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Ministerial sackings and repercussions
The dismissal of Environment Minister Ferenc Ligetvári has triggered a number of resignations at the ministry. János Mujzer, chief director of the Environment Management Institute, György Tímár, chairman of the minister's Political Advisory Board and Katalin Fekete, the ministry's communication director, all resigned in protest. Ligetvári, who had pledged to root out corruption at the ministry, has been praised by environmental experts.
László Perneczky, head of the Regional Environmental Center's country office for Hungary, says he thinks the Smallholders Party (FKGP), who nominated Ligetvári to replace fellow Smallholder Pál Pepó, did not imagine that Ligetvári would be so eager to eliminate corruption, adding that he believes Smallholder President József Torgyán demanded that Ligetvári resign out of fear of finding yet more scandals linked to the FKGP. Perneczky said, "When the environment minister unveils that there are issues from the past, from his very own party leader, that's too much. I think that they expected him to be silent and do his job behind the curtains."
It is thought that Health Minister Árpád Gógl will also be forced to leave his post in early December. A ruling coalition MP named several "political and professional" blunders as the reason behind the impending dismissal, saying, "The major coalition party realised that healthcare workers and people are dissatisfied with healthcare to such an extent that keeping Gógl in his place could hurt FIDESZ´s chances at the elections."
And to wrap up the dismissals—after the Tuesday sacking of Toso Doncsev, head of the office for National and Ethnic Minorities, Justice Minister Ibolya Dávid rejected claims that there were political reasons behind the dismissal. Doncsev has earlier said that he had disagreements with Justice Ministry State Secretary Csaba Hende, but Dávid said the reasons behind the sacking were purely professional. According to Dávid, Toncsev just did not do his job well enough.
CEFTA meeting in Warsaw
Speaking in Warsaw on 15 November, Prime Minister Orbán said that the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) "offers more opportunities than those we have been able to exploit to date; however, changes will be needed to this end."
Orbán, who remarked that CEFTA had reached the limit of its capabilities as it currently stands, pointed to agricultural trade and the manner in which debates are settled as being unquestionably in need of change.
Orbán made it clear that he disapproves of the agricultural protective measures that the Hungarian side believes should be abolished. The prime minister questioned the role performed by CEFTA in its current form by pointing to trade in some agricultural products, saying that Hungary gets a better deal with some European Union countries than with CEFTA countries.
Orbán did, however, applaud a proposal for some CEFTA states, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, to hold talks on the further liberalisation of trade in agricultural produce.
FM in Belgrade and Vojvodina
Foreign Minister János Martonyi last week opened a joint meeting of the Southeast European Stability Pact and the Szeged Process in Belgrade together with Yugoslav President Vojislav Koštunica and Stability Pact Coordinator Dobo Hombach. After talks with the Yugoslav president, Martonyi said that he felt Koštunica had a real commitment to improve bilateral relations, and confirmed that Koštunica would be coming to Budapest within a couple of weeks.
On Vojvodina, Maronyi said that Belgrade understands the situation and that there is a greater willingness than ever to listen to the demands of the Hungarian population. He did, however, add that it was up to the Vojvodina Hungarians to discuss the solutions in detail with the Yugoslav leadership.
After a meeting with József Kasza, Alliance of Hungarians in Vojvodina (VMSZ) leader and Subotica (Szabadka) mayor, Foreign Minister Martonyi expressed his hope that real talks between the Hungarians in the province and Yugoslav leaders may begin soon in order to improve the life and legal status of the Hungarians. Martonyi also paid tribute to Kasza and other Hungarian leaders for their unwavering support of democratic forces in Yugoslavia.
Meanwhile, Free Democrat MP István Szent-Iványi, speaking in Szeged on Wednesday, said that Hungary should let the Yugoslav leadership know that it is expecting "genuine actions" to re-establish the rights of Hungarians in Vojvodina.
Németh meets Hungarian leaders in Slovakia
In line with Martonyi's comments, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Németh said, during a visit to Slovakia, that the Hungarian government's approach is that the policies of the organisations of Hungarians beyond the borders should be accepted and supported. Németh stressed that this posed no problems with regard to the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (MKP).
Unlike in Transylvania, where the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) are demanding a Hungarian university, he said, the Government would support the MKP's aim to establish an independent Hungarian faculty at Nitra (Nyitra) University instead of a Hungarian university, as this has been agreed between the MKP and its coalition partners in the Slovak government.
Németh also met with Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan and his Slovak counterpart, Jaroslav Chlebo. At a joint press conference on 14 November, the two state secretaries stressed the positive improvements in Slovak domestic policies and the sound developments in relations between the two states. According to Németh, a revision of the Basic Treaty is not under discussion, but he said that everyone is aware of its flaws, which he promised would be corrected.
And in other news...
- The current Socialist Party (MSZP) chairman, László Kovács, is the only remaining candidate for the post of chairman to be chosen at the MSZP congress in late November. Katalin Szili, who had been nominated for president, vice president and board president, said on 13 November that she would only accept the nomination for vice president. In this post she can best serve party unity, she said.
- Ferenc Mádl last week visited Vienna to hold talks with his Austrian counterpart, Thomas Klestil. The two presidents, who mainly discussed the EU, Hungary's accession and the Balkans, said there were "no open questions in bilateral relations." Klestil said Austria would be ready to welcome new members to the EU in 2002 or 2003.
- The foreign ministers of the Luxembourg Six—Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia—meeting in Budapest last week agreed that the most advanced countries should be given the opportunity to join the EU in early 2003. Foreign Minister Martonyi declared that there is no rivalry among the Six, only "healthy competition for the earliest possible EU accession."
- The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania were last week campaigning in the Székelyföld, visiting 25 settlements in four days. According to RMDSZ leader Béla Markó, the Hungarians of Transylvania, during the last ten years, have found their past, traditions and dignity, Magyar Nemzet reported. The big task for the next ten years, he said, would be for the Hungarians and the RMDSZ to regain their future and a belief in staying in the homeland.
- Hungary will make it blatantly clear to the EU that the country wishes to become a member state as soon as possible by sending a giant letter to European Commission President Romano Prodi. The eight-by-four metre letter which, if posted, would require a rather large stamp, will be delivered with a special truck.
Paul Nemes, 17 November 2000
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Today's updated headlines from Hungary