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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin

Chapter 3


Transcarpathia (or Subcarpathia, Ruthenia) is the name given to the present Ukrainian region north-east of the Carpathian Basin neighbored by Slovakia, Hungary and Rumania. The administrative name of Transcarpathia, referring to an area of 12,800 square kilometers, gradually became common knowledge after the Peace Treaty of Trianon (1920). On this territory belonging to Ukraine, the 1989 census recorded 155,711 inhabitants of Hungarian ethnicity and 166,700 of Hungarian mother tongue. According to our calculations for 1989, this number differs from the probable number of Hungarian native speaker 210,000. The Hungarians of this region - far less in number than the Hungarians of Transylvania and Slovakia - total 6.1% of Hungarian national minority population inhabiting the Carpathian Basin.


Ninety-one percent of the Transcarpathian Hungarians live on the north-eastern periphery of the Great Hungarian Plain (Alföld), the official name of which is Transcarpathian Lowland. Apart from the peat of the drained Szernye marsh and the alluvial soil along the rivers, the plain is covered by meadow soil. Several young volcanic cones and elevations are found near Beregszász, Mezõkaszony, Salánk and Nagyszõlõs (Fig. 16).

The overwhelmingly Hungarian populated plain, characterized mainly by brown forest soil and beech groves and interspersed here and there with oak woods, plays a decisive part in the food supply of Transcarpathia. It is flanked by a 700-1100 meter high volcanic mountains called Pojána-Szinyák, Borló-Gyil, the Nagyszõlõs and Avas mountain range. The rest of the region's Hungarian population (9 %) lives in the highlands not far from the Tisza River between Huszt and Körösmezõ.

The most important river of the territory is the Tisza, which originates from two branches, the Black Tisza and the White Tisza in the Máramaros Mountains and flows 223 kilometers on Ukrainian territory. The still relatively rapid Tisza - breaking through the volcanic mountain range at the "Huszt-Gate" - slows down and builds an alluvial deposit in Ugocsa region. Its most important tributaries in the Máramaros region are the Tarac, Talabor and Nagyág.


More than a century ago in 1880 105,343 persons or 25.7% out of the almost 410,000 inhabitants in the present territory of Transcarpathia declared themselves to be native Hungarian speakers. The number of Ruthenians, approximately 60% of the population, exceeded 224,000 (Tab. 11). Because they mainly declared themselves to be native speakers of German or Hungarian, the 58,000 Jews who came from the northeastern - Polish and Ukrainian - foreground of the Carpathians, especially in the second half of the 19th century were not recorded in linguistic statistics.

Around the turn of the century, in the period between the 1880 and 1910 censuses, the number of Hungarians rose from 105,343 to 185,433, and their population proportion increased from 25.7% to 30.6%. This considerable growth of the Hungarian population was due primarily to a rise in their natural birth rate, a smaller participation - compared to the Ruthenians - in the emigration, the natural and voluntary assimilation and voluntary Magyarization of the Jews and Germans, and the strengthening of the Hungarian ethnic affiliations of the Uniate (Greek Catholic) Hungarian-Ruthenian population of Ugocsa county in Nagyszõlõs, Tekeháza, Fancsika, Karácsfalva, Mátyfalva, Szõlõsvégardó, Batár, Csomafalva etc. In the 30-40% Jewish populated two biggest towns of the region, Ungvár and Munkács, the percentage of Hungarians reached 73-59 % (Tab. 12.).

At the time of the 1910 census, the percentage of Hungarians also exceeded 75% in the present-day urban settlements: Beregszász, Nagyszõlõs, Csap and Técsõ. The growth of the Hungarian population was considerable in other towns such as Huszt, Rahó, Körösmezõ, Szolyva, Szerednye and Ilosva. As a result, in today's towns whose total population was 85,000 in 1910, the proportion of Hungarians reached 68.7%. The large proportion of Hungarians in towns was due primarily to their mainly ethnic Hungarian substratum, the state-forming status of the Hungarian nation and the smaller degree of immigration of the Ruthenians to urban centers. The high-degree of "urbanization" of the Transcarpathian Hungarians in this period is also illustrated by the fact that 31.6 percent of the total Hungarian population of the region were urban dwellers. This figure was 4.8 percent for the Ruthenians and 13.9 percent for the Germans.

Following the First World War, in People's Law No. 10 of 1918 the Hungarian "Károlyi" Cabinet established an autonomous region by the name of Ruska Krayna (Ruthenian Borderland) in those areas of Ung, Bereg, Ugocsa and Máramaros counties, where the Ruthenians represented the majority of the local population. Due to the Czech and Rumanian military occupation in January-April, 1919, the autonomous region did not last long.

As a result of the 1920 Peace Treaty of Trianon the current Transcarpathian region was annexed to the Czechoslovak Republic under the name of Podkarpatska Rus (Subcarpathian Ruthenia), Rusinsko (Ruthenia). The Hungarians living mostly in the south-western frontier zone were separated from the Hungarian state because they inhabited the belt the Csap-Beregszász-Királyháza-Nevetlenfalu railway of outstanding strategic importance, ensuring a direct railway connection between Czechoslovakia and Rumania.

Transcarpathia's dissannexation from Hungary to Czechoslovakia led to a considerable decrease in the number of ethnic Hungarians who were relentlessly oppressed for committing alleged "historical offenses". The number of 185,433 Hungarians recorded in 1910 decreased to 111,052 in 1921 Czechoslovak ethnicity statistics. The causes for the loss of more than 70,000 persons can be found in the emigration and expelling of 18,600 Hungarians by the Czechs after taking over the territory; reclassifying the mostly Hungarian-speaking Jews and Gypsies in separate statistical categories thus their exclusion from the Hungarian category; the classification of the majority of Uniate (Greek Catholic) Hungarians as Ruthenians; and Ugocsa's bilingual and bicultural Hungarian-Ruthenian population's "defection" to the Ruthenians. Due to these reasons, between 1910-1921 statistics show a close to fifty percent decrease in the Hungarian population of towns. For example the Hungarian population decreased by 40 % in Munkács and by 33 % in Nagyszõlõs compairing their population number in 1910 (Tab. 12, Fig.17).

In rural areas, the nationalist aims of the Czech government - disguised as agrarian reform - included disrupting the unity of the ethnic Hungarian territory by settling it with Czechs, Slovaks and Ruthenians. The colonists - offered special advantages - were settled next to Hungarian villages situated along the Csap-Királyháza railway line and the new Hungarian frontier (Csap, Eszeny, Bótrágy, Beregsom, Beregdéda etc.). Svoboda-Nagybakos, an independent Czech settlement was established next to the extremely important Hungarian-inhabited railway junction (Bátyú).

According to the 1930 Czechoslovak census data, the number of Hungarians in Transcarpathia - in minority status for the first time in history - increased by such a minimal amount, that their proportion of the region's population did not even reach 16% (cf. in 1910 30.6%!) (Tab. 11.). The decrease of the Hungarian population was especially significant in the centers of state power, the cities and towns. For example Hungarian population proportion fell from 32.0% to 16.4 % in Ungvár, from 60.9% to 51.3% in Beregszász, from 71.3% to 58.3% in Csap.

This slow statistical decline of the Transcarpathian Hungarians was halted by the reannexation to Hungary of the frontier zone, and the towns of Ungvár and Munkács inhabited mainly by Hungarians at the first Vienna Court of Arbitration (November 2, 1938). After Slovakia became independent and separated from the Czech Lands in March 14, 1939, Hungary also took possession of the other Transcarpathian territories inhabited mainly by Ruthenians and belonging till 1919 to Hungary. The Hungarian census of 1941 occurred after these events - after the Transcarpathian Hungarians regained their status of state-forming nation. At this time, 27.3% or 233,840 persons of Transcarpathia's total population of 854,772 declared Hungarian to be their mother tongue.

The change in ethnic structure during which the number of Hungarians doubled was due to several factors: the departure of most Czech and Slovak colonists, military and the civil servants; the reaffirmation of the Hungarian identity of Hungarian-speaking Jews, those people with uncertain ethnic affiliation, and the bilingual population; the settlement of large numbers of Hungarians (civil and military personnel) from the post-Trianon Hungarian state territory. The ethnic composition of the towns sensitive to the change in state power, again changed considerably - this time in favor of the Hungarians. The Hungarian population became majority in almost every town (Fig.18). Among these, the percentage of Hungarians exceeded 90% in Beregszász and 70% in Ungvár. A 20-40 % of the population declared Hungarian as their native language even in the centers of Ruthenian populated districts such as Szolyva, Perecsény, Nagyberezna, Huszt, Rahó, Körösmezõ. Hungarian authority over this region and the reannexation of the Transcarpathian Hungarians to their mother country, however, lasted only until October 1944 - less than six years.

As a consequence of the war, about 10,000 Hungarians fled from Transcarpathia in 1944 (Benedek A.,S. 1993, 1994). Thousands of Hungarians became victims of the bloody passions following the change of power as in the village of Baranya, including the November and December 1944 deportation of more than 25,000 Hungarian men of military age (18-50 years) to concentration and forced labor camps to the Ukraine and distant territories of the Soviet Union (Dupka Gy. 1993). One third of them never could return. As measures of revenge were being taken against the Hungarians, Transcarpathia became part of the Soviet Union on the basis of an agreement signed on June 29, 1945 by Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. The Transcarpathian Region (Oblast) itself was formed on January 22, 1946 as an administrative unit and attached to Ukraine. At the same time, within the framework of the 1944-1947 land reform, many thousands of Ruthenians and Ukrainians from the Carpathian Mountains were resettled on the plains inhabited by Hungarians in Beregszász, Svoboda, Badiv, Danilivka, Russki Kheyivtsy, Demechi, Chervone, Petrivka, Kashtanove, Zatishne, Velika Bakta, Pushkine, Nove Klinove.

The first estimation after the war in 1946 considered only 66,000 persons of the 758,700 inhabitants of this territory to be of Hungarian ethnicity (Szabó L. 1993). The main causes of the decrease of almost 168,000 compared to 1941 - apart from the deportations mentioned above - include the significant war losses and emigration of the mostly Hungarian-speaking Jewish population, the tendency of the bilingual population living especially in Ugocsa, to assume Ruthenian ethnic affiliation, and the consideration of all Uniate (Greek Catholic) Hungarians as Ruthenian. As a result of the improvement of the political status of the region's Hungarian ethnic group, the return of the ca. two-thirds of the deported Hungarians from the Soviet labour camps and their relatively high birth rate, the number of Hungarians has continously increased (Tab. 11). In the census held 1979 - which continued to neglect personal declarations concerning ethnicity - official statistics recorded only 158,446 Transcarpathian Hungarians. Due to the political changes in the former Soviet Union since 1989, the liberalization of the international tourism, the increasing emigration of the Transcarpathian Hungarians toward Hungary, the increasing statistical separation of the Hungarian speaking Gypsies from the ethnic Hungarians of the region, the number of the Transcarpathian inhabitants of Hungarian ethnicity had decreased to 155,711 by 1989. On the other hand the number of persons of Hungarian mother/native tongue had slightly increased from 166,055 to 166,700 between 1979 and 1989.


The territory of the Hungarian national minority living near the north-eastern border of Hungary is presented according to the Soviet census data in 1989 and data provided by the Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Transcarpathia (Botlik J. - Dupka Gy. 1993). 73.8 % of Transcarpathian Hungarians live no farther than 20 kilometers from the frontier of the Hungarian Republic (Figs.19, 20, 21). One-third of them live in Beregszász, and one-quarter live in Ungvár district. Because two-thirds of the Hungarians live in 82 settlements where they constitute an absolute majority, and due to the low level of Hungarian migration to cities with a non-Hungarian majority population, in 1989 only 42.9% of the Hungarians spoke Russian and only 13.4% spoke Ukrainian. The low level of the knowledge of the official language of the Ukrainian state is due to the good availability of the Hungarian mass-media (eg. television, radio, newspapers) resulting from the proximity of the mother country as well as the exceptional usefulness of the Hungarian language and of the connections with Hungary in the business life. Of the region's 324,000 urban dwellers, 74,000 or 22.8 % can be considered Hungarians. The percentage of the Hungarian population who live in cities (38.1%) has not yet reached the 1941 39.2% figure, but - as the most "urbanized" Transcarpathian ethnic group - it still exceeds the urban-dwelling proportion of Ruthenians, Ukrainians and Russians 27.3%. Accordingly, the largest Hungarian communities also gather in the region's towns such as Beregszász, Ungvár, Munkács, Nagyszõlõs etc. (Tab. 13). Eleven villages also provide homes for a considerable ethnic Hungarian community numbering more than 2000 members e.g. Nagydobrony, Visk, Vári, Dercen, Salánk, Mezõkaszony, Gát.

In the Ungvár district, where a majority of the Hungarians live in Ungvár - the capital of the Transcarpathian Region - the ethnic border has not changed much in the last few centuries. The Hungarian settlement area continues to be located south of the Ungvár-Korláthelmec line. Nevertheless, in the town of Csap, along the Csap-Ungvár railway line, and in the villages of the Ungvár agglomeration, the percentage of the Hungarian population is falling considerably due to increasing Ukrainian immigration. The largest Hungarian rural communities live in Nagydobrony, Eszeny, Kisdobrony, Tiszasalamon, Rát and Szürte.

One third of the Hungarians of Beregszász district - the district with the longest border with Hungary - live in the district seat of Beregszász. The ethnic Hungarian unity of the district is disrupted only by some older (Kovászó, Nyárasgorond, Csikósgorond) and more recently founded (Badiv, Danilivka, Kashtanove, Zatishne, Velika-Bakta) Ruthenian enclaves. In addition to Beregszász, the largest number of Hungarians live in Vári situated on the right bank of the Tisza, in a former district seat of Mezõkaszony, next to the drained Szernye marsh in Gát, Makkosjánosi, Nagybereg, and Beregújfalu, in Nagymuzsaly and Beregdéda situated next to Beregszász and in Bátyú, the railway junction.

More than half of the Hungarians living in the neighboring Munkács district, are residents of Munkács. The others live in the vicinity of the Beregszász district's Hungarian villages (Dercen, Fornos, Izsnyéte, Csongor, Szernye, Barkaszó etc.). One single village west of Munkács called Beregrákos - in a Ruthenian surrounding - has been defying assimilation for centuries. For hundreds of years, it has been the guardian of the medieval Hungarian ethnic border.

In the Nagyszõlõs district, in historical Ugocsa county where the Tisza River meets the plain, Hungarians have lived - mostly mixed - with the Ruthenian population for three centuries. Due to the century-old coexistence and, in many cases, the shared Greek Catholic or "Uniate" religion, the most significant deviation in the ethnic census statistics can be observed in the villages of this region. Today, most Hungarians can be found in the town of Nagyszõlõs, Tiszaújlak, Salánk, Nagypalád, Tiszapéterfalva, Csepe and Feketeardó.

Proceeding upstream along the Tisza, we reach the district of Huszt, situated in the former Máramaros county. Here the majority of the Hungarian town dwellers, dating back to the Middle Ages today are represented by the Hungarians of Visk. The Hungarian minority population of Huszt is also significant with 2,029 persons.

A Hungarian community of 3,000 persons, inhabits the seat of the neighboring district, Técsõ. The famous salt-mining settlement of Aknaszlatina is located on the right bank of the Tisza, facing the town Máramarossziget in Rumania. Its population includes approximately 3,800 Hungarians. A considerable Hungarian population lives in Bustyaháza, Kerekhegy, Taracköz and Királymezõ as well.

In the Rahó district, called Ruthenian (or Hutzul) Switzerland situated among the Carpathian range near the sources of the Tisza, there are about 4000 to 5000 people of Hungarian ethnicity. A majority of them lives in Rahó, Körösmezõ, Nagybocskó and Gyertyánliget.

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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin