Vol 1, No 2, 5 July 1999

C S A R D A S:
So long and thanks for all the goulash

Gusztav Kosztolanyi

The dust is settling in Kosovo, and this becomes immediately apparent from even the most cursory scan of the front pages of the Hungarian press. The situation just across the border no longer causes angst-ridden sleepless nights amongst the populace at large, the sprawling column inches devoted to soul-searching over NATO membership have been reduced to a few factual paragraphs, and domestic news is beginning to occupy its customary position. In short, the immediate danger is gone, and the serious business of debating events over a coffee in the baking sunshine of a terrace may be resumed without a guilty conscience.

Public interest in the aftermath of the war has inevitably waned, but before attention is diverted entirely to more pressing (and perhaps banal) concerns, the Hungarian Justice and Life Party made one final effort to capitalise on the sentiments awakened by the plight of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, issuing dire warnings concerning what is in store for them if close tabs are not kept on developments in the province [see below].

Hungary had certainly plunged in at the deep end as fresh-faced members of NATO, expected from the very outset to bear burdens the likes of which were not expected of other newcomers at any stage in the history of the Alliance - not only because of the country's proximity to the theatre of war, but also because of the change in values and orientation that preceded the decision. Hungary acted with honour and enhanced self-esteem, with a sense of having been allowed to return to the fold after decades of enforced exclusion and the indifference of the West. She had been permitted, in other words, to re-occupy her rightful place.

This is a line of argument familiar to certain sections of opinion in the country, whose perception of the Hungarians' mission or destiny is that of acting as the last outpost of Western values, a bastion of civilisation standing firm against encroaching hordes of marauders. For them, at least, the role played by Hungary in the Kosovo crisis was a familiar one.

If, however, the Hungarians cherished secret hopes of gratitude, rewards or privileged treatment as a result of their willing participation and the sacrifices they made in supporting the NATO actions, they will not have been satisfied by the letter of thanks sent to the Prime Minister's Office by Mr. Solana [see below]. Opposing the atrocities, defending human rights and dignity are sufficient reward in themselves in the eyes of Hungary's allies. No magic wand will be waved to grant accelerated access to the EU, no doors will suddenly swing open. This is, in itself, a lesson. Doing one's proper duty is self-evident and not singled out for particular mention. In her keenness to prove herself worthy of inclusion, this may have been forgotten. In the meantime, the NATO aircraft sent to protect Hungarian air space head for home along with their ground staff and the glare of publicity moves elsewhere.

29 June: The Hungarian troops who will be joining KFOR in the near future will be expected to defend the mountain top communications post used by the commanders of KFOR. This was the outcome of talks between high-ranking Hungarian officers and their KFOR counterparts. According to Colonel Ferenc Szlavik, who is responsible for training in the Hungarian General Staff, this task was earmarked for the Hungarian contingent as a result of the good impression made on NATO colleagues by the Engineering Corps and the work it carried out at Okucani.

As soon as agreement was reached on the Hungarians' role, the composition of the unit was changed to include bomb disposal experts, since the area immediately surrounding the communications centre has not yet been fully cleared of mines.

In line with the decision taken by the Hungarian Parliament, the total number of troops to be involved will be 350, all of whom are at present in training for the mission. They are expected to depart for Kosovo by rail on 15 July.

At Ferihegy Airport the first of 21 KC-135 tanker aircraft stationed in Hungary set off back to the United States. 550 ground staff serviced the aircraft, 20% of whom were professionals from the US Air Force, the remainder reservists. The entire complement of staff will also return to the US within the next few days.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the Hungarian Parliament meets to debate the strategy for Southeast Europe. Secretary of State, Zsolt Nemeth, expressed his view that Hungary's role in the affairs of the region had gained in importance as a consequence of having joined NATO, and that it was now in the country's vital interest to help restore stability, as all future developments would be predicated on success on that front. This applied equally to the position of minorities and economic recovery alike. The government would give its support to encourage the investment of Hungarian capital in the region and would, in general, adopt an approach identical to that of the EU in terms of Hungary's relations with Belgrade.

The Secretary of State also broached the highly sensitive issue of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, informing the Committee that plans for three-stage autonomy had been drawn up by their leaders. Nemeth stated that individual autonomy must be regarded as a priority above regional or provincial autonomy. The government warned against any link being established between autonomy for Kosovo and autonomy for the Vojvodina.

As the Secretary made abundantly clear, the plans originated from the Vojvodinian Hungarians themselves, Budapest's role being strictly confined to giving support in the form of making experts available for consultations on request. The Chairman of the Committee, Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, echoed this note of caution by saying it would have been better if the representatives of the minority had been solely responsible for the plan as "it would be unfortunate if the government or the head of the government were to be mixed up in a dispute with the most prominent political leaders of the Vojvodinian Hungarians".

