Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

E. Europe Wages a War of Words NOT TALKING THE TALK

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

E. Europe Wages a War of Words NOT TALKING THE TALK

Article excerpt

THIS is one of Europe's last remaining divided cities, split not by a wall but by the Danube River; Half lies in Hungary and the other half in Slovakia. Komarno, on the Slovak side, seems at first a model of multiculturalism. Signs are in two languages, and Hungarian is spoken in all the shops and cafes, reflecting the 70 percent-Hungarian population left behind after borders were redrawn after World War I. But Slovakia's government has embarked on a campaign to give Slovak priority as the majority language. The issue puts the town at the center of an identity crisis in Eastern Europe as formerly communist states try redefine their culture, often along ethnic lines. Language is at the heart of debates over national culture all over the world - including in the United States, where Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas revived the debate over making English an official language in a recent speech, saying that the US needs "the glue of language to hold us together." Senator Dole's speech was an early volley in the presidential campaign. But in Slovakia, similar ideas have become government policy and are meeting fierce resistance from the country's minority Hungarian community. Say it in Slovak A proposed law could make Slovak the official language for all public institutions and is likely to be passed by the ruling coalition government this fall. Milan Ferko, the government official responsible for the draft law, says it is simply a natural part of Slovakia's independence. "It's just the same as when the Slovak Republic had to establish its own sovereign government, its own army, its own money, and laws," he says. "It is perfectly natural." Hungarians here, however, say the proposed law is impractical. "Imagine the situation where an elderly Hungarian woman, who speaks little Slovak, goes to see her Hungarian doctor. According to the law, the doctor has to speak to her in Slovakian, even if she can't understand," says Attila Fodor, chairman of the Democratic Hungarian Teachers' Association in Komarno, which has been leading protests against the law. "Unfortunately, I believe this government wants us to assimilate. …
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.