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Hungarian Press Gripped by ‘Gyorgy’ Fever as President Arrives

Times Staff Writer

“Gyorgy” fever has gripped the Hungarian press, which is greeting President Bush with banner headlines in English and platoons of trivia-starved reporters, including a photographer from a Hungarian tennis magazine who is ready in case Bush decides to swat some balls around Budapest.

“If Gorbachev were here, he wouldn’t get such detailed coverage,” one Hungarian TV reporter noted. Bush’s visit gives Hungary a rare chance to shine in the international spotlight, and the national press is making the most of things by extolling historic Hungarian-American ties, examining the success of joint business ventures between the two countries and generally touting Bush as a cross between a rich, wise older brother and a long-lost friend.

Opening to West

“For the Hungarians, this visit is important not only because it’s the first time an American President has been to Hungary but because it symbolically opens the doors to the entire West,” said Pal Bokor, who heads the foreign affairs department at the government newspaper Magyar Hirlap.

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In an editorial published Tuesday, Bokor praised the renewal of political and economic ties between the two countries and recalled how Hungary helped Americans fighting for independence more than 200 years ago by sending a regiment of hussars. Now, Bokor wrote, Hungary needs America’s help to continue its economic and political reforms and achieve its own democracy.

The Hungarian Communist leadership, which is eager to present a reform-minded face to the West, is happy to stoke the Bush publicity machine and stress the warm relations between the two countries.

Newspapers have run government ads that feature a smiling Bush, intertwined U.S. and Hungarian flags and an invitation to meet the President at Heroes’ Square.

Bush has made the covers of both weekly newsmagazines and economic journals. His biography can be bought in bookstores. A Bush special was broadcast on Hungarian television Monday, and music programs have devoted whole shows to playing Hungarian and U.S. tunes.

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A silver Bush commemorative coin has even been minted by Budapest Bank and Fotex, a one-hour photo-processing firm that is one of the biggest success stories among U.S.-Hungarian ventures. The coin, made from waste photo-processing material, features Bush, the Hungarian Parliament building and the Hungarian coat of arms.

Concerns on Moscow

The only discordant note is a tiny one sounded by some of the more outspoken intellectual journals, which question whether a U.S. economic aid package would bind Hungary too closely to American political interests at a time when Hungary is trying to establish some degree of independence from the Soviet Union.

However, most reporters are too busy petitioning the Hungarian press office for interviews. At the Vigado, Budapest’s stately concert hall, which looks out onto the Danube, the Hungarian Foreign Ministry has set up an international press center manned 24 hours a day. They have also issued 1,600 press cards.

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“This is an unchallenged record, and nothing else even comes close,” said Viktor Polgar, the ministry’s press spokesman, who began coordinating coverage months ago.


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