Fico-Gyurcsány meeting in Komarno

Apparently Gyurcsány arrived in Komarno yesterday with six issues he wanted to discuss with his Slovak counterpart, Robert Fico. The six questions were hammered out by the foreign policy experts of all five parliamentary parties. The requests were quite specific, but at the end the joint communiqué contained only four very general points of agreement. Let me first summarize the contents of the joint communiqué. The first article states that the two prime ministers are against "any kind of extremism, xenophobia, intolerance, chauvinism, nationalism and every manifestation of violence." They will undertake to "use all political and legal means necessary to fight these phenomena." The joint statement also commits the two countries to exchange information and to cooperate during the investigation of specific cases involving minority questions. In the second article "the parties agree that the education of the national minorities of the two countries serves the objective of preserving the ethnic and cultural identity of these minorities." As for textbooks used in minority schools the communiqué speaks only of  "educational materials of the highest quality." The third article is even vaguer: the citizens of both countries wish to live in "an atmosphere of good neighborly relations." In this connection there is a need to deepen bilateral cooperation in all areas. The last article pledges that Slovakia and Hungary will advance "the cause of cross-border cooperation," whatever that means.

Let's face it, this is not much, although surely it is better than nothing. As far as I know, the Hungarians wanted to have a satisfactory explanation of "police brutality" at the soccer match as well as assurances of a more balanced treatment of Hungarian history in Hungarian-language schools. They were also unhappy about the ban on Hungarian flags at games and the Slovak refusal to allow its Hungarian citizens to participate in the Forum of Hungarian Representatives in the Carpathian Basin (KMKF). None of these demands was met. Fico didn't arrive with any proof that the Hungarian soccer fans used physical violence prior to the police attack on their ranks. Fico didn't budge on the flag issue. As for Slovak participation in the KMKF there was a huge silence. While Gyurcsány complained about the nationalistic, anti-Hungarian rhetoric of the Slovak government, Fico voiced his indignation over the appearance of uniformed Hungarian extremists on Slovak soil.

As for the soccer match. The demand was most vociferous in right-wing circles. Fidesz was adamant. In my opinion it would have been better to leave the question alone. After all, the Hungarian "fans" went there to provoke. They wanted to create trouble. Fico told Gyurcsány that this is a police matter and that if any of the victims have a problem they can go to the Slovak courts. From past experience we know that the Slovak courts are no better than their Hungarian counterparts, and therefore I wouldn't suggest that anyone follow Fico's advice. As far as the textbooks are concerned that is a tricky question. The Hungarian goal is to permit teachers in Hungarian-language schools in Slovakia to use textbooks published in Hungary if they want to. I'm certain that the Slovaks will never agree to this because as we all know there are two entirely different histories of these countries: the Slovak version and the Hungarian one. Lately Hungarians have been complaining bitterly that the new Hungarian-language textbooks approved by the Slovak ministry of education use the Slovak equivalents of geographic names. So in the middle of the Hungarian text the word Duna (Hungarian for Danube) appears as Dunaj! Fairly ridiculous and one could say, how petty. However, this small and on the surface insignificant complaint becomes much more serious if one thinks it through. By using Slovak place names they are saying: we were here first, Hungary was ours, and you stole the territory. Not a very good beginning to peaceful coexistence between the two countries.

The Forum of Hungarian Representatives in the Carpathian Basin (KMKF) is something I had never heard of. As far as I could ascertain, KMKF was organized in 2004 by Katalin Szili (MSZP), speaker of the House. In the past I have voiced my misgivings about Katalin Szili's activities in general. We know that she is very active in the affairs of Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries. The members of the group are Hungarian minority members of the parliaments of Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia in addition to members of county legislations if they exist in a given country. There are a few Hungarian members from each party. I doubt whether this body is a good idea, and I'm not terribly surprised that Fico is not too keen on it. Luckily it doesn't seem to disturb much water. It seems that the group meets only once a year: every September since 2004. The issues discussed at these meetings are mundane to say the least.  In 2006 the main topic was the anniversary of the 1956 Revolution. Or rejoicing at Romania's forthcoming membership in the European Union. Perhaps if Hungary, whose brainchild KMKF surely was, would put an end to this most likely useless organization Fico would be willing to be more conciliatory in some other matter.

My hope (which admittedly has little foundation in reality) is twofold. Fico for his part will tone down the chauvinistic, nationalistic, anti-Hungarian rhetoric of his coalition partners and Gyurcsány will be able to move more forcefully against the Hungarian extremists. The Hungarian left (MSZP and SZDSZ) views the meeting as a good beginning to be followed by a visit by Fico at the beginning of next year. Not surprisingly Fidesz thinks that it was a failure because the prime minister "was unable to defend Hungarian interests." What is most surprising to me that the Slovak media treated the meeting objectively, and most of them are also against the nationalism of the Fico government. That may help the cause of better relations between the two countries.

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Hi Eva,
I work for an independent production company based in the UK. BBC World Service have asked us to do a feature on Slovak – Hungarian relations. I haven’t been able to find any other contact info for you – could you email me? careydavies [at] I can tell you more once I have your address. Look forward to hearing from you.