POLITICS, especially in countries where coalition governments are the norm rather than the exception, often
seems to have little to do with improving the lives of the common people and more to do with squeezing a few
more percentage points out of the opinion polls.
This summer has seen the coalition bickering and points-scoring reach boiling point, which could lead to the
collapse of the coalition in the autumn. It seems like a good time to pour oil on troubled waters.
Enter Pál Csáky, stage-right. The deputy prime minister for European integration, deputy leader of the
Hungarian Coalition (SMK) and all-round bungler, has once again shown his skill as a politician in raising the
issue of minority rights, an issue that is unlikely to smooth the current tensions between the ruling parties.
Of course, it is not his fault, as usual. The proposal has been made by the Council for National Minorities, which
Csáky happens to chair. He was quick to distance himself from press reports surrounding the council suggestion.
And the details? The council wants to extend the right to use a minority language in dealings with officials to
communities where 10 percent of the population speaks that language, a shift from the current threshold of 20
percent (that the council opposed in 1999).
In itself the proposal is quite reasonable and would only add 150 communities to the 500 that pass the current
threshold. The majority of those are areas where the Roma language would then be able to be used.
It is unlikely to add any real burden to the administration, as most members of the currently entitled communities
do not make full use of their rights anyway. The proposed legislation would have a minimal effect in practice but
would cause major political upheavals as it did in 1999.
At that time, the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) collected almost half a million
signatures on a petition to hold a referendum on reversing the Law on Minority Language Use. President Rudolf
Schuster refused to hold the referendum on constitutional grounds.
Csáky's, sorry - the council's, proposal would not drastically change the lives of many of Slovakia's population
in itself, but it could dangerously add to the current instability for the coalition. It would have been much better
to let sleeping dogs lie and attempt to push the proposal through at a time when the government is in a stronger
In September, there will almost certainly be a vote of confidence in the deputy prime minister; perhaps it would
be wiser for him and his party if Csáky took the summer break as a good opportunity to leave the national
political stage before he is written out of the script.
24. Aug 2003 at 0:00