Magazine article Newsweek International

A Place to Call Home; Should All Ethnic Hungarians Be Granted Citizenship?

Magazine article Newsweek International

A Place to Call Home; Should All Ethnic Hungarians Be Granted Citizenship?

Article excerpt

Byline: William Underhill

History has been hard on Hungary. Just ask Miklos Patrubany. Like more than 1 million other ethnic Hungarians, the 52-year-old computer scientist lives in Transylvania, a scenic patch of Romania severed from the homeland after the first world war. For the last 1,000 years Transylvania, a cradle of the national culture, had been almost as Hungarian as paprika. "What happened to Hungary was a crime," Patrubany says of the country's dismemberment. "All Hungarians feel a sense of historic injustice."

An injustice they can't forget. As elsewhere in Eastern Europe's ethnic patchwork, yesterday's wrongs still color today's politics. And Patrubany, as president of the World Federation of Hungarians, is now heading a campaign to reunite the Hungarian nation, at least on paper. A 320,000-name petition has forced the government to stage a referendum on granting citizenship to all Hungarians living outside the country's borders. If voters approve the measure next month, the number of Hungarian passport holders could jump 20 percent, presenting the European Union with some 2 million new citizens. Hungary will have emotional redress; the EU will face one more challenge to integration.

Every good Hungarian loves to revile the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which broke up the defeated Austro-Hungarian empire, a superpower that stretched from the Adriatic coast to the Russian frontier. Under the treaty's terms, the newly independent Hungary was forced to cede more than half its people and most of its land to its neighbors, mainly today's Romania, Slovakia, Serbia and Ukraine. "This is an issue that's always on the political agenda and it's easy to understand why," says Istvan Toth of Tarki, a social-research company in Budapest. "What other country in history has given up two thirds of its territory?"

Decades of discrimination have fueled the grievance. If the return of democracy across the region has generally eased the plight of ethnic minorities, there are still gripes, often over the use of Hungarian in school or politics. Even in Slovakia, where a Hungarian party forms part of the ruling coalition, rival pols aren't above exploiting old nationalist sentiments. "You can still get votes by playing the [anti-]Hungarian card," says Zoltan Bara, a spokesman for the Party of Hungarian Coalition. The 300,000 ethnic Hungarians in northern Serbia allege repeated attacks by Serbs, often blamed on those displaced by the conflicts elsewhere in former Yugoslavia. …

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