ALTHOUGH the international dispute over Hungary granting citizenship to ethnic Hungarians living in surrounding countries under less demanding conditions than in the past is still raging, it seems to be a much less serious problem in Slovakia than some alarmist nationalist voices have claimed. Hungary’s modified rules took effect on the first of this year but sociologists in Slovakia say that ethnic Hungarians living north of the Danube do not appear very keen on acquiring Hungarian citizenship and available statistics seem to prove them right.
Being a true Hungarian
“I am a Hungarian living in Slovakia” is how most ethnic Hungarians who participated in the Slovak part of a research project entitled ENRI East termed themselves. The international, collaborative study focused on the interplay of European, national and regional identities. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents in Slovakia defined themselves as a “Hungarian living in Slovakia” while 16 percent chose the option “I am a Hungarian” and 13 percent opted for “I am a Slovak of Hungarian origin” according to the study.
Ladislav Macháček from the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Ss. Cyril and Methodius in Trnava wrote in a recent article titled The Slovak Republic and its Hungarian Ethnic Minority: Sociological Reflections, published in the Slovak Journal of Political Sciences, that the predominant self-definition of national identity as “a Hungarian living in Slovakia” is not only a result of comparisons between the Hungarian minority and the Slovak majority living in Slovakia but is a comparison also between Hungarians living in Slovakia and Hungarians living in Hungary.
“When they [Hungarians living in Slovakia] visit Hungary, they are identified as Hungarians from Slovakia, not simply as Hungarians,” Macháček wrote.
The ENRI East research was conducted at the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010 when the issue of dual citizenship was not yet such a fiery issue. A key question in the poll asked what essential aspect makes a person feel like a true Hungarian.
“And the most frequent answer was speaking the Hungarian language and also simply feeling like a Hungarian,” Macháček told The Slovak Spectator. Actually having Hungarian citizenship was important to only just over 10 percent of the respondents from older generations and to only 15.5 percent of the younger respondents.
Political analyst Miroslav Kusý stressed in an interview with The Slovak Spectator earlier this year that citizenship granted by Hungary should not be treated as a big issue in Slovakia.
“As it turns out, there are rather large numbers of applicants for Hungarian citizenship in Romania or in Croatia, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Slovakia,” Kusý stated, adding that he believed the reason is that Slovakia is currently doing much better economically than Hungary, given the hard impact of the economic crisis on that country.
“And that is reflected in the mentality of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia,” Kusý told The Slovak Spectator. “Why would they apply for Hungarian citizenship if Hungary is in worse shape, economically and politically?”
Losing Slovak citizenship
The controversy over dual citizenship began when newly-installed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, in almost his first act, moved to amend Hungary’s citizenship legislation to enable ethnic Hungarians living in other countries, including Slovakia, to acquire Hungarian citizenship with relative ease. Around 10 percent of Slovakia’s population is made up of ethnic Hungarians.
The Slovak government, led by Robert Fico at that time, responded by passing an amendment to Slovakia’s Citizenship Act specifying that any Slovak citizen who sought to obtain the citizenship of another country would be required to report that fact to Slovak authorities who would then automatically strip the person of Slovak citizenship. Slovak citizens who could show what was termed a “real link” to another country, such as permanent residence or close family relations, were later excluded from losing their Slovak citizenship if they acquired citizenship from another country.
The Slovak law has been in effect since July 17, 2010 and by mid-June 2011, 80 persons had lost their Slovak citizenship, the Interior Ministry informed The Slovak Spectator. Many of these persons, 35 of them, had acquired Czech citizenship. The others who lost their Slovak citizenship had acquired citizenship from Austria (15), Germany (12), the UK (9) as well as one each from the USA, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada. Only five of those stripped of their Slovak citizenship had received Hungarian citizenship.
The current Slovak government has pledged to rescind this loss-of-citizenship rule but to date none of the proposed solutions, such as a bilateral treaty with Hungary, have been accepted by all involved parties.
Many of the prominent representatives of the Hungarian minority living in Slovakia have publicly stated that they will not apply for Hungarian citizenship. Among the few who announced that they would do so was József Berényi, the head of the non-parliamentary Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), who stated immediately after the new law was effective that he would seek Hungarian citizenship. Since then, he has not stated whether he has actually done so, which could mean he would be stripped of his Slovak citizenship.
The Slovak National Party (SNS) was most disturbed by Berényi’s unknown citizenship status and filed a motion with the Interior Ministry seeking further information. In response, the Interior Ministry requested Berényi to state whether he was a Slovak citizen on April 16, 2011 when he was elected the chairman of SMK.
Berényi responded by writing “I acknowledge the content of your letter”.
Berényi also publicly criticised the governing coalition for reneging on what he called its promise that no Slovak citizen would lose his or her citizenship during their term, adding that he sees this as an attempt to weaken his party “so that Most-Híd can run in the next election without a real challenger”.
CoE body comments on Hungarian constitution
Hungary has recently met criticism for several changes in its laws and the most recent questions have been raised about its new constitution. On June 18 the Council of Europe’s European Commission for Democracy through Law, more commonly known as the Venice Commission, issued an opinion about Hungary’s new constitution that was passed by the Hungarian parliament in mid-April 2011.
The commission wrote that it found certain wording in the constitution that states “Hungary shall bear responsibility for the fate of Hungarians living beyond its borders” as unfortunate, noting that using the term “responsibility” may be interpreted as authorising Hungarian authorities to adopt decisions and take actions beyond its borders on behalf of persons of Hungarian origin and this could lead to conflicts regarding the appropriate legal powers of concerned countries. The commission stressed that “responsibility for protection of [national] minorities lies primarily with the home-states” of the minorities and that “unilateral measures by a state with respect to kin-minorities are only legitimate if the principles of territorial sovereignty of states, friendly relations and the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms” are respected.
Slovakia’s Foreign Minister, Mikuláš Dzurinda, quickly welcomed the opinion issued by the Venice Commission and said that in many respects it confirmed Slovakia’s earlier position regarding some provisions in the proposed constitution.
“The Venice Commission report is a serious reminder to Hungary to correct its policies in several areas, including its relations with neighbours,” Dzurinda stated.
27. Jun 2011 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani