László Sólyom, the diplomat

According to many people László Sólyom's activities cause at least as much trouble abroad as at home, if not more. The president immediately after his election decided that on Hungarian national holidays he will visit Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. With this decision he killed two birds with one stone: not only does he present himself as the representative of the "whole" nation, but he also doesn't have to celebrate together with the prime minister whom he obviously loathes. These holiday trips are not official visits. He goes to Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, and less frequently to Ukraine as a "private person." Of course, there is no such thing in his case as a private person, especially not this year when his original plans included the use of a military airplane!

The Hungarian president has very little political power. The post is more or less ceremonial. When it comes to foreign policy the president, at least on paper, is supposed to go where the government tells him to and his statements once there are severely circumscribed. However, Sólyom is a loose cannon and it seems to me that the Hungarian foreign ministry has absolutely no power over where he goes and what he says. In the end the ministry is left holding the bag.

Hungary's relations with its neighbors have worsened visibly thanks to Sólyom's "diplomatic" activities. It doesn't matter how often the foreign ministry's spokesman repeats, for example, that Romanian-Hungarian relations are just wonderful, it is clear that there are strains in that relationship. The sticking point is territorial autonomy for the Szeklers who reside in a fairly solid bloc in three counties: Harghita (Hargita), Covasna (Kovászna), and parts of Mures (Maros). The Szeklers are Hungarian-speaking people whose ethnic origin is the subject of debate, but they settled in these parts very early as warriors responsible for defending the country from eastern invaders.The call for territorial autonomy for the Szeklers is supported by the Hungarian president and to some extent, although less forcefully, by the Hungarian government. Romania is dead set against any kind of autonomy. The Romanians consider their country a "nation state." Hungarians constitute only 6.6% of the population, but that still translates into a sizable number–1,434,000, according to a recent census. Trajan Basescu who not long ago visited Budapest and paid a visit to the palace of his Hungarian counterpart told the Hungarian president in no uncertain terms that Romania will never agree to Hungarian autonomy in the Szekler inhabited counties.

The Slovaks are also worried about Sólyom's frequent visits because the Slovak government feels a great deal more threatened than the Romanian. While in Romania the three Szekler inhabited counties are in the middle of Transylvania, in Slovakia the Hungarians live in a fairly solid bloc all along the Slovak-Hungarian border. They constitute about 10% of the country's population. The Slovaks simply can't stop worrying about Hungary's intentions or at least about further Hungarian inroads into the southern regions of Slovakia due to the lack of a real traditional border between the two countries. The Slovaks pretty well told Sólyom that he wasn't welcome in Slovakia. Of course, this is not exactly  acceptable behavior from a country belonging to the same European Union as her neighbor but, let's face it, the Hungarian president's private visits with an official agenda is not comme il faut either.

This year, as in the last three, Sólyom was planning to spend the national holiday among Hungarians living outside the borders. This time in Serbia. It was going to be an extended visit. Three days visiting Hungarian centers and historical monuments in the area called Voivodina, part of Hungary until 1918. In 1970 Voivodina received wide ranging autonomy within Yugoslavia, not so much because of the Hungarian presence there since Hungarians make up only 14% of the province's population. But in 1990 Voivodina lost its autonomy under the presidency of Slobodan Milosevic. In the last few months the Serbian parliament has been debating the restoration of some kind of special status for the area. It was in the middle of a political fight over the region that Sólyom decided to tour the province. But suddenly, only a few days before his planned departure, the office of the president announced that plans had changed. Instead of spending three days there Sólyom will stay for only a few hours. The suspicion is that Belgrade put pressure on the Hungarian government to shorten the trip given the delicacy of the political situation over the issue of Voivodina. If that is the case, Sólyom seems to have obliged. By itself a miracle. The Hungarian president practically never changes his mind. It was now time for the Hungarian minority leaders in Voivodina to be sore. They announced that if the Hungarian president intends to spend so little time in Voivodina, it is better that he remains in Budapest. They don't accept "alms" from anybody.

