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Hungarian leader accuses cabinet colleague of racism

Slovak Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncoš said he would never support a Hungarian for the post of chairman of the Board of Directors of the Slovak land fund. But he was willing to go to court to prove that he is not a racist.
In a convoluted battle between the reformed communist SDĽ party and the Hungarian Coalition SMK party, SDĹ member Koncoš threatened to file charges last week against the chairman of the SMK, Béla Bugár, after Bugár accused him of making racist comments in connection with the land fund leadership.
Although Koncoš finally withdrew his threat after four days, and although both parties declared themselves satisfied, the disagreement highlighted building discord between the two government coalition parties.

Slovak Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncoš said he would never support a Hungarian for the post of chairman of the Board of Directors of the Slovak land fund. But he was willing to go to court to prove that he is not a racist.

In a convoluted battle between the reformed communist SDĽ party and the Hungarian Coalition SMK party, SDĹ member Koncoš threatened to file charges last week against the chairman of the SMK, Béla Bugár, after Bugár accused him of making racist comments in connection with the land fund leadership.

Although Koncoš finally withdrew his threat after four days, and although both parties declared themselves satisfied, the disagreement highlighted building discord between the two government coalition parties.

"The problem is that agreements are not abided by," Bugár said of the tension. "There is constant pressure from the SDĽ. The Hungarian party has problems only with the SDĽ. The other two coalition parties [the Slovak Democratic Coalition and the Party of Civic Reconciliation] give in to the SDĽ at the expense of the SMK. It's impossible to rule like that for four years," Bugár said.

Not even if he was from Detva

The fight over the directorship of the Slovak Land Fund started on February 10, when Koncoš broke a verbal promise made during the formation of the government coalition to give the post to the Hungarian party.

"We wanted the post, because we had prepared a new concept for Slovak agriculture, which would help it in the process of EU entry," said SMK deputy Pál Farkas, adding that 70% of Hungarians living in Slovakia are directly involved in agriculture.

In the face of strong SDĽ opposition, the SMK relented and requested the lesser position of the chairman of the board of directors. However, that was also not accepted by Koncoš.

"We [the SDĽ] won't appoint a Hungarian [to the post] because of a higher principle," Koncoš said, adding that he "wouldn't support a Hungarian candidate even if he was from Detva [a central Slovak city dominated by ethnic Slovaks]."

A livid Bugár took the comment as a racial insult. "The statements of Mr. Koncoš are on the brink of nationalism and racism," he said, adding that even other members of the SDĽ felt that Koncoš sometimes crossed the line of acceptable behaviour.

Bugár continued that the country couldn't be ruled if parties ignored the promises they made in the coalition agreement signed last October. "This [political blind alley] then becomes a question not of what the SMK will do, but what the whole government coalition will do," he added.

Koncoš reacted to Bugar's statements on March 19 with a public announcement that he was filing charges against Bugár for slander. He was supported in this move by Peter Weiss, an SDĽ deputy chairman.

"Koncoš's decision is the result of permanent media pressure on his person, as well as the SMK's pursuit of ethnic and regional interests," Weiss said, adding that the core of the problem between the two men lay in their different visions of the future of Slovak agriculture.

But other members of the SDĽ were disapproving of Koncoš' behaviour. "I don't think that filing charges amongst the members of the ruling coalition can lead to its stability and credibility," said Ľubomír Andrassy, deputy chairman of the SDĽ, adding that the party would prefer a political solution over a court battle.

Catastrophe averted?

Koncoš decided to withdraw his threat after a meeting between the SDĽ and the SMK on March 23. The two parties said they had come to an agreement over how the post of the chairman of the Land Fund's Supervisory Board would be filled, although neither would discuss its terms. Neither has apologised yet for his role in the affair.

Jozef Migaš, chairman of the SDĽ, said that matters had been smoothly resolved despite the absence of public contrition from either side. "The most important thing is that both parties realised that it's important to meet in cases like this and clarify their visions," he said.

But Ľuboš Kubín, a political scientist with the Slovak Academy of Science in Bratislava, said the friction was proof that the coalition had a poor mechanism for solving internal disputes.

"The main problem of the current coalition, and in this case specially of the SMK and the SDĽ, is that they filter every single disputable issue through the media," said Kubín.

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