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It Is Possible to Work Together

June 13, 2012 - Kazimierz Popławski - Interviews

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A Conversation with Zsolt Simon, Vice-Chair of the party Most-Híd

The political party Most-Híd in Slovakia was created in 2009. Its main goal is to create a Slovakia that is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. The name of the party is made up of the word “bridge” in both Slovakian and Hungarian.

KAZIMIERZ POPŁAWSKI: In the last elections, the party Most-Híd obtained similar results to the previous elections in 2010. The party, however, is now in the opposition. Was the last election a success or a failure for the party?

ZSOLT SIMON: I can say that our results were a success. It’s important to note that the campaign, which was short, intensive and very aggressive (mostly thanks to the “Gorilla” affair – author’s note). Negative actions were directed against the right-wing as a whole, and this includes our party. Though, the measure of our success can be compared with the other right-wing parties, which had lost up to ten percentage points of support.

Also, I would not read the loss in the government as something negative. In my opinion, the society wanted stabilisation of power, that is why they voted for the most powerful party on the political scene (Social Democratic Party – SMER – author’s note), to create the next government. We must respect this choice. The results of course can ensure a stable government, but also places a great responsibility on the ruling party.

Are the election results that Most-Híd achieved a result of the social fatigue with the fighting and conflicts relating to minorities in Slovakia as well as using them for political gain.

It is rather an effect of the political arguing as well as the Gorilla scandal, which the other right-winged parties were involved in. In the last two years, relations between the Slovakian majority and other ethnic minorities have not been so bad. Our goal is to strengthen cooperation between the ethnic majority and minorities as well as advancing a positive dialogue not only between Slovakians and Hungarians but also between all ethnicities in our country.

So how will this be done while you are in the opposition? What activities are planned for the next four years, both in terms of realizing the party’s mission as well as improving the party’s record for the next election?

Our activities can be divided into two categories. We are a young party and in a short period of time we have managed to make it to parliament. Unfortunately our structure, mostly regionally, is not fully developed – that is why bringing them up to speed will be the first part of the plan to strengthen our group. We have a very strong electorate, but it’s important to have also a fully developed structure.

The second field to implementing our mission relates to the parliament. We have to be a constructive opposition, and so we must mind and support the development of minority rights, which will guarantee cooperation among the minorities. We will also be critical of the government, whose policies may threaten the economy. In order for Slovakia to develop we need two things. First, strong economic fundamentals and second, a minority that is satisfied with its situation. We cannot allow for someone to start playing around with, for example, a nationality ID card (as it relates to citizenship for members of the Hungarian minorities – author’s note), because such activities can distract from the real issues at hand, such as economic development.

The government in Budapest clarified its support for the Party of the Hungarian Coalition stating that it is the only group which represents the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. What’s more, Most-Híd was considered a threat for Hungarian identity and national culture in Slovakia. What does this mean for your party?

In Hungary, other than the issue of the Roma, they don’t have a problem with ethnic minorities. This means that the government in Budapest does not understand the situation in Slovakia. Moreover, the Hungarian government commenting and engaging in Hungarian minority issues in Slovakia, Romania or Croatia tries to divert attention away from the real internal problems in Hungary.

So how does Budapest’s support of the Hungarian nationalist party influence relations between Bratislava and Budapest?

If the nature of this support will be similar to the actions undertaken by Budapest in the years 2007-2010, it may have very negative undertones in relations with Slovakia. Returning once more to the issue of citizenship for the Hungarian minority; Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, gave the opportunity to achieve Hungarian citizenship for Hungarians living in Slovakia and Romania. This type of action aims to only get new votes for Fidesz (the political party of Viktor Orbán – editor’s note), but it also brings more bad than good for those Hungarians living in these countries.

It is not true that the party Most-Híd is a threat to Hungarian national culture in Slovakia. History shows that it is possible to work together among the nationalities, and this collaboration is very real. In the years 1945-46 around 100,000 Hungarians and all Germans were deported from Slovakia. This lead to great tension between Slovakia and Hungary, but the later cooperation between activists from both groups lead to the stabilising of the position of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. Hungarian schools, culture and churches developed and everything functioned for many decades. This example shows that the claims made by Budapest are just lies. Our party only aims to find a compromise in the relations between the national groups in Slovakia, so that everyone can cultivate their own cultures and traditions.

