Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 23
29 November 1999

Bratislava to others
 Pozsony to some
S L O V A K I A:
Reversing Xenophobia
Assessing one year of power-sharing at the MKP party conference

Paul Nemes

During its recent party conference, the Hungarian Coalition Party of Slovakia (MKP) decided to "consolidate its unity" in order to represent the Hungarians of Slovakia in a more efficient way. Does this mean that the MKP's first year as part of the Slovak government coalition has been a failure?

Improving conditions for the Hungarians of Slovakia should not have been that difficult for the coalition after the outspokenly anti-Hungarian government of Vladimir Meciar. Many of Meciar's policies, which aimed to divide the population into pro-Slovak and anti-Slovak categories, have been done away with. But some observers still say that the changes that have taken place were no more than what was absolutely necessary. Much of the criticism that the European Union (EU) directed at Slovakia was out of concern for the way in which Slovakia treated its minorities. The wish to rejoin the fast-track group of countries hoping to begin accession talks with the EU has resulted in some Hungarian demands being met in time for the summit in Helsinki this December.

According to one commentator, "It is hardly possible to be unambiguous when judging the Pozsony [Bratislava] government's first year because the inexperienced parties have so far only just finished their survey of the political situation, worked out their program, or been engaged in necessary damage control." (HVG, 30 October 1999)

Some tough decisions have been taken to put the economy in order, but one would be hard-pressed to say that any really difficult decisions have been taken with regard to the Hungarian minority. When it comes to decisions affecting the Hungarians of Slovakia, the MKP has, on many occasions, been in disagreement with its coalition partners; however, the most obvious anti-minority policies introduced by Meciar have now been reversed. The MKP's coalition partners - the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) - have so far appeared open to, but often reluctant to meet, the demands of the Hungarian community.

The recent Language Law proves that while Slovakia is very keen to meet EU demands, it can also be politically dangerous to be seen to be too generous to the Hungarians. Giving the Hungarians just about enough to keep them content is the safest way to avoid strong reactions from Meciar's followers and other nationalists. Issues like Hungarian higher education and the restoration of political districts where Hungarians constitute a majority of the population remain to be dealt with. The Language Law, which did not prove to be comprehensive enough to satisfy the MKP, caused various demonstrations and nationalist rallies. Meciar himself was out collecting signatures for a referendum on, or against, the use of the mother tongue in official contacts.

Keeping Vlad out

Preventing Meciar's return to power is, according to MP, Lajos Meszaros (MKP), the one common force holding the coalition together. Threats by the MKP to leave the coalition if their demands are not met can therefore seem empty. It is not in their interest to split the coalition. However, such enduring support for the government coalition could mean that the other coalition partners continue to postpone decisions that affect minorities. In any coalition, it is natural that there will be differences of opinion, but here there are also differences in opinion on how successful the coalition has been during its first year.

As for the MKP's organisation, it remains to be seen if they will become more efficient in making this coalition work. At the party congress two weeks ago, on 14 November, the MKP did agree to re-elect Chairman Bela Bugar, change Miklos Duray's title from Honorary Chairman to Executive Deputy Chairman and amend some of its rules. There do however seem to be divisions within the Party. The participants from central and eastern Slovakia accused the participants from western Slovakia of chauvinism. HVG writes that the Hungarians from central and eastern Slovakia refused to cooperate unless they were given more seats in the Party leadership. Nine deputy chairmen were appointed in the end, and Coexistence (Egyutteles) will have nine of the seats on the 19-member leadership committee. (HVG, 20 November 1999)

Of the three main groupings within the MKP, Coexistence and the Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement (MKDM) have formed a Christian-Popular-Conservative platform, whilst the Hungarian Civic Party (MPP) has established the party's Civic-Liberal platform. The congress in Komarno/Komarom is said to have done away with these party platforms in order to, according to Bela Bugar, prevent the "platforms from blocking the party." (MTI, 15 November 1999)

Fighting for democracy

Deputy Prime Minister and MKP representative Pal Csaky recently said that the MKP is pursuing the right policies in a correct manner, and that confirming the Party's line was the conference's greatest accomplishment. Putting pressure on the other coalition parties through the correct channels in an orderly way is the civilised way of doing things. Not least because countries in the west look more favourably upon a stable democratic force, and understandably tend to distance themselves from more extremist forces that could threaten the stability of the state.

The Hungarian Coalition Party of Slovakia has made it clear that they want to be seen as a democracy-building, democratic force within Slovak society. This should not be doubted as it was already clear before the fall of communism that the Hungarians were committed to democracy and human rights in, what was then, Czechoslovakia. The MKP also aims to align itself with the European People's Party, and supports Slovakia's Euro-Atlantic integration. In a statement that would seem to win Slovak votes, as well as giving a positive image of the MKP in western Europe, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda recently pointed out that, "the Hungarian Coalition Party adheres to the agreements reliably and pursues an increasing credible state-building policy." Csaky also made this point, saying that the MKP, "seeks to stabilise the governing coalition and continues to play this role despite all difficulties." (MTI, 15 November 1999)

Even though the MKP leadership was enlarged at the party congress, only two new members were appointed, and the promised renewal of the leadership was not forthcoming. Uj Szo, a Hungarian daily in Slovakia, writes that, as a result, decision-making will become even more complicated. The Slovak government coalition has addressed the most serious shortcomings left by Meciar that affect the Hungarian minority, although this has not always been done with great success. Again, coming back to the Language Law, this shows that all is not well, but as the European Union has had no further objections further changes seemed unnecessary.

Paul Nemes, 29 November 1999

Sources: HVG, 13 November 1999 and 20 November 1999



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