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Diaspora Conference: Nation’s Unification Possible without Changing Country Borders

Miklós Verseghi-Nagy 2022.04.11.

“The borders of the Hungarian State do not coincide with the borders of the Hungarian Nation” – said Árpád János Potápi, State Secretary for National Policy at an international conference held on March 28-29, 2022 in Budapest. The conference, titled “Diaspora Policies in the 21st Century,” was organized by Ferenc Mádl Institute for Comparative Law and the Research Institute for Hungarian Communities Abroad, with the support of the Gábor Bethlen Fund – with the aim to share the best practices of kin-state and diaspora policies among governmental and civil organizations dealing with such issues in the Central and Eastern European region.

Hungarians living all over the world share a common cultural and linguistic heritage, a treasure to be preserved. History taught us that we are a fragile nation, but unity, on the other hand, makes us strong and powerful. We are gifted people who have contributed a lot to the world in the fields of culture, science, arts, sports, and much more. We want to be connected and united, regardless of our whereabouts. For us, kin-state and diaspora policies are of utmost importance.

Kin-states pursue policies aimed at co-ethnic groups living outside the borders of their kin-groups. The current ethno-political map of CEE provides varying conditions for the emergence of kin-state policies, and the political importance of such policies also varies across the region. Nevertheless, there are many issues that are common, and the deep roots of national identity drive the ambitions to be connected. This is what inspired the organizers of the conference to contribute to mutual understanding in the fields of kin-state and diaspora policies by hosting this event.

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Presenters of the conference from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Poland, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Turkey, and Israel affirmed the significance of such policies, and talked about governmental and NGO initiatives that transform theories into practice. In fact, almost all nations in CEE face more or less similar challenges related to their population: history scattered them all over the European continent and even far beyond. A very illustrative source where one can study and follow the history and the movements of the Hungarian population in the last millennium, its natural changes, migration paths, developments in language and ethnicity is the interactive National Atlas of Hungary, a project coordinated by the Geographical Institute of the Research Center for Astronomy and Earth Sciences.

It displays where we are living now in the Carpathian Basin, but also reveals that we share our country with many other national minorities. The present territorial borders of Hungary were essentially formed after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the subsequent partitioning of the historical territory of the Hungarian state by the Treaty of Trianon (Versailles, 1920). Due to this fact, large groups of Hungarians, who live outside the present borders of the country, did not emigrate – the borders of the state where they have been living changed. State Secretary for Hungarian Communities Abroad, János Árpád Potápi, underscored in his presentation that in consideration of the above, different approaches and policies apply to the Hungarian ethnic groups in the neighboring countries, and the diaspora.

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Our priority is to defend and strengthen Hungarian identity, of which one of the main foundations is the Hungarian language, Potápi said.Continue reading

Potápi emphasized that the Hungarian-Hungarian ties are a lot stronger now than ever before in the last hundred years. Voting rights have been extended to Hungarian citizens outside the country. Most other countries in CEE, have either introduced or are planning to introduce the same, according to the lecturers of the conference. In this way, the parliament of a given country forms a true ‘National Assembly’ of the nation.

History, even though a science based on facts, is the cradle of international disputes – sometimes even territorial claims and wars, as we painfully witness in our neighborhood in these very days. State Secretary János Árpád Potápi cited a Soviet proverb that says (it is shocking that the proverb is actually of Soviet origin): “the only thing more uncertain than the future is the past.” That is due to unresolvable differences – not related to historical facts, but its interpretations. When it comes to kin-state policies though, the significance of those differences diminishes. Most countries in the CEE region are members of the European Union, providing an excellent framework for the support of national identity continuation and development programs.

As Tamás Wetzel, Ministerial Commissioner, put it in his speech: unification for a nation is possible without changing country borders. In fact, EU membership is a guarantee that safeguards the rights of the national minorities within the European Union.

Tamás Wetzel. Photo by Levente Baráth.

Presenters of the conference agreed that while we are all in the same boat, the way we treat the ethnic groups living in our country, is what we may expect from other countries, i.e. that they treat and mind our ethnic groups living in their country just as attentively as we do.

The notion and the interpretation of a kin-state is especially interesting for those nations that did not have their own land sometime back in history. There were two of those examples presented at the conference.

One was the case of Israel, presented by Laurence Weinbaum, Director General of WJC Israel and of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. As he pointed out in his lecture, despite the “Jewish Enlightenment” movement of the late 18th century that urged Jews to assimilate into Western secular culture, eastern European Jews did not assimilate. On the contrary, in reaction to tsarist pogroms, they formed the “Lovers of Zion” nationalist movement to promote the settlement of Jewish farmers and artisans in Palestine. Their ambition was to create a Jewish national state in Palestine, the ancient homeland of the Jews. “Though Zionism originated in Eastern and Central Europe in the latter part of the 19th century, it is in many ways a continuation of the ancient attachment of the Jews and of the Jewish religion to the historical region of Palestine, where one of the hills of ancient Jerusalem was called Zion,” – explains the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Laurence Weinbaum. Photo by Levente Baráth.

Weinbaum noted that today the Jewish nation is divided into two main blocks, one in Israel and one in the United States. The physical distance makes it relatively difficult to have a homogenous diaspora policy, and the different attitudes and mentality of the two separated groups remain tangible.

The other example of a nation disappearing from the map temporarily was Poland, its challenges related to national policies presented by Jan Badowski, Director, Department for Cooperation with Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad, Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland.

“At the end of the 18th century, the Polish state, having been partitioned by neighboring empires, was erased from the political map of Europe. Poland was ‘virtually nowhere.’ And yet this did not mean that Poland and Poles would disappear from the political agendas and minds of members of the elite in Europe and elsewhere,” explains the website culture.pl.

Jan Badowski. Photo by Levente Baráth.

Badowski, describing the responsibilities of the Department for Cooperation with Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad, said that the organization shapes, conducts, and coordinates cooperation with the Polish diaspora and Polish citizens abroad.

It supports the teaching of the Polish language, instruction in the Polish language, and education about Poland addressed to the Polish diaspora and Poles abroad. It encourages Polish communities to shape and enhance the image of Poland around the world. It facilitates preserving and strengthening the Polish national identity, and enables the Polish diaspora and Poles abroad to participate in their national culture. It works to protect the rights of people of Polish origin and Polish minorities. It supervises implementation of the Card of the Pole Act and supports the process of repatriation.

A country, serious about its national policy, has to build an institutional structure in the fields of education, health care, culture, and politics, to support the social structure of its national minorities abroad. János Árpád Potápi, Secretery of State described as an example, that there are Hungarian political parties operating in the neighboring countries, some quite influential. In Romania, the current government accommodates several Hungarian politicians, one Deputy Prime Minister, three Ministers, and twelve State Secretaries. Some counties and many cities are led by Hungarian mayors in Romania.

As one of many platforms, the diaspora council – consisting of six regional organizations – is a forum for Hungarians to connect. The most important mission of the diaspora council is to involve children and youth, in order to preserve the language and culture in these communities.

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There is also an economic program to support Hungarian ventures in the Carpathian Basin. As a Hungarian enterprise, you can apply for funds in Bucharest, Brussels, and also Budapest. Our aim is that it should be rather an advantage than a disadvantage to be a Hungarian in a foreign state.

Besides supporting communities abroad, repatriation seems to be an important issue for all countries pursuing kin-state and diaspora policies.

“We are convinced that the tendency to return will continue, because we believe that the strengthening of Serbia, both economically and socially, will continue as well. When they return, members of the diaspora contribute to the development of their home country with their knowledge, experience, contacts, and investments, but above all with love and respect. That is why Diaspora matters,” said Arnaud Gouillon, acting Director of the Office for Cooperation with the Diaspora and Serbs in the Region, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Serbia.

Ivan Brkljač, Managing Director of Tačka Povratka – listed five ‘pillars,’ i.e. different reasons why Serbians return to their home country: they want to work in Serbia, study in Serbia, invest in Serbia, retire and settle in Serbia, or they want to contribute to Serbia. All of these goals are supported by the Serbian government via different institutionalized programs.

Ivan Brkljač. Photo by Levente Baráth.

Balázs Molnár, Vice President of Mária Kopp Institute for Demography and Families, talked about the role and the importance of family policies in maintaining the Hungarian roots of those living in the diaspora, and in aiding young Hungarians returning to the homeland. He highlighted the ‘Umbilical Cord Program,’ designed to support Hungarian babies born abroad. The program facilitates increased child-care benefits, tax benefits, added support for mortgage holders, and options for relief on student loan payments.

Molnár also highlighted that since 2018, more Hungarians are moving back to Hungary than those leaving the country, which is a positive trend.

Dr. Myra Waterbury, Ohio University (US), a Fulbright Visiting Scholar, described in her lecture the condition of states that must manage simultaneous relationships, from a researcher’s perspective. In her lecture, she divided the ethnic groups outside a given country into three categories: kin communities living in neighboring states; established diaspora communities (primarily outside of Europe); more recent emigrants who could potentially form a new diaspora.

Dr. Myra Waterbury. Photo by Levente Baráth.

She outlined that tensions arise and tradeoffs must be made in state responses to multiple external communities, because political and institutional commitments to one type of ethnic group may impact the scope and content of commitments to another; competition for resources and attention arises. But also, she added, opportunities for resource sharing, pooling, and policy learning across parts of global nations help build bridges.

The two-day conference was an enlightening event to learn about best practices, and network with representatives of governmental and civil organizations, all focused on the same goal – to build those bridges and make Europe a place of plentiful and sustained national treasures.


Presenters were: Potápi, Árpád János (Secretary of State for Hungarian Communities Abroad), Weinbaum, Laurence (Director General, Israel Council on Foreign Relations), Wetzel, Tamás (Ministerial Commissioner, Hungary), Waterbury, Myra (Professor of Political Science, Ohio University, USA; Visiting Scholar, Institute for Minority Studies, Hungary), Douani, Nadav (CEO, Science Abroad, Israel), Anaz, Necati (Associate Professor, Istanbul University, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Turkey) – Köse, Mehmet (Migration Research Foundation, Turkey), Gazsó, Dániel (research fellow, Research Institute for Hungarian Communities Abroad, Hungary), Aleksandravičius, Egidijus (Institute of Lithuanian Emigration, VMU, Kaunas), Genys, Dainius (Andrei Sakharov Research Center for Democratic Development, Vytautas Magnus University),  Molnár, Balázs (Vice-President for Strategy and Coordination, Mária Kopp Institute for Demography and Families, Hungary), Domaniczky, Endre (Senior Researcher, Ferenc Mádl Institute of Comparative Law, Hungary), Bošnjak, Milan (Special Adviser, Central State Office for Croats Abroad, Croatia), Brkljač, Ivan (Direktor, Tačka Povratka, Serbia), Valentinčič, Dejan (Head, Research Institute of American Slovenian Education Foundation ASEF & State Secretary, Government Office for Slovenians Abroad), Gujon, Arno (Director, Office for Cooperation with the Diaspora and Serbs in the Region of the Republic of Serbia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Badowski, Jan (Director, Department for Cooperation with Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad, Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland), Krátký, Jiří (Special Envoy for Expatriate Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic)

Featured photo illustration by Márton Mónus/MTI

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