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Support to Minority Hungarians: Thousands of First-Graders Receive Free Schoolbags

Ferenc Sullivan 2019.04.18.

Approximately 8000 Hungarian first-graders across the Carpathian Basin will receive quality schoolbags free of charge as the school enrollment period comes to a close, thanks to a pioneering initiative launched by a major Hungarian civil society association.

Ethnic Hungarian children beginning primary education in Hungarian-language schools in five neighboring countries – Slovakia, the Ukraine, Romania, Serbia and Croatia – are given the bags ahead of the school year from the headmasters of the hundreds of schools covered by the Rákóczi Association’s School Choice Program. The initiative aims to encourage parents to enroll their children in schools which teach in their native tongue instead of the state language.

Hungarian first-graders-to-be appear happy as they receive their new schoolbags in Margitta (Marghita), Romania. Photo by Rákóczi Association.

The scheme currently covers the entire areas of Slovakia, the Ukraine, Serbia and Croatia where Hungarian-language primary education is provided, as well as a growing swath of Romania, home to the largest Hungarian minority community. Over the years, the program has expanded continuously both in volume and in geographical outreach, with further enlargements scheduled to take place in Partium and Transylvania this year.

The high-quality schoolbags, which come in a number of designs for both girls and boys, were recently delivered to the Association’s local partners, who then handed the requested amount on to the headmasters in their respective region. Each bag is accompanied by a letter from the Association expressing admiration for parents making a choice which strengthens and preserves the Hungarian identity.

The effort is part of a campaign launched in 2004 in response to a growing number of parents opting for education in the state language, potentially leading to the decay of Hungarian institutions in areas separated from Hungary by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. These regions – now under the administration of seven successor states – remain populated by some 2.5 million ethnic Hungarians, census data suggests.

Schoolbags before being handed over to their young owners in the Galánta region of Slovakia. Photo by Rákóczi Association.

In addition to an already ongoing Christmas gift program in Hungarian-language kindergartens and a one-off enrollment scholarship delivered to every first-grader personally in the autumn period, the Rákóczi Association is confident that the initiative will serve to further motivate parents ahead of enrollment. Since being launched, the scheme has already borne visible results. For example, the number of Hungarian first-graders in Hungarian-populated southern Slovakia has increased over the past ten years despite assimilation tendencies. The Association’s School Choice Program has also attracted broad support domestically, with close to 500 municipalities voluntarily offering donations to the cause last year.

With over 25,000 members and more than 500 branches at both the secondary and university levels throughout the Carpathian Basin, the Rákóczi Association is one of the largest civil society organizations in Hungary.

Featured photo by Rákóczi Association