Hugo Grotius
Egyetemes történet
Magyar külpolitika
Nemzetközi jog
Nemzetközi politika





HUGO GROTIUS (Huig de Groot), a modern természetjogi felfogás és a modern politikai irodalom egyik megteremtője, aki a természet-jogon alapuló nemzetközi jog alapjait fektette le. »»



Past wrongs should not haunt in Central Europe

The first time in its eleven years of its existence, the group known as the Visegrád Four – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – has captured frontpage attention in European newspapers. In a hearing of the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament on February 20, 2002, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was asked by a German deputy about his views on the so-called Benes decrees. Those were a series of discriminatory measures introduced in 1945 by the president of the by now defunct Czechoslovakia against the Germans and Hungarians living in his country. Orbán gave a calm, measured answer: "It is true that the excellent relationship between Slovakia and Hungary did not make it necessary to bring up this matter, and it would not have been appropriate, since we expect that joining the EU will automatically mean that the Czech Republic and Slovakia would erase the Benes decrees. These are such remnants of the twentieth century that should not be carried over into the twenty first!" Then he added, as an explanation and show of friendly intentions, that the Hungarian government supported the admission of both Slovakia and the Czech Republic into the EU.

Orbán’s Czech and the Slovak colleagues took umbrage and cancelled their participation in the scheduled meeting of the four prime ministers. Observers on both sides of the Atlantic started burying the cooperation itself. More sober voices have come to prevail since then. The Hungarian foreign minister reassured everyone thatHungaryhad no intention of connecting the issue with admission to the European Union. Both the Czech and the Slovak foreign minister stated that their countries were ready to hold all the other upcoming meetings of the four countries and will continue to work closely together. Then what was this tempest in a teapot about?

Central Europe, roughly identical with the territory of the one-time Habsburg (between 1867 and 1918 Austro-Hungarian) Monarchy, was in history the region of smaller states struggling to maintain their independence vis-a-vis the nearby great powers:Germany, Russia, and for half a millennium the Ottoman Turks. Often they were not entirely innocent victims of the ancient trick of „divide and rule,” exercised most adroitly recently by both Hitler and Stalin. The head of the exiled Czechoslovak government, Eduard Benes, made a deal with Stalin in 1943 (contrary to the agreed policy of the Allies), which gave him the green light to get rid of the three million Germans and close to one million Hungarians, who were made citizens of Czechoslovakia (against their will) in the 1919/20 peace treaties. At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945 the Allies agreed to the expulsion of the Germans but not to that of the Hungarians. Benes, now again President of the restored Czechoslovakia, starting in April 1945, launched a campaign against the unwanted minorities. A series of decrees stripped the Germans and the Hungarians of their citizenship and civil rights, confiscated their property, and started their deportation to Germany and Hungary. While by the end of 1945 practically all the Germans were “transferred,” the expulsion of only a portion of the Hungarians was approved by the Allies. Nevertheless by force of the “Benes edicts” they lost their job and pension, their bank accounts were frozen, the right to use Hungarian in the streets and even in their churches was denied, all schools using the Hungarian language were closed and their teachers expelled from the country, Hungarians were banned from all institutions of higher education, and tens of thousands were deported to the territories evacuated from the Germans. These measures remained in force until 1948, but were never repealed, and the land and other properties confiscated from the Hungarians were never returned or compensated for.

In 1990, with the collapse of Communism, many feared that the problems of the past, once removed from the deep-freezer of communism, will again come to the surface. In Central Europe (unlike in Yugoslavia) none of that happened. In fact the close collaboration of the politically and economically most advanced countries was launched in 1991 at the 14th century Hungarian royal see, Visegrád, where the Kings of those countries once met to coordinate their policies. That association was the positive alternative of all that went wrong in inter-state relations in the inter-war period. The first visible result was the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in July 1991, followed by the association agreement with the European Community. While in the mid-1990s the cooperation faded somewhat, it was the initiative of newly elected Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán in 1998 that gave a new vitality to this association. After eleven years of cooperation we have a sound framework and mutual trust needed to compose our differences. We should be able to discuss now those aspects of our recent history that need airing and correction. Settling differences is better than denying and suppressing them, which was the Communists’ way of dealing with ethnic tensions. Our discussions should prove that we are now mature enough and friends enough to deal with unpleasant, even tragic memories.   

However difficult Hungary and Hungarians beyond our borders find it to live with remnants of past injustices, we continue to work for productive relations with our neighbors, we are pledged to maintain the Visegrád association. The decrees are a matter of history, a remnant of the past century, which we should leave behind as Europe becomes unified.  What we would like to see, however, is the recognition that the principle of “collective guilt” is incompatible with fundamental human rights. We should not have skeletons in the closet. Our Visegrad community should be able to exorcise the ghosts of the past.



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