Slovak-Hungarian tensions heat up

WHILE top Slovak and Hungarian politicians are continuing what political observers call a protracted conflict, academics say Hungarian-Slovak relations must be quickly settled on both the ethnic and international levels.

WHILE top Slovak and Hungarian politicians are continuing what political observers call a protracted conflict, academics say Hungarian-Slovak relations must be quickly settled on both the ethnic and international levels.

Ruling coalition politicians are blaming Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian party and Hungary's top political representatives for causing the eroding relations. Members of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and top Hungarian officials counter that the Slovak ruling coalition is guilty.

The latest conflict started after the Slovak parliament passed a resolution on the inviolability of the Beneš Decrees in September.

The SMK originally wanted the Slovak Parliament to apologise for the violent removal of ethnic-Hungarian citizens from Slovakia, as a result of the so-called Beneš Decrees.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico flatly rejected the notion that the Slovak parliament aggravated relations with Hungary by passing the resolution, saying Slovakia has become the victim of an internal political fight in Hungary.

"As far as I know, it's the Hungarian officials who are abusing their so-called private visits to Slovakia to attack Slovak institutions," he said in an interview for Austrian daily Die Presse published on October 10. "Moreover, I would like to remind you that all Slovak parliamentary parties except for the Hungarian one - even the opposition - supported the declaration of the Slovak parliament."

Fico was referring to the private visits of Hugarian President László Sólyom and Speaker of Hungarian Parliament Katalin Szilli. Both Sólyom and Szilli met SMK representatives during their unofficial visits to Slovakia.

Slovak Foreign Minister Ján Kubiš said the blame lies with Hungarian politicians. In an interview for the Czech daily Lidové Noviny, he criticised SMK chairman Pál Csáky, saying he made an act of "political sabotage" by suggesting a mutual apology on the part of Slovaks and Hungarians, and proposing compensations for Hungarians affected by the Beneš Decrees.

"The way Csáky did it, this should not be done," Kubiš said. "It was just a bomb set off in Slovak-Hungarian relations."

Kubiš said the Hungarian president was walking on thin ice with his trip to the south of Slovakia.

"The rules of game of diplomatic protocol are there in order to be mutually predictable," he told the Czech paper. "When these rules are intentionally not respected, then nothing works. This is a very dangerous phenomenon in relations between states.

"For example, it reminds me of the travels of Serbian officials to ethnic minorities in neighbouring countries. It resembles the Balkans very strongly."

The SMK flatly rejected Kubiš's statements. His comments are just deflecting attention from the real problems in Slovak-Hungarian relations, according to an SMK statement.

The SMK considers the real problem to be the fact that the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) initiated resolutions that are problematic from the point of view of democratic values, and Fico seems unable to restrain the SNS.

"It was not the SMK, but the SNS, that submitted the draft declaration about the untouchability of the Beneš Decrees to the parliament, which contradicts Article 6 of the EU Treaty," the SMK statement reads. "It is unfortunate that the policy of the Smer party moved closer to the methods of the SNS, and not the other way around."

The SMK also feels Kubiš's statements were an attack on the Hungarian minority, the statement said.

In a recent interview on the public Slovak Radio, Culture Minister Marek Maďarič denied that ethnicity was the reason for the deportations under the Beneš Decrees.

"No single Hungarian was expatriated and relocated only because of being Hungarian," Maďarič said in the October 6 interview. Instead, he said the decrees only applied to "persons publicly unreliable, or foreign citizens".

Historians immediately said Maďarič's statement was wrong. Historian Milan Zemko told the Sme daily that Slovak citizens of Hungarian nationality were indeed expatriated by force after the Second World War.

"They were not Czechoslovak citizens because the state deprived them of Czechoslovak citizenship," he said. "They were people who had their homes here."

Intellectuals warn of conflicts

Political analyst and president of the Institute for Public Affairs think-tank Grigorij Mesežnikov said ruling coalition politicians are intentionally stoking the Slovak-Hungarian tensions.

"Maďarič's statement that deportations were not made because of national reasons was just another sign that the ruling coalition politicians are not aiming for reconciliation," Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator.

"The ruling coalition parties are nurturing this growing Slovak-Hungarian conflict. Unfortunately, the SNS dragged the whole political scene into nationalist waters."

According to social scientist Fedor Gál, a leader of the Velvet Revolution in Slovakia which overturned the communist regime in 1989, Slovak-Hungarian relations are developing in a stupid way.

He told The Slovak Spectator that the Beneš Decrees are an old wound.

"The Beneš Decrees were a criminalisation organised by state, robbing property, violent deportations. As a Jew, I am sensitive to such things," Gál said. "It is stupid to return to this issue. It is sad, nothing but sad."

Political experts have started expressing fears that this turbulence could lead to severe conflicts between Slovakia and Hungary.

"Both Hungary and Slovakia are EU members, but I think that Slovak-Hungarian relations must be put in order very quickly and very comprehensively, as there is the seed of a grave conflict here," said analyst Péter Hunčík, former advisor of the former Czechoslovak and Czech president Václav Havel.

Hunčík organised a petition signed by more than 100 Slovak and Hungarian intellectuals that was published on October 11. In the petition, the intellectuals protested against the animosity and called for a normal coexistence to ward off this conflict.

"This situation endangers the general stability of Slovakia," Hunčík told The Slovak Spectator.

The petition says that not only politicians, but also Slovak and Hungarian intellectuals bear responsibility for the current situation.

"The genesis of a worsened relationship has bilateral roots," Hunčík said. "It cannot be said that only one side was responsible."

On October 7, former U.S. president Bill Clinton drew attention to the worsening of Slovak-Hungarian relations in Budapest. He said these relations have to be resolved as soon as possible to the satisfaction of both sides.

"Otherwise, the escalation of tensions is imminent," Clinton said, according to the TASR newswire.

He even compared the current situation to developments in Ireland that resulted in violent conflicts in the past, or to the situation in Middle East with fights between Arabs and Israelis.

Gál did not agree with his comparison, saying the local situation is nothing like the Middle East.

"I have no idea where Clinton got such a thing," Gál said. "We will spit on each other, but not shoot each other. We are too close to each other for that."

Hunčík thinks Clinton meant his words rather as a warning; however, he does not agree with the comparison, either.

"In this region, such models have not been used for several centuries, conflicts have not been resolved in a bloody way," he said.

But he stressed that in spite of this, the situation must not be underplayed.

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