Hungary fireworks go on but weather agency controversy stays

Hungary fireworks go on but weather agency controversy stays

BUDAPEST, Hungary — An elaborate fireworks display took place Saturday under calm skies in Hungary’s capital after a postponement of the show last weekend caused controversy when it led to the firing of the country’s top meteorologists over their weather predictions.

Saturday’s event, a rescheduling of the display planned for Hungary’s national holiday a week earlier, drew tens of thousands to the Danube River in Budapest in what was billed as Europe’s largest fireworks show.

On Monday the top two officials of Hungary’s National Meteorological Service was fired. This decision was made after the government committee responsible for holiday events delayed the event due to heavy rain forecasts.

While storms did strike other areas of Hungary that night, they did not hit the capital. Kornelia Radics (weather service chief), who was employed since 2013,, and Gyula Horvath (her deputy), who were both retired after serving since 2016,, lost their jobs.

Gabor Valter Tolczli, a spectator at Saturday’s fireworks show, said “I was surprised that the fireworks were postponed a week ago because there was no storm then. But today I don’t mind the postponement, because there are fewer crowds.”

He added, however, that he was “outraged that the meteorologists were fired, because you can never predict the weather 100%.”

The firings led to accusations from critics of Hungary’s nationalist government, led by autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban, of punitive political pressure reminiscent of Hungary’s communist past.

Academics and scientists in Hungary have long complained of pressure being exerted on independent scientific bodies and Orban’s government has been accused of corruption, nepotism and anti-democratic tendencies.

This has led to clashes with the European Union, which has withheld billions in pandemic recovery funds from Hungary over what the bloc sees as deficiencies in the Hungarian government’s adherence to basic values and the rule of law.

Hungary’s government says the firings were related to the Aug. 20 forecast but that the minister overseeing the weather service had previously been dissatisfied with its performance. In a news conference Tuesday, Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said the service’s assessment of a high probability of extreme weather — which never came — was “the last straw.”

On Wednesday, Hungary’s government appointed Laszlo Hanyecz, the weather service’s vice president for economic affairs, as its interim head. Hanyecz was not a meteorologist and one of two 19 top officials of the agency who did not sign a petition calling for the reinstatement.

Climate Without Borders, an international network of weather presenters, released a letter signed by 76 members from 48 countries expressing solidarity with the fired forecasters.

“As forecasters, our first mission is to protect life and property. When Hungarian meteorologists saw danger in the forecast, they did what any of us would do — warned of the risk to life,” the letter read, condemning the firings.


Balazs Kaufmann contributed to this story.

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