One of the most persistent myths surrounding Slovak-Hungarian relations is that Hungarians living in southern Slovakia either can't or don't want to speak Slovak, the language of their country. Among Slovak politicians this myth has fueled suspicion which trickles through the media down to citizenry that Hungarians have a master plan to separate the territory of Southern Slovakia and join it to Hungary. The plain truth of the matter is that only a small percentage of Hungarians would like southern Slovakia to be part of Hungary. It is the same percentage of Slovaks who would like to purify Slovakia of "Magyars."
The greater reality is that Slovaks and Hungarians live peacefully together. In the small town of Fílakovo, 70 percent Hungarian, 30 percent Slovak, near the Hungarian border, any thought of autonomy or secession is ludicrous. There are two Hungarian schools from K-12 and two Slovak schools K-12. Intermarriges are common. In shops, women speak Slovak if spoken to though the normal language heard on the street is Hungarian. There are no racial tensions, only economic hardship, no work, no housing - the same problems that as exists in villages in any other part of Slovakia.
But fears persist on both sides. Hungarians feel that their culture and tradition are under attack by the government. They are worried that Slovakia is trying to assimilate them by limiting the use of their language and withholding state money for schools, roads, and cultural institutions. They are afraid that if they search for work in central or northern Slovakia they will be passed over because of their name or the way they speak Slovak with an accent. Sound familiar? It should.
Slovaks have been suffering from the same anxiety throughout their whole existence. They have been a legitimate state for only five years. Before that they always felt insecure compared to Czechs, harping on similar themes like Czech assimilation, all money goes to Prague etc. Even before that, they weren't even a nation, instead part of Hungary no less, that tried to purge its territory of the Slovak minority in the 1860's.
These are two minority mentalities at work today, understandably. History is a difficult yoke to bear. Even though Slovakia has won its independence it is still fighting for its survival because that is all it has ever known for a thousand years. There hasn't been time like there was in other western European countries to establish a democratic tradition of tolerance and coexistence. The Hungarian minority is so sensitive, like minorities everywhere and like the Slovaks, that any slight against it is felt as an attack on their existence. Everybody is paranoid. Improve the economic situation and the misconceptions between Slovaks and Hungarians will soon disappear.
20. Nov 1997 at 0:00