Central Europe Review: politics,

society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 9, 23 August 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 16 August 1999

Paul Nemes

On 17 August the Cabinet decided that the new much debated National Theatre will be built on the site of the former World's Fair. The National Theatre is set to be completed by March 2002. Recent disputes about where the National Theatre should be built, and also the financing of the planned fourth metro line, have started a row over how Budapest should be governed. Last month FIDESZ and the Hungarian Socialist Party unveiled plans to shift power from the City Council back to the districts, which they argued were under-funded. After FIDESZ's failure to gain control of the City Council, some suspect that Prime Minister Orban took revenge by withdrawing Government funding from major Budapest projects. Orban recently stated that the new National Theatre will not require co-operation with City Hall while Pal Vajda, Deputy Major of Budapest, said that the removal of the HEV (suburban railway) from beside the Government's planned National Theatre site would cost at least HUF 10 billion- something which City Hall has no funds for.

Tibor Szabo, Chairman of the Office for Hungarians Beyond the Borders, told a forum of US citizens of Hungarian origin in Washington that the US has "shown interest" in the plan for Vojvodina autonomy that he earlier had presented to the President's Special Assistant Steve Flanagan. Szabo did however acknowledge that Washington "has not made any decision to support the idea of autonomy for Vojvodina," but added that Budapest fully supports the plan. In line with the three-tiered autonomy plan finalised in Budapest the Provisional National Council, a 54-member mini-parliament of Vojvodina Hungarians, who have been plagued by internal divisions, was formed in Subotica/Szabadka on Friday.

Istvan Csurka, Chairman of the Hungarian Life and Justice Party (MIEP), said on 16 August that the Hungarian Government must insist on a UN supervised referendum on northern Vojvodina's re-annexation to Hungary. Csurka stated that a "tiny border alteration" would save up to half a million Hungarians. MIEP planned to launch a new campaign in Heroes' Square on 20 August, St Stephen's (Szent Istvan) Day, to draw attention to what it calls the unacceptability and outdated nature of the Trianon peace treaty (a 1920 treaty under which Hungary lost 70 percent of its territory). The Chairman of the opposition Free Democratic Party, Balint Magyar, criticised the MIEP, saying that the demonstration would endanger Hungarians beyond the borders and harm Hungary's foreign relations.

Speaking of minority rights, the National Police Headquarters' Department for Foreigners has published figures regarding foreign citizens living in Hungary. Out of the almost 140,000 legally registered foreigners 46,000 are Romanian citizens, 15,000 come from the former Soviet Union, and 13,500 are Yugoslav citizens. A large number of these are Hungarians born outside Hungary's borders.

On 13 August the Free Union of Rail Workers (VDSZSZ), reached an agreement with MAV (Hungarian State Railways) on who should mediate their ongoing dispute. The VDSZSZ have threatened to go on general strike on 26 August unless an agreement is reached with MAV. The VDSZSZ have however withdrawn its application to the Labour Court for a legal suit against MAV.

Hungarian oil and gas company MOL suffered a 35.7 percent fall in net profits in the first half of 1999. MOL said that the fall in profits were due to a more difficult market environment, with low world market prices for crude oil limiting domestic production, and the Kosovo crisis which led to a loss of revenues from natural gas transit. The fall in profits is, according to analysts, unlikely to alter favourable ratings for the company and analysts had expected lower net profits for the first half.

Hungarian Finance Minister Zsigmond Jarai has announced that the Government expects an inflation rate of six percent, a budget deficit of no more than 3.5 percent and economic growth as high as five percent for the year 2000. Jarai said that the Government recommends a seven percent excise or luxury tax increase for next year, while income tax and value added sales tax (VAT) would remain at the current level.

Tension arose between the MDF (Hungarian Democratic Forum) and Smallholders Party (FKGP) following a statement by MDF President Ibolya David that the Forum will express its opinions of cabinet decisions at separate press briefings and not jointly with the Smallholders Party.

In a case brought by two environmental citizens' groups the Capital Court of Budapest has issued an injunction to stop the construction of the northern section of the motorway. The M0 was planned as a four-lane motorway around Budapest, but after local citizens organised themselves the Court has now ruled that the new motorway would worsen the local environment, endanger the health of local citizens, and cause economic damage to residents in the area. In spite of the Court's injunction, work on the northern section of the M0 continues.

The Hungarian Calvinist Church has expressed solidarity with members of Hungary's Jewish Community who protested against the publication of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Hungarian Catholic Bishops also condemned the book's publication and expressed concern over the "increasingly frequent manifestations of a lack of respect and tolerance" towards various religious communities, while the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage said it condemns "any defamation of religions" and expressed solidarity with those offended.

Hungary's Secretary of State for Environmental Protection has said that Hungary has brought 70 percent of its environmental legislation into line with EU regulations, but added that Hungary would have to speed up harmonisation of the remaining 30 percent. Following agricultural law, environmental legislation is the second largest category of the acquis communitare.

The Hungarian Central Statistics Office (KSH) reports that 14 percent less Hungarians travelled abroad in the first half of 1999 than during the same period last year. Both Peter Horvath, Managing Director of IBUSZ, and Peter Hoka, Managing Director of Chemol Travel, said that the Kosovo crisis had a negative impact since outgoing tourism to Greece dropped mainly because of cancelled coach trips. Malev (Hungarian Airways) did not notice any drop in its passenger traffic. On the contrary, the number of passengers carried by Malev in the six months increased by six percent.

Paul Nemes, 20 August 1999




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