The heads of the Hungarian meteorological service are fired after an incorrect forecast

Budapest, Hungary — The two top officials at Hungary’s weather service were fired on Monday after an inaccurate rain forecast led to the postponement of a fireworks display on the country’s biggest national holiday.

The dismissals of the head and deputy head of the National Weather Service sparked accusations of political interference by Hungary’s nationalist government.

The annual Boxing Day fireworks display along the Danube River in Budapest, billed as Europe’s biggest show, was canceled on Saturday afternoon due to forecasts that extreme weather was likely around 9:00 p.m. start time.

By night, the storms had not materialized in the capital, but the show, which normally attracts more than a million spectators, had already been rescheduled for next week due to security concerns.

The layoffs were announced in a brief statement by Industry and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics, a cabinet member in Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

The fired head of the weather service, Kornelia Radics, had held her post since 2013 and her deputy, Gyula Horvath, since 2016.

While the minister did not provide a reason for the layoffs, the weather service came under fire in Hungary’s government-aligned media, which charged that the service’s “seriously wrong” forecast had caused an unnecessary postponement of the fireworks display. .

The Ministry of Technology and Industry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Critics of the Orban government, which has been accused of corruption, nepotism and anti-democratic tendencies, said the dismissals were politically motivated and reminiscent of Hungary’s communist past.

In a statement Tuesday, the weather service demanded the reinstatement of its fired leaders. The agency described being under “political pressure” regarding its assessments of holiday weather models and that those applying the pressure “ignored the scientifically accepted uncertainty inherent in weather forecasts.”

“We firmly believe that, despite considerable pressure from decision-makers, our colleagues… provided to the best of their knowledge and are not responsible for any alleged or actual harm,” the service wrote.

Independent lawmaker Akos Hadhazy wrote in a Facebook post on Monday that the weather service had “never had such a responsibility before. They can choose to remain silent, or they can choose to strike until the boss, who was fired in a communist-style move, is reinstated.”

“His decision could change the fate of the entire country,” Hadhazy wrote.

The planned Boxing Day exhibition, to be held every August 20, was to present “a condensed chronicle of a thousand years from the birth of Christian Hungary to the present day, focusing on the lessons of national values,” according to the site. event website. .

It was billed as a “painting of the great periods and significant moments in Hungarian history, emphasizing important national values ​​that can also provide a moral lesson for everyday life.”

While the exhibition is a popular annual event, some Hungarians object to its scale and cost in the country of less than 10 million people. A petition against holding the exhibition gathered nearly 200,000 signatures, arguing that the money should be used to support Hungary’s faltering economy.

“In a country where the currency is weakening day by day while prices are rising, there is no room for such a lavish show,” the petition says.

The postponement of the fireworks came 16 years after a deadly Boxing Day event in 2006, when severe storms with wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour) hit Budapest when around 1.5 millions of people had gathered to watch the spectacle. display.

Five people were killed and more than 300 injured amid the ensuing panic.

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