Legal Discrimination, Football and the Hungarian Girl

To be sure, I'm not a football fan. That is, football as defined by the rest of the “free world” other than the United States. Here, we call it soccer. But I couldn't help but get sucked into an article that popped up on my screen today
about racist behavior, a near riot and questionable law enforcement action at a “football” match in Bratislava between England and Slovakia.

Not that violence and fan uprisings are new to football. What struck me about this story was the report that Slovakian fans' made racial remarks (read: making monkey sounds) toward some of the English players. I realize that in a perfect world there would be no prejudice, discrimination or other more severe violations of human rights based on race or anything for that matter. Find me that perfect world and I'll blog on about something else.

What got me in this article, quite simply, is Slovakia. To me Slovakia seems to be the Eastern Europe hotbed of discrimination. And I'm not the only one who believes that the Slovakian government condones, if not promotes, racism and minority prejudice through its laws and legislative tendencies.

While traveling through Hungary this summer I met a Hungarian girl from a small town in Slovakia who recently moved to the big city of Budapest. I made the mistake when introducing her to some newfound friends of calling her Slovakian. Not the right thing to do, Allan.

Well, she quickly corrected me and attacked American's as not understanding that borders and countries don't always dictate nor define citizenship. As an American I simply couldn't understand that passports relate to citizenship and heritage. She had a Slovakian passport. But she is Hungarian . And she shared her life as a Hungarian inside and outside “Hungary”.

There are nearly 600,000 ethnic Hungarians, or Magyars, who make their homes in settlements along the southern border of Slovakia. They represent about 10% of the Slovak Republic's population. As such, they represent the single largest ethnic minority in the country. But perhaps most interesting is that they are what's left of the Hungarians who politically and culturally dominated the region that's Slovakia today for about 1000 years (most recently as the Austro-Hungarian Empire) until 1919, when Czechoslovakia was created.

Fast forward to the years after the 1989 “Velvet Revolution”,when Czechoslovakia wrestled itself from the grip of the Soviets. It's then that the Slovaks began their deliberate control over “their region”. On January 1 1993, Czech influence over Slovakia was eliminated when Czechoslovakia formally divided into Slovakia and the Czech Republic — the “Velvet Divorce”. And over the years, a nationalist Slovakia sentiment has grown and continues to fuel anti-Hungarian sentiment in the region.

Remember my comment that discrimination is legislated and enforced by law? You don't have to dig too deep to unearth evidence of the propagation and provocation of anti-Hungarian sentiment in Slovakia. Let's touch the surface of some bizarre Slovakian laws. For example, one prohibits the use of the Hungarian language in all official venues. Another prohibits education in the Hungarian language. Another restricts the use of Hungarian (family) names. And for years there have been bi-lingual traffic and other signage in areas with large ethnic Hungarian populations, but over the last several years legislation has called for the replacement of these with single Slovakian language signs.

And that young girl I met in Budapest? She studies, works and continues to shoulder years of resentment, feelings of inferiority and cultural repression. Perhaps like many people in that region she's a perfect example of Karoly Nagy. And as such, perhaps this explains her determination to land a job in Human Resources — in a country where, she admits, business doesn't value nor typically hire people in such positions. Alternatively, while she may be discriminated in her hometown in Slovakia, she still needs the support of Hungary whose policies for ethnic Hungarians living outside its borders continue to evolve.

How about those Slovakian football fans throwing racial epithets and sounds at black and other English football players? How will they plead to Uefa, European football's governing body, from invoking sanctions or other corrective action such as a ban on Slovak fans traveling to the return fixture in England in June, fines or forcing Slovakia to play their next qualifying match for the championship in Portugal in two years time behind closed doors. Perhaps they can simply claim cultural and social norms as rationale for their actions.

I don't claim to be an expert in Hungarian or Slovakian history, but come on! These people have lived here for more than 1,000 years. They have a right to speak their native language. And laws that attempt to force cultural and social reform at the expense of human rights are just ludicrous.