- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 18, 2009

READY FOR REBOUND

The Hungarian ambassador is confidently predicting that his country, after hitting bottom during the global financial crisis, is poised for an economic recovery and just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.

“Next year Hungary will be best off in the European Union,” Ambassador Bela Szombati told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “The government has done a tremendous job. We’re in a good position. We’re waiting for the next growth cycle.”

The only obstacle toward recovery would be slow growth in Germany, a major market for Hungarian exports.

“If there is no growth in Germany, it would be extremely difficult to get growth in Hungary,” he said.

Mr. Szombati credited the government of Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai for facing the severe economic morass and setting Hungary on a path toward recovery. Mr. Bajnai took office after the March resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and secured support from parliament for deep cuts in social programs and other measures.

Among those cuts, Hungarian government employees and retirees lost an extra month’s salary, called the “13th month” paycheck, and the government increased the retirement age to 65 from 62. However, most Hungarians took early retirement after turning 58.

“There were also deep cuts in government expenditures,” the ambassador added.

He noted that the government imposed a “strict-disciplined economic and budgetary policy” that has resulted in a favorable review from the International Monetary Fund, which was keeping Hungary afloat with a $25.1 billion rescue plan.

Mr. Szombati said the government’s economic measures are expected to meet its goal of reducing the budget deficit to 3.9 percent of the gross domestic product next year, down from a high of 9 percent in 2006.

The economic crisis was accompanied by political turmoil and a rise in ethnic violence, especially against Hungary’s Roma, or Gypsy, population.

“There is hatred, prejudice, a lot of prejudice, especially toward the Roma,” Mr. Szombati said. “It truly is the biggest hurdle we face.”

However, Mr. Szombati said Hungarians, only 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, are still learning how to live in a democracy.

“What is going on in Hungary reminds me of what was going on in this country in the 1780s and early 1800s,” Mr. Szombati said, referring to the political and economic instability that followed the American Revolution.

“We are learning how to debate. We are learning how to handle our political opponents.”

The ambassador said he was trying to be candid about the social and political conditions in Hungary.

“I’m not putting a spin on it. I’m offering you my analysis,” he said. “A lot of people are disappointed by what they see, but they have not given up on democracy.”

ALL A TWITTER

Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan took public diplomacy to a new place on the Internet when he opened a Twitter account to spread news about his country.

“I wanted you to be among the first to know about the launch of my Twitter account … with a personal Twitter feed,” he wrote in an e-mail.

On Monday, his Twitter page (twitter.com/Arturo_Sarukhan) linked readers to a front-page story in The Washington Times, about the former director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection calling for a reintroduction of a ban on semiautomatic firearms, often called assault weapons, to reduce gun smuggling to fuel Mexico’s drug wars.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected] washingtontimes.com.

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