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Vol 2, No 16
25 April 2000
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Hungary newsNews from Hungary
All the important news
since 16 April 2000

Paul Nemes

On 20 April, dikes along the Tisza burst, and 22,000 residents in nine villages were ordered to evacuate. The floods were expected to peak at Szeged on Sunday. Earlier last week, flooding of the Hármas Kőrös in the southeast of the country broke all past records, and the state of emergency was extended to the Tisza between Szolnok and Szeged. At Bökény, the water level was 1057 cm over the baseline, which is 37 cm higher than any level previously recorded. Dikes are being strengthened over a 100km stretch along the Kőrös river. On Sunday, Hungarian experts visited Arad County, Romania, to examine the current state with local water management specialists.

Flood prevention measures now cost HUF 800 million (USD 3.3 million) per day, said Transport, Telecommunications and Water Management Minister Kálmán Katona on Tuesday. All political parties have promised to donate money for the efforts. FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party MPs have so far donated HUF 11 million (USD 46,000), while many Socialist, Free Democrat and MIÉP MPs have offered HUF 50,000 each (USD 200). Several individual MDF MPs offered HUF 50,000 to 100,000 (USD 200 to 400), while the Smallholders on Monday said they would decide how much the party would contribute. More than HUF 200 million (USD 830,000) has been collected around the country to help flood victims, and more than HUF 11 million (USD 46,000) has been donated to the Hungarian Red Cross. The international community has also contributed to flood relief. Czech and Polish rescue teams have been working along the Tisza, and Germany and Austria have sent 2.7 million and 1.2 million sandbags respectively.

The government has commissioned Interior Minister Sándor Pintér to allocate HUF 38.3 billion (USD 160 million) for flood relief, which amounts to 2.1 per cent of each ministry's budget. Pintér, meanwhile, ordered the production of three million sandbags. Last year, HUF 34 billion (USD 140 million) was spent on reconstruction and HUF 17.3 billion (USD 72 million) on preventive measures. The government now plans to spend HUF 60 billion (USD 250 million) on strengthening dams over a ten-year period. Originally, the government had planned to spend HUF 20 billion (USD 80 million) on flood prevention during its four-year term in office.

Socialist Party (MSZP) President László Kovács said on Tuesday that the party had found a candidate to nominate for President. The name of the candidate, however, will not be revealed until the Smallholders have chosen their candidate on 29 April. Kovács urged the Smallholders not to nominate József Torgyán, and said that this request could not be said to be an interference in the FKGP's internal affairs, because "Torgyán's views on a state governed by the rule of law and his lack of sensitivity to democracy makes him unfit for the post." Smallholder Attila Bánk said the Party would ask Torgyán to accept the nomination, but the Smallholder president's personal secretary, Szabolcs Imrédy, said that no one knows whether he will accept the nomination.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has again defended the invitation of Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel to Hungary. Orbán, who will hold talks with Schüssel in Budapest on Thursday, told Kossuth Radio, "Hungary is a free country [...] Those who have aversions towards Austria, the Austrian government or the Chancellor himself can express these feelings." The Prime Minister added that he intends to discuss issues related to enlargement and a more active Austria in Central Europe with Schüssel.

Magyar Hírlap reported that Hungary and the European Union have come to an agreement on agricultural trade. Hungary is the second applicant country, after Estonia, to close negotiations on agricultural trade. The concessions will involve some 2000 agricultural products, which have been divided into three categories. Duties on the first group will be liberalised without delay, while duties for the second group will be withdrawn upon accession. For goods in the third group, there will be a possibility to ask for "unilateral discounts."

Meanwhile, as Hungarian and EU officials met to discuss terms for receiving regional support, it seems that the EU will, for the first time, ask Hungary for a derogation. Hungary has urged the EU to fully implement the rules, but the Union is pushing Hungary and other applicant countries to accept only part of the amount they are entitled to, with a gradual increase. Presently, Brussels is urging Hungary to present its new regional structure, in order to determine if the country is eligible for regional support. It would, however, not be in Hungary's best interest to present such a plan, before the EU's system of regional support is decided upon.

László Kövér, FIDESZ chairman, said on 19 April that the "EU regrets pledges it made ten years ago about accession, like a dog that had a litter of nine." Kövér went on to say that the EU does not want Hungary to join the Union now and that the earliest accession date would be 2005. Speaking in Eger, Kövér added that the economy is "promising" and pointed out that unemployment is around two per cent below the EU average.

Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen said last week that he believed in expansion in groups, rather than having one country join at a time. He also reassured the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland by stating that the EU is resolute to bring these countries in first, and he added that, to complete Visegrád accession, he also would like to see Slovakia join that group.

The Carpathians Euroregion council has elected Brigitta László to the post of acting director. At the session, held in Poland, representatives of the Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak and Ukrainian counties decided to work towards establishing closer links with the Maas-Rhine Euroregion. Joint development projects will have to be presented by June. Meanwhile, the Danube-Drava-Sava Euroregion also had a meeting last week. Foreign Ministry Official Loránd Tóth, who attended the meeting, said an economic forum for 30 Euroregions, organised together with the Central European Initiative, will be held in Budapest on 23 to 25 November.

Foreign Minister János Martonyi said on Monday that the Cabinet is conscious that Roma integration is one of Hungary's greatest problems. At a press conference also attended by Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid and Head of the Office for Ethnic Minorities Toso Doncsev, Martonyi pointed out that the EU is concerned about the situation of the Roma. Ibolya Dávid said that HUF 4.7 billion (USD 20 million) has been allocated for Roma support this year.

Ex-Prime Minister Péter Boross may run in the May election for President of the World Federation of Hungarians (MVSZ). Current President Sándor Csoóri will not run for re-election and, according to Magyar Hírlap, most members would prefer an influential person from Hungary to take the post, in order to represent Hungarians beyond the borders more successfully. The current candidates include Miklós Patrubány, the nominee of the Transylvania council, Miklós Duray from Slovakia, regional head Gyula Kurucz, Transylvanian Bishop László Tőkés and the National Federation of Political Prisoners nominee, Ágoston Székelyhidi.

The Sapientia Foundation, which is planning on establishing a Hungarian university in Transylvania, has asked the historic Hungarian church congregations to donate their purse money on 11 June. At a meeting in Budapest attended by, among others, László Tőkés, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Németh confirmed that the Hungarian government has put aside HUF two billion (USD 8 million) for Hungarian higher education in Transylvania. He said that the university, which will have faculties in Oradea (Nagyvárad), Cluj (Kolozsvár), Tîrgu Mureş (Marosvásárhely) and one other town, was a necessity, because Hungarians are behind in terms of higher education, compared to the Romanian average. As has been said before, Németh stated that the establishment of a private university does not mean that the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) have abandoned plans to set up a Hungarian university run by the Romanian state.

Géza Gyimothy, Deputy Speaker of Parliament, in his opening speech to the Central European Initiative (CEI) parliamentary committee session, said that the organisation had been a useful forum for discussion. He stressed that regional stability is an impossibility without involvement of citizens, full democratic change and the safeguard of human and minority rights. He expressed his worry over the future of the Vojvodina Hungarians, saying, "We have a vested interest in seeing national minority rights being guaranteed in Yugoslavia and the minorities living in peace together in their homeland." On Monday, Géza Gyimothy left for an EU enlargement meeting in Ljubjana organised by Nicole Fontaine, European Parliament president.

On the same day, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Németh said that political change in Yugoslavia is in the interest of all countries in the region. Németh said, "Hungary believes that the full implementation of democratic principles is the prerequisite for peace and stability," and pointed out that the aim of seeing a democratic and stable Southeast Europe coincides with the goals of the Southeast European Stability Pact.

The Smallholders (FKGP) won the by-election in Fehérgyarmat and lost only marginally in Székesfehérvár. FKGP Chairman József Torgyán said after the elections that the government could not be envisaged without his party. He also thought that the results were promising for the 2002 elections.

The Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) has closed its Győr office. Chairman István Csurka said the reason was an "attempted infiltration by members of the extremist organisation National Front Line, provocative left-wing elements and other [factors] possibly supported by foreign secret services." Csurka said that his party promotes "national radicalism," but "disassociates itself from extremism."

The Economics Ministry estimates that state revenues would increase by HUF 70 billion (USD 300 million) if 10,000 new homes were built every year. The construction would create 25,000 full-time jobs and increase the GDP by HUF 118 billion (USD 500 million), while the trade deficit would merely increase by around HUF 24 billion (USD 100 million).

The City of Budapest has won the lawsuit on the fourth metro line. The Supreme Court ruled that the government had breached the original agreement with the Budapest City Council, in which it committed government funds to pay for 60 per cent of construction costs for the line stretching from northern Pest to southern Buda. Budapest City Council has also filed a HUF 100 billion (USD 420 million) lawsuit in damages for breach of contract.

The two robbers hailed as the Bonnie and Clyde of Hungary have been caught in Miskolc. During the past four years, the pair, 21-year-old Tünde Novák and 30-year-old László Fekete from Nyíregyháza, have robbed banks, post offices and shops, armed with machine guns. They had earlier been able to escape by tuning into police radio channels but were identified after a recent robbery in which they wounded a police officer seriously.

Tourism revenue for January and February this year was the largest in six years, totalling EUR 390 million. Péter Kraft, deputy state secretary for tourism, said that the number of tourists has risen to 29 million in 1999, compared to 25 million in 1990, but added that the goal is to make "quality tourism" predominant, even at the cost of fewer tourists.

On 17 April, the Tokajhegyalja Association made it known that Slovak President Rudolf Schuster will be the guest of honour at the Tokaj-Hegyalja viticulture days to be held in Szerencs on 9 to 11 July. As a part of the historical Tokaj-Hegyalja region now is in the Slovak Republic, wine producers from Slovakia will also attend. Over 150 exhibitors from Hungary and Slovakia have registered so far.

The Pompidou Centre in Paris will open a retrospective exhibition of Hungarian photo-historian Brassai, born Gyula Halász in Brassó (now Braşov, Romania). This is the first retrospective Brassai exhibit in Paris, where he moved in 1924. There will also be an exhibition in Paris' Picasso Museum entitled "Brassai-Picasso: conversations with light."

Paul Nemes, 21 April 2000

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