The Hungarian president did not go to Slovakia after all

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.  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.

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Paul Hellyer

Whatever the merits or otherwise of Solyom and his predilection for visiting neighbouring countries during Hungarian national days, the actions of the Slovaks are surely against the spirit, if not the letter, of European norms. Their sensitivities around such matters betray deep insecurity. But, for heaven’s sake, both countries are EU members and should be able to work these things out in the spirit of cooperation.

Gheorghe Stoica

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.”
“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.”
The above two fragments express perfectly what also happened in March with Solyom’s trip to Romania. The feeling Solyom created was exactly the same thus the unfriendly gesture of the Romanians to revoke his plane landing permit.
Along the same attitude (“deep insecurities” mentioned by Hellyer) the present tilt to the right and to the far-right (Jobbik’s talk of Trianon) of Hungarians politics is also anxiously followed by the Slovakian and Romanian press and political blogs and seen that as a proof that their fears of the Hungarian revisionism are realistic not imaginary.

2 things here: 1) This must constitute a constitutional crisis in Hungary, because *who* is running the Hungarian Show: – The President (elected by the Hungarian Parliament and having a typical cerimonial role), or – The Government (elected by the Hungarian Parliament and having the executive responsibility)? Any movements/statements made by the President should be in line with the current Government. That is how things works in most countries in Europe, where the ceremonial Head of State is the Norm, like in Germany and Sweden. In Sweden the Foreign Committee of the Parliament approves the travel agenda for the Swedish King in advance, so no diplomatic problems, like standing on the border having a press conference arises. This will be a nice mess that Sólyom gives over to the Next Government to clean up. On the other hand this tactics of Sólyom is exactly what Fidesz claim they want, so they should be very happy, then. – 2) As I stated before, the actions of the Slovak Government/Parliament must be a wet dream for any ‘Hungarian Nationalists’, but of course the other way around. The action taken, the intent, is what we can imagine from the Next Government, if ‘Hungarian… Read more »

I wonder what effect this will have on the situation of the Hungarians living in Slovakia. The Slovaks are already bringing in discriminatory language legislation. I am sure that Slovak nationalists are finding it easy to portray them as a fifth column for a Greater Hungary.
This is the real danger of Jobbik type politics that harbours the delusion that Trainon will be revised. It can easily set of a chain reaction that could go well out of the control of those who push it. The victims are likely to be the Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia.
I wonder how many people saw the war coming in Yugoslavia in, say 1987?

Odin's lost eye
It is by common courtesy for a head of state only to visit another country at the express (and well published) invitation of the head of state of country being visited. When the visit happens (with all the guards of honour, bands playing, national anthems and all that rhubarb) the neither head of state is allowed to say anything which might ruffle any feathers. The previous president of France on the eve of his state visit to the U.K. said something nasty about the U.K.’s monarchy. The response was simple the venue for the ‘State Banquet’ was changed from Buck House in london to Windsor Castle where it was held in the Waterloo Room (captured eagles and all. Heads of state can make private visits to other countries but they are PRIVATE visits. No public appearances. No unveilings and definitely No repeat No speeches. The present actions and posturing are like those of tin-pot dictator of a banana republic more for home consumption than for any one else. Viking you say ** “This must constitute a constitutional crisis in Hungary, because *who* is running the Hungarian Show?” Who indeed? The parliament which was elected democratically, the president who was appointed… Read more »

Personally I think Victor Orban will replace Sólyom with himself. Sólyom’s term will end next year and it is hard to see that Orban wants him to continue as a free bird running his own agenda.
Better for Orban to himself occupying that post. To do that he need to cancel his place as PM and MP, but that is a small sacrifice, especially if Fidesz can get 75% majority for increasing the powers of the President.
Orban as Sarkozy – a nice thought.


I think Joseph Zuberec got this post in the wrong thread, but here it is:

Viking: Blaming Sólyom for anything is more than ridiculous. Why don’t you mention the idiotic conduct of the Slovak ultra nationalist government for trying to destroy the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. Those Hungarian people live there for Centuries and is not their fold that idiotic peace treaties after WWI and WW2 changed the borders around them.
Posted by: Joseph Zuberec | August 23, 2009 at 03:29 PM

Of course I agree with every one that opposes the introduction of the new Slovak Language Law, but that part of the problem was not up to debate in my post.
*But* the outcome of Sólyom standing on the border after being snubbed by the Slovaks just give the rest of Europe the impression that Hungary and Slovakia are like 2 small boys in the sand-box fighting over toys.
In fact Sólyom’s bad tactic decisions made it easier for the Slovaks to blame Hungarian ‘expansionism and revisionism’, this will not help Hungary and Hungarians anywhere.
Next tactically correct timed statement from Sólyom will be that the Trianon Treaty ought to be ‘reviewed’?

