homepage_name! > Editions > Number 117 > Ambassador - Hungary

H.E. Dr. Attila Pintér, the Ambassador of Hungary in Serbia

Hungary

Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe. The capital and largest city is Budapest.

Today, Hungary is a member of the European Union, the NATO Pact, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development , the Visegrád Group and the Schengen Agreement.

The official language is Hungarian, which belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group and which is the most spoken, non-Indo-European language in Europe.

According to statistics, 9,937,628 inhabitants live in Hungary. This number includes 83.7% Hungarians, Romanis (3.1%), Germans (1.3%), Slovaks (0.3%), Romanians (0.2%), Croats (0.2%) Serbs(0.1%) and others (0.6%). No less than 14.7% refused to provide information.

Religions: Roman Catholics (39%), Calvinists (11.6%), Lutherans (2.2%), Greek Catholics (1.8%), other religions (1.9%), no information (27.2%), and without religion (16.7%).

The country’s landscape is mostly shaped by the plains of the Pannonian lowlands.

The highest peaks can be found in the Carpathians, in the North, alongside the border with Slovakia, which are also known as the Northern Hungarian Mountains (highest peak: Kékes, 1014 m).

Measuring almost 600 square kilometers, Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. It is actually so large that it is often called the Hungarian sea and it has been visited by sun worshippers for centuries.

The climate is continental, with cold and moist winters and hot summers. The relative isolation of the Carpathian Basin sometimes causes droughts. The average annual temperature is 9.7 °C.

There are 10 national parks in Hungary. The Aggtelek and Hortobágy national parks are listed on the World Heritage List.

Notable inventions are the Rubik’s Cube (sculptor and professor Ernő Rubik, 1974), the krypton electric bulb (physicist Imre Bródy, 1937) and the ballpoint pen, patented by journalist László Bíró in 1938.

By today, 13 Nobel Prize winners come from Hungary, which is more per citizen than in countries like Finland, Spain, Canada and Australia. The Nobelists come from all categories, except the Nobel Peace Prize.

We had the honor to talk to His Excellency Dr. Attila Pintér, the Ambassador of Hungary in Serbia.

1.Mr. Ambassador, how do you feel in Belgrade? Could you please share your impressions of Serbia with us?

My impression of Belgrade, but also of Serbia, is very positive. Belgrade is an exceedingly diverse city, where people of all ages can find the right spots for themselves. There are countless high quality opportunities for spending your free time. Apart from the numerous cultural events, the city has a lot of cafes and restaurants, as well as a large number of sports areas. When I go to Ada Ciganlija, I see not only young people, but older citizens as well, playing football or basketball. I like the fact that Serbs relate to sports in the same manner; they cheer for their national team or their favorite club, whichever form of sports they prefer.

It is impossible for any foreigner to feel bad in Serbia. If it happens, it must be because of that particular individual. Serbs are friendly, open, full of life and they just love to live.

2.How long have you held the position of ambassador in Serbia, and what was the course of your diplomatic career before you came to Serbia?

I was assigned the position of the ambassador in Belgrade on October 15, 2014. Before that, in 2001, I was on duty in Istanbul, from 2003 to 2007 in Belgrade, and from 2008 to 2013 in Skopje. I worked at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in the Department of Foreign Policy Planning, as a consultant for Turkey-Greece-Cyprus. Then I worked for the Department for Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, i.e. the Department for the Western Balkans. In short, I have always held positions connected to this area.

3.What are the current political and economic relations between our two countries?

The political relations are excellent and, measured against historical standards, they are currently at their best. High-level visits and encounters are frequent, meetings of both governments are held and the need for cooperation in various fields and for the realization of joint projects rises as a consequence of these meetings.

The economic relations have been expanding every year, which is confirmed by the newest data on Hungarian investments made last year, as well as by expected investments this year. On February 8 and 9, 2018 in Budapest, 10 agreements on the cooperation between our two countries were signed on the sidelines of the meeting of both governments – Hungary and Serbia. I would particularly highlight the Outline Contract on Economic and Technical Cooperation. This contract, which came into effect on December 8, 2018, creates the possibility of the realization of joint infrastructural projects, for example the development of a road network and water economy. However, it affects other branches as well, be it the construction of fruit and vegetable processing plants or the establishment of an energy or logistics infrastructure.

4.How would you describe the trade cooperation between our two countries, and, in your opinion, which agricultural sector holds the highest potential for Serbia? What is exported from Serbia to Hungary and what is imported from Hungary?

In contrast to previous trends, the structure of the bilateral trade in goods has changed greatly during the past years, due to the economic development of Hungary and Serbia as well as significant foreign investments. Hungary has exported mostly oil derivatives (oil, fuel), food and non-food products in the past, while Serbia provided fruit and vegetables, grain products and raw materials. However, this has now changed. Thanks to investments in the automotive and industrial production, the additional product value has been raised in bilateral trade, the number of machines and transport equipment has increased, as well as the amount of technologically enhanced products, which has raised the trade value.

5.Taking into account that Hungary is one of Serbia’s most influential economic partners, what was, according to your information, the extent of trading between the two countries in 2018?

As I have already mentioned, bilateral trade volume is constantly growing. According to the latest statistical data, the trade volume has exceeded the amount of 2.072 billion EUR during the period from January to October 2018, which is 1.5% more than in the same period last year and which was then regarded as a record. This means that the chances are high that trade volume will be higher than 2.5 billion EUR in 2019.

6.Talking about investments, what do Hungarian investors think of the Serbian market? How many Hungarian companies are currently conducting business in Serbia and what are the most important companies investing in Serbia?

Regarding investments, the most significant event last year was the expansion of the biggest Hungarian bank, OTP Banka, which bought Vojvođanska Banka at the end of 2017. Last year, Rimóczi Filters Kft. announced their intention of expanding into the Serbian market, while SZEFO Zrt. from Szeged announced the foundation of a textile factory in Bač. Even if most of these investments are oriented towards the area of Vojvodina, the interest of Hungarian companies in Central and Southern Serbia is growing as well. The last meeting of both governments resulted in an agreement on the foundation of a joint Hungarian-Serbian plant for fruit processing in Arilje, the realization of which is progressing as planned. One of the largest companies is MOL, a company that has stabilized its position on the Serbian market. At the moment, 14 more significant companies from Hungary are conducting business in Serbia, most of them are operating in the field of the automotive industry, the construction industry, construction materials production and in the field of energetics.

7.What is the impact of the Economic Development Strategy for Vojvodina, the program initiated by the Hungarian government in 2016, and how much has been invested in Serbia within the framework of that program?

The original idea of the Hungarian government was to provide 20 billion forints of non-refundable aid and 30 billion low-priced loans for the period from 2016 to 2018. However, this amount has been increased, which means that the planned amount of 160 million EUR for last year has been raised to 200 million EUR. The program, led by the Prosperitati Foundation, focuses on the development of agriculture, tourism, small and medium-sized companies and consequently on creating new jobs and widening the supplier network. The program complies with Serbia’s, Vojvodina’s and Hungary’s idea of development. As a result of the tender for the establishment of a plant of higher value, a ceremonial opening of two plants took place on December 21, 2018 in the presence of the Hungarian Minister of Agriculture: Kontakt Kft. founded a mill plant in Sterijino (Valkai sor), while an expanded herbal and capsicum processing plant was opened by Telek Paprika d.o.o.

8.How would you describe the cooperation with the Serbian government and participants in agriculture regarding the development of entrepreneurship?

The cooperation between the two governments is widely spread and consultation meetings are held on a regular basis in order to investigate new possibilities for cooperation. The cooperation between the Chambers of Commerce is another important segment of the economic relations of our countries. Due to the cooperation in 2009, the Hungarian-Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was founded, whose most important task is the development of an international cooperation of small and medium-sized companies. Over 60 companies and joint stock companies being members of the Joint Chamber of Commerce conduct business in Hungary and Serbia. The Chamber is intensely working on the improvement of business and investment opportunities in Serbia and organizes numerous business forums for the promotion of a cooperation between small and medium-sized companies on both sides of the border.

Cooperation with the regional Serbian Chambers is excellent as well and thanks to the Honorary Consul of Hungary and Niš and the Chamber situated there, we established a number of successful business forums. Last April we opened the Honorary Consulate in Kragujevac. On this occasion, an agreement between the regional Chamber there and the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry was signed, which enabled the Hungarian Chamber to open an office in that city in Central Serbia.

9.Currently, the reconstruction of the Budapest-Belgrade rail connection has been the most important joint project of Hungary and Serbia. Can you tell us when this investment might be completed and the benefits which would result from it?

The reconstruction of the rail connection between Budapest and Belgrade is running according to the plan. Its realization will not only enable faster freight and tourist traffic, but it will be significant for the environment as well, as it will significantly reducefreight traffic on the roads and consequently the emission of harmful gases. Talking about the railway infrastructure, another plan is the reconstruction of the rail connection Szeged-Subotica-Bácsalmás, which Serbia and Hungary applied for collaboratively, upon which they were granted the means for its construction by the IPA Fund for cross-border cooperation. Regarding the development of road infrastructure, I would like to point out that Hungarian companies are seriously interested in the project realization, i.e. the construction of the motorway Ruma-Novi Sad, the so-called Corridor of Fruška Gora.

10.Today, Serbia is one of the candidate countries for EU membership. Negotiations for its acceptance began in 2014. In your opinion, how has Serbia progressed on its way towards the EU and what are the crucial factors in becoming a member of the EU?

The professional work in this field was a significant step towards a full membership. Currently, 16 of 35 negotiation chapters are open, 2 of which are temporarily closed. We in Hungary are not satisfied with this tempo, we believe and try to point out our opinion wherever we can – that Serbia could have opened more chapters, as all conditions for that have been fulfilled by Serbia. We regularly emphasize the need for speeding up the process for Belgrade becoming a member and we strongly support the idea of the enlargement of the EU. For this purpose, Hungary delegated a professional to the Ministry of EU Integration of the Republic of Serbia, who supports the Serbian administration with his experience.

11.As transit countries, Serbia and Hungary are facing serious challenges in relation to the refugee crisis. How would you describe the current situation and the way our countries cooperate when it comes to migration management?

As for the refugee crisis, authorities for law and order enforcement of both countries are cooperating continuously and successfully in the Western Balkans in order to keep the migration road closed. Consultations are held and our justicial bodies in charge cooperate. On this basis, they inform one another about data collected during investigations against human traffickers in certain countries.

The fact that the question was supported on a political level at the right moment shows that the cooperation is excellent at a professional level. Since there are no bilateral relations, illegal migration does not have a negative influence on the relations between Serbia and Hungary.

12.Could you tell us a few words about relations between Hungary and Serbia in the areas of education, science and culture?

The cooperation between our countries shows high activity in the fields of education and culture. The development of relations in the field of culture was enhanced by the opening of the Department of Culture – Collegium Hungaricum in Belgrade in 2014, which has since then provided a many-faceted program for people interested in Hungarian culture. Currently, a number of manifestations are organized in the framework of the Weeks of Hungarian Culture in Serbia, which will last almost half a year and offer the audience a variety of concerts, performances, theatre productions, exhibitions and children’s programs.

Apart from that, we deem the cooperation of our countries in the field of education important. Within the framework of the Stipendium Hungaricum program, 50 students from Serbia are given the opportunity to continue their education at faculties in Hungary every year. The program has become popular, because it offers students considerable support and it covers basic studies up to doctoral studies. The scientific area is enriched by conferences organized in the Collegium Hungaricum, which not only offers better networking possibilities, but also strives to promote joint research projects.

13.How would you present your country as a tourist destination? What are the crucial things and attractions you would highlight?

My country is one with a vivid history and past centuries greatly influenced all possible areas. We have 6 wine-producing areas and 22 wine regions. Personally, I prefer wines from the Villány and Eger regions. Hungary is rich in healing waters and the Hungarian government exploited this opportunity and invested in the construction of wellness hotels throughout the whole country. Today, there is almost no city lacking such a hotel. Excellent accommodation possibilities provide a good basis for musical, cultural and gastronomic festivals, which are organized almost continually throughout the whole country. We have the collective term “hungarikum” representing goods typical for Hungarians, which are considered Hungarian top products thanks to their characteristics and quality. In Serbia, the following products are known: the wine Tokaji aszú, Pick salami, Unicum, Kürtőskalács (chimney-cake), Goulash, River Tisa- or Baja-style fish stew and the red wine, Egri Bikavér. But I don’t want to talk only about food and drink, I would also add Zsolnay porcelain, the Hungarian operetta, the orchestra 100 Cigana (100 gypsies), the Kodály method, the Hungarian Federation of Occupational Health Nurses, the opus of János Neumann, the capital city of Hungary at the Danube, with the Várnegyed district, Andrássy street and last, but not least, the lifeworks of Ferenc Puskás.

There are numerous cities besides Budapest that would be interesting for Serbian tourists, as they could find remnants associated with the Serbs there. On that score, Pécs, Eger, Szeged and Szentendre deserve particular attention.

I believe that there is no need to present Budapest to the Serbian public, as it is already well-known. After an exhausting sightseeing tour through the city, it is probably a good idea to take a rest in one of the cafés in the old gardens of Budapest, drink some coffee or eat ice cream on the Danube corso, visit the Gozsdu Courtyard, maybe go to the zoo which was founded in 1866, or go shopping in Váci street or some shopping center.

14.What do you particularly like in Serbia? How do you spend your free time?

Belgrade is a vivid and vibrant city which beats and has a soul. It smoothly integrates the traditional with the new, which can be said for the whole country as well. Serbia is very rich in natural geography, culture and gastronomy. I personally like good restaurants and I especially like to visit the ones with live music. I like to discover new places, which does not only include restaurants. I am continuously checking the repertoires of the Štark Arena and Sava Center. When I want to relax, I regularly go to the walkway alongside the Danube in Zemun, or I take a walk around Kalemegdan. It is fantastic to make oneself comfortable in a cozy seat on Ada Ciganlija, especially on a sunny day.

I love to read; my preferred sports are soccer, basketball and water polo and I like to attend games when I get the opportunity, although I usually watch these events on television.

Around Belgrade there is a lot to see: I would particularly mention Golubac, Srebrno jezero (Silver Lake), Sremski Karlovci, the monasteries Ravanica and Manasija, and the other destinations I like to visit are Niš, Kragujevac, Subotica, Novi Sad, and Palić. On my wish list are Zlatibor and Gvozdena kapija (the Iron Gates) and I hope I will be able to make time for going there.


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