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!"


  1. I don’t know what is more depressing : the inanity of the law or the fact that only 3 mszp mp voted against it.

  2. That Orban ignored Slovak government is bad but understandable in its strange logic, that he ignored to meet Bala Bugar who is for long time most popular Hungarian politician in Slovakia (not only among Hungarian minority) is clear signal how FIDESZ like opposite opinions.
    Problem is also that so far it is represented only as Hungarian – Slovak issue. The reasons are that Romania must shut up because they do the same with citizenship to Moldavians and Serbia is silent because last thing they need is upset Hungary around the table in Brussels when it comes to negotiations about Serbian entrance to the EU.
    Looking forward for nice times in Central Europe.

  3. The OSCE is not the EU. I don’t see the EU responding, to be honest. Citizenship law is the prerogrative of the member states. The EU arguably could have responded to the Slovak language law as well, but there is no such thing as collective rights for minorities under international or EU law. The Slovak response is quite clever, as it nullifies the Hungarian law. It will come to haunt Orban, as we will soon see how many Slovak Hungarians will be willing to become second class citizens in their own country.

  4. There are a number of legitimate reasons to oppose this law (though in the current form where voting rights are not conferred to those living abroad it is far less dangerous than it could have been). I also am not sure about the new citizens entitlement to social benefits. This is obviously a big issue.
    But having said this, one reason not to oppose the law is to mollify the current Slovak Government. The language law they passed last year is a much more offensive piece of legislation. Dual citizenship is quite common across Europe. It is only that the Slovak Government is even more xenophobic and nationalist than FIDESZ that is a big problem. FIDESZ, if they had been smart, would have waited until after the Slovak elections and would have conferred with the Hungarian parties in Slovakia, but they are not smart. It is just that Fico and Slota are even worse than Orban and his ilk.

  5. It’s really surprising that no conservatives opposed this on the basis of the possibility of what may be called social service shopping, a variant of the so-called Greyhound therapy practiced in the United States, in which costly service recipients are simply shipped to other states. Citizens of neighboring countries might use Hungarian citizenship to claim Hungarian social services when these are found to be more greater than local services; indeed, neighboring countries might do well by encouraging their citizens to claim Hungarian citizenship and then benefits. The potential costs to Hungary are enormous.

  6. The fact that they didn’t wait until after the Slovak elections to pass the law suggests that Fidesz thinks it has something to gain from a strong performance by Slota. In the short term that’s true, of course: the faithful are gathering on Kossuth ter yet again on Saturday, and now that they’re in power they won’t have anyone to fulminate and shout about. Slota fills that slot beautifully. But in the longer term? I think it could get old very quickly.
    The Kossuth ter gathering on Saturday is weird in itself. “Back to Kossuth ter,” the slogan reads. It’s suggestive of a certain lack of direction within the newly triumphant governing party, almost as if they’re trying to recreate the glory days of being in opposition in order to hide from the terrifying burden of government.
    PassingStranger is right about the Slovak response, which makes it more or less certain that the number of applicants will be numbered in the dozens. It’s curiously similar to the response of the Moldovan communists last year when Romania announced plans to loosen up citizenship requirements. They threatened to ban dual citizenship.

  7. @Alias3T
    I don’t think the Communists in Moldova would have banned dual citizenship as a lot of them (and their supporters) have Russian citizenship. Actually Moldova allowed dual citizenship back in 2002 with the support of the Communists’ Party.
    has a point about the lack of reaction from Romania regarding the Hungarian citizenship law. Some Romanians feel it would be hypocritical to have a strong reaction given Romania’s policies in this area. That is part of the story.
    There is also more maturity and less hotheadedness regarding the relations with Hungary.
    Also the Hungarian party here is part of the governing coalition and the Democrat Liberal Party (the main party in power) depends on their support these days as drastic cuts in public spending are made.
    So these days the no 1 problem in Romania is the economy and the government’s decision to cut public sector salaries by 25% and pensions by 15%. This takes over almost the whole public debate. So most people seem to care more about their salaries and the big general strike that was announced and less about some Transylvanian Hungarians that might get Hungarian citizenship.

Comments are closed.