Tuesday

20th Aug 2019

Opinion

The Slovak language law is discriminatory and restrictive

The Slovak Language Law is one of the most extraordinary pieces of legislation imaginable in a democratic country. Even the briefest of glances will show how restrictive it is and what kind of discrimination it introduces - reintroduces - into Europe

In brief, around ten percent of the population of Slovakia is Hungarian-speaking, beyond which there are Ukrainian, Roma and other minorities. For all practical purposes, the new law eliminates all the minority languages from the public sphere. Yet even here there is a further discrimination - the small Czech minority is exempt from its restrictions.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The Law, recently passed by parliament, is highly detailed and penetrates deep into the everyday lives of the linguistic minorities. It seeks to regulate any and all meetings, gatherings, associations and other forms of communication by insisting on the parallel use of the "state language", Slovak, whenever and wherever members if the minority get together in public, and "public" is very broadly defined. Thus, if a group of Hungarian-speakers establish a literary circle, say, their proceedings would have to have a parallel Slovak translation, whether anyone actually needed this or not.

Minority-language schools are obliged to run their administration and documentation in Slovak and the same applies to the health service. The armed forces, the police and the fire service are to be monolingually Slovak. This last, by way of example, creates interesting scenarios - thus in a Hungarian-speaking area, the firemen are very likely to be all Hungarian-speakers, but when putting out a fire, they must speak Slovak to each other and also, of course, to the owner of the house where the fire is.

The weirdest of all is that all public inscriptions must be in the state language; this may be accompanied by other languages and, although the Law is vague on this, it looks as if it is to be applied retroactively. The implication is that gravestones must all be recarved, unless they are already in Slovak.

The law applies to the territory of Slovakia and affects foreigners, as well as citizens of Slovakia. It is unclear whether material sent to Slovakia from abroad is affected, so an advertisement or brochure in, say, Hungarian or English or German may not be delivered by the postal service. Will the Slovak authorities now start to censor e-mails and internet use and ensure that Slovaks don't listen to pop groups singing in English?

The system is backed up by fines up to 5000 euros and is supervised by what is, in effect, to be a language police.

Overall, the aim of the Law, which strictly speaking is a set of amendments to the 1995 Language Law as amended in 1999, appears to be to consign languages other than Slovak - especially Hungarian - to the private sphere. Still, even this is less than clear and it may be that, hypothetically, even two Slovaks who decide to talk to each other in a bar in English will be in violation of the Law. Zealous language policemen and policewomen will no doubt be on the lookout for deviants of this kind.

Obviously the amendments to the Law are a serious restriction on the equality and life opportunities of linguistic minorities. What kind of a citizenship concept is it that Slovakia is determined to place up to 15 percent of its citizens into an overtly secondary position? And at the same time, propel the Slovak-speaking majority into a very privileged position?

The word for this privileged position is ethnic superiority or, with considerable goodwill, ethnicised democracy, meaning privileges for one group over all others on the basis of their ethnic identity. The resulting inequality is clear for all to see.

The Law has not been passed without criticism from various quarters, including Slovak commentators who understand the injustice being committed the name of Slovakia. The Slovak foreign ministry is obviously unhappy about the situation and has suggested that bilateral meetings with Hungary should be postponed until the atmosphere is calmer.

Then, the passing of the Law has also had the wholly unexpected result of uniting the entire Hungarian political spectrum in condemning the Law. This is odd, seeing that until now, the Hungarian left has steered clear of the issue of the Hungarian minorities outside Hungary. It may be, that the accusation by the leader of the Slovak National Party, Jan Slota, that Hungary is in the process of creating a warlike situation over the issue, has concentrated minds in Budapest.

What is striking in this entire affair is that the Slovak elite, not just the centre-left/far-right coalition, has bought into this anti-minority current, which also means that it has seemingly forgotten that Slovakia is a member of the European Union and has European civic obligations.

The writer is MEP for Hungary (Fidesz) and the author of Nations, Identity, Power (1999)

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Lagarde's ECB must modernise

Christine Lagarde will succeed European Central Bank president Mario Draghi at a time of deepening polarisation among eurozone member states. It will take all of her skills as a leader and communicator to safeguard the institution's independence.

UK MPs' maths means election, not no-deal Brexit

Parliamentary arithmetic at Westminster, and societal pressures from the likes of Welsh sheep-farmers, Northern Irish cattle breeders, London business groups and Scottish Conservatives combine to push a motion of no-confidence in the prime minister by mid-October at the very latest.

Why von der Leyen must put rights at core of business

Ursula von der Leyen's in-tray must include those European executives on trial for systematic workplace harassment, the break-up of European slavery rings, and allegations of European companies' abuse in palm oil, including child labour, land grabs, and deforestation.

Gulf tension making it harder for EU to save Iran deal

Europeans should also clarify that they are unwilling to tolerate restrictions on freedom of navigation or a further significant expansion of Iran's nuclear programme. Diplomacy can resolve the standoff over the captured British and Iranian tankers.

New MEPs, new officials, new EU migration policy?

The fragmented new Europen Parliament does not necessarily foretell paralysis in future EU work on migration and asylum. It is however likely that any new initiatives to be tabled over the next five years might require increasingly-longer gestation cycles.

Facebook has to answer some tough questions about Libra

German MEP and member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, Markus Ferber, warns of four separate threats from Facebook's Libra. A good moment to kick off the debate would be this week's G20 summit.

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Irish border plan is 'anti-democratic', Johnson tells EU
  2. Polish deputy minister targeted judges in hate campaign
  3. EU ends silence on Hong Kong protests
  4. Is Salvini closing just harbours or also the rule of law?
  5. No-deal Brexit would seriously harm UK, leaked paper says
  6. Selmayr did not keep formal records of lobby meetings
  7. EU asked to solve migrant rescue deadlock
  8. Internal EU paper: Second Brexit vote was no longer 'distant dream'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us