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Slovak Republic: Venice Commission Recommends Further Amendment of Language Law

(Nov. 12, 2010) The Slovak Republic enacted a State Language Law that became effective on September 1, 2009. The Law limited the public use of languages of minority peoples in the country, imposed fines on those who use minority languages when they “should not be used,” and held agreements concluded in languages other than Slovak to be invalid. The Law was considered by some commentators to be overly vague and was particularly resented by the country's Hungarian citizens, who constitute 9.7% of the population. (New Language Law in Slovakia Sparks Tensions: Hungarian Minority Says It Fears Being Singled Out, AP (Sept. 16, 2009),; Central Intelligence Agency, Slovakia, WORLD FACTBOOK, (last visited Nov. 8, 2010).)

Although the Slovak government has proposed amending the Law, the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, also known as the Venice Commission, has recently recommended more extensive changes. (Daniela Jancova, Venice Commission Requests a More Extensive Change to Language Law, [email protected] (Oct. 27, 2010), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201010271477.1_632b00db4f8d3b18.) The Commission, established in 1990, is an advisory body to the Council of Europe. (The Venice Commission, Council of Europe website, (last visited Nov. 8, 2010).)

The Venice Commission has stated that the existing Law, even with the proposed amendments, is inconsistent with provisions of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. The Commission argued that nations should facilitate, not restrict, communication with officials in minority languages in areas where speakers of such languages are settled in great numbers. While the Slovak Law stipulates a threshold of 20% of the population in an area having a different native tongue before official accommodation is needed, some leaders in the Slovak Republic would prefer to see that standard lowered to 10%. (European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, Nov. 5, 1992, Strasbourg, Council of Europe website, (last visited Nov. 8, 2010); Jancova, supra.)

Slovak Culture Minister Daniel Krajcer has argued that all the needed amendments to the Law are included in the government's proposed revision and that no further changes are appropriate. The changes in the government proposal include modifying the rules on use of language in some official documents, such as changing the requirement that all documents at schools in minority regions be in Slovak and the minority language. The country'sDeputy Prime Minister for Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities, Rudolf Chmel, disagrees, arguing that the Law would still not be up to the standards proposed by the experts on the staff of the Venice Commission. (Krajcer Sees No Reason to Further Amend the State Language Act, SITA ONLINE (Oct. 27, 2010), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201010271477.1_4a4a004c28641112.)