EUROPEAN DEPUTIES VOICE CONCERN ABOUT BELARUS'S ELECTORAL CODE... Wolfgang Berendt, a special rapporteur from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 17 February that he is "very disappointed" that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's signed the new electoral code, which was adopted without consultations with the opposition. Berendt added that Belarus will neither be accepted as a member of the council nor given EU economic support if it holds parliamentary elections based on that code. Elisabeth Schroedter, head of the European Parliament group for Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine, said Lukashenka's signing of the code signals an end to attempts by European organizations "to bring Belarus back to democracy in a peaceful way." Schroedter noted that the elections held according to that code might result in the "complete isolation" of Belarus. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES DEFICIT-FREE BUDGET. Lawmakers on 17 February voted 252 to 18 with 22 abstentions to adopt a zero-deficit budget for 2000, with revenues and spending at 33.4 billion hryvni ($6 billion), Interfax reported. The left parliamentary caucuses did not participate in the vote. The lawmakers decided to exclude from the budget bill articles that stipulated changes in tax legislation. The passing of the zero-deficit budget removes a serious obstacle in Ukrainian-IMF talks on resuming the fund's $2.6 billion loan program. Premier Viktor Yushchenko commented the same day that the IMF will resume its loan program only after Ukraine starts implementing several of its long-promised reforms. JM
COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONCERNED ABOUT REFERENDUM IN UKRAINE. Hanne Severinsen, a rapporteur from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said in Kyiv on 17 February that she hopes President Leonid Kuchma will suspend holding the 16 April constitutional referendum until the Venetian Commission presents its assessment of the referendum decree, Interfax reported. Severinsen added that she has invited Kuchma to take part in a PACE session in Strasbourg in early April at which the Venetian Commission's conclusions are to be discussed. Meanwhile, a late January poll showed that 76 percent of Ukrainians want to take part in the referendum. According to that poll, if the plebiscite were held now, all the questions would be supported by more than 50 percent of those intending to vote. JM
When a leading Hungarian politician spices his speech with ominous references to "cosmopolitans" and "Communist Jews"--as did Deputy Prime Minister Laszlo Kover on 29 January--he cannot expect that it will be taken lightly. In Hungary, similar rhetoric half a century ago spurred a genocide that killed more than half a million Hungarian Jews.
But speeches like Kover's and various anti-Jewish provocations have become increasingly common in Hungary over the past year, causing unease among Central Europe's largest Jewish community.
Jewish observers say the increasing use of "political anti-Semitism" is more than a hate-mongering ploy. Instead, they contend it is a cynical strategy by Hungary's crafty prime minister, Viktor Orban, and his advisers. Orban, 36, seems intent on carving out a future for himself as the "Man of the Right." While no one suggests that he is an antiSemite, some of his allies are skillfully employing nationalist Christian-conservative symbols and Holocaust revisionism.
"These are deeply coded messages to the far right to show that this is where their hearts beat," says writer Miklos Haraszti, an ex-dissident and former liberal parliamentary deputy. "They want these voters, even if they lose some sympathy from moderates and earn contempt from journalists and liberal opinion-makers."
Since last summer, a number of Jewish-related issues have made headlines, even though the country's 100,000 or so Jews constitute just 1 percent of the population. First came a government attempt--dropped after Jewish experts protested- -to rewrite the text of the Hungarian exhibit at Auschwitz, which was installed in 1965. The new version would have shifted all blame for the Hungarian Holocaust onto Germany, which occupied the country in March 1944, and made no mention of Hungary's role.
Then, in the fall, officials unveiled a plaque commemorating the Hungarian gendarmerie while ignoring the fact that it was these same police who, for seven weeks in the spring of 1944, enthusiastically carried out Nazi orders to round up and deport 437,000 Jews from the Hungarian countryside.
Hungarian Jews says these moves are part of an orchestrated campaign to whitewash Hungary's past. But Maria Schmidt, a key adviser to Orban and frequently criticized as one of Hungary's leading revisionists, argues that after four decades of Communism, in which historical documentation was indeed ideologically skewed, there is a need to relate history from a new perspective.
"For 40 years they were lying about everything," Schmidt told RFE/RL. "I'm glad that now there's competition in the telling of history, because no one should have a privileged position or monopoly. We all live in this country; we all have our own history and our own point of view."
Schmidt says she backs the unrestricted publication and distribution of "Mein Kampf," "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," and other anti-Semitic tracts now available in new Hungarian-language editions in many Budapest bookstores.
More worrying for Hungarian Jews, according to Haraszti, is that Orban appears to welcome the parliamentary support of Istvan Csurka and his far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP). Csurka was kicked out of the first postCommunist ruling party, the Hungarian Democratic Forum, in 1993 for his extremist views. He returned to the parliament in July 1998, when MIEP squeaked past the 5 percent threshold, winning 14 seats out of 386.
Csurka and his minions are notorious for conspiratorial talk about "alien elements" and "liberal traitors." They also have questioned the "disproportionate" number of Jews in the media, in leading symphony orchestras, and in the delegation of Hungarian authors to last year's Frankfurt Book Fair. Moreover, Csurka is virtually the only Central European politician to hail the rise of Joerg Haider in Austrian politics.
Orban, meanwhile, remains silent and above the fray. After all, Hungary is clamoring for full integration into the West. Analysts suspect that Orban is searching for the fine line between how far to the right Hungarian society is willing to move and how much Hungary's Western partners are willing to tolerate. Compared with some of its neighbors (Yugoslavia, Croatia, Romania, and Ukraine), Hungary currently seems an oasis of economic and political stability. So the West does not trouble itself with Hungarian domestic politics. But international pressure--such as a scathing report by the Anti-Defamation League last December--may force Orban to change his ways.
The same month as the report appeared, the government announced it will fund a Holocaust museum and documentation center. And on 18 January, in a ceremony to commemorate the Soviet liberation of the Budapest ghetto, Education Minister Zoltan Pokorni suggested that Hungary have an annual Holocaust remembrance day.
Hungarian Jews, however, tend to view these gestures as half-hearted attempts at damage control and public relations. Many Jews were among the several thousand Hungarians who attended an anti-fascist demonstration in Budapest on 13 February. "You won't be any better off by hiding or avoiding conflict; to them you'll still be the 'budos zsido' [stinking Jew]," says Balint Molnar, 25, who attended the rally and who has just completed a degree in international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. "My grandfather, an 84-yearold Holocaust survivor, curses and swears and sometimes spits at the television set. But I think we should deal with antiSemitism more dynamically. We should confront these people and make more noise about it."