AFTER announcing its plans to form a "Slovak coalition" to weaken the influence of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) in local government, the opposition parties poured oil on one of its favourite fires: Hungarophobia.
Such dousing is nothing new. During the run up to the last regional elections, the parties whipped up warnings about the spreading success of the SMK, and anti-Hungarian sentiment became a uniting theme for several political forces.
For example, former Real Slovak National Party (SNS) boss Ján Slota stayed true to his party's nationalist agenda when he alarmed his voters that apathy towards the political process would unwittingly put them in the hands of the Hungarians.
With slightly milder rhetoric, Robert Fico conveyed the same message last week on behalf of Smer to its sympathisers.
Surprising, though, was the position taken by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), the SMK's coalition partner during the last regional elections. The KDH did not think that a widespread victory by the SMK in regional elections would benefit the state either.
The SMK has argued that reshuffling alliances to defeat a party based on the ethnic principle is not the way "modern, pro-European politics is done".
At the same time, the SMK would be wise to take it as a serious signal to further widen its minority focus.
The SMK has never made a secret of wanting to defend the interests of the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia. Nevertheless, it has been struggling to neutralise the accusation that the party has no agenda to drive it forward outside its fight for Hungarian minority rights and education.
It is interesting to note that the loudest critics of the SMK, such as nationalist parties like the SNS, would essentially shrink into oblivion if the Hungarian Coalition Party were to disappear, since they largely define themselves in terms of criticising the SMK.
From time to time, the SMK's ruling coalition partners have been critical of the Hungarians for being "too focused" on ethnic issues as well.
The SMK retorted that if Slovak politicians pursued these interests, the party would happily retire from politics.
Several members of the SMK have been given well-established positions on the Slovak political stage, perhaps because they are able to reap 10 percent of the vote during the election harvest.
The fact is that the SMK seems to have one of the most stable voter bases.
Most of the voters sympathise with the SMK for being members of the Hungarian minority. Some appreciate the way the SMK has been behaving over the past couple years. It would be extremely difficult for other parties to pick votes in the SMK's garden.
Opponents of the homogenous Hungarian party, including some Hungarians, have been listing arguments in favour of breaking the SMK into pieces. They say the tradition of one strong party built on the ethnic principle is historically corrupt. In the long run, they say, it will only serve to cut out the Hungarians from Slovakia's main political body.
Whatever its faults, the SMK has managed to maintain strong party discipline. Since its formation, the party has been untouched by the scourge that blights other parties - renegades leaving the party and establishing different caucuses in parliament.
In the past, many Slovaks have given the SMK credit for voting against laws manufactured by the Mečiar regime that were at odds with democratic principles.
The SMK rose from the ashes of the Hungarian Christian-Democratic Movement, the Hungarian Civil Initiative, and the Coexistence. While these parties were hostile to each other, the fight had little to do with differences in principles. Rather, it reflected the power struggles between the leaders: Béla Bugár, Miklós Duray and László Nagy.
In the end, these liberals and Christian democrats have done an exemplary job of unifying their former party lines.
The success of the SMK reveals that focus on the national minorities - in this case for the Hungarian minority - has great potential for being a unification force.
(One wonders, however, why the Roma have never been able to benefit from this unification force?)
Not all Hungarians were happy with the unification into the SMK, among them Duray, who had a special talent of provoking Slovak nationalists with every statement out of his mouth.
Duray suffered from the political Hungarian unification process the most, having been installed to the impotent post of honorary chairman. Ironically, the powerful chairmanship post was originally intended for the Coexistence.
The unification process was painful at first, as the Christian-Conservative platform seemed to consume the Civil-Liberal platform.
Early critics argued that the SMK was a typical "election party" tailored to collect the Hungarian vote.
Among Slovaks, Duray's name has become a symbol of the ever-dissatisfied ethnic Hungarian, whose heart beats exclusively for Budapest.
The SMK leadership has made a substantial effort to erase the notion of Hungarian "autonomy" from its political vocabulary. On several occasions, the party has stressed that the Hungarian minority wants to feel at home here. Slovakia is where they were born, and Slovakia is where they want to stay.
Obviously, the SMK has not entirely resolved its dilemma of whether to float its programme beyond ethnic borders or keep pursuing an agenda tailored to benefit the Hungarian minority.
Still, the SMK has defied expectations. When the SMK rose to power, political analysts claimed that only a non-standard political stage would allow liberals, conservatives and Christian democrats to function within a party glued by ethnic principle.
By Beata Balogová
8. Nov 2004 at 0:00