The big deal about Hungary’s almost 1 million new citizens

Yes, 950,000 new Hungarian citizens in less than seven years. At first glance, Hungary’s numbers seem incredible for a country of about 10 million people, but it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén announced the latest figures, projecting that they will reach 1 million by mid-2018. Out of the 950 thousand new citizens, 835,000 were granted citizenship through naturalization and 115,000 through a simpler process, since their parents or grandparents were Hungarian citizens who emigrated from the country. Those who belonged to this latter group were born abroad and hence never before recognized as Hungarian citizens.

For non-Hungarians, this citizenship issue is sometimes hard to understand, particularly why it seems to stir such emotional reactions.

As a result of the peace agreement ending the First World War, the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary lost roughly 90 percent of her resources, 70 percent of her territory and 30 percent of her population. With the new borders, Hungary was put in a peculiar situation where she bordered herself because in nearly all of the neighboring countries, ethnic Hungarians inhabited in large numbers the communities near the border. The change created one of Europe’s largest ethnic minorities, and today, these dispersed ethnic Hungarians make up a global community approximately 5 million-strong.

When the Orbán Government came to power seven years ago, it sought to redress this loss and the failure of the Communist regime to recognize these people as Hungarian. To bring about that change, the new government opened the subject of citizenship and for guidance looked to successful examples from countries that had dealt with similar situations.

Similar to Israeli policy, Hungary looks at citizenship as not only a legal registry of those residing in the country but more inclusively, considering those who are ethnically and culturally Hungarian by heritage yet live outside the borders. For any person that fits into this category of Hungarian, an easier citizenship process is now available.

The almost 1 million new citizens, a 10 percent increase in Hungary’s population, means that these inclusive efforts have been well received by Hungarians all over the world, and the efforts to reconnect Hungary don’t end here. In addition to its naturalization policies, the government has also strengthened ties with Hungarians living in diaspora through cultural, economic, and diplomatic support and cooperation.

This 2010 policy, allowing for the fast-tracking of citizenship for ethnic Hungarians, has been an ambition since the regime change in 1990. The government’s so-called “diaspora strategy” builds on the idea that Hungarians constitute a nation that is not confined by the borders of Hungary.

“In the Kádár system,” said Deputy Prime Minister Semjén during the Hungarian Diaspora Committee’s session last November, “the Hungarian diaspora, which amounts to some 4.5-5 million people living outside of Hungary’s borders, was considered to be an enemy, rather than a step-child. Meanwhile, the current government accepts them as a family member.”

The Hungarian government welcomes with open arms Hungarians all over the world and intends to build bridges with the whole Hungarian populace, based on shared national identity and cultural values regardless of place of birth.

Every Hungarian is important to Hungary. Those considered Hungarian aren’t just residents of the country. Rather, they are inhabitants of a cultural identity and are ethnically part of the Hungarian nation. One of the great, indeed most heart-warming achievements of the Orbán Government is to see these people share the same outlook and desire to reconnect to Hungary.