Despite the bilateral summit, Slovak-Hungarian relations are still freezing

Article published on Sept. 21, 2007
Article published on Sept. 21, 2007
On November 15, the two Prime Ministers held official consultations on the current bilateral relations in Révkomárom (Komarno, Slovakia). Although the two PMs exchanged strong verbal punches, they mutually signed an agreement on fighting against extremism at the end of the summit.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány presented a six-point proposal to his Slovak coutrepart Robert Fico which was later completely rejected by the Slovak PM.

Fico: Fascism is rolling over from Hungary to Slovakia, and the Hungarian government fails to do enough to stop them.

Gyurcsány: Slovakia's government had not so much as flirted with radical nationalism and anti-Hungarian policies as embraced them fully.

Gyurcsány: Fico is not doing enough to distance himself from the anti-Hungarian remarks of his coalition partner, and he had stood by while Slovak policies discriminating against ethnic Hungarians had been implemented.

Fico: no one should attempt to dictate how democratic Slovakia forms its government.

Fico: The action taken by riot police at the Dunajska Streda (Dunaszerdahely) game was lawful.

Gyurcsány: Fico's response to the issue of the police assault on Hungarian citizens at the match is unacceptable and Hungary is still waiting to receive the results of an independent inquiry into the incident.

Gyurcsány presented six-point proposals to his Slovak counterpart at the summit and said that Hungary will honor the proposal, even if the neighboring country does not follow suit.

Both governments should assume a guarantee to support the ethnic minorities' educational and cultural institutions with extra funding and affirmative action Minority schools should be free to use textbooks published in one another's country Hungarian and Slovak politicians should approve a code of conduct on national and ethnic minority issues Should set up a body to adjudicate on cases of harm caused to ethnic minorities through joint investigations Slovak National Council should consider electing an ombudsman for national and ethnic minorities Slovak National Council should suspend and revoke its decree limiting the use of foreign national – including Hungarian – flags and symbols to domestic sports events in Slovakia

Eventually, the two politicians have signed a joint statement expressing "strong and unequivocal opposition" to radical ideologies and movements which can be considered as a move forward. The statement also commits the two countries to exchange information and co-operation during the investigation of specific cases of harm against national minorities and determination to advance "the cause of cross-border co-operation", economic and social ties

The aftermath of the Gyurcsány-Fico meeting

December 3, Fico rejected all six proposals put to him by Gyurcsány by declaring that the Slovak government "will not deal with demands seeking to interfere with Slovakia's independence." Fico said the rights of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia are safeguarded even by European standards in the Slovak constitution and in other laws. Therefore, he said, “we see no reason to pass more ethnic minority bills”.

December 3, Hungarian Speaker of Parliament Katalin Szili met her Slovak counterpart Pavol Paska in Komárom (Komarno, Slovakia). Szili criticized Slovakia’s objection to the Forum of Hungarian MPs in the Carpathian Basin (KMKF) by stating that KMKF does not harm the sovereignty of any country and there are several similar formations in Europe. Szili also condemned the Slovak resolution on the Benes decrees.

December 6, Hungarian President László Sólyom and Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic met in Érsekújvár (Nove Zamky, Slovakia). Sólyom asked Gasparovic to initiate a bill on the protection of ethnic minorities in Slovakia and to speed up the publication of a common history textbook. Sólyom also proposed to consider the establishment of an ombudsman’s post for ethnic minorities similarly to what exists in Hungary. Gasparovic turned down the requests by saying that the Slovak head of state has no power to initiate bills in Parliament.

Bilateral debates on European Stage

November 17, European Parliament hosted a debate on Hungarian-Slovak relations. Hungarian MEP Pál Schmitt drew his fellow MEPs’ attention to the events of November 1 in Dunaszerdahely (Dunajska Streda). Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda said in her contribution that “radicals must be prevented from poisoning Hungarian-Slovak relations further”, adding that her remarks equally apply to Slovak National Party chairman Ján Slota and the Magyar Gárda. Hungarian MEP Csaba Tabajdi said it is disproportionate to put an equal sign between the Slovak and the Hungarian situations. Slovak MEP Vladimir Manka asserted that he greatly appreciates Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány taking steps to amend anti-extremist legislation only two days after meeting Robert Fico. Hungarian MEP József Szájer replied that condemnation of fascist actions by Slovak MEPs would have been more credible if they had been made after Slota called for the expulsion of ethnic Hungarians from Slovakia.

