other occasions over the last few months.

On 1 And 2 April, a demonstration was held outside the Romanian Embassy in Washington. Organisations and individuals, especially Americans with roots in the region, had been invited to join. On Saturday, around 50 people, mostly Hungarians, protested outside the Embassy. The demonstrators aimed to bring attention to the recent industrial spills in Romania which have caused a major envorinmental disaster in Central Europe. Displaying placards and banners, the message certainly got through to onlookers and passers-by. (See the article in this week's CER for more on the demonstration in Washington).

In Vienna, the International Committee for the Protection of the Danube River reached agreement on the causes of the Baia Mare (Nagybánya) cyanide leak, saying that human negligence, inadequate construction and also the weather were responsible for the disaster. The Committee also agreed that if a warning system that complied with regulations had been in place, it would have made dealing with the disaster easier. It was also decided that a committee to survey sources of possible future pollution would be set up.

At a forum held at the National Association of Employers and Industrialists on 30 March, Minister of Economics György Matolcsy unveiled Hungary's new national development plan, the Széchenyi Plan. The Széchenyi Plan, named after Count István Széchenyi, "the great reformer," is intended to modernise and develop Hungary in a way similar to the modernisation programme carried out by the Count in the first half of the 19th century. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had earlier said, "the Széchenyi Plan is to concentrate on constructing new motorways, regional development, specific research and development, housing and small- and medium-sized enterprises." On Thursday, Matolcsy said that HUF 250 billion (USD 1 billion) of the budget (or possibly more with GDP growth of six per cent and if inflation stays at six to seven per cent) would go towards the Plan.

Prime Minister Orbán told reporters on Tuesday that the European Union would probably make the date of enlargement known by the end of the year, otherwise there would be room for ambiguity within the EU. Orbán said he thought the EU could ratify the enlargement agreements by 1 January 2003, therefore this must be the date for Hungary to aim for.

After a meeting of British and foreign ministry officials from the Visegrád Four countries, Czech EU negotiator Pavel Telicka said that if the process of enlargement was delayed, the trustworthiness of the entire process and the EU would be endangered. Telicka also said that the British know that the more they engage in Central Europe, the more they will profit from the accession of Central European countries. Keith Vaz, British minister of state for foreign affairs, rejected claims that the enlargement process is slowing down and stressed that the UK is a chief supporter of enlargement and that Britain would work towards an early accession of the applicant countries.

Meanwhile, Martonyi has also expressed his concern about the pace of EU enlargement, saying that the EU would have to stick to self-imposed deadlines on internal reform. The Foreign Minister said, "It [the EU] must accept the idea that the building of the Union and institutional reforms will have to be continued even after enlargement towards the east." Commenting on the situation of Hungarians beyond the borders, he said that recent trends have been positive and that EU pressure had played an important role. Martonyi believes that, with EU enlargement, the situation of national minorities especially will improve.

Foreign Minister János Martonyi visited Geneva on Monday, to hold talks with international organisations. Martonyi met WTO Director-General Mike Moore, in order to prepare for the WTO regional conference, which will be held in Budapest on 5 to 6 April and also to discuss the WTO state of affairs in the wake of the Seattle meeting. Martonyi also met a group discussing the verification system for the treaty banning biological weapons, currently chaired by Hungary.

On Tuesday, the Finno-Ugrian group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) met in Budapest. The group, established in 1993 to promote Hungarian-Finnish-Estonian cooperation met to discuss EU accession and prepare for the next Finno-Ugrian conference. Hungary was represented by Mátyás Szúrós, the Hungarian IPU chairman, and representatives from FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party, MSZP and MDF, while Árpád Duka Zólyomi from Slovakia, Ferenc Pécsi and Csaba Kovács from Romania and two Finno-Ugrian representatives from the Russian Duma also attended. Meanwhile, József Szájer, the head of the parliamentary EU integration committee, met his Estonian counterpart, Tunne Kelam.

The Presidents of Hungarian and Romanian Radio, István Hajdú and Andrei Dimitriu, signed an agreement on cooperation, in Bucharest on 27 March. Dimitriu pointed out that the three-year agreement would boost dialogue between Hungarians and Romanians. Hajdú said, "Guaranteeing appropriate conditions for minority broadcasts is a very important element of the agreement. Both sides will open their archives for the editors of these boards, which is particularly significant from the point of view of presenting national cultures. We have also agreed on exchanging staff members, who will thus have an opportunity to work in mother-tounge environment."

Irish President Mary McAleese was scheduled to begin a four-day visit to Hungary, on 2 April. She was due to meet President Göncz, Prime Minister Orbán and Speaker of Parliament Áder, as well as give a paper at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima has asked Hungarians to strengthen, rather than restrict, personal relations with Austria. Klima made the comments at an Economy 2002 Union conference. MSZP Chairman László Kovács, also speaking at the conference, said that there are certain basic values of democracy that are universally accepted by EU members and that the sanctions also were intended as a message to applicant states.

Foreign Ministry Secretary Zsolt Németh said last week that the debris blocking the Danube in Yugoslavia is likely to remain for some time. While the shipping route could be cleared by summer, early November was more realistic he said. The Balkan Stability Pact was due to discuss clearing the Danube at an international donor meeting in Brussels last week.

Viktor Orbán has rejected accusations that the Hungarian government is not distancing itself from anti-Semitic groups. Gusztáv Zoltai, executive director of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Authorities, said last week that anti-Semitism is institutionalised in Hungary, and he accused the government of not dissociating itself from such groups.

As the Hungarian Army is preparing to embark on a restructuring process, beginning by shedding 15,000 jobs, units have been ordered to reveal former Communist Party officers. Last Monday, all army units were instructed to list all officers who had worked as Communist Party political officers, activists or leaders before 1990. After the first free elections in 1990, 800 officers were ejected from the army on political grounds. Socialist Ferenc Juhász, vice-president of the parliamentary defence committee, said that it was "outrageous that ten years after the transition, people's fates should be decided on such criteria."

On armed forces reform, Orbán said on Monday last week that the government will expect the armed forces to use the increased defence budget to complete reorganisation and cut personnel. In response to the opposition's calls for professionalising the armed forces, Orbán said that ending conscription would take time. He said further, "Only gradual transition will succeed, but we should embark on this road." Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Lajos Fodor said the personnel cuts would be completed by 1 January 2001.

Magyar Nemzet and Napi Magyarország are to merge. From this month, the newspapers will most likely be published under the name Magyar Nemzet, which has the higher circulation (30,000) of the two. The new daily, however, will employ staff from the more right-wing Napi Magyarország, although many will lose their jobs. Publisher Péter Bányás said, "The new publisher of Magyar Nemzet does not wish to continue the employment of the journalists and staff of this daily, so mass job cuts will be unavoidable."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gábor Horváth said last week that Vladimir Putin's election as Russian president could be a boost to advance Hungarian-Russian cooperation. Horváth also said that the Ministry would like to see an intensification of top-level contacts, after the Russian elections. Hungary considers it important that reforms continue, in order to increase political and economic stability after Putin's election.

Russia has accused Hungary of supplying arms to Chechen fighters. After disputes with the Poles, it seems Russia is now turning on Hungary, accusing the Hungarian Secret Service of having exchanged Hungarian-made Gepárd rifles for two Hungarian aid workers held hostage by the Chechens. One of the men behind the development of the rifle, General Ferenc Földi said that 105 armour piercing Gepárds have been made. Out of these, 35 have been exported, but Földi declined to comment on the whereabouts of the remaining rifles. One Hungarian aid worker, Sándor Szenczy, was told by a Russian officer that he should never have been allowed into Grozny because Hungarians are supplying weapons to Chechens. Szenczy said, "In relief aid work, one hears a lot of negative things [...] I didn't want to believe any of these rumours and was shocked to hear it personally from a Russian officer."

Twelve Central European presidents will, at the invitation of President Göncz, meet in Székesfehéhervár, once the seat of the kings of the House of Árpád, at the end of this month. The Croatian president will be present for the first time, at what is the seventh meeting of presidents. Czech president Václav Havel said that the aim was to "maintain informal contacts among the heads of the states as a ground for further cooperation."

According to a GfK Hungária and Szonda-Ipsos survey, 19 per cent of all Hungarians now have a computer at home. In 1996, the number was 11 per cent. The number of PCs is higher than average among people in Budapest and towns with more than 100,000 inhabitants.

Paul Nemes, 31 March 2000

Previous news reviews for Hungary


Magyar Távirati Iroda


Inside Hungary

Central Europe Online

The Budapest Sun



Feature Essay:
Europe's "New"
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Jan Čulík:
Czech TV Politicised

Mel Huang:
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Catherine Lovatt:
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Sam Vaknin:
Balkan Titanic


Macedonia's Struggle

Haider as a Political Tool

Central Europe and China

Czech Education

Montenegrin Timebomb

The Black Hole of Europe

Anti-Romanian Protest in Washington

No Bulgaria this week
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