Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 24
6 December 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
27 November 1999

Paul Nemes

A World Bank report, "Hungary at the Gate of the European Union," says that Hungary’s transformation of its economy has been a great success, but also that reforms must continue, in order to accomplish the goal of being one of the first EU candidates to join the Union. The report said, "Hungary’s task today is sustaining the results of economic stabilisation and to finish reforms aimed at restructuring, ensuring that its economic growth is sustained and revenue levels converge with EU averages." According to the World Bank, Hungary’s economic growth projections for the next four years are realistic, but the current account and budget deficit must remain well-managed in order to realise such economic growth. Meanwhile, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, has warned of the dangers of waiting for too long with enlargement, because public opinion in the applicant countries may decline if the process is seen as taking too long. Verheugen said, "I believe that the window of opportunity is only open for a certain period of time. But I do not know for how long."

During his meeting with French Minister of European Affairs Pierre Moscovici in Paris on Thursday, Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Zsolt Nemeth was told that the EU would set a clear date for enlargement when France chairs the EU in 2000. Nemeth said that it is "extremely significant" for Hungary that France takes the chair, underlining the fact that France has sought internal reform of the Union, which would remove many of the obstacles to enlargement.

After months of disputes, the Independent Smallholders’ Party (FKGP) and FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party appear to finally have bridged their differences over next year’s budget. A new agreement reached between the two parties promises an extra HUF (Hungarian forints) 55 billion (USD 219 million) to Smallholder President Jozsef Torgyan’s Agriculture Ministry. Originally, the Smallholders had demanded HUF 413 billion instead of the HUF 250 billion that the draft budget allocated to agriculture. According to a Finance Ministry spokesman, the extra HUF 55 billion to agriculture, which will not go directly to agriculture but will be part of a separate section of the budget, will "not affect any key figures of the 2000 budget." A total budget deficit of HUF 396 billion is expected for 2000. After Parliament’s approval of the budget’s key figures on 1 December, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, "I am unable to squeeze more money out of this budget, even if I bend over backwards."

The government has denied that the Prime Minister’s Office is looking into the possibility of governing as a minority. According to the daily Nepszava, FIDESZ have been looking at the possibility because of the upcoming presidential elections. It is thought that if the Smallholder Party’s nominee, thought by most to be Jozsef Torgyan, is rejected by FIDESZ then the FIDESZ-Smallholder-Hungarian Democratic Forum coalition may not hold. Government spokesman Gabor Borokai said the story was "completely groundless," adding that none of the problems mentioned in the paper had been caused by the 2000 presidential elections.

On 29 November, representatives of the Hungarian government and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (RMDSZ) agreed on the financing of a privately funded Hungarian university in Transylvania. RMDSZ official Istvan F Nagy said that the current focus on a private university does not mean that the RMDSZ has abandoned its demand that a Hungarian-language university funded by the state should be set up in Transylvania. Nagy said, "Until the political conditions to achieve that goal are created, we have to make good use of the opportunity that the planned support from the Hungarian government provides." He did, however, note that the HUF two billion (USD eight million) of government support is much less than what is needed. In comparison, he said that the University of Debrecen has an annual budget of HUF 27 billion.

RMDSZ Chairman Bela Marko, who on Monday met Zsolt Nemeth in Budapest, said that the RMDSZ had supported the idea that Hungarians should remain in their country of birth from the beginning, therefore, he believes that a Hungarian university is particularly important. Meanwhile, Max van der Stoel, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Chief Commissioner on Minorities, has said that he would recommend that the European Commission assist the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj/Kolozsvar financially, in order to "strengthen its multi-cultural character."

Hungary’s ambassador to Slovakia, Miklos Boros, said last week that Hungary would set up a consular service in Kosice/Kassa in early December. The consular service will assist the citizens of eastern Slovakia, until a permanent consulate general opens next year. In accordance with an agreement with the Slovak Foreign Ministry, the Hungarian consul will be present on two occasions every month. President Arpad Goncz is scheduled to visit Kosice/Kassa on 4 December to meet the town’s major and Hungarian representatives of the region.

Laszlo Tokes, Chairman of the World Federation of Hungarian Reformed Churches and Reformed Church Bishop of Bucea/Kiralyhago in Transylvania, Romania, has announced that the fourth World Congress of Hungarian Reformed Churches will be held in 2000 instead of in 2001. The Congress is normally held every five years - one Congress was held in Hungary in 1991 and another in Transylvania in 1996 - but the date has been changed due to the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hungary as a Christian nation in 2000. The opening ceremony will be in Budapest on 30 June.

Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi held talks last week with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov in Moscow. The trip had originally been scheduled for May, but it was cancelled because Hungary had stopped Russian convoys going to Yugoslavia. At a press conference, Martonyi expressed that the aim of his visit was to improve bilateral relations, saying, "Hungary considers Russia a major economic and political partner. The general public harbours no anti-Russian sentiments." Martonyi did, however, express concern over Russia’s military campaign in Chechnya, saying that, while he recognises Russia’s territorial integrity, he was alarmed by the suffering of the local population. Martonyi also said that Russia would draw up plans to repay its USD 450 million debt to Hungary before the end of the year. Nothing concrete seems to have been decided on Hungarian art collections taken by Russia during and after the Second World War, only that the working group that deals with the matter, which last met in 1997, would meet again as soon as possible.

Prime Minister Orban has told Hungarians to look happier. Orban told businessmen and politicians, "After the Second World War we gradually became drab, grey - one country occupied by the Soviet Union, and if you look around you can still see that greyness," but now it is time to leave that behind and look forward to the new millennium. Orban also said that there is a need for a more apparent self-image of Hungary, "a picture of Hungary, which is full of life, colours and special flavours, before we get stuck into the stereotype of a diligent, ambitious but not very exciting Central European nation." At the same conference, Miklos Duray of the Hungarian Coalition Party in Slovakia emphasised the role of the Hungarians beyond the borders in Hungary’s national image, saying, "The thinking of Hungarians living in Central Europe is in line with the spirit of the age."

The Council of Europe (CE) committee dealing with minorities and the Hungarian Office for National and Ethnic Minorities have said that they cooperate efficiently, and concluded that Hungary does not need to take additional measures to implement the CE Framework Convention, as Hungary’s minority policy already is more comprehensive than the convention. Hungary is the only EU candidate that has ratified both the Framework Convention and the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages.

On 30 November, Hungary issued an official protest to the Yugoslav ambassador, following the expulsion of a Hungarian journalist from Yugoslavia. Zsolt Nemeth said he expected Yugoslavia to allow the journalist in question, Janos Dezso, to return to Belgrade to take up his work as a Hungarian state radio correspondent again. The Serbian Federation of Independent Electronic Media has also made a complaint, issuing a statement saying, "the expulsion of journalists in this manner, and the accompanying explanation, characterise only openly dictatorial states."

The Government has recommended that Parliament extends Hungary’s SFOR mandate in Bosnia-Herzegovina until the end of next year. One of the main tasks of Hungary’s 235 peacekeepers, who are stationed in Croatia, during their year and a half in Bosnia has been to rebuild bridges. It is expected that it will cost HUF three billion to finance the SFOR mission.

Budapest City Council has delayed the decision on whether to raise the price of public transportation by 14 percent. The Council will now hold more discussions on the matter with the Finance Ministry, who only want to raise prices by six percent, which would be in line with inflation. The Finance Ministry argues that the Budapest Transportation Company (BKV) should be able to continue its current services with State subsidies and cost cutting. Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky, who says that the City spends 20 percent of its budget on public transport, responded by saying that, if prices were only raised by six percent, the number of routes would have to be cut, or busses would have to stop running at 9.15 pm.

National Bank of Hungary Chairman Gyorgy Suranyi on Thursday told Parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee that he thinks inflation can remain below 10 percent, but that a real effort is needed to lower inflation to seven or even six percent in 2000. He also said that he believes it is probable that this year’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth will be between four to 4.2 percent. Next year’s GPD growth could be 4.5 percent, he said.

Economic Minister Attila Chikan told an audience at the World Trade Organisation summit in Seattle that developing a just and market orientated agricultural trade system is very important to Hungary. Chikan said that trade liberalisation would be positive, not only for the world economy, but also for economic equilibrium. He stressed that Hungary had been open to foreign competition throughout the 1990s and, as a result, its economy is growing.

Gabor Demszky has said that a street will be named after Jozsef Antall, Hungary’s first freely elected prime minister after communism, in Budapest next year. Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, has already named a street after Antall, who died of cancer in 1993. Demszky stated that he would even change the regulations, if necessary, in order to name a street after the former Prime Minister.

The Hungaroring has secured Formula One racing until 2006. Youth and Sports Minister Tamas Deutsch said on 29 November that Hungaroring Sport Rt and Bernie Ecclestone have signed an agreement which ensures that Hungary will organise F1 racing for another five years, from 2001 to 2006, making the Hungaroring, located just outside Budapest, the only track with such a long-term contract with the F1 supremo.

Just as the Westend, Central Europe’s largest shopping centre, has opened next to Budapest’s Nyugati (western) station, another mall, the Eastend, is being planned near Keleti (eastern) station. France’s Bouyges group is planning a four floor, 66,000 square metre, USD 120 million mall to transform the surroundings of Keleti railway station, which is one of Budapest’s less attractive neighbourhoods.

Hungarian Zsolt Zsarkai has become the world champion of pipe smoking. At the event, held in Debrecen, Zsarkai actually regained his title after smoking his pipe for two hours, 19 minutes and 36 seconds. Only Hungarian teams took part in this year’s competition, and the reason why no competitors from other countries showed up is a mystery to the organisers.

Paul Nemes, 3 December 1999



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