“Hungarian threat” as conspiracy stereotype in Slovakia

The recent representative opinion poll, conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), has indicated how widely conspiracy stereotypes are spread in the minds of people in Slovakia. Up to 63 per cent of the interviewed respondents have expressed their belief (either in stronger or in weaker extent) that it is not Slovak government, which today rules the country. International finances, foreign states, large media, secret societies, and various religious groups – these are the real actors who, according to people, pull the strings behind the stage. Sociologist Olga Gyárfášová put the popularity of conspiracy theories about the influence of “powerful of this world” in Slovakia into the context of insufficient transparency of the governance (see more). Egoism and the encapsulation of local political elite, neglecting necessity of  solving the real problems of people also play a  role. Lack of governance’s transparency usually undermines credibility of politicians and subsequently pushes the citizens’ perception of politics in direction of speculations about the alleged secret liabilities of domestic political actors towards their real “paymasters” – economic groups (Slovak or international), politicians and statesmen from another countries, international organizations, etc.

Mobilization by „Hungarian card“

However, there are also specific factors which may – in case of some parts of the population –strengthen the conspiracy perception of reality and lead to looking for hidden mechanisms of social life. These factors include relations with selected nations and states and views of political forces and opinion-making leaders that interpret these relations, especially in historical and current political context. The special place in this context belongs in Slovakia to the so-called “Hungarian card”, or, in another words, the use of issues connected with Slovak-Hungarian relations (inter-ethnic and inter-state) and the status of Hungarian minority in Slovakia for the purposes of political and electoral mobilization of the population.

The use of “Hungarian card” in Slovakia’s domestic politics should be understood in the context of several socially relevant circumstances: the common history of Hungarians and Slovaks, their long-term coexistence within the same state entities  (however, mostly with different state-creating status), the existence of large Hungarian ethnic minority in Slovakia, activities  of political parties representing Hungarian minority on the one hand and nationalistically oriented parties within Slovak majority pretending to present themselves defenders of national and state interests of Slovakia. The so-called “Hungarian agenda” constitutes an important part of public and political discourse inSlovakia. It is the space, offering political actors of different ideological and value orientations the opportunities to utilize  wide range of interpretation schemes of Slovak-Hungarian relations, including conspiracy stereotypes, for the purposes of reaching their potential supporters and voters.


With “Budapest hand” behind

In  1990 – 1992 and later, in first years after the establishment of the independent Slovak Republic, the nationalist separatist camp which initiated the break-up of Czechoslovakia from Slovakia’s side  was feeding in  minds of people two basic conspiracy stereotypes. The first one included notions about enemies of Slovakia’s independence from Prague (“Prago-centrists”, “Czech chauvinists”, “Czechoslovakists”, “federalists”, “federal Slovaks”), the second one identified the alleged enemies of independent Slovakia in Budapest (“Panhungarists”, “revisionists”, “Hungarian chauvinists”). The fifth column of Budapest in Slovakia according to this narrative were “domestic minions” – politicians of Hungarian ethnic origin (“irredentists”) and people adhering to the views on necessity of tolerant coexistence of Slovaks with  Hungarians and on strict observance of minority rights (“Magyarophiles”). Slovak nationalist politicians frequently saw notorious “hand of Budapest” behind of some events, especially those related to the situation of Hungarian minority. But not only this. When authoritarian policies of Vladimír Mečiar’s government disqualified Slovakia in European integration process the pro-government nationalists accused representatives of Hungarian minority in secret collaboration with Budapest with the aim of suing Slovakia in Brussels in order  to undermine country’s chances to join the EU and thus to  weaken Slovakia in front of Hungary. Similar rhetoric was used later (in 2006 – 2007) by prime minister Robert Fico, who he stated that decision of the Party of European Socialists to suspend membership of Smer in PES (it happened because of his coalition cooperation  with radical nationalist SNS) was made under the pressure  of Hungarian socialists.

