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Hungarians in Neighboring Countries Assured to be Part of Nation, 15 Years After Failed Dual Citizenship Referendum

Dénes Sályi 2019.12.10.

15 years after the dual citizenship referendum in 2004, there are still considerable differences among Hungarian parties concerning their programs about a proper patriotic policy to follow. At the same time, the viewpoints altogether have become closer, even if an overall consensus hasn’t yet been reached on several issues.

In 2004, the subject of the referendum was whether ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary in the neighboring states should be given Hungarian citizenship or not. The Socialists and the Liberals, the then governing parties, refused the idea and campaigned against it. Fidesz and the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) supported the case arguing that those Hungarians who found themselves the citizens of another state when the borders had been changed as a result of the Trianon Peace Treaty of 1920 (and then again after WW2) haven’t ceased to be Hungarians. The Hungarian voters were not motivated highly enough by the subject, perhaps partly because of the unsuccessful pro-campaign, and the referendum failed due to the turnout not reaching the minimally required level. In the long run, however, the refusal turned out to be a mistake for the Socialists.

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Coming to power in 2010, Fidesz, as one of its earliest measures, gave dual citizenship to Hungarians living outside of the Hungarian state. Public opinion has also altered in favor of the change. In this way, the Socialists haven’t been able to get rid of the accusation of betraying their own nation by not allowing many of its members to fully participate in all the common cases where it was possible. However, after 2010, Attila Mesterházy, the President of the party at that time, apologized to Hungarians living outside Hungary. But it has rather remained his individual gesture, the leadership following him couldn’t really elaborate an authentic policy about this topic.

“This Government Thinks in Terms of Nationality, not in Borders” – Interview with Péter Szilágyi

In recent years, an undeclared agreement has been formed in that no party intends to abolish dual citizenship any more. On the other hand, the Democratic Coalition, led by former Socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, would take out suffrage from the ’package’ of dual citizenship for those who don’t live in Hungary. There are other signs of a renewed globalist approach, earlier called internationalism on the Left, represented by DK, which has always been a party with a strong internationalist taste, and also by liberal Momentum. The latter even sided with a liberal Romanian party instead of RMDSZ, an ethnic Hungarian party, at the Romanian presidental election. This phenomenon hasn’t occured before, the principle being shared by political forces in Hungary that in the neighboring states ethnically based Hungarian parties should be supported. In Slovakia, Momentum also manifested its sympathy towards a liberal Slovakian party.

So, the picture is mixed. But two things can be stated. The general sentiment among the people in Hungary concerning patriotism has become more positive in their way of thinking. In parallel, modern internationalism calling itself ’globalism’ is now trying to increase its influence on Hungarian society, especially among the younger generation. This contest fits in the overall picture of Europe, or even the Transatlantic Region, where identity is one of the major issues in the fight for shaping the face of our civilization after the Modern Age.

Featured photo illustration by Balázs Mohai/MTI


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