Hungarian - Slovakian tension
A heated diplomatic battle of words has occurred between Hungary and Slovakia recently. Although the latest debate was sparked over police action at a football match in Slovakia, the tension between the two countries has in fact been constant since 2006, when the extremist Slovak National Party became member of the governing coalition in Bratislava.
In October 2008 in the Slovak city of Dunaszerdahely (Dunajska Streda), mostly occupied by Hungarians, local police took action against a sector of fans for reasons unclear to date. The sector contained a considerable number of Hungarian citizens as well. Some people have been severely injured due to the police action. The ensuing diplomatic debate brought the previous tension between the two countries to the foreground.
The scandal around the football match broke out in a period when Slovak domestic politics played out the 'anti-Hungarian card' again. This has constantly been happening since 2006 on a changing level of intensity. In 2006, the Slovak National Party led by the extremely nationalist Ján Slota forged a coalition with SMER, which identifies itself as leftist. (For more details about the topic see Budapest Analyses no. 99 on www.budapestanalyses.hu)
The Slovak politician had not been unknown in politics: he had issued a number of anti-Semitic statements, wanted to have gypsies 'castrated' and announced in his election campaign that he would have Budapest shot to pieces by tanks. In 2006, Robert Fico Slovak prime minister forged a coalition with Ján Slota in order to be able to exclude the Hungarian Coalition Party (HCP) of the government. HCP represents native ethnic Hungarians who constitute almost ten percent of Slovakia's population. This way, the Slovak prime minister has taken it up to designate a role of the extreme views of his coalition partners in the government.
Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia mostly experience discrimination in education, an area of exceptional importance to them. The Slovak government has recently prohibited the use of Hungarian geographical names in Hungarian textbooks by a decree. It has also been widely discussed that schools and institutions using Hungarian as a mother tongue are practically left out when EU funds are allocated.
Furthermore, it is increasingly likely that the Bratislava government is attempting to downscale and rank back Selye Janos University, an institution in Revkomarom (Komarno) with Hungarian majority. The above incidents cannot be viewed independently of the fact that in his government, Robert Fico has given the leadership of the Ministry of Education over to the extremely nationalist Slovak National Party. The Hungarian minority is particularly struck by the uncontrolled anti-Hungarian tendency of Slovak political discourse. From this point of view, the attitude of the Slovak police towards the 'Hedvig Malina Affair' was especially harmful. Hedvig Malina, the Hungarian university student was beaten up by Slovak skinheads in Nyitra (Nitra) because she had been talking on the phone in Hungarian. However, in the course of investigation the Slovak police was trying to prove, quite absurdly, that the student had beaten up herself (the anomalies of the police procedure were covered by the independent Slovak media itself (!)).
Symbolically, other instances were directed against the ethnic Hungarian minority as well - for example, when Ján Slota called the Hungarian foreign minister 'miserable' or when the Slovak parliament condemned representatives of the Hungarian Coalition Party in a statement for the reason that they participate in the Budapest consultative sessions of the Forum of Hungarian Representatives in the Carpathian Basin (for more details about the topic see Budapest Analyses no. 168. on www.budapestanalyses.hu).
After the football match Hungarian extremists also reacted against Slovakia. In radical demonstrations, they burnt a Slovak flag in front of the Slovakian embassy; 28 young Hungarians laid a wreath in Kiralyhelmec (KrálovskĂ˝ Chlmec), Slovakia, wearing uniforms like that of the Nazi in the war; the far-right Jobbik blocked the road in one way at the Slovak-Hungarian border crossing point, and bilingual town signs were covered by paint in townships inhabited by Slovaks in Hungary. (In Hungary 15.000 people claim officially that they are Slovaks - however, the estimated number of those tracing their Slovak origins is three or four times this many.)
However, after the November 15 summit of the Slovak and Hungarian prime ministers it became obvious that although extremist gestures were witnessed in both countries, the responsibility for the deteriorated relations is not shared equally. While extremist gestures are initiated by marginalized groups in Hungary, anti-Hungarian sentiments in Slovakia originate either from the government itself or from institutions of the government. Furthermore, In Hungary all political parties have distanced themselves from the Hungarian extremist gestures, but Robert Fico cannot do this in Slovakia as he would lose governing majority, which depends on Ján Slota and Vladimir Meciar. The Bratislava government will be in an increasingly difficult situation even if the Socialist International is considering the acceptance of the largest Slovak governing party, SMER, before the European Parliament elections in order to maximize its vote.
Due to the domestic political problems of both countries, tension will prevail in the foreseeable future in Slovak-Hungarian relations. The economic instability of Hungary, the decline of citizens' economic status and the extraordinary unpopularity of the government may steer the situation towards a nationalist channeling of this tension. The Slovak government is captured by an extremely nationalistic party, the leader of which - disregarding the norms of European political dialogue - forces the prime minister of Slovakia to give embarrassing explanations in the most unexpected moments.
The political tension between the two countries has a destabilizing effect on the whole region. Although there will likely be extremist gestures in both countries, Slovakia cannot rely on the action of Hungarian radicals in the medium run, as they are decreasingly able to account for the fact that an ultranationalist and xenophobic party has got in the Slovak government as well.