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Water restrictions at 37° centigrade

August 7th, 2013

Left-wing commentators accuse the local council of playing to the anti-Roma gallery, as the capacity of roadside water pumps was reduced in Ózd, a rust-belt city in northern Hungary during the hottest days of summer. The main pro-government daily believes the left-wing opposition has used the case to launch a coordinated political campaign.

In its front page headline, Népszava describes what happened as “inhuman water restrictions” and warns that the law guarantees access to drinking water for all. In a lead article on the subject, János Dési asserts that “the roadside pumps have been cut off” (while journalists report scores of pumps in operation in the Roma “ghettos”, although with a capacity reduced from 50 to 5 litres per minute). He emphasizes that the cuts have hurt the local Roma in the first place, since it is they who cannot afford to pay for running water. Dési dismisses the authorities’ argument according to which it was the non-resident weekenders that regularly pump huge amounts of water into large tanks to irrigate their gardens. If the Roma were not the real target, he argues, it would have been sufficient to go after the non-resident thieves. The left-wing commentator suspects that with next year’s elections approaching, the move by the local Fidesz-led administration may pay off among racist segments of the electorate.

In Népszabadság, Ákos Tóth remarks that the Mayor of Ózd and his deputy (for the two of them combined), which is worth just over one fourth of what the town spends on roadside water pumps a year (of which sum only a portion can be saved through the recently imposed restrictions). He also notes that when the Mayor was asked by reporters whether his city could afford those bonuses, he replied that these were trifles compared to the multibillion forint Ózd budget.

“Curious war over water”, runs the front page lead story headline in Magyar Nemzet (print edition). The local town assembly decided to cut off 27 of the 121 roadside pumps and reduce the capacity of another 61 back in June, Magyar Nemzet recalls, and the scandal began as the Democratic Coalition, (former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány’s party) announced last Sunday that the water supply had been completely cut off in the areas inhabited by the Roma. Since then, the news has spread in Hungary and abroad that the local Roma are left with no water whatsoever. The daily also dismisses comments suggesting that the local council has won a one billion Forint Swiss grant to provide the Roma with running water: ”The grant can only be used to replace old water pipes and expand emergency reservoirs”. All in all, Magyar Nemzet asserts, “left-liberal opposition parties have exploited the measures taken two months ago to create a political scandal”.

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