Hungarian students are excluded

October 24, 1997

TWO first-year students from Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian minority have been excluded from a vocational training college in Dunajska Streda because - according to the head of the college - they could not produce Slovak-language certificates to verify their qualifications.

The case, reported in the Hungarian-language paper Uj Szo (New Word), published in Bratislava, sets a dangerous precedent. The students' academic abilities were not in question but they had failed to comply with Slovakia's new language laws.

Since the 1920s, when a slice of Hungarian-ethnic territory was allotted to the new state of Czechoslovakia, the Hungarians living there have had their own schools, which issued bilingual reports and leaving certificates. Under a new law, intended to "protect the Slovak language", certificates now have to be in Slovak only.

The ruling started a storm of protests but the Dunajska Streda incident is the first known case of reprisal. The college director told the two young Hungarians their bilingual certificates were "invalid forgeries" and they would no longer be regarded as students.

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