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Intolerance in Slovakia: The Opressive "Language Law"

AHF urges OSCE High Commissioner, Knut Vollebaek, on National Minorities to increase pressure on Slovakia to repeal oppressive language law2/16/2009 - AHF urges OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities to increase pressure on Slovakia to repeal oppressive language law. "The language law is the latest manifestation of the Slovak government’s intolerance toward its Hungarian minority.  Not surprisingly, the Slovak National Party (“SNS”) is a member of the ruling coalition.  Its chairman Jan Slota is known for his xenophobia:  “Hungarians are the cancer of the Slovak nation, without delay we need to remove them from the body of the nation.”

The full letter is below or available for [download]

AHF urges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to "publicly and unambiguously express [her] concern relative to the language law that took effect on September 1, 2009 in Slovakia. By curtailing or eliminating the use of minority languages from the public sphere, that discriminatory law threatens the Hungarian minority’s culture and infringes on fundamental freedoms.February 15, 2010

His Excellency Knut Vollebaek
High Commissioner on National Minorities, Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Dear High Commissioner:

The American Hungarian Federation (the “Federation”), founded in 1906, monitors developments relating to democracy, minority rights and security and stability in Central and Eastern Europe.  One issue which we are closely following is the language law that took effect on September 1, 2009 in Slovakia and discriminates against ethnic Hungarians who comprise only 11% of the population and live in contiguous areas of southern Slovakia – the geographic location where they and their ancestors have lived for centuries.

In your January 4, 2010 statement you noted that the “Government [Slovak] Principles for the Implementation of the State Language Law provide for the respect of principles of non-discrimination and proportionality and should thus safeguard the right of persons belonging to national minorities to use their mother tongue in the private and public sphere.” (Emphasis added.)

We were hopeful that this would be the case.   To our great disappointment, and undoubtedly to yours as well, the language law threatens the Hungarian minority’s culture and infringes on fundamental freedoms.  We have received consistent and credible reports that the mere existence of the law, as drafted, has caused considerable uncertainty, fear and anxiety among ethnic Hungarians.  The result has been to chill the use of their mother tongue, precisely why this law is so odious and anti-democratic.  There is no place for such a law in 21st century Europe.

The language law is the latest manifestation of the Slovak government’s intolerance toward its Hungarian minority.  Not surprisingly, the Slovak National Party (“SNS”) is a member of the ruling coalition.  Its chairman Jan Slota is known for his xenophobia:  “Hungarians are the cancer of the Slovak nation, without delay we need to remove them from the body of the nation.”  The Stephen Roth Institute has called the SNS “an extremist nationalist party.”

Such extremist attitudes have contributed to the adoption of the law, even though Slovakia promised to respect the rights of its minorities before being accepted into NATO and the EU.  Not only has the law caused considerable internal unease in Slovakia, it threatens much needed unity within NATO by increasing tensions between Slovakia and Hungary – both NATO allies.

Considering both the immediate and long-term implications of the language law, the response to date has been overly cautious and unduly optimistic, especially compared with the outspokenness about equally disturbing minority issues, such as those relating to the Roma.  We, therefore, respectfully suggest that the appropriate response would be for you to raise the unacceptability of the language law with Slovakia – 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.

 Frank Koszorus, Jr.
 Co-president and Chairman, International Relations Committee

<< Back to all Slovak Language Law News

9/29/2011 - Federation again raises minority rights. In a letter to Knut Vollebaek, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, the Federation again raises anti-Hungarian measures in Slovakia and Serbia and requests the High Commissioner's clarification of reports in the electronic media asserting that he had labeled Hungary's support for Slovakia's Hungarian minority "malicious and foolish."
[read more]

AHF urges Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to "publicly and unambiguously express [her] concern relative to the Slovak language law"Clinton fellépését sürgeti a szlovák nyelvtörvény ügyében az AHF
2010. február 3. 19:42

Az egyik vezető amerikai magyar szervezet levélben sürgette Hillary Clinton amerikai külügyminisztert, hogy nyíltan és egyértelműen fejezze ki aggodalmát az "elfogadhatatlan" szlovák nyelvtörvény miatt. Az Amerikai Magyar Szövetség (AHF) - amely szerdán juttatta el a levél másolatát az MTI-nek - arról írt: a nyelvtörvény a szlovák kormány magyar kisebbséggel szembeni türelmetlenségének legújabb megnyilvánulása, jóllehet Szlovákia a kisebbségi jogok tiszteletben tartását ígérte a NATO-ba és az EU-ba történt felvétele előtt." [tovább]

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Hungarians in Slovakia

Ethnic Map of Slovakia - 1910 vs 1991 showing population decline


Related Articles

By Any Other Name: Hungary, Apartheid, and the Benes Decrees
by Christopher Szabó, diacritica.com
April 3, 2002

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.


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]

Allied Omertá:
Shattering the Code of Silence About the Benes Decrees

by Christopher Szabó, diacritica.com
April 3, 2002

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]

Courtesy of the Corvinus Online Library

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]

Corvinus.com - Czech and Slovak Affairs Page
Also see the Hungarian Forum in Australia

The Hungarian Problem
Or, the Hungarians are the Problem
Christopher Szabó, diacritica.com
Autumn, 1998

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!

How Hungary Shrank, stranding millions across artificial bordersThey 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]

A Case Study on Trianon
The Corvinus Library

How Hungary Shrank, stranding millions across artificial borders..."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.
[go to Corvinus Trianon Index]
[more from above excerpt]
[The Hungary Page - Trianon]

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