Making it to Slovenia
Getting from Hungary to Slovenia requires careful targeting. Slovenia and Hungary only share a 100-km border, and the cross-border links are minimal to almost non-existent. Only two decent roads cross the border, added to a rail link between Budapest and Slovenia`s capital Ljubljana that is only serviced once a day. My mission for today is to take that one train and to find out how much Slovenians and Hungarian know about each other.
My trip starts at Budapest Deli (South) station, which is mostly used for trains towards Lake Balaton and surrounding cities. Except this one international train to Ljubljana, which could easily have been a local commuter train, all international trains to and from Budapest terminate at the much bigger East Station (Keleti Palyaudvar) or West Station (Nyugati). Before the 1990s, Hungary`s main infrastructural links with then-Yugoslavia ran via Zagreb. Since then, little effort has been undertaken to create a proper connection with Slovenia. The construction of proper border passings took about 16 years. Ironically, these passings have become superfluous soon after their realisation. Both Hungary and Slovenia are now part of the Schengen area, which means that border controls between the countries have been slashed to a minumum since January of this year.
`The Hungarian minority in Slovenia speaks better Slovenian than most of the Slovenians do`
For reasons that exceed Western European logics, international return tickets are cheaper than single tickets. I therefore buy a return ticket to Slovenia`s second biggest city Maribor, get on the train and find myself some people to talk to ? on both sides of the border.
Attila (29) has never been to Slovenia and, also this time, he will get off the train before we reach the Slovenian border. He apologises for not being able to tell me much about Slovenia. `It`s a post-socialist country, just like Hungary`, he says. `But the living standard seems to be higher there. They are close to Italy and welcome quite some tourists in their country. Hungarians don`t really go there on holiday. They will go to Croatia instead, heading for the sea. Croatia is cheaper, both for food and accommodation. And I believe there was a time Hungarians didn`t need a passport to go to Croatia. They could just use an identity card. Maybe that has changed since Hungary joined the Schengen area.` Attila then remembers that he did cross Slovenia once, on the way from Hungary to Italy. `But otherwise, Slovenia a bit of a black hole in my geographical knowledge.`
Dori (21) has never been to Slovenia. She would like to go, but has too little time because of her studies. `If Hungarians go on holiday, they prefer to go to the West. They will go to Croatia, England, Italy or France`, Dori says, only afterwards realizing that Slovenia is located West of Croatia. `Still, when we think about Slovenia, we see it as a part of former Yugoslavia. I think it would best be compared with the Czech Republic, but richer. Hungarians do not really have a distinct reason to visit Slovenia. They either drive through it on the way to Italy, or possibly even around it and through Austria. I guess our exposure to Slovenia is limited to the handful of medical students who come to Budapest and to the ethnically mixed strip close to the border.`
Ales (29, photo), Slovenian, is on his way home from Budapest after a workshop on biotechnology. `I do not often have the occasion to travel to Hungary`, he says. `We do have a Hungarian minority along the border, but one of the peculiarities about these people is that they are better at speaking Slovenian than most Slovenes are, especially compared to the Slovenian that`s spoken in Ljubljana. I think Hungary is the neighbour we have the least problems with and the same may be true for them with us.`
Ales remarks that Slovenia and Hungary used to be part of the same Austrian-Hungarian Empire. `Slovenia was associated to Austria rather than Hungary at the time. We were on the more industrial and technological side, while Hungary was more agricultural. Even though we were both part of the communist block, Hungary was much more Sovietised than we ever were. Apart from that, our languages are completely different, and it`s hard to get by speaking English in Hungary, so that`s quite of a barrier. Of course, we also have things in common. We joined the European Union at the same moment, we are equally proud about our history, hospitable and unsatisfied with the political situation in our countries.`
Ales can`t think of many reasons why Slovenians should travel to Hungary. `Budapest would be one of them. Maybe Lake Balaton, which is not too far, but it`s not a sea either. We have our own small stretch of Adriatric Sea. If that`s not sufficient, Slovenians will head for Italy or Croatia rather than Hungary. I don`t think Slovenians are very mobile anyway. We tend to be very attached to our own country.`
Petra (24), Slovenian, has planned a 10-day trip to Hungary, starting this Sunday. `I haven`t been to Hungary very often. The name makes me think of flat grass lands, good wine and good food. I don`t think anybody will speak or understand Slovenian there, but nobody in Slovenia speaks Hungarian either so we can`t blame each other. Only in the border area, they have got a typical sort of dialect that is a mixture between the two languages. I guess it`s the only area where some people master both languages. I will try to speak English and hope that will get me by.`
Petra knows that many Slovenians used to get to Hungary to buy cheap clothes. `But the price difference is getting smaller, and the choice in Slovenia has grown much bigger in the last few years. The practice of cross-border shopping is slowly dying out`, Petra says. Still, cheap clothes are the first things Lulee (23) thinks of when I ask her about Hungary. `I don`t personally know any Hungarians, but I don`t think our countries are really that different. They used to have cheaper clothes, that`s true.`
Urska (23) has only one memory of Hungary and it`s not a very detailed one. `I crossed it 15 years ago when I went on holiday with my parents. We went to visit my grandparents in Serbia, but because of the war, we could not take the direct route through Croatia. My father is Serbian and so are my grandparents, so they simply wouldn`t have let us pass. Crossing the Hungarian border at that time was not a piece of cake either. You could count on having to unpack your car and bags before standing a chance of making it to the other side.`
Nowadays, crossing Croatia is not a problem anymore. However, my grandparents passed away, and I haven`t been to Serbia for a long time`, Urska explains. `I wanted to go to Budapest some time ago but then we changed the plans and went to Prague, simply because it turned out to be cheaper.`
Jerica (25) tells me that she was in Hungary just a few days ago: `I am studying linguistics and we are doing a project about the Slovenians living just across the border. The Slovenian stereotype is that Hungary is a bit underdeveloped compared to Slovenia. I don`t think that`s true, but I have to add that I only saw the part of Hungary just across the border.`
photo | Link
to this article