Budapest, May 28 (RFE/RL) -- Hungary says it wants to sell scores of former Soviet military bases, airports, apartment buildings and other facilities to save the State millions of dollars in maintenance costs.
The State Privatisation Agency, APV, says it has about 90
installations for sale, either at auction, or directly to potential
buyers. It says its expectations are high because several other
former Soviet military installations have been converted into
profitable private enterprises.
An American businessman, George Loranger, has built a successful
industrial park at a former base near the town of Szekesfehervar.
At another former military base near Budapest, a Hungarian-Canadian
group is building a huge shopping mall. When it opens later this
year it will have 150 shops, six cinemas and other facilities. In
anticipation of success, the developers are providing parking for
Western multi-national companies are also developing industrial
parks, factories and shopping centres at other former Soviet bases.
(And) The Suzuki car company of Japan took over a former Soviet base
as long ago as 1991 to build a car factory.
The properties now being offered by APV include a shooting range in
the Great Hungarian Plain in the center of the country, a big
military base on the outskirts of Budapest, and a former airfield in
the south of Hungary close to the borders of Romania and Serbia.
When Soviet forces withdrew from Hungary in June, 1991, they left
behind 5,750 installations, including apartment blocks, hospitals,
shooting ranges, military buildings and airfields. Most of the
apartment blocks and barracks, which had housed the officers and
soldiers, were in appalling condition with poor sanitary and
electrical facilities. Some were repaired and sold to Hungarians, but
many others were considered uninhabitable and were knocked-down.
The Soviets left seven former air bases, including the one close to
the borders of Romania and Serbia. Five are now offered for sale. A
spokesman for the privatisation office said it hoped to find buyers
interested in creating a regional air network in Hungary.
Western business experts are sceptical about these plans. They
point out that previous efforts to build regional air traffic in
Hungary have failed because of insufficient consumer and business
Business consultant George Lindner says military bases and other
facilities close to cities or big towns, and with internal roads, have
the best chance of being sold if the price is reasonable. In Lindner's view, sites in remote parts of the country, or without basic
infrastructure would be harder to sell.
Environmental contamination also remains a problem at some former
military bases despite several efforts since 1991 to clean them up.
Hungarian officials acknowledge that problems still exist at some
airfields used by fighter aircraft, such as kerosene fuel that was allowed to spill into the soil. Similar problems exist at some bases used by tanks where old oil was often dumped into pits dug in the earth. "After 40 years of Soviet occupation, some of these sites are well and truly polluted," said Lindner.
The pollution was part of a long drawn-out argument between
Budapest and Moscow as the Soviet troops were pulling out. Moscow
demanded around 670-million dollars in compensation for the buildings
it was leaving behind. The Hungarians considered the figure
outrageous in view of the condition of many of the buildings, and
responded with a demand for more than 750-million dollars in
compensation for environmental damage. A compromise was eventually
reached in which the rival demands were balanced-out.