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article imageSlovak-Hungarian Relations Worsen as Hungary's President Barred

By Christopher Szabo     Aug 22, 2009 in World
The Slovak government has barred the Hungarian President from visiting the country. The Slovak side called the visit a ”provocation,” while President Sólyom said it was ”unheard of” to bar the president of an allied country.
Agence France Presse (AFP) said the Slovak government had refused the visit because the day, August 21, coincided with the invasion of the then Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces, which included Hungarian units and would comprise a ”provocation.”
However, the Hungarian daily Magyar Nemzet said the visit had been agreed upon two months ago, and the date and other details were finalised at that time.
President László Sólyom was invited to unveil a statue of Hungary’s first king, Saint Stephen, and was making an ”unofficial” visit. Sólyom was invited by Komárno mayor Tibor Bastrnak, a member of the opposition ethnic-Hungarian party.
The Hungarian president walked to the middle of the bridge, but was stopped from going further by Slovak authorities: Sólyom said:
This is a situation unheard of, inexcusable and unexplainable in the relationship of two allied countries.
Both Slovakia and Hungary are members of NATO as well as the E.U. They are also part of the E.U.’s Schengen Zone, where border controls have been removed.
The visit was to have taken place in the largely Hungarian-speaking town of Komárno, which is separated from Komárom in Hungary only by the Danube River and the Elizabeth Bridge. The old town of Komárom was divided in 1920 by the Western Entente powers to make room for the newly created state of Czechoslovakia.
The statue was eventually unveiled anyway, and the minority Hungarian-language Új Szó added that some two-dozen Slovak nationalists tried to heckle those taking part, but failed to provoke a reaction. Új Szó also reported that mayor Bastrnak, who addressed the crowd in both Slovak and Hungarian, said:
I am happy that the overwhelming majority came to celebrate and not provoke in Komárno-Komárom. The politicians could learn from the example of the ordinary citizens.
AFP pointed out that other issues lay behind the current dispute. Slovakia’s new language law, which allows for fines of up to 7,000 dollars for using Hungarian, German or the Gypsy Romani languages in government or other public services, has angered Slovakia’s Hungarian minority, who make up 10 percent of the population.
AFP also noted that the far-right, ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) joined the Slovak government in 2006 and has stirred up tensions. The SNS is known for open racism and a strongly anti-minority stance.
Both countries have also recently had incidents involving racism against the Romani minorities in their respective countries.
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