EDITORIAL

The pre-election battle to separate 'them' and 'us'

GRAMMAR can open unbridgeable gaps with just a single four-letter word. In political discourse minorities are often condemned to the third-person plural: “they”, as opposed to the hulking “we” of the majority. Doubtless, more often than not, minorities would also talk about the majority nation as “them” as opposed to “we”. While some might suggest confining such observations to post-modern academic discourse on the alienation of the “other”, the recent political debate over the so-called Hungarian dual-citizenship bill reveals that sometimes the division is already embedded in the language used by politicians on both sides.

GRAMMAR can open unbridgeable gaps with just a single four-letter word. In political discourse minorities are often condemned to the third-person plural: “they”, as opposed to the hulking “we” of the majority. Doubtless, more often than not, minorities would also talk about the majority nation as “them” as opposed to “we”. While some might suggest confining such observations to post-modern academic discourse on the alienation of the “other”, the recent political debate over the so-called Hungarian dual-citizenship bill reveals that sometimes the division is already embedded in the language used by politicians on both sides.

Certainly, Slovak National Party (SNS) deputy chairwoman Anna Belousovová, with her outbursts about the Hungarian threat looming over Slovakia, perfectly illustrates the nationalist recipe for stirring up pre-election fury among those susceptible to every kind of threat that the SNS claims Hungary represents for Slovakia.

Belousovová has no doubts about what lies behind Hungary’s dual citizenship law: since new citizens will not get the right to vote, Belousovová said, it is obvious that Hungary only wants “them” as a colony instead of wanting them to come home.

“They don't need THEM in Hungary,” said Belousovová. “Hungary is in massive social trouble. They need THEM to be in Slovakia.”

Again, without getting involved in complicated hermeneutic analysis of something that does not really deserve such attention, the statement illustrates the attitude of at least one of the ruling parties towards 500,000 people in Slovakia. They are the “THEY”.

Politicians of this country have not really made many statements that would make ethnic Hungarians feel they were part of the inclusive “WE”. Yet, this is before we even start examining the statements targeting the Roma community, which has always been the ultimate “other” in political talk. Aside from anything else, this is because there are not that many Roma politicians running around to embed the “we” in the national discourse.

With that approach, Slovak politicians should not be surprised if there are ethnic Hungarians who will happily apply for the dual citizenship that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán plans to offer them. In fact, on an unnamed social networking site, some non-Hungarian Slovaks have already said that if applying for dual citizenship would mean an act of protest against the SNS’ presence in the ruling coalition, they would happily do so. Yet, this is somehow the point: that if ethnic Hungarians apply for dual citizenship it will be a symbolic act, because for them Hungarian citizenship would have more of a symbolic significance, as political analyst Miroslav Kusý has suggested.

No matter how much Prime Minister Robert Fico proclaims his outrage at the Hungarian legislative proposal, which in fact has the worst possible timing when considering the nearing parliamentary elections in Slovakia, he should be grateful to his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán for handing him the perfect election topic.

The dual-citizenship issue is, from Fico’s perspective, multifunctional: it can divert attention from suspicions pertaining to party financing that have now emerged from Smer’s past; at the same time it can make the hearts of nationalist voters beat faster. And Fico has been trying hard to keep the issue alive. It is hard to say why Orbán was so keen to pass the legislation before Slovakia’s parliamentary elections, and even some ethnic Hungarian politicians here have said that the issue calls for a very sensitive approach before Slovakia's national vote.

If the Hungarian legislation gets out the nationalist vote in Slovakia then Orbán has done a disservice to those whom he claims to want to benefit.

Yet there are laws that the Robert Fico government has passed which belong to the nineteenth century, and even if these do not violate any EU directive or international agreement, their spirit is clearly incompatible with what a modern Europe, which claims to celebrate diversity, should be. One of the shining examples is the State Language Act, which has evoked massive dislike among ethnic Hungarians because it touches the one issue so dearly nourished by any minority: the use of language.

Besides, this issue, heightened by the presence of Ján Slota and his SNS buddies in the government, can create many things – but not good conditions for reconciliation. Such an atmosphere will continue to give birth to mean-spirited and outdated legislation on both sides.


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