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Lajčák goes to Budapest

THE NEW Slovak foreign affairs minister, Miroslav Lajčák, says that the presence of the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) in the ruling coalition is not a problem. And three weeks after taking office he visited Budapest in an effort to smooth relations with Hungary, which began to deteriorate noticeably after the SNS became part of the ruling coalition in June 2006.

THE NEW Slovak foreign affairs minister, Miroslav Lajčák, says that the presence of the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) in the ruling coalition is not a problem. And three weeks after taking office he visited Budapest in an effort to smooth relations with Hungary, which began to deteriorate noticeably after the SNS became part of the ruling coalition in June 2006.

But political analysts remain sceptical about the results of his effort. As long as the SNS remains in government, they say, Slovak-Hungarian relations will not improve much.

We are neighbours, allies; we are joined in the European Union (EU) and in NATO – this is how Miroslav Lajčák characterized Slovak-Hungarian relations while in Budapest.

“We have a whole range of issues where we cooperate closely, where our opinions and stances are every close,” Lajčák said at a press conference in Budapest, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “These issues are more numerous than those on which we cannot agree.”

Hungary's foreign minister, Kinga Göncz, added that the recent energy crisis and the deepening economic crisis have shown that the two countries must rely on each other.

“We will have to act jointly,” Göncz said.

In the economic plans of the EU there are several projects that connect both countries, for instance, the inter-connection of gas pipelines, Göncz continued.

“There are many more projects that we must find money for, so that we can talk about energy security in this region,” Göncz said.

The Hungarian side did not broach the issue of SNS participation in the cabinet during Lajčák’s visit. However, Lajčák told the press conference that even though there were some doubts when the government of Robert Fico started its term, it has proven to be a good pro-European, democratic government in the two-and-a-half years of its existence.

Göncz restated that Hungary expects the Slovak government to stick to its pledge to maintain a high level of minority rights.

Lajčák responded by pointing out that the Slovak minority in Hungary must also have secure conditions for everyday development of its culture and language.

According to official statistics from 2001, there are up to 18,000 Slovaks living in Hungary, though unofficial sources claim that the number could be as many as 70,000.

According to Slovakia’s 2001 census, there are about 500,000 Slovak citizens of Hungarian ethnicity, or 10 percent of the population.

Lajčák added that he agreed with his Hungarian counterpart that their personal political maturity, the basic treaty between Slovakia and Hungary and EU mechanisms were sufficient to solve any problems in their relationship.

Moreover, good relations between the countries are crucial for minorities in both countries to be satisfied, according to Lajčák.

Ján Škoda, the foreign minister’s spokesman, told The Slovak Spectator that the ministers talked mainly about ways of resolving the economic and financial crisis. Škoda stressed that the Slovak ministry considered the visit to be very successful for both sides.

“After all, this was also proven by [Lajčák’s] audience with the Hungarian president and prime minister,” Škoda said. “It is significant that both sides confirmed that bilateral relations were much better than they sometimes seem to be from media reports.”

Hungary's prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány, confirmed that an invitation had been extended to Slovakia's prime minister, Robert Fico, as well. The visit should take place in spring in Budapest.
Minister Lajčák stressed, according to Škoda, that there will be an effort to build on what connects Slovaks and Hungarians, rather than what has been dividing them.

“This is about the present and the future, not the past - where we probably will never share the same opinion about history,” Lajčák said at the Budapest press conference.

Political analysts sceptical

Political analyst László Öllös said that the current bilateral talks were helped by the economic crisis which has created an atmosphere in which both sides feel an urge to agree and settle former disputes.

“It would be advantageous for each side in these hard economic times if the situation calmed down and relations started improving,” Öllös said to The Slovak Spectator. “But this situation is very fragile.”

He added that the presence of the SNS in the cabinet will not be favourable for the development of good Slovak-Hungarian relations.

Öllös referred to an amendment to the Act on State Language perpared by the SNS.

“The text that is currently known basically excludes languages of ethnic minorities from public life,” Öllös said. “If the amendment is passed, it would cause enormous tension, bigger than anything else.”

Political analysts Kálmán Petőcz and Károly Tóth agree with Öllös’ opinion. In a statement published on their website Foruminst.sk at the end of January, they wrote that the government has constantly questioned the loyalty of the Hungarian minority, while the representatives of the Hungarian minority only wish to be respected as equal citizens having the same rights.

“We protest against limiting the right of members of ethnic minorities to use their language,” they wrote.

Slota statements still reverberate

According to political analysts, Slovak-Hungarian relations began to worsen because of anti-Hungarian statements made by the chairman of the Slovak National Party (SNS), Ján Slota. He repeatedly disparaged Göncz, describing her as “a lady with dishevelled hair”. Last year on October 5, Slota even compared Göncz to Hitler.

“I can compare her to [Sudeten Nazi leader Konrad] Henlein’s people and that moustachioed man from the pub in Munich, who said the same kind of things as that lady I have already mentioned several times today. Maybe she is already growing a moustache,” Slota said.

On the same day, referring to the Hungarian turul, a mythical falcon and national symbol and to Hungarians in general, Slota characterised them as “these robbers, murderers, and those who erect these ugly, disgusting turuls, these Hungarian parrots.”

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