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SOUTHERN COUNCIL'S FOUNDING MEETING DRAWS 20 PEOPLE

Autonomy group dismissed by SMK

ON A RECENT weekend in Moča, a small village near Komárno, up to 20 people met in the restaurant of a new boarding house. They called themselves Južanská Rada za Sebaurčenie (Southern Council for Self-determination) and put together a petition calling for the right to self-determination for the "Southern Nation": Hungarians, Slovaks and Roma living in southern Slovakia.

ON A RECENT weekend in Moča, a small village near Komárno, up to 20 people met in the restaurant of a new boarding house. They called themselves Južanská Rada za Sebaurčenie (Southern Council for Self-determination) and put together a petition calling for the right to self-determination for the "Southern Nation": Hungarians, Slovaks and Roma living in southern Slovakia.

"We already started collecting signatures as early as the end of last year, unofficially," the head of the association, János Bósza, told the TASR press agency. "We offered an alternative for the citizens of southern Slovakia.

"We see ourselves spreading the idea among people in the next two years, in Slovak villages, and explaining our aim."

While the meeting was small, it provoked an immediate outcry from the top levels of government.

"For me, any effort to divide Slovakia on an ethnic, racial and religious basis is unacceptable," Slovak president Ivan Gašparovič told the media. He added that Slovakia was a civic state with equal rights and duties for everyone.

The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) distanced itself from the new group and said they disagree with the movement.

"We are not in contact with Mr. Bósza, nor are we the co-organisers of this initiative," SMK vice-chair Iván Farkas told Slovak media one day before the meeting. "We gave our members no instructions. This initiative is spontaneous."

Another SMK leader, József Berényi, was even more critical about the Southern Council. He told the media that his party never co-operated with Bósza, nor did they take part in the meeting in Moča.

"As for minority self-government, we are preparing a new party programme that will be ready by April next year," Berényi told TASR. He could not specify, however, what form it would take.

Ján Slota, the head of the ruling coalition, nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), echoed the old slogans of communist leaders when he reacted to the meeting.

"The old motto should be revived: We will not let anyone disrupt our republic!" he said.

This is not the first time Bósza has launched such a group. He started a similar association, called Commora Aula, last August.

Bósza explained the foundation of the group in an official statement:

"If the SNS with its rough, seditious propaganda was able to captivate its Spartan young voters, so we must also captivate our youth for a peaceful fight for autonomy, prepare them and let them come out as the nation's guards on the fields of a peaceful battle for the autonomy of the southern Felvidék [the unofficial historic name of Slovakia in Hungarian, taken as a provocation by many Slovaks]."

At the time, his efforts were largely unnoticed by the Slovak majority, as well as by the Hungarian minority. Only Slota reacted ardently this May, when he called it a real threat. At a press conference, Slota claimed that activists in southern Slovakia had already started a campaign for the political autonomy of these territories.

He warned against the possibility of Slovakia losing a part of its territory, like Serbia did in case of Kosovo.

"We all speak, you laugh at us, and they act," he said. "If the Slovak Republic does not act resolutely and put a stop to this, we will end up like Kosovo, and then we will all stop laughing."

SMK chairman Pál Csáky immediately protested Slota's comments, but also the activities of Commora Aula. He told the SITA newswire that he would not sign any petition about political autonomy, and that the SMK had not participated in any such campaign.

"If the SNS agents do that, we cannot influence it," he added.

The Slovak public did not react too eagerly to Slota's statements then. But the Moča meeting has caught their attention.

Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for Public Issues non-governmental think-tank, sees no real danger in the Moča meeting.

"The association has no support of the SMK, and the number of people present did not create a sufficiently representative sample of citizens from the region concerned, either," Mesežnikov noted.

He added that another fact was important: the relationship between Hungarians and Slovaks is currently void of conflicts.

Political analyst Miroslav Kusý said he is confident that the founding of the Southern Council at this point in time is only a provocation.

"But on the other hand, autonomy is a legitimate claim of minorities throughout Europe," he told The Slovak Spectator. "And in some European countries, autonomy really works. This is the right solution in all places where tensions have been rising and other ways proved ineffective.

"In Slovakia, luckily, such a problem has not been felt. There has been no conflict situation between Slovaks and Hungarians."

From this point of view, the movement for autonomy is counterproductive, Kusý said.

"Moreover, the organisers of this movement are also showing that they themselves do not know what they want," he said. "They declare that they do not want autonomy just based on the ethnic principles, but that they are also striving for autonomy based on civic principles.

"However, we already have a local self-government. This means that they want a civic self-government integrated into the existing types of civic self-governments, which are already working."

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