At last. After months and months of strained relations between Slovakia and Hungary the two prime ministers agreed to meet. The original plan was to begin the negotiations in the Slovak Komarno (on the left bank of the Danube) on Saturday, then stroll over the Elizabeth Bridge to the Hungarian Komárom. However, this morning the news came that plans had changed. Robert Fico obviously doesn't want to set foot on Hungarian soil. Not too promising a beginning.
A little digression if I may. Ten percent of Slovakia's population is Hungarian speaking. They reside mostly in the southern parts of the country and are especially numerous north of the Danube River. In 1918-1919 this area was inhabited solely by Hungarians and although since then a lot of Slovaks have moved into the area, Komarno (with a population of about 40,000) still has a Hungarian majority. Lately with the help of Hungarian money they even established a Hungarian university in the town. Komárom on the Hungarian side is considerably smaller, with a population of about 20,000. The left bank settlement was always more important than the smaller town on the right bank and it became especially so when the Turks occupied the territories south of the Danube but never managed to conquer today's Komarno. In the late nineteenth century at last a bridge was built and today's Komárom on the Hungarian side was united with the old medieval town on on the left bank today called Komarno.
But let's get back to Slovak-Hungarian relations. In the last two years (since the advent of the current Slovak government) relations between the two countries have been particularly tense. The English-language Slovak weekly, Spectator, wrote on July 3, 2006: "Smer party invites opposition HZDS and SNS to form government as 'worst-case scenario' comes to fruition." Fico's party, Smer, is allegedly a left-wing, socialist party while HZDS and SNS are far-right and nationalistic parties that were responsible for Slovakia's very bad reputation in Europe prior to 1998. As Spectator said in 2006, Vladimir Meciár of HZDS and Ján Slota of SNS could again hurt Slovakia's image abroad. But Fico needed the help of these two parties to form a government. In fact, the three party-coalition has a solid majority in the Slovak parliament (85 of a total of 150 seats). Initially Fico encountered problems in Europe after forming a coalition with two parties of the far right. His party's membership in the Socialist International was temporarily suspended. But he weathered the initial sanction from the outside world and became very popular at home. First, he inherited a vibrant economy. The government between 1998 and 2006, a conservative Christian Democratic coalition led by Mikuláš Dzurinda, introduced rather heavy handed but effective reforms and managed to attract large foreign investors (especially from the auto industry). As a result Slovakia has seen spectacular economic growth over the past few years, and the citizens are proud that Slovakia will be the second former socialist country to introduce the euro–as of January 1, 2009. (The first was Slovenia.) In addition, the government's nationalistic policies add to its popularity.
What can the meeting between Fico and Gyurcsány achieve? As far as I can see, nothing. Gyurcsány will go to Komarno and will outline the Hungarian position. To wit, the Hungarian government and all the parties condemn the recent actions of the Hungarian extreme right. They are against Hungarian nationalism, they are against extremists entering Slovakia in Nazi uniforms. They are also against these little Nazis marching up and down in Hungary, but what can the Hungarian government do? Their case is pending in the Hungarian courts. The courts are independent and for one reason or another they don't want to move. The government cannot ban the uniforms and the insignia because the same courts declared them different enough from the emblems of Ferenc Szálasi's Arrowcross Party. The Hungarian government is helpless. On the other hand, Ján Slota's party is part of Fico's coalition and Slota's anti-Hungarian outbursts are unacceptable. The Hungarian government hoped that Fico would condemn Slota's unacceptable behavior but he didn't. Gyurcsány will most likely mention the police attack on the Hungarians at the soccer game in Dunajská Streda (Dunaszerdahely) and remind Fico that the Hungarian government is still waiting for the promised proof that the police action against the Hungarian fans was justified.
Fico will respond that the Hungarians still view Slovakia as their own. Surely, the Hungarians must understand that the Hungarians of Slovakia refuse even to learn Slovak well. Slovak public opinion is aroused by Hungarian provocations like the remembrance of the First Vienna Award of 1938 that mutilated Slovakia with the help of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. And yes, Ján Slota says some outrageous things, but after all he is not a member of Fico's government. And the discussion will end here.
Some people wonder whether there will be a joint communiqué issued after the meeting. I'll be most surprised if there is.