You are on page 1of 5

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen!

First of all, let me thank you for the flattering opportunity to be here and in my fifteenminute presentation talk about the Hungarian national minority and its situation in Slovakia. Because of the short time available I cannot go into details, but I still hope that I can share some useful information with you. Please let me introduce myself. My name is Akos Horony. I'm a lawyer and work as an associate for the Legal Aid Service of the Roundtable of Hungarians in Slovakia. What is it that you should definitely know about the Hungarian national minority (community)? According to the census from last year, the number of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia is approximately half a million. It is a typical national minority that did not come into existence by immigration, but through the change of borders (as it is usual in most member states of KEK). The arrangement without referendum (peace conference), closing WWI (the first world war), sketched the southern borders of the newly created Czechoslovakia in such a way that the new state border did not follow the otherwise unusually edgy Slovak-Hungarian border within Central Europe. As a result, more than 700 000 inhabitants of Hungarian nationality were attached to the new state. During the last 90 years, the proportion of Hungarians within Slovakia has decreased from the initial 22 percent to 8,5 percent (mainly because of violent expulsion, exchange of population, natural assimilation). It is certainly an important fact that Hungarians are concentrated in the southern parts of Slovakia. They live on more than half-thousand settlements in significant numbers, and on 400 settlements they still represent the majority. 80 percent of Hungarians in Slovakia live on settlements where they are the majority. I consider this information important because the demands of a concentrated national-linguistic minority are guided by this fact in a natural way. In the last few years, you could hear and read a lot about the Hungarian minority in Slovakia in the world media, as due to the counter-minority spirit of the amendment of the Slovak State Language Act, an international discussion evolved between the representatives of the Slovak government and the Hungarian minority The only positive side of this law amendment - which created a great stir - was that it set the Hungarian minority society in Slovakia in motion. They regarded this law amendment as an attack against their language, and they became aware of the existing deficiencies in guaranteeing minority rights in Slovakia. It became clear that the government does not need to discuss the sensitive question of language use with the representatives of minorities. Although the political party elected by voters of Hungarian nationality was seated in the Parliament, the Slovak government was not willing to negotiate with this opposition party at all.

The government had a so-called minority council as its advisory organ and invited one person each representing the thirteen minority communities in Slovakia. However, the Serb minority with a few hundred members was represented with the equal weight as the large Hungarian minority consisting of about half a million residents. Moreover, those minority organisations, whose leaders were invited to the council by the government, depended on the financial support of the government. Otherwise this council did not have any jurisdiction, and its chairman was a member of the government who a few years earlier wrote a book about the dangers of the political representation of the Hungarian minority. The root of the problem was that the government modified the language regulation affecting the use of minority languages without asking for the opinion of minorities. There is a lack of mechanism which would in all detail involve minorities in decisions affecting their lives. People engaged in minority issues realized that conflict-evoking modifications of the language law cannot be avoided in the future, as long as a checking mechanism is created which ensures real consultations with minority representatives that are independent from the government in questions affecting minorities. The Roundtable of Hungarians in Slovakia, which was established through the collaboration of more than 70 civic organizations, elaborated a concept that would create an arbitral multilevel minority local government system. This representation would be independent from political parties and the government. Its extraordinary advantage would be, on the one hand, that it would be a legitimate partner of the alltime government. On the other hand, it would guarantee elected representation to those minorities that are completely chanceless for parliamentary representation due to their small number. It would have its advantages in case of the larger Hungarian minority too, as the opportunity for the enforcement of interests regarding minority issues would not depend on whether their political party elected in regular parliamentary elections is in the opposition or in the government. We are confident, based on our experience, that as long as the government is not willing to treat national minorities as equal partners and deal with and solve their problems with the help of a constant checking mechanism in cooperation with them and to their satisfaction, several conflicts and grievances will occur. The formation of a minority local government mechanism can help to move the emphasis of minority questions from political to professional level. It has to be said that tension merely comes from the fact that decisions made during political compromises do not meet professional expectations. Practically, often the mistakes in lawmaking poison the relationship between the majority and minority and keep the minority from becoming satisfied citizens of the country. A satisfied minority is not only the interest of minorities, but also of governments. It is a real state interest because a satisfied minority is a loyal minority. An honest minority-friendly policy of the state does not only eliminate conflicts in a country, but it

can also extremely improve the relationship between the given state and the minority's mother state. Eventually, it has a positive influence on international relations, as well as the economy. Since it also strengthens regional cooperation, the international weight of the given countries increases too. I'm saying it here, in Southern Tyrol, which is an excellent, confirmatory example. On behalf of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, we would certainly like if the newly elected Slovak government (by learning from the mistakes made between 20062010) , would become aware of this situation and regard minorities as partners. Although indications are different, we still hope that you will not hear about Slovakia only in a negative sense in the next 4 years. Minorities are definitely interested in conflict resolution (before conflicts even arise), but the government in power has the main influence on this. Now let me mention some concrete problems: First of all, regarding the question of the threshold of the use of language: In my opinion, the part of the regulation about the use of language, which was attached to the ratification of the Language Act as a declaration by the Slovak Parliament, according to which the term territory in which the regional or minority language is used, shall refer to the municipalities in which the citizens of the Slovak Republic belonging to national minorities form at least 20 % of the population, is a real systematic mistake. This regulation is not in harmony with the structure of the Slovak public administration and does not respect the venue of public administration offices. In spite of the fact that on several settlements citizens belonging to a national minority form 80% of the population, they still cannot use their language for arranging their affairs because the state offices, whose competence the given settlement falls into, are located on a neighbouring settlement with less than 20% of minority population. The question of the use of geographical names: In the past two decades the Slovak government's rigid attitude to the use of geographical names has been the source of numerous conflicts. It is necessary to know that between the two world wars in Czechoslovakia, settlements inhabited by national minorities could officially have their names in the minority language. After WWII (the second world war), a communist minister annulled the official names of settlements inhabited by Hungarians. With a single department order, he changed the names of 700 settlements into Slovak, and with unbelievable cynicism he named whole settlements inhabited by Hungarians after such Slovak historical figures who did not like Hungarians and never had any relationship with the given settlement in their life. After the regime change, the inhabitants of settlements with Hungarian population spontaneously placed the original Hungarian names next to the official name of the

settlement, but the nationalist Meciar government forcibly removed them. Finally, after long wrangling, an odd law was passed that ordered the placement of minority place-name plates. However, exactly in the cases of the settlements named after Slovak historical figures, the use of minority place-names in official communication or postal service was prohibited. Ad absurdum, according to the law, the names of these settlements should have been used only in Slovak even in the Hungarian media. Under the ruling of the recently resigned government, this regulation improved a bit, but basically there is no legal arrangement that would satisfy the natural needs of Hungarians in Slovakia. Moreover, the realization of legal possibilities faces extreme difficulties. Even if the law orders or makes something possible, problems arise during execution: the law would make it possible on paper to indicate the minority name of the given settlement at railway stations on settlements inhabited by minorities. However, this does not occur on any of the settlements because the decision is in the hands of the state railway association which refuses all such requests. Place-name plates are allowed to indicate minority names only in multiply emphasized second-rate form, but road signs are not. Please let me present two short documentaries to you which show the activities of anonym young Hungarians in Slovakia from last year. The first film points out the lack of minority names on road signs. In the second documentary, with the display of a blue board they draw the attention of authorities to those settlements that are missing the place-name plates in the minority language, while according to the law they should be there. Here I would like to add that while in the first case the authorities removed the display, in the second case the restoration of the legal state is still dragged on. 1. 2. Documentary : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRuoiHoATHk Documentary: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZpLEWWSm8U

Let me finish my presentation with a few important thoughts: The Hungarian minority in Slovakia is similar to the Southern Tyrolean Germans in many ways. We are talking about a large concentrated national community. However, the policy of nationalist governments has not treated this fact as a problem that should be solved by taking into consideration the language and minority needs of Hungarians. On the contrary, they announced that the law amplification efforts of the Hungarian minority are sources of danger; therefore, in order to prevent this, they started to limit the use of the minority language by law. Unfortunately, sometimes even the non-extreme parties could not avoid searching for voters who were prejudiced against minorities. Nationalist logic often tends to simply state that the most basic minority rights infringe the rights of the majority and their granting would

harm the integrity of the country. This is the reason why just "for the sake of safety" it is not willing to show even a bit of generosity toward minorities, not even the amount demanded by common sense. As an example we can bring up the petty-minded language regulation which orders the obligatory use of Slovak not only in official communication, but also in purely Hungarian regions. We could also mention the administrative division which in many cases completely irrationally formed the borders of administrative districts and regions just in order to avoid that minorities become the majority in the given administrative unit. As a Hungarian from Slovakia, here in Southern Tyrol, I can say with complete confidence that we are fascinated by the exemplary results achieved by the cooperation of Italians and Germans. Unfortunately, in Slovakia significant part of the public opinion is convinced that any law modification provided for minorities can only happen at the expense of the majority. It is assumed that if public administration guaranteed services for citizens in Hungarian, it would somewhat limit services in Slovak. A minority expert from Slovakia made a telling remark about this: he said that the State Language Act protects the "language rights" of Slovak officials, working on settlements with Hungarian majority, so that they don't have to talk in the mother tongue of their clients whose tax money they otherwise work from. In general, the root of the problem is that the state does not regard minorities as partners. Southern Tyrol is a good example for achieving positive results by the acceptance of partnership. It can benefit both parties. It is a real win-win situation. It would be worth saying a few words regarding autonomy. Frankly, this word itself causes irrational hysteria in Slovakia. To such an extent, that when a few years ago some people tried to establish a civic association which had "autonomy" in its name, the Ministry of Interior dismissed the organization merely from this reason. Similarly to the Southern Tyrol pattern, the settlement with compact minority population is located next to the border. While this fact didn't deter Italy from giving its blessing to regional autonomy, in the case of Hungarians in Slovakia territorial autonomy doesn't seem to be real in this world of irrationalism. At the same time minority local governments well-tried in Hungary, different national councils tested in Serbia, or similar solutions could make the life of minorities in Slovakia easier. In our opinion not the name, but the content is important. We observe with sympathy those battles that other ethnic groups are involved in for territorial autonomy, as it is in the case of 600 0000 inhabitants of Transylvania. Perhaps for them this goal can be more easily achieved as the Szekler autonomy already existed in the past. Besides this, it would be created in the geographical middle of the country - Romania - which already in itself disproves any separatist accusations. We hope that the Central-European region's states and their leaders will recognize the possibility that has already materialized here in Southern Tyrol for the benefit of its inhabitants, as well as Italy, and it has brought real development. Thank you for your patience and kind attention.