wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy  Privacy
IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
08BRATISLAVA316 2008-07-09 15:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bratislava
Cable title:  

SLOVAK-HUNGARIAN RELATIONS: NO BREAKTHROUGHS ON

Tags:   PREL PGOV LO 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO3000
OO RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHSL #0316/01 1911544
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 091544Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY BRATISLAVA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1825
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 0451
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BRATISLAVA 000316 

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/NCE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/13/2018
TAGS: PREL PGOV LO
SUBJECT: SLOVAK-HUNGARIAN RELATIONS: NO BREAKTHROUGHS ON
THE HORIZON

REF: A) BUDAPEST 341 B) BUDAPEST 516 C) BRATISLAVA
290 D) 07 BRATISLAVA 560

Classified By: Ambassador Vincent Obsitnik, for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d)

1.(C) Summary. Following Hungarian Prime Minister
Gyurscany's postponement of his long-planned visit to
Slovakia, the brief meeting between Gyurscany and his Slovak
counterpart on the margins of the June 15-16 V-4 Summit did
little to dispel the impression of malaise in Slovak-Hungarian
relations. Slovak officials -- on the defensive in the wake
of anti-Hungarian remarks by Jan Slota and persistent
criticism of Slovakia's minority policies by Hungarian MEPs
and the U.S.-based Hungarian lobby -- have reacted by taking
the rhetorical offensive against the Hungarian Guard. Foreign
Minister Kubis and Chairman of the Parliamentary Affairs
Committee separately complained to Ambassador about the lack
of international condemnation of the Guard, which inducted 600
new members in April (ref a). PM Fico, meanwhile, has in
recent speeches expressed concern about the ramifications for
regional stability of the potential return to power of
Hungarian opposition party Fidesz. Kosovo's declaration of
independence has added another element to the mix: almost all
of our interlocutors express some degree of unease about the
precedential impact on Kosovo for Slovakia and its large
Hungarian minority. Despite the cross-border broadsides and
summit setbacks, however, diplomats and bureaucrats from each
side continue to meet and to implement the program of
bilateral cooperation agreed by Fico and Gyurscany in June


2007. Bilateral consultations and meetings of the Slovak-
Hungarian Mixed Commissions are ongoing. Economic cooperation
is excellent, and Slovak and Hungarian forces are working
together in peacekeeping operations, including ISAF and
UNFICYP in Cyprus. This cooperation -- as well as that in the
NATO, EU and V-4 contexts -- will ensure that the engine of
bilateral relations keeps running. It won't function
optimally, however, until issues related to the large
Hungarian minority in Slovakia ceases to be a hot-button issue
on both sides of the border. In the meantime, the U.S. should
continue to stress the importance of mutual tolerance, the
"sui generis" nature of Kosovo, and look for ways to bolster
concrete cooperation between Slovaks and Hungarians. End
Summary.


Waiting for Gyurscany...


--------------------------





2. (C) It's been a busy, but not particularly positive few
months in Slovak-Hungarian relations. From March through May,
top officials and media from both countries were focused on a
high-profile dispute over office space in the only Slovak-
majority village in Hungary, Pilisszentkereszt, ("Mlynky," in
Slovak). The dispute arose (ref b) after the town council
ordered the Slovak self-government and other Slovak
organizations to vacate the so-called "Slovak House," without
having -- according to the Hungarian ombudsman for minority
rights -- taken the appropriate legal steps. In the meantime,
the GOS, rankled by the reach and influence of the Hungarian
diaspora and persistent criticism of the government's approach
toward minority issues by Hungarian MEPs in Brussels
immediately seized the opportunity to highlight inequities on
the other side of the border. In the end, both governments
agreed to subsidize the construction of a new Slovak House,
but not before the situation was amply exploited by numerous
politicians on both sides of the border.

3.(C) As officials were working out the details of the Mlynky
settlement, Slovak National Party leader Jan Slota publicly
referred to Hungary's founder, King Stephen, as a "clown on a
horse." (The offending remark was made in the presence of PM
Fico, who did not disavow it.) In response, the GOH postponed
the long-planned visit of Gyurscany to Slovakia and Hungarian
FM Goncz drew comparisons between Slota's SNS party and the
extremist paramilitary Hungarian Guard. (Comment: Slovak
diplomats who participated in the series of preparatory
meetings for the visit had told us even before Slota's
comments that chances were less than 50-50 that Gyurscany
would visit in June, because of his domestic political
problems. At this point, per ref c, FM Kubis believes it will
take something "big" to get Gyurscany to a summit meeting with
Fico. By contrast, the Hungarian Ambassador to Slovakia told
Ambassador Obsitnik at a June 25 reception that the two sides
were working hard to find a date and that if Slota remains
quiet, a visit could take place in August. End comment.)


BRATISLAVA 00000316 002 OF 005




4. (C) Slota's June 6 comments, in which he referred to
Hungarian FM Goncz as an "unkempt" woman who should take more
care of her appearance, added fuel to the fire. Deputy PM
Caplovic quickly criticized the remarks and FM Kubis issued a
quick, formal apology about Goncz, but also felt that Goncz
had gone too far in comparing a racist militia, i.e., the
Hungarian Guard, to a political party, SNS, led by Slota. PM
Fico waited 5 days until he acknowledged that such remarks did
not have a place in politics. He quickly added, however, that
FM Goncz "was not free to say whatever she wanted," referring
to her comparison of SNS to the Hungarian Guard. Further
undermining his tepid apology, Fico stated that "now it clear
that is was a good decision to build a coalition from these
parties back in 2006."



5. (C) Although PM Fico told the Ambassador last December --
on the eve of Slovakia's and Hungary's entry into Schengen --
that tensions between the neighboring countries were "an
anachronism," he appears to have calculated that allowing
Slota and the SNS to pursue a nationalist agenda benefits him
politically. In fact, Fico increasingly leavens his populist,
social democratic speech with nationalist rhetoric (without
the anti-Hungarian content): from his appeals for greater
patriotism and pride in the Slovak history to his admonitions
to politicians to speak better Slovak. Looking ahead to 2010,
Fico is, according to some observers, courting Jan Slota's
voters so that he can jettison Jan Slota's party. Ironically,
the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) -- which broke from
opposition parties SDKU and KDH over the Lisbon Treaty vote --
has been most open about its potential willingness to join a
Smer-led coalition in the next government, should SNS be
dropped.

Behind the Scenes: Cooperation


--------------------------





6. (C) The fits and starts that characterize relations at the
highest level, however, belie the progress being made at the
working level. Bilateral consultations and meetings of the
Slovak-Hungarian Mixed Commissions are ongoing. The Mixed
Commission on Minorities met in Bratislava on June 10, in what
several participants described as a productive and collegial
encounter. One concrete outcome has already emerged from that
session: on July 8, the directors of Slovak and Hungarian
Radio signed an agreement in Budapest for cooperation that
would include programming aimed at the minority communities on
both sides of the border. Furthermore, many of the 14
cooperative projects agreed by Fico and Gyurscany in 2007,
under the rubric of the "common past, common future" program,
are being implemented. The Slovak and Hungarian Ministries of
Health recently concluded an MOU to facilitate cooperation in
the fight against cancer. In September 2007, FMs Kubis and
Goncz signed an agreement to reconstruct two bridges on the
Ipel River between Slovakia and Hungary.

7.(C) In general, economic cooperation between Slovakia and
Hungary is excellent; the volume of trade between the two
countries increased by almost 40 percent in 2007. MOD
contacts characterize defense relations with the Hungarians as
excellent and confirm that the two sides have finalized the
text of an interministerial cooperation agreement. During a
trip to Hungary in late 2007, Slovak Chief of Defense General
Bulik and his Hungarian counterpart publicly praised the two
countries' cooperation, including in ISAF and UNFICYP as a
model for other NATO and EU members. Slovak and Hungarian law
enforcement officials worked together in a months-long
operation that led to the seizure of uranium on the Slovak-
Hungarian border in November 2007. In April, Slovak and
Hungarian officials met in Bratislava to discuss expanding
regional cooperation, particularly cross-border programs with
Ukraine. MFA officials insist that Slovakia and Hungary work
well in the V-4, EU and NATO contexts and that, despite the
historic baggage (and perhaps to some extent because of it)
Slovakia and Hungary are natural partners.

Trianon, Munich, and Kosovo: For Some, the Past is Present


--------------------------



--------------------------





8. (C) Despite the breadth and modernity of the EU and NATO
partnerships, the complex history of the region continues to
shape bilateral relations in a more parochial fashion.
Memories of past conflicts and injustices loom large in
Central Europe. This is certainly the case in Slovakia, which
is still coming to terms with many aspects of the past,
including the long and multifaceted relationship with its
former ruler, Hungary (where a small, but vocal element of the

BRATISLAVA 00000316 003 OF 005


population apparently views the Trianon Treaty not as a
historical footnote, but as a live issue). Anachronistic
disputes, e.g., regarding the WWII-era Benes Decrees, can
knock contemporary relations off track, as was the case here
last fall (ref c). The response of Slovak parliamentarians to
protests in Hungary earlier this month on the anniversary of
the Trianon Treaty was not silence or bemusement, but nine
questions to the government regarding the status of the Treaty
during parliament's June 19 "question time." Interior Minister
Kalinak, representing PM Fico at the session, confirmed that
the Slovak government would not allow changes in the border
between Slovakia and Hungary through the reopening of the
Treaty and criticized the Hungarian Guard. (Comment: The focus
by Smer MPs on Trianon, likely was also partly a tactic to
draw attention from the just-emerging controversy surrounding
Finance Minister Pociatek. End Comment).




9. (C) More than the recent protests, it is Kosovo that spurs
Slovak politicians to express concern about the inviolability
of Slovakia's borders. Chairman of the Foreign Affairs
Committee Zala opined over lunch with the Ambassador on June
19 that the Kosovo precedent would destabilize Europe and
called on the U.S. to make a strong statement on the
inviolability of borders. Although Zala made clear that he
did not believe that the situations in Serbia and Slovakia
were similar, he suggested that somehow, down the line, the
Kosovo precedent would affect Slovakia. We have heard this
argument from Slovak politicians across the political
spectrum. Amongst some of the harder-line opponents of Kosovo,
we also discern a lack of confidence that the U.S. or "the
West" can or will prevent unintended consequences. (Comment:
several, albeit sparsely attended, anti-Kosovo protests here
have compared the West's role in Kosovo independence to its
acquiescence at Munich in 1938.) Although Slovak opposition
to Kosovo's independence is based also on strong ties with
Serbia and, to paraphrase PM Fico, a small country's reliance
on international law, there is almost always a Hungarian
subtext to any conversation about Kosovo. President
Gasparovic told Ambassador Obsitnik that he believes that
Hungarian politicians (on both sides of the border) will use
the Kosovo precedent to promote the reunification of Slovakia
(and Romania's) Hungarian minority with Hungary. An MFA
official offered a more realistic assessment: although there
is no danger of border changes, Hungary will seek to use the
protections and rights provided to Serbs in Kosovo as a model
for collective minority rights for Hungarians throughout
Europe.

Minority Questions


--------------------------





10. (C) When Foreign Ministers Kubis and Goncz met last
November, she told him that the one of the pre-conditions for
the Gyurscany-Fico meeting was that the GOS would, at a
minimum, maintain the "status quo" on minority rights. At the
time, there had been indications -- particularly from the SNS-
led Ministries of Education and Culture -- that funding for
Hungarian-language radio would be cut, that Hungarian
textbooks would be required to use Slovak names, and that the
status of Slovakia's only Hungarian university would be
downgraded. After several months of negotiations, funding was
found for Radio Patria, the Slovak Government provided an
additional 16 million SKK for Selye University, and agreement
was reached to continue to use both Slovak and Hungarian
geographic names in textbooks. These steps appear to have met
the request of the GOH and that of the Hungarian Coalition
Party (SMK). In June, however, the media reported that Slovak
Minister of Education Jan Mikolaj had reached an agreement
with his party, SNS, on a directive that would permit
textbooks in Slovakia's Hungarian schools to print the
Hungarian-language version of geographic place names only
once; all subsequent mentions would be in Slovak. It seems
like a minor issue, but it, along with the widely supported
parliamentary resolutions on Benes and Cernova (ref d) and
SNS's anti-Hungarian rhetoric, contribute to a growing sense
among some in the ethnic Hungarian community that the
trajectory of minority rights policy is headed in the wrong
direction.



11. (C) Echoing a widely-repeated sentiment, Joseph Berenyi,
Deputy Chairman of SMK, told Pol/Econ Chief on July 4 that, in
general, relations between Slovaks and ethnic Hungarians are
good. However, he added that it is less "comfortable" for
Hungarians in Slovakia than it used to be. Berenyi ruefully
agreed that it is often the "politicians," who create

BRATISLAVA 00000316 004 OF 005


tensions; at the same time, Berenyi said that SMK's agenda --
with its persistent focus on language rights, for instance --
was responsive to the expressed concerns of its constituents.
Berenyi claimed that since 2006, Hungarians are being fired
from state and local institutions in Slovakia, and although
this is, to some extent, the natural result of the power shift
that took place at that time, Berenyi expressed concerns about
the implications of the trend for the minority community. He
also pointed to the recent decision of the regional parliament
in Nitra (Nitra region is home to a large percentage of ethnic
Hungarians) to revise the electoral districts for 2009
regional elections, such that the likely result will be
decreased representation for the Hungarian party. Berenyi
fears this move will have a precedential effect and plans to
present legislation that would require such changes to be
approved by the national parliament. When asked about SMK's
potential openness to partnering with Smer, Berenyi was
unabashed and unapologetic: it wouldn't be the most
comfortable arrangement, he acknowledged, but it would be
worth it in order to ensure that ethnic Hungarians' interests
were protected. (Comment: Fairly or not, SMK's focus on
"national" issues nourishes a strain of skepticism among the
other political parties, even erstwhile partners SDKU and KDH,
regarding SMK's "loyalty" to the Slovak state.)

12.(C) Despite the Slovak MFA's efforts to emphasize broader
themes in the bilateral relationship, it is likely that issues
related to the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and its
relationship with Hungary will continue to unduly influence
the bilateral agenda. The unrealized and growing aspirations
of a small, but influential segment of the Hungarian minority
for a status akin to that of Finland's Swedish minority (an
oft-cited example) is bumping up against SNS's distinctly
mono-ethnic brand of nationalism. With the return of Slota
and Meciar to political prominence, Hungarian bashing (at
least rhetorical) is back and tacitly accepted by many.
(Comment: Deputy Speaker of Parliament Miroslav Ciz
acknowledged to us that he hadn't minded Slota's comments
about Goncz, because he believes the Hungarians are so vocally
critical of Slovakia.) At the same time, the Hungarian
Coalition Party, out of power and led since 2007 by less
moderate voices has looked to national issues to boost its
sagging preferences. In Hungary, former (and aspiring) PM
Viktor Orban stokes Slovak anxieties with calls for "new
agreements between Hungary and Hungarian minorities," and
reported references to Slovakia as "northern Hungary." Many
Slovak officials, including professional diplomats, are
convinced that Orban will return to power and express concern
that his approach to minority questions will further strain
bilateral ties. PM Fico, for his part, has publicly stoked
that concern. During his July 4 review of his government's
first two years in office, Fico suggested that Orban's return
to power would be a problem for the region, adding that "the
Slovak government ...would watch very closely the extreme
nationalist political forces, which would likely return to
power in neighboring Hungary and whose current political
declarations, if implemented, would cause instability in the
region." In the same speech, he added (again) tacit support
for Jan Slota's vulgar condemnation of SDKU presidential
candidate Iveta Radicova for having attended SMK's tenth
anniversary celebration (at which Orban was also present),
saying he had been "shocked to learn that Radicova had
accepted without commentary an expression of political support
by the political party Fidesz."



13. (C) Comment and Conclusion: In the framework of NATO and
EU membership, Slovak-Hungarian relations will maintain a
certain equilibrium, yet, paradoxically, the security offered
by these alliances appears to have brought old wounds and
prejudices -- artificially submerged during Communism and kept
under wraps in the EU and NATO pre-accession period -- to the
fore. Just as the Greek-Macedonian name dispute defies logic,
so do expressions of concern about "Greater Hungary," here.
But our strained credulity doesn't render the issues or the
emotions they evoke moot. In Bratislava -- known not long ago
as Pozsony and Pressburg, too -- questions related to national
minorities and territorial integrity are surprisingly salient.
And while a web of European and international treaties and
commitments should ensure that such issues are dealt with
justly and reasonably, we shouldn't be complacent about the
challenges posed by nationalism, xenophobia and extremism.
Despite an element of political expedience in its criticism,
the GOS has a point: the Hungarian Guard is a dangerous
phenomenon, out of place in 21st century Europe. Less
dangerous, perhaps, but corrosive and divisive nonetheless, is
the nationalist rhetoric emerging from prominent figures here.

BRATISLAVA 00000316 005 OF 005


One effect of such rhetoric, according to some Slovak and
ethnic Hungarian analysts and NGO reps, is that it propagates
negative stereotypes, particularly where the two ethnic groups
do not live in close proximity. According to one recent
survey, 56 percent of young Slovaks polled judged relations
between the the Hungarian minority and Slovak majority as
"fairly good;" 26 percent evaluated them as "fairly bad." Of
the 7 percent who rated relations as "very bad," 60 percent
did not live with or near ethnic Hungarians. There also
appears to be a growing gap in perceptions between Slovaks and
ethnic Hungarians when it comes to issues related to Slovak-
hungarian relationas. In a poll conducted by IVO in late 2007,
78 percent of Hungarians surveyed said they were worried about
increased tensions between Slovak-Hungarian relations (56
percent of Slovaks expressed concern); 74 percent of
Hungarians worried that Jan Slota had too much influence on
government policy, as opposed to only 24 percent of Slovaks
polled. Embassy Bratislava will continue to stress the
importance of tolerance, ethnic diversity and respect for
minority rights and will explore potential opportunities that
bring the Slovak and ethnic Hungarian communities,
particularly their youngest members, together.

OBSITNIK