Unintended consequences of expanding Hungarian citizenship

The Hungarian government has been actively recruiting new citizens from the neighboring countries, presumably to add to their vote total at the next national election. In order to be eligible for citizenship a person must have at least one ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen. He must also have some knowledge of the Hungarian language.

The first requirement is easy to fulfill. Everyone who lived in Greater Hungary was automatically a Hungarian citizens regardless of his ethnic background. The second requirement would seem to be a bit tougher. Learning a new language in a few months is a pretty hopeless task. However, as we will see, even that is no problem for those who are well schooled in the world of corruption. And the region’s citizens definitely are.

It seems that the hotbeds of corruption with respect to falsely acquiring citizenship are Serbia and Ukraine. For Serbian and Ukrainian citizens, getting Hungarian citizenship opens the door to the European Union’s job market. It allows people to visit the United States and Canada without a visa. It’s no wonder, then, that more than a third of Serbia’s Hungarian community, almost 92,000 out of  251,000 people, applied for and received Hungarian citizenship. Even Serbs who, although they may have had ancestors who were Hungarian citizens before 1918, don’t speak a word of Hungarian, are now bona fide Hungarians. Perhaps not even their ancestors, who lived in all Serbian-inhabited villages in the Bánát-Bácska region, knew any Hungarian.

After the government expanded the qualifications for Hungarian citizenship, several language schools opened in a great hurry in Serbia. These schools guarantee that in three months their students will be able to pass the Hungarian language exam. If someone cannot attend in person in Belgrade, Novi Sad or Subotica, he can always join the lessons via Skype. Apparently, the entrepreneurs who run these schools have friends in high places in the Hungarian administration who supply them with both questions and answers. The applicants have only to memorize a few sentences, and within a few months they are Hungarian citizens. Naturally, these people have no intention of either voting or staying in Hungary. At the first opportunity they will be somewhere in Germany or the United Kingdom. Recently a friend of mine encountered a Serbian woman at a party in New York. She came here as a new Hungarian citizen but spoke not a word of the language of her new country. But even those who are fluent in Hungarian are most likely interested in job opportunities somewhere west of Hungary.

Apparently the situation is no better in Ukraine. There businesses were set up to handle applications. Mind you, the price is steep–5,000 euros, but the result is guaranteed. If there are no ancestors with Hungarian citizenship, no problem. These outfits even manage to forge birth or christening certificates. Again, corrupt officials on the Hungarian side expedite matters. Although the applicants are supposed to appear in person for the swearing-in ceremony, these officials even allow others to stand in for them. These Ukrainian businesses openly advertise on the Internet. The most impressive is this particular site.

Ukrainian passport

Hungarian citizenship advertised

For more money–9,000 euros–even Russian citizens will have a chance to become Hungarian citizens. The people who are running this racket are so sure of themselves that they offer a “money back guarantee.”

They can also help those who want to acquire the Hungarian equivalent of a green card by investing 250,000 euros in Hungarian government bonds. The Orbán government is so eager to put its hands on cash that it welcomes wealthy investors who want to settle in the country. Apparently there are a fair number of takers. The Ukrainian companies that assist these people promise that they don’t have to pony up the whole amount. A 20,000 euro deposit will suffice. Naturally, the Hungarian government officials in charge of the program hotly dispute these questionable practices. They claim that out of the 430,000 applications, 11,000 were denied.

In Romania there is a very large Hungarian minority of 1.2 million, out of which about 300,000 asked for Hungarian citizenship. Hungarian leaders in Romania claim that “it is not Hungary that is so attractive but Hungarian citizenship” because with a Hungarian passport it is not only easier to get a job in Western Europe but Hungarians can migrate anywhere within the European Union. Citizens of Romania and Bulgaria are still subject to restrictions, for example, in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, France, Malta, and the United Kingdom.

I read several stories that highlight this trend among Hungarian Romanians. About a month ago a short article appeared with the title “Fidesz empties Transylvania.” It is about the quickening pace of emigration of Hungarians to western countries from Romania. The author tells stories about her acquaintances in Transylvania who spend a few days in Budapest to get a passport and in no time are on their way abroad in search of a job. So, the author concludes, Fidesz  might get a few thousand extra votes, but in the long run the size of the Hungarian minority in Romania will shrink due to emigration.

What if someone can’t come up with Hungarian ancestors and is incapable of learning some Hungarian? Especially if they are from Balkan countries south of Serbia. There is an agency that can handle this situation too. Men can “purchase” Hungarian, mostly Roma, wives for 150,000 forints. Well, that is what the women get. Those who arrange these marriages apparently receive millions. Enterprising Hungarians make preparation for the marriages between these women and men from Serbia or other countries in the Balkans. The “weddings” take place in Subotica and from there the grooms are off to Germany or some other western European country. A couple of months later the brides return “as if nothing happened,” says the Hungarian official. Although it happened in the past that the girl was left high and dry in Germany and the family had to scrape together the money to get her home. And don’t think that this is not a widespread practice. Just around Kiskunalas officials are aware of at least 100 cases.

So, these are some of the consequences of the Orbán government’s decision “to unify the nation.” As Attila Jakab, originally from Transylvania, wrote today in Galamus, the notions of nation, state, and citizenship have completely lost their meaning.


  1. Super summary of a very complex and real issue with lots of specific details I too have been astonished by the extent of the creative wheeling-and-dealing. The 250,000 dollar value state bond purchases is the government price for purchase of settlement or citizenship papers, and may I mention, is technically open to citizens of any country of the globe. I believe at that price the language skills requirement is automatically waved. The govenmnet is numb about the actual number of takers over the past few months, but apparently its lucrative and is helping to balance the coffers.

    The extent of government spending is again accelerating out of bounds! I get a feeling we are once again running up a huge deficit for whimsical Orban purchases and last minute rush orders that can be made without legal tenders, consequently at a price that will alllow sizable sums to flow back to wherever these funds make the administration and possibly some personnel quite pleased.

    The other side of this bonanza – the reverse of the coin – is that granting dual citizenship to formerly Hungarians of pre-Trianon days is a double edged sword for the Hungarians living in these neighboring countries.

    The already tense relations between the natives and those who became citizens with the Trianon Treaty just increases the jealousy betwen the races… So that produceds more hatred within the communities in those countries. Slovakia, is a case in point. The country has now prohibited dual citizenship so those who take up Hungarian citizenship, will lose their Slovak Citizenship which should be theri birthright since that is the country they were born in and wherein they reside!

    So God help those good-old Hungarians in these neighboring countries that are involved in this mess.

  2. It is also possible to become a Hungarian citizen if you been married to a Hungarian for ten years or more, as well as meeting the language requirement. I know this because this has happened to me. I understand the 4th (or was it the 5th?), Amendment to the Basic Law passed at the beginning of this year allows for this provision. I can confirm that my wife and I have been married for 30 years and no money was exchanged!

    Both of our now adult children, whom we brought up bilingually, have Hungarian passports. While I can’t claim to be fluent in Hungarian I know enough to be able conduct basic conversations. In some ways I like to think that my newly-approved Hungarian citizenship is deserved, or at least not unmerited.

    I do understand of course the motivation behind this expansion of Hungarian citizenship, nor am I blind to its abuses. For me it has been a genuinely moving experience to join a country that has been such a part of my family life, albeit primarily through marriage. I am not sure I agree completely with Attila Jakab statement that “the notions of nation, state, and citizenship have completely lost their meaning”. Confused perhaps, but not completely lost of meaning.

  3. I know several Hungarians who live in the Chicago Illinois USA area that have dual citizenship. I have always assumed that they did that the promote various investments they might have in Hungary. At least two of them can be seen in the pictures from May 2012 when Orban visited Chicago that I linked to this site last week.

    By our standards in the USA these folks are very small capitalists if even that term can correctly be applied. They do however have strong credit lines and have sought out other investors including myself and others who I know. If you are going to invest 30 or 40 thousand in Hungary why not go through a more legitimate investment fund unless you are trying to avoid capital gains taxes in the USA. But these folks sing the praises of Orban.

    I don’t think these dual nationals are part of an international Hungarian Mafia any more than some Polish construction contractors in the Chicago are are part of an extended Polish Mafia. But here in Chicago we do have real Russian Mafia and believe me they are scary people who seem like stereotypes of gangsters from a movie or something.

  4. Tinshed: Welcome to the Happy Barracks then !!!! 🙂
    Remember to produce your own Palinka. Duty-free! Youll only become a true Hungarian when you claim your children’s production quota whether or not they are residing here… Be sure to maximize your practice in tax-avoidance and other tricks-of-the trade because these skills are more important for your survival than the language itself! Here MONEY SPEAKS – guaranteed..

  5. The Orban government sets the indoor record for Duplicity: what can be worse than selling a citizenship whose only value lies in giving access to the EU…which organization, by the by, the same government is trying–surreptitiously or not–to leave!

  6. All of this does not matter. There is no price too high for acquiring 300-500,000 new Fidesz voters (by 2014) in the process.

