THE HEAT produced by MPs in the Slovak parliament during their lengthy and passionate debate preceding the passage of the law on minority languages into its second reading had not cooled down before opposition deputies requested an extraordinary session of parliament to deal exclusively with what they called the Hungarian government’s politics directed at the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. Slovakia’s four ruling parties have refused to support the initiative and insist that they will maintain their moderate approach towards bilateral relations with Hungary.
A group of MPs from the Smer party petitioned for an extraordinary session of parliament to debate a parliamentary declaration that would bind Slovakia’s government to respond more aggressively to the policies advanced by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The initiative began after Orbán was reported in the Hungarian media to have said that persons who acquire Hungarian citizenship based on his country’s dual citizenship law will be granted the right to vote in Hungarian elections.
Smer MPs also are demanding that the Slovak government bring the issue of voting rights in Hungary for ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia before European and international forums.
“If someone’s trying to threaten Slovakia, if someone’s trying to bring their own problems and their own lust for power to the territory of Slovakia, Slovakia needs to take legitimate decisions,” Smer leader Robert Fico stated, adding that his party wanted to convene parliament “to remind the Slovak cabinet that they’ve got certain duties when it comes to the protection of national interests”.
Cabinet opposes session
Coalition leaders maintain that their handling of Slovak-Hungarian relations is appropriate. At its April 6 meeting the cabinet expressed its clear disagreement with Smer’s proposals and tasked Prime Minister Iveta Radičová with sending a letter with the cabinet’s stance to the Speaker of Parliament.
All four coalition partners have publically spoken against Smer’s proposal and stated that their MPs will not vote in favour of the extraordinary session initiated by Smer.
Political analysts commented that Smer’s call for an extraordinary session was intended only for its own political benefit, noting that being perceived in the role of “defender of national interests” has proved appealing to voters.
Grigorij Mesežnikov, of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), said that in reality Slovakia cannot influence whether ethnic Hungarians living outside Hungary get voting rights in Hungary or not, simply because the right to vote is part of state citizenship.
“It’s not possible to deprive a citizen of a state of his or her voting rights just because he or she lives somewhere else,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator, adding that some adjustments could be made in a voting rights law such as permitting only those who are physically present on election day to vote.
'No threat' to Slovak security
Despite the fact that many observers believe that the dual citizenship law, passed by the Orbán-led Hungarian government at the very start of its term, was designed to twang Hungarian nationalist strings in order to divert attention from serious economic problems in Hungary, they added that the law poses no threat to Slovakia’s national security.
“As long as we’ve got satisfied citizens, we’ve got nothing to worry about at all,” political analyst Miroslav Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. “After all, the ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia are better off than the Hungarians living in Hungary and it is not in their interest to harm the country they live in.”
On the other hand, the political consequences of having a large group of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia voting in Hungarian elections could become a problem, as it could nourish the nationalism of the Slovak majority to be directed against the Hungarian minority, Mesežnikov said.
“If a real election campaign of Hungarian parties starts in Slovakia, the reaction of the SNS [Slovak National Party] or Smer will be very hard,” Mesežnikov said, adding that Hungarian political parties campaigning in southern Slovakia could offer a welcome excuse for the SNS and Smer to inflame nationalist tendencies among Slovaks.
Minority language debate affected
The statements of the Hungarian prime minister have already had an impact on Slovak politics, Béla Bugár of the governing Most-Híd party told Hungarian public-service radio on April 6, arguing that Orbán is worsening the situation of the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia. Bugár said that Orbán’s statement about granting voting rights to Hungarians in Slovakia had distracted the attention of the Slovak public and politicians from discussing the merits of the amendment to the law on minority languages when it was debated by the Slovak parliament.
Smer’s MPs did indeed state that they saw a connection between Orbán’s policies toward the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia and the law on minority languages which parliament passed into its second reading on April 5.
“On the one hand there is the attempt by Hungary to appropriate the citizens of another country; on the other hand the Slovak parliament debates a law which attempts to close the Hungarian minority into an even bigger language ghetto,” said Smer MP Marek Maďarič in parliament.
The amendment proposed by the Deputy Prime Minister for National Minorities and Human Rights, Rudolf Chmel nominated by Most-Híd, would lower the threshold for official use of a minority language in a particular municipality from the current 20 percent of the population to 15 percent. Under the amendment, municipal councils in towns and villages with at least 15 percent minority-language citizens would be able to hold sessions in a minority language if all participants agreed to do so. Municipal offices would also be obliged to prepare forms and official documents in the minority language as well as the state language, and if requested, would also be required to issue bilingual birth, marriage and death certificates.
Several political observers say Smer’s attempt to connect Orbán’s politics with Slovakia’s amendment to its minority languages law is a way to provoke anti-Hungarian sentiments, which they believe helped Smer win votes in last year’s parliamentary elections. Kusý said making a change in the law on minority languages has been a perennial demand from politicians representing the Hungarian minority and it did not arrive in parliament as a result of politics in Hungary.
“Orbán’s politics are very problematic but it is of no importance to him whether Slovakia has the threshold for speaking minority languages set at 10, 15 or 20 percent,” Mesežnikov opined.
In reality, a lowered threshold for official use of a minority language would affect mostly municipalities with ethnic Ruthenian and Roma minorities rather than those where ethnic Hungarians live.
11. Apr 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani