THE CITIZENS of nations that tend to treat their minorities generously and fairly are always better off than inhabitants of countries run by chauvinists, nationalists, homophobes and believers in iron-fist policies for a simple reason: in some way almost anyone can be classified as ‘different’ or ‘the other’ and thus a minority.
Most of the people who currently run Slovakia have failed to understand that the quality of democracy is also measured through how a nation treats its minorities, and they have been misleading Slovaks into believing that their caution when it comes to ethnic Hungarians, the Roma and non-heterosexuals, for example, is their way of protecting the interests of the majority. Yet in most cases, the majority would not have been affected at all by a friendlier approach of the state toward these communities.
A perfect example is the desire of the majority of citizens of a small village in south-western Slovakia, near the town of Šaľa, to have the name of their village Tešedíkovo changed to its historical name Pered, the Hungarian version of the municipal moniker. The village requested this change based on the results of a valid referendum in which 65.45 percent of the voters called for the name change, while 33.59 percent were against it. The government said “no”, apparently because the name seemed too Hungarian.
“From our point of view, it is simply an old Hungarian name and I do not think it is appropriate to return to it,” Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák told the private broadcaster TV Markíza.
Kaliňák also rejected the claim that the government ignored the people’s will expressed in a referendum and explained that “the laws speak in a clear language that the names of municipalities must be in the state language. This name that citizens of Tešedíkovo proposed is the original Hungarian name and the law does not allow this.” He also argued, as quoted by the newswires, that in the same way it would not be appropriate to return Bratislava to its former name Pozsony – although the fact that a large majority of Bratislava residents would unlikely vote for such a change appears to make the comparison a strange one.
Pered is recorded as the Hungarian version of Tešedíkovo on the official list of the municipalities, which is a practice for towns and villages where the ethnic minorities constitute at least 20 percent of inhabitants. They can also display the historical name on a smaller plate under the official Slovak municipal sign, for example.
Would the name Pered, which, according to Árpád Érsek, an MP with the Most-Híd party, was recorded as early as 1237 and had been used until the communist takeover in 1948, in any way harm the national pride of Slovaks? Does the government fear that if they say yes, then other municipalities might get inspired and hold referendums to bring back the historical names of their towns and villages? Érsek also noted that in 1948, then-communist politician Daniel Okáli erased 710 historical names of municipalities, mainly in southern Slovakia, mostly connected with the Hungarian or German ethnic minorities.
In a country where the prime minister has said in an official speech that “we did not establish our independent state in the first place for minorities” but mainly for what he called the “Slovak state-forming nation”, one can hardly believe that this approach is simply about keeping the letter of the law. This is happening in a country with 14 barriers constructed to separate the Roma from the non-Roma communities – the highest number of any post-communist country – and where top politicians have said hardly a word about a botched police raid on a Roma settlement, which has been repeatedly condemned by international organisations.
Fico, in his fiery speech from March, also said that some minorities have been trying to “blackmail” the state using the issue of minority rights, adding that he detected a “strange tendency to put forward the problems of minorities” to the disadvantage of the Slovak nation.
Since László Nagy resigned from the post of the cabinet proxy for national minorities in connection with the reluctance of the ruling Smer party to support his proposal to allow the installation of bilingual signs at railway stations in municipalities where the usage of such signs are justified by the law, the post has been unoccupied. Clearly, this is not on the to-do list of the government, which scrapped the post of deputy prime minister for minorities in the first place. Given the weight Smer seems to give to what the proxy says even when there is one in office, perhaps it’s not so urgent that the seat remains vacant.
21. Oct 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová