By proposing to change the citizenship law Fidesz is following up on a project it had started six years ago. It is no surprise that Fidesz now proposes easier access to citizenship for Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. In 2004, when still in opposition, Fidesz supported a referendum that proposed the abolishment of residency requirement for access to citizenship for Hungarians living abroad. Because of the low turnout the referendum failed. Though less than 20 percent of the electorate supported the proposal, Fidesz still considered the result as a sign of Hungary’s willingness to offer citizenship for Hungarians living in the neighboring countries. Since then, Fidesz has kept the issue of „national reunification” on the agenda. In October 2009 Fidesz submitted a proposal to the Parliament recommending the abolishment of residency requirement for Hungarians applying for citizenship. Having made the point (and secured part of the electorate sympathetic to the plan), Fidesz withdrew the proposal before its parliamentary discussion could have started in order to avoid debates about the political, economic and social consequences of the initiative.
The new proposal submitted to the Parliament on 17 May 2010 is a slightly updated version of the October version. The draft on dual citizenship emphasizes that dual citizenship does not violate any international obligations of Hungary. The wording indeed seems to be in line with international norms. The draft meets the non-discrimination standards of the 1997 European Convention on Nationality and other international treaties. According to the proposal, citizenship would be offered upon individual request to Hungarian speaking, non-resident descendants of former Hungarian citizens, or of ancestors with origins in Hungary. Though the wording makes sure that no ethnic selectivity is involved, there is little doubt that in effect only ethnic Hungarians will have access to non-resident citizenship.
Although the draft argues that its aim is to help Hungarians living abroad to maintain their Hungarian identity and foster ties with Hungary, the proposal had much more than purely symbolic relevance. One of the main questions not addressed in the draft is whether non-resident citizens will have voting rights. Fidesz has not yet made it clear if it would support the reform of the electoral rules and abolish the residency requirement. But if the new government wants to be seen as a national government concerned about Hungarians living outside Hungary, as it promised in the campaign, it can hardly avoid offering external voting rights. The radical right wing party Jobbik, which scored 17% of the votes cast, has already stated that it would offer full citizenship, including voting and social rights for Hungarians living in the former Hungarian territories. If Fidesz stops short of offering full citizenship rights, the Jobbik will criticize it for betraying the nation. It is not very likely that the Fidesz government, which will have to start unpopular structural economic reforms, would risk losing the support of nationalist voters, inside the country and abroad.
Given the weight of the proposal, it may seem surprising that all the major parties supported Fidesz’s initiative. Even the social democratic MSZP, which staunchly opposed the citizenship reform in 2004, endorsed the plan in the spring of 2010. Electoral mathematics would suggest that it is in the best interest of the social democrats to keep arguing against dual citizenship. In the 2004 referendum, 18.9 percent of eligible voters supported, and 17.75 opposed the inclusion of ethnic Hungarians. The percentage of the electorate not in favor of external dual citizenship is significant, if one takes into account that in April 2010 only 12.4 percent of all registered voters voted MSZP. But the social democrats have good reasons not to go against the proposal. It is clear that after the unprecedented blow in the April elections MSZP does not want to be labeled as ’anti-national’. More importantly, even if it opposed the draft, Fidesz could still easily have the bill passed, given its absolute majority in Parliament. If voting rights are also offered at some point, by opposing the reform socialists would have an even harder time soliciting votes from the new electorate. It seems that the competition for the support of the external would-be voters has already started.
The long-term consequences of extending citizenship rights to non-resident ethnic Hungarians are hardly negligible. Internally, nationalist rhetoric may easily become pervasive across the political spectrum, as no major political force questions the normative necessity or the practical reasonability of the bill (to be voted on August 20, the anniversary of Hungarian statehood).
