THERE are laws or revisions to legislation that were created for the wrong reasons, proposed by the wrong people and adopted at the worst possible times. Instead of trying to paint such laws and amendments to make them bluer or greener, lighter or darker, they should just be scrapped.
Slovakia’s revision to the State Language Act, manufactured by the previous government of Robert Fico, is one such law. It stinks of efforts to attract the most nationalist votes in a stifling atmosphere in which minorities find just breathing difficult.
The government of Iveta Radičová has promised that those times are gone, as are the legislative reminders of those who ruled the country over the past four years and who never missed a chance to pour some fuel on nationalist fires when it suited their political goals. Yet current attempts by the Culture Ministry to remodel the State Language Act while retaining penalties for ‘misuse’ of the state language will keep the spirit of the previous government in society, at least in specific areas. But with a law as bad as this one, efforts to preserve sanctions may well be pointless.
Radičová has suggested that for public information which pertains to fulfilment of the basic functions of state administration, and securing citizens’ access to information or to information that might present a risk to life, failure to observe the law would justify sanctions. But Most-Híd, the governing party with the most substantial Hungarian minority support base, instead wants to have all sanctions erased from the draft. The culture minister argues that without sanctions the draft is simply toothless and these should be preserved at least as a last resort, to force violators to make corrections.
The debate around the State Language Act is not over yet and to be fair to the draft of Daniel Krajcer’s ministry, there is no doubt that simply the absence of parties such as the Slovak National Party (SNS) or even Smer guarantees that the new legislation will be friendlier to minorities than the previous version, and that some of the senseless provisions resembling speeches from the 19th century will be thrown on the legislative waste dump.
The hope is that the Radičová government, when deciding about laws that pertain to such issues as language use, will not be guided by efforts to pick up nationalist votes. The problem is that this might sometimes be hard to resist, especially when the other parties see how Robert Fico’s Smer could harvest voters departing from the Slovak National Party (SNS) after Ján Slota and his party lose what little remains of their relevance.
The government did not seem able to completely resist such sentiments when debating the fate of the Patriotism Act, and it seems that the duty imposed by the Fico government on schools to display state symbols might not simply disappear. The belief that people, like Pavlov’s dog, are conditioned by repeated stimuli – in this case, what they see most frequently – simply does not work, and making school children constantly look at state symbols will hardly make their hearts beat faster whenever they hear the national anthem.
The media, of course, is impatient and would like to see scrapped all the ill-famed legislative monsters created by the previous government. But journalists fear that some of the government’s promises might slip into oblivion and some might get modified over time.
One example that raises concerns is the draft law on electronic procurement, which was greatly anticipated by the business community, foreign chambers of commerce and advocates of transparency. The government failed to pass it on September 22, and said that the measure would be reassessed in the middle of next year. Is there any guarantee that by that time there will not be some other, more significant, issues to deal with?
There is at least one positive change approved by the Radičová cabinet: pupils at elementary schools will now learn English compulsory. This move came despite criticism from some who were quick to draw parallels with the obligatory Russian lessons under the communist regime.
But unlike Russian in the 1980s, the ability to speak English today will open up real opportunities for young Slovaks – and will also create more pressure on Slovak universities to become competitive in order to keep the best of the best studying at home. Perfect knowledge of a world language is a gift which young Slovaks will appreciate when applying for jobs and assessing their access to these jobs abroad. If the concept is effective enough, in a couple of decades it may no longer be the case that the nomination of a minister hangs on his ability – or inability – to speak English.
27. Sep 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová