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Slovak PM heavily criticized for his comments about minorities

Bratislava, Slovakia, 28.2.2013 23:48, (ROMEA)
The flag of the Slovak Republic. Photo:  Archiv Romea.cz
The flag of the Slovak Republic. Photo: Archiv Romea.cz

Representatives of the European People's Party and the socialist faction at the EP, as well as representatives of national minorities in Slovakia, are criticizing Slovak PM Robert Fico for saying that minorities in his country are trying to extort the state through minority rights. Fico said yesterday that ethnic minorities, minority opinion-holders and national minorities are looking for handouts while refusing to meet their obligations to the state. He insisted that these practices must change and that Slovaks did not establish an independent state in order to privilege minorities.

French MEP Joseph Daul, the head of the EPP Group at the European Parliament, responded to the statement, telling Fico that instead of blaming minorities he should devote more energy and time to addressing economic problems and the drastic rise in unemployment. "I condemn [Fico's] nationalist statements against minorities. There is no room for such words in today's Europe," Daul said.

Slovak media report that Austrian MEP Hannes Swoboda, who leads the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats at the EP, declared that Fico should not abandon the path of cooperation and social reconciliation between all groups in Slovak society. The European Socialists previously excluded Fico's Směr-Sociální Demokracie party from membership in their group for three years after he created a governing coalition with the nationalist Slovak National Party in 2006, whose representatives made liberal use of verbal invective against Hungarians and Romani people.

The current Slovak cabinet is comprised of independents and Směr members. After taking office last April, the executive promised not to intervene in national minority rights.

Fico's speech also startled the Government Plenipotentiary for National Minorities and the Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Communities. Those currently holding those offices were nominated by the opposition. 

Representatives of several minorities have also criticized Fico for his statements at a conference commemorating the 150th anniversary of Matica slovenská, a national cultural institution. "Those statements are untrue and insult the Czechs living in Slovakia. I am not aware that members of the Czech minority are not meeting their civic obligations, not being loyal to the state, or not cultivating civic virtue," the Slovak daily paper Sme quotes the head of the Czech Club in Košice, Dagmar Takácsová, as saying. She went on to say that minority cultures help to develop culture in the country as a whole.

A doctor by profession, Takácsová is particularly involved in developing Czech culture in Slovakia. She said the Czech Club's only requests for financial contributions have been for cultural events such as the traditional Days of Czech Culture Festival: "If the state doesn't want to contribute to minorities for their cultural events, then it doesn't have to, but it's just not possible that the state makes a contribution while simultaneously reproaching us for extorting it. That kind of contribution leaves a very bitter aftertaste and degrades both the giver and the receiver."

"To learn after more than two decades, directly from the Prime Minister, that this state is not and never was intended for us minorities is a bitter realization, to put it mildly," wrote Jarmila Vaňová, program director of the Roma Media Center (Romské mediální centrum). "I am a proud Slovak of Roman nationality. I'd like to see someone try to tell me I'm not a Slovak! The conviction that we are a foreign element here is the greatest of errors. This is our home, Slovakia is our country too."

Anna Koptová, director of the Good Romani Fairy Kesaj Foundation (nadace Dobrá romská víla Kesaj), recalled the statements made Tuesday by the new US Secretary of State John Kerry, who defended the principles of American democracy and upholding human rights at a meeting with German students: "Among other things he said: In America you have the right to be stupid if you want. So be it. However, no democracy, not even Slovak democracy, gives anyone the right to make fools of the citizens, especially not constitutional officials, because such an interest is neither democratic nor moral."

Peter Kolár, the chair of the Košice chapter of Csemadok, a Hungarian cultural society, said he believes the PM has broken the oath he gave the Slovak President more than once since taking office: "He promised to fulfill his responsibilities in the interests of the citizens. He should not forget that members of all minorities, including the Hungarians, are citizens of the Slovak Republic." Kolář also pointed out that minority demands, in particular for cultural development, are legitimate and based on actual laws and international conventions that Slovakia has signed.

The Round Table of Hungarians in Slovakia also expressed deep uneasiness over Fico's words. According to its spokesperson, Géza Tokar, it is dangerous and unacceptable for politicians to divide citizens by nationality into those who are less important and those who are most important.

Slovak Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Miroslav Lajčák responded to the PM's words by saying "there is no need to cry wolf". He said the government should rather be assessed by the work it has actually done in the area of minority policy.

Roughly 12 % of the five million people living in Slovakia are members of a national minority. The largest group is the Hungarian minority, with more than 458 000 inhabitants according to the last census. Around 30 000 people of Czech nationality live in the country. According to official statistics, roughly 105 000 Romani people also live in Slovakia.

ČTK, voj, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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