March 25, 2023

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Under calm skies in the Hungarian capital on Saturday, an elaborate fireworks display sparked controversy after its performance was postponed over the weekend, leading to the firing of the country’s top meteorologist over the weather forecast.

Saturday’s event rescheduled a show held a week earlier for the Hungarian national holiday, drawing tens of thousands of people to Budapest’s Danube for what was billed as Europe’s largest fireworks display.

Two senior officials at Hungary’s National Meteorological Service were fired on Monday after the government committee that manages the holiday event postponed the show based on the bureau’s forecast of the possibility of heavy rain that night.

While the storm did hit other parts of Hungary that night, it did not hit the capital. Weather services chief Kornelia Radics, who had served since 2013, and deputy Gyula Horvath, who had served since 2016, lost their jobs.

Gabor Valter Tolczli, an audience member of Saturday’s fireworks show, said: “I was surprised that the fireworks were postponed a week ago because there was no storm. But today I don’t mind the postponement because there are fewer people.”

However, he added that he was “angry that meteorologists were fired because you can never predict the weather 100 percent of the time.”

The dismissal led critics of Hungary’s nationalist government to accuse the punitive political pressure led by authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reminiscent of Hungary’s communist past.

Academics and scientists in Hungary have long complained about pressure on independent scientific institutions, and Orbán’s government has been accused of corruption, nepotism and anti-democratic tendencies.

That has led to a conflict with the European Union, which has withheld billions of dollars in pandemic recovery funding from Hungary over what the bloc sees as flaws in the Hungarian government’s adherence to basic values ​​and the rule of law.

The Hungarian government said the dismissal was related to the August 20 forecast, but the minister in charge of the weather service had previously been unhappy with its performance. In a press conference on Tuesday, Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said the department’s assessment of the high probability of extreme weather – which never happened – was the “last straw”.

On Wednesday, the Hungarian government appointed Laszlo Hanyecz, vice president for economic affairs at the Meteorological Agency, as its interim head. Of the agency’s 19 key officials, Hanyecz, who is not a meteorologist, is one of only two who did not sign a letter calling for the reinstatement of the fired weather director.

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

“As forecasters, our priority is to protect life and property. When Hungarian meteorologists saw danger in their forecasts, they did what any of us would do – warn lives of danger,” the letter reads. Condemned dismissal.


Balazs Kaufmann contributed to this story.

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