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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin

Chapter 6


The most popular Hungarian name for Burgenland, the easternmost and also youngest province of Austria, used by the Hungarians of that region is Õrvidék (`border-guard region') - not to be confused with the name of the small region of Upper (Felsõ-) Õrség. At the end of the First World War, this West Hungarian Transdanubian territory was referred to as "Vierburgenland" (the region of four counties), including the German names of Pozsony, Moson, Sopron and Vas counties: Pressburg, Wieselburg, Ödenburg and Eisenburg. After the Czech troops occupied Pozsony City in January 1919, only the name of "Dreiburgenland" (the region of three counties) was used. In 1921 it finally became part of Austria under the name of Burgenland. The name is appropiate, for numerous members of the historical Hungarian border-fortress chain (Fraknó, Kabold, Lánzsér, Léka, Borostyánkõ, Szalónak, Németújvár, etc.) can be found on the 166 kilometer-long territory, narrowing to a width of 5 kilometers near Sopron.

The number of the Hungarian descendants of the medieval defenders of the former western Hungarian borderland, mainly inhabiting the Upper (Felsõ-) Õrség region and Felsõpulya, numbered 6763 according to 1991 Austrian "Every-day language" ("Umgangssprache" in German) census data.


Considering its physical-geographical conditions, the province is open toward the East (Hungary) and relatively closed toward the West (inner part of Austria). Among its Hungarian population, those of Upper (Felsõ-) Õrség region inhabit the area next to the Pinka and Szék Streams flowing through the South Burgenland Hill and Terrace Land and the inhabitants of Felsõpulya live in the Felsõpulya Basin surrounded by the Kõszeg, Lanzsér and Sopron Mountains (Fig. 41). The rest of the Hungarians live mostly in Kismarton - with a population number of 10,349 in 1991 - the capital of Burgenland at the southern foot of the Lajta Mountains, and in Fertõzug region located between the Hungarian border and the Lake Fertõ (Neusiedler See).

The significant rivers of the region are the Lajta, Vulka, Csáva, Répce, Gyöngyös, Pinka, Strém, Lapincs and Rába. Its internationally renowned still waters include Lake Fertõ, the third largest lake in Europe. The 35 kilometer-long lake, gathers the waters of Northern Burgenland. The pebble basin of Lake Fertõ, a great tourist attraction and also referred to as the Lake of the Viennese, dates back to the Ice Age and is covered by close to one-hundred small lakes - most of them part of a nature conservation area.


In 1880, 4.2 % of the 265 thousand inhabitants of Burgenland's present-day territory, or 11,000 people claimed Hungarian to be their native language (Tab. 25). The number of Hungarians crowded into linguistic enclaves in the 16th century was dwarfed by the number of native German speakers of 209,000 people. In the last third of the 19th century and at the turn of the century, natural population growth, assimilation and migration from the inner Hungarian regions for example to the manors of Moson county more than doubled the number of native Hungarian speakers by the 1910 census. At this time, the population proportion of Hungarians exceeded 90 % in Alsóõr, Õrisziget and Felsõpulya - today united with Középpulya (Tab. 26). After elimination of the noble tenants, which secured the survival of the ethnic Hungarian enclave of Upper (Felsõ-) Õrség for centuries, the proportion of the mainly Calvinist Hungarian population of Felsõõr, the market center of the region, fell to 77.7 % in 1910.

Due to the settlement of the Hungarian public employee stratum, the presence of Hungarian-speaking armed forces and the language change of the local "Germans", Királyhida, the busiest former Austrian-Hungarian border crossing point on the right bank of the Lajta, also appeared to have a majority Hungarian population (54.3%). A large number of Hungarians - also in majority - inhabited the manors of the majority German populated Fertõzug region (the vicinity of Boldogasszony, Pomogy, Mosontétény, Mosontarcsa, Mosonbánfalva, Féltorony, etc.).

After World War I, the Peace Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye signed on September 10, 1919 virtually ceded the present-day territory of Burgenland, Sopron and its surroundings, and the villages of the Pinka Valley in present-day Hungary to Austria. As a result of Hungary's vehement protest and opposition and following the plebiscite in Sopron, only the majority German populated territory with an area of approximately 4,000 square kilometers came under Austrian administration. Due to the resettlement of the non-local, Hungarian state employees to the new Hungarian state territory as a result of the change in state power, the number of Hungarians according to 1923 Austrian native language census data dropped from the 1910 figure of 26 thousand to 15 thousand (Tab. 25, Fig.42). This dramatic decrease primarily affected the "non-native" dispersed Hungarian communities outside the Õrség region and Felsõpulya. The number of these Hungarians decreased between 1910 and 1923 from 20,235 to 9,938. Later on, between the two world wars, there was no longer such an enormous Hungarian migration loss. In the 1934 census, the statistical number of the Hungarians were decreased mainly by the separate ethnic categorization of the mostly Hungarian speaker Gypsies inhabiting in the surroundings of prominently native Hungarian-speaking Felsõõr and Felsõpulya. With respect to the statistical records and identity consciousness of the Hungarian nation inhabiting the foot of the Alps, the German fascist occupation between 1938 and 1945 - during which Hungarians were treated as dangerous foreigners who were to be annihilated - had a more catastrophic effect.

Due to the war casualties, the Cold War events, and the building of "Stalinist-Rákosiist" Communism in Hungary behind the iron curtain, the number of Hungarians, who fled the simplified accusations of the Hungarians = Communists in this region dropped to half of the pre-war figure according to the 1951 census. Of course, the fact that by this time the census did not ask the native language, but rather inquired about the "every-day language" - the language generally spoken by the individual. In the case of a Hungarian living in minority in a German-speaking environment, this was and is the German language.

During the 1950s and 1960s, with the recovery and industrialization of the Austrian economy, there was an increase in the spatial and social mobility (migration from village to town, becoming from peasant to worker, from ethnic Hungarian to Austrian of German identity) of the population (including the Hungarians) isolated from the natural Eastern urban centers of attraction (Sopron, Kõszeg, Szombathely). The unprecedented social change disrupted century-old village and ethnic communities. Despite the fact that post-1951 Austrian statistics on linguistic structure can be used only with reservations, the effect of increased spatial mobility and immigration from German majority regions on centrally located Felsõõr and Felsõpulya are well-traceable (Tab. 26). On the other hand, the Roman Catholic Alsóõr and the Lutheran Õrisziget could preserve their dominant Hungarian ethnic character.

Thanks to the favourable political and economical events in Hungary during the last years (e.g. demolition of the iron-curtain, extremely increased international tourism, free elections, change of the socio-economic system) gradually reshaped the Austrian image of the Hungarians and Hungary. Therefore at the time of the 1991 census by 63 percent more inhabitants declared themselves as Hungarian speaker in Burgenland (6,763) than in 1981 (4,147).


Of the 6,763 Hungarians recorded in the 1991 statistics, 47% inhabit the settlements of Upper (Felsõ-) Õrség region, and 9% live in Felsõpulya, the seat of the district located between Kõszeg and Sopron Mountains. A considerable number of Hungarians also occupy provincial seat Kismarton and certain settlements of the Nezsider district (Boldogasszony, Mosonbánfalva, Miklóshalma, etc.) (Fig. 42).

In order of size, the largest communities of the small Hungarian population of Burgenland include Felsõõr (1,592), Alsóõr (669), Felsõpulya (631), Kismarton (257), Õrisziget (223), and Boldogasszony (215).

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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin