Hungarian–Slovak Reconciliation and the National Peace

For three centuries, Europe has been organized into nation-states. This situation did not even change after the European Union had been established. The European Union, despite having its own central decision-making and executive bodies, is under the influence of its most powerful member states. The governments of these states decide over the main questions of the Union. The smaller member states could have significant influence only if they organize themselves in interest-groups, mainly on a regional basis. Together they could become strong enough to outweigh the power of the larger states, but still only in some issues. To achieve more, they need to build up a broader alliance of different state-groups.

It is a situation when nation-states fight each other, without a war, of course. But the main aim of the interstate relations remains the same. Their form is milder, but substantially unchanged. That is, the relations are based on strength and power regulated by national interest. (Horowitz 1985: 4)

Creating a commonly accepted system of values in political decision-making on a higher level could be realized by supporting the main components of a modern political society. But it needs reconciliation between nations.

The reconciliation between the small nations of Central Europe must be determined by basic national issues. The democratization of these countries and their independence depend on it. More than three decades after the revolutionary wave that triggered the change of regime, several small nations, including Slovaks and the Hungarians, still continue to fight against each other on a national basis. Their diplomatic efforts, many elements of their countries´ internal legal systems, their political parties, and the programs of many of their organizations are aimed at national victory over one another. When acting against each other, neither their accession to the European Union, nor their membership in NATO prevents their governments from orienting themselves toward great powers. As part of their strategy against their neighbour, they offer themselves to the supporting great power as a zone of influence. This, as they believe, strengthens their position in the European Union.

The issue of the Hungarian–Slovak reconciliation is one of the most important ones in regard to the future of the region. Both reconciliation and the absence of it, have had and will have a significant impact on the political community in both countries. It also sets an example, one way or another, for neighbouring countries. At the same time, as a non-negligible element of the experiment called EU, it can further or even hinder the solution of one of the fundamental problems of the Union, the conflict between the nation-state and the effectiveness of continental decision-making.

Reconciliation and the Visegrad Countries

By abandoning to serve a great power, small Central European nations renounce their sovereignty too. Their national advancement could only be expected from the service of one of the great powers. But for serving a great power, they should also adopt its poli tical system and serve its interests, oppressing and sometimes destroying others. (Kučera 2008: 39)

The national liberation of one party is linked to the national subjugation of the other. The extension of national freedom of one nation does not mean its further extension to another. Instead, it means a new dominance. National freedom also means national slavery. Not only did this model reinforce, but even made dominant the belief that the national freedom of one nation does not strengthen but it even endangers the freedom of the other.

It seems that whatever can be done with the support of great powers: even territories can be acquired, and the population of other nationalities can be expelled from those territories. Great powers never require effectively enough that national freedom and equality of nationalities is guaranteed.

The rejection or absence of the universal principle of national freedom and equality gave way to total national relativism. The principal here is that the human rights of other national minorities can be violated and their collective national life can also be obstructed or even prohibited. The national development of one nation is linked here to the national oppression of the other. One party links its own national future (i.e. persistence, survival) to the destruction and oppression of the other party.

This has a significant impact on the political culture of the two countries and, of course, on the behaviour of the majority of their leaders to this day.

Today’s interest alliance of Visegrad for reconciliation is worth little. The interests are temporary. Of course, it is difficult for the parties to expect more. There is the experience of past centuries of attempts to nationally destroy each other. And because of this experience, they have demonstrated to their own public how the other side has tried to do so. Therefore, now they have to listen to their own public which has been socialised in the spirit that the other side had tried to destroy them as a nation. Part of their current experience is that they only communicate their own threats to their own public. From this they conclude that the other side is communicating the same to their own public, in relation to themselves.

Their cooperation today is nothing more than a connection of interests. They are aware of its relativity. They are willing to cooperate with each other only to the extent that it does not change the essence of their national values established by the end of the twentieth century. This cooperation is subject from time to time to the disruptive intentions of external forces, considering the fact that the parties have repeatedly confronted, and even betrayed, each other whenever they expected a national gain. And this national gain came from one of the great powers that wanted to dominate the whole region in general. So, both the one that is currently supported and the one that is shortened.

The small state puts its foreign policy strategy of variable alignment with the great powers ahead of stable, reliable federal ties. From the point of view of small states, national security can only be ensured with the support of a great power, not even with any of them, but with the victorious one at any given time. Therefore, a rapid transition from one power to another is considered one of the fundamental requirements of their national security. They must therefore pursue a foreign policy so that the transition remains possible. This is called a balanced foreign policy. For if the neighbour becomes faster, he will be rewarded by the great power that is just becoming dominant, and following Niccolo Machiavelli’s admonition, he will not do it on his own.

It follows logically from the essentially threatening hostile relationship with a neighbour to serve the power that is becoming dominant at any given time. To them, only the full unification of small nations and the joint rebuilding of their position of great power would offer a real alternative. But there are high cultural barriers to this decision. There is some hope that these barriers, raised by them themselves, can also be torn down by them. But they have made it part of their national identity and are imbued with it so much that today they are even afraid of faltering. Therefore, a new idea must be offered.

The Ethics of Ambiguity

Ambiguity has become a moral category. It is something that needs to be protected. The moral essence of ambiguity is that the claim that certain elements of backwardness are more valuable than the state of development. For this, of course, this development must be seen as a vestibule of decay and fall, and if the fall does not occur, there must be no doubt as to the future realization of the prophecy. And, since all (highly) developed cultures will once undergo a crisis, how can anyone now claim that they could not get into trouble someday? What is really needed, however, is the way you could get to the forefront of development again. This is because criticism of the more advanced is not accompanied by a real development strategy that shows a different path. Rather, it attempts to mobilize only with predictive visions, and detailed programs that are feasible and measurable in their effectiveness are not born.

The ideological protection of backwardness is linked to the protection of those who cause backwardness. If they did not cause backwardness but prevented other people from embarking on the path of decay, then morally noble deeds could be associated with them. Thus, they retain their moral right to retain or regain power. The uncontrollability of the claim requires a vision and a passionate political identity. Strong passions instead of rationality, and attachments to them, that are powerfully held in power. Passions are primarily national passions. They rest in the constant strengthening of the temperaments of the offended national self-consciousness. The goal is not to resolve the offense, but to increase the pain, to strengthen the sense of pride of the offended.

However, the essence of Central European ambiguity also includes relative separation from the East. In contrast to the Eastern empires, they see themselves as Western, and therefore more developed. In spite of many features of their culture, including their Eastern political cultures (Bergyajev 1989: 200-201), they did not consider themselves to be part of the East. Otherwise, they should have accepted the na turalness and correctness of their repeated conquest by the East. Although some of their political elites spread this ideology, they knew their society did not want to become either Turkish or Russian, and they did not want to merge into these empires either. And with few exceptions, they themselves did not want to do so, even if they supported the rule of these empires and spread many elements of their culture with their power from their conquering lords.

However, masters of ambiguous separation still face another challenge. They also need to divide their societies, separate them from each other. Towards their eastern conquerors (Figes 2002: 368-371) they have behaved as more eastern, that is, more communist, more pro-Russian. When they were conquered by a western power (Simms 2013: 219), e.g. the National Socialist Germany, they presented themselves as more German-friendly than their neighbours. And more Western when they joined the democratic West, while at the same time pushing back their neighbours. And when they approach East and West at the same time, they will argue in two ways simultaneously.

Moreover, even in several ways, as the Central European country sometimes wants to adapt to more than one great power. It is not the resolution of the contradiction but its maintenance that becomes a political and cultural goal.

If a Central European country is positioned in more than one direction, it is not duplicating, but pursuing its own interests. It doesn’t necessarily perceive it as a dichotomy, tending here and tending there. If I am better positioned, if I jump to the other side at the right time, then I am at an advantage and he is at a disadvantage.

In other words, the power, the economic, and cultural consequences of duplicity should be accounted for. That is, the main consequence of power is not the independence of the region, but its suspension on the pretext of national fight with each other. (Smith 2004: 154) The formerly unified economic space is being dismantled, creating small units that are operational by depending on the currently dominant power. They did this in the twentieth century, in an age when the national markets that had been considered big have turned out to be small.

In the age of colonized markets, breaking down former big market units into small ones means that the dependence of the small ones on the big ones is growing. But it is also culturally necessary to separate those who were previously closely related. This is based on linguistic separation. They try to achieve it by creating linguistic dominance. The education system forces only the minority to learn the language of the majority, but it does not require the majority to learn the minority language. Not even in settlements or regions where they live together. The other language becomes an instrument of oppression as the two languages are not equal. With the break-down of Austria-Hungary, the dominance of the Hungarian language is not replaced by linguistic equality, but by the dominance of the Slovak one. This eliminates the ability of the members of the majority to form a picture of their neighbour’s culture, public life and the positions of their politicians.

Another important element of cultural separation is enemy construction. (Glover 1997: 11) The other side’s past is set in such a way that, for its own nationalists, only national fight seems like a viable path. And this would be difficult to achieve without linguistic division. If the majority understood the language of the minority, they could learn about the events of their common past that has benefited them all. But the injustices and inhumanities committed by their own people could not be concealed or, they would be much more difficult to misinterpret. They could get acquainted directly with the current views, positions, proposals and initiatives of the other nationalists without domestic interpretation and without misinterpretation. (Clark 2013: 558-561)

This is because their public opinions would converge, partly forming a common public opinion. Thus, arousing and manipulating national public opinion would become much more difficult, and, subsequently, the opportunities for the élite of the national minority to militarize that minority’s public opinion would also be limited.

Another important consequence would be the convergence of public opinions. A much denser web of direct relations between members of nations can be woven, especially in case of their cultural separation based on enemy construction. (Hirschi 2012: 214-215) And it could not merely be interest-based economic relations, but a full range of human relations.

It was not regional multiculturalism but segregation from what was declared a national enemy that became an example to follow. If someone, as a Slovak, publicly states that he/she speaks Hungarian and knows Hungarian culture, he/she becomes nationally suspicious, and therefore less valuable. In the value system of national struggle, someone who loves, and even someone who can only love the enemy, ranks lower in the value scale of fight as they become suspicious. Anyone loyal to their nation does not speak the other language, even if they could, but forces the other one to use their own language. It does not articulate the values of the other culture, but points to how much more valuable one’s own culture is.

If they can assert their own respective interests, mutual assistance will become the expected norm (of behaviour). They do not hold themselves responsible for the fate of the other party, if only in the sense that they do not fight them. In the case of a relationship of interest, alliances are formed within the boundaries of interests. But relationships whose publicly voiced essence would be responsibility for the other are not born. Yet it is quite clear that their decisions have a significant, and sometimes decisive, influence on the present and future of their national neighbours.

Making the shift away from responsibility a social value is becoming the main reason for the lack of solidarity within the European Union. Accession to the Union is also perceived mainly as an advocacy by the country’s political leadership as well as by a large part of society. Many are not even able to see the issue differently. And others were interested in not even being able to. Their argument is: making national advocacy a supreme value makes universal values volatile. The state of the fight and of potential combat makes awareness of the threat one of the main aims of politics. The other party is both a current threat and a potential threat.

Characterization of the other party is not possible otherwise. The desire to fight is all an unchangeable gift. Such is the essence of humans.

The consequences for ourselves: why we have to be all our supposed enemies and how we can become like that. They can be used to justify the violation of universal human values by invoking national goals. And local characteristics can be used to explain the national characteristics of neighbours in such a way that they appear invariably hostile.

With this hostility they give up their real sovereignty. In the age of global cultural competition, they also have weaker cultural chances because of the national cultural separation.

The Essence of Reconciliation

What does the state of peace between people mean? The essence of reconciliation in the age of modern mass politics lies in the desire of the people for peace. (Kant 1998: 315-318) Above all, they have a strong intention to end the war. But that intention alone could be a ceasefire. The foundation of peace is more than that: peace comes not only from the cessation of war (Macmillan 2002: 499-500), but from the intention to coo perate. And from the realization that cooperation is more noble and useful than fight.

Just as tribal, dynastic, religious, or any fight in history, whatever the motives were, could only be ended by tribal, dynastic, or even religious reconciliation, in our time, national reconciliation can only be achieved by people’s desire for national peace. Nothing less than that!

