SLOVAK President Ivan Gašparovič paid his first official visit as president of Slovakia to neighbouring Hungary on February 19 and 20, which was also the first visit to the country by a Slovak head of state in nine years. While observers noted that it does not mean that Gašparovič and his Hungarian counterpart János Áder have never met, they added that contact between the Slovak and Hungarian heads of state should have been more frequent in the past.
Prior to this visit, the presidents participated in several international meetings at which they held bilateral talks. Moreover, the current Hungarian president’s predecessor, Pál Schmitt, came to Slovakia two years ago, said Tomáš Strážay of the Slovak Foreign Policy Institute.
“Of course, these [contacts] could have been more intensive, [as] the more the representatives meet and discuss, the better and more beneficial [these talks] are for the country,” Strážay said on a political talk show broadcast by the public-service Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS).
Though there are several open issues on which their respective countries differ, the cooperation between the two countries has improved in recent years, the presidents concluded during their brief talk, the SITA newswire reported. Both presidents also said they would initiate the creation of a list of controversial issues, which would then be brought to a table of expert groups.
“The resolution of these controversial questions is even more important since in the past three years the cooperation between our countries has been more successful,” said Áder, as quoted by SITA, adding that trade between the two states had also increased. Slovakia is one of Hungary’s most important trading partners, Áder stressed.
Though the countries have different opinions over Slovakia’s State Language Act and Hungary’s dual citizenship law, both presidents agreed that protecting minorities is necessary, SITA wrote.
“We deem that their abuse for political goals is particularly dangerous,” Gašparovič said, as quoted by SITA.
The Slovak president added that it is important that not only politicians, but also people from both countries, should continue to learn about each other and create the closest possible relations.
Áder cited as examples of this improved cooperation the joint construction of bridges, the interconnection of energy networks, the reconstruction of historical monuments and the successes both countries achieved within the Friends of Cohesion group, the Sme daily wrote.
When commenting on the visit, Strážay added that there are several reasons why the presidents have not met more frequently over the past few years, explaining that between 2002 and 2010 relations between the two countries were not particularly ideal, he told RTVS.
During this period, several controversial issues emerged. For example, a law that made Hungarian expats living in neighbouring countries eligible to receive symbolic ID cards confirming their ethnic and national ties to Hungary, came into effect in January 2002.
In 2006 relations between the two countries grew tense after Hedviga Malinová, now Žáková, a Hungarian-speaking Slovak citizen, reported that she had been assaulted on her way to a university exam in Nitra. The police concluded their investigation in September 2006 with the finding that no attack had actually occurred. The announcement was made at a press conference by then-interior minister Robert Kaliňák and then-prime minister Robert Fico, at which Kaliňák said that “it is beyond doubt that the case did not happen”, supporting his assertion with several pieces of what he claimed were evidence, including DNA samples.
Kaliňák later went on to denounce Malinová as a “pathological liar”.
In May 2007 Malinová was charged with lying to police and making false claims but her case has never been presented before a court.
In August, 2009, Slovak authorities refused to let Hungary’s then president László Solyom enter Komárno, where he was to attend the ceremonial unveiling of a statue of Hungarian King Stephen I.
Though Solyom later filed a complaint with the European Court of Justice, citing a violation of European law, the judges sided with Slovakia in an October, 2012, ruling.
Mutual relations soured even further with Hungary’s double-citizenship law, passed in 2010, and Slovakia’s response, an amendment to the Slovak State Citizenship Law passed that same year.
During his visit, Gašparovič also met with Slovak minorities living in Hungary. According to him, despite having gone through difficult times, ethnic Slovaks living in the country have retained their national identity and deserve Slovakia’s admiration, TASR wrote.
“I’m proud of ... you – Slovaks who live outside Slovakia – that you have retained your national consciousness,” Gašparovič said, as quoted by TASR. “And I’m also proud of the fact that despite being nationals of a different country, you are loyal [to Slovakia]. You are Hungarian nationals and therefore you are obliged to defend the position of Hungary in the world ... I wish this would also be the case in Slovakia [with ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia].”
According to Gašparovič, the system of education for Slovak minorities in Hungary is in need of improvement, since they receive only several Slovak language lessons per week at school. On the other hand, there are schools in Slovakia at which Hungarian is the primary language of instruction, the president said.
Though several Slovak nationals came to Budapest to meet with the Slovak president to discuss their problems, Sme pointed out that Gašparovič spent the entire meeting delivering a monologue. Even though he emphasised his concerns for Slovaks in Hungary, he spent about an hour with them, Sme reported.
Gašparovič spent the rest of the day visiting a mansion in the town of Gödölö, famous for having been the summer residence of Austrian Empress ‘Sisi’, as well as a private farm belonging to the family of businessman Vilmos Lázár, a member of the supervisory board of the CBA food retail chain, who allegedly has close ties to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Sme wrote.