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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin

Chapter 2


In the most recent census held in the Slovak Republic (March 3, 1991), according to the ethnicity 567,296 and according to the mother tongue 608,221 inhabitants declared themselves to be Hungarian. Similar to census data of Hungary and other countries, the above-mentioned figure differs from the estimated size of the given ethnic group, in this case the number of people claiming and cultivating Hungarian national traditions and culture. In the case of Slovakia, according to ethno-historical, demographic and migration statistics, but apart from the linguistical assimilation in our opinion the estimated number of the Hungarian native speaker could be 653,000 in 1991. This figure corresponds to the population of the Hungarian counties of Gyõr-Moson-Sopron and Komárom. According to the latest census data, the Hungarian national minority represents 10.7% of Slovakia's population, 4.4% of the total number of Hungarians in the Carpathian basin and 22.3% of the Hungarians of the Carpathian Basin living beyond Hungary's borders.


A majority of the Hungarian national minority of Slovakia lives on the plains (62%). Their settlements can be found along the Danubian (55%) and East-Slovakian (7%) lowlands. With the exception of the alluvial soil along larger rivers, the Hungarian-inhabited plains almost entirely used for agriculture are characterized by meadow soil (southern part of Csallóköz[1], along the river Dudvág and Bodrogköz[2]) and chernozem (northern part of Csallóköz, the regions between Vág-Nyitra and Zsitva-Garam). From the viewpoint of the Carpathian Basin, the Danubian Lowland can be considered as part of the Little Hungarian Plain (Kisalföld). Its most important rivers are the Danube, Little-Danube and Vág, their floodplains bordered by groves. The Nyitra, Zsitva, Dudvág considered tributaries of the Vág, are also worth mentioning. Csallóköz and the territory between the Little Danube and Vág are excellent for agricultural production and play a significant role in the republic's food-supply. (Fig. 8)

One-third of the Hungarians inhabit hills (along the Garam and Ipoly Rivers) and the Ipoly, Losonc, Rima and Kassa basins. In adapting to the hilly environment, the majority of settlements in these regions (Bars, Hont, Nógrád, Gömör and Abaúj) remained in the "small and tiny village" category. This creates special difficulties in the supply of the communities with fundamental institutions. These hilly regions, covered mostly by brown earth and brown forest soil, contain a few important rivers (Garam, Ipoly, Sajó, Hernád) and brooks (Szikince, Kürtös, Rima, Balog, etc.).

Only one of out of twenty Hungarians in Slovakia inhabit the highlands. A majority of them live among the rendzina soilcovered dolomite and limestone cliffs such as the Gömör-Torna (Slovakian) Karst, the Rozsnyó basin, and the Karancs-Medves Region with bazalt cones (Somoskõ Mt., Ragács Mt., the hill of Béna etc.) in the southern corners of Slovakia's Nógrád and Gömör. The most important water sources of the above-mentioned regions are the Gortva, Torna and Bódva brooks.


By the year of the first Hungarian census that gathered "mother tongue" data (December 31, 1880), the percentage of Hungarians in the population of Slovakia's present day territory decreased to 23.1%, numbering 574,862 persons (Tab. 7.). By this time, the dynamic shift of the Hungarian-Slovak linguistic border towards the south, at the expenses of the Hungarians had slowed down and sTab.ilized along the Pozsony-Galánta-Érsekújvár-Nyitra-Léva-Losonc-Rozsnyó-Jászó-Sátoraljaújhely-Ungvár line. In the Nyitra-Komárom-Léva triangle and around Kassa and Tõketerebes, however the century-old ethnic process brought about linguistic peninsulas and enclaves with strongly mixed ethnic structures. The population of these areas became actively bilingual and bicultural. In later censuses in the period of Hungarian national economic prosperity near the turn of the 19th century, a growing number of the Jewish, German and part of the urban Slovak population of these areas demonstrated an increased willingness to associate themselves with the state-forming Hungarian ethnic community.

The fact that between 1880 and 1910 the number of the Hungarian population increased by 306,000 people, its share surpassing 30 per cent by 1910, can be attributed mainly to the self-declaration as Hungarians of the assimilated Jews, Germans and Slovaks. The growth of the Hungarian population was the most spectacular in the urban settlements of Kassa, Pozsony, Zólyom, Aranyosmarót, Nyitra, etc. (Tab. 8, Fig.9).

In order to understand better the significant changes in "mother tongue" statistics, it is necessary to observe the number and percentage of the so-called bi- or multi-lingual population whose ethnic affiliation is not easily determined. On the territory of present-day Slovakia, in 1910 33% of the Hungarians and 18% of the Slovaks belonged to this polyglot category. Among present urban settlements, the percentage of those who, based on language, could be considered equally Slovak or Hungarian was especially high in Jolsva, Vágsellye (70-75%), Kassa, Ógyalla and Verebély (30-40%). The same phenomenon was observed in the rural settlements around Kassa and Tõketerebes, and the area between Nyitra and Verebély (35-45%).

In 1920, as a result of the events of the First World War and the Peace Treaty of Trianon, the territory of present-day Slovakia - with the exception of the environment of Oroszvár - was officially detached from Hungary and ceded to Czechoslovakia. Following the changes in the state authorities - till 1924 - approximately 88,000 ethnic Hungarians (administrative and military personnel, landowners, etc.) moved to the new Hungarian state territory (Rónai A. 1938). At the same time, approximately 72,000 Czech military personnel, civil servants and investors immigrated to the territory of Slovakia.

By the census 1930 the number and percentage of Hungarians significantly decreased by 300,000 or 12.6 % comparing with census data 1910 (Tab. 7, Fig. 10). All this mainly was due to the statistical assimilation of those with uncertain ethnic identity and those with two or three ethnic affiliations, the partial assimilation of the former voluntarily "Magyarized" urban inhabitants of Jewish and German ethnic origin into the new state-forming ethnic group of "Czechoslovaks", as well as statistical manipulations, pressure on the Hungarians at the time of the census, separation of around 47,000 Hungarians into the "foreigner" statistical cathegory (Popély Gy. 1991). Grouping the large, dominantly Hungarian-speaking Jewish and Gypsy population into a separate statistical ethnic category also contributed to this decrease. The Hungarians of the Nyitra region became an enclave, the continuous Hungarian-language territory along the Ipoly river was severed between Balassagyarmat and Nagykürtös, and the Hungarian-language enclaves situated east of Kassa and southwest of Tõketerebes almost completely disappeared in the Czechoslovakian statistics. At the same time and as part of the Czech nationalist land reform, Czech and Slovak village colonies were esTab.lished along the entire length of the Hungarian-language territory such as Hviezdoslavov, Miloslavov, Lipové, Srobárová, Lipovany and Bottovo.

In the originally Hungarian majority-populated towns along the linguistic border, the settling of ethnic-"Czechoslovak" and -German (from the Czech Sudetenland) military and ethnic-"Czechoslovak" civil service (Kõvágó J. 1946) complemented by the "Czechoslovakization" of the majority of the Jewish and bilingual population resulted in the decrease of the percentage of the Hungarian ethnic population. For instance, in the case of Kassa City, the percentage of the Hungarian population shrank from 66.5 % to 14.3 %. In the other cities along the linguistic border, the "Czechoslovak" and Hungarian ethnic groups reached an equilibrium (Érsekújvár, Galánta, Léva, Rimaszombat, Rozsnyó) (Fig. 11). At the same time, in the current territory of Pozsony, the 23 thousand Slovak population of 1910 increased to 87 thousand with the Czechs by 1930.

After twenty years of existence, in 1939 the Republic of Czechoslovakia disintegrated. Before that, however, at the Vienna Court of Arbitration on November 2, 1938 Czechoslovakia was forced to give back the southern territories of 11,927 square kilometers with a population of 84.4 % Hungarian native speaker (1938 census data) to Hungary. With these areas once again under Hungarian administration, the number of Hungarians in the territory of present-day Slovakia rose by 176,000 between 1930 and 1941 censuses. This was due to the replacement of Czech and Hungarian military and civil service personnel, immigration from the former territory of Hungary, the voluntary, organized emigration of 50,000 Slovak, 31,000 Czech colonists, expulsion of 5,000 Slovaks and the changed behaviour of the bilingual-bicultural "Slovak-Hungarian" population of very uncertain ethnic identity at the official declaration of the mother tongue or ethnicity at the census. As any change of state authority, this also was best depicted in the sudden change of the ethnic composition of the cities (Tab. 8).

After the Second World War, the Czechoslovak government wished to solve the problem of Hungarians living in the southern annexed territories the same way it resolved the problem of the German minority, by deportation. This is how approximately 31,000 Hungarians who moved to the present-day territory of Slovakia between 1938-1945 (Janics K. 1980) were expelled till July 1, 1945. In addition to those who were expelled, 15,000 people who became outlaws and lost their civil rights, fled to Hungary.

Because the Western superpowers did not support the complete deportation of the Hungarians, a protracted population exchange between Hungary and Czechoslovakia took place in 1947 and 1948. In order to speed up the forced "population exchange", approximately 44,000 Hungarians were resettled throughout the Western Czech (Sudeten) Lands in abandoned German villages. In the end, approximately 74,000 Hungarians were deported from Slovakia and 73,273 inhabitants that qualified as Slovaks resettled from Hungary in the frame of this population exchange (Zvara, J. 1965). On the whole, 120,490 Hungarians were forced to leave their home-settlements annexed to Czechoslovakia between 1945-1948.

The so-called "re-Slovakization" played the most significant role in later statistical changes of the Hungarian population. According to "re-Slovakization", those Hungarians who declared themselves to be Slovaks could remain in Slovakia. As a result of this policy, petitions of the above nature submitted by 282,594 frightened Hungarians were accepted (Vadkerty K. 1993).

The inhabitants of the Czech, Slovak colonies esTab.lished in the period of the First Czechoslovak Republic also returned, and new Slovak villages were formed in the Hungarian ethnic territory as a result of the agrarian reform such as Jatov, Rastislavice, Siatorská Bukovinka. Slovaks who had already developed a strong affiliation with Hungarian culture were resettled from Hungary to the Hungarian majority-populated southern territories of Slovakia. Once again in a Hungarian environment, these people maintained their bilingualism and uncertain ethnic identity between the Slovakian and Hungarian ethnic groups. Measures introduced before the victory of the Czechoslovak Communist Party in February 1948 aimed to realize a homogenous Slovak nation and to "reverse" the Hungarian conquest of one thousand years ago, thereby reducing the number of Hungarians by 407,000 compared to 1941. The sudden drop of their percentage was shocking especially in certain cities and towns such as Kassa (from 76% to 4%), Érsekújvár, Vágsellye, Léva (from ca. 90% to 10%).

Among the rural areas, the greatest Hungarian ethnic loss could be observed in the surroundings of Léva, Zseliz, Kassa and Tõketerebes (Fig. 12). Of course, even in this period there were territories where the percentage of Hungarians decreased only minimally, or sometimes even increased. These, the most ethnically homogeneous territories of the Hungarians of Slovakia, lying along the border were the following: Csallóköz region, the northern foreground of Párkány, the eastern foreground of Ipolyság, South Gömör, the Torna region and the Bodrogköz area. As the shocking events of the 1940's faded, more and more, former scared and "re-Slovakized" Hungarians reassumed their Hungarian ethnicity in the census statistics. In 1970, there was already a record of 552,006 people claiming Hungarian ethnicity and 600,249 declaring Hungarian as their mother tongue. At best, the latter figure corresponds to the number recorded 80 years ago and falls far behind the 761,434 people whose native language was Hungarian in 1941 (Tab. 7).

In the past decade, the mobility of the Hungarians was increasingly determined by living conditions and the growing spatial disparity between labor supply and demand. The contrast between the urban center and its periphery became more acute, increasing the mobility of the more and more open Hungarian rural society along the border. This was primarily manifested in the resettlement of young Hungarians to towns along the linguistic border that have become Slovak-majority populated, mostly in Pozsony and Kassa. As a result, the percentage of Hungarians in those settlements where Hungarians comprised a minority between 1970 and 1991 increased from 17% to 22.4 %, while the population percentage of Hungarians living in predominant majority (75 % < ) decreased from 63% to 52 % (Fig. 13.)

Natural assimilation, due to intermarriage between ethnic groups in territories with a Slovak majority (in 1982, 27.1% of Hungarian men and 24.7% of Hungarian women chose Slovak partners) was made even more probable by a large degree of migration. For decades, even centuries there has been significant territorial disparity in emigration and birth control, the average age of the Hungarian population is quite high on the territories between Párkány-Zseliz-Ipolyság, in the region near Ajnácskõ and Pelsõc, and along the Bodrog-Latorca rivers. On the other hand, the Hungarians of Csallóköz and in part those in Pozsony and the Galánta district demonstrate the most favorable demographic indicators. Their natural birth rate of 6 per mille in 1983 by far exceeded not only that of the neighboring Hungarian counties of Gyõr-Moson-Sopron and Komárom (-0.3 - -0.6 per mille), but also that of the demographically most fertile Hungarian county, Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County (2 per mille).


From the administrative perspective, 67.5 % of the ethnic Hungarians of Slovakia live in the Western Slovakian Region. Dunaszerdahely (87.2%) and Komárom (72.2%) can be considered the most "Hungarian" of all the districts. In the districts of Rimaszombat, Érsekújvár and Tõketerebes the Hungarians are in close equilibrium with the Slovaks, 41-46%.

Of the Hungarians in Slovakia a considerable number (at least 100 persons) and percentage (at least 10%) inhabit 550 settlements. They comprise an absolute majority (50 % <) in 432 settlements and almost exclusive majority (90%<) in 164 settlements. Due to their geographic and historical preferences, Hungarians mostly inhabit large and medium-size villages (1,000-5,000 inhabitants), but 16.7 % of them also live in small towns with 10,000-30,000 inhabitants (Fig. 14).

According to the ethnic data of the 1991 Czechoslovak census, the largest Hungarian communities are concentrated in Komárom, Pozsony, Dunaszerdahely, Érsekújvár, Kassa, Rimaszombat, Párkány, Gúta, Somorja and Nagymegyer (Tab. 9). Our estimates for 1980 differ to a certain extent: Pozsony (43,000), Kassa (35,000), Komárom (22,900), Érsekújvár (17,000), Dunaszerdahely (15,500), Léva (12,800). According to the official 1991 census data, the percentage of ethnic Hungarians exceeds that of the Slovaks only in 13 towns. Of these, the most Hungarian are Nagymegyer, Dunaszerdahely, Gúta and Királyhelmec (Tab. 10).

The inhabitants of the Pozsony district are the western-most representatives of the Hungarians of Slovakia (Figs. 12, 15). The most significant settlements of the Hungarians of this region (Szenc, Magyarbél, Fél, Éberhárd), belong to the Pozsony/Bratislava agglomeration. Due to the favorable geographical location of these settlements, the immigration of Slovaks continues to increase, causing the decrease in the population percentage of the Hungarians.

In the Dunaszerdahely district with the strongest Hungarian character, a significant number of Slovaks inhabit only the towns of Dunaszerdahely, Somorja, Nagymegyer. The most significant villages of the district - all dominantly Hungarian - include Nagymagyar, Illésháza, Nagylég, Bõs, Várkony, Ekecs, Nyárasd, Vásárút and Diósförgepatony.

The center of the Galánta district, with 41-52% Hungarian inhabitants, is located at an important railway junction. A majority of the Hungarians living in this district work at the "Duslo" chemical combinate in Vágsellye, the nickel foundry in Szered, and the machine and food industry in Galánta and Diószeg. Most of the Hungarian villages of this district are located between the Little Danube and the Pozsony-Érsekújvár railway line such as Jóka, Nagyfödémes, Felsõszeli and Alsószeli.

In Komárom district, the other one in Slovakia with a Hungarian majority, most of the Hungarians live in the towns of Komárom, Gúta and Ógyalla. Other centers in the network of settlements of this district are Naszvad, Marcelháza, Perbete, Bátorkeszi, Nemesócsa and Csallóközaranyos. The Komárom shipyard and the Ógyalla brewery are the two main industrial employers of the region.

A majority of the Hungarian population of the Érsekújvár district, which lies between the Vág and the Danube Rivers and extends along the Pozsony-Budapest international railway line, lives in the proximity of the famous cellulose and paper-producing Párkány. Most Hungarians that live in the vicinity of half-Slovak and half-Hungarian Érsekújvár, an important railway junction and the center of the electro-technical refrigerating machine industry, inhabit Tardoskedd, Udvard, Szimõ and Zsitvabesenyõ.

Nyitranagykér, located in the northern part of the Érsekújvár district, together with Nagycétény and Nyitracsehi close by on the territory of the Nyitra district, form an important Hungarian enclave. The Hungarian percentage of the population in the Hungarian villages at the southern slopes of the Tribecs mountain range in Nyitragerencsér, Alsócsitár, Barslédec, Ghymes, Zsére, Kolon, Pográny, Alsóbodok is gradually decreasing because of agglomerational development in the Nyitra vicinity, the Slovak immigration, the linguistic assimilation and identity losing.

The Hungarian linguistic border in the Léva district, enlarged since the incorporation of the Ipolyság and Zseliz districts, was driven back in the direction of the Ipoly as a consequence of the evacuations preceding the battles along the Garam river in 1945 and the ruthless post-war deportation of the local Hungarians. In the district seat Léva, known mostly for its textile industry, the percentage of Hungarians is 15.2% according to 1991 Czechoslovak census data. (In 1941 it was 87.2 %). In the immediate proximity of Léva, Hungarians inhabit only a few small villages (Zsemlér, Alsószecse, Felsõszecse, Várad, Vámosladány etc.). The significant Hungarian population of Mohi was resettled elsewhere in the last decade due to the new nuclear power-plant constructed in that location.

In the strongly mixed ethnic surroundings of Zseliz, the greatest number of Hungarians live in Nagyölved, Farnad, Nagysalló and Oroszka - the location of one of Slovakia's most important sugar factories. In the environs of Ipolyság, the most Hungarians inhabit Palást and Ipolyvisk.

The increasingly diminishing and disconnected ethnic Hungarian territory on the right bank of the Ipoly river is part of the Nagykürtös district. In addition to the largest Hungarian community of Ipolynyék, we must also mention Lukanénye, Csáb, Ipolybalog, Bussó and Ipolyhídvég, in order of size.

In the Losonc district, the northern part of the former Nógrád county, the most important Hungarian communities mainly live in the villages of Ragyolc, Gömörsid, Fülekpüspöki, Béna, Sõreg, Csákányháza etc. in an ethnic territory also containing Slovakian colonies in the vicinity of the towns of Losonc and especially of Fülek, known for its enamelled pots and furniture.

In Southern Gömör, in the district of Rimaszombat which was enlarged with the formerly almost entirely Hungarian districts of Feled and Tornalja, the most important Hungarian settlements are Rimaszombat, Tornalja towns and Rimaszécs, Feled, Ajnácskõ, Várgede, Vámosbalog, Sajógömör. The Slovak population of the villages located near the Hungarian border is insignificant.

Upstream along the Sajó, in the territory of the Rozsnyó district we reach the northernmost part of the Carpathian Basin's ethnic Hungarian territory. In the Sajó valley settlements of the Hungarian-inhabited borderland, especially in Rozsnyó and Pelsõc, the percentage of Hungarians is diminishing due to the considerable immigration of Slovaks. In contrast, the percentage of Hungarians is increasing in the villages of the Gömör-Torna Karst of peripherial location (Szilice, Szádalmás, Hárskút, Várhosszúrét etc).

In the vicinity of Kassa City, Hungarian communities can be found only in the territory of the former Szepsi district, not more than 10-15 kilometers from the Hungarian border (Torna, Szepsi, Szádudvarnok, Tornaújfalu, Debrõd, Jászó, Buzita, Jánok etc.). The Hungarians of this region that work in industry, make their living in the plants of Kassa - the East-Slovakian metropolis with over 235,000 inhabitants and the center of the historical Abaúj-Torna county - of Szepsi and Nagyida, as well as the cement works of Torna.

After crossing the Szalánci mountains (the northern, Slovakian side of the Tokaj-Eperjes Mountains), we reach the district of Tõketerebes, which includes the former Hungarian districts of Nagykapos and Királyhelmec. The Hungarians of this area live in a relatively compact ethnic block, between the Ung-Bodrog rivers and the Ukrainian and Hungarian border. The unity of the almost thousand-year-old Hungarian ethnic area is disrupted only by the new-settled Slovak population of the modest industrial centers of Nagykapos (34.5%), Királyhelmec (16.3%), Bodrogszerdahely (32.3%), Vaján (15.4%) - the location of one of Slovakia's largest thermal power plants, Tiszacsernyõ (30.8%) - the very important international railway border crossing. Most of the Hungarian rural population of the parts of the historical counties Zemplén and Ung located in Slovakia live in Lelesz, Bodrogszerdahely, Szomotor, Kisgéres, Nagytárkány, Battyán and Bély.

[1]Csallóköz (Slovak: itn[yacute] ostrov, German: Gro§e Schütt-Insel). Region almost exclusively by Hungarians inhabited in Southwest Slovakia between the Danube (Hungarian: Duna, Slovak: Dunaj) and Little Danube (Hungarian: Kis-Duna, Slovak: Mal[yacute] Dunaj) rivers.

[2]Bodrogköz (Slovak: Medzibodroie). Region almost exclusively by Hungarians inhabited in Northeast Hungary and Southeast Slovakia between the Tisza, Bodrog and Latorca rivers.

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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin