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senior Socialist Party (MSzP) officials, who demanded the healthcare reform should be reconsidered, and, if necessary, withdrawn.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.


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?

Polish report

From the original Ovi magazine (Ovi lehti in Finnish)

No more Mr. Nice Guy

Poland’s opposition leader has mocked the prime minister for lacking a driver’s license, compared him with a notorious communist and accused him of forcing two million Poles from their homeland. Donald Tusk, a trim, sandy-blonde economic liberal, is showing a new toughness as he fights to unseat Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in elections this Sunday, revealing steel unseen when he failed to win power in 2005.

Polls show a tight contest between Tusk’s pro-business and socially conservative Civic Platform, and Kaczynski’s Law and Justice, which is also conservative, but favors greater social spending to help the needy and is more skeptical of the European Union.

The bitter truth is that the amazing twins must go out from power in Poland but what remains causes more wonders. Their anti-communist menace has often led their policies to the limits of fascism and Poland has been often under criticism from the European Parliament, not to forget all the problems the twins caused in the last summit.

Poland may block Russia’s entrance to WTO

Poland warned on Monday that it would block Russia’s entrance to the World Trade Organization if Moscow did not cancel an embargo on exports of Polish meat and produce. Russia imposed the ban in late-2005 after uncovering what it said were violations of food safety regulations. Polish officials maintain that the country’s food quality standards meet EU norms and that the embargo is political.

“If Russia’s position toward Poland doesn’t change, we will have to vote against Russia’s membership in WTO,” Deputy Agriculture Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski told a news conference in Moscow, according to Russian news agencies.

Poland also warned it would continue to block a strategic EU-Russia agreement if the embargo was not lifted. “Poland has to link these two issues — the embargo and the signing of a new agreement between Russia and the European Union,” Ardanowski was quoted as saying.

The question that arises is not if Russia will stop banning Polish meat but if Polish meat meets the standards of food safety regulations and if the EU can guarantee that they do.

Polish Church Advises People How To Vote

The Polish Catholic Church reminded Poland’s voters that they have an obligation to vote in keeping with the fundamental values taught by the Church. In a letter by Polish Bishops that was read to congregations all over Poland this weekend, people were told that they should pay attention to the moral condition of political candidates, their identity, values and readiness to cooperate with others.

Prime Minister Kaczynski’s voter base rests primarily in the countryside among the older population and followers of Radio Maria’s Father Taduesz Rydzyk. These voters are devoutly Catholic and tend to support Kaczynski. How much some of them support him and his party was made reported today in the Polish Weekly Gazeta Wyborcza.

In Lublin, after a church service yesterday, PIS flyers were distributed on the church’s premises and when a Gazeta Wyborcza reporter started taking pictures, some people surrounded him, started calling him names, and told him to “f**k off!” – One woman even hit him in the face. Finally a man urged people to calm down and the reporter was able to get away.

The candidates whose fliers were distributed said that they had no idea about what happened. They said that people take their flyers and distribute them any way they want. Candidates have no control over what they do.

It seems that the Vatican will never stop getting involved in Polish politics despite the fact that the wall has fallen and the Polish Pope is dead.