Budapest, Hungary — Two top Hungarian weather service officials were fired on Monday for postponing a fireworks display on the country’s most important national holiday after an incorrect rain forecast.
The firing of the head and deputy chief of the National Meteorological Service prompted allegations of political interference from the Hungarian nationalist government.
Stephen’s Day fireworks show along the Danube River in Budapest – billed as the biggest display in Europe – was called off on Saturday afternoon based on forecasts that said extreme weather would be at 9 p.m. It was expected to start around noon.
By evening, the capital had not been stormed, but the show, which normally attracts over a million spectators, was already rescheduled for the next week due to security concerns.
The firing was announced in a brief statement by the Minister of Technology and Industry, László Palkovic, a top cabinet member in the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
The fired Weather Service chief, Cornelia Radix, had served in his post since 2013 and Gula Horvath, his deputy from 2016.
Although the minister did not give a reason for the dismissal, the meteorological service received harsh criticism in the Hungarian government-aligned media, which alleged that the service’s “severely incorrect” forecast led to the unnecessary postponement of the fireworks display. was.
The Ministry of Technology and Industry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Critics of Orbán’s government, which has been accused of corruption, nepotism and anti-democratic tendencies, alleged that the firing was politically motivated and was reminiscent of Hungary’s communist past.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Meteorological Department demanded the reinstatement of its sacked leaders. The agency described the holiday as coming under “political pressure” with respect to its assessment of weather models, and pressure enforcers “ignored the scientifically accepted uncertainty inherent in meteorological forecasts.”
“It is our firm view that despite considerable pressure from decision makers, our partners … provided their best knowledge and are not responsible for any perceived or actual damages,” the service wrote.
Independent MP Akos Hadazzi wrote in a Facebook post on Monday that the Meteorological Service had “never had this kind of responsibility before. They can choose to remain silent, or they can choose to strike until communist-style.” The chief fired in the move of K is not reinstated.
“His decision could change the fate of the entire country,” Hadazzi wrote.
According to the event’s website, the St Stephen’s Day demonstration, held every 20 August, was to present “a brief history of a thousand years from the birth of Christian Hungary to the present day, focusing on the lessons of national values”. ,
It was billed as “a tableau of the great periods and important moments of Hungarian history, with an emphasis on important national values that can also provide a moral lesson for everyday life.”
While the demonstration is a popular annual event, some Hungarians protest its scale and cost in a country of less than 10 million residents. A petition against stopping the demonstration gathered nearly 200,000 signatures, arguing that the money should be used to support Hungary’s faltering economy.
“In a country where currency is depreciating day by day while prices are rising, there is no place for such splendid spectacle,” the petition said.
The postponement of the fireworks came 16 years after a deadly St. Stephen’s Day event in 2006, when a strong storm with winds gusts of 60 mph (100 kph) hit Budapest, as nearly 1.5 million people hit it. had gathered to watch. show.
Five people died and more than 300 were injured amid the panic.