Hungarian citizenship offers escape route from troubled Ukraine

The Hungarian citizenship scandal is naturally growing by the hour, especially since today the second installment of Index’s revelations became public. Before I go into some of the details, let me first tell you about the official reaction of Fidesz and specifically of Zsolt Semjén, whose only job seems to be the “unification of the nation.” He claimed yesterday that the process of granting citizenship has been carefully monitored all along by the administration, which if necessary calls on the police and the Hungarian secret service to uncover fraud. The attack against the government’s citizenship program is most likely the work of  foreign powers who want to dissuade Hungarians from applying for Hungarian citizenship. I assume these foreign powers are Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, and Serbia. Semjén also had a few friendly words for his own compatriots: he warned them that cooperation with foreign secret service agencies is treason. So, Bálint Szalai of Index had best start preparing for a long jail sentence! The same fate might also befall those politicians who dare inquire about the irregularities.

Today Fidesz called on the “left” to refrain from inflaming the public “against Hungarians living outside the homeland.” The statement claimed that the news that broke about the thousands of phony new citizens was actually orchestrated by the opposition parties. It is “part of a campaign against dual citizenship” that the politicians of MSZP and DK opposed already in 2004.

Although the government and Fidesz try to minimize the gravity of the situation, if the news turns out to be true and the details are accurate, the European Union might be alarmed by these developments. As Attila Ara-Kovács, head of DK’s foreign policy cabinet, pointed out this morning on ATV’s Start, one reason that Romania has so much difficulty joining the Schengen nations is its earlier decision to offer Romanian citizenship to residents of Moldova. If the estimates of the number of people in Ukraine who now hold Hungarian citizenship legally or illegally as well as those who may apply for citizenship in the near future are at all accurate, it might mean an eventual exodus of as many as 120,000-150,000 people from Ukraine where the current political and military situation is grave. As the Ukrainian-Hungarian Miklós Kovács, whom I quoted yesterday, said today in an interview with György Bolgár of Klubrádió, a newly granted Hungarian citizenship is like Noah’s Ark for Ukrainians. These people are convinced that a flood is coming that will engulf the country in the form of the Russian army. In this case, they will have a means of escape.

Hungarian citizenship is Noah's Ark for Ukrainian citizens

For the time being there are no comparable problems in Serbia, but the country is in terrible financial straits and it looks as if Serbia will not be able to join the European Union any time soon. There are 250,000 Hungarians living in Serbia, in addition to all those non-Hungarians who can easily find an ancestor who was a citizen of Hungary before 1920. A fair number of those who took out Hungarian citizenship plan to use the Hungarian passport as a way to get to Western Europe.

In his second article Bálint Szalai gave more details about how the whole scheme works. As I wrote yesterday, right after January 2011 the government set out to acquire as many new Fidesz-friendly citizens as possible. Semjén appeared from time to time to triumphantly announce the latest figures. As it stands now, 654,534 people have applied for Hungarian citizenship since the beginning of the program.

The Index article has a breakdown of these applicants by country. Perhaps most shocking are the figures for Ukraine whose Hungarian population was 150,000 in 2001, a number that most likely has decreased since. Yet 91,275 people applied for and about 80,000 received Hungarian citizenship. The numbers for Serbia are also high: 124,811 out of a Hungarian population of about 250,000.  The Romanian figures are modest in comparison: 420,345  applied for citizenship out of a Hungarian population of 1,230,000.

Altogether only 20,867 applications have been rejected since January 1, 2011. These rejections most likely took place after March 2013 when the rules were tightened somewhat. Prior to that date even village notaries or mayors were allowed to grant citizenship, and we know they could easily be bribed. After March 2013 only government offices of járások, sub-units of counties, could handle citizenship matters. Instead of many thousands of offices, an applicant could get a passport at only 300 locations. That meant that the price of Hungarian citizenship went up considerably. The village notary might be satisfied with 500 euros, the officials higher up wanted more. And with tighter scrutiny corrupt officials could no longer approve every case that came to them. They had to be selective. Nonetheless, according to the article, people close to this business venture estimate that 30% of these phony cases still go through.

The Index articles obviously hit home in government circles. Suddenly the authorities became vigilant. The Kemecsei Járási Hivatal (Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg) just informed the county police headquarters that a twenty-one-year-old Ukrainian man tried to get citizenship in their office although he does not speak or understand Hungarian. The poor fellow picked the wrong time.

There might be a lull in the sale of Hungarian citizenship, but unless the whole procedure is tightened up the problem cannot be solved. Tightening up means abandoning the “simplified” procedure that was adopted for the sole reason of getting votes for the Fidesz government. Citizenship is a serious matter; it should involve a thorough background check that takes time. I doubt, however, that the present government is willing to be that scrupulous. Their “unification of nation” factory has a fast-moving citizenship assembly line with virtually no quality control. And hence the fraud will continue. It might just cost a little more money for the hopefuls.


  1. The fact that one day after index reveals it, the police in Szabolcs are “suddenly” alerted to a 21-year-old Ukrainian trying to cheat shows how true and widespread this business is.
    Unbelievably cynical.

  2. I see that CharlieH has not reappeared on this blog while Minusio has.

    If CharlieH is not invited to rejoin, I will have to part ways myself in sympathy with his unfair

  3. Petofi. In my comment I did not say anything against Charlie. I like him very much but his emotions carried him away. I think that it is juvenile to react in a huff puff.

  4. @iiikk

    Eva can give you my e-mail…

    And Eva, you’re fudging the facts: CharlieH was in no huff until you took sides and demanded that he make up with Minusio. In reply to that, he chose to leave. (So would I, under those

  5. [OT, follow-up]

    At last, Le Monde published today a harsh piece on Hungary’s cultural policy :

    Note the difference between the title in the url (‘Big retrograde battle plan for Budapest Museums’) which was likely the original, and the current title (‘Viktor Orbán’s very Hungarian plan for the Budapest Museums’). I seems ‘retrograde’ has become a synonym for ‘very Hungarian’.

    The first part is nothing that hasn’t been exposed here (the MMA, Fekete, Szegő, the Makovecz cult & the stadiums etc.). The second part deals with the difficulties, current and foretold, of the Liget Budapest project …

  6. Imho Charlie and Minusio both overreacted!

    I really enjoy both commenters’ contribution, even if I sometimes totally have to disagree with them!

    Anyway I’ve seen several occasions where one commenter here posted something on “how clever Fidesz did this” and then someone else accused her/him of siding with them because he didn’t get the finer points – almost ridiculous …

    Of course I understand that some people here are deeply troubled by the road that Hungary is taking right now, but then especially we should leave minor differences at home!

    Most people here are on the same side (actually all, not counting the trolls …) – wishing the very best for Hungary, but of course frustration sets in somehow …


    Where are our trolls like Joe etc – are they so sure of having won that they can totally ignore the opposition now?

  7. As a very occasional contributor, I hope that Charlie H can find his way to coming back. Wolfi describes the situation quite well. I value everyone’s contribution. Each of us comes from a slightly different angle to illuminate the situations.

  8. @LuisU:

    Yes, this tells us a lot about where Fidesz really stands!

    Btw I already linked to this in German:
    and on an English language blog:

    Those so called “conservatives” are really similar everywhere – back to the Middle Ages is their motto!

    Horrible people!

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