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The Long Shadow Of Beneš Decrees And The Ethnic Discrimination of Hungarians In Czechoslovakia

By Tamás Székely // 2015.08.03.

On 2nd of August 1945, the government of Czechoslovakia issued the so-called 33th Beneš decree to deprive the non-slavic population of the country of their Czechoslovak citizenship. The infamous decree named after President Edvard Beneš was part of a series of laws drafted on the restoration of Czechoslovakia between 1945 and 1948 and it took revenge on Hungarians and Germans for the fall of interwar state. The 33th decree initiated both the aggressive assimilation and the expulsion of ethnic minorities living in the country, having remained a controversial political issue ever since.

Eduard Beneš (L) and some of the many victims of his minority policy

Eduard Beneš (L) and some of the many victims of his minority policy

The Beneš Decrees claimed collective World War II responsibility of Germans and Hungarians, depriving them of their fundamental rights and property. According to the Decrees, 2.5 million ethnic Germans were lost their Czechoslovakian citizenship immediately and their lands and houses were expropriated by the state. Although the big powers did not allow Prague to expel nearly 1 million Hungarians as well, approximately 40,000 of them were also stripped of their citizenship. The rest of the Hungarian community had to face persistent persecution, harassment, show trials and hard labour made up to force them to leave the country.

Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia

Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia

The transition carried out in the late 1940s was in many cases badly administered and brutal: many victims even lost their lives. Later ethnic Czechs and Slovaks were moved in to fill the empty towns and villages. Although Austria, Germany and Hungary have all called for the repeal of the laws several times over the last 25 years, the Beneš Decrees formally are still in force in the Czech Republic and Slovakia despite both countries joined the European Union in 2004. According to the latest cenzus, around half million citizens of present-day Slovakia still consider themselves as ethnic Hungarians.

source: rubicon.hu photos: wikimedia