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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin

Chapter 1


General Outlines

Out of the total 15 million Hungarians in the world - a number corresponding to the population of Australia - 90% lives in the Carpathian Basin, on the historical territory of Hungary (Tab. 1). There are 3.3 million Hungarians living outside the borders of present-day Hungary, forming, apart from the 15.1 million ethnic Russians, the greatest minority in Europe, having the same size as the population of Ireland and outnumbering the population of around 80 countries in the world (e.g. Mongolia, Libya) (Tab. 2).

If the number of people living in minority status is compared to the number of their entire ethnic group, Hungarians are among the first reaching a rate of 25.9%. In Europe, only the Albanians and the Irish are above the Hungarians on the list - with a proportion of 30-42% of the ethnic group living outside the borders of the motherland (Tab. 3).

During the period following the Hungarian Conquest (896) in the Carpathian Basin, the natural environment and the capacity of the land to support a large population were the most decisive factors influencing the limits of the area populated by the forefathers of the Hungarians. At this time, Hungarians mostly inhabited the steppe and lightly forested areas, strategically important valleys and hills that reminded them of the natural conditions of their previous homeland, and at the same time suited their half-nomadic way of life. Later on, with the changing of the lifestyle to an agricultural way of life and with the demographic increase, the Hungarian ethnical borders were extended to the verge of the high mountainous regions (Fig. 1).

In the times of the Ottoman (Turkish) occupation the demographic losses were proportionate to the geopolitical and geographical position of the population. The diminishing of the Hungarian ethnical area and the shrinking of its borders was to be felt mostly in the Southern parts, that is in the neighborhood of the Ottoman Empire, and in the flatlands and in zones strategically unfavorable like in some valleys, or basins (such as the Transylvanian Basin). The present-day Székely[2] ethnic block owe their existence to its favorable natural situation besides its former autonomous status.

The next stage in the dynamics of the Hungarian ethnical territory is found in the mass migrations of the 18th century, following the evening in number of the population, the economic-financial basis, and the distribution of the agricultural cultivable area. From the ethnical peripheries masses of people moved to the great basins of central location, the Great Hungarian Plain or the Transylvanian Basin formerly depopulated or sparsely inhabited, but having a great productivity and rich in different natural resources.

The results of this process were the dislocation of the Hungarian-Slovak, Hungarian-Ruthenian, Hungarian-Rumanian ethnic borders at the expenses of the ethnic Hungarians (Fig. 2). The present-day Hungarian rural settlement area did not significantly change since the 18th century, only occasionally was it violently modified (e.g. deportations between 1945-1948, genocide in 1944, etc.) or slightly changed by the natural and forced assimilation.

We cannot speak of Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian Basin until 1920, the year of the peace treaty of Trianon, the partitioning of the historical territory of Hungary. The detached areas constituted an organic part of Hungary from the 10th century up to 1920. From then on, Hungarians will live first in five, then from 1991 in eight different countries: Hungary, Slovakia (beginning with 1993), Ukraine (Transcarpathia), Rumania (Transylvania), Yugoslavia - Serbia (Vojvodina), Croatia, Slovenia (Transmura Region) - and Austria (Burgenland). During the past seven decades this dismembered situation determined their destiny and their statistical number registered by the Czechoslovak, Rumanian, Yugoslav etc. official censuses.

According to the data of the last Hungarian census (1910) on the total territory of historical Hungary 33% of the total number of Hungarians living in the Carpathian Basin - that is approximately 3.3 million people - lived on the territories that now are outside the new Hungarian national borders (Tab. 4).

In the period following the peace treaty of Trianon these people experienced the changing of status from that of majority to that of minority - for the first time in history - thus becoming the target for the anti-Hungarian revenge of Slovaks, Rumanians, and Serbs. Their geographical position also changed fundamentally, as the areas inhabited by them - with the only exception of Székely regions - had all formerly been in the central regions of the Hungarian state. After 1920 these areas became massively militarized frontier zones at the periphery of the neighboring countries. According to the data of the National Office for Refugees (Budapest) ca. 350,000 Hungarians fled to the new Hungarian territory in the period between 1918-1924. The greatest part (197,035) left territories annexed to Rumania, others (106,841) came from areas given to Czechoslovakia, and the rest (44,903) emigrated from their native lands then belonging to the Kingdom of the Serbs-Croats-Slovenes (Rónai A. 1938).

Ethnical status is a very subjective social structural element. It relies on the personal beliefs of the individual, and is much influenced by the prevailing ideological and political system. For this reason the number of individuals making up the different ethnic groups is determined, - besides the natural population movement and migrations - by the fluctuations of the declaration of ethnicity at the censuses, by demographic processes, such as assimilation, and by the differences of the statistic data referring to the mother tongue, the language used at home, ethnical origins, etc. Between the two wars the most striking phenomenon in this respect was that Jews and Gypsies were listed in different categories in Czechoslovakia and Rumania. This diminished the number of those people who considered themselves Hungarians mostly in Transcarpathia, Slovakia and Transylvania as compared to the statistic reports in 1910. An important role in the rapid statistical decrease in number of the Hungarians now living in minority was the fact that the quite numerous bilingual and bicultural groups, living in the contact zones of the different ethnic groups, in the borderlands declared themselves in the new situation as Slovaks, Ruthenians (now considered Ukrainians), Rumanians, Serbs, or Croats but never Hungarians. This was the case with the population of the area around Nyitra, Érsekújvár, Léva, Kassa and Tõketerebes in Slovakia, the western part of Nagyszõlõs district in Transcarpathia, and certain areas in Szatmár and Szilágy counties in Rumania. Compared to these factors, the decrease in number of the Hungarians living in smaller communities (in Burgenland or Slavonia) was less considerable. The above presented phenomena led to the diminishing of Hungarians mostly in Transylvania and Slovakia, and to some extent in Croatia, Burgenland and Transcarpathia. (Tab. 4, Figs. 3, 4)

Between 1938 and 1941 there was a stop in the rapid decrease in number of the Hungarians from the Carpathian Basin when areas with a compact Hungarian population like present-day Southern Slovakia, Transcarpathia, Northern Transylvania, Bác-ka, Southeast Baranya, and the Transmura Region were given back to Hungary. On these territories with the appearance of Hungarian government officials (public servants, police force, army), with the colonization of Hungarians from Bukovina, and the declaration of bilingual groups and of the majority of the Jews to belong to the Hungarian ethnic community the number of the Hungarians increased enormously and strikingly, especially in the present territory of Transcarpathia, Slovakia, and Transylvania.

After the Second World War, according to the census data of the neighboring states, the total number of the Hungarian minorities shrunk from 3.2 million (in 1941) to 2.4 million. Among the main objective factors contributing to this decrease, migrations (flights, expulsions, or deportations) are to be mentioned between 1944-1948. To the present-day Hungarian territory 125,000 Hungarians fled - or were deported - from Rumania, 120,500 from Czechoslovakia, 45,500 from Yugoslavia, 25,000 from Transcarpathia (belonging then to the Soviet Union, now to Ukraine). Simultanously, between 1945-1947, the Czechoslovakian government deported 44,000 Hungarians to the Czech regions, from where Germans had fled or had been deported, in order to press for the slow Czechoslovak-Hungarian "population exchange". Besides the emigrations and the casualties during the war, then the annihilation of the Jewish Hungarians - the statistic number of Hungarians in the neighboring countries was mostly diminished by the fact that those groups, whose awareness of nationality was not very strong and as a consequence, was always vacillating, now declared themselves to belong to the majority population. In South Slovakia, however, there was a so-called "re-Slovakization", and the general anti-Hungarian atmosphere also contributed to the diminishing number of Hungarians, especially to be felt in Slovakia, Transcarpathia and Transylvania.

In areas belonging to former Yugoslavia (Bácska, Bánát), in spite of the vendetta of the Serbians in October-November 1944, which had claimed approximately 20,000 innocent civil victims, the number of Hungarians was dropping far slower. This fact was partly explained by the Germans, who prefered declaring themselves Hungarians out of precaution. During the last 40 years the number of Hungarian minorities in the statistic reports, was greatly influenced by the specific socio-economical system of the different countries, their different policy towards the ethnic minorities, or the "maturity" of the major population in each country.

In Serbia (Vojvodina), Croatia and the Transmura Region in Slovenia the number of Hungarians either increased or remained unchanged up to the 1960s. From then on with the possibility to work in the West, or with the appearance of the so-called "Yugoslav" nationality in the census reports, the number of Hungarians in the former Yugoslavia started to diminish enormously. The favourable natural increase of Hungarians in Transylvania was counterbalanced - first of all in the important cities, towns - by the "nation-state" programme of the Rumanian state and the resulting policy towards minorities, as well as by the statistic manipulations. In Slovakia, in parallel with the fading of the memory of the shocking events that had happened during the late 40s the number of those who dared to declare themselves Hungarians increased greatly during the 1950s. To this a high rate of natural increase was added, but this growth suddenly dropped to a minimum from the 1970s on. The greatest Hungarian demographical increases in the Carpathian Basin, during the period from 1970 to 1980, were registered in the following regions: Beregszász district (12.7%), Hargita and Kovászna counties (11.7% and respectively 10.5%) and Dunaszerdahely district (18.7%).

According to the different censuses from the 1990s, the number of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin was 12.9 million out of which 2.7 million are living outside the borders of the Republic of Hungary. Minority organizations, however, estimate the number of Hungarians in the area is 3.2 million. This makes up 24.9% of the total number of Hungarians in the Basin.

The majority of Hungarians living in minority are found in Rumania (1.9-1.6 million people), Slovakia is next, with 653,000-567,000 people, followed by Serbia (360,000-344,000). When speaking about the number of Hungarians living in different neighboring countries, it is worth touching upon the much used term of "ethnical reciprocity". This is much more important because the situation of the respective minority in Hungary has played and still does play an immense role in the granting of rights for the Hungarians in the neighboring states.

As one can see from Tab. 5, one can speak about ethnical reciprocity at the very most in the case of Hungary-Croatia, -Slovenia and -Austria, for only in these cases can the number of minorities and their demographic and ethno-geographic situation be compared on both sides. At the same time, as the latest census reports show, the Hungarian minorities in Serbia, Rumania and Slovakia are 189, 151, and respectively 54 times greater than the corresponding minorities in Hungary. Besides the differences in the historical development of each minority this great disproportionateness makes the comparison between the situation of Hungarians in Slovakia, Rumania, Serbia and that of the Slovaks, Rumanians and Serbians in Hungary impossible. Moreover, this lack of symmetry in number only further increased the vulnerability of the Hungarians in Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugoslavia. Their political situation is more and more similar to that of a political hostage during the past 70 years. Although the number of Ruthenians and Ukrainians is very small in Hungary, the lack of a balanced ethnical reciprocity does not in any way influence the good relations between the young Ukrainian state and Hungary. All the more, the Ukrainians have realized that in view of an approach to Western Europe, there is a need for this western bridge (Transcarpathia) without ethnic tensions, and for good political and economical relations with Hungary, respectively with the Hungarian minority inside the Ukrainian borders.

The largest Hungarian communities beyond the Hungarian borders are (with census data reffering to 1990): Marosvásárhely (83,200), Kolozsvár (74,900), Nagyvárad (74,200), Szatmárnémeti (53,900), Szabadka (39,700), Székelyudvarhely (39,000) and Csíkszereda (38,000) (Tab. 6, Fig. 5).

The territories, where Hungarians are in absolute majority, (over 50 %) are found mostly in the areas adjacent to the present-day Hungarian borders, as well as in the Székely regions (Fig. 6). The main, almost compact blocks of Hungarians are found in these areas in Slovakia: in the Csallóköz region, around Párkány, Ipolyság, Fülek, Tornalja and in the Karst of Gömör-Torna and in the Bodrogköz region; in Ukraine: the area between Ungvár and Nagyszõlõs; in Rumania: Székely regions and the frontier area of the counties of Szatmár and North Bihar; in Serbia: Northeast Bácska. In these regions, the Hungarian territorial autonomy could be made possible, taking into consideration the ethnic and economical conditions (Fig. 7).

The fact that the regions with a majority Hungarian population are found not farther than 60 - 70 km from the borders, can be looked at in more than one way. For the Hungarian minority, this is favourable, since the ethnical identity and the purity of the mother tongue, can be best preserved in the close neighborhood of Hungary through permanent - and most of the time exclusive - relations (personal, mass communicational, etc.).

The situational advantages of the Hungarian minority as compared to the Ruthenians, Rumanians or Slovaks who live in the same areas together with them - resulting from its permanent relations with the mother country, and their bilinguality - manifested itself during the last years in the frontier developing of the market economy, especially in Transcarpathia, Transylvania and Slovakia. Through their strong political organizations and parties, Hungarians have an important role in the political life of Slovakia, Transcarpathia, Rumania (Transylvania), and Serbia.

In the case of Slovakia, Rumania, and Serbia (Yugoslavia) the existence of frontier zones with a majority Hungarian population, can be judged in two ways. From the point of view of the (Slovakian, Rumanian, Serbian) nationalist forces, which aspire to create a homogenous national state these areas are incredibly dangerous and unsTab.le. They regard them as the "fifth column" of Hungarian irredentism and revanchism and thus as areas inhabited by the inner enemy. So the ethnical loosening up and the homogenization of these geopolitically dangerous areas is a most pressing mission. According to the other opinion - which is not very widespread yet - these areas will not be the scenes of readjustments of borders and nationalistic fights in the near future. On the contrary, following the examples of Western Europe, they will be - must be - the means of international integration (based on their bilingual population) and of an ever closer cooperation between the different national economies. Such tendencies have been observed lately in Slovenia because of its minorities living in Austria and Italy, and even in Ukraine, in the frontier zone with Hungary.

In our opinion, the over 3 million Hungarians, who live outside the territory of Hungary and are bilingual and bicultural, will play an important role as mediators in the political and economic co-operation among the nations in the area. Hopefully, it will happen in the not very distant future.

[2] Székelys (Hungarian: Székelyek, German: Szeklers, Rumanian: Secui, Latin: Siculi). Hungarian ethnographical group in the middle of Rumania, in Southeast Transylvania. Their ethnic origin is a controversial question. During the 10th and 11th century they were lived as border guards and auxiliary troops in dispers groups along the borders of the Hungarian settlement area (eg. Banat, Syrmia, Southwest Transdanubia (Dunántúl), present South Slovakia, Bihar county). Later, in the 12th and 13th century the majority of them was concentrated and settled in the by Patzinak and Mongol invasions most endangered, eastern borderland of Hungary, in their present - at that time very underpopulated, wooded - settlement area. As a border guard, privilegized population they have lived till the 14th century in "clan" organization, after that in seven districts ("szék") under the leadership of the bailiff (Hungarian: "ispán") of all Székelys, of the local representative of the king of Hungary in power. Since the Middle Ages their increasing, by economical and political reasons motivated emigration from the overpopulated and underdeveloped Székely Region to Moldavia demographical reinforced the Roman Catholic Csángó-Hungarians of Moldavia.

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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin