Slovaks and Hungarians a step closer to constructive debate on post-war expulsions

15-04-2005

In Bratislava, the leader of an ethnic Hungarian coalition has asked both the Slovak and Hungarian Parliaments to apologize to each other for their persecution of ethnic minorities in the years immediately after WWII. This daring proposal has attracted some very harsh criticism.

In April 1945 Slovaks cheered for the Ukrainian and Romanian soldiers who entered the country as liberators. People were happy that the war was over and hoped a brighter future would lie ahead. But they did not know that the smile on some of their faces was about to fade away...

The new Slovak political elite with strong ties to communists in Moscow drafted the so called "Kosice governmental programme". It said that all those who collaborated with the Nazi regime must leave Slovakia and have their properties confiscated. It targeted mainly ethnic Hungarians and Germans. Historians have estimated that 90,000 Hungarians living in Slovakia were forced to leave for Hungary. It turned out to be a population exchange because a similar number of Slovaks living in Hungary had the opportunity to return to their motherland. However, the authorities in Budapest did not force them to leave and did not confiscate their property.

Sixty years later Bela Bugar, the leader of the coalition of ethnic Hungarian parties in Slovakia commemorated the event saying that the Slovak and Hungarian Parliaments should apologize to each other for the injustices their countries did to minorities after WWII. As Bugar is the vice president of the Slovak Parliament, his comments stirred the murky waters of Slovak politics. The opposition seized the opportunity to score some points for next year's parliamentary elections. Opposition leader Robert Fico advises Slovaks to ignore the past:

"It's very dangerous for our future to look back at events which happened such a long time ago. This is against the principles of the European Union. I remember that the European Commission advised us to allow the dead to rest in peace. Bugar's statements infringe on the official line of the Slovak government. They simply offer ammunition to nationalists and extremists in both countries."

Bugar could not find supporters for his proposal among ruling coalition partners either. A few well known historians, however, spoke to local media trying to offer an objective picture of the events which took place sixty years ago. This fact encouraged Bugar to stick to his point:

"Who is afraid to lead an open debate on sensitive topics concerning our common history? It is those who don't have a clear conscience. We need to find out what exactly happened here between 1945 and 1948. If we keep on ignoring such questions they will not simply disappear and the tension between Slovaks and Hungarians will continue. It's up to Slovak politicians to close such historical wounds once and forever."

Interesting enough, part of the Slovak media seems to be willing to initiate public debate on controversial topics of Slovakia's history. For the first time, historians replaced the usual sharp-tongued political analysts on the pages of major dailies and on television screens. They expressed their concern that the lack of open discussion leads to an increased popularity of nationalist politicians. One of the champions of nationalist speeches is Robert Fico himself, who recent opinion polls portray as the most trusted politician in Slovakia.

15-04-2005