RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
RFE/RL NEWSLINE 8 June 1999
HUNGARY BACKS CONTINUED NATO ACTION IN YUGOSLAVIA.
Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth told NATO
Deputy Secretary-General Klaus-Peter Klaiber in Brussels
on 7 June that NATO must push through its Kosova peace
plan because Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has
"repeatedly misled the international community in recent
years." Nemeth said Hungary has offered to contribute a
260-strong police unit to a possible peacekeeping force
in Kosova. In other news, President Arpad Goncz proposed
to U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen during a visit
to the Pentagon on 8 June that Budapest become the
"center for the reconstruction" of southeastern Europe.
NATO WANTS MORE THAN WORDS FROM HUNGARY
by Michael J. Jordan
Ask the average Hungarian about history, and he'll
likely recount the centuries of suffering at the hands of
foreign invaders. Thus when Hungary joined NATO on 12
March, it seemed motivated less by the desire to join the
"winning" side of the Cold War than by the wish for a
future of guaranteed security.
It was cruel irony when on 24 March, just 12 days
after Hungary's induction, NATO launched its first air
strikes against Yugoslavia. Hungary was de facto at war
with its southern neighbor. More than two months later, the
Hungarians, to their consternation, find themselves being
dragged deeper into the war. While the public generally
supports the NATO air campaign and the free use of
Hungarian air space, recent opinion polls show a solid two-
thirds of the public opposes any attack from Hungarian
soil. An even larger number resist the possible use of
Hungarian troops in either a ground offensive or
But the public outcry falls on deaf ears in Brussels
and Washington. With NATO prodding Hungary to meet its
alliance obligations, while dangling the carrot of a
significant role in post-war reconstruction of the Balkans
- the Hungarian leadership consented to the first launch of
fighter aircraft from Hungarian air bases. Last month, 20
of 24 U.S. Marine F/A-18 Hornets arrived in southern
Hungary. Equipped with laser-guided bombs, the Hornets
began flying combat missions on 28 May.
Turkey, another NATO member, was more enthusiastic
about granting access to its bases last month. If no peace
agreement is forthcoming, missions from there may begin
this month, although Turkish aircraft are already flying
missions out of Italy. These are the latest steps in what
NATO officials describe as an intensified assault on the
regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
Hungarians officials are lending their support to the
stepped-up air campaign. "This is exactly the kind of NATO
we wanted to join 10 years ago, one that stands for a
certain set of values," said Foreign Minister Janos
Martonyi, as he inspected the F-18s last month. "And now,
NATO is fighting to defend those values."
Meanwhile, the mood among Hungarians has turned
fatalistic. This is especially evident in Taszar, the small
village adjacent to the air base where the NATO aircraft
are stationed. The base has also served as the staging
ground for NATO's peacekeeping mission in Bosnia since late
1995. "We never wanted them here, but nobody asks what the
simple people want," says retired truck driver Laszlo
Kalmar, as an F-18 roars overhead. "More and more people
around here are talking about World War III."
While Mr. Kalmar and others in Taszar fear they may
now be targets for Yugoslav missiles, there is no denying
the strategic value of Hungary in NATO's military
operation. Hungary is the only NATO member that borders
Yugoslavia (it is, in fact, an island within the alliance
in that it borders no other NATO state). Its proximity to
Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital (100 miles away), and other
key cities makes NATO aircraft in Hungary more "deployable"
if quick action were needed. And were NATO to invade with
ground forces, the flat terrain and short distance between
Hungary and Belgrade is vastly more appealing than the
rugged mountains that separate Kosova from both Macedonia
For now, at least, Hungary will host only aircraft.
Taszar is also awaiting as many as 18 A-10 Warthog
aircraft, "tankbusters" that could do low-flying dirty work
against Serbian forces on the ground in Kosova. These would
be used instead of the 22 Apache attack helicopters now
based in Albania, which U.S. President Bill Clinton
recently described as too "risky" to use against the Serbs.
NATO officials say the launch of combat missions from
Hungary and Turkey would serve two purposes: it relieves
the workload at NATO's base in Aviano, Italy, and opens up
two new fronts against Milosevic.
Elsewhere, NATO aspirants Romania and Bulgaria, both
next door to Yugoslavia, are allowing free use of their air
space. But Greece, which sympathizes with its Orthodox
Christian brethren, the Serbs, has been the only NATO
member to refuse use of its air space. Hungary has signed
on, but with deep reservations about how that move will
affect the 350,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Vojvodina,
the northern province of Yugoslavia that was Hungarian
territory until a post-World War I treaty.
Vojvodina may indeed become a more central issue as
the search for a settlement to the Kosova conflict
continues. Both Vojvodina and Kosova had autonomy within
the old Yugoslavia until Milosevic abolished it in 1989.
Hungarians on either side of the border fear that if a
peace resolution for Kosova fails to address Vojvodina's
status, as the Dayton peace deal in 1995 failed to address
Kosova, the seeds may be sown for a future Balkan conflict.
If anything, recent comments by right-wing Hungarian
politicians have only inflamed the situation. One ultra-
nationalist lawmaker, Istvan Csurka, pushes for Hungary to
protect the Hungarian minority with a border "revision"
that would annex parts of Vojvodina. And Zsolt Lanyi, the
chairman of the parliament's Defense Committee, went so far
as to suggest "statehood" for both Vojvodina and Kosova.
Many observers denounced the statements. "It is
untimely," said Gernot Erler, deputy parliamentary leader
of Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party, "because it
reinforces the Serbian nationalist belief that the world
cooperates in order to disintegrate Yugoslavia."
The author is a Budapest-based freelance journalist
Copyright (c) 1999 RFE/RL, Inc.
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