Six months ago criticism from European Union “legal experts” brought down the center-right Slovak government because it wanted to allow medical professionals the right to refuse to participate in abortions and other procedures violating their religious beliefs. After the elections the Slovaks got a far-left government coalition. The new government – 11 of the 16 ministers were members of the Communist Party – is inciting hatred towards ethnic Hungarians. And guess what? The EU does not care.
The European subdivision of the “West” is a closet with skeletons that pounce once the door is opened. One of these haunting objects is that of sick nationalism. Chauvinism becomes an explosive substance when mixed with religion, secular ideologies, territorial aspirations, material want and “history”. This potential grew as the consequence of the “final solution” that was let loose on us with the “Versailles Peace Treaty” of 1919. The peace-makers were, like President Wilson naïve, often disinterested, and in the case of Clémenceau primarily concerned with securing a head start for France in the war to follow the “last war” to make the word “safe for democracy.” By the winners’ collective wisdom, the defeated large multi-national entities were eliminated and converted into small national states.
Except for the French, no one realized that the “succession states” were scaled-down versions of the defunct Empires thus not as advertised ethnically homogenous home-lands for rightfully dissatisfied peoples. One result was continued dissatisfaction by those who got something – but in their view not enough – and those who lost too much – as they were inclined to believe. The immediate upshot was the take-over of (victorious) Italy by the Fascists and of (looser) Germany by the National Socialist. The crumbling of the unstable small states ensued in Hitler’s favor. The act was repeated when Vozhd Stalin replaced Führer Hitler.
The implosion of the Outer Soviet Empire in 1989 was not followed by the overcoming of the past’s sins and its unpaid bills. In politics the cadres of authoritarian Socialism survived and occupied the “commanding heights” of the state economy they “privatized”. Besides literally shredding their past the newly rich were quick to become populists. Being savvy they made certain that they milked the cows of frustration both from the right and the left. The upshot is systems whose managers amalgamate the “best” of rightist and leftist collectivist socialism. From the vantage point of democrats representing the legitimate right or the left of the creed, in some countries both the left and the right appear to be repulsive. They stunt growth, compromise the free market’s reputation, hinder the achievement of democratic maturity, while they fan the flame of chauvinistic nationalism. Bickering about ethnic issues and territory is an effective diversion that prevents the solution of otherwise solvable problems. An example is furnished by recent developments in the Slovak Republic.
The case is a surprise: under the previous center-right coalition of Mikulas Dzurinda Slovakia was becoming a success story. Here is some “background” that will put the issues into perspective. For a millennium today’s Slovakia was, without ever having been a state, a province of the Kingdom of Hungary. As a result the populations fused: the name “Tóth” (Slovak in Hungarian) is one of the longest entries in Budapest’s phone book. Cohabitation made the ethnic boundary overlap. That leaves the frontier, drawn in 1919 as a punishment of the Magyars, with little legitimacy as it claims to separate ethnicities to achieve homogenous national states. In plain English: Southern Slovakia is ethnically Hungarian, while the Northern slice of Hungary is not Slovak. This is a burdensome inheritance as from the beginning the 1919 principle of “self-determination” put the boundary in question.
The peace of 1919 bore a Czech-Slovak state that violated ethnic boundaries to make it a large – and strong – French ally. Standard texts still celebrate “Prague” as a democracy although it forgot its Polish, Magyar and Little Russian wards while handling the Slovaks as junior members of the federation. In 1938 Hitler used – with the cheering rest of the discontented – minority grievances to smash what was post-Munich Czechoslovakia. The result of a “proclamation of independence” written by the “Auswärtiges Amt” was Father Tiso’s “clerical-fascist” state. Its unique achievement: it paid the Reich for every Jew it took for disposal.
After 1945 a twisted “Raison d’état” of the moment demanded that the past be forgotten. Thus officially the Slovaks became “victims” of Nazism. Since the Czechs drove out of the Sudetenland three million indigenous Germans that were proclaimed to be “guilty,” the Slovaks were able to expel 600,000 of their Magyars who were also classified as collectively culpable by the infamous “Benes Decrees.” These laws and their consequences are still a matter of contention involving the five countries affected.
Czechoslovak unity did not survive the removal of the Soviet yoke. Initially Slovak independence brought to power the left-fascistoid Vladimir Meciar while upgrading the disadvantaged Magyars, 10% of the total population – but a local majority along the Hungarian border – into a major issue. Not on account of its minority-policy alone, the Meciar system managed to isolate Slovakia and directed its future toward the dust-bin. The emergence of Mr Dzurinda and his cleverly progressive government – it included the party of the Magyars – with its flat tax converted Slovakia into success story. It lasted until the elections of June 17th. Modernization entails creative destruction that destabilizes thought-to-be-secure existences. Thus the governing coalition lost its mandate. The winners were Robert Fico’s Smer (Direction) – still a member of the Socialist International – as well as the leftist and rightist nationalists. Although he had an alternative, it was with the help of parties who had caused the country’s earlier isolation that Mr Fico formed his government. The upshot is the legitimization of nationalist ultras. Combined with the initial attempt to cover by remaining silent their activities have led to the current crisis.
Clearly, the enfant terrible of the new political constellation is Jan Slota, the Chairman of the National Party, who is personally not in the government. Mr Slota produces interesting news. For one thing, he is an avowed fan of Tiso. (No surprise! It is descriptive of the region’s malady that a popular vote to name the most outstanding Romanians put Marshall Ion Antonescu – Hitler’s favorite ally – on top. Conducator Nicolae Ceausescu placed 11th. Shamefully, Janos Kádár, Moscow’s Hungarian hangman, would also score high.) In the light of such aberrations it is normal that a Dusan Caplovic can be a Vice-Minister in charge of Human Rights and Minority Affairs. He has demonstrated his qualifications by alerting the world to the dangers stemming from the “brutal Magyarization of Southern Slovakia.”
With the aberrant types in charge foreign investors are growing cautious about entering the country. True to its Socialist roots, the Smer campaign promised to end privatization and also an extra tax on banks and businesses that enjoy a “monopoly”. Yet Fico has also pledged to leave Dzurinda’s reforms intact. Meanwhile his voters were assured that globalization’s (meaning “modernity”) harm will be blocked. Apparently the promise of dry water is not entirely convincing.
It is, however, ethnic policy, imposed by the fruit-cake fillings in charge that darken the sky. The source of the calamity is Mr Slota who, from outside the government, was allowed to act as the governing team’s loud mouthpiece. As a means for catching the vote of the disoriented, the trick of using Slota as a dunce at home without having to stand erect for his slogans abroad, makes the dough rise. The originally thin majority of the coalition has now 63% approval. Exhaling fire regarding the minorities for the benefit of insecure locals might be of future use once the economy slides due to contradictory policy-signals from “above.” The Gypsies are 2% of the population and there is an awareness of them abroad. Mr Slota approach is therefore restrained. His suggestion: ghettoes and sterilization-for-money.
The Magyars are the kind of large minority that is a majority along the border. This makes them convertible into a domestic threat. They are also a weak enemy as European opinion is unaware of them. Meanwhile opportunistically official Europe is disinterested by what it can not help knowing. The Magyars are not a cause célèbre (as are Jews provided they are already dead) and focusing on them is not “easy”. It so happens that besides Slovakia, the Hungarians are, just by being where the last 1100 years put them, a problem case for Serbia and Romania. (Less so in the Ukraine, Croatia, hardly in Slovenia and not at all in Austria.) Brussels seems to feel that Magyar collective rights are more a hindrance to achieve the mirage of “brotherhood” in Europe than a criterion of democracy. No wonder that the anti-Magyarism of Slota, Meciar and their mutations in the Voivodina (Serbia) and Transylvania (Romania) create political capital at home while encouragingly not costing much abroad.
Before presenting samples of Mr Slota’s war for purity, it must be admitted that the samples sound more comical than as seriously criminal as is their intention. While you smile remember that a number of ridiculous theories have produced disasters in the past for those involved and for the world.
The opening salvo back in mid-July was an “alarm.” According to Slota “we jump into our tanks and crush Budapest. We will not let the f***ing Hungarians get a single square inch of our territory.” To understand you must know that the Magyars demand “autonomy” – not independence or secession – for their districts. (The claim is also raised in Serbia and Romania.) This implies the status of Swiss Cantons (US State): local government and the free use of the natives’ language and schooling in the tongue of the locals. A disastrous proposition? 700 years of Switzerland says otherwise.
Mr Slota is not quite a fan of Magyars. Let him speak: “A monk in 1248 said ‘I have been wondering how could God give such a beautiful country to such ugly people? […]’. He meant the ancient Magyars who had a Mongolian exterior, o-legs and who lived with their disgusting horses. Little horses. […] Somehow the mongoloids have disappeared. I do not know from what they have become civilized, but I think it is from the infusion of Slavic blood. Regrettably.” (Will someone repeat this to Korean or Japanese investors that come to test the ground in Slovakia?)
There is more: “If the National Party is extreme then it is the Magyar’s substance that exudes extremism with the intensity of radioactivity. More than what Chernobil emits. The best solution would be to cover the whole country under a layer of concrete.” Hardly a surprising conclusion from a statesman who (as a political oncologist?) has discovered that the Magyars are a “cancerous growth”! This opinion is perversely reminiscent of the earlier “die Juden sind unser Unglück” /the Jews are our misfortune/ and is wide spread. There is a pattern to this: the hate of “outsiders” in “our” midst helps to overcome the shame felt for what we secretly do not like about ourselves.
These antecedents explain why in a Czech paper Slota declared the expulsion of three million Germans as “lucky”. He also regretted that from Slovakia not all but only 600,000 Hungarians were expelled. Slota’s antics have provoked the reluctant Socialist-run Hungary’s Foreign Ministry to react. Kinga Göncz sent a protest to her counterpart, Jan Kubis – the for-show classical liberal in the government. The disappointing initial response: Unlike his party, Slota is not a member of the government. No ministry, no responsibility. The Slovak government should be judged by its deeds, not by words. (Incidentally, the funds the Magyars received for cultural purposes were quickly cut.) The PM, Mr Fico, sort of on his way to Iraq to declare that Slovak troops will be withdrawn – as were the Hungarians – reacted by revealing that a “lot of letters” are going around. Not all of them are of importance. Otherwise the Premier kept silent. The officially democratic president, Ivan Gasparovic had let it be known that he is not in agreement with Slota’s “phrasing”.
Given that on the official level the above was committed by people who should be “in the know,” the reaction of the barefooted can hardly be surprising. With good reason racists can feel that their actions are “covered”. Their doing takes forms such as an internet posting with Hungarian flag-burnings at soccer matches and catchphrases like “Magyarok za Dunaj” /Magyars to be booted across the Danube boundary./ Frankly, this slogan is still better than the Serbia’s “death to the Magyars.” While this was written, on August 19/20, the provoked chanting of anti-Slovak slogans has disgraced a match in Hungary so that the game had to be interrupted. Newly there is a site that displays – after a disclaimer – cartoons regarding what to do about Hungary.
Increasingly using Hungarian in a private conversation but in a public place is becoming unpleasant in the region – but for those who like to get beaten up. On August 24th a Slovak weekly reported an éclat that shows how controversial the use of ethnic language has become. A Hungarian-language radio program’s crew held an editorial meeting. Someone from the council that supervises broadcasts attended without previous announcement. The meeting was held in Hungarian. The man threatens consequences.
Weeks ago in Bratislava, a town that as Pozsony used to be the seat of Hungary’s parliament, members of a sight seeing group were arrested. Two participants of the history teachers from Hungary explained to their colleagues the Hungarian aspects of the place in Hungarian. (Slovak guides naturally ignore the mostly Hungarian past of the place.) The charge: it is illegal to conduct sight seeing tours in Pozsony without a license. After a day in jail the criminals were let go.
The August 25 issue of the papers carries the news that a co-ed on her way to an exam was beaten up to the extent that she had to be hospitalized. By folks who, as they wrote on the blouse she was forced to take off, that they want their country “without parasites” and who also wish “death to your ancestors”. Her provocation: she spoke Hungarian on her cell phone. The police promised to seek the perpetrators who they charged with robbery although it is admitted the incident might have something to do with ethnic issues. Meanwhile, to their credit, all Slovak parties quickly disassociated themselves from the deed. Except for Slota’s, that is. (According to an August 28 report, the National Party has joined the choir.)
On August 29 Slovakia’s ambassador in Hungary was cited in Budapest that asserts that initial inaction has contributed to the escalation of sentiments. As this text is about to be submitted three people are being charged for “incitement to racial hatred” as they have displayed a 13-yard “Death to the Magyars” sign. This, and the fact that on Slota’s orders the ambassador interrupted his vacation to be present in the Ministry are positive signs. They add substance to the belated announcement that the Slovak government is concerned by the antics of radicals. A serious effort to change the climate – going clearly beyond scandal-management-PR – would, indeed, be beneficial. The more so as it is being reported that there are numerous other atrocities whose victims do not even dare to raise complaints. In the blogosphere the opinion is that the occurrence is normal: after all, in Slovakia one is to speak Slovak.
Regrettably, however, on another level Hungarian complaints are written off as evidence of Magyar extremism. This corresponds to Bratislava’s assertion that by “internationalizing” the matter Budapest is overreacting. A reaction to another incident (25th August) underlines to tendency to half-heartedness. A young man who addressed his girl in Hungarian got so severely beaten that his injured lung requires weeks of treatment. Also reacting to both cases, PM Fico opined that (1) such events can happen in any country, and (2) excessive publicity given to such incidents only helps the political party of the Hungarians. Indeed, he is right: progressive Slovak papers are beginning to criticize the government for its contribution to the deterioration of the climate.
The various incidents point to major dangers lurking. They go back to the failure of “Europe” that could have done much to preclude such conflicts. Insisting that EU member states apply – and not only incant – modern standards would have been a first step. Given that most borders create minorities their impact on the life of those living along them could easily be reduced. What needs changing is not the border but its punitive consequence for those who are caught on, that is, the way things stand, “the wrong side of it.” Making local autonomy a pre-condition of EU admission, most of the problems arising now could have been overcome. Not only Europe but also its constituent parts would have been better off. Alas, expanding Europe only asks for a “do not show, do not let hear” solution of the problem.
Ill-conceived doctrines that are beyond the pale threaten to upset the local peace. Reminders of the ramifications for the quiet of the Continent are still unfashionable. Benign neglect – for the impostor, not the victim – is hardly a posture that will, as hoped, make the problem go away in time. What is perceived as conniving silence creates incentives to use the heat of activated chauvinism as an energy source to keep the stammering engines of wobbly national governments under stream. The problem: these trains move on the same track toward a point where they are destined to meet.