Hungary: Diaspora Politics

Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP)

In the end of 2004, the new prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsány (2004-2009) had to face the question of dual citizenship of ethnic Hungarians. The referendum on this question was raised by the World Federation of Hungarians, and later supported by the center right Fidesz. The rhetorical positions of the two political sides were designated by the referendum for the next years.

The governing Hungarian MSZP (in coalition with the liberal Free Democrats) rejected the idea of the right for Hungarian citizenship for people living outside of Hungary. They argued about the cost of the migration of Hungarians from neighboring countries (a) and preferred the concept of “prosperity in the homeland” (b), i.e. preserving Hungarian communities in their traditional birthplace. As PM Gyurcsány stated in a parliamentary debate in November 2004:

  1. “I don’t know if there is anyone of you who tried to examine what consequences would a positive result of the referenda have on Hungarian education system, health system, social services, labor market and housing policy or the elections in Hungary.”
  2. “Trianon was a great geographical and regional trauma of the 20th century. If we do the wrong thing, we can have another Trianon in the 21th century – the ethnical one. It would make people leave their homeland.”
  3. I don’t know if anyone of the initiators of the referenda spoke with the legitimate representatives of Hungarians in the neighboring states or if anyone actually discussed the question with the governments of the neighboring states to avoid a political fiasco. Hungary once became known as a stabilizing factor in Europe but now it becomes rather a destabilizing one.1

In a multi-party negotiation just before the referendum, government propounded establishing Homeland Fund (Szülőföld Alap) for subsidizing economic and cultural activities, and introducing the category of “national citizenship”, a symbolic alternative to dual citizenship. In the campaign coalition reclined national media channels, and organized his message with the slogan of “responsible NO”.

Because of the low turnout, the referendum rendered invalid, the initiative for dual citizenship failed. The Hungarian Socialist Party communicated the result as the success of their campaign, but, for alleviating of the resentment of ethnic Hungarians, the government announced the Program for the Responsibility for the Nation in early 2005. In its main points the program contained the visa for ethnic Hungarians for easing their stay in Hungary, subsidizing of diaspora institutions and communities, and establishing the Homeland Fund.

Regarding the Nationality Law enacted in 2011 by the coalition government of Fidesz and the Christian Democrats, the MSZP focuses on what it leader Attila Mesterházy called “a new left-wing national policy”. The party still sticks to the concept of prosperity in the homelandand stresses the importance of cooperation between Hungary and its neighboring countries on the issue. At the same time Mesterházy acknowledges a responsibility of Hungarian politicians for ethnic Hungarians in those states. He frames the MSZP’s positions with the notion of responsible patriotism as opposed to nationalism and connects the topic to cooperation on the European level.

In his speech on 9th March 2013 Mesterházy stated the following:

I assured the skeptic that it was no coincidence that we have announced a new left-wing national policy.  The essence of this new left-wing national policy was also emphasized by Victor Ponta in his speech here.  In the core of this new left-wing national policy there is an increased attention in the symbolic and the rational space alike vis-à-vis ethnic Hungarians beyond our borders.  We must be more attentive and helpful so that they indeed prosper in their homeland.

I  believe in it.  I  believe  in it,  and I  am convinced  that  we  are  right, and  good neighborly relations are part of this new national policy. We are attentive and responsive to the interests of the minorities.   As a Hungarian politician, I am aware of the responsibility I have for ethnic Hungarians,  and I know that Victor Ponta is responsible for Romanians living all over the world.

This is not nationalism. This is true and brave patriotism. There is a great difference between  nationalism  and  patriotism.  While  a  nationalist  despises neighboring peoples, a true patriot takes pride in his nation, homeland, but also respects the peoples of neighboring countries.

All of us in this hall, and many more all over this country are good patriots.   So, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am very grateful to Victor [Ponta] and Sergei Stanishev who have joined us today offering their support. Their presence means that the Socialist Party has a strong alliance with the Carpathian Basin, and also with Europe.   For us patriotism is a call that we stand for also in Europe.  We stand for it in Europe, as Hungary throughout her history has always been part of Europe.  No freedom fight against Europe shall be waged, but we shall seek to cooperate in alliance in order to effectively represent our national interests!"2

Fidesz-Hungarian Civic Alliance

Fidesz, and first of all its leader, Viktor Orbán eventually embraced the right for citizenship of ethnic Hungarians living outside of Hungary in the campaign of the 2004 referendum. Orbán proposed “European passport”, ensuring the freedom of movement of ethnic Hungarians from non-EU countries. In a multi-party negotiation, Fidesz also formulated the law of National Unity, as a symbolic act of the cross-border unification of Hungarians. In the campaign Fidesz mobilized their members and its political allies, as the president of the republic and the Churches. The center right party campaigned with the slogan of “the spiritual unification of the nation”.3

According to the abovementioned Nationality Law, applying for Hungarian citizenship, ethnic Hungarians should have the same rights as citizens in Hungary, including the right to vote. Viktor Orbán frames the topic in with the notions of national strategic interest and avoiding discrimination of ethnic Hungarians and strengthening the common national identity of all Hungarians.

“Creating the legal institution of dual citizenship for ethnic Hungarians abroad is a historic achievement for Hungary. (...) By granting Hungarian citizenship to ethnic kin under a fast-track procedure, Hungary has achieved an important nation-strategy goal and put an end to the legal discrimination of the Hungarian nation within the Carpathian Basin. (...) the Hungarian state should take a stand for ethnic Hungarians and should not tolerate the deprivation of any ethnic Hungarian of their citizenship in their country of residence.”4

“[A]fter 90 years of (the Treaty of) Trianon, we were able to unite the nation over the borders, and give back Hungarian citizenship to hundreds of thousands.”5 


1 http://www.parlament.hu/internet/plsql/ogy_naplo.naplo_fadat_aktus?p_ckl=37&p_uln=180&p_felsz=13&p_felszig=28&p_aktus=6

2 http://hungarianspectrum.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/mszp-chairman-attila-mesterhazys-speech-on-the-state-of-hungary/

3 See also in the Electoral Program of Fidesz,2006, p. 37. (http://static.fidesz-eu.dream.hu/media/1/9/3/6/1936.pdf)

4 http://www.politics.hu/20111124/orban-calls-dual-citizenship-historic-achievement/

5 Prime Minister’s Speech, 23/10/2012 (http://www.miniszterelnok.hu/beszed/nem_fogadjuk_el_hogy_idegenek_kormanyozzanak_minket)