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The Slovakian-Hungarian Football War

by DoDo Fri Dec 5th, 2008 at 07:21:18 AM EST

A month ago, a Slovakian domestic top league football match was interrupted by police action against hooligans. What followed was a meltdown of already bad Slovakian-Hungarian relations.

The immediate reason was excessive police brutality without reason for one side, the activity of hooligans and far-right extremists from Hungary for the other side. The broader reason is an ever more bitter dispute over the policy towards the large ethnic-Hungarian minority in Slovakia and organisations representing it.

After two weeks of escalation, responding to calls for an EU-conform solution, the prime ministers of the two countries met for a bilateral summit. Nothing much was solved, at least in public.

Moments after the obligatory handshake & smiles photo-op, PM of Hungary Ferenc Gyurcsány (left) and PM of Slovakia Robert Fico (right) show appropiate mood at the press conference after the 15 November summit in Komárno/Révkomárom. Photo from Index.hu.

However, there are signs of some good coming out of this mess, at least in Slovakia. Today [3 December], the Parliament of Slovakia adopted an improvement to a contentious reform in minority language education.

Below the fold, I review the sadly rich ancient and recent history of this conflict of nation(alism)s, the event that triggered the blow-up, and the far-right and governmental reactions to it.

Bumped, with new developments in the comments.

History of a nationalist conflict

When one descends to explore some conflict within the cesspool of European nationalisms, it is always essential to be aware of history. So here is a little review (nothing new for regular readers of my diaries, they may skip this).

The Hungarian nation(alism) grew out of the sense of collective identity among the nobility of the Hungarian Kingdom, in particular in its struggle for autonomy when the Habsburg Emperors held the Hungarian crown. The Slovakian nation(alism) in turn emerged from the struggle for autonomy against opression by just this nobility. (This defines the more or less widespread negative stereotypes to this day: 'Hungarians are arrogant ignorants who want to lord over us', 'Slovakians are boorish peasants looking for trouble'.)

Worth to start with is Josheph II (ruled 1780-1790), the only enlightened emperor of the Habsburg Empire. He tried to transform his empire into a modern, post-feudal and German-speaking nation state. The Hungarian nobility was obviously none too pleased, and played a prime role in the opposition that forced Joseph II to recant his reforms on his deathbed.

Eventually, a movement emerged from this opposition that advocated enlightement reforms and industrialisation in a Hungarian framework ("Reform Age") -- including of course a protection of the Hungarian language by having it taught to everyone, be them noblemen (most of whom spoke German at the time), or peasants speaking the various minority languages (Hungarian being the mother tongue of barely more than 40% in the areas of the former Kingdom of Hungary at this time). You can bet the nascent Slovakian-language literalist movement was none too pleased.

Things got worse during the 1848 Revolution, when authorities of Hungary used their hard-won autonomy to get serious with these assimilationist policies. Naturally, there were revolts, even the protection of the Habsburg overlords was sought, and there was a bloody campaign to repress the revolt.

The 1848 Revolution was eventually suppressed. However, finding itself in a weak position after losing in the 1866 Austro-Prussian War, the Habsburg Emperor agreed to the so-called Compromise the next year: Hungary got significant autonomy within the newly renamed Austro-Hungarian Empire.

On language and ethno-cultural policy, the new regime continued where the Revolution ended: ever stronger assimilationist policies from schools through offices to registration for elections, increasing suppression of ethnic/language-minority-based organisations.

At the end of WWI, fortunes changed big-time. The Treaty of Trianon (one of the agreements resulting from the Paris Peace Conference) cut up Austria-Hungary. While Slovakian nationalism was co-opted by the politically stronger Czech movement, creating Czechoslovakia, the new state progressed to invert the prior policies on the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For example, from the start, public officials had to self-identify as Slovak resp. Czech. (For disclosure: I have Slovakian relatives whose tri-lingual ancestors took that decision, and a great-grandfather who lost his notary job by refusing.) Note that borders were drawn as much according to economic interests as according to the (rather unsharp) ethnic "borders": for example, the plains on the North bank of the Danube were overwhelmingly ethnic Hungarian.

For its part, the right-wing regime that came to power in rest-Hungary never accepted the situation as final. In reality, they wanted all lands back -- as demonstrated by the quasi-esoteric national cults they built up, say around the "Holy Crown" (the at the time 'vacant' crown of the Kings of Hungary). Diplomatically, they demanded border corrections at least for the ethnic-Hungarian-majority areas.

They got it in a lesser-known follow-up of the Munich Agreement, the 1st Vienna Arbitration. There, the government of Hungary didn't wait for England and France, and was content with the approval of Hitler and Mussolini in November 1938, and took said areas (see map of areas attached and map of Czecho-Slovakia & neighbours in January 1939). Disclosure: as I learnt only a few years ago, I'm the result of this decision: one of my grandmothers was a kindergarden nurse sent to one of the re-taken towns, where he met my grandfather.

Half a year later, when Hitler dissolved rest-Czecho-Slovakia, Hungarian troops also marched in to Ruthenia, the then autonomous Eastern end of Slovakia. That wasn't a majority-ethnic-Hungarian area anymore (though, Slovakian/Czechoslovak nationalism failed to absorb the Orthodox majority population, too).

WWII was a time of an uneasy truce, when both Hungary and Slovakia were first allies and then puppet states for the Nazis. After WWII, the old borders were restored (except for Ruthenia, which Stalin attached to Ukraine, in which it remained). Beneš, the new Czechoslovak ruler tried to make fait accompli with a string of decrets, some of which ordered the expropiation and deportation of ethnic Germans and Hungarians on grounds of collective guilt. Then the succeeding communist regime inherited the nation-state-creating policies, too.

When the geriatric dictatorships were crumbling in the eighties, it wasn't just the old conflicts that emerged from the deep freeze. The concrete head technocrats of Czechoslovakia and Hungary agreed to build two dams on the joint section of the Danube, which led to the first major environmentalist protest in Hungary, and ultimately the death of half the project.

However, Czechoslovakia and then Slovakia continued, and finished the second dam by unilaterally diverting the Danube. The issue has long turned into a nationalistic one (an industrial megaproject as national pride on one side, national affront rather than environmental problem on the other side). Governments on the two sides weren't any good at cooperation, either, they eventually went to Hague (and received a Solomonic decision).

Meanwhile, within Slovakia, demands for autonomy from the newly formed Hungarian ethnic minority party SMK/MKP (plus the memory of the 1st Vienna Award) stoked fears of secessionism. And demands to repeal the Beneš Decrets on collective guilt and expropiation (which are still in effect in both heir countries -- the EU swept this issue under the rug during accession) stoked fears of large-scale restitution claims.

First post-independence PM Vladimír Mečiar (of the left-populist HZDS) and his later coalition partner Ján Slota ('the Slovakian le Pen', of the nationalist SNS) reacted with nationalist populism. Beyond rhetoric, this involved the reorganisation of regions (so that none of them had ethnic-Hungarian majority) and various restrictions in culture and education.

However, while Slota and Mečiar were the worst and not representative of Slovakian politicians in general, this antagonism was wider. Even at the time SMK/MKP was in the governing coalition, it had its own nationalists who would come just short of calling their own government members traitors -- while in local elections in places with a high ratio of ethnic Hungarians, SMK/MKP candidates for mayor ran against joint candidates of all/most other parties.

Meanwhile, general paranoia about regional rivals led Mečiar to initiate a secret service operation to undermine Slovakia's neighbours, "Operation Omega". Given the diplomatic support for the SMK/MKP from all governments of Hungary (seen as duty in Hungary, and as attempt to meddle in internal affairs in Slovakia), and the dam issue, this allegedly peaked in the harmless (I mean, only minor material damage) bomb attacks on the homes of some Hungarian politicians in 1998.

Another cross-border angle of the autonomy issue was nationalists in Hungary happily stoking Slovakian fears of irredentism. At the level of policy, there were demands to give double citizenship to every ethnic Hungarian abroad -- imagine the prospect of an entire area along the border being populated by citizens of another country -- that only ended with the failure of a referendum in 2004 (see this diary and this comment thread). At the level of rhetoric, there was for example the declaration to aspire to be "the PM of 15 million Hungarians" [Hungary has 10 million citizens] by the 1990-1993 and 1998-2002 PMs. More widely, there are the regular commemorations of the anniversary of "Trianon" by nationalists, and the formulation used often there: "we don't want to change borders violently".

Also, pre-Trianon Greater Hungary had an oval shape, and the use of country signs in a Greater Hungary outline is pretty widespread on cars -- something Slovakians get to see often, in particular in the ski tourism season. Speaking of tourism, there's the assymmetry that still a lot of Slovakians speak Hungarian, while very few tourists from Hungary do speak Slovakian. (I myself, a frequent traveller in Slovakia, speak only a few very basic words Slovakian, and was totally oblivious of this assymmetry until recently.)

Back to the political, in more recent years, the younger generation of the far-right in Hungary attempted more overt provocations. For example, László Toroczkai, leader of the 64 Shires Youth Movement (named for the territorial units of pre-WWI Greater Hungary) got himself banned from Slovakia with a demonstration in Bratislava. (For an overview of the various small bands of idiots making up the Hungarian far-right, look into this diary.)

Closing this section, I note all is and was not bad: not everyone is (or is that severely) nationalistic. Many just don't care about these things at all. As indicated, there is a lot of tourism (until the early nineties, including shopping tourism). There are cross-border cooperations (including a rather smooth one between the state railways). Some individuals can live with contradictions: I met HZDS-voting ethnic-Hungarians in Mečiar-era Slovakia; I had a relative there who approved of Hungarian far-right party MIÉP in his old age, even while he lived in a happy marriage for more than a half century with his wife who often emphasized her Slovakian-ness. But the above looong history of conflicts is there in the back of the mind of everyone involved in any new 'Slovakian-Hungarian' conflict.

"For a barrier-less Europe" - reads the bilingual sign of some spectators at the 15 November summit in Komárno/Révkomárom. Photo from Index.hu.

The recent downturn of relations

The 2006 general elections in Slovakia (see a rundown of the Slovakian political landscape in this diary from then) were won by soon-to-be PM Robert Fico's left-populist Smer party, but he needed coalition partners -- and, being not far from nationalism himself, he chose Mečiar's HZDS and Slota's SNS (but gave no ministerial position for the two party heads). For measure, here is a Slota evergreen: "We'll jump into our tanks and flatten Budapest!"

In Hungarian media, the formation was simply termed the "catastrophe coalition", even the government protested where it could -- probably having no small part in the PES's temporary suspension of Smer's membership. In rather foolish fashion, the PM also protested by refusing to meet his new colleague bilaterally.

Not two months passed until the first high-profile confrontation (with both ethnic Hungarian organisations in Slovakia, and, through diplomatic channels, the government of Hungary): over the issue of an ethnic-Hungarian student girl attacked by skinheads, whom police chiefs accused of faking the incident (see On a dark street).

In March 2007, the nationalist wing of SMK/MKP was victorious in forcing a leadership change at the helm of the minority party. Further rhetorical escalation was pre-programmed.

In September 2007, at SNS's initiative, the Parliament of Slovakia voted for a declaration about the continued validity of the Beneš Decrets. Around the same time, the SNS-led education ministry began preparing a new school law, in which it again wanted to reduce education in minority languages.

Then, earlier this year, allegedly, SMK/MKP was offered a better deal (to break the opposition's boycott of the vote on the Lisbon Treaty), but was shafted after accepting it (see this diary for details).

The Hungarian government increased its protests through diplomatic and media channels over SNS and the issues of ethnic/language minority policy in Slovakia, while Gyurcsány, in protest of verbal provocations from Slota (for example, he called Saint Stephen, first king of Hungary -- see this diary --, a "horseback clown") continued to avoid meeting Fico bilaterally.

In May, this motivated Fico to launch mirrored attacks. He contrasted his coalition partner with the main opposition party in Hungary, right-populist Fidesz, and warned of increasing activity from radicals after its expected return to power (well, a fear I share...). And he claimed that it's the Slovakian minority in Hungary that's persecuted, citing as evidence a local conflict: the expulsion of the Slovakian minority self-government from the community house by the local government of the village of Pilisszentkereszt/Mlynky. This was rather on the ridiculous side, that village being the only in Hungary with an ethnic-Slovakian majority, including most of the local government (though the major is a Hungarian-assimilated right-winger).

Hungarian foreign minister Kinga Göncz then declared again that "the difference between the Hungarian Guard and SNS is that the Hungarian Guard is no part of the Hungarian government, while SNS is a member of the Slovakian governing coalition." To which Slota reacted with the remark: "Göncz is a woman with uncombed hair who should care more about her appearance." (Later, he excused this by claiming he was drunk.)

Later Slota also claimed that the incident of that girl beaten by skinheads was organised by Hungarian spies.

In July, Fico repeated his warnings about the likely return to power of "extreme nationalist forces" in the form of Fidesz and its leader Viktor Orbán (see my earlier comment). An op-ed in Slovakia's liberal daily SME commented this by saying that Fico is just as nationalist as Orbán, while his coalition partners are worse.

One should note the asymmetry of oppositions here. While the parliamentary right-wing opposition in Hungary is usually attacking its government for "not doing enough" for ethnic-Hungarian minorities, in Slovakia, the liberal, and now the right-wing opposition, too, is criticising Fico & co for their nationalism.

As if the tussle of politicians weren't enough, as I reported, Hungarian neo-Nazis (the extreme end of the far-right) made two spectacular forays across the border (open since Hungary and Slovakia joined the Schengen Zone last Christmas, see this diary). A group of nine was arrested end of June on the floodplains near Komárno when photographing each other with Swastika flags. Two weeks later, in border city Esztergom, there was a bigger neo-Nazi gathering at a private property (reason cited by police & mayor for doing nothing). When it ended, a dozen of them in full regalia walked across the border bridge to Štúrovo (Hungarian: Párkány), sang about Trianon and showed Nazi salutes. Police detained them, too, seven were put on trial.

The SNS-led rural development ministry, when distributing EU money to schools, didn't award a single grant to a Hungarian-language school (nor did it give reasons for its choices, which included a hefty sum for Slota's onetime alma mater). Meanwhile, the SNS-led education ministry issued Hungarian-language school textbooks in which Hungarian-language placenames were banished into the Appendix.

On 1 September, the day Fico and Gyurcsány met in Brussels and at last there was talk of bilateral meetings, too, Slota erected a giant concrete double cross (A Slovakian national symbol) in Malacky, a town at the Austrian border. He declared that he wants to plaster these giant crosses all around the border, to counter the so far more numerous "Hungarian parrots named turul" (the turul being one of those Hungarian nationalist symbols the cult of which was nurtured especially between the two world wars).

Reacting to a poll of 15-year-olds in Slovakia, in which 37.7% considered Hungarians the most unsympathetic minority (ahead of Gypsies), the SNS education minister expressed disbelief (just like Fico), but also expressed agreement with the 63.3%(!) of the polled who think ethnic Hungarians should talk Slovakian in public (while Slovakian law permits minority language use even in offices of towns with more than 20% minority population).

After the (figurehead) President of Hungary lambasted Slota's unhindered hate speech, Slota reacted by talking about the Hungarian Guard, linking it to Fidesz; and by attacking the new Forum of Carpathian-Basin [ethnic-]Hungarian Members of Parliament[s] (KMKF; hosted annually by the Hungarian Parliament's Socialist-delegated Speaker) as an organisation with the goal to re-create Greater Hungary and giving such orders to SMK/MKP MPs. So he warmed up his proposal for the formation of Domobrana (kind of a national guard, Slovakian media call it with allusion the 'Slovakian Guard'), something even Mečiar rejected back in the nineties; and lambasted his coalition partners as sissies for not initiating a parliamentary questioning of SMK/MKP MPs that could lead to their removal.

Later in September, talking about his private jet flights to his holiday home on Croatia's Adriatic coast, he declared he always flies above Austria, because 'the Hungarians would obviously shoot down my plane'.

Meanwhile, increasingly unpopular SMK/MKP leader Pál Csáky was talking about ethnic Hungarians living in mortal fear, and discussed defunct plans of autonomy. This was interpreted as scaremongering resp. breaking a taboo across the board (even including the previous SMK/MKP chairman), and invited further attacks from Slota.

At the start of October, Hungarian foreign minister Göncz asked the ambassador of Slovakia into her office, and gave him a protest note to the government of Slovakia, a list summing up all grievances. The Slovakian government in turn was outraged, refused to reply, repeated its own accusations and the invitation for the PM of Hungary for a bilateral meeting, and also asked the ambassador of Hungary in.

Slota for his part, at the erection of yet another giant double cross, repeated his mysogynic slur against Göncz in enhanced form: "a woman with uncombed hair, a wretch is threatening here, and asking questions of a Slovakian PM she is not up to the tip of the shoe of." Then he compared her rhetoric to Heinlein and Hitler, setting up for another mysogynic slur: "maybe her moustache is growing already". Mečiar didn't want to stay far behind, either, and claimed that at his first meeting with the PM of Hungary as PM of newly independent Slovakia, he faced a territorial demand(!).

On the home front, Fico swung behind Slota's demands to denounce the SMK/MKP MPs who attended the KMKF. But at the accompanying press conference, he again had a side blow for the Hungarian government, comparing the economies, saying "what could be fucked up in the economic, social and financial spheres was fucked up in a way only few could"; taking "fucked up" from Gyurcsány's infamous leaked "I lied!" speech. (Well, heh, he is right, not that it has much to do with minority policy.)

So, appropiately for such icy relations, November arrived...

The event

On 1 November, Slovakian top division football club FK DAC 1904 met top club ŠK Slovan from the capital Bratislava at home.

Home, that is, in Dunajská Streda (Hungarian: Dunaszerdahely, German: Niedermarkt), a city of 23,500 in Southeast Slovakia that was 80% ethnic Hungarian in the last census. Unsurprisingly, DAC -- an acronym which can be read as dac = "defiance" in Hungarian -- counts as the Hungarian club in Slovakia (though players include ethnic Slovakians, the head coach is from Germany, and the club chairman -- get this -- is from Iran).

Ultras showed up in force on both sides. Including a large contingent of ultras of football clubs in Hungary, who used the occasion to remember old rivalries and demonstrate nationalism.

Already before the match started, tension was high on the streets of Dunajská Streda. Slovan 'supporters' attacked the DAC club house with crackers, then police responded with a charge. A brutal one, resulting in bloodied heads.

(Photos from SportGéza.)

In the stadium, the Slovan fans came in national team regalia, some of those arrested earlier had Nazi symbols with them, others that of the Hlinka Guard (WWII-time Slovakia's copy of the brownshirts).

The ultras from Hungary for their part brought flags as provocative as possible: Hungary flags with the irredentist slogan Voltunk, Vagyunk, Leszünk ( = "We have been, We are, We will be") or the outline of Greater Hungary, club flags resembling the green Arrowcross, and the red-white, so-called Árpád-stripes flags that were also used by the Arrowcrossers (who, in turn, were WWII-time Hungary's copy of the brownshirts).

15 minutes into the match, riot police stormed the tribune with most of the 'supporters' from Hungary. The charge was again very brutal, the match was interrupted while medical staff treated the injured.

(Video above from YouTube, photos below from SportGéza)

One 18-year-old from Hungary (I think the one on the picture above) was brought to hospital with several fractures in the face, shock, and suffered permanent hearing loss on one ear. The police report claimed he was drunk, got an epileptic fit, and fell down the tribune. Doctors negated the first two claims, eyewitnesses saw him getting under the feet of the fleeing crowd, and then beaten by riot police while lying unconscious.

The match continued, Slovan won 4:0. Later, football authorities fined Slovan SKK100,000 (€3,320) for fan behaviour, DAC was fined SKK80,000 and fans were banned from its tribunes for three home matches.

The escalation

Already during the match, the rumour spread that that seriously hurt boy died in the hospital. In the evening, a crowd of 150-400 gathered in front of the Slovakian Embassy in Budapest -- a mix from the diverse zoo of the Hungarian far-right: football hooligans, members of the paramilitary Hungarian Guard, the rioters (whom I just call idiots' revolutionaries).

Heavy police presence prevented serious violence, so symbolic provocation remained: they burned a Slovakian flag, and the hooligans shouted the irredentist chant "You have no homeland" in chorus (I mean, heh, and these same people talk about unprovoked attack on innocent victims).

During the night, the Slovakian-language place-name signs of two villages to the Northwest of Budapest (Pilisszentkereszt/Mlynky and Pilisszántó/Santov, both majority ethnic-Slovakian) were painted over, and offensive graffiti appeared on some houses owned by Slovakians.

Not to be outdone by rival bands, far-right youth party JOBBIK called for boycotts on products from Slovakia, and one-side road blockades on roads towards the common border. One-side road blockades, also called "traffic-slowing demonstration/strike", is a legal form of protest that emerged from peasant protests in the early nineties. Though they managed to organise only three and ten days after, one was occasion for a further ugly afterplay.

A Slovakian living in Hungary, for the alleged (but denied) 'crime' of spitting on some Hungarian Guards manning the blockade (but, more likely, for being an estate agent selling more houses in Hungary to Slovakians), was put up with name and address on a notorious extreme far-right website hosted by anonymous editors on servers in the USA (see comment on one attempt to snuff it out). After his request for protection was just filed in the bureaucracy of Hungarian police, at least an also Hungarian private security firm jumped in -- for free.

A week after the match and police action, the ultras of all the main Budapest football clubs (who, when not rioting together, are mortal enemies) organised a protest rally. With the well familiar far-right imagery and slogans.

(Photo from Index.hu)

Speeches included a "fan" leader opining that 'while the Hungarian government is incapable of protecting Hungarians against Slovakian aggression, Slovakians are afraid of Hungarian fans, and with this unity [at the protest rally], that problem could be solved'. On the sidelines of the protest, in good tradition of the Budapest riots, a TV crew from Slovakia was attacked verbally and with pushes and spit on, police had to protect them.

On the same weekend, an even more blatant provocation came. 28 members of the "National Guardian Army", an even more Arrowcrosser-like satellite of the Hungarian Guard, attempted to march in uniform to a WWII memorial in Slovakia -- on the 70th anniversary of the 1st Vienna Decision.

(Photo from Bumm.sk)
NOTE: I am showing you all of these idiots as evidence, and because in some ways pictures speak more about the pictured than words -- not to give the impression that you'd meet upon marching fascists when turning on any corner. None of these groups is bigger than a few thousand (and most are much smaller), the uniformed idiots concentrate on symbolic provocations and try to avoid acts that would get them banned (like, violence): they cause trouble with their loudness, not with strength in numbers. And they can determine the perceptions for a majority "on the other side".

The group of altogether 41 was held up by Slovakian police, the uniformed idiots were detained. PM Fico had every right to be outraged in his special press conference.

The war of words

The diplomatic confrontation in the form of mutual accusations via the media was already escalating from right after the match, and at least the public declarations (no one knows what the two PMs dared behind closed doors) after the summit two weeks after only continued this. (In English see for example Deutsche Welle reporting, via Fran in the Salon.) What is noteworthy is on just how many levels all parties showed hypocrisy.

Let's begin with the Hungarian media. Very few reports bothered to mention that the policemen beat up the Slovak supporters, too -- making it appear as if they were just out for some 'Hungarian-beating' (<-this is a term nationalists introduced into Hungarian vocabulary two decades ago).

Then there are the football "fans", who speak about an unprovoked police attack, then go on signing "you have no homeland"...

Then there is the Hungarian government, which created some ill blood by employing ugly intra-Hungarian xenophoby to thwart the right-wing opposition with its double citizenship referendum four years ago, but now feels forced by the opposition to play defender of ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries.

What's more: given the heavy contingent of hooligans from Hungary in the police-charged crowd, the Hungarian government is now defending some of the very same people who rioted against it over the past two years.

To boot, the Hungarian government is confronting the Slovakian authorities over police brutality -- after excusing, spinning and talking away similar actions against some of the very same people by Hungarian police.

For its part, the Slovakian government says that the "problem is the export of fascism and extremism from Hungarian territory to Slovakia" -- thereby in practice denying the domestic variant. Doing so after burning their finger with a previous denial (that girl beaten by skinheads, see second section). And doing so by breaking the coherence of their argumentation, given that they also made the point that Slovakian police was just dealing with hooligans, whether Slovakian or Hungarian.

The Slovakian government is castigating the Hungarian government for not cracking down on neo-Nazis, thereby ignoring earlier warnings of the danger they pose from the Slovakian government -- ignoring, again, that the Hungarian government, being the primary target of these groups (see Budapest riots) hardly needs such warnings and didn't fail for lack of trying. (Total ineptness is another thing.)

The interior minister of Slovakia claimed that "we managed to pull the guards of the SP from their uniforms" -- referring to the Slovakian equivalent of the Hungarian Guard, Slovenská pospolitosť ( = Slovakian Brotherhood), whose uniforms resembled the Hlinka Guard. Where in truth, SP was only banned as a party in 2005, but continued to exist as a civic association -- the same legal recognition the Hungarian Guard managed to get.

The Slovakian government is protesting the over-painting of Slovakian-language place-name signs as unacceptable -- while, as SMK/MKP representatives reminded them, the very same attack against Hungarian-language place-name signs in Slovakia is an everyday occurance. (And, to boot, the two minor coalition partners long fought the wide use of language-minority place-name signs when in government back in the early nineties.)

The finaly irony is that while the PM of Slovakia rails against nationalist extremists, he is in coalition with SNS. Fico contends SNS is just strict about national interest but otherwise a democratic party, one that doesn't cooperate with extremists like Fidesz in Hungary. Ironically, SP protested its dissolution by claiming that SNS leader Slota is more extreme than them, supported by a long list of quotes. Slota was also at hand to issue the most adventurous rhetorical escapades on the conflict -- for example, he claimed knowledge that Hungarian secret service agents were present on the match.

A silver lining?

I left out an important element of the war of words: the issue of the video evidence.

It is not apparent on the videos what triggered the charge of the police against the DAC fans. The first police communiques spoke about stone-throwing (no evidence on the videos) and some "camouflaged activity". In the first hasty press conference, the chief of Slovakian police declared that they have video evidence that shows the charge was justified.

The Hungarian government then immediately said, if there is evidence, show us the evidence! But, despite declarations of cooperativeness, that evidence never came.

Instead, meanwhile, more justicications were added: various verbal and gesticular provocations (probably true, but insufficient reason for a charge) and throwing of plastic chairs (there were none on the tribune, this may only have happened later when the hooligans were pushed towards a bar). Then this photo was put forward:

(Photo taken from the DAC website)

According to the interior minister of Slovakia, Robert Kaliňák, the skinhead-hooligan on the picture is about to hit a second policeman, who is hidden behind the fan flag. But appearances can deceive. A 'fan' sent a series of photos showing the same scene to media. On them, it's clear what happened: the visible policeman tried to grab the arm of the hooligan, who tore himself free (that moment looks like a strike), then lowered his arm -- while the space in front of him is taken by a ducking 'comrade'. (What's also visible is that these ah so innocent football 'fans' were some real scary types -- my favourite is the one who looks like Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver.)

(Source, where you can see the full series of seven photos: PEPSIFOCI.hu)

Now, sensing that the police chief was apparently caught lying, the Hungarian government kept on hammering about the claimed video evidence. Then, on the eve of the meeting of the two PMs, the unthinkable happened: Braňo Ondruš, head of the press office of Slovakia's government agency, wrote in an article that the police chief "obviously doesn't have" the claimed video evidence(!). According to speculation by Slovakian liberal paper SME, this must be an implicit accusation of lying from Fico, himself.

So, it seems to me that Fico's tactic of focusing on the issue of right-wing extremists has a strong diversionary element. And here's the twist in the story for me -- the reason I didn't just slump into deep depression about the general insanity of my region, but even felt motivated to write this diary.

For, hypocrisy isn't the important feature of those statements listed in the war of words section. If you read closely, Fico's new line is: "Take care of political extremists, we have shown you how to!" And Fico went down much further along that road than I revealed in the "hypocritical" list.

For one, he declared that if someone burned a Hungarian flag in Slovakia, he would sit in prison. Then, days after his interior minister bragged unjustified about pulling the SP from their uniforms, SP was now truly dissolved as civic association, too -- and Fico's official press release, issued a day before he met Gyurcsány, made the explicit point that this is "proof" of a zero tolerance policy against all ethnic-racial hatred, whether from Slovakian citizens or hooligans and fascists marching in uniform from beyond the border. (SP now challenges the legality of the dissolution.)

Furthermore, Ján Slota is to be constrained. What's more, Sergej Kozlík, MEP for Mečiar's HZDS, even attacked coalition partner SNS and its head -- saying that "To tell it methamorpically, Slota & co are shitting at the Slovakian door with their crude remarks".

The few concrete (and public) results of the meeting with Gyurcsány included some mutual appraisal for subsidies for some cultural projects of the respective ethnic minorities (a community house for an ethnic-Slovakian village in Hungary, re-instated funding for Hungarian-language shows on Slovakian public radio) and talk about an early warning system between the two countries' polices when extremists want to cross the (open, inside Schengen Zone) border.

Even on the level of minority policy, Fico sang in new tones: he claimed that the only problem is that school textbook with Hungarian place-names banished to the Appendix, and -- reversing his earlier position to one shared before by some of his Smer MPs -- promised that this shall be improved upon, giving support to an SMK/MKP request. He kept to this even in the face of opposition from both coalition partners and support from (this time) all of the opposition and aligned intellectuals. (Even Slota felt forced to propose a, well, compromise: let the Slovakian name come first, then the Hungarian name in parantheses.)

In the end, today, the Slovakian parliament approved a compromise proposal from Smer: this restricts place-name bilingualism to places where the Hungarian name is not a 19th-century neologism.

So, I see a positive outcome of this mess at least in Slovakia: a rhetorical commitment to tackle nationalism too strong to not have real effects.

On the other hand, whether there'll be similar improvements in Hungary (say, a success in the ongoing attempt to dissolve the Hungarian Guard), given the ineptness of the government and the lack of commitment on the part of the independent judiciary, I have my doubts.

At least there was strong criticism of extremists in/from Hungary in the main Hungarian-language Slovakian newspaper, as well as from Béla Bugár, the previous leader of the SMK/MKP (whom, another positive, increasingly louder voices demand back as party head).

Here are two related you-can't-invent-it stories.

1) In the diary, I mention László Toroczkai, one of the young far-right leaders aligned with the Budapest rioters, who got himself banned from Slovakia. The fun thing is that he changed his name to Toroczkai only a few years ago -- from Tóth, old Hungarian for "Slovak"...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 09:36:32 AM EST
2) Even funnier. Zsolt Bayer is one of a small group of far-right journalists who laid the basis for main right-wing party Fidesz's post-1998 attempt to woo far-right votes. (His most infamous work is a tongue-in-cheek call for violence against Gypsies.) Now it was revealed that, for tax evasion reasons, he registered his companies and his car in flat-tax-land Slovakia...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 09:44:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh, just noticed that I broke my diary length record... but this diary was a difficult birth, and I really wanted to show how this shit looks in detail.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 01:31:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I barely covered it, though it featured heavily in the rhetoric on the Slovakian government's side, especially from PM Robert Fico, is the contrast of the two economies. But the view of the Slovakian Miralce from Hungary is worth some separate discussion.

When Slovakia's previous right-wing government followed the flat-tax madness, and achieved high economic growth by attracting especially car manufacturers, Hungarian politicians took note. Especially (neo)liberal SzDSz (the (then) junior government party) and right-populist Fidesz (main opposition party) began to praise it as example to follow, the small right-wing party MDF was also impressed.

After Robert Fico's government came in, there was confusion. The worshippers of the Slovakian Miralce refused to see the new government as a consequence of the same policy (via the public dissatisfaction from the stark inequalities created and the deleted social measures), and predicted that Fico will ruin the economy.

Well, that didn't came, but there was more confusion. But supporters of the previous government could claim that Fico is reaping the benefits of their moves, especially as Fico's socialistic corrections came in slow and modest. But Fico's success was uncanny for most in both political camps. In fact, Péter Új, chief editor of liberal news site Index.hu (which, like Spiegel On-Line in German, is my preferred source for fast and wide coverage and good photos), attacked the hidden preconceptions of government supporters, who see Fico in terms of the old stereotype of the boorish Slovakian peasant, their own PM as a totally EU-conform reformer, and are just stupefied to see that Slovakia continues to prosper while Hungary is getting IMF help. (Well, he could tell that to some of his own reporters, I had to peel back some framing to get at the bare news in their articles when writing the second section of the diary.)

However, the latest signs are that the Slovakian Miralce may really end, or at least be downsized. The current crisis seems to hit just the car makers disproportionately, after all.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 10:18:43 AM EST
And we all thought that football fans in the US were nuts. Even our skinheads are better behaved. Our crazies never get to take over central politics. And we are the most violent country in the world?

No statistics, please.

by shergald on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 10:45:36 AM EST
In parallel with the football war, there may be something much uglier brewing on the Hungarian far-right than symbolic provocations and the (out of breath) riots.

As I reported a month ago, on the edge of a village in Hungary, unknown attackers threw a molotov cocktail and then shot with a gun into the home of a Gypsy family, killing two.

Two weeks later, at the other end of the country 300 km away, on the edge of a city, an unknown attacker threw a hand grenade into another Roma family's home, again killing two, and left behind a plaquet with the text "You die!".

In both cases, police insists that their first suspicion is a common crime motive, e.g. unpaid dues or business disputes. At least in the second case, neighbours have similar suspicions, and police indicates that they have concrete suspects. But they announced a 10 million Forint (c. €40,000) reward for information, and formed a special investigative unit for attacks with explosives and Molotov cocktails.

One has to wait and see what emerges. There was one nasty case previously when the assumption of racist hate crime was turned on its head (to the glee of racists): when a gang of rowdies molested passengers on a tram, and one bald guy killed a Roma boy with a Samurai sword, it turned out that the "skinhead" gang member was not only not acting on a racist motivation, but was Roma himself.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 11:03:53 AM EST
Samurai sword

Made before 1963, no doubt. <grumble>

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 11:05:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
1863. <sheesh>
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 11:06:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Fantastic diary DoDo and an important topic to keep watching.  I'll have to re-read when I don't have an essay to write. Thanks for all the hard work and research on this.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Wed Dec 3rd, 2008 at 02:23:01 PM EST
  • At the Slovakian parliament vote about the bilingual place-names in textbooks, apparently, tere was a strange result: Mečiar's HZDS was the only one to vote against, even SNS voted for.

  • On the same day, Robert Fico summarily rejected a six-point plan presented by Gyurcsány. (Given that it involved rights for Hungary resp. Slovakia to intervene on behalf of minorities in the other country, I can understand the rejection of four points.)

  • Also on the same day, the Hungarian Parliament's (Socialist-delegated) Speaker hosted her Slovakian colleague. They also discussed the Carpathian-Basin [ethnic-]Hungarian Members of Parliament[s] (KMKF), a forum she heads that became contentious in Slovakia recently (see second part of the diary).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 01:42:43 AM EST
Fico didn't play for compromise without risks. According to Slovakian paper Pravda, the two coalition partners of Fico's left-populist Smer, who have been pushed aside over the issue of bilingual place-names in schoolbooks, are very angry.

Former PM Mečiar, head of the HZDS party that was alone in voting against the education law revision, said in public that "this is a more important question than party relations".

For the far-right SNS, which was allegedly forced to vote for the revision by the threat that one of its ministers will be fired for corruption (Fico is quite Machiavellian about keeping his coalitioners in line), faction leader Rafael Rafaj opined that Pandora's box was opened. And an SNS leader said anonymously that they have banded together with HZDS for revenge: "We haven't yet decided when we will settle the score with Smer, but you don't have to wait long for it".

The revenge may hit the finance minister, who was involved in a loss-making bad deal. However, SNS and HZDS may again be forced to bow down before Fico with tails between their legs: would they blow up the coalition, they would lose voters to Smer.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Dec 5th, 2008 at 07:02:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The trial against Hedvig Malina, the ethnic-Hungarian girl beaten by two skinheads but accused of lying by police, is still on-going, though the police's evidence continues to crumble. And, while doing so, there is increasing indication of tampering.

Recent developments were an offer of settlement without consequences if Malina "admits" to lying, and a tussle over lie-detectors (even though it is not a valid evidence; pointing at her prior treatment, Malina would only take it abroad; one of the since identified alleged assailants passed a test; the other refuses to take it, pointing at health reasons).

And the newest evidence concerns Malina's credit card.

Right after the incident, Malina testified that her credit card was stolen by the skinheads, too, and that she had her card account closed. One evidence of the police against her, in turn, was a confirmation from her bank that her card account was NOT closed.

Already in October 2006 (two months after the incident), on the news show Reportéri of the public TV, the existence of a contrary document was revealed -- the journalist was later fired.

Now, Slovakian daily Plus jeden deň reports that a bank employee testified at an interrogation behind closed doors that s/he DID close Malina's card account. What's more, s/he testified that the signature on the document police used as evidence is not hers.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Dec 5th, 2008 at 07:18:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is their similar vocal conflicts regarding hungarian minorities in other countries? I am mainly thinking about Vojvodina (in Serbia) and Transsylvania (in Romania) that share similar history as the Slovenian border regions.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 04:55:15 AM EST
Yes, but there are strong differences between how these conflicts played out. I'm writing a diary at the moment, but will return with a more detailed reply later.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 07:07:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Okay, here is a longer reply. To summarize beforehand: there are lots of similarities, but also differences in each.

  • In all three regions, there is a significant Hungarian minority. However, percentage-wise, this is highest in Slovakia and lowest in Serbia, while in absolute numbers, it is highest in Romania.

  • However, geographically, there are strong differences. In Slovakia, ethnic Hungarians live in large almost homogenous blocks along the border. In Romania, the one large block is at the far end of Transsylvania (see census map below), many others in smaller blocks towards the border, and a lot in Bucharest. In Voivodina, ethnic-Hungarians are a minority living dispersed.

  • In all three regions, pre-WWII Hungary invaded and memory of that lives on. But, while that was without a fight and for ethnic-Hungarian-majority areas in Slovakia, the territory taken from Romania in the 2nd Vienna Award contained just as many ethnic Romanians and Hungarians and there were scuffles, while Voivodina was re-taken by arms and terror followed it.

  • In all three countries, ethnic-Hungarians were repressed as a minority during communist times. However, that was worst in Romania for most of the time, while in Serbia, it was bad at the start (post-WWII) and end (Milosević voids the autonomy of Voivodina, starts forced conscriptions, settles Bosnian refugees in the homes of emigrants who fled).

  • In all three regions, an ethnic-Hungarian party formed that plays a special role in national politics. Though, with different weights: SMK/MKP polls above 11%, UDMR/RMDSz in Romania just got 6.17% in the elections last Sunday (see green in map below!), and MK in Serbia got just 1.81%.

  • What's more, all three ethnic-Hungarian parties eventually also got into governments. But, for UDMR/RMDSz that means three governments with changing partners, only one for SMK/MKP, and a non-crucial role in fast-crumbling Serbian governments for the Hungarian formation.

  • The three parties are also similar in having a history of harliner-moderate internal and sometimes external (rival formations) conflict, usually also with involvement from some Hungarian-Hungarian parties. In that the one(s) in Serbia showed most instability.

  • The Hungarian governments got in repeated conflict with all three countries, especially over minorities. However, the conflict with Slovakia is on a qualitatively different level, with the dam dispute and secret service stories. (Though, the fact that NATO's planes flew through Hungarian airspace, and that Milosević's opposition got to organise in the safety of Budapest conference rooms, is also a unique difference.)

  • The demand for territorial autonomy comes most strongly from UDMR/RMDSz, and has wide popular support among ethnic-Hungarians. For the SMK/MKP, that's more something in the back of the mind, and most ethnic-Hungarians don't even wish it (as mentioned in the diary).

  • In all three countries, there have been examples of various forms of persecution from the majority population and/or authorities in the 'democratic era'. But in terms of violent attacks, apart from a pogrom-like event shortly after the Romanian Revolution, Voivodina was worst.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 11:10:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Forgot another factor.

* In all three countries, there have been significant far-right parties, who had ethnic Hungarians in their eyesights. However, with last week's election, the last such party disappeared from the Romanian parliament, while Serbia's Radicals -- for whom ethnic-Hungarians are just a minor target -- are biiig (just short of 30% in the last elections), and Slovakia's SNS rebounded in the last elections to be bigger than SMK/MKP.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 11:16:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you, that was an answer and then some.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Dec 4th, 2008 at 11:20:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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