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Hungarian government wins confidence vote but streets remain anything but calm
6.10.2006 - Kerry Skyring

Budapest has again seen massive protests as the opposition party Fidesz again calls out its supporters to demand that Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany resign. But the Prime Minister is sticking to his guns, winning a confidence motion in parliament - but apologising for not facing up the countries economic woes.

Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, photo: CTKPrime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, photo: CTK
He vowed to press on with an austerity package aimed at reviving Hungary's finances. The dispute arose after Mr Gyursany admitted the government lied about the state of the economy. Some commentators say the country is going through a major political, moral and economic crisis. I spoke to Krisztian Szabados - director of the Political Capital Institute in Budapest and asked him - can the Prime Minister hold on to power?

"Now, we see a very united coalition behind him. He is strong in Parliament and he's strong enough to push his reforms through. That is not the situation on the streets, mostly generated by Fidesz and its leader Viktor Orban. I think it's very interesting because you can hold a demonstration for weeks but you can't change or influence the government on the streets."

But if those demonstrations go on, and they are very large, they must put pressure on the Prime Minister...

"Yes, but not constitutionally and legally. It's political pressure."

What about the speech by the Hungarian President in which he said the Prime Minister should take responsibility?

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK
"According to the Hungarian constitution, there is no legal way for the president to interfere in politics. His speech sent a clear message to the political parties that they should hold a vote of confidence and the prime minister should resign. That's the real political pressure. We will also see a different kind of demonstrations next weeks. As we saw two weeks ago, Fidesz cannot keep its control over the crowd. The demonstrations may turn violent and we see that organisations that are very close to Fidesz are now staging road blockades everywhere in the country. So, I don't know where this demonstration can lead."

Most people seem to agree that Hungary needs this reform, this austerity programme to bring the nation's finances back into some sort of respectable realm. Apart from the parliamentary support, do most Hungarians understand the need for that?

"If you ask the people on the street whether they agree with reforms they say 'yes'but if you ask whether they would agree with paying for them they say 'no'."

Does Fidesz have a cohesive reform policy as well? Will it carry out the necessary austerity programme such as Mr Gyurcsany is proposing?

"The main message of Fidesz is that the people want to sack the prime minister and his austerity package but Fidesz has so far not talked about its own programme except that it wants to cut taxes. But economically and fiscally, it's not a reasonable answer."

Coming back to the mood on the streets. Would you say this is really a crisis for Hungary and that it could go on for weeks and could get much worse with blockades and protests?

"I would say it's a moral and political crisis. It could lead to unconstitutional situations and could escalate. But what I am most afraid of is that it could lead to a fiscal crisis, a currency crisis. It is in the interest of Fidesz to escalate things to lead to this because then the economy collapses and the prime minister would then have to resign."



Articulating a vision: Vaclav Havel at 70
6.10.2006 - Linda Maštalíř

Vaclav Havel, one of contemporary central Europe's best-known intellectuals is 70 years old. He was born on October 5th, 1936. A week of honours and celebrations in Prague will continue in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, on Friday, and in November all of Vaclav Havel's plays will be staged in New York City.

Vaclav Havel needs no introduction: he has been a key figure in the history of central Europe since the mid-1960s-as a playwright, a member of the Czechoslovak democratic opposition, and eventually as President of an independent Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. On the occasion of Vaclav Havel's 70th birthday, I spoke to Paul Wilson, his English-language translator and friend. On the phone from Heathcote, Ontario, Paul Wilson reflects on Vaclav Havel as a writer and politician:

"Havel's real strengths to my mind are his abilities as a writer and a speaker and a thinker. He certainly exercised these to the full as President, in writing his own speeches and in trying to create-through his speeches-a kind of coherent vision of what he wanted Czech society to be and how he wanted it to evolve, where he saw that its strengths were, and where he saw its weaknesses. I think that to the extent that his ambition was to articulate that vision, he was successful. I mean, there's no way that you can ignore his thinking on these points: it's there for all to see, it's on the record. He's written books about it, like Summer Meditations, his speeches have all been published, he gave his fireside chats every weekend from Lany, and he was constantly articulating what he thought about things. He has this phrase that he uses over and over again, which is "it's my job to say over and over again, what I think." And so he carried that role as an articulator into his position as President, and I think that you can say that he successfully articulated [his ideas].

Vaclav Havel, photo: CTKVaclav Havel, photo: CTK
Havel as President...it was a figurehead position, but because of who he was he had more influence than a normal figurehead would have, and there are certain gears that mesh. I mean, he appoints the prime minister, and he appoints the rectors of universities, and he appoints constitutional court judges and so on. So there is real power there, but I don't think that he had the power that he would have liked to have politically, to put his ideas into practice."

The front cover of this week's Respekt journal has the title 'The man who gave us back our history.' That is, Vaclav Havel who gave Czechs back their history. How do you react to this?

"[Laughs] Well, first of all it's a very grabby title. I don't know what they mean by it, but I suppose there's a certain truth in it. I don't think that Havel himself would ever claim to have been the sole restorer of history to the country, but I think that he represents a certain continuity with the old democratic capitalism that existed in the First Republic, just through his family connections. One of the remarkable things about Havel's thinking to me anyway, is that although he's never actually as an adult experienced anything like a democracy until he was in a position to help create it, his instincts are absolutely right. I mean his instincts about the electoral system are right, his instincts about what a democracy is and the interplay between a vibrant independent society and the political structures that rule it are absolutely spot-on. So that in a sense, you could say that by articulating his own vision, he was actually reconnecting with the past, but also trying to give Czech society a vision of where he thought they should be going."

Vaclav Havel, photo: CTKVaclav Havel, photo: CTK
Since retiring from the Czech Presidency in early 2003, Vaclav Havel has found a role for himself consistent with who he was already in the 1960s: a human rights activist. Cuba has been a particular focus of Havel's, and Paul Wilson talks about why that is, and what Vaclav Havel's connection is to the island state so far away from the Czech Republic:

"A lot of Cuban dissidents who have managed to get out of the country have beaten a path to Havel's door and talked to him directly. Havel has been very active in supporting a public discussion about the future of Cuba, and if I can just be a little historical here, it goes back to something he told the American Congress in his first speech to them in February 1990. This was that at some point, the experience that we've had in eastern Europe under communism is not just something that we can forget, and we hope that some day we'll be able to give other countries the benefit of our experience with communism.

I think that in the case of Cuba-and Havel has other interests in other difficult states like Belarus, and Burma, and North Korea, and so on-but in the case of Cuba specifically, he and many other Czechs are trying to somehow articulate the experience that they have had. Not only living under communism which gives them an automatic sympathy with the Cuban people, but also to try to figure out what it is in their experience of transitioning, if you like, from communism to democracy, that might be useful for the Cubans because it will inevitably be a choice that they'll have to face. Castro will die at some point. Havel's message to the people in Miami was 'you've got to listen to the dissidents on the island,' but his message more recently has been that the time to start thinking about the transition is now, and when it does start to happen, it'll happen so fast that the more preparation you can make now, the better."

Whatever subject he chooses to tackle, whether democratic transitions in far-away lands or the need for constitutional reform at home in the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel still speaks clearly, with authority, and people listen to him as they have for decades.



Touring Nowa Huta in Crazy Mike's Trabants
6.10.2006 - John Beauchamp

The southern polish city of Krakow attracts visitors from all over the world - to its churches, narrow streets and great central square. And now there's another tourist attraction - retro communism. You can joins some Crazy Guides on a Trabant ride round Nowa Huta, a model communist city designed in the 1950s. This report by John Beauchamp:

Crazy Mike has souped-up his Trabants and he's going to be taking us around Nowa Huta. 'Nowa who?' I hear you say. Well, far from the crowds of tourists that pack into Krakow's Old Town, Poland's southern city also has a little-known secret, on an absolutely massive scale. Nowa Huta, or 'New Steelworks' in English, is a district that is located to the east of Krakow, mainly known for its socialist architecture and huge steelworks that polluted southern Poland for decades. Once our party managed to squeeze into the car, away we went, through the smog-filled haze that the Trabbie left in its wake.

