Page last updated at 18:40 GMT, Friday, 19 March 2010

Slovak President Gasparovic sends back patriotism law

By Rob Cameron
BBC News

Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic, 15 March 2010
Ivan Gasparovic said he was in favour of the law

The president of Slovakia has vetoed a controversial patriotism law passed recently by parliament.

The law, which among other things would require schools to play the Slovak national anthem every Monday, was due to come into force on 1 April.

But President Ivan Gasparovic says schools have not had enough time to conform to it.

There has been a public outcry over the law, drawn up by a nationalist party in the governing coalition.

Schools in particular complained they did not have enough money to pay for flags, coats of arms and other symbols of Slovak statehood that the law says must adorn every classroom.

Neither, said the schools, were there enough loudspeakers to play the national anthem every Monday morning.

President Gasparovic told reporters he was totally in favour of the law. The only problem, he said, was its timing.

He has now returned it to parliament to be amended to September.

Observers, however, believe there are other forces at work, saying Prime Minister Robert Fico put pressure on the president not to sign it.

Mr Fico and his party originally supported the law, but were evidently caught off guard by the scale of public opposition to it.

The Slovak National Party, which drafted the bill, said it was a response to developments in neighbouring Hungary, where nationalist politicians have been making inflammatory comments about Slovakia and the treatment of its large Hungarian minority.

This is an election year in both Slovakia and Hungary, and the nationalist rhetoric on both sides of the Danube is becoming increasingly belligerent.

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