RFE/RL Newsline on minority issues


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Subject: RFE/RL Newsline on minority issues

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RFE/RL on minorities



RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 6, No. 11, Part II, 17 January 2002

ROMANIA TO CLOSELY MONITOR LAW GRANTING BENEFITS TO ETHNIC HUNGARIANS

By Eugen Tomiuc

Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase is expressing doubts over
Hungary's determination to observe a bilateral memorandum stipulating
the conditions under which Romania's Hungarian minority can benefit
from a Hungarian law granting certain rights to ethnic Hungarians
living abroad.

The Law on Hungarians Living in Neighboring Countries - also known as
the Status Law - was passed by Hungary's parliament in June 2001. It
allows ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, Slovakia, Yugoslavia,
Croatia, Ukraine, and Slovenia to enjoy advantages - including an
annual three-month work permit in Hungary as well as
medical care and pension benefits - on the basis of an identity card
issued by Hungarian authorities.

Romania, which is home to an ethnic Hungarian minority of 1.7 million
people - the regions' largest - protested mainly over the provision
granting working rights for ethnic Hungarians, saying it would
discriminate against Romanians seeking employment in Hungary.
Bucharest also objected to the stipulation in the law that would have
allowed organizations representing ethnic Hungarians in Romania to
issue the Hungarian ID card, saying it would have amounted to a breach
of Romania's sovereignty.

But under a memorandum signed on 22 December in Budapest by Nastase
and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Hungary agreed to allow all
Romanian citizens - regardless of their ethnic origin - to apply for
work permits within its territory. In addition, organizations
representing the Magyars will only make "recommendations" to Hungarian
authorities, which would issue the cards in Hungary proper.

However, Nastase on 11 January criticized a statement allegedly made
by Hungarian Democratic Forum Deputy Zsolt Nemeth. Nemeth, whose party
is a junior partner in Orban's coalition government, was quoted by
Nastase as saying that it is easier for a camel to pass through the
eye of a needle than for a Romanian to work in Hungary.

Romanian government spokesman Claudiu Lucaciu told RFE/RL that such
statements could lead Romanian officials to suspect that the Hungarian
side agreed to the memorandum "in bad faith."
        
"This is an agreement between the two governments - that is, to allow
Romanian citizens to access the Hungarian workforce market - and that
is why the prime minister [Nastase] expressed a certain level of fear
that if things are indeed as presented by some Hungarian political
leaders, and discrimination on ethnic criteria will continue, then one
could consider that the agreement was concluded in bad faith," Lucaciu
said.

But Hungary's government, in response, said it will fulfill all
obligations assumed in the memorandum.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi told the Hungarian
parliament on 11 January that Budapest is interested in fully
implementing the memorandum. Martonyi said the document is good for
ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, as well as for relations between
the two countries.

However, Budapest said on 15 January it will limit the number of
foreign workers in 2002. A government spokesman said only 81,320
foreign workers will be admitted - a number equal to the job vacancies
in 2001.

The decision - months ahead of general elections scheduled for April -
follows harsh criticism from Hungary's Socialist-led opposition that
the deal with Bucharest will cause an exodus of cheap seasonal labor
to Hungary.
        
Controversy over the Status Law has dominated otherwise good relations
between Romania and Hungary over the past year.

After World War I, Hungary lost two-thirds of its territory to newly
formed Central and Eastern European states. As a consequence, some 3.5
million Hungarians live outside of their homeland.

Hungary has enjoyed steady economic growth since the fall of communism
and is a front-runner to join the European Union. It says the Status
Law is aimed at helping ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries
preserve their cultural and national identities and at offering them
economic support to continue living in their native regions.
        
But Romania and Slovakia - which hosts the second-largest Hungarian
minority in the region, some 600,000 - both complained about the
extraterritorial character of the law and unofficially expressed fears
that the measure might finally lead to territorial claims from
Hungary.

To allay Romanian suspicions, Hungary in the December memorandum
pledged not to offer any kind of support to Romania's ethnic Hungarian
political organizations without prior approval from Romanian
authorities.
        
Romanian Prime Minister Nastase and his Hungarian counterpart Orban
also agreed in the document that ethnic Hungarian organizations will
only be permitted to offer general information about the documentation
necessary to obtain a Hungarian ID card.

At Romania's insistence, the document also stipulates that the
procedure to obtain a Hungarian identity card - the receiving of
applications, issuing, and forwarding - take place "primarily" on
Hungarian territory, thus limiting what Romania calls the law's
"extraterritoriality."

Bela Marko, the leader of Romania's ethnic Hungarian party, the UDMR,
says his party's role will be limited to gathering application forms -
beginning on 21 January 21 - at its local headquarters and passing
them to the Hungarian authorities.

"As I said, we won't establish any separate territorial offices. We
will receive people at some of UDMR's regional headquarters, where
they will leave their applications," Marko told RFE/RL. "According to
the agreement between the two governments, we will only inform people
and will not give any recommendations."

In a move likely to cause dissatisfaction among mixed families, the
memorandum provides for Romanians married to ethnic Hungarians - who
were initially supposed to enjoy the same benefits as their spouses -
to be excluded from the law's provisions. Bucharest said the exclusion
is necessary to eliminate discrimination between Romanians married to
ethnic Hungarians and other Romanians.
        
But despite obtaining some apparently important concessions from
Budapest, Romanian officials still have suspicions regarding the
actual implementation of the memorandum.
        
On 14 January, Nastase ordered the creation of a government commission
to monitor the implementation process and report possible
irregularities.
        
"This means that Romania wants to carefully monitor the implementation
of the law, especially on its national territory," according to
government spokesman Lucaciu. "And that is why the prime minister
ordered the prefects [government's regional representatives] not to
allow any initiative to establish offices meant to register
applications for Hungarian ID cards or to issue these IDs."
        
Romanian President Ion Iliescu said on 15 January that he hopes the
Hungarian side will observe and implement the memorandum "in good
faith."
        
In the memorandum, Romania and Hungary agreed that Budapest will
review the Status Law and initiate the necessary amendments in six
months. But to what extent Budapest will be ready to amend the law
will most likely depend on the outcome of Hungary's general elections.

Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent.
...................


RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 6, No. 12, Part II, 18 January 2002

ROMANY LANGUAGE TO BE USED IN SLOVAK SCHOOLS. Klara Orgovanova,
government commissioner for Romany issues, said on 17 January that the
Slovak Roma should be allowed the chance to be educated in their
mother tongue in addition to the Slovak language, CTK reported. She
said that for this purpose the Romany language needs codification in
Slovak, as the dictionary and the grammar book put out in 1971 uses
Czech-Romany translation. Orgovanova said the decision has been taken
to "translate these books as suits Slovak needs," and that she hopes
the effort will be successfully completed in the first quarter of
2002. She added that she does not believe the Romany language should
be used as the only teaching language in Romany schools, but "could be
a sort of helping language in classes where Romany pupils prevail."
She also said she  will promote creating a secondary school that would
primarily prepare Romany  students for working in state
administration. MS
......................


RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 6, No. 13, Part II, 22 January 2002 

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER WRITES TO VERHEUGEN ON STATUS LAW.
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan, in a letter to Guenter Verheugen, the
EU commissioner for enlargement, wrote on 18 January that Slovakia
expects "significant progress" to be made at a meeting on the Status
Law scheduled in Budapest on 23 January between Foreign Ministry State
Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo and his Hungarian counterpart Zsolt Nemeth,
TASR and CTK reported. Kukan wrote that Slovakia "appreciates the
interest in the issue displayed by the EU and Verheugen," as well as
the EU's position that the Status Law should respect the norms of
international legislation. On 21 January, Robert Fico, the populist
Smer (Direction) Party leader, said he finds it "unacceptable" that a
party representing "foreign interests," as the Hungarian Coalition
Party (SMK) allegedly does, should be a member of the ruling
coalition. Fico said that Smer is ruling out cooperation with the SMK
after the autumn 2002 general elections unless the SMK "distances
itself" from defending "a foreign country's interests," and called on
SMK Chairman Bela Bugar to "finally comment" on the Status Law and
"stop hiding." In a surprising move, the local branches of the SMK and
of the opposition Movement for  a Democratic Slovakia issued a joint
statement in Kosice on 18 January calling on political parties to stop
using the Status Law as an issue for a "political campaign" that risks
escalation into "civic hatred." The joint statement also criticized
the government for "keeping silent" and for allowing parties that are
members of the ruling coalition to participate in this campaign. MS

