SLOVAKIA’S new government led by Iveta Radičová is expected to be warmer than its predecessor towards the country’s southern neighbour, Hungary, and begin to thaw the rather icy relations that have developed between the two countries over the past several years. So say observers on the Slovak side of the Danube River say as well as government officials in Hungary.
“Now that a centre-right government is being formed in Bratislava, Hungary has a chance to improve its relations with Slovakia,” Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi said in an interview with the Hungarian daily Népszabadság on July 6, as reported by the SITA newswire. Martonyi admitted that there are still some differing opinions between the two countries but declared that the Hungarian government is ready to talk with Slovakia about all controversial issues.
Will past problems become history?
Several testy issues accumulated during the term of the previous government which included the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS). Smer, the leading party in the past government, also showed nationalist tendencies on some issues, particularly involving relationships with the ethnic Hungarian minority living in Slovakia and also at times with the government of Hungary.
Apart from several political parties playing the so-called Hungarian card in the June parliamentary election, there were several previous contentious actions that contributed to worsened Slovak-Hungarian relations, which became most heated in August 2009 when Hungarian President László Sólyom was barred from paying an unofficial visit to the Slovak town of Komárno. Sólyom had been invited to unveil a statue of Hungarian King Stephen I but the Slovak government said his presence there would present a security risk.
The largest outcry came from adoption of Slovakia’s State Language Act. The law became effective in September 2009 and has drawn heavy criticism both before and after its adoption by ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia as well as from political leaders in Hungary who say it hinders the right of ethnic Hungarians to use their mother tongue. Slovakia’s new government is promising to amend the law to make it more minority-friendly.
Dual citizenship complicates matters
The most recent action to shake Slovak-Hungarian relations occurred shortly before the parliamentary elections in Slovakia when Hungary amended its law on dual citizenship to make it easier for Hungarians living outside Hungary to obtain citizenship by removing the obligation to have had permanent residence in Hungary. An applicant only would need to prove their ancestors were Hungarian citizens, or otherwise demonstrate Hungarian origins, and be able to speak Hungarian. This was one of the first legislative acts pursued by the new Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s rightist Fidesz party.
The Slovak government responded by passing an amendment to its Citizenship Act specifying that if any Slovak citizen voluntarily took steps to obtain citizenship of another country he or she would automatically lose Slovak citizenship.
Hungary’s Foreign Minister Martonyi said he believes that passing the amendment was a correct thing to do for Hungary and commented that the new Slovak government will have to deal with this issue “right at the start”, SITA reported.
Radičová has already spoken about the dual citizenship issue in an interview she gave to the Heti Világgazdaság weekly published in Hungary. She said that her new government will cancel the validity of the Hungarian dual citizenship law for people living in Slovakia and at the same time repeal the “anti-legislation” which was passed the previous government of Robert Fico.
“The new Hungarian government, by passing the law on dual citizenship, committed basic procedural mistakes,” Radičová said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. She said the issue should have been discussed by the joint Slovak-Hungarian commissions that function based on the bilateral treaty between the two countries.
“Unfortunately, that did not happen and therefore the law is unacceptable for us,” she said, adding that the next development will depend on both Slovakia and Hungary, as Hungary should in her view adjust the text of its law to comply with international legislation. Radičová said that otherwise the Slovak government will be forced to cancel the validity of the law for the whole territory of Slovakia, “which is likely to complicate mutual understanding”, as quoted by TASR.
Radičová seen as a peacemaker
The more positive reactions to the new Slovak government coming from the southern embankment of the Danube did not pass without notice in Slovakia. Shortly after she became prime minister, Radičová announced that one of her first official visits will be to Budapest. She will travel to Hungary on July 20 for a summit of the Visegrad Group (V4) where Slovakia will formally take over the one-year rotating presidency of the V4.
Political observers say the Radičová-led government is expected to pursue less tension in inter-ethnic relations within Slovakia, fewer crisis situations with the Hungarian government, and a political culture different from the nationalism practised by some representatives of the previous government.
Political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov noted that Radičová has never been seen as a nationalist politician and neither was she a member of any grouping tending toward nationalist ideas. He added that throughout the presidential election campaign in 2009 Radičová was the candidate against whom the nationalist politicians defined themselves, presenting her as a threat to what they called Slovakia’s “state-national interests”.
“It’s clear that nobody can accuse her of being a nationalist,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator, adding that she was also endorsed in the presidential campaign by the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), and that many ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia like her and voted for her in the presidential election.
Mesežnikov additionally said a thaw in relations between the countries can be expected because the ethnic Hungarian minority living in Slovakia is once again represented in the Slovak government through the Most-Híd party and representatives of Slovakia’s nationalist party no longer sit in the government.
“Personal chemistry can also play its role here,” Mesežnikov said. According to him, Radičová is in a much better position to communicate with Viktor Orbán than her predecessor would be. He said Orbán had expressed support for her prior to Slovakia’s presidential election and that the two have personally known each other for some time.
Mesežnikov noted, however, that future development in the countries’ relationship will not depend solely on the Slovak government.
19. Jul 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani