Slovakia Removes Hungarian Roadsigns
Meciar Act Defies Earlier Pledge to Council of Europe
United Press International, August 4, 1993
BRATISLAVA -- The government Wednesday ordered Hungarian language roadsigns to be removed because they are not the proper color, weeks after it had guaranteed to keep the signs in exchange for membership of the Council of Europe.
The transport ministry has instructed local councils to remove the signs and told them to protect their employees if they were threatened, according to a report from the CTK Czech news agency.
Slovakia said it would allow the country's 600,000-strong Hungarian minority, about 11 percent of the country's population, to use Hungarian language surnames and road signs in return for being accepted for membership June 30 into the Council of Europe, the pan-European body which deals with minority rights and other issues. The tussle over roadsigns is the latest incidence of needling between the two neighbors, who are also still quarreling about the Gabcikovo dam complex on the River Danube, which forms the border between the countries.
However, the government reacted cooly to suggestions from the Egyutteles Hungarian minority party which said rules of grammar should never take priority over human rights.
"The whole thing is an unnecessary escalation by the Hungarian deputies," Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told journalists, adding that rising unemployment and privatization were more important problems in southern Slovakia where the Hungarians are concentrated.
Opposition politicians said they were surprised by the decision, so soon after Slovak officials had assured visiting European politicians that the matter was settled, while others said Meciar was trying to divert attention from economic difficulties and stalling talks to enlarge the government's support in parliament.
"I think that this government is trying to distract people's attention," said Vojtech Bugar, the chairman of the Hungarian Christian Democratic Party.
Slovakia, which became independent on Jan. 1, says it has been pushing Hungary to sign a treaty ratifying the border between the two countries, but in an interview Wednesday with the Hungarian newspaper Uj Magyarorszag the Hungarian foreign minister said such a treaty must include broader political and cultural questions which have not yet been agreed.
"(If) our neighbors guarantee the rights, equality and state- creating character of Hungarians living beyond our borders, then we can seek formulations that confirm the territorial decrees of the (1947) peace treaty," Foreign Minister Geza Jeszenszky told the paper, according to a report carried by the MTI state news agency.
Nepszabadsag, the largest circulation Hungarian newspaper, said in an editorial the decision "can be seen as the fuss-making of petty-minded, cantankerous and inferior bureaucrats."
"(Slovakia) tends to regard Hungarian geographical names as reminders of the fact that the settlements in question did indeed belong to Hungary once and so they are highly undesirable in a country that still feels its historical right (to exist) to be fragile."
The paper cites the example of Finland, where the number of ethnic Swedes roughly equals the number of Hungarians in Slovakia, but where bilingualism exists nationwide.