For a political junky these four-days holidays are really hard to take because even under normal circumstances the media are not too generous with news items over the weekend. In Hungary there are no newspapers on Sundays and this week there were no papers yesterday either. But international affairs somehow didn't pay attention to Hungary's celebration and its intended peaceful long vacation. We had László Sólyom's latest tiff with Slovakia.
Originally I thought that I would say a few words about Hungary's first king István (Stephen) because after all it is on account of the unveiling of his statue in Komárno (Révkomárom) that the Hungarian president was supposed to visit Slovakia. I found a site where anyone who's interested in the arrival of Stephen's statue can see a video as the king on horseback is being placed on the pedestal. http://www.bumm.sk/32550/megerkezett-istvan-kiraly-komaromba.html Sólyom can go online as well, because even though he still insisted this morning that regardless of what Slovak politicians said he was going, eventually either he or the Hungarian foreign minister decided to scrap the trip.
The first shot across the bow came this morning when the Slovak president Ivan Gasparovic talked to the Hungarian ambassador in Bratislava and through him asked Sólyom to postpone his trip. According to Gasparovic the Slovak government especially objected to the date, August 21, when forty-one years ago Warsaw Pact troops, including Hungarians, invaded Czechoslovakia. He warned the Hungarians that Sólyom's decision would influence Slovak-Hungarian relations and cooperation. However, he fell short of threatening to break off diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Miroslav Lajcák, the foreign minister who yesterday didn't see anything wrong with Sólyom's visit, by today changed his mind. He also advised Sólyom to stay home. Prime Minsister Gordon Bajnai phoned Robert Fico and tried to smooth things over, but Fico remained adamant. A diplomatic note was given to the Hungarian ambassador in which the Slovak government made itself clear. According to the note Slovak authorities will stop Sólyom at the border and remind him that his visit is not welcome and, although they will not use force, they will consider his visit to Komárno a "serious provocation." Lajcák added that this whole affair has already damaged Slovak-Hungarian relations but how badly will depend on Sólyom's decision. If Sólyom goes ahead, "the Hungarian side will knowingly trample on diplomatic customs."
Sólyom started off from Budapest but decided to stop on the Hungarian side. Meanwhile the Slovak chief of police and the head of government security were waiting for him on the bridge between the two countries. Right there on the bridge Sólyom gave a press conference while on the other side of the Danube hundreds of policemen were waiting. The Slovaks maintained that they have nothing against St. Stephen, and Sólyom can visit Slovakia on some other occasion but not on August 21. I for one don't believe that the date is as important as the Slovaks claim. They are just sick and tired of Sólyom and his foreign visits to "Greater Hungary." As Fico said today: "Komárno is not a part of some county in Hungary." But he had other gripes as well, which I personally understand. He expressed ire at Sólyom's lack of interest in meeting the Slovak president or any other politician during his trips to Slovakia. He considered this "unbelievable, unimaginable, and arrogant behavior." Many times he repeated that the Hungarians behave as if Southern Slovakia were one of the counties of Hungary. "Slovakia must defend and will defend its sovereignty." As for St. Stephen: "Although a lot of people will not like what I'm going to say: St. Stephen is not our king. Our king is Svatopluk." It is not clear whether Fico here is talking about Svatopluk I or Svatopluk II of Greater Moravia. Svatopluk II died most likely fighting against the invading Hungarians around 906. In any case, one can understand his frustration and even his fears because this part of Slovakia is still very heavily Hungarian in character. However, worrying about the territorial integrity of Slovakia is baseless. Fico might worry about the open borders that will probably promote closer relations between Hungarians living on the two sides of the Danube and might be viewed as a threat to the Slovak unitary nation state. However, the free commingling of citizens of these countries works the other way as well. Ethnic Slovaks working in Bratislava are purchasing houses in villages on the Hungarian side. The prices are lower and the trip takes about 15 minutes by car. The situation is similar along the Romanian-Hungarian border. I think that this development in inevitable. This is the price these countries will have to pay for membership in the European Union.