MINELRES: Fwd: Stoking Ethnic Fires in Central Europe

minelres@lists.microlink.lv minelres@lists.microlink.lv
Sat Sep 5 13:15:41 2009

Original sender: Hate Monitor Net <Hate-Monitor-Net@googlegroups.com> 


Stoking Ethnic Fires in Central Europe
Bratislava, Slovakia

The current spat between Hungary and Slovakia has all the appearance of
a controversy manufactured mainly by politicians, but that doesn’t mean
no one will get hurt before it’s all over, Jeremy Druker comments for
ISN Security Watch. 

By Jeremy Druker in Prague for ISN Security Watch 

31/08/2009 - Last week, unknown assailants threw two Molotov cocktails
at the Slovak embassy in Budapest, luckily neither of which exploded . A
day later, two men tried to force the car of the Slovak ambassador to
Hungary off the road, allegedly hurling insults, including a reference
to the diplomat’s nationality.

The immediate spark for the recent events was the planned visit of
Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom to the largely ethnic Hungarian city
of Komarno in southern Slovakia on 21 August. Local organizers had
invited the president to unveil a statue of Stephen I, the first king of

But in defiance of EU statutes governing freedom of movement, Slovak
officials barred Solyom from entering the country, saying he had chosen
an insensitive day for the trip, a day that would supposedly inflame
nationalist tensions.

The reference was to the anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion of
Czechoslovakia in 1968, which had included Hungarian troops. However,
few analysts took that excuse as a valid reason, believing that few
Slovaks would actually make the connection and take offense. 

More likely, Slovak politicians, such as the populist Prime Minister
Robert Fico, saw a chance to score points with a subsection of
conservative, nationalistic voters - people afraid of “the dangerous
irredentism that increasingly breathes on us from across the Danube,” as
Fico once put it. 

Solyom has also been one of the prominent opponents of the widely
debated new Slovak state language law that will take effect on 1
September. In places where an ethnic minority comprises than less 20
percent of the population, the use of a minority language in official
communication could soon lead to a fine of up to ˆ 5,000 ($7,100).

Some Slovaks may still smart over Hungary’s long rule over their
territory and long-ago attempts to impose the Hungarian language and
culture. And some Hungarians may still fret over the fate of the ethnic
Hungarians that ended up on the other side of the country’s borders
after World War I. 

Left to their own devices, such nationalists would likely fade into
irrelevance, similar to their French and German counterparts who
eventually had little to offer to mainstream voters hoping to forget
history and move on. 

A recent trip by Slovak journalist Martin Simecka, for example, to
southern Slovakia revealed an ethnic Hungarian population at home in
Slovakia and at peace with their neighbors. Writing in the Czech weekly
Respekt, Simecka found people blaming politicians for stoking
inter-ethnic enmity. 

While relations in the post-independence era have had their ups and
downs, things turned definitely for the worse in 2006, when a
populist-nationalist coalition replaced a more tolerant government that
had included an ethnic Hungarian party. The ruling party, Fico’s Smer,
decided to team up with the Slovak National Party and its infamous
leader, Jan Slota. 

So far, both the European Commission and the Swedish EU presidency have
preferred to stay on the sidelines and to let the matter be handled
bilaterally. Perhaps Brussels is confident that NATO allies and fellow
members of the EU would never allow such a petty conflict to explode
into widespread violence.   

That is a risky approach. While a Balkan-style, ethnic conflict may be
out of the question, the continued escalation of rhetoric could further
embolden the extremist fringes and lead to attacks with Molotov
cocktails and other weapons that actually work. 

Just ask the Roma. Six members of Hungary’s largest minority have been
murdered since last November, the likely victims of racially motivated

Jeremy Druker is executive director, editor-in-chief and one of the
founders of Transitions Online. 

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only,
not the International Relations and Security Network

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