Slovak-Hungarian conflict: The Political Capital Institute’s analysis

I thought it might be useful to take a look at a Hungarian analysis of the conflict. First a few things about Political Capital. It is a very successful political think-tank that became a mini-multinational; it moved beyond Hungary's borders and established an affiliated institute in Bulgaria. Political Capital also has an online newspaper called Hírszerző. I'm not crazy about their opinion pieces because some of their writers seem to be enamored with neo-conservatism that, thank God, seems to be passé. The Institute has a fairly large staff and besides offering political analysis it also serves as an advisory body to Magyar Demokrata Fórum, the moderate conservative party of Ibolya Dávid. As far as I'm concerned, some of their leading analysts are very good. Usually they concentrate on internal politics, and therefore I was somewhat surprised to see the group put out a paper on the Slovak-Hungarian controversy. Below I'm going to summarize their assessment of the situation.

At the very beginning the analysis states the obvious: the conflict has more than internal aspects. I assume the authors of the analysis felt that they had to say that up front because at least in Hungary there is the widespread belief that Robert Fico "is playing the nationalist card" for home consumption. After all, there will be elections in Slovakia next year. No, they claim, both countries are also keeping an eye on what kind of impression they make on the international community. The assessment of others is not immaterial in these difficult economic times. However, Political Capital believes that there is no solution that would satisfy Slovak and Hungarian public opinion as well as diplomatic interests.

Political Capital is not optimistic about finding a quick solution to the current conflict. It is quite clear that neither the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) nor the European Union is ready to support one side against the other, and the commissioner's suggestions are not very helpful. Each country interpreted the commissioner's words differently. Budapest claimed support and so did Bratislava. It is becoming clear that the two countries must sit down and resolve the conflict themselves. But, the study adds, the internal situation in both countries is not conducive to reconciliation. The conflict will take center stage in both countries because of the 2010 elections. In both countries there will be a demand for more effective representation of the national interest. In Slovakia the rivalry will among Fico, Meciar and Slota while in Hungary between Fidesz and Jobbik. In both countries there are groups that think that inciting the national conflict will increase their popularity. In Hungary, the Slovak-Hungarian conflict might further strengthen Jobbik, and if the Hungarian extreme right becomes stronger and more vocal the Slovak side might be able to take advantage of it. If the diplomatic conflict doesn't subside it may adversely affect trade and tourism between the two countries. The conflict also might influence foreign investment in both countries because outsiders might consider them unstable and risky.

As far as diplomatic success is concerned, Political Capital thinks that Slovakia is ahead. The conflict brought into focus Hungary's poor diplomatic performance of late. For a number of years now in the international media one could hear about the growth of the extreme right, street demonstrations and clashes between police and demonstrators, paramilitary guards marching up and down, murders or attempted murders of Gypsies in Hungary, and of course near economic collapse. Slovakia, on the other hand, by 2000 had become one of the model countries of the region. It introduced structural economic reforms, foreign investment poured into the country, and its export capacity began to expand. By 2008 Slovakia was the fastest growing country in the region economically, and it was able to become, after Slovenia, the second country in Eastern Europe to adopt the euro. Fico is one of the most popular leaders in Eastern Europe while the Hungarian MSZP received a crushing defeat at the EP elections. The Slovaks also used the international media to their advantage. Robert Fico could argue that he was only reacting to Hungarian "aggression." For example, after the Dunajská Streda (Dunaszerdahely) soccer game or after Sólyom's badly handled but aborted visit to Komárno. As for the language law Fico could explain to the international community that it was a necessary step in light of Hungary "chauvinism." According to Political Capital "the essence of the Slovak government's strategy is the provocation of Hungarian diplomacy, the Hungarian opposition, and the Hungarian radical right, hoping that possible reactions can offer an opportunity for stronger steps to be taken." (As an aside. Not much provocation was necessary to get the worst out of Péter Balázs!)

Political Capital makes it clear that "the western countries traditionally are less tolerant toward political steps taken by Hungary to defend the Hungarian minorities living beyond its borders and they easily accept the argument which tends to equate the defense of minority rights with revisionist-irredentist ambitions." The commissioner of OSCE had this in mind when he warned the Hungarians that ethnic cooperation across borders may produce the impression of irredentism. This appearance is only strengthened by the growth of the Hungarian extreme right and "the confrontative politics of some politicians in Hungary as well as in the neighboring countries." This combines to "give the impression that Hungary is the troublemaker."

As for the Fico-Bajnai meeting, Political Capital considers Bajnai's position easier because he is the head of a government of experts allegedly without any political ambitions. Fico had to give in on several points but at the press conference he used strong language, most likely to defend himself against those who claim that he was "too soft." Yet the authors think that Fico might be able "to sell the eleven points more easily at home" than Bajnai. Fico apparently is trying to get rid of his coalition partner, the SNS (Slovak National Party) of Ján Slota. Fico, however, needs Slota's voters because lately his party, Smer, is losing ground. Smer did poorly at the EP elections (5 seats out of 13) and it is unlikely that Fico's Smer can form a government alone. He will need a coalition partner. Political Capital goes into all sorts of speculations about which parties might serve as coalition partners. Among them the Hungarian Híd/Most, a moderate party led by Béla Bugár as opposed to the more radical MKP headed by Pál Csáky.

As far as the Hungarian situation is concerned Political Capital's analysts are not too optimistic. The Hungarian opposition will take advantage of the conflict and it "will also play the national card" against its opponents. The noisiest will be Jobbik because neither the "duties of governing in the future" nor "European norms" restrain its propaganda. Fidesz in its rivalry with Jobbik will also have to be louder and more extreme. All in all, says Political Capital, the prospects are rather gloomy.

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m
Guest

a bona fide analysis of the stand of Hungarians in Slovakia and in the same stride the stand of minority-rights in Europe, in the EU is missing. Probably it would show, that minorities in Europe don’t get the rights they deserve, so Hungarians in Slovakia are not alone.

Mark
Guest

“Fico, however, needs Slota’s voters because lately his party, Smer, is losing ground. Smer did poorly at the EP elections (5 seats out of 13) and it is unlikely that Fico’s Smer can form a government alone.”
Did Political Capital bother to compare the results of the 2006 elections which bought Fico to power with the European elections in 2009? If they had looked at the figures they would have seen that SMER won 29.14% in 2006, and 32.01% in 2009 (this seems to me to be evidence that SMER is becoming stronger, not weaker), and Slota’s party is weakening (falling from 11.73% in 2006 to 5.55% in 2009).
This leads them, I think, to underestimate the degree of Hungary’s problem with international opinion. Political Capital seems to believe that both countries have a problem with populist nationalism. Looking at the electoral comparison between the two countries, it is Hungary, and not Slovakia that is moving to the populist right. And this is the way opinion in western states of the EU will see things, allowing it to be accused all too easily of harbouring irredentist intent. This is the country’s real problem in making its case in the current dispute.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Mark: “Looking at the electoral comparison between the two countries, it is Hungary, and not Slovakia that is moving to the populist right. And this is the way opinion in western states of the EU will see things, allowing it to be accused all too easily of harbouring irredentist intent. This is the country’s real problem in making its case in the current dispute.”
I agree and as I mentioned yesterday I left out a lot of nonsense about Slovak politics because I had the distinct feeling that they don’t know what they are talking about.

Odin's lost eye
Guest
The elected government in Slovakia passed a language law. The dispute is now between those Slovakian citizens whose mother tongue is Slovakian and those whose Slovakian citizens whose mother tongue is not Slovakian. It has nothing whatever to do with the Republic of Hungary and this is why the Europeans will not get involved. The Europeans will only do so if the Slovakian law breeches the Charter of Human Rights. The present demographic make up is Slovak origin (85.8%), Hungarian origin (9.5%). other ethnic origins (2.7%). This is as of the 2001 census. These people are ALL Slovak Citizens (earlier Czechoslovak Citizens) and have been since the treaty of Trianon. This was nearly 90 years ago (3 to 4 generations). I doubt that are many people of Hungarian Origin who still speak Hungarian who are not bilingual. The Hungarians have forgotten one of the first rules of diplomacy. “Do not interfere in the internal affairs of another state”. This is something that All sovereign states avoid like the plague. The citizens of any other state may comment on such affairs, that is free speech, but their leaders should only do so in a place of privilege (on the floor of… Read more »
isti
Guest

OLE: “The dispute is now between those Slovakian citizens whose mother tongue is Slovakian and those whose Slovakian citizens whose mother tongue is not Slovakian.”
This is but your opinion…sure it is valid, but it is cold-hearted – you seem to neglect the importance of nurturing, protecting minorities. Imagine if minorities world-wide were left to fend for themselves…
Furthermore, there are plenty of examples of progressive, ‘western’ countries who do things to support their own minorities, whether in neighbouring countries or overseas. It is a question of how to do it diplomatically, delicately.
If you cannot accept this, you a far from understanding the complexities of history in this area in addition to the overall meaning and implications of living as a minority anywhere.

sildenafil citrate
Guest

On Monday, Enough launched a week-long campaign to get 10 new congressional champions for the Conflict Minerals Trade Act, or HR 4128, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last fall. In just our first day, over two hundred activists responded by posting Facebook and Twitter messages asking these representatives to support the legislation.
This bipartisan bill introduced by Rep. McDermott (D-WA) and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) will help the United States take crucial steps to curb the trade in conflict minerals which are fueling the violence in eastern Congo. Before it can receive a full vote, this legislation has to pass two powerful committees – Foreign Affairs and Ways & Means.

Karl Nowak
Guest

The Europe as we know it is changing face again.
This is just the beginning I am afraid.
This conflict will grow to a full blown war between this two countries and there is unfortunately nothing to prevent it from happening.

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