Vol 0, No 1
28 September 1998
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Gusztav Kosztolanyi"The aim of the present government is to create and guarantee a safe environment for its citizens, to restore public confidence, to maintain internal peace and to boost public confidence in the rule of law and its institutions... The government will provide the forces of law and order with all reasonable forms of support in combating new types of crime threatening the safety of its citizens. Within this context, it attaches particular importance to the creation of a legal framework that will allow for more effective action to be taken against organized crime... Within the framework of the suppression of organized crime, the government assigns a particularly prominent role to international cooperation between the security forces. The police forces shall actively participate in the work of Interpol and shall prepare for accession to the European Union's security system." (Quoted from the new Hungarian government's program, published in Magyar Nemzet on the 30 June, subsection "The State for Security").
Crime exerted its disruptive influence even in the relative seclusion of the summer university at Debrecen albeit in a less dramatic form than the event to be discussed below, the recent explosion in Aranykez utca in the heart of Pest. Break-ins that took place whilst most of the students were sampling the delights of the wines of Eger on an excursion led to a stepping up of preventive measures: without an identity badge, you could not enter the hall where the students were lodged, and a muzzled guard dog sat panting in the heatwave by the doorway.
Far from being the usual lip-service to win over a few floating voters, the government's program reflects a widespread anxiety amongst Hunagrians concerning the extent to which they feel their safety is at risk. Crime as a phenomenon has reared its ugly head and can no longer be ignored or dismissed: it has shifted from the fringes to the very heart of political and social debate.
On the second of July, Jozsef Karoly Boros was assassinated in a bomb attack shortly before noon, an event which sent shockwaves rippling throughout Hungarian society. It was not the first attempt on his life, but this time he did not escape. Between two and a half and four kilos of explosives were planted in a Polish Fiat; shrapnel and flying glass shards injured more than twenty passers-by and three others were killed apart from the intended victim.
What distinguished this act of violence from so many other mafia-related score-settlings was its scene and its timing: in a crowded, tourist-frequented street in Pest in broad daylight. It broke the mold of convention as well as popular belief. It was not, in other words, perpetrated in the back streets, in or near some or other venue of ill repute in the dead of night. It strayed instead into "legitimate" territory, where ordinary, innocent people were going about their everyday business. Crime had, with this one act, become more visible than ever before and could not be hushed up or played down: it was far too brutal for that.
Indeed, in the newspaper columns, dismay was expressed about the smear on Hungary's reputation abroad. Would it mean that Hungary's credit-rating would plummet? Would the Germans or Japanese think twice before booking their holidays? Would their foreign offices advise them to stay away? What ramifications might there be for EU accession? Would such a blot on the copybook slow down the enlargement process? These fears have proven unfounded: Hungary is still considered safe, and negotiations in Brussels continue according to the prescribed timetable.
At national level, however, the picture is far from rosy: organized crime is yet another tribulation to add to the list of woes with the cost of living outstripping any modest wage increases, electricity and gas bills going up, the uncomfortable realities from which we would all like to escape. Every day, news of some fresh excess hits the headlines: muggings, car robberies (estimated at some 35,000 per annum), would-be illegal immigrants being found suffocated in the back of a van where they were abandoned by the unscrupulous smuggler. The mood is somber, yet outraged.
[To be continued]
Gusztav Kosztolanyi, 28 September 1998
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