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Cabinet passes EU-friendly minority language law despite objections of Hungarian party

Without the votes of the three ministers for the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), the Slovak Cabinet approved the draft law on minority-language use on June 23. The accepted version follows the recommendations of the OSCE and also some proposals from the ethnic Hungarians' party.
Speaking for the Hungarian leadership, SMK vice chairman and Vice Prime Minister for Minorities and Human Rights Pál Csáky said that while the draft did make some concessions to his party, it did not go far enough to merit his support. Sticking largely to the issue of official communication, the draft does not govern the use of minority languages in education, culture, and media, which is the SMK's most serious concern, he said.

Without the votes of the three ministers for the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), the Slovak Cabinet approved the draft law on minority-language use on June 23. The accepted version follows the recommendations of the OSCE and also some proposals from the ethnic Hungarians' party.

Speaking for the Hungarian leadership, SMK vice chairman and Vice Prime Minister for Minorities and Human Rights Pál Csáky said that while the draft did make some concessions to his party, it did not go far enough to merit his support. Sticking largely to the issue of official communication, the draft does not govern the use of minority languages in education, culture, and media, which is the SMK's most serious concern, he said.

Csáky predicts that discussion about the law among the ruling coalition members will coninue and should improve the quality of the law during its treatment in Parliament. The bill is to go through shortened legislative procedures at the upcoming parliamentary session.

The last attempt to get over the opinion gap between the SMK and the other three members of the ruling coalition came during the almost one-hour talk between Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and SMK chairman Béla Bugár on Tuesday. However, the only result the talks brought was the reopening of the talks among the ruling coalition members on the issue.

The law is a pivotal piece of legislation because it is the last political criterion Slovakia must meet in order to be let into the first group of countries waiting for EU membership. While the Slovak Government will complete the first materials in early July for the EC assessment report which will form the basis of Slovakia's EU membership petition, Slovakia is allowed to amend the materials for the report by September. The final decision will be made at the EU Helsinki summit in December.

As Dzurinda specified before the press, the final version of the law includes also the recommendations by OSCE High Commissioner Max van der Stoel.

The SMK wants the bill to cover the current, habitual use of minority languages, as well as legal norms cancelled under Mečiar's government over 1992-1994. Its version would touch on the legal use of minority languages at weddings, burials, in broadcasting for national minorities and on the dubbing of videocassettes available in video rental shops in ethnically mixed territories. Minority residents could legally demand their language be accepted in offical communications if they represented 10% of their town's population, rather than the accepted draft's 20% limit.

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