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Vol 2, No 21
29 May 2000
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Hungary newsNews from Hungary
All the important news
since 20 May 2000

Paul Nemes

The World Federation of Hungarians (MVSZ), holding its fifth congress in Budapest last week, elected Miklós Patrubány as president on Friday afternoon. Patrubány was elected in the fourth round of voting with a simple majority of votes - 146 for Patrubány against 139 for Péter Boross. Patrubány, an electronics engineer from Cluj (Kolozsvár), was one of the founders of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) before being elected chairman of the MVSZ Transylvania branch in 1994 and has served as MVSZ vice-president for the past four years.

In an interview on Duna TV on Friday, Patrubány said he would like to have only an individual membership - which would meet resistance from local organisations - with a USD one annual membership fee in order to make the Federation economically independent. Answering a question on how he would solve the problem of divisions within the organisation, Patrubány said that in a world of globalisation, globalisation should be more apparent in the MVSZ than in other organisations just because the Federation is a truly globalised organisation. Asked whether he thought Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was referring to closer co-operation with Péter Boross as MVSZ president when he said that he would like to see closer cooperation between the MVSZ and the government, Patrubány said he thought the Prime Minister meant closer co-operation with whoever was elected president.

The MVSZ also elected three regional presidents, during the delegates' meeting on Thursday. István Szijártó was chosen by representatives from Hungary, Imre Borbély was elected by delegates living outside Hungary in the Carpathian Basin and the Hungarian diaspora in the West chose Tibor Leh. Szijártó said that the slogan "each Hungarian is responsible for each Hungarian" would accurately describe his work, pointing out that he would "spare no effort so that those living in Hungary should be fully aware of all the pleasures and pains of the detached parts of the nation." Some of the representatives of the Hungarians beyond the borders said they were glad that the issue of granting citizenship to Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin, promoted by Transylvanian Hungarians first and foremost, seems to be nearly resolved. President for Hungarians in the West, Tibor Leh, said he would focus on preserving the national identity of Hungarians living in the West and promoting Hungary in the world.

Outgoing MVSZ President Sándor Csoóri said on 25 May that the Federation is repeating Hungarian history, "We are aware of our tragedies and great moments, and also know what to do but not how to do it, and not even our best intentions reflect our preparedness." Transylvanian delegates complained about allegations made by Hungarians from other states in the Carpathian basin that the "Transylvanian steamroller" dominates the MVSZ. Meanwhile, László Tőkés, MVSZ honorary president and Bishop of Bucea (Királyhágó), said autonomy should remain a priority and pointed out that every effort should be made to prevent what he called "bloodless genocide" against the Csángó Hungarians in Moldavia. Tőkés also made a point that Hungarians should commemorate Trianon, the peace treaty by which Hungary lost over 70 per cent of its territory, saying, "It is a shame that we still can't be open about that event." The MVSZ congress has decided, after a proposal by Imre Borbély, to recommend to the Hungarian government and regional MVSZ organisations that they study the Trianon treaty and make their own recommendations. Tőkés also once again stressed the importance of opening a Hungarian university in Transylvania.

President Árpád Göncz, speaking at a session of Parliament's EU-Hungary Accession Committee last week, said "We cannot satisfy EU requirements from one day to the next in the areas of infrastructure and the environment, so the EU really should consider the individual situations of the candidate countries." He also expressed hope that Hungary's neighbours would be able to make progress towards European integration, saying, "Hungary does not want to become a Europe outpost, but wishes to be a bridge towards Southeast Europe and the East in general." Claude Desame, chairing the meeting together with József Szájer (FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party), said after the meeting that it was important that the EU does not disappoint Hungary, but should set a date for accession of the front-runners. Desama said, "The EU's December summit in Nice should be able to set up the timetable for negotiations and deadlines." Viktor Orbán said after the two-day session that EU talks with Hungary must be "more detailed" regarding accession.

The European Commission estimates that economic growth in Hungary can reach as much as 5.1 per cent next year. Growth over the next two years is predicted to reach 4.5 per cent. Both numbers are considerably higher than the 3.7 per cent average for the ten EU candidates. The EC believes that inflation in Hungary will fall to seven to nine per cent, in contrast to the government's goal of six to seven per cent.

Hungary and Poland have resolved the trade dispute which was ongoing for two years. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gábor Horváth said that the outcome of talks held on 20 May, with the goal of settling the tariff debate on agricultural produce, was confirmed in writing by Poland on 24 May. Preferential custom products have been determined until the end of the year.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said that he fully supports Finance Minister Zsigmond Járai's criticism of the National Bank of Hungary (MNB) for mismanagement of CW Bank of Austria, although Orbán did say that the criticism was a different issue from MNB President György Surányi resigning. Orbán told MTI that he was content with the MNB's monetary policy. The government will, however, penalise Surányi and the MNB vice-president for the CW Bank's losses by cutting their bonuses by around 50 per cent.

Viktor Orbán met President Suleyman Demirel in Ankara on 25 May. The Prime Minister told the Turkish Parliament that he was grateful on behalf of Hungarian citizens that Turkey supported Hungary's NATO membership. After meeting the Turkish president, Orbán told reporters that Hungary supports the EU's policy towards Turkey in seeking closer co-operation. Orbán also held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit and said after the meeting that they both expect a significant upsurge in joint Hungarian-Turkish ventures.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister met in private with German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. There were no press releases from the Berlin meeting, but German observers say that the two discussed EU sanctions against Austria and the political situation in Austria, while Orbán updated Germany's chancellor on the political situation in Hungary and urged Schröder to speed up enlargement.

Croatian Premier Ivica Račan visited Prime Minister Orbán in Budapest last week to discuss national minorities, the harbour at Rijeka (Fiume) and travel between the two countries. Račan had earlier told Magyar Nemzet that Hungarian and Croatian citizens would need only identity cards for travel between the Hungary and Croatia from 1 July at the latest.

János Martonyi told the NATO meeting of foreign ministers that the international community should "provide coordinated and concrete support for the existing other, democratic Serbia." Furthermore, political support should be assisted with financial backing for the democratic opposition and the independent media. On the situation in Vojvodina, Martonyi pointed out that the first attacks on the independent media took place there, and said that the international community should not only focus on current problems but also prevent the development of a new crisis.

Delegations of Hungary and Romania met in Bucharest last week to discuss a disaster prevention agreement. The meeting is the second round of talks, the first meeting being held in Budapest in March last year. The recent environmental catastrophes originating in Romania have, of course, made such an agreement all the more urgent. The Hungarian delegation included representatives of the Interior Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, the Border Guards and the Customs and Excise Office.

Deputy spokesman of National Disaster Prevention Directorate József Schieber told Népszava that this year's floods, the largest of the century, caused damage to or destroyed 15,731 buildings in 819 communities in 13 counties. The bill for immediate damages totalled HUF 5.8 billion (USD 20.7 million), while the total cost of flood damages and reconstruction is expected to reach HUF 8.5 billion (USD 30.4 million).

On Wednesday, two teenagers admitted to the murder of an 11-year old girl in Budapest a few weeks ago. Franciska Kocsis was beaten to death by a 12-year old boy and a 14-year old girl who attended the same school as the murdered girl. The motive was said to be "punishment" for past pranks and for not taking dance lessons seriously enough. Police Lieutenant Vilmos Sulányi said the two teenagers had been arrested and would be sent to a re-education centre.

Five US servicemen stationed in Bosnia were stabbed in a disco near Lake Balaton in the early hours of last Sunday. None of the soldiers' wounds are life-threatening. Hungarian police is investigating the incident in co-operation with the US Army. As of last week, the attackers were unknown.

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Around 5000 people gathered outside Parliament on 24 May to demonstrate against poverty and the gulf between rich and poor in a protest organised by 50 civic organisations. The protestors urged the government to take steps to increase wages and social benefits and provide cheap housing. Others said the demonstration was not directed against the government but "against a system that deprived millions of people of a chance for a better life." Aladár Horváth of the Roma Civil Rights Fund pointed out that the Roma community is living in particularly bad conditions. The Prime Minister's Office accepted a petition presented by the demonstrators.

Representatives of 19 cities met for the third regional conference of the Organisation of World Heritage Cities, which currently has 166 members, in Budapest on Wednesday last week. The conference dealt largely with Central and East European concerns. Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky said that the City has provided HUF 600 million for restoration projects since 1994, with this year's heritage programme budget totalling HUF 156 million. Meanwhile, the UNESCO World Heritage Programme has presented USD 50,000 aid to world heritage site Hortobágy National Park. The funds will be used to prevent pollution like the recent cyanide spill in Romania, which harmed wildlife in the park.

Lastly, in the wake of the birth of the Blairs' son, it has become known that Prime Minister Orbán's wife, Anikó Lévai, is also expecting baby. Mrs Orbán is four months pregnant and this will be the couple's fourth child.

Paul Nemes, 26 May 2000

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