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Bilingualism in the Carpathian Basin

2014.07.27.

The number of Hungarian civilian institutions fighting for bilingualism in the Carpathian Basin is on the rise. Two of the most prominent ones are are the “Bilingual Southern Slovakia” (Kétnyelvű Dél-Szlováki) and the “Yes, Please!” (Igen, Tessék!) movements.

Civilian society in Eastern Europe are often considered weak, especially compared to Western Europe or North America. The rights of Hungarians living in neighboring countries have been represented by human rights organizations mostly, although the last two decades proved that is not always enough. There were several instances when the letter of the law was not followed: while Romanian law allowed bilingual city signs, it took 20 years to put up the Hungarian name of Cluj Napoca, “Kolozsvár”.

This is where the likes of Bilingual Southern Slovakia and Yes, Please! come into place, while they are completely separate entities, based in different countries, both movements follow the same trend. These organizations not only monitor lawmaking, but try to actively shape the values of minority Hungarian and majority neighboring societies.

Yes, Please! is based in Kolozsvár, aiming to spread the usage of Hungarian language trough the everyday business interaction of Hungarian speaking costumers and retailers. Shops which offer Hungarian speaking services are registered into a system, and then are allowed to put out the logo of “Yes, Please!” on the shop’s door or windows – indicating to costumers that they indeed serve in Hungarian as well. In Kolozsvár more than 200 shops decided to join the program so far, although they are already present in Nagyvárad and Székely Land too.

Furthermore the sign is not only used by Hungarian-owned business, but Romanians with Hungarian speaking staff as well. According to the executive director of the organization, Romanian business owners welcome the initiative, while their Hungarian counterparts are sometimes afraid that the Hungarian sign will discourage Romanian costumers. The latter is not true, according to figures only 6% of Romainians expressed their dislike towards the initiative.

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The “Igen, Tessék!” sign in action 

In Slovakia, the Bilingual Southern Slovakia organization aims to convince government institutions and local governments for the need of bilingual signs, including city signs, bus timetables and texts in institutions. What makes the Bilingual Southern Slovakia movement unique, is that if they fail to find support on the official channels, they will go ahead and try to place the signs guerrilla style. In one of their projects the organization renovated a railway station in Southern Slovakia, and then placed the name of the stop in Hungarian too.

Their most known project was in Pered, where in 2012 the local government held a ballot on changing the town’s name back to its original historic denomination. The vote passed with a vast majority, but the Slovakian government refused the results. Activists of the Bilingual Southern Slovakia decided to go ahead anyways, and on October 27. 2013 they changed the Slovakian “Tešedíkovo” sign to “Pered”, and then posted the old sign to the Ministry of Interior.

via Friends of Hungary Magazine, photos kitekinto.hu and bumm.sk


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