Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 30
19 April 1999

C S A R D A S:
Chronicle of a Conflict Foretold
Hungary, NATO and the Kosovo crisis [Part III]

Gusztav Kosztolanyi

Szeged, Hungary's third biggest city, is the scene of a peaceful siege by foreign and local journalists who have thronged to its hotels because of its proximity to the Yugoslav border. From here the more intrepid can make excursions into the theatre of war. Others are content to plant their equipment on rooftops in the hope that their telescopic lenses might catch a tantalising glimpse of the bombardments. Their eagerness to observe the misery and the havoc engendered by the conflict verges on the surreal. From a safe, indeed NATO-guaranteed distance, they can claim to witness events first-hand whilst wining and dining in plush surroundings, penning riveting accounts that lament the cruel blows of fate that have been visited upon the refugees. There is something sadly ironic about the whole venture.

EDITORS NOTE: Over the past three weeks, CER's analyst Gusztav Kosztolanyi has written over 15,000 words examining the situation of Hungary in the current phase of the Balkan crisis. To see his earlier contributions, have a look at PART I and PART II.

In Hungary, the moral issues at stake in the conflict, and the dilemmas these entail, have been at the forefront of public debate. Milosevic and his regime have been depicted as criminals, demonstrating a blatant contempt for the welfare of their own citizens, their own flesh and blood. Apart from the obvious element of truth that such pronouncements contain (it is impossible to overlook the sufferings of those who have been forcibly displaced through no fault of their own), there are cogent reasons why this line has been chosen.

First, it simplifies the moral dimension. Milosevic can be justifiably denounced for his flagrant breach of the most fundamental principles of good governance (not to mention of the human rights of the Kosovo Albanians) and hence, his behaviour safely ascribed to irrationality. Second, it absolves NATO of blame for having resorted to the ultimate deterrent - military force. Third, by designating a scapegoat, it avoids branding the ordinary people of Serbia as rabid hate-mongers, their support of the President ascribed to "natural" patriotic identification with the leader when their country is under attack.

In this context, the spectre of civilian casualties is extremely damaging to the Allies' aims precisely because the unintentional death of innocent factory workers or train passengers muddies the clear and painstakingly manufactured moral waters. Similarly, the fact that NATO has thus far failed to attain its aim of putting a stop to ethnic cleansing and mutual enmity also threatens to undermine its credibility and the resolve of its members to lay soldiers' lives on the line.

Not everyone in Hungary meekly follows the conventional arguments in favour of NATO strikes, but ulterior motives can be discerned behind their vociferous outrage, as emerges in the course of the chronicle. The most striking example of this is to be found in the trip to Belgrade organised by the Munkaspart, whose representatives (dyed-in-the-wool Communists) have utilised the ashes of destruction in Yugoslavia to fan the glowing embers of support for their cause, protesting against the old-style Imperialism advocated and implemented by NATO, organising a trip to Belgrade to express their solidarity with the oppressed Serb people.

Hungary's situation is more delicate diplomatically than that of any of her new-found allies, and it is against this backdrop that the stance adopted by her government should be viewed. The official presentation of the crisis, as outlined above, is expedient for various reasons, and on several levels: in many ways, Hungary cannot afford the luxury of speculations on moral ambiguity as this could cast doubt on the strength of her commitment to NATO when instead she should concentrate on consolidating her position within it as a staunch and reliable partner even in times of adversity and difficult decisions. Only then can she truly maintain to herself and to the rest of the world that she has earned her place in the family of developed Western nations.

If, furthermore, the conflict spreads, the people of Hungary will be expected to make considerable sacrifices, and if this is not to be seen as a tyrannous diktat from above, a ground swell of sympathy would be the best means of assuring compliance with the rigours of duty, all the more effective if it can be felt to be spontaneous rather than as the result of careful orchestration.

Hungary's policy of strictly objective "neutrality" (by which I mean passive rather than active support) serves the end of warding off such an escalation of the conflict. It may also be ascribed to the country's dual vulnerability, caused by an unhappy coincidence of geographical vicinity with the existence of a sizeable Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina, both of which place Hungary in a unique position compared with her NATO allies. Hungary is thus the only NATO member with an immediate frontier with Yugoslavia and the only NATO member with an ethnic minority living in the territory where war rages. In the light of this, a more cautious and passive role does not smack of cowardice or unwillingness to dirty one's hands, but as the epitome of common sense. Hungary must look to the future: if her commentators were to indulge in a wholesale indictment of the entire Serb people, it would not facilitate the task of re-establishing relations with any semblance of normality once the conflict has ended. Tarring everyone with the same brush as Milosevic would make it infinitely more difficult to help pick up the pieces afterwards by creating unwarranted antagonism. Such a slight would not easily be forgotten.

The Hungarian minority in the Vojvodina is the single most important factor when it comes to understanding the government's tactical considerations as well as the amount of leeway open to it. The Hungarians of the Vojvodina could easily be exploited as a "living shield", as potential hostages, a bargaining (or blackmailing) chip for the unscrupulous, an easy target for reprisals [on these matters see Lajos Pietsch below, April 10th]. Concern for their safety has been a pivotal argument justifying Hungary's refusal to participate in military actions on a large scale.

Even from the vantage point of the Vojvodinians themselves, there are undeniable benefits to appealing to Budapest for succour rather than Belgrade. Such an attitude throws into high relief the fact that they have no quarrel with the Kosovo Albanians and that the war being fought has nothing to do with them. They are so alienated from their government that they feel compelled to disassociate themselves from it by turning abroad for understanding and protection. If they are blameless, moreover, why should they be subjected to the same treatment as the Serbs? Why should they also be bombarded? The soldiers that have been called up to take part in the fighting in the Serb army are hapless conscripts, dragged into the blood bath against their will and better judgement, their actions do not make them culpable, any more than it brands the Hungarian minority as sympathisers with Milosevic's cause. That the Hungarian government is open to these pleas is shown by its repeated calls to Belgrade to admonish it against drafting disproportionately high numbers of Vojvodinian Hungarians into the army (which could be regarded as a covert form of ethnic cleansing if it were to be taken to extremes).

The relationship is a symbiotic one, based on mutual exploitation of the myriad spiritual, cultural and historical ties that bind the province with its erstwhile mother country. The Hungarian government can be seen to fulfil one of its electoral promises, that of fostering closer and more cordial relations with Hungarian minorities living beyond its frontiers, whilst the Vojvodinians can appeal to a NATO member for sustenance, proving that they do not deserve to be punished along with the rest of their compatriots since they differ qualitatively in their attitude to the Kosovan problem.

This approach is not without its dangers for the Vojvodinians, however. They remain Yugoslav citizens and as such have to obey instructions from their authorities. They must strike a careful balance between flirting with Hungary and incurring the wrath of Milosevic and his cronies. In other words, they have to hedge their bets, stuck as they are between a rock and a hard place.

Equally, the Hungarian government cannot stray too far from the path of cold-blooded impartiality in supporting its lost children stranded in hostile territory. Its primary allegiance is to NATO and it must shun even the remotest hint of secret revisionist ambitions, given that any suspicions along those lines would irrevocably poison relations not only with Belgrade but with every neighbour upon whose soil a Hungarian minority thrives. The Vojivodinians' unenviable lot is emblematic of the fate that would befall any of the Hungarian minorities if good neighbourly relations were to deteriorate. They thus provide a salutary example of why it would be not only futile but also counter-productive for any Hungarian government to abandon the stipulations of the Basic Treaties and agitate for the return of severed lands.

For its part, NATO cannot show favouritism towards the Vojvodinians to appease Hungarian sensibilities (and possibly enflaming Serb resentment and ire which could even lead to persecution of the Hungarian minority) by sparing the legitimate military targets situated in the province.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian government has taken refuge in unimpeachable correctness, displaying an almost pathological anxiety to please all of the people all of the time (an impossibility, as the saying goes). The tiniest detail does not fail to escape scrutiny. For example, the involvement of two Hungarian officers in the work of NATO's rapid reaction forces is subject to Parliament's approval. This has been obtained according to the proper procedures in spite of the atmosphere of tension (the backing of the elected representatives of the people is deemed identical to the expression of the will of the people in all democracies and is the lifeblood of popular consent) and was accompanied by repeated declarations to the effect that this by no means betokened that Hungary was now officially at war with Yugoslavia. At the same time, as greater emphasis has gradually been placed on the cost of the crisis in terms of refugees, the government has done its utmost to refute any possible accusations about shirking its humanitarian responsibility by setting up an airbridge for aid consignments (see below).

That a certain degree of insecurity amongst the population at large concerning their safety persists is testified to by the constant stream of assurances repeated by both the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister.

April 1st. "What the current international military action can prove to us in particular is that the insoluble position of national minorities, discrimination against them and their physical extermination is not an exclusively domestic affair on the part of the given state involved - something which in our times has become more or less an international principle - but in the case of the physical annihilation of minorities the international community will not balk at employing even military force to put a stop to policies targeted against minorities in the interests of remedying the situation. In historical terms this may be deemed as a truly new situation. We would even greet it if we were not dealing here with military intervention, if events were not taking place in our neighbour's country or if we were certain of a stable solution. Substantial changes in international politics would be required to provide truly effective minority protection. The first precondition for achieving this would be for the Western world to tackle the issues pertaining to national minorities with adequate instruments where the problems actually occur. Until such a stage as the UN is in possession of a functioning European - and even global - minority protection system with generally binding principles, guarantees and sanctions any kind of military action can only guarantee a cease-fire rather than a lasting settlement. At most, military intervention can prevent further bloodshed, but it can never guarantee a genuine settlement. [...]

Hungary cannot assume the role of arbitrator in Albanian-Serb inter ethnic relations. In the last few centuries virtually every external power has fallen flat on its face when it has tried to "sort out" the Balkans. Even when we unequivocally condemn Serb policies directed against the Albanians or against minorities in general, or the possible ethnic cleansing, we still should not forget that, according to the estimates of authoritative experts, in the last four decades almost 400,000 Serbs have left Kosovo, the vast majority of whom did not leave of their own free will. Apart from the sympathy we feel towards the Albanian minority as a matter of principle, we cannot close our eyes to the policy they have been pursuing in Kosovo for several decades, which has been aimed at squeezing out the Serbs. The main reason why we cannot is that the Hungarian national communities who live in the Carpathian Basin have been fighting for their rights with exclusively peaceful means. Hungarian minority protection is peaceful and the central, pivotal element of our centralised strategy based on common consent is that it respects the status quo, it is constitutional in nature.

From the standpoint of Hungarian foreign and minority policy the question of whether Hungary's participation in her capacity as a new member of NATO in international military action against one of her neighbours was lawful or not is extremely important, though little has been said about it. Or was Hungary once again sucked into a situation in which she has assumed the responsibilities undeniably incumbent upon her as a new ally? Did the Orban government do anything at all, or did it do everything in its power to make the Americans and the western Europeans understand that Hungary cannot take part in any shape or form in military intervention against Yugoslavia, even if that action is not directed against the Serb people, but against Milosevic in attempt to make him change his policies? From three points of view Hungarian military participation is extremely worrying: because of the future of Hungarian-Serb relations; because of the safety of the 300,000 Vojvodinian Hungarians and because of the doctrine of peaceful protection of minorities. It is extremely reassuring that our Foreign Minister does not regard our country as a warring party, but this is not the real issue. Instead, the real issue is how Serbs will react to Hungary's behaviour in a war in which the stakes are the retention or loss of Kosovo, which is considered to be the cradle of Serb culture, language and identity. How will other neighbouring countries react? This might certainly determine whether the Hungarian and Serb peoples can live side by side as well as the prosperity of Vojvodinian Hungarians. Will relations between the Hungarian and Serb peoples and the Serb majority and the Vojvodinian Hungarian minority be manageable, or normal?" asks Dr. Csaba Tabajdi (MSZP MP) pertinently in the columns of Nepszabadsag.

Meanwhile, the Hungarian Chief of staff, Colonel Ferenc Vegh, after a meeting with his Luxembourg counterpart, declares that "Although I cannot state that the situation is entirely without danger to Hungary, I can state that Hungary is in complete safety since we are members of NATO". He went on to reiterate that the Hungarian armed forces have taken every possible step to ensure Hungary's safety, that its actions are imbued with cautious resolution and that it is capable of responding to any eventuality.

The Foreign Minister, Mr Janos Martonyi, travels to Bonn to take part in an EU Troika meeting which also includes representatives of Yugoslavia's neighbours. The aims of the conference are to harmonise political action intended to stabilise the region and to orchestrate humanitarian aid efforts. A document produced by the Foreign Ministry condemns the flagrant violations of human rights as well as the deliberate genocide being perpetrated against the innocent civilian population. In this context, according to the document, NATO's determination to put an immediate end to the violence is completely justified. Those responsible for the genocide must be made accountable for their crimes, and given that the inundation of refugees has placed an unbearable burden upon the economies of Yugoslavia's neighbours, NATO must act to prevent the crisis spreading further along these lines as well. Hungary realises that the sole key to finding a settlement lies in the hands of the Yugoslav government and Hungary continues to be confident that that government will cease military action and return to the negotiating table. Hungary also calls upon Belgrade to keep the conflict well away from the Hungarian border and from the Vojvodinian Hungarians and to do everything in its power to assure their safety.

"Hungarian Refugee Camps Full to the Gunwales". In Bekescsaba, Debrecen and Bicske a maximum of 500 more refugees could be offered shelter. In order to reduce the overcrowding, accommodation would have to be provided by the Red Cross in Budapest and in Somogy county in the former co-operative workers' quarters. The latter facility has room for 450 on a temporary basis, of which 242 are already occupied.

"Humiliated Empire". Gabor Stier devotes an editorial to the Russian reaction to events in Yugoslavia: "Many people's blood ran cold when the Russian Premier turned back his plane which was heading towards Washington. Shortly after Primakov took his decision, NATO fighter-bombers took off from Aviano and the winds of the Cold War whipped through the mind on hearing Moscow's reactions. The days that have passed since then demonstrate however that Russian foreign policy has not done an about-turn in spite of the fact that the rhetorical threats issued were intended primarily for domestic consumption. 'No one can plunge Russia into war!' stated President Yeltsin resolutely and reassuringly. Not even Slav brothers, we might add, who are actually, in spite of the wishes of the West, doing their bit to help the Kremlin halt the retreat from the world stage it has had imposed on it for years, since Russia's role - perhaps as the only mediator that promises any hope of success - is becoming increasingly important in parallel to the increasing duration of the air strikes. This is also shown by the fact that Moscow has been granted IMF credits which are of the utmost importance to it in spite of the postponement of the trip to Washington which, in diplomatic terms, was unusual, and in spite of the fact that it has not complied with the internal conditions that were drafted at an earlier stage. It was subsequent to all this that Primakov set off for Belgrade and, even though his mission did not lead to a breakthrough - Milosevic's concessions were not sufficient for NATO - some movement was observed: it was as if the Yugoslav President had begun to back down to the extent that it was possible for him to do so in accordance with the options open to him.

From all of this, it becomes apparent that true great power games are being played out in the shadow of the Balkan crisis, as the bombing of Yugoslavia is the opening act of a new world order. In this international realignment, Helsinki-type security and co-operation mechanisms are increasingly becoming a thing of the past. The UN Security Council is in urgent need of reform, it can be circumvented, as in the current case NATO did, on taking action without prior authorisation.

The White House has also demonstrated to the Kremlin beyond a shadow of a doubt that America is the only superpower left in the international arena. With its enlargement towards the East and after last year's bombing of Iraq, America took no account of Moscow's interests, conspicuously so this time round when what is virtually Russia's back yard is affected, and the even more sensitive territory of curbing Slav brothers was involved. In decisions which have a fundamental effect on the rest of the world, Washington is trying more and more to make this lasting and significant difference felt - for example the fact that America's GDP is almost 40 times greater than that of Russia - a difference which had developed between the two superpowers anyway".

April 2nd. The Munkaspart (Workers' Party, see above) issues a communiqué according to which a low-flying military aircraft seriously violated the closed airspace of the area around the nuclear power station at Paks at a height of only 500 metres. If the slightest error had occurred, this could have given rise to a serious nuclear accident. The aircraft's markings were not identified and the Munkaspart's document urged the Ministry of defence to investigate the matter. The Ministry later denied that there was any substance to the news.

The Hungarian Embassy in Belgrade suspends all its activities after the premises were subjected to an attack on Wednesday afternoon during which the windows were smashed, the facade was vandalised and the remaining members of staff were threatened. The two technical staff were subsequently recalled to Budapest. A protest was sent to the Yugoslav Embassy in the Hungarian capital, in which the Hungarian government called upon the authorities in Belgrade to discharge their duty under international law and take steps to prevent similar incidents occurring again.

A spokesman on behalf of the Foreign Ministry emphasised that the closure of the embassy did not let the host country off the hook in terms of guaranteeing the integrity of the building.

In the course of air strikes, NATO aircraft bombed one of the bridges over the Danube that links the regional capital of the Vojvodina with the town of Petervar, which counts as part of its suburbs. The iron bridge, built by German prisoners of war in 1946, collapsed entirely beneath the waters. The explosion has not cut the Vojvodina off from Belgrade. The destruction of the bridge probably took place because of the psychological impact it would have. Immediately prior to the attack, police stopped a bus which would otherwise have driven across.

April 3rd. In an article in Magyar Hirlap, Miklos Szabo writes: "At the time of the collapse of Communism, there was a possibility, at least in principle, of the countries liberated from Soviet dominion becoming neutral. This was, however, made impossible due to the situation of Hungarian minorities living in neighbouring countries becoming the most important national problem. This involved the new Hungarian state taking on board an active commitment to preserve the Hungarian minorities' chances of ethnic survival, making this into a national task. This policy towards neighbouring countries signified a different kind of activity within the realm of foreign policy to the completion of tasks style of activity carried out by neutral countries. A country that gets mixed up in lasting conflicts with its neighbours cannot get involved in sorting out conflicts between other countries as a neutral mediator. In the days around 1989, Hungary could not discard the instrument of applying pressure in the interests of Hungarian minorities as part of her foreign policy repertoire, and this is why neutrality had to be renounced. From the change of system onwards the country could only think in terms of NATO membership because in its conflict-ridden situation it could not remain in an unclear position as far as foreign policy was concerned. In this context, a lack of relations would have narrowed rather than extended room for manoeuvre within foreign policy".

The Foreign Minister, Mr Janos Martonyi, interviewed in Magyar Nemzet expressed his views about Hungarian membership of NATO and Hungary's stance on the crisis. "On my part, I can simply repeat my gratitude to fate that the air strikes against Yugoslavia began once Hungary had become a member of the Alliance. [...] With hindsight, Hungarian diplomacy's staunch efforts throughout the last few months to bring forward the day of membership appear entirely vindicated. It is now possible to discern the great difference that exists between NATO membership and being outside the Alliance. We would most probably have authorised the use of our airspace and our airports even if we had not been members of NATO. [...] We cannot overlook the fact that the members of a minority are falling victim to ethnic cleansing and genocide simply by dint of their belonging to a minority. At present the genocide is gaining in intensity, but I would like to stress that the activities pointing to this had already been launched before NATO had intervened. NATO has to put a stop to this process.

Hungary, with the full consent of our Atlantic Allies, is not taking part in the military strikes. We are putting both our air space and our airports at NATO's disposal, but that does not mean participation in military action. There is no danger whatsoever to the country's security. It cannot be in the interests of the Serb leaders to stimulate any kind of conflict with Hungary, since this would entail the most detrimental political and military consequences for them. I believe we can exclude the possibility altogether. If, however, they were to become carried away and commit some irrational, illogical act, then our membership of NATO would indeed have created a new situation in this one respect. Hungary is under the complete protection of an alliance, and that alliance has an arsenal of all the instruments needed to defend us against any kind of attack".

On the subject of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina and their fears: "This fear is justified, but panic is not. The Hungarians of the Vojvodina have at their disposal level-headed, circumspect politicians. In the current situation it is of the utmost importance that we maintain close relations with them on a daily basis. We receive detailed information about the situation in the Vojvodina every day. As far as the representation of the interests of the Hungarians there is concerned, NATO decisions take full account of the Vojvodinian Hungarians as they are worked out. Whenever we submit proposals and state our opinions within the NATO Council we take account of the views of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina and draw attention to them. We also indicate our concerns about the Vojvodinian Hungarians to the Yugoslav government since we maintain unchanged the diplomatic relations between the two countries. We indicate our concerns and continue to maintain our demand, for example, that young Hungarian conscripts should not be sent to the theatre of operations in Kosovo. we are convinced that the air strikes are not targeted against either the Serb people or the peoples of Yugoslavia. We are confident that when the situation settles down then relations between Hungary and Yugoslavia, between the Serb and the Hungarian peoples will continue to develop. The prerequisite for this to happen is for the Yugoslav leaders to take account of the justified demands of the Vojvodinian Hungarians. The third realm of support is that of direct humanitarian aid. The Hungarians of the Vojvodina can always rely on the mother country looking upon them as part of the nation and, in keeping with that, will always provide them with the help they need".

On the possible economic effects of the war on Hungary: "The government has already gauged the effects of the current crisis on the economy in detail. These effects crucially depend on how long the conflict lasts. This is another reason why we are interested in peace being restored as soon as possible. I do not think that the investment environment in Hungary will deteriorate. In my opinion, the current state of affairs has no significant influence on investments in Hungary. Without a doubt certain regions will be adversely affected on a temporary basis, but even so, investment policy remains a long-term enterprise. even if the conflict were to become protracted, I do not believe that this would have a considerable effect on foreign investment in Hungary".

April 6th. From Nepszabadsag: Storms are brewing on the other side of the Hungarian Yugoslav border. Laszlo Jozsa, one of the Vice Presidents of the association of Vojvodinian Hungarians, points out that Hungary's commitments as a member of NATO are diametrically opposed to her concern for the Hungarians he represents. He feels that after granting permission to NATO to make use of Hungarian airspace, Hungary ought not to give any further help towards attacks on Yugoslavia. Although up to now there have been no manifestations of ethnic intolerance against the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, the risk of such tensions coming to the surface increase as time goes by, he added.

