Symbols survive changes

THE NEW government, composed of parties that are seen as less inclined to reach for nationalist rhetoric, is expected to change the atmosphere in the country. The programme statement of the government, however, says nothing about amending the law on state symbols which the Robert Fico-led government changed earlier this year, ostensibly to promote patriotism. That step attracted massive criticism from students, minority representatives, human rights activists and the general public.

Slovaks protested against the 'patiotism act' in March.Slovaks protested against the 'patiotism act' in March. (Source: Sme)

THE NEW government, composed of parties that are seen as less inclined to reach for nationalist rhetoric, is expected to change the atmosphere in the country. The programme statement of the government, however, says nothing about amending the law on state symbols which the Robert Fico-led government changed earlier this year, ostensibly to promote patriotism. That step attracted massive criticism from students, minority representatives, human rights activists and the general public.

The amendment to the law on state symbols is expected to become effective on September 1. It requires the national anthem to be played by public broadcasters Slovak Television and Slovak Radio every evening at around midnight, as well as by schools at the start and at the end of the school year, plus before the first and last sessions of the state parliament, government meetings, and local and regional parliaments. State symbols – the preamble to the constitution, the national flag and Slovakia’s coat of arms – are to be displayed in an appropriate place in schools.

Parties which are now in the ruling coalition, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), abstained from voting in the parliament at the time. Now they, along with Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), have refused to insert the proposal of their coalition partner Most-Híd to amend the law on state symbols into the programme statement.

Prime Minister Iveta Radičová and Education Minister Eugen Jurzyca argued that there is no reason to change the law. To satisfy schools, many of whom say purchasing the state symbols that fulfil the criteria stipulated by the law will be too expensive for their empty pockets, Jurzyca promised that his ministry would not send inspectors to monitor compliance.

“I believe state symbols are equally important as company logos or wedding rings,” Jurzyca said, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Radičová suggested that the flag and the coat of arms could be drawn by children in art classes, to save the schools costs for buying new ones, which did not find much sympathy among the directors of schools who are responsible for providing the symbols on display.

Meanwhile, the students who protested against the law before it was passed in the spring now say that they are disappointed with the new government and they might protest again, perhaps on September 1.

“Why have a law to order patriotism?” the organiser of the protests Robert Mihály said in an interview with Sme. “It’s ridiculous.”

Most-Híd, which was isolated in its attempts to do away with the law, now says that they might try to change the law by way of a proposal by a group of MPs in the parliament rather than a governmental proposal.

Another pain that the government yet hasn’t found a remedy for is the law on state citizenship, which was amended only days before the parliamentary elections in reaction to changes made to Hungarian law on state citizenship in that country. Hungary made the rules for gaining state citizenship easier for ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary, a measure that caused alarm in Slovakia, where around ten percent of the population are Hungarian-speakers, and prompted the Fico govenment to pass an amendment according to which every Slovak citizen who deliberately accepts citizenship of another state can be stripped of his or her Slovak citizenship.

The government claims in its programme statement to “fix restricting legislative and political measures from the previous term, which weren’t in line with human-rights principles”, namely the Press Code, the Language Act and the law on state citizenship. SDKÚ proposes to solve the latter by not recognising Hungarian citizenship acquired by Slovak citizens, a solution that the Christian Democrats don’t agree with.

Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Rudolf Chmel is considering a bilateral agreement with Hungary to set conditions for an application of dual citizenship, which could be granted by Budapest to ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia upon their request.


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