Hungary's shadow


COURTESY OF Budapest’s new centre-right Fidesz administration, Hungary’s large diaspora is now just that little bit more Hungarian than it was. One of the first measures of the country’s new nationalist-leaning government has been to emulate Ireland’s practice in its fourth green field, by extending to more than two million ethnic Hungarians living elsewhere in central Europe – those with Hungarian grannies and who can speak the language – the right to apply for citizenship (but not the vote) whether or not they have ever lived in the fatherland.

Ethnic Hungarians live in several neighbouring countries including Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine and Romania. Their ancestors lost their Hungarian citizenship under what they see as the great historical injustice of the imposed Trianon peace treaty of 1920. In the wake of the first World War – winner’s justice – it emasculated the country, stripping Austria-Hungary of nearly three-quarters of its territory and a full third of its ethnic Hungarians. It also lost five of its 10 most populous cities and access to the sea, and of some of its most valuable natural resources.

In Romania and Serbia, Budapest’s offer of citizenship is unlikely to cause much of a problem – few are likely to take it up. But Slovakia, home to half a million Hungarians, and less pragmatic, or some might say, generous than our British neighbours, considers the new Bill an attack on its sovereignty.

It has enacted a law which will strip its citizens of their Slovak nationality if they take a second citizenship, and will ban people with foreign citizenship from working in public positions requiring Slovak citizenship, such as membership of parliament. Budapest and Bratislava have also repeatedly sparred over Slovakia’s treatment of its Hungarian community, 10 per cent of its population, most recently over a new language law which Hungary says hurts minority rights.

“Slovakia is a sovereign country and we cannot tolerate Fidesz’s policy of a ‘Great Hungary’. We cannot tolerate ignorance of rules of the international law,” Prime Minister Robert Fico said after the parliamentary vote. The issue is rekindling not altogether happy memories of the Hapsburg days when Hungary ruled over them, fanning the flames of nationalism in the country ahead of a looming election which is expected to be close-fought.

Unresolved, and unresolvable, echoes of empire still resonate in not-so-New Europe.