Slovakia and Hungary in Language Law Row

On the last day of June, Slovakia passed a law governing language use in their country. According to this article, posted on Euractiv.com, the law makes it illegal to use “incorrect” Slovak in Slovakia. The punishment is harsh with fines as high as 5,000 euros (£4,315).

Basically, the law makes it very difficult for speakers of minority languages to publicly communicate in their native language in Slovakia. For example, at public events, speeches and such must be given in Slovak first and the other language second-even if the only people present at the event speak the minority language.

Michael Gahler, the vice-chair for the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, has condemned the new language law as a violation of EU standards regarding minority languages. In the article referenced above, he is quoted as saying:

“Slovakia is violating commonly respected standards in the EU and is disregarding respective recommendations of the Council of Europe, which foresee the extended use of minority languages,” Gahler said, going as far as declaring that the country “risks discrediting itself as an EU member and becoming a totalitarian state again if the new provisions are consistently applied”.

The main minority language in Slovakia is Hungarian, which means that Hungary is not pleased, either.  The Hungarian government has asked the Slovakian government to stop the law from being implemented, but they have this far declined, with Slovakian leaders saying that it is not discriminatory.

However, Laszlo Öllős, a political analyst, was quoted as saying that the law is very ambiguous, increasing the potential for abuse.  According to Mr. Öllős, it could even be interpreted to apply to conversations between doctors and patients who speak the same (minority) language.

Debates over “official languages” and how much support to give minority language speakers have raged in many different countries. All too often, the debates become more about hostilities between two different groups than about protecting a specific language or culture. Fining doctors and patients for conversing in a language that they both share seems to be somewhat mean-spirited, and possibly dangerous if it keeps the patient from getting the best possible care.

5 replies
  1. Lydia
    Lydia says:

    Hi, I am a Slovak student and I´m watching all this confusion about the Language Act in our Slovak media. This article is just like any that could be found in our newspapers – very biased and one-sided. The whole idea behind the act was that when a Slovak comes to the south of Slovakia and needs to visit a doctor, or buy something at the grocery store, they often have no possible way to communicate with the people – almost all of them speak only Hungarian. There is absolutely no problem with two people (let´s say a doctor and a patient) who both speak Hungarian, to communicate in this language. Who could possibly fine them when the whole conversation was private and both of them prefer speaking Hungarian?

    Another thing – imagine a Slovak tourist who wants to visit these southern parts of Slovakia. He sees a lot of sights and memorials but he doesn´t understand a word of what they say because it´s just in Hungarian. If he is interested in the history of the area, he will probably need to pay an interpretor for the day.

    What this article hasn´t mentioned as well, is that the OSCE High Commissioner has read the act and even though he has some objections to some formal matters, he sees no violation of the European standards whatsoever.

    Our constitution clearly states that there is only one state language in Slovakia – the Slovak language. Has ever a German patient had problems to communicate with a Turkish doctor in German? I don´t think so..

    Reply
  2. Moosquibe
    Moosquibe says:

    “What this article hasn´t mentioned as well, is that the OSCE High Commissioner has read the act and even though he has some objections to some formal matters, he sees no violation of the European standards whatsoever.”

    according to the Slovakain Minister of Foreign Affairs. This turned out to be a simple lie two days later…

    Reply
  3. Moosquibe
    Moosquibe says:

    I’ve been to many Slovakian cities, including the mostly Hungarian ones (Komárom/Komárno, Sturovo/Párkány, etc.) and at least half of the banners and marquees are in Slovak, and I couldn’t meet a single local soul who doesn’t speak Slovak. It isn’t really possible to deal with your official business without it.

    Who would fine the doctor and the patient? Some malignant “patriots” who overhear them are far enough for destroying a doctors career. People who are concerned know damn well how this works.

    I still believe, that most of the Slovaks are just as normal people (I have friends who are) as most of the Hungarians, and this is just a fake-problem generated by stupid populist politicians who’d sell their mother for a single vote. This is a perfect example, why absent minded nationalistic, alcoholic hard-right people with criminal record(Slota) should not be let anywhere near being on goverment.

    Reply
  4. Controller
    Controller says:

    “Another thing – imagine a Slovak tourist who wants to visit these southern parts of Slovakia. He sees a lot of sights and memorials but he doesn´t understand a word of what they say because it´s just in Hungarian.”

    Have you ever been to Swiss, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, Poland or – horribile dictu – USA? Why don’t they hva problem with regions where noone speaks the state-language?
    I guess it is far not the question of communication, but the question of cultural attitude and the way of thinking about your own status on the plant called Earth (included Euope as well…)

    Reply

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