Slovak-Hungarian tensions

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.

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Öcsi
Guest

Off topic but the “comment” section is not working on Firefox. It works with Internet Explorer and Chrome. Can this be fixed?

Mihai
Guest

What I see in this case and what I remember from the March incident is pretty much the same. A lack of sensitivity from the Hungarian president and quite a lot of sensitivities from the Romanian and Slovakian authorities.
Back in March I thought the Romanian authorities overreacted. The Romanian government’s argument for refusing Sólyom a landing permit was that he was arriving with a military plane and especially that in the letter sent to Bucharest he announced that he was going to visit the “autonomy” ‘name of the town he was visiting’. Now, Romania is a unitary state and all Romanian politicians reject the calls for territorial autonomy made by people in the Székely Land (the area Sólyom was visiting). The wording in the Hungarian document was seen as implying support for that autonomy.
The Romanian president was already annoyed because Sólyom had publicly supported the autonomy of the Székely Land during his visit to Budapest, so now, he snubbed him because he didn’t respect the constitution of Romania.
Ohh my, we’re such a lovely triangle (Romania-Hungary-Slovakia)!

isti
Guest

Romania’s unwavering rejection of autonomy for the Szekely, Hungarian speaking region is appalling. It only makes sense, as any country in the world with a highly populated region of distinct language and culture should respect minority rights and not constantly push to eradicate the culture, people.
Good for Mr. Solyom. Similar to autonomous aboriginal people in Canada (in addition to Canadians’ support and recognition of francophone culture), support for autonomy is something that Hungary should be united in; in addition to all EU and decent countries of the world.

Mihai
Guest

isti the situation is not as dire as you want to portray it.
Romania by and large respects minority rights and nobody is pushing to eradicate the Szekely culture or the Szekelys themselves. They have the right to study in Hungarian (actually a lot of them barely speak Romanian), the right to address the authorities in Hungarian, the right to be judged in Hungarian etc.. Then, the main Hungarian party has been part of different governments in 12 of the last 20 years.
In the last years there have been various laws to grant more autonomy at the local level and this process continues; the mainstream view is in favor of local autonomy but not one based on ethnic considerations.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Isti: “Good for Mr. Solyom.”
I disagree. Sólyom’s insistence on spending Hungarian national holidays in the neighboring countries obviously creates tension between Hungary and her neighbors. And tension between the governments is no good for the Hungarian minorities. If Sólyom cares so much about Hungarians living in the successor states he should think twice before taking such steps.

isti
Guest

“If Sólyom cares so much about Hungarians living in the successor states he should think twice before taking such steps.”
Yes, good for Mr. Solyom. He brings more awareness to the situation. It would be more dangerous to tread ever so very lightly and choose to ignore Hungarian holidays (which are equally important to ethnic Hungarians abroad as to those in Hungary).

isti
Guest
Mihai: “isti the situation is not as dire as you want to portray it.” Thank you for your response Mihai…The picture I paint is as I, and many others, interpret and experience it. However, perhaps ‘eradicate’ is too strong a word – I did not intend to be inflammatory. I maintain that an ability to recognize and appreciate a distinct language and culture needs to improve. A few more things: -the right to ‘address’ authorities in Hungarian. This is a privilege? I find it difficult to imagine not having the right to do so. However the authorities generally will have no ability to respond in any language other than Romanian. This is a problem in an area which historically has been somewhere around 80%+ Hungarian speaking. This is where larger scale autonomy would help the situation and only be natural. -the right to study in Hungarian. There is some truth to this, however opportunities at the mainstream secondary and post-secondary level have not improved and appear to be deteriorating. Controversies at some major schools (Kolozsvar-Cluj) will point to this. -the ‘mainstream’ view you point to (“more autonomy at the local level”) is a problem. What does “more autonomy at the… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Sophist: “Yes, good for Mr. Solyom. He brings more awareness to the situation.”
He achieves nothing positive. The European Union is not going to stand by Hungary while the Hungarian minorities are citizens of other sovereign countries. We will obviously not going to convince each other. And if I mention the European Union, its politicians must be very sorry that they allowed these warring East European countries into the Union. If I were one of them I would be popping mad at the moment.

Mihai
Guest
isti of course things could improve but that’s a long way from the “push to eradicate” discourse. – my example about using the Hungarian language in the relations with the administration was just that, an example that was suppose to show you that nobody is killing the Hungarian language in here; Take a look at the history of this region and you’ll see that it’s not so difficult to imagine not having the right to talk with the state in your maternal language. If when talking about the “80%+ Hungarian speaking” you’re referring to Székely Land you’re right; if you are referring to the whole of Transylvania, you’re not. – Regarding education what happens in reality is that thousands of young Székelys finish high-school or university and don’t speak the only official language of the country. Thus, they are not able to get jobs across Romania and are forced to return to the largely poor, rural, mountainous Székely Land or leave for Hungary (most non-Székely Hungarians are better integrated). This policy of separation from the majority population only leads to an exodus of Székelys from Transylvania. Is that what you want? I actually graduated from the Babeş-Bolyai University in Cluj… Read more »
Mihai
Guest

@isti
Ohh yes, forgot to tell you. The fact that they address the authorities in Hungarian means that they also receive the answer in Hungarian.
@ Ms Balogh
Similar to the things Slovakians are saying. Romania agreed to place in Arad the statue of 13 Hungarian generals killed during the 1848 revolution (even tough they fought against Romanian interests) but the statue of the Romanian bishop Andrei Şaguna still waits to take its place in Gyula.
I still think Mr. Sólyom should have been allowed to fly to Romania and now visit Slovakia.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mihai: “but the statue of the Romanian bishop Andrei Şaguna still waits to take its place in Gyula.
I still think Mr. Sólyom should have been allowed to fly to Romania and now visit Slovakia.”
I agree with you but at the same time Sólyom is not sensitive enough. He doesn’t know the word “empathy.” He can’t put himself into the shoes of Romanians or Slovaks. He is a very strange bird who is convinced that he is always right. And that is a dangerous position for someone to take.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mihai wrote a nice longer piece answering Isti’s note and I must say that I’m siding with Mihai in practically everything. It is self-defeating of not knowing the majority language. As for the population of Transylvania proper the Romanians were in majority already in 1918. As for Hungarian universities are concerned Mihai is also right. I may add that as far as I know the educational level of these universities is fairly low. As for Isti who most likely lives in Canada. Can you imagine the future prospects of a Hungarian who refused to learn English or French?

Gheorghe Stoica
Guest

@isti ..Ohh yes, forgot to tell you. The fact that they address the authorities in Hungarian means that they also receive the answer in Hungarian.
Actually in Harghita County and Covasna County there isn’t a single Romanian ( I mean not even 1-one) in the local administration. This made Basescu to charge the local leaders during his last visit in Covasna with ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Romanians by the Hungarians(Szeklers)
because the area is not ethnically pure Hungarian yet the local Romanians have no representative in the local power structures, not even at low levels.

Gheorghe Stoica
Guest

@Mihai..oops, now I read that you have already written that with “100% hungarian administration”..and the situation may have improved (for the romanians living as minority in those areas) in the mean-time as the RMDSZ is no longer part of the governing coalition in Romania (but I have not checked).

Gheorghe Stoica
Guest

Eva “Sólyom is not sensitive enough. He doesn’t know the word “empathy.” He can’t put himself into the shoes of Romanians or Slovaks.”
That’s true, Solyom doesn’t seem to realize that he is an official, a representative of a political power– not a “private hungarian” or a mere “ceremonial person”– and thus such behavior (going alone there) is perceived as contesting the authority, or the legitimity of the authority, of Slovaks and Romanians over their territory.
It would have been different if he would have gone there along with Fico (Basescu respectively) to underline not “authority over” but that the same respect (equal status) as given to Solyom by the Fico (or Basescu) is to be shown to any ethnic hungarian living as minority in Slovakia or Romania by any ethnic slovakian (or romanian).

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