Even if Parliament decides to ratify Slovakia's treaty with Hungary when it convenes in December, one question will remain: Are both countries simply going through the motions with ratification or is there a real desire to improve relations?
When Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar and his Hungarian counterpart, Gyula Horn, signed the treaty on March 19, analysts hailed the pact as a giant leap forward in both countries' foreign policies. International organizations like the EU and NATO, which require proof of good bilateral relations for membership, smiled on the action. Taking the lead, the Hungarian government ratified the treaty, making it law, in June.
Slovak officials have taken longer, knocking ratification off the parliamentary agenda again and again. Still, parliament-watchers guessed that ratification would be a cinch. It already had the support of representatives of both the HZDS, Mečiar's party, and the Hungarian coalition, enough to ensure a majority. But now minority parties oppose it because they think it won't accomplish its true objective of improving relations.
Turning up the tension
"The argument is that a treaty like this should promote and develop good relations," said Eduard Kukan, a member of the foreign affairs committee from the Democratic Union (DU). "But as it is known, the two partners have different interpretations, we are afraid that instead of being a positive thing it will even increase the tension."
Kukan and other minority party members on the committee joined the Slovak National Party (SNS) on November 29 to abstain from voting on a committee resolution recommending ratification. After three hours of discussion, only HZDS deputies voted for the motion.
The DU is also concerned, Kukan said, over language from a recommendation of the European Parliament (recommendation #1201) included in the pact. This clause, Kukan said, "provides for the possibility of collective or group rights, and we think that this is simply unacceptable."
The DU's stand is strong enough, added Kukan, the former foreign minister, that it is likely his party will abstain from a floor vote. The minority had an odd partner in its camp, the Slovak National Party (SNS), which opposes the treaty also because it thinks it won't lead to any further cooperation.
"My position on this issue is, unfortunately, that the treaty's formulation is not precise enough," Jozef Prokeš, vice-chair of the SNS and a member of the foreign affairs committee, said before the debate. "It allows different interpretations in Hungary and the Slovak Republic. I am afraid that because of this, the treaty could be a new source of tension between our countries instead of leading to cooperation."
Observers point to the state language law for deteriorating support of the treaty, saying that it poisoned the air of Slovak-Hungarian relations. "This language law... is a step back in terms of the fulfilment of the language rights of minorities," said Gabor Szentivanyi, press spokesman for the Hungarian ministry of foreign affairs. "It's not compatible with some international laws and standards, and it's against the treaty as well because the treaty would like to extend the level of human and minority rights."
The criticism put Slovakia on the defensive. "We are prepared to ratify this agreement under the condition that attacks by the Hungarian government against Slovakia will stop," threatened Dušan Slobodník, the chairman of parliament's foreign affairs committee and a HZDS MP. "[Such attacks] are not in accordance with our wish to live [in a] friendly [manner] and to ratify the agreement."
Slobodník and others fear that the Hungarian government wants to protect the Magyar minority. "In Germany, this protective power is called Schutzmacht," he said calmly. "And we in Slovakia had our history of Schutzmacht in 1944-1945. We know what it means and we don't wish any more Schutzmacht or protective power for ? over Slovakia."