Because of the four-day weekend I thought that I was going to be short on topics, but exactly the opposite happened. There are too many subjects worth talking about. I could write about the development of August 20, the "invented holiday" as historian Krisztián Ungváry called it, or I could say something about the "real" St. Stephen and his historical significance, or I could ponder the reason for the Hungarian judiciary's sudden change of heart concerning the far right. However, as promised, I will spend some time on László Sólyom and his planned trip to Slovakia tomorrow.
I already mentioned Sólyom's penchant for spending Hungarian national holidays outside of Hungary. Very often he skips functions he is supposed to attend at home in order to be in Romania, Slovakia, Serbia, or Ukraine. Some people are not too thrilled about this routine. However, it seems that these foreign trips are very important to Sólyom because he is convinced that the Hungarians living in the neighboring countries find his presence beneficial and uplifting. His critics accuse him of actually making the Hungarian minorities' situation more difficult by creating tension between some of the neighbors and Hungary.
My readers may remember that the last time Sólyom got into trouble was on March 15, another national holiday that he wanted to spend in a region of Transylvania where the Hungarians constitute the majority of the population. This area is quite far from the Romanian-Hungarian border, so Sólyom was supposed to first fly to Marosvásárhely (Târgu Mureş) and from there take a car to his final destination. At the last minute the Romanian authorities refused a landing permit for Sólyom's plane. I wrote about this on March 19 ("László Sólyom, the diplomat"). And because he had to go by car, which meant more time en route, he would have had to shorten his planned visit to Serbia. The Hungarians living there became offended and called his trip off. Well, it seems that this holiday weekend is not going to be better for Sólyom, the peripatetic president.
This time he is going to Révkomárom (Komárno) where the locals erected a statue of St. Stephen. Sólyom is supposed to unveil it. Juraj Horváth, chairman of the Slovak Parliament's commitee on foreign relations, released a communiqué on Wednesday that read in part: "I consider it a provocation that the Hungarian president decided to visit Southern Slovakia on August 21, the [forty-first] anniversary of the occupation of Slovakia. It is unacceptable that the head of the Hungarian Republic is following the footsteps of the Hungarian soldiers and tanks that ensured the oppression of our people for decades." Well, these are strong words. And he continued. According to Horváth, the choice of the 21st as the date for unveiling the statue of St. Stephen "shows the low level of the Hungarian president's political culture." I am almost certain that Sólyom and his entourage in Sándor palota didn't remember the significance of this date for the Slovaks. But it was indeed the beginning of the 1968 occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact countries that included Hungarian troops as well.
Other Slovak politicians were not as outspoken but certainly were not pleased about Sólyom's impending trip. President Ivan Gasparovic called his visit "ill-considered." Gasparovic said that he himself was not invited to the unveiling and added that, if he had received an invitation, he would have attended only if Komárno at last would find a worthy spot for a statue of Cyril and Methodius, which the two presidents could have unveiled together. He added that a plaque commemorating the Slovak poet Ján Kollár still hasn't been placed in the Budapest church where he served as minister. From Gasparovic's words it is clear that there is a great deal of resentment on the Slovak side, undoubtedly not without reason.
Miroslav Lajcák, the Slovak foreign minister, was–as behooves his position–a great deal more diplomatic than Juraj Horváth. He didn't think that Sólyom's visit would be a provocation and announced that the Hungarian and Slovak foreign ministries were cooperating in all the technical details of the visit. By the way, Ferenc Kumin, Sólyom's right-hand man, also said in an interview that the Slovak foreign ministry didn't raise any objections.
Robert Fico, the Slovak prime minister, was less charitable. He considered Sólyom's visit a provocation and, if Sólyom after all still decides to go to Komárno, "he must bear the responsiblity" for whatever happens there. He as prime minister cannot forbid Sólyom to enter Slovakia, but at the same time he can't "prevent the extremists of the Slovak Brotherhood or other parties from going to Komárno to demonstrate." Fico, as opposed to Horváth, didn't drag the occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 into the discussion. Instead, he gave from the Slovak point of view a much more weighty argument. The unveiling of the statue of St. Stephen "is an attempt to celebrate Hungarian statehood on the territory of the sovereign Slovak Republic." I think this is something that Sólyom, who obviously has no appreciation of Slovak sensitivities, never considered. And that is a big problem.