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 twelve months.
January – Row as Putin, Orbán sign Paks power plant expansion
Russia will make a major contribution to doubling capacity at Paks, Hungary’s sole nuclear power plant, after a deal signed during a visit by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to Moscow in January. Russia’s Rosatom will add 2,400 MW to the plant, which currently provides the country with 40% of its electricity. Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with Orbán that the two new blocks would boost Hungary’s energy independence. Two of the four extant blocks of Paks nuclear power station are set to expire in 2037. Opposition parties criticised the contract and Benedek Jávor, an independent lawmaker at the time, said that on the basis of Hungarian laws, extant parliamentary decrees and the standpoint of the ombudsman, Orbán had had no right to sign an agreement on “the most important parameters of the expansion”. Soon after the announcement a referendum initiative was filed but it was rejected by the National Election Office, citing formal procedural errors. 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.
February – Hungarian skiing record but no medals in Sochi
Alpine skier Edit Miklós has finished 7th in the Women’s Downhill in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, setting a Hungarian Olympic record. She finished in a time of 1:42.28, with Slovenia’s Tina Maze and Switzerland’s Dominique Gisin sharing gold in 1:41.57. The result made Miklós, born in Szekler Land, Romania, the 16-strong Hungarian team’s top sportswoman at the Games. Miklós continued her good performance after the Olympics, finishing fifth at the World Cup event in Crans Montana a few weeks later.
Former Socialist politician János Zuschlag revealed in March that he was bribed by the Hungarian Socialist Party in 2006 to step down as a parliamentary candidate. On learning that he was planning on running for office again in 2006, the Socialists had given him HUF 50 million in cash in return for forfeiting his candidacy, Zuschlag, who has spent time behind bars for corruption, told in an interview to promote his book. The Socialists denied the accusation. Zuschlag was forced to return his mandate in 2004 after making a joke about Holocaust victims at an official event. In 2007 he was jailed for six years for siphoning off state funds totalling around HUF 75 million and channelling them into the Socialist party’s youth organisations. Zuschlag told the paper that when Ferenc Gyurcsány had been minister for youth and sports he knew about Zuschlag’s misdeeds. Zuschlag said another HUF 50 million paid to the court in compensation had been administered by his lawyer. “The money probably came from a safe at the Socialists’ headquarters,” he said.
The election has ended in a clear victory for the governing party. Turnout was low and as most analysts predicted, this favoured Fidesz, which became only the second governing party since the regime change that has managed to get itself re-elected. At an average of 60%, turnout in the two elections that Fidesz won in 1998 and 2010 was 9% lower than in the three elections that the left won (1994, 2002 and 2006). One of the winners of this election were pollsters, though their predictions were by no means perfect. Like in 2010, they overestimated Fidesz, though not quite as grossly. Projections for the left-wing alliance varied wildly, and here Ipsos proved most accurate. Pollsters fared best with Jobbik and LMP, with all major institutes indicating accurate figures or ranges for the far-right and all but Medián successfully nailing LMP’s marginal entry into Parliament.
Title defender Győri Audi ETO KC won the handball ladies’ Champions League Final Four in Papp László Budapest Sportaréna after defeating Montenegrin Buducnost Podgorica 27-21. Győr won the series without suffering a single defeat in its 14 games (12 victories, two draws) and became the first Hungarian team ever to defend a European cup title. The four teams played their games before a capacity crowd, making the event slightly profitable. As a result Hungary will host the Final Four in 2015 as well. Pictured with the trophy is team captain and top scorer of the Champions League series Anita Görbicz, who will definitely not be in next year’s final as she is now on maternity leave.
June – Kúria puts FX-loan ballin government’s court
The Kúria, Hungary’s Supreme Court, ruled that some aspects of contracts for loans denominated in foreign currency were unfair. The risk that borrowers in foreign currency assumed can only be seen as unfair if they were not put in a position to credibly assess the extent of fluctuations in the exchange rate, the Kúria ruled. The court found, however, that the exchange rate spread applied by banks – the difference between the rate when the loan was disbursed and repaid – was unfair. The ruling led to the government submitting a bill aimed at helping foreign exchange loan holders by settling certain issues in contracts signed with the banks. The bill made rate margins and the application of different rates for buying and selling foreign currency void, and ensured that the forint value of FX loans as well as instalments are calculated at the central bank’s official rate. The new legislation stipulated that banks are primarily responsible for the removal of unfair terms from existing agreements.
July – Sneaking up monument as protestors sleep
Civilians and politicians protested in Budapest after a contested monument dedicated to the victims of Hungary’s German occupation had been erected overnight. The plan to set up the monument for the 70th anniversary of Hungary’s Nazi German occupation on 19 March 1944 was announced at the end of last year. It has been heavily criticised by opposition parties and civilians, stating that it would distract attention from the nation’s role in the Holocaust. Demonstrators at the site in District V’s Szabadság tér included Socialists, the E-PM alliance and leaders of the Democratic Coalition (DK). Riot police turned up when some protesters pelted the monument with eggs. Ex-premier and DK leader Ferenc Gyurcsány said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was “falsifying the Holocaust” by having a monument “confusing the murderer and the victim” erected “in the shelter of the night”. He accused Orbán of dishonouring all Jewish, Roma and gay victims of the Holocaust. The monument was designed to express “the grief and vicissitudes Hungarians felt and suffered over losing their freedom”, Orbán said. The government fulfilled its duty to Hungary’s “constitutional order, the one-time victims and Hungarians today” when the monument was erected, he added. “The monument will remind all of us that the loss of national independence entailed tragic consequences; it claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands and caused tremendous suffering to millions.” Orbán noted that Hungary had been continuously occupied by foreign troops from 19 March 1944 to 1991.
The week-long annual Sziget Festival on Óbuda Island attracted more than 400,000 visitors, a record, main organiser Károly Gerendai has announced. The previous weekly record was 390,000, in 2009, he added. A daily record of 85,000 people was set on the third day this year when the event was sold out, Gerendai said. This year’s festival was in the black despite a HUF 300 million rise in expenses. More than 80% of the weekly passes were sold in Western Europe but the number of Hungarians was nearly 50% among day-ticket holders this year. The highest number of foreign visitors came from Holland, with significant increases from Britain, France, Germany and Italy.
September – Euro 2016 hopes handed to new coach
The Hungarian national football team has lost the first match in its quest to qualify for the 2016 European Championship in France. A capacity crowd in Groupama Aréna saw Hungary score first but Northern Ireland equalised minutes later and scored the winner two minutes from the end. Subsequently national team coach Attila Pintér was fired by the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) after a five-game, nine-month reign of two wins, a draw and two defeats. His successor, Pál Dárdai, has been appointed caretaker coach for three qualifiers. With Dárdai Hungary played a draw in Romania, won its two remaining games against Faroe Islands and Finland, and awaits the March home meeting against Greece in third place in its group. The decision on who to coach the national team is yet to be made but MLSZ chief Sándor Csányi said it will either be Dárdai or a well-known foreign coach.
October – Relations crack as US acts on Hungarian ‘corruption’
On 6 October, US Chargé d’áffaires André Goodfriend informed state secretary for foreign affairs Levente Magyar on the request of the United States Government that a certain number of Hungarian individuals’ US visas be permanently suspended due to “credible information that those persons are either engaging in or benefitting from corruption”. In reaction, on 13 October, Minister for Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó summoned Goodfriend to the ministry for a private meeting in the hope of acquiring further information, but Goodfriend stated that the bans comply with George Bush’s Presidential Proclamation 7750 of 2004: the US State Department is neither obliged to release names nor is it required to disclose evidence. Except for tax office chief Ildikó Vida, the names of those banned from the United States are still unknown.
A national consultation will be launched In January on the subject of internet services, including the financial aspects, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said after withdrawing the planned internet tax following large street demonstrations. Opponents of the tax said “consultation” has ready been held in the form of the protests that led to the government withdrawing the bill submitted to Parliament. Orbán said on his weekly radio appearance that the internet tax could not be introduced in its current form, and the bill needs to be amended because the debate over the new tax has “derailed”. People see an internet tax where the government only wants a technical amendment, an expansion of the telecom tax, he said. As the public now questions the rationale behind the whole thing, “under these circumstances nothing can be introduced. We are not communists, we do not govern against the people but with the people.” It was “necessary to find out where the huge profit from internet services goes and whether parts of it could be kept in Hungary and channelled into the budget,” Orbán said. The government had proposed a tax on downloads at HUF 150 per gigabyte payable by internet service providers. A modification to the bill would have capped the tax at a monthly HUF 700 for households and HUF 5,000 for businesses. Since the withdrawal, the idea was not raised again.
December – McCain calls Orbán neo-fascist
During the United States Senate vote on the nomination of television producer Colleen Bradley Bell as US ambassador to Hungary Senator John McCain argued against the approval of the inexperienced political appointee. Here’s what the Republican senator and former US presidential candidate had to say about the appointment of Bell: “We’re about to vote on a totally unqualified individual to be ambassador to a nation which is very important to our national security interest. Her qualifications are as a producer of the television soap opera “The Bold and The Beautiful”, contributed 800,000 [dollars] to Obama in the last election and bundled more than USD 2.1 million for President Obama’s re-election effort. I am not against political appointees … I understand how the game is played, but here we are, a nation that is on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator, getting in bed with Vladimir Putin and we’re going to send the producer of “The Bold and The Beautiful” as our ambassador.” In response Hungarian government spokesman Zoltán Kovács said the nation’s diplomatic corps will request an explanation from McCain and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned US Embassy Chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend to explain the statement. Turn a page to read more about the backlash of McCain’s statements.