The Chairman went on to point out that, although there were differences of opinion over certain nuances of the concept for Southeast Europe, the political parties on the whole embrace the plans. He also firmly rejected the calls for a revision of the frontiers as demanded by the Hungarian justice and Life Party. Clearly, responsible politicians are still keenly aware of the potential harm that would be done if the slightest impression of meddling in another state's affairs were to be given. The spectre of revisionism is alive and well in the minds of elected representatives and they are anxious to ensure that no dangerous precedents are set, as this would poison relations with all of Hungary's neighbours.

In an article in Magyar Nemzet, Zsolt Csertan examines the issue of the establishment of civil society in Yugoslavia and some of the problems that might hinder it, raising the haunting image of the damage done to the bridges at Szabadka and elsewhere:

"The feeling that 'we didn't deserve this' has also spread amongst circles that do not sympathise with Milosevic. This feeling was amplified by the air strikes. Disappointment is typical for the Serbs of the Vojvodina who belong to the opposition... This is because, as the authors of this viewpoint would have it, the Vojvodina had to bear the brunt of paying the penalty for Milosevic's Kosovo policy. Photographs of the demolished bridges represent an appalling testimony to the fact that, as far as the strategists of NATO were concerned, the entire territory of Yugoslavia was but one single target zone, without any distinction being drawn between the Northern and the Southern parts of the country, or between the military objects, the industrial plants that worked for the military as well, the oil refineries or the general infrastructure. Indeed, in order to spare pilots' lives, the type of targets that were selected were easy to hit even from a great height. As a result of this strategy not a single pilot was lost, but in the minds of the majority of the Serbs, this caused such a major trauma that, in the midst of the huge ground swell of anti-Western sentiment, this trauma could well obstruct the development of civil society".

1 July: Solana expresses his thanks to Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, for Hungary's co-operation in the NATO strikes against Yugoslavia. Solana's letter can be regarded as a symbol of the end of the crisis. The Secretary General made special mention of the fact that Hungary had become members of NATO only a few days prior to the commencement of the air strikes. He also wrote that it was self-evident that Hungary had shown a particularly keen interest in the fate of the Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina, emphasising the importance of the stability of the region as a whole. Hungary would be allowed to play a full role in establishing peace and security in Kosovo and in the Balkans.

Istvan Csurka, head of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party, claimed that the prophecies of doom issued by his party were already coming true: the Hungarians of the Vojvodina were being driven out of their homes. According to the politician, numerous members of the police forces that had pulled out of Kosovo had now arrived in the Vojvodina together with their families and they were being put up in houses left empty by Hungarians. He had also been informed by local Hungarian sources of atrocities. "If these deeds continue unobstructed, a flood of refugees numbering even in the hundreds of thousands might result", he said with characteristic adeptness at playing on people's fears. He went on to define what the Hungarian response to this should be: the Hungarians must stand up for their brothers and persuade the government to follow suit.

Gabor Demszky, Mayor of Budapest, arrives in Szabadka after having been held up at the frontier for several hours, accompanied by the other members of his delegation. The purpose of his visit is to meet Mr. Jozsef Kasza, his counterpart in Szabadka, for an exchange of views and to provide information concerning the European Local Government Charter which might be useful in the process of rebuilding Yugoslavia. This was not the first occasion on which Demszky had attempted to pay a visit to Szabadka, but his efforts to establish a dialogue had been frustrated by the refusal on the part of the Yugoslav frontier guards to allow him to cross the frontier. That relations between Hungary and Yugoslavia are still fraught with tension was demonstrated by the slow progress of the delegation to Szabadka. Demszky and his companions were held up for several hours after entering Yugoslavia when, a few hundred metres past the frontier post at Tompa-Kelebia, the border guards requested their already stamped passports again. Eventually they were allowed to continue without further impediment.

Gusztav Kosztolanyi, 4 July 1999

EDITORS NOTE: Over the past months, Gusztav Kosztolanyi has written over 60,000 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 ten.

To see his earlier contributions, have a look at:




Minority Policy
in Practice

Partial Tolerance
in Romania

New Minority
Language Law


Czech Law School
Entrance Exam
Corruption Revealed


The Reburial of
Rebane in Estonia

Hungary Returns
to Domestic Concerns

Treasure Trove in Kosovo

The Big Czech Question

Romanian Minorities


The Partitioning of
Kosova Has Begun
in Mitrovica


Baltic States
Czech Republic


Last Train to

Book Shop


The Legacy of
St Petersburg

Music Shop


Central European
Culture in the UK


Miklos Jancso's
Nekem lampast adott kezembe az
Ur Pesten

Karel Kachyna's Krava

with your comments
and suggestions.


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