Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 34
17 May 1999

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

Gusztav Kosztolanyi

The highly visible and symbolic stationing of NATO KC-135s at Ferihegy Airport on the outskirts of Budapest dominated Hungarian newspapers and political debate last week. To opponents of the NATO air strikes, the issue must have seemed like manna from heaven, as it could easily be depicted as sliding down a slippery slope towards a ground assault on Yugoslavia via Hungary. This was the week when Hungary could no longer suppress or deny the extent of her involvement: she was expected to play along with the will of her bigger allies.

EDITORS NOTE: Over the past seven weeks, CER's analyst Gusztav Kosztolanyi has written over 43,000 words examining the situation of Hungary in the current phase of the Balkan crisis. To see his earlier contributions, have a look at:


Prime Minister Viktor Orban, along with the other members of his cabinet, tried to play it down, stepping up a gear whilst avoiding the appearance of doing so. The prime minister took great pains to emphasise that the arrival of the tanker aircraft was merely a logical extension of policy and could not be regarded as a radical new departure. There was no need to read between the lines and predict that worse was yet to come, as the issue of a ground-based attack on Yugoslavia had not featured on the agenda at the NATO summit. Orban refrained from stating explicitly that a continuation of the air strikes was certainly the lesser of two evils, but this consideration hovered in the background nevertheless.

Far from being an object of indifference, the fate of the Hungarians in the Vojvodina was given star billing in the Parliamentary debate. The issue has become inextricably linked with appraisals of NATO's handling of the crisis, and Hungary has discovered her own peculiar niche within NATO: that of acting as advocate of the minority's interests, using the moral leverage she has as the only front line ally to good effect, as the Foreign Minister was quick to emphasise. The government is careful to bring its achievements to the forefront of public attention as a means of consolidating its base of support. From this vantage point, the timing of the crisis was extremely fortuitous.

April 27th: Nepszabadsag. The Hungarian government decides to follow the example set by the EU and join the oil embargo against Yugoslavia. Questioned about whether the embargo could be extended to include natural gas, the government spokesman, Gabor Borokai, replied that once the EU provided a detailed list of products to be included, the government would once again enter into negotiations.

April 28th: Nepszabadsag. The team of Hungarian doctors originally scheduled to depart for Albania on Monday finally make their way to the refugee camps. The cause of the delay was engine trouble in the Belgian C-130 that was due to fly them out. The medical team, specialising in epidemic prevention, will settle down to work in Hamalai, 22 kilometres Northwest of Durres.

Nepszabadsag. In an interview with Laszlo Pavelcze, Attila Seres learns about the activities of the Hungarian Special Rescue Team, who captured the public imagination in Hungary last spring as they participated in rescue operations in the town of Sarno, Italy, saving many hapless victims of the catastrophic mud slides. The contacts they established on that occasion had proven invaluable in the course of organising their current trajectory, according to Pavelcze. Instead of proceeding through Macedonia, they chose a route through Italy, enjoying the hospitality of the firemen they had met in Bari. The Hungarian Embassy in Rome intervened on their behalf as did their Italianacquaintances to gain them a passage across the Adriatic on board a vessel of the Italian navy, which took them as far as Durres, from where they made their way to Tirana. A consignment of medicines from the Biogal pharmaceutical plant, worth some 15 million forints, was handed over by the team in Tirana, although this proved to be a difficult and time-consuming exercise, taking up three days of effort. >From Tirana, the team will head for its final destination of Kukes.

The main task to be carried out will be that of assisting a unit of Italian riflemen by providing emergency medical care. In addition, the team will take charge of a further aid consignment comprising three lorry loads, which has not yet left Hungary.

The present team is made up of nine members, with one further colleague expected as of Monday. In the meantime, there will be a changeover, since most of the doctors, nurses and firemen who work in the team do so on a voluntary basis, sacrificing their leave to take part, and, as such, they cannot escape the commitment of their everyday jobs. There are some 60 names on a waiting list in Hungary, so there is no lack of potential reinforcements or relief teams on standby. The Hungarian army and Civil Defence are also sending medical staff, tempted by prospects of better pay. The Special Rescue Team cannot compete from a financial point of view: it cannot even pay per diem to its members, depending entirely on donations made by firms and private individuals specifically for the purpose of doing its work. The team do not exactly squander this money by living in the lap of luxury: they do not lodge in a hotel in Tirana, but sleep in their vans in the Hungarian Embassy's car park. The tents awaiting them in Kukes promise to be comfortable by comparison.

