The thorny problem of dual citizenship for Hungarians living in the neighboring countries has cropped up again although its emergence didn't come as a surprise. Ever since the failed referendum at the end of 2004 Fidesz has made it clear that this issue was an important one for them. Even before the elections, some time in November or December of 2009, Fidesz, then still in opposition, brought up the issue. But the government party wanted to have safeguards that the new citizens, perhaps as many as a million adults, would not be able to vote in Hungarian elections. The Fidesz parliamentary members who came up with the legislative proposal for dual citizenship, seeing that MSZP was not easily moved on the subject, dropped the idea. To tell the truth, I have no idea why they even proposed this legislation only a few months before the elections. They must have realized that Fidesz would do well in the coming elections and afterwards could do whatever it wanted to. At least as far as Hungarian internal politics are concerned. The reaction of the world and the neighbors is something else. But Fidesz often disregards such considerations. They want a strong Hungary that doesn't make what they consider unnecessary compromises. Not like the socialists who in their eyes wanted a small and weak country that would always have to give in. Well, we will see.
Before I tackle the topic of dual citizenship and Slovakia I would like to say a few words about the new-old foreign minister, János Martonyi. It is truly amazing how a man's reputation can be burnished in the course of eight years. Martonyi was not a good foreign minister. Or rather, we don't know what kind of foreign minister he would have been had he been allowed to conduct the country's foreign policy. But he was a puppet; it doesn't matter how military looking his moustache is. I think I mentioned earlier that for a long time I kept an HVG cover from those days. It depicted Martonyi in a tennis outfit, racket in hand, in front of a net. On the other side was Viktor Orbán in a soccer uniform with socks in the national colors kicking a soccer ball over the net for Martonyi to catch with his racket. Well, this was a very apt depiction of the situation. Unfortunately, Orbán has no talent for diplomacy. As a result Hungary's relations with her neighbors as well as with the United States, Europe, and Russia hit rock bottom between 1998 and 2002.
Analysts seem to have forgotten about Martonyi's ineffectual tenure as foreign minister, and we have been hearing nothing else for weeks but what a wonderful and experienced man Hungary will have as its foreign minister. I guess if you compare him with the rest of his colleagues perhaps he stands out, but that's not saying much.
The verbal confusion over the nature of this dual citizenship is staggering. Important Fidesz politicians say different things about eligibility, voting rights, and general rights and privileges. But that's not the path I'm going down right now. Instead I will look at the international complications which, I fear, will not be easy to overcome.
The Romanian government and media have been quiet on the subject but not so Slovakia. Therefore I wasn't terribly surprised to hear that Martonyi's first trip was to Bratislava, even before he officially became foreign minister. Therefore it was of course not an official visit. Just a working lunch that took place today. In advance of the trip one could hear all sorts of things in the media. According to the Hungarian news agency, MTI, the Slovak dailies were optimistic about the outcome of the visit. MTI mentioned the Slovak paper Pravda that considered the visit "an important gesture." Tomás Koziak, a political scientist, was also hopeful that as a result of the visit the tense relationship between the two countries would change for the better. I wasn't that optimistic.
An interesting side note is that Martonyi, once in Bratislava, also paid a visit to the headquarters of MKP (Magyar Koalició Pártja) that is close to Fidesz and a fierce opponent of the current Slovak government. However, he didn't visit the other, more moderate Hungarian party, Híd/Most. Pál Csáky, the chairman of MKP, said something to the effect that the legislative proposal concerning dual citizenship might change in light of the conversation between Martonyi and Miroslav Lajcák, the Slovak foreign minister, but "these changes will not be substantial." In brief, it really doesn't matter what Lajcák says to Martonyi, the Hungarian elephant will charge ahead.
The Slovak papers were not alone in being optimistic. Even Népszava, not exactly a friend of Fidesz, was hopeful that "Martonyi is ready to build good relations between the two countries." It seems that Népszava was in too much of a hurry. Martonyi arrived in Bratislava this morning and didn't exactly conquer. Today's Népszabadság brought the bad news: the talks didn't go very well. The title of the report from Bratislava carried the following title: "Martonyi didn't arrive in Bratislava with friendly gestures." The two men didn't see eye to eye on the two crucial questions: the Slovak language law and dual citizenship. The picture of the two foreign ministers accompanying the article tells a lot. The Slovak foreign minister announced that Bratislava can't consider it a friendly move that Hungary wants to introduce dual citizenship without consulting the governments concerned. Moreover, from what he knows about its details, he has legal objections as well. If the Hungarian Parliament votes on this issue, Slovakia will turn to the Organization of European Security and Cooperation in addition to the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.
If I had to predict, I'm afraid that the Fidesz government will not be deterred. Martonyi will crumble before Viktor Orbán, Zsolt Semjén, and Zsolt Németh, the possible future undersecretary of foreign affairs, when it comes to the introduction of dual citizenship. Consequently, the relations between Hungary and Slovakia will worsen. And I suspect this is just the beginning. Perhaps I'm too pessimistic but past experiences lead me to believe that Orbán and his team haven't learned a thing about diplomacy in the last eight years. I wish I were wrong.