Month: May 2010

Fidesz gathering in front of parliament

Yesterday I summarized what Viktor Orbán had to say at the outdoor celebration of the Fidesz victory. He talked not as prime minister but as the leader of a party that for eight years worked hard, through thick and thin, to arrive at the gates of a better future. According to Fidesz ideology the last eight years were nothing but devastation, lies, and corruption. The country was falling behind instead of leading the pack of East European countries that joined the European Union. According to Fidesz politicians this lamentable situation will now change. First, it was promised that earthly paradise will arrive practically overnight but lately Orbán is more cautious. In his speech he even talked a bit about the very hard work ahead. Obviously he is trying to cool expectations that are being measured by pollsters as dangerously high.

Thanks to two readers of this blog we can set the story straight: there were not 200,000 people waiting breathlessly for Viktor Orbán but perhaps 20,000, and the old enthusiasm had largely faded away. According to the people who were present, there were fewer rounds of applause and fewer cries of "Viktor, Viktor!" The fact is that it doesn't really matter how often they talk about revolution, it is hard to maintain that level of enthusiasm. The crowds at Fidesz gatherings have been visibly shrinking, the average age of those in attendance is increasing, and this is just the beginning.

Viktor Orbán ran out of steam and I can't even blame him. People have only a certain number of ideas and therefore eventually they are apt to repeat themselves. I enjoy listening to politicians who go from TV station to TV station on the same day, often a few hours apart. Practically the same questions are posed on the same topics and the answers therefore are inevitably the same. Sometimes the same sentences roll off their tongues. Orbán's speech on Kossuth Square contained no new elements. His audience most likely had heard the message time and again. Repetitious speeches uttered with the same speech pattern eventually become tiresome.

Those in attendance also pointed out that some of the other speakers were more popular than Orbán. I can see several possible reasons for the success of the other speeches. One might be that Zsolt Semjén, chairman of the Christian Democratic Party and now deputy prime minister in charge of national and religious issues, and Lajos Kósa, successful mayor of Debrecen and newly appointed managing director of Fidesz, are less often heard at public gatherings. Therefore they are new faces to the audience. A second reason is that both men are prone to unspeakable exaggerations. And it seems that Fidesz voters like to hear such outlandish sentences. There might be a third reason, and that again says a lot about the Hungarian right. Both Semjén and Kósa continued the Fidesz habit of verbal abuse against their "enemies." Instead of looking forward they dwelt on the horrible past and the guilty ones who must be punished. Last, one ought to mention nationalism as a topic that usually arouses the folks. Semjén is especially good at this.

So, let's start with Semjén's speech. He emphasized the fact that the new parliament's first act was to change the law on citizenship which in legal terms means "the unification of the nation." A year from now Hungarians living anywhere in the world will be not only co-nationals but "fellow citizens." He repeated that there is no "category A and category B Hungarian citizen." There is "no first- and second-class" Hungarian and that to my mind can only mean that all Hungarian citizens regardless of domicile will eventually be able to vote in Hungarian elections. This feeling was reinforced by what János Martonyi had to say last night on MTV's "The Freedom of Expression" (A szólás szabadsága). He emphasized that at the moment the question of voting rights is not on the table but he strongly suggested that in time it might be.

Semjén went on and promised that the Orbán government will defend all Hungarian citizens "regardless of where they live on this globe." Thank God he didn't try to explain how, because it would be an almost impossible task. The fact is that no Hungarian government can defend people of Hungarian nationality if, let's say, the Slovak government decides to take steps against those who declare themselves to be citizens of Hungary. This nationalistic outburst was greeted by "it was a nice job, boys!" from the crowd.

In order to heighten enthusiasm he called attention to the fact that "Ferenc Gyurcsány and two of his accomplices in crime" dared to vote against the new citizenship law. He made sure that people remembered that Gyurcsány already in 2004 had campaigned against the idea of dual citizenship, but he added that even some of the socialists realized their sins and "these three are now condemned even by their fellow MSZP members. These people will end up in the garbage heap of Gyurcsányism." The crowd loved that. Semjén and his Christian Democratic friends love the word "Gyurcsányism." They looked upon the elections of 2010 as the obliteration of "Gyurcsányism." When András Bánó, talking with Péter Harrach, head of the KDNP delegation, this morning pointed out that after all Gyurcsány resigned as prime minister more than a year ago, Harrach answered that "even his footprints must disappear." It is quite obvious that it is still Ferenc Gyurcsány who is the chief enemy for Fidesz-KDNP.

The theme of "hard times ahead" is obviously an idea that must be propagated. Semjén also spoke of "the darned hard times" (kutyanehéz) ahead and asked the crowd not to abandon them in these difficult times but to stand behind them. Semjén, it seems, managed to stir the crowd who yelled: "We will be there!" Well, we will see.

It seems that for Lajos Kósa "Gyurcsányism means that everybody should take home or give his friends whatever he can reach or see that belongs to the public." In brief, Gyurcsányism here means corruption. As the mayor of Debrecen he felt compelled to vent his frustration and anger at Budapest. Budapest is much more liberal and much more socialist than any other part of the country and the lord mayor of the city who has been running the city for twenty years is a liberal politican, Gábor Demszky. According to Kósa, "Gyurcsányism has a deformed twin brother called Demszkyism and Demszkyism has a cousin called Hagyóism [Miklós Hagyó, earlier MSZP deputy lord mayor of Budapest, is accused of financial wrongdoings in connection with the Budapest Transit Authority scandal]. Nice little family. But let's not forget that we won the elections although the capital is the last den of the mentality we want to get rid of forever." It sounds as if a Fidesz attack against the "sinful" capital is underway. This is not a new theme. The first Orbán government did everything in its power to turn the countryside against the liberal Budapest that is not really Hungarian.

And then Kósa got a bit carried away. He compared the damage inflicted by the liberal-MSZP leadership in the last twenty years on Budapest to the 150-year Ottoman occupation or the harm done by the Red Army's military encounters with the retreating Germans. When the mayor of Debrecen says things like "we are ashamed of our own capital" he is most likely reflecting the anti-Budapest sentiment widespread among those who live elsewhere in the country.

I'm sure that these speeches will be analyzed endlessly in the Hungarian media in the next few weeks. Meanwhile this morning the new ministers moved into the ministries, the new government spokeswoman, Anna Nagy, gave her first press conference, and the cabinet held its first meeting. The good news is that this time there will be records of these meetings, unlike between 1998 and 2002. Another good piece of news. Viktor Orbán, at least for the time being, is satisfied with the offices of his predecessors. That is something because during his first tenure as prime minister he insisted on recreating the 1910 office of then prime minister Count István Tisza. Millions of forints were spent on an office that no longer could serve a modern prime minister. Well, at least he learned that much.

Speeches inside and outside of the Hungarian Parliament

Yesterday was a great day for Fidesz and its chairman, by now prime minister, Viktor Orbán. The second Orbán government was sworn in. It was decided about a week ago that after the official celebrations inside the building, at four o'clock in the afternoon there would be a mass meeting in front of the parliament. On the same Kossuth Square where Fidesz and groups farther to the right, including Jobbik, had been organizing mass demonstrations against the government over the last eight years.

These mass demonstrations began immediately after Fidesz lost the elections in 2002, but they became more frequent and more aggressive after 2006 when parts of Ferenc Gyurcsány's speech at Balatonőszöd became public. It was from this square that the far-right mob moved on to attack the nearby headquarters of the Hungarian Public Television. It was on this square that Fidesz organized daily gatherings to try to force the Gyurcsány government to resign. Important Fidesz politicians made speeches here daily to advance their goal, but to no avail. Therefore, yesterday's gathering was a celebration of the fulfillment of the party's eight-year fight to return to power. Pál Schmitt, formerly one of the vice-chairmen of Fidesz and now speaker of the house, announced to the crowd that "we have reoccupied Kossuth Square forever" and that the time has arrived when "we can take into our own hands the future of the country and the nation." The "forever" sounds a bit ominous, but a lot of what Fidesz politicians say has ominous overtones.

Viktor Orbán's speeches inside the building and out on the square were very different in tone. Inside, right after his swearing in ceremony, he tried to act like the prime minister of the whole country although he didn't agree with the criticisms of the government program coming from the opposition. He especially didn't agree with those who objected to his claim that  a "revolution" had occurred in Hungary. Orbán claimed that revolutions can occur in democracies in the sense of deep, thorough, lasting change. He brought up the example of the British coalition government that has also been called a "revolution." He insisted on calling his victory a revolution: "the revolution of the two-thirds."

He also mentioned criticisms of the so-called "contract with the people." Most critics feel that the electorate wasn't voting for Fidesz because of any specific contract signed or even implied. The "contract" was thrust upon the country ex post facto. Orbán's answer to this particular criticism was very weak. According to him a contract was born as a result of the elections that gave Fidesz an overwhelming majority in parliament. And with that kind of majority he can do anything he wants. That doesn't sound like a contract to me.

Finally he expressed his satisfaction that the opposition is not united but on every issue there were people who voted with the government party's representatives. Indeed, from his point of view that sounds rather encouraging, but I have the feeling that this honeymoon will not last very long.

The speech outside was much harsher. It is worth taking the trouble to compare the summary of the speech as it appeared on Fidesz's website and as it was reported by the Hungarian News Agency (MTI). Parts of the speech that might show Orbán farther to the right than he wants to be seen were simply left out of the expurgated Fidesz version. While MTI reported such direct sentences as "Here, on Kossuth Square, in front of you, I am one of those who always believed that we, Hungarians, will be able to break with the communist past and its heritage." Thus, the implication is that the communist era ended only now. The following sentence was also left out: "I am one of those who is a Hungarian who wants not eastern, not western but a Hungarian country that stands on its own feet and travels on its own road, turns on its own axis." This is a loaded sentence. This is turning away from the centuries-old quest to belong to the west. It is a nationalistic, anti-integration stance that shows a certain Euro skepticism. Moreover, it echoes Jobbik's program: Hungary belongs to the Hungarians.

Without mentioning the cause of closing off parts of the square after the fall of 2006 he even made a reference to his and his fellow Fidesz politicians' illegal act of removing the cordon set up by the police in order to defend the parliament from the mob that was ready to attack it. At last "the cordon was dismantled first by hand, later by referendum, and finally in April by the revolution of the electorate." To my mind that draws a direct line from physical violence to electoral victory. As if Orbán accepted the helping hand of the extremists who camped out on the square and identified himself and his party with them.

What I found especially objectionable was laying blame for the harsh division of society between Right and Left squarely on the shoulders of the socialists and the liberals. The fact is that the ever worsening political discourse was mostly Fidesz's making. But now he "wants to punish people who are responsible for setting people against each other and who caused great harm to the country." Punishment figures high on the new government's agenda. Critics of Orbán are certain that there will be a witch hunt against leading politicians of the earlier governments. Such steps might divert attention from the fact that, after all, this right-wing government has no secret weapons against the economic and social ills of the country. The expectations are great and thus disappointments are unavoidable.

Hungary has a new government

It was this morning that the second Orbán government was sworn in. For those of us who are accustomed to the American custom where the chief justice of the Supreme Court swears in the new president, it was a bit odd to see the Hungarian prime minister read the text.

Viktor Orbán gave a short speech in which he turned again to religion and Latin. In April, after winning the election, Orbán drew on the Vulgate (Matthew 6:10): "Thy will be done," or in Latin: "fiat voluntas tua." However, he changed it to "vincit voluntas tua," meaning "Thy will wins." Since Orbán knows no Latin it is likely that these biblical quotations come straight from Zoltán Balog, his spiritual advisor, who is a Protestant minister. This time Balog turned to the Protestant Reformation, which he should know well. Orbán concluded his speech with "Soli Deo gloria," meaning "Glory to God alone." As I just learned there were five solas or five phrases that emerged during the early days of the Reformation: Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone), Sola fide (by faith alone), Sola gratia (by grace alone), Solus Christus (Christ alone), and Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone). These solas summarized the reformers' basic theological beliefs as opposed to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church of the day.

