A new Slovak law restricting the use of foreign national anthems has sparked the anger of the ethnic Hungarian minority and officials in Budapest.
Adopted late last month, the new proposed amendment to Slovakia’s legislation on national symbols makes the singing of national anthems during public events illegal unless an official delegation from the foreign country is present.
A legislative ‘mistake’?
Spearheaded by the nationalist and conservative SNS party, the amendment came after a debate pertaining to the colour and logo of the Slovak national hockey team’s outfit. But while MP’s were discussing the topic, a small change also slipped into the amendment regarding the singing of national anthems in Slovakia – and lawmakers reportedly signed off on the new law without even noticing the last-minute edit.
Former Slovak football player and current SNS lawmaker Dusan Tittel, who co-authored the bill, condemned the singing of the Hungarian national anthem during the football matches of DAC Dunajská Streda – a mostly Hungarian-inhabited city.
Even lawmakers from Most-Hid, a junior coalition partner and party of the Hungarian minority, voted for the bill before realizing their mistake. Most-Hid chairman Bela Bugar later asked the president to veto the law and is also working on changing the controversial wording of the document, or outright scrap the part about the national anthems.
According to him, “a small change slipped in that does not belong in Europe, especially not in the 21st century. Likewise, I have to say that 108 MP’s did not catch what the amendment actually included”. Bugar argued that there was still time to fix the situation, as the amendment is only due to take effect on May 15.
Reacting to the blunder, the president’s office criticized the MP’s for not properly reading the legislation they were voting on. President Andrej Kiska announced he will veto the bill after several parties urged him to do so.
Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian minority: a thorny issue in bilateral relations
The reason why the amendment has caused such a backlash is because it appears to specifically target the Hungarian minority in Slovakia and hails from a party with a long history of anti-Hungarian rhetoric: in the past, the SNS party also proposed a law banning dual-citizenship (after Budapest allowed Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarians to apply for citizenship) and a legislation banning the use of minority languages in public institutions. Former SNS party chairman Jan Slota, who suggested to march with tanks on Budapest, has previously called ethnic Hungarians “cysts on the body of the Slovak nation” that need to be removed.
On the other side of the border, a member of Hungary’s Jobbik party called the new Slovak law “atrocious” and “unacceptable” and urged the government to freeze bilateral relations with its neighbour. Other parties in Budapest also urged the Foreign Ministry to take action and summon the Slovak ambassador, arguing the amendment threatens the basic human and civil rights of the Hungarian community in Slovakia.
Despite the aggressive and fear-mongering rhetoric of nationalist parties and politicians on both sides of the border, relations between Slovaks and ethnic Hungarians are largely peaceful. Numbering at more than 450.000 according to the 2011 census (the latest available), the Hungarian community accounts for nearly 9% of Slovakia’s total population (the largest ethnic minority along with Roma).
National sovereignty vs. minority rights
Although ethnic Hungarians are represented by Most-Hid, Bela Bugar’s party has faced a backlash from its constituents and took a strong hit after agreeing to sign a coalition agreement with SNS – regardless of the recent clumsy mistake, which Bugar is trying to rectify.
It remains to be seen how Slovak politicians will try to rectify this enormous blunder. Although the SNS party has tried to present the issue as a matter of national sovereignty, the amendment is a clear violation of the freedom of speech and infringes upon the rights of minorities, virtually banning ethnic Hungarians from expressing their ethnicity through their anthem.
Written by Márk Szabó
An international relations and European politics student at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, Márk grew up in a bi-cultural Slovak-Hungarian family, stoking his interest in Central European politics and cross-national relations. A former intern at the Bratislava-based Globsec Institute, Márk aims for a career in diplomacy. He joined the team of Kafkadesk contributors in April 2019. You can read all of his articles right here!