Thursday, May 27, 2010

You Too Can Be A Hungarian Citizen

Hungary just passed a new citizenship law that could add millions to their population; the problem is that those millions of potential new Hungarians are already citizens of neighboring countries.

Hungarian politics took a dramatic swing to the right last month as the center-right Fidesz Party won two-thirds of the seats in parliament; the new citizenship law is the culmination of a campaign pledge made by Fidesz – it allows anyone to claim Hungarian citizenship, so long as they can prove they are of Hungarian descent and can speak the language. But this new citizenship law has Hungary’s neighbors fuming. Ninety years ago, in the wake of their defeat during World War I, Hungary was forced to give up two-thirds of their territory, land that is now part of Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine and Romania. It’s estimated that as many as three million ethnic Hungarians still live in these nations, people who can now claim Hungarian citizenship. Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia said the law, which could affect a half-million people in his country, poses a severe security threat to Slovakia. His parliament is already considering a law that would strip the Slovakian citizenship from any of their ethnic Hungarians who take advantage of the new law.

The new citizenship law isn’t the only cause for concern in Europe over the new Hungarian government. Along with Fidesz, another far-right party, Jobbik, had an unexpectedly strong showing, gathering 16% of the vote in April’s elections. Jobbik (officially the Movement for a Better Hungary) is described by their critics as a “neo-fascist” party and includes a paramilitary wing that dresses in black uniforms reminiscent of the WWII-era uniforms worn by Hungarian fascists at the time. Though the wearing of the uniforms was banned by Hungary’s constitutional court last year, Jobbik supporters broke them out for the April election campaign. Among the items in Jobbik’s platform are calls for the restoration of “Greater Hungary” (the pre-WWI borders) and a scapegoating of Hungary’s Roma (or Gypsy) population for many of Hungary’s social ills, like street crime and high unemployment rates.

Fidesz picked up Jobbik’s anti-Roma mantle during the campaign, promising to “keep a closer eye” on Hungary’s estimated 500,000-800,000 Roma as part of their “law and order” platform. This, not surprisingly, has Hungary’s Roma on edge, fearing that they could become the target of ethnic violence, especially at the hands of Jobbik’s uniformed paramilitaries. Roma leaders in Hungary say that instead of more police scrutiny, their population really needs better access to jobs and education. Hungary’s Communist government supplied the Roma with plentiful low-skilled jobs, jobs that have disappeared since the collapse of Communism. The Roma have an unemployment rate that is at least double that of ethnic Hungarians.
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