But in order to express national reconciliation, we must first examine the nature of fight between nations. state of national struggle. (Giddens 1985: 103-116) So what is the value basis of the state of national struggle. In our study, we do not immerse ourselves in the pure calculation of power that weaves human struggles in general, although it appears in all human struggles. But it can only become a social organizing idea through a more general set of values. In this age it is largely the national idea. However, the conclusion of national peace is not possible without the birth and spread of national peace and its essence, the consciousness of national togetherness, and the replacement of national relativism and, consequently, the conviction of the potential and realistic nation to fight. Not only in terms of the imagined elements of national identity, but also in their emotions. The challenge of reconciling Hungarians and Slovaks lies in solving this task.

The process of acquiring national identity packs the presentation of right and wrong forms of human behaviour into a fight with the national enemy and enemies. So not only does a person become Slovak, Hungarian, German, Italian in the process of becoming an adult, but as part of the process, he/she learns what heroism, cowardice, loyalty, betrayal is, what is good and what is bad. And in the spirit of national relativism, in a way that is noble in nature, and superior to members of the national enemy. (Spinner 1994: 142) That is because your own culture is real, pure, ancient, that is, more valuable. And the other is inferior, less valuable, and even more radical, dangerous and worthless. Therefore, its destruction, or even its complete destruction, is not a sin but a merit. How to do it is given by the situation. Sometimes by direct violence, other times subtly, by a combination of cultural and administrative and economic means, dressed in peaceful slogans. National separation is also emotional separation. They are experienced by members of different nations, among whom there are many similarities that can be grasped with abstract concepts, but they are unique in their specific emotional experiences. Their poems, songs, anthems are theirs, members of the other nation can only experience their own.

Presenting the other culture as worthless to one’s own national public hinders precisely what would be the main source of its development: the understanding, love, and acceptance by many of the other party’s outstanding cultural achievements. These are studied and known by a narrow layer of experts. But they, for the most part, are also screened so that they can reach their own national public only in a form that does not change national suspicion, does not break down national segregation.

National reconciliation in our age has to mean the parties can draw from each other’s cultures. They can get more from the other than they can gain from hostility. Even nationally. But this can only be imagined and realized if they give up their national aggression towards each other. (Majtényi 2007: 242-244) Without it, they are only able to reconcile interests, not to make real peace and to build national cooperation based on it. But if they give up their national aggression, they can create a relationship based on reciprocity in which helping the other to develop also helps their own development. The strength of the other is my strength. To do this, however, they would have to build a conviction of their belonging, and thus the connectedness of their destiny. In fact, both on their own and in community with others.

This task is undoubtedly enormous. For this reason, it also places restrictions on politicians. In the age of mass politics, a politician cannot break away from the values of the people. If you display and defend something that the public does not understand, and even thinks and feels downright dangerous, you can only create a chance for poli tical success if your offer is both better and more viable than the old one. But in the case of the dominance of a culture of national struggle (Greenfeld 2006: 137-139), one alone cannot do so unless one is highly educated intellectually and extremely ta lented as a politician. It needs social support. However, this requires a cooperation based on the convergence of the intellectual lives of the two nations, and a dialogue and, if necessary, a program of reaching out to the people of the two countries.

The basis of national peace is a sense of togetherness based on close cooperation founded on the interconnection of national cultures. If this brings with it the intertwining of their economies and their political alliance, it could grow into a close federation of states. A country where citizens experience team spirit, togetherness, a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a common fate. Their predecessors in the 19th and 20th century did not understand how valuable is such a development. But that does not mean it can’t now turn in a different direction. The fact that our predecessors did not understand this does not mean that we cannot change it now.

In the meantime, they can get rid of the moral relativism as the basis of the state with respect to national identity and thus its pervasive, crippling effect on the whole society. Instead, they could engage in intensifying global competition through the political and economic weight of their alliance, but above all through the inspiring power of their cultural interconnectedness. (Holton 1998:204)

In the age of the Internet, it is now possible to initiate an exchange of views that differ in essential elements from the ones preferred by the power and those socially dominant. Recognizing the togetherness of nations, especially of the Slovaks and Hungarians, is one of their most important cultural challenges. It depends on them whether they can rise from their minority position in the medium term. And in the long term, along with their neighbours belonging to other nations, their cultural survival makes special sense and takes on a special significance, as they are familiar with both cultures.


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