Working Visit of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights and his Two Deputies in Tolna County
László Székely resumed the series of the traditional Ombudsman’s county visits and complaints days in Tolna County on June 7 and 8, 2017. The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights was accompanied by Deputy Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, Ombudsman for the Rights of National Minorities Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay and Deputy Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, Ombudsman for Future Generations Mr. Gyula Bándi.
As the opening to the visit, the Commissioner and his two deputies presented their work in general and the inquiries affecting the county at the meeting of the notaries of the settlements of the county, which event was held at the Tolna County Government Office. László Székely also mentioned that, as compared to the other counties, there are very few complaints of the activities of the authorities and the public service providers in Tolna County: in 2016, as many as 8,299 submissions were received by the Ombudsman’s Office from all over the country, of which a mere 67 were sent from Tolna County. It was only from Nógrád County that an even lower number of complaints was addressed to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights. Prior to this visit, back in May, the citizens’ petitions were gathered in what are called complaints boxes in several settlements of the county, while those who found it easier also had the opportunity to present their complaints to the Ombudsman’s colleagues in person in Szekszárd.
On the two days of the county visit, the Commissioner and his deputies got hands-on experience on the situation of the institutions working in their special areas at several sites. László Székely visited the Hétszínvilág Home for the Disabled, the operation of which he called exemplary at the closing press conference of the visit. He also found the living conditions of the convicts at the Szekszárd prison favorable, especially as compared to those of the many overcrowded correctional institutions. Furthermore, he called it noteworthy how the employment of the convicts was taken care of by involving an external business company.
The reporters who took part in the closing press conference demonstrated a high level of interest in one of the new items of information shared by the Commissioner and the Ombudsman for Future Generations: the idea on how one of the key issues of the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant, i.e. the management of the cooling water of the reactor could be solved. This water would not be directly released to the Danube, thus jeopardizing the natural balance of the river but it would be conducted to Szekszárd through a pipeline and it would be used for heating there. By using this method, other heating methods that pollute the environment could also be replaced as an added value. The Ombudsman for Future Generations indicated that utmost care should be taken when the trackline is developed.
Deputy Commissioner Gyula Bándi visited Bátaapáti, where the low- and medium-level intensity radioactive waste coming from the nuclear power plant is stored. While he called his experiences in the National Radioactive Waste Repository reassuring, he highlighted the importance of the prevention of excessive energy utilization. He drew attention to the need to ensure the secure placement of the radioactive substances generated in the course of the operation of the nuclear power plant. He also pointed out that the foreseeable and uninterrupted provision of the financial resources required for the latter is the obligation of the governments at any time. This is an obligation that was imposed on future generations at the moment that the nuclear power plant began to operate after the political decision on the utilization of nuclear energy had been adopted.
The Ombudsman for Future Generations spoke positively of the development program of the county, some aspects of which are related to the lives of the future generations. He also paid a visit to one of the priority sites of the county visit, i.e. the Gemenc Forest Nature Park, where he was faced with the severe problems caused by the invasive species settled there in the early twentieth century and also, with how these hinder the natural renewal of the species endemic in Hungary. The aggressive spreading of invasive species, such as ash-leaved maples is an alarming sign for all to see the long-term damages caused by the settlement of non-native species and also, that without intense action against them, unfavorable changes will occur in the ecological systems of our forests.
In Tolna County, Deputy Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, Ombudsman for the Rights of National Minorities Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay primarily visited the educational and cultural institutions of the national minorities living in Hungary, which, as she said, play a key role in the preservation of the national identities and cultures, as well as in the use and development of the mother tongues of these national minorities. This idea was also reinforced by the meetings with the heads and representatives of the national minority self-governments and some civil society organizations.
The Deputy Commissioner began her visit in Tolna County from Deutsche Bühne Ungarn (the German Theater). Ms. Ildikó Frank, who is the director of the only professional German-language theater in Hungary, which has 80 seats and was refurbished last year, told her that in compiling the showlist, the staff endeavors to preserve the cultural and linguistic values of the German minority living in Hungary and they regard the provincial theater shows as events of key importance, on account of the geographically dispersed German population.
At the Gyönk-based, over two-hundred-year-old Tolnai Lajos German Nationality and Bilingual Grammar School, the teachers of the school and the local public figures explained the importance of the preservation of the German national identity and language of the region to Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay. At Gyönk, the Deputy Commissioner visited the German village museum and she also met with the president and members of the Gyönk German National Minority Association.
At the head office of the Szekszárd German National Minority Association, the Deputy Commissioner discussed the operation and funding of the national minority self-governments and institutions, as well as the training of teachers for the national minorities with the representatives of the local German community. This discussion will be continued in the fall.
The Tolna County program of the Deputy Commissioner for Fundamental Rights, Ombudsman for the Rights of National Minorities was closed at Bonyhád, where she met with the president and members of the German national minority self-government and cultural association. The national composition of Bonyhád is very colorful today as well but the presence of the German national minority is of critical importance, along with the work done for the preservation of their traditions and mother tongue.
At the press conference of the county visit, the Deputy Commissioner announced that she would like to explore the situation of national minority theaters in Hungary in the context of an inquiry in the fall of 2017.