Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Language crime / Mountain language

I pick this up from Budapest Analyses, a FIDESZ think tank, a source I rarely refer to but which I continue to receive and read. On this issue all Hungarian parties are united and who could not but be with them?

The Slovak state has language laws very similar to those of Romania in Ceausescu's time. The difference is that this is post-1989 and that both Hungary and Slovakia are members of the EU.

(Later) My highlights.

Slovak-Hungarian relations have greatly deteriorated between neighboring Hungary and Slovakia, both member countries of NATO and the EU. The source of the deepening tension has been the passage, on June 30, 2009, of additional restrictive amendments to the Meciar era Slovak State Law 270 of 1995. These restrictive amendments were passed even after the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and Hungary herself expressed their concerns...

...The most significant problems of the law are:

1. The introduction of a new category of crime, „language crime”, or the criminalization of the use of the Hungarian language. Section 3 of the law prescribes as mandatory the use of Slovak, both written and oral, for official interactions in many areas of daily life. What this amounts to is that, for instance, an ethnic Hungarian bus driver and an ethnic Hungarian passenger, an ethnic Hungarian postal worker and an ethnic Hungarian resident, or an ethnic Hungarian fireman and an ethnic Hungarian victim of a fire are prohibited from communicating with each other in Hungarian. According to §9, the language use in these interactions may be monitored by the Ministry of Culture. According to §2, local authorities may do likewise. Based on this law, then, Slovak citizens whose native language is Hungarian are liable for prosecution if, under certain circumstances, they use their common native language to communicate with each other. Section §2 and §9 of the law not only allows for, but essentially mandates that a report be filed for any infraction.

2. Fines for using Hungarian within the Hungarian community. Section 9/a of the law prescribes that fines ranging from 100 to 5,000 EUR be issued under the jurisdiction of the Slovak Ministry of Culture to legal persons for perceived shortcomings or violations of the law. This means that in many workplaces (transport services, post offices and fire stations, as well as the police, local governments or any company) fines may be imposed, if ethnic Hungarian employees providing services to ethnic Hungarians use Hungarian in their official capacity. Since, according to Slovak law, the employee is responsible for fines imposed upon his/her workplace, fines imposed on the workplace de facto amount to fines imposed upon ethnic Hungarians for using their native language. In addition, §11 and 11/a of the law de facto provide for retroactive penalties and mandate the replacement of existing monuments, memorial plaques, and gravestones (!) whose inscriptions are largely or entirely in Hungarian, and prescribes that the cost of the required modifications must be borne by the legal or natural persons who erected or commissioned them.

3. Discrimination. It follows from the above that certain Slovak citizens (for instance, those whose native language is Hungarian) are subject to monitoring, harassment and penalties for using their native language, while other Slovak citizens (for instance, those whose native language is Slovak or Czech) are not. Section §3 of the law is openly discriminative, since the Czech minority may use their native language without restrictions, which means that members of other minorities are prohibited from using theirs. As in many areas of Europe, including Slovakia, ethnic identity and the use of the native language are closely intertwined, which means that discrimination in native language use amounts to discrimination based on ethnicity.

4. Violations of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Section 5 of the law provides, as a general rule, that all media outlets – both public and privately owned media – must use the Slovak language, with the exception of programs transmitted for national minorities. This means that Hungarian-speaking citizens cannot set up a radio or television station that transmits programs exclusively in Hungarian. The law requires that programs broadcast on local public address systems always be announced in Slovak first, regardless of the ethnic composition of the locality. Hungarian inscriptions on monuments, memorials and gravestones (which must always come second to a Slovak-language inscription) must be approved in advance by the Ministry of Culture. This represents state censorship, and contradicts the freedom of language use and the freedom of expression.

5. Violation of freedom of association and religion. Section 5 of the State Language Law provides that cultural and educational programs should be in Slovak, with the exception of „educational” programs aimed at minority audiences. This means that organizations and associations are not free to choose the language of their activities and programs. For instance, in a settlement populated by ethnic Hungarians, the Hungarian language may be used in a presentation on Hungarian historical figures, but if the program involves American history, it cannot be performed or carried out in Hungarian, because the subject matter is not Hungarian. Section 3 of the law is a violation of the freedom of association and freedom of religion, since it restricts the use of language in the institutional life of associations and churches. The churches can freely choose only the language in which they conduct their services; they have no choice about the language in which they conduct administrative process and provide public information.

6. Limitations on existing regulations protecting minorities. Section 1(4) of the amended State Language Law asserts that the separate regulations governing the use of minority languages are applicable only if the directives of the State Language Law do not provide otherwise. This statement completely transforms the existing (already very weak) legal protections for minority languages and for the speakers of minority languages, since it gives unmistakable preference to protecting the State Language over the protection of minority rights.

It's the same old repressive answer to the same old ongoing ethnic / language problem, a ghost problem, a problem that isn't really a problem at all, nevertheless a problem intensely exacerbated in regions with continually redrawn national boundaries, in which the party representing the most backward, reactionary, paranoid, nationalistic elements in the country - in this case, Slovakia - needs a scapegoat.

Stop them speaking to each other, is the solution. Watch them carefully. Make their lives as hard as you can. They should not be aiming to be a version of themselves, but an inferior version of us.

But how does the EU respond? Does it respond?


dritanje said...

thank you George for letting us know, even if the EU doesn't know! I keep meaning to reply to your posts, I'm amazed you manage to write so many. I particularly liked the recent photo of robert Capa, a favourite of mine.
We met briefly at Sculpture sur Prose Festrad in Paris a couple of years ago, and I discovered your blog. You're very welcome to look at mine, though I don't post very often. Thanks again, all very best, Morelle

Gwil W said...

George, I see on today's that the EU "are going to look into it" but it seems they have already decided they are "limited" in what they can do. Well, I would disagree and say that there's a lot the EU can do, should do, must do, to put out this 'fire in the roof' and I reckon they'd better be sharp about it too.
Talking tough - I see we've 'suspended' Fiji's Commonwealth membership... ;-)

Tomas said...

Hallo, I am a Slovak living near the ethnicaly mixed area of Slovakia. I must agree that this law is absolutely obsolete and I do not understand why our government needs it. Things worked quite well without this law and no one was complaining. There are many other laws which I miss in Slovakia. Mybe the reason of issuing this law was to gain some support of nationalistical voters from the north Slovakia for current government. Anyway I am sure the protests of Hungarians will go on and the government will be forced to change the law back.

Paul Hellyer said...

It will be of great interest how the EU responds to this new law, one that so clearly seems to go against the spirit, if the not the letter, of European norms. At the moment it seems that the EU is treating this as a bi-lateral issue. The EU seems to be saying, "nothing to do with us, you two sort it out.", treating it as a family squabble between feuding siblings. Let us hope the institutions of the EU, such as the European Court, can provide some leadership on this issue. I am not sure we can expect much from the politicians however.

George S said...

Yes, I remember our meeting dritanje / Morelle. Was it part of an evening of readings?

Thank you very much, x, for your comment. It is deeply appreciated. Why is that the northern Slovaks, who do not actually live in the ethnically mixed areas, are the ones who need to be pacified by these laws regarding southern Slovakia? Are they having a particularly hard time and need to find someone to direct their frustrations at?

Gwilym and Paul - I had hoped that the EU idea of a Europe of the Regions would help settle affairs such as this. What chance is there of an amiable regional settlement, a kind of proper, fully integrated Schengen concord (both Hungary and Slovakia are party to the treaty) when a matter as simple as this law passes without condemnation?

Tomas said...

I do not know why it seems that people who havent ever met a Hungarian are less tolerant. Mybe is is just a xenofoby without any reasonable reason. Some friends of mine are Slovak Hungarians and it is quite normal for me to accept them (there is nothing to accept in fact, because they are the same as me). People in Slovakia are very sensitive on the topic of 'Big Hungary', when some Hungarian politics are talking about some kind of 'autonomy'. As from my point of view: I would give to minorities as many rights as they want, but I do not want to be a stranger in the South Slovakia. This 'language crime law' was absolutely obsolete and it lows image of both - Slovakia and Hungary. I hope Slovaks will vote more wise government in the next elections and Hungarians will try to stop growing extremism in their country. While Milulas Dzurinda was Slovak prime minister and Bela Bugar from Magyar Koalicio Partja were part of the government nothing like this had ever happened. Now there is populistic communist Fico on one side and that funny uncompetent Pal Csaky on the other side and the problem is born...