Since its foundation in 2012, the Institute for the Protection of Minority Rights (IPMR) has been providing legal aid services to Hungarian communities abroad. Ma7, a Hungarian-language news site in Slovakia interviewed Laura Gyeney, the founding director of the IPMR, and asked her about her work concerning minority rights protection, including cases involving the infamous Benes decrees.
Laura Gyeney spoke about her basic aims regarding minority rights protection, which is to ensure full compliance with existing international legislation that serves to preserve the identity of persons belonging to national minorities. On the other hand, if for whatever reason, legislation that would guarantee such protection does not yet exist, she is working to ensure that it is created in order to preserve minority right.
Behind these objectives there is an understanding that indigenous national minorities enrich not only the culture and heritage of their own country, but also the whole continent, she said.
Laura Gyeney (Photo: Facebook)
As minority rights defenders, they use traditional legal instruments to enforce existing laws – this is where strategic litigation comes in. These proceedings affect individual liberties but also that of an entire community. According to Gyeney, a successful outcome of such a strategic lawsuit can bring about changes, putting pressure on the legislature and law enforcement in the relevant state to change practices that are detrimental to minorities.
Asked about a legal fight of Bosits vs. Slovakia over the ownership of a forested land, Gyeney said the European Court of Human Rights ruled that
the Benes decrees, which collectively deprived Hungarians in Southern Slovakia of their rights after the Second World War, are still being applied in Slovakia today.
She added that as legal defenders, their task is to convey the ruling of the Strasbourg Court to the public and thus put legal and political pressure on the state in question, in the case of the Benes decrees specifically on Slovakia, to back down and take steps to ensure that the rights of minorities are fully guaranteed.
Between April and October 1945, Czechoslovak President Benes issued a total of 98 decrees
, 13 of which concerned the German and Hungarian minorities. These decrees laid down the collective guilt of minorities. Benes’ Presidential decree No. 33 probably had the most serious consequences for the Hungarian community in Slovakia, as it automatically deprived them of their citizenship, which also entailed the withdrawal of pensions and other state benefits and dismissal from state employment. The use of the Hungarian language in public life was banned, Hungarian students were excluded from universities, Hungarian cultural associations were dissolved, and bank deposits of Hungarians were frozen. They allowed and regulated the confiscation of the lands of Germans and Hungarians, on which Czechs and Slovaks were settled.
Some of the decrees were later repealed, but others remained in force. For example, no compensation has been paid to those deprived of their property and there have been several recent reports of the state confiscating land because of the owners’ Hungarian nationality.
Laura Gyeney explained that the rights violations suffered by Hungarians in Southern Slovakia in recent years can be broadly grouped into three broad categories. These are the citizenship cases, the cases related to the retroactive application of the Benes decrees and the cases related to the restriction of language rights.
The cases related to the Benes decrees are likely to be a protracted process, as beyond the legal dimension a satisfactory solution will require a change in Slovak politics, she stressed.
As long as the decrees are part of the Slovak legal order, confiscation orders that exist in principle can and, as experience shows, will be implemented. These cases are ongoing and we are treating them as a priority. In fact, the situation is similar in the citizenship cases, because changing the Slovak citizenship law is also a political decision, she said.
Asked about the legal support the IPMR can provide for minority rights protection Laura Gyeney explained that since its foundation the institute has been providing legal aid services to Hungarian communities abroad, offering professional and financial support when needed. Political and legal lobbying is also important, so that international organizations are aware that there are violations here, she added.
Via: Ma7 ; Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons