Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 21
15 November 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
6 November 1999

Paul Nemes

The Hungarian Government has issued a statement saying that there are no plans for any Cabinet changes at the moment. The announcement comes after the Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag reported that Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai would leave his post at the end of the year for health reasons. Government spokesman Gabor Borokai said, "No restructuring of the Cabinet is scheduled," but added that "the Prime Minister will consider any changes to the Cabinet after the budget is passed by Parliament." The budget for next year is likely to be passed later this year. Prime Minister Viktor Orban later said that he had not yet decided if he would reshuffle the Cabinet, but added that Jarai would not be part of any reshuffle.

Smallholder President Jozsef Torgyan has said that the budget dispute between his party and the Hungarian Civic Party (FIDESZ) will not split the coalition. Torgyan said, "Even if we disagree about it, we will vote the budget in order not to threaten the stability of the country, the government and the financial base." According to a recent report in Vilaggazdasag, Torgyan, Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, was thinking about taking the Smallholders out of the coalition if the Ministry did not get the HUF 413 billion he had asked for instead of the HUF 250 billion in the draft budget.

Michael Lake, Head of the European Commission's Budapest delegation, has said that it would not surprise him if Hungary is a member of the European Union at the beginning of 2003. Lake said that Hungary still has to improve in the fields of farming and the environment, but that it would be realistic to expect the EU to set a target date for expansion in Portugal in June 2000.

Viktor Orban attended ceremonies in Berlin to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. After having laid the foundation stone for the new Hungarian embassy, Orban said that Hungary is a "full EU member economically if not politically." He could not, however, convince German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fisher that a time frame should be set for Hungary's accession. Orban was also due to meet former Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia to discuss Europe’s past and future.

Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said before the second session of Hungarian Permanent Conference (HPC), which was due to take place on 11 to 12 November, that the HPC should keep the objectives agreed upon at the first session. Special committees of the HPC, a forum of Hungarian political parties and organisations from Hungary and abroad, were to report on work done since the first session, and there was to be a more general debate on political issues, like autonomy for Vojvodina and a Hungarian university in Transylvania. Regarding the proposed university in Cluj/Kolozsvar, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said that, as it will not be possible to open a state university in the current Romanian parliamentary cycle, the HUF two billion set aside for this purpose will instead be spent on a Hungarian foundation church university.

Nemeth also emphasised the importance of defining the legal status of Hungarians beyond the borders in a more exact manner. Miklos Duray, Chairman of the Hungarian Coalition Party in Slovakia, said that this is one of the most important issues of the HPC. Martonyi reiterated that the Hungarian nation has an interest in all Hungarians remaining in their homelands, and that there is a need for the creation of conditions which will enable them to preserve their national identity. Also, President Arpad Goncz said in his opening speech that there is no doubt that the basic interests of Hungarians, both within and outside Hungary's borders, are indistinguishable.

Hungarian Justice Minister Ibolya David met members of the Hungarian minority during her visit to Ukraine. After visiting the "Hungarian House," the headquarters of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Ukraine (HDUU), and the Kiev Federation of Hungarians, David said that she agreed with the Hungarians in Ukraine that they should be supported so that they could remain and be successful in their homeland. David also placed a wreath at the (yet to be completed) Hungarian Conquest memorial at the Verecke Pass, where Arpad’s Hungarian tribes first entered the Carpathian basin. David said that the main goal of her Subcarpathian visit was to go to the memorial at the Verecke Pass and also to promote the concerns of Hungarians. Despite the fact the Hungarian ballot papers were not available for the first round of the presidential elections in Subcarpathia, where Hungarians are in a majority, HDUU Chairman Mihaly Toth said that minority rights are not violated in Ukraine's legal system, except for in a few cases. Ukraine was the first country to sign a bilateral treaty with Hungary, guaranteeing the Subcarpathian Hungarians a certain amount of cultural and local government autonomy.

In what seems an unlikely statement, considering its source, a senior official of the Romanian Secret Service has said that Hungary has a right to reclaim Transylvania. The Romanian Secret Service Deputy Director, Colonel Stan Petrescu, made the comments in Wednesday’s Transilvania Jurnal. A Romanian Defence Ministry spokesman later said, “The statement does not reflect the official standpoint of the secret services or the defence ministry.”

Visegrad Four Justice Ministers have agreed to take an active part in the drafting of a European basic rights charter. Ibolya David and her Czech, Slovak and Polish counterparts agreed to work towards judicial cooperation. The Visegrad countries said in a statement that they consider the non-discriminative guarantees of national, ethnic and religious minority rights especially important elements of the charter.

Hungarian Red Cross President Laszlo Andics has said that he is in favour of an international agreement to protect disaster victims in the same way that the Geneva Convention protects victims of war. Meanwhile, the Hungarian Red Cross has sent aid worth HUF 8.5 million to Subotica/Szabadka in Vojvodina, Yugoslavia. The three trucks, carrying mainly serums, injection syringes and children's clothes, that left Budapest last Tuesday were the last Balkan aid programme shipment by the Hungarian Red Cross.

According to the Hungarian Ministry for Transport, Water and Telecommunications, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Croatia have come to an agreement to cooperate in order to keep the Danube free of ice during the winter. In a statement released on Tuesday in Budapest, the Ministry said, "Ice-breaking on the Dunafoldvar-Vukovar stretch must be done jointly, and it is important to prevent a flood catastrophe." The Danube bridges destroyed during NATO air-raids pose the biggest danger to flooding as it is feared that debris will lead to a build-up of ice behind them. Ice-breakers are being prepared in case they are needed, but the agreement will not be agreed to in detail until representatives of the three countries meet in December - hopefully there won't be any need to clear the Danube before then.

According to Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag, FIDESZ would back Janos Martonyi if he were to run in next summer’s presidential elections as the Independent Smallholder Party’s candidate. Martonyi responded by saying that he had heard nothing about him being nominated and added, "I can say nothing about the question. I never respond to hypotheses."

The Budapest Metropolitan Court has ordered that Agnes Cser, the former director of the National Health Insurance Fund, should be reinstated. Cser was dismissed in 1998 just after the new government came to power, but the court has now ruled that the dismissal was unlawful. State Secretary for Health Insurance Funds Imre Frajna responded by saying that the government will dismiss Cser again if reinstated.

The Health Ministry will ask for an additional HUF 1.1 billion (USD 4.5 million) during the upcoming debate in parliament on the budget. Health Minister Arpad Gogl said, "The Ministry plans to spend and extra HUF 500 million (USD 2 million) on health and mental care to supplement the HUF 600 million (USD 2.2 million) specified in the bill." The Health Ministry has also called for an extra HUF 600 million to fund influenza vaccinations which would be distributed free.

The Jewish community in Hungary has filed a lawsuit against a Swiss bank thought to have held money taken from Jews during the Second World War. Gabor Sebes, Head of the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Foundation (MAZSOK), said that the claim for USD 202 million which was filed in a New York court, was filed on behalf of the Hungarian Jewish community and is separate from 8900 individual claims against Swiss banks. Sebes told reporters, "It was not easy to decide what would be right to do. If we went on with individual lawsuits only, the chances to achieve results would be very slim."

Meanwhile, Hungarian Jews claim that a second "gold train" left Hungary at the end of the Second Would War. In addition to the train which is thought to have been looted by US soldiers in Austria, it is now believed that a second train, holding 35 cases of gold and 12 kilos of diamonds, was ransacked by French soldiers in Austria. Hungarian Jewish leader Peter Feldmayer said, "We don't know what happened to it [the gold train]. We should follow through the history of that train as well."

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson arrived in Budapest for talks last Wednesday. Robertson, who met Prime Minister Viktor Orban, President Arpad Goncz, Defence Minister Janos Szabo and Parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defence committee members, thanked Hungary for its support during the Kosovo crisis and discussed the strengthening of Southeast European security as well as Hungary's first eight months as a NATO member. Robertson also said that he was pleased with the increased spending on defence in next year’s budget, and expressed satisfaction with Hungary's peacekeeping role in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Parliament has approved the tax amendments for 2000. However, there were smaller changes in the amendments than what had been thought from the outset. Overall, the tax burden is expected to increase 0.5 to 1 percent. Although the Government had promised to lower employer contributions, this will not be the case, and heath care contributions will rise.

Hungarian Airlines (MALEV) and Ferihegy airport operators (LRI) have both said that they now are fully prepared for the Y2K problem. To prepare for the Y2K problem, MALEV has spent HUF 300 million (USD 1.25 million) while LRI have put in HUF 1.35 billion (USD 5.6 million). No MALEV flights are expected to be in the air at midnight, 31 December. Around 500 aircraft are expected in Hungarian airspace on 1 January 2000, compared to 700 last year.

The cost of tracking down Attila Ambrus, better known as Whisky, has cost Hungarian police HUF 30 million (USD 125,000). The "Whisky Task Force," consisting of 42 inspectors and 16 police officers, worked 3,223 hours of overtime, drove their seven patrol cars 71,416 km, used ten radios, six mobile phones, made 252,000 telephone calls, used six computers and had two helicopters on 24-hour stand-by. The task force also consumed 1123 litres of mineral water and 36 kg of coffee while checking 237 tips from the special hot-line. Click here for the full story of the escape of Hungary's most notorious criminal and here for the full details on his recapture

Paul Nemes, 12 November 1999



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