    As the project will surely continue (if Fidesz wins in 2014 it will obviously continue, if not, then any new government will surely not have the required 2/3s majority to repeal or amend the law), within 4-5 years Fidesz will have perhaps as many as 1 million listed, data-base entered, tracked, brand new, reliable and life-long Fidesz voters. Of course Jobbik will also benefit, but they do not have the same organizational prowess (assisted by state entities) as Fidesz does.

    This is not a haphazard project, it has been well thought out and is being played out in the long term. Fidesz has much longer term plans and visions than the Hungarian left has ever had (actually it does not have any plans or visions), and it is meticulously executing on those plans.

    Those couple of hundred thousand Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian people who will mostly go further west, will not matter. They were a necessary collateral cost.

    A million new, reliable Fidesz voters, at least by 2018, will ensure Fidesz’ power for decades to come.

    I mean MSZP entirely lost about 1.3 million voters (to Jobbik, Fidesz, LMP and many have deceased) since 2010, and Fidesz will – i.e. in addition to the 1.3m, as in the first past the post system it is the relative difference between parties what counts the most – gain a further net 1 million well-organized voters. The difference between them will be just insurmountable.

    If you add the fact that the left has not been able to recruit anybody from those who entered voting age in the last 15 years (they are all Fidesz or Jobbik voters), it does not bode well for the Hungarian self-described left (of course Fidesz is quite leftist economically).

  7. Re: anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary

    Yesterday: handball game, Bekescsaba-Debrecen – huge poster praising the 1944 ghetto commander of Kassa combined with “sieg heil” shoutings

    nepszava. hu/cikk/1003301-sieg-heil-tol-volt-hangos-a-sportcsarnok

    Today: the sculpture of the poet Radnoti near his execution site is broken into pieces by an unknown black Mercedes car.


  8. kerberosz: ”All of this does not matter. There is no price too high for acquiring 300-500,000 new Fidesz voters (by 2014) in the process.”

    There is no price too high for anything that will secure the continuation of the Fidesz-mafia’s self-legalized plunder of state and private resources. Somebody else will be stuck with the bill when depletion has made the operation unprofitable and the by-then super rich operators have withdrawn. It is not at all a new idea. The unique thing is that in Hungary it is applauded by a majority.

  9. Net Hungarian financial balances:

    Sept 30, 2013, preliminary [vs Dec 31, 2012], in trillions of HUF

    Central government: -19.313 [-17.503] +10.3%
    Social Security: + 0.407[+ 0.204]
    Local governments: + 0.884[+ 0.133]
    Combined: – 18.022[-17.166] + 5.0%

    “Consolidated” debt : -23.088 [-22. 393] + 3.1%


  10. Jean P– please look at Zimbabwe, for example.

    Bob Mugabe, at the age of 89, just won again and even foreign observers (at least those who were allowed in) said unanimously that the victory was fair and realistic.

    Of course his main adversary had been successfully co-opted, is anyway hopelessly inapt and of course the system was appropriately rigged so that on election day no fraud was necessary. Do any of these sound familiar?

    People did vote for Mugabe, despite the hopeless economic, social, political disaster Mugabe brought and has been maintaining now for many decades.

    But fighting against the White Colonialists is still a winning card. It thus not a unique phenomenon that Hungarians now want more of Fidesz.

    After WWII the major powers were afraid that – despite all the utter devastation the war brought – West Germans would still vote for Fascists and still want them back. So the powers made sure that was not possible, but people would have voted, which sounds kind of inexplicable.

    Similarly, Orbán is doing only what people actually want and think, why would they not vote for him? That he and his friends get filthy rich in the process? First, this is a ‘communist lie’ and politics is corrupt, everyone knows that. Plus, robbing foreigners and thus getting rich is actually quite right (so think many people).

    In addition, you know exactly that many of the reasons of the left’s impending defeat were entirely self-inflicted and had been in the making for long (chronic inability to appeal to youngsters, no media strategy whatsoever, inability to deal with Fidesz when 2/3s were required to a decision so that Fidesz ended up winning all these negotiations and so on).

    Should Fidesz get similar portion of the votes as it did in 2010 which is absolutely possible, because fewer people will vote and its voters are much more active (and of course the polls also show that), the left as such will be finished for good in this election system (leftist parties will in that case have something like 2-4 or 7-8 party caucus members each and the corresponding appeal and influence).

