Thousands of Slovak ethnic Hungarian pupils handed back their year-end reports on June 30 in a massive protest against government moves to restrict the use of their mother tongue at schools.
"We are not pleased by the constant need to protest, but we don't have many other opportunities to voice our disagreement," said Rudolf Mezes, head of the Association of Hungarian Parents. "If this trend does not stop now, then where could it lead?" he asked.
Mezes continued that according to preliminary estimates, between 30 and 50 percent of ethnic Hungarian pupils handed their Slovak-only report cards back to their schools after receiving them at the end of the school year on June 26. "There are schools where 90% of pupils did this, but also schools where only 10% protested," he said.
Slovakia has a 500,000-strong ethnic Hungarian minority representing around 10% of the population. Nationalist sentiments, suppressed under Communism, have resurfaced on both sides over the past several years. A deep mistrust undermines the relationship between ethnic Hungarian representatives and the populist-nationalist government of Premier Vladimír Mečiar.
Recent protests erupted after the Education Ministry ordered all schools nation-wide to issue official year-end school reports in the Slovak language only. Ethnic Hungarians claimed it was part of a wider campaign designed to make it impossible for schools in ethnically mixed areas to use both Hungarian and Slovak. Education Ministry officials declined to comment.
Last month, the Slovak National Party, which in the cabinet holds the Education Ministry, proposed an amendment to the education law, which would reduce the number of subjects that can be taught in Hungarian. According to the draft, ethnic Hungarian pupils must learn subjects such as history or geography in Slovak only, while their curriculum and textbooks would need prior approval by the ministry.
On June 12, thousands of ethnic Hungarian pupils stayed away from schools all around southern Slovakia in protest of the amendment. "Out of 695 pupils, only four came to school," reported Karol Krecskó, the headmaster of one Hungarian primary school in the town of Galanta.
On the same day, some 4,000 demonstrators braved rainy and windy conditions in the center of Galanta to voice their protest. The peaceful demonstration was addressed by László Pek, deputy head of the Slovak Association of Teachers. "We protest against and reject the idea that we are considered second-class citizens," he said. "Our Hungarian community is also an essential part of the Slovak state. We want peace and calm. We want to stay in our motherland [Slovakia] as citizens with ethnic Hungarian nationality, [but] we demand that our children receive a full education in their mother tongue."
Education and language rights are sensitive subjects for ethnic Hungarians. The European Union has cited Bratislava's treatment of its Hungarian minority as one reason for not including Slovakia in the first group of countries to begin accession talks.
16. Jul 1998 at 0:00 | Peter Javurek