Not only national identity, but also the financial situation of all groups is a real issue. In our opinion, attaining similar economic positions and possibilities for all national groups allow them to care for their identity, culture and education.

Does Budapest have a negative influence on the interests of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia?

Yes, I will give you an example. In the beginning of May 2010, right before the last parliamentary elections in Slovakia and right before the elections in Hungary, Orbán announced the possibility for Hungarians in Slovakia to get their Hungarian citizenship. This brought on negative emotions which in turn resulted in policies and a new law by the Fico government that undermined minority interests. If Hungary would have undertaken the issue of citizenship a month later, a Slovakian law on citizenship would never had been introduced. For a long time, our party argued the necessity of changing that law and when parliament had to vote on its amendments, Orbán proclaimed that the Hungarian diaspora would receive Hungarian voting rights with their citizenship. We then lost four votes from our long-built coalition and the amendments we were pushing in Slovakia never made it. These are the best examples of how decisions made in Budapest can have a negative effect for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.

Both nationalist parties – the Slovakian National Party and the Party of the Hungarian Coalition – did not make it to parliament in the last election. Do you think they have a chance to return in the next four years?

The last election showed that the Party of the Hungarian Coalition is not in a position to win any more votes than they got. The party has reached the maximum of its possibilities. The Slovakian National Party, however, lost its position and discouraged the electorate through its mistakes when it was in power during 2006-2010. Both parties lack fresh blood, and consequently steadily decreased in importance. In my opinion neither party will get back to parliament ever.

How do you see Robert Fico’s (the new prime minister of Slovakia and leader of the social democratic party – SMER) policies toward Budapest in the next four years? Relations with Hungary during his last government (2006-2010) were not the best. Relations, however, improved and were more pragmatic during the government of Iveta Radičová (2010-2012).

Why Fico should resist his own authority? Besides, his actions are similar to Orbán– although even before he came to power he began talking about the need to change the election system. But it has no meaning for the people and does not create one new job. The first effects of financial reforms won’t be felt until 2017!

But what about relations between Slovakia and Hungary…?

In my opinion they will improve. It seems to me that Fico’s rhetoric on Hungarian issues will be much milder than his previous government. I also hope that the law on citizenship will be improved, which should translate into better relations between the two countries. Fico’s bigger problem is cutting the budget deficit to 3 per cent in the next year. Hungary has a similar problem.

Returning back to the situation of the minorities. What still needs to be done?

The Hungarian minority rights are not fully observed. And it seems to me that Fico will not be very involved in minority issues. I think that the issue of minorities comes to life only in the case when the economic situation of the country is very bad. Thankfully, both nationalist parties are not in parliament. Representing minority rights in parliament is only Most-Híd, our party, which advocates for cooperation as well as the development of all social groups.

In terms of minorities, the Roma minority is equal to the Hungarian, but they have no political power. How do you see the political rights and activities of this minority as well as their social and economic situation?

The situation of the Roma minority is the best example of how it is important that minority rights go hand-in-hand with the economic situation. In the case of the Hungarian minority, both of these elements are on the same level, more or less. In the case of the Roma, the difference is detrimental – they have minority rights assured, but are in a very bad economic situation. One solution to this situation is finding a way to improve their economic situation. In other words, they need work, even if it is through a state work program. The Roma don’t have a work ethic instilled in them and that can’t be changed in a short period of time.

The Roma Party of Slovakia managed to get only a mere 2,000 votes in the last election. So who did the Roma vote for?

In the case of the Roma, the elections are a question of material benefits. Who at a certain time can bribe the minority gets their votes. Until the year 2010, private buses which transported Roma to various voting stations were a clear sign of buying their votes. The government of Radičova penalized such actions. In the last elections, the Roma votes did not have much meaning – the Roma stayed at home.

So the political engagement of the Roma will grow only with their improved material situation?

Yes, it is often said that “work refines a man”. If a Roma will go to work and be represented in some way, he or she will “shine” before our eyes.

But if they have 2000 unemployed people in one settlement, then there is no motivation and initiative to change.

***

Zsolt Simon – Vice-Chairman of the Party Most-Híd. In the years 2002-2006 he was Minister of Agriculture in the government of Mikuláš Dzurinda; and in the years 2010-2012 he was the Minster ofAgriculture, Environmental Protection and Regional Development in the government of Iveta Radičová.

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