The far right Slovak National Party wasted little time in firing its first salvo of the election campaign across the bows of the country's biggest ethnic Hungarian party. Claiming that the Hungarians had violated Slovakia's language laws in their campaign ads, the nationalists demanded that the offending commercial spots be banned from the media.
"Our program has not changed throughout [our] existence," said Ján Slota, chairman of the nationalist SNS party, at the group's first campaign rally in the southern Slovak city of Nitra on August 26. "We are doing everything for the Slovak nation."
On August 20, the SNS initiated an investigation of the Hungarian Coalition Party's (SMK) logo, which uses both Slovak and Hungarian languages. "The names [of the parties listed] are apparently in the wrong order," said Igor Švec, an SNS member of the Slovak Television Council. According to Švec, the SMK logo carries the party name first in Hungarian and then in Slovak, whereas Slovakia's language law stipulates that Slovak language titles must come first.
Švec proposed that the Council reconsider the SMK campaign logo, which the party uses in ad spots on television, billboards and other media. "Slovak Television is obliged to follow the rules of the state language law, so I would be surprised if it broadcasted something that was in discrepancy with the law," Švec said, adding that he expects the Council to withdraw the SMK election spot from its broadcasts.
Hungarian politicians, however, claimed the accusation was a traditional SNS election trick. "It proved that [the SNS] does not know the election law, according to which each party is fully responsible for the content of its whole election campaign presentations, including TV spots," said SMK Chairman Béla Bugár.
Nevertheless, at its August 20 session, STV Council passed Švec's proposal over to the State Language Section at the Slovak Ministry of Culture to adjudicate whether the language law had been violated or not. According to the wording of the law, all titles, advertisements and announcements that are used to inform people must be given in the official state language, which is Slovak. If translations are used, these must follow after the Slovak text, and must be no larger than the original.
Milan Ferko, head of the Culture Ministry's State Language Section, agreed that the SMK should have put its Slovak name before the Hungarian translation. "Putting the names in a different order, as the SMK used in its logo, is a violation of the state language law of the Slovak Republic," he wrote in an official statement.
"The name of the party has been registered at the Slovak Interior Ministry as bilingual," countered Bugár. He added that only the Interior Ministry was authorized to approve the party logo, and judge its validity.
But Švec struck back with the argument that Interior Ministry officials had simply bungled the SMK registration. "Some enthusiastic clerk at the Ministry registered [the SMK] logo, which contradicts the valid language law," he said.
The STV Council was to discuss further steps in the case sometime before September 20.
7. Sep 1998 at 0:00 | Ivan Remiaš