The charge by the police on the crowds at the Dunajská Streda/Dunaszerdahely football-match came, for both Slovak and Hungarian extremists, like manna from heaven. The conflict could well spread further, both internally and externally. The Slovak and Hungarian narratives being spun of them (respectively: the Hungarian fascists want to take over our country and the Hungarian minority is in cahoots with them and the police of the fascist Slovak state have beaten up innocent Hungarians for expressing their national etcetera) are spreading like wildfire through both Slovak and Hungarian public opinion. They will reach even into the far corners of the two countries and will begin to suppurate, like a continually scratched, never-healing scab over a wound. And the conflict could even spread upwards, into the realm of politics and power.
In such a situation in two normal countries, the representatives of the governments (heads of government, foreign ministers, as appropriate) responsible would jointly come forward before the public of the two countries and each would say his piece. One would say that it will use every means at its disposal to prevent a similar police excesses ever occurring again; that it would take to task those responsible for such unwarranted brutality by the authorities; and it would strive to ensure that the passions stirred up should not be directed at Slovakia’s Hungarian minority. And the other would say that it will openly take all due legal steps to resist attacks on the representatives of Slovak diplomacy, the Slovak flag, and the Slovak communities in Hungary; that he expresses sympathy with the Slovak diplomats and those citizens of Hungary who have been threatened by unidentified cowards simply because of their identity; and he would take the Dunajská Streda/Dunaszerdahely event for what it was: a carefully-planned provocation. The two statesmen would, furthermore, agree that each finds the illegal or (if not illegal but merely) revolting actions of its own people more painful to bear than the illegal or revolting actions of the other’s. For they are two decent and patriotic people, both of them, and they both find it profoundly disturbing that such things can happen in their motherlands.
Such a joint statement would reassure both the Slovak minority in Hungary and the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, as well as the other inhabitants of both countries, who have no quarrel with each other, like to visit each other’s countries for work, shopping, drinking, skiing and so forth. The joint declaration would also spare the leaders of the two countries from having to accuse each other of omissions or more serious untoward actions. In fact, it would even make it possible for the two governments to harmonize their efforts to prevent the recurrence of similar events in future – for example by coordinating their policing strategies.
Such a statement must be made by the leaders of the two countries together and at the same time, after they have agreed their actions behind closed doors – that’s what diplomacy is for. For if they do not make this effort, one party will hardly be prepared to declare its own people guilty, because it could not be sure that the other would not want to turn this admission to its own advantage. And vice versa. If there is no mutual trust, neither party would do this even if, in their heart of hearts, they knew that their own were no different from the other lot, for this would bring with it the charge of being unpatriotic — and that is something very difficult to counter.
A further precondition of a successful joint statement is that the parties should not try to determine who started it all, or who is MORE responsible for the conflict. Would it have been better if the Hungarian fans had not been there at all? If neo-Nazi punk bands did not wish to have gigs in Hungarian settlements in Slovakia? Well, of course it would. And it would have been better if the police had not begun to beat the public left, right and centre, crushing them up against the fencing of the stadium, even though as far as we know at this point they had not (by carrying out some illegal act) provided any justification for such action? Would it not have been better had the brains of the Slovak police had not been paralysed by inflamed passions? If they had not reacted to the provocation? Of course, such questions are pointless. And should not be necessary. Such discussions are prone to rapidly degenerate, and who needs that?
And of course there is one further basic precondition of a joint statement. If either of the parties – or, in the worst case, both of them — have a hidden agenda, namely to secure the support of its citizens by fanning the flames of nationalist hatred, then the whole effort is doomed to failure.
The situation is made more complicated by the fact that while in Hungary the extremists are playing their games independently of, and even in opposition to, the government, in Slovakia a fascist party is part of the coalition in power and the policemen involved in the brawling are employees of the state. The task that falls to the Slovak party if it were planning a joint statement is thus a more serious one than that of the Hungarian party. Neither government would be happy to be abusive about its own police force, and if prime minister Robert Fico were to do this just now on behalf of the Hungarians, Ján Slota would doubtless take this badly, and without Slota Fico has no parliamentary majority. And the situation of the government in Bratislava is made no easier by the fact that it is not possible to ban hooligan tourism – this, together with all its disgusting epiphenomena, is something neither government is able to prevent by legal means.
And yet: Robert Fico is NOT Ján Slota – for example, his party SMER is able to work with the parliamentary representatives of Slovakia’s Hungarians, who happen to be in opposition. Perhaps all that is needed is for him to understand this more clearly than he has done so far. Let us hope that the time for this has now come.
Translation: Julia Sherwood
This article was originally published in Hungarian in the Magyar Narancs on 12 November 2008.
We are grateful to Endre Bojtár for the permission to publish this text in English.