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Page last updated at 09:59 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 10:59 UK

Slovaks defiant over language law

Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak (file pic)
Mr Lajcak said the row was delaying a meeting with Hungary's PM

Slovakia has dismissed protests by neighbouring Hungary over a new language law which would impose fines for using minority languages.

The Slovak foreign minister said "it's necessary to return this hysterical atmosphere - which hasn't been caused by the Slovak side - to normal".

Miroslav Lajcak was speaking after Hungarian MPs on Monday jointly urged Slovakia to rescind the language law.

Slovakia's 5.4 million population includes more than 500,000 Hungarians.

The law, due to come into effect on 1 September, envisages fines of up to 5,000 euros (£4,315) for people who use minority languages in public services. It would apply in cases where the minority forms less than 20% of the local population.

Hungarian anger

Janos Koka, leader of the liberal Free Democrats (SZDSZ) party group in the Hungarian parliament, said "what we need is a diplomatic offensive so that this law is rescinded before it comes into force on 1 September".

In the European Parliament last week a deaf Hungarian MEP, Adam Kosa, used sign language to protest against the Slovak law.

"As I use sign language I am very sensitive to these issues and would like minorities to be able to speak in their own tongue," he said.

A German conservative MEP, Michael Gahler, also condemned the law. He said Slovakia was "violating commonly respected standards in the EU and disregarding respective recommendations of the Council of Europe, which foresee the extended use of minority languages".

According to Mr Lajcak, the law "in no way restricts the use of minority languages in Slovakia".

"We are sure that Slovakia's State Language Act does not go beyond good European standards, and that it is nothing unusual in Europe," he said on the euobserver.com news website.

He said the law was intended to "ensure that no Slovak citizen, irrespective of their ethnicity, feels disadvantaged or discriminated against in the territory of their country on the grounds of the language they speak".

Slovakia's ruling coalition, led by Prime Minister Robert Fico of the left-wing Smer party, includes the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) of Jan Slota.



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