Dual citizenship: A recurrent theme in Hungarian politics

One can acquire Hungarian citizenship by at least three methods, all on an individual basis. First, a foreign citizen who for one reason or other settled in Hungary can apply for citizenship after a certain period of residency. Apparently the process is fairly long and requires fluency in the language and a more than cursory knowledge of Hungarian history. Second, people who were born in Hungary but sometime during their lifetime left the country and settled elsewhere are also eligible to apply. Most of these people left Hungary illegally and therefore their Hungarian citizenship lapsed in the intervening years. However, now that Hungary is once again a democratic country, they would like to "revive" their citizenship in order to receive a Hungarian passport. This is especially handy for those who live outside of the European Union because a Hungarian passport allows them to travel freely within the EU. The third group of people eligible for Hungarian citizenship consists of the descendants of Hungarian citizens. In fact, one Hungarian-born ancestor is enough to acquire Hungarian citizenship. I know of a Hungarian woman married to a Canadian. Their two children were born in Canada but on the strength of their mother's citizenship they are eligible to use Hungarian travel documents. There is nothing unique about this. I also know an Irish couple who are American-Irish citizens and whose son, born in this country, claimed Irish citizenship, again for reasons of easy travel.

People who acquire Hungarian citizenship without actually moving to Hungary on a permanent basis "on paper" cannot participate in Hungarian national or local elections. But, as usual in Hungary, nothing is that simple. I know people who have been living outside the country for at least ten if not twenty years who have been voting in elections either in Hungary or at foreign consulates simply because officially they have an address in Hungary. Or I know retired people who either inherited or purchased an apartment or a house in Hungary and spend half a year in Hungary. They too can vote.

If I judge the situation correctly, the majority of Hungarians are not thrilled at the idea of people who don't live in the country on a permanent basis being able to influence the outcome of elections. Knowing how easily one can find ways to circumvent rules and regulations concerning a permanent address in Hungary, they are worried about giving citizenship to tens of thousands if not millions of ethnic Hungarians living in the neighboring countries.

Hungary's neighbors where Hungarians can be found in varying numbers can be divided into two groups: those who are members of the European Union and those who are not. Ukraine, Serbia, and Croatia belong to the latter group, but Croatia will most likely join soon enough. Ukraine doesn't recognize dual citizenship so Hungarians living there are not eligible–period. For Hungarians living in Serbia life would be much easier if they could claim Hungarian citizenship, but I'm not at all sure that the European Union would be enamored with that prospect. In Slovenia and Austria there are very few Hungarians, and they would be unlikely to want to participate in Hungarian politics or emigrate to Hungary. That leaves Slovakia and Romania. These two countries also belong to the EU, and therefore it is hard to see what advantage Hungarians living in these countries would gain by acquiring a second passport.

Oh, but the answer to this is that the whole question has nothing to do with rationality. Somehow the Hungarian minorities have felt excluded from the nation ever since December 2004 when a referendum on this very question failed. Only 19% of the eligible voters showed up instead of the requisite 25%, and those who did approved granting dual citizenship by only a very slim margin. That result by now is translated by Viktor Orbán as "a mandate" for granting dual citizenship. The yea's won. According to him. Orbán just the other day announced that once they win the elections they will grant dual citizenship. "It is that simple!" Again, according to him. However, it is not at all that simple because the countries to whose citizens Hungary wants to grant citizenship also have a say in the matter. And anyone who has followed Romanian or Slovak reactions to earlier attempts at granting some kind of special status to Hungarians in the neighboring countries should know that neither country will ever agree to that kind of arrangement. As Mikuláš Dzurinda, former prime minister and leader of the Slovak Democractic Union, a moderate right-wing party, and someone who allegedly got along splendidly with Viktor Orbán when he was prime minister, said rather bluntly: It is the right of the Budapest parliament to decide what kind of laws to enact, but those laws can be applied only within the confines of Hungary.

Orbán over the weekend added insult to injury when he attended the congress of Magyar Koalíció Pártja (Strana mad'arskej koalicie or Party of the Hungarian Coalition). Until recently indeed there was only one Hungarian political party in Slovakia and it was a "coalition" of sorts. However, when there was a change in leadership the party split. MKP moved to the right and that is the party Fidesz supports, while the moderates and those left of center established a party of their own called Híd/Most (Bridge). In his speech at MKP's congress Orbán emphasized that "autonomy is a common European asset that doesn't recognize different treatment for different people." According to him "what the Swedes get in Finland or the Catalans in Spain Hungarians also deserve in the Uplands, in Transylvania, and in Southern Hungary (Délvidék)." I assume he purposely avoided the words: Slovakia, Romania, and Serbia. But Orbán uses the word "autonomy" very loosely. Is he talking about "territorial autonomy," "cultural autonomy," or simply about the status of the Hungarian language? Because in Finland there are two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, although only about 6% of the population is Swedish. The Catalan language is one of the official languages of a group of cantons in Spain that constitutes a contiguous territory. Thus the situation in Spain and Finland simply cannot be compared. In Slovakia the Hungarians don't inhabit a contiguous territory where they would be in the majority, and therefore territorial autonomy would most likely be out of the question even if the Slovaks were eager to cooperate with Viktor Orbán. But there is another problem, according to Béla Bugár, head of Híd. The word "autonomy" has a different meaning in Slovakia than it does in some other countries. Bugár claims that the Slovaks on the road to independence always demanded only "autonomy" within Czechoslovakia, although deep down they desired a country of their own. So when Slovaks hear the word "autonomy" they can think of only one thing: the Hungarians want to leave Slovakia.

Orbán, however, is optimistic. He had wonderful relations with Dzurinda, and he will meet Robert Fico as soon as he is prime minister of Hungary again. He will be able to convince him of the utter reasonableness of dual citizenship. (In Hungarian, "pontot tenne a kettős állampolgárság ügyére.") I would like to see that. Orbán and Fico agreeing on dual citizenship for the Hungarians of Slovakia!

MSZP and SZDSZ are caught, and not for the first time. If they turn down the latest Fidesz-KDNP proposal to allow people to become Hungarian citizens without actually moving to Hungary from the neighboring countries, they can be accused of being unpatriotic and not having solidarity with the people who belong to the "nation." If they agree, there is the fear that István Mikola's vision will soon materialize: with the help of votes from Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia Fidesz will be in power for decades. Again, as often happens, MSZP is between a rock and a hard place.

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Excellent points
About the dual citizenship: The main beneficiaries will be the Israelis, and Hungarians living in South-America.
About a third of Israelis are dual citizens already, and about 250 thousand of them are eligible for Hungarian EU passport. Probably another 100 thousand Hungarians in Brazil; Argentina etc. would apply for the EU passport.
The Hungarian far right used to warn that the “Israelis are coming”, with Orban’s proposal it might just happen…


Let’s hope so.

Odin's lost eye
Once again we see Fidesz lighting the fuse on the dynamite! They have two reasons for doing this. Firstly they are playing the Nationalist card against their political opponents and secondly to stir up trouble in the European Union. They are doing the latter to try to force the E.U. to turn a blind eye to what is to come in Hungary when Fidesz gain power. To tell citizens of another state that they are also citizens of Hungary would have been in the past been a ‘Causus Belli’ –a cause of war-. In that Hungary claimed all Hungarian speaking peoples as their citizens would be considered to incite those people to commit acts of treachery against the state of whom they were citizens. Anyway it is quite unnecessary. Those Hungarians living in the E.U. have the right to live and move where ever they want within the EU. I do not think that many will want to come and live in the New Hungary under the leadership of the ‘All Highest’ and his new glorious one party state! A state, which will commit far worse acts against its people, than those, which were ever committed in the communist times.
“If I judge the situation correctly, the majority of Hungarians are not thrilled at the idea of people who don’t live in the country on a permanent basis being able to influence the outcome of elections.” There is a really important dimension to the way in which this has played politically that you are missing. The unpopularity of dual citizenship proposals has really been fed by anti-immigrant sentiment inside Hungary. There was – even in the Antall-Boross years – a resentment inside Hungary at the way in which the political right prioritised the interests of those living abroad: “the stupid government always pays attention to the Hungarians living beyond the borders, rather than those who live within them” was a frequent complaint I used to hear in 1993-4. In 2001-2 the Orbán-Nastase pact surrounding the status law went down badly for similar reason. There was a fear that Hungary’s labour market would be flooded to the detriment of Hungary’s residents – however irrational this fear was. The Orbán-Nasatse pact contributed in no small way to FIDESZ’s defeat in 2002. This also lay behind the defeat of the 2004 dual citizenship referendum. As a Budapest resident during the campaign I got… Read more »
I can’t wait for the first articles published in Magyar Hírlap, Demokrata or Magyar Nemzet some time in 2011 attacking the government that applicants have to endure a long and burocratic procedure etc. 🙂 En masse applications will create a bottleneck and contrary to the hopes fuelled by Fidesz, Jobbik and people with good will even without this turn of events the process will last longer than they expect. Not to speak of the remaining burocratic obstacles and the necessity to produce documents etc. Something similar happened in the case of Moldavia, with the additional factor of a tacit intervention from the EU in order to stop Romania granting citizenship for Moldavians after their accession. (Of course there will be passionate articles on Hungarians from Hungary declaring people with Hungarian passport Romanians, Slovaks etc. afterwards, it is not an issue of ID, but people simply cannot understand this fact…) Otherwise I’m not convinced that it is not part of a deliberate strategy addressing the demographic changes in the short term. Kövér made references to such thoughts even in the debate before the referendum, in 2004 and although I’m convinced that a lot of Fidesz’s politicians believe in their national mission,… Read more »
“with the help of votes from Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia Fidesz will be in power for decades” Is that because those Hungarians from over the border are all rabid nationalists, and love Orbán? A bit like those primitive folk who live outside Budapest perhaps? Sorry to be blunt, but that does seem to be the assumption here. Another assumption is that if granted dual citizenship, someone in Marosvásárhely/Tírgu Mures would actually bother to register for and vote in elections in Hungary. I live in Budapest, and had the right to vote in the last local Euro elections, but felt it wasn’t really my business (nor was I very attracted by the choice of candidates.) Speaking to a couple of friends from Cluj, one of them didn’t want dual citizenship, while the other, who is a fairly “patriotic” type said that she’d like a Hungarian passport for symbolic reasons but wouldn’t bother voting in Hungarian elections. She also said that she thought really the time for dual citizenship had been and gone, back in 2004. Neither of them are very impressed with the parochial patronising and ignorant attitudes of Hungarians in Hungary to those (from) over the border. My survey… Read more »

“My experience is that at least the Hungarians living in Romania, by and large, are inclined to sympathize with Fidesz and the right in general”
Well, I could suggest you talk to more Hungarians living in Romania, but that would be flippant. What about looking at how Hungarians in Transylvania vote?
The most popular Hungarian party in Romania, the RMDSZ (UDMR) have four seats in the Bucharest parliament and two EU parliament seats. The other Hungarian party, the “Hungarian Civic Party” (does the name sound familiar?) have no seats in parliament and one EU seat. The latter party are best buddies with Fidesz, who actively helped them campaign in the last EU election.
The RMDSZ have quite often had their differences with Fidesz, but being a wily (or perhaps, reasonable) kind of party they will make their peace with anyone if it gives them more of a voice. They supported the Socialists in 2004, for example. Not very right wing of them – more pragmatic.


Éva: “But the RMDSZ is on the right. Romanian Hungarians simply don’t have either a liberal or a socialist party.”
This isn’t actually true. Even though the RMDSZ does sit with the EPP in the European Parliament, it is ideologically (in the left-right sense) pluralist. The RMDSZ is an alliance that seeks to advance the interests of Hungarians within Romania, and supports various internal platforms within its ranks. Of its internal platforms there is a Social Democratic Platform, a Christian Democratic Platform, a National Liberal and a simple Liberal circle. It can’t be simple pigeonholed as being on the right.


Éva: ” I wouldn’t like to find out how the Transylvanian Hungarians would vote at a Hungarian elections.”
Maybe not. All I can say is that I’ve been visiting Transylvania since 1996, and realities there are not as they are imagined in Hungary proper, especially not by nationalists. István Mikola may think that the issuing of dual citizenship will create for FIDESZ its permanent right-wing majority (though Mikola is not famous for his good political judgement), but I suspect it will have a good many unintended consequences. I know that many Hungarians in Transylvania (and elsewhere) felt personally insulted (if not surprised) by Hungary’s failure to at least make the offer of citizenship in 2004, but that doesn’t make them politically homogeneous. Ethnic identities are much more pluralistic and fluid in many parts of Transylvania and southern Slovakia than one would think from listening to Hungarian discussions of what goes on beyond the borders. Furthermore, there is no automatic solidarity between Hungarians in Hungary proper, and those outside its borders.


What is the general attitude (if there is such thing) of Hungarians in Hungary towards Hungarians from Transylvania?
Mostly from hearsay I understand that it is not very favorable.
Could you tell me why? Are there economic reasons (‘they will come and steal our jobs’) or are there other kind of reasons?
Are they being looked-down because they come from a poorer country?
Or are Transylvanian Hungarians seen as not being ‘true Hungarians’ (whatever that might mean)? as being “Romanians” and I suppose that would be a bad thing?
Usually the diaspora tends to be more nationalistic than the people living in the home-country. Are Transylvanian Hungarians more nationalistic that Hungarians from Hungary? Ms Balogh seems to agree with this.
Do Hungarians from Hungary make a difference between Transylvanian Hungarians and Székelys in terms of their attitude towards these groups?
I realize that I use a broad brush, stereotypes and generalizations but public attitudes often work this way.
I would appreciate if you could ‘enlighten’ me on this issues.
Thank you.
I am a Romanian from Transylvania.

What Hungarians vote in Romania does not necessarily predict what will happen if they vote in Hungary. For them, it is a vote without consequences: you can vote for Orbán, but you won’t have to be ruled by him. This mechanism works to the advantage of populists. Populists often have high support in opinion polls, but lose this at the ballot box, because in the end voters do not want to be governed by them. In elections where there is no such price to pay, populists stand a greater chance of winning. Examples are the referenda on the European constitution in France and Holland: a “no” vote meant a vote for the status quo, i.e., the price of a “no” was marginal. The price of a “yes” was far higher: an uncertain future if the populist propaganda was true. Similarly, I’d expect people to vote populist in European elections, as many voters do not really consider the EP important, and see it as a “free” vote against the political elite. So, I would expect something similar to be true for Transylvanians voting in Hungary. However, there is little gain to be had to show up at all. A protest vote… Read more »
Éva: “Dávid Héjj (Századvég) brought up the usual right-wing argument that why would anyone think that all Hungarians in Romania or Slovakia would vote for Fidesz. József Debreczeni with a smile answered: “Not all, only 80%.” ” My problem with this kind of discussion is how, really, would anyone know to be able to pass a judgement because these sorts of discussions contain normally not a single fact, nor piece of relevant evidence. What we are dealing with here is that both opinions are determined by the fact that the holders of those opinions have a self-serving political interest in expressing them. And they are determined not by the true politics of Hungarians abroad, but by the way this issue is politicized inside Hungary. We know that what Hungary sees of this issue are a few quotes from the “Hungarian politicians beyond the borders”. The nationalists automatically believe that these people are their natural allies – not because of their actual political stance (in both Romania and Slovakia FIDESZ attempts to integrate these organizations have not been especially successful in either case), but because the nationalists want to believe they are allies. Likewise, liberals see them and assume – automatically… Read more »

“I have a friend originally from Cluj who reads the local Hungarian paper”
Oh, there’s only one Hungarian paper in Cluj is there? Funny, I thought there were a couple.
I am with Mark on this one. Perhaps its just down to the Hungarian Transylvanians I have met (generally ones who still live there, or left recently, rather than the ones who left 20 years ago)
Pauls questions are good ones.
Do Hungarians from Hungary make a difference between Transylvanian Hungarians and Székelys in terms of their attitude towards these groups?
-I’d say no, they don’t.
But in general they feel superior to both, even the ones on the right who are “fascinated by” and “sympathise with” them.
Its rather like the common attitudes you hear in Hungary about the neighbouring countries – condescending and founded on ignorance.
Incidentally Hungarians from Romania tend to be better at foreign languages than those from Hungary. The legacy of subtitling on TV and having to learn another language from an early age. That may be one of the reasons they often do well in Budapest…

A very interesting discussion. I believe there is another -and very relevant- reason to why people claim such huge general right-wing orientated political flavours among the Transylvanian Hungarians. That has to do with the popular image of the Transylvania as the place where real Hungarian-ess has been able to survive. I mean the idyllic sentiment that is especially found among many urban Hungarians that the rural hardships make a better man. A morally better man. This sentiment is folkloric in it’s nature, and strangely enough much stronger related to Transylvania than to any of the other lost Hungarian territories. And it is very popular in Hungary. Many urban Hungarian have rural roots, only 2-3 generations back, and many cherish a folkloric image as a way to show respect to their rural origin. It is a false sentiment. It can be an outright wrong sentiment (Albert Wass). And it has an idiom of it’s own. That sentiment is shrewdly used by Fidesz. Claiming that Transylvanians would all vote Fidesz (if they only could!) is a powerful statement. It’s biggest craft lies in the connotation of a pre-communist world. It lacks the ugliness of the urban communist era, it does not have… Read more »

It seems to me that there is probably a nationalistic element to the assumed support among the near diaspora for FIDESZ. There is also, I assume, an element of wanting to feel loved, and Orban has gone out of his way to try and make them feel so, and the MSZP has very much not done so. But forget all that. What will drive the diaspora to vote FIDESZ will be the further promise of lots of nice transfer payments for retirement, etc. Hungary still offers a much more generous levels of transfer payments than its far more sensible neighbors. This is (and the hope of an EU passport for the Serbs and Ukrainians)what all these glorious Hungarians want. Don’t fool yourselves.
It is also why this will end up being a massive problem for FIDESZ domestically (by which I mean current Hungary not the fantasy of pre-Trianon Hu).

Andras M. Nagy

Very nice blog and forum…I am happy to have found this now as I am in some sort of a bind…
I am in some panic as my Hungarian passport has expired and renewing is now becoming very, VERY hard. I suspect that has nothing to do with losing my Hungarian citizenship rather than losing my access and ability to use a Hungarian passport along with my US one. I have left Budapest in 1978 and I was granted a passport and considered to be Hungarian as well is my other nationally which is my adopted home, California. I suspect, since EU forces the Hungarians to issue passports using fingerprinting records I cannot just easily renew my passport. I also think many used graft and forging techniques before so the officials made things more strict. I am not very happy about all this and going home next year to see what is what.


“People who acquire Hungarian citizenship without actually moving to Hungary on a permanent basis “on paper” cannot participate in Hungarian national or local elections.” Well I guess, if you really love your country, you’ll find time to stay to your homeland, so that you could participate on one of the most important national events, which is the election.