|Intolerance in Slovakia: The Opressive "Language Law" |
11/27/09 -- American Hungarian Federation and others express their concern about sweeping statements made by Ambassador in interview concerning Hungary. The Washington Times publishes Federation's letter and former Foreign Service Officer pens letter to the Ambassador. "[The Ambassador is] ignoring an exceedingly complex social problem that not even the government has been able to address effectively. While discussing prejudice, he also could have referred to the intolerance toward the Hungarian minorities throughout the region.
1 - Washington Times Article "Hungary for More"
3 - Washington Times Interview: "Embassy Row"
Friday, November 27, 2009
Hungary for more
Hungarian Ambassador Bela Szombati's interview with The Washington Times is unique in its characterization of Hungary ("Ready for rebound," Embassy Row, World, Nov. 18). Mr. Szombati's optimistic prediction that Hungary is poised for an economic recovery must be welcome news for Hungarians. They deserve a more robust growth cycle following the mismanagement of the past several years, which exacerbated the effects of the global financial crisis in Hungary.
The ambassador's reference to interethnic relations in Hungary, including the situation of the Roma, mentions only "hatred" and "a lot of prejudice," thereby ignoring an exceedingly complex social problem that not even the government has been able to address effectively. While discussing prejudice, he also could have referred to the intolerance toward the Hungarian minorities throughout the region. The discriminatory language law in Slovakia that criminalizes the use of the Hungarian language is a prime example of such intolerance, and it is an issue that is not receiving the attention it deserves.
While Hungarians are learning how to live in their newly restored democracy, as stated by the ambassador, he neglected to mention that these problems can be traced directly to the 45 years of totalitarianism imposed on Hungary during the Cold War. He could have pointed out that the strong democratic vein running through Hungary's modern history will ensure that his country's political future will be bright, especially after the old impulses and lingering negative effects of the previous dictatorship disappear.
In support of this assertion, the ambassador could have mentioned the great Hungarian democrats: Louis Kossuth, who led the reform movement and war of independence against Austria in 1848 and whose bust is on display in the U.S. Capitol; the Smallholders of 1945 who won democratic elections despite Soviet occupation and interference; the freedom fighters of the 1956 revolution; or the democratic opposition in the late 1980s that helped topple communism.
Absent this historical context, the published interview left an erroneous impression about Hungary, an impression the ambassador clearly did not want to leave.
FRANK KOSZORUS JR.
Louis S. Segesvary, Ph.D.
Ambassador Béla Szombati
Dear Ambassador Szombati:
As a Hungarian-American, it is with some dismay that I read your recent interview in The Washington Times on the current state of affairs in Hungary. When you stated that there is “hatred, prejudice, a lot of prejudice, especially toward the Roma” in the country, I wonder why you couldn’t have provided some backdrop and context as to the difficult assimilation issues associated with the Roma population.
I say this with all due respect and admiration for the Roma, having been raised in a home where their sensitive and imaginative music was both a cause for enjoyment and pride. Most of the Hungarians I know fully support the civic rights of the Roma and would be the first to decry any animosity or prejudice directed to them. Unfortunately, there are without doubt a number of Hungarians who do not share these sentiments. But you seem to be painting Hungary as a whole, without any qualification, with the broad brush of hatred and prejudice. No indication is given to the fact that many homes were like mine, where the Roma were appreciated for their cultural contributions.
As a former career American diplomat, I was schooled in the importance of providing a fair and balanced portrait of my country abroad. And while the United States has had its own troubled racial history, far more extensive than anything Hungary has experienced with the Roma, I don’t know that I would ever have used the kind of sweeping, condemning language in representing my country that you have used with regard to Hungary. I am sure that was not your intention, but regrettably your words conveyed a lack of both proportion and nuance.
