THE HUNGARIAN QUESTION
THE POLICY OF ETHNIC CLEANSING DIRECTED AGAINST THE HUNGARIAN NATIONAL COMMUNITIES LIVING ON THE TERRITORIES SEVERED FROM HUNGARY BY RUMANIA AND THE FORMER CZECHOSLOVAKIA, YUGOSLAVIA AND USSR
The problem of the Hungarian ethnic communities in the states neighbouring Hungary is not adequately known outside of Hungary, nor is it given the proper treatment by those states whose policies led to the problem, namely the major powers responsible for imposing peace treaties with disastrous consequences following the two world wars. It is therefore necessary to increase public awareness and to better inform policy makers, in order to focus their attention on an important factor affecting European stability and security: the deliberate policy of ethnocide designed to eliminate, by any possible means, the indigenous ethnic Hungarian population living in the states neighbouring Hungary. Thus, the objective of this article is to provide an overview of this problem, with its historical background and the key issues of concern to the Hungarian minorities. It seeks to present the relevant evidence in order to constitute a case in support of the Hungarian position and in order to counterbalance the anti-Hungarian propaganda which has been and still is being disseminated by some of the states neighbouring Hungary.
These states, such as Slovakia, Rumania and Serbia, are among the least democratic states in Europe, and the worst human rights violators. During WWII, these states have also perpetrated genocidal atrocities which have been passed under silence and those responsible for these acts have not been brought to justice. Slovakia has significant Nazi roots as it was first created by Hitler as a puppet state which willingly and actively supported Nazi policies during WWII, and which still officially honours its leaders of that period. Much the same can be stated about Rumania with regards to Nazi collaboration and the official approval of its Nazi-sympathizing WWII leaders. Unlike Slovakia and Rumania, Hungary was never a willing satellite of either Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. As a result, Hungary was invaded by both Germany and Russia. As far as Serbia is concerned, the nationalists dominating that state have once again shown their true colours in the atrocity-filled Yugoslav war of the 1990s which they have provoked with Russian support, just as they have done in the case of the First World War. Thus, the current policies of Rumania, Slovakia and Serbia represent a serious threat to democracy and peace in that region, especially since they enjoy the diplomatic and military support of an imperialistic Russia which persists in seeking to extend its influence in East-Central Europe and the Balkans.
The ethnic Hungarians living in the states surrounding Hungary did not emigrate from Hungary, they became minorities as a result of border changes which were imposed by force after the First World War, whereby Hungary lost three quarters of its territory to the neighbouring states: Austria annexed a strip of land in Western Hungary ("Burgenland"), the Czechs annexed Northern Hungary ("Slovakia" and "Ruthenia"), Rumania annexed Eastern Hungary (Transylvania and Banat) and Serbia annexed Southern Hungary (the "Voivodina" and Croatia). Millions of ethnic Hungarians were denied the right to self-determination as they became minorities under foreign rule against their will. The territories severed from Hungary had belonged to that state for over a thousand years, long before the creation of Rumania (1862), Yugoslavia (1920) and Czechoslovakia (1920).
The Hungarian ethnic communities living in the states surrounding Hungary are an integral part of the Hungarian nation which numbers approximately 15 million in the Carpathian Basin, where it constitutes the largest ethnic group. The ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary in the Carpathian Basin number approximately 5 million and represent nearly one third of the Hungarian nation. Estimates differ as official statistics on the Hungarian minorities are unreliable and inaccurate: there are approximately 2.5 million Hungarians in Rumania, 750 000 in Slovakia, 500 000 in the former Yugoslav states, 200 000 in Ukraine (Subcarpathia), and 50 000 in Austria (these figures do not include those people of Hungarian origin who have been forcibly assimilated into the surrounding ethnic groups). There are also approximately 200 000 Hungarians in Western Europe, 200 000 in Canada, and 1.5 million in the USA.
The Hungarians are the indigenous population of the natural geographical unit of the Carpathian Basin with which the historical territory of pre-WWI Hungary coincided. The historical, archeological, anthropological and linguistic evidence has shown that the the ancestors of the Hungarians were the first permanent settlers of the Carpathian Basin, arriving in several migratory waves originating from the Anatolian-Caucasian-Mesopotamian-Caspian region, beginning around 5000 BC and continuing until the 13th c. AD. At the time of the foundation of the Hungarian state in 896 AD (this Hungarian state was in fact the successor state to the Hun and Avar Empires of the previous centuries) there were no significant or long-established non-Hungarian populations or states within the Carpathian Basin. Claims to the contrary have been formulated since the late 18th century by certain members of the ethnic groups surrounding the Hungarians as justification for territorial demands against Hungary.
During the last five centuries, foreign invasions and military occupations have resulted in the widespread decimation of the Hungarian population. This was followed by foreign rule and the massive foreign colonization of Hungary. Also, during these centuries, Hungary has been a refuge for peoples fleeing from the constant oppressive conditions of war-torn Eastern Europe and the Balkans, but many settlers came from Western Europe as well. Under the foreign rule of the Austrian Habsburgs, Hungary was treated as a conquered colony and the foreign colonization of Hungary took place mostly in the areas from which the original Hungarian population had been decimated or expelled (and prevented from returning by the foreign occupying powers). As a result, the ethnic Hungarian proportion of Historical Hungary's population decreased from 8O% in the 16th c. to less than 4O% in the 18th c.
During this period, the Hungarians and the newly settled peoples (Germans, Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, Rumanians) coexisted peacefully as the latter enjoyed the traditional hospitality and tolerance of the Hungarian people. As a result, the different ethnic groups were able to freely preserve and develop their culture and language with Hungarian financial and cultural support, so that the East European and Balkan peoples settled in Historical Hungary were able to reach a higher living standard and cultural level than their ethnic relatives who remained outside the Carpathian Basin.
The peaceful coexistence of the Hungarians and the other ethnic groups settled in the Carpathian Basin lasted until the 18th c., as the Austrian Habsburg rulers applied the policy of divide and rule by playing off the ethnic groups settled in Hungary against the Hungarians. Thus, in the age of nationalism and imperialism, the Habsburgs fostered the antagonisms between the Hungarians and the other ethnic groups in Hungary, and foreign states seeking territorial expansion - Russia, Rumania, Serbia - also gave support to those ethnic groups in order to partition Hungary. The exploitation of nationalism and the incitement of nationalist movements among the non-Hungarian ethnic groups of the Carpathian Basin by the Habsburgs and by Hungary's neighbours led to the First World War, the territorial partition of Hungary and the ethnic tensions and conflicts still gripping the region.
The Treaty of Trianon of June 4, 1920, which transferred Hungarian territories to Hungary's neighbours, violated Hungary's territorial integrity and sovereignty as it was imposed by the force of arms following the violation of the Padua Armistice of November 3, 1918, by the Czechs, Serbia and Rumania. The Treaty of Trianon has therefore been imposed in violation of international law and has also violated the Hungarian people's right of self-determination. The Western Powers agreed to the Czech, Serbian and Rumanian territorial demands, which were based on falsified historical claims, on condition that the latter also sign treaties for the protection of ethnic minorities, and Hungary was promised that the treaty would be reviewed with the possibility of future border revisions. However, the newly created Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, and the enlarged Rumania failed to fulfill their obligations to respect the rights of ethnic minorities and the numerous Hungarian grievances brought to the attention of the League of Nations were rarely addressed.
The peace treaties which were imposed by the Western Powers and their allies following the First World War created the conditions which made the Second World War possible. The newly created multiethnic states (Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia) were highly unstable and antagonistic towards their neighbours because of the newly created numerous ethnic minorities, generating a constant high level of international tension and instability. These small Central and East European states were also economically weak and unviable, and they were geographically and culturally incoherent. Thus, from an economic, cultural and human rights point of view, the new international borders represented a considerable deterioration of the living conditions of all the peoples concerned, regardless of whether they were an ethnic majority or minority. This situation effectively paved the way for the rise of totalitarian nationalistic dictatorships and for the expansion of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia into the region. These conditions still exist today in Central and Eastern Europe.
Following the Munich Agreement of September 30, 1938, whereby Germany obtained the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia, the Western Powers effectively surrendered the role of East-Central European arbitration to the Axis Powers (Germany and Italy). This was followed by the Vienna Arbitrations of 1938 and 1940, whereby the Axis powers granted Hungary the retrocession of some of the territories which it had lost to Czechoslovakia and Rumania. Following the break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1941, Hungary recovered some more of its lost territories, exercising its right of self-defense as the aggressed nation after the conclusion of WW I. These new borders reflected more accurately the geographical distribution of the various ethnic groups in the region and considerably reduced the number of ethnic minorities.
By the Yalta agreement of 1945, the Western Allies effectively relegated East-Central Europe to the Soviet Union's sphere of influence, thereby violating the sovereignty and right of self-determination of the peoples concerned. It was in this context that the drastic and controversial territorial provisions of the Treaty of Trianon were reimposed upon Hungary at the Treaty of Paris in 1947, as a result of which Hungary lost the territories it had regained between 1938 and 1941.
Sources: Apponyi, Justice for Hungary; Illés-Halász, Hungary before and after the War in Economic-Statistical Maps; Ronai, Atlas of Central Europe.
- 72% of its territory (232 000 km2)
- 64% of its population (13 370 000 inhabitants)
- 60% of its agricultural lands
- 70% of its livestock
- 74% of its roads
- 62% of its railways
- 65% of its navigable waterways
- 88% of its forests
- 60% of its coal reserves
- 85% of its iron ore
- 100% of its salt and copper mines
- 95% of its quarries
- 82% of its machine industry
- 60% of its iron and steel factories
- 64% of its chemical works
- 95% of its water-power
- its only outlet to the sea, the port-city of Fiume (Rijeka), along with all its fleet, and all trade and industry connected with maritime activities
- State property amounting to 3.5 billion Hungarian Gold Crowns (1920)
- 210 million Gold Francs (1920) as well as other imposed crippling war reparations in kind
- losses estimated at 6.5 billion Swiss Francs (1919) due to the Rumanian occupation alone
- over 3000 villages, towns and cities with majority Hungarian populations and irreplaceable historical buildings, monuments, cultural artifacts, art collections, churches, museums, libraries, and educational and cultural institutions: Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca), Nagyvárad (Oradea), Marosvásárhely (Tirgu Mures), Szatmárnémeti (Satu Mare), Temesvár (Timisoara), Szabadka (Subotica), Arad (Arad), Brassó (Brasov), Pozsony (Bratislava), Nagybánya (Baia Mare), Kassa (Kosice), Sepsiszentgyörgy (Sfintu Gheorghe), Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc), Csíkszereda (Miercurea Ciuc), Beregszász (Beregovo), Komárom (Komárno), Újvidék (Novi Sad), Zenta (Senta), Ungvár (Uzhgorod), Munkács (Mukachevo), are some of the major cities and important towns lost by Hungary.
These losses have been compounded by the equally great human and material losses suffered by Hungary as a result of WWII - Allied bombings, Nazi and Soviet occupations - and under the Communist regime. Hungary has not yet been compensated for its losses resulting from enemy aggression and occupation since WWI.
Map sources: I. Homonnay, Justice for Hungary 1920-1970; II. Ronai, Atlas of Central Europe; III. & IV. Borsody, The Hungarians: A Divided Nation.
