Pál Csáky, a founder of the ethnic Hungarian SMK party, has been made Vice Premier for Human Rights and Minority Issues in Slovakia. The establishment of the position, as well as the inclusion of Hungarians in the new government, has been applauded by foreign diplomats and human rights groups such as the International Helsinki Federation. At its November 7-8 meeting in Vienna, federation delegates from countries such as Croatia said that the Slovak example should be closely studied by "complicated regions," such as the Balkans.
One of Csáky's first moves in his new job was to arrange a meeting on November 6 with members of the Roma Intelligentsia for Coexistence (RIS), a Romany political group in Slovakia. The Slovak Spectator asked Csáky how he intended to tackle the 'Romany problem', as well as what the state's role should be in lessening ethnic tensions.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What is the main goal you want to reach while in office?
Pál Csáky (PC): I will attempt to deal with minority problems pragmatically and maintain a meaningful dialogue with minority representatives to help solve their problems. Another aspect of my function is to eliminate the prejudices of Slovak society against [ethnic] Hungarians, and if possible, to neutralize the effect of the so-called 'Hungarian card' [a political attempt to win support by stirring up hatred against Hungarians] which was frequently abused [by the parties of the former ruling coalition]. I will try to prove that Slovak and Hungarian democrats are able to cooperate in solving problems.
TSS: What steps will you take to decentralise the state administration and improve regional development?
PC: I think that Slovakia's system of administration is too centralised. It has to be changed and more powers have to be transferred to regional state bodies and municipal governments. I will help to devise a functional model for the devolution of power, and I will assist in putting this model into practice during my term in office.
TSS: Which legislative changes are needed to improve minority rights?
PC: The most important document will be a government programme which will set out a framework for the entire area concerning minorities. Some laws we are preparing include a minority language law and a law entrusting regional school administration bodies with certain powers. But this does not mean just giving more powers to schools using minority languages in education. It relates to all regional administration bodies in Slovakia.
I belong to an ethnic minority group in Slovakia, so maybe I understand the situation better [than would an ethnic majority Slovak], especially the more emotional aspects of certain problems. Perhaps I bring more empathy to particular tasks.
TSS: How will you approach the problems of the Romany ethnic group? What will you do to prevent Romanies from leaving Slovakia to seek asylum abroad?
PC: The government has to declare that it is willing to solve the problems of Slovak Romanies. We want to find tolerant and peaceful solutions. I have proposed an outline solution to the Romany question, and I have stated that 70% of the new programme must be prepared by the representatives of the Romany community. Without the cooperation of the Romanies, their problems cannot be solved. Financial support for the programme has not yet been negotiated with Romany officials, so I am not able to say exactly how much money would be used for this purpose.
The Romanies who recently left Slovakia discovered that their flight did not solve their economic problems, and found they had to return to their home country. We want to create conditions for them so they will be able to solve their problems at home and not abroad, because [their exodus] and the resulting visa requirement for Slovak citizens [applied by Britain and Ireland] affects all citizens of the Slovak Republic.
TSS: Will you give Romany representatives official positions in local state administration bodies and municipal governments?
PC: I will create such conditions that secure the participation of legitimate representatives of the Romany community in state and local government offices.
16. Nov 1998 at 0:00 | Ivan Remiaš