Sándor Fazekas

Hungary through American eyes

American diplomats have been employing novel ways of communication. For example, yesterday Daniel Fried gave a press conference by telephone from Washington to a small number of Hungarian journalists about the American position on economic sanctions against Russia. Daniel Fried is the State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy.

Fried is a senior diplomat with vast experience in Eastern Europe. He served as political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in Soviet times; he headed the Polish desk during the regime change in the late 1980s. After Poland emerged as one of the democracies of the region, he was political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. Later he served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs and special assistant to the president and senior director for European and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council. So, why does Daniel Fried think that he has to give a long-distant press conference for Hungarian journalists? Surely, because Washington wants the Hungarian public to know the American position on Russian aggression against Ukraine. And it also wants to share its opinion of the current state of Russian-Hungarian relations.

Ambassador Daniel Fried

Ambassador Daniel Fried

Up to this point we have two independent versions of the telephone interview: one from Népszabadság and the other from VilággazdaságI can’t imagine that MTI was not invited, but for the time being there is no MTI report on the event.

The main message was that sanctions will be applied as long as Moscow does not fulfill all twelve points of the Minsk Agreement. A good summary of these twelve points can be found on the BBC website. Russian regular troops are still on Ukrainian soil and “the Russian aggression continues.” The United States wants a political solution to the crisis and is ready to cooperate with Russia in many areas, but Russia must respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. With its aggression against Ukraine Russia “seriously endangers the European security system that came into being after the 1989-1990 East European events.” If Russian aggression continues, the United States and the European Union are ready to introduce new sanctions.

Fried then turned to specifically Hungarian issues. Hungary and its prime minister should know from Hungarian history what it is like when a country is left alone unprotected in the event of outside aggression. Therefore Hungary ought to realize the importance of the steps that are being taken in this case. Viktor Orbán first claimed that “the European Union shot itself in the foot when it introduced sanctions against Russia” and later at the NATO summit in Wales he declared that “we are hawks when it comes to military security but doves in economic terms.” Fried said that “we all want to be on good terms with Russia, to improve our relations, but this is not the right time for friendship.” Fried cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s claim that sanctions only deepen the Ukrainian crisis. “The Russians say all sorts of things, many of them are simply not true. After all, they deny that their soldiers are in the territory of Ukraine.”

During the press conference it became clear that talks took place between the Hungarian and the U.S. governments concerning the sanctions. It seems that the U.S. listened to Hungary’s objections but was not impressed.  The sanctions hurt not only Hungarian businesses but businesses of all nations, including those of the United States. The European Union made a brave decision which Hungary supported.

The message was that one cannot play the kind of game Viktor Orbán is playing at the moment. On the one hand, he is a supporter of the common cause against Russia, but when it comes to sanctions he tries to make special deals with Moscow. For instance, Sándor Fazekas, the Hungarian agriculture minister, visited Moscow on September 8 where he had talks with Nikolay Fyedorov, his Russian counterpart. There Fazekas agreed with Fyedorov that “the sanctions don’t offer a solution to the Ukrainian crisis, which should be settled through negotiations.”

And according to leaked documents, we know that Vladimir Putin told Petro Poroshenko during one of their telephone conversations that he “through bilateral contacts can influence some European countries to form ‘a blocking minority’ in the European Council.” The countries he has in mind are Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Cyprus. I guess Daniel Fried wanted to make sure that Hungarians understand that Washington fully supports the application of sanctions and that the large majority of the EU countries are also on board.

While we are talking about U.S.-Hungarian relations, I ought to mention that U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D), who is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, and Senator John McCain (R) introduced a resolution in recognition of the International Day of Democracy on September 15. Accompanying the introduction of the resolution Senator Carden’s press release talked at length about the sad state of democracy in Hungary where “there is an unprecedented global crackdown on civil society organizations seeking to express their voice and exercise their rights. Earlier this week, Hungarian authorities raided the offices of two NGOs in Budapest in what appears to be part of a tightening squeeze on civil society. Such actions not only undermine democracy but chill investigative reporting on corruption and good governance. Now, more than ever, is the time for the international community to push back on threats to civil society and protect efforts by these organizations to build strong democratic institutions.”

In addition, on September 18 Deputy Chief of the United States Mission to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Kate Byrnes delivered the following speech to the Permanent Council in Vienna:

Three months ago, on June 19, the United States addressed the Permanent Council regarding an apparent campaign of intimidation directed toward civil society and independent media in Hungary. I regret that I must speak to the Council again on this topic.

