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Parliament breaks presidential veto of the School Act

THE CONTROVERSIAL ‘textbook law’ that President Ivan Gašparovič vetoed at the end of last year was passed again by parliament on February 3. The amendment requires that the geographical names of towns in textbooks used in Slovakia's ethnic minority schools must be first referenced in the minority language, followed by the name in Slovak.

THE CONTROVERSIAL ‘textbook law’ that President Ivan Gašparovič vetoed at the end of last year was passed again by parliament on February 3. The amendment requires that the geographical names of towns in textbooks used in Slovakia's ethnic minority schools must be first referenced in the minority language, followed by the name in Slovak.

Parliament overcame the presidential veto with the support of deputies from Smer, the main coalition party. Of the 138 deputies present, 106 voted for the amendment. Representatives of the Slovak National Party (SNS) and Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), members of the ruling coalition, voted against the amendment, the SITA newswire reported. To overcome the presidential veto, 76 votes were required in the 150-seat chamber.

All MPs from the Smer party of Prime Minister Robert Fico voted to support the vetoed amendment to the School Act. The party had previously agreed on ‘free voting’ and each deputy could vote as he or she wished, according to SITA.

Fico's coalition partners in SNS and HZDS are unhappy with this action by parliament and say they will appeal the matter to the Constitutional Court with an argument that the revision is not enforceable.

While this argument is being advanced to the court, Education Minister Ján Mikolaj of SNS says he will require authors of textbooks to present evidence that the geographical names they propose to use are in common use in the Hungarian language and that they were used previously in textbooks approved by the ministry between 2002 and 2006, the Sme daily reported.

“Unless they can prove this, the names will not be [in the textbooks],” Mikolaj said, adding that in that case only the Slovak names will be used.

However, it may be that authors cannot meet these requirements as no schoolbooks were approved by the Ministry during this time span. Mikolaj blames the text of the revision for this.

“If they hadn’t written it there, there would be no problem,” Sme quoted him as saying.

The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) claims the minister is misinterpreting the text of the law. László Szigeti, the SMK deputy chairman, said Minister Mikolaj is trying to politicise the issue and that he is violating the right of minorities to use their mother tongue, Sme reported.

A revision of the law was first initiated by the SMK. Originally, the SMK had requested that textbooks used in schools for ethnic minorities should only use geographical names in the language of that minority. The revision that was passed by parliament last December came only after the Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška (Smer) suggested that such textbooks should contain geographical names in Hungarian, followed by their equivalent in Slovak.

President Ivan Gašparovič, however, refused to sign the revision into law at the end of last year and returned it to parliament for further discussion with a comment that it was in contradiction to the Slovak constitution because he considered it ambiguous and incomprehensible.

The SNS and HZDS have argued that part of the Act on Schools is not in conformity with the Cartography Act that was changed in summer 2007. Mikolaj referred to the latter law when he issued an order a few months later on how textbooks used in minority language schools should be printed. The consequence of that order was that geography textbooks for Hungarian language students were printed with geographical names only in Slovak.

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