I'm really curious when the Hungarian people will become tired of all this religious phraseology. Orbán seems to be enamored with the Polish model. He made references earlier to the Polish constitution's elevated style as being desirable for the new Hungarian constitution. In the preamble of the Polish constitution there is a reference to all those "who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, goodness and beauty, as well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values as arising from other sources." I hope my readers still remember what Zsolt Semjén and László Kövér came up with in the preamble to the law concerning a Day of National Belonging: "We, the members of the Parliament of the Republic of Hungary who believe that God is the lord of history as well as those who are trying to understand the course of history from other sources, declare…." It seems evident that Semjén and Kövér simply reworked the above quoted passage from the Polish constitution. I'm afraid the new Hungarian constitution promised for 2012 will have the desired elevated style and plenty of references to God. But the Poles are religious people, the Hungarians are not. In addition, many find Orbán's conversion less than genuine.

While inside the building Orbán talked about wanting to be the prime minister of the whole nation and about his desire to work hand in hand with the opposition parties. At the public demonstration in front of the parliament building his tone changed considerably. Orbán and Fidesz decided to celebrate his becoming prime minister again and called the faithful together for a large gathering of supporters from all over the country. According to estimates about 200,000 people came to listen to Viktor Orbán, Zsolt Semjén, and Lajos Kósa, who is the managing director of Fidesz while Orbán remains the chairman of the party. The tone of the speeches was rather harsh and I think it would be useful to summarize them at some length tomorrow.

Three Hungarian reactions from Slovakia

Three well-known Slovak-Hungarians have written or talked about the new Hungarian citizenship law in the last couple of weeks. The first article that appeared in Élet és Irodalom (May 21, 2010) was by Péter Morvay, a commentator for the well respected and much read Slovak paper, SME. The second appeared only today in Hírszerző; it is by László Barak, editor of, an on-line paper that is apparently the most popular Hungarian-language site in Slovakia. And finally, I will mention an interview with Miklós Duray, a Slovak-Hungarian activist and actually a promoter of the unification of the Hungarian nation without border changes.

Let's start with Morvay. His article, entitled "No, They Will Not Get Used To It," starts with a clash between Slovakia and Hungary that occurred in the final months of the first Orbán government. Let's keep in mind that in those days the Hungarian Foreign Ministry was also led by the János Martonyi-Zsolt Németh duo. Then the cause of the friction was the so-called status law. It was called the status law because if offered a special status to those Hungarians who lived in the neighboring countries. This special status included such privileges as job opportunities in Hungary for a limited period of time, a monthly stipend for families who send their children to Hungarian-language schools, and perks like cheaper transportation in Hungary. Both Romania and Slovakia strenuously objected, primarily on the ground that the law provided certain privileges within their own countries to Hungarians only and that was discriminatory. Eventually Hungary had to back down and alter the provisions of the law.

Morvay begins his article by saying that at the beginning of the controversy he was told by a high official in the Hungarian Foreign Ministry that Slovakia and Romania "will get used to" the status law. Moreover, the Hungarian diplomat added, why are these countries complaining when the Hungarians are "consulting" with them? As Morvay found out from a Czech diplomat, "consultation" for the Hungarian Foreign Ministry simply meant giving "information" to the countries about their plans. Only after both Slovakia and Romania made it clear to the Hungarians that this kind of "consultation" will not do was Budapest willing to sit down and negotiate.

Morvay hopes that eventually the same thing will happen in the case of the citizenship law. János Martonyi is inclined to call simple information "consultation." Zsolt Semjén at least tells the truth. Hungary will not consult with Slovakia because the question of granting citizenship is the prerogative of any sovereign country. Hungarians in 2010 will likely blame Robert Fico and the election campaign for the Slovak reaction, completely forgetting that although in 2002 the prime minister of Slovakia was Mikulás Dzurinda and MKP (Magyar Koalíció Pártja) was a coalition partner, Slovakia's reaction was pretty tough even then.

According to Morvay Slovakia's reaction is not at all surprising if one takes a look at Slovakia's demographic situation. The proportion of Hungarians in Slovakia is the highest among Hungary's neighbors, over 10 percent, and the Hungarians live very close to the Slovak-Hungarian border. Therefore in the eyes of the Slovak majority this half a million people could easily become a kind of fifth column in the service of a foreign country and therefore could endanger the territorial integrity of the country. Thus Slovakia has reasons to be suspicious.

Morvay adds that no sane person could possibly think that Hungary would try to revise her northern borders, but at the same time the Hungarians must understand that the country's new prime minister is constantly talking about "the unification of the nation" and at one point had a decal of Greater Hungary on his car. Moreover, there is a party in parliament that received 17% of the votes at the last elections that openly discusses revising the Treaty of Trianon.

According to Morvay the question of the Slovak-Hungarian minority's position will be decided in Slovakia, and any change requires the assistance or at least the goodwill of the Slovak majority. "Budapest can do whatever it wants, it can flex its muscles, it can be aggressive, it can run to various international organizations, it cannot change this fundamental truth."

László Barak's article entitled "Whose Shame?" (Kinek a disznósága?) which appeared in today's Hírszerző comes to the conclusion that the shame is on the Hungarian side because Hungarian politicians knew full well what the Slovak reaction would be but they didn't care. Raising the level of nationalist fervor almost always works, especially when someone wants to divert attention from other issues. Because surely it will become clear soon enough that the new Orbán government will face the same problems the Bajnai government did: there will be no money to fulfill all those expectations Fidesz politicians hinted at.

How irresponsible to pass a law that at least for the time being has no tangible benefits, only symbolic significance, while the Slovak reaction may contain concrete provisions that are disadvantageous to the Hungarians of Slovakia. The Slovak-Hungarians "have become the hostages of the selfish politicians of Hungary and Slovakia."

And finally, it was Miklós Duray who surprised me most. Already during the Czechoslovak one-party dictatorship he was the champion of Hungarian nationality rights. He was in the 90s the chief protagonist of the unification of the Hungarian nation across borders. Therefore I was astonished to hear him in an interview today announce that he has no intention of taking out Hungarian citizenship. He explained that all his life he fought for the rights of the Hungarian minority, first in Czechoslovakia and later in Slovakia. Slovakia is his country and he is a member of the Slovak-Hungarian minority.

My impression is that the Hungarian government doesn't have the support of the Slovak-Hungarian minority. But then why grant citizenship to people who most likely would gain no advantage from it and risk serious negative consequences for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, even if they don't take advantage of it? Indeed, it is a shame. Budapest's shame.

About János Martonyi, the new Hungarian foreign minister

Almost every time there is an opinion piece about the future of Hungarian foreign policy, commentators feel compelled to mention that János Martonyi is practically the only  minister of the second Orbán government who knows his business.

This is not a new phenomenon. I clearly remember that the failures of the first Orbán government in the field of diplomacy were usually chalked up to the inexperience of the prime minister and the nationalistic impulses of Martonyi's undersecretary, the aggressive Zsolt Németh. However, Martonyi protested even then when a reporter pointed out the general impression that he and Viktor Orbán held different views on Hungarian foreign policy. I'm sure that no one really believed his protestations because, after all, he was supposed to be a real expert. I was also inclined to think that Martonyi with all his experience couldn't have made so many mistakes and wondered why he remained in his post. Why didn't he quit if he didn't have a free hand?

In the last few days I have changed my mind. I have come to the conclusion that Martonyi was and will be a lousy foreign minister. He was not a puppet as so many of us believed. He really was in charge and in perfect harmony with the views of Viktor Orbán and Zsolt Németh.

Let me say a few words about him and his family. János Martonyi, Sr. was a law professor whose family name was Martin until 1931, when at the age of 21 he Hungarianized his name to Martonyi. He was a brilliant scholar who worked as a civil servant before he taught law at the University of Szeged. In October 1940, shortly after Hungary received northern Transylvania thanks to the Second Vienna Award, Martonyi Sr. moved to Kolozsvár (Cluj) to the old/new Hungarian university there. It was here that János Martonyi, Jr. was born in April 1944. Bad timing because the Martonyi family had to flee from Cluj within a few months. The city was occupied by the Russians, followed by the Romanians, in October 1944.

Martonyi's father's career didn't suffer as a result of his sojourn in Cluj. He returned to the University of Szeged where he became departmental head and twice served as dean of the law school. His son studied at the same institution, a practice I find a "bad practice." This way we really cannot tell whether his summa cum laude was well earned or whether he was treated differently because of the position of his father within the university. We do know, however, that he managed to learn four languages well: German, French, English, and Russian. For a while he worked as a legal counsel for a shipping company, but between 1979 and 1984 he served as commercial secretary at the Hungarian Embassy in Brussels. In 1985 he was named assistant undersecretary in the Ministry of Commerce. In 1989 he became deputy minister of the same ministry. His next job was commissioner in charge of privatization in Miklós Németh's government, the last government before the regime change. A lot of jokes are being cracked about Martonyi's bad timing because he decided to become a party member only a few months before the collapse of the Kádár regime.

Martonyi's rise might have been due in part to his alleged work as an informer between 1965 and 1986. In plain language, he spied on his colleagues and the foreigners he came in contact with. The first time his involvement with the network of informers came to light was in 2002 when the Mécs Committee was investigating the backgrounds of former government officials after it became known that Péter Medgyessy was employed as an officer by the counterintelligence section of the secret service. At that time Martonyi claimed that "he didn't sign any statement, didn't report on anyone, and didn't receive any remuneration."

However, a few years later, in 2007, thanks to the research of Péter Kende, it turned out that Martonyi was not as innocent as he claimed. Kende found out that Martonyi was in contact with the secret service between 1965 and 1986 with the cover names "Magasdi" and later "Marosvásárhelyi." His folder contains fifty pages of reports. Martonyi admitted that he did write "travel reports" and that he was familiar with these cover names. He even admitted that he gave these reports to the police. But he claimed that without writing these reports he couldn't have travelled abroad. Martonyi threatened a law suit if Kende's article that appeared in Élet és Irodalom wasn't to his liking. As far as I know no law suit followed.

Martonyi's career didn't suffer with the change of regime. His last-minute membership in the party wasn't an obstacle. In the Antall government (1990-1994) he served as permanent undersecretary in the Foreign Ministry and four years later Viktor Orbán picked him as his foreign minister. As for the embarrassing details of his long association with the secret service, it was no problem. A past connection with the secret service is problematic only if the person after the change of regime ended up "on the wrong side," that is, in MSZP, like Péter Medgyessy. But people like Zsigmond Járai or Imre Boross who served during the Orbán government were forgiven. "Our communists" are okay, "your communists" are certainly not. This is how it goes in Hungary.

The die is cast

Although it is likely that Knut Vollebaek, who is in charge of minority issues in the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, warned János Martonyi, Hungary's future foreign minister, that the OSCE would prefer a negotiated solution to the controversy over dual citizenship that is currently raging between Slovakia and Hungary, the Hungarians were not moved. Martonyi stated that Hungary was ready to talk with Slovakia, but only "after the the formation of the new Slovak government." Martonyi also said that "Hungary's position will be unambiguous, clear and determined." In plain language Hungary doesn't care a hoot about the Slovak response or about Knut Vollebaek's position, which of course represents the European Union's stance on the subject. The new Fidesz government will go ahead and will pass the law to which Slovakia so strenuously objects. The vote was scheduled for this morning.

