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Huge Crowds Celebrate Hungary's Entry Into EU - 2004-05-01

Huge crowds have been celebrating Hungary's entry into the European Union, 15 years after it became the first Soviet satellite state to break with Moscow. While some Hungarians are celebrating, others are deeply skeptical.

Fireworks illuminated the night skies over Budapest, mingling with the strains of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the European anthem, as hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic Hungarians celebrated their entry into the European Union.

The nation of 10 million has been waiting for this moment since the collapse of communism in 1989. It was the first Soviet satellite to break with Moscow.

Near Budapest's Heroes Square, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy unveiled a gigantic eight-meter-high hourglass to measure the nation's time as part of the European Union. He thanked all Hungarians for overcoming the legacy of decades of communism and the Cold War divide. Hungary, he said, has returned to Europe.

However, many stayed away from the celebrations. Elderly people especially are worried that prices will rise, and social workers say joining the EU could mean larger income gaps and make life more difficult for the estimated three million Hungarians living below the poverty line.

Other anti-Europe Hungarians fear that their small country will lose its identity in the new block of 450 million people.

Yet the mayor of Budapest, Gabor Demszky, tells VOA that these worries are not justified.

"For Budapest, it is a great opportunity because the markets of Europe are opening up, because we shall have the chance to learn [and} to study in Europe and also, in the long run, to work as equal citizens somewhere else in Europe. So it will widen our freedom," he said.

Young people celebrating EU membership are unworried about the future. They welcomed the joining with traditional and modern music.

To celebrate the historic event, one Budapest bartender prepared a special EU cocktail with 16 different wines and spirits from all parts of the New Europe.