Balkan Insight has just published a three-part series looking at the efforts of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban with regard to the “virtual reunification” of the country under his form of “illiberal democracy”, with lavish spending aimed at courting the ethnic Hungarian communities in neighbouring states, as well as the wider media and political scenes. The series looks at Slovenia, Serbia and Romania, and what follows is a summary of the first, “In a Hungarian Corner of Slovenia, a Homegrown Orban”, by Akos Keller Alant.
The story opens in 2016, when a theatrical production of a Hungarian musical was to be staged in Lendava, aimed at Slovenia’s 6,000 or so ethnic Hungarians. However, the Hungarian Self-Governing National Community, or MMONK, which is tasked with representing the community, tried to get the show cancelled, with no official reason given by the president, Ferenc Horvath. Still, the organiser felt that perhaps the real reason was the fact the performance would mean royalties would have to be paid to an institution in Budapest known for its support of liberal causes, including migrants and refugees, a group Orban is among the most vocal in Europe with regard to opposing
The performance went ahead, but since then the theatre company has been disbanded due to lack of funding, while Lili Keep, the women who organised the performance, was forced out of her job as director of the Institution for Hungarian Nationality and Culture, replaced by Horvath’s deputy at MMONK. Keep claims that she was pushed out because she was too liberal, a fact that Horvath doesn’t dispute, although he adds that it was because she was finically too liberal, and couldn’t maintain the Institution’s finances.
This, the story claims, is symptomatic of the control Budapest has over ethnic Hungarians over the border, which is also financial, due to generous spending (especially since 2015), as well as offering other inducements to identify more strongly with the homeland and vote, such as making getting Hungarian citizenship easier. Such efforts, when they make it to the ballot box, see landslide wins for Fidesz (Orban’s party) among Hungarians outside the country.
Victor Orban and Janez Janša at an SDS rally, 2018. SDS' Facebook page
Horvath, since 2018 a deputy in the Slovenian Parliament, is now the main go-between for the governments in Ljubljana and Budapest when it comes the Hungarian community in Slovenia. He has also changed the statues of MMONK and, according to historian Attila Kovacs, a former local councillor in Prekmurje, taken power away from the community and placed it in his own hands.
As Kovacs tells Balkan Insight: “Mr. Horvath uses his power in an authoritarian way. He appoints people loyal to him to every important position, while he marginalises everyone who is critical of his politics.”
The benefits of being winning Horvath’s favour can be considerable, since he’s responsible for assigning the funds received from Hungary. These have grown rapidly in recent years, from just €222,000 in 2015 to just under seven million euros since 2016.
Horvath’s election to Parliament led to an investigation by the state Committee for the Prevention of Corruption, which ordered him to resign as either an MP or president of MMONK, two positions he continues to hold, while – it should be stressed – maintaining his innocence.
While in Parliament Horvath had himself appointed to a special committee investigating whether Janez Janša, the leader of SDS who won the last elections in 2018, but who was unable to form a government, received illegal campaign contributions from Hungarian allies of Orban.
The full article goes on to examine Horvath’s role in the Hungarian language media in Slovenia, the television arm of which was criticized in 2018 by the media ombudsman for being overly focused on the Hungarian government, Fidezs and its supporters. You can find it here.
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STA, 19 November 2019 - The Slovenian and Hungarian automotive clusters signed an agreement to develop cutting-edge technologies which they hope would make them leaders in the transition to e-mobility. A technology and development business event held in Maribor on Tuesday was also attended by the Slovenian economy minister and Hungarian innovation minister.
The event was organised by the Chamber of Commerce from the Štajerska region in collaboration with the Hungarian Embassy in Ljubljana and the University of Maribor.
Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said Slovenian companies were already taking part in the development of Hungary's test track for conventional and autonomous cars.
Slovenia's automotive industry generates around 10% of the country's GDP and 20% of its entire exports, so he deems technological solutions in this area a basis enabling companies from both sides of the border to become an important player in the global car industry.
He said today's meeting with Hungarian Minster for Innovation and Technology Laszlo Palkovics further "enhances our excellent bilateral cooperation", noting trade in 2018 totalled EUR 2.4 billion.
[GOSPODARSTVO] Minister za gospodarski razvoj in tehnologijo Zdravko Počivalšek in madžarski minister za inovacije in tehnologijo Laszlo Palkovics sta bila danes v Lendavi. #vestnik #nicsenezgodibreznas #slovenija #madzarska https://t.co/wFPA1Yw3yd— Vestnik (@Vestnik_si) November 19, 2019
Palkovics added that this was one of the most exciting technological periods which would result in major technology changes to radically change people's lives. "Even if we are both small countries, we have to find our places in the development of high technologies," he said.
