Regions, Minorities and European Integration: A Case Study on Hungarians in the Kosice Region, Slovakia

By Vilagi, Aneta | Romanian Journal of Political Science, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Regions, Minorities and European Integration: A Case Study on Hungarians in the Kosice Region, Slovakia


Vilagi, Aneta, Romanian Journal of Political Science


Abstract

The report presented a case of the influence of European integration on the political and socioeconomic status of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia. Based on the historical background and the analysis of empirical findings, we tried to test a set of hypotheses: a) the promotion of human rights and the protection of minorities emphasized in the process of EU enlargement reinforces the influence of the ethnic Hungarians political representation from two points of view: it empowers the political representation and it strengthens the negotiating position of the SMK in the promotion of minority interests; b) ethnicbased political representation reinforces divisions over regional territorial reforms and control over local government institutions along national-ethnic lines; c) regional economic and institutional resources transferred to subnational units in the context of the launch of EU cohesion policy reinforce a redefinition of minority-majority interests around economic development goals; d) there is a challenge to nationalism and for the minority the improvement of protection of its rights and the decrease of nationalism supported its better identification with Slovakia based on the citizenship principle.

Key words:

minority-majority interests, inter-communal cooperation, cross-border cooperation

1. Introduction

The border region of Kosice in the southeastern part of Slovakia is home to the most numerous and politically significant minority population of about 85,415 ethnic Hungarians, who inhabit the region together with the Slovak majority (1). The Kosice self-governing region (Kosicky samospravny kraj) is one of eight self-governing regions in Slovakia, and consists of 439 self-governing communities (2) (obec) from which 17 have the status of a town. Due to the dual model of territorial administration in Slovakia, the same area comprises both a state administration unit--the Kosice region (Kosicky kraj), and eleven territorial districts (Kosice I--IV, Kosice--okolie, Gelnica, Michalovce, Roznava, Spisska Nova Ves and Trebisov).

The precise area inhabited by the Hungarian minority forms about a 50 km broad strip along the state border with Hungary. It is a territory with a troubled history, (3) which has fuelled many nationalistic passions. One of the reasons for the creation of these districts was to maintain ethnic Hungarians as a minority within them.

The Hungarian minority in Slovakia has been a minority with a strong ethnic consciousness, common identity and culture from the very beginning of its minority status. As a part of the previous majority nation within the Austro--Hungarian Empire, the ethnic Hungarians were also very well politically mobilised. However, since the Benes decrees (4) were issued in August 1945 until 1987 (5) they had not been allowed to participate in public political life as representatives of the minority. With the political change of 1989, a new opportunity structure was created for the minority representatives so that the ethnic Hungarians' political parties had mushroomed until the strongest ones created a common platform--Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) (6).

Despite Slovakia's transition to democracy from 1989, the relationship of the Slovakian majority to the Hungarian minority deteriorated due to the entrance of the nationalistic coalition into government in 1992. After Slovak independence in 1993, the governmental policies were linked to nation-state building and national homogenisation. Due to that fact, the political claims of the Hungarian minority representatives were perceived by Slovak politicians, as well as by large segments of the population, as a threat to national unity.

The turning point in state-minority relations, were parliamentary elections in 1998--which were to a large extent influenced by the process of European integration. At that time the European Union and other international organisations pushed for a greater integration of minority rights into the Slovak legal system and political life. …

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