Fwd: TOL: Ethnic Hungarians to Leave Slovak Government

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Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2001 19:30:39 +0300 (EEST)
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Subject: Fwd: TOL: Ethnic Hungarians to Leave Slovak Government

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Fwd: TOL: Ethnic Hungarians to Leave Slovak Government

Ethnic Hungarians to Leave Slovak Government
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia -- Psychologists say that if a person continually
lacks any positive feedback, support, or fulfillment, the result can
be intense frustration. The same can happen to political parties, as
recent events in the Slovak government indicate. Ethnic
Hungarians--frustrated by almost three years of waiting for their
demands to be met--decided on 11 August to leave Prime Minister
Mikulas Dzurinda's cabinet. A final vote will be taken on 25 August.
>From the very outset, the Slovak government cobbled together by
Dzurinda was a difficult mix and over time the five parties that
entered the coalition split into various factions and formed new
parties. The presence of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) - which
claims to represent the half a million ethnic Hungarians living in
Slovakia - was welcomed by democratic Europe as a clear signal that
Slovakia wanted to break the isolation created by former Prime
Minister Meciar and enter European structures as a democratic state,
capable of cooperating well with national minorities. That good image
could now be shattered, as the other coalition partners have refused
to meet SMK demands.
Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia enjoy wide legal rights. They have their
own schools, TV programs, and the state supports cultural programs for
the Hungarian minority. In areas where ethnic Hungarians make up at
least 20 percent of the population, Hungarian is the second official
language. Still, there are issues that need improvement, say ethnic
Hungarian leaders. The areas in which ethnic Hungarians live are often
divided into various counties and districts, diminishing the group's
influence. Reform of public administration was therefore one of the
priorities of the SMK.
Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia at first demanded one primarily
Hungarian district. After it became clear that the idea would not find
favor in the government, they supported the concept of dividing
Slovakia into 12 districts. In June 2001, that plan also died, as
parliament voted for the creation of just eight districts, an
unacceptable concept for ethnic Hungarians. Moreover, a new law on
municipal competencies, another priority of Hungarians, aims to
further centralize the country, leaving only minor powers in the hands
of municipalities. These bills became law after two left-of-center
members of the coalition, the Party of Democratic Left (SDL) and the
Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), united with the opposition.
This clear defeat of the government's original plans was the last
straw for the SMK. "This is a black day for democracy in the country,"
SMK leader Bela Bugar told journalists when he announced the
withdrawal from the coalition. Subsequent coalition talks ended in
deadlock, with Prime Minister Dzurinda failing to persuade the SDL and
SOP to change their stance on the reform of the public administration.
The withdrawal of the ethnic Hungarian party will mean leave the
government without a majority in parliament. It will also leave three
empty seats in the cabinet. To fill these places will be no easy task
for the politically divided coalition. "It may result in early
elections," the political analyst Grigorij Meseznikov warned in the
daily SME on 6 August.
Foreign officials have in the past criticized the quarrelling within
the government. According Jan Figel, Slovakia's chief negotiator with
the EU, several ambassadors from EU member-states have expressed their
concern. 2002 will be key year for Slovakia, as the country expect to
finish accession talks with the EU and hopes to be invited to join
NATO at a summit in Prague. "To have the image of a country where
developments at home are unpredictable is not a good starting point
for these historic decisions," Figel told the press agency SITA.
"I think the best way to continue [in the accession process] is for
the government to stay together to carry out reform tasks," U.S.
Charge dŽAffairs Douglas Hengel told SME on 16 August.
-- by Barbora Tancerova
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