Zoran Ren of the University of Maribor said the university had worked with the universities in Austria's Graz and Hungary's Budapest on developing some components for Hungary's ZalaZone test track.
Od besed k dejanjem. V Mariboru pravkar podpisan sporazum o sodelovanju med Združenjem madžarskih proizvajalcev avtomobilskih delov in Slovenskim avtomobilskim grozdom. Skupaj z ?? ministrom dr. Palkovicsem dajeva razvoju avtonomne in brezogljične mobilnosti nov zagon. pic.twitter.com/IUqpS8h4pj— Zdravko Počivalšek (@PocivalsekZ) November 19, 2019
"Today's event is important because it defines the future. New ties are being forged which will help design an orderly and safer mobility in the future," said Rem, the vice-chancellor in charge of scientific and research projects.
He said the first stage of the test track project, worth EUR 150 million, had already been completed, with the second one, worth EUR 50 million, now continuing.
Iztok Seljak of Hidria Holding, a supplier of car parts for many leading car producers, said the Slovenian Automotive Cluster was looking for breakthrough solutions to tap in the potential offered by the transition to a society based on e-mobility.
One such solution is wireless electric car charging, for which a special consortium has already won some start-up funds, he explained.
"We are first partnering up with Hungarians, then we will also with Austrians and other European partners to receive more development funds and to make sure this becomes a priority European project which will enable us to become a leader in e-mobility," Seljak said.
Meanwhile, the two ministers continued the meeting in the Slovenian border town of Lendava, where the topics included a revitalisation of the abandoned Nafta industrial complex, the use of local geothermal sources and innovative zero carbon energy generation.
Commenting on the industrial complex, Počivalšek announced the state was ready to provide a 20% investment subsidy to investments in Lendava.
"We agreed that we need to encourage cooperation of the Porabje and Prekmurje border regions, along with the Austrian border area - the building of the test track for electrical and autonomous vehicles in Zalaegerszeg is a very good basis for this," Počivalšek moreover said.
Palkovics said the two countries also wanted to strengthen cooperation in the phasing of EU funds.
He proposed that funding for research cooperation be upped to EUR 1 million and moreover argued that the situation of young people living near the border could be improved with cooperation among universities and secondary schools in both countries.
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Slovenia is shocked by the footage published by the Slovenian Motorway Company (DARS) featuring a deadly accident which happened on Ljubljana ring road this morning.
The accident occurred when a 41-year-old Slovenian driver of an Opel Corsa lost control over his vehicle due to driving too fast for the conditions, and hit the truck he was passing. The truck broke through the safety barrier and fell from the viaduct, down about 20 metres. The 53-year-old Hungarian driver did not survive the accident while the driver of a car sustained no injuries.
Traffic on the motorway in the direction of Styria was obstructed until 12:30. Police meanwhile continue to gather information on the causes of the accident. Due to suspicion of causing of an accident due to negligent driving, which is a criminal offence, the findings will be reported to the district attorney's office. The person who caused the accident could face up to 8 years in prison.
DARS decided to publish the video of the horrific traffic accident as a reminder to drivers of how quickly an accident can occur.
STA, 5 November 2019 - Karel Holec has been elected the new president of one of the two Slovenian minority umbrella organisations in Hungary, taking over from Martin Ropoša, who has led the State Slovenian Self-Government organisation since its establishment in 1995, public broadcaster TV Slovenija reported on Tuesday.
Holec, 50, is a journalist and photographer for the Porabje weekly, the only Slovenian-language paper in Hungary, which was launched in 1991. From 1994 to 2006, he was mayor of Orfalu, or Andovci in Slovenian.
The new leader said he would continue with the minority's main project - efforts to develop the Raba Valley (Porabje) to enable young people to stay in the region.
The minority organisation is seated in the town of Felsoszolnok (Gornji Senik) and has a unit in Budapest. Ropoša will from now on serve as its vice president.
Earlier this year, the other umbrella minority organisations in Hungary also got a new leader.
In May, Andrea Kovač replaced Jože Hirnök at the helm of the Association of Slovenians in Hungary after he led the organisation from its establishment in 1990.
The association is based in the town of Szentgotthard (Monošter).
There are some 5,000 Slovenians living in Hungary, of whom some 3,000 in the Raba Valley area along the border with Slovenia.
STA, 28 October 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban called for strengthening economic cooperation between the two countries. The pair moreover urged a continuation of EU enlargement, while also discussing migration.
Hungary is Slovenia's sixth largest trade partner, with trade increasing by 9.1% in 2018 to exceed EUR 2 billion for the first time.
"I'm happy about this figure, but I'll be even happier if it will be higher," Šarec told the press after the meeting.
The pair meanwhile expressed regret that EU leaders recently failed to provide the green light for the start of accession negotiation talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
Šarec and Orban also talked about the situation of the respective minorities in Slovenia and Hungary, agreeing both needed to be secured opportunities for developing economically in the areas where they lived.
Premier @sarecmarjan in madžarski premier Orbán sta v pogovoru največ pozornosti namenila oceni dvostranskih odnosov, dinamiki gospodarskega sodelovanja ter možnostim za dodatno izkoriščenost obstoječega potenciala, aktualnim evropskim temam in izzivom v naši skupni soseščini. pic.twitter.com/8zDrrpxKbM— Vlada Republike Slovenije (@vladaRS) October 28, 2019
Orban dedicated a substantial part of the press conference to migration, saying that the two countries knew very well what migration was and what it meant if a large number of migrants crossed the border in an uncontrolled way.
Šarec added that the issue of migration needed to be addressed at its root. "This is the joint task of the EU," he said.
The Slovenian PM was also scheduled to meet parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Köver and Slovenians living in Hungary.
Accompanied by Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, Šarec also attended an annual promotional event hosted by the Slovenian Tourism Board (STO).
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STA, 23 August 2019 - The Hungarian government has reportedly decided that the country will stop importing sewage sludge, a move that could spell serious trouble for Slovenia which exports around 70,000 tonnes of sludge from its municipal wastewater treatment plants to Hungary.
According to the Slovenian Chamber of Public Utilities, the Hungarian government - facing media criticism the country was serving as the public toilet of Europe - decided this month to stop extending permits for sewage sludge imports.
The chamber's director Sebastijan Zupanc told the STA that the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry was trying to obtain more information on the issue through the Slovenian Embassy in Budapest.
He added Slovenia would find itself in serious trouble if Hungary closed its border to sewage sludge. From September onwards, Slovenia could be left with 120 to 140 tonnes of it a day, while an alternative solution would definitely need to be found by the end of the year, as all existing permits will expire by then.
Slovenia presently incinerates around 10,000 tonnes of municipal sewage sludge at home, at the plants in Celje and Anhovo.
Some wastewater treatment plants make use of it themselves, however Slovenia does not have sufficient capacities to use what remains for energy, with all that is exported going to Hungary. Croatia is in the same situation.
Other European incineration plants are full, which means Slovenia is very vulnerable in this field, Zupanc stressed.
Sewage sludge from municipal wastewater treatment plants is not hazardous waste, but it is very specific, since it involves excrements coming from toilets.
"We cannot store it, since this is a semi-fluid affair that reeks strongly and is produced in great quantities," Zupanc pointed out, noting it needed to be removed on a daily basis.
The Chamber of Public Utilities is part of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS), which said it was working hard on the issue and cooperating with the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry.
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STA, 14 August 2019 - Slovenia is observing 100 years since its northeastern-most region of Prekmurje was united with the rest of the nation after World War I and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Located east of the river Mura, Prekmurje was the only territory the Slovenian nation gained at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.
For nearly a thousand years, Prekmurje was a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, while the remaining Slovenian lands were under Austrian rule.
When the Hapsburg family, the rulers of Austria, took over Hungary in the 16th century, Prekmurje still remained under the Hungarian part of the monarchy, separate from the rest of what is now Slovenia, the Mura etching out a sharp border between the lands up until after World War I.
The peace conference that followed World War I decided that Prekmurje become a part of the then Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes on 17 August 1919.
Five days before the date, the royal military occupied the region, handing over the region to the kingdom's civil authorities on the date agreed at the peace talks.
The border between Hungary and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was drawn along a demarcation line proposed by Douglas W. Johnson, a cartographer teaching at Columbia University who was a member of the US delegation at the Paris Peace Conference.
He proposed that the border line run north of the Mura, based on statistics provided by Matija Slavič, a member of the Yugoslavian delegation at the conference.
The break-away of Prekmurje from Hungary would not have been possible without a strong national awareness of the people of Prekmurje and the region's well-nourished dialect, according to linguist Klaudija Sedlar, specialising in the region's cultural and historic heritage.
This national fight was also fought along religious lines, with Catholic priests playing a key role against aggressive assimilation launched by Hungary with the help of the Protestant Church in an attempt to preserve its western-most region.
Among other things, catholic priests from the region of Prlekija, just across the Mura, smuggled Slovenian books in barrels across the river in the 19th century, getting some 20,000 books to people living in very modest conditions but nurturing an impressive reading culture.
The Trianon Peace Treaty, which saw Hungary lose two thirds of its territory, also left a part of the Slovenian population in Hungary. A century later, the community living along the Raba river is in no mood to celebrate.
Although recognised as a national minority by Hungary, the community was cut off from its nation and forgotten by Hungary, Andrea Kovacs, the president of the Association of Slovenians in Hungary, has told the STA.
Overnight, the community found itself in a completely different situation, losing writers, teachers, priests, professors and clerks, as Hungarian clerks, teachers and other state staff were sent to the villages along the Raba, launching assimilation that continues today, she said.
"Although they were left to their own devices, our forefathers were very stubborn and this stubbornness helped that we still live in Monošter [Szentgotthard] and seven surrounding villages today," she said.
On the other hand, there was also a Hungarian community left on the Slovenian side of the border, which has consistently refused to celebrate Prekmurje Reunification Day.
This year, however, the minority's MP Ferenc Horvath has accepted the invitation of Slovenia's Prime Minister Marjan Šarec to be a part of a special state committee that prepared the celebrations for the centenary.
He also spoke openly about the sensitive aspects of the anniversary, underlining at the same time that Prekmurje must remain as diverse as it is today at least for the next 100 years.
Recognising that this is a sensitive issue for the Hungarian minority, those preparing the many celebrations have repeatedly said that the celebrations are not designed in opposition to anybody.
Just like a century ago, the biggest events will all take place in Beltinci, a small town south of the region's biggest city, Murska Sobota.
On 17 August 1919, after Sunday mass, the square outside the Beltinci church became the venue of a massive rally that saw more than 20,000 people celebrate the region's unification with the Slovenian nation.
The main event will be the state ceremony on Saturday, which is to be addressed by the prime minister. President Borut Pahor is to address a ceremony organised by the Municipality of Beltinci the night before, as the community has made the reunification also its municipal holiday.
Moreover, the Archbishop of Ljubljana Stanislav Zore will offer mass in Beltinci on Saturday. The mass will likely be the most multicultural event of all, featuring representatives of the Protestant Church and the Hungarian Catholic Church, among others.
On Monday, a new square named after the region will be inaugurated in Ljubljana, while the central bank has issued collectable coins marking the centenary last week.
More than 77,000 people live in Prekmurje on a surface area of nearly 950 square kilometres of what is mainly flat agricultural land dotted with villages.
However, the region's population seems to be shrinking. While the entire country has seen a decrease in the number of newborns, elsewhere the negative population trend has been kept at bay by people moving to Slovenia.
However, Prekmurje, often considered one of the least developed parts of the country, does not make for an attractive destination for many. Statistics show that just over 280 people moved to the region in 2017, while nearly 19,000 people moved to Slovenia that year.
Thus, before the holiday, its native MP Jožef Horvat, proposed to Šarec that a strategic development partnership be set up to create an attractive business environment in which the young would like to work and set up businesses.
STA, 2 July - Speaking to the Slovenian press in Budapest in the wake of a takeover of SKB bank, the CEO of financial services provider OTP Sandor Csanyi announced organic growth on the Slovenian market, with detailed decisions still subject to an ongoing analysis.
Csanyi described the operations of SKB, which has been sold to Hungary's OTP by the French group Societe Generale, as above average.
He said the foray onto the Slovenian market was important for OTP because of its proximity and promise of good results. Csanyi simultaneously sees the Slovenian market as demanding, arguing banks will have to operate more efficiently.
Still, major changes are not planned for now at SKB, which includes staffing. If there are no mergers, mass layoffs do not make sense, he said, while arguing it was of course normal for some posts to be centralised and that the detailed plans still depended on an ongoing analysis.
Csanyi did not wish to reveal how much OTP paid for SKB, the third largest Slovenian bank when it was acquired by Societe Generale in 2001.
He would also not say how much OTP had offered for Abanka, the current Slovenian no. 3 which ended up being sold by the state two weeks ago to the NKBM bank under its new owner, US fund Apollo. He said OTP just offered too little, while he described the sales procedure as entirely transparent.
According to Csanyi, OTP wants to grow in an organic fashion in Slovenia and reach at least a 10% market share.
