International criticism lashes MPs into action

IN A SIGN of cooling tensions between their two countries, the Hungarian and Slovak ministers of foreign affairs agreed at a meeting in Bratislava not to take a special stand against ethnic extremism following several troubling attacks on ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia during August.

IN A SIGN of cooling tensions between their two countries, the Hungarian and Slovak ministers of foreign affairs agreed at a meeting in Bratislava not to take a special stand against ethnic extremism following several troubling attacks on ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia during August.

Slovak Foreign Minister Ján Kubiš and his Hungarian counterpart, Kinga Göncz, said on September 5 that the attacks and other acts of intolerance on both sides of the border should be left to local authorities to handle. Any tensions between the two nations should be smoothed through bilateral diplomacy rather than in the international arena, they agreed.

The pact heads off a potentially damaging international affair for Slovakia, which has taken criticism since the formation of the Robert Fico government in July for Fico's selection of the far-right Slovak National Party and its Hungary-baiting leader, Ján Slota, as a coalition partner.

It also concealed a difference of opinion in Bratislava and Budapest as to the significance of the incidents. Kubiš reiterated at the meeting with Göncz that Slovakia was the victim of an anti-Slovak campaign, which last week he blamed on Slovakia's opposition Hungarian Coalition Party.

Göncz replied that any troubles between the two countries automatically became international concerns, given Slovakia and Hungary's membership in NATO and the European Union. She added that Budapest would rethink its strategy for dealing with the anti-Hungarian incidents in Slovakia if it felt that Bratislava was not treating the matter seriously.

In addition to the anti-Slovak and anti-Hungarian posters that appeared at football matches on both sides of the Danube River last month, several ethnic Hungarians were attacked in Nitra, Sládkovičovo and Komárno, allegedly motivated by ethnicity. In the first, a 23-year-old female student was beaten by two men for speaking Hungarian on her cell phone, and had the message "Hungarians, Get Back Over the Danube" scrawled on her blouse.

Although they had initially debated adopting a special resolution condemning extremism, the diplomatic heads of the two countries decided that the standing Slovak-Hungarian Commission for Minorities would tackle the situation at its meeting on September 22.

International criticism

Despite the outcome of the Bratislava meeting, however, relations between the two countries continued to attract international attention.

Speaking in the European Parliament on September 4, Belgian politician Marc Tarabella of the Party of European Socialists accused Fico of having joined with "the extremist Slovak National Party", and that he had justified the fears expressed by European MPs that such a coalition would be formed in Slovakia.

According to the SITA news agency, Tarabella also blamed SNS leader Slota for exciting xenophobia, and Fico for allowing him to do so.

Tarabella's words were echoed by US Senator Tom Lantos, who on a visit to Slovakia on September 4 called for police action and public education on intolerance.

In Budapest the following day, Lantos was far more critical of the Slovak government (see related story, page 2).

"I told the prime minister [Fico] to his face that the inclusion of Hungary-hating political leaders, extreme nationalist political leaders in his coalition government, was his decision," Lantos said.

"I have no sympathy for the prime minister of Slovakia for having made common cause with political leaders who are known for anti-Hungarian extremist views."

Parliamentary resolution

Perhaps under the lash of such words, six out of seven parliamentary parties in Slovakia - including Slota's SNS - agreed to support the passage of a common statement against intolerance and extremism.

After the Hungarian Coalition Party failed to gain support for its draft declaration of national tolerance on September 1, another draft submitted by Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška (Smer) was approved by 112 MPs out of 140 present in the chamber.

The declaration said that in view of the approach of a memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust as well as of recent events in Slovakia and Hungary, the MPs "feel the moral obligation to condemn all expressions of extremism and racial hatred".

The politicians also promised to "handle the issue of ethnic relations very carefully and prudently, and not to deliberately abuse this theme to derive political capital from it".

SNS MP Rafael Rafaj called the resolution "a gesture in which parliament expressed its disapproval of any form of extremism. This disapproval is appropriate even when it is a case of isolated acts by individuals."

The opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) of Slovakia's former PM Mikuláš Dzurinda unexpectedly refused to back the declaration, arguing that it would be a "direct invitation" to foreign observers to monitor Slovakia.

The SDKÚ's 28 MPs present abstained in the vote.

"I don't think we should now shout out to the world that we cannot cope with this situation, and thereby to a certain extent raise doubts about what kind of country we have become since June 17 [national elections]," Dzurinda said.

"The nation has not changed, it just has a different government," he added, laying the blame for the tensions with the Fico administration.

"The problem does not lie with the nation but with some politicians," he said.

The SMK has also said that the presence of the SNS in the ruling coalition has encouraged extremists in Slovakia to carry out attacks.

Police action

While ascribing the attacks in Nitra and Sládkovičovo to "pranksters" rather than organized anti-Hungarian extremists, Slovakia Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák proposed that a special unit for combating extremism be formed within the police.

Ministry spokesman Marek Mišečka told The Slovak Spectator that the unit would be formed as part of a larger reorganization of the police force by the end of the year.

At a meeting with the parliamentary Defense Committee, Kaliňák also said he wanted to introduce a "hot line" for better cooperation between the Slovak and Hungarian police on such cases.

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