December 8, a committee of the Council of Europe has considered Hungary’s response to the police attack on ethnic Hungarian fans at Dunaszerdahely (Dunajska Streda) as ‘relevant’ and called on Slovakia to respond.

Friendly Civil Gestures

November 17, Hungary's Green Democrats and the Slovak Green Party formed a live chain along the bridge spanning the Danube River between Esztergom (Hungary) and Párkány (Sturovo, Slovakia) demonstrating for reconciliation between the two countries. Organizers of the demonstration tied the Hungarian and Slovak national flags onto a large green heart which they placed in the middle of the bridge.

November 28, Gabor Ivady, mayor of a Hungarian village in hills near the Slovak border, decided to host a friendly soccer game between mayors of Hungarian and Slovak villages, and finish off with goulash and Slovak "halusky" (potato dumplings with sheep cheese). "The tensions fuelled by Slovak and Hungarian extremists have nothing to do with us, with our feelings," Ivady said. "We like each other, we often meet and have good relations and we don't want anybody to try to manipulate us," he added.

December 10, the local council of a city of 6,500 inhabitants (including Slovak ethnic minorities) in South East Hungary, Tótkomlós decided to introduce street and public-institution signs in Slovak too.

Deteriorating Slovak-Hungarian relations 11, 2008

On November 1, about 800 hardcore football fans from Hungary came to the Dunajska Streda (Dunaszerdahely) stadium, in Slovakia, to see the football game between the ethnic Hungarian football team Dunajska Streda and the ethnic Slovak team Slovan Bratislava. They carried banners of maps of the historical “Greater Hungary” that included Slovakia as a province of Hungary. The Hungarian and Slovak fans verbally insulted each other before the start of the game and later the Slovak fans threw smoke bombs and other missiles to the field. Eventually the Slovak riot police did not take any action against the Slovak football fans, only against the Hungarians leaving more than 60 injured; one severely. The result of the game was 4-0 to Slovakia.Strong Reactions from Hungary

On November 2 and 3, some 200-300 people held protest outside the Slovak embassy in Budapest in response to the incident and also burned a Slovak flag. The Hungarian government and opposition condemned the flag-burning action but also asked the Slovak authorities to investigate and provide detailed information about the legality of the police action. Ethnic Hungarian football fans staged a silent candlelight procession in Dunajska Streda (Dunaszerdahely) on November 4 to protest against the police assault.

Hungarian Minister of Justice Tibor Draskovics stated that “the media images of events at the game raise doubts about whether the measure police took were justified and appropriate. In his response, Slovak Prosecutor General Dobroslav Trnka described the police action as “timely, appropriate and lawful”.

What happened in the football stadium is just the consequence of the recently cold state-level bilateral relations which were steadily deteriorating in the past one and a half year. Public officials of the two neighboring countries -both members of the EU and the NATO- regularly targeted each other with various public frictions and strains which naturally reinforced the ever existing hostile feelings toward each other at the ground level.

Roots of Public Hostility

Anti-Hungarian sentiment in Slovakia were incited greatly by the Chairman of the government coalition member Slovak National Party Jan Slota. Slota publicly insulted Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Kinga Göncz several times by criticizing her hair, her appearance and size and indirectly comparing her to Hitler; Slota has also described Hungary’s first King Saint Stephen as a clown on a horse; suggested sending tanks into Budapest; called President László Sólyom an extremist figure; Fidesz chairman Viktor Orbán a nationalist pressing for the restoration of “Greater Hungary”; and deemed Hungarians as cancerous tumors from the Gobi desert, rather than the Carpathian basin. Slovak prime minister Robert Fico fails to distance himself from the coalition partner’s statements.

Due to the governing position of the Slovak national party, radicalism became state policy in Slovakia. As a consequence, the unfriendly Slovak public attitude towards its southern neighbour and the 600,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia transformed more and more into general public hatred. November 6, “Death to Hungarians” had been scrawled on a village bus stop in Čechynce (Nyitracsehi).

August 2008, a survey published by the Open Society Institute on the current situation of the Hungarian minority reveals that among 12-17 year old ethnic Slovaks Hungarians are the most hated minority, not good citizens of Slovakia; 63% of Slovakian students agree that Hungarians are allowed to speak their native language solely at home, speaking only in Slovakian in public.

