Keith and I are picking up to move to Pécs, Hungary for one year. He has never been to Europe and the furthest east I've been is Switzerland.... Our Hungarian language skills are...well, we know some phrases. Come follow us on our adventure!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Croatian Adventure

Friday we (Keith, Ana/Ricardo/family, and I) were invited to go to Croatia by Sandy and Booz.  I immediately said yes and we left the next morning for Zagreb, Croatia.  It was a wonderful trip.  As soon as week arrived and checked into the hotel, we left in search of food.
(Meg, Keith, Ana, Sandy, Booz)
There were 674382573482057243 cafés with 75648302674830926743 crammed inside and outside of them...but we couldn't find anywhere that served food...so we settled with a sausage stand.  This fancy sausage stand had a tent area for sitting with dirty soccer balls and chandeliers hanging from the "ceiling."  T'was an interesting mix
(Keith, Booz, Sandy, Meg, Ana, Marcelo)
mmmmm.......the best hotdog/sausage ever.  We were all so freaking hungry!  For the rest of the afternoon/evening we meandered around the city.  According to one of the travel forums we read about prior to departure, there are 7 statues of dudes on horses throughout the city.  We found three of them.

 Okay, so after the first one, you get the idea...they all look pretty much the same.  Anyways, we saw the National theater, the "Upper Town" the Cathedral, markets, and per usual...Keith took a ton of pictures of graffiti. 
National Theatre

National Theatre

Cathedral...Neo-Gothic architecture

Panhandling Giraffe

Heineken beer bottle on angel's head outside cathedral...
Touching the water in the Fountain of Life
At the market, we all got some Croatian souvenirs...wine,wooden decorative plate, Stine glass, singing birds...

Ricardo, Marcelo (Mariana in the stroller) and Ana
 We were all exhausted by mid-afternoon on Sunday


Similar to Hungary, everyone has controlled Croatia...including the Hungarians.  A brief history of the land's inhabitants and rulers.

7th Century: Nomadic Slav tribes (Slovenes, Croats, Serbs) settle in South-Eastern Europe

9th Century-11th Century: King Tomaislav, King Petar Kresimir IV and King Zvonimir create the powerful Croatian state

1091: The last Croatian king dies childless...King Ladislav I of Hungary claims the Croatian throne. 

1526: The Hungro-Croatian kingdom is torn into parts by the Ottoman Turks and parts of Croatia becomes under Habsburg rule while the rest is under the Ottoman Empire

1848: Revolution breaks out through the Habsburg Empire. The Croats hold elections to a national assembly and appoint Count Josip Jelacic as their Viceroy.  The count helps the Austrian Habsburgs defeat the Hungarians, but the Croatian loyalty is not rewarded with extra autonomy.

1918: Th Habsburg Empire is on the losing side of World War One and begins to fragment.  The Slovenes an Croats declare independence and form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes...which was later renamed Yugoslavia
1941 to 1945: Nazi Germany occupies modern-day Croatia, placing the "puppet" Ante Pavelic in power.  An anti-facist struggle led by Tito's communist partisans takes hold of the countryside.

1945: Croatia becomes a republic within the communist-controlledYugoslavia

1971: Zagreb is at the center of the "Croatian Spring"  a movement promoting greater cultural freedom and political autonomy.  Tito's communist regime crushes the movement, causing a decade of political stagnation.

1990: Croatia holds its first free elections. The statue of 19th century Josip Jelacic, taken down by the communists in 1945, is returned to Zagreb

1991-1995: Serbian insurgents supported by the Yugoslav army take over 30% of Croatia's territory.  Zagreb is only 30km from the front line.

1995: Croatian military victory brings the war to a close

This is the rapid overview of the Croatia's history--it is much more violent and controversial...but I feel that these dates highlight the very basic idea of its history.
Modern Day Croatia

Croatia's Flag



I'm ever so slightly behind on my blog posts...for this, I do apologize.  The European Union finally received the translated version of the Media Law last Thursday, I've been working a lot...and several other excuses. 
The weather here has been surprisingly nice--sunnier than during autumn and usually in the 40s F.  I am ridiculously jealous of the incredible amounts of snow New England has...but at least it's no longer raining here.  Apparently, this is a very mild winter for Pés...especially in comparison to last winter.  At the beginning of January, we some really dense fogs and colder weather, which left the trees looking incredibly beautiful.  Since then, it has felt like and looked like March--wet and coldish. 
Bush behind my apartment building

Tree in Széchenyi Tér, Pécs
Tree in front of Spar, Csontvary Utca       

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

More Information on the New Media Law

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — For decades Hungary was one of Eastern Europe's most democratic nations, leading former Soviet countries in adopting the political and economic norms of the free world.

But a series of restrictive new laws passed by the new populist, center-right government is sparking widespread concerns about Hungary's democratic credentials as it prepares to assume the presidency of the European Union on Saturday and become the EU's public face for the next six months.

A media law passed this month allows a hand-picked authority to take newspapers and broadcast outlets to court and seek fines of up to $1 million (0.76 million euros) for reports it considers unbalanced. People who do not move private pension funds into a state-run program can now be penalized financially.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Cabinet also have curtailed the powers of the respected constitutional court. And they are seeking to push out the head of the traditionally independent central bank in a struggle over who controls fiscal policy of the deeply indebted nation.

The media law has come under the strongest criticism from other EU nations, with Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn saying the law "raises the question whether such a country is worthy of leading the EU."

German deputy Foreign Minister Werner Hoyer warned of "serious concern if there is only the smallest suspicion" of media freedoms being restricted, and a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that her government is following the media law "with great attention."

Orban is defiant, telling Hungarian TV last week that despite foreign criticism, "we are not even considering" changing the media law.

That comment is not surprising. It was Orban who said "Hungary shouldn't have to adapt to the European Union, the EU should adapt to Hungary," during his first term as prime minister 11 years ago, as Hungary was still seeking EU membership.

Government officials did not react to a request for comment. But Laszlo L. Simon, a member of Orban's FIDESZ party and the head of parliament's Cultural and Media Committee, told the state news agency MTI Wednesday that the foreign criticism was a "European circus," stoked by the continent's Socialist parties.

Orban sailed into power again seven months ago after defeating an unpopular Socialist government with a more than two-thirds majority.

Critics have accused him of seeking a one-party system, particularly after he said this year that he envisions Hungary being run by a "major ruling party, a centrally dominated political power capable of tackling national issues" without the distractions of "constant (political) debate."

Insiders, meanwhile, say that senior officials of the European Commission — the EU government — are extremely displeased both with Orban's deeds and defiant words.

Laszlo Kovacs, the EU's former commissioner for taxation and customs union, says that former colleagues "were privately very critical" during his recent visit to the Belgian capital, which is also the EU's headquarters.

"The general tone was that 'the Hungarian government should refrain from sending arrogant messages to Brussels,'" says Kovacs, who has served as Hungarian foreign minister and is now deputy head of the opposition Socialist party.

Major European newspapers are less circumspect.

"What can Orban, shackler of the media, say about human rights and media freedoms in Belarus, in Russia, in China and elsewhere?" wrote the German daily "Frankfurter Rundschau." ''He can't say a thing, he can't even utter a peep."

Disappointment within the EU is palpable considering Hungary's past.

It was the most liberal of all Soviet bloc nations, and hastened the fall of the Iron Curtain by permitting hundreds of thousands of East Germans to use it as the conduit to the West in 1989. That bold move hastened the fall of the Iron Curtain by emboldening citizens elsewhere in communist East Europe to press for change.

In the immediate post-communist years, it was the East European nation that appeared most eager to adopt the political and economic norms of the free world and was among the first former Soviet bloc countries to join two of the West's key pillars, the EU and NATO.

But such accomplishments are being eclipsed by concern over Hungary's suitability to serve as EU president, a position meant as a beacon of democracy and free-market economic principles.

The push on citizens to shift their pensions from private to state plans could result in access to more than 10 billion euros ($14 billion) to cut the budget deficit without having to enact unpopular structural reforms and cost cutting measures.

Economists and EU experts say that such tough measures are needed. But Orban seeks to avoid them so as not to stir popular discontent in a country where one in three are below the poverty line and millions are fighting default on debts denominated in Swiss francs or other strong foreign currencies.

So in another unorthodox move to raise revenues as it fights to reduce government debt — at about 80 percent of the GDP the highest in the region — his government has imposed windfall taxes on banks and telecommunications companies and other enterprises, most of them foreign owned.

The companies affected have cried foul, claiming discrimination in a letter to the EU Commission. The pension scheme, meanwhile, has added to foreign skepticism about Hungary's commitment to enact sound economic measures, with the credit rating agency Fitch recently downgrading the nation's foreign currency credit rating to just above junk status, shortly after a downgrade from Moody's.

Some moves of the Orban government — like the windfall tax on mostly foreign companies — could be contested as discriminatory at the European court of Justice, Kovacs said, while the media law could also be challenged as violating the EU Treaty and its Charter of Rights.

"Ultimately they will not be able to defeat Brussels," Kovacs said of the Orban government.

Some of the shine is also fading from Orban back home, with a poll conducted by the Median organization early this month showing 48 percent of 1,200 respondents saying that the country was moving in the wrong direction, compared to 39 percent two months before. The survey had a margin of error between 2 and 5 percentage points.

Still, Orban's moves continue to play well among most supporters receptive to his nationalist message of Hungarians first, ready to embrace his view that foreign companies think of little else than profit margins and looking first and foremost for a firm hand to lead the country.

"Of course some of Orban's moves have hurt our image abroad," said taxi driver Gyula Toth, 50. "But he needs to set his course — you cannot rebuild what the Socialists wrecked over eight years without bashing some heads.

"They know better what needs to be done than we do, and we elected them."

Associated Press writers Juergen Baetz in Berlin, Balazs Szladek in Budapest and Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna contributed to this report.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Read No Evil

The Hungarian government passed a law that increases government control of all media outlets on December 20th, 2010.

"The new National Media and Communications Authority (NMHH), dominated by the people loyal to the ruling Fidesz party, will oversee all public news production and its powers will include levying big fines on private media that violate the law." Reuters

The Fidesz party won a two-thirds parliament majority in April 2010, and put its own people into key positions such as the head of the NMHH and state audit office. Prime Minister Orban Viktor also striped powers from the country's Supreme Court. The law passed with 256 votes (87 against) and no one absent.
Prime Minister Orbán Viktor

Critics claim the law does not clearly outline what news sources need to do to be in compliance. Earlier this week 1500 people demonstrated in Budapest against the law. The Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said, "The plans clearly violate the spirit and letter of the EU treaties. It's a direct danger for democracy," in an interview with Reuters.

On January 1st, 2011, Hungary takes the position as president of the European Union until June 1st, 2011 as part of the rotating position. This will be Hungary's first time leading the EU since it became a member in 2004. Asselborn stated that due to this law, he is concerned if Hungary is worthy of leading the EU.

The European Commission is investigating the law. Human rights commissioner of Germany, Markus Loening, is urging Hungary to rethink it, and telling all EU members to, "stand up for the freedom of press and actively protect it."

For more information: Reuters' Article and Radio Free Europe both have a lot of information on the issue.