Vol 1, No 1, 28 June 1999

C S A R D A S:
An End to Violence?
Hungary, NATO and the Aftermath of the Kosovo Crisis

By Gusztav Kosztolanyi

It would be all too convenient for the Hungarians to lapse into the pessimism for which they are renowned when it comes to drawing up a balance of the country's losses and gains resulting from the Kosovo crisis. The losses are more tangible: effort (state of alert, making airport facilities available to the allies, stepping up a presence of guards along the frontier), loss of income from tourism, the lives of Hungarian soldiers put on the line in the peacekeeping actions, a strain on the military budget, as well as the stress and anxiety generated by the country's proximity to the theatre of war. The gains are abstract: enhanced prestige, basking in moral superiority, a sense of satisfaction that the country is no longer an outcast or pariah in the eyes of the Western family of nations (as increasing integration enhances the feeling that Hungary has at last been allowed fully back into the fold). In this context, assuming the role of the martyr for a just cause would be very easy.

Instead, the Hungarian government has shown prudence in resisting the temptation to go overboard on soliciting recompense for the country's compliance with NATO requests and the sacrifices it has made. Such moderation has not been characteristic of all parties across the political spectrum, with the Hungarian Justice and Life Party ad nauseam repeating its calls for a referendum in the Vojvodina to determine whether the frontiers should be redrawn.

18 June: The Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, reiterates the government's complete support for the autonomy plans of the Vojvodinian Hungarians at a press conference. Orban had received a delegation comprising Mr. Andras Agoston, President of the Vojvodinian Hungarian Democratic Party and Parliamentary Undersecretary Zsolt Nemeth. They were joined at the press conference by Vuk Obradovic, President of the Serb Social Democrat Party.

Nemeth set out the official Hungarian view: "The Hungarians of the Vojvodina aspire to personal autonomy, which would mean that they would elect their own leaders and would be in charge of education and the other areas of culture in the Vojvodina". He went on to stress that supporting the process of democratisation in Yugoslavia is in the interests of both Hungary and the UN. In order to allow the elections to take place unhampered, censorship in the Serb media must become a thing of the past".

Obradovic echoed these sentiments, emphasising the importance of help from neighbouring countries and the UN. He sketched out the consequences of the war: an economy on the brink of collapse, two million unemployed, increasing poverty, crime and corruption. His party demands Milosevic's removal from office and fresh elections. "There is no time to lose," he said, "75% of the population want change. The elections must be held this year". Once winter arrives, the impact of the war will be felt all the more keenly, a factor which Obradovic expects will reduce Milosevic's chances of victory at the hustings.

According to Agoston, the fact that a Hungarian and a Serb political leader were appearing together in public was extremely significant. In his opinion, it is important that the Hungarians of the Vojvodina be allowed to select their own leaders, as this would better enable them to find a Serb democratic party to co-operate with.

In an interview with Janos Szabo in Magyar Nemzet, the Minister of Defence, Frigyes Varju, discusses the role of the Hungarian KFOR contingent and the financial difficulties besetting the Ministry. Firstly, he sounded the Minister out on the subject of the costs incurred during the last few months:

"At dawn on 27 March, we issued orders putting our troops on standby and, although the army has had to perform an increased work load during the almost three months that have elapsed since then, there was no atmosphere of panic at any time. The Ministry of Defence has had to bear the brunt of the events of the last year or so since last summer one of our MIG-29 fighters, worth almost four billion forints, crashed in Kecskemet, then we had to deal with the natural disasters - the two floods and the snowfall - and then, here we are in the middle of the Kosovo crisis. The costs entailed by all of this have, virtually without exception, been a drain on our budget, which - in view of the limited room for manoeuvre available to us financially - represents a serious challenge for us. In the forthcoming six months, our participation in the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo will cost 4.5 billion forints, which is why I issued instructions that we should try - to the extent that it is possible for us to do so - to get through this mission as cheaply as we can. In other words, the 4.5 billion should not be regarded as a definitive figure, but as one which can be regarded as a considerable overestimate in practice".

