Language Laws Concerning the Slovakian Minority and the Field of Minority Language Use – with special reference to the Hungarian community

Gizella Szabomihaly


The author starts out by reviewing, from a historical point of view, the development of language laws from the time of the first Czechoslovakian Republic until the formation of an independent Slovakia. The period between the two world wars is characterised by a comparatively liberal approach to  language policy;  this was mainly due to the agreement on the protection of minorities.  The agreement on minorities (as well as the constitution itself) guaranteed freedom in the use of language to all citizens in private affairs, commerce, religion and the press. In public education a minority language could be used as the language of instruction or even be a compulsorily or optionally taught subject. In between the wars a relatively wide range of language laws dealt with minorities;  the language law valid between 1920 and 1926 lacked lacked fixed directives whereas later it was made too complicated due to over-regulation. The state later made further attempts to reduce the ostensible number of administrative units which would have enabled the existence of the necessary 20% of (minority) residents in a given area required to make the law on language use enforceable.  Between 1939 and 1945 the indigenous groups of the then Slovak Republic experienced no changes in laws on language use relevant for nationalities.  However, after the Second World War, between 1945 and 1948 members of the German and Hungarian minorities were subject to a complete deprivation of civil rights. The latter process also spread to the open use of the mother tongue.  According to the constitutional law accepted in 1968 the state guaranteed: the education law for  Hungarian, German, Polish and Ukrainian nationalities; a law encompassing many-sided cultural developments;  the law allowing citizens to use their language in an official capacity in the area in which they lived; the legal right of association for nationality culture organisations; and the right for minorities to use their own language in their own press and information services. In the 1990s legislation relevant for language use was characterised by two tendencies: in the first the use of  the Slovak language as a symbol of national and state sovereignty was extended and strengthened;  in the second the rights of language use for minorities according to the law – and largely due to international pressure – were regulated.

Documents concerning the protection of international minorities – such as the Charter or the European Council Framework Agreement on the Protection of  Minorities – were only observed in a restricted way in Slovakia, and then only after several years of waiting for ratification. The author analyses the 1990 language law and the state language law which was announced on 1 January 1996. These touch upon regulations concerning the mother language and the permission to use it with respect to family names and surnames, the law for the registration of births, marriages and deaths, and the displaying of a settlement’s minority language name. All this can be regarded in a positive light. The essence of the 1996 state language law compared to earlier laws was that it extended the prescribed orders for the use of the official language to educational matters, mass communications, general education, organisations for public security, the army, the fire service, court procedures, economic life and the health service. In its sense the law implies that on the territory of the Slovak Republic the Slovak language enjoys advantages over any other language; this has all kinds of implications for the official language in the spoken word and in writing. There were protests about the state language law both at home and abroad and due to this pressure the parliament committed itself to drawing up laws for the rights of minorities. This came about in 1999 but it was only relevant on an official basis in those settlements where the minority population reached at least 20% of the majority population.

In the other parts of the study the author shows how effective the above laws have been on a day-to-day  basis in education, in the system of justice, in public education, in mass communications, culture, religion and in economic spheres of life. In the end she comes to the conclusion that one can speak about the defence of minorities in Slovakia as being at most passive, and it only reaches the minimum of European norms.