‘Hungarian card’ played in parliament hours before EP elections

ON JUNE 3, the last day of campaigning allowed before European Parliament (EP) elections due on June 6, the Slovak parliament spent the day debating a resolution condemning statements by Viktor Orbán, the leader of the Hungarian right-wing opposition party Fidesz.

ON JUNE 3, the last day of campaigning allowed before European Parliament (EP) elections due on June 6, the Slovak parliament spent the day debating a resolution condemning statements by Viktor Orbán, the leader of the Hungarian right-wing opposition party Fidesz.

Orbán, who recent opinion polls in Hungary have suggested will become the country’s next prime minister, commented at a joint EP campaign meeting with the leader of Slovakia’s Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Pál Csáky, in Hungary on May 23 that the important thing in the elections is how many Hungarian MEPs will be elected to defend “the interests of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin”.

“This decision will determine the power of Hungarians in the European Parliament for the next five years,” said Orbán, adding that every ethnic Hungarian in Slovakia who takes part in the EP elections will be watched with “expectation” by Hungarians across the border, the TASR newswire reported.

Pavol Paška, the speaker of the Slovak parliament, convened the extraordinary session at the request of 50 governing coalition deputies led by Boris Zala, the chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and the top candidate of Smer, the largest of the coalition parties, in the EP elections. The MPs said Orbán’s statements were intended to create ethnic separation, deny the sovereignty of neighbouring countries, question the territorial integrity of Slovakia and instigate instability in central Europe, Paška’s spokesman, Jozef Plško, told the SITA newswire.

The ruling coalition said it wants to condemn “the open propagation of autonomist concepts”, which are against the current European arrangement and against the territorial integrity of Slovakia. According to the resolution, Pál Csáky is intensifying tensions between Hungary and Slovakia.

“Parliament is very concerned about the fact that the policy of the current SMK leadership is contributing to rising tensions between Hungary and Slovakia and ascribes greater importance to ethnic interests than to universal civil values and principles of European integration,” reads the resolution draft.

Slovak-Hungarian relations already carry the weight of different events and different statements, “but convening an extraordinary parliament session just a couple of days before the European elections in order for the political scene to react to a statement of an opposition Hungarian politician, however unacceptable the statement is, is political theatre in my view,” Grigorij Mesežnikov, a political analyst and the director of the Institute for Public Affairs, told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Mesežnikov, the session is an attempt to mobilise voters in the EP elections by playing the ‘Hungarian card’, but it is also intended to send a signal to Hungary, where Orbán is very likely to be successful in national elections next year.

Apart from that, the coalition is also trying to tar the SMK with scandal, Mesežnikov said.

Coalition MPs claim Orbán’s statements constitute a threat to Slovakia’s territorial integrity.

However, Mesežnikov said they should rather be understood in the context of political developments inside Hungary where Orbán, himself a nationalist politician, must currently compete for nationalist voters with even more radical groups, such as Jobbik, and therefore needs to show that he is defending the interests of Hungary, and Hungarian identity.

“Objectively, this is no threat to Slovak state interests,” Mesežnikov said. “From Slovakia’s point of view his statements were problematic, but it would be more than enough for Slovakia to act through diplomacy, without any unnecessary stirring of emotions.”

Opposition split over statements

Unlike Slovakia's other two main opposition parties, the SMK did not abstain from the June 3 parliamentary session. Csáky said prior to the session he would be sure to be there in order to defend himself.

The SMK rejected any scandal being attached to the meeting of its representatives with representatives from Fidesz, saying that the mutual support of these two political parties before the EP elections is a normal part of political culture.

Gyula Bárdos, the chairman of the SMK’s parliamentary caucus, called Wednesday’s extraordinary session a pre-election meeting of the parliament and compared it to the way the Hungarian card was played before the presidential election.

Deputies for the opposition Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKÚ) and Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH) did not attend the parliamentary session. Instead, they held a separate meeting where they called on the Hungarian parliament to support policies that would be in accordance with the values, aims, spirit and text of the Slovak-Hungarian contract on good neighbourly relations. They condemned any statements that support nationalism, hatred, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, extremism or steps that do not respect the inviolability of frontiers, SITA reported.

KDH leader Hrušovský said Csáky must be clear about the SMK’s attitude to Orbán’s politics, otherwise cooperation between his party and the SMK would be difficult.

“The KDH and the SDKÚ are now under pressure from the nationalist interpretation of recent events, but despite this the three opposition parties are destined to cooperate,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “Certainly, it will not add to the mutual trust between the opposition parties, but it will not undermine their cooperation that significantly.”

The SDKÚ and KDH also called on the government to use the tools of bilateral cooperation between Slovakia and Hungary. They also criticised the parliamentary session which they said was convened only to cover the government’s incapability and non-transparent actions, SITA reported. According to SDKÚ leader Mikuláš Dzurinda, the ruling coalition is merely trying to play the Hungarian card again, on the last day of the European election campaign, using the taxpayers’ money.

During the parliamentary session Prime Minister Robert Fico denied that the coalition was playing the Hungarian card by initiating the session to debate Orbán and Csáky.

“It wasn’t us who set the topic of political unification of the Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin as the topic of the election campaign before the European elections,” Fico said, adding that it is the representatives of right-wing, conservative, Greater-Hungarian ideology who reached for this card, SITA reported.

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