The Minorities Act splits linguistic
rights into individual and collective categories. Among individual linguistic rights we
can find the right to hold family festivities and ecclesiastic ceremonies in the mother
tongue, the right to ones name in the mother tongue including the right to
personal documents issued in the mother tongue and in Hungarian as well as the right
to mother tongue education and culture.
The act guarantees
minority linguistic communities the right to regular mother tongue information in the
public service electronic media, the right to initiate and run mother tongue education at
all educational levels, the right of safeguarding and nurturing the cultural values, the
traditions and the festivities of the community in the mother tongue as well as the right
of using the native language in public administration and before the courts. The minority
members of local governments are also entitled to use their mother tongue during sessions.
According to the
act, local governments are obliged to publish local decrees in the minority languages that
are spoken in the settlement, to make the different forms used in administration available
in minority languages as well as to ensure minority language inscriptions and signs on
buildings accommodating public services and on plates indicating the boundaries of the
settlement and its streets. In settlements inhabited by minority communities it is
compulsory to employ staff members speaking the language of the given minority when
filling posts in public administration and public services.
The Act on
public education stipulates that besides Hungarian the language used in
pre-school and school education as well as in school dormitories is the language of
national and ethnic minorities. The 1996 amendment of this act took already into
consideration all those competences enshrined in the Minorities Act that entitle minority
self-governments to influence the contents and the framework of minority education.
According to this amendment, a National Minority Commission composed of the
representatives of all minorities was set up as a consultative body to the Minister of
The 1996 Act on
radio and television stipulates that the compilation of programmes presenting the
culture and the life of minorities is a compulsory task of public service media. The
dispensers of public service programmes are obliged to disseminate mother tongue
The 1997 Act on
the protection of cultural goods, museum institutions,
public library services and cultural education considers that the preservation of
minority cultural traditions, the improvement of the personal, intellectual and economic
conditions for individual and community education as well as the support to institutions
and organisations carrying out activities focusing on these values is the common task of
the whole society.
and the use of minority languages are also regulated in international agreements signed
and promulgated by the Republic of Hungary. Among these, the two basic documents of the
Council of Europe the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities
and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages- are of outstanding
importance. Hungary was among the first countries to accede to both documents.
In conformity with
the specific structure and contents of the European Charter for Regional or Minority
Languages, Hungary undertook to implement the optional regulations contained in Chapter
III in respect of the Croatian, Slovakian, German, Serbian, Romanian and Slovene
languages. Our undertakings particularly focus on the education of minority languages and
their use in public life. The report on the implementation of the Charter as well as the
recommendations made by the Committee of Ministers can be read on the website of the
Council of Europe.
Institutions and practice
Thanks to her
consequent and continuous minority policy, Hungary possesses the institutional background
necessary for the protection of minority languages. At the level of legislation, the
Standing Committee of Human Rights, Minority and Religious Affairs of the Hungarian
Parliament supervises that no violation of minority and linguistic rights occurs in the
process of the elaboration of legal provisions. The institution of the Parliamentary
Commissioner of national and ethnic minority rights created in conformity with the
provisions of the Constitution and Act No 59 of year 1993 answers exclusively to
Parliament. The minorities ombudsman is responsible for investigating any kind of
abuse or violation of minority rights (including linguistic ones) by official authorities
that may come to his/her attention as well as for issuing recommendations and initiating
general and individual measures in order to remedy it. The monitoring of the enforcement
of minority linguistic rights makes also part of the duties of the Office for National and
There are specific
minority departments in the two most important line ministries, the Ministry of Education
and the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage. In both ministries specific Romany
ministerial commissioners help solve the particular educational and cultural problems of
the Rom minority.
self-governments as part of the public administration system are the main advocates of the
protection of linguistic rights at local, regional and national level. The provision to
minorities of rights to collective language use figures also in the bilateral documents
issued by the joint intergovernmental commissions for minority protection.
After the change
of the political system, we witnessed an extraordinary revival of minority public life.
