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Posts tagged ‘Magyar Land of Hungary’

Hungary, Ukraine still at odds over Ukraine education law

October 12, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary will continue to withhold its support for Ukraine’s further integration with the European Union as long as a new Ukrainian education law remains unchanged, Hungary’s foreign minister said Thursday.

The education law passed last month specifies that Ukrainian will be the main language used in schools, rolling back the option for lessons to be taught in other languages. Ukraine has some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians, mostly in the country’s west.

“We consider the new Ukrainian education law a stab in the back of our country,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said, speaking after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Klimkin. Ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia, as Hungary calls western Ukraine, fear that the 71 Hungarian schools there could be at risk of having to close, Szijjarto said.

He said relations between neighbors Hungary and Ukraine are “at their most difficult period” since Ukraine declared independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. Russia, Romania and Moldova have also expressed concerns about the new language law.

Klimkin said not knowing the native language made it hard for minorities to be successful in Ukraine. He said 75 percent of students in an area with a large Hungarian minority failed their high school exit exams.

“Everyone needs the opportunity to fulfill themselves in their country of citizenship,” Klimkin said. “But this is not possible without knowing the language.” However, he said “not a single school” would be closed or “a single teacher” dismissed because of the new language requirement.

Klimkin said Hungary’s move to grant Hungarian citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in Ukraine would not benefit those people. He also alleged that Russia was using the language issue to “manipulate” and “provoke” in Ukraine, including “directly and indirectly” in the Transcarpathia region.

In reply, Szijjarto said ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine “don’t need any incitement from anyone to stand up for their own rights.” “As long as the Hungarians of Transcarpathia ask us to fight on this issue and not back down, we will fight and not back down,” Szijjarto said.

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Merkel: Hungary can’t ignore EU refugee ruling

September 12, 2017

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says it’s unacceptable for Hungary to ignore a ruling by the European Union’s top court that it must accept refugees under an EU-wide plan. But she’s not specifying any consequences.

Hungary’s prime minister has said that while he “took note” of the European Court of Justice’s ruling last week, he’d continue to oppose the plans. Merkel told Tuesday’s edition of the daily Berliner Zeitung: “That one government says it isn’t interested in a verdict by the European Court of Justice cannot be accepted.”

Asked whether that means Hungary must leave the EU, she replied: “It means that a very fundamental European question is affected, because for me Europe is a place governed by laws.” Merkel said an EU summit in October must discuss the issue.

Hungary asks EU to help pay for anti-migrant border fence

September 01, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s prime minister has asked the European Union to pay for half of the cost of anti-migrant fences it built on its southern borders, or about 440 million euros ($523 million).

In a letter dated Thursday to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the fences erected in 2015 on the borders with Serbia and Croatia have practically eliminated the migrant flow through Hungary, guarding more than just his country.

The move comes days before Europe’s top court is expected to reject an appeal by Hungary and Slovakia against an EU agreement obliging them to take in refugees from Greece and Italy. “With the construction of the fence, training and placing 3,000 border hunters into active service, our country is protecting not only itself but entire Europe against the flood of illegal migrants,” Orban said in the letter. “I hope that, in the spirit of European solidarity, we can rightly expect that the European Commission … will reimburse half of our extraordinary border protection expenses in the foreseeable future.”

But European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein encouraged Hungary to put in a formal application to use funds already earmarked in the 2014-2020 EU budget. “We are not financing the construction of fences or barriers at external borders. We do support border management measures at external borders. This can be surveillance measures. This can be border control equipment. But fences, we do not finance,” Winterstein said Friday. “We won’t change” our stance on that.

The border hunter corps was set up within the police force a year ago and its officers dedicated to border protection duties and guarding the fence. Hungarian soldiers have also been aiding police in the tasks.

Orban said Europe needed to show solidarity with Hungary’s border protection efforts, not just with Greece and Italy, the countries which have received the brunt of the migration influx. EU leaders have criticized Hungary for failing to show solidarity because it refuses to take in any asylum-seekers sought to be relocated from Greece and Italy until their asylum requests are decided.

“Solidarity is a two-way street and all member states should be ready to contribute. This is not some sort of a la carte menu where you pick one dish, for example border management, while refusing another dish, like compliance with relocation decisions,” Winterstein said.

Orban’s demand comes less than a week before the European Court of Justice is scheduled to rule on a legal challenge to the relocation scheme by his government and Slovakia. A top legal adviser recommended in July that the appeal by Hungary and Slovakia be rejected next Wednesday.

