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EURO-SOCIALISTS UPHOLD SUSPENSION AS FICO ATTACKS HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT

PES says no to Smer

THE DAY after Prime Minister Robert Fico attacked the Hungarian president over an unofficial visit to Slovakia, the Party of European Socialists decided to uphold its suspension of Fico's Smer party for reasons that included the country's tense relationship with Hungary.

Hungarian President László Sólyom and his wife paid an unofficial visit to Slovakia. He also was accompained by the head of the Slovak Presidential Office, Milan Čič. Sólyom's visit evoked a wave of criticism from Slovak government officials.
photo: SITA

THE DAY after Prime Minister Robert Fico attacked the Hungarian president over an unofficial visit to Slovakia, the Party of European Socialists decided to uphold its suspension of Fico's Smer party for reasons that included the country's tense relationship with Hungary.

The chair of the Party of European Socialists (PES), Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, announced on October 4 that Smer's membership suspension will continue.

"However, the doors remain open for it," Rasmussen said after the PES leadership meeting in Brussels, as quoted by the SITA newswire. "We want a Slovak partner, and Smer has a social-democratic character."

According to the Euro-socialists, the problems are the tension between Slovaks and Hungarians, and the provocative statements from the leader of the ruling coalition Slovak National Party (SNS), Ján Slota.

"This is a good decision," Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda told SITA. "No one in the PES is against Smer returning to the family of socialists, but there are certain details that have to be addressed."

Smer's PES membership was suspended last year after it formed a ruling coalition with the nationalist SNS. In doing so, the PES referred to its Berlin Declaration, which stipulates that member parties cannot create coalitions with parties suspected of provoking racial, ethnic or religious tensions.

On October 1, Rasmussen told journalists that "Smer needs more time for pushing extremism out of its government".

He was referring to a comment Slota made about the leader of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Pál Csáky, on September 26.

"This type, he is vomit, a rotten excrement," Slota said.

Fico said Slota's statements have no influence on the government's activities.

"The government of the Slovak Republic has never approved or passed any decision or resolution, and in practical politics it has never behaved in a way, that would let anyone accuse it of being extremist," he said in a media statement released on October 2 by Smer spokesperson Katarína Kližanová Rýsová. "This is a grave accusation to make about the government of a member state of the European Union without any proof."

Political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Institute for Public Affairs think-tank, said the PES refused to re-accept Smer not only because of Slota's statements, but also because of the agenda of Smer itself.

"The SNS is simply asserting and pushing its nationalist agenda on the ruling coalition and Smer," he told The Slovak Spectator. "And after all, the whole political scene in Slovakia, with the exception of the SMK, is influenced by how the SNS is pushing through its nationalist agenda."

Slota's increasingly barbed statements are the result of the SNS position getting stronger, now that it is part of the ruling coalition, Mesežnikov said.

"If this kind of political partnership between Smer and the SNS had not existed, there would probably be no such statements," he said.

Smer's membership could be renewed by February or earlier, PES spokesman Julian Scola told SITA.

None of the parties in the Slovak ruling coalition currently belongs to a pan-European body.


Hungarian president's visit draws fire


One day before the PES decision, Fico blasted the Hungarian head of state over his unofficial visit to Slovakia.

Hungarian President László Sólyom made a private visit to the southern Slovak town of Komárno on October 2, on the invitation of the Town of Komárno and the Palatinus civic organisation, the TASR newswire reported. However, he also met with representatives of Slovakia's Hungarian minority and criticised the Slovak parliament for its recent resolution on the Beneš decrees.

"I consider (the resolution) unaccountable and detrimental," he told Slovak journalists. "As long as there is no clear decision in this matter, it evokes the atmosphere of the period when the Beneš decrees were passed."

Fico said Sólyom misused a private visit for political goals.

"The government of the Slovak Republic is a government of a sovereign country," he said at a press conference on October 3. "We simply cannot allow top representatives of other countries, especially Hungary, to behave in the south of Slovakia as if they were in the north of Hungary."

The Hungarian president is not the president of Slovaks living in the south of the country, he added.

Fico also said he hoped that standard protocol and diplomatic tools would be used in the future, so that "the president of the Hungarian Republic can be ordered out to the place where he belongs, when it comes to private or official visits to Slovakia.

"We will not tolerate and accept anyone who crosses borders and misuses vaguely private visits to criticise Slovak bodies, including the top ones such as the Slovak Parliament," he added.

Fico said he was interested in having a good relationship with Hungary, and that he was prepared to meet Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány any time.

Slovak Foreign Minister Ján Kubiš agreed with Fico, saying Sólyom's visit contradicted diplomatic standards.

The Foreign Ministry used similar words in the official statement it delivered to the Hungarian ambassador in Slovakia, Antal Heizer.

"Such behaviour goes against diplomatic practice and good relations between neighbouring countries, and it harms the relationship between the Slovak Republic and the Hungarian Republic," the statement reads.

Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič also disagreed with the visit, though the head of the President's Office, Milan Čič, accompanied Sólyom.

Čič did not mention the president's reservations when he was asked about the trip by Slovak journalists.

"Mr. President sent me in his place, as he had another appointment," he told the private TV channel Joj during the visit.

But the next day Gašparovič's spokesman, Marek Trubač, said Sólyom took a stance on issues that went beyond Hungarian domestic matters.

"Such unilateral activities of the Hungarian president, markedly intervening in the domestic policy of the sovereign Slovak Republic, do not contribute to improving bilateral relations," Trubač told the ČTK newswire.

Sólyom said the Slovak reaction was groundless, in a statement published on the Hungarian President's Office website on October 3. He denied that he used the visit for political purposes, saying he had expressed his opinion on the Beneš decrees in the past, and he had also told it to Gašparovič.

"László Sólyom will also use private trips to preserve relations with the Hungarian minority in the future," the statement read, as quoted by the ČTK newswire. "Neither in Romania, nor in Serbia did visits organised in a similar way lead to any conflicts or misunderstandings."

Political scientist László Öllős thought Fico's statement that the Hungarian president would be ordered out of the country was particularly troubling.

"Especially the phrase 'order out' implies a clear message," he told The Slovak Spectator. "So Fico just wants to increase the tension to the maximum extent - and it has been already quite strong."

He added that such a statement is strange for a representative of an EU member state, where the free movement of people is the rule.

"It is inconceivable in the European Union to order out any normal citizen of an EU state from another EU member state, if he has not breached any laws," he said.

Öllős said the reason for Fico's strong statements against Sólyom can be seen in his party's repeated rejections from PES. Fico wants to use these attacks to divert attention from the fact that the partnership with the SNS is unacceptable to the Euro-socialists, Öllős said.

"He is trying to divert the attention from the heart of the matter, which is the participation of the SNS in the government," he added.

"When PES suspended Smer's membership in October 2006, Fico criticised the Euro-socialists and Hungarians, instead of dealing with the core of the matter - the SNS being part of the coalition."

Öllős recalled the statement from government spokesperson Silvia Glendová reacting to the suspension of Smer's membership on October 10, 2006.

"According to Robert Fico, the Smer party was punished for making policy for the people, for fighting against monopolies, and for not having the SMK in the government," she told Slovak media.

Last autumn, PES head Rasmussen explained his group's move quite differently.

"This is a question of our principles, which we have to defend if we want to be a trustworthy and strong European party," the TA3 private TV news channel quoted him as saying on October 13, 2006.

Last week, the day before attacking the Hungarian president, Fico criticised Rasmussen, saying he would "strongly protest" if PES kept Smer out again.


Beneš resolution still opposed


Dušan Kováč, a historian and vice-chair of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said the recent resolution on the Beneš decrees is redundant. The decrees are a historical document, not legally in force today.

"The decrees are a part of the post-war world order and they are not a part of the legal system, as some politicians in Hungary, Bavaria and also here try to claim," Kováč told The Slovak Spectator. "Our constitution simply does not allow the application of the principle of collective guilt."

Raising and re-opening the issue of Beneš decrees is wrong, Kováč said.

"Politicians in Slovakia, Hungary and Bavaria tend to raise this issue intentionally," he said. "I think this is not good. Things that happened in the past should be an issue for historians."

Mesežnikov said the resolution on the Beneš decrees is a completely useless document, which not only complicates the relationship between the Slovak and Hungarian Republics, but also between Slovaks and Hungarians living in Slovakia.

"It just confirms that the whole ruling coalition is under the sway of the Slovak National Party," he told The Slovak Spectator.

But it's not clear yet whether the tension between nationalist groups and the Slovak majority could escalate, Mesežnikov said.

"This depends mainly on Smer," he said. "If it continues in this direction, I think the situation can only deteriorate."


Beneš resolution still opposed


Dušan Kováč, a historian and vice-chair of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said the recent resolution on the Beneš decrees is redundant. The decrees are a historical document, not legally in force today.

"The decrees are a part of the post-war world order and they are not a part of the legal system, as some politicians in Hungary, Bavaria and also here try to claim," Kováč told The Slovak Spectator. "Our constitution simply does not allow the application of the principle of collective guilt."

Raising and re-opening the issue of Beneš decrees is wrong, Kováč said.

"Politicians in Slovakia, Hungary and Bavaria tend to raise this issue intentionally," he said. "I think this is not good. Things that happened in the past should be an issue for historians."

Mesežnikov said the resolution on the Beneš decrees is a completely useless document, which not only complicates the relationship between the Slovak and Hungarian Republics, but also between Slovaks and Hungarians living in Slovakia.

"It just confirms that the whole ruling coalition is under the sway of the Slovak National Party," he told The Slovak Spectator.

But it's not clear yet whether the tension between nationalist groups and the Slovak majority could escalate, Mesežnikov said.

"This depends mainly on Smer," he said. "If it continues in this direction, I think the situation can only deteriorate."


The Beneš decrees


From 1940 to 1945, when Czechoslovakia did not exist because it was de facto occupied, exiled president Edvard Beneš issued about 230 presidential decrees to address issues concerning Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Decree No. 33, drafted after consultations with the Slovak National Council, stripped Slovak citizens of Hungarian ethnicity of their civil rights. Their property was expropriated and about 90,000 ethnic Hungarians were deported to Hungary. Reciprocally and just as involuntarily, around 70,000 ethnic Slovaks were sent from Hungary to Czechoslovakia.

"The toughest measure against Hungarians was that the ruling powers resettled them in the Czech borderlands - empty areas from which the Germans were displaced," Dušan Kováč, a historian and vice-president of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, told The Slovak Spectator.

After 1948, citizens of Hungarian ethnicity were granted citizenship. A number of them also had their property returned. But not all of them, because in the meantime the law about the expropriation of property came into force and it applied to all citizens of Czechoslovakia, not only those of German and Hungarian nationality.

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