    I hear that the Left actually has given up on the polls, as they realized finally that they will never break through and the media will either flatly and consistently work against them (the Fidesz-media world which encompasses more than 80% of the combined media reach) or ridicule their amateurism (the small independent outlets, like HVG, 444, origo etc.). They are resigned to hope and pray that despite all these, people on the day of election will vote for the left. These guys will get rid of Orbán and his legal mafia? Yeah, right.

    Anyway, nothing special here. People are complicated.

  11. The 10.3% worsening of the finances of the central government was presented today as “lowered debt” (with an artificially high GDP denominator deployed)


    This is a sketch of the propaganda financial number game, played not only in Hungary and by corporations too:

    loud official announcement: preliminary_1, say -20
    silent adjustment: final_1 (worse than preliminary), say -22

    loud official announcement: preliminary_2 – looks better compared with final_1, say -21
    silent adjustment: final_2, say -23


    Official announcement: “the data shows a 9.5% (21/22) improvement in the numbers”.

    In reality, there is a 4.5% (23/22) deterioration in the numbers – hardly or never reported by the sloppy journalists.

  12. @Glázser Bozsó: Maybe I should know better, but I still have trouble believing that the Hungarians are as ignorant and easily deceived as the Zimbabweans.

  13. Poll by Ipsos, as reported by the official news agency:

    Fidesz 27%
    Jobbik 7%

    Democratic opposition 22% [including LMP]

    won’t tell her/his preference: 11%
    hesitant: 12%
    completely passive: 19%
    others [who?]: 2%

    Are things heading in the wrong direction in Hungary?
    Yes 55% [down from 60% a month ago]

    Do you want a change in government in 2014?

    Yes: 41% [44% a month ago]
    No: 34% [29% a month ago]
    ??: 25% [27%]

  14. Tappanch:

    more and more people will want the government to stay and I am sure by election day the polls will have been consistently showing a preference for the government to stay.

    On the one hand such a trend is consistent with usual election cycle behavior, but just to be on the safe side, voters will receive nice presents until election day, besides utility price cuts which will be heavily advertised.

    Orbán showed he can (i) protect from the godless foreigners and (ii) deliver (utility price cuts and pension increases). What can the opposition offer and offer credibly?

    Funnily enough, it seems the Tories will want to recycle the successful anti-Kinnock campaign: “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights”. Why can’t the Hungarian left use this against Orbán, “If Orbán is reelected…”

  15. I’m so surprised: Fidesz and MSZP have become friends to oppose the setting up of a parliamentary committee into the recent allegations of NAV corruption (which is hardly a well kept secret in any case.) It is things like this that makes me so cynical about people like Magyar Bálint and friends, who are presenting a rather simplified and self-serving caricature version of corruption in Hungary.

  16. HiBOM: you are right. But given Fidesz’ 2/3s what do you think the results of any ‘investigation’ would have been anyway? I will tell you: the communists and post-communists are stealing money out of taxpayers’ pockets. As we have seen from the Egy-másért story, the involvement of CBA (to name one die-hard Fidesz supporter who is openly involvedin shady transactions) would not have been investigated. That said, MSZP is still the same old Puch Laci MSZP (he is still the mastermind behind MSZP financing, even if it is a fraction of Fidesz’), which is always open to a deal with Fidesz with which MSZP can only lose, we knew that much. As I read it, Mesterhazy was put in his position (at Puch’s suggestion) to protect Puch’ butts at all costs, he seems to deliver.

  17. Igorovits, yup, you are bang on there! Of course, an investigation would achieve nothing but as the prevailing view on this website is that that MSZP are not really corrupt, I feel it is worth pointing out when the charade slips.

    And yes, if someone pointed a gun at my head, I’d rather vote MSZP than Fidesz. But I have no illusions about them.

  18. HiBoM :
    It is things like this that makes me so cynical about people like Magyar Bálint and friends, who are presenting a rather simplified and self-serving caricature version of corruption in Hungary.

    I happen to know that some founders of SZDSZ today have no means whatsoever. They are close to starving. No jobs, no opportunities with a couple of exceptions who managed to get jobs from the UN or the Council of Europe. So, I think that these allegations about these people are utterly groundless.

  19. HiBoM :

    Igorovits, yup, you are bang on there! Of course, an investigation would achieve nothing but as the prevailing view on this website is that that MSZP are not really corrupt, I feel it is worth pointing out when the charade slips.

    Please, at least have the decency to tell the truth. Where did I ever say that the MSZP was or is not corrupt. I was talking about the people who were either SZDSZ founders or sympathizers. Those who appear in Magyar’s book as authors.

  20. Official data:
    Time for Fidesz and opposition (good or bad!)
    in the television and radio news, October 2013:

    Television channels:

    Echo TV: Fidesz: 65.6%, Jobbik 7.6%, Democratic opposition 26.8%

    Public Duna TV: Fidesz: 58.7%, Jobbik 9.2%, Democratic opposition 32.1%

    TV2: Fidesz 55.9%,

    RTL Klub: 55.6%, Jobbik 5.6%, Democratic opposition 38.8%

    Public MTV: Fidesz 50.9%, Jobbik 9.4%, Democratic opposition 39.6%

    HirTV: Fidesz 47.0%, Jobbik 6.9%, Democratic opposition 46.1%

    ATV: Fidesz 45.6%, Jobbik 2.7%, Democratic opposition 54.4%

    Radio stations:

    Class FM : Fidesz 63.7%, Jobbik: 7.3%, Democratic opposition 29.0%

    Public Radio evening news: Fidesz 57.7%, Jobbik 8.8%, Democratic opposition 33.5%

    Click to access mediahasznalat_2013_oktober.pdf

  21. Glazser Bozso: Great comment. I believe there is quite some truth to it. But still Hungary is not Zimbabwe, so the number of people who do not like the “system” is quite large and the opposition and in particular the so-called left could do better – if only they could see their own achievements before 2010 in less complacent terms.

  22. Eva: Yes there were several liberal idealists in the SZDSZ lines who are now struggling to make a living. I happen to know the Bálint Magyar is by far not one of them. Neither are Gábor Kuncze or Iván Pető, Gábor Horn Kóka. As far as I can tell, the network is doing quite well, while the ones who thought seriously about their liberalism and did the groundwork for the party were left in the dirt.

    Through a personal connection I happen to know that B. Magyar was not very picky about what to use Pátria nyomda for. Obviously I don’t expect anybody to take my word among the comments to a blogpost but this is why it’s hard for me to shed too many tears for the late SZDSZ even though no party has ever given me a larger disappointment as their voter.

  23. Jano, Do you want them all to starve? How does Kóka come here.He was a rich businessman and I don’t think that he had anything to do with the beginnings of SZDSZ. But can you prove that either Magyar, Kuncze, or Pető actually became rich because of their political activities. I very much doubt it.

  24. Eva: What I was saying is that they seem to be doing quite well compared to oder ex-SZDSZ you said were struggling (which I know for a fact is true), but obviously I can’t show you the summary of their bank accounts and nor can you so it’s pointless to debate. We can’t prove too much about the origins of the Fidesz crook’s wealth either, but I think there is no disagreement on our guesses there.

    Of course, Kóka didn’t have to do anything with the SZDSZ’s beginnings, he was planted by Gyurcsány and his network later, but he didn’t exactly become poor in the process either. So no need to remorse for the ex SZDSZ leadership.

  25. Jano :

    So no need to remorse for the ex SZDSZ leadership.

    Well, I do. As I’m looking around this group of people who alone fought against the one-party dictatorship is still the best Hungary offered in the second half of the twentieth century. Including the political scene today.

  26. tappanch :
    Re: anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary
    Yesterday: handball game, Bekescsaba-Debrecen – huge poster praising the 1944 ghetto commander of Kassa

    Come on, did you seriously think there was only one person named László Csatáry in the universe??? The Békéscsaba handball fans were holding up that poster in support of a fellow fan named Laci Csatáry who was going to rehab. The more disturbing part is that allegedly some fans of the other team, Debrecen, were giving the Nazi salute in response. But that shouldn’t be blamed on the poster-holding guys.

    tappanch :
    Re: anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary
    the sculpture of the poet Radnoti near his execution site is broken into pieces by an unknown black Mercedes car

    And what exactly does that have to do with anti-Semitism??? It was a traffic accident. Some lads from another town, probably all drunk, were driving at a high speed (relative to the condition of the road) at night, in dense fog, along old Bécsi út which, after a crossroads, ends in a cul-de-sac with the statue at the end.

    They simply crashed into the monument, realised that they might be fined for speeding, destroying the statue and possibly also drink-driving; and tried to get away. Unfortunately for them, they ran out of petrol in a nearby settlement so they had to abandon the car.

    Again, did you seriously think anyone would trash a Mercedes-Benz – and risk their own personal safety in the process – just to knock down a statue they didn’t like???

  27. Whatever Fidesz’s intentions were in expanding citizenship, is it really a given that the overwhelming majority of the new citizens will vote Fidesz in the next elections? Has any relevant polling been done?

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