The Hungarian community in Croatia
According to the 2011 census, the Hungarian community in Croatia numbers 14,000, concentrated in Baranja [Drávaszög] as well as Central and Eastern Slavonia. Until recently, this used to be an ethnically very diverse region. While at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries the Hungarian population numbered 100,000, it has since shrunk to a fraction of that number. Settlements where Hungarians form the majority are found in the country’s underdeveloped, typically agricultural regions. Baranja is the region most densely populated by Hungarians, while isolated and scattered communities are found south of the river Drava in Syrmia and Central Slavonia.
Of key importance for Hungarians is Osijek [Eszék], the regional centre where the community’s only secondary educational institution is located. Native language primary education is provided in major settlements; in the diaspora however Hungarian language instruction is often restricted to out of school classes.
Since the independence of Croatia two organizations have been established to represent the interests of the community. The Democratic Union of Hungarians of Croatia and the Union of Hungarian Associations are political actors primarily on the local scene. Minority self-governments, which have only advisory powers, also work at the local government level. As autochthonous minorities are also guaranteed seats in the Croatian parliament, Hungarians in Croatia are represented by a directly elected representative.
As for the status of minorities in Croatia, the legal context may be regarded as clear, yet demographic issues in many areas thwart the enforcement of rights. Similarly, public funds are insufficient for the maintenance and development of institutions. The primary problem of the Hungarian community is posed by a high degree of demographic decline which results from the combined effects of aging and emigration; at the same time, assimilation has greatly accelerated over the last decades. The high rate of emigration is to be attributed to the adverse economic situation which is, among other things, the result of the region’s disadvantaged geographical location and the lasting impacts of the Balkan wars in the 1990s. The Hungarian minority was directly affected by the Serbo-Croatian conflict as the front lines crossed areas inhabited by Hungarians.