Hungarian foreign policy: Fidesz or Duchy of Fenwick style?

Yesterday Lajos Medvácz, Fidesz mayor of Balassagyarmat, and Gábor Csach, Fidesz deputy mayor of the same town close to the Slovak-Hungarian border, wrote an open letter to Robert Fico, prime minister of Slovakia. The two made it clear that he was not welcome in Balassagyarmat, population 17,000. So in case he is planning to cross the border at their town on his way to Szécsény where the Fico-Bajnai meeting will take place tomorrow, he should find some other crossing point. The Hungarian government is horrified, but it can't do much except reiterate that the Slovak prime minister is welcome anywhere in the country.

The letter begins with a ninety-year-old story. In January 1919 Czechoslovak troops apparently crossed the demarcation line delineated in December 1918 and occupied some towns south of the line, including Balassagyarmat. According to the Fidesz mayors the local population with the assistance of the army unit stationed in town managed to push back the Czechoslovak troops in a serious military encounter in which some of the participants lost their lives. That's why since 1998 the town's coat-of-arms has included the Latin inscription "Civitas Fortissima" (the bravest city). As far as I can ascertain, Balassagyarmat has been in Fidesz hands at least since 1998. Hence the Latin inscription doesn't come as a surprise.

This was the first reason that Robert Fico is not welcome in Balassagyarmat in 2009! As they put it: "Just as the Czechoslovak leaders who ordered the illegal occupation, you are persona non grata in the town of Balassagyarmat!" The second and third reason for the banishment of the Slovak prime minister is the insult Hungary and the Hungarian people suffered as a result of the enactment of the new Slovak language law and Slovakia's "banning" President László Sólyom from visiting Komárno on August 21. I put the word "banning" in shudder quotes because the Slovak government didn't forbid Sólyom to enter Slovakia but it made it clear that his visit was not welcome. In addition, they indicated that the Slovak government couldn't guarantee his safety.

If Fico ignores this warning and dares to travel through town, the "city council of Balassagyarmat will consider this act a base provocation and disrespect of the Civitas Fortissima." And if this weren't enough, these two dangerous nincompoops added the following: "If you cross Balassagyarmat in spite of of our request you will offend universally accepted norms and the sovereignty of Balassagyarmat. . . . Your passing through our town will be injurious to the diplomatic relations between Bratislava and Balassagyarmat." No wonder that some people thought that the letter was written in jest. Surely, no serious adults, leaders of a community, can put together that much nonsense. It sounded like a letter from the Duchy of Fenwick in the hilarious satire "The Mouse That Roared." (Except that the Duchy of Fenwick, on the verge of bankruptcy, had a marginally rational plan–declare war on the U.S., lose the war, and graciously accept something like a Marshall Plan.)

However, the letter continued, as a private person Fico can come to Balassagyarmat where he can stroll around and "lick our excellent ice cream cones." They reassured him that "he will suffer no disadvantage by speaking in Slovak except that ten meters from the border no one will understand" him. And can you imagine that with this letter they went to MTI (Magyar Távirati Iroda), the Hungarian equivalent of Reuters or AP? That was bad enough, but that Fidesz's web site gave a fairly lengthy summary of the letter without any criticism, seemingly condoning it, is really outrageous.

Another nearby border town, Salgótarján, obviously got inspired. Salgótarján used to be a solidly MSZP town until 2006 when the Fidesz candidate won. Her name is Dr. Melinda Sztrémi, neé Széky. She used to teach Hungarian literature in the local high school. If the letter from Balassagyarmat was ridiculous, this one is supercilious, not exactly designed to win friends and influence people. Or perhaps it can influence people but not the way we normally want to influence them. I think I ought to quote the first paragraph in full. The salutation itself is totally inappropriate: "Mr. Fico." Brief and to the point. Then: "I would like to call your attention to a few things because as far as I can see your knowledge of history is insufficient. Of course, this is understandable because in your not too lengthy national history books some indisputable facts were left out. On the other hand, we Hungarians, as a result of our one-thousand-year history, can't have selective memory."

The beginning of the second paragraph is no better. "You as a leader of a country with only a sixteen- year-old history most likely can't even imagine what responsibility it is that our ancestors established a country here in the Carpathian Basin a thousand years ago." Then with an interesting interpretation of history we hear from our high school teacher that "we accepted many different nations," including the Slovaks. Well, this is not exactly how it happened because the Slovaks were there first and the Hungarians conquered them and not the other way around. She reassures Fico that Hungarians don't want any territories, they "don't even want to take back such precious symbols from [the Slovaks] as the three mountains and the double cross," but at the same time "each and every member of the Hungarian minority in the neighboring countries is a symbol of our one-thousand-year statehood." It doesn't sound too reassuring to the governments of the successor states. Finally, the mayor of Salgótarján makes oblique references to a political adventurer who hopes to receive votes by his anti-Hungarian stance while he is trying to cover up his dubious affairs. It is not at all clear whether she's talking about Ján Slota or Robert Fico, or both.

I simply can't understand how Orbán, whose finger is in every pie, could possibly allow these bizarre letters to appear in print. I heard that even right wingers who are faithful viewers of HírTV wrote disapproving SMS's about these letters. Their argument was that by writing such letters these Hungarian politicians sank down to the level of Ján Slota and other Slovak nationalists. In my opinion this is too charitable an assessment. These letters in a cruder form are unfortunately following the pattern of Hungarian foreign policy between the two world wars. Provincialism, total disregard of historical reality, misinterpretation of history. One could continue ad nauseum. I heard the mayors of both Balassagyarmat and Salgótarján today speaking with György Bolgár and József Orosz, and unfortunately they didn't sound any better in conversation than in writing. Perhaps worse if that is at all possible.

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Odin's lost eye

This is so ridiculous the only comment I will make comes from the Mikardo by Gilbert and Sullivan. It comes from Nanki-pu’s song about a ‘wandering minstrel’ and it goes something like this:-
“If patriotic sentiment is wanted, I’ve patriotic ballads cut and dried.
For where ere our city’s banner is planted
All other local banners are defied,
See the Gárda there in serried ranks assembled
If their afraid they conceal it if they do,
And I would not be surprised if Nations trembled
Before the mighty troops the troops of Tittypu (aka Balassagyarmat)”
(With deepest apologies to W.S. Gilbert)
Who is this buffoon Lajos Medvácz and just what strange chemicals has he been using?

“In my opinion this is too charitable an assessment. These letters in a cruder form are unfortunately following the pattern of Hungarian foreign policy between the two world wars. Provincialism, total disregard of historical reality, misinterpretation of history.” Of course, you are absolutely right, but that isn’t the most disturbing thing about this incident. It speaks to the way in which public debate especially on the right has become debased, especially as a consequence of FIDESZ’s “us” and “them” tactics. They have their own television stations and newspapers where alternative perspectives are denounced and not discussed; those who think differently are smeared, and no-one is ever expected to defend their opinion in the light of facts. It isn’t surprising in this climate that people, and even – it seems – public officials can live in an alternative reality and dismiss anything that contradicts their “view” as lies. This isn’t just deeply damaging to democracy, but thinking specifically about this incident I wonder whether these two realize how damaging this “dispute” between Hungary and Slovakia is to the country’s reputation abroad. And perpetuating this debased political culture has (and will) create a climate in which even more extreme opinions and forms… Read more »

It is not only a result of the “level” of public discourse on the right and in Hungary in general, but the selection mechanisms of the Fidesz, especially from 2002. During Orbán’s turn towards mass movement – in the form of Polgári Körök – many similar lunatics were flooding into the party and they captured an important share of the candidacies even in 2006 as for Orbán in his hunt for enough votes only the mobilizing capacity of persons on the lower party levels was important. And I suppose it was accompanied by the change of Orbán’s personal convictions and although it is somewhat questionable that he was firmly believeing that time in such nonsenses as he was and is telling day after day, now I think he is convinced of this “truth”.


The letters you mentioned are a disgrace. Instead of writing these ridiculous letters, internationally humiliating Hungarians, local politicians should have other priorities which are actually aimed at helping their citizens.
Another thing I find incredible is that not a single European partner of FIDESZ, member of the European People’s Party and Viktor Orban even the Party’s Vice-President, has spoken out publicly against the populist and extreme nationalistic tendencies of the biggest Hungarian opposition party. Is it not time for Angela Merkel and Sarkozy to have a good talk with their political friend?


Gábor: “It is not only a result of the “level” of public discourse on the right and in Hungary in general, but the selection mechanisms of the Fidesz, especially from 2002.”
This is often a problem with parties that seek to give power to local activists, who are generally more extreme than either their voter base, or voters more generally. I suspect that Orbán opened membership to the far right after 2002 in order to provide himself with a base of support that would prevent others from challenging his position.
“Salgótarján used to be a solidly MSZP town until 2006 when the Fidesz candidate won.”
What happened in Salgótarján in 2006 was truly extraordinary. The MSZP fell out with the sitting mayor (who had also been the city’s member of parliament until 2006), and replaced him as their candidate. He stood and garnered 12.32% as an independent; consequently the FIDESZ candidate beat the official MSZP candidate by a margin of only 210 votes. It wasn’t so much that FIDESZ won (even in their good year in 2006), as the MSZP threw away the chance of winning a position they should have held onto easily.


Mark “What happened in Salgótarján in 2006 was truly extraordinary.”
Well, I suppose it often happens with parties operating like loose alliance of fiefdoms. 😉 Actually MSZP’s local powerful figure – Boldvai – had some differences with the then-mayor and he had the strength to get rid of him even though the inherent danger was clear. A similar maneouver led to the election of the Fidesz candidat for mayor in Nagykanizsa. (In the light of these events it is even more ironical – and I hate to say, but telling – regarding the state of the MSZP is that Boldvai is still the powerful man of the party in Nógrád and barely missed an important position. The reason of blocking him becoming a member of the Central Electoral Committee – with the support of his fellow county chairmen – of the party – with the support of his fellow county chairmen – was not the political mistake committed and mentioned by Mark, but his obviously too large mansion.)


Unreal letter. Fortunately it won’t do any harm because it is so aberrant, so bizarre, that even the fanatics amongst the slovak nationalists won’t be able to take offence but they will burst in laughter.
Nevertheless these idiots should have not been allowed to publish such a psycho-letter since (of course) there are amongst the slovaks people with similar low IQ. They won’t burst in laughter but will see in it the confirmation of their worst fears and stereotypes about the hungarians (including the minority living in Slovakia).


fico is also not welcomed in whole Hungary cause he is almost as nationalist like slota …