So what now? It looked as if for the first time in his presidency Sólyom would have to remain put and celebrate together with the Hungarian government. But the folks in the presidential palace hatched a new plan: he will go to Romania on the 15th right after his official duties in front of the parliament building. He will fly in a military plane to Targu Mures (Marosvásárhely) and from there will go by car to a place known in Hungarian as Nyergestető (in Romanian Piatra Nierges) where he will remember a battle between the Hungarians and the joint forces of Austria and Russia that took place on August 1, 1849. Although the two hundred soldiers were overpowered by the enemy, they refused to surrender and all died there. The office of the president quickly penned an English-language request for permission to land the military plane. The author of the letter didn't know English too well, it seems. He translated the Hungarian word for local government "önkormányzat" as self-government (a mirror translation)–that is, in English means autonomy or self-rule. The Romanian government, citing this mistranslation, refused to grant a landing permit. I may venture to say that this was just an excuse. The Romanians are tired of Sólyom's visits and his constant harping on an autonomy that Romania refuses to grant. In the end Sólyom and his entourage had to travel by car. A sixteen-hour trip, and therefore the date had to be changed as well. He left early in the morning on March 14 and returned the same day. Thus, for the first time since his inauguration he spent the national holiday in Budapest and had to attend the gala performance that included Ferenc Gyurcsány's speech.

It may have been difficult to get there, but once he was in that military cemetery he again said a few inappropriate words. Let me quote: "People used say that Hungarians celebrate their defeats. This is not so: what we are celebrating here is that there are situations when we can no longer retreat. There are times when we have to put our backs against a rock or a pine tree and turn against our enemies." What can I say after that? Not much.

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NWO
Guest

Solyom is a disgrace and an embarrasement. But this is, sad to say, true of the whole Government. The completely amatuer manner in which foreign policy is carried on (the Foreign Minister is considered one of the LEAST important posts in the cabinet!)starts at the top with the President and the PM. It is not only on “international Hungarian” issues where Hungary stands out and is isolated, but the PM cuts a very lonely figure arguing his position in Brussels and other EU capitals at a time when nearly all other CEE leaders go out of their way to say; “Whatever else we are, we are NOT like Hungary and don’t want to be grouped with Hungary.” The particularly ridiculous part is how little this is understood by Hungarian politicians, most of whom can not communicate in any foreign language and have almost no connection with or interest in anything outside this pathetic little country.
The whole politics needs to be changed, and it must start with the personnel.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
This only goes to show what I and others (particularly Hungarian authors like Paul Lendvai) keep on saying “The Hungarians are some of the loneliest people in Europe”. Few if any Hungarians understand that there is a great big world beyond their borders. Many cannot talk to other nations and those who can often do not listen and if they do listen, they certainly do not heed. Many in the Hungarian legal profession have never even read the European Charter of Human Rights and some do not know of its existence. Professor you quote in your piece *** “The author of the letter didn’t know English too well, it seems. He translated the Hungarian word for local government “önkormányzat” as self-government (a mirror translation)–that is, in English means autonomy or self-rule.” ***. That would have upset any Foreign Government even one who is used to their language being mangled/deformed, who have a sense of humour and would have laughed about it. It is not surprising that the Romanians got the ‘hump’ and said an emphatic NO! To the Romanians it seemed as thought Mr President Sólyom the president of Hungary was attempting to abrogate (in part) the Treaty of Fontainebleau… Read more »
StuckInTheMiddle
Guest
Naturally, the letter sent to Romania was written in Romanian, NOT English. It was translated from Hungarian into Romanian by the Hungarian embassy in Bucharest. In a first letter, “önkormányzat” was mistakenly translated as “autoguvernare” instead of “consliu.” The error was corrected in a second letter, ignored by Romanian authorities. – Romanian newspapers immediately recognized the anti-Solyom moves as a ploy by Basescu to gain votes ahead of the upcoming presidential elections. Sort of like our Socialists and their threats ahead of the 2004 referendum that 30 million Romanian workers would flood into Hungary if Hungarians in Romania were granted Hungarian citizenship. – I think it’s great that Solyom, both at home and abroad, attempts to act as a normal European president, instead of limiting himself to the “expected” behavior. I agree that to speak of a “private” visit by any elected or appointed official, be it a judge or a president, is ridiculous. In this case, however, saying that it’s a “private” visit means that Solyom is not going there to meet with his Romanian counterpart and most of the usual protocol can be waived. And just because, as you say, “The Romanians are tired of Sólyom’s visits and… Read more »
StuckInTheMiddle
Guest

Right, so let’s keep our heads down, say nothing, advocate calmly for nill and maybe someone will reward our silence and inaction.
Not likely.
Do you think Romania would grant autonomy for Hungarians if Hungary forgets to mention the issue for a few decades?
Don’t think so.
There’s a long, long distance between efforts like Solyom’s and irredentism.
How about Fico’s comments today that if “the extremist Fidesz” returns to power it have “very serious effects” on Hungary’s relations with Slovakia?
Now there’s a mature, non-meddling in internal political matters, and truly European statement from the prime minister.
Careful, it may even have adverse effects on the Slovakian minority in Hungary. 🙂

Gábor
Guest

I only would like to correct the Romanian name of the place as it is not Piatra Nierges (that means literally Rock, or Peak) but Pasul Nyerges, what is Nyerges Pass. It is really a pass leading form the small Kászon/Casin basin to the Csík/Ciuc basin(there would have be no reason to defend a peak somewhere in the mountains, while the enemy is marching towards Csíkszereda/Miercurea Ciuc, the heart of Csíkészék/Ciuc). Although sometimes the Nyerges is written as Nierges (accoding to the Romanian splling of the Hungarian word) I even found in Romanian newspapers Nyerges, so I suppose it is not necessary to use this probably distorted version.

Gábor
Guest

I’ve found this at the same website as well (I was curious about the source of this strange toponym), but as it is a question of geography what is not necessarily the strength of Foreign Ministry burocrats I intended to make clear the difference for the readers. It is mainly becasue it would be hard to find the above mentioned Piatra Nierges on any map of Romania and I suppose I’m not alone with my obsession to identify geographical places from obscure countries mentioned in texts on the respective maps.

Erik the Reader
Guest

With due respect Eva your articles are a laughing stuff from a Hungarian viewpont and contain, carry clear anti-Hungarian views! And I am not a right winger. :)) Sólyom has the complete right to visit Hungarians of Slovakia and Romania if he is invited by local Hungarians.
Hungarians do not have any kind of authonomy in Romania yet, even cultural one.!!!!!!!!
http://www.divers.ro/focus_en?func=viewSubmission&sid=9974&wid=37645

Sandor
Guest

Back to Solyom for a moment! Today arrived the news that the EU is settled about Solyom’s adventure trying to visit Slovakia.
At the same time, we get the news about Geert Wilders, the not so attractive slightly racist Dutch MP, who was expelled from Britain last year.
Well, Mr. Wilders had the balls to sue the British government for what they have done, beat them in court and today he is back in Britain and there is not a thing the Brits can do about that.
This is a splendid example of what a democrat and a legally astute person (never mind a former chief justice, such as Solyom is), can and should do to insist on the even and persistent application of the law.
Solyom was too chicken to try the same.

Geography Dissertation
Guest

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

PhD Dissertation
Guest

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

-Paul-
Guest

Erik the Reader :
Hungarians do not have any kind of authonomy in Romania yet, even cultural one.!!!!!!!!
http://www.divers.ro/focus_en?func=viewSubmission&sid=9974&wid=37645

I know this is 4 years old but I cant resist on leaving a short reply because what you write is a blatant lie. Hungarian minority in Romania has autonomous education, mass-media (newspapers and TV), justice and local administration, cultural and religious rights, pretty much everything they want except a president
They even have the right to vandalize Avram Iancu’s statue or other Romanian national symbols, pretty much each year.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_Romania#Hungarian_language_2
They also have the right to have .ro websites in Hungarian, which could contain anything including instigation to violence. I don’t speak Hungarian but I don think these sites have a very friendship message for the fellow Romanians:

http://www.szekelyhon.ro/olvasoink-kuldtek/haboru-dul-szekelyfoldon
http://www.3szek.ro/load/3szek
http://www.hargitakiado.ro/

In the two Counties where the Szekelys have absolute majority we can even talk about a reversed situation, where the Romanians are oppressed. Look how they act towards the Romanian minority with racist messages and death threats:
http://www.dantanasa.ro/2013/02/08/szekely-land-the-other-side-of-the-story-a-reply-to-the-new-york-times/

I hope my message is not offending anyone.

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