By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest
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BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)– The Prime Ministers of Hungary and Slovakia have agreed to tackle extremism as part of efforts to overcome their countries’ worst diplomatic crisis in years. They made the announcement following a meeting at the Hungarian-Slovak border Thursday, September 10. Both nations are at loggerheads over a controversial language law and the treatment of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, many of whom are Reformed Christians.
Amid tight security, the Prime Ministers of Hungary and Slovakia met at the Hungarian border town of Szecseny and announced in a joint statement to tackle extremism and extremist groups and “all forms of xenophobia, intolerance, chauvinism, and nationalism, and all manifestations of violence and their exports to other countries.”
JOINT POLICE TASK FORCE
The two Prime Ministers said they would consider setting up a joint police task force within two months to help in this task. They also stressed it was important to improve the integration of gypsies, also known as Roma, in their countries, following deadly attacks by extremists against the community.
The two leaders acknowledged it was crucial for their countries to fully implement what is known as the “Treaty on Good-neighbourly Relations and Friendly Co-operation between the Republic of Hungary and the Slovak Republic” which was signed in Paris in 1995.
As part of the agreement, joined groups will assist in improving energy security of the two countries, better road and railway connections, new bridges over common rivers and the publication of textbooks on the countries’ history.
Among other steps mentioned in their 11-points statement is a plan to ensure that mixed committees for minorities will regularly meet. They are to cooperate with the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The declaration is aimed at ending the worst diplomatic crisis between the two countries in years. It was sparked by Slovakia’s decision to implement a new language law that Budapest claims discriminates against over half a million ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia.
Church leaders also expressed concerns about the situation, as many Hungarians worship in Hungarian.
Under the law, anyone speaking a minority language in the goverment-run service sectors can be fined over $7,000.
DOES LAW TARGET HUNGARIANS?
The law is to be implemented in areas where fewer than 20 percent of the population are members of an ethnic minority. But Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico strongly denied that the law was aimed at ethnic Hungarians.
He told his Hungarian counterpart that the language law “in no way is harming the rights of minorities living in Slovakia.” Fico said, “It is not true that it harms the Hungarians living in Slovakia and that they can not use their mother tongue.”
However the Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai disagreed.
He said that that “apparently the two countries each interpret the legalities and the situation created by the language law differently.” He added that both countries suffer from what he calls “fear, paranoia, and a long history” which, he noted, “leads to mistakes on both sides.”
Bajnai said hopes the meeting “has helped the two countries to reach an agreement and learn from 100 years of mistakes.”
While no breakthrough was reached on this issue, Fico and Bajnai made clear they both regretted that Hungary’s president Laszlo Solyom was barred from entering Slovakia last month to unveil a monument for Hungary’s medieval king, Stephen in the Slovak border town of Komarno.
But people living in the border areas are not convinced tensions will ease. The mayor of Komarno, Tibor Bastrnak, said he fears politicians will continue to spoil relations between the two countries.
“People have to realize there are local elections in Slovakia soon and then within a year there will be parliamentary elections in both Slovakia and Hungary.” It seems, he said, “that some politicians are already preparing for these and consider politics more important than good neighborly relations.”
Slovakia became an independent country in 1993 after the break up of Czechoslovakia, and was earlier ruled for centuries by Hungary. (BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key news developments, especially in (former) Communist nations impacting the Church and/or compassionate professionals).