On the subject of how independent the Hungarian soldiers are, as to whether the Hungarian Supreme Command could intervene to prevent them from being deployed should the situation turn nasty, the Minister refused to lapse into emotionalism:

"They are subject to the NATO Supreme Command in Kosovo, and will be responsible for securing and guarding it, but they might be charged with other tasks of a similar nature above and beyond that. If NATO wishes to utilise Hungarian soldiers for entirely different tasks, this would require a further decision to be taken at national level. We are entirely certain, however, that NATO Command would not at any stage in the future issue orders or instructions which had aims that did not meet with full agreement amongst the members of the alliance, including ourselves".

The most sensitive issue, that of potential Hungarian casualties, and the impact that deaths might have on public opinion, was then broached:

"It is not a good idea even to start thinking about such a possibility at this stage, but, unfortunately, we also have to include such a possibility in our calculations. When we began setting up the unit on the basis of volunteers coming forward, we had to bear in mind that accidents could happen at any time, even here at home, in the course of the training provided prior to departure for the peacekeeping mission. At the same time, however, I am an optimist as far as military risk is concerned. In Kosovo, the NATO forces taking part in the peacekeeping mission are of such size and so well prepared that the likelihood of armed clashes can be virtually discounted. These troops have to be in possession of such a degree of tolerance that they would rather avoid any clashes than allow even one human life to be lost".

Money makes the world go round, so it was back to the vexed question of the budget: what would be the Minister's response to the problems posed by the lack of resources available, since there is not enough hard cash to maintain the army's current technical level, let alone restructure it or improve its combat efficiency? Other Ministries, such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, are clamouring for a major increase in their budgets, so is the Ministry of Defence planning to follow suit?

"We could also say that the Ministry of Defence's budget should be doubled at the very least, but such a notion might trigger off a debate both at domestic and foreign policy levels. I would be satisfied even if we could get hold of the increase prescribed in the budget as a result of our membership of NATO, which totals 0.1% of GDP, year in year out, without anything being siphoned off elsewhere. This year we requested 174 billion forints from the central budget. We got 160 billion instead, 1.9% of which we had to place immediately in a reserve fund. Knowing this, we would need a budget of at least 220 billion forints next year in order to comply with NATO requirements".

Magyar Nemzet publishes the full text of a speech given by the Foreign Minister, Janos Martonyi, on 12 June in which he takes stock of the Yugoslav crisis and its implications for Hungary:

"It seems certain, and we all hope that a war, which we did not call a war, has now come to an end. Peculiarly, one side talks of victory, whilst the other side is far more cautious and restrained. The other side says no more than that it was a success. We succeeded in defending certain values and basic principles. We put a stop to the genocide, we put a stop to the deportations - let us not balk at using this word, that is what was going on. In recent times we have dubbed this same phenomenon ethnic cleansing, but it was without doubt deportation, and it affected almost one million people. We established the necessary preconditions for these people to be able to return to their homeland. We shall rebuild their houses, and we shall take these people back to the places they lived in up to now, and we shall prove to the world that we are able to do this.

This is the first war in perhaps all of human history that was about entirely new issues. Wars have been waged for love, at least that was what it was called, though it had more to do with jealousy, which is not always the same thing. War has been waged out of a lust for power, for purposes of increasing power, in order to modify frontiers, in order to lay hands on resources, markets and spheres of influence, but it had probably never yet been waged to defend fundamental human values. It had never been said that we would not stand for mass violation of human rights. I believe that a new world is now truly beginning, a new world that will be different from what we have had up to now. We have already said many times over that the main consequence of the action will be that anyone who in future feels that it is possible to perpetrate a mass violation of human rights, that minorities can be destroyed, that they can be driven away from their homelands perhaps by using a variety of different means, that a people can be attacked, that it is possible to launch an attack on a people or on individuals belonging to a given community simply on the pretext that they belong to that people or community, anyone, who might even conceive of undertaking such plans, will be forced to think twice about it. I believe that this is a particularly important matter for the Hungarian people and for Central Europe as a whole.

