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Minority languages debate heats up

A DRAFT amendment to the law on the use of minority languages has heated up the air in parliament and once again gifted nationalist politicians with a stage on which to vent their spleens. The ruling coalition is seeking deputies’ support to change the rules which determine when a minority language can automatically be used in official communication alongside Slovak. The amendment would lower the ‘quorum’ of minority-language speakers required for this in any given municipality from the current 20 percent to 15 percent of the population. Most-Híd leader Béla Bugár said that once approved, the legislation, which is being proposed by Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights Rudolf Chmel, a nominee of Most-Híd, will bring Slovakia closer to the more positive examples in Europe.

Rudolf Chmel (Source: TASR)

A DRAFT amendment to the law on the use of minority languages has heated up the air in parliament and once again gifted nationalist politicians with a stage on which to vent their spleens. The ruling coalition is seeking deputies’ support to change the rules which determine when a minority language can automatically be used in official communication alongside Slovak. The amendment would lower the ‘quorum’ of minority-language speakers required for this in any given municipality from the current 20 percent to 15 percent of the population. Most-Híd leader Béla Bugár said that once approved, the legislation, which is being proposed by Deputy Prime Minister for Human Rights Rudolf Chmel, a nominee of Most-Híd, will bring Slovakia closer to the more positive examples in Europe.

“The amendment is not bestowing any extra rights on ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia but is improving the life of all citizens of Slovakia,” Bugár said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

Nevertheless, Slovak National Party (SNS) boss Ján Slota immediately showered Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarians and ruling coalition politicians who have supported the legislation with a selection of his now-familiar insults. His former SNS colleague, who is now an independent deputy, Anna Belousovová called the law “not only wrong but even dangerous”.

Bugár said he was aware that submitting a draft pertaining to minorities always invites “incredible speculation”, noting ironically that there are many people in Slovakia who think that they understand football and the problems of national minorities.

On March 31, as The Slovak Spectator went to print, there were still 10 deputies waiting to speak in the parliamentary debate on the amendment. However, the ruling coalition was determined to push the law change through parliament.

The draft amendment was altered from its original form before it reached parliament. Originally, Chmel had proposed to lower the ‘quorum’ to 10 percent of the local population, but the ruling coalition compromised on 15 percent.

A 15-percent threshold is expected to introduce bilingualism into more than 70 additional municipalities, with the Roma and Ruthenian minorities affected more than the Hungarian.

The number of Roma-speaking villages will grow from 57 to 86, while there are expected to be 113 Ruthenian-speaking municipalities instead of the current 68. While currently one village in central Slovakia, Krahule, is German-speaking, under the new rules there would be one more, Kunešov. Two municipalities within Bratislava, Jarovce and Čunovo, would be designated Croatian-speaking.

According to the proposed law, however, any of Slovakia’s nine officially approved minority languages can be used in official oral communication anywhere in Slovakia as long as the respective official and all persons concerned in the official procedure agree. The minority languages recognised in Slovakia are: Hungarian, Czech, Romani, Ruthenian, Ukrainian, German, Polish, Croatian, Yiddish and Bulgarian.

Another highlight of the amendment is that it introduces fines for those official bodies that fail to observe it, so that it mirrors the conditions which are valid for using Slovak in official communication according to the State Language Act.



A chance for Slota



Predictably, Slota, addressing parliament for only the second time since last year’s June general election, used the debate as an opportunity to insult Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarians, calling them “murderers from central Asia who imposed their language on the Slovak population”.

“The ruling coalition parties are sitting on the shovel of the Hungarian party Most-Híd and get taken in by their every demand, which step by step strips us of our self-determination and statehood and is attaching our southern territory to Hungary,” Slota said, as quoted by the Sme daily's website, Sme.sk.

Ondrej Dostál, a Most-Híd deputy and member of the Civic Conservative Party (OKS) faction responded by calling Slota the shame of the Slovak nation.

Though politicians are paid to defend national interests it does not mean that they have to do it even at price of provoking extremism, said MP Pavol Hrušovský, a deputy speaker of parliament from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) .

Nevertheless, former culture minister and Smer deputy Marek Maďarič contributed to the debate by noting that Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, had confirmed his intention to give voting rights to residents of other countries who obtain Hungarian citizenship by means of Hungary’s recently passed Dual Citizenship Act.

Bugár responded that deputies cannot always look at what Viktor Orbán is doing because they live in Slovakia and must do their best to make sure that minorities within Slovakia get proper consideration.


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