IF SLOVAKIA and Hungary were to define their mutual relationship in Facebook terms, nothing would suit better than the “it’s complicated” category. Despite that, elected officials from the two countries have been visiting each other often in recent months and on January 28 Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made the first official visit to Slovakia in 12 years.
The official visit did not bring a host of specific results other than an initialled agreement to build a natural gas pipeline between Slovakia and Hungary as part of a wider plan to boost energy security in central Europe. Nevertheless, it was stressed by both countries that the exchange was important as it had been 1999 when the last official visit to Slovakia was made by a Hungarian prime minister. In fact, that visit was also by Viktor Orbán, during a previous stint as prime minister.
The visit was at least in part motivated by the start of Hungary’s presidency of the European Union. Nevertheless, political analyst Ábel Ravasz said in an interview with The Slovak Spectator that it was a welcomed development in bilateral relations, pointing out that the Hungarian and Slovak partners discussed policy issues such as the gas pipeline and improvements in highway connections during their meeting.
“It remains to be seen if these talks will have any direct effect on policy,” Ravasz told The Slovak Spectator. He pointed out that Orbán also sought to garner some support for his country's beleaguered media law.
Orbán met Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová as well as President Ivan Gašparovič and Speaker of Parliament Richard Sulík during his one-day visit.
Gas pipeline link
Radičová told the media that she and Orbán had spoken about Hungary’s new media law, which has attracted much domestic and international criticism, but she did not reveal any further details.
The agreement to build a 100-kilometre-long gas pipeline between Hungary and Slovakia which will become part of a more extensive pipeline system connecting all four Visegrad Group countries with the aim of boosting energy security in central Europe was one of the specific outcomes of the meeting.
“This is a step that means better energy security for Slovakia,” Radičová told journalists, as quoted by the Reuters newswire.
The Visegrad Group countries, which receive most of their natural gas from Russia, are keen to diversify their gas supply sources, build new pipelines, upgrade existing ones and increase storage capacity.
The new pipeline will be built by a unit of Slovakia’s dominant gas distributor, SPP – managed by France's GDF Suez and Germany's E.ON which own a 49-percent joint stake – and Hungary’s FGSZ transmission system operator, the Reuters newswire reported.
The prime ministers also discussed various improvements in infrastructure.
Hungary is interested in building a new bridge over the Danube River at Komárno and reconstructing 84 roads which at one time connected Slovak and Hungarian territories, Orbán said, adding that this plan also involves reconstruction of bridges across the Ipeľ River.
The Hungarians are also prepared to launch construction of roads that would connect with Slovakia’s R4 dual carriageway. After this route is finished, a dual carriageway would link Hungary and Poland via the eastern Slovak cities of Košice and Prešov, the SITA newswire reported.
Picky about partners
After his meetings in Bratislava, Orbán travelled to the southern Slovak town of Dunajská Streda where he met representatives of the non-parliamentary Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK). It was his second meeting with SMK chairman József Berényi over the course of two days as Berényi had visited Orbán in Budapest before his trip to Bratislava.
Most-Híd, the party established by ethnic-Hungarian renegades from the SMK under the leadership of former SMK chairman Béla Bugár, again remained ‘out of the game’ even though they had requested a meeting with Orbán.
Most-Híd also had its request to meet Hungarian President Pál Schmitt rebuffed when he visited Slovakia a week earlier.
“They don’t even answer,” Bugár commented, as quoted by the Sme daily. “They twice ignored us, if you want.”
Ravasz stated that Orbán’s dealings with Most-Híd fall into his strategy in dealing with Hungarian minority parties in other countries throughout the region.
“The Orbán government [dominated by his Fidesz party] has been particularly choosy with regard to Hungarian minority parties in the region, including deciding to support one and only one party in Ukraine and exclusively supporting a newly-established, third Hungarian party in Romania,” Ravasz said.
According to Ravasz, the SMK has been a close partner of Fidesz for several years, adding that Orbán’s government made its preference clear during the political campaigns before Slovakia’s two elections last year by supporting SMK and its candidates.
“Most-Híd is officially disqualified from Hungarian [government] to Hungarian [ethnic party] regional talks on the basis that Most-Híd is not purely ethnic, but rather a “mixed” or “civic” party; but the real underlying causes can be found at the level of politics rather than at the level of ideology,” Ravasz said.
7. Feb 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani