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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin

Chapter 5


The southern settlement area of Hungarian minorities in the Carpathian Basin inhabit Vojvodina[1], Croatia and the Transmura Region[2] of Slovenia. At the time of the the last Yugoslav census in 1991, 370,000 people declared themselves to be Hungarian in these territories. This Hungarian minority makes up 2.9% of the Hungarians living in the Carpathian Basin and 14.6% of the Hungarians living outside the borders of Hungary. Due to an exceptionally adverse history, the Hungarians inhabiting the broad area of the Danube, Tisza, Drava river valleys and Southwest Pannonia protect Hungarian culture in compact ethnic blocks of varying size as well as in ethnic enclaves.


Approximately 95 % of the former Yugoslavia's Hungarian minority inhabit the southern part of the Great Hungarian Plain, referred to as Pannonian Plain in Yugoslavia (Fig. 31). This flatland territory - with the exception of the alluvial soil of the river regions, the brown forest soil of the Fruska Gora (Péterváradi) Mountains, and the meadow soils and the ameliorated peats of the Bánát - is covered to a large degree with chernozem. Having one of Europe's best agricultural lands and most favorable climates, the quantity and quality of wheat and corn yields are outstanding in this region. As a result, Vojvodina plays a determining role in Serbia's food supply. Extensions of the monotonous flatlands include Fruska Gora (Péterváradi) Mountains (538 meters) famous for its vineyards, the Versec Mountains (640 meters), the Bán (Vörösmarti) Mountains (243 meters), the loess plateau of Bácska (Telecska), the Titel Plateau (128 meters) and the Deliblát sand hills (250 meters). There has been a long tradition of controlling the rivers of Bácska and Bánát, for example, the draining of the Versec-Alibunár marshland. The enormous canalization projects of the last few decades, including the construction of the navigable Danube-Tisza-Danube canal between Bezdán-Óbecse-Palánka, aimed to provide the uniterrupted irrigation of the extremely important Vojvodina agricultural lands. The major rivers of the lowland regions inhabited by Hungarians are tributaries of the Danube. The Dráva, Vuka, Száva, Temes and Tisza, all flow directly into the Danube. The most important still waters for Hungarians include the Palics and Ludas Lakes near Szabadka and the Fehér /White Lake near Nagybecskerek. The marshy Kopács Meadow in the Baranya region, internationally renowned for its tourist attraction as well as hunting and fishing can also be found on Hungarian ethnic territory.

Heading west in Croatia, we find most of the scattered Hungarians in the flatlands along the Dráva and the hilly regions south of the Bilo Mountains (289 meters), in West Slavonia.

The native Hungarian population of the Transmura Region in Slovenia has occupied the Lendva Basin, the foot of Mount Lendva and the hills along the Kerka for over eight centuries. The most significant rivers of the narrow Hungarian-inhabited borderland are the Lendva, the Kebele, the Big and Little Kerka streams.


By the time of the 1880 census, the number of Hungarians living in this area was ca. 330,000 (Tab. 20). They did not even reach 23 % of the population of the territory of present-day Vojvodina (Tab. 21). This appears to be an exceptionally low figure if we consider the fact that during the Middle Ages, present-day territory of Vojvodina and Eastern Croatia were almost completely ethnic Hungarian (Fig. 32). The number of Hungarians inhabiting this area greatly increased at the end of the 19th century and the turn of the century due to a high rate of the natural increase, state-initiated settlements (Székelykeve, Sándoregyháza, Hertelendyfalva, Tiszakálmánfalva, Gombos, Szilágyi, etc.), and especially spontaneous migration from the north (Southern Transdanubia, Central Great Hungarian Plain) towards the south (Slavonia, present-day Vojvodina). The outmigration from the overpopulated, above mentioned territories was motivated by economic reasons (first of all after the repeal of the Military Border in the south /1881/ and the parcelling of cheap landed properties).

As a result of the large degree of immigration and the natural assimilation, voluntary Magyarization of the mainly urban German, Jewish and Croatian (Bunyevatz) population - though at a much slower pace than in Slovakia and Transylvania - the number of Hungarians by the 1910 Hungarian census before World War I had increased by 190 % in Slavonia, 110 % in the Syrmia (Szerémség, Srem) region and 70 % in the Bánát (Fig. 33). The growth of the Hungarian population in the towns and language enclaves between 1880 and 1910 occurred at an even higher rate for example, in Újvidék, Zombor, Nagybecskerek, Pancsova, Verbász (Tab. 22).

The peace treaty of Trianon, after the end of the First World War annexed the historical South Hungarian territories (Southeast Baranya, Bácska, Southwest Banat, with only 28 % Serbian population in 1910) to the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs-Croats-Slovenes. Between the takeover in 1918 and 1924, and due to the forcible and clear anti-Hungarian mesures 44,903 Hungarians (military personnel, administration employees, intellectuals, landowners etc.) fled to the new Hungarian state territory (Rónai A. 1938). Due to the ethnic oppression the Hungarians and Germans were overrepresented among the overseas emigrées. In fact, in 1925 half of Yugoslavian emigrées were Hungarian and German. In the case of the Hungarians, this was a direct result of the fact that in this period, 44 % of the Hungarians of Vojvodina, adding up to then 41.4 % of the agricultural population of present-day Vojvodina, were landless. The high proportion of destitute Hungarians between the two world wars can be attributed to the fact that the land of ca. 332,000 acres confiscated from the departed Hungarian and German big landowners - in order to dilute the Hungarian ethnic territory near the border - were distributed exclusively among 45,000 Serbian and 3,000 Croatian (Bunyevatz) colonists. As a result, a row of Serb village colonies were established near the most important ethnic Hungarian centers (Bácstopolya, Szabadka, Magyarkanizsa and Magyarcsernye): Lipar, Karadjordjevo, Novi ednik, Novi Beograd, Velebit, Dusanovo, Velike Livade, Vojvoda Stepa, Banatsko Karadjordjevo etc.

The mass - voluntary and forced - Hungarian emigration, statistical separation of the previously voluntarily assimilated Germans, Croats (Bunyevats) and Hungarians with surnames of non-Hungarian origin from the Hungarians and manipulation of census data led to the decline of the Hungarian population especially in the ethnic enclaves of Slavonia, Baranya, the Transmura Region and generally in the towns of Bácska (primarily Szabadka and Zombor) (Figs. 33, 34, Tab. 22).

In 1941, Germany and her - internal and external - allies destroyed the Great-Serbian state, the Yugoslav Kingdom. After the declaration of the Independent State of Croatia (April 10, 1941) and the German occupation of Syrmia and Banat, the Hungarian troops reannexed Bácska, Baranya and Transmura regions occupied by the Serbian and French Army in November 1918, containing the most Hungarians of the former Yugoslavia. Parallel to the emigration and displacement of ca. 25,000 between 1918-1941 immigrated Yugoslav - mostly Serbian - state employees and colonists from Bácska to Serbia, there was a settlement of military and civil servants from the former Hungarian territory and of Hungarians from Bukovina (13,200) to the territories once again under Hungarian administration. In addition, a significant part of the non-Hungarian (i.g. Jewish, German) intelligentsia once again declared themselves to be Hungarian. Thus it is understandable that the ethnic Hungarian population of the region again rose in the statistics to over half-million. Moreover, for the first time since its existence, Újvidék - the current provincial seat of Vojvodina - was recorded as a majority Hungarian populated city with 50.4 % in 1941. (Tab. 22). The statistical increase of Hungarians in this region did not last long. In October 1944, the newly settled Hungarians (military forces, state personnel, politically compromised individuals and Székelys from Bukovina who had been settled in the colonies of the Serbian war veterans deported in 1941) fled. From those Hungarians who remained in Vojvodina ca. 20,000 innocent civilians became the victims of the bloody Serbian vendetta[3] in October and November 1944 (our estimation and see Cseres T. 1991).

After the bloody anti-Hungarian retaliation, the Yugoslav government was not adamant about either declaring the Hungarians collectively responsible, or resettling them. As a result of the rapidly normalizing political situation, the growing natural increase and the Magyarization (German to Hungarian identity change) of ca. 30,000 persons from the remained in Vojvodina Germans (mostly in the communes Zombor, Nagybecskerek, Apatin and Újvidék), the Hungarians were even able considerably to increase their population number in Vojvodina by the late 1950s. The population of the province had been altered by 226,000 - Serbian, Montenegrin etc. - settlers from the Balkans between 1945 and 1947 (Gaæesa, N.L. 1984). On the other hand, the assimilation, emigration and aging of the population in the Hungarian ethnic enclaves of Slavonia and partly in Southeast Baranya continued.

Beginning in the 1950s, the heavy migration caused by the high rate of Communist economic modernization and urbanization processes of the region significantly influenced national minorities, including that of the Hungarians. These migration processes, however, resulted in the increased disintegration and ageing - due to the migration and emigration of a large part of the young earners - of the previously closed rural society and ethnic communities. As illustrated in Fig. 35, between 1953 and 1991 the proportion of Hungarians living in decisively majority Hungarian inhabited (over 75 %) settlements especially declined, while the percentage of Hungarians living in "weak" (under 25 %) minority conditions increased. Emigrants from the scattered Hungarian settlements to centers with dominantly non-Hungarian speaking populations have embarked on the path of gradual linguistic assimilation due to ethnical mixed marriages and daily foreign language communication. Since the early 1960s, employment in Western Europe, especially in Germany, was a financially tempting possibility. It also contributed significantly to the decrease in the number of Hungarians. In most cases, people chose not to return. In 1971, the proportion of guest workers who were Hungarians from Vojvodina (27.5 %) surpassed the population percentage of Hungarians (21.7 %). In the past few decades, the Hungarians primarily living in the economically underdeveloped region of South Bánát (Versec, Torontálvásárhely, Sándoregyháza, Székelykeve, Fejértelep, etc.) tried their luck abroad. The natural population growth, especially the compact Hungarian ethnic block of the Tisza region continued to decrease due to Hungarian migration to urban settlements and emigration abroad, as well as a consequence of demographical natural decrease, resulted from the changed family size of that region. In many cases, ageing and emigration were mutually reinforcing factors of population decline. The same applies to the isolated, disadvantageously located Hungarian ethnic enclaves in Bánát, Bácska, and Slavonia (Rábé, Egyházaskér, Alsóittebe, Káptalanfalva, Doroszló, Kórógy, Ójankovác, etc.). Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that in the case of the Hungarian ethnic group, already in the mid-1970s the death rate surpassed the birth rate.

Incidentally, the compact Hungarian ethnic block near the Tisza, is an integral part of the demographic "crisis region" of the Carpathian Basin - characterized on the one hand by a low birth rate and on the other by a high suicide rate. This region, already in existence in the previous century, includes the Bánát region and Arad county in Rumania, Békés, Csongrád, Bács-Kiskun and Baranya counties in Hungary, and Baranya and Slavonia in Croatia. Due to the previously outlined migration processes, the percentage of Hungarians is decreasing in centrally located, urbanized areas - due to heavier non-Hungarian immigration - and is increasing in peripheral rural areas - along with population decrease and ageing.

Among the subjective factors influencing the number of Hungarians in Vojvodina, the most outstanding is the fact that at the time of the 1991 census, ca. 37,000 persons of Hungarian ethnic origin - as well as others - did not declare their national identity, but simply referred to themselves as "Yugoslav". At the time of the census 1991, 374,000 persons declared themselves as Hungarians in Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. 91 % of them lived in Vojvodina, 6 % in Croatia and 2 % in Slovenia.


Hungarians in Vojvodina

At the time of the 1991 census, 339,491 people in Vojvodina were recorded as having declared themselves to be ethnic Hungarian. Only seven of the communes had an absolute Hungarian majority in this period (Magyarkanizsa, Zenta, Ada, Bácstopolya, Kishegyes, Csóka and Óbecse). Hungarians with 42.7 %, were in the relative majority in the Szabadka commune and represented a strong minority in the communities of Temerin (38.7 %) and Törökkanizsa (33.8%).

In accordance with the historical events and unique geographical environment of this region, its Hungarians inhabit primarily small towns (26.4%) and large villages (19.5%) (Fig. 36). Thus, the biggest Hungarian community (39,749) in Vojvodina (and also Serbia) - 51,000 according to our estimates - inhabitted the city of Szabadka, but more than ten thousand Hungarians lived in Zenta, Újvidék, Nagybecskerek, Óbecse, Bácstopolya, Magyarkanizsa and Ada (Tab. 23, Fig. 37). Considering the ethnic proportions, Magyarkanizsa, Ada, Zenta and Bácstopolya were the "most Hungarian" towns (Tab. 24). As regards the non-urban settlements, there are 49 with a Hungarian majority in Bácska, 25 in Bánát and 2 in Syrmia (Szerémség). Among these, only Kishomok could be considered exclusively Hungarian. These settlements that can be considered to be mostly Hungarian are almost all located in the Horgos-Bácstopolya-Bácsföldvár triangle, in the Hungarian ethnic heartland of Vojvodina that lies on the right bank of the Tisza. Apart from this, there are only 36 Hungarian majority populated ethnic enclaves in this region: e.g. Temerin, Gombos, Doroszló, Bácskertes, Bezdán, Ómoravica, and Pacsér in Bácska; Majdány, Szaján, Hódegyháza, Magyarcsernye, Torontáltorda, Torontálvásárhely, Székelykeve and Ürményháza in Bánát; Satrinca and Dobrodolpuszta in Syrmia (Szerémség, Srem).

The fact that 43.4 % of the Hungarians live in settlements where they are in minority - in addition to other previously mentioned demographic characteristics - has had a negative influence on the change in the population of Hungarians in Vojvodina, their identity consciousness and their exposure to linguistic assimilation (Fig. 38).

Hungarians in Croatia

Living in ethnic enclaves and dispersed settlements and clinging less and less to their original ethnic identity, the Hungarians in Croatia have experienced the most threatening population decline out of all the Hungarians in ex-Yugoslavia during the last decades (Fig. 33, Tab. 20.). Their recorded and estimated number in 1991 was approximately 22,000 to 24,000, 40 % of which inhabited the Pélmonostor commune, the Croatian part of Baranya. In this region, between the Danube and Drava rivers, the 1910 Hungarian population proportion of 40 % decreased to 16.5 % in 1991, primarily as a result of the large scale traditional birth control, migration to Eszék, emmigration abroad and the registration of about the tenth of local Hungarians as "Yugoslavs". Vörösmart, Laskó, Kiskõszeg, Pélmonostor, Csúza and Várdaróc were the largest Hungarian communities in Baranya (Fig. 37). Újbezdán and Sepse were the most Hungarian of the region's eight Hungarian majority populated villages with 94 and 91 % respectively. In addition to inhabiting the region of Baranya, with excellent tourist and traffic facilities, a decisive majority of the Hungarian national minority in Croatia or 12,000 people inhabited Slavonia and the western part of Syrmia (Szerémség). Within this zone, most Hungarians inhabited Eszék, the region's center. But the Hungarian population was also significant in Kórógy, the only settlement in Slavonia with an absolute Hungarian majority. Unfortunately, the absolute Hungarian majorities of four decades ago in Lacháza, Ójankovác, Apáti, Csák and Szentlászló, plummeted to 6-45 % in 1991. Assimilation of the approximately one hundred years old dispersed Hungarian communities of the surroundings of Verõce, Belovár and Daruvár in Western Slavonia has reached even greater proportions.

Unfortunately due to the events of the 1991 war between the Serbs and Croats the above described ethnic situation completely changed. Out of the Hungarians a third from Baranya and a half from East Slavonia and West Syrmia, about 6,000 persons have fled their homes during the course of the war in August 1991 (Fig.39). The majority of these Hungarian refugees now live in Eszék City (2,500), Vinkovci (800) and in Hungary (2,500). In consequence of the war the Hungarian "ethnic islands" of the territories beeing today under Serbian and UNPROFOR control (UNPA Sector East, today part of "Republic Serbian Krayina"), in East Slavonia and West Syrmia (Szentlászló, Kórógy, Vukovár, Csák, Apáti, Ójankovác etc.) were completely annihilated, whereas the Hungarians in Baranya "only" in the operational areas (in the neighborhood of Eszék City: Dárda, Bellye, Kopács, Várdaróc; at the Danube bridgehead, Kiskõszeg and in the commune center, Pélmonostor) suffered heavy losses.

Hungarians in Slovenia

Only 2%, or 8,500 people of the former Yugoslavia's Hungarian population belongs to the Republic of Slovenia. Aside from those employed in Maribor and Ljubljana, a decisive majority occupy the settlements located between Õrihodos and Pince, the part of the Transmura Region (Prekmurje) that extends along the Hungarian border (Fig. 40).

The largest Hungarian community with 1,062 people can be found in Alsólendva, the region's economic and cultural center, where the 75 % population proportion of Hungarians in 1941 dropped to 27.9 % in 1991. The drop was due mainly to the mass settlement of Slovenes and Croats resulting from the large scale industrialization (electrical and oil industry) of the town. A relatively large number of Hungarians still inhabit Dobrónak, Lendvahosszúfalu, Csente and Petesháza. Of the 22 Hungarian majority populated villages, their proportion exceeds 90 % in Radamos, Pince and Göntérháza. The increasing migration from the critically ageing villages of the Hungarian frontier zone to the towns of Alsólendva, Muraszombat and Maribor has heavily decreased the number of Hungarians in this region as well. The simultaneous increase of the percentage of Hungarians is due to the fact that the autochtone population of these villages (the Hungarians) have a stronger bond with the native land, the cropland and agriculture than does the Slovenian colonists that settled here later (Genorio, R. 1985). The latter statement is true, of course, in the case of almost every Hungarian rural settlement lying close to the Hungarian border.

[1] Vojvodina ("Voivodship", Hungarian: Vajdaság). Province in Serbia, north of the Sava and Danube rivers. Territory: 21,506 square kilometers, population number: 2 millions, capital: Újvidék /Novi Sad /180,000 inhabitants/. Between the 10th century and 1918 a part of South Hungary, since then a part of Yugoslavia, between 1945 and 1989 as an autonomous province of Serbia. Its only historical precedent was the province "Serbian Voivodship and Banat of Temesvár" created, separated from Hungary (1849) and repealed (1860) by the Habsburg absolutism as a part of the vengeance because of the Hungarian War of Independence of 1848-1849.

[2] Transmura Region (Hungarian: Muravidék, Murántúl, Vendvidék, Slovenian: Prekmurje). Northeast borderland of Slovenia north of the Mura river, between Austria, Hungary and Croatia. The region include the present-day communes of Muraszombat /Murska Sobota and Alsólendva /Lendava with an area of 947 square kilometers and 89,855 inhabitants (1991). Between the 10th century and 1919, then 1941 and 1945 a part of Hungary, in the period 1945 - 1991 a region of Yugoslavia. Since then it belongs to the Republic of Slovenia.

[3] This revenge was to retaliate the activity of the local divisions of the Hungarian Army and Gendarmerie in December 1941 and January 1942 against the Serbian irregular troops, partisans and civilians in Southeast Bácska. This pacification claimed lives of 2,550 Serbs and 743 Jews.

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Hungarian Minorities in the Carpathian Basin