- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hungary’s example

When Hungary’s foreign minister addresses Cuban-Americans in Miami today about Cuba’s future after the ailing Fidel Castro, she can point to her country’s transition from communism to a free-market democracy and even refer to recent political protests in Hungary as an example of free speech.

“We don’t know what will happen in Cuba, but you get the feeling something has started,” Foreign Minister Kinga Goncz told reporters yesterday at a Washington luncheon at the residence of Hungarian Ambassador Andras Simonyi.

Mrs. Goncz will be the keynote speaker at a conference of Cuban exiles and Cuban-Americans who are making plans for a transition from 47 years of communist rule after Mr. Castro dies. He handed over power temporarily to his brother, Raul Castro, in August after emergency intestinal surgery. Rumors are now spreading in Cuba that the 80-year-old leader has terminal cancer, but the government in Havana insists he is making a full recovery.

“Changes have to come from Cuba itself. It cannot come from the outside,” Mrs. Goncz said, referring to some Cuban exiles who still dream of returning to power after Mr. Castro dies.

The transition to a post-Castro Cuba could be a smooth one if Cubans follow Hungary’s example, she said. Hungary declared its independence in 1990, after more than 40 years of communist rule. Pro-democracy groups put aside political rivalries and formed a coalition to oust the communist government. Today Hungary is a member of the European Union and NATO and joined the “coalition of the willing” to help the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The recent massive demonstrations against Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany show that Hungarians are free to protest without fear of government retaliation, unlike in the famous failed upraising against communism in 1956. Protesters were angered because Mr. Gyurcsany hid economic problems to win re-election in April.

Mrs. Goncz predicted that democratic change in Cuba will be gradual.

“You can change democratic institutions. You can change economic systems, but changing people’s minds takes time,” she said.

Cuban exiles can also learn from Hungary’s experience in dealing with property confiscated by communists. Hungary decided to provide financial compensation for property claims instead of risking confrontation by ordering the transfer of property to original owners.

Mrs. Goncz, during her 24-hour stopover in Washington, met yesterday afternoon with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss NATO and EU issues and to brief Miss Rice on her Miami speech. She also planned to tell Miss Rice about Hungarian displeasure over being left out of the visa-waiver program, which includes most other EU member countries.

Hungarians, who have a high opinion of Americans, are indignant over what they feel is the Bush administration’s failure to recognize the country’s contribution to U.S. foreign policy by continuing to require them to apply for visas to visit the United States.

“If you ask anybody in Hungary what is the biggest problem between the U.S. and Hungary, they will say the visa program,” Mrs. Goncz said.

Bound for Sudan

President Bush’s special envoy to Sudan left Washington yesterday to try to persuade Sudanese President Omar Bashir to stop the violence in Darfur and accept a U.N. peacekeeping force. Members of Congress, meanwhile, urged the Arab League to put pressure on Sudan.

Andrew Natsios, former director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, plans to visit Darfur after holding talks with senior Sudanese government officials in the capital, Khartoum, the State Department said.

In Cairo yesterday, Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, said he received the congressional letter, written by Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on Africa, global human rights and international operations.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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