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FUEN Congress 2019: focus on Slovakia

Friday’s first panel discussion at the FUEN 70 year anniversary congress 2019 focused on the Hungarian minority in Slovakia.           

Attila Simon from the Forum Minority Research Institute presented a short history of the Hungarian community of Slovakia, saying that in one hundred years the percentage of Hungarians went down from 25 to 8 percent and now numbers 450 thousand. Taking into account all the hardships they had to face, these numbers show the power of the community and their will to survive as a community – said Mr. Simon.

Géza Tokár of the Hungarian NGO roundtable presented the civil society of Hungarians. These civic structures were created in parallel with the Slovakian civil society, with education and culture being the dominant focus points of them. Mr. Tokár said that the big questions they face are the way to collaborate with the political representation, the aging society and the dilemma of bonding vs. bridging – as minority organizations by default can not be as inclusive as some might like.

József Berényi, vice-chairman of Trnava self-governing region talked about the political representation of the Hungarians, driven by one scope: the survival of the community. The public administration put the community in a difficult situation, as the new county limits were drawn in a way that now no county’s Hungarian population exceeds 25 percent. The political leaders of the community request a new regional structure in which a new county with Hungarian majority could be formed alongside the Danube.

Beáta Kiss gave a summary of the problems the Hungarian community faces in the field of education, one of them being the centralised financing and curriculum which does not meet the specific needs of the community. Another problem is that Slovakian has to be taught as mother language, and the underfinancing of small minority schools also.

Attila Dabis presented the European Citizens’ Initiative on national regions, which is complementary to the Minority SafePack, and asked the FUEN member organizations’ support in collecting the signatures.

In the second panel the moderator, Kovács Balázs from the Hungarian College of Advanced Studies talked with legal expert Horony Ákos, Ondrej Pöss, President of KDV, József Menyhárt President of MKP, Orosz Örs Forum Minority Research Institute’s expert and Tárnok Balázs, MKP about the minority legislation and practice in Slovakia and the possibility of its enhancement.

Ákos Horony explained that the Slovakian constitution recognized the minorities, but not as a community but individually. Although there are laws protecting minorities, there are cases when the law is not enforced by the authorities. Slovakia decided that the country’s legislation does not need any harmonizing with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and there was no need for a minority university and Hungarian does not have to be recognized as an official language. In his opinion the prestige of the Hungarian language must be raised, because language is almost the only difference between the Slovaks and Hungarians in Slovakia due to the similarity of the culture of the two communities. Hence, if Hungarians do not have a proper chance to learn and use their mother tongue, assimilation becomes a real threat - Mr. Horony argued.

József Menyhárt said the prestige of the minority languages in Slovakia is lower than the state language.“We cannot avoid the question of the prestige of the language. The prestige of languages change, and we have to pay attention to how Hungarians view their language, or how they regard Slovak language” - Mr. Menyhárt said.

Orosz Örs spoke about the aspects parents take into consideration when choosing school for their children. “Many parents enroll their children in Slovak speaking schools, because they think that by learning Slovak well they will have a better chance of succeeding in life. In order to deal with this issue, the methodology of teaching Slovak language to minority students has to be changed: children should learn it as a second language” - Mr. Orosz said.

Mr. Pöss pointed out that there are only a few schools for the Carpathian Germans of Slovakia, and students cannot learn all materials in their mother tongue, and this is a major issue for the community. “English must be spoken by everybody, but I hope German language in Slovakia will have a bright future, as well as our community” - said mr. Pöss.

Tárnok Balázs believes that Slovakia has to go ahead with its international duties. Documents like the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities have to be respected, and the international expectations have to be lived up to. The lack of enforcement of the minority rights is a problem in Slovakia, but there are double standards in other EU-countries as well - said Mr. Tárnok.

The panel’s participants agreed that the fight for the protection of minorities has to be re-branded, so it becomes fancy and likable, and the power of the small, but consistent steps shouldn’t be belittled. Also there is a great need of shifting from a pessimistic mindset to positive examples.  

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