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Problematic Nationalism of Ethnic Minorities

By Henry Srebrnik, [Saint John, N.B.] Telegraph-Journal

In Central and Eastern Europe, the idea of the nation, on the part of the majority population, came to have a particularly strong ethnic connotation in the 20th century. 

In response, self-conscious minorities in these states often expressed their desire to belong to their own ethno-cultural nation, often one residing in a neighbouring kin state. 

At the least, they demanded state recognition of their separate nationality and the cultural and political collective rights that come with it.

This has been particularly true of Hungarian communities, especially in the case of the more numerous Hungarian populations in Romania and Slovakia. 

Following the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, Hungary lost a very large amount of its pre-war territory. 

Almost one-third of the Hungarian-speaking population, some five million people, became minorities in Romania, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

For these Hungarians, the emotional tables were suddenly turned: their former identity, that of belonging to a majority ruling nation, was replaced with a minority status, and they found themselves in a politically subordinate position.

The integration of these Hungarians in successor states proved difficult, and between the two world wars, these minorities focused on preserving their Hungarian identity.

After 1945, Communist regimes enacted assimilation policies, particularly in Romania and Czechoslovakia. These affected matters of religion, economy, culture (especially language), and political and legal rights. 

The disintegration of Communist regimes allowed for greater political freedom. Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia split apart, and the minority policies in the new countries of Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine became more tolerant. 

Several linguistic and cultural rights were incorporated in new constitutions adopted at the beginning of the 1990s. 

This would affect Hungarians in the Transylvania region of Romania, southern Slovakia, the autonomous province of Vojvodina in northern Serbia, and Transcarpathia in western Ukraine.

Hungarians form the Largest Ethnic Minority in Romania, consisting of 1.22 million people and making up a little more than six per cent of the total population. Most live in Transylvania, in areas that were, before the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, parts of Hungary, and where they constitute a very large minority.

They are also are the largest ethnic minority in Slovakia, with some 700,000 people – almost 9.5 per cent of the overall population – declaring Hungarian as their mother tongue. 

The 254,000 Hungarians in Serbia comprise just 3.5 per cent of the total population, but 13 per cent in the Vojvodina. 

Much smaller numbers are concentrated in the far western border regions of Ukraine. All of these geographic regions are very close to, or border, Hungary itself. 

With the democratization of Eastern European countries, parties that appealed to ethnic identity became more frequent players in electoral politics. Often referred to as flanking or outbidding parties, they often adopted radical strategies to maximize support among voters of an ethnic group.

But ethnic Hungarian parties in Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine have cooperated, rather than competed, with each other during elections, to maximize their political power.

Meanwhile, after its own regime change in 1989, non-Communist Hungary assumed a so-called national policy, and stated that it would improve the situation of the Hungarians living outside its borders. 

Nationalists consider them part of a pan-Hungarian nation. Budapest has encouraged many Hungarians to apply for Hungarian citizenship even while living outside the country, and in 2010 introduced preferential naturalisation together with voting rights as a new political-legal tool. 

The reaction from the surrounding states has varied though clearly there has been some consternation. But Romania and Slovakia, as EU members, must show restraint in their treatment of their Hungarian minorities.

This post first appeared on I Told You So, please read the originial post: here

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Problematic Nationalism of Ethnic Minorities


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