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Vol 2, No 29
4 September 2000
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News from Hungary
All the important news
since 26 August 2000

Paul Nemes

Paying for the cyanide leak

The Australian company Esmeralda, owner of 50 per cent of the Romanian company responsible for the cyanide leak which caused a disaster in the Tisza and Szamos rivers earlier this year, has denied a Népszabadság report saying that the company is negotiating for an extra-judicial settlement.

Emeralda, which has entered into administration, says it cannot be held responsible for the disaster as the company merely held shares in Aurul. Hall Chadwick, the attorney representing Esmeralda in Hungary, commented, "since when is a shareholder held liable."

Government-appointed Commissioner János Gönczy said Hungary would study an offer made by Esmeralda, but added that the company would have to re-pay HUF 29.3 billion (USD 100 million), provide assurances that there will be no repeat of the disaster as well as upgrading the Aurul plant.

Resignations galore

On Wednesday 30 August, Judit Juhász and Miklós Papp, deputy chairpersons of Hungarian Radio, resigned from their posts. Both have criticised the media law, which has made it more difficult to obtain funding. After resigning, Juhász said that she had asked Kossuth Radio's editor-in-chief, Katalin Kondor, not to extend the contract of Pál Lakatos, editor-in-chief of Vasárnapi Újság, but was ignored. Juhász also criticised Kondor for not consulting her before making a new managerial appointment and resigned, she said, in order not to deepen tension among staff.

Moving on to another resignation, Tamás Wachsler, Defence Ministry State Secretary, has left his post. Smallholder (FKGP) Chairman József Torgyán confirmed the resignation, but did not comment on the reason behind it. Zsolt Lányi, FKGP MP and chairman of the Defence Committee, said that relations between Waschler and Defence Minister János Szabó had recently worsened. The FKGP has the right to put forward a candidate for the post of state secretary.

In other news concerning the Defence Ministry, a US Department of Defence delegation was in Budapest on Tuesday to offer Hungary F-16 fighters. The offer rivals a bid by German firm DASA to make Hungary's MIG-29s NATO compatible. The US delegation is believed to have put forward several options, which would make it possible for Hungary to either buy or lease 12 or 24 F-16s. Chief of Staff Lajos Fodor said all offers would be listened to before a decision is reached in September.

Roma discrimination in schoolbooks

The Ministry of Education is contemplating withdrawing a school textbook which accuses the Roma of having spied for the Turks during Ottoman rule. The book, which was published two years ago for 10 to 12 year-old pupils, also says that "the life of Romany is marked by crime" and "the majority of Roma were unable and did not want to adapt to a civilised European way of life." Lajos Aáry-Tamás, of the Ministry of Education, said that the book might be scrapped from the official list if Roma organisations and other experts find it discriminatory.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian Roma Party has requested that the Constitutional Court review a law which authorises local officials to evict squatters within three days.

Markó on citizenship and special status

Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) Chairman Béla Markó last week expressed his view that the special status law for Hungarians beyond the borders should be treated separately from the question of Hungarian citizenship for Hungarians in neighbouring counties.

According to the Tîrgu Mureş (Marosvásárhely) paper Népújság, Markó said that the status law should be passed without further delay as there is general consensus on the matter. Additional proposals should not, he says, be submitted as dual citizenship needs to be discussed further and could endanger the law altogether.

Mádl is sworn in

Ferenc Mádl was ceremoniously sworn in as Hungary's new president outside parliament on 4 August. Máld, who was only elected by Parliament after a third ballot, takes over from Árpád Göncz. Máld, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, promised to use his role as president to bring unity to the political scene in order to conclude European Union accession talks in a successful manner.

A POW returns home

What is thought to be Hungary's, and probably the world's, last Prisoner of War returned home a few weeks ago. András Tamás, who was "discovered" in a Russian mental institution, is believed to have taken part in the Second World War battle of the River Don, where the entire Hungarian Second Army was lost. After having been captured by the Soviet Army, Tamás was held in a POW camp until 1945 and then transferred to a psychiatric institution in Kotelnich, where he was interned for 53 years.

Not knowing any Russian, and not having had anyone to communicate with in Hungarian for over 50 years, the modern world is unfamiliar to Tamás. Despite more than half a century of complete linguistic isolation, Tamás' condition was said to be improving steadily. Registry books from Túrószentmárton (now Martin, in Slovakia), the village Tamás most likely comes from, have not provided any clues about his family. However, since his return to Hungary, the former POW has been overwhelmed by people claiming to be his relatives.

Mixed and missed nuts

The first slightly odd story, which appeared during the CER break, comes from Budapest, where police reportedly demanded permission to recruit cats. After all else appears to have failed in an attempt to eliminate the problem with mice at Gyorskocsi utca station, police officers pleaded with Headquarters to send back-up in the form of cats. However, Budapest police, who can hardly afford fuel for its cars, were not too keen on the extra expenses cat food would bring.

Moving on to another summer story. On an August summer evening, the open-air theatre on Margit-sziget (Margaret Island) in Budapest was the scene of a scandal as a rock concert disrupted the millennium performance of Bánk Bán. The Bánk Bán organiser, Gábor Koltai, whose negotiations with the organisers of the rock concert proved fruitless, finally walked over to the rock concert when the millennium performance was about to start, in a last-ditch attempt to persuade them to finish the concert early.

After having been challenged to go up on the stage himself to tell the around 300 persons in the audience to go home, Koltai was bounced by the bouncers and had to return to his own performance. There, the audince chose to endure the noise. Koltai says that only the endurance of the 3000 in the audience and the performers themselves saved the day. He does however question whether it was wise to grant a permit for a rock concert in such close proximity to where an opera was being performed, and has vowed to take his complaints to Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky.

More music. In July, 78-year-old pop star Benedek Uhrin gave a solo performance to introduce his soon to be released album. Uhrin writes his own lyrics and music, but critics say there is a "problem" with his knowledge of music and that his songs are "strange." Others, however, seem to think otherwise. Followers of the old "popsztár" have already a set up a fan club.

MOL (Hungarian Oil and Gas Company) last week told residents of Pusztaszőlős not to worry about a 50-meter high gas blaze in the nearby natural gas well. The fire itself was turning into a popular tourist site. Pál Csongrádi, chief of the Orosháza fire department, said, "The inferno has become a kind of tourist attraction and everyone wants a closer look." Villagers suffering from the heat and noise generated by the blaze did not seem quite as keen to have a closer look.

Paul Nemes, 1 September 2000

Moving on:


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


Charles Ingrao
Handling Milošević

Jens Boysen
Germany's Radical Right

Brian J Požun
Slovenian Political Heat

Wojtek Kość
Polish Presidential Election

Mel Huang
Estonian Military Confusion

Delia Dumitrica
Romanian Return to the Old Days?

Jan Čulík
Czech Media Privitisation

Sam Vaknin
Feudalism and Communism

Pál Závada,
the best-selling Hungarian author

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungarian Corruption

Andrew James Horton
Yugoslav Film

Delia Dumitrica
Hungarians in Romania

Andrew Stroehlein
Czechs and Germans

Sam Vaknin
Post-Communist Disappointment

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