UKRAINE WANTS STATUS LAW BENEFITS TO FALL INTO LINE WITH 'ROMANIAN
MODEL.' Ukrainian officials have proposed that seasonal job
opportunities in Hungary extended to all Romanian citizens be offered 
to all Ukrainian citizens as well, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 19
January. Citing reliable sources in Kyiv, the newspaper wrote that
Ukrainian members of the Ukrainian-Hungarian intergovernmental joint
committee made the proposal at the committee's last session. A
compromise was reportedly agreed upon, under which Ukraine will
request that all Sub-Carpathian inhabitants, rather than just ethnic
Hungarians, be entitled to the job opportunities made available under
Hungary's Status Law. Ukraine's Sub-Carpathian region has a population
of 1.3 million, of  whom some 160,000 are ethnic Hungarians. MSZ
....................


RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol. 6, No. 15, Part II, 24 January 2002

HUNGARY, SLOVAKIA DISCUSS STATUS LAW. Foreign Ministry State Secretary
Zsolt Nemeth and his visiting Slovak counterpart Jaroslav Chlebo told
reporters in Budapest on 23 January that during their meeting they
mainly dealt with "questions of principle" regarding Hungary's Status
Law, but "no agreement was reached on details," Hungarian media
reported. The officials said they hope to reach an agreement by late
January, and prepare a draft text that could provide the basis for an
intergovernmental political declaration. Chlebo said Slovakia does not
question Hungary's right to support ethnic Hungarian minorities
abroad. The real problem for Slovakia, he said, is to find mechanisms
through which minority support can be implemented without others
feeling that they are being discriminated against. "Bratislava is
committed to finding constructive solutions within the framework of
Slovak law," Chlebo said, hinting that Slovakia's main objection
remains that the Hungarian law should have no force on Slovak
territory, Hungarian and international media reported. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS STATUS LAW WON'T RESULT IN LOST JOBS. "No one
in Hungary will lose their job because of foreigners, as the
government has the tools to regulate the labor market," Prime Minister
Viktor Orban told Hungarian radio on 23 January. Regarding disputes
over the Status Law and the Hungarian-Romanian memorandum of
understanding, Orban said that "certain Hungarian political forces
have burned their own negative stigma deep into the soul of millions
of Hungarians across the borders." Opposition Socialist Party Chairman
Laszlo Kovacs
said in response that his party only attacked the memorandum of
understanding, which "changed the law behind parliament's back." In
other news, trade unions and employers' groups on 23 January rejected
the government's recent decision to allow up to 81,320 foreigners to
work in Hungary this year. At a meeting of the National Labor Council
the unions proposed that the quota be reduced to no more than 60,000,
or 2 percent of the entire workforce, but the employers opposed
setting any fixed number. 
MSZ

SERBIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES VOJVODINA AUTONOMY BILL. The parliament
voted on 23 January to restore Vojvodina's autonomy, RFE/RL's South
Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The vote was 119 to
74, with 42 abstentions reflecting the deep divisions over the issue,
AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2002). Nenad Canak, the
strong-willed leader who heads Vojvodina's autonomy drive, said: "The
tight vote today illustrates that Serbia still has not gotten rid of
its nationalists." Cedomir Jovanovic, a close ally of Prime Minister
Zoran Djindjic, noted that tensions between rival members of the
governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition tended to
overshadow the issues involved in the debate on autonomy. Leaders from
Pancevo and other local governments called for broader autonomy for
their regions, the BBC's Serbian Service reported. Many local and
regional opposition leaders were instrumental in the overthrow of the
regime of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. PM

ROMANIAN ORGANIZATIONS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT'S POLICIES TOWARD THE
CSANGOS. In a joint report released on 23 January, the Association for
the Defense of Human Rights-Helsinki Commission and the Pro-Europa
League said the government is promoting a policy of assimilation of
the Hungarian-speaking Csango minority in Moldavia and denies members
of that minority the right to receive instruction in their native
language and to attend church services conducted in Hungarian,
Romanian television reported. Education Minister Ecaterina Andronescu
called the report "unprofessional" and "biased," and said the
Association of Hungarian Csangos in Moldova is not legally registered. 
MS

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