Slovak President calls the late Count Esterházy a fascist
Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič has labeled Count János Esterházy, the representative of the Hungarian minority in interwar Czechoslovakia, a fascist and Hitler sympathizer. In an interview for a journal published by the Slovak Union of Anti-Fascist Fighters (Slovenský svaz protifašistických bojovníků), the Slovak President also criticized the unveiling of a bust of Esterházy in the town of Košice in eastern Slovakia in honor of the 110th anniversary of his birth. The Czech Press Agency reports that his remarks have been negatively received not only in Hungary, but also in Slovakia.
Esterházy is a controversial figure in Slovakia. He was the only MP in the Slovak Parliament to vote against the deportation of the Jews in 1942. However, prior to that he reportedly agreed with other anti-Semitic measures. His advocacy of Hungarian minority rights was interpreted as working for the breakup of the Czechoslovak Republic, and after the war he was convicted by the communist regime of collaboration and of destroying the republic. His original death sentence was later commuted to life in prison; he died in Mírov Prison in 1957. His family has been unsuccessfully seeking his rehabilitation in Slovakia.
"It's wrong to erect a statue in Košice of Esterházy, who was a follower of fascism and Hitler," Gašparovič said in the interview for the most recent edition of the biweekly Bojovník (Fighter). Gašparovič has previously criticized the unveiling of statues of other controversial figures from Slovak history in the journal.
Hungarian diplomats responded with displeasure to his words, saying they do not contribute to the development of relations between Bratislava and Budapest. In Hungary the LMP opposition party criticized Gašparovič's statements, while in Slovakia the Hungarian Coalition Party (Strana maďarské koalice - SMK) also objected to them.
"Only someone who doesn't know the story of Esterházy's life or who is intentionally falsifying history could identify him with fascism," said SMK chair József Berényi, whose group, together with Most-Híd (a party in the governing coalition) represents the half-million Hungarian minority in Slovakia. SMK did not make it into parliament during the last elections. Berényi considers Esterházy a humanist who helped refugees during the war and repeatedly objected to fascism.
Esterházy's bust was unveiled in Košice this past March. The unveiling was accompanied by protests and whistling by his critics. Several days after its installation, the bust was desecrated with red paint, of which the Hungarian Foreign Ministry took notice.
Relations between Hungary and Slovakia, which was part of Austria-Hungary until the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, have long been tense. Recently they have been primarily burdened by a Hungarian law making it easier for ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary to acquire Hungarian citizenship.
Ján Slota, head of the nationalist SNS party in Slovakia, has made controversial statements about Hungary in particular. The SNS was part of the previous cabinet of Slovak PM Robert Fico.