The Hungarian community in Slovakia – the historic region of Upper Hungary
Hungarians in Slovakia are in absolute terms the second largest and in proportion to the size of the majority nation, the largest Hungarian community outside of Hungary in the Carpathian Basin. Approximately ten per cent of the population of Slovakia, the Hungarian-speaking community of half a million lives in a strip of territory, earlier uninterrupted, now subdivided into three major parts, along the northern border of Hungary. In the 2011 census, 458,000 people identified as Hungarians, while 508,000 stated that Hungarian was their mother tongue.
As for preserving their identity, Hungarians who live here are, basically, in a favourable position, yet many challenges face them every day. In spite of significant decline, the size of the Hungarian community is relatively high compared to the total population; most of them live concentrated in an area where Hungarian native speakers are in excess of 10 per cent in more than 520 settlements and make up the majority in 435 of those settlements; also favourable is the proximity of major Hungarian cities such as Budapest, Győr and Miskolc. At first glance it might seem therefore that all the ingredients are present for a sheltered community to thrive and develop in peace in Bratislava [Pozsony], Dunajská Streda [Dunaszerdahely], Komarno [Komárom], Nové Zámky [Érsekújvár], Košice [Kassa] and the surrounding area.
Why is it though that the life of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia is synonymous with daily struggle? Due to assimilation efforts and natural decline, the Hungarian-speaking population has dropped by about a hundred thousand over the past twenty years. Predominantly inhabited by Hungarians, Southern Slovakia is economically the most backward region of the country and the central government is in no hurry to remedy the situation. Cultural, educational and linguistic rights are violated over and over again: the government does not shrink from implementing measures that violate the rights of minorities. The Beneš Decrees which brand Hungarians collectively are to this day part of Slovakia’s legal system. By means of an amendment to the Slovak Citizenship Act, Hungarians in Slovakia were deprived even of the symbolic opportunity to obtain dual citizenship.
The objectives of Hungarians offer, in particular, solutions to the problems listed above. It is important to reverse negative demographic trends, to strengthen the economic convergence of the southern Slovak region, and to safeguard the cultural, educational and linguistic rights of the Hungarian minority. Hungarian efforts in this direction are summarized in the HCP outline entitled Institutional arrangements to ensure the survival and growth of the Hungarian community in Slovakia and the economic convergence of South Slovakia. A pronounced element of the struggle for the enforcement of rights is the demand that discriminatory restrictions on the use of the mother tongue should be eliminated, that the government should refrain from administrative means to inhibit the use of Hungarian in areas inhabited by Hungarians, and that the use of the mother tongue should be accepted even in official dealings. It should be considered a priority to preserve and develop Hungarian language education, enabling young Hungarians to use their mother tongue from kindergarten to university graduation in Hungarian language institutions. The citizenship issue would take a change in the government’s attitude to arrive at a solution; until then, representatives of the Hungarian community are seeking to remedy violations at various levels of the judiciary, national, European and international. Resolving political divisions would be paramount to ensure that the Hungarian community has, once again, strong and credible representation – and thus, enhanced leverage – in the Slovak parliament.