October 31, 2018

How Empires Are “Reborn”

Why Hungary grants its citizenship to the diaspora

Ivan Sichen

Military and Political Expert

The scandal around Hungary's giving its passports to residents of Trans-Carpathian region of Ukraine (to representatives of local authorities included), gives another reason to analyze Budapest's policy in the context of its participation in realization of Moscow's interests. Moreover, Hungary acts fully copying Russia's actions on all possible directions, except for so far not using military force against Ukraine…

In particular, this concerns Russia's practice of creating pretexts to interfere in internal affairs of other countries under the guise of “protecting compatriots” on their territory. It is precisely for this purpose that Russia gives its passports to everyone interested, and in some cases forcibly imposes them, as it happened in the Crimea. For this, it uses Russian diaspora in the countries of the former USSR, which arose there as a result of purposeful resettlement of Russians since the times of the Russian Empire. And after the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of Russians remained in the independent states restored in its place.

Territorial losses of Hungary under the Trianon Peace Treaty of 1920
Territorial losses of Hungary under the Trianon Peace Treaty of 1920

Exactly the same methods are being used by the current Hungarian leadership, seeking to strengthen its position in the country through the implementation of all sorts of national-imperial ideas. At this, Budapest relies on the heritage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the form of the Hungarian diaspora in neighboring countries. And the diaspora there is not small at all, which was the result of historic events of the First and Second World Wars.

In particular, under the Trianon Peace Treaty, signed in 1920 by the victor countries in the First World War and by defeated Hungary (as one of the successors of Austria-Hungary), it lost about two-thirds of its lands. But, as the saying goes, “the lesson was of no use”. In World War II, Budapest again joined the wrong side and as a result — lost its territory again. Although in this case it would be fair to talk not about the losses of Hungary, but about the restoration of historical justice in relation to its neighbors, Ukraine included.

Anyway, today the Hungarian diaspora in the neighboring countries of Hungary makes: in Romania — about 1.2 million people, in Slovakia — 460 thousand, in Serbia — 250 thousand, in Ukraine — 150 thousand, in Austria — 55 thousand, in Croatia — 14 thousand and in Slovenia — 6 thousand people. Another 2.5 million ethnic Hungarians left their country in search of a better life. Of these, 1.56 million people live in the USA, 315 thousand in Canada, 200 thousand in Israel, up to 200 thousand in France, 120 thousand in Germany, 80 thousand in Brazil, 76 thousand — in Russia, and 52 thousand — in the UK.

Hungarian diaspora in neighboring countries
Hungarian diaspora in neighboring countries

All this enables Budapest to implement a fairly simple scheme to meet its foreign policy ambitions, namely: to give  Hungarian passports to “compatriots” abroad, demanding autonomy for their areas of compact residence, and later promoting Hungarian interests through its puppets in local councils, municipalities and other governing bodies.

Thus, the conditions are created for putting forward, and if a chance arises, for Hungary’s realization of its territorial claims against its neighbors in the region. And such claims are supported at the global level by the Hungarian lobby in the United States, Europe and Russia.

In accordance with such approaches, Budapest has also created mechanisms for the practical implementation of its plans. Such as the system of simplified granting of Hungarian citizenship to members of the Hungarian diaspora abroad. In particular, this possibility is enshrined in the Constitution of the country, as well as other legislative acts. Besides, a network of government bodies has been formed, resolving all practical problems related to giving Hungarian passports. For example, today, applications from Hungarians abroad for Hungarian citizenship are accepted by about 870 institutions in Hungary itself and at least 70 foreign representative offices in other countries.

And after the mass granting of passports, comes the turn of the local Hungarian parties, who, with Budapest's appropriate support, demand autonomy for the areas densely populated by Hungarians. In an effort to legitimize its actions in the international arena, Hungary has initiated in the EU the issue of accepting a package of “indisputable rights of national minorities in Europe”, which the European Union should guarantee.

Hungarian minority in Romanian Transylvania
Hungarian minority in Romanian Transylvania

Hungary has actually implemented a similar scheme in the area of compact residence of Hungarians in Romanian Transylvania. It was there that after the collapse of Austria-Hungary the largest Hungarian diaspora of the “near abroad” of Hungary emerged — about 700 thousand people. Most of them belong to the ancient Hungarian subethnos — Szekelys (have many of their own, specific linguistic and cultural characteristics that distinguish them from true Hungarians, but in Hungary they are persistently considered compatriots).