The European Commission has also launched its own legal action against Hungary, plus the Czech Republic and Poland, for failing to respect their commitment to take in refugees. Orban’s government has promoted a “Let’s Stop Brussels” billboard and publicity campaign rejecting the EU’s migration policies. Last year, over 98 percent of participating voters said the EU shouldn’t settle anyone in Hungary without the consent of the Hungarian parliament, but the referendum was invalid because of low voter turnout.

As Orban and other government officials earlier made it a point of pride that Hungary had paid for nearly all the costs of the fences and their maintenance with local funds, the change of heart could also let Orban generate another conflict with the EU, should it reject the “reasonable” request for reimbursement.

Lorne Cook contributed to this report from Brussels.

Putin visiting Hungary, attending World Judo Championships

August 28, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Hungary for the second time this year on Monday, attending the World Judo Championships being held in Budapest. Putin, who made an official trip to Hungary in February, sat in a VIP box at the Laszlo Papp Budapest Sports Arena with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other officials.

Discussions between the two leaders were expected to center on energy issues, such as Russia’s construction of new reactors for Hungary’s Soviet-built nuclear power plant and Hungarian imports of natural gas from Russia.

Hungarian opposition parties protested Putin’s trip amid concerns that Orban has become too close to the Russian leader. Orban used to be highly critical of Russian influence in the region. Activists from the Together party blew whistles as Putin’s motorcade arrived at the arena and held up a banner in the stands reading “We Won’t Be A Russian Colony” before police escorted them out of the building.

A few supporters of Momentum, a new party whose recent campaign led Budapest to withdraw its bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, donned Putin masks and wore T-shirts with the slogan “Let’s go freedom of speech, let’s go Hungarians.”

Critics say the nuclear project is rife with corruption risks and increases Hungary’s dependency on Moscow. “Putin is looking for colonies in the former Soviet bloc, not allies,” political activist Gabor Vago said. “Only Russia benefits from the nuclear deal, which ties Hungary for decades to an obsolete technology.”

Russia has loaned Hungary 10 billion euros ($11.9 billion) for the nuclear development plan, an amount expected to cover about 80 percent of the costs.

Hungary still defiant on US university after Brussels summit

April 29, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — The Hungarian government remained defiant Saturday over the possible closure of Budapest-based Central European University, founded by billionaire George Soros. The issue was on the agenda during Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s meeting in Brussels with leaders of the European People’s Party, of which his Fidesz party is a member.

The EPP was unusually direct in its criticism of Orban over CEU, a government campaign called “Let’s stop Brussels” and a draft bill targeting civic groups which receive foreign funding. EPP president Joseph Daul said that in light of objections by the European Commission and after consultations with Hungarian civic groups and the academic community “we have come to the conclusion that dialogue alone is not enough.”

The EPP “will not accept that any basic freedoms are restricted or rule of law is disregarded,” Daul said in a statement. “The EPP wants CEU to remain open, deadlines suspended and dialogue with the U.S. to begin.”

Both Daul and EPP spokesman Siegfried Muresan posted messages on Twitter saying Orban said Hungary would comply with the commission’s requests and EU laws. While Orban said he was ready for cooperation with the commission, the EU executive, he indicated he was unwilling to eliminate new amendments to the law on higher education which could force CEU to stop operating as it currently does.

CEU, in Budapest since 1993, is accredited in Hungary and New York state, its graduate degrees are recognized both in Hungary and the U.S., but it has no U.S. campus. Orban says that issuing a U.S. degree without having a U.S. campus gives CEU an unfair advantage over other domestic universities.

“The existence of higher education institutions without actual activities operating as offshore mailboxes will not be permitted by Hungarian legislation in the future, either,” Orban’s press office said, adding that the government does not want to close the university and seeks to settle the legal dispute over the matter with the EU.

The government says it has no objections to the university issuing only Hungarian diplomas, but CEU says that would practically destroy its mission and its appeal to foreign students. CEU enrolls 1,440 students from 108 countries, including over 300 from Hungary.

If it fails to comply with the new conditions, CEU would be prevented from enrolling new students after the end of the year. CEU thanked EPP for its “unequivocal statement of support for our academic freedom.”

“We are grateful for the EPP’s call to suspend the deadlines and start negotiations,” said CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff. “We have called for negotiations from the beginning and we want them to reach a successful conclusion so that we can get back to work.”

Orban, who briefly studied at Oxford University thanks to a Soros scholarship in 1989, says he seeks to transform Hungary into an “illiberal state” modelled on countries like Turkey and Russia. He sees an ideological foe in Soros and his “open society” ideal and blames the Hungarian-born American for supporting migration through his backing of non-governmental groups like the Hungarian Helsinki Foundation and the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, which advocate for asylum-seekers.

