Hungary accused of meddling in Slovak poll

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Hungary's ruling centre-right Fidesz party stands accused of "rocking the boat" ahead of Slovakia's election tomorrow (12 June), with Bratislava denouncing a law that makes it easier for ethnic Magyars living abroad to obtain Hungarian citizenship. EURACTIV Slovakia contributed to this report from Bratislava.

Ahead of the poll, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico denounced neighbouring Hungary as an "extremist country that exports its brown plague," in reference to World War II Hungarian fascists.

With its citizenship law, Budapest stands accused of "rocking the boat" ahead of the Slovak election, diplomats told EURACTIV.

Speaking to EURACTIV on condition of anonymity, they lamented the limited leverage – if any – of the European Union in this context.

Even sources in the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) expressed concern at the turn of events, which was orchestrated by Fidesz, the EPP-affiliated ruling party in Hungary.

The Hungarian parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by centre-right party Fidesz following national elections in April, passed on 26 May a law making it easier for ethnic Hungarians living abroad to obtain Hungarian citizenship. The move sparked an angry response from neighbouring Slovakia.

Diplomats expressed dismay at the law, which makes it extremely easy for foreigners to obtain Hungarian citizenship and could become a source of abuse, making it easier to travel throughout Europe's Schengen area and to the USA. According to some reports, the US authorities have already asked for clarification from Budapest.

Hungarian politicians have spoken of a "peaceful change of borders," "building the New Central Europe," "universal Magyarhood" and a Hungarian state of 15 million people. At present the country has 10 million inhabitants.

Zsolt Németh, state secretary at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that "double citizenship is one part of the effort to build the New Central Europe".

Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén said that Hungary did not have to "pay attention to the opinion of the EU" concerning its policy of building "universal Magyarhood".

"The double state citizenship can create an overall Hungarian instrument, so that the Hungarian state will be the state of all Hungarians, numbering 15 million people," he said.

Diplomats suspect that Hungary is engaging in historical revisionism. Last week, the Hungarian parliament passed a law declaring 4 June a "day of national unity" in commemoration of the signing of the 1920 Trianon Treaty in Versailles, which put an end to World War I. The treaty was considered as a severe defeat for Hungary, which was forced to cede two- thirds of its historical territory to its neighbour.

"The parliament declaration was a symbolic act. Don't get excited," Budapest said after some European capitals had expressed concern, EURACTIV was told.

Hungarian officials also told their counterparts that the citizenship act was an internal policy issue, and that the ruling Fidesz party was obliged to deliver on promises it had made before the April elections.

However, this did not prevent diplomats from expressing concern over the upcoming Hungarian EU Presidency, which is due to begin on 1 January 2011.

Fico to win, but coalition unclear

Analysts suggest that every vote will be decisive in tomorrow's election. The chances are high that the SMER party of incumbent Prime Minister Robert Fico will win the majority of votes, leaving political opponents relatively far behind.

But the question is whether Fico will be able to form a government, given that at least one of its current junior coalition partners may not make it to parliament. The centre-right opposition parties claim they will not enter the government under SMER, but hope to somehow be able to establish a coalition of four or five centre-right parties.

Fico described such a possible coalition as a "right-wing conglutinate," illustrating an election campaign that turned unusually offensive at the end.

On Thursday, two days before the election, Slovakia's biggest daily, SME, published the transcript of an audio recording in which Fico, or at least a voice similar to his, spoke about fundraising money that should not to be reported in the party's official accounts.

A similar accusation against the main opposition party, SDKÚ, led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, who withdrew from the 2009 presidential elections in favour of Iveta Radi?ová, who was not successful. However, he stayed on as one of the leaders of the party.

The latest public opinion polls suggest that SMER saw a significant drop of public support – almost 5% in just a month. Polls suggest that more parties could be represented in the Slovak parliament after this election. At least two brand new parties have a chance of passing the 5% threshold – the liberal party SAS (Freedom and Solidarity) and the party promoting Slovak-Hungarian reconciliation, Most-Hid.

Competing for the nationalist vote

According to analysts, SMER has managed to take the Hungarian card from the hands of the nationalist and extremist SNS (Slovak National party), which obtained 11.6% in the 2006 elections.

SNS was forced during the campaign to use even more extremist rhetoric, focusing on Roma. It had a clearly racist billboard with a picture of a tattooed Roma man with the text: "Vote SNS. So that we do not feed those who are reluctant to work". By this, they wanted to avoid losing votes to an even more extreme right-wing party, 'Our Slovakia', EURACTIV Slovakia reports.

Floods and football

Parties also competing over how to find money to help those affected by the unprecedented floods that hit the country in recent days. SMER suggested using some of the funding that political parties receive from the public budget. The opposition KDH (Christian Democrats), on the other hand, want to reallocate money designated for the national football stadium.

As for citizens, their main concern does not seem to be the election.

On Tuesday (15 June), Slovakia's national football team will play its first ever game at a World Cup finals, with a match against New Zealand.

The tournament, which starts today, is another reason why analysts are predicting the lowest turnout in the country's modern history.

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A Hungarian minority lives in Slovakia, where the recent EU election campaign was marked by nationalist rhetoric. An ethnic Hungarian party in Slovakia, SMK, was accused by the party of Prime Minister Robert Fico (SMER, affiliated with the European Socialists & Democrats) of pursuing other interests than those of Slovakia (EURACTIV 05/06/09). Ultimately, SMK (European People's Party-affiliated) won two seats in the elections. 

In the same context, Hungarian politicians, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (affiliated to the centre-right European People's Party) aggravated tensions with statements indicating that Budapest would count its future representatives in the European Parliament "across the Carpathian basin".

Hungary has protested to the European Parliament and to the United Nations over Slovakia's new language law, which it says discriminates against the Hungarian minority. According to the law, fines of up to 5,000 euros can be imposed on the use of minority languages in government and other public services. 

Parliamentary elections in Hungary were held on 11 April (EURACTIV 12/04/10), with a second round on 25 April (EURACTIV 26/04/10). In the second round, candidates from the centre-right Fidesz party won 262 seats, achieving a majority of over two-thirds in the 386-member parliament. This majority is enough to modify the country's constitution.

Hungarian politicians recently told EURACTIV that on the model of similar legislation in Romania vis-à-vis Moldova, ethnic Hungarians who could prove their "attachment" to Hungary would have easier access to citizenship (EURACTIV 12/05/10).

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