The company is interested in helping finance the new Koper-Divača rail track, even if Hungary as a country would not participate, while Csanyi would also not mind participating in some other state projects.
Also highlighted was Ljubljana's Emonika, the stalled train and bus passenger terminal project, with Csanyi saying the situation was presently being examined.
STA, 7 June 2019 - Slovenia has condemned a map published on an official Twitter profile of the Hungarian government that appears to suggest Slovenia and other countries had appropriated Hungarian lands in the aftermath of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.
The map "does not contribute to the strengthening of the EU values of cooperation and good-neighbourly relations. The EU has emerged to overcome the burdens of the past and hostility among nations," the Slovenian Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.
The reaction comes in response to a Tweet from @abouthungary, a Twitter profile managed by the International Communications Office of the Cabinet Office of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The tweet shows a map of Hungary in 1920 and several hands reaching in to grab territory with the caption "2/3 of the country was taken away".
The tweet was released to mark Hungarian Day of National Unity, commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, when the Kingdom of Hungary lost 72% of its territory.
Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians made big territorial gains at the time, with Slovenia for example getting Prekmurje.
The Hungarian map as well as the Italia irredenta map posted by a Trieste councillor on Facebook a few days ago also drew response from President Borut Pahor, who called for redoubling efforts for respect between nations.
"It is understandable and right that the publication of maps that could be understood as an expression of territorial claims is met with concern and rejection by the democratic public and politics," Pahor was quoted as saying by his office.
"It is due to such attempts that we must make the greater effort to establish best practice of respect and cooperation, both within national frameworks and between them," said Pahor.
"A president I will endeavour for mutual respect, cooperation and understanding to prevail in particular in relations between neighbouring nations and countries, for the benefit of peace and prosperity," he said.
The maps were also criticised by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, who said on Twitter it was "neither European nor peaceful. It is a knife in the heart of Slovenia."
Šarec also made broader reference to recent revisionist comments by outgoing EU Parliament Antonio Tajani and a motion by a far-right Italian MP to take census of ethnic Slovenians in Italy.
"The question of Hungarian and Italian maps and proposal to census Slovenians is a question for the portion of Slovenian politics that rushed to accept Tajani's 'apology'," he added.
The Hungarian move also drew condemnation from political parties, in particular on the left.
The Social Democrats (SD) and the Left, which said Slovenia had to issue a strong response, described Hungary's move as signalling "territorial designs".
The NSi demanded that the government issue a protest note against what are no longer just provocations but, in the words of MP Jernej Vatovec, "a plan, perhaps even intimidation".
The Democrats (SDS), which have close links to the Hungarian prime minister and his party, said they would not comment on the issue.
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STA, 24 April 2019 - The parliamentary committees in charge of foreign affairs and culture have condemned the interference of Hungary in the freedom of press in Slovenia.
The committees met on Wednesday, less than three weeks after Hungarian Ambassador Edit Szilágyiné Bátorfi lodged a verbal note with the Foreign Ministry after the weekly Mladina ran on its cover a caricature of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban with his hand raised in a Nazi salute and surrounded by three politicians from the ranks of the Slovenian Democrats (SDS).
Sources: Viktor Orbán from Wikimedia - Europa Pont CC-by-2.0; Mladina’s Facebook
Apart from condemning Hungary's actions, the committees also proposed that the government make sure to protect the freedom of expression when revising relevant legislation, to preserve media ownership transparency, encourage free and plural media and install safety mechanisms to prevent interferences and pressures from other countries.
Modern Centre Party (SMC) MP Gregor Perič said at the session that Slovenia had faced "unusual responses by our neighbours", from contentious statements by European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, to Hungary's note, and wire taps indicating Croatian government attempted to prevent the release of a report about who listened in on Slovenia's representatives in the arbitration process in 2015.
Attending the session, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said he would react decisively when basic values of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and Slovenia's sovereignty are under attack in the future.
He underlined the importance of nurturing good neighbourly relations, adding that the note lodged by the Hungarian ambassador had not caused a deterioration in bilateral relations.
Culture Minister Zoran Poznič meanwhile said that the ministry would draft a media legislation reform by the end of the year. He was responding to Mladina editor-in-chief Gregor Repovž, who called on the ministry to reform the legislation, above all to clearly define and separate the media from "propaganda working under the cover of media".
The session, called by the coalition parties the Marjan šarec List (LMŠ), the SMC, Social Democrats (SD), the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), was criticised as a pre-election stunt by the opposition SDS and the Left.
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