Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 37
7 June 1999

C S A R D A S:
Chronicle of a Conflict Foretold
Hungary, NATO and the Kosovo crisis [Part VIII]

Gusztav Kosztolanyi

The variations on the theme of autonomy for Vojvodina continue to haunt newspaper columns in Hungary, as authors across the political spectrum try to take stock of the options and their practicability. In general, the printed media engages in introspection, examining its own role and responsibilities. Public opinion increasingly looks beyond the end of the conflict, musing on the most favourable outcome. A certain weariness may be detected, accompanied by increasing cynicism about the flexible and accommodating attitude of the Hungarian government to NATO's requests for co-operation. The cracks in the six party compromise are becoming ever more visible, and ever more difficult to paper over...

EDITORS NOTE: Over the past months, CER's analyst Gusztav Kosztolanyi has written over 55,000 words examining the situation of Hungary throughout the Balkan crisis, including a mass of primary source material translated directly from the Hungarian media. To see his earlier contributions, have a look at:


May 20th: In Magyar Nemzet, Istvan Elek publishes an article dissecting the response to the calls for Vojvodinian autonomy, entitled "Vojvodinian Autonomy and Its Opponents": "Sandor Revesz in Nepszava [a Hungarian daily] writes about the views of the politicians in the government coalition on the war in Yugoslavia.

According to the author, the Fidesz "Party's congress enthused in favour of individual and territorial autonomy for the Hungarians of the Vojvodina.

It is one thing to talk about autonomy in times of peace and another to talk about it now. What it means now is that this is a kind of autonomy, which, should the need arise, might manifest itself in the form of a modification of the frontier. This is our own special party piece, our special precondition for peace, our own dividend, our pay off for taking part in this common war...

Whoever talks about Vojvodinian autonomy without rigorously separating this from the current war obstructs peace... the only possible interest of the Vojvodinian Hungarians, and therefore the only possible interest of the Hungarian people, to whom they belong, is that more should not be read into the vital security guarantee than the bare existence of the guarantee itself, that it should not mean more than it does at face value, that it should not be confused with the issue of autonomy, because to confuse the issues is to call into question its raison d'etre. It is NATO's right and duty to guarantee the physical safety of every minority in Yugoslavia, but it is neither its right nor its duty to force Yugoslavia to accept the type of autonomies that other countries would not be willing to accept under similar circumstances, for example, as in the case of other Hungarian minorities. In times of peace and on a different time scale, it would be possible to broach the issue of which standards for the autonomy and rights enjoyed by minorities applied by the democratic countries of Europe should be supported, alongside the issue of what instruments to use in conjunction with them...

In other words, if I grasp it correctly, the politically correct opinion prevailing amongst the circles of left-wing liberal opinion-makers is that peacetime is the appropriate juncture to hold such discussions. The only problem is - if we cast our minds back to the disputes surrounding the Basic Treaties - that they said also in peacetime that it was not appropriate to raise the issue of autonomy, because no one was receptive to it, either in the West or in neighbouring countries. The majority of nations would look upon it as the first major step on the road towards the secession of the minorities. Whoever forces this issue is a friend of unrest in the region, who would increase tension and oppose reconciliation amongst nations, and who would retard our accession to the EU.

Our left-wing liberal friends, it would seem, are very flexible about accommodating themselves to the changes that have taken place in the situation, so that they can preserve the core of their stance intact. Sandor Revesz, by the way, has reached a stage in his attempt to condemn the centre-right that he almost goes so far as to allege that - along with certain members of the Hungarian government - whoever links autonomy for Vojvodina with the settlement that will conclude the Kosovo crisis really believes that the NATO actions are being carried out to pursue aims of "conquest" similar to those that we pursued at one stage when we joined the German side to fight in the Vojvodina.

Stupefying. It drives you mad... A few days ago, we were able to read in an article about the debate within the Hungarian Foreign Affairs Institute that Tibor Varadi, the one-time Minister of Justice under the Panics government also stated that now was the time for raising the issue of autonomy, and it would occur to only a very few people to call him the mouthpiece of the radical Vojvodinians. I quote: 'We must not miss the opportunity to speak openly about the wish to institute autonomy for Vojvodina and for the minorities. If the international community is once again only interested in extinguishing the flames of conflict and in obstructing a settlement of the existing conflict, then the next act of the bloody drama will be played out in Vojvodina, in Szandzsak and in Montenegro in the future'.

What did the declaration adopted at the Fidesz party congress actually say? 'After the fighting is over, international supervision must be extended to include the territory inhabited by over 300,000 Hungarians, and Vojvodinian autonomy must be restored. Within this framework, the Hungarians must guarantee territorial and individual autonomy in accordance with the wishes expressed by the Vojvodinian Hungarians'.

Of course, our left-wing liberal opinion-makers know better than the Vojvodinians' political leaders themselves what the Vojvodinian Hungarians need, and they know better than the Hungarian politicians in the government who have made pronouncements in harmony with the carefully worded aspirations for autonomy they drew up years ago. Laszlo Lengyel, for example, in Saturday's Nepszabadsag indulges in the same type of blurring exercise as we were able to study in Sandor Revesz's contribution only recently. Under the difficult circumstances, he proposes a 'soft special course' to the Hungarian government, one of the most important elements of which is as follows: 'We must give up once and for all talking about autonomy for the Hungarians, we must give up the idea of seizure, but we should ask for guarantees that the Hungarians will have equal treatment meted out to them'. Please take note of this association of ideas: broaching the subject of autonomy is equated with seizure.

The authors I have quoted also share the same fears as Istvan Szasz in Monday's edition of Nepszava, who is not afraid of the bombs, but instead: 'I, along with many others, [am afraid of] the frenzies of our unerringly back-handed and/or plain stupid nationalist history-makers'. By whom he means Istvan Csurka, who has mentioned the issue of frontier revision; Zsolt Lanyi, who floated the idea of independence for Vojvodina; and, alongside them, some of the members of the government, including the Prime Minister, all of whom have made statements not just about territorial autonomy for Vojvodina, but also about 'autonomy for each individual' as well. According to the author, the Prime Minister's declarations on the business of autonomy are intended for the consumption of 'those long-standing MDF voters who shifted their allegiance to Fidesz, and who long for the Prime Minister to say something national with a view to figuring out how best to grind the axe of Hungarian nationalism in the midst of the fury of the NATO air strikes'.

That is to say that aspirations towards creating autonomy for Vojvodina are tantamount to being involved in grinding the axe of nationalism. I wonder whether the author and his comrades are aware of the ramifications of the stance they have adopted? What could the ramifications be if, in the eyes of the left-wing liberal opinion-makers, the way the Vojvodinian Hungarians see things and the Hungarian government's view of what is in Hungary's interests provides consistent proof of this nationalism? They can be no other than that the individuals concerned are devoid of national feeling? If our left-wing liberal friends are incapable of kicking this habit, then why do they complain about being branded anti-national in return on this page?

Let's take a look, though, at what Csaba Vertes writes in Tuesday's edition of Nepszava: 'Here we have everything an irredentist's heart could desire: we have Csurka-style calls for frontier revision ("Return the Vojvodina!"), autonomy for Vojvodina which has been more or less elevated to the status of official government policy, oh yes, and the Lanyi-style state-foundation idea, which asks why we shouldn't have an independent Vojvodinian state now that the cream of Hungarian political life have set their minds to cogitating?'

Mr Vertes classifies all these viewpoints and ambitions - lumping them together! - as: 'shabby, grubby and rusted beyond redemption, but still potentially explosive political wares'. Because, as he sees it, in the current situation : 'those political statements that make reference to the Hungarian minorities, and that make appeals concerning their fate, and, what is more, those immodest demands (linking autonomy for Vojvodina with Kosovo...) rate as unpardonably irresponsible'. It is a 'serious transgression' against the country, the nation and the 'citizenry'. This is the proof of the pudding in the eyes of Western Europe that 'the Hungarians are incapable of good neighbourly co-operation and friendly cohabitation'. To ensure that the previous speakers do not outdo him in terms of unabashed demagogy, fudging and downright lies, he adds, at the end of his article, that 'if, within us, within our once-upon-a-time playwrights [a reference to Istvan Csurka, Hungarian Justice and Life Party leader, dramatist and novelist], within our politicians who obsessively collect ties [a reference to Zsolt Lanyi, who, during an interview on Hungarian breakfast TV enthused about the thousands he has managed to accumulate], within our politicians, who might formulate their thoughts with a greater or lesser degree of obscurity, but who nevertheless succeed in making their intentions understood, we were to set out that at last the time had truly come to think of enlarging the country's territory, then this would, put quite simply and coarsely, mean putting our lives at risk'. You're right, it's no mistake, the author really does lie with shameless openness that the politicians in the government are unmistakably 'drawing up plans' to increase the country's territory.

Why? It seems obvious that this is an exercise in shifting slightly the balance of public opinion towards consensual politics".

[Nepszabadsag] Over 80 Hungarian intellectuals issued a press statement supporting resolute action on the part of NATO as well as its policy aimed at protecting the Kosovar Albanians driven from their homeland. The list of signatories included politicians, sociologists, economists and journalists, who expressed their lack of sympathy for the participants in the so-called "peace action" who demand that NATO unilaterally suspend the air strikes. The signatories expressed their stupefaction at the primitive anti-American slogans bandied about and the unsophisticated way in which anti-American sentiments are being whipped up, barely a decade after the collapse of Communism.

[Magyar Nemzet] "We are convinced that the policy of genocide perpetrated by the post-Communist nationalist regime and the sordid motives that lie behind it, the deportation of Kosovar Albanians abroad, the organised disappearance of the male population and the state propaganda generated by Milosevic cannot be confused with the moral, humanitarian and political considerations that motivated the intervention of the international democratic community", the authors wrote.

Again in Magyar Nemzet, Jozsef Botlik reviews the history of the what became known as Vojvodina: "Contrary to the commonly held belief, Vojvodinian autonomy is not a new idea, but can look back on a past spanning a period of 150 years. Before analysing the current situation as well as the course that might be followed in the future, it might be useful to refresh our memories about the historical antecedents. Rajacic, the Orthodox archbishop of Karloc, convened, on his own authority, an assembly on the 13th of May 1848, to formulate the national aims of the Serbs. He did this under circumstances when emissaries had arrived from Serbia to spread nationalist propaganda, and had succeeded in thoroughly inflaming the Serbs who inhabited Hungary's southern territories against the Hungarian regime. The Serbs wanted to set up a Serb Vojvodship here, which led to armed conflict against the Hungarian troops breaking out in the vicinity of Karloca on the 12th of June. In the meantime, they turned to Ferdinand the 5th, but their efforts were in vain since the ruler, like the Hungarian government, also rejected the Serb request for the Vojvodship to be recognised. The Serb insurrectionists fought on, and were joined by hundreds of volunteers, who arrived in the southern territories of the Hungarian state.

