Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 25
13 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
6 December 1999

Paul Nemes

Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced the anticipated cabinet reshuffle on 7 December, ending weeks of speculation. Gyorgy Matolcsy has replaced Attila Chikan as Economics Minister, while Zoltan Rockenbauer has taken the place of Jozsef Hamori as National Cultural Heritage Minister. Matolcsy, the FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Party architect of their election platform on the economy, which called for seven percent economic growth, is thought to now have accepted more modest plans for the economy. Orban said that the reason for replacing Attila Chikan, whose work he said he was very satisfied with, was that the macroeconomic task had now been concluded. Chikan will from now on be in charge of the PM’s economic advisory body, while Hamori will head the science policy secretariat.

It had been speculated that at least two Independent Smallholder ministers would be replaced, but there were no further Cabinet changes. Socialist Party leader Laszlo Kovacs criticised the reshuffle, saying that those ministers who should have gone kept their places in the Cabinet. Referring to the Smallholder ministers who were not replaced, Kovacs said, "the Prime Minister did not really have a free hand."

Chikan, meanwhile, has hit back at his critics, who accused him of not having a plan for the economy. Chikan told reporters, "Let me tell you the plan is concrete. The press and the opposition were saying there is no economic strategy […] and I kept on saying there is one." Analysts argue that Chikan did not find a solution to initiate growth of small- and medium-sized companies.

Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai tried to reassure financial markets by saying that there will be no change in economic policy. Jarai said, "According to my judgement, economic policy will not change." Analysts argue otherwise, seeing Matolcsy’s appointment as a sign that Jarai and National Bank of Hungary Governor Gyorgy Suranyi, both of whom favour rigid policies, are next in line to be replaced.

Viktor Orban has accepted a proposal by the FIDESZ steering board to separate the posts of party chairman and prime minister. A statement from the steering board said that doing both jobs "has proven to be a great load for Viktor Orban" and that "someone else is needed who will spend all his energy on organising the party and preparing for the 2002 elections." FIDESZ’s parliamentary group and the national board will now manage the proposal.

Speaking after negotiations in Brussels on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said that nine out of 23 chapters of the acquis opened during accession talks with the European Union have been closed. Another three or four chapters will be closed in the near future he said. Martonyi added that adaptation is progressing according to plans and if everything continues as planned, then Hungary could join the EU on 1 January 2003.

The EU summit in Helsinki was dominated by the conflict in Chechnya, but EU Foreign Ministers decided in favour of further enlargement and invited another six countries (five of them in Central and East European) to begin membership talks. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth has said that Hungary would not introduce visa restrictions on any of its neighbour until it joins the EU. He also stated that Hungary would begin serious lobbying to remove Romania from the EU’s visa list. After meeting EU ambassadors on 9 December, Prime Minister Orban said, "We expect the EU summit conference in Helsinki to make it clear that accession talks conducted with Hungary depend on the country’s internal progress and preparations."

Borsod-Abauj-Zemplen County and its centre Miskolc will, together with the Kosice/Kassa region in Slovakia, constitute a Euro-Region. The region will in the future cooperate in the fields of infrastructure and economic development. The "Miskolc-Kosice Regional Public Association" will set up a cooperation agreement in order to enter European Union trans-border regional competitions.

Visegrad Four - the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia - Justice Ministers attended a conference on minority and human rights in Slovakia on 10 December. The conference was organised by Vice-Premier for Minority Rights in Slovakia Pal Csaky, of the Hungarian Coalition Party of Slovakia. Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer and Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe High Commissioner for Minority Rights Max van der Stoel were also present. Csaky said that the Slovak capital had been chosen to host the conference due to the country’s troubled human rights past and its need to improve in this area. Csaky was quoted as saying, "I believe that ten years after the fall of the Berlin wall and the subsequent changes, the governments of the Visegrad countries have an outstanding responsibility to uphold the values upon which they seek to join the European Union."

According to Hungary’s Danube Commissioner Laszlo Szekely, Hungary has made a "proper, fair an feasible proposal" to Slovakia to solve the dispute over the Gabcikovo/Bos-Nagymaros dam. Szekely handed a near 800-page proposal to his Slovak counterpart on 9 December. After Hungary pulled out of the original treaty, which the governments of Hungary and Czechoslovakia agreed to in 1977, the matter was referred to the International Court of Justice, which decided that the 1977 Treaty was still valid. In the latest proposal, Hungary wants Slovakia to divert the Danube river course back to the Szigetkoz region of Hungary, in exchange for abandoning its claim to the agreed amount of electricity from the Gabcikovo/Bos power station. The water is currently being used to generate electricity in Slovakia.

At a conference in Budapest examining the situation of the Roma in Hungary, it was pointed out that the position of the Roma is a pressing issue that has to be dealt without delay. Florian Farkas, President of the National Gypsy Self-Government, said that he thinks it is essential that there is a progressive improvement of the situation of the Roma. EU Ambassador Michael Lake criticised Hungary’s way of dealing with the Roma, saying in his speech, "Hungary meets the Copenhagen criteria, except on corruption and the Roma," and added that discrimination in the labour market and education must be put to an end. Lake said that, while the EU will make available EUR five million for Roma education over the next three years, the Hungarian government must provide EUR 4.6 million.

