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Nov 02, 2017 - Zoltán Kovács

Ethnic Hungarians: a nation in a united Europe

As a result of wars and the re-drawing of borders that have taken place in recent centuries, today’s borders in Europe rarely correspond to the physical location of the continent’s national groups. About one third of the 15 million-strong, ethnic Hungarian community, lives outside the borders of Hungary, mostly in the Carpathian Basin. These Hungarian communities, just as much as any other European national minorities, have the right to maintain their thousand year-old culture in the European Union.

The fate of Hungarians, within and outside Hungary, “the mother country and those parts torn from it,” are connected to each other, said Prime Minister Orbán speaking recently to students at Partium Christian University, Nagyvárad. Accordingly, it is in our national interest to protect Hungarian minorities outside the country, especially those that are most vulnerable: the lower and middle-class. In order to do so, Hungary, as the mother country, must be committed to preparing its young people to serve the nation.

This approach is in line with the Treaty of Rome and other treaties and political declarations that highlight the importance of ethnic minorities. Yet, we cannot say the rights of ethnic minorities are guaranteed without acknowledging the shortcomings in all of the European member states and countries seeking accession in the EU.

According to David Smith, autonomy researcher of the University of Glasgow, Hungary is a role model in the CEE region by providing cultural autonomy to ethnic minorities. However, not every country follows Hungary’s example.

In early September, Ukraine’s Supreme Council voted to adopt a new Education Act that restricts the rights of national minorities to receive education in their native language. The new law is outrageous and runs contrary to the values stressed in the European Union and the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement. “In European culture, it is not the custom to strip minorities of rights that they have already been awarded. The custom is to maintain – or expand – the rights of minorities,” said Prime Minister Orbán on Kossuth Radio’s “180 Minutes” program a few weeks ago. The OSCE High Commissioner shares his concerns.

The Federal Union of European Nationalities, also known as FUEN, has launched a Minority SafePack Citizen’s Initiative to improve the situation of national minorities in Europe. The umbrella organization of national minorities and ethnic groups in Europe is now circulating a petition to collect the one million signatures necessary to make the European Union the guarantor of minority rights by law. This would put Europe on the forefront of protecting minority rights and compel it to stand by autochthonous national minorities living within our borders.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, recognizing the dangers created by Ukraine’s new legislation, adopted a resolution that condemns the law for urging the promotion of the official language without measures to protect and promote the languages of national minorities. Such a law imposes assimilation instead of supporting integration.

The Orbán Government gives high priority to the Hungarian diaspora. Hungary has granted 950,000 new citizenships in the last seven years (aiming to reach one million by mid-2018) and has expanded voting rights to Hungarians living abroad. Similar to the Israeli policy, Hungary looks at citizenship as not only a legal registry of those residing in the country but more inclusively, considering as citizens those who live outside the borders of the country but are ethnically and culturally Hungarian by heritage. The government’s so-called “diaspora strategy” – i.e., emphasizing cultural, economic, and diplomatic support and cooperation – builds on the idea that Hungarians constitute a nation that is not confined by the borders of Hungary but based on shared national identity and cultural values regardless of place of birth. In other words, Hungary considers itself to be not only a country but a nation. We pursue that aim in this region as a stabilizing force, of course without any hostility towards other people and ethnic minorities in Hungary and the region. On the contrary!

The different national cultures that have inhabited Europe for centuries enrich the community of European countries. However, the culture of ethnic minorities will only be preserved if the European Union also recognizes the importance of protecting the rights of these vulnerable groups.