Saturday, September 19, 2009


Der Spiegel thinks that relations between the Slovaks and the Hungarians are the worst of any two communities that share a border within the European Union. Huh! Have they looked at Transylvania lately?

Actually, as the article explains at length with little anecdotes on the way, as is the habit of that newspaper, the problem has been caused, as ever by politicians. For sure, there are long-standing resentments and historic grievances but they rarely break out except maybe at a football match or some other sporting event.

The most recent problem has been a piece of rather provocative legislation:
According to legislation passed in Bratislava that came into effect on Sept. 1, the Slovakian language must have precedence in public -- on billboards, in official declarations and on monuments.
This means that schools that have taught in Hungarian (the Hungarian minority is sizeable and has been there for more than a millennium) must now stop that and change over to Slovak. Many do not wish to do so and many Slovaks see no need for it either. But playing political games is always fun on both sides:
The Slovaks are driven by fears of age-old Hungarian megalomania. Not without reason: Their country was known as Upper Hungary and ruled by the Hungarian monarchy for almost a thousand years. "Hungarians keep insisting that southern Slovakia is their territory," says Slovakian President Ivan Gasparovic.

For their part, ethnic Hungarians are frustrated at being a minority in the small Carpathian state. Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom calls Slovakia's new language law "a breach of multilateral agreements" that degrades Hungarian and demotes it to a "kitchen language." Although Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico and his Hungarian counterpart, Gordon Bajnai, sought to calm the waters at a summit last Thursday, the fact remains that relations between Bratislava and Budapest are worse than those between any other neighboring countries in the EU.
After the rather peculiar episode when the President of Hungary was not allowed into Slovakia the two Prime Ministers met in Szécsény on September 10 to discuss developments.
As a result of their meeting the prime ministers signed a joint declaration. In regard to Slovakia’s State Language Act, Fico and Bajnai declared that they would both respect the recommendations of Knut Vollebaek, the high commissioner on national minorities for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). Fico said he guarantees that the law will not change the conditions under which the members of the Hungarian minority in
Slovakia use their language.

The prime ministers did not agree on how to interpret Slovakia’s denial of entry to Hungary’s President László Sólyom on August 21. They said experts from both countries will meet and agree on common norms for such visits, the SITA newswire reported. The governments said they also want to establish a joint police committee to fight extremism, xenophobia, racism and nationalism in both countries.

Also, a council for Slovak-Hungarian relations should be established as an apolitical body to help solve bilateral issues. The prime ministers even declared their intention to organise a joint session of the two governments.
That's all very well but there is an election due in Hungary next year and Viktor Orbán, the leader of the opposition FIDESZ, who are, at present, the favourites to win, has already announced that his government will want to represent the interests of all Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. Well, if the Russian government can say it about Russians, why not the Hungarian government? I suppose, one ought to be thankful that he does not want to represent the interests of Hungarians all over the world.

Mind you, was it not the aim of the European Union to put an end to such unseemly nationalist squabbles? They seem to be getting worse.

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