On the way to Nowa Huta, our guide Michal Ostrowski, or 'Crazy Mike', gives the lowdown on Nowa Huta and where he will be taking us:

The first stop is the communist restaurant; it hasn't changed so much for the past twenty-five years. Now they have redecorated it a little bit, but they kept the '80s vibration, and it's not so smelly as it used to be, but still it's a really funny place. The time has stopped there, the waitresses, the owner, the decor, it's totally the same you know, but there's no competition here in Nowa Huta, not so many restaurants, and clients don't really care... I'll show you a map of the district, and show you some pictures, tell you where we are...

Once at the café of our destination, anecdotes and some history blend to create a local narrative that describes Nowa Huta. First, an introduction and an example of one of the many paradoxes that the Polish strain of communism had to offer:

The name of the restaurant is Stylish, and it's really in some way... stylish. As I told you, the '70s-'80s decor, not so many changes, maybe there is Coca-Cola and advertising. This was the only city without a church in Poland, but people from the south of Poland, they came, they are very religious, they wanted a church, generally twenty years of fights, riots, they put up the famous cross, the government wanted to remove it, you know. Big story with the church, finally in the late '70s a church is opened in Nowa Huta, a symbolic date that God is coming to Nowa Huta. Very interesting, because you build a modern socialist city, and the payments are extremely dirty capitalist, and the paradox, there's a struggle for the church in Nowa Huta, how the Church appears in '70s, everybody comes after work, helps for free, I can paint so I paint, he's a brick-layer, so he is laying bricks for free, and he is an engineer, so he is making some plans for free, because we are building a church, for us, for the community, so this is clean communism yeah, so this is the paradox that the anti-communist symbol of the church is built in a very communist way.

After taking a shot of vodka and tucking in to some szarlotka, or apple pie, the history lesson begins:

This is called New Steelworks, and it's a district of Krakow now, but it was planned after the War to be a separate city, a model socialist city, the example for the future, the most logical plan, the most perfect city, and of course the town was built for the residents and the workers and their families because they built a big steelworks here. After the War we needed a big steelworks, and we needed to produce. There were of twelve possible locations, and finally Krakow is chosen and there are two theories: a very popular theory is the politics (politicians) decided that the steelworks and the workers' city will be located close to Krakow, because Krakow was conservative, anti-communist, religious city, former capital with a lot of churches, in a way dangerous, they worried about anti-communist rebellion, and there are some facts to show that it can be dangerous for the Communists. Krakow was not destroyed in the War, people were really strong here, and now they write here that politics decided to build it here as a revenge of Communists for Krakow, you know, just to counterbalance Krakow, put it in the shadow, to make people forget about Krakow and think only about Nowa Huta. But it's not totally true. There were a lot of economical reasons, poor over-crowded villages in the neighbourhood, so plenty of labour-force that can come. Good place to locate a steelworks, a big river to supply water, quite close coal mines, so you need coal, and iron, we don't have iron, so we take it from the Ukraine. A really good economical decision to locate it here, actually. It was not only the revenge. In ten years, the government builds a city for 100,000 people, I mean these people built it, so there is propaganda, there are songs about Nowa Huta even, people are coming from different parts of Poland, not so much forced to come here, propaganda makes them come, it's like the Wild West, the place where you go, you get an apartment, you get a job, you get everything that you need.

The best Polish architects are planning the city, the cream of the crop, so it's a really good plan, not many collapsing constructions, quite well organised, and Nowa Huta appears, and as you can see it's based on a semicircle, with a main square, one, two, three, four, five avenues radiating from the square, precisely 45 degrees everywhere, four of the avenues are supplied with tramlines, the tram goes to the steelworks, around half of the steelworks, and goes to Kraków, so it's perfect public transportation. The steelworks is amazingly big, because if this is the city of 100,000 people, the steelworks looks a bit like this, six times bigger than the original city, it was the biggest steelworks in the world when they built it, it's around two and three thousand acres, so it's huge, it's like a big city, with a few hundred kilometres of rails, a few hundred kilometres of roads, so it's amazingly big.

