Robert Fico, the Slovak prime minister, didn't heed the advice of the mayor of Balassagyarmat. His convoy went through the town without stopping to have an ice cream cone. Instead he spent an hour, instead of 15 minutes as planned, with Gordon Bajnai, the Hungarian prime minister. In addition another hour was spent in discussions between the two delegations that included the two countries' foreign ministers. All in all, I consider the outcome a success especially if one considers that Fico had allegedly claimed earlier that he was unwilling to talk about either the language law or Sólyom's visit to Komárno. On the other side, the Hungarian government insisted on talking about all outstanding issues, but both the foreign minister and the prime minister were very optimistic about the meeting itself. Gordon Bajnai took the first step toward establishing a suitable atmosphere by publishing an article in both Hungarian and Slovak in the Slovak press that was designed to show a willingness to compromise. Of course, the Slovak far right wasn't satisfied and demanded an apology from Bajnai because he labelled Ján Slota an extremist whose anti-Hungarian utterances are inflammatory. One ought to note that although Slota himself has no position in Fico's government, his party is in coalition with Fico's party, Smer (Direction).
I don't know what the expectations were in Slovakia concerning the meeting, but in Hungary they were low. My impression was that the Hungarian media commentators were almost certain that Fico would not move an inch and therefore the summit would be a failure. I thought otherwise and it seems that I was right. The summit achieved as much as was possible under the circumstances. Fico went as far as he could and showed a willingness to cooperate with his Hungarian counterpart in the future in order to establish better relations between their countries. Fico didn't apologize for Slovakia's treatment of László Sólyom, but he "expressed regret concerning the circumstances" of the visit. This in the language of diplomacy is very close to an apology. At the same time experts on both sides will work out arrangements for such visits in the future. This to me means that the Hungarian foreign ministry will not just announce Sólyom's possible visits but will work together with the Slovak foreign ministry on the details.
The two men agreed to meet again, perhaps in Komárno where the two of them would unveil the statue of Cyrill and Methodius that is currently perched on one of the balconies of the headquarters of Matica Slovenská in the city. A very nice gesture. As far as the language law is concerned a wise decision was reached. Both parties will wait for the decision of the commissioner in charge of minority affairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE. They agreed to take every measure to curb nationalistic or chauvinistic propaganda; they promised to fight xenophobia, intolerance, offensive language, and discrimination. Both governments will do everything in their power to stop the spread of extremism, especially as far as paramilitary organizations are concerned. In fact, they are contemplating the organization of a joint police force for that purpose. The parties agreed to set up a Hungarian-Slovak Council of Cooperation, an independent body responsible for working out closer cooperation between the two countries. This Council will have a fund that can be tapped for scholarships and exchange programs and will give assistance to joint cultural, artistic, and sports programs. The two foreign ministers will put together a joint plan for the implementation of this new closer cooperation within two months. The "package" will include a common energy policy, development of roads and railways connecting the two countries, and new bridges across the Danube and the Ipoly (Ipe'l') rivers. It will also develop plans to lessen unemployment on both sides of the border, to continue common historical research, to publish common history textbooks, and finally to cooperate on Roma integration in both countries. All in all, I'm amazed how much was accomplished. If the two sides actually stick with these plans, a very close relationship could develop between Slovakia and Hungary, two countries that after all lived within one state for almost a thousand years. In fact, in attitude and thinking they are very much alike.
I might be satisfied but the Hungarian opposition parties certainly are not. Orbán first and foremost is disssatisfied that the two countries turned to OSCE instead of sitting down and trying to work out the language question by themselves. According to him, it will be a lengthy legal procedure which cannot replace "a forceful Hungarian answer based on national interests." Orbán, who happened to be in Brussels at a meeting of the leadership of the European People's Party, told journalists that "the European Union is not a kindergarten teacher to whom we can run if one of our playmates pulled a fast one on us." He added that "Hungary appears to be such a weak country to those from the outside that anyone can do anything to her at any time." As for the outcome of the summit, he expects absolutely nothing. "On the one side there is the leader of a country that doesn't give a damn about European norms and laws while on the other there is a prime minister who holds the office temporarily and without any authority, who most likely will be nowhere within a few months…. This government which everybody knows will soon disappear cannot really represent the country at international negotiations."
Fidesz's foreign policy expert, Zsolt Németh, had no better opinion of the summit after he heard the results. "Fico mopped up the floor with Bajnai," claimed Németh. He is especially indignant that Fico didn't apologize for "barring" Sólyom from Slovakia. Another sore point is that Hungary didn't demand the revision of the Slovak language law in exchange for Slovak-Hungarian cooperation. SZDSZ's "foreign policy cabinet" was also dissatisfied. Of course, Attila Retkes's new SZDSZ is a party only in name and therefore its foreign policy cabinet is also a joke. István Szent-Iványi, the chief of this so-called cabinet, came up with the brilliant idea of a "round-table discussion." Slovak and Hungarian scientists, artists, and people who influence public opinion on both sides of the border should get together and work out suggestions. And? What would happen after these intellectuals discussed all these burning questions? What an idea!
The Christian Democrats who actually comprise the right wing of Fidesz claimed that the meeting was degrading to Hungary. The final communiqué sounds as if Hungary barred the Slovak president from Hungary and Hungary passed a language law and not the other way around. The spokesman of the Christian Democrats went farther than Németh: they want to repeal the language law in its entirety. According to MDF the summit was unsuccessful because the joint communiqué doesn't say anything about the source of the present strained relations–the Slovak side. MDF also wants to repeal the language law.
And László Sólyom? He is still thinking! The foreign minister will inform him of the situation and it will be only after their meeting that he will form an opinion. What do you think that will be? I have an idea, though perhaps the foreign minister will be more forceful than in the past and succeed in muzzling him a bit.