In line with this gerenal public opinion, an ethnic Hungarian student, Hedvig Malina, has been brutally beaten for speaking in Hungarian on her mobile phone while walking in the city of Nitra (Nyitra) in August 2006. However, in the course of investigation the Slovak police was trying to prove that the student had beaten up herself and charged her with false accusation. The case is still pending.

State Level Disagreements

The degrading comments targeting the entire Hungarian nation haven't exceed the threshold of the Hungarian officials for a long time. The “casus belli” for the Hungarians was that Slovakia violated the linguistic status quo by failing to meet its earlier commitment to include the Hungarian version of geographical names in Slovak school books used by Hungarian schools. Hungarian government officials also complained that Hungarian schools are not subsidized from EU funds in Slovakia.

As a matter of fact, the ministries of education and EU funds are controlled by Jan Slota’s Slovak National Party. In addition, Hungary resented the remarks made by Slovak coalition party SNS leaders, which were considered to be within the realm of hate speech. Ambassadors of both countries were summoned by the host countries’ ministries of foreign affairs and were questioned about the situation.

Increasing tensions

November 8, over a thousand football fans and club members demonstrated in front of the Hungarian prime minister’s office, calling on Ferenc Gyurcsány to protect Hungarians and condemn the Slovak police. These football fans regularly fight with each other but now demonstrated hands in hands against the abuse of the Slovak police in Dunajska Streda (Dunaszerdahely). Slovak authorities denounced the Hungarian reactions.

November 8, 28 members of the Nyiregyhaza-based Hungarian far right group, the National Guard, commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the First Vienna Award (in which Axis Powers such as Germany and Italy compelled Czechoslovakia to return southern Slovakia and southern Subcarpathia – now in Ukraine – to Hungary in 1938) in Kralovsky Chlmec (Királyhelmec). Slovak police detained and launched criminal proceedings, on charges of carrying emblems of tyranny - the group’s members wearing an arm band showing the letter H written in old Hungarian script, classified as a dictatorship symbol. ‘It is unacceptable that Hungarian Nazis march on Slovak territory in uniforms,’ Slovak PM Robert Fico said on the same day in an extraordinary press conference. Slota urged the UN Security Council and the EU institutions to take action against Hungary. The Hungarian government condemned the march of extremists from Hungary in uniforms in Kralovsky Chlmes.

November 10, Hungarian radical activists mounted partial road blocks near the Slovak border at five locations in protest against Slovak police treatment of Hungarian football fans. The demonstration was organized by the non-Parliamentary far right Jobbik party which members held banners reading “Welcome to Slotakia”, a reference to Slota. The protests ended peacefully. Fico condemned on the road blocks and said that if they had been staged in his country Slovak police would have intervened.

Is this a Case for Europe to Act as a Mediator?

Hungary, which seemed paralyzed by the hostile bilateral relations, looks at the EU hoping to receive European assistance in solving the situation. On October 20, the mayor of a Hungarian town, Leányfalu removed the EU flag from public institutions in the municipality which must be raised above all the country’s public institutions according to the Hungarian law. The mayor said that the removal of the flag was to protest EU policy on Slovakia, notably that the EU did not condemn measures regarding the country’s Hungarian minority. When Hungary turned to the EU regarding the case of ethnic Hungarian schools in Slovakia, Slovakia immediately condemned Hungary for seeking confrontation and interfering in its internal affairs.

The current negative feelings towards and hostile actions against each other can easily further deteriorate between the two nations and it seems obvious that their present public leaders are not capable of handling this situation. Maybe it is time now for the EU to step up to the plate and help her two young kids to get finally over of their historical fights and feel that they are now members of one single family.

Hungary and Slovakia signed a bilateral basic treaty in 1995 and an agreement in 1998 on the mechanisms for implementing the basic treaty. In line with this agreement the two foreign ministers must annually review the implementation of the Treaty and identify further tasks if necessary. Minister Göncz invited her Slovak counterpart to a working meeting in December.

Slovak-Hungarian FMs disagree on minority issues

December 5, 2007

Slovak Foreign Minister Jan Kubis and Hungarian counterpart Kinga Goncz exchanged dissenting views regarding minority issues and relations between their countries. Goncz told a Hungarian parliamentary foreign affairs committee on Tuesday that on short term, diplomatic relations with Slovakia should concentrate on conflict management. She criticized Slovakia's use of ambiguous communication with Hungary and said the situation of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia had suffered of late. She added that the Slovak government had failed to see Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian SMK party as the advocate of minority rights for ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, and instead treated it merely as an opposition force. Goncz said until these areas of conflict were resolved, "we have to question the idea of a meeting of the prime ministers of the two countries."

