20th Mar 2018


Putting myths about the Slovak Language Act to rest

  • "In creating myths it lays a needless burden on Slovak-Hungarian relations and spills some malice onto the international community" (Photo: EUobserver)

Voices have been heard recently in European institutions conveying discontent with the recently adopted amendment to Slovakia's State Language Act. But under a flood of criticism, arguments and counterarguments, the substance has been lost.

Slovakia is a member of communities built on the values of democracy – the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance. These shared values, partnership and forward- rather than backward-looking approach are what my country wishes to build our relations on with our Hungarian neighbours.

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The past twenty years of experience have proved that all the countries in the region profit from mutual cooperation, and that it is beneficial for mutual relations in all areas. These relations are perfectly epitomised by the Visegrad group, a partnership of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia that reflects the proximity of interests and values shared by its members.

This is Slovakia's priority and primary interest as far as regional cooperation and relations with Hungary are concerned. We have proved many times that we are able to hold a reasonable partnership dialogue and cooperate with anyone who is ready to do the same.

Our commitment to a permanent bilateral dialogue that helps to build mutual confidence is a tool we are using in developing our relations with Hungarian partners. For quite some time we have been suggesting to our counterparts that they adopt the same approach, unfortunately not always with success. We have been waiting for several years now for an official visit by our president and prime minister to Budapest; invitations do indeed keep coming, but not concrete dates.

Nevertheless, I consider Slovak-Hungarian cooperation very good in many aspects. We have a framework agreement in place which provides a sound mechanism to resolve any mutual issues – it takes no more than one of the parties to make use of that mechanism whenever it deems necessary, ideally as soon as the first doubts or problems have emerged. In the case of the amendment to Slovakia's State Language Act, the mechanism was not used in time.

Blatantly misleading

I admit we have been surprised by the present blatantly misleading campaign against the amended State Language Act, a campaign where a good measure of truth and commonsense are drowned out by historicising and "hystericising" malicious, and sometimes even ridiculous, propaganda. In creating myths it lays a needless burden on Slovak-Hungarian relations and, gratuitously, spills some malice onto the international community.

What is the amendment to Slovakia's State Language Act really about? I want to confirm outright that the amendment only addresses issues pertaining to the use of the state language, and that it in no way restricts the use of minority languages in Slovakia. Where the text touches on the use of minority languages, it does so only in order to liberalise their use even more, that is, to broaden or simplify it.

The very essence of the amendment is to ensure that no Slovak citizen, irrespective of their ethnicity, feels disadvantaged or discriminated against in the territory of their country on the grounds of the language they speak. No minority in Slovakia is living in complete isolation from the majority population, contained only in itself. We are absolutely open to any expert examination of the amendment and its comparison with international and national practice in any EU member state. We are sure that Slovakia's State Language Act does not go beyond good European standards, and that it is nothing unusual in Europe.

The implementing instruction to the Act, as well as its actual application, will show how dishonestly the international community has been misled by the initiators of this campaign. We do not intend to force our opinion upon anyone, but we expect those who want to assess the Act to familiarise themselves with its wording and its independent legal analysis.

We do not wish to see the deliberate misinterpretation and politicisation of Slovakia's domestic legal regulation, which in no way restricts the rights of minorities and is not in breach of any of Slovakia's international commitments, overshadowing the good bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the region, thus enfeebling our general focus on combating the adverse social impacts of the economic crisis and the growing threat of extremism, nationalism and political radicalism.

These are the real problems that need to be solved, these require the increased attention and coordinated cooperation of the whole of Europe. Let us jointly seek the strength to confront the challenges of Europe's future, not its past.

The writer is Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Slovak Republic

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