They are fighting to get it on the UNESCO list, I don't know when, but it's the biggest example of socialist architecture, I mean the whole complex yeah, with not so much distribution of different types of architecture, so a local group is fighting for this.

A stroll around the huge Plac Centralny, or Central Square, shows how the city should have developed if it were not for lack of money, something that was all too common in the days of the Polish People's Republic. Having admired the magnificent buildings and the net of wiring that powers the trams coming out of every corner of the square, it's back to the Trabant and off to the steelworks for an inspection, before checking out an apartment which has retained its '80s style and décor.

The apartment has been left relatively unchanged, and gives you an idea of what living n such a place must have been like. Even the smell was, how to put it, stale... Mike explains, amongst other things, the problems of fruit and the troubles of young love in Communist Poland:

You used to wait like two months to get a fridge, this one's Russian, Minsk, so you had to wait for all the things, you don't go to the shop and buy, but you wait, you arrange, you have to really think, but finally you get everything. There were no fruits, no bananas, oranges, pineapples didn't exist, coconuts and mangoes, and all this stuff. Only Polish fruits. Western fruit was special stuff, families from the west were sending us food, I remember fruit packages. My father was in the States and he was sending us bananas, oranges, with the coconut we didn't know what to do, and the pineapple, it was like really complicated stuff. When I split with one girl, when I was ten eleven years old, so she split with me because I was not responsible, and I gave her an orange as a splitting gift... You couldn't go the shop and by an orange, maybe during Christmas sometimes, you had to have a family approach (connection).

I like this washing machine it's called Francesca, and what's interesting is that the design is from the 50s, but they were producing Francescas until the end of Communist Poland, so until '89, and it also showed the type of development in Communist countries, that you have the design of something from the '50s, but you make it for as long as possible, because there's no demand from the market.

Crazy Mike has been taking rides to Nowa Huta for the past three years. How do you come up with such an idea though? He told me more after the tour:

I was working in the hotel as a receptionist, finishing my degree in law, so I had a contact with tourists, and once they called me from the hotel, 'there's a couple, they need two hours guiding, so I came with my little Polish Fiat, you know, old communist car, I wanted to take them to the castle, I just used the car as transportation to get to the Old Town, but they've already seen the Old Town, so I had to show them something else, so I took them to some off-the-beaten-path places, and they really enjoyed it, they really had a good time, very chilled out.

And do you have any plans for the future of your business, do you want to buy some more Trabants?

Yeah, I'll buy some more Trabants for sure, I'll extend the offer to some more freaky communist stuff like communist disco, you know, real Polish workers meeting. When we have groups we make a kind of little mayhem, Polish workers pour a little vodka, give pickles, and people get drunk and it's a lot of fun, so kitsch band playing and so we go in that direction, so there's less history, and more socialising, between tourists and Polish workers, that speak no English of course...

So it seems that Crazy Mike won't be trading in his Trabant for a Ferrari just yet, although a tour around Nowa Huta is made that much more enjoyable when in the back of a genuine East-German motor that runs on two-stroke petrol and sounds like a lawnmower.

Mike and his team can be checked out on the internet at www.crazyguides.com.



Slovakia's potato problem
6.10.2006 - Anca Dragu

Slovaks love their potatoes and they eat a lot. But it seems the modern world of the EU and open markets is leading local farmers to stop planting them. Anca Dragu reports from Bratislava.

I wonder whether there is anybody in this world who has never eaten potatoes. If there is, he or she definitely doesn't live in Slovakia. Here potatoes are so popular that people regard them as a second type of bread.

"They have been playing a very important role in the folk culture of Slovakia because villagers can store them and cook a wide range of meals during the whole year", says Elena Zahradnikova a curator at the Slovak National Museum.

Slovaks began eating potatoes in the 18th century only after the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa persuaded them that the edible part is actually in the ground and not those green fruits above the ground.

"Maria Theresia issued written explanations that were posted in Slovak villages so people could learn how to eat the potatoes. Her goal was to persuade people to cultivate potatoes because they bore higher yields than cereals for example. Slovaks have a saying that you put one potato in the ground in the spring and can pick up eight in the autumn," says Zahradnikova.

Well, it seems that the economic reasoning applied at that time doesn't work today in the complex world of supermarkets and the European Union. The total surface cultivated with potatoes in Slovakia decreased by a third since 2000 to 18,400 hectares this year. In the same period of time the production fell by 17 percent to 346 thousand tonnes in 2006.

"The production costs went up. The supermarkets are trying to push the purchasing prices down, around 8.50 Crowns per kilo while most producers calculated that they should get 11-13 Crowns per kilo. Some decided that it's not worth selling potatoes to the local market anymore and tried Germany, France or Holland. The problem is that not all Slovak potatoes are of a quality good enough to be sold on the European Union market. Some farmers decided to switch to other crops", said Julius Danis the Head of the regional Agriculture Chamber in Poprad, Northern Slovakia.

Slovak potato producers have another disadvantage. They live close to Poland, which is one of the largest potato producers in Europe. Sparks appeared between the two neighbours when Slovaks accused Poles of selling their potatoes at dumping prices and with no consideration for the European Union's strict fito-sanitary norms. Polish farmers rejected such accusations. Julius Danis says he is not worried that Slovak potato farmers will be pushed out of the market by European competitors.

"Slovaks will keep on eating potatoes. It is a part of our culture and they are healthy", said Julian Danis.

Well if you happen to be in Central Europe this autumn, come to Slovakia and try some delicious potato pancakes or any other of the few hundreds dishes based on potatoes.



Ljubljana's City of Women
6.10.2006 - Ksenija Samardzija-Matul

In Slovenia, artists from 13 countries have their work on display in the capital Ljubljana for the 12th City of Women international festival of contemporary arts. The festival runs until the 10th of October. Ksenija Samardzija Matul has the details:

Although the name of the festival may suggest otherwise, City of Women does not feature women artists alone as one of the organizers of the festival Miljana Babic explains:

"The city of women means that it promotes women in art, so that the authors or directors are female but for example members of the group or participants can be both sexes. So it deals with themes that somehow relate to women's position in society but definitely it attracts all different audiences."

Over the years the City of Women Festival has developed a range of specific characteristics that distinguish it from other events in Slovenia and Europe. It has a rather experimental profile, introducing artists who experiment with or cross the boundaries of genres. Miljana Babic; one of the organizers explains how this festival differs from other festivals:

"Well what is basically different about this festival is that it works with an annual theme. For each year we have a specific theme - we kind o f choose artists according to this specific theme, for example this year the topic is 'history and memory'. Another thing that is different about this festival is that it is a trans-disciplinary festival which means that it does not work within a specific artistic field but it covers music, visual art, performance, theatre, literature and theory etc. Then another specific of the festival would be that it tries to accommodate the events across the city."

The Festival fosters dialogue between the attending artists and the audience. Apart from performances and exhibitions, the festival also features round-table debates, lectures and workshops, focusing on themes dealing with key problems of modern women. One of the participating artists this year is Bonfire Madigan from the United States, who has performed with the Slovenian band Laibach and she explains her encounter with Slovenia:

"Through Laibach I fell in love with this country and cities and of course I wanted to return and I have been involved in some of these art festivals for so long and the 'city of women' seemed to be continuing that tradition."

Her music is not mainstream but she is part of the underground scene in her country and at the festival she presents her new song writing, Bonfire Madigan:

"Well I think the audience is gonna be in for a big treat. I have been preparing a performance that evolves around my new song writing, my new song forms for cello and voice as well as live looping on the cello and some peppering of minimalist electronic effects and I love to perform and I am very excited to bring this."

This year's topic being History and Memory, a special tribute will be paid to Hannah Arendt the German political theorist of Jewish origin whose work was marked and motivated by the terror of the holocaust, which she escaped by migrating first to France and then to the United States.



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