Hungarians in the Slovak Republic

Population

520,528 or 9.67% of the population of the Slovak Republic (5,379,455) declared Hnugarian as their ethnicity in the 2001 Slovak Census, down from 578,000 or 10.8% of the Slovak Republic's population in 1991.

Information below is retrieved from http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/mar/ in June 2007 with the kind permission of Minorities at Risk Project from the 2005 "Assessment for Hungarians in Slovakia" and "Chronology for Hungarians in Slovakia". College Park, MD: Center for International Development and Conflict Management.


Overview

Virtually all ethnic Hungarians, or Magyars, live in geographically contiguous areas of southern Slovakia. This region, bordering Hungary, is approximately 3,500 square miles, and its population is 61.2 percent ethnic Hungarian. Ethnic Hungarians exceed 50 percent of the population in 432 townships. Nationwide, they constitute the largest ethnic minority in the country.

Culturally and linguistically distinct from the dominant Slovak population, the present-day ethnic Hungarians are what remains of the Hungarians who politically and culturally dominated Slovakia for about 1000 years (most recently in the form of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) until 1918, when Czechoslovakia was created. Many Slovak nationalists resent the long history of political subordination to Hungary and view the remaining Hungarian minority in Slovakia not merely as a minority but as the dispossessed former masters. The negative image of the Hungarian minority and fears of their irredentism had been intensified by the group's persistent refusal to integrate itself into the new host state as well as by the revisionist efforts of neighboring Hungary which had never fully reconciled itself to the harsh dictate of the 1920 Trianon Treaty.

During the communist regime, Slovak nationalism was largely kept in check by the strongly centralist Prague regime. The 1968 switch to a federal arrangement gave greater scope to Slovak nationalism, however. New policies of assimilation included progressive Slovakization of education, elimination of Hungarian place-names from signs, bans on using Hungarian in administrative dealings and in institutions and workplaces, and pressure to Slovakize Hungarian names. Nonetheless, the most significant exclusionary factor in Hungarians' social situation under the communist regime was most likely their own refusal to integrate into the Czechoslovak system and to learn the language. Without a fluency in the official language, their economic and political opportunities were severely limited.

After the 1989 "velvet revolution," nationalist sentiment surged in Slovakia. This resulted in a series of Slovak laws restricting the use of the Hungarian language and what was perceived by the Hungarians as a campaign advocating racial discrimination against them by many Slovak politicians and the Slovak media. This anti-Hungarian sentiment was made worse by the elimination of the moderating Czech influence after the 1993 Czechoslovak split. With divisions within the nationalist Slovak camp, the situation of ethnic Hungarians improved. In the 1998-2006 period an ethnic Hungarian party was represented in the central government and Hungarians faced no political discrimination. Economic differentials remain, ethnic Hungarians also do not currently face economic discrimination.

Most Hungarian grievances focus on cultural and political issues. In the area of linguistics, major issues and grievances include: the right to use Hungarian names; the right to use bilingual signs in areas with large ethnic Hungarian populations; the right to use Hungarian in all official venues; and the right to education in the Hungarian language, including the establishment of a Hungarian university in Slovakia. Another major complaint is over discriminatory compensation laws for the losses suffered by ethnic Hungarians resulting from the Benes decrees of 1945 (a series of orders issued by the Czechoslovak president Eduard Benes that branded ethnic Hungarians and Germans with collective guilt).

While only a small portion of ethnic Hungarian leaders advocate secession from Slovakia, many ethnic Hungarians desire a greater degree of autonomy and self-determination within the Hungarian areas in southern Slovakia, especially with respect to language, education, and cultural issues.

The struggle over these issues, for the most part, takes place within the political arena. Ethnic Hungarians are represented by several conventional political parties. The most influential one the Hungarian Coalition Party (Strana madarskej koalicie, SMK) established in 1998, joined together the Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement, Co-existence Party, and Hungarian Civic Party.

[This paragraph has been updated by Slovakia.org staff in June 2007.] By most accounts, day-to-day relations between Hungarians and Slovaks in southern Slovakia remain cordial. In fact, many accuse nationalistic politicians on both sides for stirring up trouble by playing the "ethnic card" for their own political purposes. Political tension rose in 2001, when SMK threatened to leave the government over disagreement on a law that would allow Hungary to provide economic aid to ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia. The crisis was resolved in 2003 when the law was approved. Ethnic Hungarians have not engaged in violence against the state.

[Slovakia.org note: In the 2007 election a new government was formed led by the Smer-Social Democracy party with the Slovak National Party and People's Party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. The partners specifically worked to exclude the ethnic Hungarian party from government.

Several incidents ensued with accusations of ethnically motivated violence, notably the Hedviga Malinova incident on August 25, 2006.]

References

Fisher, Sharon "Meeting of Slovakia's Hungarians Causes Stir" RFE/RL Research Report, 3 (4), January 28, 1994, pp. 42-7.

Reisch, Alfred A. "The New Hungarian Government's Foreign Policy" RFE/RL Research Report, 3 (33), August 26, 1994, pp. 46-57.

Reisch, Alfred A. "Hungarian-Slovak Relations: A Difficult First Year" RFE/RL Research Report, 2 (50), December 17, 1993, pp. 16-23.

Reisch, Alfred A. "Slovakia's Minority Policy Under International Scrutiny" RFE/RL Research Report, 2 (49), December 10, 1993, pp. 35-42.

Reisch, Alfred A. "The Difficult Search for a Hungarian-Slovak Accord" RFE/RL Research Report, 1 (42), October 23, 1992, pp. 24-31.

Reisch, Alfred A. "Hungarian Ethnic Parties Prepare for Czechoslovak Elections" RFE/RL Research Report, 1 (18), March 1, 1992, pp. 26-32.

Minorities at Risk Phase I Report.

Lexis/Nexis news reports, 1990-2003.