Entries RSS Feed Share Send to Facebook Tweet This Accessible version

Lessons of the Slovak elections

March 19th, 2012

Commentators seem to agree that Hungarians in Slovakia are among the losers of the Parliamentary election there. Some blame what they call the Orbán government’s wrong-headed cross-border policies; others believe the new inter-ethnic party is at fault.

In the early election held in Slovakia on March 10, the left-wing Smer (Direction)  party led by Robert Fico secured a comfortable majority in the House. The Slovak-Hungarian party Most-Híd (Bridge) received 6,89 per cent of the votes, over one per cent less than in 2010, while the Hungarian Coalition Party (MKP) fell for the second time short of the 5 per cent threshold. The Orbán government has been backing the MKP as the only party in Slovakia which represents Hungarian interests, while completely ignoring Híd-Most. MKP is more radical in its demands, including autonomy for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. The liberal-leaning Híd-Most also supports minority rights, but lays more accent on inter-cultural dialogue and Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation, and does not favour dual citizenship offered for Hungarians living in Slovakia.

How to reverse assimilation?

Péter Tamáska in Magyar Hírlap finds that the success of the Slovak-Hungarian Most-Híd shows how much Hungarians are willing to cooperate with Slovaks even at the price of “compromising their principles”. Tamáska hints that the reconciliatory line pursued by Híd-Most will entail less resolute demands of language rights for the Hungarian minority. Such a strategy, Tamáska thinks, will accelerate assimilation and further weaken the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.

The results show that “the majority of Hungarians in Slovakia have a peculiar inclination towards assimilation”, Balázs Ágoston contends in Magyar Demokrata. It should be a priority for the Hungarian government to figure out how this process could be reversed, Ágoston concludes.

In Magyar Nemzet, István Pataky blames the leaders of Híd-Most fort having broken the political unity of Hungarians in Slovakia when they quit MKP and formed their new party in 2009 . Pataky argues that Híd-Most is “chasing the votes of those Hungarians who still speak their mother tongue, but have already started to assimilate.” This process, however, cannot be reversed from Hungary, Pataky fears.

Is it Budapest’s fault?

Assimilation at home and migration to Hungary is the result of the diaspora politics of past and current Hungarian right-wing governments, Erika Törzsök writes in Népszava. Erika Törzsök was in the early 1990s the leading minority expert of the liberal party SZDSZ, and worked under several former socialist-liberal coalitions as a leading advisor to the government on diaspora politics.

Törzsök accuses the Fidesz government of clientelism, and claims that Fidesz wants to “tell transborder Hungarians what is good for them.” She also finds it highly inconsistent that the right-wing government wants to strengthen the influence of the Hungarian minorities in their historical homelands, but also offers them easier access to Hungarian citizenship, which attracts many of them to Hungary. She believes that this approach is counterproductive, since it turns Hungarians away from their homeland and speeds up assimilation.

Writing in his Mos Maiorum blog, Ferenc Hörcher also suggests that the Hungarian government should reconsider its diaspora politics, and should not interfere overtly in the political life of Hungarians who live beyond the borders. The conservative pundit notes that if all Hungarian votes in Slovakia had gone to a single party, it could have been the second largest in the Bratislava Parliament. The low turnout in southern Slovakia shows that many Hungarians are disappointed by the confrontation between the two Hungarian parties. If MKP had crossed the threshold, Smer would probably not have won an absolute majority in Parliament.

“Fidesz and the Foreign Ministry will have to revise their diaspora politics, since it has become evident that their support for MKP was unsuccessful, and their neglect of Most-Híd did not deter their supporters,” István Riba argues in Heti Világgazdaság. The failure of MKP to enter Parliament clearly show that Hungarians in Slovakia favour a more reconciliatory tone in minority politics, Riba remarks.

The flagrantly biased Hungarian public media, which ignored Híd-Most almost completely, contributed to the low participation of Hungarians, who rebelled against the torrent of brainwashing from Budapest,” József Szilvássy writes in Népszabadság. The left-wing commentator believes that the failure of MKP was to a large extent the result of the Fidesz government’s active involvement in the electoral campaign. During the campaign, one had the impression that the MKP is a cross-border branch of Fidesz, Szilvássy remarks.

No promising prospects in sight

Hungarians in Slovakia should get rid of the MKP once and for all and those who encourage them from Budapest, Magyar Narancs comments, pointing the finger at the Hungarian government. As for the future of Slovak-Hungarian relations, the liberal weekly believes that Robert Fico, who in the past pursued controversial policies towards Hungarians (see BudaPost February 18), will happily play the Hungarian card if his popularity vanishes.

“In contrast with Viktor Orbán, Robert Fico will carefully avoid conflicts with the EU,” Péter Morvay contends in Élet és Irodalom. In return, the EU will keep its hands off the internal affairs of the Fico government, which will not hesitate to turn against the Hungarians again, Morvay speculates. He believes that the new Fico government will not be able to fulfil many of its promises, and thus will look for scapegoats and internal enemies in order to divert attention from its likely failures.

To Gyula T. Máté it seems that the European Socialists already seem to be very accommodating towards Robert Fico. Writing in Magyar Hírlap, Máté notes that Hannes Swoboda, Vice-President of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, expressed high hopes about Fico’s economic program, which includes the very same policies that the Hungarian government has been criticized for – the imposition of special taxes on banks and the nationalization of private pension funds.

How come the same policies are not considered autocratic, anti-market and anti-EU, if introduced by Slovakia, the right-wing commentator wonders. “For some reason, different standards are being applied in the case of the Hungarian right wing government and the Slovak Social Democratic majority,” Máté concludes.

Tags: , , ,