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.


  1. Don’t be mistaken by Duray. Duray is a fullfledged revisionist, a hardliner in the MKP.

  2. I consider indeed very unfortunate that you seem to ignore the following basic difference between the Slovak and the Hungarian government’ stance on this issue. While the Hungarian law enlarges citizenship rights without challenging at any level the Slovak state’s territorial integrity, the Slovak bill aims at depriving Slovak born citizens from their citizenship, which should be condemned as a serious violation of human rights.
    You also seem to ignore that the Slovak Parliament has passed a very similar bill in 2005, and no reactions came from neither the international community nor from the Hungarian government.
    Stefao Bottoni

  3. Stefano Bottoni: “I consider indeed very unfortunate that you seem to ignore the following basic difference between the Slovak and the Hungarian government’ stance on this issue.”
    Well, we differ on the issue. The Hungarian government offers citizenship to citizens of other countries, thus possibly affecting their status, while the Slovak legislation deals with only Slovakia’s own citizens. I don’t approve such a heavy-handed response but one must admit that this is an internal Slovak affair.
    As for my ignoring this or that, I would like to call your attention that the blog deals with three Slovak-Hungarian responses and therefore the thoughts contained here are not my own.

  4. Your answer seems to ignore two basic facts.
    1) the decision to extend citizens right is a Hungarian internal affair. Hungary is not requested to ask anyone for preliminary agreement on that. Double citizenship, as you may know, does not affect any status. I’m an Italian-Hungarian double citizes, enjoying full citizenship righst in both countries. Should it be considered as a security threat in the era of European integration?
    2) As far as I know, human rights do not stop at the Slovak-Hungarian border. The Slovak reaction is NOT an internal issue, because it affects EU citizens.
    Finally, it is quite evident from you post that you are supporting the views of Morvay and Barack. It is your right to do so, but I would like to raise your attention to other legitimate viewpoints, which contradict your assertion.

  5. Stefano Bottoni: “I’m an Italian-Hungarian double citizes, enjoying full citizenship righst in both countries. Should it be considered as a security threat in the era of European integration?”
    Such comparisons are disingenious because they bear no resemblance to the Slovak-Hungarian situation. In Slovakia about 10% of the population consists of Hungarians who live alongside the Slovak-Hungarian border. To compare a few dozen Italian-Hungarian citizens to the Slovak situation is outright ridiculous.
    You ought to appreciate Slovak fears. Moreover, it is not a good idea to act like a bull in the china closet and ignore a legitimate request for consultation and negotiation. Bad practice in international affairs.

  6. It seems that you also fail to understand that international right does not know the question of size and geographic position.
    As far as diplomatic best practice is concerned, formal correctness should not be confused with Kadar-style self-humiliation. Hungarian designated foreign minister Martonyi paid his first visit to Bratislava just to discuss the issue of double citizenship before the law was passed by the Hungarian parliament. I’m wondering what else should have he done. I think I know your answer: he should have abandoned the whole project. But it’s precisely what I’m contesting you: defensive, fearful foreign policy only exacerbate the successor states’ nationalism. Or should we consider the Hungarian foreign policy towards post-2006 Slovakia a success story?

  7. Stefano Bottoni: “It seems that you also fail to understand that international right does not know the question of size and geographic position.”
    Well, in that case, just go ahead. We will see how far will Hungary get with this kind of belligerent attitude. The reaction up to date is not promising.
    I don’t think that it is worth continuing this discussion because we hold entirely different views on the subject. Only time will tell who was right. Since the first Orbán government’s foreign policy under the guidance of János Martonyi was a disaster I don’t think that a repeat performance will bring better results.

  8. for me it is hard to imagine what kind of advantage Slovak Hungarians could have (even without Slovak reaction), especially when already was declared that with Hungarian citizenship they will not receive right to vote there
    another SME article declares older Hungarian card gives them more
    traveling advantage could be for Hungarians out of Schengen or EU, but because of them Orban already faces problem with reintroduction of US and Canadian visas
    Slovak (for me too-fast) reaction was clearly influenced by incoming elections (and could be later canceled by Constitutional Court), but it was reaction to someone who can’t stand wait a few weeks
    Duray surprised me too – is there any link to his interview?

  9. real name: “Duray surprised me too – is there any link to his interview?”
    I heard it on Friday on Bolgar’s talk show. publishes his intervews a few days later when transcripts become available. I will let you know what it is on.

  10. You are both wrong. Whatever the Hungarians or Slovaks do with their citizenship law, is up to themselves. Within the EU this is a matter for the member states. The silence of both the Commission and the Council says enough. Hungary’s new law is not exceptional, and neither is Slovakia’s outlawing of dual citizenship. Legally, what both countries are doing falls well within the bounds of what is permissable. Providing Slovakia does not make anyone stateless, there is no real problem, legally speaking.
    Politically, however, the situation is a mess. Slovakia’s language law is clearly discriminatory and action on Hungary’s part is understandable. It would have been sensible for Hungary to provoke and fund court cases in Slovakia, as I doubt this law would survive scrutiny by the ECJ.
    That would give Hungary the moral high ground, while using the EU institutions to do what they were built for.
    As it is, Fidesz has abused its constitutional majority by enforcing a law that was soundly defeated in a referendum
    several years ago. Though Fidesz is perfectly entitled to do with its majority whatever it likes, to present this law as fulfilling an ancient Hungarian dream is a farce.
    Certainly the timing is miserably chosen. Along with the Trianon memorial day it can only help Fico and Slota, the very politicians Fidesz love to hate. If I were a cynic I’d say any growth in Slovak nationalism will only help Fidesz the coming years from deflecting attention from the only really important issue concerning Hungary, which is the state of its economy.
    Fidesz’s “tough” line has not gained Hungary anything. In a move that was as brilliant as it was petty and nationalist, the Slovaks nullified the usefulness of this law by outlawing dual citizenship.
    The reality is, that no Hungarian government has really had any room for manouevre, whether it was Horthy, Kadar, Antall, Horn, Gyurcsany or Orban. Violence doesn’t help, and nor does appeasement of nationalists.
    The difference with the past is that Hungary could now use its EU membership to improve the fate of minorities abroad. However, I do not really see any attempts to do this at all.

  11. Passing Stranger: “You are both wrong. Whatever the Hungarians or Slovaks do with their citizenship law, is up to themselves.”
    Maybe I didn’t express myself well but I know about all this except I think that Hungary shouldn’t have brought up the issue this time and in that way.
    I was thinking about this whole business this afternoon and I compared it in my head the situation between two neighboring countries to two ordinary neighbors living next to each other.
    Here is my example. According to town ordinance one cannot build any structure closer to the fence line than 20 feet. When we moved in there was a very ugly shed about 2 feet from the fence line quite visible from our long driveway. We certainly could have gone to town hall to complain and insist that the neighbors tear down the ugly shed. We would have been in our right but what would have been the consequence? The neighbors would have hated us and would have done all sorts of nasty things to make our lives very difficult.
    Instead we made friends with the neighbors and eventually suggested that we will clear out the ugly bushes on our side of the fence and plant evergreens instead and he would tear down the ugly shed which is no use to him anyway. It worked. That is called compromise.

  12. The Hungarian status law is discriminatory. The Romanian law gives citizenship to any person with ancestors that lived within the current Romanian borders, regardless of their ethnicity. The Hungarian law gives citizenship only to Hungarian ethnics, which is discriminatory and therefore void in Romania.

Comments are closed.