Those who pushed for the establishment of a Serb Vojvodship took no account whatsoever of the national composition of the area's population, since they wanted a separate administration and independence for themselves in a territory where the Serbs made up one fifth of the total population. From the 5th of November, the High Commission, presided over by archbishop Rajcic, enjoyed jurisdiction over the southern Hungarian territories that had been occupied by the insurrectionists. On the 16th of February of the following year, also under the leadership of the archbishop, the provisional Serb Vojvodship government was formed. In the meantime, the Serb insurrectionists had created their own administration in the territories they had occupied. This development did not find favour in the eyes of the court in Vienna, and, using diplomatic means, the return home of the Serb volunteers was organised.

Emperor Franz Josef the First, on the 4th of March, 1849, in his so-called imposed Imperial Constitution issued in Olmutz [Olomouc], severed the defended frontier region from Hungary, and proclaimed the Serb Vojvodship, formed from Bacska and Temeskoz, to be part of the Austrian Empire. The Hungarian government had, in the meantime, made several reconciliation attempts with the Serbs, but the willingness to reach agreement had been weakened by the tragic conclusion of the Hungarian War of Independence...

The Serb Vojvodship lasted for almost eleven years, until the 27th of December 1860, and ceased to exist in the same way that it had come into being: the Emperor passed a decree according to which the Serb Vojvodship... was reannexed to Hungary... Up to then, it had consisted of five districts, with a total population - in 1860 - of 1,524,214, of whom 256,164 were Hungarians, 309,885 were Serbs, 396,156 were Germans, 414,947 were Romanians, and the rest were Croatians, Bulgarians, Slovaks and Jews. Rounding the numbers off: 1,200,000 non-Serbs inhabited the Serb Vojvodship together with hardly 310,000 Serbs.

Seven decades later, this was one of the 'historical' reference points when the south Hungarian territories were annexed to the South Slav state when it was in the process of being created in 1918 to 1920. The one-time border of the Serb Vojvodship between the Danube and the river Tisza, below the Baja-Szeged line, corresponds exactly to all practical intents and purposes to the Hungarian-Yugoslavian frontier designated by the Treaty of Trianon. This occurred in spite of the fact that the Hungarian linguistic frontier and the territory where the bulk of the Hungarian population is concentrated extends in practice to Ferenccsatorna..., beyond which the Hungarians live only in isolated pockets of varying size.

Vojvodina as a territorial concept was introduced by the Serb authorities into the administration in 1920, and it is from that date onwards that the term begins to come into usage as a geographical designation amongst the local Hungarians... After 1945, when Yugoslavia became a federal state and the internal frontiers were agreed on, Syrmia went to Serbia and Dravidia to Croatia. This is how what has been known for the last few decades as Vojvodina came into being as a separate administrative unit, the administrative and territorial designation for which is nothing more than a legitimation of Serb territorial ambitions that had, a century ago, already been realised, albeit on a temporary basis. One of the staging posts in the political evolution of Tito's Yugoslavia was the drafting of a constitution for an autonomous Vojvodina on the 28th of February 1974, which granted complete independence to the population of the territory. It decreed complete equality for the nations and national minorities living in the province in the realms of daily life, work and all areas of production. It included, inter alia, the free use of the Serbo-Croatian language, including the Croatian-Serbian variant thereof, of Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian and Ruthenian in all spheres of the public administration, and provided the opportunity to set up separate organisations. All of these were, however, promoted first and foremost by the national groups who made up the majority in a given part of the province, since, although the Constitution allowed in theory for the vertical organisation of national minorities, Serbs made up the majority of members of the powers that be in the Vojvodina and paid very close attention to developments indeed in order to ensure that even the most tender shoots of such organisations were not allowed to push their way through the soil. The true aim, that of assimilation, became apparent in the following year, when the secondary school reform of 1975 broke up the existing network, thereby bringing about a deterioration in the situation of the minorities. Certain features of Vojvodinian autonomy were, without doubt, positive, but in the autumn of 1988 the Serb communist leaders could no longer tolerate them and, in the wake of the so-called yoghurt revolution, the autonomy of the province was done away with.

During that period, at the end of 1989 and the beginning of 1990, the Hungarians of Vojvodina, numbering some 350,000, witnessed the formation of a self-organised movement, and, on the 31st of March the Democratic Community of Vojvodinian Hungarians was founded. At its second congress, held in Szabadka in the following year, the most important demand of the Hungarians was set out: the right to autonomy and to self-government. The communes where Hungarians were in the majority..., would be granted special status and the Hungarian Autonomous District would be set up by means of associations for those districts... where Hungarians were in a simple majority, the seat of which would be in Szabadka. For the scattered villages in which Hungarians formed the majority, Hungarian local authorities would be created.

These days, the Association of Vojvodinian Hungarians is the most important organisation, and it, too, has prepared a draft plan for autonomy. The organisation, in the shape of its representatives of the local Hungarian community, concluded an agreement with the competent authorities in Serbia and Vojvodina outlining a the political framework for a local government authority for Vojvodina at the end of last year. This states, inter alia, that the national minorities must be regarded as the equals of the remainder of the citizens of the region and they must be permitted to elect political representatives at every level. Wherever the Hungarian population reached the level of 5% or 500 individuals, they must be given equal rights to use their mother tongue, and laws must be promulgated in Hungarian.

Bilingual street signs and other signs must be provided. Above and beyond that, the members of the Vojvodinian Hungarian national community - along, of course, with members of other minorities, as well - have a right to indicate their names according to the orthographic rules of their native language in any document for public use or in any private certificate or deed. The community has a right to resources to disseminate information on a large scale, and to found educational, scientific, cultural and religious associations with the aid of financial support from the state. Similarly they have a right to education in their native language at every level, and in all subjects which have a bearing on the community's mother tongue and way of writing. The Hungarians are to be provided with guarantees for the protection of sites of historical, religious and cultural significance and for the use and display of national symbols.

Although the Hungarians only constitute around 17% of the population of today's Vojvodina, the vast majority of them - over 300,000 people - live in... [two] adjoining territories, in which they predominate in terms of the size of the population. At the present moment, negotiations are taking place concerning the creation of a local government authority for precisely this region within the Vojvodina. Thus a form of dual autonomy would be established, with the Hungarians scattered outside of the Hungarian district enjoying individual (personal) autonomy'.

In a letter to the editor in Magyar Hirlap, Mr Bela Olomi from Kecskemet reviews the state of opinion in Hungary: "Many different people are approaching the situation in many different ways. 'Luckily', it is not just the political parties that are expressing opinions, but people outside of the parties are having their say as well. Revisionist ambitions have been bolstered in the situation that has developed. A Csurka-style revision of the frontiers is one option amongst many. Maybe we ought to support the aspirations for autonomy. Let the Hungarians who live over there sort out their own affairs, as they did between 1974 and 1989. A lot of time has gone by since then, of course, but it seems like nobody has noticed that we have already witnessed several genocides.

The left-wing would rather grant the territory a certain degree of self-determination than get involved in awkward situations. They don't even notice that their prattle has a hollow ring to it, but are driven instead by a sense of duty.

The extreme left-wing, by contrast with all this, would prefer to forget that the Hungarians of Vojvodina exist at all. They don't care about their existence at all, they are more interested in shaking hands with Milosevic. That at least reached the TV screens and might even win them a few votes at the next elections. I suggest that the Workers' Party swap its red flag with the Serb national tricolour - it would reflect their interests more accurately.

According to Viktor Orban, NATO rallies round the Hungarians of Vojvodina, and will protect them from atrocities of any kind. I hope that NATO will at least rally round the Hungarians to the extent that they rallied round the Albanians. It's just that here they ought to act a little more swiftly. The experienced Serb military machine would be able to clean out the 300,000 Hungarians in the space of a few days. By then, the first condemnations would be arriving from Brussels.

The crisis, however, has not yet degenerated this far. For the time being, everyone is sitting at home waiting. Meanwhile, Milosevic is using Vojvodina as a showcase: the Hungarians who live there are a living illustration of how perfect Serb democracy is. They have everything there, you see, nursery schools, schools, radio and TV stations, culture, religion, and all of this in their mother tongue, of course. What could be better than this? Maybe a sense of freedom. If I could only be allowed to visit my parents and friends and then return back to Hungary. This is not the case. The Serb dictator can play around with his Northern province with the greatest of ease. He is more than aware that neither the world nor Hungary has any need of Vojvodina and its inhabitants. So why should he take any unnecessary risks?

Another option would be an independent Vojvodina. Why is this so impossible to imagine? Naturally, the people who live there can't keep on making demands, as intimidation works like a dream. If Hungary has already renounced Vojvodina, she could at least try to offer the best possible option for those who live there (including the non-Hungarian population!)".

May 21st: [Nepszabadsag] Articles published in The Times and The Daily Telegraph spark off speculations about American M-39s and ATACAMs being delivered to the base in Taszar. Russian sources also claim Apaches have been sent to Hungary. The Hungarian Ambassador to NATO, Mr Andras Simonyi, denied any knowledge of the plans published in the British newspapers, whilst the spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, Mr Lajos Erdelyi was equally keen to quash the Russian speculations.

The article in The Times alleged that the Pentagon's motive in considering whether to station the missiles, which have a range of 160 kilometres, at Taszar was that of deterring Milosevic from initiating a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Hungarians of Vojvodina.

[Nepszabadsag] Laszlo Jozsa, the Vice President of the association of Vojvodinian Hungarians, on the subject of autonomy plans for Vojvodina, points out that no final agreement has yet been reached amongst the political parties that represent the Hungarians there. The plans submitted by the strongest member party of the Association have very little in common with previous plans dating back to the early 1990s. Instead, they call for the restoration of the local government authorities that once served the local minority populations.

Mr Jozsa confirmed that the new compromise proposal was being put forward for approval by the various Vojvodinian parties. The prospects of a rapid adoption appeared remote in the light of the cancellation of negotiations amongst the parties. Moreover, Mr Jozsa did not think it likely that the Vojvodinian parties that represent the Serbs would give the go-ahead to the outline for the province's autonomy, but hoped they could at least be persuaded to take part in negotiations. The concepts contained in the plan had been set out in more peaceful days.

The Hungarian Foreign Minister, Mr Janos Martonyi, stated in Brussels on Wednesday night that a draft plan for Vojvodinian autonomy had already been drawn up. He announced that: "We are familiar with the draft, and consider it very good indeed. It contains several elements that already appeared in the wake of the 1992 Carrington Plan, such as the idea of three-fold autonomy". He stressed that this would feature in the peace process and the peace negotiations as well.

