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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Hungarians in Slovakia

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Slovakia Facts
Area:    49,055 sq. km.
Capital:    Bratisalva
Total Population:    582,000 (source: various, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Hungarians in Slovakia exhibit two factors that encourage rebellion: territorial concentration and generally high levels of group organization and cohesion. Continuing to suffer various types of discrimination, tensions between Hungarians and Slovaks have increased over the last few years. Although Slovak Hungarian parties have been part of the ruling democratic coalition since 1998, there have been increasing attempts by Slovak nationalist parties to limit the power of Hungarians in the central government. Nonetheless, official Slovak nationalism has declined as given evidence by the personalistic splits within the Slovak National Party (SNS) itself, leading to its failure to enter the parliament. In the absence of official discrimination, therefore, Hungarians are unlikely to engage in violence against the state.

While far from being eliminated, the risk factors for protest have also declined considerably since the 1998 elections. The passage of the language law and the reinstatement of the various protections given Hungarians and other minorities in education have eliminated some of the most pressing issues for the Hungarian community. In addition, the new government has shown a willingness to conform to the norms of the European Union in exchange for inclusion.

Despite these positive changes, however, some issues remain unresolved. Discrimination against Hungarians persists. Much of it is based on the entrenched anti-Hungarian feelings shared by many Slovaks who fear the magyarization of the southern region and possible discrimination in the hands of Hungarians should they gain more autonomy. Specifically, the Hungarians in Slovakia endure a higher unemployment rate and live in a greater degree of poverty compared to the majority Slovaks in other parts of the country. These issues may linger for many years, providing some potential for future conflicts.


Analytic Summary

Virtually all ethnic Hungarians, or Magyars, live in geographically contiguous areas of southern Slovakia (GROUPCON = 3). This region, bordering Hungary, is approximately 3,500 square miles, and its population is 61.2 percent ethnic Hungarian. Ethnic Hungarians exceed 50 percent of the population in 432 townships. Nationwide, they constitute the largest ethnic minority in the country.

Culturally and linguistically distinct from the dominant Slovak population (LANG = 1; CUSTOM = 1), the present-day ethnic Hungarians are what remains of the Hungarians who politically and culturally dominated Slovakia for about 1,000 years (most recently in the form of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) until 1918, when Czechoslovakia was created (AUTLOST = 1). Many Slovak nationalists resent the long history of political subordination to Hungary and view the remaining Hungarian minority in Slovakia not merely as a minority but as the dispossessed former masters.

During the communist regime, Slovak nationalism was largely kept in check by the strongly centralist Prague regime. The 1968 switch to a federal arrangement gave greater scope to Slovak nationalism, however. New policies of assimilation included progressive Slovakization of education, elimination of Hungarian place-names from signs, bans on using Hungarian in administrative dealings and in institutions and workplaces, and pressure to Slovakize Hungarian names. Nonetheless, the most significant exclusionary factor in Hungarians’ social situation under the communist regime was most likely their own refusal to integrate into the Czechoslovak system and to learn the language. Without a fluency in the official language, their economic and political opportunities were severely limited.

After the 1989 "velvet revolution," nationalist sentiment surged in Slovakia. This resulted in a series of Slovak laws restricting the use of the Hungarian language and what was perceived by the Hungarians as a campaign advocating racial discrimination against them by many Slovak politicians and the Slovak media. This anti-Hungarian sentiment was made worse by the elimination of the moderating Czech influence after the 1993 Czechoslovak split. However, with divisions within the nationalist Slovak camp, the situation of ethnic Hungarians has improved. They are well-represented in the central government and do not face political discrimination (POLDIS06 = 0). However, due to higher levels of poverty in Hungarian areas, they face economic disadvantages of neglect with no remedial policies (ECDIS06 = 2). In addition, Hungarians face language restrictions (CULPO206 = 1) and some religious discrimination (CULPO106 = 1)

Most Hungarian grievances focus on cultural and economic issues. In the area of linguistics, major issues and grievances include: the right to use Hungarian names; the right to use bilingual signs in areas with large ethnic Hungarian populations; the right to use Hungarian in all official venues; and the right to education in the Hungarian language, including the establishment of a Hungarian university in Slovakia. Another major complaint is over discriminatory compensation laws for the losses suffered by ethnic Hungarians resulting from the Benes decrees of 1945 (a series of orders issued by the Czechoslovak president Eduard Benes that branded ethnic Hungarians and Germans with collective guilt).

While in the past a small portion of ethnic Hungarian leaders advocated secession from Slovakia and many ethnic Hungarians desired a greater degree of autonomy and self-determination within the Hungarian areas in southern Slovakia, from 2004-2006 political grievances were not expressed. However, Hungarians did vocalize a desire for greater educational and cultural autonomy (ECGR06 = 2; CULGR06 = 2).

The struggle over these issues, for the most part, takes place within the political arena (GOJPA06 = 2). Ethnic Hungarians are represented by several conventional political parties. The most influential one – the Hungarian Coalition Party (Strana madarskej koalicie, SMK) – established in 1998, joins together the Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement and Hungarian Civic Party. Previously active pro-autonomy Hungarians had formed the Association of the Zitny Ostrov Towns and Villages (ZMOZO) consisting mostly of local ethnic Hungarian officials from southern Slovakia; however, this organization seems no longer to be active.

By most accounts, day-to-day relations between Hungarians and Slovaks in southern Slovakia remain cordial. In fact, many accuse nationalistic politicians on both sides for stirring up trouble by playing the “ethnic card” for their own political purposes. Political tension rose in 2001, when SMK threatened to leave the government over disagreement on a law that would allow Hungary to provide economic aid to ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia (PROT01 = 2). The crisis was resolved in 2003 when the law was approved (PROT02-3 = 1). From 2004 to 2006, ethnic Hungarians engaged in several incidents of verbal protest (PROT04-06 = 1). Ethnic Hungarians have not engaged in violence against the state (REB04-06 = 0).

While in the past, the group had received ideological support from the Hungarian government, as well as from several non-governmental and regional organizations such as the Human Rights Watch, EU, CE, and OSCE, no material, political, or military support has been offered in recent years (STASUP04-06 = 0; NSASUP04-06 = 0). Although the Hungarian news broadcast Duma TV also has stated its intentions to create a channel named Autonomy for the ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, there is no evidence that the channel was actually created between 2004 and 2006 (KINSUP04-06 = 0).



Deets, Stephen, and Sherrill Stroschein. 2005. "Dilemmas of autonomy and liberal pluralism: examples involving Hungarians in Central Europe." Nations and Nationalism 11:2. 285-305.

Harris, Erika. 2007. "Moving Politics beyond the State: The Hungarian Minority in Slovakia." Perspectives: Central European Review of International Affairs 28:43-62.

Lexis/Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

U.S. Department of State. Country Report on Human Rights: Slovak Republic. 1999-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006