New book examines national populism

THIS AUTUMN, local municipal elections will round out the national cycle of presidential, regional, European and national parliamentary races. They are likely to offer proof positive that twanging the nationalist string still carries the power to win votes, as it did back in the 19th and the 20th centuries.

THIS AUTUMN, local municipal elections will round out the national cycle of presidential, regional, European and national parliamentary races. They are likely to offer proof positive that twanging the nationalist string still carries the power to win votes, as it did back in the 19th and the 20th centuries.

National Populism and Slovak-Hungarian Relations in Slovakia 2006 – 2009, a publication issued by the Forum Minority Research Institute and edited by its programme director Kálmán Petőcz explores this issue, putting national populism in its historical and political perspective and examining how nationalism shapes and sometimes deforms relations between two groups of Slovak citizens: ethnic Slovaks and ethnic Hungarians.

Grigorij Mesežnikov, who authored the chapter on populism in Slovakia, states that between 2006 and 2009, under the Smer-led coalition of three parties, national populism, which he describes as political activity that focuses on addressing voters via traditional populist methods while accentuating strong ethnic-nationalist chords, “has affected the overall atmosphere within society and significantly shaped the environment for mutual interactions between various social groups”.

Mesežnikov’s chapter, in which he defines the nature of the state and interprets selected historical events, is preceded by a comprehensive introduction to national populism written by Peter Učeň of the International Republican Institute. Following that, the book features two chapters by the editor, Petőcz, one looking at national populism and the Hungarian issue since 2004 and the other analysing the electoral behaviour of Hungarians and Slovaks living in mixed territories.

The publication also includes three more-narrowly focused chapters on: language rights in mixed territories by Forum Institute’s Zsuzsanna Mészáros-Lampl; the impact of populist economic policy on sustainable economic growth by Zsolt Gál from Comenius University; and Christian national populism by Miroslav Kocúr from the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts.

The scholarly texts are complemented by an inconspicuous but very important article buried in the appendices at the end of the book: a comprehensive summary of the case of Hedviga Malinová, the Hungarian student who fell victim to an allegedly ethnically-inspired attack shortly after the Smer-led government came to power, and who was later accused of fabricating the whole story.

Over the last four years Malinová has become a symbol of mistreatment of the Hungarian minority by the government, and as the case has never been resolved, it “continues to whip up strong feelings and has become a vehicle to inflame mutual Slovak-Hungarian disputes”, the article says.

What makes it important is that it is apparently the only comprehensive summary of the facts of the case published in English. It was written by eminent Slovak-Hungarian journalist Marie Vrabcová, who has covered the case from its beginnings. It stands as a reminder of the turbulence and volatility of Slovak-Hungarian relations, and offers a clear picture of how national populism works in this country.

National populism, by mythologising history and running roughshod over historical fact, does not improve intercultural dialogue. Rather it tends to define the nation as one ethnic group pitted against another. In this case it is the Hungarian minority that is set up as the mythologised enemy. Forum Institute representatives say they decided to publish this book in Slovak and in English as well as Hungarian in order to lay open such practices and eventually to foster an intercultural dialogue between the Slovak majority and the Hungarian minority based on fact and reason.

As Petőcz wrote in the introduction to National Populism and Slovak-Hungarian Relations in Slovakia 2006 - 2009, the Hungarian issue is one that fuels populist rhetoric, but that might, in fact, become an area that can undermine nationalist programmes.

“What are the chances of eliminating the last remaining items of the national-populist arsenal in Slovakia? We believe that one of the viable paths to tackling the issue is a much more active approach of the democratic political elite, including civil society activists, to issues of Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation and understanding and the status of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.”



More information is available at www.foruminst.sk.


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