And the law passed with an overwhelming majority. Of the 344 representatives present only three voted against it and five abstained. The three brave souls who dared to say no to this law that, in my opinion, will be most harmful to the Hungarian minority in Slovakia were Ferenc Gyurcsány, Tibor Szanyi, and Csaba Molnár, all MSZP. A fair number of MSZP representatives simply left the chamber and thus didn't vote one way or the other. But 32 socialist members out of 59 voted for the bill, including Attila Mesterházy and Katalin Szili. I'm not surprised about Szili, but I must say that I was surprised about Attila Mesterházy. Thus, members of MSZP voted four different ways: some voted against it, most voted for it, a few abstained, and a few didn't vote. This breakdown shows the deep divisions within the party, which doesn't bode well for the future. Ferenc Gyurcsány in his blog complained that although 40% of Hungarians are against this bill there were only three people in the whole parliament who represented their opinions.

In theory it will be very easy to obtain Hungarian citizenship. One doesn't even have to prove Hungarian ancestry. It is enough if the applicant had at least one ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen once upon a time. That in effect means all those Slovak citizens whose ancestors once lived in the Kingdom of Hungary. In fact, one doesn't even have to prove the existence of such an ancestor. It is enough if there is a "probability" of such an ancestor. Admittedly, one should know some Hungarian but this requirement is also very lax. The law speaks only of "some knowledge of Hungarian." From the Slovak point of view this provision of the Hungarian law almost sounds as if all indigenous Slovaks living in the country are eligible to become Hungarian citizens as long as they can mutter a few words in Hungarian. Now, surely, no real Slovak will take advantage of this "opportunity," but I must say it is a rather peculiar way of granting citizenship to foreigners. Of course, the same will apply to Transylvania and the Voivodina region of Serbia.

As promised, Slovakia retaliated immediately. The Slovak parliament changed the law on citizenship. If a Slovak becomes a citizen of another country, he/she will lose Slovak citizenship. Every Slovak citizen who asks for a second citizenship will have to report the fact to the authorities. If someone neglects to do so he/she will be fined 3,319 euros.

The Slovak parliament has 150 representatives and 115 were present for the vote. Ninety voted for the bill, seven voted against it, seventeen people abstained, and one refused to vote one way or the other. The Slovak law also stipulates that people who apply for foreign citizenship cannot be employed in "sensitive" positions that have anything to do with national security. For example, they cannot be policemen.

The two Hungarian parties in Slovakia had divergent reactions. MKP, a party close to Fidesz, promised to go to the Slovak Constitutional Court and if they find no satisfaction there they are ready to turn to the European Court of Human Rights. HÍD is less belligerent. Nóra Czuczor, the spokeswoman of the party, announced that they don't doubt Fidesz's good intentions, but they disapprove of the timing of the bill that was advantageous only to the Slovak nationalist parties. "And this means a serious threat to the Hungarians of Slovakia."

Although some Hungarian commentators expressed hope that Slovak-Hungarian relations will eventually improve and a few even predicted that Hungary will come out of this mess victorious, I very much doubt that this will be the case. I'm almost certain that the European Union will be on Slovakia's side and public opinion will blame Hungary, not without reason, for this latest upheaval between the two countries. I also have some idea what the diplomatic world will think of the foreign policy of the new Orbán government. Those who remember the period between 1998 and 2002 will say: "Unreal, these people didn't learn a thing!"

A footnote to Milan Jaroň’s writing on Trianon

Indeed, when we place the nationality question at the center of the discussion about the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy we are led astray. In many ways the situation that presented itself after World War I could have offered an opportunity for these nations, but no country with the possible exception of Czechoslovakia took advantage of it. Hungary in particular viewed it, in the words of the old saw, as a stumbling block not a stepping stone.

The Czechs were in an enviable position, in large part because they had a long bourgeois tradition. After the Battle of White Mountain (1620) where the Emperor-King's army won over the troops of the Bohemian nobility, Ferdinand II retaliated. A few executions later approximately 40,000 German and Czech Protestants and noblemen fled the country. As a result the Bohemian nobility lost its power. By the nineteenth century it was the middle classes that were deeply involved in the modernization and industrialization of the Czech lands. Perhaps not surprisingly this region was the most developed in the Dual Monarchy. More developed than the Austrian Crown Lands.

The Hungarian nobility seemed to be stronger and more resilient than the Czech. In Hungary there were also rebellions and uprisings led by the Hungarian nobility in defense of their privileges, but time and again these clashes between Crown and Estates ended in compromise. As a result Hungary's noble class not only survived but when at the beginning of the nineteenth century time came for modernization, the leaders of the Age of Reform with very few exceptions belonged to either the aristocracy or the lower nobility. In fact, in Hungary before Trianon there was only one non-aristocratic prime minister, Sándor Wekerle, and even after World War I, with the exception of the chaotic period between the fall of 1919 and July 1920, aristocrats ran the country until 1931.

Both the Czechs and the Hungarians remember the victims of Habsburg centralization attempts with equal nationalistic fervor, but in the final analysis the Czechs could be grateful to Ferdinand II for saving them from their own nobility. This way, the Czech political leaders of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were middle-class, professional people. In 1918 Czechoslovakia could start without the semi-feudal heritage that Hungary was stranded with until 1945.

The Slovaks once upon a time also had a noble class, but because the court was the center of politics in Hungary the Slovak nobles eventually became Magyarized. Just as the high aristocracy of Hungary through politics and marriage became part and parcel of the Viennese aristocracy. A good example in this respect is István Széchenyi, the "greatest Hungarian," who learned Hungarian as an adult and kept his diary in German. But although the Slovaks were not burdened with a local noble class, they didn't have as "nurturing" a history as the Czechs. The Czechs had far greater cultural and economic opportunities in the Austrian half of the Monarchy than the Slovaks did in Hungary.

Thus, although it wasn't perfect, in Eastern Europe it was Czechoslovakia that had a full-fledged democratic political system. The Hungarians who found themselves in Czechoslovakia were unhappy of course for nationalistic reasons and were most enthusiastic when the Hungarian troops arrived to occupy the territories Hungary received as a result of the First Vienna Award. However, their enthusiasm was short-lived when they suddenly found themselves in the less than democratic circumstances of Miklós Horthy's Hungary: the all-powerful local potentates who arrived to run the newly acquired territories or the less than democratically minded gendarmerie. The Jewish population was faced with vicious anti-Semitism and the "Jewish laws."

And let's move on to the present-day opportunities that, I'm afraid, will be missed again. Those Hungarians for whom the fate of their co-nationalists living in Slovakia and Romania is not immaterial should find solace in the European Union. Borders are nonexistent, regional cooperation across borders is developing. Hungarians work in Romania, Slovaks in Hungary. Roads that were overgrown with grass are opening up, more bridges across the Danube and lesser rivers are contemplated. One would think that for Hungarian nationalists this would be an ideal situation. All nationality groups are united in the European Union. In fact, the stronger the union the better it is from the point of view of Hungarian national interests. Yet the Hungarian right for nationalistic reasons is against a closer union and insists on a political entity where the individual nation states have the upper hand over the central power of Brussels. It is a rather peculiar view. After all, Hungarians greatly object to the fact that the Romanian and Slovak constitutions consider these countries nation states. But if that is a problem then why do they keep insisting on viewing the European Union as a conglomeration of nation states? The "solution" to Trianon lies in a United Europe, but the Hungarian right refuses to support such a development. Instead it wants to create a "nation state of fifteen million Hungarians" across borders. I will never understand their logic.

Trianon: A different view

Objection, your honour!

Milan Jaroň


This piece was written on the occasion of a debate with Ignác Romsics, author of The Treaty Peace Treaty(Trianonská mierová zmluva – Kalligram 2001), held in Bratislava on February 15th of 2007, about the possibilities of convergence of contradictory views on the same historical events.


The Trianon trauma is a deeply rooted feeling of injustice, passed on from generation to generation, as it has become a sort of constitutive element of the collective psyche of modern Hungarians. Although Hungary was created, in the true sense of the word, exactly as Czechoslovakia: as a result of the will of the victorious powers on the rubble and craters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from the Hungarian point of view, the Trianon Peace Treaty represents an unjust dictate and not a guarantee of the new state‘s borders.

And this is precisely the point traditionally emphasized for example by Slovak publicists and historians: in the Hungarians‘ national conscience (and language) there is no difference between „Hungary“ (Maďarsko) and „Greater Hungary“ (Uhorsko). Hungarian historians feel that „Hungarians are fully entitled to consider the Trianon Peace Treaty, or rather the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, which replaced it, as unjust.“ (Ignác Romsics in The Trianon Peace Treaty

Indeed, Austria-Hungary has been carved up in the name of the right to national self-determination. But in practice, it was essentialy the result of the assertion of specific strategic power interests. Therefore, Hungarian historiography is attempting to demonstrate that the Trianon Peace Treaty not only was contradictory of the right of self-determination of nations (the borders have been drawn wrong, both in their layout – unjust demarcation lines, and method – without plebiscites), but that it also failed to fulfill the strategic goals of victorious powers (the weakening of the German power in order to avoid a new conflict).  

The opposite party argues looking at the same events from an entirely different point of view. According to them, the Hungarian reasoning is flawed. The censuses used as reference aren’t trustworthy, and above all they already reflect the results of the magyarization policy practiced for at least a century. In other words, if the borders drawn in 1920 were unjust, which demarcation would have been considered just in 1848? In 1867? Why not going back as far as to the year 1000? Which borders would be fair today? Which borders would be fair in 20, 40, 100 years from now?

As a matter of fact, justice has little to do with drawing of borders. Territories used to be only won in war, and secured through power, which made them stable – sustainable in the long term (that’s why the idea that the plebiscite would be a reliable method for determining borders is to a large extent an illusion). It means that in 1920 Hungarian politicians must have known that nothing unusual, let alone outrageous, was happening. Austria-Hungary lost the war. It was destroyed. Period. A new chapter of history began.

Today, we are at last attempting to think about ways of getting our nations closer as far as the interpretation of common history is concerned. It might be worth to dust off and read carefully some of Milan Hodža’s works. 

As long as the two sides won’t stop reducing the end of World War I to the issue of realisation of the aspirations of the till then oppressed, on the one hand, or the fabrication of a sort of national tragedy as a result of the redrawing of borders, on the other, we all will continue missing the deeper meaning of those historical events. In fact, the end of World War I, even if typified by the redrawing of the map of Europe, meant as much as a revolution for Central Europe. The statement: „monarchy fell“ has greater implications than „new States were born“.

Rather than emphasizing the mutilation of Hungary, the events of 1918-1920 also meant the fall of the monarchy including the disappearance or weakening the nobility, which in the name of „magyarship“ claimed Greater Hungary for itself. They lost their properties as well as their priviledged status, as a consequence of gradual democratization and agrarian reform.  

The fall of the monarchy can for example mean a substantial acceleration of industrial modernization, and the deep social changes it implies.  

The fall of the monarchy might have given Central Europe the opportunity to start recovering wasted time, at least in comparison with Western Europe.

And today, especially for us, new members of the European Union (after what we call 40 years of forced separation from Europe), it might be instructive to ask history how our nations took their chances in a similar situation, almost a century ago.


The original appeared in

Milan is a diligent reader of this blog who often contributes to discussions especially on Slovak-Hungarian relations.




The Day of National Belonging

The Treaty of Trianon was signed on June 4, 1920. The Hungarian government between the two world wars never accepted the verdict of the territorial and human losses incurred as a result of the lost war. Mind you, the Hungarian people were of the same mind. Quite a few years ago I wrote: "Whether one accepts or rejects the view that revision of the Treaty of Trianon was the sine qua non of the nation's 'survival and independent existence' as István Bethlen, Hungary's prime minister, claimed, the fact remains that revisionism was the cornerstone of Hungary's interwar foreign policy. Successive governments preached the gospel of revisionism to anyone who would listen, repeating its message so often and with such fervor that many Westerners soon became convinced that 'the Hungarian people were not quite sane on that subject.'" This revisionist foreign policy failed miserably. At the end of World War II the same borders, with one small change at Hungary's expense, were reimposed on the country.

During the socialist period there were a few taboo subjects. One was any discussion of Trianon. Of course, historians wrote about the treaty and analyzed its causes and consequences, but these analyses circulated only within the historical community and were read by the few history buffs. It was the opinion of the party that any discussion of the subject that reached a wider audience would only rekindle antagonistic feelings toward the people and the governments of the successor states and might interfere with the alleged socialist friendship of the nations in the region.

This feeling was quite widespread, especially among the younger generation who didn't want any revival of Hungarian nationalism. It was certainly true of the generation of Viktor Orbán and his friends from the early days of Fidesz. On June 4, 1990, when the Speaker of the House, György Szabad, who was born in 1924 and had been a professor of history, called upon the members of parliament to rise for a minute of silence in remembrance of the Treaty of Trianon that had been signed seventy years earlier, the Fidesz delegation got up and left the chamber! And the same László Kövér who was heading the procession twenty years later suggested the establishment of a Day of National Belonging. Quite a change! It tells a lot about the leading members of the party and the road they travelled in the last twenty years.

The sudden Fidesz suggestion to have a day of remembrance of the Treaty of Trianon came as a surprise because such a proposal wasn't on the agenda. It was Jobbik that on May 10 sent a letter to the Fidesz delegation asking for its support in introducing this official day. Jobbik thought that it was a real shame that in the last twenty years no government ever suggested such an official day of remembrance.

The first reaction was Pál Schmitt's suggestion for a special day for the House to remember the treaty. Jobbik was thrilled and considered it a real success for the party that Schmitt responded somewhat positively to the suggestion. However, they wanted to have "a day of debate" on the subject in parliament. This would have required the signatures of one-fifth of all the members, and none of the opposition parties has a large enough delegation to initiate such a debate. Fidesz at that point was not ready to support Jobbik's suggestion. However, they were fully prepared to advance their own initiative. Practically on the same day Zsolt Semjén and László Kövér turned in a proposal to make June 4th a Day of National Belonging.

It is a rather peculiar document that begins: "We, the members of the Parliament of the Republic of Hungary who believe that God is the lord of history as well as those who are trying to understand the course of history from other sources, declare…." My first problem here is that I find the mention of God superfluous. I suspect it was the brainchild of the Christian Democrat Zsolt Semjén. My second thought is the following. If God is the lord of history, how could he possibly have willed such a calamity on the Hungarian nation? (And don't tell me I'm an ignoramus who never encountered the concept of theodicy.)

In the first sentence that goes on for twelve lines the two men claim that the treaty caused "political, economic, legal and psychological problems that to this day are not solved." But if they remain unsolved, does this mean that the Hungarian government should find a solution for them?

The endless sentence also notes that the legislators "recognize the right of other nations to have different opinions about questions important to Hungarians" and expresses the hope that by introducing this legislation they are "assisting the peaceful coexistence of people and nations living in the Carpathian basin." I somehow doubt that a Day of [Hungarian] National Belonging will assist "the mutual understanding and cooperation" of the nations of the area. In fact, there is real fear in some circles that the exact opposite will come to pass. Semjén and Kövér actually claim that by establishing a day of remembrance they are helping the "unification of Europe tragically divided as a result of the tragedies of the twentieth century." This last thought is totally incomprehensible to me.

The difficulties don't end here. In the first paragraph of the proposal one finds this sentence: "The Parliament of the Republic of Hungary honors all those peoples and their leaders who after the unjust and unfair dismemberment of the Hungarian nation by foreign powers through their sacrifices and achievements assisted the strengthening both in intellectual and in economic terms of the country and its inhabitants." This surely includes those who led Hungary into the deadly embrace of Hitler's Germany in the hope of revisionism and caused immense suffering to the country's inhabitants.

The second paragraph also has its problems. At the beginning of the first sentence Semjén and Kövér recognize that "the past solutions to the problems caused by Trianon, such as border changes with the help of foreign powers" as well the answers offered by the ideology of internationalism failed. Therefore "Parliament declares that the solution to the above mentioned problems can be solved only within the framework of international law." Their solution seems to include democracy, sovereignty, progress, equality, cooperation of countries of equal rank, freedom that includes the free choice of national identity. In brief, their so-called solution is no solution at all. "At the same time, Parliament condemns all attempts to assimilate minorities."

In the third paragraph it is stated that "all members of the Hungarian nation under the authority of other states are part of the unitary Hungarian nation and that the homogeneity of the Hungarian nation across borders is real. Therefore Parliament strengthens Hungary's resolve to maintain and cultivate the relations of all members and communities of the Hungarian nation." It adds that Parliament will support the Hungarian minorities' striving for autonomy. This last sentence will especially please Romania that made it crystal clear that autonomy is out of the question.

The fourth and last paragraph reiterates that it is the Hungarian Parliament's duty to remind the current members of the nation as well as future generations "to remember forever this national tragedy." The only reference to self-criticism comes at the end of the document when there is an allusion to "our faults that caused injury to members of other nations."

All this is too new to have caused widespread reaction in the neighboring countries. However, the Slovak Pravda has a few things to say. The paper points out that "Hungarians are masters of opening up old wounds" and that Viktor Orbán is pouring oil on the "nationalist fire that in our part of the world always works." The paper also thinks that "to build national identity" on the foundation of Trianon is unfortunate. 

I'm not terribly surprised that LMP supports the Semjén-Kövér proposal. After all, the party's leaders are very close to President László Sólyom, and we know about Sólyom's attitude toward the Hungarian nationalities in the neghboring countries. His frequent visits to Romania and Slovakia, especially on Hungarian national holidays, got him into trouble in both countries, and not just once.

We don't know yet what MSZP will do. After all, if they say no, they will be the only ones to turn against "the national will" and I don't know whether they will have the guts to do so.

Trianon and the Hungarians

The first time I heard about the fifteen million Hungarians who allegedly live in the Carpathian basin was in 1990 when József Antall announced that in spirit he was the prime minister of fifteen million Hungarians. A few days ago the new speaker of the house, Pál Schmitt, announced in his maiden speech that “it is necessary for the members of the Hungarian parliament to accept responsibility for the fate of fifteen million Hungarians.” As if that weren’t enough, Zsolt Németh, who most likely will again be in charge of Hungarian foreign policy as undersecretary to János Martonyi, stated in no uncertain terms that the time has arrived when “Hungary at last may become a country fifteen million strong.” So I thought it was high time to count. The result of my investigation is that not even according to the 1910 census were there five million Hungarians who ended up on the wrong side of the borders.

My calculations are based on the data gathered by the late C. A. Macartney who first published his findings in Hungary and Her Successors: The Treaty of Trianon and Its Consequences, 1919-1937 (London: Oxford University Press, 1937). A few additional pieces of information were found in his later book, October Fifteenth: A History of Modern Hungary, 1929-1945 (Edinburgh: University Press, 1957). One thing is sure: one cannot accuse Macartney of an anti-Hungarian bias. On the contrary.

As I mentioned earlier, in the 1910 census the question posed by the census takers was not the person’s mother tongue but the language he/she speaks most fluently and most often. On this basis, according to Macartney’s calculations, 1,063,030 people who claimed to speak Hungarian as their first language ended up in Czechoslovakia. That number included Hungarian speakers who lived in Ruthenia (today part of Ukraine), an area that was temporarily allotted to Czechoslovakia. 1,704,851 Hungarian speakers ended up in Romania while 441,787 found themselves in Yugoslavia. The number of Hungarians in Austria and Croatia was insignificant. So the number of Hungarians after World War I in the new successor states was approximately 3,210,000. That of course was a very sizeable number, especially if one considers that the population of post-Trianon Hungary was just over 7 million. However, it was not even close to 5 million.

During the turbulent years of large population movements, a lot of Hungarian speakers left Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. Macartney estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 just from Czechoslovakia. They were mostly civil servants. Others who were bilingual decided to switch linguistic designation due to the changed circumstances. Thus in 1921, at the time of the first Czechoslovak census, there were only 738,517 who claimed Hungarian as their mother tongue. However, to this number we should add another 150,237 who were put under the rubric of “Jewish.” This new designation was devised in order to reduce the number of Hungarian speakers, because most of the Jews who lived in Slovakia spoke Hungarian. So, by 1921 the Hungarian community had lost 174,266 people. Some of these left the country, others switched to Slovak. Today, even after about 50,000 Hungarians were expelled after World War II, 520,728 Hungarians live in Slovakia. Perhaps the ethnic map based on the 2001 census will explain the reasons for Slovak sensitivities concerning the issue of dual citizenship.

In territories annexed by Romania, based on the 1910 Hungarian census, there were 1,704,851 Hungarians. By 1930 the Romanians claimed that their numbers had decreased substantially. They claimed that there were only 1,373,675 Hungarians in Romania. One cannot take this number very seriously because today, after many, many years, the number of Hungarians (2002) is 1,431,807. From this number it is also clear that the assimilation of the Hungarian minority to the majority nationality is not as great as the Hungarians claim.

To Serbia (Voivodina) Hungary lost 441,787 Hungarian speakers. By 1921 their numbers were only 382,070. Today, according to the official statistics there are only 290,000 Hungarians in Serbia.

As for Ukraine, according to the 1910 census 169,434 Hungarian speakers lived in this northeast corner of pre-Trianon Hungary called Kárpátalja or Ruténia (Ruthenia). By the 1921 census their numbers allegedly shrank to 103,690, but again it is probable that perhaps even the majority of the 79,715 Jews were Hungarian speakers. Today 156,000 Hungarians live in Ukraine.

So, how many Hungarians currently live in the Carpathian basin? In Hungary proper there are about 10 million people as opposed to the 7 million in 1921. In that year the number of Hungarians living outside of Hungary’s borders was about 3.2 million. Today their number is 2.2 million. Thus altogether we can speak of slightly more than 12 million Hungarians. Not 15 million.

As Tamás Bauer in a recent article pointed out, the creation of the successor states was not by itself an unjust act. After all, while before Trianon 52% of the population of Greater Hungary lived as minorities within a unitary state, after Trianon that number shrank to 29%. Today because of migration, emigration, and assimilation that number is down to about 10-12%.

Twenty years ago during the Antall and Horn governments Hungary concluded treaties with Croatia, Ukraine, Slovakia, and Romania. These countries promised to defend minority rights, including educational opportunities in their mother tongue, and in return Hungary agreed to the final and irrevocable recognition of the existing borders.

According to Bauer, the Hungarian right greatly dislikes these treaties, and he suggests that what they object to is the final recognition of the borders. Of course, the incoming government would deny such an accusation, but there are many signs that they are planning “to make irredentism the state religion” of the country. All this, for Bauer, recalls the 1920s and 1930s.

I must say that some of the language in the new Hungarian parliament takes my breath away. One Fidesz representative, while objecting to punishment for the denial of the Holocaust, announced that he would be very happy if jail term were the punishment for those who deny the existence of God. Another Fidesz MP, while discussing toughening the criminal code and supporting the Fidesz idea of introducing the “three strikes and you’re out” law in Hungary, was happy to discover the Hungarian antecedents of such a law in the criminal code of St. Stephen. There it is stated that the first time a slave stole, his nose would be cut off; the second time, his ears would be cut off. You can imagine what happened on the third offense. And the opposition sat there speechless.