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Slovakia/Hungary: Prime Ministers To Meet

Bratislava, 13 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The Prime Ministers of Hungary and Slovakia will have much to talk about at their meeting this week -- but Hungarian officials predict little will be resolved.

Gyula Horn and Vladimir Meciar are to hold their talks in the western Hungarian town of Gyor on Friday (15 August). RFE/RL reports from Bratislava that a number of themes of importance to the Hungarian minority in Slovakia are expected to be raised. There will also be contentious bilateral themes like the Gabcikovo dam on the Danube, and plans to rebuild a ruined cross-Danube Bridge between Hungary's Esztergom and Slovakia's Sturovo.

RFE/RL reports that the Hungarian side is anxious to discuss minority rights issues, including what they see as Slovak shortcomings, while the Slovaks would rather focus on resolving the dispute surrounding the Gabcikovo dam.

One of the minority issues is whether ethnic Hungarians should be allowed to participate in a Slovak committee responsible for implementing the 1995 basic treaty between the two countries.

When Foreign Ministers from both countries met on July 21 in Komarno, there was hope that issue was a step closer to becoming resolved. The Slovak side reportedly proposed allowing ethnic Hungarians to act as "consultants" regarding all minority issues in that committee. Under that plan however, they would not serve as members of the committee.

But Hungarian officials are now quietly saying that position is unacceptable and that Premier Horn will make this clear during the upcoming meeting.

In addition, the language issue is the very delicate, and neither side wants to budge. Breaking a 75-year tradition, Slovakia earlier this year refused to issue bilingual report cards for pupils attending Hungarian minority schools.

That decision angered Hungarian parliamentarians and resulted in an outcry from parents of pupils attending the minority Hungarian schools in Slovakia. "I don't think they can avoid talking about that," a Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman told RFE/RL on Monday. With the beginning of a new school year around the corner, that is a primary concern.

As to the ill-starred Gabcikovo dam, the Slovaks are reportedly pressing to discuss it even though it is now the subject of court proceedings at the International Court in the Hague.

Gabcikovo dam was first conceived in the 1950s as a joint flood control project and hydro-electric energy producer. The two countries actually began to build it in the late 1970s, while still under communist regimes. the project was bitterly controversial in Hungary, where opponents said it would cause heavy ecological damage by changing river flows. After the collapse of communism, the Hungarians hastily abandoned the half-finished project, leaving the aggrieved Slovaks to finish their section. The Hungarians filed suit in the International Court in 1992 to stop the Slovaks from continuing. The Slovak side of the project however is now finished, and a decision is expected on the Gabcikovo dam case in coming weeks, possibly as early as September.

Hungarian officials say they have absolutely no desire to discuss any settlement out of court and are awaiting a decision on the case from the Hague. Hungarian officials say that efforts to place the dam issue on Friday's agenda may push other issues into the background. It may be a tactic by the Slovaks to "use up" time so there will not be a possibility to discuss other issues, a Hungarian official said.

As for the Esztergom-Sturovo bridge, the gaunt remains of the old structure are still visible in the Danube. It was destroyed during the Second World War, and has never been rebuilt. The Hungarians have been pressing for a new bridge to be built, and the European Union has pledged money for its construction. But the Slovaks have hestitated, on domestic political grounds.

Considering the mix of issues involved, and the differences on both sides, Hungarian officials have expressed doubts that much will emerge from the Horn-Meciar talks. Friday's meeting was arranged after Horn telephoned Meciar in July to offer help for flood-ravaged areas in Slovakia. Meciar declined that offer, but the two premiers agreed instead to meet to discuss a wide range of matters on 15 August.