With unemployment at 11 percent and stringent economic policies demanded by the European Union to solve its debt problems, Hungary’s far right parties are saying the country is “colonized” by the EU and that it should give up its membership in the organization it joined in 2004, according to Gyorgy Szapary, Hungary’s ambassador to the U.S.
“When there are difficulties, people look for a scapegoat,” Mr. Szapary told a dozen students from the Kennesaw State and Clayton State universities’ business schools at the World Trade Center Atlanta on Feb. 18. The students were preparing for an international business study abroad trip to Hungary and Austria March 2-11.
The ambassador seemed unfazed by the charges, saying that the current center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban had a two-thirds majority since its sweeping election victory of 2010.
Mr. Oban’s government also has come under fire from organizations such as Amnesty International, which criticized last year its constitution for restricting media rights and legal recourse for Hungarians.
National polls indicate that the government has lost some popular support and that Hungarians have become disillusioned with politics in general as their economy remains stagnant.
Growth was just 1.5 percent of gross domestic product last year and is expected to be flat this year.
But Mr. Szapary defended its commitment to the EU and its values. “The current government is very much committed to Europe and NATO and the trans-Atlantic relationship,” he added.
Nevertheless, Hungary is going to have to keep its budget deficit within 3 percent of its GDP as required by EU rules. To do so, it is going to have to put in place rigorous austerity measures.
The week following his visit, the European Commission threatened Hungary to suspend $655 million EU “cohesion funds” which it receives to improve its infrastructure and help develop its poorest regions, if it doesn’t drastically improve its budget deficit ratio by January 2013.
Mr. Szapary, a former official of the Hungarian National Bank and the International Monetary Fund, told the students, however, that the country’s greatest challenge came from the growing strength of the Asian economies.
Like other nations in the West, Hungary has to compete through innovation, state-of-the-art technology, research and education, he said. To do so, it faced a critical challenge of training more engineers and technicians.
Mr. Szapary said that traditionally Hungary had many engineers but following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ranks of attorneys and economists grew at their expense because they profited during the transition to the less structured system. The government was in the process of encouraging students to develop technical skills through various incentive programs, he added.
While the students would hear such criticisms of the government on their trip, he told them not to be too preoccupied with them, but rather to enjoy Budapest especially its restaurants and illuminated buildings at night.
The students’ agenda includes walking tours, a boat ride on the Danube, time to enjoy the city’s thermal baths and an evening at the opera.
Also scheduled are a tour of NCR Corp.’s facilities, a visit of the Raleigh Film Studios where the John Adams miniseries was filmed and a host of meetings with government officials from the foreign affairs, investment promotion and economic affairs ministries.
In addition, visits are arranged to meet with Janos Horvath, known as the “doyen,” or most senior member, of the Hungarian parliament and president of the Hungarian National Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an international organization of parliaments dating back to 1889. Mr. Horvath fled to the United States following the failed revolution of 1956.
Also scheduled are meetings with Jeno Megysey, a senior adviser to the prime minister and former honorary consul general of Hungary based in Denver, Colo., and with Zoltan Kovacs at Clayton State’s partner institution, the University of Pannonia in Vesxprem, Hungary, where the students are to learn about Hungary’s supply chains and logistics capabilities.
Besides meeting with the students Mr. Szapary also opened the Hungarian Ball as its guest of honor on the evening of Feb. 17 and on the 18th attended ceremonies at the Georgia House of Representatives celebrating the official Hungary Day in Georgia.
To learn more about Hungarian activities in Georgia, call its honorary consul, John Parkerson, at 678-466-4091 or send an email to [email protected]