Martin Mikolas
Hi from Slovakia. First of all a bit of courtesy. Most of your opinions are really worth reading. Should I be a diplomat, I would love to conduct discussions with you guys. Relationships between our two nations would have a nice chance for improvement. Though my thinking is rather in line with the previous Slovak government, in this diplomatic dispute I happened to side with the current Bratislava establishment. Well, yes, can you imagine German Chancellor Merkel brashly unveiling a statue of Bismarck let’s say in Versailles on the 18 January (referring to 18 Jan 1871), after numerous attempts by Elyssee filed to Germany pleading the chancellor to change the date at least, if not change her mind completely? What would be Merkel’s response? Could it be: “Cher Nicolas, I was invited by the local mayor, it’s my private visit, by the way i will give a speech to the crowd, and oh I forgot, save your time, I don’t need you there. Don’t forger Schengen.” I don’t see this can happen in the 21st century, but here in the heart of the continent it looks like we both want to show Europe that there is still something creepy about… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh

Martin Mikolas: “Hi from Slovakia. First of all a bit of courtesy. Most of your opinions are really worth reading. Should I be a diplomat, I would love to conduct discussions with you guys.”
Martin, this is the nicest compliment I can imagine. You’ve made my day. I agree with everything you said about Fico as well as about Sólyom. I might add here that the only welcome initiative concerning Slovak-Hungarian relations came from MDF, a moderate, slightly right of center party, that doesn’t stand in line with the others who claim that Hungary was entirely blameless in this affair. No, Hungary was not blameless but Fico’s reaction was also ridiculous. That’s why I said that the EU politicians might wonder why on earth they ever allowed these countries to join.

Odin's lost eye
Mr Martin Mikolas: “Hi from Slovakia”. As you have guessed I am not Hungarian, but I live there (and will do so until the Magyar Garda catch up with me – they do not like wood wasps!). But to our ‘muttons’. In old Europe (before its enlargement) there were certain unwritten rules of politeness which were never broken. These were :- 1. A president/prime minister/chancellor/first lord of the treasury always supported his/her opposite numbers in Europe (no matter how much you disliked them or their policies). After all both sides had face the electorate sometime and neither wished to ‘rock’ the other’s ‘boat’. 2. They would ONLY accept an invitation to visit from you opposite number. A head of state would only invite another head of state, a prime minister another prime minister etc. Nothing would be made public until everything was agreed even the agenda. For the Chancelor of Germany to accept an invitation from a mayor and for the mayor to make such an invitation is just NOT done. A private visit is just that PRIVATE. No public appearances, no attendance at a public functions qand certainly NO public speeches or utterances. 3. A visitor and the person… Read more »
It is nice to hear different voices, especially from Slovakia…though I may still disagree. St. Istvan Napja is as important to ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia as to those in Hungary. This visit, as was pointed out, was planned with due diligence, well in advance. What else could be asked of those, Heads of State and other, simply wishing to also recognize the significance of this area to centuries of Hungarian history? Hungarian Heads of State, Prime Ministers, ex-Prime Ministers, Rock Bands, Figureheads, Poets, Songwriters, Cultural Elite, Actors, have been visiting these areas with regular frequency and without incident, since it became possible in the late 20th century. The “take back the old borders” rhetoric is something limited to an extremist minority…(and yes, quote that sentence and respond to it). However, all decent-minded, patriotic Hungarians would agree that such talk is ridiculous. This is simply a matter of recognizing and nurturing a minority, currently living under persecution and modern day laws which are adversarial to their long-term preservation. One must be fully aware and take into consideration the unique, culturally-mixed history of this area. I would side with PH on this issue as it is a reflection of deep insecurity. OLE’s… Read more »

“If there were UK nationals who, by no choice of their own, were living just outside UK borders under persecution, you can bet there would be organized visits”
I don’t think there have been any official celebrations of 750 years of English rule in Ireland since the formation of the Irish Free State.
The Irish Repubicans have a direct way of dealing with unwanted foreign dignitaries.,_1st_Earl_Mountbatten_of_Burma#Death

Thanks Eva for your wholehearted and nice reaction (if only women were allowed to be diplomats…), thanks Odin for your expert input and I thank also Isti for the opinion from the other perspective with whom I disagree but still carefully listen to. Isti, you wanted me to quote your statement, I opt for the different one, which stroke me: ” This is simply a matter of recognizing and nurturing a minority, currently living under persecution and modern day laws which are adversarial to their long-term preservation.” It was pretty unfair and biased to say such things about Hungarian minority in Slovakia. First of all, citizens of Slovakia belonging to Hungarian minority are highly esteemed and fully respected and valued individuals with equal rights to any other individual in the country, they have the right to pursue their hapiness and they, i am persuaded, fully do so, and I hope, never encounter any negative stance not even negative deeds against them from the side of Slovaks living with them in the commingled territory. There is a proof to this. The only provocative speeches from the Slovak side come from a single nationalistic party SNS whose electorate is, beatifully I say,… Read more »

Just like you M, I am not happy to have an extremist right in Hungary.
I stand by my earlier comments on the importance of nurturing minority language and culture in Slovakia, particularly in light of imminent language laws.
I am certain that more and more opinions denouncing the arbitrary and peresecutory nature of these language laws will be forthcoming in the weeks to come.

József Bíró
Dear Martin, Let me react to a few of your comments! 1: Concerning the Sólyom visit: cosidering that his intention to visit Komarno was announced to the Slovak ambassador two months before the planned date and no objection was received until three days before the visit, I have the impression, that this seems to be a trap set by the Slovak diplomacy: instead of letting us know privately well ahead in time that the visit is not welcome, your government was playing a dirty game. In fact, I am not even sure whether this was planned ahead. Maybe it was a quick reaction to some of the scandals related to some ministers in the Slovak government (you must know the details better, than I do). I am pretty sure that the Hungarian diplomacy did mistakes in handling this affair. Probably they should have realized that the local political affairs in Komárom cause soem tension in Slovakian politics. Probably Sólyom should have canceled his trip already after the first attacks. But let me say that I still think that the bulk of the “guilt” for this incident goes to the Slovak government. 2: Concerning the Sólyom visit in a more general… Read more »