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Riled SMK storms out of reform negotiations

The threat of the Hungarian Coalition Party, one of the five pillars of Slovakia's coalition government, to walk out on its coalition partners was renewed March 2 after the other four government parties refused to consider Hungarian suggestions as to how a crucial reform might be carried out.
Political representatives of the Hungarians, Slovakia's largest ethnic minority, stormed out of negotiations after the Party of the Democratic Left, the Christian Democrats Party, the Slovak Democratic Coalition and the Party of Civic Reconciliation declined to discuss Hungarian proposals for the reform of Slovakia's public administration.
The reforms are expected to re-draw regional borders in Slovakia, creating 12 new regions compared to today's eight. The conflict between the Hungarian party (SMK) and its partners has arisen over the creation of a so-called 'Komárno Region' in southern Slovakia, where most Hungarians live. The SMK had wanted the region to comprise the most populous Hungarian districts, giving the minority a greater say in any new regional government; the Slovak parties had objected, saying this would be tantamount to dividing Slovakia along ethnic lines (see story, page 2).


Béla Bugár wants to be heard...
photo: TASR


"What would the [SMK] gain [by walking out on the coalition]? Probably not more voter support. And what would they lose? They would not be able to push through their interests."

SDĽ member Milan Ištván


The threat of the Hungarian Coalition Party, one of the five pillars of Slovakia's coalition government, to walk out on its coalition partners was renewed March 2 after the other four government parties refused to consider Hungarian suggestions as to how a crucial reform might be carried out.

Political representatives of the Hungarians, Slovakia's largest ethnic minority, stormed out of negotiations after the Party of the Democratic Left, the Christian Democrats Party, the Slovak Democratic Coalition and the Party of Civic Reconciliation declined to discuss Hungarian proposals for the reform of Slovakia's public administration.

The reforms are expected to re-draw regional borders in Slovakia, creating 12 new regions compared to today's eight. The conflict between the Hungarian party (SMK) and its partners has arisen over the creation of a so-called 'Komárno Region' in southern Slovakia, where most Hungarians live. The SMK had wanted the region to comprise the most populous Hungarian districts, giving the minority a greater say in any new regional government; the Slovak parties had objected, saying this would be tantamount to dividing Slovakia along ethnic lines (see story, page 2).

"This is proof that our coalition partners do not consider us as equal," said SMK head Béla Bugár. "The SMK presented five alternative proposals [four of which did not contain the controversial Komárno region], none of which they even considered. This shows what our partners think of our relationship."

Bugár said that since the Hungarians first entered the government coalition, their demands had continuously been rejected. "We do everything to keep the coalition together, but our efforts are not enough. We need help from our coalition partners."


...but Migaš's SDĽ isn't listening.
photo: Spectator archives

But other coalition party members said they were not overly concerned with the SMK's threat to leave. Milan Ištván, a member of parliament for the Party of the Democratic Left, asked: "What would they gain [by walking out]? Probably not more voter support. And what would they lose? They would not be able to have an impact on politics, they would not be able to push through their interests, and they would lose their position in the government."

Ištván said he believed the SMK would not risk leaving, and that the recent storm would settle. "If they did leave, God forbid, it would hurt the reform process, because it is always better when more parties participate in the passage of reforms," he said. He added, however, that the SMK's departure would not cripple the passage of laws. "We would be able to get reforms through without the SMK. We would just have to make sure that we always had 76 votes in parliament."

The SMK's departure from the coalition had been mooted last year, but was revived at what the Hungarians regarded as bad faith on the part of their partners after the SMK added its support to a crucial constitutional amendment two weeks ago in return for what the Hungarians say was a promise to discuss their demands. Bugár said that the Hungarians had come to the table willing to negotiate, as only one of their five proposals for regional reform included the controversial Komárno county. "But they didn't even look at the other four," he said.

After the SMK left the negotiations, Dzurinda tried to downplay the significance of the defection. "The most important thing is that the SMK shut the door, but they didn't slam it," he said, suggesting that negotiations had not concluded and that a compromise with the SMK could still be reached.

But on the second day of the negotiations, the remaining coalition parties said that they would begin the reform "with or without the SMK".

"[These coalition] statements were not very diplomatic, it was basically blackmailing of a partner in the media," said Ištván. "On the other hand, as a member of parliament I feel the pressure of Slovak citizens, who also consider the SMK's Komárno Region proposals to be blackmail. And the pressure of the Slovak public is too great and too strong."

Without the SMK MPs, the coalition has 75 votes. To pass the reforms in parliament, all that is needed is a simple majority of the 150 seat parliament, so the reform may theoretically be started without the SMK. In reality, however, this would create problems for Slovakia concerning its western ambitions.

"The situation is so serious that if the SMK does not vote in support of the reforms, it will be a very bad signal abroad concerning the stability of the government," said SMK parliamentary caucus head Gyula Bárdos. "This is especially crucial this year, when Slovakia's invitation to join NATO will be decided upon."

The SMK maintain that they will condition their support of the reforms on whether their demands are considered. Bugár said that refusal of SMK demands was a case of the coalition partners "playing the nationality card. They are creating the impression that by refusing our demands, they protect the interest of the Slovak nation, and thus gain votes." He stressed, however, that his party's proposals were in no way meant to harm Slovaks.

When asked if the SMK party would lose voter support if their proposals could not be pushed through, Bugár said that "our voters are still waiting on an agreement, that is why we are so patient."

Hungarians, he said, would continue to call for further negotiations in hopes of finding common ground on the public administration reform. But given the hard-line stance of its partners, it appears that the SMK will be unsuccessful in pushing through its proposed Komárno Region.

"The question of Komárno Region remains totally unacceptable for us," Ištván said.

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