Talking to the press after a Slovak government session on Wednesday, Kubis rejected the claim that ethnic Hungarian minority rights were faltering and said that the problems regarding the Hungarian minority were small and should not affect bilateral relations. Kubis said Slovakia was still preparing for a meeting of Hungarian-Slovak premiers. He criticised SMK's leadership for failing to communicate in a manner that reflected their role of protecting minority rights for ethnic Hungarians.

The 2008 Slovak budget approved yesterday sets aside no funds for Hungarian-language broadcasts of Radio Pátria. The state-run Slovak Radio will cease all broadcasts, including those of Radio Pátria, on the medium wave band. Ethnic minority broadcasts will be aired only by satellite and on the internet from January, said Slovak Radio programming director Lubos Machaj.

Ildikó Nagy, director of Radio Pátria, said in Tuesday’s edition of the Bratislava-based Hungarian-language daily Új Szó that Hungarian-language broadcasts in Slovakia will come to an end after 80 years, if the decision is endorsed by the Radio Council.

ipoly_5.jpgSlovak gov't gives thumbs up to Hungarian border bridge construction

November 14, 2007

The Slovak government voted on Wednesday to authorize foreign minister Jan Kubis to join Hungarian FM Kinga Göncz in Sturovo (Párkány), Slovakia, on Friday and add his signature to an interstate agreement calling for reconstruction of two bridges spanning the Ipoly river that marks the border between the two countries. The two bridges on the Ipoly will connect the Hungarian Pösténypuszta with the Slovak Pető and the Hungarian Ráróspuszta with the Slovak Rárós. The constructions will be co-financed with EU funds by the two countries.

The brief meeting between the two FMs and the accord are the first substantive event in ties between the two countries since the Bratislava parliament recently reaffirmed the post-WWII Benes Decrees, which deprived ethnic Hungarians of their property under the principle of collective guilt, sources in the Slovak capital have noted.

Slovak reiteration of collective guilt unacceptable, says Hungarian government

September 21, 2007

The Hungarian government rejects the principle of collective guilt and believes the vote by Slovakia's parliament that reconfirmed the post-WWII Benes Decrees passed to punish German and Hungarian nationals living in Czechoslovakia at the time, runs counter to European Union principles, the government spokesman said on Thursday.

Speaking for the prime minister, David Daroczi said Hungary would prefer conciliation to the incitement of tension and cannot support measures to the contrary. Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany called the portions of the Benes Decrees directed against residents unjust. The decrees deprived many Hungarians of their homes and property, holding them responsible for the war, and they have never received compensation.

Speaking for the senior government coalition partner MSZP, Jozsef Kozma, who is responsible for foreign affairs, said the offensive action on the part of the Slovak legislature came after Hungary's parliament had made a special attempt to evolve good-neighbour relations on the basis of European norms. He too voiced shock that it came just after Hungary's political parties had issued a joint appeal for cooperation. "This type of historical anachronism has no place in a free, democratic, and tolerant Europe," said Kozma.

"While the heads of government agreed to build bridges and the majority of residents in both countries want forward-pointing relations, the idea of looking backwards appears to be gaining the upper hand, and that will not help to heal historical wounds," said Gyurcsany. He called for confidence-building measures and mutually advantageous cooperation rather than re-confirming past punishments.

On behalf of the biggest opposition party Fidesz Zsolt Nemeth said they had been shocked to learn that Slovakia's parliament had passed a resolution on the inviolability of the Benes Decrees. Nemeth called the move unfriendly, particularly coming after a meeting of ethnic Hungarian MPs from throughout the Carpathian Basin, at which MPs from all five parties in Hungary's parliament signed a statement on the need for Slovakia and Hungary to reconcile their differences. Nemeth said the move proved that Slovakia's parliament had adopted the extremist nationalism and chauvinism of the Slovak National Party, a member of the government coalition. He called on the parties making up Slovakia's parliament to return to the European principles of human rights.

Another protest was issued in the European Parliament, where MEPs from Hungary, Slovakia, and Germany protested the move.