As we said in June, just one day after the April 6 elections, the Hungarian government accused organizations that conduct legitimate work in human rights, transparency, and gender equality of serving “foreign interests.” Shortly afterwards, the Prime Minister’s Office alleged that NGOs that monitor and evaluate grant proposals for the EEA-Norway NGO fund were tied to an opposition party. On September 8, Hungary’s National Bureau of Investigation initiated a series of police raids on two NGOs responsible for the EEA-Norway NGO grant program in Hungary. With no prior warning, and in a show of intimidation, over 30 officers entered the NGOs’ facilities and seized the organizations’ documents and computers.

These police raids appear to be aimed at suppressing critical voices and restricting the space for civil society to operate freely. The United States again reminds Hungary of its OSCE commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law.

Mr. Chair, we raise these issues to express our concern about actions that appear inconsistent with OSCE principles, and also to encourage dialogue. We intend to continue to encourage the government of Hungary to observe its commitments and allow NGOs to operate without further harassment, interference, or intimidation. The United States believes that such respect for its commitments will help Hungary to become a more prosperous, robust and inclusive democracy.

Finally, here is something from former President Bill Clinton, who appeared on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. “There’s the authoritarian capitalism model which is Russia and in a different way China, and it has some appeal. Like the Hungarian Prime Minister – they owe a lot to America; he just said he liked authoritarian capitalism, just saying “I don’t ever want to have to leave power” – usually those guys want to stay forever and make money. And there’s the democracy model …”

Hungary is in the news, no doubt. It would be better if it weren’t.

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Corruption and anthrax: The sorry end of a “city farm”

On July 4 news spread rapidly that several people had become infected by anthrax, which is called lépfene in Hungarian. “Fene” here most likely means something like “trouble” while “lép” means “spleen.” Apparently the spleens of infected people become enlarged.

Anthrax spores are formed by anthrax bacteria that occur naturally in the soil. These spores remain dormant for years until they find their way into a host: sheep, cattle, horses, and goats. Anthrax is rare in Canada and the United States but common in the developing world. Hungary had several outbreaks of anthrax over the last few years.

One can be affected by the anthrax bacteria by eating undercooked meat from an infected animal, by inhalation when one breathes in anthrax spores, or through the skin. Infection by inhalation is the most deadly way to contract the disease. That’s why we see pictures of health workers covered from head to toe while working at the scene where the infected animals were grazing or were slaughtered.

It seems that the owner of the cattle farm noticed as early as June 21 that something was wrong with some of his animals, and at least one had to be slaughtered due to severe illness. On July 1 there was another sick animal who had to be killed. No veterinarian saw them and no health official inspected the meat of the slaughtered animals.

Once the anthrax outbreak became public knowledge newspapermen invaded Tiszafüred where the first anthrax outbreak occurred. Tiszafüred is a favorite spot for vacationers who want to take advantage of Tisza tó, a large artificial lake second in size only to Lake Balaton. Very few people were ready to talk, but reporters eventually learned that the owner of City Farm in Kócsújfalu is new at animal husbandry. He purchased about 100 cows, a Hungarian variety called “magyar tarka,” only a few months ago. Where the cattle came from is not clear. Zoltán Gőgös, former MSZP undersecretary in the ministry of agriculture, seems to know that the Hungarian owner purchased the animals in Romania. He also claims to know that the owner, instead of  immediately placing the sick animals in the compulsory three-month quarantine, immediately began slaughtering them.

This is what the "magyar tarka" looks like. Excellent for meat and for milk production

This is what the “magyar tarka” looks like. Excellent for meat and milk production

The first five or six people who became ill were butchers who handled the meat. Later it turned out that the meat was sold to a company that supplies food to the municipality of Tiszafüred, which provides lunches for 88 needy children in town. Since then the town of Tiszafüred broke its contract with the company. Another purchaser was a restaurant called “Nemzeti Étterem,” whose owner, I assume, must be a great Fidesz supporter judging from the name of his restaurant.

News spread that the authorities actually kept the anthrax infection a secret for three or four days, something the Ministry of Agriculture hotly denied in a communiqué that appeared on the ministry’s website on July 4. In it Róbert Zsigó, former Fidesz spokesman and mayor of Baja, claims that as soon as the anthrax infection became known the authorities took all necessary steps. Since symptoms of anthrax infection appear about a week after the time of contact with the sick animal and it was on July 2 that anthrax was diagnosed in five patients, it is likely that the infection was spread by the animal that was slaughtered on the 21st of June.

The locals were not too communicative when journalists wanted to know more about the owner of City Farm. They did say, however, that the owner is a well-off man who lives in a big and expensive house. LMP politicians soon discovered that the owner of the herd of cattle is József Nagy, who just recently received 250 hectares from the Hungarian government to raise cattle. His case is similar to hundreds of others where people with good connections to party and government leaders received tracts of land without knowing the first thing about animal husbandry or agriculture.

Soon enough it became known who the “godfather” of József Nagy is: Sándor Fazekas, the minister of agriculture, himself. LMP was not alone in its detective work; Jobbik also looked into Nagy’s government connections. They discovered that Nagy’s other business venture also received government subsidies. Since then it became known that Nagy is on very friendly terms with Mihály Varga, minister of national economy.

Everywhere you look you find corruption. In most cases only the locals know all the details of suspicious land transactions. Only in glaring cases like this one does the news of corruption surface and spread nationwide.

Indeed, corruption is everywhere and on all levels. After following the trail of the infected meat, it turned out that it was not only József Nagy who was guilty of negligence but also the owner of the company that provided meat to the town of Tiszafüred. One corrupt businessman, Nagy, phoned the other corrupt one, Tamás Ábrahám, on June 23 and inquired whether he was interested in some beef at a bargain price. He was and purchased 100 kg of it on the very same day. Ábrahám apparently didn’t ask for the meat inspector’s certification but relied on Nagy’s verbal assurance that all was in order. Ábrahám and Nagy know each other through soccer. Ábrahám established a local soccer club and Nagy was one of its sponsors.

According to the latest intelligence József Nagy’s herd of cattle is shrinking in size. Lately apparently several animals had to be slaughtered, including the bull that was to assure the future of the cattle farm. He ended up in the carcass pit. His ear tag, which should have had the information that would have identified him, was missing. I wonder why.

Waiting for the Kazakh dictator

It was a few days ago that Vladimir Putin met with his counterparts from Kazakhstan and Belarus in the Kazakh capital, Astana, to form the Eurasian Economic Union as a counterweight to the European Union and the United States. The provisions of the union will give freedom of movement and employment across the three countries.  They will also collaborate on issues of energy, technology, industry, agriculture, and transport.

What does the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union have to do with Hungary, a member of the European Union? Directly not much, but one must not forget that one of the cornerstones of Viktor Orbán’s foreign policy initiatives is the “Opening to the East.” In the last three or four years he has developed good relations with all three countries.

There has been a lot of discussion here and elsewhere in the media about Russian-Hungarian cooperation in the Southern Stream gas pipe project and the recent European Union efforts to block its construction, fearing that Gazprom will not  abide by the Union’s competition rules. Even more time was spent on the Russian loan to Hungary for Rosatom to build two additional nuclear reactors in Paks. What we hear less about are the quiet but very friendly relations between Kazakhstan and Hungary. The same is true about Belarus. It seems that Viktor Orbán enjoys the company of dictators.

In May 2012 Viktor Orbán visited Kazakhstan and gushed over the great achievements of Nursultan Nazarbayev, the president and dictator of the country. He emphasized “the historical and cultural ties that unite our peoples.” He admired the new capital, Astana, which he described as a “symbol of humanity’s new phase of development.” Orbán’s servile performance was disgusting then but now, two years later, Hungarian servility toward Nazarbayev has reached new lows.

Back in March, a journalist from 168 Óra discovered that in Városliget, Budapest’s city park, one of the roads was renamed Astana Road. After some research the journalist discovered that the decision to name a street after the Kazakh capital had been reached already in 2013. Originally, it was to be somewhere in District VIII, a poor section of Pest, but apparently the Budapest city council decided that the district is not elegant enough for the very special relations that apparently exist between the two countries. By the end of April the same city council (naturally with Fidesz majority) voted to erect a statue of Abai Qunanbaiuli or Kunanbayev, the great 19th-century Kazakh poet. Kunanbayev is much admired in Kazakhstan, where many statues commemorate his person and his work. Outside of Kazakhstan he has only one statue, in Moscow. But soon enough there will a second one which Nursultan Nazarbayev himself will unveil on June 4 in Budapest. The statue is a present from the people of Kazakhstan. It is a bust that stands on a three-meter-high platform.

There are other signs of the excellent relationship between Hungary and Kazakhstan. The mayor of Astana offered a piece of real estate gratis to the Hungarian state. The Budapest government can build a structure on the site in which Hungary could hold exhibits about the country and its people. Apparently, this is a very generous offer because real estate prices in Astana are sky high: millions of dollars.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, dictator of Kazakhstan

Nursultan Nazarbayev, dictator of Kazakhstan

Meanwhile, the fawning over the Kazakh dictator seems to have no limits. At the end of April, before invited guests in the building of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of all places, Sándor Fazekas, minister of agriculture and rural development, and János Horváth, the oldest member of parliament and a US-Hungarian citizen, introduced the Hungarian translation of Nazarbayev’s book about his childhood and youth.  Zoltán Balog, minister of human resources, was in the audience.

Naturally, the book was a bestseller in Kazakhstan, though I doubt that it will fly off the shelves in Hungary. Fazekas referred to the Kazakh dictator as “an internationally respected statesman” whose autobiography will help Hungarians learn more about the history of Kazakhstan. János Horváth went even further. According to him, the fantastic achievements of Nazarbayev’s agricultural reform “will one day be taught at universities.” In his opinion, “it is appropriate (helyénvaló)  for the leader of a Soviet-type government to behave like a dictator, but Nazarbayev wants to move away from the practice.” The problem with this claim is that there has been absolutely no sign of Nazarbayev giving up power and contemplating the introduction of democracy. In fact, just lately he got himself reelected with 95% of the votes. Naturally, the Kazakh ambassador to Hungary was present; he compared the Kazakh president’s autobiography to biographies of Gandhi and George Washington. It was quite a gathering.

And last Monday Duna TV showed a Kazakh film, with Hungarian subtitles, based on Nazarbayev’s autobiography. As Cink, a popular blog, reported, “The Stalinist Duna World is showing a film about the Kazakh dictator tonight.” This is how low Viktor Orbán has sunk in his quest for friendship with countries outside of the European Union.

László Székely, the new ombudsman

There are times when governments can go very wrong with an appointment. It can happen anywhere. The famous American case was George H. W. Bush’s appointment of  David Souter to the US Supreme Court in 1990. Souter was supposed to be a conservative but turned out to be a “closet liberal.”

Something similar happened to Fidesz twice lately with appointments to the position of ombudsman. Prior to 2010 there were several ombudsmen, each responsible for a specific field: environmental issues, human rights, data protection, minority rights, etc. Vikor Orbán wanted to have only one ombudsman, and he picked Máté Szabó, the man responsible for human rights before 2010. At the time I was not particularly impressed with Szabó who, in my opinion, didn’t distinguish himself in his earlier position. Most of the issues that interested him sounded petty to me. In fact, it might have been this very aspect of Szabó’s activities that appealed to Orbán. Perhaps he thought that Szabó would get bogged down in picayune issues and would be too busy to spend much time on the constitutionally questionable legislative work of the Fidesz voting machine. To everybody’s surprise Szabó became a very active ombudsman who resolutely fought to salvage the remnants of Hungarian democracy.

Szabó’s tenure ended on September 24, 2013, and János Áder nominated László Székely, who had held government positions in both the first and the second Orbán governments. In fact, way back in 2001 his name came up as the nominee of President Ferenc Mádl to the position of ombudsman responsible for data protection but then, because of MSZP’s opposition, Viktor Orbán couldn’t give the job to his favorite candidate. Once he had a two-thirds majority, however, he didn’t have to worry. Székely’s appointment was assured.

When Székely’s name surfaced as the potential nominee the opposition parties had all sorts of objections. They were worried about his long, close association with the current government. Some people pointed out that his knowledge of constitutional law was scanty. Népszava described the departure of Szabó as the fall of the last bastion in the defense of democracy. I ended my earlier post on this appointment with these words: “For the time being it is hard to say what kind of ombudsman Székely will be. After all, Szabó turned out to be excellent despite earlier indications and predictions to the contrary.” I added: “It may happen again, but Viktor Orbán rarely makes mistakes on personnel choices.” Well, it seems that he did.

Ombudsman László Székely / Source: hirma.hu

Ombudsman László Székely / Source: hirma.hu

After his appointment Székely gave a number of interviews in which he emphasized that in spite of his government jobs and close association with Fidesz he will be an independent and judicious ombudsman. That assurance was to be expected. But, looking back at these interviews, we can already find signs that Székely might be less of a Fidesz clone than some expected. For example, he told the reporter of Népszabadság that “a good ombudsman must show solidarity with the dejected, the defenseless and must be sensitive to problems of destitution and poverty.” Not exactly the philosophy of the Fidesz ideologues. A few days later in a longer interview, also with Népszabadság, he said: “Believe me, I will jealously guard my professional prestige acquired in the last thirty years.”

During his interviews he kept repeating his belief that after the 2014 election the burden on the lone ombudsman will be lighter because he will not be the only person who can turn to the constitutional court for remedy. He seems to have been convinced that the opposition parties would get at least 25% of the seats, which would allow them to turn to the constitutional court themselves. As we know, this is not how things turned out.

Székely carefully avoided criticizing his predecessor and stressed the necessity of continuity. Indeed, he left the structure of the office pretty well intact. He kept emphasizing, however, that he will try to improve the score card in favor of the ombudsman’s office when dealing with the constitutional court. That is, he wanted to have more cases decided in his office’s favor. Given the composition of the constitutional court, I doubt that Székely’s hopes will materialize, but it is certainly a worthy goal.

Székely took over the position at the end of September. I began to notice increased activity in his office already in early February. The Hungarian Helsinki Commission turned to Székely to investigate the “three-strike law” which their lawyers regarded as unconstitutional. Székely concurred and called on the Ministry of Administration and Justice to discuss how to change the law to make it constitutionally acceptable. The ministry’s reply came swiftly: they are not changing the law and they are not ready to negotiate.

Székely seems to be interested in education. He turned to Zoltán Balog’s ministry several times, pointing out the inadequate teaching and equipment in segregated schools. He complained about the curriculum, saying that he finds it worrisome that students encounter the heinous effects of ideas of hatred only in the last year of high school. In his opinion societal change is necessary in this respect and here education has a large role to play. Although the government denied that there were serious problems supplying schools with textbooks, Székely’s office investigated and found that the government didn’t tell the truth. There were schools where some of the textbooks didn’t arrive until late December.

He also pays attention to the homeless. About a week ago he turned to the Kúria for remedy. In his opinion the local administration in Budapest designated far too many places as forbidden territories for the homeless. The ombudsman asked the Kúria to change some of the regulations and invalidate others.

As for the organic farm of Kishantos, Székely’s office began to investigate the situation already in December and turned to Sándor Fazekas, minister of agriculture, for information. The ombudsman expressed the view that the organic farm, the result of twenty years of careful attention, deserves constitutional protection. At that point Fazekas assured Székely that he would call together a forum of experts and civic groups to work out a strategy for the constitutional protection of environmental values. Of course, there is no forum, no strategy, only a ruined crop.

These are only a few of the many cases Székely has handled since October 2013. His appointment is for six years, and he will be the only person who can do battle with the government and the constitutional court. Not an enviable position to be in.

How can the American black locust become a “Hungaricum”? Just ask Fidesz

Way back in  2008 the decision was made that the European Commission should take over the fight against alien invasive species in the territories of the Union. Although zoologists and biologists of the member countries had urged their governments to act, little progress had been made. Finally, it was decided that the problem must be handled centrally.

Years have gone by, but then we know that the EU’s bureaucracy is not known for its speedy resolution of issues. The bill was presented to the European Parliament only in September 2013, and it was in January of this year that the European Parliament discussed the matter. It turned out that at the urging of Hungarian scientists the European Union was planning to put the Robinia pseudoacacia, known in Hungary as white acacia, on the alien invasive species list. The plan is not to eradicate the acacia tree–that would be an impossibility–but rather to check its spread.

akac

This particular variety of acacia tree is native to the United States. Interestingly, it  is called the black locust in this country. Black locust trees can be found in the Appalachian Mountain regions of Pennsylvania and Ohio in addition to some areas farther west in Oklahoma and Arkansas. It is considered to be an invasive species here as well, and its control is regulated. American scientists admit that “control of black locust is difficult and no technique has been identified as entirely effective.”  The most cost-effective method is prevention.  Hungarian scientists are of the same opinion, and since 2009 the white acacia has been on the Hungarian list of alien invasive species. The Hungarian decision was made at that time without any pressure from the outside. Yet in the last few months the Orbán government has fought tooth and nail against the inclusion of the acacia on the EU’s list of undesirable species.

