Romanian President Ion Iliescu branded the bill "discriminatory," saying that by giving Hungarians, mainly in Transylvania, a special status, the law would discriminate against Romanians. He is also reported to have said that "one day we will wake up and ... seven million Hungarians live in Romania." Foreign Minister Mircea Geoană meant Romania should have its say, stating "Hungary's Parliament can discuss what laws it wants, but it is normal when it involves citizens of another country ... that we should have our say."
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Németh responded by saying that "preference does not mean discrimination," but acknowledged that "the political aspect is a problem" and that "the question is how neighbouring countries will digest it." He added that Hungary would be ready to consult with neighbouring states and that "good neighbourly relations" would be the answer.
Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, visiting Budapest last week, said that if Hungary grants special status to Hungarians in bordering states, this could "spoil the atmosphere" and "worsen the atmosphere in neighbouring countries or between Hungary and its neighbours." He said Slovakia would study proposals and expressed hope of consultation with Hungary. Slovakia already has a similar law for Slovak minorities abroad.
Responding to Dzurinda's expressed concerns, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán rejected suggestions that the law would worsen relations with neighbouring states, saying instead that "it will contribute to stability in the region."
Tibor Szabó, head of the Government Office for Hungarian Minorities Abroad, recalled that both Romania and Slovakia had signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, to which the bill conforms. He also said that, in compliance with the Framework, support for minorities "cannot be considered discrimination." Szabó further recollected that the EU and the neighbouring states had been informed about the contents of the law, and that no one had voiced any complaints at the time. Magyar Nemzet reported that József Szájer, FIDESZ fraction leader, on Thursday visited the Slovak capital to reassure Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jan Figel that any Slovak fears were unfounded.
Ukraine's ambassador to Budapest, Orest Klympush, meanwhile, said that Ukraine would not take a stance on the Status Law until it passed by the Hungarian Parliament, adding, "I think Hungary's MPs will be sensitive to the concerns voiced by neighbouring countries."
The EU seems much less concerned than Hungary's neighbouring governments. The proposed law was described by one official as "commendably modest" compared to earlier drafts.
As for Hungarian reactions to the law, on Tuesday, Zsolt Németh said after visiting southeast Slovakia to inform local Hungarians about the law that the response was "extremely favourable."
In Vojvodina, Hungarians also welcomed the scheme. József Kasza, chairman of the Alliance of Hungarians in Vojvodina (VMSZ) and deputy prime minister of Serbia said, "This is a very positive bid, the first of its kind since 1920 when Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory."
Győri Keksz not to close after all
Economics Ministry State Secretary Béla Gattfelder said on 26 April that the Danone biscuit plant in Győr, as well as the one in Székesfehérvár, would remain open. Gattfelder said he was glad Danone saw that this not only was a question of one plant's closing, but that it also was a symbol for Győr and the country.
After pressure from the Hungarian government, and a boycot of Danone products, Minister of Economics György Matolcsy, who headed the Government's representation at the talks, came to an agreement with Danone.
Now, Danone has promised to not only keep traditional products but also expand its production. However, there was no written agreement between the French company and the Government. Instead, Gattfelder said "Danone should clarify employment issues with the factory council of the Győr plant."
A communique released by Danone on the talks read, "We agreed with the Hungarian minister that we shall widely consider all options at hand to increase the industrial efficiency of our Hungarian plants, with utmost regard to the interests of workers."
MSZP press for referendum
The Socialist Party (MSZP) will propose a referendum on four questions before the next elections. The questions the MSZP have in mind are: whether the Labour Code should include two days off each week, whether pensions should be calculated on the basis of a pensioners' consumer basket and not on earnings, whether conscription should be replaced by a professional army and whether public education should make it possible for all students to pass free intermediate state language exam before finishing secondary school.
Government spokesman Gábor Borókai responded by saying that the Government welcomed the fact that the MSZP is "encouraging the country's population to accept and implement government programmes by calling for a referendum on them."
Prime Minister Orbán also responded on Hungarian radio last week, saying that the amendments to the Labour Code would not affect the 40-hour working week, and said that measures to calculate pensions based on a consumer basket would be introduced in January 2002. As for the free exams, the Prime Minister said plans were in place to introduce a free language exam by 2005. Regarding military service, Orbán recalled that Parliament already had voted in favour of a professional army.
Meanwhile, Magyar Nemzet reported last week that the MSZP and Romania's governing party, the Party for Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), were about to sign a cooperation agreement. According to the paper, in return for helping the PDSR become a member of the Socialist International, the Romanian party would provide the MSZP with "ammunition" against FIDESZ, should Budapest ask for consultation regarding the Status Law.
The paper went on to say that Romanian government, the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) elite and the Hungarian opposition would benefit while the Hungarian governing party and the Hungarian population (in Romania) would suffer if the deal goes through.
The MSZP later said it would not sign any agreement that makes the situation of Hungarians in Romania impossible or works against the Status Law.
And in other news...
- Environment Minister Béla Turi-Kovács on Sunday last week urged Smallholder (FKGP) President József Torgyán to retire, saying that by doing so he would "render the greatest service to the government coalition, the FKGP and the nation." Meanwhile, an article in the FKGP weekly Kis újság published on 26 April said FIDESZ "has decided to annihilate the FKGP, just as it did with the Christian Democratic People's Party prior to the 1998 elections." It is thought the article was written by Torgyán.
- In other news concerning the Smallholders, the party's disciplinary committee expelled five party members on 25 April.
- The Council of Europe's Cultural Committee last week adopted a report on the protection of the Csángó, a Hungarian Catholic community who in the 15th century left Transylvania to settle in Moldavia. Corneliu Vadim Tudor of the Greater Romania Party argued fervently against the report, saying that the Csángó do not exist, and even if they do, they are not Hungarian.
- László Dancs, the mayor of Gyula who had invited Cluj (Kolozsvár) Mayor Gheorghe Funar to the town has had to renege after outcries in the town council, which refused to spend taxpayers' money on such a visit. Funar, a staunch anti-Hungarian, had been invited to witness how Gyula helps its Romanian minority population.
Paul Nemes, 27 April 2001
Magyar Távirati Iroda
Central Europe Online
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