It is hard to call the joint meeting of the Slovak-Hungarian parliamentary committees on human rights anything other than a fiasco. Or a scandal. And the man who is responsible for it is Zoltán Balog, a confidante of Viktor Orbán. Balog is a Hungarian Reformed (Calvinist) minister who offers spiritual guidance to Orbán. Balog is a newcomer to politics. He became a member of parliament only in 2006, but his party immediately named him chairman of the Committee on Human Rights, Minorities, and Religious Affairs. Some people find the notion of Balog as the guardian of human rights and minorities akin to the fox guarding the hen house because he made some derogatory remarks about homosexuals whose rights this committee is supposed to defend.
As far as I can piece things together the background of the "non-meeting" is as follows. Katalin Szili, speaker of the house, is concerned about the state of the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries. She often makes trips to Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia. She came up with the idea of a joint session of the Slovak and Hungarian parliamentary committees on human rights in Budapest. (The Slovak committee has members representing the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.) Szili's idea was that such a meeting would help to forge better relations between Slovakia and Hungary. She even tried to mitigate risk: she had a chat with Balog, took a look at the agenda, and when Balog mentioned that he would like to show a video of the soccer match at Dunajská Streda (Dunaszerdahely) where the Slovak police roughed up some Hungarian fans, Szili expressed her misgivings and made Balog promise to drop the idea. Well, Balog promised, but the good minister didn't keep his word. Apparently, a discussion of the ill-fated soccer match was scheduled to be the last item on the agenda, but Balog insisted that the video be shown first, before any discussion.
The Hungarian members gathered first, and Balog tried to convince them to show the video, to no avail. Meanwhile the Slovaks were waiting in the corridor. Apparently close to forty-five minutes. Eventually Balog went out to meet them and explained what he was trying to do. At that point the Slovaks turned around and left the building and the Hungarian capital. Szili was furious and accused Balog of making Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation impossible. There was a segment on TV2 news that showed the two of them. Balog tried to convince Szili that all would be well, while Szili countered that "after this, it will be difficult." She also added that she finds Balog alone responsible for this very unfortunate event.
Balog's initial defense was that his was the only possible reaction to the Slovaks' refusal to admit that the police attacked the Hungarian fans with no provocation. Truth is more important than "politeness." Basically, the hell with diplomacy. The argument that such incidents between the two countries might have a negative effect on the Hungarian minority's situation in Slovakia didn't seem to make an impression on Balog. Moreover, Balog's party came out with its big guns. Yes, good relations are fine but "there are questions that must be settled before we can move forward on any other issues…. No diplomatic politeness can take precedence over the duty of a Hungarian parliamentary member to defend the personal safety of Hungarians within and without the borders." Further, "Fidesz wants to avoid the appearance of such a misconception that one can do anything with Hungarians." The communiqué added that the current Hungarian foreign policy "is weak and dishonorable" and should be replaced by one that "is based on mutual respect, personal freedom and safety" among countries.
In light of the uniformly negative reaction in Slovakia, a day later Balog changed his tune. He was criticized not only by Slovaks but also by Hungarians within Slovakia. For instance, the Hungarian party in Slovakia (MKP) expressed its misgivings. The Slovak parliamentary committee's chairman, a Hungarian, was responsible for his committee's abrupt exit from Budapest. So Balog, the quintessential diplomat, wrote a letter to the chairman of the Slovak committee in which he first expressed his total bafflement over why the Slovaks refused to enter the room. He added that he was convinced that "there was no alternative to discussion" and therefore he asked them to return to the negotiating table. His ultimate concession was geographical. The meeting didn't have to take place in Budapest; it could be scheduled either in Győr or in Mosonmagyaróvár, closer to Bratislava. Or, if the Slovaks preferred, Balog and his fellow committee members would be ready to go to the Slovak capital.
This conciliatory moment was soon swamped by a litany of Slovak sins against the Hungarian minority. There are several laws that discriminate against the Hungarians in Slovakia and "we cannot accept this, and we hope that soon enough [the Slovak government] will also recognize that such a situation is unacceptable." To add insult to injury, Balog commiserated with the Hungarian chairman of the Slovak committee: how difficult it must be for a Hungarian to lead a Slovak parliamentary committee! Finally, he repeated that he still wants to keep on the agenda the topic of the soccer game and what happened there.
What do you think? Will there be another meeting? I doubt it.