I was also disappointed to see your characterization of Hungary as some kind of political backwater, in which people are only “learning how to debate” and “learning how to handle our political opponents.” To say this of a country that produced one of the greatest 19th century European proponents of democracy, Kossuth Lajos, widely celebrated in the United States with streets and towns named after him, seems to me a little far fetched to say the least. As you well know, in its thirst for freedom and democracy, Hungary twice revolted on the world stage against its oppressors, first in the rebellion against the Hapsburg dynasty in 1848 and then in 1956 in another rebellion against overwhelming Soviet military power. It was about that last brutally crushed revolution that Albert Camus could write, “Hungary conquered and in chains has done more for freedom and justice than any people for twenty years.”
The political tensions that exist in Hungary today have less to do with learning the ways of democracy and more to do with the lack of public trust in manipulative politicians. Considering the robustness of the press in Hungary, the vigorous civic discourse, and the broad public support for its democratic institutions and procedures -- multi-party politics, a transparent electoral process, and the rule of law -- I would think that Hungary should be commended for its progress in re-establishing democracy after 45 years of Soviet-backed totalitarian oppression instead of being treated to the kind of condescension reserved for school children, which again, I am sure was not your intention.
Let me just add that if you have been misquoted in any respect in your interview, I hope you will consider sending a letter to the editor to set the record straight.
Respectfully and with my compliments,
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
READY FOR REBOUND
The Hungarian ambassador is confidently predicting that his country, after hitting bottom during the global financial crisis, is poised for an economic recovery and just waiting for the rest of the world to catch up.
"Next year Hungary will be best off in the European Union," Ambassador Bela Szombati told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. "The government has done a tremendous job. We're in a good position. We're waiting for the next growth cycle."
The only obstacle toward recovery would be slow growth in Germany, a major market for Hungarian exports.
"If there is no growth in Germany, it would be extremely difficult to get growth in Hungary," he said.
Mr. Szombati credited the government of Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai for facing the severe economic morass and setting Hungary on a path toward recovery. Mr. Bajnai took office after the March resignation of Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany and secured support from parliament for deep cuts in social programs and other measures.
Among those cuts, Hungarian government employees and retirees lost an extra month's salary, called the "13th month" paycheck, and the government increased the retirement age to 65 from 62. However, most Hungarians took early retirement after turning 58.
"There were also deep cuts in government expenditures," the ambassador added.
He noted that the government imposed a "strict-disciplined economic and budgetary policy" that has resulted in a favorable review from the International Monetary Fund, which was keeping Hungary afloat with a $25.1 billion rescue plan.
Mr. Szombati said the government's economic measures are expected to meet its goal of reducing the budget deficit to 3.9 percent of the gross domestic product next year, down from a high of 9 percent in 2006.
The economic crisis was accompanied by political turmoil and a rise in ethnic violence, especially against Hungary's Roma, or Gypsy, population.
"There is hatred, prejudice, a lot of prejudice, especially toward the Roma," Mr. Szombati said. "It truly is the biggest hurdle we face."
However, Mr. Szombati said Hungarians, only 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, are still learning how to live in a democracy.
"What is going on in Hungary reminds me of what was going on in this country in the 1780s and early 1800s," Mr. Szombati said, referring to the political and economic instability that followed the American Revolution.
"We are learning how to debate. We are learning how to handle our political opponents."
The ambassador said he was trying to be candid about the social and political conditions in Hungary.
"I'm not putting a spin on it. I'm offering you my analysis," he said. "A lot of people are disappointed by what they see, but they have not given up on democracy."
up for the AHF mailing list.
Hungarians in Slovakia
By Any Other Name: Hungary, Apartheid,
and the Benes Decrees
These decrees sent millions of people, who had lived in the region for many centuries, off in sealed wagons, away from their homes, their families - not to mention the odd ones who died on the trip.
WHAT THE BENES DECREES SAY
One may be forgiven for suspecting, by the casual way the Benes Decrees are often disparaged by commentators, that many of those who write about the Decrees have never taken the trouble to [read them].
Living as I have for over 20 years in South Africa, I know this language well. It is the language of Apartheid.