The government says a draft bill on NGOs receiving more than about $25,000 a year only seeks to increase “transparency.” NGOs, however, see the legislation scheduled to be passed in May as an attempt at intimidation and stigmatization.

Daul said that “NGOs are an integral part of any healthy democracy … and they must be respected.” Still, Daul’s harshest words were for Orban’s anti-EU campaign, which claims bureaucrats in Brussels want Hungary to raise taxes and energy prices and take in illegal migrants.

“The EPP has also made it clear to our Hungarian partners that the blatant anti-EU rhetoric of the ‘Let’s stop Brussels’ consultation is unacceptable,” Daul said. “The constant attacks on Europe, which Fidesz has launched for years, have reached a level we cannot tolerate.”

Humor, sarcasm at Hungarian anti-govt protest in Budapest

April 22, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Thousands of Hungarians are attending a “peace march for the government, for Russia and against everything else” organized by the satiric Hungarian Two-Tailed Dog Party. Saturday’s protest is a sarcastic take on current events in Hungary, like the government’s close ties to Russia and its campaign against the pro-migration policies of billionaire George Soros.

The government’s battle with Soros has resulted in legislation that could shut down the Soros-founded Central European University in Budapest. Firmly tongue in cheek, party leader Gergo Kovacs told marchers while it’s good Hungary hasn’t adopted the euro it’s a shame that Hungarians can’t use the ailing Russian ruble.

Other slogans of the march through downtown Budapest included “No more of that nonsense called democracy” and “Enough already with the EU stuffing the country with money.”

Hungary’s president signs bill aimed at Soros-founded school

April 10, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s president on Monday signed amendments to the country’s higher education law that could force a Budapest university founded by billionaire American philanthropist George Soros to close or move.

Central European University said it “strongly disagreed” with President Janos Ader’s decision and vowed to challenge what it called a “premeditated political attack on a free institution.” Ader said in a statement that the bill setting new conditions for foreign universities in Hungary was in line with the Constitution and international treaties and did not infringe upon academic freedoms.

Had he had concerns with the bill, Ader could have asked the Constitutional Court to review the amendments or sent it back to parliament for reconsideration. Nonetheless, Ader acknowledged that the fast-tracked approval of the law and some of the new conditions “provoked antipathy in many people.”

By 10 p.m. (2000 GMT), several hundred people had gathered outside the president’s offices in Buda Castle to protest his action. “As I have said before, we are willing to sit down with the Hungarian government to find a solution to enable CEU to stay in Budapest and operate as we have done for 25 years,” CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff said. “However, academic freedom is not negotiable. It is a principle that must form the basis of any future agreement.”

About 70,000 people rallied in support of CEU on Sunday, calling on Ader to refrain from signing the legislation approved last Tuesday. It was the third rally in eight days in support of the university, which enrolls over 1,400 students from 108 countries.

Ader called on the government to “immediately” begin talks with affected institutions about the implementation of the new rules. One new stipulation demands bilateral agreements with the home countries of universities from outside the European Union within six months, while another would require schools to establish campuses in their home countries by the end of the year.

For CEU, Hungary is demanding bilateral agreements with the United States and the state of New York, where the school is accredited, but does not have a campus. The bill was approved by lawmakers from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party and their Christian Democrat allies last week.

“The situation is that in Hungary we are not closing a single university,” Orban said Monday in parliament. “In Hungary, we usually establish and open universities. You can trust in this in the future, too.”

Orban earlier said CEU was “cheating” and enjoyed an unfair advantage over other local schools because its students can earn both U.S. and Hungarian diplomas. CEU has vowed to remain in Budapest despite invitations to possibly relocate from cities in Lithuania and Poland.

Orban considers the Hungarian-born Soros an ideological foe whose “open society” ideals contrast with Orban’s plan to make Hungary an “illiberal state.” Orban has accused the billionaire of trying to influence Hungarian politics through his support of non-governmental groups like Transparency International and of working against Hungary’s interests by supporting refugees and migrants.

Opposition parties were quick to criticize Ader, a Fidesz politician who was re-elected by lawmakers to a five-year term in March. “Ader today proved that he is not suited to be the president of the republic because he is incapable of recognizing the nation’s interests and cannot express the unity of the nation,” the Socialist Party said.

The green Politics Can Be Different asked other opposition parties to support its plan to appeal the law to the Constitutional Court. Fifty of the 68 opposition deputies would need to back the motion.

Momentum Movement, a new opposition party whose campaign recently led Budapest to abandon its bid for the 2024 Olympic Games, said Ader was “hiding behind laws” and more interested in keeping his job than challenging the legislation.

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