After World War II (during the period of socialist construction in Romania) they were even granted autonomy, which existed in 1952–1968 in the form of the so-called Szekely Land, and then as Mures-Magyar Autonomous Region. In the late 1960s, the Romanian dictator N. Ceaușescu eliminated this Hungarian autonomy. But the problem remained and reminded about itself immediately after the collapse of the socialist bloc and the fall of totalitarian regimes in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

Thus, in October 1992, the leaders of the Hungarian community in Romania adopted the “Declaration of Cluj-Napoca”, which proclaimed plans to restore the autonomy of the Hungarians in Transylvania. It was from that moment that Romanian Hungarians began an active movement for Transylvania's actual separation from Romania, which was consistently supported by Budapest. Since the beginning of the 2000s, this movement has become active.

In particular, under the leadership of the Szekler National Council, several public opinion polls and referenda on the autonomy of Transylvania were conducted. On the basis of this, autonomy was proclaimed by representatives of local counsels, and the Transylvanian issue was brought up for discussion to the Romanian Parliament. Despite the fact that all these decisions were canceled by Bucharest, it, nevertheless, had to grant the broadest possible rights to the Hungarian diaspora in Romania. Such as the right to double citizenship, education in the native language at all levels, parliamentary representation in both chambers, as well as the official status of the Hungarian language in the regions of compact residence.

However, this did not satisfy either the leaders of the “Romanian” Hungarians, or, obviously, Budapest. Taking advantage of Bucharest's willingness to make concessions, they put forward new demands, this time — to give territorial autonomy to areas with compact residing of the Hungarian diaspora in Romania. In particular, this was explicitly stated in the joint statement of the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (it has representation in the Romanian Parliament), Hungarian Civic Union and Hungarian People’s Party of Transylvania in January 2018.

State Secretary of the Hungarian Interior Ministry Laszlo Tasnadi issues the first “Hungarian ID”, Budapest, January 10, 2016
State Secretary of the Hungarian Interior Ministry Laszlo Tasnadi issues the first “Hungarian ID”, Budapest, January 10, 2016

Budapest pursues the same policy towards Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine. As for Serbia, there Hungary is trying to use for its own purposes the unresolved problems with citizenship in the country after the collapse of Yugoslavia. A certain deterrent for Hungary in other countries is the difficulty in obtaining double citizenship in Slovakia and the absence of such a legal basis in Ukraine. Nevertheless, Hungary is persistently trying to implement its plans, including by giving Hungarian passports to bypass Slovak and Ukrainian legislation, as well as distributing so-called “Hungarian IDs” — special documents made by Budapest for foreign compatriots.

And one more interesting thing confirming the existence of close ties between Hungary and Russia. In exchange for investments in Hungary, a residence permit in the country is easily obtained by Russian politicians, businessmen, heads of state-owned companies, as well as their relatives. Despite the Russian authorities' anti-Western rhetoric, all sorts of sanctions and counter-sanctions, the foreign residence permit is increasingly attracting the Russian elite. Mainly due to the possibility of leaving Russia at any time for the sake of personal security. According to the joint investigation of the Russian “Novaya Gazeta” and the Hungarian Investigative Journalism Center Direkt36, even the son of the Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia A. Naryshkin, as well as his wife and two daughters have received residence permits in Hungary.


Prime Minister of Hungary Victor Orban at the plenary meeting of the Hungarian Diaspora Council, Budapest, November 9, 2017
Prime Minister of Hungary Victor Orban at the plenary meeting of the Hungarian Diaspora Council, Budapest, November 9, 2017

All this allows us to draw several important conclusions for Ukraine, which can be used as recommendations for our further actions on the Hungarian direction.

Firstly, Hungary’s policy towards the Hungarian minorities in neighboring countries has a systemic state character and is part of its national development strategy, and its establishing itself in the new multi-polar world. Therefore, Budapest will never abandon it, and Russia will keep using it for its own purposes.

Secondly, Budapest’s attempts to realize its interests with the help of the Hungarian diaspora in neighboring countries by actually provoking separatism on their territories, create a common problem for such countries, and that problem has to be resolved jointly. In turn, this provides an opportunity for Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, and, to some extent, Serbia, to unite efforts to defend their interests. Including through the mechanisms of NATO and the EU, of which Hungary is a member.

Thirdly, despite all the negative consequences of Budapest's nationalist policy, both for Ukraine and for other countries, their response should in no way provoke a conflict with Hungary. Since it would only undermine the unity of NATO and the EU, and create additional obstacles to Ukraine's European and Euro-Atlantic integration. And that would be exclusively for the benefit of Moscow. At the same time, Ukraine can't ignore Hungary’s attempts to create a separatist enclave in Trans-Carpathian region, since this contradicts Ukrainian national interests.

In general, these circumstances demand from Ukraine to consider weighed and well-thought steps with respect to Hungary and its actions in Trans-Carpathian region. And, of course, with involvement of Western and world institutions to resolve the emerging problems.