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Message by the Deputy Prime Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Regional Development of the Slovak Republic, Pál Csáky
Our Multiethnic Europe
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour for me to stand before you and greet you on behalf of the government of the Slovak Republic. Prime Minister, thank you for inviting me to this interesting conference and congratulations on its successful organisation. I am also grateful for the opportunity to deliver my speech at this particular point in the conference, when we can also discuss the wider contexts of the vision of our European community’s future. I also find it important that future EU member countries are able to assist in creating the architecture of the future Europe.
Our starting points are clear: time and time again, the twentieth century showed us the mistakes we have made and the consequences of aggression. Restricting the rights of others and restricting the right to diversity, egoism, and political short-sightedness have caused much evil in the history of humanity. We must realise anew that every person, every individual has a unique value and as such has the right to a full private and public life. The basis for this should be tolerance and respect for diversity. I am convinced that spiritually free people can never be intolerant and that xenophobia and anti-Semitism are alien to them.
Yes, we have joint responsibility for the future of our common Europe. This future should be built on humanitarian values. The strength of Europe has always been that different nations manage to co-exist here in mutual understanding. I am convinced that in building the Europe of the future we should advance on two levels. In my opinion, we should search for common, highly effective structures in those areas which make us competitive on a global scale. These are economy, finance, the monetary area, and gradually also foreign policy. But we should preserve heterogeneity in those areas which have made us strong in the past. That is cultural and linguistic heterogeneity, which is the basis of our increased creativity and ability to co-operate.
My country, the Slovak Republic, is a multiethnic state. Roughly 16 percent of all the country’s citizens profess to belong to a minority community. I myself am a representative of the largest, the Hungarian minority community. Since this community’s strong political party is now a part of the Slovak governmental coalition, I stand before you as Deputy Prime Minister of Slovakia. I am responsible for addressing issues regarding human and minority rights and I do it gladly, because I am aware that through the suitable models we are managing to develop in our country, we can also contribute towards the model for the co-existence of nations in the Europe of the future.
We make no secret of the fact that our country had certain problems in the area of human rights and minorities in the period between 1994 and ’98. I am glad that I can state here that positive changes have occurred in this area. I state this not only as a member of the government, but also as an elected representative of the Hungarian community in Slovakia. So that there is permanent dialogue with minorities, we have established the Council of the Government for Minorities, where only minority representatives have voting rights, thereby ensuring that they have the opportunity to articulate their opinion. In 1999 we adopted a law on the use of minority languages in the Slovak Republic; three weeks ago the government approved Slovakia’s accession to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. We have prepared a law on an ombudsman; a programme to protect citizens from all forms of intolerance, xenophobia and anti-Semitism has been running for two years under the government’s patronage. We have signed the 12th Additional Protocol to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; we are now analysing our legal situation and intend to prepare a law on the protection of citizens from all forms of intolerance, racism and xenophobia.
There are various programmes in the area of human and minority rights for the police, judges, prosecutors, and prison guards. We have also made progress in the area of the education of minorities. We are paying particular attention to addressing Roma issues in our country, which is a very topical problem. We have elaborated a comprehensive strategy on this issue, which has been very positively evaluated by international experts. We are now focusing on the implementation of concrete programmes; our priorities for 2001 are education, housing and reducing unemployment for Roma. We are implementing many projects with international co-operation, with EU support through the Phare programme, in cooperation with the Council of Europe, or on the basis of bilateral co-operation with EU member countries, the USA and Canada. Thank you for all these forms of assistance; we are also open to further possibilities for co-operation. We would also like to ask for your patience in this area, because solving this issue will require a great deal more strength and determination. I would like to use this opportunity to declare the Slovak government’s clear political will to solve this issue.
However, we are not glad that some of our citizens are abusing the benevolence of asylum laws in certain EU member countries. I would also like to declare that the Slovak Republic is a democratic country where we guarantee freedom to leave as well as the freedom to return. So-called asylum tourism therefore can not be solved unilaterally; we welcome the management of more flexible mechanisms by our partners. I will also take this opportunity to inform you that this month the Slovak government plans to establish a mixed commission of members of the government and the Jewish community to address issues related to compensating victims of the holocaust in the Slovak Republic. Last year, the Slovak parliament adopted a law, making September 12th the official Memorial Day for victims of the holocaust in the Slovak Republic.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In my speech, I have attempted to link ideas with concrete steps as our contribution from the Slovak Republic to the architecture of the future democratic common Europe. At the same time, I want to again declare the Slovak government’s strong political will to participate in all forms of co-operation in this area.
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