FEW foreign politicians wield as much influence in Slovakia as Viktor Orbán. The former and future Hungarian prime minister, a fan of a closer political union between Hungarians living in different countries of the Carpathian basin, is on the one hand adored by local Hungarian minority politicians. On the other, Prime Minister Robert Fico has in the past called his actions a “huge danger and threat for the Slovak Republic”.
So it was curious to see that after Orbán’s sweeping victory in the first round of Hungary’s recent parliamentary elections, most Slovak parties kept quiet, and Fico said he would talk to any new prime minister. The coalition Slovak National Party did call a press conference, where it declared that no one should deal with Orbán before he apologises to the Slovak people for various remarks the SNS finds offensive. But even that event wasn’t attended by party boss Ján Slota, Slovakia’s leading expert on inflammatory anti-Hungarian remarks, although it’s impossible to say whether we have a new-found sense of statesmanship or just a really tough weekend to thank for this.
In either case, despite Orbán’s decisive victory, mutual relations are surprisingly calm. All that may change after Hungary’s second round of elections, which will decide just how tight a grip his Fidesz party will have over the country, and will come just as Slovakia’s own parliamentary elections approach. Attacking Hungarians is a favourite Slovak campaign strategy, which last year helped Ivan Gašparovič secure the second round of the presidential election. But what may cause more tension than anything else is Orbán’s proposal to grant citizenship to Hungarian minorities living abroad, which he says will be one of the first things he does after he takes over. There are two ways of doing this. The first is that Hungarians in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, or the Ukraine will get citizenship, but not the right to vote. In which case there is little reason for concern, because these new “citizens” will in reality be no citizens at all. For what is citizenship without the right to vote?
Countries in the region commonly offer special advantages to compatriots living abroad, so if the government in Budapest only extends these and grants foreign Hungarians better access to education, funding for culture, or jobs, there is no reason for concern. EU rules guarantee fair and equal opportunities in most key areas, so there isn’t much scope for dramatic improvement, or any unjust discrimination.
However, if Orbán decides to give all new citizens the right to vote as well, it will be a different situation altogether. A tenth of Slovakia’s population would suddenly have a chance to elect not only the government of the country it is living in, but also that of its neighbour. Since it is impossible to ignore the votes of half a million people, any Hungarian administration will be under strong pressure to meddle in Slovakia’s internal affairs – simply because local issues matter most to people. Having two governments compete for control over the same territory is certain to lead to problems, whose measure and extent are impossible to foresee.
Given Fidesz’s strong support among Hungarians abroad the temptation to let them vote and secure the party a long-term majority may be very strong. Let’s hope for the sake of the region that Orbán is strong enough to resist it.
19. Apr 2010 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila