Books on Hungary
Update No: 118 - (29/03/07)
Riots in Budapest in mid-March echo not only the
Hungarian Revolution and the Soviet invasion of 1956, but also the Revolution of
1848, which was put down with Russian help. Indeed, because of the failures of
these revolutions the citizens of Hungary are inclined not to be a phlegmatic
folk when its government deceives them.
The voice recordings of the current socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany
indicate that foul play is the only proper expression for what happened. It
seems that Gyurcsany, during the parliamentary elections last year, knowingly
deceived the voters when he said that the economy - which is heavily indebted by
socialist-era spending - was in fine shape.
But in private, Gyurscany was much gloomier about the finances when he was
recorded as actually saying, "We lied morning, noon and night," and he
threatened to go back into his multi-million dollar lair and brood if the
government didn't let him slash spending. When he tried to cut entitlement
payments to the people last fall he was practically run out of town by
demonstrations that left the world gaping at pictures of violence in Budapest
that reminded us of a not so distant past.
The Hungarians have never forgotten the dual slap in the face from the leathery
gloves of the Russians; they celebrate their 1848 and 1856 revolutions every
year the way Americans celebrate their July 4, with patriotism sans fireworks,
but with some darn-good goulash soup and some Unicum- the national drink of the
Although the anniversary celebrations to the glory of 1848 in March were
hijacked by violence, one mustn't judge the Hungarians too harshly; they have a
long history of revolutionary rugs pulled out from under them, and this is only
a natural reaction to any hints of corruption in a government that is supposed
to represent the country honestly.
The Magyar ruse of reason
Hungary is a country steeped in history, the key recent dates being 1848, 1867,
1918-9, 1944-5, 1956 and 1989. In each case a regime change threatened or
actually happened. Indeed there seems to be a pattern, first something
threatens, but fails; then in a strange way it is, at least partly yet never
quite satisfactorily, realized, a cunning of Magyar reason, which always needs a
respite before a new redemption.
While Hungary's 1848 fight for independence ended in defeat a year later, it
resulted in a 1867 compromise with the Habsburgs and the formation of the
Austro-Hungarian Empire. Key assistance was given by Russia in putting down the
resistance in 1848, led by Kossuth.
In the sleep of reason of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth
century there lurked monsters, communism and fascism. World War One woke them
The auguries cometh; then the real thing
1918 saw the end of the empire and 1919 a bizarre foretaste of the future in
the shape of a three-month long communist regime. It had not the slightest
chance of success, not least because it was led by Jews, the key being Foreign
Minister Bela Kun.
Having been the first European country outside Russia to flirt with communism,
it became the first to flirt with fascism, ahead even of Italy, when Admiral
Horthy assumed power with the defeat of Kun. Horthy was not quite in the
Mussolini, let alone the Hitler, class as a fascist; but he initiated anti-semitic
legislation and trammeled the trade unions, while imprisoning liberals and
Then came the Second World War, in which true fascism came to power in the form
of the Arrow Cross in March, 1944, who assisted the German authorities, Eichmann
to the fore, in dispatching 900,000 Jews to Auschwitz and the like. Then came
full-blooded communism in 1945, soon transmogrified into Stalinism under Rakosi,
the Quisling of the affair.
Khrushchev was to replicate the action of 1848 in 1956, greatly helped by the
international outrage at the Suez invasion. The communists did not last, going
in once again for the next dish on the menu, goulash communism, ie capitalism in
all but name for the small firm and farm sectors. They were unseated by 1989,
when full-scale capitalism came in.
Rioting last year
On October 23rd last year, the 50th anniversary of the 1956 anti-Soviet
uprising, dozens of supporters of Fidesz, the main centre-right opposition
group, were injured in a daylong confrontation between a few thousand protesters
and police after a rally which drew 100,000 people. Protests against
Socialist-led Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, including several violent riots,
began in September, after the broadcast of the leaked recording in which the
prime minister acknowledged his coalition lied about the economy to win
re-election in April.
Some protestors waved the Hungarian Arpad flag that has become a symbol of the
far-right since the country's pro-Nazi regime used a similar one during World
War II. Others raised their arms in Nazi-like salutes.
Protests again against Socialist-led PM Ferenc Gyurcsany
Violent protests in the capital in mid-March left seven police officers and one
demonstrator injured, while more than 50 people were detained, officials said.
About 1,000 right wing protesters hurling cobblestones and bottles confronted
hundreds of police in riot gear who used water cannon and tear gas to repel
The violence on March 15th, which came after celebrations in Budapest to mark
Hungary's 1848 fight for independence, began after word spread that police had
detained a man suspected of instigating riots last year. The suspect, Gyorgy
Budahazy, had been on the run for months.
The late evening violence ended hopes that the national day -- marking the
country's 1848 revolution against Habsburg rule and a traditional day of rallies
-- could end peacefully. There had been warnings that violence could erupt,
after intelligence services said extremists were stocking up on weapons and
planning coordinated attacks. Security was tight as police aimed to prevent a
repetition of the riots that rocked Budapest in September and October.
Authorities in particular feared a repeat of October 23, when violent far-right
protestors tried to join a peaceful rally by the opposition right-wing Fidesz
party on the 50th anniversary of a failed anti-Soviet uprising.
But although far-right supporters also joined a Fidesz rally on March 16th, that
gathering ended peacefully, drawing an estimated 200,000 altogether.
Fidesz leader Viktor Orban, who lost his second consecutive parliamentary
election last April, reiterated demands that the government resign because it
backtracked on campaign promises of tax cuts to push through an austerity
In the past months, the government has introduced higher taxes, direct payments
for some health services, university tuition fees and has cut subsidies in an
effort to lower the state budget deficit.
Hungary sells Malev to Russian consortium
Russian-backed consortium, AirBridge, finally signed a contract to buy Hungary's
state airline, Malev, for 200 million forints (US$1.04 million) plus a huge
capital injection and a commitment to pay off the airline's debts, Deutsche
Presse-Agentur (dpa) reported citing Hungary's state privatisation agency.
AirBridge, which is owned by Boris Abramovich, reportedly agreed to pay a modest
sum for the company, but would have to shoulder other major costs. The company
committed to injecting 50 million Euro (US$65.84 million) into the debt-ridden
airline, with 20 million of this to come in the first instalment, the agency
The consortium has promised to either pay back or refinance loans worth a
combined 13 billion forints by the end of 2007, when a state guarantee on the
loans expires. The contract also specifies that AirBridge must provide a
32-million-Euro bank guarantee for another 20-billion-forint loan underwritten
by the government.
The agency said that the final payment and first capital injection were expected
to be transferred by the end of March. Speaking after the contract was signed,
Abramovich - who also owns Russia's fourth-largest airline KrasAir - promised to
bring the airline into the black within two years.
He also said passenger traffic would grow by up to 25 per cent annually and
promised there would be no mass layoffs. Malev's new owner also said he would
push through the airline's plans to join the one-world Alliance of air carriers.
The deal marked the end of a long-running saga, as Hungary put the troubled
airline, which has failed to run at a profit for many years, on sale seven times
in total. AirBridge beat off competition from several competitors, including
Lithuania's LAL, to seal the deal.
Plans to build hydroelectric power station in Ukraine
Hungary intends to build a hydroelectric power station with power of 20 megawatt
for the organisation of export supplies of electric power to Hungary, Hungarian
Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany told the press recently after meeting with his
Ukrainian counterpart, website en.for-ua.com/news reported.
"Hungary is interested in construction of a small hydroelectric power
station with power of less than 20 megawatt to export produced energy in Ukraine
to Hungary," he was quoted as saying.
MOL's net income increases 35% in 2006
Hungarian oil and gas firm MOL saw its 2006 net income rise by 35 per cent
year-on-year, despite poorer-than-expected fourth quarter results, the company
said in a report to the Budapest Stock Exchange Monday, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
Consolidated net income jumped to 331.4 billion forints (US$1.7 billion), which
the company attributed to strong performance of its core businesses and the
one-off sale of its gas unit to Germany's E.ON.
Annual operating profit rose by 31 per cent to 397.4 billion forints.
The profit came despite a poor fourth quarter, which saw a 53 per cent decrease
on the previous year's net income to 24.5 billion forints. Analysts had expected
a figure almost double that value. MOL attributed the poor last quarter to
several factors, including a negative industry environment - a drop in gas and
diesel prices and a weakening dollar - and the planned shut down of its
refineries, which happens every three years, it was reported.
BHD to start constructing biomass power plant
Hungary's BHD Hoeromu Zrt will shortly start building a 35 billion forints
commercial straw-fired power plant with a maximum output of 49.9 megawatts in
Szerencs (northeast Hungary), a report on the portfolio.hu said.
The company reportedly started excavation works on the site on February 15th
along with the ordering of equipment and plans to construction and installation
on March 20th. The company would finance 15 per cent of the project from its own
resources and 85 per cent from banking loans, the report said.
It added that BHD planned to finalise construction and installation by October
2009 and complete a trial run by the end of the year. Commercial operation would
begin on January 1st 2010. The power plant would consist of a straw barn, boiler
island, power house (turbine and generator set), water-treatment plant, flue gas
filter, stack and an administration building, it was reported. The plant is
planned to have 8,000-8,200 availability hours and its year consumption would be
270,000 tonnes of vegetable biomass (straw) - currently an agricultural waste
that farmers have to pay dispose of.
Hungarian firm will invest 3bn Euro
The Hungarian corporation Trigranit said in Budapest that it will invest three
billion Euro in Montenegro, Mnnews reported.
This was announced by the general director of the company Loran Varga and the
chief of the sector for investment Zolt Cabo. Both officials of the company told
Mnnews that Trigranit is interested to invest in Podgorica, Ulcinj, Skadar Lake,
and Budva. Varga said that if the project were approved then the incomes in
tourism would double. He added that the company is interested in construction of
business centres, as the company has already built such centres in Ljubljana,
Zagreb, Bratislava, Budapest. He recalled that per year their shopping malls are
visited by about 60 million people. As Varga pointed out, they would work in
Montenegro based on the cooperation of the state and the private sector.
Trigranit is interested in construction of the roads and investment in energy.
It is expected that the capital city could soon announce an open competition for
the construction of a Millennium centre at the location of the former military
Magyar Telekom to feel effects of austerity package
The Hungarian government's austerity package is expected to effect many
corporations' profits this year and the new chief of telecommunications firm
Magyar Telekom does not expect to escape it, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa)
Chairman-CEO of the firm, Christopher Mattheisen, believes the austerity package
is likely to severely dent 2007 earnings after indifferent results in 2006.
However, he appeared convinced that after 2007, when Magyar Telekom has survived
the austerity measures and restructured, it would go from strength to strength.
The government last year increased the tax burden as part of a package of
measures aimed at reducing a budget deficit that, at around 10 per cent of GDP,
is the largest in percentage terms in the European Union. Mattheisen, who has
been head of Magyar Telekom - owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom - since
December 2006, sees this as having a two-pronged effect on his company.
"The effect of the austerity package is direct - in terms of taxes - but
there is also an impact on personal disposable income," he was quoted by
dpa as saying.
"In Hungary, people spend on average about five per cent of their
disposable income on telecommunications, higher than in Western Europe, so a
decrease will have a bigger impact here," he continued. Mattheisen said the
firm expected to see revenue, and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation
and amortization (EBITDA) in 2007 stagnate as a consequence of the package.
Revenues were 671.2 billion forints (US$3.55 billion) in 2006, up 9.1 per cent
from the previous year, while EBITDA was 258.6 billion forints, up 0.9 per cent
from the year before, it was reported. Net income in 2006 dropped 2.2 per cent
to 76.7 billion forints.
Magyar Telekom to launch naked ADSL
Hungary's leading telecom service provider Magyar Telekom announced on March 6th
the introduction of ADSL services without the need for a voice subscription to
its wholesale Internet service provider partners. Magyar Telekom would shortly
introduce the naked ADSL service, to be available via Internet service
providers, the company said in a statement on the website of the Budapest Stock
Exchange (BSE). The service would be launched in Magyar Telekom's ADSL service
area and the packages would have the same bandwidth as those currently
available, the statement added, New Europe reported.
Textile retailer Charles Vogele opens 6th store
Charles Vogele Group, one of the leading European textile retailers based in
Switzerland, recently opened its sixth store in Hungary which it declared last
year as expansion market ahead of schedule, website portfolio.hu reported.
The fashion retailer set foot in Hungary in 2006 and so far has set up shop only
in the countryside. The sixth store was opened in Pecs that followed Dunaujvaros,
Nagykanizsa, Nyiregyhaza, Szekszard and Veszprem. The 2006 financial year was
the first for which Charles Vogele Group said it would report separately on the
"Eastern Europe" sales organisations, which include the Slovenian,
Hungarian, Czech and Polish markets.