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Hungary: Minorities Fail To Receive Recognition

Levoca, Slovakia; 23 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Hungary's President Arpad Goncz tells RFE/RL that Slovakia and Hungary "have to work toward" progress in their relations.

Goncz, who arrived in Levoca yesterday, the first of eleven presidents here for a two-day summit, was optimistic and smiling as he toured the Medieval city. He smiled continuously as a group of ethnic Hungarians approached him in the street, then sneaked under a cordon to hug him and shake hands.

Goncz met yesterday in Levoca with Slovakia's President Michal Kovac.

In Budapest yesterday, the Slovak and Hungarian Foreign Ministers were meeting.

Slovakia's Foreign Minister Zdenka Kramplova said Hungary is dragging their feet on giving minorities a voice in parliament.

Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Milan Tokar today told RFE/RL that Hungary had promised three years ago to allow for minority representation in their parliament.

A Hungarian Foreign Ministry official (anonymous) today told RFE/RL that the Hungarian government is moving to allow each of the country's 13 minority groups to be represented in parliament. The official said, "the government is preparing to change the electoral law." He said Hungarians hope to enact the change before March, when parliament adjourns before upcoming May parliamentary elections.

The Foreign Ministers signed a document pledging closer cooperation. However, they failed to sign a document that would have provided for implementation of the 1995 basic treaty. That would have paved the way to allow several bilateral committees, including a committee on ethnic minorities, to begin work.

For his part, Hungary's Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said he could not "see any progress" in the plight of the ethnic-Hungarian minority in Slovakia. Correspondents say he was clearly disappointed that no agreement was reached on the committee on ethnic minorities.

Slovaks want to have the last word on who will represent ethnic minorities, and the person nominated yesterday by Slovakia was not "acceptable" to Hungary, an official for the Hungarian Foreign ministry told RFE/RL today. Neither Slovaks, nor Hungarians would release the name of that candidate.