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New Slovak language law does not comply with European standards.

Michael Gahler MEP
European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee

Press Release 09/07/2009

Slovakia's new state language law, which was approved just recently by the Slovak Parliament, does not correspond to European standards, but leads to a discrimination of minority languages. This was pointed out today by Michael Gahler MEP, Vice-Chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. With this law, the use of minority languages would actually be criminalised in certain areas. It would not only be completely disproportionate, but would also lead to absurd situations, in a cultural event, for example, where only minority speakers are present, the Slovak language would have to be used first. "Slovakia is thereby violating commonly respected standards in the EU and is disregarding respective recommendations of the Council of Europe, which foresee the extended use of minority languages", the German MEP criticised.

The socialist-nationalistic government in Bratislava has thus proved again that it is not interested in the real co-existence of ethnic groups in the country and apparently does not consider itself bound to European values: "The swaggering about 'threats from the other side of the Danube' - a justification which was used by Prime Minister Fico defending the law last Sunday on Slovak State television - is without precedent. Mr Fico and his coalition partners have yet neither mentally nor politically arrived in Europe whereas the previous Christian-Democrat government had already proved that problem-free relations between ethnic groups in Slovakia are possible".

It goes without saying that national languages are to be respected in the European Union. This must be equally applied in all EU Member States with regional languages or minorities. It would be extremely odd if a state tried to forbid or force citizens to use specific languages at specific occasions. "Slovakia risks discrediting itself as an EU member and becoming a totalitarian state again if the new provisions are consistently applied. A modern and open Slovakia communicating and cooperating closely with its neighbours in the centre of Europe would be the better alternative for this country and its citizens. However, this can hardly be expected from the present Slovak government coalition", Gahler concluded.

(Translation from the original German)

For further information:

Michael Gahler MEP, Tel: +32-2-2847977

Knut Goelz, EPP Group Press Service, Tel: +32-479-972144


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The Economist

Hungary and Slovakia

Frost bite

Aug 27th 2009 BRATISLAVA

From The Economist print edition

Icy relations between Hungary and Slovakia turn even frostier

INSISTING on good manners does not end quarrels, but over time it can make them obsolete. That was the recipe the European Union applied to its new members in 2004. For Hungary and Slovakia, at least, it is no longer working.

The latest spat came on August 21st, when Slovakia stopped the Hungarian president, Laszlo Solyom, from crossing its border. On an ostensibly private trip, he planned to unveil a statue of St Stephen, the first king of Hungary, in the predominantly Hungarian city of Komarno, in southern Slovakia. This was not just a diplomatic snub, but also a breach of EU rules on freedom of movement.

Slovaks are prickly about Hungary, which they see as an unrepentant former imperial power (“a thousand years of oppression” is a common phrase). St Stephen is seen as an unpleasant magyariser and Mr Solyom’s activities as revanchist. Hungarians dismiss this as paranoia. What they mind about is the rights of compatriots stranded by the dismemberment of Hungary after the first world war. Hungarians form sizeable minorities in Romania and Serbia; in Slovakia they are a tenth of the population. Slovakia has come under particular scrutiny since the hardline Slovak National Party joined the ruling coalition in 2006. In July the government passed a language law to promote Slovak that Hungarians see as discriminatory.

Condemnation of Mr Solyom’s planned visit came from Slovakia’s president, prime minister and foreign minister. All insisted that it was the date they objected to most. August 21st is the anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion that crushed the then Czechoslovakia’s “Prague spring” in 1968, and Hungary was one of the Warsaw Pact countries that took part.

That excuse seems flimsy. But Hungary’s claim that St Stephen is part of the region’s common heritage might be stronger had any Slovak dignitaries been invited to the statue’s unveiling. Komarno has declined to find a prominent place for statues of St Cyril and St Methodius, revered by Slovaks and other Slavs for their missionary work in the ninth century.

Outsiders find it hard to have an influence. The European Socialists temporarily suspended the membership of the Smer-SD party led by the Slovak prime minister, Robert Fico, but nobody seemed to care. The EU has not taken a stance on the language law. Some hope that things will improve as the fortunes of Jan Slota, the Slovak National Party leader, fade. He specialises in inflammatory attacks on Hungarians (and gypsies and Germans) and some of his supporters are racist.

Scandals are indeed catching up with Mr Slota’s party. Mr Fico recently deprived it of the environment ministry, one of the three cabinet portfolios it holds. But Mr Slota is unlikely to take his party out of government altogether. And the row with Hungary suggests that Mr Fico is all too ready to play the nationalist card himself.

That may not make a huge difference now. But if the Hungarian conservative leader, Viktor Orban, wins the election that is likely next year, Slovakia may find its needling meets a more vigorous response. It is easy to stir up rows based on old grievances—far harder to calm them down.

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European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages

Anger as Slovak language law comes into force

Wednesday, 02 September 2009

Thousands of ethnic Hungarians have demonstrated in Slovakia inprotest against a new law that limits the use of national minority languages there.

A rally yesterday in the south-western town of Dunajska Streda attracted over 10,000 protesters, who gathered to show their anger over the new legislation. A smaller rally attended by MEPs was held in Brussels outside the Slovakian embassy.

The State Language Act, which came into force on 1 September, makes Slovak the mandatory language to be used by all civil servants, including teachers and doctors, in their official capacity. Any public official caught flouting the law will face a €5,000 fine - the equivalent of nearly a year's average pay in Slovakia,

The Hungarian-speaking national minority, who make up 10% of the Slovakia’s population, say the language discriminates against them and contravenes EU and international human rights laws.

Only Slovak can now be used in public offices, and in institutions like schools and hospitals. The Hungarian government wants the law repealed and has turned to international human rights organisations for help.

The Hungarian and Slovak prime ministers are due to meet next week, to try to defuse worsening relations.

More than half a million ethnic Hungarians live in southern Slovakia which, before the 1920 Treaty of Trianon was part of Hungary. They regard the new law as the latest in a series of crackdowns by the Slovak government against their culture.

Peter Pazmany, of the opposition ethnic Hungarian Coalition Party in Slovakia, said the law: "makes no sense... [it] only creates tension between people who have lived peacefully side by side".

In terms of language planning the law is insidious acting to assimilate national minorities and to eventually eradicate their languages. Its function will be to intervene in an individual’s language choice forcing people to use the Slovak language instead of their mother tongue. It undermines the use of the national minority language in nearly all linguistic domains.

The protests over the new law followed a row last week, when Slovakia barred the Hungarian president from making a visit. President Laszlo Solyom had planned to visit to unveil a statue of the first Hungarian king, Saint Stephen. Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said the plans were a provocation to his nation.

Although both languages are recognised in some areas of Slovak life, relations have worsened since its government brought the extreme right wing Slovak National Party, known for its harsh rhetoric against national minorities, into its ruling coalition. (Davyth Hicks, Eurolang 2009)

* * *


EU justice commissioner sides with Hungary over Slovak language law


The EU's justice commissioner is sympathetic to Hungary's view of the Slovak language law and shares Hungary's opinion of it in a number of respects, Foreign Minister Peter Balazs told Hungarian journalists after talks with Jacques Barrot.

"I asked him, too, to represent this view" said Balazs.

At the talks, Balazs took up the issue of Slovakia's denial of entry to President Laszlo Solyom with Barrot, who is the European Commission's vice president.

Barrot advised the Hungarian government to turn to the EU commissioner responsible for the diversity of languages, Leonard Orban (Romanian).

"This is what we will do," said Balazs, adding that Hungary wants changes to be made to the discriminatory law which came into force on September 1.

He said that the Swedish EU presidency was closely following developments and was putting "moral pressure on both countries" to resolve the issue.

Among the European forums concerning themselves with language-law issues, the most relevant was The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Its head, Knut Vollebaek, has already identified three problems with the law: the majority language is protected at the expense of the minority language, the law infringes too deeply into everyday life and it provides for punitive measures, he said.

* * *


Int'l intellectuals protest against Slovak language law

2009-08-30 12:53 BJT

BUDAPEST, Aug. 30 (Xinhua) -- Twenty-four intellectuals, including clergies, artists and researchers from many parts of the world, issued a joint statement on Saturday protesting against Slovakia's newly amended language law which restricts the use of all languages in that country other than Slovak, local wire service MTI reported.

The law, signed by Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic last month, stipulates that only Slovak language can be used in most public offices and institutions. Repeat offenders must pay a fine of up to 5,000 euros (7,125 U.S. dollars).

"It is a birthright of all people to communicate with others who speak the same language in their common tongue. Restricting this and, in particular, punishing it is one of the most serious violations of human rights, one we believe all freedom-loving people must protest against," the statement said.

It called on European public opinion to become vocal in protesting the Slovak law and the decision-makers of Europe and the North Atlantic to halt the worrisome process before tension increases.

"We believe in a Europe whose citizens can live freely, free of fear and with no impingements on their human dignity," the statement added.

It also urged the prevention of tensions between nations and ethnic groups, criticizing the recent language law amended by Slovakia's parliament.

The issue of Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian minority has long been a source of tension between Slovakia and Hungary. Hungarian accounts for about 10 percent of Slovakia's population.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said that his country respected the rights of national minorities and that Hungarian politicians should not interfere with Slovakian affairs.

Signatories to the statement include Jozsef Palinkas and E. Szilveszter Vizi, former and current presidents of the Hungarian Academy of Science, Roman Catholic Archbishop Balazs Babel and Calvinist Bishop Istvan Bogardi Szabo, Australian historian Ann Major, American history professor Charles Ingrao of Purdue University, Israeli poet Yaakov Barzilai and American literature professor Ivan Sanders of Columbia University.

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