Besides the establishment of the minority self-government system, a great number of
minority civil organisations were set up with the primary aim of protecting minority
languages, promoting their use and representing minority educational interests. Among the
organisations of bigger minorities we can find several professional associations of
minority writers and artists that play an outstanding role in promoting the literary use
of dialects, and their publications constitute important teaching aids to be used in
With the exception
of the Serbian minority, all minority communities have established their own research
institutes. Their importance consists in publishing and researching minority history,
ethnography, dialects and the present life of minorities in the language of the given
minority. In some cases these research institutes work in close cooperation with the
academies of sciences of the kin states. Their research findings are often referred to,
and used by, the research workers of the kin state who are keen on studying some
linguistic or cultural phenomena that disappeared in the mother country several centuries
The Minorities Act
as well as the acts of public education and on higher education constitute the legal
framework of minority language education. The conditions to teach in minority languages or
to teach the minority languages have been developed at all the levels of public education
(kindergartens, primary and secondary schools). In the higher education, there are
departments training teachers of minority language and literature.
affiliation is a sensitive private issue, the local municipal government will organise and
launch minority education only upon the initiative of parents. According to the law, the
request of the parents of 8 pupils belonging to the same minority is sufficient, and it
obliges the municipality to organise a class with minority education.
Three forms of
minority education are simultaneously present in the public education system. The most
widely spread form consists of education in which the minority language is taught in four
lessons a week and all other subjects are taught in Hungarian. However, children are also
taught the past, the origin, the history, the geographical specifics, the customs, the
folk art of their minority as well as the history and the present life of their kin state.
It can be stated that the number of children enrolled in this form of education is
continuously decreasing, except for the German minority.
The second form
consists in bilingual education where the humanities, for example history, literature and
geography, are taught in the native language while natural science subjects are taught in
Hungarian. This form is increasingly popular with minority families and the language
knowledge acquired here can prove later on very useful for the children.
The third form of
minority education is education offered in the minority language: all subjects with
the exception of Hungarian language and literature are taught in the language of the
given minority. This form is not prevalent as minority parents often consider that a
better acquisition of the language of the mainstream environment is more important than
knowledge acquired exclusively in the mother tongue.
As for smaller
minorities, they try to teach their children minority language, literature and other
subjects in the framework of the so-called Sunday schools, which constitute a special form
of minority education and are organised outside the school system. Although the Ministry
of Education gives financial support to this form of education, further progress in this
field would require that these minorities organise their own schools within the public
education system, which is fully possible in conformity with the act on public education.
obligation of provision of minority language library services is fulfilled by the public
libraries run by the local (municipal) governments. This network provides services for the
Croatian, German, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak and Slovenian minorities in hundreds of
settlements throughout the country. Within the system of public libraries, 19 so-called
"basic libraries" also contribute to the provision of these services. In the
case of the other communities, their national minority self-governments are making efforts
to set up a basic fund of books for the purposes of a library.
are currently organising themselves. The German, Croatian and Serbian theatres are already
institutionalised, and the organisation of the professional Slovak theatre is under way.
The companies of the other minorities still work as amateur groups. In 2004, the 3rd
Festival of Minority Theatres offered 17 performances presented by 12 minorities.
The most efficient
institutions serving the safeguarding of traditions are the minority community centres
working with state support. These centres host not only activities related to folk art,
folk music and folk traditions, but to an increasing extent- also activities in the
field of modern culture, fine arts, literature and film. Besides presenting the cultural
heritage and richness of minorities living in Hungary, minority community centres often
organise events presenting the culture of the kin states.
The written press
and the publications of minorities are almost exclusively financed from central state
resources. These publications are often bilingual. Minorities have the opportunity to
present their most recent publications at the annual Budapest Festival of Books. The most
popular minority publication of this years festival was The Little Prince by Antoine
de Saint-Exupéry, published in Romany.
amendment of the minorities act is aimed at the strengthening of minority self-governance
and will hopefully also result in a more effective enforcement of linguistic rights. The
amendment ensures minority communities the possibility of taking over and autonomously
running the institutions promoting the preservation and the development of their
languages. This process has already started, and the bill proposed contains elements that
would guarantee the safe take-over and operation of these institutions.
Office for National and Ethnic Minorities