Slovak MPs counter with citizenship threat

ONE OF the first legislative gifts given by the newly-elected Hungarian parliament to ethnic Hungarians living in countries bordering Hungary is the opportunity to acquire Hungarian citizenship with much less difficulty. Ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, however, might find themselves in trouble if they take such a step, after the Slovak government endorsed a counter-strike against the measure just approved in Budapest.

ONE OF the first legislative gifts given by the newly-elected Hungarian parliament to ethnic Hungarians living in countries bordering Hungary is the opportunity to acquire Hungarian citizenship with much less difficulty. Ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia, however, might find themselves in trouble if they take such a step, after the Slovak government endorsed a counter-strike against the measure just approved in Budapest.

Hungary’s parliament passed an amendment to its Citizenship Act on May 26 granting an easier route to citizenship for over two million ethnic Hungarians living in the region.

The amendment, passed with 344 votes for, 3 against and 5 abstentions, will allow people who have never had a permanent residence in Hungary to apply for Hungarian citizenship if they have Hungarian ancestry and can speak Hungarian, the Reuters newswire reported. The law is set to become effective on August 20, and should be applied as of January 1, 2011.

The new legislation does not automatically give voting rights in Hungary, an issue which had been long debated in the Hungarian parliament.

Dual citizens undesired in Slovakia

Slovak politicians, expecting the law to be adopted by the Hungarian parliament, went into a state of alert, or what some observers called pre-election hysteria. Slovak MPs were summoned to an extraordinary session devoted solely to the issue of the Hungarian dual citizenship amendment where they approved a resolution, by 113 out of 150 possible votes, expressing concern about the draft Hungarian law. All political parties represented in Slovakia’s parliament, except for the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), voted for the resolution.

The resolution was then sent by diplomatic channels to Hungary and the session was adjourned until the evening of May 26, pending the next steps taken in Budapest.

Hungarian MPs remained deaf to the pleas coming from Slovakia and adopted the law on the morning of May 26, which then started an avalanche of counter-actions in Slovakia. In the late morning, Slovakia’s cabinet agreed on a draft amendment to Slovakia’s Citizenship Act, which was passed later in the day by parliament in a fast-tracked procedure. It responded to Hungary’s dual citizenship law in two ways. First, the draft states that if a Slovak citizen voluntarily takes steps to obtain citizenship of another country, he or she will automatically lose Slovak citizenship. This rule would not apply to situations in which a Slovak citizen acquires another citizenship by marriage or if a child is granted citizenship based on the country in which he or she was born. Persons stripped of Slovak citizenship will also be required to report this to the appropriate regional administration in Slovakia and if they fail to do so they will be fined €3,319.

Secondly, the amendment states that any public official who loses Slovak citizenship will automatically be dismissed from any public-service position which is linked with citizenship. The amendment will become effective on July 17 this year.

Protecting Slovak interests

The parliamentary debate in Bratislava about the draft legislation was not short on emotion and strong statements. While some SMK deputies welcomed the new Hungarian legislation and declared they were planning to ask for Hungarian citizenship, the ruling parties continued drawing terrifying scenarios, making references to what they called Hungarian attempts at historical revisionism. Prime Minister Robert Fico said in parliament that a “brown plague” is coming from Hungary, referring to its former fascist regime, and deputies from the Slovak National Party (SNS) kept speaking about the dual citizenship legislation being the start of Hungary’s attempts to re-unite all Hungarians living in surrounding countries under the umbrella of the Greater Hungary that existed before World War I.

Among the opposition parties, only the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) declared its intention to support the draft law proposed by the government, with the vice-chairman of the party, Daniel Lipšic, saying the action was in line with Slovakia’s constitution. The rest of the centre-right opposition parties said they would oppose the law in parliament and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) declared they would prepare their own, different proposal for solving this contentious situation.

Some observers termed the reactions and countermeasures taken by Slovak politicians and parties as inadequate, wrong and hysterical.

According to political analyst Grigorij Mesežnikov, the amended Hungarian Citizenship Act is problematic but the Slovak response to the situation could cause more harm to Slovakia and particularly inflame relations between the country’s Slovak majority and Hungarian minority. He did not rule out that the Hungarian amendment might soon be changed or even withdrawn.

“The dual citizenship law is problematic from Slovakia’s point of view, because it attempts to atone for some perceived injustices that took place 90 years ago,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator, referring to the post-World War I split-up of Hungary. “It’s a kind of political restitution, but they [the Hungarian parliament] are doing it as if the injustices happened only yesterday, while they happened 90 years ago and much has changed in the meantime in this part of Europe.”

But Mesežnikov stated that this does not mean that Slovakia should react by complicating the lives of many of its own citizens.

On the other hand, František Poredoš, head of the international law department at Comenius University in Bratislava, agrees with the proposed solution and believes it is the correct and adequate way to respond to the situation created by Hungary’s amendment. He referred to the European Convention on Nationality from 1997 which allows countries to strip citizenship from those of its citizens who voluntarily acquire another state’s citizenship.

“From the point of view of international law, dual citizenship is regarded as a negative phenomenon,” Poredoš told The Slovak Spectator, adding that while at the moment Slovakia is responsible for its citizens, including ethnic Hungarians, if they became Hungarian nationals they would be the responsibility of Hungary.

Only a few political leaders representing the Hungarian minority in Slovakia have said they would apply for Hungarian citizenship. Most ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia have said that they do not consider the Hungarian amendment relevant for them or as bringing them any advantages, according to several media reports.

Election games

However, only a couple of weeks before the parliamentary election in Slovakia, the political aspect of the fiery debate is resonating much louder among the Slovak public than any of the experts’ opinions. The reaction by political leaders in Slovakia carries symptoms of the pre-election fight, according to Mesežnikov.

“It’s the worst reaction the government could come up with because it should be based on long-term strategies, while this reaction is absolutely short-term, influenced by the political situation,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator.

He added that even the strong opinions voiced by SNS and Smer regarding Hungarian historical revisionism stem from the very fact that elections are near and the two parties could not wish for a better excuse to play the Hungarian card to score political points in the election.

“In the current situation, when Smer is particularly quaking in its boots because of the recent suspicions of murky financing, it’s a great opportunity for Smer to distract attention from those scandals,” Mesežnikov said.

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