I have the feeling that most Hungarians living within the country’s borders would be appalled if they knew how much financial support ethnic Hungarian parties receive from the government in Budapest. Here I will write about the Hungarian government’s reach into Serbia and briefly cover its failure in the ethnic politics of Slovakia.
The area of the Autonomous Province of Voivodina has a population of about 2 million people, most of whom (66.76%) are Serbs.The next largest ethnic group is Hungarian (13%). The area has autonomous status, and the Hungarians have their own national council (Magyar Nemzeti Tanács). The Hungarian government supports the Voivodina Hungarian Association (Vajdasági Magyar Szövetség / VMSZ). István Pásztor, who became chairman of the VMSZ in 2007, has developed a close relationship with Viktor Orbán, with all the benefits that it entails.
To the surprise of everybody, including the leadership of VMSZ, in November 2015 Levente Magyar, undersecretary in the ministry of foreign affairs and trade, announced a 50 billion forint package for the improvement of agriculture and tourism in the Hungarian-inhabited areas of Voivodina. Thirty billion will be given in long-term low-interest loans, and the rest will be an outright grant. This grant is supposed to put an end to, or at least slow, the emigration of Hungarian youth to western Europe. VMSZ will decide how this money will be distributed.
All three Orbán governments have meddled in the political life of the Hungarian communities in the neighboring countries. The financial assistance they extend to the Hungarian minorities is based on ideological considerations: only those parties receive assistance that are close to the right-wing nationalist worldview of Fidesz. Viktor Orbán prefers monolithic parties, the kind he himself built at home. Apparently, István Pásztor is that kind of a leader but, unlike in Fidesz, some people in VMSZ objected to Pásztor’s style. Orbán noticed the rebellion that was brewing in the party and warned that “it is not in the interest of Hungarian national policy that the unity that has been achieved in the Southern Territories (Délvidék) in any way be damaged.” He indicated that his government will not assist any such deviance from the party line. Fidesz hoped that this incredible amount of money would strengthen Pásztor’s leadership, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case.
István Pásztor and VMSZ received the money in November 2015, and by February 2016 Népszava reported that eighty persons had been expelled from the party just before the April national election. Considering that the party has 11,000 members, this number doesn’t sound large enough to do much damage. However, some of those who were expelled are important personages in Voivodina politics. For example, Jenő Maglai, the only Hungarian mayor of a large Serbian city, Subotica/Szabadka.
If political unity in Voivodina comes to an end and if different Hungarian parties compete against one another, the strength of the Hungarian parties will dissipate. This is what happened almost everywhere Fidesz politicos interfered. Romania is perhaps the best example, where at one point two new Fidesz-favored parties tried to weaken the Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ), with little success. Fidesz managed to split the Hungarian parties both in Ukraine and Slovakia. The same situation is developing in Voivodina. A civic movement called Magyar Mozgalom (Hungarian Movement) has been formed, which has attacked VMSZ as “being totally subordinated to the Hungarian government.”
This was not the first time that VMSZ received substantial amounts of money from Budapest. Back in 2013 Pásztor received 11.3 billion forints or 27.8 million euros (at the 2015 exchange rate), which “to the last penny” went to friends and family of VMSZ leaders. The list of beneficiaries was acquired by the media and published in Gépnarancs in June 2015. Three million euros went to Olivér Bunford, who owns a horse farm and runs the Vajdasági Vágta (Voivodina Gallop) and who happens to be the son of Tivadar Bunford, member of the executive board of VMSZ. The older Bunford also received 4.5 million euros. Those who didn’t like the new ways of doing business within the party and dared to say something were forced to resign, like Deputy Chairman László Varga who bitterly complained about Pásztor’s autocratic ways. Not only did Fidesz export its penchant for using public funds for private purposes but VMSZ also follows the cultural policies of Fidesz. The party leaders have attacked the program and spirit of the Hungarian theater in Subotica/Szabadka.
The Slovak situation is somewhat different. There three smaller Hungarian parties formed a new party called Magyar Koalíció Pártja (MKP) in 1998, which became the coalition partner in the Dzurinda government (1998-2006). When Pál Csáky, a friend of Viktor Orbán and a Fidesz loyalist, was chosen to be the new chairman in 2009, however, several politicians, including Béla Bugár, the former chairman, left the party and established a party named Most—Híd, meaning “bridge” in Slovak and Hungarian. As its name indicates, it is an inter-ethnic party. It seeks to represent the interests of Hungarians while working together with the majority Slovaks. To everybody’s surprise, Most—Híd won 8.12% of the votes in 2010 while the Fidesz-supported MKP didn’t reach the cut-off point of 5% of the votes. Since then MKP has dwindled and found itself without representation in 2012 as well as in 2016. Most—Híd, on the other hand, managed to win 6.89% of votes in 2012, and 6.7% in 2016. Given Fico’s poor showing, Most—Híd might have a role to play in the forthcoming coalition negotiations.
The latest chairman of MKP has resigned. Despite strong Fidesz support, or perhaps because of it, Viktor Orbán’s favorite party has bombed. Yet the Budapest government refuses to do anything with Béla Bugár’s party because it is not a “purely Hungarian” party.
I think one can safely say that the money that is being spent by the Budapest government to bolster the chosen Hungarian ethnic political parties does more harm than good. Moreover, a great deal of the assistance ends up in the pockets of Fidesz loyalists. All in all, not a wise use of the Hungarian taxpayers’ money.