There is no moral difference, to my mind, in withdrawing civil rights, confiscating private property and deporting people, whether they be Black South Africans sent to some "Homeland/Bantustan," or Armenians, or deported Chechens, or Germans and Hungarians.
The Hungarians who lived in what is now Slovakia and Trans-Carpathian Ukraine (which was given to Stalin by a grateful Benes in 1945) were more than one million strong in 1910. By 1930, thanks to the above-mentioned "administrative" cleansing, their numbers had been reduced to 585,434. After Hungary reclaimed its lands in 1939, people began moving back to their homes. In 1941-45, there were about 761,000 in what is today Slovakia alone. [read more]
The "Benes Decrees" began in the mind of Czech statesman Edvard Benes sometime in 1940. He made some quite clear statements about his plans by 1941. The plans? To kill and/or expel all people of German or Hungarian ethnicity/language from a reunited Czechoslovakia, which had fallen apart at the start of the war. This is the sort of thing you would expect from a Himmler or a Beria, not a guy who is lionised in Western history books, and generally books about Central Europe, as the only true "democrat" in the region. But Czechoslovakia was never a complete democracy. Just as interwar Hungary, or Poland, or Yugoslavia, were not. Not quite. In Czechoslovakia, designed as a "national homeland" for Slavs, the Slavic Rusyns had to have two votes to equal one Czech vote! Democracy? [read more]
THE PRESIDENTIAL DECREES
OF EDWARD BENES
The first Czechoslovak Republic (1918-1938) was recreated in 1945 at the end of World War II and existed until the end of 1992. In both cases, Czechoslovakia utterly failed to form a governmental structure that secured freedom, prosperity, peace, and equal rights for all citizens of the state.
In 1918, the newly founded Czechoslovak Republic was entirely carved out of the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy by a unilateral decision of the victorious entente powers. The dictated peace treaties of Versailles, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Trianon were not an outcome of a true peace conference at which the defeated would also have been given the opportunity to enunciate the limits of acceptable conditions for peace. Such a peace conference was never assembled.
The Versailles peace treaty with Germany was condemned by non-interested parties. In fact, the US Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, had declared that "the Versailles treaty menaces the existence of civilization," and two popes had stigmatized the instrument. Benedict XV condemned it for "the lack of an elevated sense of justice, the absence of dignity, morality or Christian nobility," and Pius XI, in his 1922 encyclical "Ubi arcam Dei," deplored an artificial peace set down on paper "which instead of arousing noble sentiments increases and legitimizes the spirit of vengeance and rancour."
The peace treaty of Trianon (1920) with Hungary resulted in the dismemberment of the thousand- year- old Hungarian Kingdom, as a result of an unbelievably inimical attitude of the allied representatives toward the Magyars. The consequence to Hungary was a loss of 71.5% of its territory and 63.6% of its population. The extreme tragedy of Hungary can be illustrated by comparing the smaller losses in 1871 of France to Germany, in which France gave up 2.6% of its territory and 4.1% of its population to Germany. The Trianon treaty forced three and a half million Magyars to live, without their consent, in Czechoslovakia, the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenians and Rumania, with the stroke of a pen. The right of self-determination of nations, solemnly promised in the 14 points of US President Woodrow Wilson, was apparently forgotten. [more]
The Hungarian Problem
Newly Elected Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it well: "The borders of the Hungarian nation and the Hungarian State do not coincide." This is true, as witness the fact that fully one-third of all Hungarians are minorities in neighbouring countries, most just on the far side of the border.
This is, naturally, a problem for Hungarians. It is also a problem for all the states who got Hungarian lands. Many in neighbouring countries, and politicians in many more, have said in the past, and no doubt will say in the future: "Why don't they just go home?!!" But they are home!
They are home in the sense that they, as communities, haven't moved anywhere. They just woke up one morning to be told: "You are now a Czechoslovak, you are a Romanian, you are a Yugoslav." This first happened in 1918-20, when Hungary was partitioned by the infamous Trianon Treaty, which was not a treaty at all, but a diktat enforced by occupying Entente Armies. In the late 1930's, Hungary got some portions of its territories back, but after losing yet another war, the borders were tightened even more in 1947.
The key weakness of these treaties was that neither ever asked - or cared - what the local population wanted. Did they want to join a new state (e.g., Czechoslovakia) did they want to stay with Hungary, or did they want independence or autonomy or what?
The fact that these questions have never even been asked, let alone answered, in a supposedly democratic age, remains the central problem of the Hungarian minorities in the countries immediately surrounding Hungary. [more] [back to all AHF news]
..."the American government accepts, against its better judgment, the decision not to announce a plebiscite in the matter of the final drafting of frontiers. He believes that in many respects the frontiers do not correspond to the ethnic requisite, nor to economic necessity, and that significant modifications would be in order, particularly in the Ruthenian area." Later on Wallace submitted for the consideration of the Great Powers proposals with regard to a restoration of the economic unity of the Danubian states. The American initiative, however, came too late ... The only thing left was the Millerand cover letter, which did not oblige anyone to do anything!
The Hungarian peace delegation signed the peace treaty consisting of 14 points at the so-called Great Trianon palace, near Paris, on June 4, 1920. Hungary's fate was determined for an unforeseeable future by the second part of the treaty which defined the new borders. According to this section Hungary's area (without Croatia) would be reduced from 282,000 km2 to 93,000 km2, whereas its population decreased from 18 million to 7.6 million. This meant that Hungary lost two thirds of its territory, whereas Germany lost but 10 percent and Bulgaria but 8 percent to the benefit of their victorious neighbors.
As regards population, Hungary lost more than 60 percent of its inhabitants as opposed to the 10 percent lost by Germany. In the lands taken away from Hungary there lived approximately 10 million persons. Persons of Hungarian nationality constituted 3,424,000 in the areas taken away from Hungary. Of these 1,084,000 were attached to Czechoslovakia, 1,705,000 to Romania, 564,000 to Yugoslavia, and 65,000 to Austria. Thus 33.5 percent of all Hungarians came under foreign rule, i.e., every third Hungarian. For the sake of comparison. while the treaties of Versailles and Neuilly placed only one German or one Bulgarian out of every twenty under foreign rule, the Trianon treaty placed seven out of twenty Hungarians in the same position.
Furthermore about one half of the Hungarian minority attached to the neighboring states was ethnically directly next to the main body of Hungarians on the other side of the borders. Had the peace treaties signed in the Paris suburbs really tried to bring about, however incidentally, nation-states, then it would have had to leave at least 11/4 to 2 million more Hungarians inside Hungary. In contrast the 42 million inhabitants of the successor states there were about 16 million minorities, as a consequence of which Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia became multinational states much like the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy had been. What is more, according to the census of 1910 the percentage of Hungarians in Hungary had reached 54.4 percent, whereas in the nations that came about as a result of the peace treaties, in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, the leading Czech and Serbian elements constituted but a minority as compared to the other ethnic groups.
The Treaty of Trianon was a great blow to Hungary in economic terms as well. Hungary was deprived of 62.2 percent of its railroad network, 73.8 percent of its public roads, 64.6 percent of its canals, 88 percent of its forests, 83 percent of its iron ore mines and of all its salt mines.
At the Peace Conference the Entente powers, in order to satisfy the imperialist greed of their allies in central Europe, cut across roads, canals, railroad lines, split cities and villages in two, deprived mines of their entrances, etc.
There was but one modification of the frontier: thanks to Italian intercession
and the stand taken by patriotic forces in Western Hungary, a plebiscite
was obtained in Sopron and its environs. At the plebiscite of December
4, 1921, 65 percent of the population opted for Hungary.
Help us help the community! Donate securely online.[back to all AHF news]
DISCLAIMER: The American Hungarian Federation does not necessarily
endorse the content or opinions expressed by its individual members
and member organizations. © American Hungarian Federation®, All Rights Reserved