Hungarian Nation in Slovakia

Reproduced in 1996 from

by Miklos Duray

The phrase "Hungarians of Slovakia" or, the one used earlier, "Hungarians of Czechoslovakia" is a notion and a reality of the twentieth century. Prior to 1918, the segment of the Hungarian nation now inhabiting Slovakia has been in its ancestral homeland for more than a thousand years. This population did not leave their native land, but rather had an imposed border change, sealed against their will at the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 and the Treaty of Paris in 1947. At the time of the first border modification in 1919 the Hungarian population of today's Slovakia was 693,000 representing 23,5% of the total population of the country. In 1991, the Hungarian speaking population of Slovakia was 608,000, representing a 11,2% of the total population.

The first document to protect the rights of the Hungarians of Slovakia as a minority was signed in 1919 at Saint German en Laye between Czechoslovakia and the Central Powers. This document was the basis for the Czechoslovak constitutional ratification of 19201 and subsequent language laws promulgated until 1926. 2 These documents govern the rights won by the Hungarian population of Slovakia, the successor state to former Czechoslovakia. Although section 2, article 5 of the "International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights" specifies those rights, current Slovak legal practice does not recognize these categories of rights. This document is part of the Slovak legal framework.

The continuing process of deterioration of the rights of Hungarians in Slovakia is partly due to this deficiency in the legal practice and partly due to the lack of political will on part of the majority population to remedy those deficiencies the Hungarian population is entitled to. A contributing factor to the existence of this political atmosphere in Slovakia was that the Constitution promulgated in 1992 derived the state and the constitution itself from the Slovak nation rather than from the concept of equality among its citizens. 4

In practice, the rights obtained by the Hungarian minority in 1920 have disappeared. Although it is true that the constitution amended in October of 1968, gave an impetus to the original rights, they never really materialized. 5 In any event, the constitutional modifications of January 1991 regarding human rights, superseded the constitutional amendment of 1968 without providing for a protection clause renewal. Similarly, the current Slovak constitution is not helpful in this regard.6

In recent years there were, however, two positive developments in the Slovak legal framework from the perspective of the autoctonous Hungarian population. One was the official recognition of the spelling of Hungarian names 7 and the law allowing for the Hungarian language designation of communities or jurisdictions. 8 Both of these issues were settled because they were requirements prescribed by the Council of Europe at the accession of Slovakia to that body in 1993. 9 The actual fulfillment of these requirements, however, have fallen short of the expectations of the European Council. There are other sources of disappointment to the expected standards, namely the continued economic discrimination against the Hungarian minority stemming from regulations put into place against the Hungarian minority between 1945 and 1948 because of their so called "collective guilt" against the Slovak nation.

The oppression of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia gained momentum with the formation of the Slovak state in 1993, increasing even more sharply since Vladimir Meciar came to power for the third time in December of 1994:

1. An official language law was promulgated providing the legal framework for the official use of the Slovak language not only in official communications but also in everyday commerce, in the administration of religious bodies, and even in the realm of what is normally considered private interaction, for example, communications between patient and physician.10

2. Administrative jurisdictions of Slovakia were geographically modified in a clear case of gerrymandering. The administrative system governed by laws created in 1991, included 17 primary jurisdictions and 2 secondary jurisdictions, with a majority Hungarian population. 11 The 1996 law eliminated this system of administration. 12 In the reorganized system only 2 primary administrative jurisdictions have a Hungarian majority population. Furthermore, 8 secondary administrative jurisdictions were created, 5 with Hungarian populations in the 10 to 30 per cent range. In 1998, these jurisdictions will have regional self governing communities, where the diminished proportion of Hungarians makes certain they will play a subordinate role in self government.

3. The Slovak parliament approved a law granting a special legal status for Matica Slovenska, an ultranationalist organization, to exercise certain administrative jurisdiction over ethnic matters, the possibility of intervention in the cultural life of the non-Slovak population as well as in educational matters related to them. Furthermore, the law provides for this chauvinistic organization the right to create as many legal entities as required to fulfill the objectives of the organization. 13 Currently, Matica Slovenska oversees a budget constituting 5% of the total Slovak budget for cultural affairs, that is, 145 million Slovak crowns. At the same time, the Hungarian population of Slovakia, which is over 10% of the total population, receives a negligible budgetary allocation for cultural matters of approximately 0.1%.

4. A law regulating the rights of non Slovak citizens of Slovakia was passed. This is the first racist law of Slovakia since the regulations passed after World War II against the Hungarian minority legalizing the deprivation of their rights. 14 This law specifies that in order to gain Slovak status abroad an individual has to have proof of Slovak ethnicity going back for three generations. This means that a person, or descendant, though born in Slovakia and now living in another country, unless he or she is not of Slovak origin, that is, not an ethnic Slovak, by virtue of this law is placed at a disadvantage. This has serious implications regarding access to employment and inheritance.

5. With this background it is hardly surprising that on March 12, 1997, the Undersecretary of Education sent a circular to the heads of the school districts making known the following regulations:

In Hungarian schools the Slovak language should be taught exclusively by ethnic Slovak teachers. The same exclusion criteria applies to non-Slovak schools in the teaching of geography and history. (The Undersecretary modified the language of this regulation later by changing the term "exclusively" for "mainly".)

In communities where the Hungarian community exceeds 40% of the total population the teachers of Slovak schools receive supplementary pay.

In all communities which include a Hungarians population and where there is no school or there is no Slovak school, wherever possible a Slovak school should be opened, but not a Hungarian one. 15

The impending public education bill also reflects the same discriminatory qualities. All indications point to the dawn of an era of nationalist dictatorship in Slovakia. Responsibility for this is not solely attributable to the Government of Vladimir Meciar and the ruling governmental coalition, since the laws were also approved by a significant segment of the opposition in the Slovak parliament.

A policy which tramples on the rights of national minorities finds wide consensus not only in Slovak political life but also in Slovak society. This constitutes a roadblock in the creation of a democratic Slovakia. Proof of this was also shown in the parliamentary vote following the signature of the basic treaty between the Republic of Slovakia and the Republic of Hungary, where lawmakers including Slovak opposition members signed on to the treaty provisions only with attached restrictive parliamentary declarations. The basic treaty remains unpublished to this day in the statute books, even though the ratification of the treaty took place more than a year ago.

Another source of impediment for the reconciliation of Slovak and Hungarian society is that each views the past, present and future differently. Regarding the past, there is practically nothing to agree on. There was ample evidence of this when in 1996 the Hungarians commemorated the 1100 anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian state and the Slovak state apparatus, at the initiative of the opposition and with public opinion approval, could launch attacks against Hungarian celebrations and memorials. In terms of the present, a consensus may be possible with those Slovaks opposed to the current government policy, to the attacks of the Prime Minister against the President, and to the continuous infringement of parliamentary democracy by the government coalition, and to the methods of the privatization process. Regarding the future, the most noticeable difference is the fact that the Slovaks cannot accept the Hungarian perspective for the future of their community. Nearly 90% of the Hungarian population supports Slovakia's membership in NATO and the European Union, while, on the average, Slovak support hardly reaches 50%. 16

The image Slovaks have of the Hungarian community and the image of the Hungarian community of itself also differs sharply. Generally speaking, Slovaks consider the Hungarians as a national minority, significant segments of Slovak society even view the Hungarians either as intruders or Magyarized Slovaks, who endanger the Slovak national identity. At the same time, the Hungarian community is aware that they live in their ancient homeland, are socially and politically well organized and do not portray themselves as a national minority.

Although Hungarian political platforms do not reject the Slovak state, neither did they support its inception before 1993. The Hungarian members of parliament did not vote either for the declaration of independence or for the Slovak Constitution, because both documents include emphasis on Slovak ethnic nationality. The Slovak state came into existence equally without the participation or aspiration of the Hungarians as did Czechoslovakia in 1918 and 1945. The Hungarian community accepts as a reality the fact that their historic and native land is now in a country that shows enemity towards the community. The Hungarians' way out of this dilemma is to pursue European integration while promoting cooperation with those Slovaks capable of reaching common ground on certain issues. The Hungarians of Slovakia do not want to be excluded from NATO and do not even favour a Schengen Agreement dividing line with other parts of the Hungarian nation.

With regard to themselves, the Hungarians living in Slovakia envision three options for their future:

"territorial autonomy, either with Hungarian majority, or a balanced ethnic composition, with self-governing special status regions; and a combination of this with individual autonomy,
" institutional autonomy with adequate legal framework, " the consistent application of the principle of subsidiarity in the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

Of these three concepts so far none has found favour in the Slovak political world.


* 1. Constitutional Charter for the protection of national, religious and ethnic minorities, Constitutional Law number 121 of 1920 in the Collection of Laws.
* 2. Legal framework for the rights of language use in the Republic of Czechoslovakia Collection of Laws of 1920, number 122.
Government decree attendant to the implementation of the Language Law; Collection of Laws 1926, decree number 17.
* 3. Collection of Laws of 1976, number 126 and proclamation number 53 of 1993.
* 4. Constitution of the Slovak Republic, Collection of Laws of 1992, number 460.
* 5. Constitutional law of the status of Nationalities of the Czech and Slovak Republics; Collection of Laws of 1968, number 168.
* 6. Constitutional Charter pertaining to fundamental rights and liberties. Collection of Laws of 1991, number 23.
* 7. Law pertaining to the Surnames and Family Names. Collection of Laws of 1993, number 300.
Law pertaining to Birth Certificate Records. Collection of Laws of 1994 number 154.
* 8. Law pertaining to the Display of Community Names in the Language of the National Minorities. Collection of Laws of 1944, number 191.
* 9. Opinion number 175 of 1993, on the application by the Slovak Republic for membership in the Council of Europe. (Text adopted by the Assembly on June 29, 1993)
* 10. Language Law of the Slovak Republic. Collection of Laws of 1996, number 270.
* 11. Law pertaining to Local Administration. Collection of Laws of 1990, number 472. Law pertaining to the territorial and administrative jurisdictions. Collection of Laws of 1990,
number 517.
* 12. Law pertaining to the territorial and administrative reorganization of the Slovak Republic. Collection of Laws of 1996, number 221.
* 13. Law pertaining to Matica Slovenska. Collection of Laws of 1997, number 68.
* 14. Law pertaining to Slovaks Living Abroad. Collection of Laws of 1997, number 52.
* 15. The circular issued by Undersecretary Ondrej Nemcok cites governmental decrees of the Slovak Republic, numbers 459/95, 768/95 and 845/95.
* 16. According to the FOCUS public opinion polling organization, a survey conducted between January 28 and February 4 of 1997 had the following results: Of 1005 respondents 61% would participate in a referendum on Slovakia's membership in NATO and 35% would oppose such referendum. Those who symphatize with the Hungarian Coalition supported overwhelmingly NATO membership for Slovakia. The public opinion poll also showed that of the total population only 39% would support the NATO membership of Slovakia