Until yesterday I didn’t even know that the Hungarian parliament has a twelve-member committee that busies itself with something called “nemzeti összetartozás” (national belonging/bonding). So, I decided to find out what this committee is all about. It wasn’t a great surprise to learn that it was the brainchild of the Fidesz parliamentary majority. It was on December 23, 2010, the last session of parliament that year, that the decision was made to set up a committee to deal with issues concerning the Hungarian minorities in the neighboring countries.
The chairman of the committee is Árpád János Potápi, a Fidesz member of parliament since 1998 and in civilian life a history teacher. Fidesz and KDNP members have an absolute majority (66.7%) on the committee, and if you add István Szávay (Jobbik) the right-wingers make up 74% of the membership. The committee has one independent member, Katalin Szili (formerly MSZP), who in spite of her leftist leaning is quite a nationalist. At the time of the referendum on dual citizenship in 2004 she, then still a member of MSZP and speaker of the house, admitted that she had voted to grant citizenship to Hungarians living in the neighboring countries, a position the party opposed. In addition, there is one member from LMP and one from MSZP. As far as I know, the MSZP member rarely attends.
During the last year and a half the committee dealt with 32 topics, including granting the title of “Civitas Invicta” (The invincible city) to Szigetvár. The Latin “civitas invicta” was translated into Hungarian as the “unconquerable city,” which is really funny considering that the Turks led by Suleiman the Magnificent conquered the fortress in 1566. The committee also spent a considerable amount of time talking about the requirements of “the national curriculum.” The Christian Democrats insisted on discussing the use of the Hungarian coat-of-arms and the flag. Here and there the opposition suggested that the committee take up some more serious topics. For example, three MSZP members suggested working out a long-range strategy for an integrated economic area in the Carpathian Basin, but the committee refused even to discuss the matter. All in all, this committee doesn’t really have a function.
The “Committee on National Belonging” may have no reason to exist, but it sure can cause trouble, even create an international incident. Árpád Petápi, the committee chairman, decided to hold one of the committee’s regular meetings in Komárno, Slovakia, just across from the Hungarian Komárom, on the left bank of the Danube. The meeting was held at the János Selye University, a fairly recently established Hungarian university in Slovakia, on June 27. This regular meeting was also used as an occasion to talk with József Berényi, chairman of the Magyar Koalíció Pártja (MKP), the Hungarian party in Slovakia Fidesz supports. Béla Bugár, the chairman of Most-Híd, a Slovak-Hungarian party, wasn’t invited.
It turned out from the MTI report that this is the fifth time that the Committee on National Belonging has held its meeting outside the Hungarian parliament. During these trips the members of the committee meet with church leaders as well as chairmen of civic and youth organizations. This was the situation this time also. The Hungarian MPs visited several villages nearby. I’m pretty sure that it was an enjoyable day. But what ensued was less pleasant.
Soon after the outing was over the Slovak foreign minister Miroslav Lajčák expressed his displeasure over the way the Hungarians had handled this trip. Hungary has the right to hold one of its regular meetings in Komárno. After all, both countries are within the Schengen borders. But it would have been “basic courtesy” to inform the Slovak parliament about such a visit. Instead, according to the spokeswoman of the Slovak foreign ministry, the Slovaks learned about the meeting of the committee in Komárno from the webpage of the Hungarian parliament.
Not so, says Árpád Potápi, the chairman of the Committee on National Belonging. The Hungarians informed the Slovak foreign ministry. Once again, who is telling the truth?
Lajčák was not the only one to complain. By late evening Pavol Paška, speaker of the Slovak parliament, complained about the use of the word “Felvidék” (Uplands) to refer to Slovakia. Paška called this usage “bad manners” and “offensive to the Slovaks.” Paška also expressed his misgivings to the Hungarian ambassador in Bratislava. During the conversation Paška complained that all the topics discussed in Komárno concerned Slovak citizens, and as far as he knew “the Schengen Agreement did not abolish borders, only the barriers to border crossings.”
The Hungarian foreign ministry didn’t want to comment on Pavol Paška’s diplomatic protest. The ministry’s statement simply read that “keeping up the connection between the committee and the Hungarians in Slovakia is natural.”
Potápi was more talkative. We found out from him that in the past the committee visited Sub-Carpathian Ukraine (Kárpátalja), Lendava (Lendva) in Slovenia, Salonta (Nagyszalonta) in Romania, and Kecskemét (Hungary). Why Kecskemét? A mystery. There were no problems with any of these visits to neighboring countries, he claimed.
Slovak-Hungarian politician József Berényi (MKP) is convinced that with the return of Robert Fico as Slovak prime minister Hungarian-Slovak relations will again be strained, just as they were when László Sólyom couldn’t visit Slovakia to unveil a statue of St. Stephen, also in Komárno. Béla Bugár (Most-Híd), who wasn’t invited because the Orbán government doesn’t consider his party truly Hungarian, thinks that this latest unannounced official visit to Slovakia is very much like the Sólyom visit in 2008–“a diplomatic faux-pas” that further divides the two nations.
After a “malheur diplomatique” now we have a “diplomatic faux-pas.” There must be something seriously wrong with the upbringing of the members of the Orbán government and Fidesz. A few more of these and everybody will be offended or perhaps popping mad at the creators of the Hungarian “national bonding.” And not just at those committee members who are holding regular meetings in the neighboring countries.