Ivan Korcok (left) and Peter Szijjarto chat during the Hungarian foreign minister's visit to Slovakia earlier this month. Photo via Slovak Foreign Ministry.

The Slovak foreign minister is letting Hungary’s ruling party know that he’s fed up with its belligerent tone. From Dennik N.

Viktor Orban is a Hungarian nationalist. Robert Fico is a Slovak nationalist. In spite of that, relationships between the two countries were almost perfect while the two were in power simultaneously. More precisely, problems were not mentioned.

On the other hand, Slovakia’s current foreign minister, Ivan Korcok, is a diplomat and a European liberal. But it is he who is showing Hungary where not to tread, as long as Budapest cares about maintaining good relations.

The explanation for this apparent paradox is quite simple. Orban and Fico [Slovak prime minister in 2006–2010 and 2012–2018, when he resigned amid the scandal over journalist Jan Kuciak’s murder] had a common enemy and a similar worldview. This allowed them to put aside the mutual national animosity that came to them naturally – suffice it to recall Fico’s first coalition government with nationalist parties, or Fidesz’s nostalgia for a Greater Hungary. Instead, they chose to focus their efforts on misusing European funds and stoking hatred against foreigners.

Korcok’s dislike of both practices has made it more likely that the Foreign Ministry would act much more assertively towards the corrupt enemy of democracy that is Orban. It was a mistake not to proceed in this manner on topics such as Hungary’s scandalous law targeting sexual minorities. On the other hand, the ministry is taking a forceful approach more and more often in relation to issues which directly influence relations between the two countries.

An example of this was the minister’s unusual and somewhat unfortunate series of Facebook posts in the summer, in which he strongly objected to statements made by Orban’s ideologue Laszlo Kover [about the postwar expulsion of Hungarians from Czechoslovakia]. More recently, Korcok chose a more suitable form, welcoming Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto during his visit to Slovakia with a letter, worded in a calm and friendly manner, in which he objected to some truly unacceptable practices of Orban’s government. For instance, the Hungarian government is investing hundreds of millions of euros in buying up agricultural land in neighboring countries. According to Korcok, this practice contravenes an international treaty between the two countries.

[Transitions note: After this commentary appeared, the Hungarian government dropped its plan to buy agricultural land in neighboring countries with Hungarian minorities.]

Both countries are members of the EU, where every citizen or company can buy real estate wherever they want. But why have a foreign government purchase land on the territory of a neighboring country, if this will necessarily lead to a suspicion of Orban marking territory he considers to historically belong to Hungary and where he wants to strengthen his influence, which he has anyway been buying for years through shady financial support of ethnic Hungarian minority parties and other organizations?

It can be assumed that Korcok will now once again be the target of Orban’s ally [Slovak parliamentarian of Hungarian ethnicity] Gyorgy Gyimesi, who already called him a mercenary and a Hungarophobe in the past. Similar criticism, whoever may raise it, is, however, incorrect. Putting up obstacles to Orban is not an expression of Hungarophobia. Whoever tries to make it look that way is committing an argumentative foul similar to that of dictators and semi-dictators calling criticism of their deeds an attack on the entire country. Which, of course, is not the case.

Naturally, one needs to proceed with caution, because the last thing Slovakia needs is a conflict with Hungary, as this would inevitably spill over into domestic politics through the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia. However, there are moments when a sovereign state should speak up, and Korcok is right to do so on this subject.

Roman Pataj heads the commentary and opinion desk at the Slovak newspaper Dennik N. This comment first appeared on Dennik N. Transitions has done some editing for clarity and context. Reprinted with permission.

Translated by Matus Nemeth.