The hysteria about the fate of the acacia was initiated by Béla Glattfelder, a Fidesz member of the EP, who rose in the European Parliament during the debate of the bill to protest the “attack” on the acacia tree, which is considered to be an important agricultural asset for Hungary. After all, half of all acacia trees in the European Union can be found in Hungary and the tree is an important source of income for tens of thousands of people, especially beekeepers and owners of private forests. He emphasized that honey made out of the flowers of the acacia is a true “Hungaricum.” In addition, acacia wood is a valuable building material.

As soon as he got wind of what was under foot, he alerted owners of acacia forests and beekeepers, who formed an alliance to “combat the domestic and foreign endeavors to limit the spread of the acacia.” The coalition under Glattfelder’s guidance started lobbying to have both the acacia tree and acacia honey be declared  “Hungaricums.”

Glattfelder is an old Fidesz hand. He was a member of the Hungarian parliament between 1990 and 2004. In 2000 he also became undersecretary in the ministry of economics, dealing mostly with agricultural matters. Since 2004 he has been a member of the Fidesz delegation to the European Union. His name does not, however, appear among those who might represent Fidesz after the 2014 EP election. So this may be Glattfelder’s last hurrah in Brussels.

After Glattfelder sounded the alarm, the Hungarian ministry of agriculture moved into action. The ministry made it clear that the Hungarian government will fight the impending legislation. It is as outlandish to eliminate the acacia tree as it would be to forbid the growth of corn. As if anyone planned the eradication of the acacia tree.

The hysteria spread far and wide, with assistance coming from Glattfelder and Sándor Fazekas, minister of agriculture. Headlines like these have appeared in the last three or four months: “What will happen to the acacia? Will the Union destroy it?” Or “Hungarian honey and acacia forests are in danger!”

By the end of February the Hungarian Academy of Science’s Ecological Institute felt that it was time to enlighten the Hungarian public on the true state of affairs. The scientists pointed out that the information that had appeared in the Hungarian media was “based on the most outrageous misconceptions and false allegations.” The institute tried to set the record straight but, as we will see later, not with great success.

The acacia forests are not endangered. On the contrary, acacia trees grow on 463,000 hectares, about a third of all Hungarian forests. Since 1990 the area with acacia trees has grown by 150,000 hectares and it is still growing. The real problem is that acacia trees are all over, along country roads, sometimes very close to areas under ecological protection. They spread rapidly. There are places where they managed to eradicate native flowers, even animals. The scientists specifically mention Echinops ruthenicus (szamárkenyér), about whose blue flowers Sándor Petőfi wrote lovingly in 1844. Because of the acacia they are now practically nonexistent. According to the scientists, 200,000 hectares are currently threatened by “the acacia invasion.” What they would like to prevent is the tree’s spread into this 200,000 hectare area.

Of course, the scientists didn’t manage to counteract the hysteria created by Fidesz and the Hungarian government. On March 12 Sándor Fazekas held a forum in Kunhegyes close to the area where there is perhaps the largest concentration of acacia trees in Hungary. Here he indignantly stated that the Union has no right whatsoever to tell Hungarians what kinds of trees they can grow in their own country. In his opinion, the acacia tree is a “Hungaricum” whose spread should be encouraged.

A day after, on March 13,  Hungary using a legal loophole vetoed the draft bill in the Council of Europe. It was a compromise bill that had already been accepted in the European Parliament. That bill didn’t mention the acacia or any other offending species. But Hungary refused to sign it because they didn’t receive a 100% guarantee that acacia would not be on the list.

For a while it looked as if Hungary had managed to avert “the danger” to the would-be Hungaricum. The Hungarian government was elated, but then came the letdown. A week after the veto the Council of Europe passed the draft bill. Mind you, the fate of the acacia is still not clear. No explicit guarantee came from Janez Potocnik, the commissioner responsible for environmental issues, but the Hungarian government hopes that its lobbying was not in vain. The final bill will be voted on only in the fall of 2015.

Meanwhile we are being told that the American black locust will be a Hungaricum.