Hungary Report

A euroreporter from the Ovi magazine

Coalition is ‘at risk’

“If reforms are not proceeding, there is no point left for the SzDSz to remain within the government coalition,” Alliance of Free Democrats (SzDSz) president János Kóka said. The ultimatum-sounding words were triggered by several statements from senior Socialist Party (MSzP) officials, who demanded the healthcare reform should be reconsidered, and, if necessary, withdrawn.

Most explicit was the MSzP’s parliamentary party leader, Ildikó Lendvai, who said it may well be a possibility to keep all healthcare funds 100% state-owned. “Nobody wants this country to pay for the political risk that resulted from the initiators of the referendums,” she explained referring to international reaction to the Mar 9 referendum, and the threat from leading opposition party Fidesz of more referenda to come.

US-based credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s decision to downgrade Hungary from “stable” to “negative” will, according to Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, “cost the country several billion forints.”

The debate over the healthcare reform, which was passed by Parliament twice, because President László Sólyom refused to sign it first time round, has been revived because of another referendum threat from Fidesz. “Why queue twice for a slap on the face? Why run head on into the wall twice?” opposition Fidesz party leader Viktor Orbán asked in a TV talk show, referring to a new. The results, Orbán predicted, would be just as devastating for the government as those of Mar 9 had been.

Fidesz is demanding that the government withdraw the healthcare reform which allows private capital and market competition into state-run healthcare. If the government does so, Fidesz will withdraw its referendum initiative, the party says, as it would abolish the government’s bill anyway. Analysts note that this continuous threat from Fidesz to overturn government decisions via referenda hugely increases political risks in the country, causing severe financial damage and, in the long run, might make governing the country for any party virtually impossible. Although, one day after the referendum, the PM was adamant that he would not restructure his government, two weeks later MSzP sources are saying otherwise. According to anonymous Socialist sources quoted by Hungarian daily Népszabadság, several scenarios have been drawn up, depending on the reaction of the junior coalition member.


Hungary recognizes Kosovo

Hungary, along with two other countries that neighbor Serbia, Croatia and Bulgaria, recognized the independent state of Kosovo. Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs hasn’t officially announced the fact, but did release a previously prepared statement that all but does.“Hungary, Bulgaria and Croatia continue to support efforts by the European Union and NATO to create stability and democratic institutions in Kosovo; meanwhile Kosovo’s institutions should guarantee a multi-ethnic state based on the principles of democracy and a constitutional state, which guarantee rights to the Serbian community and to other ethnicities, including their participation in those institutions,” the common statement of the three countries said.

Introducing the document on Wednesday, foreign ministry state secretary Márta Fekszi Horváth also called on Serbia to ensure the safety of 350,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Vojvodina (Vajdaság), an autonomous province in northern Serbia near the Hungarian border.

Although the announcement surprised no one, diplomatic retaliation from Serbia was immediate. The truth is that Serbia feels so lonely in this Kosovo case and the same time would expect countries with major minority problems to understand better before the problem knocks their door.


Forget Disney’s hyphenless Pooh

An article from the Ovi magazine

There is only one way I want to start this review celebrating Winnie-the-Pooh and that is to accuse Disney of ripping the soul out of this lovable octogenarian teddy bear and profiteering from his famous gang of friends. I grew up watching Disney’s ‘hyphenless’ incarnation and thoroughly enjoyed the cartoons, but my opinion has radically altered now I have read the original stories.

October 14th 2006 marked 80 years since Alan Alexander Milne published Winnie-the-Pooh, the first of two books that would firmly establish the bear in the hearts of all that would meet him. The Complete Winnie-the-Pooh contains A.A. Milne’s first compilation of short stories, plus The House at Pooh Corner, which was published two years later in 1928 and introduced Tigger.

The two books, unlike Disney’s animated versions, are written in a style that will make adults laugh more than the children, at whom they are aimed. Milne’s use of language, the poetry ascribed to Pooh and the cynicism expressed by Eeyore are just a few examples of the adult-orientated material within the pages, but it simultaneously awakens the inner-child reminding us of our own childhood games, toys and teddy bears.

Both books are written as though Milne is narrating the story to Christopher Robin, his only son, and you begin to feel as though you are the one sat cross-legged listening intently to the “silly old bear’s” adventures. Milne fires your imagination in such a way that you could almost smell the leaves in Hundred Acre Wood or a jar of honey in Pooh’s house.

When I wrote that the language is directed at adult readers, I mean that the little asides and vocabulary that Milne injects into the text or puts into the mouths of his characters are beyond what most children would understand. In the first story (In Which We Are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees and the Stories Begin), Pooh decides to use a balloon to float up to get honey from a beehive, but events take a wrong turn and the bees begin buzzing around the bear, who is pretending to be a cloud: “I think the bees suspect something!” The dry humour, the straight delivery by Pooh and the unlikely use of the word ‘suspect’ when used with bees just left me in pieces.