The Hungarian Parliament holds an extraordinary debate on the events in Kosovo. Prime Minister Orban is the first speaker to take the floor: "We must certainly not resign ourselves to unexpected situations, at least not in the sense that we fail to notice the sufferings of others, the human tragedies, that we do not undertake efforts to surmount fresh obstacles and that we do not work at finding the best possible solutions. This year, each and every one of us has been given a thorough lesson, teaching us that if something occurs suddenly and virtually without prior warning, something, which endangers human lives, the work of generations or thousands of homes, then we must think through what has to be done in a sober and collected manner, we must think through how much of our strength is enough, what we can sacrifice without this damaging others. It is only possible to move to action once we have given a resolute answer to these questions. This is the situation vis-a-vis Kosovo and the NATO strikes against Yugoslavia as well.

Ladies and Gentlemen! In Kosovo, a series of inhumane deeds have been carried out and are still being carried out, deeds that are redolent of the darkest period in the Middle Ages: systematic murders, mass rapes, an attempt to wipe out an entire people, to drive it away, to banish it. No one is sitting back and watching this taking place, no one can sit back and watch it take place. For years on end, and at various international fora, the international community has attempted to encourage the ethnic groups who live side by side in Yugoslavia to settle their conflicts peacefully. There was ample time to think matters through thoroughly, even to think matters through repeatedly. Today, each and every one of us knows that the Serb leaders used the negotiations to buy time, to prepare and launch their genocidal actions. No other response was left open to the international community than that of military force to protect the lives of the Albanian minority, and it was only by using military strikes that it could prevent the violence from spreading further.

The events taking place in our immediate vicinity are not such as to leave us unmoved. One the one hand, over 300,000 members of our nation live in a country in which the regime systematically wipes out national minorities. This fact fundamentally influences our attitude to the events taking place, but even if no Hungarians lived on the territory of today's Yugoslavia, would it not still be our duty to do everything in our power in the interests of our own country and those of our neighbouring peoples?

The experiences gathered in the region and the way in which the negotiations became protracted compelled the government coalition to think through carefully what we would be able to do to ensure that the conflict raging in our vicinity could be settled such that the citizens of our country and the Hungarians of the Vojvodina would enjoy the maximum possible level of protection. Already in October, we could see that in order to safeguard the stability and independence of the region and in the light of the crisis already then brewing in Kosovo, the best of all possible courses of action to take would be the course that we subsequently followed, namely that of pressing for Hungarian membership of NATO within the framework of the Visegrad initiative. This, as you might recall, is precisely what we did. What happened was that our country became a member of the Alliance ahead of schedule. Time proved us right. Our swift accession to NATO meant that, when the war broke out, we were no longer alone and vulnerable, but were fully-fledged members of the most powerful military alliance.

Ladies and Gentlemen! When lightning strikes nearby, we all take fright. Small wonder then that the citizens of Hungary, particularly those who live along the Southern frontier, are concerned about the outcome and consequences of the NATO strikes. It is true that we are living through difficult weeks and months, but it is extremely important for us to realise that it is not possible for us to be safer than we are under the present circumstances. Let us cast our minds back, esteemed colleagues in the House, to our decision in October, when the House decided that it would put our air space and our airports at NATO's disposal for actions it might wish to take.

Following an embittered debate and a hard struggle, without the promise of a full set of guarantees from NATO, we took our decision. I know that you, the members of the Hungarian Parliament, are familiar with the so-called Washington Treaty, NATO's founding document, but every Hungarian family must also know what that treaty stipulates: if the territory of any NATO member is attacked, then this must be looked upon by all the members of NATO as if it were their own territory that had been attacked. NATO, therefore, forthwith and with every means at its disposal, would immediately defend every ally, including Hungary, if that ally were to get into difficulties. It is no coincidence that, since NATO came into being, no one has anywhere tried to issue threats against the safety of the citizens of any NATO member. Attacking Hungary today would be tantamount to declaring war on the USA, Britain and Germany all at once.

