War of words escalates between EU countries Hungary and Slovakia

War of words escalates between EU countries Hungary and Slovakia

A bitter war of words between EU members Hungary and Slovakia intensified Friday as Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom cancelled a private visit after Bratislava said it would bar him from entering.
Slovakia had repeatedly blasted Solyom's planned trip to a border town because it had been due to take place on the day the country remembers an invasion by Soviet-led troops, among them Hungarians.

In Hungary, presidential spokeswoman Szilvia Szotak told the local news agency MTI that Solyom would not enter Slovak territory.

"He will make a statement on the Hungarian side of the border," she said.

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

Solyom was scheduled to attend the unveiling of a statue of Stephen, a medieval king of Hungary, in the southern Slovak town of Komarno.

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

"He wants to spark a conflict, we want to avoid it," Fico insisted.
Hungarian president barred

Fico accused Solyom of wanting to start a conflictFico had said that the Slovak foreign ministry had handed a diplomatic note to the Hungarian ambassador saying Slovakia would not let Solyom in.

"If he decides to ignore the note it would be a violation of international law and Slovakia's sovereignty," Fico warned.

"We won't prevent him from crossing the border by force. We want to behave in a diplomatic way," he added.

On Tuesday, Fico, Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic and parliamentary Speaker Pavol Paska had issued a sharply-worded joint statement saying Solyom would not be welcome in Slovakia and described his planned trip as "insensitive and tactless".

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 failed to invite Slovak leaders, allegedly paving the way for the dispute -- but in Tuesday's statement, the leaders had also blasted Solyom for allegedly failing to show any interest in meeting with 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 spat also hinges on a present-day dispute.

Hungary has protested to the United Nations over Slovakia's new language law, which it dubs discriminatory to the Hungarian minority -- a move blasted by Slovakia's leaders.

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

Ties between the two ex-Soviet bloc neighbors, both of whom joined the European Union in 2004, have been tense since 2006 when the far-right SNS party, known for its antipathy towards minorities, entered the government 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.




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