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Vol 2, No 18
9 May 2000
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Hungary newsNews from Hungary
All the important news
since 30 April 2000

Paul Nemes

Ferenc Mádl has accepted the nomination for President of Hungary. Mádl, a lawyer and former Culture Minister under Antall, who lost out to Árpád Göncz in 1995, was nominated after talks between Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Smallholder (FKGP) President József Torgyán on Wednesday. All major political parties, except for the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP), seem to be backing Mádl's nomination. Torgyán said that he thought Mádl's diplomatic experience and language skills would be beneficial to Hungary's integration into the European Union, while Orbán said Mádl would "continue the best traditions of Hungary's history." Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) President Ibolya Dávid, who had not been invited to the meeting to discuss the nomination, said she was happy with the nomination of Mádl, whom the MDF supported in 1995, while Socialist Party (MSZP) President László Kovács said there was a possibility that Mádl may rise above party political differences. The president of the Free Democrats (SZDSZ), Bálint Magyar, said his party would decide whether to back Mádl or not after talks with the nominee. Hungarian Justice and Life Party President István Csurka said he would not support Mádl as he expected this would mean a continuation of policies from the Antall era.

After finally having come to an agreement on a presidential nominee, FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party and the Smallholders signed an amendment to the two parties' coalition agreement. If they win the next election, FIDESZ will again appoint the Prime Minister, while the Smallholders will choose the Head of State.

Smallholder Leader József Torgyán last week explained why he had chosen not to accept the nomination of presidential candidate, saying, "My dropping out of active participation in politics [...] would endanger the right wing's staying in power after legislative elections in 2002. This would have finally opened up the doors to post-Communism." Torgyán said he himself would nominate the Smallholder candidate. "First of all, I want to sit down with the Prime Minister, and propose a candidate if FIDESZ-MPP is ready to secure the political weight and the role of the Smallholders' Party," Torgyán stated.

György Gémesi has resigned from the post of Hungarian Democratic Forum vice president. Gémesi said that he did not agree with the MDF's disagreements with the Peace on the Right 2000 and the policy of moving closer to the Socialists and the Free Democrats. He also complained about the MDF's position on the appointment of a prosecutor general and a candidate for the position of President of Hungary. He also claimed the fact that he does not feel as if he is involved in political decision making is another reason for his resignation, but added that he means to stay on as a member of the party's steering board. FIDESZ National Council Chairman Attila Várhegyi said he agreed with Gémesi, criticising the MDF's move towards the left.

Viktor Orbán, during the French Prime Minister's visit to Budapest, told Lionel Jospin that EU membership would help Hungary overcome the historical catastrophes of the 20th century. Jospin was expected to hold extensive talks on EU enlargement with not only Orbán but also with the other Visegrád leaders, during his visit to Hungary. Concerned about a delay in the enlargement process, the Prime Minister asked Jospin that France, which takes over the EU presidency this summer, assist Hungary's accession. Jospin said that the EU would consider each country on their individual achievements, and not in groups.

At a millennium commemoration of the Gniezno congress in Poland, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that "Europe remains incomplete without Central Europe." As long as the EU will not accept these states as members, the continent will remain divided, Orbán said. He also warned that if the EU does not enlarge and recognise that Hungary now offers opportunities for the EU, not demands, other economies in the world would benefit from the EU's inaction. Orbán asked German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, also present in Gniezno, to tell Brussels to set a date before which there will be no accession.

After talks with Martonyi in Washington on Monday, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that "Hungary is a leading example of what is possible when a country once consigned to the far side of the Iron Curtain makes a successful transition to democracy." The Secretary of State also praised Hungary's integration into NATO, and pointed out that Hungary made a very important contribution to NATO in Kosovo. Albright stated, "A few short years ago, Hungary could be seen as a student in the school of democracy, today it has graduated with honors to become a valued partner of the United States and NATO and a source of security and economic stability throughout Central Europe." The Foreign Minister responded by saying, "Although we have graduated, we would like to start post-graduate studies [...] The learning process has not yet been completed."

Commenting on the National Missile Defence (NMD), which is straining relations between the US and Russia and also the US and the EU, Martonyi acknowledged US arguments and said that it was up to the US to decide whether to proceed or not. Martonyi did, however, add that it should be possible to develop the NMD without conflict with Russia. Martonyi said, "Confrontation does not help anyone [...] and it is in our basic interest in Central Europe that confrontation with Russia in the future can be avoided."

Martonyi ended his visit to Washington with an address in the Congress building. The meeting, also attended by Ambassador to the US Géza Jeszenszky, former US Ambassador to Hungary Mark Palmer and Congressman Istook, commemorated the tenth anniversary of Hungary's first freely elected government after Communism. Martonyi said that "NATO membership was a very important dream of the founders of the democratic Hungary and that Hungarian achievements would enable the country to join the EU soon, if there is political will for enlargement in Brussels." MPs in Hungary also commemorated the tenth anniversary of the first freely elected Parliament since the fall of Communism.

The 11 Central European presidents who met in Székesfehérvár presented a vision of a united Europe without violent conflict. Thomas Klestil of Austria said, "The last century was a terrible century, with devastation and millions of dead," and added, "I would like to confirm that Austria's European policy has not changed." Although most of the presidents are ceremonial heads of state, the conference allows for statements of shared values and common visions for the future.

The reintroduction of fish into the Tisza has started. On Tuesday, hydrobiologists resettled around 100,000 fish into the Tisza, some 30 km north of the Yugoslav border, in a bid to revive life in the river. Tuesday was also when the ban on resettlement of fish into the Tisza and Szamos was lifted, and it is now thought that the Tisza can support the reintroduction. Sándor Bognár of the local Fishermen's Union said, "There are signs of life in the river."

Individuals and communities along the Tisza have submitted a HUF (Hungarian Forints) one billion (USD 3.5 million) claim for damages to the Pan European Union of Jurists. The Pan European Union of Jurists says that these claims should be directed against the Aurul mining company responsible for the disaster, although it is questionable if the company can afford to pay for the damages. According to MTI, information is currently being collected for private lawsuits against Aurul. The Hungarian government will also launch legal proceedings, either criminal or civil, against the company, in either Hungary, Romania or Australia. A lawsuit will also be filed against the Romanian government.

Hungary's six trade union federations celebrated 1 May jointly, for the first time since the collapse of Communism. A letter by President Árpád Göncz was read out to people who had gathered in Budapest's City Park. Göncz wrote that he was "glad to see that the federations can put aside their controversies and harmonise their interest safeguarding work," but added, "Since the country's transition to democracy, the state does not care for trade unions, and it is less and less ready to negotiate with those who represent workers." The trade unions pointed out that no greetings had been sent by the government, and said it has "refused to continue a dialogue with the majority of society."

Ervin Demeter is Hungary's new Secret Services minister. Demeter, who will take over from László Kövér, was sworn in by Parliament on 2 May. Demeter has held the post of state secretary responsible for the Secret Services since the current coalition government came to power.

The National Association of Transylvanian Organisations in Hungary met on Friday and Saturday in Szekszárd to discuss the status of Hungarians beyond the borders. Senior members of the World Federation of Hungarians and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania were also expected to attend. The Association argues that alien citizenship would be the best status for Hungarians, giving them the same rights to travel as Hungarians living in Hungary, but not the right to vote. According to Pál Kövesdy, this could enable Hungarians to stay in their homeland and would also stop assimilation. This does, however, depend purely on political will in Hungary, Kövesdy said.

The Premiers of Hungary and Finland, Viktor Orbán and Paavo Lipponen, respectively, opened Nokia's new mobile phone factory in Komárom, the company's tenth, on Friday. Nokia Chairman Jorma Ollila said, "Nokia has always had well established historical ties with Hungary, which is amongst Nokia's key countries today. Thanks to the central geographic location, positive corporate environment and the availability of a well-educated workforce, we have been able to expand our activities here." The Komárom factory is called "The Factory of the Future."

The alternative band Anima Sound System has come to the media's attention with a cover version of the National Anthem, Himnusz. One individual, who complained that the band disgraced the nation, reported the group to Budapest Police. In March, Smallholder Katalin Liebmann also made a complaint, saying that the Himnusz can only be performed as Ferenc Erkel meant it to be performed. The National Copyright Office said that copyrights expire after 70 years. Erkel died in 1893.

Paul Nemes, 5 May 2000

Moving on:


Magyar Távirati Iroda
hvg online
Inside Hungary
Central Europe Online
The Budapest Sun


EU Focus:
Mel Huang
Between Helsinki and a Hard Place

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungary Playing Hard to Get

Brian J Požun
Slovenia's Cities

Jens Boysen
German Hegemony

Rafał Riedel
Poland on Course

Robin Sheeran
Slovak Catch-up

Catherine Lovatt
Romanian Road to Reform

Jan Čulík
Anarchists on Parade

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Censorship

Oliver Craske
Britain Looks East

Andrew James Horton
Director Aleksei Balabanov

Elke de Wit
Football Flick

Wojtek Kość
Polish Sensation

Culture Calendar:

Sam Vaknin
Balkan Terrorists

Mel Huang
PR and Extremism

Czech Republic