Statement of the Deputy Commissioner for the Rights of National Minorities living in Hungary on the occasion of the International Mother Language Day
More than six thousand languages are spoken in the world in our days, a large part of which are threatened with extinction. The languages spoken by indigenous people disappear from the ranks of live languages slowly but surely. This process seems to be unstoppable, this is why it is especially important to call the world’s attention to this sad phenomenon and also, to the unique role that the use of languages plays in preserving culture.
The origins of this international commemoration can be traced back to 1952 when in Pakistan, which at that time included today’s Bangladesh as well, Urdu was declared to be the only official language of the country. However, the mother tongue of the Bangladeshi people is not Urdu but Bengali, so large protests and demonstrations broke out in the country at that time. At the demonstration organized in Dhaka, Bangladesh on February 21, 1952, brutal police actions caused the death of five persons. At the initiative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it is on February 21 each year that we commemorate the importance of preserving and cultivating mother languages, in memory of what has happened in Pakistan.
The International Mother Language Day also calls attention to the importance of preserving linguistic diversity: this is why, as the deputy commissioner for the rights of national minorities in Hungary, I would like to draw the attention of every person and institution concerned to the protection and cultivation of this means of intermediation, every form and version of which is critical in the cooperation between individuals and within society.
In our country, there are as many as thirteen national minorities, who can best contribute to the survival of their identity by preserving and cultivating their respective mother tongues. In order to facilitate this endeavor, the Fundamental Law of Hungary guarantees that the national minorities living in the territory of our country have the right to use their mother languages, to use personal and community names in their mother languages, to cultivate their own cultures and provide education in their mother tongues. These constitutional rights are explained in detail in the Hungarian Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities. In this law, the following are mentioned as the individual rights of persons belonging to national minorities: the right to hold family celebrations and related church rituals in the mother tongues of the minorities, the right to choose their names and first names, as well as those of their children, and to get these registered according to the rules of their mother tongues, and to indicate these in the official documents; the right to learn, cultivate, enrich and pass on these mother tongues, as well as the right to participate in mother tongue education. In the course of keeping contact with the representatives of executive power, including judicial and public administrative proceedings, it is the relevant procedural laws that ensure the right to use the mother tongue. In the National Assembly, the MP belonging to the national minority and the spokesperson for the national minority, as well as the national minority MP in the board of representatives of the local governments, may use their mother tongues too. In addition to these, this law ensures the disclosure of municipality decrees, announcements and printed matters in the minority mother tongues, as well as the display of the names of public offices, settlements and streets in these minority languages, depending on the number of minority citizens living in the settlement in question.
The International Mother Language Day, at the same time, reminds us of the importance of preserving linguistic diversity: this is why, as the deputy commissioner for the rights of national minorities in Hungary, I would like to draw the attention of every person and institution concerned to the protection and cultivation of this means of intermediation, every form and version of which is critical in the cooperation between individuals and within society.
Dr. Elisabeth Sándor-Szalay, Prof. HC
Deputy Commissioner for Fundamental Rights