All the characters in the book develop strong personalities so quickly that you can’t help but love them all. Piglet is effeminate and has a modest ego, plus, despite being a “Very Small Animal”, he accompanies Pooh on many adventures and manages to do a Very Grand Thing. Milne loves capitalization to emphasise the fact that the characters are doing something almost for the first time, so it demands emphasis…a Very Clever Idea.

Returning to the adult theme, I believe that once you have read the books Eeyore will become your favourite character because his pessimistic, sarcastic, cynical and gloomy personality will just win you over. For example, when Roo and Tigger are stuck up a tree, Piglet helpfully suggests that by standing upon each other’s shoulders, with Eeyore at the bottom, they may be able to reach the stranded pair, “”And if Eeyore’s back snapped suddenly, then we could all laugh. Ha ha! Amusing in a quiet way,” said Eeyore, “but not really helpful.””

A.A. Milne was a little bitter himself at forever being remembered as a children’s author, especially after writing 25 plays and a number of other books, but he was not the only one to rue Winnie-the-Pooh. His son, Christopher Robin Milne, complained that his father had left him with ’empty fame’ and Ernest Howard Shepard, the illustrator, felt that Pooh overshadowed his work. However, his illustrations give the book another dimension and give a soul to each of the characters; I particularly love his Piglet with his flappy ears.

If, like me, you have only experienced Disney’s Winnie the Pooh, then it is time to inject the hyphens and the Milne back into this 81-year-old bear. Accompany him on an adventure with Rabbit, Roo, Kanga, Owl, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and Christopher Robin because it will make you feel like a child again…if not, then you will enjoy Winnie-the-Pooh’s fantastic poetry.


An article from the Ovi magazine

When I read that a Finnish tourist had vandalised one of the ancient Moai statues on Easter Island, my first thought was the bad title now heading this piece. However, as I considered how arrogant this man’s actions were, I began to feel the seed of anger germinate into the need to write a fully-fledged article about people just like him… tourist terrorists, if you will!

The despicable actions of the Finn on Easter Island, a UNESCO world heritage site, reminded me of a family trip to Lanzarote many years ago. We took a coach tour to visit the site of a dormant volcano and were able to walk across the hardened surface – the geologists among you will know the proper term – feeling the heat beneath our shoes, or sandals in many cases.

As we returned to the coach we saw the tour guide ordering people to return the souvenir lava rocks to the site; lava rocks that they had to carry with two hands! The guide was right. If lava rocks were removed by each visiting coach tour there would soon be nothing left for future tourists all because somebody wanted a rock large enough to act as a fancy doorstop back home.

“Go before it’s too late!” states the slogan of Kilroy Travels, reinforced by a recent shock tactics advertising campaign that features a Photoshopped road through the centre of Australia’s Ayer’s Rock and escalators transporting visitors up to the Giant Buddha on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island. These adverts are dangerously close to reality as access to every nook and cranny of the globe is being exploited by an increasing number of tourists – why shouldn’t there be an escalator to the Giant Buddha for disabled guests?

There is a black and white photograph in one of the family albums of my parents and a friend standing beside, probably leaning on, one of the stones at Stonehenge. Judging from my dad’s haircut and afghan coat, the photo was taken in the 1970s when tourists were free to walk right up to the stones, climb on them and be overwhelmed by their scale, but now visitors are permitted only to walk the circular path 50 metres from them.

Part of me feels cheated out of the experience of touching the surface of the stones. I’d love to place my hand on the cold rough surface and try to comprehend the historical and engineering feat involved in their creation, but when you are standing 50m away you may as well look at a photograph. I respect the reasons for their continued protection; I want them to be in the same condition for my children and their children, protected from idiots like the Finn on Easter Island.

The one experience that I will never forget is on a visit to Las Vegas when we took advantage of a helicopter flight into the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is one of the few experiences that doesn’t disappoint when you finally arrive, and no photograph could ever do it justice. However, the best part of the trip was landing on the floor of the canyon and watching the Colorado River flow past, but this was only possible on a section not designated a US National Park.

After the helicopter departed, albeit for the swirling blades of the helicopter and our footprints, there was no sign we had ever been there. We didn’t take away chunks of the canyon, drop litter, discard cigarette butts or desecrate the place, we treated it with the respect it demands and deserves. The helicopter company will do hundreds of flights every year to that location and you can only hope the pilots continue to keep a watchful eye on the activities of their passengers for everybody’s sake.

Some aspects of tourism are grey and will trigger passionate discussion on both sides of the argument, but when it comes to the actions of that one Finn on Easter Island we should be united in disgust. Just who does he think he is that makes him decide he can break off part of an ear from a Moai statue in order to take it home as a souvenir? The next step will be a repeat of what I once saw in Sardinia: fibreglass replacements. Do we really want that?