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.
Hungary doesn’t get away with it
After weeks of spring-like winter, the real January finally hit Hungary last week with temperatures dipping well below zero. Authorities had to issue extreme weather alerts for a significant portion of the country. While the really cold weather is gone, based on the meteorological projections winter will stick around for the next couple of weeks. Whether the unusually high temperatures before the freeze will hurt the harvest remains to be seen, but experts are cautiously optimistic for now.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has defended a planned memorial to the victims of the 1944 German occupation while the opposition sharply criticised last week’s decision of District V’s local council to give the monument the go-ahead with 11 yeas against 3 nays. In a letter to leaders of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), Orbán said honouring the victims of the occupation transcended questions of politics or party affiliation. The alliance earlier protested against the government’s plan and has threatened to withdraw from state events marking the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust. Orbán said he was convinced that “we will be able to work together” to strengthen cooperation and understanding between Hungary’s communities. “I am convinced that honouring the martyrs’ memory does not mean we should not bow our heads to the imprisoned, the deported and the murdered… ” he wrote, adding that this loss had been dreadful. The German Embassy said erecting memorials falls in the scope of the Hungarian government but it is regrettable that a decision to put up a monument to the victims of the 1944 German occupation was made hastily and without a broad public consultation. In a statement sent to state news agency MTI, the embassy said Germany was aware of and accepted its responsibility for Nazi crimes committed during the Second World War, including ones carried out in Hungary. US Holocaust researcher Randolph L. Braham sent back a high state award to Hungary in protest against what he called “a campaign that falsifies history and aims to whitewash the [interwar] Horthy regime”. In response ruling Fidesz parliamentary leader Antal Rogán said Braham’s reaction was “exaggerated” but he respected the historian’s opinion. In an open letter sent from New York on Sunday, Braham also asked senior officials of Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Centre to remove his name from the BrahamTheque Information Centre, which collects his research results and publications. Read more on P14 and P15.
Terrorist threat ‘not real’
The Olympic committees of several countries, including Hungary’s, have received emailed terrorist threats, but after analysing the message it has been established that the threat is “not real”, Zsigmond Nagy, international director of the Hungarian Olympic Committee, said this week. Nagy told state news agency MTI that the message containing the threat has been analysed both by the International Olympic Committee and the organisers of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, next month. “The IOC and the Sochi organising committee have officially informed us after an analysis of the message that the threat is not real and the person that sent it had also been sending various other messages to members of the Olympic family,” Nagy, who will head Hungary’s team to Sochi, added.
Budapest Zoo director Miklós Persányi will symbolically receive the keys to an adjoining 6.5-hectare area that currently houses an amusement park, and the zoo expansion project will be ready to begin in February. As a result of the expansion, the zoo, which currently occupies 10.7 hectares, will almost reach its original size of 18 hectares at the time of opening in 1866. Some of the vintage features of the amusement park will be preserved, including the merry-go-round, which is more than a hundred years old, and the wooden rollercoaster. A large glasshouse (pictured left) is planned to be built to present the old fauna of the Pannon Sea.
Sole witness of CIB Bank blast goes into protective custody
Police have put the sole witness of a recent bank blast in Budapest under protection, hvg.hu said this week. The National Police Headquarters (ORFK) said the only witness, a 64-year-old man, is under police protection 24 hours a day. Footage recorded by the bank’s security camera shows the man appearing behind the perpetrator, ORFK said, without giving further details.
Utility bills to be cut again
The ruling Fidesz party has decided to submit a bill to Parliament on cutting household utility bills in three stages this year, parliamentary group leader Antal Rogán said in Budapest on Saturday. Accordingly, gas prices will be cut by 6.5% on 1 April, electricity prices by 5.7% on 1 September and district heating prices by 3.3% on 1 October, he said. Outlining the group’s decisions made at Balatonszárszó last Friday, Rogán said Parliament would discuss the bill in its spring session, which is expected to last for two weeks in February. The government reduced household energy bills twice last year, by a combined value of 20%. Fidesz will also draft a motion for making utility companies non-profit but the party proposes that the issue should be decided upon by voters in the 6 April general election, Rogán said.
Fidesz MP critical of US ambassador-designate remarks
Remarks by the new US ambassador-designate to Hungary at a US Senate Committee hearing caused “justified and serious outrage in Hungary”, said Gergely Gulyás, a lawmaker of the ruling Fidesz party. Gulyás said Colleen Bradley Bell (pictured) had told the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee that over the last two years Washington had clearly voiced its concerns about the state of checks and balances in Hungary and the independence of some key institutions. Bell told the hearing that if confirmed, she would work to uphold American and European democratic values, express concerns where appropriate, and urge Hungarian partners to work collaboratively with international partners and civil society. The rise in Hungary of extremist parties is of particular concern, she said. Gulyás said the ambassador-designate’s remarks were suggestive not only of a lack of understanding of Hungarian domestic politics, but were also – knowingly or not – an expression of political bias, which anywhere in the world would make it difficult to fill an ambassadorial post.