Today we see that intensity of the use of “Hungarian card” in comparison with the period of the first Fico’s government, composed of representatives of Smer, HZDS and SNS (2006 – 2010) decreased. Iveta Radičová’s government, operated in 2010 – 2012, implemented friendly policy towards ethnic minorities (moreover, the member of the ruling coalition was party Most-Hid, representing considerable part of Hungarian population of Slovakia). The second Fico’s government, formed after parliamentary elections 2012 and composed exclusively of representatives of Smer, promised to preserve the existing status quo for ethnic minorities. It declared also its willingness to keep quiet and correct relations with neighbouring Hungary. Putting aside anti-minority rhetoric used by prime minister Fico in his speech at the meeting of Matica slovenská in Martin in February 2013, one can conclude that some politicians who previously frequently used “Hungarian card” (including Fico himself) now shelved it into imaginary storage – at least for now. The question, however, arises – for how long? And whether there is a guarantee that these politicians will not renew playing this card and will not include it again into their traditional repertoire?


Divergent mutual perception of Slovaks and Hungarians

Let us remind the way how “Hungarian card” was used in Slovakia in the recent years, especially in the context of the circulating conspiracy ideas. Before we will do so, however, we will point out one important aspect creating the spawn for nourishing the anti-Hungarian stereotypes and suspicions concerning the largest ethnic minority in Slovakia. It is a divergent perception of another nation by Slovaks and Hungarians, especially perception of this nation’s status, ambitions and intentions.

In 2008, during the first Fico government, when tension in Slovak-Hungarian relations increased considerably, IVO has conducted the representative opinion poll, which surveyed the issue of Slovak-Hungarian coexistence. The poll showed that while a clear majority of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia felt worsening their situation due to the then government’s policy (78 per cent of the respondents of Hungarian origin thought so), ethnic Slovaks considered the status of Hungarians in Slovakia unchanged (54 per cent) or even improved (19 per cent). Quite alarming was the finding that 73 per cent of Slovaks thought that “Hungarians want to be something more than Slovaks” and 59 per cent of them disagreed with the statement that “Hungarian minority in Slovakia cares about well-being of the country in the same way as Slovaks” (although 88 per cent of Hungarians argued quite the opposite – that they care about Slovakia’s well-being). More than two-thirds of Slovaks (67 per cent) agreed with the stance that representatives of Hungarian minority do not consider the country’s level of minority rights sufficient (according to Slovaks, however, it is sufficient) and therefore they are escalating their demands. Over a third of Slovaks (36 per cent) thought that “the hidden goal of majority of Hungarians in Slovakiais border change and re-connection of Slovakia’s southern regions with Hungary” (although 79 per cent of ethnic Hungarians refused such an intention). Up to 70 per cent of Slovaks attributed responsibility for deterioration of relations between two countries to Hungarian government, Hungarian politicians and other representatives of Hungarian public life (see more).

A brief recap of the above-mentioned findings can be worded as follows: there is quite large number of Slovaks, who consider Hungarians living in Slovakia haughty and disloyal to their homeland, escalating their ethnic demands (despite good standard of minority rights) and trying to conduct irredentism in favour of Hungary. According to holders of such views, responsibility for the problems existing in Slovak-Hungarian relations lies onHungaryand Hungarians.

„Hungarians are united block, they conspire against Slovakia”

The mentioned views represent the fertile ground for spreading the ideas about Hungarian conspiratorial activities againstSlovakia. They create favourable environment for application of the so-called “block” approach used by Slovak “nationally oriented” politicians dealing with “Hungarian agenda”.  In communication with their voters, these politicians construct an imaginary coherent bloc that includes ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, their political representation, the Hungarians as a nation, Hungary as a country, the Hungarian Government and other government institutions and Hungary’s entire political scene. Authors of this construction express suspicions concerning  the alleged Hungary’s intentions to complicate internal developments in Slovakia through various steps and in cooperation with ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, in order to establish autonomy and subsequently to conquer part of Slovakia’s territory.

Interpretation of relations between Hungary and neighbouring countries, presented publicly by the advocates of such views includes the thesis about continuous expansionism of Hungary’s state policy. Politicians from Smer and SNS, for example, few years ago labelled the Forum of Hungarian Deputies of Carpathian Basin a tool of such policy. According to them, this is structure created for implementing the idea of ​​Great Hungary. Speaking about the Act on Hungarians Living Abroad (the so-called Status Law) these politicians (for example vice-chairman of Smer Dušan Čaplovič) put it into the context of the “long-term and deliberate endeavour of theHungarianRepublicto reunite the Great Hungary and revise the Treaty of Trianon”. Proponents of the “national-state” interests of this type attributed to the entire community of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia negative qualities,  (“they are obsessed with autonomy”, “they strive for dominance”), and consequently, they ascribe to legitimate demands of ethnic Hungarians’ political representation  a priori the worst possible connotations.

Slovak nationalists characterized the participation of representatives of Hungarian minority on the governance as a risk for the state and threat to the interests of the country, as danger for Slovaks as majority nation and factor undermining the functionality of state institutions and territorial integrity in favour of neighbouring Hungary. In 2004, when Party of Hungarian Coalition (SMK) acted as ruling party,  SNS chairman Ján Slota argued: “If we fail to eliminate Hungarians from decision-making leverages, not only in the Slovak government and the National Council of the Slovak Republic but also in regional parliaments and local self-governments where they already smother Slovaks’ development, they will definitively cut off the Slovaks from political power in Southern Slovakia”. Slota said that “unless somebody in the Slovak government puts an end to SMK efforts to proclaim autonomy of southern territories,Slovakiawill lose these territories within a year. We are finished without Southern Slovakia and it might just happen that Slovakia will perish amongst Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary”. According to Slota, ethnic Hungarians systematically strive to gain economic dominance, which is why they lobby for restitutions of land (“They want to penetrate into our national consciousness – the Tatras”) and gain increasing influence within Slovak economy (“Enterprises and banks find themselves in Hungarian hands”. Slota accused SMK in keeping relations with Hungary’s intelligence service.

However, not only radical nationalist SNS inflamed theories about “Hungarian threat”. Since the beginning of its existence Smer also was actively doing so. In time of political debates about Hungarian Status Law this party used the rhetoric identical with rhetoric of SNS. Smer emphasized a risk posed to Slovakia’s integrity by “Hungarians” – without distinction between domestic Hungarians and citizens of Hungary. In 2001, Fico claimed that Dzurinda’s government “assists Hungarians in their step-by-step coordinated endeavour aimed at strengthening their position in Southern Slovakia from the inside as well as from the outside. Smer will not idly watch the game whose long-term goal is restoration of Great Hungary”. Smer spread the feeling among the Slovak population that political representation of ethnic Hungarians (SMK) was trying to undermine the foundations of Slovak statehood in connection with foreign power. In 2004, Smer’s leader stated that “the SMK strove to deprive the Slovak government of “influence on the territory of southern Slovakia, coordinating its policies with the far-right nationalist Fidesz party”.

Too many recipients of myths about Hungarian threat

The playing with  “Hungarian card”, this “evergreen” of Slovakia’s domestic politics, practically from the very beginning of transition in 1990 was going hand in hand with nourished conspiracy ideas about Hungary’s intentions against Slovakia. Some politicians, who built their careers using “Hungarian card”, in meantime have finished their political activities, but others still continue. Though Slovak-Hungarian relations are today in better shape than in 2006 – 2010, risk still exists that disseminators of the messages about “Hungarian threat” will find grateful recipients who will cast their votes in elections to them. There is still pretty big number of such grateful recipients in Slovakia.


Grigorij Mesežnikov

Categories Analyses, News, Research, Slovakia | Tags: , , | Posted on September 25, 2013

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