JÁN SLOTA, the leader of the Slovak National Party (SNS), which is a member of Slovakia's governing coalition, has courted further international controversy with controversial comments aimed at a politician from neighbouring Hungary.
"This lady with the dishevelled hair: she could take more care of her appearance," Slota said on June 6, referring to Kinga Göncz, Hungary's foreign affairs minister.
Slota's barb followed comments by Göncz in which she had compared his party to the Hungarian Guard, a right-wing group operating in Hungary which some observers have described as fascist.
"I recommend that Mrs. [Göncz] takes the programme of the SNS and studies it," Slota said, "and, of course, [then] let her tell us what at least even approximates to the [policy] of the Hungarian Guard."
Last month, condescending comments by Slota about a former king of Hungary, St Stephen - referring to him as 'some Hungarian clown on horseback from Budapest' - led Hungary to postpone a meeting between the Slovak and Hungarian prime ministers.
Shortly afterwards, Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Ján Kubiš apologised to Göncz for Slota's comments. In an official statement, he described Slota's use of words as "unacceptable".
"Such statements about a politician from neighbouring state - and a woman - have no place in politics, and they do not represent the culture of the Slovak nation," Kubiš stated.
Hungary did not react to Slota's words. However, Lajos Szelestey, a spokesman for the Hungarian Foreign Affairs Ministry, did welcome Kubiš' apology in an interview with the public service broadcaster, Slovak Television (STV).
"This apology proves that there are still forces in Slovak politics who know what can help mutual Slovak-Hungarian relations and what harms them," he told STV on June 7.
Slovakia's prime minister, Robert Fico, did not immediately comment on Slota's words. It was left to Katarína Kližanová-Rýsová, a spokesperson for the Smer party, which Fico leads and which is the biggest partner in the governing coalition, to inform STV on June 7 that the prime minister "distanced himself" from the comments. But three days later, Fico defended the SNS as a stable coalition partner and criticised the earlier comments by Göncz.
"It is one thing how I address her, how I treat her, how I refer to her. Another thing is that even the lady minister cannot afford to say and do anything," Fico told journalists on June 10. "We are not a puppet country on a string," he added.
Fico said that his June 2006 decision to include the SNS in the coalition had been proved right. Moreover, he described the Hungarian Guard as a half-fascist, extremist organisation and said that the Hungarian government should be restricting the group's activities rather than comparing it to the SNS, which he said is not analogous.
Kubiš has also criticised the Hungarian Guard. Speaking during a June 1 discussion on STV - before Slota's comments - Kubiš called the group a fascist organisation: "It is an organisation which arranges marches under the fascist flags of the Second World War," Kubiš said, adding that this cannot be ignored.
Grigorij Mesežnikov, the head of the non-governmental think-tank the Institute for Public Affairs, speaking to The Slovak Spectator, said that there are differences between the Hungarian Guard and the SNS from a political standpoint. The SNS as a parliamentary party is radical and nationalist, whereas the Hungarian Guard is an extremist group which spreads and promotes fascism, he said. "But intellectually, one can detect some similar features," Mesežnikov stressed.
Mesežnikov recalled a statement by Slota from nine years ago, in which he called on Slovaks to get in their tanks and level Budapest. Mesežnikov said these words were also extremist.
"First of all, Slota should re-think what he has said during his whole political career," Mesežnikov said, "[Slota] has said things which I don't think even the Hungarian Guard has declared in such an open way."
According to Mesežnikov, in the case of Slota's statements referring to Göncz, his "anti-Hungarian nationalism combines with his rudeness, even rowdyism."
A former Slovak ambassador to Hungary, Štefan Markuš, told The Slovak Spectator that the words used about the Hungarian foreign minister by Slota would be perceived as disgusting and impolite, at the very least, in every society. "This only shows that Slovak politicians have not developed to a level where they can represent the state seriously," Markuš said.
"This belittles Slovakia and drags its name through the mud. Only illiterate people would normally use such expressions, those who do not know what a civilised attitude is, nor what is decent or natural," Markuš added.
Markuš said that, in his opinion, Slota's statement won't have a dramatic effect on Slovak-Hungarian relations. Even so, he added that resolution of the real difficulties that exist between Slovakia and Hungary has been delayed by such statements: "Again and again, our relations are not being solved or normalised - exactly because of these nonsensical attacks," Markuš stressed to The Slovak Specator.
Slota has a long record of controversial comments about Hungary. In 1999 he famously told a political meeting: "We will fight for our territory, for every square metre, and we will not yield a single square centimetre of it to those Hungarian bastards ... we will go to our tanks and then to Budapest, and level it to the ground."