The lucrative citizenship business: Hungarian passports for Russians and Ukrainians

Today Index came out with the first of a two-part article on the mass fraud surrounding the acquisition of simplified Hungarian citizenship. The article claims that a group of Ukrainians with the active assistance of corrupt Hungarian officials has been procuring Hungarian citizenship for foreigners who are ineligible: they have no Hungarian ancestors and don’t know the language on even a rudimentary level. The article claims that their numbers might be in the tens of thousands.

The Index article made a real splash and MSZP, as is its wont, again demanded the resignation of Zsolt Semjén, deputy prime minister, whose job is the recruitment of as many Fidesz voters from the neighboring countries as possible.

People have a short memory because the news is not all that new. More than two years ago Hungarian papers reported that “Hungarian citizenship is for sale in Ukraine.” It was discovered at that time that there was a website (http://visa-vengriya.com/) that specializes in the Hungarian citizenship business. In fact, the website is still active and it still runs the ad: “Hungarian citizenship in 2 months! Payment upon receipt of the documents. Our company offers service assistance obtaining Hungarian citizenship within 2 months. Payment service occurs after you get your hands on the documents and become a citizen of Hungary. Contact us to learn more about the procedure and leave a request for more information.”

The website indicated that applicants need have no Hungarian ancestry, did not have to learn Hungarian, and did not even have to appear in person to have an interview or receive their citizenship. Of course, extra services like forging documents to invent a Hungarian grandpa or grandma will cost extra, anywhere between 6,000 and 25,000 euros depending on how complicated the task is. Grateful clients sang the praises of the organizers.

In May 2013, in an interview with  Átlátszó.hu, Miklós Kovács, president of the Kárpátaljai Magyar Kulturális Szövetség (KMKSZ), openly talked about the corruption of Hungarian authorities who hand in hand with the “Ukrainian mafia” handed out citizenship to anyone who was ready to pay them off. Kovács most likely underestimated the price when he thought that for a mere 500-1,000 euros someone could be the happy owner of a Hungarian citizenship document. A Subcarpathian Hungarian-language site claimed to know at that time that a Ukrainian citizen could get Hungarian citizenship for 5,000 euros, but if the person is from another former Soviet republic the price is higher: 9,000 euros. Lawyers took care of missing Hungarian ancestors. All that was done through “legal” channels.

allampolgarsagIn November 2013 Nick Thorpe of BBC, reporting from Subotica, Serbia, described his encounter with a brand new Hungarian citizen who did not seem to know a word of Hungarian. Or at least he looked blank when Thorpe greeted him in Hungarian. “He does understand it—he just doesn’t speak it very well yet,” said the man’s female companion. Thorpe found 50 people working furiously to handle the demand for Hungarian citizenship. They were receiving 800 calls a day. And every day 100 new Hungarian citizens emerged from the consulate in Subotica. The BBC article is entitled “Hungary creating new mass of EU citizens.” To be more precise, Hungary is creating future citizens of Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden, the countries preferred by East European migrants.

Thus today’s revelations by Index are not new, but they are definitely the most thoroughly researched. According to Bálint Szalai, the journalist who investigated the case, Ukrainians and Russians gather around Deák tér in downtown Pest to negotiate with Ukrainian and Hungarian “businessmen” over the details of becoming Hungarian citizens. Most of them speak no language other than Ukrainian or Russian, but last year the journalist lucked out: he found an English speaker who revealed that his father had already received Hungarian citizenship and now works in Germany. The rest of the family is waiting for the swearing-in ceremony. They will be Hungarian citizens within a couple of hours. Then they will follow him.

The citizenship law enacted in a great hurry in 2010 demands only one ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen before 1920 or between 1940 and 1945 and some minimal knowledge of the language. The citizenship business began in earnest in Ukraine. Ukraine forbade dual citizenship, and therefore Ukrainian-Hungarians were afraid to ask for a visa to Hungary to handle their citizenship applications in person. Therefore, paid agents represented the applicants in some Hungarian village’s town hall where they paid off the local officials. The price of citizenship was between 5,000 and 30,000 euros. Szalai describes one case where, in a village near Kisvárda, the mayor received 200 applications at once. He demanded 1,000 euros for each, which he got. It took him 20 minutes to sign them.

Soon enough it became known that through the Ukrainian network a person could easily receive Hungarian citizenship without much scrutiny. Applications were pouring in with forged birth certificates of non-existent ancestors. Shortly afterward Russians became interested in this fantastic deal. First, the Russians had to acquire Ukrainian identity in order to claim Hungarian ancestors. It would be hard for a Russian to prove that his ancestors were Hungarians. Companies and lawyers specialized in making Russians first Ukrainians and then Hungarians. The citizenship business is apparently still thriving.

The reason that the news made greater waves this time around is because it appeared on a widely read internet site. According to opinion polls, something like 75% of the population are not keen on the citizenship law as it now exists: people don’t like the idea that their fate can be determined by votes coming from abroad. And in fact, in the last election, if we can believe the information given out by the government, the two-thirds majority was determined by the 100,000 mostly Transylvanian voters. Simply put, Viktor Orbán must thank the Hungarians in Romania for his practically unlimited power. Reading that tens of thousands of foreigners who have never had anything to do with Hungary are all over the world now with a Hungarian passport only adds to their anger. The government’s reaction? Tamás Wenczel, undersecretary in charge of “nation policy” (nemzetpolitika) under the watchful eye of Jámos Lázár, immediately threatened Index with a law suit. He did not deny that there have been “irregularities.” However, “lately several measures were adopted that would preclude the possibility of abuse.” Wenczel did not elaborate on the measures, but as long as every village town hall can grant citizenship to foreign nationals the abuse will continue and with it the thriving business on both sides of the border.

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24 comments

  1. Here we go again, another similarity between the Ceausescu and the Orban regimes: commerce involving citizens. The only difference is the direction of the transactions: Ceausescu’s Romania was getting money for selling Romania’s German and Jewish citizens, Orban’s Hungary is getting money for buying Ukraine’s citizens…

  2. The Hungarian regime must be in the docket.
    Regime born in crime, dying in crime.
    Old Frank forgery, followed by new passport scam.

  3. Last year already, “Délmagyarország” reported (http://www.delmagyar.hu/szeged_hirek/adjak-veszik_a_magyar_allampolgarsagot_szerbiaban/2350791/ ): In Serbia Hungarian citizenships are for sale. In Szabadka/Subotica, Újvidék/Novi Sad and Belgrade, Hungarian language courses “just for the citizenship test” are organized, in some municipalities of the Hungarian-speaking area it is possible to negotiate the test questions with the local officials. Photographers in Szabadka tell about customers who need a photo for their Hungarian citizenship application or passport but do not speak a word of Hungarian. And a Serbian family admitted that they had come to Szabadka to submit their citizenship application because the local officials are more “flexible”.

  4. Seemingly a bit off topic:
    My aunt in Zürich employed an excellent Hungarian cook. She was cooking delicious Hungarian dishes and of course eating with the family at the same table. My cousin borne in Zürich 1916, who spoke fluent Hungarian heard the cook speaking about “igazi magyarok” real Hungarians and asked her if she would call her a “real Hungarian”. The cook said, of course not, you are Jewish. Then my cousin asked and do you consider Mrs. Varga, a swiss woman married to a Hungarian who never learnt Hungarian and whose children did not learn Hungarian, a real Hungarian, to which she replied, of course yes.
    So now we know that there are real Hungarians in Europe who do not speak Hungarian.
    However if somebody is Jewish or left-liberal, than she/he is not a real Hungarian, even if she/he speaks Hungarian. That seems to be mainstream opinion.
    Extra Hungariam est vita

  5. Nobody cares about anything. People only want to fight for fight’ sake, that is play the fighting game via Orban against imagined enemies like the EU, foreign corporations, The Jewish Intellectuals. And they want cheaper utilities and higher pensions. Also they don’t want gipsies to get more government money. Anything more complicated than these, most people just don’t get and don’t care.

    Not good for the left wing which cannot formulate messages for the average joes.

  6. Market Zrt. is acquired by Istvan Garancsi the enigmatic oligarch (aka strohman) and will be the new Közgép, one supposes. Will Orban himself be the new Simicska?

  7. For a government which claims to value Hungarianness so highly, this tolerance of — when not participation in — the mass sale of citizenship shows exactly what they value more.

  8. they have to get those officials first and then strip all of those scammers of their Hungarian nationality and passport…. this really makes me angry everytime I read this.

  9. A nation, where scheming and scamming has always been the chief accomplishment of the society, has finally gotten the government it deserves…and good luck trying to free the country
    of it!

  10. Another attack on the free press in a suggestion that Index journalists committed high treason and therefore could face life in prison. Probably an empty threat, but it could a chilling effect. Semjén should be removed from his position immediately.

    “It is obvious that foreign secret services are behind the Index article on abuses of the citizenship process, as well as similar “rumours” Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén declared yesterday.

    Semjén, the government commissioner for simplified naturalisation, warned that “co-operation with foreign secret services is high treason”.”

    http://www.politics.hu/20140917/semjen-alleges-foreign-agents-behind-report-on-citizenship-scandal/

  11. Let me add this to my comment above regarding the pattern of attacks on press freedom:

    ““Hír TV may not be in the position to cover the completion,” later adding that “life may become hard” for the news channel if they carry on asking such questions.”

    Said László L. Simon, a secretary of state.

    http://www.politics.hu/20140911/in-latest-media-scuffle-official-threatens-govt-friendly-news-channel-over-tough-questioning/

    This type of behavior has become normalized within Fidesz.

  12. New data from the Hungarian IRS with respect to religion:

    For the 2013 tax year, 1,001,482 people directed the office to give 1% of their taxes to one of the 31 authorized religious denominations. [This is about a quarter of the tax returns].

    Their distribution:

    (Roman + Greek) Catholic: 58.60%
    Calvinist: 21.06%
    Lutheran: 5.68%
    “Hit”= Faith (Evangelical): 3.06%
    Baptist: 2.57%
    Krishna: 2.43%
    Jehovah’s witnesses: 0.93%
    Jewish (3 denominations combined): 0.88%

  13. Tax year: # of tax donors to the 31 authorized religious organizations; tax/donor
    (2010: 187 , 2009: 185, 2008: 169 denominations)

    2008: 790,354; 625,975
    2009: 913,419; 573,734
    2010: 1,019,787; 488,183

    2011: 985,902; 389,912
    2012: 1,103,779; 390,695
    2013: 1,001,482; 378,891

  14. Since the personal income was taxed at a flat rate of 16%, we can conclude that the average monthly income of the tax donors was 197,339 HUF in 2013 (about 900 dollars)

  15. The 2nd part of the article on the Hungarian passport business is here:

    http://index.hu/gazdasag/2014/09/17/ma_is_jonnek_a_hamisitott_magyarok/

    Number of new citizens from January 1, 2011 through August 31, 2014: 622,531
    Number of applicants that regained their citizenship: 32,003
    Applications pending or rejected: 20,867

    Romania: 398,326 + 22,019 + 2,971
    Serbia: 118,936 + 5,875 + 4,682
    Ukraine: 89,150 + 2,125+ 10,432
    Russia: 2,873 + 69 + 1,847
    Israel: 2,144 + 68 + 232
    Slovakia: 2,021 + 186 + 25
    Croatia: 1,549 + 147 + 43
    USA: 1,446 + 197 + 63
    Canada: 928 + 96 + 37
    Germany: 754 + 621 + 16
    Australia: 575 + 104 + 20

  16. The number of new citizens in the last year (2014-08-31 vs 2013-09-04)

    Romania: 67,356 (up by 20.35%)
    Serbia: 26,748 (up by 29.01%)
    Ukraine: 25,120 (up by 39.23%)

    Russia: 1,051 (up by 57.68%)
    Israel: 627 (up by 41.33%)
    Slovakia: 314 (up by 18.39%)
    Croatia: 127 (up by 8.93%)

    USA: 236 (up by 19.5%)
    Canada: 44 (up by 4.98%)
    Germany: – 130 (down by 14.71%) [How come??]
    Australia: 88 (up by 18.07%)

    Total: 122,434 (up by 24.48%)

  17. But if the data from last year included the “regained” citizens as well (this is not clear),
    the changes for the new+regained citizens in one year are the following:

    Romania: 89,375 (up by 27.00%)
    Serbia: 32,623 (up by 35.39%)
    Ukraine: 27,245 (up by 42.55%)

    Russia: 1,120 (up by 61.47%)
    Israel: 695 (up by 45.81%)
    Slovakia: 500 (up by 29.29%)

    Total: 154,437 (up by 30.88%)

  18. Oops. I just checked my source for the 2013-09-04 data. The 500,097 number is for the total applications at that time.

    So new applications were (622531+32003+20867) – 500097= 175,304 (up by 35.05%) in the last year.

    Ukraine saw a 58.84% increase in applications.

  19. It is heartening that a sense of indignation at the abnormal illegalities of Fidesz/Orban is now being questioned by their own media (Hirlap). Threatening the newspapers may just help elements of
    the Orban supporters to part ways. Let’s hope.

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