Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 16
11 October 1999

Hungarian News Round-up C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Hungarian News Round-up
News from Hungary since 4 October 1999

Paul Nemes

The Mayor of Budapest, Free Democrat (SZDSZ) Gabor Demszky, is to take legal action against Istvan Csurka, leader of the Hungarian Life and Justice Party (MIEP). Csurka had earlier accused Demszky of having been an informer for the secret police during the communist regime, accusations which Demszky denied. National Council Chairman Balint Magyar, also of the SZDSZ, said, "the affair is not simply about Csurka" because FIDESZ (Hungarian Civic Party) "gets MIEP to do their dirty work." Demszky admits that he had been to the secret police headquarters, but only to find out why he could not find a job. He refused to give information about a Hungarian Maoist group.

The granddaughter of Baron Herzog has filed a lawsuit for the return of the Herzog family's art collection which was looted by Germans during the Second World War. Martha Nierenberg who now lives in the US filed a lawsuit against the Hungarian Government on 5 October in Budapest.She stated, "the Hungarian government has reneged on all promises to right this wrong. [...] But I won't allow Eichmann (the SS commander who confiscated the collection) to claim victory from his grave, while Budapest mocks the restitution efforts of other nations such as France, Austria and even Germany." Director of the Commission for Art Recovery Constance Lowenthal, who is assisting Martha Nierenberg in the case, said, "this lawsuit is about confronting and fighting a lasting stain that soils the Hungarian government, its refusal to return masterpieces looted by the Nazis over half a century ago." The Americans returned many recovered works of art after the war, but the works were placed in museums instead of being returned to their owners.

There have been varied reactions by Hungarian parties to the success of the right-wing Freedom Party in the Austrian elections. Not unexpectedly, the MIEP appeared satisfied with the success of Freedom Party leader Jorg Haider. Bela Gyori, spokesman of the MIEP, said that many of his party's policies were similar to those of the Freedom Party in Austria. He went on to say that Haider deals with real problems such as globalisation and migration. Istvan Simicsko of FIDESZ referred to the Freedom Party's negative stance on EU expansion. He said that the Austrian election "gives pause for thought from the point of view of Hungary’s accession to the EU." Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that because of the Freedom Party’s negative stance on EU expansion, the composition of the Austrian cabinet is of great importance to Hungary's future. Chairman of the Socialist Party Laszlo Kovacs said that he was worried about the damage the elections may do to Austria's reputation abroad.

A number of Hungarian parties have been accepted as members of the European People's Party (EPP). The Christian Democratic People's Party, who have changed their name from KDPM to KDSZ, has had its application for membership accepted. The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (DAHR) also joined the EPP on 4 October. It is thought that FIDESZ has applied for membership.

After a meeting of the Hungarian-Slovak Committee on Minorities on 30 September, Hungarian State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry Zsolt Nemeth applauded the Slovak Government's progress in turning around the previous government's minority rights' violations. The Hungarian delegation, led by Nemeth, did however express concern over the new Language Law, which has not been accepted by Slovakia's Hungarians. Meanwhile, imports of livestock and animal products from Slovakia were temporarily suspended due to a trade dispute. In response, Slovakia immediately lifted its ban on Hungarian slaughtered pigs. Hungary subsequently lifted its ban.

Zsolt Nemeth said on 7 October that Hungarian-Romanian differences over the monument to the 13 Arad martyrs will not damage relations between the two countries. He was speaking as a result of the disruption caused by Romanian nationalists during the reconciliation ceremony marking the 150th anniversary of the 13 generals' execution in the town. Prime Ministers Radu Vasile of Romania and Viktor Orban of Hungary had planned to attend the ceremony, but Vasile backed down after criticism from nationalists. The Greater Romania Party and the Party of Social Democracy in Romania objected to the creation of a park of Hungarian-Romanian reconciliation and the re-erection of the monument. Nemeth said, "the gesture of the Romanian Government is highly important and we appreciate it. We would like to judge the Romanian Government on its statement and actions in this whole series of events, which is positive." In Budapest on 6 October, President Arpad Goncz paid his respects to Count Lajos Batthyany, Hungary's first prime minister, who was executed 150 years ago.

Mayors from Yugoslavia, representatives of 36 towns opposed to the Milosevic regime, met in Budapest to discuss their situation with foreign counterparts. The members of the Alliance of Free Cities of Yugoslavia accepted that there would have to be radical changes to replace the government, but could not agree on how this should be carried out. The Mayor of Belgrade, Vojislav Mihajlovics, said that he thought organised daily protests would exhaust the people. The Vice-President of the Novi Sad/Ujvidek temporary government, Lajos Balla, said that quicker action is needed because dangers are looming. The Yugoslav opposition also appealed to the West for humanitarian aid. Jozsef Kasza, mayor of Subotica/Szabadka was however not optimistic, saying that "although help had been offered from the West and several free cities submitted a list of urgent needs a month ago there has been no answer."

Hungarian President Arpad Goncz and visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski have said that their countries will be ready to join the European Union in 2002. During his two-day visit Kwasniewski emphasised that no two nations in Europe have such strong historical bonds as Poland and Hungary. The two presidents also stated that Hungary and Poland have agreed that both sides will make concessions in the two countries’ trade dispute.

During a visit to Italy last week, Attila Chikan, the Minister for economics, and Italian Minister for Foreign Trade Piero Fassino agreed that there is still room for more Italian investment in Hungary. Italy has invested about USD 15 billion in Hungary. Chikan is also involved in talks about Balkan reconstruction. He discussed measures that could benefit both countries with Fassino and Enrico Letta, Minister of European Politics. Letta said that Hungary's prospects for joining the EU are good, and added that there may be a clearer decision during the upcoming Helsinki summit..

After flags of the Hungarian peacekeepers in Kosovo were mistaken for Italian ones, "Hungarian Contingent" has now been painted on the Hungarian vehicles. This is also intended to prevent the vehicles, which are Soviet models, and soldiers from being mistaken for Russians. This could put them in a difficult situation with Kosovo Albanians. As a NATO member, Hungary is providing peacekeepers in a region where it is by no means the first time that Hungarians have been involved.

On 5 October the Cabinet decided that the Hungarian Holy Crown will be kept in the delegation room in Parliament, instead of in its current location in the National Museum. It will remain here until it is moved to Buda Castle on St Stephen's Day, 20 August, 2001. Orban said that the Holy Crown does not belong in a museum, because it also belongs to Hungary's future. Meanwhile, the Constitutional Court has ruled that a referendum initiated by voters cannot change the constitution. Therefore, voters seem to have little power when it comes to issues such as the form of the Hungarian stateor the restoration of the monarchy.

The president of the National Bank of Hungary, Gyorgy Suranyi, has been rated as one of the world's top four central bank presidents. Suranyi also won the A rating during last month's World Bank meeting in Washington and at the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) autumn session. According to a performance evaluation published in Global Finance, Suranyi has reduced Hungary's inflation from 28.3 percent in 1995 to 10 percent this year. The A rating is good news for Suranyi who was recently criticised by Prime Minister Orban. Suranyi said that the Hungary’s economy is the fastest growing in Central Europe, and he thought that would also be the case next year. He announced that this year's growth in GDP could exceed even the most optimistic forecasts.

According to analysts, Hungary has now recovered from economic hardships that the Prime Minister compared to the Biblical Plagues. Dirk Wolfer, a Frankfurt analyst, said "the general assessment of Hungary has improved because the negative scenarios have not become a reality." After it was announced that Hungary had a USD 140 million surplus for the month of August, the Government answered criticism from analysts who earlier had said that Hungary must cut spending in order to reduce the deficit.

Hungary and Austria will find out on 12 October if their joint bid to organise the 2004 European Football Championships, "The Danube Games", has been accepted. Spain and Portugal have also bid to host the event. Hungarian officials last week rated their chances as being between 33 and 50 percent.

Paul Nemes, 9 October 1999





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