Strong nationalist feelings straining Slovak-Hungarian relations

Robert Fico (left), photo: CTK

Relations between Slovakia and Hungary are strained following a number of violent racist attacks against Hungarians living in Slovakia. Hungary's government has asked Slovakia's to publicly condemn the attacks. Anca Dragu reports from Bratislava:

Robert Fico  (left),  photo: CTK
The Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jan Kubis accused the coalition of ethnic Hungarian Parties known as SMK, of being involved in a campaign to discredit Slovakia and its government:

"I don't know who the main organiser of the campaign is but I know one thing though that SMK representatives are in Budapest nearly every day, that they are holding talks with the representatives of various political forces, that they are also talking to Hungarian MPs, as well as MPs representing the Hungarian Republic in various other parliamentary assemblies. Then they are giving us an ultimatum. I can see great effort aimed at escalation, and an effort to internationalise the dispute," said Kubis.

He reacted to a statement made by the leadership of SMK, which said that there is an anti-Hungarian mood in Slovakia and if the current trend is not reversed within two weeks then the party will complain to the European Parliament and the European Commission. SMK was alarmed by an increase in the number of racist incidents culminating with the attack last Friday against a 23 year-old girl who was speaking Hungarian on her mobile phone. The attackers stole her phone and her earrings and wrote "Hungarians should be sunk in the Danube" on her T-shirt. Police have yet to identify and arrest those responsible. The next day three youngsters posted a banner reading "Death to Hungarians" during a football match in the first Slovak League. They were arrested.

Following these incidents the Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany asked Slovak authorities to publicly condemn the attacks and extremism. Prime Minister Robert Fico refused to do so:

"I do not need any advice from the coalition of ethnic Hungarian parties on how to fight against extremism. I, personally have condemned extremism many times. Every citizen who is in Slovakia, regardless of his nationality or the colour of his skin, has the right to security, and has the right to be respected. I praise the police who quickly caught the perpetrators during the football match", said Fico.

He avoided to comment on the fact that analysts think that the recent racist attacks are actually a consequence of including a nationalist party in his government. The party's leader, Jan Slota, has been known for using bad language against ethnic Hungarians. Back to diplomacy, Foreign Minister Jan Kubis said that Slovakia will react resolutely to Hungarian demands:

"At the same time, Slovakia will ask for explanations for controversial statements made by several Hungarian politicians, and certain expressions of extremism such as anti-Slovak banners displayed during football matches, and irredentist demands in maps of the former Hungarian empire", said Kubis.

Bela Bugar, the President of the coalition of ethnic Hungarian Parties, rejected Kubis's accusations of being involved in a campaign to discredit Slovakia.

"His rhetoric resembles that of governing politicians from before 1998, when the former government of Vladimir Meciar claimed that SMK was damaging Slovakia's interests. I hope he doesn't think that we are arranging for Hungarians to be beaten up, and that we want to make Slovak citizens afraid of people of Hungarian nationality. If the Government had been thorough, forthright enough and prompt, all this wouldn't have happened", said Bugar.

Meanwhile Slovakia's President made an appeal for calm and tolerance.