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Education law bill attacks minorities

As September's national elections heave in sight on the Slovak political horizon, the far right Slovak National Party (SNS) has proposed an amendment to the education law that threatens to ignite nationalistic emotions. The SNS hopes to push the law through during the July Parliamentary session, but tepid support from its ruling coalition partners has put the future of the bill in doubt.
The amendment proposes to reduce the use of Hungarian as a language of classroom instruction by requiring that some subjects currently taught in a minority language, like geography and history, be taught in Slovak.
Ivan Šimko, a senior member of Slovakia's largest opposition bloc, the SDK, said that the law proposal was a pre-election ploy by the SNS rather than a serious attempt to introduce educatioonal reform.

As September's national elections heave in sight on the Slovak political horizon, the far right Slovak National Party (SNS) has proposed an amendment to the education law that threatens to ignite nationalistic emotions. The SNS hopes to push the law through during the July Parliamentary session, but tepid support from its ruling coalition partners has put the future of the bill in doubt.

The amendment proposes to reduce the use of Hungarian as a language of classroom instruction by requiring that some subjects currently taught in a minority language, like geography and history, be taught in Slovak.

Ivan Šimko, a senior member of Slovakia's largest opposition bloc, the SDK, said that the law proposal was a pre-election ploy by the SNS rather than a serious attempt to introduce educatioonal reform. "From the political pont of view, this law is a classical example of a pre-election move to arouse passionate public emotions," he said. "It comes from [a party] which builds its campaign on emotional responses from the public."

But Ondrej Nemčok, the Ministry of Education's State Secretary, justified the proposal as an attempt to unify the country. "Something has to be done to make young people in the territories with mixed nationalities learn better Slovak," he said. "[This law] does not mean they have to reject their national background, it simply provides the national minority with a path towards integration into the majority."

The proposal has drawn a tough response from Slovakia's Hungarian community (see related story, this page). Béla Bugár, chairman of the Hungarian SMK coalition, said that the proposal would hold Hungarian children back in school. "If kids had to learn geography in Slovak," he said, "they would learn better Slovak, but not better geography."

Given the cool reaction of other ruling coalition parties to the newest proposal, the SNS may find itself alone in promoting the latest attack on minority rights. "The proposal has no other purpose than sharpening minority issues," said Premier Vladimír Mečiar, adding that even if Parliament passed the law, the Constitutional Court might reject it, since some of its provisions contradict the Slovak Constitution.

Eva Slavkovská, the Slovak Minister of Education and a member of the SNS, refuted Mečiar's argument. "Requiring two additional subjects to be taught in Slovak does not restrict [minority] rights," she said. Instead, she explained, the law fulfilled another article of the Constitution, according to which minorities had the right to learn the state language. "The Premier can promise anything he wants. I hope, however, that parliamentary deputies do not vote according to the Premier's orders, but in accordance with their consciences and sense of dignity."

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