THE WIDELY-QUOTED claim that Eskimos have 400 different words for “snow” is probably completely false. If you want to amuse your friends with a similar anecdote, which by contrast is true, just replace Eskimos with Slovaks, 400 with two, and “snow” with “Hungary”.
Magyarország, Ungarn, and Hungary document that speakers of Hungarian, German, and English can make do with one term to describe the country in all its forms, shapes, and periods. Not so Slovaks, who use two distinctly different words – “Uhorsko” to describe the Hungarian Empire, of which Slovakia was a part, founded by St. Stephen in 1000 AD and dismembered by the post-World War I peace accords. And “Maďarsko” to describe what came afterwards. The distinction has much practical use. Believing that “Hungary wants to restore Hungary” wouldn’t make much sense. By contrast, the idea that “Maďarsko wants to restore Uhorsko” makes perfect sense to many Slovaks. Just how many can be seen by the reaction of the local political class after Hungarian president László Sólyom tried to visit the southern Slovak city of Komárno to uncover a statue of St. Stephen.
The government declared him persona non-grata. Opposition leader Mikuláš Dzurinda called the trip “a provocation”. All other parties held a similar view, except for the SMK and Most-Híd, which represent ethnic Hungarians. There is no other political issue which could ever generate such a broad political consensus as the condemnation of a planned visit by the Hungarian president.
Slovaks find it very easy to unify against Hungarians – a prime example is the coalition of Smer, HZDS, SDKÚ and KDH which formed in the southern region of Nitra ahead of the winter regional elections. The only thing all these sworn enemies have in common is that they are all Slovak.
The reason for all of this is simple – a large portion of Slovaks believe that Hungarians either want to fully renew Uhorsko, or at least annex the southern part of Slovakia, which has a large Hungarian minority. Perhaps not now, or any time soon, but some time in the future. Objections to Sólyom’s visit, or anti-Hungarian coalitions, are all just different expression of this one fear. Sadly, the rise of extremist nationalism in Hungary, and now a Molotov cocktail thrown at the Slovak embassy in Budapest seem to many to be further evidence that the fear of Hungarian irredentist tendencies is justified.
Uhorsko is an integral part of Slovak identity – the double-cross in the current Slovak flag was for centuries a symbol of the empire. One of the three blue hills on which the cross stands, is Matra, located in today’s Hungary. But given the popularity of nationalist politics in both countries and the fact that elections are coming up on both sides of the border, relations between the countries are likely to remain about as warm as winter in the Arctic.