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Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Feb 25 21:48:20 UTC 2005

Hungarian Prime Ministers support for autonomy continues to cause
contoversy in Slovakia
Peter Josika , Biel/ Bienne 2/24/2005

A remark by Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany, in which he
expressed his support for the creation of autonomous regions in majority
Hungarian speaking areas outside of Hungary, was angrily rejected by
Slovak politicians in mid January. Eurolangs Peter Josika asks whether
autonomy is divisive or does it strengthen diversity and neighbourly

In a recent referendum Hungarians were asked if they wanted to give
members of Hungarian minorities in neighbouring countries an automatic
right to Hungarian citizenship. Although there was a tiny majority in
favour of the motion, the referendum was not binding due to low voter turn

While the Conservative opposition and the powerful World Federation of
Hungarians initiated and supported the referendum, Prime Minister
Gyurcsany, who belongs to the liberal wing of the Hungarian Socialist
Party, rejected the controversial bill.

Many Hungarians believe that providing citizenship to members of the
Hungarian minority in Slovakia will strengthen their identity and weaken
the pressure to assimilate. Others view autonomy, similar to the South
Tyrolean or Basque model, as a better solution. Prime Minister Gyurcsany
expressed his support for the latter by saying:  For me the idea of
autonomy sounds like the better model than dual citizenship.

However, Slovak politicians reacted with consternation and rejected any
form of autonomy, political or cultural.

The far right wing Slovak Nationalist Party wants to introduce a bill that
would prohibit the creation of ethnically based autonomous regions on a
constitutional level.

The left wing populist opposition Smer Party pointed to sensitivities in
Slovakia towards Hungary and Hungarians. Slovak President Ivan Gaparovic
and Prime Minister Mikul Dzurinda spoke about a missing consensus on the

The ethnic Hungarian junior government SMK (Hungarian Coalition Party)
reacted with caution and pointed to the fact that autonomy was not part of
the Slovak government programme at this point in time.

The current Deputy Prime Minister of Slovakia, Pal Csaky, member of the
SMK, expressed his opposition to autonomy as he considers the notion of
autonomy too divisive in the current political climate. There are also
fears that it will disadvantage thousands of Hungarians in areas where
they do not constitute the local majority.

However, the notion of cultural autonomy for minorities, and political
autonomy for local majorities, has increasingly become a topic in European
politics. The European parliament supported a recent motion by South
Tyrolean MP Michl Ebner in favour of autonomous regions. South Tyrol and
the Basque country are considered exemplary as successful models for the
implementation of well functioning regional autonomies.

While there are critics who argue that setting up autonomous regions was
ethnically divisive or too expensive, there is an ever increasing number
of Europeans who point to the bridging character of such regions, not only
between the linguistic groups within the region, but often also between
two or more European countries that have historic animosities between each
other. (Eurolang  2005)

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