[The following appeared June 10 on The Mantle.]
BRATISLAVA – There’s nothing that nationalists in Central Europe relish more than to commemorate an historic injustice, harping on their victimization. If it falls during an election season, even better.
The 90-year-old Treaty of Trianon – which dismembered the old Kingdom of Hungary, carving up its land and its people – has resurfaced in an ugly spat between Slovakia and Hungary, influencing Slovakia’s upcoming June 12 elections. In the middle of this scrum is the half-million-strong Hungarian minority in Slovakia.
In a land once known to the Magyars as “Upper Lands,” it also poisons what just may be the worst neighborly relations of any ex-Communist countries to join the European Union.
The fact it comes on Trianon’s anniversary, on the eve of Slovakia’s national election, creates almost perfect-storm conditions for petty but dangerous politics. What caught my eye, though, is how similar the tactics are by mainstream nationalists and extremists on both sides.
This comes from someone with a fairly unique perspective: during my 17 years of reporting from the region, I’ve lived in both countries. I try to appreciate the narratives of both nations.
Bratislava, known to Hungarians as Pozsony, served as Hungary’s capital during the first half of the 19th century. This is why I commemorated Trianon with a short walk from my home to the city’s greatest living symbol of Hungarian identity, the Magyar alapiskola es gimnazium – the Hungarian-language primary and high school. The elegant, 130-year-old building dominates an entire block downtown.
It’s there I met a quintet of 18-year-olds stung by the slings and arrows fired from both sides of the mighty Danube: the ethnic Hungarians of Slovakia. It may have been their great-grandparents sheared from the motherland in 1920, but they’re savvy to their quandary today.
“In my family we say, ‘Yeah, both sides are just using us,’” says Andrea Menyhartova. (more…)