However, this alliance means that a new world, a new era has begun for NATO as well. This alliance came into being 50 years ago, its aim was to defend its members against the threat of Soviet imperialist power. It managed to carry out this function successfully without ever having to have recourse to arms. No direct, armed conflict ever took place, and this was, as a matter of fact, the alliance's greatest success. It has often been said that if this is a defensive alliance, how can it have proceeded to launch an attack now? It was the first instance in which action was called for, and in this first instance the alliance's territory was not subjected to attack, but it had to strike a blow against a country outside of its territory.

I continue to believe that in this instance too, the alliance fulfilled a defensive function. It was not defending its own territory, but it was defending precisely those values and principles that were mentioned earlier, values and principles which are at least as important, if not more important than the territory to be defended. The defence of these values also features in the alliance's founding document, since, form the very outset, NATO wished to defend freedom, democracy, human rights, and wanted to stand up against those responsible for violations of human rights. This is indeed what has happened now. As regards the intervention, its timing, its methods, its techniques, here we can certainly expect a lengthy debate for quite some time to come. It is, however, worthwhile to bear in mind that the process which had to be halted did not start off two or three months ago, nor did it even begin six months ago. Instead, its origins must be sought at least eight years ago. What we are dealing with here is a situation in which psychological and political influence had accumulated and it was this, ultimately, which led to the intervention. Sometime in 1987, a pernicious policy got underway, a policy which was shaped in the stupor of the concept of a homogenous nation state, the aim of which was to create a Greater Serbia. It led to an aggressive nationalism which caused a maximum of damage and a maximum of suffering over a maximum period for the country's own people and own nation. We can clearly see the result of all this. A great deal of time will pass before it will be possible at least to alleviate the consequences of this policy.

Having said this, I think that the most fundamental issue for the Hungarians and for Central Europe as a whole is what lessons can be learned from the events that have taken place.

The first point that we have to consider from our vantage point is that this country or its government was on the right side for a very considerable time, and then this happened. This is something that is and will continue to be of crucial significance for our entire way of thinking and for our future. It is precisely this knowledge that can help strengthen out sense of self: it can provide us with the self-awareness and self-image that we need in order to stimulate the moral, intellectual and political renewal, which is mentioned, for example, in the programme of the present government... We have spoken many times of moral renewal in the economy, in society, in culture, in education and in the health care sector, and it is precisely this renewal that is being discussed here. Now we have been given an opportunity to begin to believe in ourselves, to grasp fully that we too can be on the right side, that we can play an important role in defending these values, the values of the right side.

The second consequence is that we can distinguish clearly between productive and self-destructive national strategies. A decade ago, Hungary chose to follow the path of a productive national strategy, intimately linking its national policy from the very first moment onwards with Central European policy and Euro-Atlantic policy...

We have now been given the clearest possible proof of the fact that a national policy based on co-operation is a productive and sound policy for Central Europe, and that everything that runs counter to it - whether it involves confrontation, the revision of frontiers or the creation of homogenous nation states - is the policy of self-destruction. Anyone who wishes to implement such a policy anywhere in Central Europe or anywhere in Europe as a whole will have to contemplate the events of the last eight years and the events of the last three months".

Gusztav Kosztolanyi, 27 June 1999

EDITORS NOTE: Over the past months, Gusztav Kosztolanyi has written over 58,000 words examining the situation of Hungary throughout the Balkan crisis, including a mass of primary source material translated directly from the Hungarian media. This is part nine.

To see his earlier contributions, have a look at:






Baltic States
Czech Republic


Hungary Counts
the Costs of War

Schuster's Slovakia

The Great
Czech Malaise

The Rise of
Tartu, Estonia

NATO Will Crack
in Kosova

Serb Proposals for
Partitioning Kosova

Faults in the Balkan
Stability Pact

Hope for Russia's
Capital Markets


Central Europe

Lateral Thinking on
Central Europe


Book Shop


Crushed by Stalin

Music Shop


Central European
Culture in the UK


Festival Report:
Karlovy Vary

The Russian Soul:
Lutsik's Okraina


Transitions Online
Watch for their
relaunch on 19 July.


Copyright (c) 1999 - Central Europe Review and Internet servis, a.s.
All Rights Reserved