Hungarian president barred from Slovakia as dispute heats up

24th August 2009, Comments 0 comments

Slovakia had repeatedly criticised Solyom's planned trip to a border town because it had been due to take place on the very day the country remembers an invasion by Soviet-led troops, among them Hungarians.

Budapest -- Hungary and Slovakia stepped up a bitter war of words Friday as Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom was forced to cancel a private visit after Bratislava said it would bar him from entering.

Standing half-way across a bridge over the Danube, on the border between the two countries, Solyom told reporters he would not travel to Slovakia.

"We have received the note of the Slovakian ministry of foreign affairs in which they forbid me personally entering Slovakia until midnight," he said.

Slovakia had repeatedly criticised Solyom's planned trip to a border town because it had been due to take place on the very day the country remembers an invasion by Soviet-led troops, among them Hungarians.

August 21 is remembered in Slovakia as the day in 1968 when what was then Czechoslovakia was occupied by Warsaw Pact troops to crush the "Prague Spring" reform drive by the country's communist leadership.

"This is a situation unheard of, inexcusable and unexplainable in the relationship of two allied countries," Solyom said.

"It is especially so because of the reasoning behind the ban: that my presence would mean a security threat."

Solyom had been due to attend the unveiling of a statue of Stephen, a medieval king of Hungary, in the town of Komarno, just over the border.

The Hungarian town of Komarom lies on the southern bank of the River Danube, which marks the two countries' border.

Hungarians make up 10 percent of Slovakia's population of 5.4 million people, mostly living along the frontier.

"Komarno lies in Slovakia's territory, it's not a Hungarian town," Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told reporters earlier Friday.

Solyom would be welcome at any other time, he added, but coming on August 21 was "mere provocation."

Hungary's Foreign Minister Peter Balazs described the ban as "unprecedented and unacceptable" and said Budapest would raise the matter with the European Union.

"The president's visit had been carefully planned, together with the Slovakian foreign ministry," he said on Hungarian public television. "We visited all the venues and locations, and we have obtained all the necessary permissions -- which are still valid, by the way."

Solyom was invited by Komarno Mayor Tibor Bastrnak, who is a member of Slovakia's opposition ethnic-Hungarian SMK party.

Critics have noted that the mayor had failed to invite Slovak leaders, allegedly paving the way for the dispute -- but Hungarian leaders had also blasted Solyom for allegedly failing to show any interest in meeting them.

The past is deeply sensitive for Slovakia, which was ruled by Hungary for centuries and has only been an independent state since Czechoslovakia split in 1993.

But the affair also hinges on a present-day dispute.

Hungary has protested to the United Nations over Slovakia's new language law, which it says discriminates against the Hungarian minority.

The law includes fines of up to 5,000 euros (7,000 dollars) for the use of minority languages in government and other public services.

Ties between the two ex-Soviet bloc neighbours, both of whom joined the European Union in 2004, have been tense since 2006.

That was when the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), known for its antipathy towards minorities, entered the government in Bratislava that is steered by Fico's left-wing populist Smer party.

Both Hungary and Slovakia are also members of Europe's Schengen zone, where frontier controls have been dropped to smooth cross-border travel.

AFP/Expatica

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