It was on Monday, June 6, that László Kövér, speaker of the House and the right-hand man of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, gave an interview to Hospodárské Noviny. Since then this interview has caused quite a stir.
First I read only the MTI summary of the interview: "According to László Kövér the Hungarian nation cannot give up any of its parts and the Hungarians of Slovakia in an intellectual and cultural sense belong to the Hungarian nation, belong to Hungary." I checked the same sentence in the Slovak version of Hospodárské Noviny and with my meager knowledge of the Slovak language I came to the conclusion that what Kövér said was something slightly different: "The Hungarians in Slovakia in the spiritual and cultural sense belong to us." That might sound a bit threatening to Slovak ears, especially if the speaker adds that "the Hungarian minority in Slovakia is in the best situation." In what sense? From whose point of view? Certainly from the Hungarian point of view because "they live compactly and close to the Hungarian border. They are relatively numerous in the total population of Slovakia." These are exactly the points Slovak politicians are worried about. Interestingly enough, this sentence seems to have escaped the attention of Slovak politicians and commentators.
The further elaboration of this point most likely didn't quiet the fears of certain politicians whom Kövér accused of "people with too little self-confidence." That of course is an old Hungarian accusation that can be translated as "you, Slovaks, knew that you received too large a chunk of Hungarian territories and therefore it's no wonder that you don't feel secure." As for the role of the borderless European Union that would solve these problems, Kövér agreed up to a point and continued: "When I go across the bridge from Komárom north to Komárno, I feel just as much at home as in the southern part of the city. This is also the situation when I visit Cluj in Romania. There I'm also at home. In a spiritual, cultural or historical sense it is my country."
It was at this point that the reporter mentioned that the Slovaks in turn could argue that every Hungarian politician is a bit "wel'komadárskosti." How could Kövér reassure them? It was Kövér's answer that was even more controversial than the rest: "When you built Gabčikova-Nagymaros the Slovak side brutally changed the borders. The Hungarian state sought a legal rather than military solution, which we could have used in this situation." So, the Slovaks have nothing to fear.
Mikulás Dzurinda, the Slovak foreign minister, tried to downplay the interivew. He suggested that Kövér's remarks were "ill-advised" but posed "no threat to Slovakia." The speaker of the Slovak parliament, Richard Sulík, used stronger words: "These statements were boorish." The very mention of military action is unacceptable, said Sulík. "We reject these statements that belong to the nineteeth century." He rightly pointed out that the border between Czechoslovakia and Hungary was determined by the Supreme Council of the Allies and Associated Powers on June 12, 1919, and "if Kövér wants to revise the results of the first and second world wars he must turn to the victorious powers." As for the drastic border change, Sulík called it a "brazen lie."
But Kövér is not the kind of man who is willing to reexamine anything he uttered. A day after Sulík's and other Slovak politicians' complaints he reiterated that he meant every word of it. Although initially he said that he really didn't want to comment on the Slovak objections, he added that he "encouragingly would like to tell our Slovak colleagues–quoting [famous Transylvanian writer] Áron Tamási's words–that one can get used to the truth."
That was not the end of the story. György Bolgár interviewed a Hungarian political scientist from Slovakia and asked his opinion. I'm sure that he didn't know anything about László Öllös, who is the president of the Institute of the Fórum Minority Research in Slovakia. As it turned out, Öllös is a Hungarian nationalist who didn't think that there was anything wrong with the Kövér interview. In fact, it wasn't a strong enough statement and it should followed by many more strongly worded interviews from the Hungarian side.
Öllös admitted that the Slovaks fear Hungarian revisionism. "The Hungarian side must react [to this fear] because if it doesn't it strengthens Slovak worries about revisionism. A good example of such a situation is the last six or eight years when Hungary tried to solve the problem by avoiding conflicts." Mr. Öllös has a peculiar interpretation of diplomacy between two countries within the European Union.
I know György Bolgár well enough to figure that he didn't agree with Öllös, and indeed in today's Népszava he expressed his own views on the op-ed page. He sarcastically remarked that "the most loyal follower of the commanding general threatened Slovakia with a retroactive war and after he won it in his head he generously withdrew his troops before the battle from the line of the Danube." "The commanding general" jokingly refers to Viktor Orbán who years ago was admiringly described as such by a faithful follower. In the rest of the article in his precise manner he calls attention to the Fidesz politicians' attitude to the Czechoslovak-Hungarian controversy over the Gabčikova-Nagymaros dam at the time. Fidesz loyally supported the Antall government's decision to turn to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
And finally I would like to call attention to an article by Peter Morvay that appeared in Sme, a liberal Bratislava paper. He, I think correctly, notes that in Hungary Kövér is considered to be "the darker, more honest face of Viktor Orbán's soul who always tells what the majority of Orbán's supporters think but cannot utter." According to Morvay some of Kövér's pronouncements may even be true, but the trouble is that he sees the world only in black and white. That the Hungarians of Slovakia constitute part of the Hungarian nation culturally is true, but the situation of the minorities is much more complicated than that.
Both the possibility of changing borders and the use of military force are out of the realm of possibilities and Kövér knows that. Morvay believes that Kövér wanted to satisfy the demands of radical Fidesz voters. He also wanted to provoke the Slovak nationalists, which immediately bore fruit. Sme is a liberal paper; other Slovak papers were less charitable and accused the Slovak government of not reacting forcefully enough to Kövér's words.
Whatever Kövér's motives were, this interview is one of the worst examples of the kind of "diplomacy" Fidesz leaders are capable of. The first Orbán government managed to ruin relations with all the neighbors and then Kövér was working only in the background. Today he can do much more damage and I am sure that he will.