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Vol 3, No 11
19 March 2001
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News from Hungary News from Hungary
All the important news
since 10 March 2001

Paul Nemes


The nation marks 15 March

On 15 March, Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin, as well as worldwide, celebrated the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution and War of Liberation of 1848 and 1849. In Budapest, Sándor Petőfi's reading of the National Ode was restaged on the steps of the National Museum while leaders of political parties held speeches all over the city.

Speaking outside the Museum, Minister of Education Zoltán Pokorni told the cockade-wearing crowd that Hungary now had the best chance in perhaps 1000 years of doing well, adding that the 1848 message of peace, freedom and understanding should be a motto also for coming generations.

View today's updated headlines from Hungary

Budapest Mayor Gábor Demszky, speaking at the Petőfi statue in central Pest, said that Hungarians of all political convictions again should join forces in the name of liberty.

Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIÉP) leader István Csurka, whose party again had taken over Hősök tere, criticised globalisation and demanded the protection of Hungarian land.

At the Hungarian Democratic Forum evening get-together outside the Mátyás Church, Chairwoman Ibolya Dávid also spoke of unity, saying, "To me, the message of the 1848 revolution is in its power to unite the various strata of society in the service of a shared objective."

At a ceremony in Transylvania's Tîrgu Secuiesc (Kézdivásárhely), live on Duna TV, Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) President Béla Markó again emphasised the importance of Hungarians beyond the borders remaining in their homeland. Markó said, "Hungarians in Transylvania should again be enabled to find their well-being in order to prevent them being at the mercy of others in their own homeland."

At the same ceremony, Minister of Economics György Matolcsy read out a message from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Hungarians in neighbouring states: "I have the opportunity to convey the good news to the nation that our wounds are on the way to healing. The parts of the nation that lost each other will soon be united within a European-wide homeland, and, with God's help, we can face the new millennium with head erect, a clean record and open souls."

Like in many places, Bratislava's Petőfi statue, which has been vandalised several times, provided a gathering point for rejoicing Hungarians.

In Subcarpathia, Hungarians celebrated 15 March despite the severe floods which have forced many to leave their homes. However, Duna TV, covering events across the Carpathian Basin, did not get permission from Ukrainian authorities to enter Subcarpathia.


Villagers return after floods

After the Tisza receded early in the week, it was reported on Wednesday that the flooding continued along the middle stretches of the river. Water levels were still rising at Szolnok, where the peak is expected on 20 or 21 March.

At least the receding floods upstream made it possible for some people to return home. On Monday, it was reported that villagers in the Upper Tisza region began returning to their homes as the flood was moving south. Sanitation teams moved in to clean up the villages as there were worries about the risks of infection and epidemics.

By the end of the week, MTI reported that Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County Disaster Management so far estimated the damage caused by floods at around HUF 800 million (USD 2.7 million).

Earlier in the week, Minister of Transport and Water Management János Fónagy had said that HUF 12 billion (USD 40.4 million) had been allocated to build or reinforce around 100 km of dykes in 2001 and 2002.


New agriculture minister, at last

On 12 March, Prime Minister Orbán named András Vonza permanent successor to Smallholder (FKGP) President József Torgyán to head the Ministry of Agriculture and Regional Development. Vonza, the head of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County Veterinary Office, was one of six persons recommended by Torgyán. Vonza is not an FKGP parliamentary faction member, but happens to be Head Veterinarian of Torgyán's constituency.

The Prime Minister said after the appointment that he hopes Vonza will not add more fuel to the FKGP fire, at least not in public. Partly behind the appointment was that Vonza was not a member of the FKGP parliamentary caucus, the Premier said, adding that, of the six on Torgyán's list, Vonza was not one of the people closest to the Smallholder president.

The parliamentary Agriculture Committee on Tuesday formally approved the appointment. Vonza told the Committee that he had little information about the agriculture sector, but that he would do his best to give help to where it is most needed. Regarding the investigation into the Ministry, he said this would continue, although he would not favour inquiries "which hurt."

At the Committee meeting, Socialist, Free Democrat—who voted against Vonza's appointment—and Hungarian Democratic Forum MPs said they were unhappy with the fact that Vonza could only answer questions about his professional past and the veterinary profession.

Meanwhile, the former minister of agriculture, Torgyán—not even a week since he was greeted with eggs in Debrecen—was again waited by an angry crowd as he arrived for a Smallholder meeting in Békéscsaba on Friday.


János Esterházy remembered

In a week of remembrance, Parliament on Sunday 11 March held a memorial session to commemorate the birth of János Esterházy 100 years ago. Magyar Nemzet writes that President Ferenc Mádl, addressing the session, recollected Esterházy's acceptance of his minority fate when he, after the break-up of the Monarchy, remained in his birthplace, the Uplands (today's Slovakia), and stood up for minority rights.

Mádl went on to say that Esterházy was the only MP of the Slovak Parliament who, in 1942, refused to accept the bill on deportation of Jews.

János Esterházy's MP's immunity was removed in 1944 when he was charged with slandering the state and imprisoned for life. He died in prison in 1957.

Pál Csáky, deputy prime minister of Slovakia and deputy chairman of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (MKP) stated, "He was a man whose greatest crime was that he became the determining figure and symbol of the Hungarian community living in the then Czechoslovakia."

Also visiting Hungary, József Halzl, president of the Rákóczi Federation, said he would recommend that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán begin a political rehabilitation of Esterházy.


Hungarian Press Day

At yet another ceremony, on Monday, the Hungarian Journalists' Unions' day, President Ferenc Mádl told those attending that the press in Hungary today is free and people can freely choose between the different media. He did, however, warn that commercialisation could lead to sensationalism.

The Pál Vasvári award, given to newspapers that have shown good co-operation between leadership and staff, was presented to Déli Hírlap and Népújság.


And in other news...

  • Hungary, which has no case of foot and mouth disease, has called bans on Hungarian imports by Croatia, Slovenia and Italy unjustified and an overreaction. Deputy State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry Péter Balás said Hungary would call on the World Trade Organization to try to persuade the states concerned to reconsider.
  • As French authorities last week granted two Zámoly Roma refugee status, the Hungarian government criticised the decision. Government spokesman Gábor Borókai on Tuesday called the decision "unfair, shameful and ungrounded" and that it was dangerous, as it could "strengthen anti-gypsy feelings in the country." Magda Kovács (Socialist Party) said, "It is sad that it took this decision to make politicians realise that there is an exodus of gypsies." Viktor Orbán later defended the country, saying, "Hungary has no reason to be ashamed. Hungary compares well with any other western European state concerning the situation of human rights," and he added, "In Hungary, we have not seen what quite a few European Union member states have had: that people have lost their lives in ethnic clashes."
  • After Australian gold mining company Esmeralda said it cannot pay the USD 100 million demanded by the Hungarian government as damage for the cyanide leak at Baia Mare (Nagybánya) last year, Hungary threatened to sue Aurul—run jointly by Esmeralda and the Romanian state—if the company fails to pay within 15 days.
  • To return to where we have begun—the young poet who takes centre stage on 15 March. It has been widely believed that Petőfi fell before a Cossack lancer at the Battle of Segesvár (now Sigişoara, Romania), but after a skeleton was found in Siberia, it looks as if the Petőfi family grave may be reopened in order to make a DNA comparison possible.

Paul Nemes, 16 March 2001

Moving on:


Magyar Távirati Iroda
hvg online
Inside Hungary
Central Europe Online

Today's updated headlines from Hungary

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Read CER's review of
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