WHEN Ján Slota marched his way into Robert Fico's ruling coalition, many feared the presence of the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) would inspire xenophobia to grow not only in the camp of Slota's nationalist voters but also among far-right Hungarians.
But Robert Fico brushed aside these arguments by assuring a nervous public that Slota would not occupy a top state position, and that the government would continue to respect all minority rights in Slovakia.
No one really expects Slota to change his vocabulary of keeping his voters on guard against hostile foreign forces that, according to him, are responsible for all the nation's misery. In the same way, only very few think Slota would ever get into a tank and level Budapest, as he suggested in one of his most notorious, alcohol-induced speeches.
Maybe Fico will really succeed in "toning down" Slota's statements in the future and maybe even venting anti-Hungarian frustrations will have no practical impact the government's minority policies.
But Slota already represents a certain approach to minorities and a very specific attitude towards the Roma and Hungarians. He stands for everything that fits the profile of a far-right politician. No matter what the interpretation and justification of his presence in the ruling coalition is, he brought his baggage along with him, right to the very core of this government.
His presence indirectly legitimises a certain way of talking about political opponents, thinking about neighbours and relating to minorities.
The acts of irrelevant frustrated groups that demonstrate hatred towards other nations is seen under a magnifying glass exactly because the presence of a politician of Slota's stature makes people more cautious about any demonstration of hate.
The recent incident involving a video that shows both a group of Slovak neo-Nazis burning the Hungarian national flag and chanting anti-Hungarian slogans and Hungarian nationalist vandals spray painting the street in front of the Slovak Embassy in Budapest with the words "We do not forget," and the subsequent reactions to the video, clearly prove this trend.
Many fear the Slovak-Hungarian political conversation will become a mill of reactions and condemnations to the shameless provocations and demonstrations of hate towards each others' nations.
It really only takes a bunch of individuals with limited intelligence and boiling personal frustrations to raise the tensions to unfortunate levels. And it really takes only one controversial politician to provide inspiration to those who consider Slota's being in power to be confirmation that they're right.
There were arguments within the inner sanctum of the ruling coalition that Slota is a capable man who worked miracles in Žilina, which is undergoing a development boost. Political analysts, however, are very skeptical about people electing Slota for his mayorial achievements rather than for what he stands for with his statements about Hungarians and the Roma.
The SNS claims it is Hungary's reactionaryism that harms Slovak-Hungarian relations.
The Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry said it was "surprised that the Hungarian government has elevated a deplorable private act by persons who placed an amateur video on a little-known domain registered in the USA to the level of international relations".
The truth is, the international community is going to continue monitoring such "private acts" more sensitively than before exactly because of the presence of the SNS in this government.
Indeed, the position of Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Ján Kubiš, who is an experienced diplomat with an international reputation, is not enviable at all. He will have to work hard to demonstrate that there is a substantial dialogue between Slovakia and Hungary worthy of friendly neighbouring nations, and that the links will not be reduced to debating the reaction to the followers of Ján Slota or István Csurka.
By Beata Balogová
14. Aug 2006 at 0:00