Jozsef Hamori last week announced plans to turn a disused synagogue in Budapest’s District IX into a permanent Holocaust museum. Hamori said, "An old and just demand of both the Jewish community and the nation as a whole will now be fulfilled." The Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary had hoped that the museum would be located in the more central synagogue in District VII. Reconstruction of the Pava utca synagogue will cost around HUF 350 million (USD 1.4 million), and it is expected that the project will be completed in 2001.

A meeting was held in Budapest last week to mark the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of the Romanian revolution in Timisoara/Temesvar. Bishop Laszlo Tokes, who was at the centre of events when the first steps were taken towards the overthrow of communism, said that priorities today should focus on Hungarian-Romanian reconciliation and getting the course of change back on the right track. Tokes, today Honorary President of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania, also thanked Hungarians in Hungary and elsewhere who took an active part in the events in Romania.

Outgoing Culture Minister Jozsef Hamori agreed with his Romanian counterpart Ion Caramitru to widen cultural cooperation between the two countries. The two met during a four-day festival of Romanian art in Budapest last week. In the future, the arts festivals will last at least seven days, and instead of only being held in only the two countries’ capitals, Kecskemet, Pecs and Transylvanian towns are currently under consideration. Hamori and Caramitru agreed to increase cooperation in order to preserve historical buildings, develop theatre exchange, work together in film production and develop joint book publishing.

A second Hungarian journalist was expelled from Yugoslavia last week. Freelance journalist Miklos Gyorgy Ladanyi, who had been working for Hungarian newspapers in Pristina, was expelled on 6 December for having entered Serbia from Kosovo. Yugoslav authorities claimed that Ladanyi had entered the country illegally, through an international peacekeeping checkpoint on the Kosovo border. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath said that the Ministry, already waiting for an explanation for the expulsion of Janos Dezso, would ask the Yugoslav Foreign Ministry for the reason behind the latest expulsion.

Hungary’s three biggest railway unions say they will go on strike on 20 December in order to press MAV (Hungarian state railways) to meet their wage demands. The unions are demanding a wage increase of 14 percent for next year’s salaries, but MAV have not increased their 8.5 percent offer during more than one month of negotiations. There are already delays to rail traffic going east, due to a Romanian railway workers’ strike.

After the Hungarian daily Vilaggazdasag revealed that fake letters had been sent to numerous domestic and international financial bodies in the name of Zsigmond Jarai, the Finance Ministry has now said that it is looking into the matter. Information Ministry spokesman Gabor Szabo said, "The fact that somebody tried to abuse the name of the finance minister might endanger the security of the country’s economy, and can discredit the government." Jarai alerted the police, who have been conducting an investigation during the past two weeks, after receiving an answer to a fake letter addressed to an international bank. Who wrote the letters is still not known.

Hungary’s own Robin Hood, Attila Ambrus, has given evidence in court that he received help from an Interior Ministry employee to escape from prison in July, but refused to name the person because he "wanted to stay alive." The Interior Ministry dismisses the allegations as unfounded, while three prison guards appeared in court charged with negligence, resulting in Ambrus’ escape. Whisky, as Ambrus is better know, denied that the three guards, two of whom were found guilty, played any part in his escape. Instead, he stated that an Interior Ministry helper, whom he met while playing ice hockey for Ujpest (the former police team), provided him with information on the prison’s security system.

Members of Parliament have been discussing the Bill on the Holy Crown. Justice Minister Ibolya David said that the Bill, which will transfer the Holy Crown from the National Museum to Parliament on 1 January 2000, would "close the ten-year period of systemic change and consolidate national unity." The relocation of the Holy Crown, presented by the Pope to St Stephen in the year 1000, will coincide with Hungary’s 1000th anniversary of statehood and the acceptance of Christianity. FIDESZ, the Smallholders, the Hungarian Democratic Forum and the Hungarian Justice and Life Party support the Bill while the Socialists and the Free Democrats do not accept it in its current form.

Oscar winning director Istvan Szabo’s film, Sunshine, won three awards at the European Film Awards in Berlin. Szabo was awarded with the best screenwriter prize while Ralph Fiennes won the Best European Actor statue for his role in Sunshine, which will premiere in Hungary early next year. Lajos Koltai won the Best European Cinematographer award.

Hungary was drawn in the same group as Italy and Romania, coached by Imre Jenei, for the 2002 World Cup qualifications. Lithuania and Georgia are the other two teams of Group eight. Former national team captain Lajos Baroti said, "If things go according to predictions, we don’t stand a chance." Others, who were more optimistic, thought Hungary might clinch second place to go into a play-off with another European runner-up for a place in the World Cup.

Paul Nemes, 10 December 1999



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