The Budapest Times is unrivalled among English-language print publications in the capital for its coverage of the week’s most important national stories, whether they be economic, political, cultural, sporting or among the hundreds of other happenings that go on daily in a major European city. Here, in one concise package we present some of the important and fascinating news developments of the past seven days.
The head of the National Election Office (NVI) has rejected the referendum initiative of the opposition E14-PM electoral alliance on the proposed Paks nuclear plant upgrade, citing formal procedural errors. Ilona Pálffy said she rejected the request because it had not been submitted on the formal sheet required under the relevant law. The other error she cited was that signatures supporting the referendum had been collected before the initiative was registered by the data protection authority. The decision is not appealable but the initiative can be resubmitted. Meanwhile Greenpeace activists turned Budapest’s Clark Ádám Square into a gigantic nuclear symbol to protest the “environmentally and economically unacceptable” decision to expand the Paks power plant.
Poll poster ban ‘not playing politics’
Budapest City Council will restrict the placement of posters in the capital during the election campaign. Citing environmental and heritage protection, the council has banned election posters on Danube bridges, subways, statues and memorials, and trees. Representatives of the opposition Socialist and Dialogue for Hungary parties alleged the measure was aimed at curtailing the opposition’s chances in the poll on 6 April. Mayor of Budapest István Tarlós denied party political interests are involved and said the objective was solely to maintain order. A recent government decree has banned election placards on electricity pylons, over public roads or on the roadside.
Cannes Film Festival Best Director winner Miklós Jancsó died at the age of 92 on 31 January. Originally a soldier and lawyer, Jancsó was 39 years old when he received his diploma in film directing at the Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest. He achieved international prominence from the mid-1960s onwards, with works including “The Round Up”, “The Red and the White” and “Red Psalm”, for which he won the Best Director award in 1972. In addition to the victory his films were nominated four more times and he received lifetime achievement awards in 1979 and 1990, at Cannes and Venice respectively. In an interview with MTI fellow filmmaker Béla Tarr called Jancsó “the greatest Hungarian film director of all time”.
Country prepares for possible influx
An operative staff has been set up under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interior to prepare government decisions concerning developments in protest-hit Ukraine. “Hungary is prepared to effectively handle a wave of migration following possible unfavourable developments in Ukraine,” the ministry told state news agency MTI. The new committee, created under instructions from Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is to coordinate the operations of government agencies and other organisations. The Socialist chairman of Parliament’s national security committee, Zsolt Molnár, has asked for the leaders of state institutions and the government, including cabinet chief János Lázár, to brief them as soon as possible on the repercussions in Hungary of political crisis in Ukraine. The agenda should include a detailed account by the Ministry of the Interior of the reason for the formation of the staff as well as information about any measures it may have taken, he said.
A tradition that was started in 1957 continued on the first day of February, when György Schirilla Jr. swam in the ice-cold Danube near Dunakeszi. His father, György Sr., first jumped in the icy river to attempt suicide, after being continuously teased because one of his legs was thinner due to a childhood paralysis. He survived, with the realisation that the cold water restarted blood flow in his leg, and decided to repeat the swim every year. Until his death in 1999, Schirilla was an avid supporter of sports, vegetarianism and healthy living in general.
DK head says alliance planning 30% tax on rich
The left-wing opposition parties in the Unity alliance agree that monthly incomes above HUF 400-500,000 (EUR 1,300-1,600) will face a personal income tax of around 30% if they win the election, Democratic Coalition (DK) leader Ferenc Gyurcsány has said. He told commercial station TV2 that introducing a second personal income tax bracket could generate around HUF 100-150 billion in revenue that could be used to abolish taxes which hinder investment and lending. In addition, there would be money left for social-welfare purposes. Gyurcsány noted that even Századvég, a think-tank close to the government, had said the wealthiest 25% have gained HUF 400 billion thanks to the government’s introduction of flat-rate tax. He told a conference organised by his party that the government’s economic policy is unsustainable. The past three years had been characterised by austerity measures and, contrary to government propaganda, Hungary’s performance was worse than before. Even if the left-wing alliance wins the spring election, there would be no more money available in the short term, so people should not be promised more and “fiscal adjustments will certainly be needed”.
PM: Europe needs cheaper energy to compete
A key question for Europe’s energy policy is whether the community can ensure energy for the economy at competitive prices, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said after talks with his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, in Budapest. The two agreed that energy must be made cheaper both at national and European level or else “Europe will not be able to compete with Russia, the US or even China if the latter’s economy has access to cheaper energy than the EU economy”, Orbán said. Orbán voiced firm support for Hungary’s utility cost cuts programme, saying that despite the EU’s objections Hungary would not give up its ways of centrally reducing the price of energy for households. He suggested that a unified European energy market with lower prices was not to be hoped for in the near future. As for ties with Poland, Orbán said Hungary would reopen its consulate-general in Krakow in spring. He said south-north links are crucial, and the gas interconnector between Hungary and Slovakia under construction should be extended to Poland.
A team of Hungarian researchers is to visit Ojos del Salado, the world’s highest active volcano, in the Andes on the Argentina-Chile border, to study the effects of climate change. Expedition leader Balázs Nagy said they will spend several weeks on the volcano, which is in a region uninhabited within a radius of 200 kilometres. The team will measure temperature and humidity, and collect samples.