Hungary 2003

Hungary Border Map

In 2003, Hungary was a developing country with a population of around 10 million people. It was located in Central Europe and bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and Croatia. According to computergees, the capital city was Budapest and the official language was Hungarian. The economy of Hungary had recently begun to transition from a centrally planned economy to a market-based one. This transformation had been largely successful, with GDP per capita increasing significantly compared to the early 1990s. However, poverty and inequality were still major issues in 2003. Education levels were still relatively low and health care access was limited in many rural areas. Crime rates were also high with drug trafficking being an especially prevalent problem. The government at the time was led by the center-right Fidesz party which held a majority in Parliament since 1998 and had implemented numerous economic reforms such as reducing taxes on businesses and reducing state spending on social services. Despite these challenges, Hungary maintained strong ties to its cultural heritage including its rich history of literature and music as well as its unique cuisine which featured dishes such as goulash, paprikash and palacsinta (Hungarian pancakes).

Yearbook 2003

Hungary. According to, Hungary Independence Day is October 23. Hungary received a great deal of international attention ahead of the US-led war on Iraq at the beginning of the year. The US was allowed to use the Taszar airbase in southwestern Hungary to train voluntary Iraqis who would assist the Americans in the administration of Iraq after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Among the locals, who were not asked or given any advance information, there were concerns that the area around the Hungarian base would be the target of terrorist attacks. According to an opinion poll, 80% of Hungary’s population was against a war in Iraq, even if it had been sanctioned by the UN. But the government seemed anxious to show the new NATO country Hungary’s loyalty to the United States. Later in the year came information that the US wanted to use the Taszar base again, then for training of Iraqi police.

Support for Hungarian EU membership was strong ahead of the referendum in April. Both the center-left government under Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy and Conservative opposition leader Viktor Orban said yes to the EU. The latter, however, warned, among other things, loss of national values and worse times for farmers, pensioners and small businesses in the EU. Jasidan won the referendum with about 84% of the vote, but the turnout was only 46%.

1956 Revolution and counter-revolution

In November, Nagy withdrew Hungary from the Warsaw Pact, allowed non-communist parties and asked the UN to recognize the country’s neutrality. It got the Sovietto intervene. The Red Army invaded Hungary, and in the days following November 4, 1956, the revolution was knocked down by Soviet tanks. Hungary entered a new period of repression. Still, it should soon prove that history does not always repeat itself. János Kádár, who had been appointed president of the Russians, did not return the country to Rakosi’s dictatorship. When the party’s power was consolidated again, he struck a moderate course under the slogan “Those who are not against us are with us”. Political prisoners were released, attempts were made to cooperate with non-communist elements and a high degree of cultural freedom was introduced in Eastern Europe. Although the party’s monopoly of power was maintained, the moderate line led János Kádár to become one of the most popular and respected Hungarian politicians of the modern age.

After thorough preparation, an economic reform was carried out in 1968: (NEM), which, by the way, entailed a transition to a market economy. The living conditions of the population improved, but at the same time, the bureaucracy and the corruption caught on.

Despite the massive involvement of the Hungarian women in the labor market – in 1981 they accounted for 45% – they still faced discrimination, lower wages and poorer opportunities for advancement.

Kádár was repeatedly elected President of the Communist Party and Prime Minister, and was not put on major trials until March 1986, when a protest demonstration among young people was canceled. Two years later, 10,000 in Budapest demonstrated in favor of reform. The government reduced the press censorship and allowed the formation of independent trade unions and political groups such as the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF). In the years 1986-88, Austrian and Hungarian environmental groups conducted protest actions against the building of a hydroelectric power plant across the Danube River. This was a Hungarian-Czechoslovak project funded by Austria. Following repeated protests, the Budapest government decided to abandon the project.


EU warning to Hungary on asylum rules

October 30

The European Commission is sending a formal notification to Hungary that the country’s asylum rules are in breach of EU law. Hungary requires that those wishing to apply for asylum must first register for a Hungarian mission outside the EU, and obtain a special entry permit. The European Commission emphasizes that it is wrong not to give people who are on Hungarian soil or at the country’s borders the opportunity to apply for protection. Hungary has two months to respond to the notification.

Roman artist praised

October 24

S singer M Ó nika Imre assigned as the first rum a highly prestigious award in folk and world music festival World Music Expo (W Omex). She belongs to a Roma minority group called s oláh. The group has a background in Romania and most live in the countryside at Nagyecsed in northeastern Hungary. The music is characterized by rhythm instruments, more than in the well-known a so-called gypsy music where the violin has a key role.

Orbán man takes over as head of HD

19 October

Approves Zsolt András Varga as the new President of the Supreme Court, for nine years; Following a change in the law, the president of the court no longer needs to have five years’ experience as a judge and Varga is considered loyal to Prime Minister Orbán. The 15 judges who are part of the judicial oversight body OBT, the National Legal Council, have tried to oppose the appointment because they believe it threatens the court’s independence from political power (see 30 September).

Try to break Fidesz’s grip if Parliament fails

11 October

In Borsod in the northeast, a by-election is being held for a seat in parliament. Opposition parties rallied behind a common candidate (see 13 August), but the governing party Fidesz won the seat by a margin of a few percentage points and thus managed to retain its own majority, 133 out of 199 seats.

European Court of Justice: Error in forcing Soros University away

October 6

Hungary violated EU law through a law from 2017 that forced the Central European University (CEU) to close, the European Court of Justice finds. The law was aimed specifically at CEU’s Jewish founder and financier George Soros, who has also been opposed in other ways by the Hungarian government under Viktor Orbán’s leadership (see 3 December 2018, 25 July 2019 and 18 June 2020). What the European Court of Justice is ruling on is that Hungary, through the Higher Education Act, is not fulfilling its obligations to the World Trade Organization (WTO). CEU, registered in the USA, offered courses that corresponded to American degrees. After moving to Vienna, the CEU only completes a couple of courses in Budapest but still has a well-equipped library.

Hungary Border Map