|The Benes Decress and Anti-Hungarian Sentiment in Slovakia|
7/5/2005 - The Benes Decrees and Post Communist-era Developments - Bryan Dawson, AHF Information Office, Washington, D.C.
The 1945 Benes Decrees claimed collective World War II responsibility of Germans and Hungarians living in Czechoslovakia, and deprived them of their rights, their property and expelled many of them from the country. The Decrees, formally, are still in force. Austria, Germany, and Hungary are have called for the repeal of the laws.
According to the Decrees, 2.5 million ethnic Germans (Sudetendeutsch) and approximately 40,000 Hungarians were lost their Czechoslovakian citizenship, their land was expropriated and they were exiled. This transition was carried out over 1945-46, and was in many cases badly administered and brutal. Many people lost their lives. Ethnic Czechs were moved in to fill the empty towns.
There are presently about 578,000 ethnic Hungarians, or Magyars, living in scattered settlements along the southern border areas of the Slovakia and constitute the largest ethnic minority in the country. This is 10.8% of the Slovak Republic's population of 5,353,000 as estimated from a 1991 census and country population review from the UN. These numbers are easily argued as many ethnic Hungarians do not self-identify to avoid discrimination. In either case, these Magyars are what remains of the Hungarians in what was "Upper Hungary" for about 1000 years until 1919, when Czechoslovakia was created.
As written on "Hungarians in the Slovak Republic" from Slovakia.org, "Since the 1989 "velvet revolution," Slovaks have had greater control over their region and nationalist sentiment has been growing. This has resulted in a series of Slovak laws restricting the use of the Hungarian language and what is perceived by the Hungarians as a campaign advocating racial discrimination against them by many Slovak politicians and the Slovak media. This anti-Hungarian sentiment has been made worse by the elimination of the moderating influence of the Czechs on Slovakia's relationship with its Hungarian minority. The elimination of Czech influence became complete on January 1 1993 when Czechoslovakia formally divided into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The anti-Hungarian sentiment is made worse by perceptions that Hungary is using Slovakia's ethnic Hungarians as part of an expansionist policy, Whether or not this is actually the case, it is clear that Hungary does take an active interest in the well being of ethnic Hungarians living outside its borders, especially the large populations in Slovakia and Romania."
Chronology of Events
Despite EU pressures and hopes that EU accession by Slovakia, anti-Hungarian nationalism remains a threat to regional stability. Some recent highlights from Slovakia.org:
October 26, 1991: The Slovak regional parliament votes to make Slovak the only official language in the region. The rights of minorities to use their own languages will continue to be respected. Hungarians can still use their native language in all official venues in communities where they constitute at least 20% of the population. Deputies of the Slovak National Party (SNP) walk out in protest, demanding that the law bar ethnic Hungarians and other minorities from conducting any kind of business in their mother tongues. This is followed by formal protests and hunger strikes by SNP supporters which continue well into November.
June 18, 1992: Reuters reports that in southern Slovakia some bilingual signs have been defaced and that slogans such as "Slovakia for the Slovaks" adorn the walls of houses.
June 30, 1992: The Financial Times reports that Hungary has called for autonomy for ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia.
July, 1992: The European Community expresses concern about the status of Slovakia's national minorities and the Council of Europe Secretary-General Catherine Lalumiere visits Bratslava to discuss the matter with Slovak Prime Minister Meciar.
August 10, 1992: The New York Times reports that Slovak Prime Minister Meciar announced in parliament, when referring to Hungarians, that any ethnic politicians who roil national tensions will be treated as "political criminals."
September, 1992: Ethnic Hungarians accuse Slovak police of brutally beating soccer fans from Budapest at a soccer match while Slovak fans cheer. Police claim they were merely subduing rowdy fans who had started fights.
September, 1992: Signs showing the names of ethnically mixed towns in Hungarian are ordered removed and state-run television bans those names from Hungarian-language television programs.
September, 1992: Prime Minister Meciar rejects any accord with Hungary on the minority issue calling the matter an internal affair.
September 1, 1992: The Slovakian parliament passes a draft constitution. Hungarian deputies walk out after parliament rejects their demands for cultural, educational, and territorial autonomy. The new constitution recognizes Hungarian as an official language only in regions where ethnic Hungarians constitute at least 20% of the population.
October 19, 1992: Reuters reports that permission has been refused for the creation of a Hungarian school system in Slovakia and that a proposal by Hungarian deputies to create a Hungarian university had been rejected.
January 2, 1993: Reuters reports that under a law passed last year, all official documents including birth certificates must be in Slovak as must all public ceremonies. This means that ethnic Hungarians must give their children Slovak names.
April 27, 1993: Slovak President Michal Kovac says that Slovakia will never grant autonomy to its Hungarian minority. His statement follows renewed calls by Coexistence for Hungarians to be given autonomy in districts in southern Slovakia.
May 13, 1993: Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar says that his government is ready to lift restrictions on the rights of ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia in accordance with the Council of Europe's demands. This includes lifting the ban on the use of Hungarian first names and the mandatory use of a Slovak ending on all female last names. Slovakia wants to join the Council but has been prevented from doing so because of its perceived discrimination against minorities. Note: Meciar's HZDS party never keeps its promise and those reforms that do occur are enacted by another government after the HZDS party is ousted.
June 8, 1993: The Irish Times reports that in order to join the Council of Europe, Slovakia plans to change local government boundaries in Hungarian populated areas. The borders currently run from north to south, slicing up the Hungarian population. Note: This promise is, to date, not kept. In fact, the government later proposes a redistricting plan which would make Hungarians a minority in all districts. This law passes in 1996.
June 30, 1993: Slovakia becomes a member of the Council of Europe despite Hungary's reservations about Slovakia's treatment of its ethnic Hungarian minority.
July, 1993: Prime Minister Meciar refuses to sign into law a bill that would have legalized the official use of Hungarian first and family names.
July 2, 1993: The St. Petersburg Times reports that the present demands of Hungarians in Slovakia include: the right to education in Hungarian beyond the elementary school level, the right to Hungarian street signs and the right to give Hungarian first names to their children.
August 12-16, 1993: Ethnic Hungarians block traffic through their village in protest against a government decision to remove a road sign written in Hungarian. The village later erects signs with question marks to replace the Hungarian-language signs. In June, the government allowed Hungarian signs to be put up alongside Slovak ones but the permission was rescinded on July 14 and communities were given until the end of July to remove the signs.
August 27, 1993: For the first time ever, Slovakia's ethnic Hungarians hold a mass demonstration in the town of Komarno to defend their rights and demand the government's compliance with the Council of Europe's recommendations on minority rights.
September 24, 1993: Slovakia and Romania agree to coordinate their policies on the question of national minorities. Both countries have sizable ethnic Hungarian populations.
January 2, 1994: 500 ethnic Slovaks demonstrate in the southern Slovakian town of Surany against self-rule for ethnic Hungarians.
January 8, 1994: About 3,500 ethnic Hungarians, mostly local elected officials and parliament members, meet in the southern Slovakian town of Komarno to demand greater autonomy.
February 2, 1994: Slovak Foreign Minister Jozef Maravcik accuses Hungary of feeding "irredentist tendencies" within Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian population. Note: Slovakian politicians repeatedly accuse Hungary of fueling Slovakia's ethnic Hungarian population's demands for cultural rights and separatism throughout the period covered by this chronology.
March 11, 1994: Slovakia's government is ousted by a vote of no confidence.
March 14, 1994: Jozef Maravick is formally recognized as Prime Minister at the head of a 5-party coalition which will act as a caretaker government until elections next September.
May 27, 1994: Parliament passes a law allowing the country's ethnic Hungarians to officially use Hungarian names. Deputies from the SNP and the HZDS storm out of the chamber in protest claiming that the law does not comply with the rules of Slovak grammar.
June 3, 1994: Parliament narrowly rejects a law which would allow signs in both Slovak and Hungarian in towns with at least a 20% Hungarian population. Hungarian deputies vote against the law because villages named after Slovak heros are to be excluded from the law's provisions.
July 7, 1994: Parliament passes a law allowing some 590 Slovak towns and villages with at least a 20% ethnic Hungarian population to use bilingual signs.
March 19, 1995: Hungary and Slovakia sign a treaty agreeing on borders and the protection of ethnic minorities. Slovakia agrees to a clause calling for "appropriate laws or autonomous authorities" in areas where the country's ethnic Hungarians constitute a majority. In return, Hungary recognizes the inviolability of Slovakia's borders.
March 21, 1995: The World Coalition of Hungarians, which claims to represent 2.5 million Hungarians living outside of Hungary, states that the Hungary-Slovakia treaty constitutes nothing but empty promises.
March 27, 1995: Max Duraj, chairman of Coexistence, announces that despite the Hungary-Slovakia friendship treaty, Slovakia's ethic Hungarians still want self-rule. Many Slovak nationalists think that the treaty went too far.
July 27, 1995: The Prime Ministers of Slovakia and Romania agree to boost bilateral ties and take a common stand on the sensitive issue of treatment of their large ethnic Hungarian minorities.
4 August 1995: Laszlo Nagy and two other ethnic Hungarian minority parties' chairmen were being prosecuted for their statements allegedly defaming the republic, according to complaints lodged by the government Slovak National Party.
25 October 1995: Slovak Culture Minister Ivan Hudec said a new version of the state language law would restore the rights of Slovaks and correct for ethnic Hungarians having had too many rights. He also accused ethnic Hungarian politicians of reacting unreasonably to the new version of the bill.
12 June 1996: Slovak President Michal Kovak, visiting Hungary, urged his own government to pass legislation to protect the language rights of Slovakia's Hungarian minority.
1 August 1996: Far-right members of Slovakia's ruling coalition said it would propose the country withdraw from a basic treaty with neighboring Hungary over the issue of ethnic Hungarian abroad.
7 September 1996: The Slovak cultural and educational organization Matica Slovenska has warned the Council of Europe of "Hungarian irredentism in Slovakia." On 25 August, their supporters protested against a demand for autonomy for the half-million strong Hungarian minority in south Slovakia and alleged violation of the rights of Slovaks in that area.
10 October 1996: Slovakia, appealing to be included in the first wave of new NATO members, said it was doing more for ethnic rights than some NATO states. Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik said a proposed law protecting minority languages was all that was needed to improve human rights. The U.S. State Department said on 3 October that Washington was concerned about indications that the Slovak government's commitment to democracy had been weakening.
23 October 1996: The traditional division of the country into four regions has been discarded in favor of a system with eight regions centered around the country's eight largest cities. In addition, these eight regions are further divided into 79 district levels governments. With the new district organization, ethnic Hungarians would not be the majority of any district. At present the Hungarian minority is well-represented in Parliament and local governments, but not in the central government.
These continued actions on the part of Slovakia add fuel to an already explosive situation. Oppressive "Language laws," preventing education, and forcing parents to choose certain nameshas no place in a new Europe of the 21st century. AHF will continue to monitor the situation and assist the Hungarian community in support of its right to free-association, basic human rights, dignity, and national self-determination. - special thanks to slovakia.org for the partial chronolgy and other material above.
<< The use of Hungarian in official communication is now punishable: Read about the Slovak Language Law
<< Slovakia stripping citizenship of ethnic Hungarians: Read about the anti-Hungarian Citizenship Act
Selected International Coverage
12/5/2011 - American-Hungarian Federation turns to US Congress over widening Slovak citizenship row. The American-Hungarian Federation has turned to the US Congress Helsinki Commission with an appeal for it to take action in the case of a Slovak of Hungarian origin who has been stripped of his citizenship on the ground that he took up Hungarian citizenship, the alliance’s chairman told MTI. [read more]
[ MTI cikk magyarul] "Álláspontjának Tisztázására Szólította Fel az EBESZ Kisebbségügyi Főbiztosát az Amerikai Magyar Szövetség" - MTI 2011. szeptember 30., péntek 1:14
LANGUAGE laws may protect minority rights or infringe them. Slovakia’s new law, which comes into force on September 1st, is under fire for its harshness. It imposes fines of up to €5,000 ($7,000) on those who break rules promoting the use of Slovak in public. [read more]
Why So Many Hungarians Across the Border?
One thousand years of nation building successfully delineated groups based on culture, religion, geography, and other attributes to create the countries with which we are so familiar. While some Western European nations would continue power struggles and princely battles and civil wars, Hungary, founded in 896, was a peaceful multi-ethnic state for a 1000 years and her borders were virtually unchanged. Until 1920...
The Treaty of Trianon in 1920... in the aftermath of WWI, was extremely harsh on Hungary and unjustifiably one-sided. The resulting "treaty" lost Hungary an unprecedented 2/3 of her territory, and 1/2 of her total population or 1/3 of her Hungarian-speaking population. Add to this the loss of up to 90% of vast natural resources, industry, railways, and other infrastructure.
In the newly created Slovakia, the tragedy of 1920 that befell the historic Hungarian communities was only the beginning. The Benes 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. Tens of thousands of these were Hungarian. More recently, the Slovak Language Law makes the use of the minority language in official communication punishable in towns and villages where the ethnic community makes up less than 20 percent of the total population. The amendment requires that all documentation of minority schools should be duplicated in the state language. The law stipulates that the names of streets and buildings anywhere in Slovakia must be stated in the Slovak language [despite 1100-year-old tradition] and it also introduces sanctions of 100 to 5000 euros for municipalities and public offices for not using the Slovak language "properly."
The following graphic shows ethnic distribution in Slovakia and population decline from 1910 - 1991:
Ethnic Distribution in the Kingdom of Hungary in 1910 (Hungarians shown in red)
Hungarian populations declined significantly after forced removals such as the Benes Decrees and other pograms, the effects of WWI, and Trianon in 1920. With continued pressure and discriminative policies such as the 2009 Slovak Language Law, this trend continued over the past 90 years.
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.
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