|Intolerance in Slovakia: The Opressive "Language Law" |
3/22/2010 - AHF President discusses Slovak Language Law with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Knut Vollebaek and submits follow up letter: "...[Slovakia's] actions include the gerrymandering of the administrative division of Slovakia so that Hungarians are in the minority in the administrative regions; adopting a resolution proposed by extremist Jan Slota ratifying and confirming the Benes decrees (which imposed collective guilt on Hungarians and continue to adversely affect them); and refusing to rehabilitate Janos Esterhazy, who as leader of the Hungarian Party in Tiso’s Fascist Slovakia was the only Member of Parliament to vote against the deportation of Jews in 1942, yet who died in a Czechoslovak prison after the war."
The full letter is below or available for [download]
His Excellency Knut Vollebaek
Dear High Commissioner:
I very much enjoyed your lecture, “Conflict Prevention and the Rights of National Minorities,” which you gave in Washington, D.C. on March 11, 2010. I also appreciated the opportunity to speak with you thereafter concerning the Slovak language law. I trust you had a productive trip to Washington and a pleasant trip back home.
In the unlikely event you have not seen the article, “Slovakia’s disturbing patriotism; Culture creep; The Slovak leader deploys national culture as a political weapon,” published on March 11th in the print edition of The Economist, I am attaching it for your consideration as you address the language law with your Slovak interlocutors. The title of the article itself speaks volumes and underscores the fundamental flaw in viewing the language law as an aberration, a case of sloppy legislating or a dispute between Slovakia and Hungary, as some erroneously believe.
The discriminatory and ill-advised language law is, in fact, the latest manifestation of the intolerance toward the Hungarian minority by certain segments of Slovakia’s political elite now in office. One would have expected that after demanding and exercising external self-determination by breaking up the former Czechoslovakia and becoming an independent state, Slovakia would fully respect the rights of its minorities.
Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Instead, a series of official actions have created an inhospitable environment for Slovakia’s Hungarian minority. These actions include the gerrymandering of the administrative division of Slovakia so that Hungarians are in the minority in the administrative regions; adopting a resolution proposed by extremist Jan Slota ratifying and confirming the Benes decrees (which imposed collective guilt on Hungarians and continue to adversely affect them); and refusing to rehabilitate Janos Esterhazy, who as leader of the Hungarian Party in Tiso’s Fascist Slovakia was the only Member of Parliament to vote against the deportation of Jews in 1942, yet who died in a Czechoslovak prison after the war. This is the context of the latest anti-minority campaign -- the language law.
We, therefore, respectfully reiterate our previous suggestion that the unacceptability of the language law – a law which is inconsistent with Slovakia’s freely assumed obligations, Western values, democratic principles and the international norms to which Slovakia as a member of the OSCE has committed itself – needs to be forcefully raised and the rights of the Hungarian minority protected.
Under the act, the use of the minority language in official communication would be punishable in towns and villages where the ethnic community makes up less than 20 percent of the total population. The amendment also stipulates that all documentation of minority schools should be duplicated in the state language.
"Clinton fellépését sürgeti a szlovák nyelvtörvény ügyében az AHF
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Hungarians in Slovakia
By Any Other Name: Hungary, Apartheid,
and the Benes Decrees
These decrees sent millions of people, who had lived in the region for many centuries, off in sealed wagons, away from their homes, their families - not to mention the odd ones who died on the trip.
WHAT THE BENES DECREES SAY
One may be forgiven for suspecting, by the casual way the Benes Decrees are often disparaged by commentators, that many of those who write about the Decrees have never taken the trouble to [read them].
Living as I have for over 20 years in South Africa, I know this language well. It is the language of Apartheid.
There is no moral difference, to my mind, in withdrawing civil rights, confiscating private property and deporting people, whether they be Black South Africans sent to some "Homeland/Bantustan," or Armenians, or deported Chechens, or Germans and Hungarians.
The Hungarians who lived in what is now Slovakia and Trans-Carpathian Ukraine (which was given to Stalin by a grateful Benes in 1945) were more than one million strong in 1910. By 1930, thanks to the above-mentioned "administrative" cleansing, their numbers had been reduced to 585,434. After Hungary reclaimed its lands in 1939, people began moving back to their homes. In 1941-45, there were about 761,000 in what is today Slovakia alone. [read more]
The "Benes Decrees" began in the mind of Czech statesman Edvard Benes sometime in 1940. He made some quite clear statements about his plans by 1941. The plans? To kill and/or expel all people of German or Hungarian ethnicity/language from a reunited Czechoslovakia, which had fallen apart at the start of the war. This is the sort of thing you would expect from a Himmler or a Beria, not a guy who is lionised in Western history books, and generally books about Central Europe, as the only true "democrat" in the region. But Czechoslovakia was never a complete democracy. Just as interwar Hungary, or Poland, or Yugoslavia, were not. Not quite. In Czechoslovakia, designed as a "national homeland" for Slavs, the Slavic Rusyns had to have two votes to equal one Czech vote! Democracy? [read more]
THE PRESIDENTIAL DECREES
OF EDWARD BENES
The first Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938) was recreated in 1945 at the end of World War II and existed until the end of 1992. In both cases, Czechoslovakia utterly failed to form a governmental structure that secured freedom, prosperity, peace, and equal rights for all citizens of the state.
In 1918, the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic was entirely carved out of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy by a unilateral decision of the victorious entente powers. The dictated peace treaties of Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Trianon were not an outcome of a true peace conference at which the defeated would also have been given the opportunity to enunciate the limits of acceptable conditions for peace. Such a peace conference was never assembled.
The Versailles peace treaty with Germany was condemned by non-interested parties. In fact, the US Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, had declared that "the Versailles treaty menaces the existence of civilization," and two popes had stigmatized the instrument. Benedict XV condemned it for "the lack of an elevated sense of justice, the absence of dignity, morality or Christian nobility," and Pius XI, in his 1922 encyclical "Ubi arcam Dei," deplored an artificial peace set down on paper "which instead of arousing noble sentiments increases and legitimizes the spirit of vengeance and rancour."
The peace treaty of Trianon (1920) with Hungary resulted in the dismemberment of the thousand- year- old Hungarian Kingdom, as a result of an unbelievably inimical attitude of the allied representatives toward the Magyars. The consequence to Hungary was a loss of 71.5% of its territory and 63.6% of its population. The extreme tragedy of Hungary can be illustrated by comparing the smaller losses in 1871 of France to Germany, in which France gave up 2.6% of its territory and 4.1% of its population to Germany. The Trianon treaty forced three and a half million Magyars to live, without their consent, in Czechoslovakia, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians and Rumania, with the stroke of a pen. The right of self-determination of nations, solemnly promised in the 14 points of US President Woodrow Wilson, was apparently forgotten. [more]
The Hungarian Problem
Newly Elected Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it well: "The borders of the Hungarian nation and the Hungarian State do not coincide." This is true, as witness the fact that fully one-third of all Hungarians are minorities in neighbouring countries, most just on the far side of the border.
This is, naturally, a problem for Hungarians. It is also a problem for all the states who got Hungarian lands. Many in neighbouring countries, and politicians in many more, have said in the past, and no doubt will say in the future: "Why don't they just go home?!!" But they are home!
They are home in the sense that they, as communities, haven't moved anywhere. They just woke up one morning to be told: "You are now a Czechoslovak, you are a Romanian, you are a Yugoslav." This first happened in 1918-20, when Hungary was partitioned by the infamous Trianon Treaty, which was not a treaty at all, but a diktat enforced by occupying Entente Armies. In the late 1930's, Hungary got some portions of its territories back, but after losing yet another war, the borders were tightened even more in 1947.
The key weakness of these treaties was that neither ever asked - or cared - what the local population wanted. Did they want to join a new state (e.g., Czechoslovakia) did they want to stay with Hungary, or did they want independence or autonomy or what?
The fact that these questions have never even been asked, let alone answered, in a supposedly democratic age, remains the central problem of the Hungarian minorities in the countries immediately surrounding Hungary. [more] [back to all AHF news]
..."the American government accepts, against its better judgment, the decision not to announce a plebiscite in the matter of the final drafting of frontiers. He believes that in many respects the frontiers do not correspond to the ethnic requisite, nor to economic necessity, and that significant modifications would be in order, particularly in the Ruthenian area." Later on Wallace submitted for the consideration of the Great Powers proposals with regard to a restoration of the economic unity of the Danubian states. The American initiative, however, came too late ... The only thing left was the Millerand cover letter, which did not oblige anyone to do anything!
The Hungarian peace delegation signed the peace treaty consisting of 14 points at the so-called Great Trianon palace, near Paris, on June 4, 1920. Hungary's fate was determined for an unforeseeable future by the second part of the treaty which defined the new borders. According to this section Hungary's area (without Croatia) would be reduced from 282,000 km2 to 93,000 km2, whereas its population decreased from 18 million to 7.6 million. This meant that Hungary lost two thirds of its territory, whereas Germany lost but 10 percent and Bulgaria but 8 percent to the benefit of their victorious neighbors.
As regards population, Hungary lost more than 60 percent of its inhabitants as opposed to the 10 percent lost by Germany. In the lands taken away from Hungary there lived approximately 10 million persons. Persons of Hungarian nationality constituted 3,424,000 in the areas taken away from Hungary. Of these 1,084,000 were attached to Czechoslovakia, 1,705,000 to Romania, 564,000 to Yugoslavia, and 65,000 to Austria. Thus 33.5 percent of all Hungarians came under foreign rule, i.e., every third Hungarian. For the sake of comparison. while the treaties of Versailles and Neuilly placed only one German or one Bulgarian out of every twenty under foreign rule, the Trianon treaty placed seven out of twenty Hungarians in the same position.
Furthermore about one half of the Hungarian minority attached to the neighboring states was ethnically directly next to the main body of Hungarians on the other side of the borders. Had the peace treaties signed in the Paris suburbs really tried to bring about, however incidentally, nation-states, then it would have had to leave at least 11/4 to 2 million more Hungarians inside Hungary. In contrast the 42 million inhabitants of the successor states there were about 16 million minorities, as a consequence of which Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia became multinational states much like the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had been. What is more, according to the census of 1910 the percentage of Hungarians in Hungary had reached 54.4 percent, whereas in the nations that came about as a result of the peace treaties, in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, the leading Czech and Serbian elements constituted but a minority as compared to the other ethnic groups.
The Treaty of Trianon was a great blow to Hungary in economic terms as well. Hungary was deprived of 62.2 percent of its railroad network, 73.8 percent of its public roads, 64.6 percent of its canals, 88 percent of its forests, 83 percent of its iron ore mines and of all its salt mines.
At the Peace Conference the Entente powers, in order to satisfy the imperialist greed of their allies in central Europe, cut across roads, canals, railroad lines, split cities and villages in two, deprived mines of their entrances, etc.
There was but one modification of the frontier: thanks to Italian intercession
and the stand taken by patriotic forces in Western Hungary, a plebiscite
was obtained in Sopron and its environs. At the plebiscite of December
4, 1921, 65 percent of the population opted for Hungary.
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