OPEN and focused on facts. That was how both the Slovak and the Hungarian prime ministers described the atmosphere during their brief meeting on December 14 in Bratislava, at which Hungary’s Viktor Orbán promised to return for an official visit during the first half of 2011. It would be the first official visit between the two countries at the prime-ministerial level since Mikuláš Dzurinda visited Budapest in 2001. Despite the positive comments of the prime ministers, the recent meeting showed that bilateral relations between the two countries are still thorny.
Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán’s short visit on December 14 was part of a series of trips he is making prior to Hungary assuming the presidency of the European Union on January 1. But Orbán’s day in Slovakia was not restricted to European-level issues; problems in bilateral relations between Slovakia and Hungary were discussed, and captured much more media attention.
Radičová and Orbán met for the first time as prime ministers shortly after Radičová assumed her post in July 2010, when Slovakia was taking over the presidency of the Visegrad Group from Hungary. At their meeting last week in Bratislava, the two leaders agreed on issues concerning energy security and regional cooperation but conceded that differing opinions remain on issues that have been traumatic for relations between the countries – the controversy and disagreement over Hungary’s dual citizenship law being at the top of the list.
Radičová said after the meeting that Slovakia and Hungary hold diametrically opposed opinions on the dual citizenship issue.
“Other issues, such as our future priorities, are not dividing us but rather uniting us,” Radičová said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.
One example is the accord reached by the prime ministers that Slovakia and Hungary will sign an agreement to expedite construction of a joint north-south gas pipeline intended to connect the Baltic and Adriatic seas that will cross both Slovakia and Hungary, an agreement which Orbán called “a fundamental turning point on which the fate of central Europe will depend”. The project aims to reduce central European countries' heavy dependence on gas supplied via pipelines rom Russia.
Ábel Ravasz, an analyst from the Publicus Institute, stated that the meeting of the two prime ministers brought no surprises.
“I think the main change was in the tone of the meeting in comparison with the two earlier meetings between former prime ministers [Ferenc] Gyurcsány and [Robert] Fico,” Ravasz told The Slovak Spectator, explaining that in the Gyurcsány-Fico relationship the Hungarian side was the pragmatic, anti-nationalist one and the Slovak side was the populist, nationalist one, while currently Orbán is a populist rightist politician and Radičová is a pragmatic rightist. However, he noted that there is a difference between Radičová’s and Guyrcsány’s pragmatism in that Guyrcsány was absolutely anti-nationalist but Radičová’s government is not explicitly against nationalism.
“Orbán is very similar to the Fico government in his policies, in that he considers national issues part of domestic politics,” Ravasz noted. “The issues of Hungarians living in Slovakia, or, more generally, Hungarians living in other countries, are issues of domestic policy for him. He’s trying to use these issues to cover up some of the economic policies that have met with resistance. This is very similar to how Fico used the Hungarian minority [in the past].”
Dual citizenship in focus
It was in the brief period before Slovakia’s June election when Fico was Orbán’s counterpart that one of the most controversial current issues between the two counties arose, when the freshly-appointed Orbán government amended the Hungarian legislation on citizenship, enabling ethnic Hungarians living in other countries, including Slovakia, to be quite easily granted Hungarian citizenship.
The Fico government responded by passing an amendment to Slovakia’s Citizenship Act specifying that if any Slovak citizen voluntarily took steps to obtain citizenship of another country he or she would automatically lose their Slovak citizenship. Observers warned that this could lead to Slovak citizens being stripped of their citizenship at the beginning of 2011, when the Hungarian law takes effect.
When the Radičová government came to power it was thought that it would begin to sort out the citizenship issues but no concrete steps have been taken so far. However, Radičová noted after the meeting with Orbán that bilateral commissions have already started working on resolving the issue.
The situation might get even more complicated if Hungary grants its new ‘dual-citizens’ the right to vote in Hungary. But Slovak media reported that Orbán said no such step will be taken before the Hungarian Constitution is amended, which is expected to happen in spring next year.
Ravasz does not believe that the issue of dual citizenship will be resolved through bilateral meetings, since Hungarians chose to pursue this policy unilaterally, without giving a thought to the reservations of the countries involved.
“I don’t see how the meeting between the prime ministers can influence this issue. I think this law is here to stay for the moment and it will influence [bilateral] relations in the forthcoming years,” Ravasz said.
The Slovak media laid much emphasis on the fact that Orbán did not meet with the ruling coalition’s Most-Híd party, a mixed Slovak-Hungarian party, but rather had a luncheon meeting with the non-parliamentary Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) in Vienna, rather than Bratislava, that lasted about an hour longer than his meeting with Radičová.
20. Dec 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani