THE TOKAY vineyards in Slovakia cover an area of 908 hectares.
photo: Courtesy of Jaroslav Ostrožovič
The wine was produced in the Upper Hungary part of the Habsburg empire, which included some of today's Slovakia. In 1737 a law was passed stating which municipalities had the right to mark their wines "Tokay", and in 1908, another law determined the precise geographic limits of the Tokay area, which have expanded slightly since then.
The empire collapsed in 1918 and the Tokay winemaking region was split, thrusting its fate into the hands of two separate countries. The larger part, almost 90 per cent of it, went to Hungary, and the rest went to Slovakia, then Czechoslovakia.
Because of the exclusivity of the wine and the uniqueness of the region where its grapes grow, the two countries started to fight over the region from the moment the empire fell.
But while Hungary systematically developed its part of the region, Slovakia did not. Moreover, when Czechoslovakia split in 1993, Slovakia failed to renew its right to the trademark, which made Hungary the exclusive exporter of Tokay wine to the EU.
Then, in December 2000, Hungary nominated its Tokay region to be included on the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), a move designed to protect the region and ensure financial support for it. Hungary was listed in June 2002, pushing Slovakia even further from the lucrative markets in the West.
A BUNCH of grapes infected with the fungus botrytis cinerea.
photo: Courtesy of Jaroslav Ostrožovič
However, Hungary dismissed the conjunctive proposal, leading Slovak ministers to suggest the southern country instead widen its definition in the UNESCO entry to include the Slovak part of the Tokay region. But two rounds of negotiation on this matter failed last January.
"[Hungary] wanted to establish the Slovak part of the Tokay region only as a buffer zone, extending the core of the region that is in Hungary. We refused that. They also wanted to judge whether the Slovak side fulfils the declared criteria for acceptance on the list, but only ICOMOS [the advising body at the UNESCO committee] is responsible for that," said Jarmila Pátková, deputy director at the Research Institute of Viticulture, which prepared the nomination.
As a result, Slovakia chose to officially submit its own nomination on February 1, 2003.
"Because [talks with Hungary] broke down, Slovakia decided to submit an individual nomination for its Tokay region with the hope that Hungary would reevaluate its decision [and agree to a wider definition]," states the Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry.
In the past, UNESCO has been more willing to widen the boundaries of World Heritage Sites than to grant individual World Heritage status to regions that lie side by side. One example is the cave system of Aggtelek and Slovak Karst on either side of the Slovak-Hungaria border, which is listed as one site, not two.
The haste with which the individual nomination was put together resulted in the World Heritage Committee deeming the application incomplete during negotiations in Paris in the middle of last month, and sending it back for more work.
Slovak conservationists, however, view the decisions positively, suggesting that the step might finally provoke government interest in the long-neglected region.
"The [Agriculture] Ministry has taken a very constructive attitude towards the issue. They understand that a lot must be invested into the region to revitalise it before the [UNESCO] nomination should be resubmitted," Katarína Kosová, general director of the Monument Board of Slovakia told The Slovak Spectator.
At the Paris meeting, representatives of Hungary, Slovakia, and UNESCO agreed on supporting cooperation in the region. UNESCO also nominated an expert to help resolve the countries' dispute.
But while the inclusion of Slovakia's Tokay region on the UNESCO list would bring more tourism to the country, the driving force behind the nomination is getting back the trademark for Slovak Tokay, which would give Slovak producers a chance to compete on the European stage.
"The UNESCO action is a support mechanism to ongoing negotiations about acquiring the trademark. Aspiring for the trademark, the Agriculture Ministry sees the importance of getting recognition that the region is a site of world heritage significance," Kosová explained.
Pátková agreed, saying: "[Inclusion on the World Heritage List] would help us win the trademark needed to export the wine to EU markets. The EU acknowledges that we are also part of the Tokay region, however they leave the decision about the trademark to us and Hungary."
14. Apr 2003 at 0:00 | Zuzana Habšudová