In an interview on Hungarian Radio, Mr Jozsef Kasza, a leading light of the Association of Vojvodinian Hungarians announced that the Hungarian government's policy is ruining the chances of his minority and making their position more difficult. He feels that too great an emphasis is being placed on Hungary's NATO commitments. In his opinion, no commitment is so great as to warrant Hungary becoming embroiled in a conflict with her neighbours, and would certainly not warrant her declaring war on them. In his eyes, the Hungarian Prime Minister's pronouncement that NATO has historical justice on its side is tantamount to sacrificing the Hungarians of the Vojvodina.

The Hungarian Red Cross appeals to the population, to companies and to institutions to give immediate aid to the refugees from Kosovo, setting up a bank account for donations.

Nepszabadsag: Laszlo Kovacs talks to the media after a personal meeting with Mr Solana in Brussels: "We urge the government, in the light of Hungary's peculiar situation, to take an initiative within NATO to arrive at a solution that will guarantee the cease-fire, the return of the refugees, a lasting political solution as well as the cohesion and the prestige of the alliance".

Nepszabadsag: According to reports on Radio Free Europe, 40,000 people in the Vojvodina have lost their supply of drinking water as a result of NATO strikes.

NATO bombers have demolished yet another bridge over the Danube in the Vojvodina, cutting the administrative capital off from yet another of its neighbouring towns. Cars, pedestrians and cyclists were crossing at the time. Seven wounded were taken to hospital and an unknown number were hurtled into the river. Cries for help were audible as they plunged into the water. Air raid sirens went off after the second explosion. In the Vojvodina, only one other bridge remains intact.

A convoy of lorries organised by the government transporting donations to help the Albanian refugees in Macedonia departed from the capital for the military air base in Taszar. The consignment included thousands of sheets and blankets as well as medicines and long-life food.

April 7th. Hungarian airspace breached. On the afternoon of Easter Sunday two Yugoslav MIG-29 fighters tangentially entered Hungarian airspace, the Minister of Defence confirmed. Their crossing into Hungarian air space did not represent a threat as it lasted only some thirty seconds and the NATO F-15s patrolling Hungary flew above them immediately. It is assumed that the violation occurred during a flawed turning manoeuvre. The Minister, Mr Janos Szabo, was quick to clarify that Hungary would not allow herself to be provoked as a similar step in response would only lead to escalation.

The capital of the Vojvodina was rocked by two major and three minor explosions on Easter Monday. One missile struck the oil refinery's fuel storage tank, the blast sweeping through the city, shattering many windows. The last bridge over the Danube, upon which trains cross the river, was hit but is still standing.

The Vojvodina has also been cut off from Serb TV channels as relay stations have come under fire. Their programmes, however, are being broadcast by a local channel whose transmissions can still be received.

From Nepszabadsag on the refugee problem) According to the Prime Minister, Mr Orban, since Hungary is a neighbour of Yugoslavia, it cannot establish a quota for refugees and Hungary would be willing to take in any refugee arriving there from Yugoslavia on a temporary basis, as she indeed did during the Bosnian crisis. Temporary shelters and buildings are being made ready for the refugees. In the meantime, Hungary has not been flooded with refugees. In the last fortnight, 300 Yugoslav citizens have applied for asylum in Hungary.

April 8th. The Defence Policy Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office reassures the public that there are no signs of Hungary's security being put under threat. The closure of the Montenegrin, Macedonian and Albanian borders by Belgrade could mean that the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have gathered at the crossing points might become part of an action involving political hostages, or they might be driven north instead. On the subject of the violation of Hungarian airspace, the Secretary announced that Hungary had taken note of the explanation given by Belgrade, but could not discount the proliferation of similar "slips over the border" that took happened between 1990 and 1994. Against that backdrop, it cannot be precluded that Yugoslavia is trying to convince itself of Hungary's ability to react.

Nepszabadsag: On Wednesday afternoon, the first consignment of relief donations departed from the Taszar airbase. An American C-17 transport aircraft delivered the 50 tonne shipment via a humanitarian air corridor to Tirana.

Hungarian firms have offered one tonne of margarine and several quintals of sugar to help the refugees from Kosovo according to the spokesperson of the Hungarian Red Cross. Interpreters, hauliers and drivers have also offered their services to help with the forwarding of the donations. Many have also declared that they would be willing to take in Kosovo Albanian children.

Nepszabadsag: In Belgrade, Milosevic received Gyula Thurmer, President of the Munkaspart (Workers' Party), who in spite of having no official mandate whatsoever, is the only Hungarian politician that the Serb leader has been willing to talk to. According to reports on Belgrade radio, the guest "condemned NATO's culpable aggression" and expressed the Workers' Party's "solidarity and support" towards the people of Yugoslavia. He added that in Hungary there were considerable numbers of people who share his views and who are prepared to use any instrument to oppose Hungary's being drafted into the war. Milosevic said that it would be a tragic error if Hungary were to allow herself to be used as a tool by a "fascist NATO" in attacks against Yugoslavia.

April 9th. Nepszabadsag: During its Friday evening meeting, the government will examine the possibility of how Hungarian medical units can best help out in the refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania according to the Foreign Minister at a press conference. Ethnic cleansing is not only a tragic error, but also a crime. Hungary has always maintained that when she joined NATO, she was not merely joining a military alliance, but also a community of values and it is therefore important that these values should be preserved and maintained, he said.

In the course of his visit to Brussels, the Foreign Minister succeeded in convincing NATO allies that the 350,000-strong unarmed and vulnerable community of Vojvodinian Hungarians is not a purely Hungarian problem, but concerns the Alliance as a whole. NATO is basically interested in avoiding the sort of process which has been taken to its extreme conclusion in Kosovo unfolding in the Vojvodina, he explained.

Nepszabadsag: In the town of Deszk in Csongrad county, Serb language leaflets have been found in the gardens of some houses according to the Mayor, Mr Jozsef Simicz, who went on to stress that their origin is a complete mystery. The leaflets justify the NATO air strikes.

The Mayor pointed out that 160 Serbs live in the town, which has a total population of 3,000. The head of the Serb local government had issued a joint statement with the Mayor condemning both NATO's attacks and the inhumane events taking place in Kosovo. A copy was sent to their twin town in the Vojvodina.

Nepszabadsag: Gyula Thurmer, on his return from Yugoslavia, declared that the leaders of Yugoslavia do not consider their country to be at war with Hungary in spite of the fact that she is a member of NATO. The President of the Munkaspart had also met representatives of the Yugoslav United Left as well as the leaders of the Vojvodinian regional government. According to Mr Thurmer, Milosevic made it very plain that Yugoslavia has no plans to attack Hungary. They do not wish to become involved in reprisals at the present juncture, though if the war were to spread, this could change. Both sides hope that this will not happen. Milosevic had warned Mr Thurmer that if Hungary were either to allow her territory to be used in conjunction with ground force operations, or if she were to take part in such operations with armed forces, this would have tragic consequences.

Two Hungarian officers form part of NATO's rapid reaction force. If they were to be deployed, Parliament's consent would have to be obtained beforehand and the government would submit the relevant proposal. Even if they were to take part in actions against Yugoslavia, this would still not mean that Hungary had declared war on Yugoslavia.

April 10th. Nepszabadsag: The Belgian senator, Mr Alain Destexhe, President of the International Crisis Group made a proposal in an article published in Le Monde that NATO should get rid of Slobodan Milosevic by means of a ground attack through Hungary. According to the article's author, Milosevic and the Yugoslav army would stand not even the slightest chance of success against a NATO attack via Hungary and the Vojvodina. The senator is convinced that such a proposal would meet with Hungarian reservations and would create a further new precedent in international law, as well as increasing the risk seen from the point of view of antagonising Russia. These risks would have to be weighed up against those entailed by Milosevic remaining in power. Mr Martonyi vehemently denied any substance to speculations about intervention on the ground.

Brigadier Lajos Erdelyi, spokesman on behalf of the Ministry of Defence, responded to the Belgian's hypothesis by reiterating that NATO has no plans to launch a ground offensive against Yugoslavia. In order to take any further steps beyond what has already been done, Parliamentary consent would have to be given.

A Danish air force C-130 aircraft is transporting 15 tonnes of food, tents, blankets and personal hygiene products to Albania.

The results of a fresh opinion poll on Hungary's views on the military action were published in Magyar Nemzet, revealing that little has changed in terms of support for the bombardments. 61% agreed with them. 84% of respondents in Budapest thought that the situation had deteriorated as a result of the intervention, although the picture alters slightly when its long-term effects are considered, where 54% felt that it would improve the situation. Furthermore, 37% of respondents in the capital felt were completely opposed to the spread of war by military action on the ground. Finally, in the course of the last fortnight, fears about the conflict reaching Hungary have abated, with 45% (compared with the previous figure of 54%) expressing worry about this possibility.

In Diplomacy's Dilemmas, Lajos Pietsch gives a brilliant analysis of the sensitive situation confronting Hungary: "Hungarian diplomacy has not been in an easy situation in relation to the war in Kosovo that has lasted over two weeks. On the one hand, it has to prove its commitment to NATO - and it has been doing so - whilst on the other hand taking account of the trials and tribulations of the over 300,000 Vojvodinian Hungarians. Nor can it forget that Yugoslavia will still be our neighbour even when the war is over. The three-pronged system of foreign policy priorities comprising Euro-Atlantic integration, neighbourly relations and support of the Hungarians living abroad have remained unchanged since the change of system. At most, the emphasis placed on the importance of the main aims has shifted in the different periods, whereas since 1990 all three governments have avowed that the foreign policy priorities rank equal and are mutually interdependent. Sticking to that has never been more important than it is now.

As to the point of departure, it is that Hungary can never have any interest in any war, especially not if it is waged in one of her neighbours. In spite of this one has to take account of the fact that membership of NATO gives rise to the need to demonstrate - even by assuming a symbolic role - the new Atlantic commitment to the aims and values espoused and represented by the alliance. Granting permission to use air space and airports served as such proof. More was not asked of Hungary, and the country could not have undertaken more, partly because of the fact that she is a neighbour, and partly because of the indisputable vulnerability of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina.

In the Vojvodina, and this has been reflected in the proclamations of the last few days, the Hungarians are in an extremely difficult situation. Due to NATO air strikes, there is a growing fear of retaliation on the part of Serb extremists and of a nationalist whispering campaign. They are afraid that more Hungarians than previously will be called up and that finally the young men might be stationed on the front lines in Kosovo. Naturally, this anxiety has been intensified by the knowledge that, in the interests of sending the Milosevic regime into disarray, even targets in the Vojvodina have not been spared, regardless of whether we are talking about the bridges there or other industrial sites that have been deemed as strategic. They are undergoing daily traumas, fearing for their parents, their children, their households, their entire lives up to that point in time. The worry felt there is entirely comprehensible, and the fact that a mass movement of refugees has not set off towards Hungary bears witness to the strong attachments and to the human staying power of these people in the face of an increasingly difficult ordeal. Under such circumstances, it can come as no surprise that Jozsef Kasza, alongside several other Vojvodinian Hungarian leaders, has made sensitive and sharp declarations, heaping accusations on NATO and the Hungarian government as well. These declarations arise from the immeasurable embitteredness, from the hopelessness and from the presumed understanding that Hungary, member of NATO has abandoned them to their fate.

In the same way that Hungarian diplomacy has proven that it can fulfil its compulsory commitments and that it takes its membership of NATO seriously, it must now also prove that it is continuously attentive to the Vojvodinian Hungarians in this extremely delicate situation. In the present circumstances every tiny deed, recommendation, gesture and, last but not least, word, can play an extremely important role. This is why there is a greater need than ever before to keep up relations with the Vojvodinian Hungarian leaders and to provide evidence on an almost daily basis that the government will not under any circumstances leave them in the lurch. It is true that the instruments available are limited, although the fact that Hungary can raise her voice in the interests of the protection and security of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina as a member of NATO ought not to be neglected. Equally, with this as our point of departure, there is a need to maintain contact with Yugoslavia and to emphasise that, in spite of the war, Hungary is interested in normal neighbourly relations, in the cohabitation of the Serb and the Hungarian peoples and in the restoration of stability as soon as possible.

Fortunately there has been no word of a flood of refugees heading in our direction and the conflict will hopefully not reach such a point that we will have to reckon with an influx of refugees along the lines of what was encountered in conjunction with Bosnia. It is in our fundamental interests that the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, just like the other Hungarians living abroad, should remain in the land of their birth. But if they have to flee nevertheless, support cannot be denied, as the government has decided. Not even if the country would hardly be capable of taking in several hundred thousand refugees without international aid.

Nobody is glad about this war, a war in which Hungary, as a member of NATO, has undeniably been given a role to play. Given that things have turned out this way, this contribution must be organised so that Hungary not only lives up to the expectations of her NATO allies, but also makes sure that she does not disappoint the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, who view events through a different filter due to their grounded fears concerning their safety. Today, this is the greatest task facing Hungarian diplomacy and, if you like, it is its greatest dilemma as well".

Gusztav Kosztolanyi, 19 April 1999.

Unless otherwise acknowledged, the source used in this article is Magyar Nemzet.

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