Beyond the borders
No country likes to see its territory distributed among its neighbours. Still, this happened to Hungary a number of times. The most drastic reduction took place in 1920, when the infamous Trianon Treaty was signed. The treaty allocated more than 70% of the territory to neighbouring countries and cut the size of the population of the country down from 21 million to only 7 million. Inhabitants of the seized areas were incorporated into the population of their new home countries and lost Hungarian citizenship. Despite no longer being Hungarians, they held on to their traditions and still form distinct ethnic groups in particularly Romania and Slovakia, but also in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia.
The Trianon Treaty was signed almost a century ago, but its consequences linger on today. While generations have come and gone, most of the families who counted themselves as Hungarians in 1920 still do so today, even though administratively they are not. Those living in Romania have Romanian passports and no Hungarian ones. Those living in Slovakia are now officially Slovakian. Even if they have attended Hungarian schools, speak Hungarian fluently and are more attached to their Hungarian ethnicity than most of the Hungarians in Hungary are.
`I would have to marry a Hungarian men to get residence in my own country`
Zoltan (27) has many friends in the now Romanian province of Transylvania and has paid many visits to the region. Compared to Hungarians in Hungary, he thinks that the Hungarians living in adjacent countries have more of a sense of community, they are generally friendlier and more open. `Some are even wealthier, because the regions they live in are popular holiday destinations, especially for Hungarians.` In recent years, many Hungarians have even moved (back) out of the country to take advantage of the economic growth in the border areas. There are plenty of career opportunities in Romania and Slovakia now, as these countries tend to show more rapid growth than Hungary itself.
Zoltan thinks that Hungarians living in Romania are now less dependent on Romania than they were five years ago: `The economy in Transylvania is developing quite well since Romania joined the EU. Hungarians have their own political representation in Romania and, much more than during the Ceausescu era, Hungarians are free to participate in Romanian society.`
According to Krisztian (33), the situation in Slovakia is a little tenser. `Many Hungarians don`t really know why Slovakia exists. As a province of Czechoslovakia, it still made sense in a way, but since its independence, more than 50% of the population is Hungarian. And yet, it`s not quite safe to speak Hungarian there, even if many people understand it. The border guards, for example, perfectly understand Hungarian but refuse to speak it. So whenever I get to Slovakia, I like to nag them and keep speaking Hungarian. One time, a friend of mine took it a little too far. He was shouting to one of his friends on the back seat, in Hungarian, whether he had taken care to separate the machine guns from the drugs, because otherwise the fat of the guns would waste the drugs. The border guard obviously understood his words, but he did not appreciate this kind of humour. My friend ended up waiting for 12h and having a rectal research before he was allowed into Slovakia. I don`t think he will be as humourous on his next trip to Slovakia..`
`In recent months, Hungarians living in Serbia have also been facing problems. Hungary was one of the first countries to recognise Kosovo`s independence. Shops owned by Hungarians were plundered and there were plenty of small crimes commited against Hungarian interests`, Krisztian explains.
Anna (25, photo was born in Croatia from Hungarian parents. She remembers how she and her parents fled to Hungary during the Balkan war. `We were living in a room with three families. The men earned their salaries as soldiers and they would not often come and visit. My father died during the war. The rest of the family, including myself, returned to Croatia when the fighting was over. We did and do not have Hungarian passports. The Hungarian state doesn`t count us as their citizens. They were considering changing that in 2006, but the referendum organised to decide about the topic drew too few voters for the result to be acknowledged, even though the majority voted for.`
Anna is now studying psychology in P?cs. As she explains me, it is very difficult for her to continuously have to apply for residency permits. `I don`t know whether I can stay in Hungary after my studies. If I would want to stay, I`d best fall in love with an Hungarian and get married. Otherwise, I will probably be sent off within a few years from now. It`s quite strange indeed, to be Hungarian, speak Hungarian and not to be welcome in the country to which you belong`, she says.
Anna does have a small paper that proves her Hungarian ethnicity. This travel ID card allows her to travel into Hungary a little easier than other non-EU citizens and it entitles her to discounts on the Hungarian public transportation, four times a year. As I understand, the Hungarian government is also providing financial support to Hungarian schools abroad, and to cultural events. But that`s where Hungary`s support to today`s victims of the Trianon agreements ends.
Agnes (30) tells me that some rightwing extremists dream of the giant ancient Hungary, so that those living in other countries would no longer be seen as minorities. Currently they are, both by their host countries and by Hungary. `We don`t hear too much about what`s going on in these areas`, Agnes says. `Maybe when a Hungarian school is opened or whenever something goes wrong. Recently, a Hungarian girl got beaten up in Romania and a Hungarian from Romania stabbed someone in Budapest to steal his MP3-player. As usual, you only get told the bad stuff.`
Agnes did not go voting when the referendum about handing out the passports was held. `I have many friends in these regions, especially in Transylvania. They are lovely people who just happened to become victims of history. Although I would like it if my friends could establish themselves in Hungary, I don`t think it would be a good idea to randomly grant citizenship to all Hungarians living in these areas. What if they all came back to Hungary? The country would explode and there are already too few jobs for the Hungarian Hungarians. Hungary has too many problems to take care of already. I think it would be best if we managed to solve those first.`
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