THE HISTORY of the Central European region needs to be handled with special care, especially when it comes to Slovak-Hungarian relations, historians on both sides of the Slovak-Hungarian border agree.
Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Gyurcsány agreed in June 2007 that the two nations would jointly produce a history textbook covering the co-existence of Hungarians and Slovaks. The prime ministers said that the textbook should help overcome prejudices, many of which are born out of insufficient knowledge of historical facts.
Though a Hungarian-Slovak Commission has already started working on the common textbook, the Slovak Education Ministry, led by Ján Mikolaj, a nominee of the Slovak National Party (SNS), said in mid February that the ministry knows nothing about it.
The commission, according to the spokeswoman of the Education Ministry, Dana Španková, is operating under Deputy Prime Minister Dušan Čaplovič, a nominee of the ruling Smer party who is responsible for developing a knowledge-based society.
Španková also said that the Education Ministry has a different commission, which has not yet started to work.
However, no state official has officially confirmed that both commissions have been tasked with working on the history book.
Education Minister Mikolaj said that Slovak and Hungarian historians should present a unified opinion on all historical events. However, Čaplovič responded that only experts on Marxism-Leninism, the official philosophical doctrine of communist regimes, have a common opinion on everything.
In September, chairmen of the Slovak-Hungarian Commission László Szarka, Hungarian historian, and Štefan Šutaj, historian with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, started working on an outline of the textbook, which should serve as an alternative for secondary schools in Slovakia and Hungary.
In contrast to the current Slovak and Hungarian textbooks, this book would not stress ethnicity and would not be confrontational, commision member and historian Viliam Kratochvíl told the SITA news wire on February 7.
"It should not speak about just Hungarians and Slovaks, but also about other nations that have lived for centuries in the Hungarian empire," Kratochvíl said. "It would present the history of the Carpathian basin without ingrained stereotypes and prejudices and without creating the image of some enemy. We intend to show this multi-cultural environment through a new lens, which probably won't please everybody."
Szarka said he believes that Slovak and Hungarian historians will be able to cooperate if they use the language of professionals.
"This generation of Slovak and Hungarian professional historians can and want to cooperate," Szarka told SITA on February 7. "We can interpret history without any ideologisation while creating a common terminology and speaking in neutral professional categories."
Szarka has confirmed that the Hungarian partner has already allocated funds for the textbook. However, the Slovak side has not yet done so.
The process of creating the textbook has also turned up some discrepancies.
Since January, Mikolaj has been stressing that writing a textbook presenting various opinions on history does not solve anything. He even suggested that if that is the case, the history book would be pointless.
"That wouldn't be logical," Mikolaj told the Markíza TV channel. "They either agree to write a common book, or they will put their separate opinions in and everything will be like it is today."
Čaplovič said that Mikolaj was wrong.
"I do not know of a single textbook - except for [one] on Marxism-Leninism, which would present just one point of view," Čaplovič told a press conference on January 30.
He added that the importance of the textbook will be the fact that it presents different opinions on historical events.
"There are landmark periods on which we will have different opinions, and I can imagine that the views of both Slovak and Hungarian politicians will be presented in both Hungarian and Slovak," Čaplovič said.
Historian and Vice-chairman of the Slovak Academy of Sciences Dušan Kováč agreed with Čaplovič.
"It is not necessary for the opinion to be unified," Kováč told The Slovak Spectator. "There cannot be a textbook with a unified opinion. A unified opinion is something we can just forget about."
Political observers assume that Mikolaj's take on the textbook is influenced by his party affiliation. The SNS is known for its belligerent attitude towards Hungary and Hungarians.
"We will get into our tanks and level Budapest," SNS leader Jan Slota said on Radio Twist on March 8, 1999. "We will fight for our territories, for square metres, for every square metre."
Again, on January 14, 2002, Slota told the Nový Čas daily: "They (the Hungarians) kick us in the head and we talk about friendly neighbourly relationships. Let us hope that in the end Hungarian national colours will not appear on Kriváň and Lomnický Štít."
Mikolaj and Čaplovič have also failed to agree on who would be leading the commission. Čaplovič said it was Šutaj, but Mikolaj said he appointed the historian Robert Letz, who closely cooperates with the national heritage institution Matica Slovenská.
"How can Mr. Letz be a chairman of any commission, when this move was not first consulted with me - I am responsible for these things," Čaplovič told the news website Aktualne.sk.
Last summer, Letz was appointed chairman of the editorial council of the Nation's Memory (Pamäť Národa) magazine published by the Nation's Memory Institute.
In September 2007, the Jewish Religious Community protested against his appointment suggesting that he was too sympathetic with the wartime Slovak state, which was a mere satellite of Nazi Germany, and towards its representatives.
Španková said that the Culture Ministry is waiting for a meeting with the Hungarian partner to be arranged.
"Our side is still waiting for the meeting and a reaction from the Hungarian side," she told The Slovak Spectator.