"My point of view is not from the perspective of minority rights only, but mainly from the perspective of freedom of speech, freedom of information, private sphere and private business, and I am against all state or government attacks targeting this freedom," Ondrej Dostál, Conservative Institute Director said in an interview targeted on a new Language Law which have come into a force in Slovakia.
If I look around, I see that maybe you are the only Slovakian in this stadium, and also the only person who is not here because of his nationalistic feelings. It might be surprising for some that you are participating in this rally. Can you explain us what brought you here to the forest of Hungarian flags?
I’m one of the opponents of the new Language Law. I think it is a very bad law not only for Hungarian people and for other minorities. I think it’s a bad law for all people who love freedom and who have respect for other people living in the same country. My point of view is not from the perspective of minority rights only, but mainly from the perspective of freedom of speech, freedom of information, private sphere and private business, and I am against all state or government attacks targeting this freedom.
Still, it seem to be a brave and unique enterprise to tell all this in front of 15000 Hungarians. How do you feel yourself in a stadium full of Hungarian flags in your country, Slovakia, where everybody speaks Hungarian. Are you fine with that?
I came here to present my opinion on the State Language Law, not to present my opinion on a possible Hungarian autonomy or on Hungarian politics or so on. For me the main topic is this law and the relationship between Slovakians and Hungarians. And I think it’s very important to say here in this place that State Language Law is not a conflict between Slovaks and Hungarians, but between people who want to fight for their freedom and people who would do against it with some nationalist feelings.
So we can separate the topic of the Language Law from the ethnical or national topics?
Yes, I say that this law is not a problem only for Hungarians, but also for many Slovaks. But I also want to speak about the relationship between the two nations, people of the two nations, and that we need more tolerance from each side.
You are collecting signatures for a proposal. Can you tell us more about that?
The legalizations process of this State Language Law was done last year, but in Slovak legislative system we have the possibility to hand in some modifying proposals from the citizens or from non-governmental organizations, to propose some changes in governmental proposed laws. Me, with some colleagues, both Slovaks and Hungarians, we have made some proposals to change this law, to be more compatible with democratic and free countries.
Can you tell me a few examples what would you change?
We would like to take out the parts which are restricting the freedom of speech and the freedom of information. We are not against the idea of an official language. But our main problem is the restriction of freedom of information, the private information in the public places.
Hungarian and Slovakian media both shows this conflict as the fight of good against evil, only from different perspectives with different nations in the different roles. How do you see, who is the good and who is the evil, or is it more complicated?
I think it’s more complicated. There are many people who are very nationalistic on both sides, who want to create a conflict, but I think the common people still have a relatively good relationship in their everyday lives.
So why do you think in 2009 this nationalist topic can be still such a strong political weapon as we see? Why can politicians use it with that much success?
I think there are some stereotypes in the minds of the people. Many people have no problems with individual Hungarians in their life, but many people who are not in direct contact with any Hungarians, still have some negative stereotypes from history, and this can be very useful for some type of politicians.
So what is this stereotype? How can you describe the bad Hungarian stereotype from the average Slovakian point of view?
The stereotype says that the Hungarians are not loyal citizens of Slovakia, they want autonomy, they are irredentists, they feel themselves something more than Slovaks, they don’t understand Slovaks, and don’t want to understand us at all. They don’t want to speak Slovak language, and they feel that they are more like the part of the Hungarian nation than part of the Slovak Republic. Other stereotype is, that Hungarians have very good situation in Slovakia, very great minority rights, and they are still unsatisfied, and so what do they want?
Let’s get back to the State Language Law: have you ever met a situation when Hungarians made something bad or offended Slovakians just by speaking Hungarian?
Yes, there are some situations, when for example a Slovak comes to a shop, where Hungarian men or women speak only Hungarian. I’m sure there are some situations like this, but I don’t think it s the majority of the cases. It is not important problem. Still, if it happens 1-2-3 times, it’s a very good source for stereotypes.
Do you think that the majority of Slovakians agree with the new language act?
I don’t know any public opinion polls for this question but I’m afraid that most of the Slovak people are for this language law.
And so basically your point is that it might be a problem but it shouldn’t be solved this way?
Yes, I think the state, the law and the government has to solve some situation in official contact, official use of language, but it’s not necessary to solve every situation in everyday life, and to have some caution for regulating language use in some private situations.
The language act says it’s only regulating the official situations, not private…
No, not only official. Those are correct, it’s ok for me, it’s the duty of the official institutions to use the state language. But this law also regulates situations which are public, but private. For example in some spheres which are public, but not official, like advertisements, private shops, media or cultural events. I think in such situations there is no need to regulate the language use.
Do you think political rallies like this can solve this problem? Or how do you think this can be solved?
I think this can be solved by a change in the political representation of this country. I think that with the recent governing parties, the nationalist SNS and Robert Fico’s Smer it’s not possible to solve these problems.
So what are these rallies good for, like this one?
I think it’s an opportunity to say that this law is not good and there will be problems with it, and for me its an opportunity to say that its not a problem only for Hungarians. Now you will go out to the stage. Before you and after you everybody will speak Hungarian. Is it ok for you that you don’t understand what the others are saying? Like I was translating the program of the rally for you yesterday, as you didn’t have a Slovak version. Isn’t it a problem?
Yes it’s a problem, but it’s only my problem, I think it is a legitimate approach to allow everybody to have some meeting in Slovakia in Hungarian language, or in Finnish language, or in English language… I’m for freedom.
Interview was previously published at origo.hu on September 2, 2009.