Janos Pelle, in an article entitled "The Masses and the Media" [Magyar Nemzet], after taking stock of reactions to the latest phase of the Kosovo crisis in the international press, turns his attention to the behaviour of the Serb masses: "The behaviour of the Serb masses in many respects confronts social psychologists with new, unanswered questions. The social psychologists, as we can learn from the pages of Ferenc Pataki's recently published book, The Century of the Masses, classify groups of people on the basis of different criteria, depending on whether they assembled on a voluntary basis or whether they were forced to do so. It is beyond dispute that the hundreds of thousands who fled from Kosovo embody the phenomenon of 'fleeing, panicking crowds', but where should we place the masses that have been swarming all over the squares and bridges of Belgrade? 'The demonstrating crowd wants to convince itself and its surroundings at the same time, it wants to convince external observers, eye witnesses and public opinion. Amongst other reasons, it wishes to see itself again on the TV screens and in the columns of newspapers. It wants to attract the outside observers, for which there are cogent reasons: if the demonstration fails to encircle itself with a ring of broadly based sympathy and support, it cannot attain its aims' as we read in Ferenc Pataki's book.

It is evident that the war that is raging for Kosovo is being conducted to win and retain the sympathy of the world and to influence the media as much as it is being conducted to attain the various military aims. The propaganda battles are more important than anything else, and it is in this sense that images of a mass grave broadcasted by satellite can counterbalance the spectacle of Serb corpses killed by missiles fired by aircraft that missed their real target. Up to now, NATO's media superiority has been beyond doubt, but recently in Germany, France and maybe even in the United States, reservations and opinions running counter to the mainstream of support have been voiced. Signs of disillusionment amplified by past events have been seen in Hungary as well. This has been reflected in two campaigns involving the gathering of signatures, which are completely independent of each other, the first being the "for peace for the Balkans" action, in which liberal and socialist public figures intimated their reservations about NATO's Balkan policy. It is questionable, however, whether the well-known political divide over this matter is actually typical of Hungarian society at large? This is particularly true since neither the sector of our public opinion that may be considered moderate and national nor the Orban cabinet is exactly enthusiastic about the foreign policy line dictated by necessity.

In my opinion, bombers ought not to be permitted to take off for attacks on Yugoslavia from Hungarian airports, when they could quite happily fly another few hundred kilometres seen from the point of view of the Serb anti-aircraft defences. The use of our bases for these purposes can have no other aim than to accustom our public opinion to the notion of a ground-based attack being launched from Hungarian soil, a thought that has been unanimously rejected up to now. For Hungary, the "worst case scenario" would, beyond all shadow of a doubt, be an invasion launched from the North, with a view not only to the Hungarians of Vojvodina, but to other considerations as well. Of course, it would not be a heart-warming prospect either if, after the bloody military operations fought out in Kosovo, the Americans were to be recalled and subsequently relieved by European NATO units, more specifically by units from the new member states, and if their troops were to be entrusted with the task of pacifying a mutinous province for the third time in the course of the century.

As far as the Hungarian masses are concerned, although there is pronounced fear of the increasingly irrational war being fought in our immediate vicinity, ordinary people hardly know what to make of the events over which the politicians they voted for have no influence either. A further protraction of the conflict, which is far from being unambiguous in terms of international law, entails the risk of the conflagration spreading over the entire Balkan theatre. It is impossible to know whether the launch of ground based intervention - which would be imperative due to the ever more catastrophic humanitarian tragedy of the refugees - could avert the danger of the fire spreading, or whether it would achieve the opposite, namely, the spread of the flames? There can be no doubt that a conference of the type convened by Bismarck in 1878 in Berlin is what must be organised to resolve the open-ended issues of the region. Alongside this, however, a political settlement must be flanked by economic rehabilitation. A new Marshall Plan for the Balkans might enable the economy to be rebuilt within a decade. The wounds that have been dealt out to the souls of the Serb, Albanian, Croatian and Bosnian masses will, however, take far longer to heal, and there is no hope of that process lasting less than four or five generations, and even then only provided that the region is not flooded by fresh waves of stirred up ethnic hatred that draw nourishment from the hatreds that preceded them".

May 22nd: [Nepszabadsag] Tamas Bauer, a Socialist Member of the Hungarian Parliament, writes about the cracks that are beginning to appear in the cross-party unity over the government's handling of the Kosovo crisis: "...many statements have been made by our parliamentary politicians, which can hardly be said to shore up the image of agreement that has been propagated. On the political right, open and implicit aspirations towards frontier revision have been given emphatic voice to, whilst the left wing has been condemning NATO's war. If we leave the Parliament's premises for a moment, we can see disputes within every political camp: amongst conservatives, liberals and left-wingers alike, we come across those who proclaim doubts and protests, the staunch believers in the NATO action, and those who over-simplify the events to the level of a game on the part of the defence industry and the interests of the major powers. Hungarian public life is engaged in a sincere struggle over the dilemmas arising from the ongoing battles that surround our participation in the war.

Unity in parliamentary politics is not an open and shut case either. Let us not forget that Hungarian participation in the Yugoslav war is not only part and parcel of Hungarian Euro-Atlantic policy - on which there is agreement amongst the parliamentary partied with the exception of the MIEP [Hungarian Justice and Life Party] both on the rhetorical plane and when it comes to casting votes - but is also part and parcel of our policy towards our neighbours, policy in conjunction with the Hungarian minorities living beyond Hungary's frontiers. On this latter front, relations between the parties of the current government coalition and the preceding government coalition were characterised by sharp opposition during the life cycle of the previous Parliament. Does this mean that the differences have ceased to exist?

We can distinguish between at least three different levels to the dilemma on which public attention and public opinion is focused. The first level is that of how to form a judgement of the bombings themselves, in other words, how to judge the military action taken by the countries of NATO against Yugoslavia that was planned in October and launched in March. The political forces that gave their support to NATO accession, identifying themselves with the condemnation expressed against the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Milosevic regime, supported the military action from the very outset. They recalled the numerous instances of a policy of non-intervention, they drew parallels between historical examples of genocide and the policy carried out by Milosevic, and they gave their approval to the intervention by deeming it to be the moral duty of the democratic world. As for the opponents of intervention: on the one hand, they called the bombings into question from the vantage point of international law, referring to the lack of UN authorisation, and on the other, on an entirely moral basis, they rejected the use of the instruments of war. For my part, I feel that the lines of argument deployed by both schools of thought are honourable and morally acceptable.

The second level of the dilemma centred on the continuation of the war. The bombing that has been continuing for weeks on end, the destruction, the sight of the civilian casualties brought about sharp divisions even amongst those who still identified with NATO's decision at the beginning of the war. Alongside the Clinton-Blair line, which, in the interests of forcing Milosevic to his knees, was willing to step up the bombings, to spread them further afield and reckoned with the possibility of a ground based offensive as well, a second line emerged, first and foremost in Germany, but also in other countries on the continent, the thrust of which is to try to reach agreement, to settle the situation together with Russia and China, thereby placing the process back in a UN framework. In Hungary, many share this opinion: no matter how justified NATO's response might have been in March, the strategists in Brussels have visibly miscalculated: the launching of the actions did not obstruct ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but accelerated it instead, and lead to lives being lost amongst the Serb civilian population as well. A negotiated solution must be sought as soon as possible. According to others, given the events that have taken place, there is nothing to negotiate with Milosevic about, the international community must insist on the fulfilment of all the NATO demands, as any retreat would be tantamount to giving Milosevic a free hand to commit genocide. Sober political and convincing moral arguments can be listed in favour of both of these points of view.

The third level of the dilemma pertains to Hungary's participation.

Hungary's role in international military action that was necessitated by the disintegration of Yugoslavia is justified from two points of view, that of the country's geographical situation and that of the youthful Hungarian democracy's commitment to the Western world. This is why the country made its air space available to AWACS reconnaissance aircraft, this is why it sent troops to help rebuild in Okucani following the Dayton Accords.

There are other points of view, however, that inevitably restrict Hungary's opportunities to take part in the operations. One of these is the historical tradition, according to which Hungarian society is loath to deploy Hungarian soldiers abroad (which is a phenomenon unknown to the British, French or Americans), and which also manifests itself in the mandates given by the Parliament on this subject. The second point is that Hungary has this century already taking part in attacks on Serbia, or rather, Yugoslavia. The third point is the existence of the Hungarian minority in Yugoslavia. These points of view compel the Hungarian government in power and the Parliament to weigh up very carefully and circumspectly how best to get involved in the international military action affecting Yugoslavia.

This circumspection also hallmarked Hungarian participation in peace-keeping actions in Bosnia during the term of office of the previous government. Hungary only sent soldiers to help rebuilding efforts, she did not station armed peace-keeping troops there. Even the soldiers who took part in rebuilding work were only issued with side arms, their safety was guaranteed by the British peace-keeping forces. (This was something that the majority of the Fidesz-led government changed, with the consent of the MSZP).

In the course of the current Yugoslav war, the Hungarian government and the Parliament have once again been faced with a difficult decision. Preparations for the NATO bombing campaign were underway already in October, and NATO could also have done with using Hungarian airspace even then. The Parliament then - with the MIEP [Hungarian Justice and Life Party], which had already rejected Hungarian membership of NATO, voting against - gave its consent to handing over Hungarian airspace without any particular disputes erupting. When, however, in March, the bombing actually did start, the government took the initiative to extend the mandate it had authorised, allowing for unrestricted use of Hungarian airport infrastructure alongside the already unrestricted use of Hungarian airspace. This gave rise to more serious concerns amongst the members of the opposition parties and in public opinion as well. Nevertheless, the majority of the members of the two main opposition parties rallied round, giving their support to the extended mandate.

The tide of public opinion turned rapidly when the Prime Minister, Mr Orban, initially during his lightning visit to London, and then subsequently too made several statements expressing his support of an intensification of the bombings, condescendingly brushing aside the fears of the Association of Vojvodinian Hungarians ("they have no control over themselves"), and recommending that NATO also use Hungarian airports as the starting base for bombing raids.

A few days beforehand, the Foreign Minister, Mr Martonyi, was still trying to set Mr. Jozsef Kasza's mind at ease (he is the Mayor of Szabadka and President of the Association of Voivodinian Hungarians) by saying that bombers do not take off from Hungary, whereas this restriction had obviously been struck off the agenda. The Prime Minister cited the need to avoid a ground-based attack as the reason for stepping up the campaign of air strikes as a means of forcing the Yugoslav government to back down. Whatever the truth may be, Viktor Orban and, along with him, the entire right-wing government had evidently taken up position on the UK-US flank of NATO, the flank that wished to see Milosevic back down at all costs and was willing to employ force to attain that aim.

The MIEP's stance changed in an interesting way: it gave its support to the government's policy on Kosovo at the six party meeting. The explanation for this surprising turn of events could be found in what Istvan Csurka expounded again and again in the Parliament and on TV, namely that Hungary - as was also the case in the Second World War - has its own particular aims to pursue in the war, Hungary must exploit the situation, using it to raise the issue of frontier revision. The world order created at Versailles had collapsed, Trianon was no longer valid, the war would be followed by a peace conference, and at that peace conference, Hungary must raise the issue of Vojvodina.

Behind the six party consensus so often emphasised by Viktor Orban, behind the support given to the government by the MIEP, lurked one important aspect of the Orban government's behaviour which gradually became increasingly apparent. In a statement that he made already last autumn, the Prime Minister announced that, if there was going to be a settlement for Kosovo, then the question of autonomy for Vojvodina would have to be dealt with in a similar way. From a Hungarian vantage point, an important result, as he put it, of the Washington summit was, that the issue of the Hungarians of Vojvodina had been transformed into a NATO issue. As to what exactly was supposed to be understood by this became apparent when Zsolt Nemeth, political under-secretary, in an announcement he made to the MTI, introduced the Foreign Ministry's "new concept for South-East Europe", according to which an integral part of the post-war settlement would have to be the creation of autonomy for Vojvodina, as well as territorial and individual autonomy for the Hungarians within Vojvodina. At the Fidesz congress this motion - tabled by Laszlo Kover - became the official view of the leading party in the government coalition, complemented by calls for the Voivodina to be placed under international supervision along similar lines to Kosovo. Compared to this, Zsolt Lanyi, the Independent Smallholder Party representative's idea of Vojvodina becoming an independent state can be counted as folkloristic.

We have to realise that Hungary's participation in NATO's Yugoslav war, which remains significant even if Hungarian soldiers, formations and aircraft are not being deployed, is endorsed by Hungarian politicians on the basis of two lines of argument. According to one school of thought, Hungary must take on board the values of the Western democracies as if they were entirely her own, and it was particularly import for Hungary that Anglo-American politics, which were previously indifferent towards the collective rights of minorities, actually accepted that the enforcement of minority rights can even take precedence over the sovereignty of states, so much so that this justified unconditional support of the NATO action and Hungary would therefore have to take part in them, whilst taking account of her own particular circumstances, which meant opening up her airspace and her airports. This is the school of thought that motivates the MSZP and the SDSZ's support of the government.

There is, however, another school of thought, which we may, for the sake of simplicity, dub the Csurka school of thought. According to this, if the system established at Versailles has disintegrated, and if the successor states created at Versailles have likewise disintegrated, then Hungary has business to attend to. If at all possible, the frontiers should be re drawn, bringing the Hungarians squeezed beyond the frontiers back within the framework of the state. Hungary must stand by the side of the strong powers whilst they wage war, and, in return, they will show appreciation for Hungary's aspirations. This has now been put on the agenda in relation to the Voivodina, so it is not a figment of the imagination. If it were to prove impossible nevertheless, if territorial revision is out of the question, then at least territorial autonomy should be wrung out. This idea cropped up earlier on, in the statement made by Andras Kelemen (MDF), then at a later stage in the Fidesz-run Foreign Ministry's "concept for South-East Europe", and also in the resolution adopted at the Fidesz congress.

Alongside the national logic which, in accordance with the precepts of Clintonese logic, lends its backing to the Yugoslav war, there exists, therefore, a second, Csurkaesque logic. The very least that we can maintain about the Orban government is that, when it set forth its motives for supporting NATO's war in Yugoslavia, the Csurkaesque logic featured side by side with the Clintonese, and it was by no means tacked on as an afterthought.

Let's support NATO's war, let's play our part in ensuring that force prevails, let's not go looking for compromises, and, in exchange, we can count on Hungary's ambitions being given due recognition.

The way in which our country behaves in conjunction with the Yugoslav war is important, however, and not just from a Hungarian point of view. NATO's leaders have to take decision after decision, after all. If they had not succeeded in forcing Milosevic to yield by issuing threats, a decision had to be taken: to bomb or not to bomb? If a few bombs a day were not enough, decisions had to be taken about the second, and then about the third phase as well, and, sooner or later, a decision would have to be taken about a ground-based invasion as well.

One of the important parameters involved in taking these decisions is whether or not Hungarian airspace, Hungarian airports and Hungarian territory is at their disposal. NATO weighs up the extension of the bombing campaign and the dispatching of another 300 aircraft in a different way if it can count on the availability of Hungarian airports to the way it would weigh up the same issues otherwise. It contemplates the issue of a ground-based attack in a different way if it has to carry out such an attack across the unfavourable terrain of Albania and Macedonia than it does if it can also count on the possibilities afforded by the Hungarian Great Plain. In other words, the entire future course of the war can hinge on decisions taken by Hungary.

However, as we have already seen, the right-wing Hungarian government has up to now belonged to the "hawks", to the ranks of those who have not worked towards a political compromise, but whose wish it has been to bring Milosevic to his knees by force. The Csurkian notion that, after having forced Yugoslavia to its knees, autonomy for Vojvodina could be extracted by force as well, certainly had a role to play in all this. This school of thought is undeniably in harmony with the attitude of the Hungarian right-wing in the past when headed by the MDF and at present, headed by Fidesz, which pervades its way of thinking about relations with neighbouring countries, and about the fate of the Hungarian minorities living in those neighbouring countries. This, however, is not the only possible path for policy towards our neighbours to follow. In order to be able to judge the Orban government's policy towards Yugoslavia, we must dwell on the fundamental issue of our policy towards our neighbours.

What was the salient feature of the MDF government's policy towards our neighbours? On the one hand, it took note of the fact that revision of frontiers ran counter to the standards adopted by post-Second World War Europe, whilst on the other hand persisted in raising it as an issue. It accepted the Hungarian-Ukrainian Basic Treaty (this was the immediate cause of the walk-out on the part of the MIEP, and Torgyan's Independent Smallholders' Party also voted against it), but Jozsef Antall had to point out that it did not create a precedent, that is to say, that Hungary did not renounce wholesale the possibility of a peaceful revision of the frontiers. In a speech he delivered at Miskolc, Lajos Fur broached the topic of the Hungarian army's tasks in defending the Hungarians who live in neighbouring countries, whilst the government would have liked to have used international pressure to extract the implementation of the collective rights of the Hungarian minorities and their autonomy. Given that this way of looking at the situation was opposed by the majority populations of the neighbouring countries as a whole, he felt that the Hungarian aims could only be attained by employing force and external pressure.

From the very outset a second, quite different approach existed, and, from the outset, it featured in the SZDSZ's foreign policy and its basic tenets were also adopted by the MSZP. This approach rejects the revision of frontiers, and its point of departure is as follows: the Hungarian minorities of the neighbouring countries must find their place in the society of the given country on a lasting basis. It would not be appropriate to speak of territorial autonomy either in terms of this approach, and, in the place of symbolic politicising, it is expedient to attain practical aims so that the Hungarians of the neighbouring countries may live a full life as Hungarians, both linguistically and culturally, a life which is also acceptable to the majority populations. The type of aims that ought to be adopted are those that the majority of national, democratic, Western political forces can ally themselves to. This was the approach that asserted itself in the policy pertaining to neighbouring countries adopted by the MSZP-SZDSZ coalition, and in the Basic Treaties which were at the forefront of this policy. This is the strategy of cohabitation, as opposed to the policy of segregation and compulsion adopted by the MDF and Fidesz.

...the cohabitation strategy does not involve the kind of symbolic gestures to which the disciples of the segregation strategy attach such great importance, gestures which emphasise that the Hungarian minorities belong to the "united Hungarian nation". These gestures irritate the majority population and have no practical utility whatsoever. This is why the meetings dubbed as "Hungarian-Hungarian summits" are harmful, as is their institutionalisation as part of the "permanent meetings of Hungarians". Not only do the Hungarians of the neighbouring countries not have the slightest chance of secession, but they also do not have the slightest chance of the kind of regional autonomy which could be envisaged in principle for the Kosovo Albanians. Apart from certain districts in Southern Slovakia, the Beregszasz district and the counties of the Szekler Lands, the Hungarians of the neighbouring countries are geographically intermingled with the majority populations, which means that not only frontier revision, but also regional autonomy is not practicable. Another reason why it is not feasible is the uniform opposition of the majority political elites to regional autonomy. What might be termed as realistic is what has been dubbed autonomy on the principle of individuality, probably first given this name by the Hungarians of Vojvodina. This is, in other words, the collective realisation of minority rights within the framework of cohabitation with the majority population. It is repellent that Viktor Orban ascribes Jozsef Kasza's rejection of the bombing campaign, his frequent condemnations of statements made Hungarian Prime Minister and of enhanced Hungarian participation in the conflict to the vulnerable position of the Voivodinian Hungarian leader. Mr. Kasza sees matters clearly: the aspirations of the Voivodinian Hungarians can only be realised within the parameters of cohabitation with the Serb majority. In Kosovo, a kind of new regional settlement, whether it would involve part of Kosovo seceding from Yugoslavia or whether it would involve territorial autonomy along the lines previously aimed for by Rugova with a state within a state, could be extracted by the use of arms, whereas minority existence involving cohabitation with the majority population, conceived as individual autonomy can obviously not be attained by those means.

For the Hungarians of Vojvodina, and for the Hungarians living in neighbouring countries in general, regional autonomy extorted on the basis of external force does not hold out the prospect of being a functional solution. This is why it would be in their interests for Hungary not to fall in openly with those who wish to force Yugoslavia to back down by stepping up the bombings even further.

This is not just in the interests of the Vojvodinian Hungarians either. The role of the hawk, played out during the war, implementation of the segregation-compulsion strategy as part of participation in the war would put Hungarian policy towards her neighbours in a different, bad light, and this is true not only in respect of Hungary's policy towards Yugoslavia. If Hungary demands territorial autonomy for the Hungarians of Vojvodina at a Yugoslav peace conference, then who would give credence to it if the Hungarian Coalition Party [Slovakia] or the RMDSZ [Romania] were not to follow suit and make similar demands. The Slovaks and the Romanians could maintain that the Hungarians were simply waiting for the opportunity to seek international support for the autonomy of Southern Slovakia or the Szekler Lands... And so, for a long time to come, the chances of Slovak-Hungarian and Romanian-Hungarian reconciliation would be very slight indeed.

Hungary must express with unequivocal clarity that she does not harbour any desire to link the Kosovo settlement with Vojvodina and, as regards the situation of the Hungarians of Vojvodina, the Hungarian government does not look upon itself as a negotiating partner: the Association of Voivodinian Hungarians must reach an agreement with the government of Serbia. Hungary has no cause to take part in the forthcoming Kosovo peace conference.

...the majority populations of our neighbouring countries must be made aware of the fact that other points of view exist in Hungary, that not everyone agrees with the views expressed by Istvan Csurka, Zsolt Lanyi and Laszlo Kover, which differ only minutely in terms of tactics".

Gusztav Kosztolanyi, 7 June 1999


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