Photo: PMO

Orbán: Tradition brings peace, joy, harmony to people’s lives

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has greeted Hungary's Jewish community in a letter on the occasion of the approaching Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, his press chief said on Saturday.

“It is an experience shared by all of us that traditions passed on from our ancestors bring peace, joy and harmony to people’s lives, and can provide strength for everyday life as well as make the holidays brighter,” Orban said in the letter delivered to head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) Andras Heisler, chief rabbi of the EMIH Jewish Community Shlomo Koves, head of the Hungarian Autonomous Orthodox Congregation (MAOIH) Robert Deutsch, leader of the Hungarian Jewish Heritage Foundation Gyorgy Szabo and Hungarian Jewish Prayer Association (ZSIMA) leader Tamas Rona, Bertalan Havasi said.

“Allow me to respectfully greet you and the Hungarian Jewish community on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah,” Orban said. “I wish this new year to be as sweet and round for you as the honey and the apple placed on the table for the holiday,” he added.

Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto – Photo: Facebook

Szijjarto: Peace is ‘ultimate solution’

Peace is the "ultimate solution" to the problems posed by the war in Ukraine and sanctions, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in an interview with CNN on Saturday.
24. September 2022 18:41

Szijjarto said in the interview, conducted in English and posted on his Facebook page, that “if you impose sanctions against someone then it should be more harmful on the targeted entity and not on yourself.”

He added that the European Union’s sanctions policy had failed “because those sanctions which were introduced against Russia are more harmful and more painful to Europe than to the Russian Federation.”

“The European economy is moving towards recession; that has not been the case for a very, very long time. The safe supply of energy is just a kind of memory for us in Europe. Inflation is sky-rocketing, the prices of food and commodities have been increasing. Utility costs are in the skies. So we definitely need a solution. Because the European people are not responsible for this war. So that’s why we should not force the European people to pay the price of this war,” he said.

Szijjarto dismissed any suggestion that Hungary stands closer to the side of Russia than to that of the EU and its partners.

“This accusation must be rejected, rejected very, very harshly. Because we Hungarians have condemned the war from the very beginning and we have not vetoed any sanction regimes so far. So all seven sanction regimes which have been in place have been voted by a unanimous decision in the European Union. Had we not supported these packages of sanctions, they would not have been introduced and would not be enforced currently,” he said.

“We have made it very clear though that we are not ready to put our safe supply of energy at risk, no way,” he added.

Laszlo Toroczkai - Photo: mihazank.hu

Toroczkai re-elected Mi Hazank leader

The third congress of opposition party Mi Hazank on Saturday re-elected Laszlo Toroczkai their head.

The congress also re-elected party deputies Dora Duro, Istvan Apati, David Docs, Elod Novak and Zoltan Pakusza.

Toroczkai told the congress that he expected Mi Hazank to enter government and added that the party was not competing against opposition Jobbik anymore but against ruling Fidesz and opposition DK.

He said that DK’s recent establishment of a shadow government was a message to Mi Hazank, not to Fidesz.

“The globalist Left is fighting against us to become the leader of the opposition,” he said. “Hungarian politics have become tripolar,” he added.

Gunnar Lindemann, a politician of Germany’s AfD party and a member of Berlin’s House of Deputies, addressed the event and said that patriotic powers must join forces in order to protect their home countries and stand against “the dictatorship of Brussels”.

Photo: wikipedia

LMP presses for ‘climate pass’ for all public transport

Opposition party LMP is urging the introduction of a "climate pass" for all public transport in Hungary, MP Bernadett Bakos said on Saturday.

At a press conference streamed on Facebook, Bakos said LMP proposes the climate pass cost 5,000 forints (EUR 12) a month. Such a pass, “an environmental and social measure rolled into one”, has already been introduced in Germany, where around half of the population bought one, she added.

The capital with the eye of an expat

An opportunity to change

The villages of Bag and Dány in Pest County lie about 26 km apart, both a little more than 40 km from the country’s capital. Both have populations of around 4,000 with sizeable, segregated Roma settlements.

I had heard of neither Bag nor Dány until recently when I ran across the non-profit BAGázs Közhasznú Egyesület, which has been working in the villages since 2011 and 2017, respectively. I checked their bilingual website and was immediately reminded of the lines written by Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie (daughter of the writer William Makepeace Thackeray)  in her book Mrs Dymond: ‘[…] if you give a man a fish, he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish, you do him a good turn.’

BAGázs doesn’t donate money or food or clothes; instead, they provide the opportunity to change.

Curious to know more, I contacted the organisation and spoke with their project coordinator, Orsolya Kovács. When giving of either my time or my money, I find it pays to ask some questions.

BAGázs owes its beginnings to Emőke Both, who worked for a time in Bag as a probation officer. In her words:

‘At the beginning I didn’t have a deeper look in the locals’ everyday life. I wasn’t aware of the depth of the problem – but I did feel that I had never been to a place with such deep underlying problems, such as Bag. Not the squalor, per se, more like the feeling of misery.’

After a successful summer camp in 2010, the volunteers kept on going, tutoring the kids, and in 2011, Both founded the association. Over the last 11 years, a portfolio of projects has been developed and delivered. Some 150 volunteers regularly work with 86 families (48 in Bag and 38 in Dány).

The in-home development programme has volunteers spending at least an hour each week with three families individually, playing with the children, helping them with their cognitive and motor skills; really, they’re allowing them to be kids.

Kovács, a psychologist by training, had the good grace not to flinch when I asked what may well have been one of my less enlightened questions: ‘What makes a Roma kid from Bag or Dány any different from a majority kid when it comes to crawling, climbing, or walking?’ Given that I live a life without issue, I’ve not seen how kids grow and develop so her answer, which might appear obvious to many, was eye-opening for me.

‘Majority kids learn to walk on flat surfaces. They have space. When a whole family lives in one room, where can the kid go? There is no space to grow.’

Added to that, she continued, is the level of stress they are under:

‘Stress comes from living in poverty, living with discrimination, with stereotypes all around them. It’s a very high stress environment. Higher stress means higher cortisol levels and higher cortisol levels can inhibit the normal development of executive functions in a child.’

There is so much I take for granted. So much I don’t know.

For instance, there’s a magic number – 15%. If the disadvantaged students in a classroom make up 15% of the cohort, it’s beneficial for both. The majority kids, at 6 years of age can walk, talk, play, and socialise; they understand rules and consequences;  they’ve formed attachments and friendships; they’ve been to places outside their home and village; they’ve had access to digital devices and media;  they can tell this from that, left from right; they know their colours, their seasons, the parts of their body. These kids get to see that not everyone has had the chances they’ve had. Maybe they learn to appreciate, to share, to help, to befriend. The minority kids get the space and room they need to catch up, to improve. But if this swings the other way, and the majority kids make up the magic 15%, parents are most likely to pull their kids from the school leaving the others to languish. Segregated classrooms often result, in this, the twenty-first century.

Kindergartens and schools should equalise this early divide but sadly, all too often, they deepen the disadvantage based on living situations and socio-economic circumstances.

BAGázs also runs afterschool activities. They have Boys’ Clubs, Girls’ Clubs, and a Women’s Group. All speak to empowerment, self-belief, and the willingness to grow. The women drive change: they manage the family coffers, take care of the children, and keep the family together. In Dány, the Bagázs Sewing Circle gives them the opportunity to earn money and gain work experience. The bags they sew carry a message: Ebben a táskában, esély van (in this bag, there’s a chance).  Check their webshop.

The adult mentoring programme works with adults in setting their own goals. They decide what they want to achieve and BAGázs volunteers help them do it. It could be finding a job, or even more difficult, keeping a job. It might be improving their parenting skills. Or learning to manage financially (the organisation has access to legal and financial advisors). Or improving their living situation. Or furthering their education as an example for their kids and grandkids (10 adults have finished primary school as part of the programme and 7 have learned to read and write).

Early school drop-out is one of the biggest challenges the communities face and they are rightly proud of their online study programme for kids who have reached eighth grade and beyond.  Some 48 volunteers tutor the students in subjects they need help with.

Of all the things Kovács said, one thing stuck in my mind: ‘We are not the ones who know what they need; they tell us, and we see it.’ Theirs is a complex, integrated approach, which involves children, parents, adults, teachers, and local institutions. They provide training to sensitise employees at companies that support BAGázs to the challenges faced in the settlements before they come in to help fix up houses and improve the infrastructure.

BAGázs volunteers are long-term. Each year, four full-time volunteers are funded through the European Solidarity Corps programme. They live and work in the settlements. Last year’s cohort were from Morocco, Turkey, France, and Spain. They always have a Hungarian volunteer with them and spend a lot of time helping out in the classroom where the kids have a chance to hear and see people from outside their world. The training is intensive. All volunteers, for every programme, receive training. It’s not a matter of showing up and helping out, no matter how good the intention might be.

They’re funded by private individuals and corporate sponsors. They don’t accept government money. It’s not their job to provide jobs and housing, fix the infrastructure, eliminate institutional discrimination and segregation, and address the lack of compensation for disadvantaged pupils in schools and kindergartens. Yes, these are the responsibilities of government, of the social system; BAGázs is saving the state millions by doing what the state should be doing.

BAGázs is in Bag and Dány because no one else is.

A hard winter looms. Purse strings are tightening, and the instinct is to keep what we have for ourselves as we may well need it. But it is in giving we get. This, methinks, is an initiative worth supporting.

Mary Murphy is a freelance writer, copyeditor, blogger, and communications trainer. Read more at www.unpackingmybottomdrawer.com | www.anyexcusetotravel.com  | www.dyingtogetin.com

Photo: Flickr

Varga: EU funding deal ‘closer’

When the government's commitments to the European Union are enforced, disputes with the EU over the recovery fund are expected to be resolved by mid-November, Mihaly Varga, the finance minister, told a conference of economists in Szeged, in southern Hungary, on Friday.

As well as the economic crisis owing to the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine, political disputes are also having a major effect on Hungary’s economic policy, Varga noted.

One such dispute is EU pressure on Hungary in respect of the recovery fund, he said.

Varga said the government would have to amend next year’s budget. While 2022 and 2023 are expected to be “difficult years”, there is reason to hope that Hungary’s economic growth will be back on track by 2024, he added.

The government’s budget deficit is expected to be around 6.1 percent of GDP this year, up from the previously targeted 4.19 percent, owing to additional gas purchases to ensure the necessary reserves, he said.

Inflation, skyrocketing prices of energy resources and raw materials, this year’s drought, and migration “show that the decade ahead will not be easy”, Varga said. “Those crises point to an unprecedented loan and financing crisis,” hitting countries with high debts the hardest, he added.

While Hungary’s robust food industry can protect the country from a food crisis, its exposure to foreign energy resources makes it vulnerable on that front, he noted. The current energy price increase was an “unforeseeable” situation that “was impossible to prepare for”, he said.

Medium-term economic planning will therefore have to rely on energy efficiency, he said. Accordingly, the government has taken measures to cut gas consumption and reduce heating in public buildings, and has launched energy efficiency programmes, Varga said, citing an insulation programme for residential buildings as an example.

Meanwhile, the government’s crisis management programme is focusing on large corporations and small and medium-sized firms, he said.

Illustration – Photo: wikipedia

Police detain Hungarian man suspected of hawking honorary consular positions in Africa

Police have detained a Hungarian man suspected of promising to arrange honorary consular positions in Africa for money, the public prosecutor's office said on Friday.
23. September 2022 16:20

One individual transferred around 50,000 euros to the suspect and received an honorary consular position from an unspecified African country, according to the charges. In another case, an advance of 10,000 euros was made but the administrative process was not undertaken.

Also, the Hungarian is charged with making unlawful offers to high-ranking foreign officials in the hope of keeping his own international positions unrelated to Hungary, the prosecutor said.

The suspect has denied the charges of influence peddling and other crimes related to a foreign official.

Illustration - Photo: mercedes-benz.hu

Gross wages up 15.3 percent in July

The average gross wage of full-time employees in Hungary grew by an annual 15.3 percent in July, amounting to 500,000 forints (EUR 1,230), the Central Statistical Office said on Friday.

The data for full-timers at businesses with at least five people on the payroll show the average net wage rose at the same rate, to 332,500 forints. The gross median wage increased by 14.5 percent to 400,900 forints.

Hungary’s statutory minimum wage was raised by over 19 percent from the start of the year, while the salaries of many public sector employees sector were bumped up, putting wage growth in the double digits from January.

Real wage growth was 1.4 percent, calculating with a 13.7 percent CPI in July.

 

Illustration – Photo: wikipedia

Government subsidising purchase of 14,000 e-bikes

The second round of a government tender supporting e-bikes has closed early due to outsized demand, and has contributed to the purchase of some 14,000 bikes in two rounds, energy policy state secretary Attila Steiner said on Friday.

Thanks to the government’s climate protection action plan, Hungary uses the highest ratio of sustainable energy resources in transport in the region, well above European Union average, the technology and industry ministry cited Steiner as saying.

The action plan has contributed to the number of green cars in Hungary surpassing 56,000, up from 20,000 in 2020, he said. Over half of the cars issued a green number plate are fully electric, he added. The aim is to make the country climate neutral by 2050, he said.

Hungarian troops near the Ukrainian border - Photo: MTI

Official: Hungary ‘important member’ of NATO

Hungary is by now "an important, significant, determinative" member of NATO, a state secretary of the defence ministry said on Friday. At a conference marking the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian Atlantic Council (MAT), Tamas Vargha praised the council's "superhuman" efforts, adding that it had been crucial to the success of the 1997 referendum on Hungary's accession to NATO.

Hungary changed its “soviet-style, mass army” into an effective and professional one, Vargha said, noting government efforts to gradually raise salaries and army developments.

Vargha noted NATO’s crucial role in ensuring security in the Euro-Atlantic region and Europe. “In a fast-changing, unpredictable and complicated security environment the role of NATO is highly appreciated,” he said.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has solidified unity within NATO, Vargha said, adding that Moscow was now “the most direct threat to our security, and this will only change if Moscow changes its aggressive stance.”

He emphasised that everything must be done to promote the restoration of peace in Ukraine.

In response to the Russian threat, NATO has greatly increased its defence capabilities, while the Hungarian military is being developed further in light of the situation, he said, adding that “we believe that peace requires strength”.

Peter Sztaray, state secretary at the foreign ministry, said in his address that Hungary had “broad political support” which was crucial for a country’s “credible and strong” NATO membership. Ever since the 1997 referendum, people’s “support for NATO, irrespective of their political affiliation”, had been an important point of reference, he added.

Ever since Hungary joined NATO, the country has adopted “a consistent attitude ready for consensus”, taking into consideration both its own interests and those of its allies, Sztaray said, noting however that Hungary has blocked NATO-Ukraine talks since 2017 because of Ukraine curbing ethnic minority rights. “This is an issue of international law; the rights of ethnic minorities must be guaranteed,” he said. The Hungarian government, he added, is ready to revisit the issue if the situation of ethnic minorities in Ukraine improves.

Concerning the war in Ukraine, Sztaray said “NATO should be kept at a distance from the conflict, but this does not mean that member states could not support Ukraine.”

Regarding Hungary’s military reform now under way, Sztaray said: “Hungary is at last making the financial contribution that it should have made from the start.” As a NATO member, Hungary has “now become credible and is growing politically stronger” within the alliance. “It’s not possible to be a NATO member without national power and thus able to participate in political decision-making,” he said.

In the past 30 years, “NATO has given a lot to Hungary, and Hungary has been giving NATO and its allies more and more; by now, a healthy balance has developed,” the state secretary said.