Large numbers of Hungarians found themselves in a new country as a minority after the Trianon Treaty in 1920 when Hungary lost two thirds of its land and one third of its population. Minorities in East and Central Europe have a long history and for the most part they used to live together peacefully however increasing national identity in the 19th century challenged the lives of minorities. Countries try to homogenize their population although some minorities had been living there for a couple of hundred years already. This essay examines particularly the ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia with a brief background on Hungarian-Slovak history, problems and improvements Hungarians have faced especially since the existence of the Slovak Republic as of 1993 and how Hungary seeks to support its people as a kin-state. Additionally a short insight on the other side is given, namely on how Slovaks think about the Hungarian minority and how the Slovak minority lives in Hungary.
East and Central Europe have always in history experienced changes of the borders due to different empires such as the Ottoman Empire or later the Habsburg Empire until 1918; where Hungary was regarded as a state of its own within the empire after 1867 due to the Austro-Hungarian Compromise (Wolff 2001). Nevertheless as Hungary was seen as an equal state they implemented Magyarisation policies that among others aimed to suppress the Slovak language in order to assimilate the Slovaks, but in fact it had the opposite effect and they increasingly alienated with a sudden occurrence of nationalism in the 20th century (Wolff 2001). As World War I was lost in 1918, the Hungarian territory was considerable reduced due to the Trianon Treaty in 1920 when they lost Transylvania to Romania, Vojvodina to Serbia and the region in today’s Southern parts of Slovakia, overall three million Hungarians suddenly became minorities in the neighbouring countries (Wolff 2001). Germany decided between 1938 and 1940 in Munich and Vienna that Southern Slovakia and Northern Transylvania should be returned to Hungary; however in 1944 the Nazis occupied Hungary and one year later Hungary was first liberated and then occupied by the Soviet Union. As of Soviet occupation the communist era began in 1947 which was followed by a drop of the standard of living and other injustice such as forced settlements or forced industrial development although Hungary and Czechoslovakia could already be considered at pre-Sovietised as early as 1945 to 1946 since communist parties had already occupied influential positions at that time (Békés 2006). On the other hand there is Slovakia that only has been a country of its own since 1993, before that the Slovaks belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire as already mentioned and then joined Czechoslovakia in 1918. The Slovaks had been under Hungarian rule for over a thousand years and the union with the Czechs to form an own state was their chance to become independent from Hungary (Mason 1998). Overall the Czech lands which were more developed than the agricultural land of the more traditional Slovaks; however the Czechs needed them in order to gain the majority in their own country (Mason 1998). On the whole Czechoslovakia was dominated by Czech politics which was the reason why the Slovaks were aiming for autonomy within the country which was not granted, eventually they won their independence in 1993 when no external forces were pushing Czechs and Slovaks together anymore and they separated (Mason 1998).
In the case of Slovakia ethnic issues are rather sensitive since the Slovaks had not had a state of their own before 1993 as well as the tense relations to the two significant minorities, the ethnic Hungarians and the Roma, since Czechoslovakia was formed (Wolff 2001). Due to the Trianon Treaty many Hungarians found themselves living in the Southern parts of Slovakia where the ethnic Hungarian minorities range from 24% to 87% and after Slovakia’s independence a shift from the Czech-Slovak problems regarding language rights, citizenship, education and regional autonomy were simply shifted to Hungarian-Slovak problems in the same fields (Smith 2000). Relations between Hungarians and Slovaks have been especially complicated due to historical events such as the Magyarisation policies, the Hungarian occupation of Southern Slovakia in 1939 and on the Hungarian side due to territorial losses to Czechoslovakia in 1920 and the exchange of population after World War II (Wolff 2001). These tensions had significant impact on the Hungarian minority that amount 10% of the total population, there were about 4% of other minorities living in the Slovak Republic however they received about five times as much subsidies for cultural, educational, broadcasting and publishing activities than the ethnic Hungarians did before 1998 (Wolff 2001). TV and radio broadcasts in Hungarian language included only 35 hours a week of Hungarian radio and Hungarian TV was in the beginning one hour per week, but was then reduced to only fifteen minutes a week plus three monthly TV programs of 35 minutes each (Wolff 2001). Another idea of Slovakia to reject the ethnic Hungarian minority was to redraw the territories of the state in 1996 and consequently lower numbers of Hungarians lived in the different territories resulting in lower electoral power (Smith 2000). However with the elections of September 1998 a change for ethnic minorities could be expected since the Hungarian Coalition Party was now part of the new coalition government(Wolff 2001), the reason for voting for this government was partly because the minority problems were seen as one of the main problems why they were not able to join the European Union and they also thought that this would increase their international acceptance (Smith 2000). Among others they substantially revised the controversial Municipal Elections Act which included the continuation of bilingual schools which were stopped two years before (Wolff 2001) and in 1999 the minority language law guaranteed that the minority language could be used in communication with state bodies in areas with minorities of over 20% and finally Slovakia was accepted to join the European Union as well (Smith 2000). Additionally a minority department was successfully established that employed members of minorities, minority theatres were given autonomy over their budget and staffing decisions and another accomplishment was made regarding the funding for minority cultures which was more than doubled in 1999 (Wolff 2001). In general discrimination against Hungarians has mostly been based on language rights, territorial organizations and citizenship which is largely a product of the populist-nationalists in Slovakia who consider minority rights as irredentism and communicate it this way to the population (Smith 2000).