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Minority Language Law passed after emotional seven-day debate

Overcoming strong objections from the political opposition and dissatisfaction from the SMK Hungarian party, parliament adopted the long-debated minority language law July 11 in the final hours of the 17th session of the Slovak Parliament.
Of the 89 deputies present at the vote, 70 voted in favor of the draft, 18 were against and one abstained. In the preceding week-long debate, 130 of the total 150 deputies took the floor and delivered over four hundred factual remarks.

Overcoming strong objections from the political opposition and dissatisfaction from the SMK Hungarian party, parliament adopted the long-debated minority language law July 11 in the final hours of the 17th session of the Slovak Parliament.

Of the 89 deputies present at the vote, 70 voted in favor of the draft, 18 were against and one abstained. In the preceding week-long debate, 130 of the total 150 deputies took the floor and delivered over four hundred factual remarks.

The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) strongly opposed the bill, while the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), representing the largest minority in Slovakia, submitted 20 amendment proposals to the bill, none of which were incorporated into the final wording.

The bill that was passed guarantees the use of minority languages in official contacts with state bodies only in those cases where the minority group makes up 20% of a particular municipality (See Document, Page 7). That leaves 100,000 citizens of minority decent in 158 municipalities without the right to use their native language in official contacts.

The SMK asked that the law guarantee the use of minority tongues in other areas of public life such as schools, culture, and media. None of these considerations were incorporated into the final bill.

The SMK is not entirely satisfied with the law because it "does not alleviate the negative impact of the existing state language law," read the party's official statement on the approved draft. That law was implemented by the government of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar in 1996 and essentially required Slovak to be used in all walks of public life.

Deputy Prime Minister for Legislation Ľubomír Fogaš, who presented the bills in Parliament on behalf of the Cabinet, said before the final vote that the fundamental concept behind the draft is that the Slovak language should remain the official state language and play an integrating role in society. Fogaš opposed SMK attempts to modify the draft in a way that would make Hungarian a second official language.

SDK deputy Ján Budaj and others in the ruling coalition considered the bill a success in the lasting effort to find a minority language law expected by the people and foreseen in the Constitution. The law was considered the last major hurdle Slovakia had to jump to be a possible EU front-runner, and this law should be strong enough to satisfy the EU, Budaj said.

The HZDS is continuing to circulate a petition calling for a referendum on the use of the state language in official communication and a ban on the privatization of strategic companies. The petition allegedly has more than 430,000 signatures. But government lawyers say that the petition could not lead to a referendum because a referendum about enforcing human rights would contradict the Slovak Constitution.

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