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Monday, 12 March, 2001, 21:15 GMT
Storm over ceremony for wartime count
The Hungarian parliament overlooking the River Danube
Budapest-Bratislava relations hit troubled waters
A number of Slovak MPs have attended a Hungarian ceremony in honour of controversial wartime politician Count Janos Esterhazy despite the Slovak government's continuing refusal to rehabilitate him.

Count Esterhazy, who was sentenced to life for treason after the war for his activities in Slovakia, has already been rehabilitated by both the Czech Republic and Russia.

Photo of Count Janos Esterhazy
The war has not ended for Janos Esterhazy
The count is on record for his lone opposition to the deportation of the Jews in the wartime Slovak parliament.

The commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth challenges Slovakia's view that he displayed a pro-Nazi stance.

The debate has also prompted renewed concern over the rights of minorities, which remain a central pillar in EU accession criteria.

Life sentence

Count Esterhazy, an ethnic Hungarian, was sentenced in 1947 by the Czechoslovak National Court to life imprisonment for treason, having allegedly supported Hungarian claims on Czechoslovak territory.

He was imprisoned in the Soviet Union and later in today's Czech Republic, where he died in 1953.

My father always wanted the same rights for everyone

Alice Esterhazy-Malfatti

Slovak Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky said that Count Esterhazy had become the target of "fabricated accusations made by the Communists after World War II."

The count's daughter, Alice Esterhazy-Malfatti, said that her father had "always wanted the same rights for everyone" and "did not want to think in terms of peoples' different power systems".

Slovak protest

Slovak Christian Democratic MP Frantisek Miklosko said that Slovaks and Hungarians had lived together in the region for 1,000 years and "must continue their lives in this spirit."

The ceremony at the Hungarian parliament called for the peaceful co-existence of all the peoples living along the Danube.

Alice Esterhazy-Malfatti speaks on Hungarian TV
Esterhazy's daughter maintains he was innocent

Slovakia had warned that the ceremony would do nothing to help improve ties - in sharp contrast to the thaw in relations in recent years.

The Slovak National Party even accused the MPs of "openly supporting the idea of irredentism and the revision of Slovak borders" and described Count Esterhazy as a man "who strove to liquidate Slovakia".

But Bela Bugar, chairman of the Hungarian Coalition in Slovakia, criticised Bratislava's refusal to rehabilitate the count, saying he had, for example, defended the rights of the Slovak minority in wartime Hungary.

Hungarian President Ferenc Madl said for his part that Count Esterhazy's example should prompt people to "guarantee the equality of minorities in Hungary to the fullest possible extent".

He also called for Hungarians living abroad - including Slovakia's large minority - also to be guaranteed equality.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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