I. The shaded area represents Hungary's pre-WWI territory, the post-WWI borders are indicated in black.
II. Hungarian territories annexed by: Austria (1), Czechoslovakia (2), Poland
(3), Rumania (4), Yugoslavia (5),
III. The area of Hungarian majority within pre-WWI Hungary is indicated in black. The white lines represent the current borders.
IV. The area of Hungarian majority within pre-WWI Hungary is indicated in black. The white lines represent the border changes during WWII.
The Charter of the United Nations affirms the universality of human rights which include ethnic minority rights, thus the status of ethnic minorities is no longer exclusively the internal matter of a state. The protection of minority rights was reaffirmed by the Helsinki Accord of 1975, making it a matter of collective international concern and responsibility. The Helsinki Accord also states that in case of non-compliance with the provisions concerning ethnic minority rights, state borders can be modified through peaceful means. Hungarians therefore have the right to raise the issue of the Hungarian communities in the states surrounding Hungary, and the major powers have a responsibility to guarantee the respect of the rights of these Hungarian communities. These rights have been further confirmed and defined by various documents established within the framework of international organizations such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The Hungarians living in the territories detached from Hungary have been and are still subjected to wide-ranging discrimination due to the anti-Hungarian policies pursued by such states as Slovakia, Rumania, and Serbia, where the right of the Hungarian communities to preserve their ethnic identity is not recognized or respected. The list of confirmed and documented cases of violations committed against the rights of the Hungarian communities is lengthy:
- the restriction and dismantling of the Hungarian-language educational system;
- the restriction of the use of the Hungarian language in public and in official places;
- the restriction of Hungarian-language media and publications;
- the restriction of contacts between the Hungarian communities and Hungary;
- the confiscation of property belonging to Hungarian communities, institutions and individuals;
- harassment, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, torture and assassination of Hungarian community members;
- forced relocation of Hungarians and settlement of non-Hungarians in ethnic Hungarian areas in order to artificially alter the ethnic composition of areas where the Hungarian community constitutes a local majority;
- redrawing of administrative boundaries in order to reduce the proportion of the Hungarian ethnic constituencies;
- promoting hatred and defamation against Hungarians in state-sponsored propaganda campaigns, domestically through the mass-media and the educational system, and internationally through diplomatic channels;
- the restriction of the cultural, administrative, local and regional autonomy of the Hungarian communities.
Detailed information on these violations has been gathered by various international human rights organizations, including the New York-based Hungarian Human Rights Foundation.
Serbia, Rumania and Slovakia are pursuing such nationalistic and discriminatory policies mainly for domestic political and economic reasons, claiming that Hungary and the Hungarian ethnic communities are the cause of their domestic problems and a threat to their security and territorial integrity. The aim of these ethnocidal policies is therefore to eliminate the ethnic Hungarian communities, either by physical extermination (genocide), as was the case during WWII, by forced assimilation, or by forcible expulsion ("ethnic cleansing"): since the end of WWI, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hungarians have been expelled, deported, or slaughtered by Rumania and the former Czechoslovakia, Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
The anti-Hungarian policies of Slovakia, Rumania, and Serbia are a major source of tension and destabilization which threaten the region's security. The nationalist parties dominating Slovakia, Rumania, and Serbia are opposed to democratization, the respect of individual and collective human rights, the granting of autonomy to minorities, and the economic and political integration of the region because this would weaken their influence and increase the political, economic, and cultural influence of the Hungarians in the region. Due to its geographical situation, Hungary has the potential of becoming a major center of political and economic integration in East-Central Europe, and Hungary has been actively promoting regional cooperation and cultural and economic exchanges with its neighbours. As this would increase contacts between Hungary and the Hungarian-inhabited regions in the neighbouring countries, the Slovakian, Rumanian, and Serbian nationalist parties seek to curtail the development of cultural and economic relations with Hungary as well as the development of democracy and of human and minority rights in their own states. These parties have demonstrated their anti-democratic tendencies as well as their ineptitude and unwillingness to solve the serious political and economic problems confronting them and have instead relied on the exploitation of nationalism as the source of their political power and legitimization. Without political and economic instability and without ethnic tensions in the region, these parties could not exploit nationalism and ultimately remain in power. It is therefore in the interest of the Slovakian, Rumanian, and Serbian nationalist parties to destabilize the region by generating ethnic tensions. These parties seek to preserve their influence by promoting nationalistic anti-Hungarian propaganda and discriminatory policies.
The elimination of ethnic tensions is therefore a key element in the stability and security of East-Central Europe. If the problem of the ethnic minorities is to be settled, then minority rights must be fully guaranteed and respected, including not only individual human rights but also collective rights: the cultural, educational, administrative, local and regional autonomy of ethnic minorities. Furthermore, in the interest of stability, the democratization and the economic and political integration of East-Central Europe is also essential. As a result, the borders would become more permeable and the personal, cultural, and economic contacts between ethnic groups could develop without restriction. These conditions would be highly favourable for the entire population of the region. The economic development and integration of the region is therefore also essential for conflict resolution and stabilization.
The present situation in East-Central Europe is untenable because it is fundamentally unstable: the unresolved ethnic problems and related border disputes constantly threaten the security of the region, as illustrated by the Yugoslav conflict. The problem of the stability and security of East-Central Europe can only be solved within the framework of a comprehensive territorial political rearrangement which would definitively settle the ethnic and border disputes of the region.
A solution would be to detach ethnically mixed territories and form autonomous units where the various ethnic groups would enjoy equal rights. But if various ethnic groups are unable to live peacefully together, then they should be separated. This can only be achieved through border changes and population transfers. An effective solution to these problems cannot avoid the issue of the revision of borders and of peace treaties, as the principal cause of the region's instability is its territorial political division imposed by the peace treaties following the two world wars which resulted in the Balkanization of the Carpathian Basin, and in the creation of a multiethnic Yugoslavia and Rumania, disturbing the regional balance of power and disintegrating a larger political-economic unit in Central Europe (Austria-Hungary), and generating tensions with the forced assimilation and ethnic cleansing of the minorities.
These ethnic minorities should be placed under international protection until their problem is solved. Given the conditions of East-Central Europe, the only viable solution would be to redraw the borders in order to reduce the number of ethnic minorities, as illustrated by the disintegration of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. If a serious international conflict involving the Hungarian ethnic communities is to be avoided, then the only rational solution would be to return the Hungarian-inhabited territories to Hungary. This is the most fundamental prerequisite for long-term peace and stability in the region.
Hungary's decision to open its border with Austria and to allow free passage to the East German refugees in 1989 was the single act which triggered the fall of communism in East-Central Europe and led to the withdrawal of the Soviet Union and the demise of the Warsaw Pact. As a result, Germany was reunified, but the Hungarians, who were forced by Germany to participate in the two world wars on its side, still remain territorially divided.
Hungarians justifiably feel that they are the victims of an undeserved punishment for which they have not yet been justly compensated: the loss of one third of their co-nationals and of three quarters of their territory is unacceptable for the Hungarians. This situation has been imposed and can be maintained by force, but it cannot guarantee a lasting peace: it can only be the source of future conflicts. The Hungarian communities living as ethnic minorities are condemned to a slow death by assimilation and ethnic cleansing, while those remaining in Hungary have effectively been hemmed in on a militarily weak and vulnerable reserve surrounded by considerably more powerful hostile and aggressive neighbours. Slovakia, Rumania and Serbia are known to be in diplomatic and military collaboration aimed against Hungary, with plans to invade and partition the remainder of Hungary. The Hungarian Question will therefore remain an unsolved problem as long as the Hungarian nation's grievances are left unaddressed and the Hungarian communities' right to self-determination is denied, and as long as the West does not fulfill its responsibility to guarantee that fundamental right. The consequences of the failure to bring a timely solution to such problems have been clearly illustrated by the Yugoslav conflict.
The Hungarian ethnic communities are not seeking any new or additional privileges but only what is rightfully theirs in accordance with international law and which has been illegally taken from them: their linguistic, cultural, religious, political and legal rights. It should also be pointed out that an important distinction has to be made between immigrant and indigenous ethnic communities: the latter are sovereign entities which have the right to independence. The Hungarian communities belong to the latter category. As the states surrounding Hungary continue to violate the rights of the Hungarians and refuse to recognize their collective rights including cultural, administrative and territorial autonomy, the Hungarian communities have the right to determine their political status in accordance with the right of peoples to self-determination, and therefore, they may choose to separate from those states which violate their rights and to reunite with Hungary. By failing to fulfill their international obligations to respect minority rights, Serbia, Rumania and Slovakia have forfeited their claims to the lands inhabited by the ethnic minorities placed under their sovereignty. Hungary's neighbours have no right whatsoever to rule over Hungarian-inhabited territories and to alter the ethnic composition of these lands by implementing policies aimed at reducing the proportion of their Hungarian population.
The historical trends indicate that the situation of the ethnic Hungarian communities has continuously deteriorated since they were forced under foreign rule in 1918. Since the end of WWI, the states surrounding Hungary have sought to create ethnically homogenous national states in which there is no place for ethnic minorities. The record shows that the states in question have failed to fulfill their obligations to respect minority rights and their promises to comply with these obligations cannot be taken seriously. As long as the current policies are in force, there is no possibility for the improvement of the situation of the Hungarian communities: if a government or a party in one of these states were to initiate measures which would be favourable to the Hungarian community, it would immediately come under attack from the nationalist parties and public opinion, and would be forced to retract these measures or to step down. The Slovakian, Rumanian, and Serbian governments cannot afford to treat the Hungarian communities more tolerantly because of their own political interests. The rights of the Hungarian communities will not be respected as long as the policy to create ethnically homogenous states remains in force. In such states minorities have no future.
Judging from past experience and the current situation, it does not seem likely that states such as Slovakia, Rumania and Serbia will change their policies which violate the human and ethnic minority rights provisions included in their constitutions and in international treaties to which they are signatory parties. The fundamental reason which prevents these states from respecting the principles of democracy, human and minority rights, is the very nature of their artificial creation or expansion by territorial annexations at Hungary's expense, a factor which generates intense insecurity and resentment on all sides. As long as these states are in possession of Hungarian territories inhabited by Hungarians, they will never feel secure, and internal and external tensions will remain. The existence of large Hungarian communities in the countries surrounding Hungary constitutes a problem which these states are unable to solve, but which they seek to eliminate by any possible means. As long as there are Hungarians in the states surrounding Hungary, Hungary's neighbours will feel compelled to eliminate the presence of these Hungarian minorities because their very existence provides Hungary with grounds for territorial claims against its neighbours. However, according to this logic, the existence of a Hungarian state also represents a threat in the eyes of its neighbours, and as a result, the dominant nationalistic parties in those states have been advocating their version of a "final solution" to the Hungarian Question.
Thus the choice is clear: if another genocidal conflict is to be avoided in that region, then the Hungarian ethnic communities' right to self-determination must be recognized and implemented in full equality of rights, as co-equal national communities. Since this appears to be impossible within the states surrounding Hungary, then it must be achieved by the reattachment of the Hungarian-inhabited territories to Hungary. The Hungarian border revisions implemented between 1938 and 1941 should serve as a basis for future border modifications and should constitute the minimal Hungarian demands, based on the pre-WWI ethnic composition of the territories in question. All non-Hungarian populations settled on these territories since WWI should be resettled so as to avoid creating more ethnic minorities. These border revisions and population transfers could be implemented through international arbitration at the request of the Hungarian State on behalf of the Hungarian communities whose rights have been violated. The Hungarian State has the right and the constitutional obligation to protect the interests of all ethnic Hungarians living in and outside Hungary.
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