Pressing for NATO membership was, therefore, the first step we had to take. This fortunate situation has also meant that, in the shape of Hungary, the Vojvodinian Hungarians have a serious opportunity to have their interests represented amongst the members of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Honourable House! Ladies and Gentlemen! In Washington during the weekend, our most important goal was to incorporate the issue of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina into the considerations of the Western European and North American decision-makers in a fitting way and with the appropriate degree of emphasis. We lived up to the stated aim. Every single document that touches upon this issue, every statement that saw the light of day that deals with this matter does indeed examine the Vojvodina and the Vojvodinian Hungarians fittingly and with an appropriate degree of emphasis.

Even so, the position of the Vojvodinian Hungarians remains difficult. It is, however, incomparably easier now that we are members of NATO than it would have been had the Hungarians there had nothing but a weak, non-NATO, isolated Hungary to rely on as a mother-country. Now, what we have is a strong Hungary, a NATO ally to represent the interests of the Vojvodinian Hungarians.

Ladies and Gentlemen! The careful thinking through of the situation in Kosovo cannot stop with our having become members of NATO. It is manifestly in our interests, particularly in our interests as Hungarians, for the situation of the Albanian minority to be resolved as soon as possible, for the war-like conflict to end as soon as possible, for the reconstruction work to be commenced and for the plan for a settlement to be born so that everything can return to normal. We too have to make a contribution for this to come about, not simply because we are members of NATO, but because we are all impelled to act by natural human compassion. We must further the cause of a settlement being achieved as soon as possible without harming ourselves. It is precisely for this reason, ladies and gentlemen, that neither Hungary nor Hungarian soldiers have taken part in, nor will they take part in a military offensive. What we can do is to facilitate the transport of military forces and aid consignments, we can allow them to cross our air space, and we can open our air ports to them. This is what we have already done.

At this juncture, I would like to thank you for the unified, virtually unanimous support that you and all of the political parties have given to the government for the opening up of the airports. It was a good feeling to be able to negotiate in Washington in the full appreciation of this unity behind us, this national joining of forces, if you prefer to call it thus. It is in keeping with this Parliamentary decision, as we have already announced, that 20 NATO air-to-air refuelling aircraft will be stationed at Ferihegy One Airport, together with their ground equipment and ground crews. Given that I have heard many rumours doing the rounds, I would like to stress that no aircraft have taken off from Hungary to participate in combat up to the present date. On several occasions, it has been the case that aircraft heading off for combat duty have made use of Hungarian air space to refuel in the air, returning to combat afterwards. Up to now, however, more than this has not been done.

Ladies and Gentlemen! The question most frequently asked, the question which is of concern to all of us after a month has elapsed, refers to the prospects, and to what we can expect by way of results of the NATO strikes. There were some people who expected that the action would yield tangible results as soon as the first air raid sirens went off, but I can assure you that experts on the region and the political and military leaders of NATO, ourselves included, had not drawn up our plans on that assumption, and it would have come as a surprise to us if it had turned out that way. In the interests of attaining the military and political aims, NATO has thus far completed 11,000 air sorties, including 4,500 strikes. These are colossal figures, but, in order to satisfy the aims we have set ourselves, in order to halt the ethnically motivated carnage, the air strikes must continue with undiminished intensity. As you will have ascertained on the basis of the communiques issued in conjunction with the NATO summit, the members of the alliance do not currently deem ground force deployment sufficiently essential even for us to have put it on the agenda for discussion at the summit. Military and political leaders expressly agree that the stated aims can be achieved on the basis of the air strikes. Although we have every reason to feel impatient, calm and patience remain the keys to a solution".

Istvan Csurka, leader of the Hungarian Justice and Life Party (extreme right wing), took the floor to respond: "The Prime Minister's words on the Kosovo crisis filled me with a pleasant feeling because, once again, we have been able to ascertain that the government and the majority of its members share the same way of looking at the serious situation, and look towards the Hungarian nation, the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, the mother country and every Hungarian together.

This crisis is one of the biggest scandals of the century. All of us must realise this before anything else. Events that took place during this century, world wars contributed to its occurrence.

Its resolution too demands particular attention. I do not wish to single out the matter of Hungary's involvement, because it is familiar to you all.

There is only one issue for which the government is rebuked, and that is that the government lacks a communication strategy in this peculiar situation. It is true that there is some truth to this, but the core of the problem is far more serious, however. For the time being, unfortunately, no account has been given of why the Hungarians as a state and as a nation are taking part in this war. For the time being, not one single influential group in society has accounted for what the Hungarian's aims are in this war, and that gives rise to the feeling that the government and the country, the entire state is being swept along, dragged into it. It is not for this reason alone that the feeling that a war leads to more and more questions being asked every minute, but also because of this failure to explain why we are involved. This is why - it is not yet too late! - the Parliament, the government and society must make it clear why we are taking part, whether it is simply because we are members of NATO and it is part and parcel of membership, or whether we actually have our own aims. Well then, I reckon that if we formulate our own aims, an easier time will be had by all.

What could our aim be? Identifying ourselves with the aim of NATO as a whole, that of prohibiting every state from eliminating its own internal minorities, from ruining them, prohibiting them from doing this in the interests of the democratic system thriving not only in the Balkans, but throughout the territory of the Carpathian Basin as well? If this is NATO's aim, we may indeed identify ourselves with that. Above and beyond this, we must also determine our national aims, which involves stipulating that Hungary must be allowed to enjoy the greatest possible degree of security and that all the Hungarians living beyond her frontiers must be guaranteed the fairest conditions in which to live their lives, autonomy, self-determination - sorry, that was a tautology - and, perhaps by means of a referendum the sort of living conditions that can only become a reality within the framework provided by the Hungarian state must be provided. If this is the aim Hungarians set themselves, and there is no violence whatsoever involved in this, as history has placed this possibility in front of us, then it will be apparent to every Hungarian why we are taking part in the war, and the feeling of being swept along by events will dissipate.

For this reason, I would like, respectfully to commend to the Parliament and to the government that they set out these aims as accurately and resolutely as possible, and all of the questions that have left Hungarian society in a state of uncertainty will be cleared up".

Laszlo Kovacs, former Foreign Minister, spoke on behalf of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP): "When it comes to judging the question that faces us, we must take Hungary's and the Hungarian nation's interest as our starting point. I am convinced that it is in the country's and the nation's interest that the Kosovo crisis should be resolved as soon as possible and that the risk to Hungary and to the Hungarians of the Vojvodina be as small as possible.

The precondition of such a resolution is that the Serb leaders put a stop to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, that they withdraw their soldiers, their paramilitary forces and their other armed units from Kosovo, that they make it possible for the exiled Kosovo Albanians to return to their homes, and for this to happen under the supervision of international military forces, since the exiled Albanians will not return under any other conditions. Afterwards the settlement may be implemented. The settlement must be durable, and it must be comprehensive. The settlement must guarantee the political, economic and social stability of the region, and in order to achieve this, democracy must be established, human rights must be guaranteed, the rights of minorities must be put into practice in full and in accordance with European standards and practice, and the rebuilding of the economy must be assured.

The government, which is the government of a NATO member state, must work in the interests of all this. In order to do so, it must first and foremost steer clear of a situation in which Hungary is swept along by events, or that public opinion is given the impression that Hungary is being swept along by events. Events have to be shaped, in particular they have to be shaped in line with the interests of the country and the nation, respecting, naturally, the bounds of the possible. The government must make clear how we look upon the limits of Hungarian consent to the settlement of the crisis, to the type and to the extent of participation. These limits are linked to the fact that a neighbouring country is involved and to the vulnerability of the 350,000 Hungarians of the Vojvodina.

The Socialist stance is that - taking everything into account - no ground force attacks should be launched from Hungarian territory, and, if it goes ahead from somewhere else, Hungarian fighting units should not take part in it in any way.

It is also indispensable that the government should inform the Parliamentary parties, including the opposition parties on a continuous basis and in detail about the steps planned by NATO and those we can expect, about the requirements expected of Hungary, the risks they entail and their guarantees.

Parliamentary decisions must be taken in good time, with thorough deliberation and with the participation of then opposition parties. It is not acceptable for the political groups to have to take decisions in the space of minutes, that the groups be confronted with a fait accompli.

Within NATO, the government must manifest as much willingness to take initiatives as possible in order to promote a political settlement, since it is a political settlement that is in our interests and in those of the Vojvodinian Hungarians.

Finally, the government must unequivocally distance itself from those questions that are being raised with the object of revising the frontiers and pressing for the realisation of territorial ambitions. Such calls endanger not only the Hungarians of the Vojvodina, but also all Hungarian communities living in our neighbours, and they do serious damage to Hungary's international reputation. On this issue, esteemed members of the government, there is no room for ambiguity or for evasive answers".

These sentiments were echoed in the contribution to the debate made by Gabor Kuncze, on behalf of the Free Democrats: "...it is also extremely important that Hungary should not increase the level of tension, Hungary should not do anything that might stir up antagonism between the Serbs and the Hungarians of the Vojvodina. This is why, dear colleagues, it is extremely important that official Hungarian policy and the Hungarian government must clearly distance itself from making any demands to revise the frontiers, and these days no one can mention aspirations to gain autonomy in a situation such as this, because it is only on the basis of these two strands, of clear information and a clear delineation of Hungarian political aims that the citizens of Hungary will truly feel at ease and their fears will dissipate".

The Prime Minister rebutted the charges that his government had failed to provide information, then went on to tackle the thornier issues raised by the previous speakers: "It has also been suggested that the aims of the Hungarians in the present situation have not been set out by us thus far. I look upon this differently. I consider the aims of the Hungarians to be clear. To begin with: it is the aim and the interest of the Hungarians in this situation that in our region... and particularly in our vicinity no one should be allowed to perpetrate genocide. Partly because we are familiar with the history of the 20th century, and partly because we know that what can happen there today can also happen elsewhere tomorrow. Nipping this in the bud is the aim and interest of the Hungarians.

As far as the interests of the Hungarians living abroad is concerned, I can inform you that the government's viewpoint remains unchanged: the Hungarians living abroad, regardless of whose territory they dwell in, have a right to the living conditions that have been established by European tradition and practice for the minorities of other countries.

As to precisely what is actually in their interests and as to the means by which these interests should be achieved, the government has not altered its stance, in other words, it is not up to us to decide, nor is it up to the Hungarian Parliament to determine. How the Hungarians of the Vojvodina wish to live and what circumstances they wish to live in is up to them to decide. We too have followed their viewpoint in this up to now. This is precisely why I do not agree that it is not possible to speak of autonomy. It is possible to speak of autonomy, since the central point of the Vojvodinian Hungarians' programme is autonomy. As to whether it is expedient to discuss it now is another matter that is open to debate, but I refuse to accept that it is not possible to speak about it. Expediency of course requires that we express our viewpoints, which are, incidentally, acceptable in the appropriate place and at the appropriate time".

Csurka seemed to get his second wind after this, taking the floor for a second speech: "When the Hungarian state entered the Second World War, the then government set out its aims in such a way as to suggest that it was going to take part in the anti-Bolshevik committee and would destroy Bolshevism. This was not the true aim. The true aim was to defend and retain those territories that the country had been given back in accordance with the Vienna Awards and other similar decisions. Today we cannot debate the political soundness of these aims. History has passed judgement: the Hungarian state lost the Second World War, ended up on the side of the losers and was unable to realise any of the aims that had then been set.

Those who want to persuade the government to distance itself from raising the issue of the so-called territorial claims are obviously burdened down by these historical memories, and it is because of them that they fear that any pronouncement, demand, formulation or statement of aims of this type might harm the Hungarian people. Well, here we have a fundamental historical error. We are not at present in such a situation. Today, when we joined an alliance system of the type that we did, the largest alliance system, we cannot set ourselves aims which are beyond our strength to attain. This does not mean, however, that we cannot have our own aims, that we are not entitled to rethink, in this very historical situation, at this huge turning point, everything that has governed in our minds the steps that we have taken up to now. We are entitled to do so! We must rethink everything!

It is not possible for us to maintain the same relation to our own history, to formulate our decisions in the same way as we have done up to now. It is an impossibility. Now, therefore, that we are talking about being able to create a new situation for Hungarians simply because one of our neighbouring states has begun to wipe out its entire complement of ethnic minorities, and has, for that reason, put itself at odds with the entire rest of the world and has brought the attacks of the world's largest military force on its head, Hungarians may formulate aims that differ from those that they did not even dare to mention aloud in the last 60 or 80 years even under duress.

There is nothing irredentist about it if we say that Hungarians may state in the countries they live in where they wish to belong, and, if they have the opportunity, let them belong to the area of the mother country. These days that is not irredentism! These days, it is the most consistent Hungarian way of thinking and it does no injury to anyone! History has changed! Our situation has changed within it, and anyone who does not grasp this, anyone who even now continues to vigorously espouse the cause of refusing to recognise the change, anyone who wants to force the government to distance itself from that change is ignoring what has happened in the meantime".

It was then up to the Foreign Minister, Janos Martonyi, to inject a more dispassionate tone into the debate again: "First and foremost I would like to assure not just the leader of the political group, but every member of the Parliament and indeed every member of the Hungarian nation that the government entertains the greatest feeling of responsibility and the deepest commitment as regards the fate of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina.

We are in daily contact with the leading representatives of the Vojvodinian Hungarians, we fully understand their fears, their concerns, and we are aware that the Hungarians of the Vojvodina are living through the most difficult period of their history. First and foremost, I would like to express, on behalf of the government, our acknowledgement to the Hungarians of the Vojvodina for the perseverance which they have shown in wishing to remain in the land of their birth, in wishing to remain Hungarian and to make their way in the world as Hungarians, and as such contribute to the democratic transformation of their country. The Hungarian government will continue to give every possible support to the Vojvodinian Hungarians when it comes to attaining those aims in future as well.

Honourable House! Since the beginning of the conflict - but also before it began - we continuously made it clear to our allies that when every political and every military decision is taken the interests of the Vojvodinian Hungarians must most emphatically be taken into account.

We have succeeded in making our allies understand, and perhaps alongside them the rest of the world to boot, that here we are not dealing only with a specific Hungarian matter, concern or problem: it is the business of NATO and of the entire international community. Neither NATO nor the international community can tolerate yet another genocide, yet another campaign of ethnic cleansing. It would not be able to account for this to either public opinion in its own country nor to the world public opinion.

Our NATO allies have understood this. Perhaps I would even dare to say - though perhaps it sounds like an exaggeration - it is possible that they have for the first time truly understood something that every Hungarian leader has been trying to understand for the last eight or ten years, namely, that we have a duty as set out in the Hungarian Constitution to feel a sense of responsibility, that we are indeed obliged to feel this responsibility towards the parts of our nation that live beyond our borders, and that here in Central Europe the nation and the state do not always coincide. I believe that everyone now understands this along with the consequences it implies.

I would like to refer briefly to a point already mentioned by the Prime Minister, namely that the government's efforts bore fruit in the shape of due emphasis being accorded to the matter of the Vojvodinian Hungarians in the stance adopted at Washington. Should, however, a direct threat emerge nevertheless, that a process leading to serious violations of human rights get underway or should ethnic cleansing begin, then the Hungarian government would ensure that NATO would provide the requisite degree of protection and shelter that the situation called for. We are convinced that our allies will be both ready and willing for this.

Honourable Members of the House! The military strikes are continuing, but we are preparing for peace. Today, it is already clear to everyone that the consequences of the Kosovo settlement will be felt throughout Yugoslavia and presumably throughout the entire region. The Hungarian government has taken the initiative in elaborating plans for the political and economic reconstruction of the South East European region. The Washington Declaration clearly states that this reconstruction must take place whilst fully respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of every state in the region. For this reason, a revision of frontiers cannot be allowed for and the government has no such conception in mind".

The Minister of Defence, Janos Szabo, clarified the details of the government's authorisation for the stationing of twenty refuelling aircraft [KC-135s, the military version of Boeing 707s, manned by a crew of seven and capable of transporting 37 tonnes of fuel] at Ferihegy One Airport. All the necessary equipment would be brought to Ferihegy, but Hungarian troops would not be taking part in these activities. The first aircraft was scheduled to arrive yesterday evening, whilst the remainder would arrive within a week. Eight tanker aircraft would arrive in the first wave, to be joined in the second wave by the remaining twelve. According to the Minister, this did not represent a radical departure in policy, the only actual change was that the refuelling aircraft would take off from Hungarian soil.

Szabo also pointed out that Taszar air base and Kecskemet had also been discussed as possible sites for the stationing of the tankers, but experts deemed Ferihegy the most suitable option. At Tuesday's meeting of the cabinet, no mention had been made of stationing fighter aircraft.

Jozsef Kasza, President of the Association of Vojvodinian Hungarians and mayor of Szabadka, claimed that if NATO fighters were allowed to take off from Hungarian territory it would be putting the fates of the Hungarians of the Vojvodina at risk. The Hungarian Prime Minister responded by saying that the Foreign Ministry kept in constant touch with the representatives of the Vojvodinian Hungarians and that air strikes were not the same as playing with people's lives.

Magyar Hirlap. In Somogyi County, a 65-centimetre long and 60 millimetre diameter bomb from a NATO fighter was found on Monday on the outskirts of Boszenfa. The unexploded bomb had buried itself into the roadside and was destroyed by bomb disposal experts from the police force. The bomb had probably been dropped accidentally from an American fighter returning from a strike. The Minister of Defence stressed that the population was not at risk because the bomb was not armed. Only the pilot could prime the bomb, and if it had been jettisoned due to some problem or other, it would not explode. At the beginning of the month, near a dairy in Bacs-Kiskun a bomb from an aircraft had also been found and had likewise been detonated by the bomb disposal squad. The Mayor of Kaposvar, Karoly Szita (Fidesz), wrote to the Minister of Defence requesting further information about the investigation into the bomb found at Boszenfa. He did so because of the deep concern felt by the citizens of his city.

Magyar Hirlap. Yesterday afternoon, following a four-hour customs inspection, a train carrying equipment to be used for purposes of providing humanitarian aid departed from Komarom for Albania. The train consisting of 25 wagons will cross the Hungarian-Croatian border at Gyekenyes. Customs officials examined the train's documents as well as the contents of the wagons. As the consignment is not of a type that would require customs supervision, the train, which is transporting a Czech field hospital and its staff, will not be accompanied by customs officials, but five Hungarian soldiers will travel on it until it reaches the frontier.

Magyar Hirlap. Zsolt Lanyi, President of the Defence Committee of the Parliament has convened an extraordinary meeting for Thursday to determine on the basis of consultations with invited guests whether the possibility that NATO fighter aircraft might take off for their bombing operations from Hungarian territory is in keeping with the Hungarian Parliament's earlier decision concerning the use of Hungarian airport infrastructure.

Nepszabadsag. Tamas Suchman and Csaba Tabajdi, Socialist members of Parliament intend to submit a proposal to amend the decision taken by the Parliament on the use of Hungarian airports. Suchman explained that the gist of the modification was to remove the word "unlimited" from the passage in the text that pertained directly to the use of airports. The two MPs would like to prevent fighter aircraft departing on bombing missions against Yugoslavia from taking off from Hungarian soil. In Tabajdi's opinion, American politicians are divided as to the military operations in Yugoslavia, as demonstrated by the tied vote in Congress on the issue of stepping up the bombing campaign further. If the Americans are so deeply divided, said Tabajdi, then Hungary, Yugoslavia's immediate neighbour, should rethink her role and position because Orban had misled public opinion.

Magyar Hirlap. Targets in the Vojvodina are hit. In Novi Sad, the roar of aircraft engines could be heard in the early hours of the morning, along with heavy-duty flak, followed by a loud detonation in the hills opposite the city. Since the destruction of the concrete bridge over the Danube, water supplies have been obstructed, and in the dwellings along the right bank, only poor quality industrial water was available through the taps. There is as of yet no shortage of bread or milk, but flour and sugar can only be glimpsed occasionally, whilst cooking oil has run out altogether. Long queues form for cigarettes. There is also a severe shortage of every kind of fuel, cars on the roads are few and far between and city buses fail to turn up. Whoever can manage, walks or cycles to his destination.

Gusztav Kosztolanyi, 17 May 1999

Click here for Part VIII.


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