Administrative Reform and the Minority Problem
The Slovak administrative reform and the plan of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition
The dictated peace after World War I led – in a peculiar way – to a trauma not among the Hungarians but the Slovakians. The consequence of this fact was that the Slovakian State enforced an administration system, which was disadvantageous for Hungarians.
From an administrative aspect, the history
Counties, provinces, regions, districts
Eight radical reforms were carried out in the twentieth century administrative
divisions of the
In 1940, the great counties returned with the first Slovak
Republic proclaimed on March 14, 1939, while the parts regained by Hungary
were arranged within ten Hungarian counties and with in these, to twenty four
districts. After World War II, or rather, the communist take over of the power,
On the basis of Law no. 221/1996 elaborated by the third Mečiar government and passed by the Parliament on July 3, 1996 – after having rejected the comments of President Michal Kováč – Slovakia was divided into 8 administrative regions and 79 districts. However, the creation of the municipality regions was not placed on the agenda.1 When explaining the territorial solutions of the administrative reform, Prime Minister Mečiar repeatedly and openly referred to its ethno-political intentions and consequences. It was regarded to be a significant aspect of the reform to divide the territories of Hungarian majority in a way that – quoting the statement of Mečiar delivered in the television on April 26, 1996 – ‘this would prevent any kind of Hungarian aspiration to autonomy once and for all.’
Without the consent of those living in the affected administrative regions, the number of districts to which settlements with a Hungarian population of more than 20% belonged, increased from 13 to 18. (Only two districts of this kind were added to the Poltár district and one to the Aranyosmarót (Zlaté Moravce) district.)
We are talking about the following districts (in parenthesis: the proportion of Hungarians and the number of villages with a Hungarian population of more than 20%):
Dunaszerdahely (Dunajská Streda) (87,25– 66)
Komárom (Komárno) (74,2% – 37)
Rimaszombat (Rimavská Sobota) (44,3 –72)
Galánta (Galanta) (41,7% – 21)
Érsekújvár (N) (41,5% – 35)
Vágsellye (Šaľa) (40,2% – 11)
Rozsnyó (Rožňava) (36,3 –32)
Tőketerebes (Trebišov) (33 % –38)
Léva (Levice) (31,6% – 53)
Losonc (Lucenec) (30,9% – 26)
Nagykürtös (Veľký Krtíš) (30,7% – 31)
Nagyrőce (Revúca) (24,6% – 16)
Szenc (Senec) (23,8% – 15)
Kassa (Košice) region (16,4% – 24)
Nagymihály (Michalovce) (13,2% – 17)
This regional and district arrangement in numerous cases corresponds completely to the phenomenon known as gerrymandering in administrative geography. It means that those in power ignore the natural characteristics of the territory to be divided for the sake of their own political purposes. They carry out the division according to their own interests of power in the crucial cases in an arbitrary manner forgetting about the criteria enforced at other parts of the country.3
The reform strategy of the Dzurinda cabinet
The new Slovak government formed in October 1998 and led by Mikuláš Dzurinda, ranked the administrative reform as a prominent issue of its program: the Dzurinda cabinet initiated the creation of legislative guarantees for local and regional self-government in the framework of a complex administrative reform. This wanted to transfer a significant part of the jurisdiction of the public administration to the municipalities and, at the same time, get rid of the districts formed during the administrative reform of Mečiar and create 12 counties instead of the 8 regions.4
In the following sections, I will examine the administrative reform undertaken in the program of the Dzurinda cabinet and prepared as a strategic program by August 1999, with respect to what influence the political debates concerning it had on the southern Slovak regions inhabited by Hungarians. The analysis stretches from the resolutions of June 2000 of the Slovak government until the adoption of the bills at the extraordinary cabinet meeting on April 1, 2001.5
In November 1998, the Dzurinda cabinet trusted one of the
representatives of the Democratic Party (DS) of the governing coalition, Viktor
Nižňanský, in the rank of government commissioner, with the preparation of
the administrative reform. Soon, Nižňanský set up his own group of experts,
which made intensive preparations for the drawing up of a reform bill that
would keep to the fore – beside the experiences of the administrative reforms
The harmonization of the principles, aims, and instruments laid down in the strategic material was the task of Ivan Mikloš, Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy. The fact that certain elements of the reform are 1-1,5 years late as compared to the originally defined plans of implementation could raise the question first of all of his political responsibility. This, however, as we will see later on, would be a much over-simplified conclusion. For example, it was in vain to plan on reaching an agreement among the members of the governing coalition by the end of 1999 the latest on one of the most delicate points of the whole reform – namely, the marking out of the borders of the new administrative units and ‘the definition of the new territorial and administrative structure of the Slovak Republic.’ The reason for this can be found in the fact that the entire reform process was dominated by the rivalry among the coalition partners and the emphasis on partisan interests. The following five factors could be found in the background of partisan rivalry:
a) insisting on the decentralisation of the competences of the state vs. restraining it;
b) concerns in connection to the growing jurisdiction of local and regional municipalities owing to the loss of importance of party politics;
c) fear of losing the voters in the countryside due to the planned elimination of the districts created with the reform of Mečiar;
d) the acceleration of the process of regionalisation caused by the administrative reform might involve the realisation of the homogeneous nation-state concept in danger;
e) the municipalities and municipal associations of the 435 settlements of southern Slovakia of Hungarian majority might develop into a territorial autonomy based on ethnicity.
Thus, on the one hand, the Dzurinda cabinet carried out the necessary steps of organisation, coordination, information policy, and codification but, on the other hand, significant differences of opinion were revealed among the members of the new coalition already at the first specific preparatory negotiation. For example, the developments of 1999 spent in the spirit of preparations, made it clear that the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) and the Party of Civil Understanding (SOP) wanted to prevent the radical modification of the reform of Mečiar (8 regions and 79 districts), for the leaders of both of the parties feared that the majority of their voters would not agree with these changes. First, they were concerned about their local administrative positions and second, they worried, and with a good reason, that – among other problems – their supporters living in the western and eastern electoral districts of Slovakia would turn away from them for good (according to the electoral map of Slovakia, the nationalist opposition parties dominate northwest and central Slovakia, while the voters of the Hungarian Coalition are from southern Slovakia).
The Dzurinda cabinet came to face the reserved behaviour of the leftist coalition partners in January 2000 for the first time, when the discussion of the reform idea had to be postponed with three months mostly because of the two parties. The material of the draft accepted in April contained the specification of those spheres of authority which the public administration had to transfer to the municipalities.7
Commissioner Viktor Nižňanský finished his draft, which demanded a symmetric model of 12 public administration and 12 municipal counties, by June 2000. The government adopted it in August 2000 and decided about the instruments it would make available for the office of Deputy Prime Minister Mikloš for the realisation of the scheme. Thereafter, the government dealt with various details of the administrative reform almost every month: the financing of the reform; the clarification of the situation of the capital and Kassa under public law; the inevitable modification of the schedule of the reform; the harmonization of the necessary amendments, etc.
In the meanwhile, bitter political struggle started among
the political parties with the above-mentioned main points constituting the
basis of the debate. The party foundation of Prime Minister Dzurinda in 2000
and the two leftist parties’ more and more frequently differing paths and
glances toward the opposition parties, brought about much tension within the
coalition. Due to the ‘whipping boy’ role intended for the SMK, nationalism
gained ground again in the common talk of
There is a lot at stake in the foreign affairs field with regard to the administrative reform. Slovakia, and first of all the Dzurinda cabinet, is floating toward a more and more difficult position in the integration policy arena given that also the reform of the administration (beside the passing of the minority language law) figures among the conditions of the successful continuation of accession talks. From this respect, the amendment of 2000 to the 1999 Slovak Constitution is of great significance for it created the previously lacking constitutional background of the administrative reform.
It would be worth dedicating a separate analysis to the question what reasons contributed to the fact that the opposition parties made every – co-ordinated – effort to use the two-week-long constitutional debate of February 2001 as an opportunity for base-toned criticism of the politics of the SMK which came close to making the political representation of the Hungarian minority and the governmental participation of the SMK impossible.
It became clear already during the ‘half-time’ self-assessment of the Dzurinda cabinet in the autumn of 2000 that the two leftist parties of the governing coalition wished to render their ‘sinking’ ship attractive and convincing in the eyes of the opposition parties and the Slovak public opinion of strong anti-minority feelings with playing down the SMK and sabotaging the governmental priorities of the party of the Hungarian minority. The opposition’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) led by Vladimír Mečiar and the Slovak National Party (SNS) led by Anna Malíková seized the opportunity when the anti-HCD forces of the coalition offered themselves and, hoping that the leftists would desert, launched rude anti-Hungarian attacks in order to try to create a new situation in the Parliament for the whole governing coalition.
Thus, the anti-Hungarian attacks can be reinterpreted within
the context of a comprehensive process of domestic politics. The main targets
of the political criticism were, naturally, the most important Hungarian claims
in connection to the administrative reform: preventing the division of the
regions inhabited by Hungarians and guaranteeing the proper Hungarian ratio
in the municipal electoral districts. The most frequent accusation against
the Hungarian ideas was that they tried to enforce the ethnic principle aggressively.
And all this in spite of the fact that the SMK emphasized that the same principles
should be applied in case of the regions of Csallóköz (Žitný ostrov) and Mátyusföld, Gömör (Gemer), Bodrogköz (Medzibodrocko), and the Ung region that were used for marking out the
Slovak regions of Árva (Orava), Liptó and the Szepesség (Spiš
region). The first ones formed natural geographic and ethno-cultural
units similarly to the latter ones. The whole Slovak public opinion was overcome
with the anti-Hungarian worries. Štefan Hríb, editor in chief of the political
weekly entitled Domino criticized the situation with a courage similar only
to that of political scientist Miroslav Kusý, political advisor of Pál Csáky
deputy prime minister who was the only one in the past years’ political journalism
to express such opinions: ‘And the government does not allow the formation
of Komárom county and the creation of other counties inhabited by a Hungarian
majority. It prefers to let them live in the territories stigmatised by the
xenophobia of Mečiar for then the “perilous minority” would remain in a secure
minority everywhere. (...) The coalition critics of Komárom county are against
its formation because they reject the ethnic aspects. However, if we look
at the map of country planning, we can ascertain at once that it was exactly
the politicians of
The attacks against Komárom county, planned to be formed from the regions of Csallóköz and Mátyusföld that were of a Hungarian majority, became perceivable to everybody and supported by the majority of the Slovak political public opinion through a general outcry and refusal. Within the governing coalition, only the representatives of the Democratic Party were willing to support the ideas of the SMK: Peter Zajac, who has resigned his seat in the Parliament since then, Ján Lángoš who was constrained to give up his office of the President of the party, and František Šebej, Head of the Parliament’s Committee for EU Accession. However, also the Democratic Party member Viktor Nižňanský, Commissioner for the administrative reform, distanced himself on several occasions from the SMK plan aiming at the formation of an independent county from the Hungarian regions.
The administrative reform of the SMK
In the next paragraphs, I will try to find an answer to the question
whether or not the communication and negotiation strategies chosen by the
SMK were indeed inadequate when it tried to create a Hungarian united front
in support of the 13th county, Komárom
The precursors of the Hungarian Coalition Party – the Hungarian
Christian Democratic Movement, the Co-existence Political Movement, and the
Hungarian Civic Party – managed more or less to develop a common standpoint
in the fundamental questions of the administrative reform process in
Naturally, the three Hungarian minority parties took a common
stand in rejecting the administrative reform of Mečiar in 1996. During the
coalition negotiations subsequent to the parliamentary elections of September
1998, the delegation of the SMK made a promise to fulfil three preconditions
as requested by the SDL. According to this, the SMK renounced in its political
program during the four-year-long term of the government even the possibility
of mentioning the supervision of the Beneš decrees, the foundation of an independent
Hungarian university, and the territorial autonomy of ethnic basis. It has
occurred many times whether or not it was wise to accept these conditions
of national-populist origin without receiving anything in exchange. Or, should
the SMK have squeezed out a promise exactly in the issue of regional municipalities
entailing a coalition support for the creation of an independent administrative
unit for the Hungarian minority of almost 3000 persons in southern
It is not hungarofobia, characteristic of the Slovak public opinion shapers and the thinking of the majority of politicians, that we have to see behind this certainly contradictory or, I would rather say, negative process. In reality, it is the administrative reforms and self-government aspirations within a given State that make up those elements of the regionalisation processes of Central and Easter-Europe, which are the most difficult ones to carry out but, at the same time, are of a minor importance with respect to the whole process. In the short and ‘mid-long’ run, it seems more important to fulfil the political, cultural, and mass psychology criteria necessary for the adoption, accommodation, and application of the regional development policy of the EU. As a part of this, neither the issue of special linguistic and cultural traits nor that of the self-government ambitions of compact ethnic regions can be ignored any more. Especially not if they form the central element of the political programs of the given minority communities.
Similarly, also the forms of regional co-operation became impossible to elude in the border regions. It is not possible or at least not worth making absolute such internal regional municipal systems which are contrary to the endeavours aiming at the revitalisation of historic and economic regions which have been split and sentenced to a peripheral existence for decades. This renders difficult both the formation of the euroregions and the access to the regional development funds.9
In this regard, it is very important that the SMK had the
power and attention beyond the mud wrestling of party politics to initiate
such a complex regional work of analysis, which could, in the long run, lay
the foundations of the party’s regional development schemes for southern
Those southern Slovakian districts, which have been formed
on purpose with the tactics of gerrymandering and, in most of the cases, from
a north-south section of the settlements of Hungarian and Slovak majority
north and south of the language border, are among the largest districts with
regard both to their population and their size. Thus, it is not an accident
that among the 79 current districts of
Within the governing coalition, the SMK proved to be the
promptest to launch initiatives in the issue of administrative reform. Last
autumn it urged the reforms several times at coalition co-ordination meetings
for the sake of the acceleration of the reform. Béla Bugár, President of SMK,
Pál Csáky, Deputy Prime Minister, Miklós Duray, Managing Vice Director, but
also the rest of the leaders of the party did the utmost to prevent the halt
in the administrative reform. The SMK was willing to conclude even such compromises
that came very near to a defeat during its activity within the government
and at the cost of several of its priorities (minority language law, the issue
of the lands of unidentified owners, the Hungarian department of the
Starting from the beginning of the year, the National Council (NC) of the party has pressed the preparatory works of the bill in several statements. The reason is that if the Parliament failed to pass the respective bills before the summer break, it would not be possible to set the date of the regional municipal elections this year. The political statement of the NC of January 13, 2001, urged on the enforcement of the principles laid down in the reform strategy of the government, that is, the transfer of certain public administration jurisdictions to the municipalities; the decentralisation of power and finances; the transformation of the public administration bodies of the districts into public specialised administrative offices; the creation of regional municipality structures.11
When it became more and more evident in February 2001 that the two leftist parties of the coalition wanted to shift the odium of the almost fatal delay of the reform to the SMK, the National Council of the party switched to counter attack with its statement of March 4, 2001: ‘The Party of Hungarian Coalition warns its coalition partners that they can bring about a governmental crisis with their behaviour of rejection. The SMK distances itself from any similar irresponsible step, which, sometimes, recalls the methods of the Mečiar cabinet. The Party of the Hungarian Coalition considers this kind of politicising not else but gambling in a period when such documents are adopted which promote the country’s accession to the EU and NATO. The SMK declares it once again that it is willing to support the administrative reform as a homogeneous process and calls on its partners to conduct constructive negotiations and strive for concensus.”12
In the middle of March, the two leftist governing parties, the SDL and the SOP, propounded it openly that the 8-district version of the administrative reform of Mečiar should be supported as opposed to the government proposal of Nižňanský, adopted by the coalition parties in June 2000. To the great astonishment of the other parties of the coalition, the leaders of the SDL did not exclude the possibility that they would ask for the support of the opposition parties in favour of the promotion of their proposal. Suddenly, it became a crucial matter for the prime minister, who found himself in an extremely difficult situation, what stand the Presidency of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition would take. If the SMK wanted to insist on its own 12+1 ‘Komárom’ county version, the ministers of the three stubbornly opposing parties could have easily wrecked the bill and with it, the prime minister.
Seeking a compromise or going into opposition
The Presidency of the SMK surprised many when – giving up its ‘Komárom county’ idea – it advised the support of the ‘12 county’ version of the administrative reform to the representatives of the party and to its ministers in the coalition council and at the cabinet meeting. Only Pál Csáky, absent from the Presidency’s meeting, announced a dissenting opinion in connection to the decision: ‘I urge every member of the SMK to be moderate and rational. This is a strategic issue which is going to influence our lives for 40-50 years.’13
The position taken up by the Presidency of the SMK contributed to the following result to a great extent: of the 20 ministers present at the 150th extraordinary meeting of the cabinet of April 1, 12 voted for the ‘12 county’ version, while 8 for the ‘8 county’ version. At the press conference subsequent to the extraordinary cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Dzurinda greatly appreciated the decision of the Presidency of the SMK and he concluded that the SMK ‘was able to step over its own shadow.’ At the same time, he reacted quite irritable at the proposition that could be heard from Pál Csáky in one of the commercial televisions, and he made it clear in connection to the contradictory behaviour of the two leftist parties of the government: the prime minister would soon have to make use of the institution of the vote of confidence to clear the air around the coalition.14
At last, the extraordinary cabinet meeting pledged its support to the symmetric model of 12 public administration and 12 corresponding municipal administrative units, and passed two bills: the bill on regional municipalities and the bill on the regional municipal elections. It also trusted the responsible ministers to propose the amendments required because of the new bills before May 31 so that they could be adopted by the cabinet and submitted to the Parliament before the summer break.15
In the weeks after the extraordinary cabinet meeting, the situation became more entangled as President Schuster, at the initiative of the SOP, offered to mediate for the sake of political coordination and adoption of another, this time asymmetric solution which would be acceptable by many. Also the coalition council of the governing parties discussed this option and although every participant promised silence for the duration of the negotiations, the planned 4+12 model (4 regions and 12 counties) came to light and induced further debates. The decision of the Presidency of the SMK it brought in connection to the administrative reform on March 23 could cause problems – the most severe clash within the party of the period after the unification of its three predecessors.
Eleven of the fifteen members present at the meeting were in favour of the draft, which called on the ministers of the party to support the '12 county' model in the government. Subsequently, Miklós Duray who remained in the minority, accused the ones accepting the '12 county' version in public with intertwining economic interests. Also Pál Csáky, absent from the meeting, joined the opinion of Miklós Duray, which was understood by many as the declaration of the presidential ambitions of Csáky.16 The strained situation, evolved among the leaders of the party, led to further conflicts at the meeting of the NC on March 31. The National Council examined once more the possibilities of the ministers and the representatives of the party but instead of the disentanglement of the situation, the disputes of the leadership continued. Many of the NC members voted against the draft worrying about the interests of the Hungarian population of their region, while others voted no following the example of Miklós Duray.
Pál Csáky answered the attacks against him – that he, quoth he, left the moderate group led by Béla Bugár and joined the radicals of the NC – like this: ‘It was not me to change my opinion but the NC to change theirs, since the general assembly of the party had decided earlier that the splitting up of the six districts inhabited by Hungarians would not be acceptable for the SMK.’17
The ‘12 county’ bill accepted at the extraordinary cabinet meeting of April 1 with the help also of the ministers of the SMK, can be submitted to the Slovak Parliament before the summer break most probably through procedure of priority. The fate awaiting it there is next to impossible to foretell, as beyond the unanimous rejection of the opposition parties, also the two leftist parties of the government and the representatives of the SMK are expected to submit amendment proposals which are not compatible with the '12 county' version.
József Kvarda, Vice-President of the SMK responsible for
municipal work, was deliberating at the beginning of April upon making use
of the independent motion a representative could submit: ‘It is difficult
even to imagine what to expect at the Parliament as Dzurinda uses us as a
battering ram against the two other partners. Whether the party authorizes
me or not, I am going to submit motions for amendment. I am going to present
the county by the
Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda published his opinions on the administrative reform on his personal homepage, under the timely political issues heading in April 2001. He set a self-confident schedule for the 2001–2002 reforms: according to the prime minister, the government would launch the decentralization of administrative jurisdictions and the necessary funds after the parliamentary elections of early summer. Afterwards, in the autumn, it would prepare the regional municipal elections planned to be held at the end of 2001. The elected regional parliaments would assume their jurisdiction and receive the necessary 30 billion corona budget funds in January 2002. According to the optimistic schedule of the Slovak Prime Minister, the administrative reform could take effect before the following parliamentary elections.
Very few trusted a close realisation of the administrative
The Hungarian community of
The administrative reform – if any of its elements will be
realised in practice at all – will have a much smaller effect in
On the history of the administrative reforms in 20th century see
Kocsis, Károly, Közigazgatási változások Szlovákiában [Administrative changes
On the ratios and settlement figures of the Hungarian minority in the districts
created in conformity with the administrative reform of Mečiar, see Lanstyák,
István, A magyar nyelv Szlovákiában [Hungarian Language in
3 Bakker, Edwin, op. cit. pp. 105-107.
4 Vládny program vlády Mikuláša Dzurindu z roku 1998. www.government.gov.sk; (The printed version of the Internet sources can be found in the Archives of the Minority Studies Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences). Szarka, László, A szlovákiai Magyar Koalíció Pártjának kormányzati szerepvállalásáról [On the government participation of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition]. Regio (11) 2000. 4. pp. 122-149.
The strategic material appeared also in a Hungarian-Slovak bilingual version:
Neszméri, Sándor (Ed.), A Szlovák Köztársaság közigazgatási reformjának
stratégiája – Stratégia reformy verejnej správy v Slovenskej republike
[Administrative reform strategy of the
6 Ibid. pp. 4-5.
7 Reforma verejnej správy. Home page of President Mikuláš Dzurinda:.
The author criticises both the portrayal of Hungarians as enemies which characterises
Slovak politics even today and the political ‘capitalists’ who profit from
it, and attributes the common roots of hungarophobias to the unprocessed residues
of Trianon: ‘Our Hungarians had to acquiesce in the loss of their homeland
after Trianon. From the prospect of 80 years, we can say that they did. However,
the Slovaks did not. The majority still cannot understand the situation of
the Hungarians. As if they felt that Trianon awarded to
10 Regióny južného Slovenska – správa o sociálnoekonomickej situácii. .
11 The declaration of the National Council of the SMK. Pozsony, January 13, 2001.
12 Position statement of the National Presidency of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition on the issue of the administrative reform. March 4, 2001.
13 The separate opinion of Csáky. Új Szó, March 27, 2001. p. 1.
14 Mimoriadne 150. zasadnutie vlády. 1. apríla 2001. . See the opinion of Pál Csáky expressed in a program of TV Markíza and published in a paper of Pozsony: Národná obordoa, April 2,2001.
15 Reforma verejnej správy. Home page of President Mikuláš Dzurinda: .sk;
It turned out that the majority of
the members of the Presidency pf the SMK voted for the ‘12 county’ version
for two reasons: first, they wanted to avoid that the ‘8 county’ version,
which the opposition favoured, be placed on the agenda of the Parliament as
an alternative adopted by the cabinet; second, Prime Minister Dzurinda promised
that two districts of Slovak majority from Nagyszombat county and one from
Zemplén county would be transferred to counties indifferent from the point
of view of the Hungarians. According to the decision of the cabinet adopted
on April 1, the districts of Szenic and Bazin would go to Pozsony county and
Varanno district to the
16 Hríb, Štefan, Már a magyarjaink is? [Our Hungarians, too?] Új Szó, April 19, 2001. p. 2; Mindkét fél a jót akarja. Bugár Béla, a Magyar Koalíció Pártja elnöke: az MKP Országos Tanácsa még nem a reformról döntött [Both parties mean to do good. Bugár, Béla, President of the Party of the Hungarian Coalition: it was not the reform that National Council of the SMK decided upon]. Ibid. April 7, 2001. p. 5; Vélemények és ellenvélemények [Opinions and counter-opinions]. Ibid. April 3, 2001. p. 5.
17 Ibid. Pál Csáky did not try to conceal that he had information about the fact that one or another NC members had indeed economic interests, namely in the Transpetrol company.