Minority languages in Slovakia

According to a report on the BBC News website, under a new law which will apply from 1st September this year people who use minority languages in public services could be fined up to €5,000. That is, if the minority constitutes less than 20% of the Slovak population. Understandably this has not been well received by speakers of minority languages in Slovakia, especially among Hungarian speakers, who make up about 10% of the population.

Details of the new law are available here. These state that minorities have the right to use Slovak and their native languages, however only minorities that make up 20% or more of the population in a particular area can use their native languages when dealing with local government organisations. They also say that “Local administration bodies and their employees are not employed to speak a minority language.”

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4 Responses to Minority languages in Slovakia

  1. Szabolcs says:

    Simon, the law you are linking is the old one, from 1999. It is about granting some rights (modifying an earlier, 1995 law). The new law is about prohibitions. It is about severely restricting basic rights that are taken for granted in any civilised country.

    Some examples to illustrate how outrageous the new law is:

    Now it is punishable by law if a state-employed doctor and his patient are talking to each other in a minority language, which in practice means Hungarian in most cases (keep in mind that hospitals tend to be in large cities where the proportion of Hungarians might not reach 20%).

    The same applies to social workers (!).

    Any geographical names (or names of places) can only be used in Slovak publicly.

    It is required that Slovak be used at any public event.

    It is getting more and more common that politicians try to stay on top by inciting hatred and ethnic tension. I thought that with a more tightly integrated Europe, we would be heading towards a more balanced, more tolerant society. But things are just getting worse. It pains me immeasurably to even think of what we might see in the coming years.

  2. AKZ says:

    Is English considered a minority language in Slovakia?

  3. As I understand it, a typical law on minority languages (as in parts of Flanders with a large French minority, for example, or in Wales), will say that within a given minority language area the public administration must communicate in the minority language if requested.

    What this law does, if I understand it correctly, is to say that it is an offence for the public administration to use the minority language outside the minority language area, as well as adopting a very wide definition of the public administration. That is undoubtedly illiberal and disturbing in its implications.

    There are strains in both Slovak and Hungarian politics which have made a political career out of baiting each other. The Slovak nationalists belittle and snipe at the Hungarians, while Hungarian irredentists seek to overturn the Treaty of Trianon. I don’t say that either strain is dominant in the politics of the respective country, but you can see how they feed off each other. However, the current Slovak governing coalition includes the Slovak National Party, whose hand I see behind this law. I suspect it is more a piece of political theatre than anything – it is hard to see how it can be enforced, even if the administration wanted to. What it does do is to ratchet up the Slovak-Hungarian tension yet again and make Slovakia look illiberal to the rest of the world – which I think, on the whole, is a false impression and a great pity for the country.

  4. Ienno vapor says:

    Im from Slovakia and try to stop smoking!