Way back I wrote an M.A. thesis in Russian and East European Studies at Yale University on the nationality problems of the revolutions of 1918-1919. Therefore I spent quite a bit of time studying the area of Subcarpathia which today belongs to Ukraine. Since there is so much talk about the region nowadays, I thought you might be interested in the area’s modern history.
According to the official statistics of 1910, there were almost 500,000 Ruthenians living in Hungary, scattered in several counties which today belong to Ukraine and Slovakia. The languages spoken in the area were dialects of Ukrainian, called lemko, boiko, and hutsul. The indigenous population called itself Rusyn. According to the same statistics, at that time there were only 542 persons whose mother tongue was Ruthenian in all of Hungary practicing “intellectual professions.” Most of them were actually Greek Catholic priests. Only 1,264 Ruthenians lived in towns, and only 50.8% of them above the age of six were literate. So, we are speaking of a very backward area.
The Károlyi regime (1918-1919) belatedly tried to appease the nationalities and Oszkár Jászi, who was an expert on the nationality question, began negotiations with several nationalities, including the Ruthenians. As a result, the Ruthenians were granted territorial autonomy under the name of Ruszka Krajna. It was on December 25, 1918 that Ruszka Krajna officially became an autonomous region within Hungary with its own parliament (seim) chosen on the basis of universal suffrage with the capital in Mukachevo (Munkács).The seim was granted autonomy in matters of language, religion, education, and justice. In addition, there was a separate ministry dealing only with Ruthenian affairs, headed by Dr. Oreszt Szabó, apparently of Ruthenian nationality. Augustin Stefan, the governor, was also supposed to be Ruthenian. Unfortunately, by the time the election took place on March 4, 1919, most of Subcarpathia was occupied by foreign troops, with the exception of Bereg County.
After the declaration of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, Ruszka Krajna retained its autonomy, and on April 2 a Ruthenian constitution appeared in Rus’ka Pravda, a Ruthenian newspaper published in Budapest. The constitution was a reworked version of the one enacted by the Károlyi government. All this effort was in vain, however, because within a month the whole area was occupied by Czechoslovak and Romanian troops. Recognizing a fait accompli, a newly established national council voted in Uzhgood/Ungvár on May 8, 1919 for the unification of the Ruthenian autonomous region with Czechoslovakia.
Edvard Beneš, foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, admitted that Czechoslovakia was not really entitled to this area on the basis of nationality but, considering the situation in Russia and the Soviet danger, Czechoslovakia assumed the role of temporary caretaker of Ruthenia until it could be safely attached to Russia. In the Czechoslovak period Ruthenian autonomy was “nominal.” All Ruthenian legislation was made subject to approval by the president of the republic, and the governor of Ruthenia was nominated by the president. As a result, even the constitutional provision for autonomy was never implemented; the Ruthenian parliament was never convened. Ruthenians were not happy with their lot in Czechoslovakia, and they kept looking outside for remedies. The Russophiles envisaged Ruthenia as part of the Russian nation; the Ukrainophiles considered Ruthenia part of the Ukrainian nation, and the Ruthenophiles said that Carpatho-Ruthenians were a separate nation and therefore they wanted to develop a native Rusyn language and culture.
On March 15, 1939 the Ukrainophile president of Carpatho-Ruthenia, Avhustyn Voloshyn, declared its independence as Carpatho-Ukraine. On the same day Hungarian Army regular troops began to occupy the new state. It was from this area that 22,000 Jews were deported to Kamenets-Podolskii in July 1941.
In 1944 the Soviet Army occupied the area, and in 1946 it was annexed to the Ukrainian SSR. During the Soviet period Rusyn as a separate nationality was not recognized. Nowadays the majority of the population of the Zakarpattya Oblast consider themselves Ukrainians.
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Hungary: An Election in Question
Part IV: The New Electorate (in which Some are more Equal than Others)
Kim Lane Scheppele, Princeton University
Hungary’s governing party Fidesz didn’t just rewrite the rules for the upcoming Hungarian election. The governing party changed the electorate as well. Different categories of citizens can now vote in different kinds of ways, which creates the very real possibility of unjust discrimination.
The 2014 election features two new voting systems that restructure the electorate and its options.
One permits each major nationality (i.e. minority) group in Hungary to elect a representative of its group to the parliament on a “preferential” basis that requires only one-quarter as many votes to claim the mandate. This system of positive discrimination may look admirable, but in practice limits rather than expands voting options of minority populations, as we will see.
The other gives the right to vote to ethnic Hungarians who never had permanent residency in Hungary. These are people to whom the new constitution has given a route to expedited citizenship upon application. New Hungarian citizens can now register and vote more easily than citizens who have permanent residency but who are abroad on election day. As a result, new dual citizens with the most tangential relationship to Hungary can more easily influence the election than can long-standing citizens whose primary political identity rests in Hungary.
In both cases, these voters with new options are being herded toward Fidesz-friendly results and away from support for the united opposition both because of the new rules and because of the confusing and misleading communications issuing from the offices in charge of running the election. Let’s take these new sorts of voters one by one.
In a move welcomed by the Venice Commission, the new election framework lays out a system in which members of 13 designated ethnic minority groups may vote for a “nationality list.” Though it is called a list, in practice it consists of one person because each minority group can only elect one representative in this new “preferential” way, while all subsequent representatives from the group are elected according to the more demanding conditions necessary to elect a representative on a party list.
While Germans, Romanians, Ukrainians and other registered groups possess the right to elect a minority representative in theory, the Roma constitute the only group who are likely to be able to muster the numbers to elect such a representative in fact.
This new system of nationality representation, however, comes with a number of catches.
First, members of minority groups who want to take advantage of this possibility must sacrifice their ability to use their second vote for a party list when they use their second vote to elect a nationality representative. This system therefore limits the incentives for political parties to court minority voters since minority voters cannot vote for parties if they vote for the nationality representative, further marginalizing them.
Then, minority voters must register in advance to take advantage of this option. According to the Electoral Procedure Law (Law XXXVI of 2013), minority voters must register at least two days before the election. Once they register, they cannot change their minds on election day itself to vote for a party list instead. (They can change their minds before the registration deadline.) The only choice that the registered minority voters have when election day comes is to vote for the representative of their group on offer, or to fail to cast their second ballots. This system, as a result, locks in the minority vote before the end of the campaign. Unlike the situation for any other voter, minority voters cannot decide in response to the full campaign whom to support.
Finally, and most consequentially, the specific candidate chosen to stand for election as a representative of the minority group must be, by law, selected by the national minority self-government, a body that was elected by each minority group in a special election four years ago. (These self-government organizations have been elected periodically since the mid-1990s to ensure representative decision-making bodies for minority affairs.) But the national minority self-government for the Roma at the moment is run by a group called Lungo Drom, whose leader, Flórián Farkas, is a Fidesz MP.
In short, if Roma choose to vote for a nationality representative, they cannot vote for a political party and their only choice is to elect a Fidesz MP, using their second votes that could have been used for any party list. Registering to “vote minority” therefore gives Roma no party choice at all. They must vote for a governing party representative.
Roma don’t have to register to vote for the nationality list if they don’t want to. But a letter sent in January from each local Election Office to all voters announced on the first page that Roma would have to register if they wanted to vote, and only on the second page explained in not-entirely-clear prose that Roma had to register only if they wanted to vote for the minority representative. In even more confusing language, the letter revealed that in doing so, Roma would lose the ability to use their second vote to for vote a political party.
When the letter went out, Roma started to register to vote in substantial numbers, largely unwittingly, for the minority representative. So far, the Election Office has not issued any correction, raising questions about what it was doing with its initial letter telling Roma to register to vote. Given that Roma who registered would find themselves excluded from being able to vote for the party lists on election day and would only have the option of voting for a Fidesz MP instead, this mix-up is worrying, especially when the governing party staffed the new Election Office.
The Election Office seems to be contributing to the confusion over the system for Roma voting in other ways as well. While the law clearly says that the nationality voters clearly have until two days before the election to lock in their vote for the nationality candidate (Law XXXIV of 2013, section 249), Ilona Pálffy, the head of the National Election Office announced in a press briefing to the Hungarian International Press Association on 29 January 2014 that nationality voters would have to register no later than eight days before the election and could not change their minds after that.
In fact, when I was interviewing officials and party representatives in Budapest about the new election framework recently, I often got different answers from different people about what the law required. When one gets an answer from the head of the National Election Office that differs so strikingly from the plain wording of the law, however, that is especially alarming. Will Roma be told, if they try to change their minds in the last week and “unregister” from the nationality list, that they can’t do so even though the law says otherwise? I hope that the National Election Office clarifies just what they believe the rule is – before the election.
It’s not just the Roma who have new rules about voting this time. The other newly registered group of voters consists of ethnic Hungarians living abroad who were given the right to apply for citizenship under the new Fidesz constitution. For historical reasons, the only Hungarians whose ancestors lost their citizenship en masse were living in the territories that had been part of historic Hungary but that were allocated to neighboring states by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. (Hungarians who left Hungary for other countries before or since retained their citizenship unless they explicitly renounced it.) This constitutional change made millions of ethnic Hungarians eligible for expedited citizenship, the vast majority still living in the neighboring countries.
As a result of the new citizenship law, about 575,000 Hungarians, primarily from the Trianon territories, have become citizens in the last year. (I’ll call them the Trianon Hungarians.) And as of mid-February, about 150,000 of them had registered to vote. But the deadline for registering to vote is 22 March so only then will it be clear how many of the new citizens will be new voters as well.
In three of Hungary’s neighbors, Ukraine, Slovakia and Austria, dual citizenship is not permitted. Ethnic Hungarians from these states who acquire Hungarian citizenship would lose their first citizenship if a second citizenship were discovered. (There is an exception for Austrian-Hungarian dual nationals who were refugees in 1956 and whose dual citizenship is specially protected by a treaty, but other Hungarians are not included under this treaty.)
To protect its nationals in the neighboring states, then, the Hungarian government has decided that the non-resident citizenship rolls should remain a state secret. As a result, the associated voter list remains secret as well. But how can a government run a fair election with secret voter rolls?
After opposition protest, the government agreed to allow members of the National Election Commission (including representatives of the parties running national lists) as well as international observers to see the foreign voters’ registration list (Law XXXVI of 2013 on Electoral Procedure, amended by Law LXXXIV of 2013). But the opposition parties and international observers are not permitted to take notes on the list or reproduce it in any way. Given these limitations, however, how anyone apart from the election officials check the list against the voters who actually vote or and how can political parties outside the government locate these voters to send them election materials? One cannot memorize hundreds of thousands of names and their identifying characteristics. So it is not clear if this level of access to the secret voter lists will be enough to ensure a fair vote.
The logistical problems raised by the non-resident voters don’t end there. In particular, there are few checks on either the process of voter registration or on the actual voting so as to ensure that those casting ballots are who they say they are, or that the ballots faithfully reflect what these voters decide. While applying for citizenship requires an appearance at a consulate or embassy, registering to vote does not. In fact, nowhere in the process does any official have to see precisely who it is that is either registering to vote or voting.
Instead, Trianon Hungarians can register on the internet, filling in a form that asks for information that is quite widely known about a person, especially in tightly knit communities. All you need to provide to register are your name, your maiden name (where applicable), the town and district where you were born, either your date of birth OR your personal ID number, and your mother’s name.
How does the National Election Office that registers the applicants know if the person actually named on the form was the person who filled out the registration request? Nowhere in the process is there an official check of identification or even the requirement of a signature, photograph or other validating evidence. (The general problem is captured in that famous cartoon where a dog sits at a computer and says “On the internet, no one can tell if you’re a dog.”) And, as we will see, the information doesn’t even have to strictly match what the Election Office has on file for that person.
Ballots will be sent out to whoever registers in the name of a citizen without any way to definitively tell whether it is the citizen herself who registered or whether the address to which the ballot will be sent is in fact the address of the voter. Given that voting will reveal that one has taken out dual citizenship in some countries where it is illegal, a voter might well want the ballot sent somewhere other than her home address in any event.
In fact, the Trianon Hungarians are the only ones allowed to vote by mail ballot, which longtime elections observers know is always the easiest place for fraud to sneak into an election operation. Hungary plans to use the usual double-envelope safeguard – where a voter fills in an attestation of identity attached to an outer envelope while the ballot itself is sealed in in an anonymous inner envelope that can be separated from this attestation once it is confirmed. So far, so good.
But there is precious little control over the envelopes themselves as they make their way to be counted. Not only does the ballot not have to be actually mailed, but the law permits bundlers to go around collecting ballots and then delivering them en masse to an embassy, consulate or other designated location. There are no checks on what these bundlers do with the ballots in their care and nothing to check whether they in fact they turn in all of the ballots they were given. There is even no way to tell whether bundlers who may well know the personal details of voters are filling in the ballots themselves or changing what they were given. Self-appointed bundlers can show up at any of the designated locations and deliver votes in unlimited numbers.
The number of ballots delivered to or cast at the polling places in the neighboring states must by law be registered each day in the run-up to the election, which means that consulate staff must tally the number of votes each day without anyone present from an election committee to supervise the opening and checking of the ballot boxes. Given how few checks are in place to check potential foul play in the foreign votes (or simply to give assurances that no foul play was attempted), this could be quite serious.
But surely these foreign ballots can’t really influence a national election? In Hungary, perhaps they can. Hungary has about 8 million registered voters, but only 5.1 million voters actually cast ballots in 2010. If most of the 500,000+ new citizens register to vote and actually vote, Trianon Hungarians could account for up to one-tenth of the electorate. These voters can only cast one ballot for the party list and cannot vote in a single-member district, which limits their impact on the overall result. (And it is another site of inequality.) But given that so much of this process of foreign-voter balloting is unverifiable in any rigorous way, even a modest effect on the election casts some doubts on the process.
The fairness of this system for counting foreign votes is made worse when one considers the other group of foreign-based voters who are treated differently from the Trianon Hungarians. Citizens who still have permanent residence in Hungary, but who are living abroad, must cast their vote in a decidedly more onerous way. Let’s call this latter group the Expat Hungarians.
Rather than permit Expat Hungarians to vote by mail, as the Trianon Hungarians are allowed to do, the government has insisted on sticking with the old system in place since 2006 for such voters: they have to vote at embassies or consulates. As a result, Expat Hungarians living or working in the UK, for example, must go to London, no matter where in the UK they live. Ditto with German-based Hungarians who have to travel to Berlin, Dusseldorf, or Munich. Expat Hungarians living in the US must travel to Washington, New York or Los Angeles. How much easier (and less expensive) it would be to vote by mail! But they are not allowed to do so.
Moreover, unlike the Trianon Hungarians, Expat Hungarians are not allowed to vote unless they show up in person and present ID (a passport, for example). Since Trianon Hungarians can vote without ever seeing an election official, no in-person identification is ever required of them. But such identification is required of the Expat Hungarians.
How many citizens are in the Expat Hungarian group? The government says at least 300,000 – but other estimates say as many as 500,000 – Hungarians are living or working outside the country without having given up their official permanent residence in Hungary. This, too, could be a substantial voting bloc, especially as their status gives them the chance to cast two votes just as if they were in the country. (One of those votes goes for the party list and the other for the constituency in which they are still registered.) But they have a much harder time casting their votes because they have to travel, often long distances, to do so.
Not surprisingly, however, the two groups of Hungarians living abroad have different political profiles. Hungarians in the Trianon territories would cast their votes overwhelmingly for Fidesz, if the polls are to be believed. A recent poll said 80% of ethnic Hungarians in Romania, for example, would vote for the governing party.
By contrast, Expat Hungarians are more likely to support the united opposition, or at least so the united opposition believes. While Expat Hungarians are no doubt a diverse group, the people most likely to move are probably the Hungarians who know languages and have networks, which implies that they may be younger and/or better educated. While young people are divided in their political views, the better educated voters are much more likely to vote for the united opposition. Either way, the sheer number of Expat Hungarians and the onerousness of the procedure for voting combine to depress voter turnout, which as we have seen, will benefit Fidesz.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union working with Együtt/PM (Together-Dialogue for Hungary, now part of the Unity Alliance) has challenged this disparate treatment of the two groups of foreign voters before the Constitutional Court. But even though the petition was filed in November 2013, the Constitutional Court has not yet decided. (A reminder: The Constitutional Court now has a solid majority since the government was able to name the 8th judge out of 15 in April 2013.) So it appears that the election will go forward with this double standard for Hungarians living abroad.
As the election nears, there are reports of worryingly bad advice for these foreign voters coming from election officials. Consulates in the US were given flyers prepared by local election offices that provided voting instructions for Expat Hungarians in the US. But these flyers specified the wrong election day. While election day in Hungary is 6 April, Hungarian voters in North America have to cast their ballots on 5 April, because of the time difference, in order to meet the deadlines set out in the law. If they followed the instructions they were given by their election office, they would be disqualified from voting.
Expat Hungarians in the UK were sent letters by their local election offices that gave them the wrong location of the London polling station. It turns out that, even though Expat Hungarians are generally supposed to vote at embassies and consulates, in some places (like London) voters actually have to go someplace else. But they were not told the correct location.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union has protested these flyers and asked that they be recalled.
The head of the National Election Office admitted that mistakes were made. But she did not apologize. Instead she said, rather oddly, that she “simply does not trust some of her colleagues.”
Coming on top of the confusing letter sent by the Election Office to all voters in Hungary about Roma registration, a letter that seemed to imply that all Roma had to register to vote at all, these flyers misinforming US and UK voters about when they need to cast their ballots causes particular concern.
The Election Office website doesn’t even appear to be neutral. On its site, the Election Office features a video from an unclear source, containing much nationalist imagery – and not so coincidentally Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself. It tells voters that “the nation” (meaning ethnic Hungarians) can vote on 6 April – a thinly veiled appeal to voters who overwhelmingly support the governing party (when they are not supporting Jobbik). Just why the Election Office has such a partisan message on its website has so far not been explained. The link is here to a website less likely to take the video down under criticism so you can see it for yourself.
From anecdotal evidence, the Election Office seemed to be making it easier for Trianon Hungarians to register to vote than for Expat Hungarians to register to vote abroad. Expat Hungarians were reporting that their registration was refused if they missed a diacritical mark, omitted some details of their home address, and failed to match the exact form of their mothers’ name that was in the official register. In fact, the complaints from Expat Hungarians were becoming so numerous that it caused us to go back and look at the law.
And sure enough, right there in paragraphs 84 and 92 of the Electoral Procedure Law (Law XXXVI of 2013), we see the reason. Election officials were explicitly told in this law to ignore typos, spelling mistakes, different forms of writing (e.g. Cyrillic), the use of foreign names to denominate geographical locations, or the provision of names, birth place, birth names and mother’s names in a different language. If any of those things are wrong with the form, so that the form does not in fact match the government’s register of citizens, the form must nonetheless be approved.
But this easy registration – permitted even with mistakes on the form – holds true only for the Trianon Hungarians. Expat Hungarians have to provide information that matches exactly the information in the government’s database. Hence the large numbers of rejections when Expat Hungarians tried to register to vote.
By the start of the political campaign on 15 February, more than 150,000 Trianon Hungarians had managed to register to vote, but only 5,000 Expat Hungarians had been able to do so, according to the MTI national news service. (Remember the two groups of voters are now roughly the same size.) The Election Office admitted that it had rejected at least 10% of the Expat applications. Expats who have been sharing notes abroad believe that number is actually much higher.
Hungary now has two different and quite large groups of foreign voters operating under two different systems of rules. And not surprisingly, the voters more likely to vote for Fidesz will have a much easier time casting their ballots than the voters who have less clear political affiliations or who are clearly more likely to vote for the united opposition.
Discrimination among different classes of citizens is therefore endemic in the new election system. Roma voters are forced to choose between voting for a nationality representative or a party list, and they are locked into their choice ahead of the election, which other voters are not. Trianon Hungarians can register to vote online with many mistakes in their application, and yet will be issued a ballot to vote by mail while Expat Hungarians have to meet the exact letter of the data in the government’s database in order to register. Then these Expat Hungarians have to show up in person at an embassy or consulate (or some other unannounced location) to show further identification in order to be able to vote. That is all assuming, of course, that they are given correct information about where and when to vote.
It’s not an equal system. And given that so much of this system will be new for everyone, the election offices’ bungling of instructions again and again raises a real cause for concern. It should cause special concern because so far, all of the “bungles” point in one direction – toward getting Roma to register to vote for the Fidesz MP, toward giving Fidesz-friendly voters the easiest possible path to voting and toward giving those of opposition or uncertain political leanings every roadblock imaginable, from refusing their registration on technical grounds to giving misinformation about voting dates and polling places.
As George Orwell famously said in Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The same is now true of citizens in Hungary.