“Every right is worth only as much as it can be observed or enforced”

“Every right is worth only as much as it can be observed or enforced”

2011. 11. 29.

Guest speakers at the conference included Kinga Gál MEP, Alan Phillips, expert on minority rights and also former president of the Minority Rights Group International, Tove Malloy, president of the European Centre for Minority Issues, Sergiu Constantin, researcher at the Institute for Minority Rights, European Academy of Bolzano, and also, Balázs Vizi, a researcher at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ Research Institute for Ethnic and National Minorities. Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén gave the opening speech.

The new research institute will be housed in the "Magyarság Háza" ('Hungarian House') supported by Bethlen Gábor Alapkezelő Ltd. The Institute's main task is to support the government's work with scientific research and to provide a theoretical framework and background information for national policy makers. The Director of the Institute, Zoltán Kántor, in his opening speech stated that the “main objective is to provide advice to stakeholders on national policy".

Kinga Gál, co-chair of the EP’s national minority Intergroup, said that "every right is worth only as much as it can be observed or enforced". According to the MEP people are not aware enough of how to enforce their rights; "therefore, we must provide the communities with information to raise their awareness about their rights".

The MEP described the legal aid tools provided by international law, the opportunities and barriers in the European Parliament and Union, and by the court in Luxemburg (ECJ) and Strasbourg (ECtHR) in this field. "Although there are very limited opportunities, we have to use them and to make further steps" said Kinga Gál. The representative urged for the establishment of a legal aid network in the Carpathian Basin region. In her closing remarks she proposed that an exhibition entitled "Well-Known Hungarians – From the Trianon Past to the Schenegen Future",  organized by her last year in the European Parliament, should go on tour so it could be seen more widely..

Zsolt Semjén outlined the three main functions of the Institute: as a Research Institution it supports the decision-makers, as a centre providing legal aid assists Hungarians all over the world whose rights have been violated, and finally as a cultural mediator promotes Hungary to the world.

Continuing, Mr Semjén emphasized that the Hungarian Government cannot accept that basic human rights, enforced across Europe, are restricted for Hungarians and that Hungarians are treated as second class in their country of residence. "The Slovak language act, the refusal to allow the former President of the  Republic, László Sólyom, to enter Slovakia, and now the removal of Olivér Baloghy's citizenship, are not only Hungarian national grievances but also violations of general human rights".

The participants on the second panel of the conference presented civil society and local government initiatives outside of Hungary that bring the attention of the majority to minority rights violations, raise awareness, and provide information and strategies to Hungarian minority communities. It was clearly seen from these presentations that finally there is a civil elite among Hungarians abroad emerging that could make Hungarian minority communities more conscious of their rights.  While several states have a policy of intimidating national minorities, to turn this process around there is an urgent need  that national minorities are able to recognise and dare to declare "I have rights". Otherwise, as a consequence of the lack of civil society organisations, societies can fall into the traps of political leaders. Therefore, it is highly important to present and popularize initiatives coming from the grass roots.

At the end of the conference Zsuzsanna Répás, Deputy Secretary of State for National Policy, summarized the presentations and emphasized that there is a great potential if the cooperation of international organisations with Hungarian organizations from inside and outside of Hungary goes hand in hand with NGOs, researchers, and politicians, and together work for the protection of minority rights.