- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

Geza Jeszenszky, Hungary's ambassador to the United States, is a professional historian and an expert on international relations. He's also an avid skier and has taught at the University of California-Santa Barbara on a Fulbright scholarship. Mr. Jeszenszky spoke to Stephen Goode, senior writer with Insight magazine, a sister publication of The Washington Times.
Question: Mr. Ambassador, in an op-ed column in The Washington Post in March, Jackson Diehl charged that Hungary's prime minister "has embraced a nationalist agenda worthy of the 1930s while tacitly allying himself with anti-Semites." These are very serious comments, which you called a "smear by innuendo and unnamed sources" in a letter to that newspaper. What is the situation in Hungary?
Answer: Hungary today is just the very opposite of the Hungary of the 1930s. Hungary today accepts the present borders with its neighbors and renounces territorial change. In the 1930s, Hungary looked to Germany as a country for support. Today, Hungary is allied with NATO and shares all the democratic values of NATO.
Moreover, elementary logic would say that Hungary on no account could dream of getting back, for instance, the Transylvanian section of Romania, where there are 6 million Romanians and only 1.5 million Hungarians. In a plebiscite, Romanians would win easily. Demands for getting it back would lead to confrontations with our neighbors. The same goes for Slovakia (where there is also a Hungarian minority). This is a Hungary in no way similar to the Hungary of the 1930s.
Q: What about anti-Semitism in Hungary?
A:The newspapers today have the stories about the burning of the four synagogues in France and Belgium, a very sad piece of news. I am proud to say that in Hungary, there has been no instance of even milder forms of violence perhaps because they have suffered so much violence in the 20th century.
Hungary has the third-largest Jewish population in Europe. I would be the last to deny that there are some verbal anti-Semitic utterances. But Hungary was the very first to pass a Jewish emancipation law [in the 19th century] and that is in the very best Hungarian tradition. Also the present government began an annual day of remembrance for the half-million Hungarian Holocaust victims.
Q: Recently, the Hungarian government passed the so-called "Status Law" bestowing benefits on Hungarians who live outside the borders of Hungary in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia Magyars whose ancestors were left outside of Hungary's borders when these were redrawn following World War I. Has this law provoked dissatisfaction among Hungary's neighbors? What does the Status Law provide for?
A:Hungary has seven neighbors and one, Slovakia, has expressed misgivings, but the Hungarian government is in the process of negotiation to satisfy those concerns. With the other six neighbors, there are no problems. Last December, the Romanian prime minister and the Hungarian prime minister held talks to alleviate Romanian fears, and Hungary has become one of Romania's strongest supporters for admission of Romania to NATO.
The Status Law provides these benefits. It recognizes Hungarians in neighboring states as co-nationals. A certificate issued by Hungary entitles Hungarians from outside Hungary special privileges on visits to Hungary: substantially reduced railway rates, free entry at museums and libraries and the like.
There is also support for Hungarian students outside Hungary to buy books, getting a better education in the mother tongue. It allows Hungarians outside Hungary to work within Hungary three months each year, but not permanent status within Hungary.


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