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SLOVAKIA AND HUNGARY REACH AGREEMENT AFTER LENGTHY CONFLICT

Minorities see support

A TWO-YEAR conflict over the Hungarian status law ended as the involved parties, Slovakia and Hungary, signed a bilateral agreement on mutual cultural and educational support for ethnic minorities on December 12.
As a result, foundations in both countries will administer the support for ethnic minorities living in their territories.
Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan and his Hungarian counterpart, László Kovács signed the document in Brussels on December 12.

A TWO-YEAR conflict over the Hungarian status law ended as the involved parties, Slovakia and Hungary, signed a bilateral agreement on mutual cultural and educational support for ethnic minorities on December 12.

As a result, foundations in both countries will administer the support for ethnic minorities living in their territories.

Slovak Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Kukan and his Hungarian counterpart, László Kovács signed the document in Brussels on December 12.

"We have achieved an excellent result," said Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, who also attended the ceremony.

"Not a single forint [the Hungarian currency] can end up in the pocket of ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary; money can only be made available for educational facilities," he added.

His Hungarian counterpart, Péter Medgyessy, rushed to express his contentment, saying that the means by which Hungarian state support reaches beneficiaries had only a secondary importance, as the crucial objective had been reached: ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia will be permitted to benefit from the support.

"A useful compromise has been reached," Slovak Foreign Ministry State Secretary József Berényi told The Slovak Spectator.

"In accordance with the explicit goal of the prime minister [Dzurinda], the status law will not be in effect in the territory of Slovakia. On the other hand, both ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia and ethnic Slovaks in Hungary will now be entitled to receive state support, in accordance with the bilateral agreement," Berényi said, stressing that "no one can be fully satisfied [with the agreement], but we can accept this solution."

Prior to the signature of this agreement, the Hungarian status law and its response were the cause of heated debate between officials of both governments, who concordantly considered this dispute to be the only to cast a shadow on Slovak and Hungarian bilateral relations.

Adopted in 2001, the law entitles ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Serbia-Montenegro, and Slovenia to a number of benefits, most of them available within Hungary. These include employment, travel, education, and other benefits. While most countries voiced no objections against it, Romanian and Slovak officials almost immediately expressed dissatisfaction with the law, calling it an extraterritorial measure that violates their bilateral treaties with Hungary. Earlier, Budapest had reached an agreement with Bucharest, but Slovak politicians first rejected discussing the legislation outright, saying that ethnic Hungarians living in the country would never be allowed to take advantage of its provisions.

When it was amended by the Hungarian parliament, Dzurinda said that the new law was still "absolutely unacceptable" to Slovakia. At one point, the Slovak government was considering bringing in measures to counter the effect of the law within its territory. Later, Slovak diplomats agreed to talks with Budapest on the implementation of the act.

One of the provisions of the law promised direct payments to parents who send their children to Hungarian-speaking schools. This provision topped the Slovak list of concerns, which included objections that the law had extraterritorial and discriminatory effects.

Now, however, the situation has calmed down. Even the ruling Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) had endorsed the bilateral agreement between Slovakia and Hungary.

"Basically, what we agreed on with the prime minister [Dzurinda] a year ago has come to fruition," SMK chairman Béla Bugár commented. A mixed Slovak-Hungarian committee prepared the wording of the document and the same body will keep an eye on the implementation of the agreement. The amount of money earmarked for the support of Slovaks living in Hungary is yet to be determined.

In the agreement signed last Friday there is no mention of the Hungarian status law; however, that allows Hungary to implement all the provisions of the criticized act. Both Hungary and Slovakia can support education at all levels in the other country.

The money is to be made available for the Pázmány Péter Foundation in Slovakia and the Lipa Foundation in Hungary. These organizations can distribute the support to the beneficiaries. Experts agree that an important aspect of the agreement is that it does not contain discriminatory provisions, as the only condition under which the receivers can get money from the other country is that they must study in its official language or to be engaged in its culture.

Individual university students in Slovakia can also be beneficiaries, and Hungarian support in this case will be provided via a system of scholarships, under a similar condition, that is, they should either study Hungarian culture or be educated in the Hungarian language.

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