“Martonyi setting the stage”

This was the title of an article that appeared in the Hungarian-language daily Erdélyi Krónika, published in Cluj/Kolozsvár. The author, Árpád Gazda, went into raptures talking about János Martonyi's visit to Bucharest. According to him it was unnecessary for Martonyi to emphasize that lately "new winds are blowing in Budapest" because it is obvious even to the casual observer that "Hungary has become an active player in the eastern-central European region" since the formation of the Orbán government. And this player is looking for partners. Gazda mentioned Viktor Orbán's trip to Warsaw except he, unlike me, thinks that Warsaw was enthusiastic about the idea of a Polish-Romanian-Hungarian axis cooked up in Budapest.

Gazda then went on and praised Martonyi to the skies. Martonyi's ideas are so compelling that even the Romanian news agency quoted him instead of Teodor Baconschi, the Romanian foreign minister. And Martonyi had only good news: soon there will be representation of the Romanian minority in the Hungarian parliament and the Romanian Orthodox Church will become one of the so-called "historically accepted churches/történelmi egyházak like the Catholic, the Lutheran, the Hungarian Reformed, and the Jewish." I might add that in Hungary one heard not a word about either parliamentary representation or the Romanian Orthodox Church's elevation to the highly coveted position of a "historical church." As far as the Romanian minority is concerned, their number in 1980 was about 9,000 and since then most likely it has shrunk even further.

Poor Baconschi had almost nothing original to say, according to Gazda. He was reduced to talking about the Hungarian presidency of the European Union next year. He didn't mention a word about the Day of Remembrance to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, and even the granting of Hungarian citizenship was only mentioned casually. Árpád Gazda felt that János Martonyi's unspoken message was: "If you want to achieve anything, you ought to be on good terms with us." But he added that Hungary also needs Romania because this friendship would be "a guarantee that Slovakia would be isolated as long as it conducts a nationalistic and anti-Hungarian policy."

The news I found in Romania Libra was considerably less enthusiastic and more factual. Teodor Baconschi announced that "he received assurances that Budapest would avoid discrimination on ethnic grounds when it comes to citizenship." That of course means that even Romanians whose ancestors were Hungarian citizens before 1918 are entitled to citizenship if they wish to take advantage of it. Martonyi emphasized that the law on citizenship has nothing to do with any kind of territorial issue, meaning territorial autonomy. He also mentioned–and we will see whether it turns out to be true–that "only those could vote at Hungarian elections who reside in Hungary."

The Hungarian news agency's description of the Martonyi-Baconschi talks is a bit more revealing. Here one can read that "Baconschi said that at the meeting they talked frankly about the citizenship law and the introduction of the Day of Remembrance." Anyone familiar with the language of diplomacy knows what frankly means in this context.

As for the isolation of Slovakia Erdélyi Krónika wasn't the only Hungarian-language paper in Romania that spent time on the idea of Romanian-Hungarian cooperation that would exclude and isolate Slovakia. In Új Magyar Szó an op-ed piece argued that perhaps the most important reason for Hungary's newly found friendship with Romania was the necessity to prove that Hungary gets along with everybody, even Romania with the largest Hungarian minority, and it is only Fico's Slovakia that created a conflict between the two countries. At the same time, said the author, Romania also needs a willing friend in Hungary because due to the presidency of Traian Basescu Romania found herself in isolation.

I can't pass judgment on Romania's alleged diplomatic isolation, but I'm almost certain that Slovakia doesn't have to worry about any isolation, especially not because of the Hungarian courting of Romania. My feeling is that the reception of the Slovak electoral results in Western Europe was enthusiastic. Most analysts consider the failure of Pál Csáky's KMP to get into parliament and MOST/HID's success a confirmation of the Slovak-Hungarians' rejection of the kind of Hungarian nationalism advocated by Viktor Orbán.

And one more thing. On June 24 the European Commission refused to pass judgment on the Hungarian complaint concerning the thwarted trip of László Sólyom to Slovakia on August 21, 2009. They threw it back, saying that the two countries should settle the issue between themselves. I thought at the time the complaint was filed that the Hungarian move was a waste of time and energy and I was surprised that Péter Balázs, foreign minister at the time, decided to pursue the matter. The Slovak reaction to the answer from Brussels was that perhaps this taught the Hungarians something and they would drop the case. But this new government is intent on going straight to the European Court of Justice in Strassbourg. I can predict right now that Hungary will lose and then who will be isolated? Certainly not Slovakia.

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Of course, the practice of granting extensive rights to minorities in Hungary in the hope this would be reciprocated across the border was a staple feature of Kadarist foreign policy. It did not work then; it will not work now, simply because of the sheer imbalance between the two parties. Hungary barely has any minorities worth speaking of (apart from Roma), and then it is easy to be generous. For its neighbours, the perceived ‘cost’ is much higher, so there is no fair exchange. All that is left is then that Hungary can take the moral highground, like it did under communism, which had, as we know, had only limited results.