The initiative will also disrupt diplomatic relations with Hungary’s neighbours. Hungary’s relationship has already deteriorated with Slovakia, where the Hungarian proposal plays into the hands of the nationalist, anti-Hungarian parties. Prime Minister Robert Fico has already suggested that Slovakia should ban dual citizenship so that Slovak citizens acquiring Hungarian dual citizenship could be deprived of their Slovak citizenship. The minority organizations of Slovakian Hungarians feel caught in an impossible dilemma: they cannot speak against the “national reunification” plan, even though they will be victimized by the Slovak nationalist backlash. Though the Romanian public does not seem to be worried about dual citizenship at this point, the Hungarian card may easily be played by xenophobic parties in the future. In the Ukraine dual citizenship is forbidden by law, so the Hungarian offer will not help to maintain the national belonging of Hungarians in the country. Only Serbian Hungarians could expect more than symbolic, identity-related benefits, because by obtaining Hungarian citizenship they would became EU citizens. Taken all this into account, the intended beneficiaries, ethnic Hungarians in transborder states may well be the biggest losers and victims of Hungary’s dual citizenship reforms.
Read the news summary about the Hungarian proposal and reactions in Slovakia and Romania
27 May 2010: Update on the Hungarian citizenship reform
by EUDO CITIZENSHIP research collaborator Roxana Barbulescu
Thursday, 27 May 2010
The law offering Hungarian citizenship for persons of Hungarian ancestry residing abroad was passed on 26 May in the Parliament with a majority of 344 votes for, 3 against and 5 abstentions.
According to newspaper reports, the law will be published officially on 20 August, a symbolic date because it is the day commemorating Saint Stephan, the first emperor and founder of the Hungarian Kingdom. Persons of Hungarian ancestry residing abroad will be able to apply for Hungarian citizenship starting from 1st January 2011.
Romania Libere: “Fidesz imposed in Romania and Slovakia” (Romanian)
BBC News: Slovakc retaliate over Hungarian citizenship law (English)
El Pais: The provocation of Greater Hungary (Spanish)
23 May 2010: Hungarian government proposes access to citizenship for ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring countries
by Zsolt Körtvélyesi and EUDO CITIZENSHIP expert Judit Tóth
Sunday, 23 May 2010
The Hungarian citizenship law currently in force provides for preferential access for foreign citizens who declare to be of Hungarian “nationality” (ethnicity) or who have a Hungarian citizen ancestor and, in either case, have permanent residence in Hungary.
The Alliance of Young Democrats – Hungarian Civic Union (FIDESZ) gained a two-third majority in the Hungarian Parliament in the elections of April 2010. In December 2004, FIDESZ supported a referendum that aimed at further facilitation of access of ethnic Hungarians to Hungarian citizenship by abolishing the residency requirement. The referendum eventually failed, due to low turnout (37.5 per cent), although the rate of yes votes was 51,57 per cent. An amendment in the same spirit was proposed by FIDESZ in October 2009, but did not get the support of the then parliamentary majority. The same amendment (with some modifications) was reproposed after the elections, now that FIDESZ gained a majority that allows it to pass an amendment to the law on citizenship.
The pending proposal would allow for a preferential treatment for individual applications from non-citizens, if they prove their lineage with a Hungarian citizen, or else if they “presumably” have an origin “from Hungary”. Most importantly, the law will no more require permanent residence in Hungary.
The modifications will not alter the regulations on voting rights: only citizens possessing permanent residence within Hungary can vote or run in Hungarian elections. Discussions on whether or not the law on elections will also be changed are currently going on with Jobbik (a far right party) pushing for electoral rights for non-resident citizens and FIDESZ taking a neutral stand as of now. Certain members of the forthcoming cabinet and members of the FIDESZ parliamentary group communicated that active and passive voting rights for the new nationals would be merely delayed for some time. It means that the Act on Voting Rights would be modified in near future, as Jobbik has demanded in the parliamentary debate.
Data on the referendum of 2004
The text of the Hungarian Act on Citizenship (Hungarian)
The text of the proposed amendment of 2009 (Hungarian)
The text of the current proposal, May 17 (Hungarian)
Read more about reactions in Slovakia, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.